Mini Cooper Coupe / Roadster – 2012

MINI (BMW Motors) recently announced they will be bringing the Mini Cooper Coupe to SA. They claim it the ultimate in go-kart feeling. Now if you have never driven a Mini Cooper S, I don’t know how much more go-kart like they can go without actually strapping your ass into one. Distinctively it sets itself apart from the rest of the range by being 29millimeters lower than a standard MINI and features a “helmet roof” with a noticeably snug cabin and a serious departure from the “boxy” nature, now featuring a very sleek swooping roofline.

The new shape allows for a very sleek and hunkering stance to the traditional but still recognizable Mini shape. Why another model you ask, and how is this different? Well this one is exactly what it says… a Coupe. There’s only 2 seats, and Mini has squarely positioned this as the ultimate in drivers enjoyment and ultimate performance. This said, with MINI adding the Countryman not just a year back, this new model will hopefully further grow sales of the MINI brand.

MINI says; “Engines will range from the standard  90 kW of the MINI Cooper Coupé to the MINI Cooper S Coupé (135 kW) all the way up to the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé – a thoroughbred athlete producing 155 kW” Performance figures 0-100km/h for the Works (6.4Seconds) Cooper S Coupe (6.9Seconds) and Cooper Coupe (9seconds) featuring the well known BMW Valvetronic system optimising both emissions and engine responsiveness. The new Coupe will also feature an active rear spoiler which optimises airflow at higher speeds.  These active rear spoilers seem to be all the rage these days, I sometimes wonder if they are more aesthetic than anything else.

The chassis, set up squarely for driver enjoyment features standard DSC+T fitment, and optional EDL (Electronic Differential Lock) which should help with keeping those front wheels pointing where you’re grinning to go. I suspect this will be a hard ride, but will no doubt provide an incredibly rewarding experience, as the chassis has even been modified to keep the weight balance slightly forward, optimising traction. MacPherson struts have been used up front, and the multi-link rear suspension at the rear, helping to maintain optimal road grip at all times. MINI notes that ” The suspension components have been meticulously adapted to the sporty personality and specific weight balance of the MINI Coupé and the body calibration on all model versions emphasises their sparkling handling characteristics. ” Sounds jovial. Remove your fillings now ladies and gents.

All cars come standard with a 6-speed manual, but a six-speed automatic gearbox with Steptronic function can be ordered for the MINI Cooper Coupé and MINI Cooper S Coupé as an option. ” With its exceptionally short shift times and direct “target gear” finding capability on downshifts, the automatic likewise showcases the sporting character of the MINI Coupé.”

All in all it sounds like a very focused 2-seater MINI, and in all honesty, I spent last week in the back of a Cooper S and can say that most of them in my mind, are 2-seater anyway (unless you’re tall like me, and want to lose a limb). That said, with a lower stance, a focused chassis, lower drag coefficient and those great MINI turbocharged engines, this should be an incredibly entertaining car to drive.

The MINI Coupé goes on sale in South Africa in the last quarter of 2011.

