VW Golf R

Shiny paint - not standard. Not available at all

The VW GTI has been one of the best cars, if not, best hot hatches of all time. In various incarnations from Golf I to Golf VI, all have been the car to beat in terms of performance, driving dynamics and all day drivability. VW has however always given a special edition run the limelight, usually in the form of the R32, mated with a larger V6 and VW’s four wheel drive system.

The Golf VI R however changes things up a little. Purists cry in the corner as it drops the V6 for the very popular 4cylinder 2litre turbocharged Golf V power plant tuned up to push out 1.2bar on the turbocharger. This pushes the output to 188kW and 350Nm, which makes it near on the least powerful unit when compared to the Megane & Focus RS, but not in the last the slowest. The change to the use of the small turbocharged engine was probably mainly due to emissions and fuel consumption pressure internationally, but also a great decision because it’s one of the VW group’s best engines of all time in my view (It is also used in the current Audi S3)

Stopping. Something you don't want to do in the Golf

While we’re on the engine, I must say that it’s a fantastic lump of metal. Sadly the over-cautious German engineers have decided to down-tune it by 11kW for us South African folk due to the warmer and dryer climate we have here… I think they could have just given us those 11kW. 0-100km/h drops on the clock at just over 6seconds on the manual, and sub 6seconds for the DSG. There’s heaps of torque and strong pull all the way from the low down revs. It builds up fairly linearly all the way past 6500RPM but there’s masses of torque right on from 3000RPM. It’s a lot less psychotic than the Renault RS or the Ford RS, being a little more sedate in every day driving. Fuel consumption is fairly scary, I averaged close on 15l/100km which is a far cry from the 8.5l/100km claimed by VW.

I was glad I got the manual version as I drive a Golf with a DSG gearbox. The manual is a sweet shifting 6speed with usual VW feel and very easily modulated clutch. The gears are a little longer in throw, but you easily get used to it. DSG might be quite a bit faster in gear changes, but the manual is heaps of fun pushing through the rev range keeping the turbo on the boil darting through traffic.

R for Really quick

Speaking of darting, the Golf R comes with the Haldex 4 wheel drive system that is also shared with the Audi S3. This system is different from the Haldex system in the golf R32 due to the electronic pump which ensures that power can be delivered to the necessary wheels not only after there’s been a loss in traction, but nearly pre-emptive to that. You never really feel it working, which is great, but there’s definitely something to be said for the feeling of security and surefootedness when pushing through the bends. The usual front wheel loss of traction when pushing into a corner on pull off isn’t there, and neither is the crazy front wheel torque steer. You might say it’s too reserved and not crazy enough, but I for one prefer the stability, and sure-footedness of the 4wheel drive system. Sure, it’s probably there for the northern hemisphere clientele, and less so because the 188kW can’t be handled by the front wheels. Thankfully there’s ESP, ABS, EBD and ASR as standard for when things get a bit hairy. Oh, and there’s also a standard launch control function, a very welcome addition.

The R also features a lower suspension than the GTI as well as large 19inch 5 spoke alloys (which I like a lot). Any performance hatchback requires an exhaust note that makes your chaaaiirnas super jealous of your new set of wheels, and the Golf R doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as downright crazy as the Megane RS, but it manages to produce a fairly meaty growl through the centre mounted twin pipes. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that forced induction noise from the front, which is a pity, because that’s one of the sweet sounds from a turbocharged engine that you can play up.

Eyes.

The model I had to test featured VW’s DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control), which adjusts the shock absorbers automatically according to varying road conditions. Three modes, sport, normal and comfort. I have got to be honest and say that you should probably not opt for this option (Around R10K) as the regular set up would surely be sufficient. I found myself driving around in normal or comfort most of the time as the suspension already has a very sporty bias. To be frank, it’s a jarring drive, and can really get a bit much when you’re when driving over our famous Joburg blacktop.

