Mini Cooper S (with Mini Connected) 2011

Mini Cooper S with Mini Connected

Mini 1

The Mini Cooper S treads a fine line. It’s not incredibly practical, with a boot the size of a shoebox, 2 seats that are about as comfortable as garden furniture, and another 2 seats that are about as useful as a pork chop in a synagogue.  These drawbacks are unfortunately the price you pay to have the other exceptional characteristics of the car, so it’s all about compromise. You need to be a very specific type of person to drive a MINI and in my mind there are three different drivers (generalization warning ahead!)

Firstly, ‘The handbag-on the-arm-glass-straight-GHD’d-hair-sexy-woman’

It’s the MINI’s smorgasbords of customizable options, unique looks and “cute” factor that attracts her to the car. The Cooper S I drove had burnt orange paintwork, with white wheels, racing stripes, mirrors and roof. Every person that saw it, whether they were 25 or 55, said it looked “cool”. The MINI is not a new car, and I still found it turned heads wherever I went.

Bi Xenon Headlamps

You could say the interior is slightly more tailored towards the female driver, its switchgear unlike anything you’ve ever seen, with unique ‘mood lighting’ that allows you to change the colour of the ambiance lighting to ANY colour in the rainbow. (A very cool touch, and always gets the “oooh” factor from anyone that gets in) The seats are all leather (optional), with everything you’d need (Electric windows, mirrors, climate control and steering-wheel mounted controls). My only big criticism, albeit one that is obviously hard to please considering the size of the car, is that there isn’t enough space to put things, and I found my stuff sliding all over the floor like the deck-crew of Deadliest Catch.

The next buyer is what I will call the ‘I roll my own cigarettes, jegging clad, scarf bedazzled, instagramming hipster’. The MINI speaks to this new breed of hipsters for the reasons above (I’m unique, just like everyone else) but also the ability to connect with everyone on their social platforms. This is, as far as I know, the only car on the market that boasts the features that Connected brings to the MINI. In a nutshell, Connected, well, connects every social aspect of your iPhone to the MINI, allowing you to stream feeds (Facebook, RSS, Twitter, Web Radio) straight to the colour screen front and centre on the dash.

Interior by night

There’s a couple other games, using game theory, in the Connected app, that reward you with points for certain styles of driving, but overall the ability to see what’s going on within your online social profiles right there on the dash is pretty effing cool. It connects to any iPhone using the Connected app (download for FREE) and can also do the other (calls, music) functionality via Bluetooth should you not want to plug in. It’s a great system that will evolve to functionality far beyond just viewing, but also interacting (such as the connected system on recent BMW’s, allowing you to Google via the car).

The final buyer is of course the driving enthusiast. ‘The spiky hair, tight name-brand muscle shirt, speed junkie’. If you’re like me, and you enjoy sheer driving pleasure, then this car is, no doubt, one you will like. It’s no long distance cruiser, but rather a medium distance twists and turns rocket ship. The 135kW 1.6litre Turbo (previous generation were supercharged) engine is a great motor, with nearly no turbo lag, strong shove all through the revs. There’s ample torque all through the revs, but it does cut the fun rather quickly at 6,500RPM. I had a steptronic (Automatic) with paddles on the steering wheel, which, I must admit, I was very weary of at first. The auto quickly grew on me, making it a pleasure to drive in traffic, and very easy to drive when throwing through the twisties. Purists will disagree, but I enjoyed the auto box when the speed picked up, because it meant I could keep both hands firmly planted, as the MINI does tend to tug at the wheel with all that power to the front. There is also a short overboost function that ups the torque to 260Nm for a short period of time, should you need to make that gap you’ve judged badly.

Mini, Front 3/4 View

Another incredible little button is the SPORT button, situated right in front of the gear lever. This little button dials up throttle response, noticeably tightens up steering as well as dials in a sport function on the gearbox (for the auto). It’s an incredible change of character to the car, and really brings a HUGE smile to my face when bobbing through traffic, or out on a swooping open road. The car gathers speed quickly, and thanks to low profile run-flats with sports suspension, the handling is sublime (read jaw shatteringly hard). You’ll get the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) to kick in fairly easily, but the short wheel base, FWD, and lightness of the car makes it OH so much fun!