Volvo S60 T6 AWD – 2010

Last year’s “Naughty Volvo” campaign that launched the S60 had me dare the Volvo twitter account (@volvocar_SA) to give me car to test out. They did. So we’re off to a good start. So, the 2010 Volvo S60 replaces the previous generation shape to align the all-new XC60 design language with a more aggressive grille. (Think whale shark) It also features revised engines and is built on the XC60 chassis. Full model line for now is a 2.0Turbo, 2.0Diesel, and this, the 3.0turbo All Wheel Drive. Volvo says this new S60 repositions it, as per CEO Stefan Jacoby’s 2010 address at the LA Auto Show, not only in direct competition to the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, but reaffirms the unique Volvo identity. Unfortunately, I think somehow they drank that one by the wayside. Volvo’s were always strange in the way that they never quite had models that directly competed (E.g. Mercedes C-Class vs. BMW 3 Series) and here again. The larger S60 competes against the BMW 3 Series, but where does the S40 fall in then? Confused, yet a nice Volvo quirk. More worryingly, is that this Volvo has a bit of an identity crisis. A high school student that doesn’t know if it wants to be a professional sports star, or follow the grades and be an accountant. The variant I drove was the T6 AWD (3.0turbocharged 224kW 440NM), which is the top of the line model currently available. The campaign positions this S60 as a “naught Volvo” … I know, it’s like a young Cher, but hear me out. This S60 needs to capture the current mid-segment market that is dominated by BMW’s and Audi’s. The Mid 30 exec that still wants something with a badge, performance and a slight sporty appeal. The S60, although qualifying on unique looks, and outright performance (0-100km/h in 6.3sec) makes a good case, it unfortunately leaves some gaps. It has one hell of an engine, with loads of grunt at any speed, and a fantastic AWD system that glues the power delivery to the road. The problem, comes in with the suspension and the gearbox. Volvo has employed the Sports suspension here and it leaves a lot to be desired, as it crashes over bumps (could be the 18inch wheels) and undulations. The gearbox, although great in sport mode, is still a little too tailored too relaxed driving. To ad insult to injury, the seats are supremely comfortable. Problem how? Well if we’re trying to be sporty here, I don’t want to float from door to door as I throw the S60 into corners. So they have ticked some of the boxes, and ticked em good, and then left others in the days of the station wagon Volvo. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent car, I just think it’s trying to juggle too many balls, and dropping some in the process. If you want a sporty car, it’s half way there. If you want a supremely comfortable cruiser, it’s half way there too. There are however some things they got spot on: Safety As with any Volvo, this car is packed to the brim with standard safety equipment, including the usual package of airbags, ABS, EBD, Advanced Stability control and the list goes on. This model came with optional City Safety, a system that should stop those low speed bumper bashings from happening. It worked the one time I didn’t intend to try it, stopping the car before I rolled into the car in front of me. There’s some T&C’s that come with that, so read your manual carefully, and don’t trust it to save a bad driver. Another options is BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) which notifies you of motor vehicles in your blind spot through a little orange light right by the mirrors. It works well, but you could just look in your mirror you lazy ass. Interior The interior is truly another Volvo masterpiece, with a simplified layout, and all the functions operating through the central LCD screen. Every material and button is of phenomenal quality, to the touch, and to the eye. There is loads of space, as well as boot that can swallow at least 2 golf bags. I cannot fault the interior at all. Exterior Although it might not be to the liking of everyone, by George thank God it doesn’t! Finally, a Volvo that splits opinion. I really like the looks, the short, tight rear, and mammoth front end (which is a bit of a bitch to park. Thank goodness for park distance control front and rear) Everywhere I stopped, I had at least 1 person ask me about the car, and commented that they liked the looks. Something I’ve never heard about a Volvo, so they’ve done something right. Performance and Drive Train The engine is a beauty, with loads of grunt in any gear, and the Haldex all-wheel drive system allows instant power delivery to the wheels. There’s a nice 6 cylinder growl when you get up in the rev range and I love the way the all-wheel drive system balances the power delivery just right, without understeer or heavy nose dives. Once again, I can’t fault these two. If I could fix one thing, I’d give it adaptive suspension. I think it would make a more complete 2-tone package, that allowed you to tear off the traffic lights and around the bends in sport mode when you wanted, but also allowed some more relaxed cruising in comfort. The suspension is really the only big sore that keeps that from happening, so if you can go for the adaptive suspension, I probably would. That said, be careful on the options list, it seems there are quite a few boxes to tick, which is a pity, as Volvo’s of old used to come standard with the works. Overall, it’s an amazing car, is unique in its own right, whilst offering a supremely luxurious interior and some fun when you want it. Most buyers will feel this is a perfect fit, and for the majority, it works incredibly well. Sure, if you really want a focused, sporty drive, you’d probably opt for its competition, but it stands out from the crowd, and for that, I can’t fault it. More detail on the web here – Pictures referenced off

VW Golf 6 Bluemotion 2011

Unfortunately I am part of a breed that would have red paint thrown all over them in the near future. Why …
Well … I am not a fan of hybrid / eco-cars. I have never been. I believe the eco-hybrid cars are to big V8 engines, what video was to the radio star. Sure they are a driver for the direction where motoring is going in the coming years, but it scares me. I wasn’t part of the big V8 Chevrolet generation, so I’m catching up. I love the rumble, how you can practically hear the oil-fields running dry, and the incredible performance. I’m still enjoying that…and the eco-car is here, burning pitchforks in hand, to take that away.

