It’s just a jump to the left

For someone who grew up adoring the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT and the iconic Alfetta GTV6, the notion of these becoming a stand-tall SUV was about as unnerving as seeing an E-Type Jaguar morph into a F-Pace.

However, since change is probably the one true constant in life, the shifting needs of consumers currently dictates the SUV is the vehicle type of choice and, for automakers; it is simply adapt or die.

In the case of Alfa Romeo, this was probably a bigger decision than most. Following its heyday, which I believe ended with the GTV6, the company went into a slide and dished up some really crappy product before making a comeback with the 156 and then vanishing again to contemplate its own navel or whatever motor manufacturers do when they need to reinvent their own wheel.

Brilliantly, from this out pops the new generation Giulia. A true Alfa Romeo. Yippee Yay!

And this serves just to put even more pressure on the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first SUV. Does it handle the pressure? An unqualified yes.

It is named after the Stelvio Pass, Italy’s highest mountain pass of some 20 km in length with more than 75 hairpin bends. Having had the opportunity to drive this pass, I can confirm it is a great test of the handling, poise and composure of any vehicle traversing the route.

To justify the name the Alfa had to produce all three of those characteristics in bucket loads as well as providing true Alfa sprint performance and top speed – and the Stelvio ticks all of those boxes.

In true Alfa Romeo tradition, the Stelvio delivers handling, worthy of a real sports car, balanced weight distribution, the most direct steering ratio in the segment and state-of-the-art suspension with the exclusive Alfalink technology.

The Stelvio offers the Alfa Romeo Q4 all-wheel drive system and can be optionally equipped with mechanical locking rear differential.

The Stelvio has a length of 4,7m, height of 1,7 m and width of 2,2 m, – big enough without being bulky and sleek enough in the design execution to look lower than it actually is.

Stelvio has a strong identity, built around select features, such as the Cloverleaf front, the dual sports exhaust tips and ‘Kamm tail’ styling at the rear.

It also ensures a high level of on-board comfort with the dual zone climate control system, the Alfa Connect infotainment system and an audio system, with 8, 10 or 14 speakers (in this case by Harman Kardon) depending on version.

Finally yet importantly, the 525-litre boot competes with the best in the segment and has a convenient electric tailgate that can be set with three different opening levels, directly from the Alfa Rotary selector.

Stelvio features a number of safety systems, available as standard and key amongst them is the Integrated Brake System (IBS), Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Brake with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) with Rear Cross-Path.

Under the bonnet is a 2,0-litre turbo-charged petrol engine featuring a power output of 206 kW and 400 Nm of torque. The 4-cylinder unit, built entirely from aluminium is combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission, driving a carbon drive shaft and Q4 all-wheel drive.

In addition to MultiAir electro-hydraulic valve actuation, the engine features ‘2-in-1’ turbo and 200-bar high-pressure direct fuel injection, delivering rapid accelerator response, powering from 0 to 100 km/h in 5,7 seconds, with a top speed of 230 km/h.

The 8-speed automatic transmission fitted to the Stelvio is specifically calibrated for fast, smooth gearshifts. The transmission has a lock-up clutch and, depending on the mode chosen with the Alfa DNA selector, the automatic transmission optimises fluidity, comfort and ease of driving in all environments, including around town and improves fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Steering-column-mounted, aluminium paddle shifters are available as standard.

Dynamic mode accentuates performance and handling with precise steering response and immediate braking; resulting in a sporty driving style. Natural mode is ideal for urban and highway driving with handling tailored for comfort and fuel economy. Finally, the Advanced Efficiency maximises energy savings and minimises emissions levels.

Achieving its surprisingly (for a SUV) good handling, a key factor is the weight distribution between the two axles – an Alfa Romeo tradition – requiring management of the weights and materials involved, achieved by adjusting the car’s layout and by placing the heaviest units in the most central position.

While I may not have the Stelvia Pass as a playground on the test, my usual route involves a reasonably useful climb with some fast sweeps and a couple of really tight turns that allow both braking performance and handling to be closely examined.

You know the old saying – if it looks like and Alfa, feels like an Alfa and sounds like an Alfa, it must be an Alfa.