Fuel consumption, although I didn’t bother, was actually fairly good (considering) at around 7.2l/100km

Mini with filter

Over and above, this car came pretty well kitted out, with dynamic xenon headlamps, puddle lighting, chrome detailing and various other options to make it well specced. These options (and vast customization) come at a premium. Starting out, this Cooper S will go for roughly R306 000 (incl emissions tax) and I tried to work out the optional extras, which came to about R46 000, putting it at around R355 000. It’s not cheap, but it’s heaps of fun, stands out of the crowd, and will keep you smiling. If you can put up with the stiff ride, size, and price, it’s definitely worth a look if you recognise yourself in any of those above mentioned driver profiles

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First impressions – Audi A1 – 2010

Quick driving impressions of the Audi A1 today

Let’s start with the looks. From the front, it’s typically Audi with a gaping front grille, which has been slightly revised to be more angular and a little more aggressive. That’s about the only thing I can say I like about the exterior. It all goes pear when you stand back and try to figure out what happened to the rear end. The silver lining that runs over the A,B and C pillars takes the eye straight to the rear which slopes rather aggressively. It seems a bit unnatural and the shape reminds me a lot of the current Fiat 500, or even an A3 with a Q7 rear slapped to the back. The one we drive was a dark blue, and it didn’t really do much to accentuate any lines. This said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you’ll have to make your own opinion about Fiona over here.

Interior is typically Audi, everything put together extremely well, with smacks of aluminium all over, including the Mini-style round air vents (Which can be customized in different colours. Goodey. Note : Option $$$) The instrumentation is all easy to understand and use, the test car came with Audi’s MMI interface and a pop-up colour screen which makes changing any of the car’s settings / radio easy by not having to take your eyes very much of the road. (Note : option $$$)

Pretty much every nice button to press and piece of equipment in the test car was an option, but there was a full high-fi system including SD card option & iPod plug-in, Rain sensor Lights Sensor, Daytime Running Lights, leather seats, and the list goes on. (Note : All Options $$$)

The 1.4TFSI engine used is the motor shared with the poorer cousin VW, and does a great job of moving the little Audi along with a lot of torque through the rev band, and an eagerness to get going off the traffic light. This said, there’s also a focus on economy, with a start-stop function (this switches off the engine when the car’s stopped at the traffic light and the car is in neutral) and an in binnacle indicator on when to shift up (even in manual) for economical driving. Impressive!

Handling is excellent, with acceptable body roll, and even with 4 people in the car, the ride was comfortable, yet slightly sporty. It’s a really good mix in my books.

There’s two other engines on offer, a 1.2TFSI (turbo) and a 1.6TDI (Diesel), which should probably be the pick of the bunch. With the Audi A1, they’ve taken the Mini route with a large number of customisable options to make your A1 unique…including Media Style packages, Led interior light packages and a host of other options that are usually only included on cars in a higher segment.

Bottom line, it’s gonna sell like Boerewors rolls at the Pretoria Show. There are loads of first time buyers who want to differentiate themselves from the hoards of BMW 1series and Mini Cooper drones out there. It’s also a great package, and slaps Audi into the small car segment with impressive results.

Pricing – the 1.4TFSI starts at R243 000 but then in true Audi style, the options listing is as long as the next Royal wedding invite list. So before you get too excited, check that out.

Audi's new design language. Me likey

Mini Cooper Countryman S – 2010

I’ve got to hand it to the guys at Mini, the Countryman launch was an experience that rightfully complimented the ethos of the new Countryman brand. Starting off at Constitution Hill for breakfast, we were taken down for a sensory experience that included interactive floor projections, and a box-like 3-screen short film. This all to get into the spirit of ‘getting away’. It all was very impressive, and seemed like no expense had been spared. We headed out in the basic 1.6litre first, all the way out past Lanseria in convoy to a secret destination for a fully catered picnic lunch and massages. In true mini style, everything had been ‘mini-fied’ including the bathrooms (it’s the small touches that really count)
The way back we had the pleasure of the Countryman S All 4 (4 wheel drive) to Randlords in central JHB for afternoon drinks. There was never a moment that we were left unattended or wanting for anything, they even provided an Ultamix CD for each car to enjoy. It truly gave one an indication of what you could do on a day with your Countryman, solidifying the “get away anywhere” nature of the car. Impressive stuff. Enough about the launch day, let’s get down to the cars.

