Road Impressions – Toyota Yaris 1.5 Sport

Longer, lower, wider! Sit in almost any vehicle launch media conference and the marketing litany will justify why the new model is bigger than the outgoing one – and all the time the John Cleese in me wonders if they wanted it that size, why not build it that way in the first place!

The Toyota Yaris kind of goes against this trend – from the start it was build in two sizes on different platforms – the smaller one to suit European markets and the larger for Eastern customers.

So, the ‘new’ Toyota Yaris is actually a switch by Toyota Motor in South Africa from the Euro platform to the Thai-built platform that adds 165 mm in length and 5 mm in width over the outgoing version.

The logic behind the switch is quite simple – although intended to be a contender in the ‘B’ segment of the local market, there was some perception (because of its size) the Yaris was an ‘A’ or entry level player and rather expesnive for that category.

Now, it is definitely positioned by dint of size in the correct place.

The Yaris was originally launched locally in 2005 and there have been four iterations of the compact city hatchback since then.

So, what does the increased size of the latest iteration really mean? For starters, it means increased interior space and a bigger luggage area but, the real bonus comes in the fact the car simply feels better on the road; more poised and offering improved overall ride comfort and handling.

Naturally, the revised car has picked up some styling tweaks and the front design gets sleeker headlamps, which flow smoothly towards the central focal point by ways of black ‘fins’ flanking the centrally-mounted Toyota emblem.

The headlamps themselves feature chrome inner accents, and a trapezoidal grille occupies the lower apron complete with honeycomb-patterned screen. The top corners house the Daytime Running Lights (DRL), visually aligned by a slim air aperture.

At the rear, aero stabilising fins have been incorporated into the rear light clusters, which enhance stability by controlling the airflow around the vehicle. The rear bumper design also includes aerodynamic fins to smooth airflow within the wheel housing and limit airflow into the rear bumper – in order to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve fuel efficiency.

Inside, a cigar-shaped upper dashboard design creates a sense of width complemented by the metal accents that surround the air vents. The ‘hang-down’ section features a prominent silver frame, which tapers inwards to create a multi-dimensional look and feel.

Powering the Yaris is a 1,5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Utilising dual VVT-i and a DOHC 16-valve layout, the engine delivers 79 kW and 140 Nm. Top speed is 180 km/h with fuel consumption listed as 5,9 l/100 km – real time running on the test returning 6,2 l/100 km average.

There are other 1,5-litres engines from competing manufacturers on the market that make more power and torque than the Toyota, some quite a lot more and even the absolute newcomer to the local market, the BAIC turns out 85 kW and 148 Nm.

The Sport monniker on our test car is, then, a bit of a misnomer – it is by stretch of the imagination a ‘hot’ hatch and ‘Sport’ is a reference to style rather than speed.

For this reason the Yaris needs to be correctly contextualised before finding itself on the short end of a comparison stick. It is, primarily, a city commuter and in that context has enough gumption to make the daily churn from home to work and back reasonably stress-free.

Our test car came with a 5-speed transmission and, quite frankly, even when pressed on the open road, never really felt like it was running a cog short. While out test was conducted at oxygen rich sea level altitude, the impact of energy sapping Reef heights will be felt although, again, in context, not that much in city commuting.

A McPherson strut-type suspension sits up front, while the rear features a torsion beam layout where coil spring and shock absorber characteristics have been optimised for comfort.

On the road the new Yaris exudes a sense of solidity and provides excellent damping of road conditions with a composed driving feel.

The Sport variant rides on 16-inch rubber feature with directional-design alloy wheels (with machined face treatment) and 195/50/R16 tyres.

 The bigger version is, I feel, an improvement at all levels over the ‘Euro’ version and, if nothing else, since we do grow South African quite big, will be appreciated for that extra space.

As the flagship model the Sport has keyless entry and push-button start, six-speaker audio system with USB and Bluetooth functionality, multi-information display, electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors, front power windows, electric power steering and climate control.

Additionally it gets red-stitched leather steering wheel and gear knob, high-definition ‘Optitron’ instruments, leather seats, front fog lamps, projector headlamps, LED rear tail lights, rear boot spoiler, side skirts, front and rear spoilers and red accent stripe.

Safety kit includes driver, passenger, curtain and driver’s knee air bags, Isofix points, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), seat belt pretentioner and force limiters as well as Hill Assist Control (HAC).

All Yaris models come with a 3-year/45 000 kilometre service plan and 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty.



Road Impressions – Lexus NX300 F-Sport

There is little doubt the song of the open road – be it heavy metal, rock, blues, pop or nature’s own orchestral manoeuvres – are best appreciated while plumped in a form-fitting seat atop a finely tuned suspension and propelled by enough power to handle everything asked.