Thankfully, there was no threat of red paint this week as I took delivery of a VW Golf 6 Bluemotion. For those not in the know, Bluemotion is VW’s eco-line, using modifications to current models to make them more … no … a LOT more economical and environmentally friendly.
The modifications on the Golf are cosmetic changes to the body (lower sills, a wing, different grille and undercarriage changes) to make the body nice and slippery when cutting through the air. Low-resistance Michelin rubber, Start-Stop system, (which switches off the engine when the car is stopped and in neutral) low resistance engine modifications, lowered sports suspension and a form of regenerative braking is employed. No big battery here

The Golf Bluemotion is powered by a 1.6TDI (turbo diesel, 77kW, 250NM) engine, that is actually a lot more responsive and gutsy than you’d think. The part I heart about this car, is that you don’t have to drive the hell out of it to get it to move. The 250NM of torque means you can easily cruise at speed, overtake without shutting your eyes and saying your last prayers, and get off the green-light without having a man on a bicycle whizz past you. So far, so good.

The interior is standard Golf stuff, with no fancy bits, but has everything you need :
• Electric windows and mirrors all round
• Great sound system
• 7 Airbags, ESP and ABS with EBD
• Multi-function leather steering wheel & cruise control
• Dear VW. Please put iPod/Aux plug in as standard, it’s 2011

The options list is unfortunately, not as extensive as the rest of the range, mainly because they don’t want you loading up the car with extra weight and then getting the same fuel consumption as the Hummer. It’s sensible, as saving weight is the name of the game here. Speaking of saving weight, there’s no spare tyre (confused face) Not ideal in SA conditions, but they do give you a fixing kit and compressor.

Handling and braking is pretty much on par with other Golf 6 models. The drive is firm (lowered sports suspension) but the big soft sidewalls on the Michelin tyres means you don’t crash over bumps and undulating surfaces. That said, I’m not a huge fan of these tyres, you can practically feel them bending away from the rims when you corner aggressively, but I guess they get the main job done … economy.

Main gripe, is probably the gearing (A 5-speed manual). You really need to be careful as a rolling change into second going round a corner and uphill could easily have you stall. You can’t really slip the clutch to keep the engine on the boil enough at low speeds. This said, should you stall you can easily fool the start-stop system into starting the engine by an in-and-out on the clutch. Ha!
Total 7day average I managed 6.5l/100km (Manufacturer claims on Urban cycle – 5.7) however I did a lot of city driving, and decided that I wasn’t going to putter around like a pensioner, but rather drive like a normally do (Which isn’t slow) to see what type of realistic consumption it’s going to give. That said, the 6.5l/100km is brilliant in my books, and I did get it down to around 4.5l/100km when highway cruising. One of my colleagues at ZACarShow ( easily returned the claimed figures because he can easily switch to a geriatric motoring style. At closer to claimed figures, it will easily get over 1200km on a tank, and is a fantastic cruiser for that, and many other reasons.

Overall this car does what it’s gone out to do … and well. It does it well without cutting off your balls and replacing them with a mangina (a-la Prius). You’re still driving a Golf6, which is respectable, and that exactly said, it’s a Golf6, which is a well engineered vehicle! How many pennies would you have to fork out for this VW? Well, it goes for R266 900 (Thankfully no CO2 Tax). For the first time, I can honestly say that it’s the ONLY eco car I’d give my own hard earned South African Rontz out for.

For more information/specification on the Golf, visit
Vehicle supplied by VW South Africa.

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

Porsche Panamera 4 – 2010

Porsche sure as hell have taken an interesting turn in the past couple of years. I’m sure you’ve all seen that hideous 4×4 the Cayenne. There’s about a squillion of them up here in Sandton. I can’t imagine St.Davids lets any MILF through the gate to drop off her kids if she isn’t driving one. It’s not my favourite SUV / SAV of the lot, as amazing as they are to drive. Let me tell you why … They’ve made a car that’s hideous on the outside, but yet hits the nail on the head on every other dynamic criteria within the segment and knocks the competition out the water. Makes me ill. For a company that made 2 door supercars, racers, legendary sports cars … beetles, whatever you want to call them, for so long, they have expanded their line-up really well.

They do it so well, they decided to join another pool, the 4-seater executive sports saloon. It’s a niche about the size of Vatican, but it’s a niche nonetheless. The other players on the field here are the Aston Martin Rapide and the Maserati Quattroporte S (The Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 are kinda in here… kinda)
So we’re in good company here, the big names, Aston and Maserati make some of the most staggeringly beautiful cars the motoring world has seen. Porsche, let’s not lie, seem to be on secret little a competition with Ssangyong for the ugliest car they can build. Expensive little game that … for Porsche. My ride, the Panamera, seem to be the crowning glory and winning move from Porsche in that competition. I didn’t know what to expect with the Panamera. Well I did. I knew it was ugly, so I wore a hat and sunglasses when I drove it, but thankfully I didn’t have to see it while driving … that was every other unsuspecting road users problem.