Looks wise – don’t let the pictures fool you, the Countryman is substantially larger than the current Mini, with an aggressive flat front grille (gaping or with slats) and a clean, much larger, bubble rear. Ground clearance has been raised, as this Mini is positioned for the “get out of town” persona, allowing it to easily traverse a gravel road to the lodge or your mountain-biking trail. This said, it isn’t to everyone’s liking. The team in our car commented that it reminded them of a London Taxi cab from behind, and was a clear departure from the ‘cute’ Mini feel of before. You can clearly see this car is aimed at a predominantly male audience, and it comes across in the looks, colour schemes and myriad of options that all give the car a more macho physique

Interior and build quality– I have never been a huge fan of Mini build quality, as the cars seem to rattle a lot more than you’d expect. I must say that’s all been sorted out in the Countryman. The interior is classic Mini. Notable differences however is the optional MiniConnect, which allows you to sync your iPhone (and soon BBerry) with the car’s infotainment system, running a Mini App on your phone, to display all your social media applications, listen to international radio, Google Search via the car, and much more. I only saw a limited demonstration of it, but it’s the best integration of phone to car I’ve seen. Also interesting use of slide-rail technology allows different things to be bolted to the centre-tunnel (in our model a sliding sunglasses holder) which is an interesting design and functional element. Two things that differentiate the interior of the Countryman from any of the others, is the (obvious rear doors) but also rear seating & legroom. I can only compare it to the likes of a Mercedes Benz ML in terms of sheer amount of space. Somehow, they’ve managed to free up a large amount of space in the back, which is great! The other obvious gripe of other Mini’s was boot space, and this Countryman definitely improves on that with a larger boot size. This all very in line with the “getting away” tagline of the car

Engine – basically, unless you’re used to driving a donkey cart in the yellow lane, don’t go for the basic 1.6. The engine strains to get the heavier Mini moving, and takes a full 365 days to 100km/h. Much more to my liking is the 1.6 twin turbo which pushes out 135kW and on overboost delivers 260NM of torque. If you’ve ever driven a Mini, this is the engine you fall in love with. It’s incredibly keen to push through the revs, but requires work from the short –throw gearstick. There’s an auto option too, but the real fun is in the manual. The other drivers (that weren’t Mini drivers) didn’t like the very evident turbo-lag in 1st and 2nd gear, something that Mini drivers get used to. You need to keep the turbo spooling above 2000RPM to really make it hussle.

Handling and brakes – Once again, a myriad of options to improve the handling make every one a different ride.(Sports pack, larger wheels etc) In standard 1.6 guise, the handling was not usual Mini stuff. It was fairly wallowy in the bends, and passengers in the rear found themselves bobbing around. The Countryman S All-4 showed NONE of that. Glued to the ground, with typical Mini poise, it really comes alive in the twisties, and is especially interesting to push with the 4wheel drive models. Interesting fact, the 4wheel drive system used is a very basic adaption of the BMW X-Drive system, allowing power to be sent to front or rear axels (up to 100% in certain driving conditions)
The CountryMan S also comes in standard front wheel drive, however I’d opt for the All-4, in my view, if you’re gonna use it as a ‘go-explore’ car, I’d want the capability to do it. (That said this is NO soft roader, and I suspect this 4wheel drive option was only introduced as a necessity for the European and US markets because of the snowy stuff)
The great thing about the Countryman is the fact that, because of the increased ride height, and some magic dust, they’ve managed to make it handle like a normal Cooper in most situations, but be a LOT more comfortable. It doesn’t crash over bumps, or imperfections in the road, (every road in JHB) but rather coasts right over them, which is the best part of the Countryman in my books.
All the models come standard with ESP, ABS, EBD and I found braking to be on par with what one would come to expect from new vehicles.