The Stelvia turns in neatly, never feels top heavy as some SUVs do when in press on mode and, with both grip and drive from all four wheels, I battled to get it to become unsettled – and on dirt roads the ‘nanny’ systems allow quite a long leeway before kicking in so it can be induced into a slide when needed.

A double wishbone suspension with a semi-virtual steering axis sits up front and the rear suspension uses a four-and-a-half link system – patented by Alfa Romeo – to deliver precise control of the wheel’s characteristic angles.

The Q4 system continuously monitors numerous parameters to optimise torque distribution between the two axles according to what the car is doing and how much grip the road surface offers.

In normal grip conditions, the Stelvio with Q4 system acts like a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, with 100% of the torque sent to the rear axle. As the wheels approach their grip limit, the system transfers up to 50% of the torque to the front axle.

If this (along with the Giulia) are the ‘new’ Alfa Romeo, then I look forward to the next offerings.

All Alfa Romeo Stelvio’s feature a 3 year / 100,000 km Warranty and a 6 year / 100,000km Maintenance plan as standard.



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 – BMW M240i Convertible

Arguably, the most famous multiple personality combination – real or imagined – is the Jekyll and Hyde tale by Robert Louis Stevenson and it is this ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ combination that best suits the character of the BMW M240i.

From being an ideal top-down docile beachfront cruiser, it can transform, instantly, into a ferocious, snarling beast.

In Eco mode, the car returns excellent fuel consumption for a straight six, the suspension copes so much better with rippled and potholed roads and the rate of progress is kept to genteel increments.

In Sport Plus mode there is sense the whole car is doing an Optimus Prime thing and all of it is transforming by growing tighter around the driver as well as tweaking suspension and gearbox settings.

It is then the beast will play.

The 240i is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the fastest accelerating or most rapid car on the road but what it is capable of, is made to feel more impressive because of the contrast in characters.

The new model features sharper front-end styling, LED headlights fitted as standard, interior upgrades and new connectivity services.

Both coupé and convertible models are now fitted as standard with bi-LED headlights and the main headlights can be specified in adaptive full-LED form as an option. The familiar twin-circular-headlight look has a hexagonal interpretation, while a larger kidney grille gives the front end of the new models a wider look and allows it to project a sportier impression.

The outer air intakes in the three-section front end are now larger and the rear end features single-piece rear lights (LEDs as standard) with hallmark BMW L-shape extending well into the flanks.

The interior of the new BMW 2 Series models features an all-new design for the instrument panel, which gives it a more spacious and clearer feel. New cloth or leather seat upholstery variants, interior trim strips in aluminium or fine wood and high-gloss black panels with chrome accents provide even greater scope for individualisation.

At 4 432 millimetres in length, the Convertible condenses its sporting prowess into a compact package offering 335 litres of boot space and 280 litres with the top down – enough for a quick weekend getaway or grocery run. The boot is relatively deep but its narrow opening means getting particularly wide bits of luggage inside could be a struggle.

Up front, space is generous for both driver and passenger with good headroom (with the top up) and legroom, a decent glovebox, deep door pockets and a central cubby.

Nominally, a 2+2, the 240i rear seats are quite difficult to access, especially with the top up, and the space is really cramped and uncomfortable over anything more than brief squirt down to the coffee shop.

Still, the four seats do offer a plus compared to its main rival in class, the Porsche Cayman.

The M240i – weirdly – still offers only manual seat adjustment as standard fare and this is a hassle to get the absolute perfect positioning so it worth spending the extra to have the electronic adjustment fitted. The sports seats are comfortable and supportive though, both absolute necessities when it comes time to unleash the fun.

Standard items on our test car included multifunction steering wheel, M Sport brakes, locking wheel bolts, sport automatic transmission, variable sport steering, alarm system with radio remote control, wind deflector, rain sensor and automatic headlight control, cruise control with brake function, M Sports Suspension and M aerodynamic kit.