The Lexus NX does just that. I am, however, just that ‘old school’ enough to still believe if I intend driving really quickly my butt should be mere centimetres from the road rather than reaching for clouds – in fact, old school enough to question why anyone would want an SUV capable of 200 km/h.

Sure, it is a thing – there is the brutal Jeep SRT and Range Rover’s Sport – but the marriage of good off-road capability and sports type speed has me flummoxed. True, almost none of the trick SUV’s ever find themselves outside of an urban environment, but that is not the point.

To be fair, the Lexus NX handles both good tarmac and smooth dirt roads with aplomb and it is difficult to find fault with its handling on either surface even when pressed beyond the limits likely to be achieved by Joe Average.

The Lexus NX was Lexus’ first foray into the compact premium SUV market. Featuring an unmistakeable angular design language, with strong body lines and prominent contouring the NX is hard to miss in any playground.

Late last year all models received front styling refinements, with new headlamps, a bold new front grille utilising a chrome frame, altered side grille, bumper and lower bumper elements.

At the rear, came new LED combination lamps. The rear bumper and license plate garnish have also gone under the surgeon’s knife and tie in with the overall design theme.

In F-Sport guise, the spindle-grille ‘frame’ is finished off in a ‘black chrome’ effect, which ties in with the dark ‘F-mesh’ grille.

The brushed-aluminium-effect lower apron, which runs the full length of the front, creates a sporty appearance and ties all the frontal design elements together. Graphite-coloured vent trim on the edges of the bumper accentuate the powerful stance and F-Sport identity.

 As part of Lexus’ global strategy, the ‘200t’ moniker (signifying a 2,0-litre turbo-charged engine) was been replaced by ‘300’. The 300 badging bears reference to offering an equivalent power output to that of a 3,0-litre powerplant – this has been adopted to achieve parity between the petrol  and hybrid engine models’ badging convention.

As such, the badging changed to NX 300 in E, EX and F-Sport iterations respectively.

 The F-Sport as tested is delivered with the all-wheel drive configuration and 6-speed automatic transmission to serve the 2,0-litre turbo-charged ‘4-pot’ engine – offering 175 kW with 350 Nm on tap between 1 650 r/min and 4 000 r/min.

The engine utilises a combination of port and direct injection (known as D-4ST) along with Variable Valve Timing intelligent Wide (VVTi-W), to optimise combustion in the pursuit of both power and efficiency. The twin-scroll turbo-charger delivers a wide-spread of torque assisting with acceleration.

It runs an 8,4 second sprint to 100 km/h and is capable of 200 km/h. In Eco mode, the overall fuel consumption could be squeezed to below 9,0 l/100 km, pushing up to over 10 l/100 km when in press on mode in Sport or Sport+.

My test average (combining all modes) came to 9,7 l/100 km, making it competitive with its peers in the marketplace.

Compared to the previous version, the upgrades to the suspension provide a much firmer and stable ride with less body movement.

Refinements include a new calibration for the rear stabiliser bar and stabiliser-bar bushing, as well as new front dampers with reduced friction, while the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) on F-Sport has been upgraded to the latest iteration, borrowed from the LC premium sports coupé.

F-Sport has a unique suspension calibration and alloy wheel design. Rear stabiliser-bar stiffness on the refreshed NX, has been increased by 22% in order to suppress roll angle and optimise vehicle turning posture.

Specification upgrades on the F-Sport brought in dynamic headlamp levelling, chrome steering switch accents and aluminium detailing on the instrument cluster.

A key feature is the new 10,3-inch display audio screen (previous 7-inch) with enhanced graphics and clarity and the button design has been modernised while the analogue clock redesigned with increased contrast between the hands and background for ease of viewing. The clock is now linked to the GPS function, so the time is set automatically.

I am not a huge fan of the finger operated ‘mousepad’ and found making changes involved too much time with eyes off the road to ensure accurate placement of the cursor. Admittedly, I had the car only a week and in all likelihood, this operation would become more intuitive over time, with most owners making fewer changes than someone trying to investigate every feature does.

The usual comprehensive active safety systems are of course on-board and include anti-lock braking, EBD, Brake Assist, Traction Control, Enhanced VSC, Hill-start Assist, Trailer Sway Control. Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA).

Lexus prides itself on ‘what you see is what you get’ with no lengthy list of costly options to bring the base car up to a decent spec but, what is missing from this package – in a car costing R786 600 – are Adaptive Cruise Control and auto dimming headlights.

All Lexus NX models come with a 4-year/100 000 kilometre warranty. F-Sport also gets the Distance Plan Complete (full maintenance plan), all over a 4-year/100 000 kilometre period.

