The rush is in the rear

That it is a rear drive front engine layout gives Toyota’s new Rush SUV a big tick in the checkbox list even before looking at any of the other specifications attached to this small, entry model to the segment.

That it is the company’s chase to attract first-time SUV entrants is borne out by the modest 1,5-litre four-cylinder DOHC engine, with outputs of 77 kW at 6 000 r/min and 136 Nm of torque at 4 200 r/min. The engine utilises Toyota’s VVT-i system to boost efficiencies and buyers have a choice of either a 5-speed manual transmission or 4-speed automatic.

Toyota Rush Exterior-1

Toyota claims the manual-equipped Rush uses 6,6 l/100 km with the automatic version 6,7 l/100 km, with the CO2 figures 156 g/km and 158 g/km respectively.

Following the front engine, rear wheel drive layout (FR), the suspension system consists of McPherson struts up front and a Multilink design in the rear. The suspension setup has been engineered to offer good rough-road damping and be complaint on mixed surfaces (tarmac, gravel and dirt).

One of Rush’s key features is the 220 mm ride height, which combined with a 31-degree approach and 26,5-degree departure angle, allows easy traversing of mixed surface roads – and wading depth is 600 mm.

The 17-inch alloy wheels are shod with 215-60-R17 tyres and a full-size spare wheel is also provided.

It is no secret – and the monthly sales figures bear this out – the SUV has morphed from speciality niche vehicle to sought-after mainstream with buyer comment usually referring to raised seating position and better handling over increasingly potholed roads as primary purchasing decision factors.

Starting at the front, the new Toyota Rush features a prominent angular design with pointed, upswept LED headlamps and large trapezoidal grille. The grille features wide horizontal slats finished off in dark grey and a centrally mounted Toyota emblem. An inverted contour line separates the upper and lower air-dams and creates a triangular space which house the fog lamps. A silver-hued skid plate and twin hood bulges round off the front façade.

 

The side design has a noticeable crease line that flows from the front wheel to the rear tail lamp edge while matching black roof rails and body-colour rear roof spoiler create a cohesive image.

 

The rear design centres on the LED-equipped rear lamp clusters, which carry strong horizontal lines and a similarly inverted contour line flowing from the bumper to the rear diffuser area.

 

Toyota Rush Exterior-4

 

The interior layout sees the upper dashboard house a touchscreen audio system, equipped with Bluetooth, USB and Android Auto Plus Show/Apple CarPlay functionality. The lower dashboard contains the dual-zone electronic climate control, 12-volt accessory connector and storage area.

 

High-contrast taupe trim and chrome accent pieces are utilised on the facia and door panels to add an air of brightness to the cabin and create an inviting space. A 3-spoke leather steering wheel with tilt function and remote switches provide the driver with a firm grip of the road.

 

The instrument cluster features large, highly legible graphics with a cool blue semi-circular motif and chrome surrounds. A centrally-mounted multi-information display relays user-selectable information to the driver, which includes a colour Eco indicator.

 

Toyota Rush Interior-1

 

The seats are finished in patterned black fabric with complementing black fabric inlays on the door panels. The rear seats feature three independently-adjustable headrests and 60/40 tip-forward function. 

 

Some 609 litres of luggage capacity is provided, whilst offering seating for five. The rear seats can also be folded forward independently to further boost cargo space.

 

The exterior features list includes power adjustable and retractable exterior mirrors, auto-off LED headlamps, roof rails and fog lamps.

 

The 6-speaker touchscreen infotainment system not only offers the Android Auto Plus Show, Miracast and CarPlay functionality, but features built-in Satellite Navigation. An integrated Reverse camera and Park Distance Control (PDC) add both convenience and safety.

 

Toyota Rush Interior-22

 

A broad array of safety features are included in Rush; the active safety systems include Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Hill Assist Control (HAC).

The passive safety systems comprise a total of six air bags – driver, passenger, side and curtain air bags are provided.

 

A six-service/90 000 kilometre service plan comes standard, backed up by a 3-year/100 000km warranty. The service intervals are set at 15 000 kilometres.