Thankfully, things on the interior of a usual VW masterpiece. It’s not a very exciting interior, but damn everything just works, is easy to operate, and has a high quality feel. It’s something I really appreciate, as you spend all your time looking and touching the inside of your car, and very little time peering at the outside… in all honesty. The test car I drove had the optional Dynaudio 300Watt Excite system (R13K option) with colour touch screen, and that’s an option box it’s definitely tick. The R interior is much like the Golf VI GTI interior, however blue and white dials are employed, as well as R nomenclature throughout the leather bits.  There is an option for racing bucket seats however the standard seats are more than capable of doing the job.

Other standard features that set it apart include the bi-xenon swiveling headlamps, daytime LED running lights, park distance control with visual display and of course the R badges.

Doors. Ajar

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the R, coming straight out of the Megane RS into this made it easy to do a direct comparison, where the Megane RS and even Ford Focus RS are a lot crazier, hands on, the naughty cousins of the family, the Golf R is a little more reserved. It also harnesses a seemingly more accomplished feel not only in driving but also quality of vehicle. I’d probably not opt for it on a track day or for a gymkhana but it’s incredibly easy to drive as an every day car and then tear the tires off it if you’ve had a really bad day.

At R415,100 for the standard Golf R 4Motion Manual and R460 000 for the unit I drove as tested we’re very close to BMW 1 Series and other performance model territory which then raises other questions. I stand firm in saying it’s the best quality model when compared to its rivals, which, when paying this much money for a car if it’s not just your weekend drive, is worth keeping in mind.

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Renault Megane RS

Black on Black...not as hot as yellow

Do you remember your first bicycle, the one that you rode till your mother pulled you off the street because it was turning into the dark of night? Yeah, that’s pretty much what this Renault Megane RS is like. It’s such an enormous amount of fun I’d find any excuse to have to drive somewhere, right in the midst of the petrol crisis. A little bit of education, the RS, or Renault Sport, is their racing incarnation of many of their vehicles, and my God those little French baguette eating engineers at Renault Sport division have got it right

There are two reasons why I love this car.

  1. The RS is seriously quick. I’ve driven many seriously fast cars, but the RS, in manual guise, with 184kW and 340NM of torque means business. There’s something about that 2litre turbocharged engine, the perfect short gear-throws and easy to modulate clutch that makes this one of the ‘easiest to drive fast cars’ I’ve driven. It’s point, and blast, much like those massive waterguns you used to have as a kid, eradicating your little brother in the garden. The rev band is short, but there is an immense amount of torque through every gear that means 0-100km/h is taken in a quick 6.1seconds. It feels SO much faster than that though, as you’re flying through the gears the engine seems to ask for more, faster, quicker gear changes… it’s talkative like that. So many performance hatchbacks miss one key thing, because they usually have turbocharged engines, there is no real meaty growl to scare innocent bystanders with. The Renault, also falls prey to that, but the sound from that trapezoid exhaust in the rear makes it sound like the car is physically eating the road. Burst past 4000RPM full bore and there’s a snarl and a growl like a scoop has opened in the front of the car and it is eating tar right off the road. It’s one of the most exhilarating sounds I’ve heard short of the C63AMG, and makes it that much faster (not really) and that much more fun (really).

Exhausts...better central

  1. Somehow, those little French cooking-smoking-wine-drinking-engineers have managed to give the RS the most sublime handling characteristics of any FWD car with this much power on tap. You’d usually expect heaps of torque steer with that many horses galloping on the front wheels, but it’s minimal, less so than the Mini Cooper S (miracle). You’d expect it (especially with those beautiful 18inch alloys) to ride like the suspension is made of human skulls, but it’s perfectly, and I means PERFECTLY balanced between comfort and incredibly sporty. No electronic damping or any gizmos, just a great balance so when you want to chill out (few and far between) you don’t lose a kidney from the jolts, yet when you’re letting all the horses out of the gate, it’s stiff with heaps of grip. You’d expect it to wash wide through the corners, send the electronic stability control on at every point and turn and scuttle and shake, but it doesn’t. It nearly feels like (dare I say) there is 4 wheel drive assistance (there isn’t) when you’re pushing hard through the corners. Smart little French men they are.
  1. Nifty little things they thought of, such as keyless entry, that even locks the car when you walk away with the key. A yellow rev-counter with a very eager “beep” that sounds when it’s the engine’s ideal time to change gears, as well as proper drilled aluminum pedals. Even thought it’s a coupe, the back seats can be inhabited by actual humans. RS styling (choose it in yellow) is aggressive and looks shit-hot. There’s lot of standard kit in the car, which is so welcoming in this day and age of the option list.