Limitless concept

The sharply chiselled lines of the luxury Lexus NX go even further on the LF-1 Limitless concept car, presented at the Detroit Auto Show – as does the tech installed in what the company calls a ‘new genre’ of luxury vehicle.

Combining high performance with unrestrained luxury, the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept is a showcase of technology, innovation and the latest evolution of design at Lexus.

The concept envisages fully autonomous driving and could be powered by fuel cells, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, petrol or even all-electric. By around 2025, every Lexus model around the world will be available either as a dedicated electrified model, or have an electrified option.

Lexus International president; Yoshihiro Sawa says Lexus models such as the RX had helped drive the global popularity of the luxury SUV category.

“This new crossover concept captures a future that involves a high level of dynamic capability and utility matched by a more exciting, emotional design that we hope challenges expectations in the category,” he says.

The innovative spirit styling of the LF-1 was created at CALTY Design Research in California.

The design language is rooted in the design concept of ‘molten katana’ – fusing the organic shapes of liquid (molten) metal with the sharp edges of a traditional Japanese sword (katana).

CALTY Design Research president Kevin Hunter said imagining that shift – from a smooth, flowing mass into a solid, chiselled shape – formed the basis for the fluid, yet aggressive design of the LF-1.

“This is our vision for a new kind of flagship vehicle that embraces crossover capability without giving up the performance and luxury delivered by today’s top sedans,” Hunter says. “The Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept incorporates imaginative technology while creating a strong emotional connection by improving the human experience for the driver and passengers.”

The LF-1 has an exaggerated dash-to-axle ratio (long bonnet, short front overhang)  and combined with a cabin that sits deep within the rear-wheel-drive chassis and aggressive 22-inch wheels under bulging fenders, has a powerful stance that conveys its performance intentions at a glance.

Like all current Lexus models, the spindle grille on the LF-1 is a core element to the overall design. On the LF-1, it has been taken even further: details suggest the start of the spindle forms at the rear of the vehicle, then continues forward toward the nose.

The grille itself features a three-dimensional design with colours developed in-house by CALTY. Ridges radiating away from the central emblem suggest magnetism guiding metal filings into shape. There is no chrome, as the LF-1 instead uses LED lighting around the grille that greets you on arrival.

The Lexus LF-1 rear features a split roof spoiler and there are interesting curves and details along every inch of the rear fascia. The sculpted openings at each corner might look like exhaust pipes, but they are actually vents for the air coming past the rear wheels.

The cockpit is designed to allow the driver to concentrate on the task at hand: distracting analogue knobs and buttons have been removed in favour of motion-activated controls and a minimalist display directly ahead.

The front passenger space is far more open, with even fewer controls and a wide unobstructed dashboard. Those in back get the same seats as those in front with expansive legroom and individual display screens for adjusting the climate control or entertainment options.

Technology enhances the luxurious feel of the LF-1 by expanding the options offered to the driver. It starts with the LF-1’s Chauffeur mode, which allows for hands-free operation thanks to the vehicle’s by-wire steering, braking, acceleration, lights and signals.

For engaged driving, all powertrain controls are on the steering wheel to keep the driver focused on the road. Paddles mounted to the steering wheel control the transmission in manual mode for sporty driving while buttons on the lower section of the steering wheel engage standard drive mode options like park and reverse.

There is also a four-dimensional navigation system, which builds on traditional systems by adding the element of time to the equation.

It acts as a concierge for the occupants by anticipating the needs of the driver and passengers based on the progress, traffic and road conditions along the programmed trip, suggesting fuel stops, rest breaks and restaurants, even offering to make hotel reservations.

Navigation and route information are displayed on the in-dash monitor, the rear seat entertainment screens, or wirelessly connected to passengers’ tablets and smart phones.

Touch-responsive haptic controls easily reached from the steering wheel link provide a seamless interface with the 4D navigation system and integrated comfort and entertainment systems.

A touch-tracer pad embedded in the leather-covered centre console supports character recognition for data entry. An additional haptic controller in the rear-seat centre console allows passengers to make their own comfort and entertainment choices.



Slight improvement

For the first time in four years total vehicle sales in South Africa for the year have gone up with 2017 showing a 1,8% percent improvement over 2016.

The new vehicle industry ended 2017 on a positive note, according to the annual sales data from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa).  Despite December 2017’s year-on-year sales declining 2,4%, the year-to-date new car sales for 2017 still grew 1,8%. In total, 557 586 new vehicles were sold in South Africa during 2017.

“The new vehicle market’s positive performance for the last year was almost exactly in line with our forecast of 1.74% growth,” says Rudolf Mahoney, Head of Brand and Communications, WesBank. “This can be attributed to the Rand being resilient in the face of volatility and the South African economy performing better than anticipated. However, the economy is still underperforming and faces a long road to recovery.”