Options fitted to the test car included 18-inch double-spoke wheels shod with run flat tyres, Chrome-line exterior, rear view camera, interior and exterior mirror with automatic anti-dazzle function, seat heating for driver and front passenger, headlamp washer system, Park Distance Control (PDC), front and rear, automatic air-conditioning with micro filter, adaptive LED headlights, navigation system and a Harman Kardon sound system.

This made the on-road price R896 235,99

The options are mentioned simply because, like any BMW, these come as listing nearly as long as ‘War and Peace‘.

The high-resolution 8,8-inch central display now comes in touchscreen form if the optional Navigation system Professional is specified. This provides the driver with another way of operating various functions, in addition to the latest generation of the iDrive operating system (standard), the Touch Controller and the intelligent voice control system.

The standard SIM card integrated into the car enables connectivity and access to BMW services via BMW ConnectedDrive, without the need for a linked smartphone. These include Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI) with hazard preview and access to the vehicle via Remote Services.

However, it is what lies under the bonnet that truly counts. The 3,0-litre straight-six engine with direct injection and M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology develops 250 kW, propelling the BMW M240i from 0 to 100 km/h in 4,7 seconds with fuel consumption combined 7,4 l/100 km. CO2 emissions combined are 169 g/km.

The M240i’s six-cylinder engine is superbly strong from low revs and it has absolutely no issue being at the other end of its rev band where it triumphantly roars out its challenge to all and sundry.

In fact the M240i could be accused of having a bit too much to offer – in Sport Plus mode the rear tyres struggle to put the power down on damp or uneven roads, making it quite lively, albeit not for the faint of heart or untrained in the art of rear wheel driving.

Sport Plus does not completely disengage the ‘nanny’ systems – just tempers their reaction time to allow for much more pro-active driving. The throttle, steering and optional adaptive dampers are primed for action and all feel their best in this mode, ensuring the M240i is poised, agile and communicative.

Our car came fitted with the 8-speed auto gearbox and this responds instantly to driver input from the wheel-mounted paddle shifts.

Keep the M240i in its Comfort or Sport driving modes and the traction control is quick to step in and save the day.

Because it has this Jekyll and Hyde personality, its ultimate performance handling is not quite as good as the Cayman, for example, whereas its soft ride status does iron out more of the ripples than the Porsche. We were also impressed with the overall body stiffness of the convertible and the fact scuttle shake has been almost completely eliminated.

I remain, personally, not a great fan of convertibles – except for boulevard cruising – and prefer solid metal around me when pushing things to the limit, but the 240i would be on the list if I changed my mind.

Confidence remains

Confidence in the South African auto industry remains high with ongoing major investment projects in both plant and people – despite the concerns some have raised about ‘alternative’ facilities being opened in other African countries.

BMW Group South Africa  has put its best foot forward with the opening of its news R73-million Plant Rosslyn Training Academy able to host 300 apprentices a year.

In 1978, exactly 40 years ago, BMW Group South Africa opened its first training centre at BMW Plant Rosslyn. Development and empowerment of workers for the automotive and manufacturing sectors has been a focus ever since. Even in this pre-democracy era, the company was ahead of the times in training learners irrespective of their ethnic background.

Since then 2 000 people have been employed by BMW Plant Rosslyn, after successfully being trained at the Training Academy.

Tim Abbott, CEO BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, says: “Global automotive production stands on the brink of momentous change with an increased focus on digitalisation and electrification. The workforce of tomorrow needs to keep pace with these trends. At BMW Group South Africa we are investing in the skills of the future.”

The facility focuses on both theoretical knowledge and practical application. Modern manufacturing skills such as robot programming, Advanced Computer Numerical Control (CNC) simulation and training on electric vehicles have been included in the new Academy.

An accredited Trade Test Centre has been incorporated into the building, allowing learners to achieve their trade qualification in-house. This functionality will also be extended to the public in the course of 2018.

Minister, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize (Department of Higher Education and Training) adds:  “In June 2017, Cabinet approved the Human Resource Development Strategy towards 2030. One of the strategy programs talks to the skills that are produced based on the partnerships that can be encouraged within the country.  The country can only achieve this if companies such as BMW continue to encourage Work integrated Learning. Students from the TVET colleges will benefit immensely with such partnerships.”