Interiors by Renault. Daunting.

There are reasons why I hate this car

  1. Why, for the love of everything French, must Renault make it so hard to operate their cars. The heated seats scroller is on the side of the seat, meaning you have to open the door to see what setting it’s on. To switch cruise control on you have to dislocate your shoulder (the same operation is required to retrieve your seatbelt) to find the button under the armrest. The controls for the sat-nav are so far down you’re literally staring at the handbrake fiddling with the controls while the screen is WAY up on the dash. (Thankfully the sat-nav is fairly easy to operate, and it’s standard B.T.W) The worst bit, by a French mile, is the “steering wheel” controls for audio and a many other things. It’s located in a weird Borg-type controller behind the steering wheel. It is so unintuitive with over 7 buttons on it that F15 fighter pilots would struggle to change the track on a CD.
  2. It’s French, and sadly, as much as the French can try to convince me to buy French “So you wouldn’t buy a Renault”…well … no, I wouldn’t. I’ve heard a Renault horror story from every person that I know drives a French car, and that drives me to drink. Sure they’re trying very hard to change that image, but I’m still skeptical, and judging by the squeaky brakes and warning bells that came on in this review car whilst I had it, I wouldn’t trust it further than I could throw it.

All this said, for R354 000 there is nothing in that range that comes close to the amount of fun and performance that the Renault has. Track day, I’d chose this above a Mini Cooper S or Golf R with my eyes shut. I love it so much, I want to marry it and have little road eating babies with it.

The only colour it should come in

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

Lexus CT200h

Lexus has today announced the CT200h will be coming to SA in August 2011.

The CT200h opens the doors for Lexus into the lucrative hatch category, that is oh so popular in South Africa. It is the first full hybrid vehicle to be launched in the small luxury car segment. Oooh. Not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, at all, but it’s no Ssangyong Stavic.

The CT200h is based on a shared platform with Toyota, which, rumour has it, will also be launching a Auris Hybrid at some point in the future. Lexus & Toyota have been long leading the race when it comes to hybrid powertrains in South Africa, and will continue to do so with this CT200h, as the newest addition to this market segment.

The Lexus CT 200h is a full hybrid, capable of running on its petrol engine or electric motor alone, or with both working in combination. The system comprises an Atkinson cycle 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine and a powerful electric motor that in combination deliver 100kW of total system output. The CT 200h has been engineered to perform in two different driving “moods”, Relaxing or Dynamic, supported by four selectable driving modes: NORMAL, EV, ECO and SPORT. Claimed consumption figures for SA are not yet available.

Lexus says ” The CT 200h has been developed specifically to deliver superior handling, a rewarding drive and the level of ride comfort expected of a Lexus. “. Sadly, of all the reviews I’ve read about this car in publications from overseas, it seems that is not entirely true. The ride is apparently nothing to write home about, and rewards only by not rewarding at all. Hybrids are always hard to get an exciting drive out of, mostly because of the large batteries that mean

you’re throwing a lot of weight around. I’ll reserve full judgement until I drive it, but so far, according to other publications, it’s not looking good on the handling front.

This will be an exciting model for Lexus, for them to finally compete in the 1-Series, Golf, Audi A3, category, which is a lucrative category to be in, capturing “first-premium-car” buyers. 70% of all BMW 1 Series sold were to people new to the brand. The CT200h is obviously different, it being the first hybrid, and sets a benchmark for other brands to follow in this category.

Looking forward to getting behind

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