In the second half of 2017, OEMs were able to stave off price increases as the Rand firmed against foreign currencies. This allowed manufacturers to pass value back to consumers through very attractive marketing incentives when purchasing new vehicles.

WesBank’s data for 2017 also reflected the continued shift back to the new vehicle market, especially when measuring demand through the number of vehicle finance applications received. Demand for new vehicles rose 6,4% in December, while demand for used vehicles slowed 0,2%. Overall, demand for new vehicles grew 3% in 2017, while demand for used vehicles declined 1,5%.

Since the introduction of the Polo and Polo Vivo in 2010, Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) has been passenger market leader every year. The Volkswagen Group ended the year with 80 308  sales giving VWSA a total market share of 21,8%, with the Volkswagen brand achieving 18,9% share in a run out year of its volume models.

“The Polo Vivo and Polo remained the first and second best-selling passenger cars in 2017, which is also for the seventh consecutive year – this is an incredible achievement for the Volkswagen brand considering that we effectively ran out of supply in December of the key models which is illustrated by the unusually low 14,8% market share we achieved in December,” says VWSA Chairman and Managing Director Thomas Schaefer.

“I am delighted by the performance of both the Volkswagen and Audi brands in 2017 and know that we will do even better in 2018”,

Volkswagen will be launching the new Polo later this month which will be followed by the Polo Vivo still in this quarter.

According to Naamsa, export sales recorded a decline in December, 2017 and at 17 374 units reflected a fall of 1 333 vehicles or 7,1% compared to the 18 707 vehicles exported during December, 2016.  This was largely attributable to the effect of model run out and new model introduction of the new VW Polo range in 2018.

Annual aggregate annual industry sales by sector, since 2014, were as follows –




2014 2015 2016 2017 2017 / 2016

% Change

Cars 438 938 412 478 361 264 368 068 +1.9%
Light Commercials 173 492 174 701 159 283 163 346 +2.6%
Medium Commercials 10 780 10 394 8 315 7 785 -6.4%
Heavy Trucks,  Buses 20 534 20 075 18 685 18 387 -1.6%
Total Vehicles 643 744 617 648 547 547 557 586 1.8%

Source:  Lightstone Auto, NAAMSA

Whilst the modest improvement was welcome, the figures should be seen in the context of industry sales 11 years ago when the domestic market recorded an all-time high sales number of 714 314 units of which the new car market had represented 481 558 vehicles.

2017 Vehicle exports represented the third highest annual Industry export figure on record and total vehicle exports at 329 053 units were down on the 344 820 vehicles exported in 2016 – a decline of 15 767 units or a fall of 4,6%.

2017 Industry export sales data, compared to previous years, were as follows –

  2015 2016 2017 2017 / 2016

% Change

Cars 229 723 238 547 221 928 -7.0%
Light Commercials 103 000 105 219 106 126 +0.9%
Trucks & Buses 1 124 1 054 999 -5.2%
Total Exports 333 847 344 820 329 053 -4.6%

Source:  Lightstone Auto, NAAMSA

South African financial markets have reacted positively to the outcome of the December, 2017 ANC elective conference.  However, economic and fiscal policy uncertainty, political challenges, the risk of further credit rating downgrades and increasing geo-political tensions make forecasting difficult.

On the positive side, several recent economic indicators support the view the South African economy is performing better than anticipated despite low levels of business and consumer confidence.  Barring a further credit rating downgrade, an improvement in economic growth from about 1,0% in 2017 to around 1,9% in 2018 remains possible and this would lend support to new vehicle sales in the domestic market.

The substantial improvement in the Reserve Bank’s leading indicator of economic activity heralds improved economic prospects. Also on an encouraging note, the positive global economic environment – with International Monetary Fund projections of 3,7% global expansion – will lend support to industry export sales.

Faster economic growth remains an imperative to address South Africa’s socio-economic challenges and to take pressure off strained public finances and overburdened taxpayers.  In this context, concerted steps are needed by Business, Government and Labour to create a more investor-friendly environment as a means of boosting growth.

NAAMSA anticipates further modest improvement in domestic new vehicle sales during 2018 as well as further growth in vehicle exports and industry production numbers.

The outlook for 2018 in terms of Industry domestic vehicle sales by sector




2015 2016 2017 2018 Projected
Cars 412 478 361 264 368 068 375 000
Light Commercials 174 701 159 283 163 346 170 000
Medium Commercials 10 394 8 315 7 785 8 000
Heavy, Extra Heavy, Commercials, Buses 20 075 18 685 18 387 19 000
Total Vehicles 617 648 547 547 557 586 572 000



Road Impressions – Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX-L

Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. While it is often unwise to question the wisdom of those wiser than ourselves, change often comes at a price.