 

Pricing:

Rush 1.5 MT – R299 900
Rush 1.5 AT – R 313 500

 

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Hilux Dakar – talking tough

Toyota South Africa has an established history of commemorating Hilux models with special edition offerings – usually branded Legend – but its latest version is an aggressive looking interation aptly called the Dakar in honour of the racing vehicles it produces.

The Dakar limited edition sports an all-new face, featuring a more prominent trapezoidal grille and ‘squared-off’ design. The central focal point is the large gloss-black-honeycomb grille, which incorporates two horizontal sections – creating an image of strength.

Hilux_078

The inner grille area is bordered by a metallic grey surround with three-dimensional appearance, which blends into the LED headlamps. A matching gloss-black accent strip on the bonnet and stylised Dakar insignia attached to the grille, complete the design.

The lower bumper also features a large honeycomb mesh pattern, extending to the sides of the vehicle, creating a sense of width. The new bumper design additionally includes intersecting horizontal and vertical fog lamp garnishes decked out in matching gloss black. The fog lamps themselves utilise LED elements for superb illumination. A metallic grey ‘skid plate’ provides the finishing touch to the bold new front facia.

In addition, the exterior sports a number of distinctive touches such as gloss-black treatment for the door handles and power-retractable side mirrors. The rear bumper is fashioned in grey, to tie in with the front design.

The interior features all-black treatment, with a black roof headliner (versus light grey on normal Raider), metallic black trim accent panels (silver on Raider) and black leather upholstery with light grey contrast stitching (fabric on Raider) – creating a sporty, premium space for occupants.

Hilux_118

The infotainment system is upgraded to include Satellite Navigation, whilst the standard Bluetooth, USB and CD/DVD playback functionality is retained. The touch-screen system also includes an on-board trip computer and customisable home screen.

Dakar models receive a different instrument cluster, using white-faced gauges with orange needle pointers and bespoke graphics, emulating a toothed gear (cog) – to distinguish the Dakar from its normal brethren.

The LCD multi-information display also features a bespoke start-up graphic showing off the Dakar model’s exterior façade.

All Dakar models are based on Raider models and use the 2.8 GD-6 powertrain or 4,0-litre V6 (double-cab only). The 2,8-litre, four cylinder turbo-diesel engine produces 130 kW and 420 Nm in manual transmission guise. Automatic transmission-equipped variants receive a boost to 450 Nm. The V6 variant delivers 175 kW and 376 Nm.

Both rear-wheel and switch-on-the-fly four-wheel drive transaxles are offered, each available in either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission configuration – creating a matrix of four 2.8 GD-6 variants.

The manual gearbox includes a selectable iMT function (intelligent Manual Transmission), which provides rev-matching downshift and hesitation-free upshift functionality. The iMT feature also helps prevent accidental stalling of the engine.

 

Buyers can choose between either Xtra – or Double Cab configurations.

Xtra Cab Price
Hilux XC 2.8GD6 Raised Body Dakar MT R 470 300
Hilux XC 2.8GD6 Raised Body Dakar AT R 488 300
Hilux XC 2.8GD6 4X4 Dakar MT R 535 600
Hilux XC 2.8GD6 4X4 Dakar AT R 553 800
Double Cab  
Hilux DC 2.8GD6 Raised Body Dakar MT R 535 000
Hilux DC 2.8GD6 Raised Body Dakar AT R 553 400
Hilux DC 2.8GD6 4X4 Dakar MT R 601 100
Hilux DC 2.8GD6 4X4 Dakar AT R 621 000
Hilux DC 4.0 V6 4X4 Dakar AT R 662 700

Toyota has increased the service plan period on 2.8 GD-6 models from 5-year/90 000 kilometres to 9 services/90 000 kilometres, whilst the 4.0 V6 model receives an increase to a 6 services/90 000 kilometre period (previously 5 years).

The Warranty period is 3-year/100 000 kilometres and applies across the Hilux range.

 

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 –

 

Sector

 

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

 

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.