The Training Academy will continue to provide skills development for existing BMW Group South Africa employees and managers. This includes training on the advanced technologies that will be used in the production of the new BMW X3, which will kick off within a couple of months.

In addition, the following programmes will be offered for external applicants:


  • Mechatronics
  • Autotronics


  • Millwright
  • Electrician
  • Fitter
  • Fitter and turner
  • Motor mechanic
  • Spray painter
  • Panel beater

Road Impressions – Suzuki Ignis 1.2 GLX

Once upon a time, there was Mini. And Mini was good. It put a capital ‘F’ in the sheer fun of driving a car and then things – as they are wont to do – changed as vast volumes of makes and models poured into the market.

At the same time a changing world demanded more and more efficiency, less and less emissions and in order to service these demands, we entered the age of the ‘vanilla’ car where boring became (largely) the norm across the small and mid-range sectors.

Brief flashes of individualism did offer a firecracker spark in the darkness with imaginings such as the PT Cruiser, original Kia Soul (before it got all plump and rounded) and the Citroën Cactus.

And then, there is the Suzuki Ignis. Looks different, feels different and is, well…. #LikeNoOther …and sneaks past the being cute and brainless to being damn cute and a whole bunch of fun to be with.

It was first shown at the Paris Show in 2015 and then took a while to get to South Africa, during which time it picked up a runner-up slot in the World Urban Car Award and bucket loads of them were sold into crowded cities in Europe.

At just 3,7 metres long and 1,69 metres wide it is compactly proportioned without actually looking small and uncomfortable – in fact, interior space for occupants is quite generous unless you are planning on transporting the front row of The Cheetahs rugby team. The 180 mm ground clearance confirms it can also take on rural and unpaved roads with confidence.

The modular chassis underpinning the Ignis contributes to the crossover’s low mass, while also offering a rigid platform for the suspension. The result is enhanced ride comfort and engaging handling.

Powered by the K12M 1,2-litre four-cylinder engine, the Ignis benefits from a lightweight 850 kg kerb mass so the engine’s maximum power output of 61 kW at 6 000 r/min translates into a generous power-to-weight ratio of 71,65 kW/ton. The maximum torque output of 113 Nm is reached at 4 200 r/min.

The standard transmission is a five-speed manual design, driving the front wheels.

The Ignis sits on Suzuki’s latest-generation HEARTECTTM lightweight chassis. The modular platform is already a feature of the larger Baleno, and makes use of a high percentage of high-tensile steel that allows high levels of rigidity, while reducing overall mass.

The front suspension combines MacPherson struts and coil springs with gas-filled dampers and an anti-roll bar, while the rear set-up makes use of a torsion beam, combined with coil springs and an anti-roll bar.

Steering is a rack and pinion system with electric power assistance. The turning circle is 9,4 metres it runs on 15-inch alloy wheels with 175/65 R15 tyres standard.

The GLX feature piano black rims that I felt looked rather unattractive and contrasted heavily against the car, making them too much of a focal point. Chrome or silver would, I believe, look much better.

The Ignis is not meant to be a robot dragster so the move from zero to 100 km/h takes a fairly leisurely  11,8 seconds, while top speed is 161 km/h. Combined cycle fuel consumption figure averaged 5,6 l/100 km in the case of my test unit.

The luggage compartment offers 260 litres of cargo space, expandable to 469 litres with the rear seatback folded flat.

Standard items include power windows, remote central locking, automatic air-conditioning, electric power steering and an MP3-compatible CD sound system with USB port and 12V accessory power socket. The GLX gets projector-type LED headlight designs with daytime running lights, while front fog lamps are incorporated into the integrated front bumper. The exterior mirrors include turn signal repeaters.

Driving ‘Iggy’ is fun. Not because it shred the tarmac or blitz past anything else on the road. No, it is fun because it is unpretentious, yet individual enough not to simply blend into the grey crowd of vanilla inching its way along the motorway.

It does not out handle everything on the road although, within the limitations of is design spec, it is competent enough whizzing around corners. In fact, I would like to see one fitted with 16-inch wheels or a different profile that would give it just that bit extra stability.