In all honesty, that’s really it’s only major flaw. Its ugly. Sadly, that is totality of my opinion, so if you think it’s pretty (you are then blind and must be having this article read to you) you’re probably in for the most amazing 4-seater car on the road today.

The Panamera 4 I drove is the mid level model. Quick stats burst (skip if you’re not a car nut) Engine upfront is a 3.6 litre six cylinder, producing 220kW and 400NM of torque at 3750RPM. It’ll rocket you to 100km/h in 6.5seconds, and lead you up to a top speed of 259km/h. It weighs 1.7 tons. One point seven tons, and gets that type of performance. Staggering. Crazy thing is that’s not even the fast one.
Engine note is authentically Porsche, and I’m glad it hasn’t been subdued. It’s not as audible as the 911’s, for obvious reasons, but you can easily hear it, especially in Sport Plus.
While I’m here, that little Sport Plus button is something sent straight from heaven to make this car about a zillion times more exciting than it would have been. I have never driven a car that is so bi-polar. You can cruise along happily at 140km/h subdued, soft, cosseted and as relaxed as any S-Class driver around you, however fancy a 1/4mile blitz? Sports Plus button depressed and the gear changes are forceful to the point of abuse, and the sound from the 6cylinder can raise a semi wood.

The interior is phenomenal. You feel incredibly involved, wrapped in the car more than on it. No funny iDrive or mouse wheel, just a shit-load of buttons. Once you get used to them though, it’s easy to navigate, and works better. It’s got everything you’d expect, I’m not going to list, but will rather highlight a few things. Firstly, the various instrumentation displays you can switch to in the instrument binnacle include your sat. nav. with full colour screen, radio and vehicle stats. Nice. The sound system is something else – pristine levels of clarity from what is a stupidly easy system to operate. All electric seats that are so perfectly split between a comfortable and sporty feel I just want to give the person who made them a long, uncomfortable hug. Amazingly the 2 seats in the rear get the same treatment, and have enough legroom for one Jeremy Clarkson to stretch out, I’m sure. He’s a behemoth you know?

Ride and handling is something else. I’ve never seen a 1.7ton car corner and relay this amount of information to the driver, keeping balance and poise through hard cornering like only a focused sports car should. The PASM (Porsche Active Stability Management) system and PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) makes little calculated decisions (I like to think of lots of tiny German scientists and engineers running around with calculators making sure everything is tweaked just right) in milliseconds to make sure the suspension is just right, and power is making it to the right wheels.
The PDK 7-speed gearbox is also a masterpiece, and can go from absolutely relaxed to vicious changes at the push of the Sport Plus button. What I did find strange is the steering paddles. Push down to gear up (either side) and pull to gear down (either side) confuses you if you come from a car that has left for down and right for up. Silly really.

The best part about this car? The wing that raises itself at speed and under heavy braking. Porsche said they didn’t want it to provide too much additional down-force as it affects drag, but damn it that thing is cool. I could drive all day watching it raise and lower and raise more when you slam the brakes. (which will pull your intestines out of your naval if you brake fast enough)

For just under R800K it don’t come cheap, but if you have any blood left in your penis at all, you’ll buy this car over a 7 Series or an S Class any day. (I say this because I haven’t driven the Maserati or the Aston) I haven’t driven any other car that can go from back seat relaxed cruising to crazy watch out imma-effing drive you out the way … with that level of execution on both sides.
Yes it’s hideous and children will cry as you drive past, but damn, it is as awesome to drive as it is ugly.

London Taxi Cab – Circa 1803

Public transport was never meant to be glamorous (queue Fergie music) except of course for the Concorde and things like the Orient Express, but that’s really about where it ended. I’m sure the Concorde was a masterpiece to fly, a technological marvel, and the Orient Express had the latest steam technology available at that day and age. Not so much with the public transport vehicle it seems. Apparently the engineers of the London Cab decided that the minimum wage eastern European who would be driving it, has always been driving a horse drawn cart, so this is all they need to live up to when engineering this transportation masterpiece.

Starting with the engine, a 2.4litre diesel, which I’m sure at some stage must have been turbocharged, but now has less grunt than a Bulls scrumhalf. It’ll do 100km/h down a mineshaft, but a road with any gradient sees you losing speed, rather than gaining or maintaining for that matter. Legs out the bottom traveling like a flintstone would definitely be faster.