Steering – on both models, steering was precise, light enough in the parking lot, yet weighted when the going gets interesting (as it should in a Mini)

Pricing – Well, how long is a piece of string. No really. Mini’s are probably, second to a Bentley, the most customizable cars on order today. This personalization however, does come at a premium. The sad fact is that if you want it to look rough / sporty / outdoorsy / girly / different, you’re gonna pay for it.
At time of posting this review, the cheapest 1.6 Countryman (manual 6-speed) was on offer for R287 500, and the most expensive 1.6S All-4 (manual 6-speed) starting at R393 000. *** Note that this is pre ANY options, so that’s just the base price you can work off of.
I specced one up at a dealership the following day (albeit rather liberally) to around R477 000 (2 Packages, different rims, colours, and Mini Connect included)

Value for money – I’m not so sure, it’s quite a bit of money for a Mini, and honestly there’s just some things that should be standard at this price range that isn’t. It’s hard to compare it to anything like a Rav4 or a Freelander II because it’s not a real off-roader, or even an Quattro Audi A3 sportback … no that doesn’t work either. So the verdict is still out on that one.

What really caught my attention, is that this car is to someone out there, a quirky, head turning city car, with all the amenities… and a dirt road traversing, bike and picnic basket carrying weekend getaway car too. Pretty impressive if you think of it that way.

Audi A8 2011 Update

I am a huge fan of Audi’s ‘new’ look. The LED eyelash daytime running lights really attract attention on the road. I actually think no other manufacturer has come close when it comes to mimicking the Audi’s LED lights. Unless of course they set the front of the car on fire…that would probably attract more attention.

You may not have known, but Audi released their new 2010 A8 recently. I doubt you’ve seen the previous A8 on the road, as it’s a hugely underrated car, especially in SA where it hasn’t taken off. There are numerous reasons for this, but in my view, the previous A8 was just downright ‘yawn’. Square, large, square and… large. Nothing that made it stand out from the A6, or the Ford Sierra, for that matter.

What makes a super-saloon a super saloon is that it stands out from the rest of the range. It stands out because it costs a shit-load more. It stands out because its owners are not blue-collar workers, they do not frequent drive-thru’s, or park their cars themselves.

So obviously they took this all into account and decided to pull the current great looks from the rest of the range and create a look for the A8 which makes it it’s own. Hell they’ve done it with the R8?!

No, no they did exactly the opposite. They basically took the A4 (read A5, A7 or A6) and stretched it out a little. They’ve actually managed to make the A8 even more boring than the A4. That’s like saying they’ve made Gordon Brown even more boring … impossible.

Below is a picture of the A8, somewhere, it’s there I swear. I just can’t remember which one out of the range it is, or tell the difference for that matter.

Now excuse me, you’ve paid R1 096 000 (Starting price) for a super-saloon and you get a car that looks, not similar, but identical to the R300 000 Audi A4, or the A5 or the A(insert number here)? Are you high?

Imagine, partner of Liebovitz & Malpractovitch arrives at the One&Only in Cape Town in his brand new Audi A8, but they mistake it for the rental A4, and wave him on to the parking lot around the back by the kitchen. These are the types of atrocities that no man who spends a bar on a car can have happen.

This is why the Mercedes S-Class, and BMW 7 will continue to outsell the Audi Cream 20:1. Why, because they stand out of the crowd, not only within their own family, but also on the road between the general riff raff.

Sadly, you will also probably never see the 2010 A8 on the road. Oh…it’ll be there…you just won’t notice it.

Spot the A8 ... or the A5

Mercedes Benz C63 AMG (2010)

I must admit, that I’m very worried about the motoring world. Not because Kia seem to be making better looking cars than BMW can muster up these days, or that Lamborghini reports it will be making an SUV…no no, this is much more disturbing.

Global warming and all that Al Gore propaganda seems to be taking its toll on the motoring fraternity the world over. GM and its Volt, Mitsubishi has put its hydrogen car on the market, and according to a recent report, sales of Hybrid cars have nearly doubled in the US, year on year.

I’m worried, that in a couple of years, I’m going to have to buy a car, that runs on water, and has a synthesizer in the “exhaust”, that I get to tune to different settings “V6, V8, Straight 6”…the list goes on. I’m sorry but if I prefer my cars burning fuel and emitting CO2. I want to hear a growl when I drive into an underground parking lot or feel the rumble through the pedals when I put my foot down. Or is that too much to ask? Apparently the polar bears floating on the only two ice-caps left, say, yes it is.