Like the Mini of old, the Ignis brings a sense of the mischievous – ready to dart into little gaps in the traffic and swoop into miniscule parking bays, leaving the bulky urban kerb crawlers to make their four or five point approaches.

The Suzuki Ignis is covered by a standard 5-year/200 000 km warranty, as well as a 2-year/30 000 km service plan. Services are at 15 000 km/12 month intervals.

Ignis is not nice; it is ‘lekker’ – and again, #LikeNoOther.

Rwanda a go for VWSA

Volkswagen South Africa’s previously announced plans for an operation in Rwanda kicked into high gear in the capital, Kigali, today with the formal registration of the company Volkswagen Mobility Solutions Rwanda.

This means the roll out of Volkswagen’s integrated automotive mobility solution, a first for the Volkswagen Group, under the auspices of Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA), which is responsible for the Sub Saharan African Region.

Thomas Schaefer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa, says: “In December 2016 Volkswagen signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to conduct a detailed study to develop a business case for Volkswagen to introduce an integrated automotive mobility concept in Rwanda, which would be a first for Volkswagen worldwide.

“Our studies are complete and we believe we have a business case that will work and we are now ready to commence with the implementation of our plans for Rwanda. In short after today there is no going back, we are now fully committed to implementing our unique integrated automotive mobility solution in Rwanda together with Rwandans.”

VWSA chose Rwanda as the country in Africa to study the feasibility of an integrated automotive mobility solution for the following reasons:-

  • There is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption
  • There is dynamic economic growth of some 7% per annum
  • There is a young and tech savvy population
  • Rwanda is a leader in innovation and technology
  • Volkswagen have received strong support for our plans from Government and had great cooperation and support from the RDB
  • There is a real need for modern mobility solutions
  • Kigali is spearheading the smart city agenda

Volkswagen will adopt a phased approach in the implementation of the integrated automotive mobility solution and the first phase will focus on:

  • Establishing a local Mobility Services company
  • Oversee the establishment of a Volkswagen manufacturing and sales entity
  • Set up a vehicle assembly operation
  • Establish a sales and service structure
  • Set up a training centre
  • Offer the new mobility solution

“The production facility will have an initial annual installed capacity of up to 5 000 units, with 2018 being our start-up year. The Volkswagen product portfolio will initially include the Hatchback Polo, the Passat, a sedan and possibly the Teramont, a large SUV,” says Schaefer.

Volkswagen will run the production and retail operations, which will include the importation of other Volkswagen models to be sold on the Rwandan market.

The current business plan assumes employment of between 500 and 1 000 people in Kigali in phase one for Mobility Solutions admin, production, training, sales and service and the drivers..

A Rwandan software development start-up company Awesomity Lab has been appointed to develop the mobility App. Volkswagen is also in negotiation with other potential Rwandan suppliers.

The first service to be offered will be community car sharing, which will launch in quarter two, with around 150 vehicles in service within a few months. This will be followed by a ride hailing service with some initial 150 vehicles planned in the medium term still in 2018.

In 2019 public car sharing with some initial 250 cars planned will be launched and this will be followed by a shuttle service and lastly a peer to peer car sharing service is envisaged.  These numbers are based on assumed market demand, as such an innovative integrated mobility solution is a first for the automotive industry.

All the mobility services will be accessed by the custom developed App through which all bookings and payment will be made. Services will also be able to be booked online or via a hotline to cater for people who do not have a smartphone.

Some US $20-million (R246-million) will be spent in Rwanda by VWSA during phase one of the integrated automotive mobility solutions.

“We are delighted with the progress that has been made since we signed the MOU with Volkswagen in 2016. We are ready to partner with Volkswagen as they implement their integrated automotive mobility solutions as well as vehicle assembly operation in Rwanda.

“Our country is determined to become the leading innovator in Africa.  This project is in line with Rwanda’s policies to protect the environment, create jobs, and reduce our trade deficit. We are confident that this partnership will help create countless opportunities for young Rwandans not only in terms of employment but also in terms of skills transfer,” says Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the RDB.

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.