Stepping back in time a little there once was the Toyota Land Cruiser presented in a range spanning several models, specifications and engines with the behemoth VX at the top of the pile. Although technically a Land Cruiser, the original Prado stood to one side, different enough for most people not to even realise it was family and to identify it simply as the Prado.

Now, there is the Land Cruiser 200, two models from many and the Prado with five variations. Land Cruiser is the most widely available model in the global Toyota product range – being sold in more than 190 countries worldwide.

That is not the major change. This comes in the fact the Prado is now bulked up and loses its niche slot along with the cuteness of the previously much smaller – and often – more practical offering especially for those only intending the thrill of parking lot kerb crawling.

Indeed, I parked my test Prado at the airport, deliberately choosing a spot between two other large size SUVs and really battled to open the door to get out! (Admittedly, the designers of most parking lots appear to have to share a single brain cell between them).

Parking lots aside, the new Prado is truly a formidable beast and would probably climb a vertical wall if pressed to do so.

I just think Toyota could have kept the status quo with Prado a smaller, high-end version of the Land Cruiser family.

The overall length is now 5 010 mm, width 1 885 mm, wheelbase 2 790 and height 1 880 mm and it has a GVM of 2,9 ton – so, certainly no midget.

The Prado range traditionally consisted of two grades, the mid-level TX and high-grade VX. For the first time, a new third grade, called VX-L has been added to the model line-up that combines all the features of the VX whilst adding a power-operated tilt-and-slide moon roof and comprehensive active safety assistance package to the mix.

The exterior design of the new Prado is unmistakeably Land Cruiser and maintains the core strengths of that brand in providing practicality, with headlamps and cooling openings positioned to maximise protection and wading depth, durability, with the powertrain and all functional parts well protected and capability, with a tight turning circle and generous ground clearance, essential for the most demanding off-road driving conditions.

The bonnet has been shaped to improve downward visibility at the centre and it is sandwiched by the sides of the bumper to help protect the engine bay. The corners of the lower part of the bumper have integral fog lamps and kick upwards, while the centre section is shaped like a skid plate for easier manoeuvring off-road.

The top section of the wings has been raised so that it is easier for the driver to pinpoint the vehicle’s extremities.

The front grille apertures have been made as large as possible for optimum engine cooling, while the headlamp main beams are positioned inboard to avoid damage when driving off-road.

In keeping with Land Cruiser Prado heritage, the grille itself features broad vertical bars with slit-shaped cooling openings, finished in chrome. The headlamp clusters comprise high and low beams, front turn indicators and daytime running lights, contained in a distinctive housing. VX-L models feature high brightness LED units. All models have LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and fog lamps, in addition to automatic light control system, as standard.

Ground clearance is 215 mm, with 31-degree approach, 25-degree departure and 22-degree ramp break-over angles.

VX and VX-L derivatives ride on 18-inch wheels and tyres and it comes with an 87-litre fuel tank.

New elements at the rear include a redesigned lamp cluster (featuring two stacked C-shapes) with an LED stop light, a smaller rear garnish plate and a restyled bumper.

I was unable to join colleagues on the official launch activation where the new Prado took on Sani Pass, the mightiest of all South African mountain roads but based on Instagram and Twitter activity coming from the event, it appeared Prado turned this into a ‘doddle’.

My own off-road test route is far less scenic, but has a few good really technical sections and the advantage of repeatability in terms of comparing like vehicles against each other.

At a few Rand short of R1-million for the VX-L, this route is significantly more strenuous than the average owner is likely to choose for such a luxury vehicle – a sad reality for most SUV sales with massive ability unrealised by equally massive under use.

How good is the new Prado? Well, if the ‘Crawl’ function is activated, the clever systems in the car will analyse and assess the obstacle, deciding how much power is needed at each wheel and move the car along with a perfect combination of throttle and brake.

All that is left for the driver is to steer – and, possibly, to die of boredom.

I cannot fault the technology but it does take all the fun out of off-road driving.

Inside, he top of the centre console tower has been set lower (by 25 mm) for a sleeker appearance and better front-on visibility when driving off-road. It is fitted with a new 8-inch, full-colour multimedia screen, a flush-fitting air-conditioning control panel and the drivetrain-related instrument cluster.

The controls for driving and comfort functions are located in separate panels for ease of use, positioned behind a new, leather-trimmed gear lever. They include switches to operate new integrated heating and ventilation for the front seats.

The redesigned instrument binnacle has a four-gauge layout with precision Optitron (high-definition backlit) meters with a metallic base panel and polished dials with raised scale markings. The meters flank a 4,2-inch TFT colour multi-information display (VX and VX-L) which presents comprehensive vehicle and infotainment data, controlled using switches on the steering wheel.