How does this relate to what I drove? Well, the Mercedes Benz C63 AMG makes long dark smoky stains at the feet of Al Gore and the ever-shrinking rainforests. And making those stains, are oh so easy as I found out.

The C63 is AMG’s overhaul of the C-Class. They are the muscle car equivalent of Extreme Makeover.  For starters, this is the first Mercedes that AMG designed from the ground up, lumped with a 6.3 litre naturally aspirated V8 developing 336Kw and 600NM of torque, it boasts a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.5 seconds and an electronically governed top speed of 250Km/h. This is all very impressive stuff for a car that can easily accommodate 4 adults and their baggage. But we’re not into that family jazz, so let me tell you what thrills…

The sound of that V8 is the most intoxicating sound I’ve ever heard. Things get all kind of Benoni when you stop at a traffic light. Car in Neutral, and drop the accelerator. People literally grab their children and run. Needless to say, doing this in an underground parking lot, or tunnel, leads to immediate orgasm.

The engine is pure, and mated to the “7 Speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT 7-Gtronic” transmission (I shit you not, that’s what they call it) 3 Modes for the gearbox (Comfort, Sport & Manual) Sport makes gear shifts 30% faster, and manual 50% faster than comfort. A nice touch, when in manual, (and it REALLY is manual) is there is no shifting up for you when you reach the limiter – what you get though is one very loud pop, red warning lights, and a binnacle full of “ACHTUNG – SHIFT UP”…very subtle.

This is what I love. A big burly V8, that guzzles petrol at a rate faster than BP can pump it out into the Gulf of Mexico. A big V8 that makes beggars turn and run, and sets off car alarms in underground parking lots.

Another novel touch, is when downshifting in manual (paddle shift), it automatically blips the throttle for that ‘pop’ in the exhaust. Sheer hair raising stuff. Let me tell you something. No hydrogen powered-hybrid-battery-eco-friendly sedan will EVER raise the hair on your neck like that…unless of course you happen to touch the plug after charging.

Handling? It’s superb, it has 3 settings for the ESP (ESP ON, ESP SPORT and OFF), however I wouldn’t recommend even giving a glance in the direction of that button. I managed to spin the back out turning into another road at about 50km/h. Thankfully ESP intervened, or I’d be writing about the airbag deployment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not out of control handling, but you need to learn how to drive this car. Throttle feel and reading the steering feel is incredibly important at every point.

Ride is, well…firm, enough said. The vehicle’s steering is balanced between assisted electronics in the parking lot, and weighted feel through the corners – which makes handling the power of the vehicle manageable throughout the rev range.

Interior, is very well appointed. Every amenity is there, within reach, and some within speaking distance. The model I drove had so many optional extras I can’t really comment on standard features, however a very nice add on was the COMAND Languatronic (speak and it does everything) function. It makes handling all the COMAND system functions a breeze.

It’s an amazing piece of machinery, and even more impressive as it was built as a showcase, marking Mercedes and AMG’s 40th year of collaboration. A match made in motoring heaven if you ask me.

I stick by it, I will drive every V8, V10, V12 and buy big large petrol engined cars right up until we either run out of black stuff, or they ban ‘em from the roads.

This Mercedes stands testament to what visceral connections can be made from a piece of metal to flesh and blood.

The Chevrolet range around Kaylami

There are few things better than thrashing somebody else’s car around on the roads. The fact that it isn’t yours, means you’ll red line it, stomp on the brakes and not really care how you park. What’s even better, is when you get to do this in an entire range of vehicles at your disposal…around kyalami racetrack

GM afforded us the opportunity to test drive their entire range of Chevrolet vehicles around Kyalami last week. They had every vehicle from Chevy Spark Lite, all the way up to the Chevrolet Lumina SS CSV & CR8 Special (not yet released in SA)

Overall I was particularly impressed with the Chevrolet Lumina SS sedan and SS Ute, the 6.3 V8 motor has incredible torque in all gears (I found 3rd and 4th ideal for the track) and the chassis is something to behold. Not once, pushing 140km/h into most corners, did the ESP intervene. The grip levels are something akin to Quattro vehicles. Interior is also well equipped, every amenity you would need, however it is more plastic than Lego Land. Something which is strange, considering the guys at GM claim this competes against the BMW M5 in terms of performance. Interior was clearly not part of this comparison.