Secondly … (aaah two… the number of gears that seems to have been fixed into this gearbox) the automatic gearbox that comes with this beauty seems to have two gears, high, and lo. It’s like those old remote control cars you used to have as a kid. Fun when you’re puttering along in stop-start traffic next to the London eye, not so fun when you’re merging up onto the N1 slower than a one legged cyclist.

The engine probably isn’t that bad, it’s just that every panel for this car seems to have been cast in the fires of Mordor… out of lead. Opening a door onto someone will literally shatter every bone in their body… instantly.
The fun however does not stop there. London is a relatively flat space and the chance of you taking a corner faster than the pedestrian next to you is walking, is rather slim. Jozi, however, has plenty of space for these twists and turns that can be taken at speed above 5km/h. The London Cab was thus obviously built using the most sophisticated railway sleepers as chassis and pink marshmellows as suspension. It’s a masterpiece really. Turn the corner and you get to see what the world looks like from a different angle. You’re already so high up in the drivers seat, that turning a corner with any form of gusto could potentially throw you out the car. It’s something that closely resembles the trawlers in the deepest darkest storm on ‘Deadliest Catch’.

One, and only one plus, is that it has the turning circle of a rabbit at full tilt. It was designed to do a full u-turn in a london city street, and by Jove, it can do it in a alleyway behind Seven-11

As a final pie’ce-de-resistance, slamming on the brakes is something like pressing a wooden spoon against the turning axle. The best part of driving the London Taxi is seeing the fear in your passengers eyes as you attempt to slow this technological marvel before plowing into the nearest stationary object.

So it’s slow, it corners like the ark, and uses stationary objects to bring it to a halt. Awesome. It was never made to be a real driver’s car, but that said, it was still made to be a car, on the road, and it seems to fall short on so many of those important “car” points that I can’t warrant giving it anything more than a 2/10.

Death on wheels

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.

Hyundai Accent 1.6 – 2010

Europcar graced me with the Hyundai Accent 1.6 this last weekend in Cape Town. It’s not Hyundai’s newest offering, and the accent has been around for a while, this being it’s second guise. I have had no inclination to drive this car at any point, but seeing as I now have, I thought I’d put it on ‘paper’

Looks wise – I’d rather watch paint dry on a hot summers day in the Nevada desert.

Interior and build quality– Plastic, plastic and more plastic. They’ve made an attempt at soft touch materials here and there with not much success. On the plus side, there’s a lot of little storage areas, even a sunglass holder in the roof – all these little places probably for you to store your dignity as it would have peeled off with every friend that noticed you in the car.
Seats have that lovely 80’s velour/fake velvet touch. How very GM of you Hyundai. They have been gracious in backlighting the dials in the VW blue and white, how very VW of you Hyundai. The worst part of the whole fit and finish is the tinny sound when you close any of the doors, and the boot, something they really have improved in more recent Hyundai’s but this one doesn’t seem to have come under the same spotlight.

Engine – Probably the only part of the car that won’t have you sticking sharpened bamboo under your fingers. It’s a gutsy little 1.6, I’ve gotta give them that. I easily got her up to 185, and 1st and 2nd gear get the little Accent moving pretty quickly. As usual though, in a 1.6, there’s very little torque when wanting to overtake, so you need to really work the gears like a Russian working the pole.

Handling and brakes – Handling is mcaverage, there’s way too much body roll into corners, leaving passengers raising their hands for the grab-handles as they slide all over the unsupportive seats. I’m not expecting german saloon handling, but the VW Polo and Yaris trump it on the handling front. Brakes, well they are ABS assisted, and they work.

Steering – solid feedback from the suspension and steering over the terrible patchy roads through Newlands. The steering does however get ultra light at some points, and this catches you out when making quick movements. This, and the sloppy as soup suspension, really gets the Accent bobbing around. On the highway, things are all good, except there’s a lot of play in the steering wheel, leaving one with American sitcom style driving. (If you know what I mean here)

Pricing around R160 000

Value for money – I’d probably give this a skip, there are better offers from VW, Toyota, Kia & Chev on this front. It’s ok, if you don’t give two shits about what you drive, and in that case you don’t give a shit about how you drive, and shouldn’t be on the road in my view.

Interior - CaptivatingEven more captivating

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.