The top-tier VX and VX-L models are outfitted with Satellite Navigation and an enhanced surround-view Multi Terrain Monitor camera system, which also includes Panoramic and overhead view modes.

The standard convenience specification list includes automatic dual-zone climate control, audio system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, illuminated entry, cruise control, park distance control, keyless entry, three power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, USB, 3rd row seating and reverse camera.

High-grade models add memory function for the driver’s seat, a 14-speaker Premium audio system with woofer, multi-information display, power tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rain-sensing wipers and power-fold-down 3rd row seats.

 The VX-L retains the 3.0 D-4D engine, offering 120 kW and 400 Nm available between 1 600 r/min and 2 800 r/min. This is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with gear ratios optimised for low-speed tractability and off-road use.

All Prado models feature Toyota’s Active Traction Control system (A-TRAC), which actively regulates wheel-slip, by directing torque to the wheel with the most traction. The system is capable of applying braking pressure to wheels individually to maximise traction. A low-range transmission with user-selectable rear and centre diff-locks and Hill Assist Control (HAC), naturally forms part of the standard ensemble.

The Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system (VX and VX-L only), operated by a centrally mounted rotary knob, allows the driver to select the correct mode depending on the ‘road’ ahead. The system has five pre-configured modes (mud & sand, loose rock, mogul, rock & dirt and rock), to tailor the vehicle’s traction control, transmission characteristics, power delivery and suspension settings to the terrain at hand. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is included on VX and VX-L models.

VX-L grade versions of the new 2017 Prado are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense active technologies to help prevent accidents from happening, or mitigating the consequences if an impact does occur.

The package includes a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with pedestrian detection function, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB).

Further driver support is provided in the form of a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (both VX and VX-L) and an upgraded tyre pressure warning system – with digital read out in the multi-information display.

These active safety systems complement the standard seven air bags and comprehensive brake and stability control systems  and all Land Cruiser Prado models include a 5-year/90 000 kilometre service plan and 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty.

Not particularly significant in terms of its market positioning but the VX-L will amble off from rest to reach 100 km/h in 12,1 seconds and reach a terminal velocity of 171 km/h. CO2 emissions are 224 g/km and Toyota claims an overall fuel consumption of 8,5 l/100 km.

My own experience – highway, rural and urban – came closer to 9,2 l/100 km, still an acceptable figure considering the overall mass of the vehicle.

On the road, it is hugely comfortable and, despite the size, easy to drive with the changes to the front improving vital visibility – augmented by the wide choice of exterior camera options. It is not a great fan of sudden directional changes at speed but has no really bad habits and, as mentioned, will probably scale a vertical wall if correctly cajoled.

Crash tests reveal flaws

The eye-opening results of the first crash test of popular South African compact and small cars may just tweak a nerve among car buyers and persuade them to put safety specification at the top of the must have list when considering a new car.

The crash tests of the VW Polo Vivo. The Datsun Go+, Toyota Etios, Renault Sandero and Chery QQ3 formed part of the launch of #SaferCarsforAfrica, a joint venture between the AA South African and Global NCAP, the internationally respected vehicle testing authority – that now gains its first ‘footprint’ in Africa.

The crashworthiness results of the five cars tested show a wide range of safety performance, from four to zero stars for adult protection, with the lowest ratings resulting in a high probability of life threatening injury in a road crash.

Combined sales of the five cars account for around 65% of all the new cars sold in South Africa last year.

Global NCAP chose the entry-level version of each model and as a result one of them was not fitted with air bags as standard. The results highlight differences in the structural integrity of the vehicles tested.

Lauchlan McIntosh, Chairman of Global NCAP, says: “In 2016 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a road safety resolution, which recognised the important role NCAPs play as a catalyst for improving vehicle safety standards.

“The UN has sought to encourage the spread of NCAPs across the regions and automotive markets of the World and today, in Cape Town, I am delighted Global NCAP is helping to achieve that goal with the launch of the first ever crashworthiness programme for cars sold in Africa. Global NCAP has provided assistance to launch similar programmes in South America, India and the ASEAN region, programmes which have led to the delivery of safer cars into those markets over the last five years.”

The results for the Chery QQ and Datsun Go+ were less than exemplary, with the former scoring zero and the latter just scraping through.

It is almost unbelievable in this day and age, there are any vehicles still sold without a basic mimimum of dual front air bags and anti-lock braking – especially in a country that kills dozens of people every day in car crashes.

South Africa has one of the poorest road safety records in the world and Government is snail-like in its approach with pretty much everything it does heavily focused on how much money it will generate for state or municipal coffers.