This said, you’ll have little time to touch the plastic bits as you’ll have your hands glued to the steering wheel in fear.

I’ll get back to the performance vehicles later, but want to tell you, the surprise of the day, was by far the Chevy Cruze. This is the car heralded as the “saviour” of GM’s financial woes. A true worldwide seller, competing against the likes of Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta and the like. Tough competition if you ask me. I really thought it was going to be the usual crap from the states…wow was I wrong.

Interior is of quality feel, fit and finish. Everything well thought out, well laid out, and simple. The engines (I drove both a 1.6 and a 1.8) have strong pull through all the gears, and work will with the 6speed manual gearbox employed. (I wouldn’t get an automatic, it’s a 4speed) We thrashed these “rental cows” around the track as fast as they would allow and they genuinely surprised in terms of handling, steering feedback and general enthusiasm around the track. Something I really didn’t expect from a mid-size family sedan (see Group C Intermediate at Avis) Genuinely a far more exciting ride than Toyota could ever muster, and by a more competitive package than the VW Jetta in terms of pricing and spec levels.

Something, I would however not recommend you do, is take the Chevy Corsa Bakkie around Kyalami. The 1.8litre is probably best suited for this in terms of engine, but the 1.6 and 1.7diesel are just not up for the task in terms of performance, and neither of them with regard to handling. Yes, I hear you, these cars aren’t make for a track, but it’s a damn scary feeling sliding from apex to apex in these workhorses. Overall a great car on the road I’ve heard, so take this with a pinch (read bag) of salt.

The highlight, however was the Chevrolet Lumina SS CR8 “Cop Car spec”. The details : 306KW, 550NM and a 0-100km/h time of 5 seconds flat, rear wheel drive behemoth. It ups the ante from the standard Lumina SS by adding a surpercharger to the mix (like it needed more power) It basically puts the SS on steroids, and gives it a vitamin B injection with a shot of Red Bull. Uprated suspension, Brembo brakes, some ESP tweaks (race mode etc), and of course the obligatory body modifications, produce a far more hardcore racing machine. It sticks to the road like a fat kid to a cupcake. Once again, Quattro type handling, with little to no understeer even when pushing incredibly hard.

Something I really appreciate about this car, is that you can feel the feedback from every inch of the car. Suspension, steering, brakes all communicate to you in one chorus, which is something a lot of modern performance saloons have lost. I must say, that the CSV & CR8 are incredible packages for what are supposed to be a price way below the cars they compete against in terms of performance.

A final highlight was the hotlap in the passenger seat of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 – A true American supercar that actually CAN go around corners! What obviously impressed at first was the 0-100 time of 3.8seconds. You literally cannot sit up once the car’s at full throttle, it just pastes you against the seat. The 377kw motor does wonders with the light body, and makes it possible to fling the car around Kaylami with eager aplomb….the massive rubber 325/30 Goodyears no doubt adds to the impressive handling characteristics.

It was an incredibly quick lap, but taking some of those corners at 160km/h with no tire squeal and the ESP switched off, was akin to some of the best rollercoaster rides I’ve been on in the US.

Overall an incredible experience, and a huge thanks to the guys at Williams Hunt GM for the invite and GM SA for the great morning!

Hyundai ix35 GLS

The east is doing something right. Not only have they drastically refreshed the the Kia and Hyundai vehicle offering, but also seem to be doing a good job at what they release. This is partly due to the fact that they are making huge inroads in the US market, and will continue to create fuel-efficient, reliable vehicles for the US, that US carmakers can’t compete with on price.

This said, I dragged my family man persona over to Hyundai after the ix35grabbed my attention on the road one morning. (it also features on the front page of August Car Magazine but this is neither here nor there)

The 2010 ix35 replaces the Tucson, and as you might know, is built on the same platform as the new Kia Sorento. This is not all bad news, as they have kept design and engineering costs down, which related to sale price.

The cost of the vehicle is definitely a strong point. I drove the 2.0 litre GLS ix35 natural aspirated 6 Speed Automatic (2×4). The GLS specification is probably what most buyers will go for as it comprises of nearly every amenity a much more luxurious german marquee would provide at a much higher price.

Looks? Well, that’s always a personal issue, but it’s a lot better looking than the previous Tucson. Smoother lines, and a “gaping whale-shark” type front end, with light clusters that flare upwards front and rear. It’s called their new “fluidic design language.” So it’s not the ugliest specimen in the world, it has been compared to the new revised Porsche Cayenne…but that’s like comparing Liz Hurley to the troll under the bridge.

Engine? Well, to be very frank, I’m not a huge fan of the 2.0 litre. It seems to struggle and the gearbox hunts for gears when driving uphill, making it sound incredibly whiney (something like a blender on full tilt they day after new years) It puts out 122Kw@6000RPM and 197Nm@4600 (There you have the problem – the Nm being only slightly up from the Kw) This is going to make it a real slow-coach to drive when fully laden. I’d probably opt for the 2.4 Petrol (130kw and 227 Nm) or the 2.0Diesel with 130kw and 383Nm. The latter really is a much better combination in my books. Unfortunately they didn’t have one to drive, but from my experience, a car with this much weight needs more torque than 197Nm.

An interesting touch is the new “ECO-Coach”. A system designed to monitor your driving style and tell you either when to change (in the manual) or whether you are driving economically or not, using either green, white or red annotations of eco lettering in the information binnacle. Sounds a bit preachy to me.

Ride and Handling? Featuring a new multi-link rear suspension and Macpherson strut front set up, allows not only weight and cabin space savings, but also pretty good handling. It really performs well, but this could be because of the lower ride height and firmer suspension set up. I would definitely make it known, this is a soft roader (read crossover) with acceptable ground clearance to either ramp the sidewalk in Sandton or cross the occasional dirt track at the game reserve. So please don’t be fooled by the HDC (Hill Decent Control) and venture off behind a Landy off the beaten track.

Fit and Features? Here’s where the Hyundai really impressed. The GLS designation gives a host of standard features; leather seats, Dual Zone climate control, MP3 and Aux Jack, Satellite controls on the steering wheel, and reverse park camera,which is built into the rear-view mirror. The reverse camera will come in handy because the rear window is about the size of a window in a shed. Materials seems to be of a high quality with an excellent fit (no panel gaps or rattles) The interior also seems of a durable material when considering it might be for a mom with kids, there’s about 6 cupholders, child lock windows and doors, and the reverse camera really comes in handy here. Speaking of using this car for a family, there really is a lot of space in the back seats. I’m quite a tall guy, and there’s still ample legroom and headroom in the rear. The tailgate is also not too high when considering shopping/prams/dead hookers might make there way in the boot. There’s also a parcel cover and mesh parcel hook-set which can be used to tie down items from rolling around in the back. Novel.

Safety and seating? It was easy to find a comfortable position, with manual controls for front seats, as well as tilt and height adjustable steering wheel.

On the safety front, there are 6 airbags (front, side and head) as well as seat belt pre-tensioners on the front seats, active head restraints and the usual standard side impact protection beams and crumple zones. It seems that the ix35 scored the highest rating of 5stars in the stringent Euro NCAP front and side impact crash tests.

Brakes are sharp and responsive, without too much mushy pedal feel. The GLS spec gives you ABS, EBD and ESP (Electronic Stability Progamme) A nice touch is the emergency braking lights which flicker to alert the tailgating Datsun behind you that you’re stopping. And fast.

Overall, what makes this car a real winner is the pricing. The 2.0l GLS 4×2 Automatic retails for R275,000. My choice would probably be the 2.0 Diesel Manual at R300,000. The great part – no massive options list, which is a welcome sight!

This is exceptional value, if you consider you’d have to fork out quite a bit more for a Freelander or Rav4, or even an equivalent station wagon with the same standard features the ix35 offers.

This all said…here comes the spanner in the proverbial wheel. They are in incredibly high demand. So highly in fact that the dealership in Sandton had 150 of the 2.0 models on order, and 65 Diesel models, and they’re not exactly dropping off truckloads of them every day. Sad really, because many of these people will drop off and settle for something else because of the extensive waiting list.