Admittedly there is a disparity in society with thousands still living below the breadline and juggling the need to achieve upliftment to personal mobility and keeping people safe is not an easy task.

Car ownership is not a right. It is a privelige and an expensive one.

However, allowing 10 and 12 year old ‘clunkers’ and new cars that do not have proper safety basics on the road is simply unacceptable – the problem being all too often people have the attitude road safety is something for other people.

Wrong! It does not matter how well you think you can drive, your chances of meeting up with someone who cannot is very likely. Driving an unsafe car will kill you.

Collins Khumalo, CEO of the AA of South Africa says: “The crash tests represent an important step in road safety in South Africa. We believe consumers have a right to know what the safety ratings are on the cars they want to buy.

“These results are critical to educating the public about vehicle safety, but, more than that, they empower road users to make informed decisions. In the same way emissions and green ratings are displayed on vehicles, we think safety ratings should also be displayed on vehicles, and we do not believe this should be too much of a challenge to make happen.

“The involvement of Global NCAP, the FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies in bringing these results to Africa, indicates how seriously our partners view road safety, and it is incumbent on us, as South Africans, to consider road, and vehicle safety, in the same way.”

David Ward, Secretary General of Global NCAP added: “It is good to see a four star result in these first ever African crash test ratings. However, it is extremely disappointing there is a zero star car. Such a poor result shows why it is so important for countries such as South Africa to fully apply the UN’s crash test standards.

“Consumers need clear, comparative crash test information to help inform their car purchase decisions. This is why Global NCAP supports the introduction of mandatory crash test labelling for all new cars sold in South Africa.”

The Results

Global NCAP has awarded a separate child safety rating to each car in order to highlight the different levels of protection vehicles provide to passengers on the rear seats. Because the only safe way for young children to travel is properly restrained in a child seat, the assessment checks how compatible the car is with the child seats recommended by the manufacturer, as well as the protection provided in the crash test.

In the assessments, some of the child seats recommended by manufacturers were found to be incompatible with their vehicle’s belt system. In the Polo Vivo, Chery QQ3 and Datsun GO+ there was no three-point seatbelt on the rear centre seats and no way to safely install a child seat or transport a small child safely in that seating position. Only the Toyota Etios and Renault Sandero offer Standard ISOFIX anchorages for the outboard rear positions and three-point seatbelt for all passengers facilitating minimum conditions to safely install a child seat.

Toyota Etios

The Etios achieved a four star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering good general adult occupant protection. The car included seatbelts with pretensioners for both front passengers. Using the child seats recommended by Toyota, the Etios achieved a three star rating for child occupant protection.

Renault Sandero

The Sandero achieved a three star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering acceptable general adult occupant protection. The car did not include seatbelt pretensioners. Using the child seats recommended by Renault, the Sandero achieved a four star rating for child occupant protection.

Volkswagen Polo Vivo

The Polo Vivo achieved a three star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering acceptable adult occupant protection. The car did not include seatbelt pretensioners. Using the child seats recommended by VW, the Polo Vivo achieved a three star rating for child protection.

Datsun GO+

The GO+ achieved a one star rating for its poor adult occupant protection mainly in the Driver chest in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, steering wheel movement, even though a steering wheel air bag was fitted, recorded high compression to the chest of the driver dummy. There was no air bag for the passenger. The Datsun GO+ achieved a two star rating for child occupant protection using the child seats.


The QQ3 achieved a zero star rating for its poor adult occupant protection mainly in driver’s head and chest. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable as showed collapsed in some relevant areas during the impact. Injury impacts recorded in the dummy head and chest in particular led to this result. There were no air bags for the adult passengers. The manufacturer did not recommend specific child seats which explains most of the points loss for child occupant protection. The QQ3 was given a zero star rating for child occupant protection, considering the poor vehicle readiness to safely accommodate the child seats

Road Impressions – Toyota C-HR 1.2T 6MT Plus

Motor manufacturer marketing speak can sometimes surpass even wine speak in its ability to take a long time to actually say very little, and the usual launch presentation about market research and customer profile, yadda, yadda, yadda, is followed by a stampede of journos racing to get to the top model for the launch drive.

Being first online or in print with impressions or a road test of a new model is important for sales and the general wellbeing of the individual publications but, sometimes, it is well worth stepping back and waiting a few months before testing a car – just to see how marketing speak versus actual public reaction compare.

With the C-HR, which stands for Coupé High Rider, Toyota said this: “With the C-HR, Toyota targets a clear and singular customer profile (identified as Millennials). Predominantly driven by emotional considerations, these customers want individuality and to be the first to try new experiences and products. Style and quality are essential considerations in any purchase they make, and the car is an extension of their personality.

“The Toyota C-HR’s unique character demonstrates the flexibility that the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) gives to vehicle developers in the three key areas of design, powertrain and dynamics, enabling them to deliver a new and fresh take on the increasingly commoditised crossover segment.”

Pretty much marketing speak for: “We have a cute car and everyone will want one but not everyone can afford one.”

And yes, that applies to every new car launched into the market!

Undeniably cute, with its dramatic cut lines, the C-HR is a moving vision of light and shadow interplay that is, I think, the best design from the company since the Celica of the late 90’s, surpassing even the current 86.

The small SUV segment represents the fastest growing ‘group’ on the South African passenger vehicle landscape. A characteristic of this segment is the variety and diversity of models, notably the ‘cross-over’ – a fusion of hatchback and SUV, taking the best attributes of each to create a vehicle that perfectly fits the modern urban lifestyle.

However, the C-HR is more hatch than it is SUV with city and urban surrounds a better playground choice than those roads less travelled.

The front is a development of Toyota’s signature design identity. The upper grille flows from the Toyota badge into the wing extremities of the headlamp clusters and wraps fully around the front corners of the vehicle. The striking headlamps also house LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) in a prism shape.

The C-HR’s coupé-like styling is enhanced by disguised rear door handles integrated within the C pillar – while good for the looks, they can be a tad awkward to use.

The driver-oriented area sees all operating switchgear and a display audio touch-screen slightly angled towards the driver.

In conjunction with the asymmetrical centre console design, this brings all controls within easy reach of the driver, whilst still allowing front passenger access. Because the touch-screen stands proud of the instrument panel rather than being enclosed by it, the upper dashboard is considerably lower in depth, helping driver visibility.

The Toyota C-HR is the first model locally utilise Toyota’s 1,2-litre turbo engine. The 1.2T engine uses advanced technologies that allow the engine to change from the Otto-cycle to the Atkinson cycle under low loads, it has vertical vortex high tumble airflow intake ports, an exhaust manifold integrated in the cylinder head and advanced heat management.

From a displacement of 1 197 cc, the engine delivers 85 kW and a constant torque curve of 185 Nm between 1 500 r/min and 4 000 r/min, achieving the 0 to 100 km/h dash in 10,9 seconds with the top speed set at 190 km/h.

Toyota claims 6,3 l/100 km on the combined cycle and delivers just 141g/km of CO2. Actual testing averaged out at 6,5 l/100 km with hard use taking the numbers up to 8,1 l/100 km.

The 6-speed manual uses Toyota’s iMT system (intelligent Manual Transmission), which automatically increases the engine revs with a perfectly executed ‘blip’ when downshifting, ensuring a smooth gearshift.

The system also works when shifting up in order to improve comfort for driver and passengers by reducing shift shock. A shift indicator with two directional arrows housed in the instrument cluster, provides the optimal shift points on M/T models.

The gearbox has a good feel to it and changes are short, sharp and positive with no gear lever ‘wander’ in the neutral space.

The MacPherson strut front suspension was designed specifically for the Toyota C-HR. It includes a strut bearing rotation axis that has been defined to reduce steering friction drastically, allowing smooth and accurate steering. To ensure a hatchback-like roll-rigidity, the large-diameter stabiliser is directly linked to the strut via a stabiliser link.

At the back, a double wishbone suspension contributes significantly to the crisp driving experience. Thanks to the use of a specific sub frame, the suspension angles are optimised to give this ‘C’ Crossover its hatchback-like handling in spite of its increased height.

In this the C-HR does impress and it remains solidly upright through hard cornering with little noticeable body flex or roll. It is fitted with 17-inch wheels, shod with 215-60R-17 rubber.

The C-HR comes standard with an Electric Parking Brake (EPB), cruise control and Hill Assist Control.

On Plus models there is a dual-zone electronic climate control, one-touch auto up/down power windows, auto-on headlamps and wipers and electrically adjusted mirrors. The interior also features two conveniently located cup holders in the centre console, a storage shelf for mobile devices or media players and a 12-volt power outlet.

A full suite of Active Safety functions are embedded into the C-HR and include anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Hill Assist Control (HAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC).

Driver and Passenger air bags round out the safety specification.

At R346 700 the Toyota finds itself in the same company as the Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL Auto (R341 900), Honda HR-V 1.5 Comfort (R344 200), Hyundai Creta 1.6 Executive Auto (R344 900), Fiat 500X 1.4 Cross (R347 900) and Kia Soul 2.0 Street (347 995).

What it does have, that some others might not, is an enviable dealer network and generally high resale value retention.

All C-HR models come standard with a comprehensive 5 year/90 000 km service plan, with service intervals set at 15 000 km. A 3 year/100 000 km warranty is provided.

2017 Toyota C-HR

2017 Toyota C-HR