Ford Focus 2litre GDI Sport

Those old boys in Michigan in the US got a big wake up call in 2008, and they’ve had to do some rethinking…not only because of pressures in their local market…but more recently on a global level. Ford is now spending huge amounts of time and money to firm up global alignment of products. Ford calls this their global – “one strategy”, as these vehicles like the Focus are centrally designed and engineered for multiple markets.

Agressive front end

The previous generation Focus was a very successful model, especially so in the UK, and more so in performance variants ST and RS, which offer some of the most hardcore driving experiences at the price. Unfortunately where they excelled in driving dynamics and handling, they could never quite match the quality interior of the VW Golf, and overall value of everyday driving car. However. Ford wasn’t happy with that. So this time around the Focus takes another swing, not only the Germans, but also the host of new competitors from the East.

The new Focus has various model variants available. On offer are 4-door and 5-door variants, all with different Trend, Ambiente and Sport trim levels. A few engine variants, from the 1.6 & 2litre petrol with Ti-VCT to a 2litre diesel with Powershift automatic transmission (only available in the 4door).

The model I had on test was the 2litre hatchback GDI Sport manual. which is the top of the range for the hatchback (currently). This is the model every Benoni and Pretoria mullet boy yearns after, the ST, comes to market here in 2012. Until then we’ll have to live with the 2litre naturally aspirated, which pushes out 125kW at 6600RPM (quite high) and 202Nm of torque at just over 4450RPM. I’m very used to a turbo engine, but have to say that I was SO surprised with this naturally aspirated new 4pot baby from Ford I had to double check the variant I was driving. It’s not ridiculously fast, but it sounds like the air is flowing through the guts of it, and it’s good mid range punch. You have to get the engine on the boil a bit as there isn’t a lot of shove from low down in the rev range, but once on the move it’s a very pleasant engine (in sound, and performance).

Thankfully the engine isn’t the only good bit. The Focus has been dipped in Ford’s new Kinetic design language, and … well … it’s better looking than the old Focus. It’s bigger than the previous generation model, and from the sideline, I had a few people remark it looks like a station wagon. A station wagon?! Well, either way, at least it brings about opinion, which is something no Golf does.

Very futuristic looking

Something else that definitely got opinions going was the interior. I find it rather refreshing getting into a car that looks like it’s been designed for the future. It’s not trying to copy anyone, or just be a plainly boring ergonomic design. It’s daring, different and at the same time fairly easy to get accustomed to. The Sport comes with cloth (come now Ford, you could have shed some cow blood here) black seats that are electrically adjustable for the driver, and the moment you get in, the dual screens (one on the dash, and one in the instrument binnacle) catch your eye. Ford has probably come closest of any of the competitors to the Golf 6 in terms of quality of material, fit and finish. The Focus interior is awash with simple black soft touch materials and quite a few pieces of brushed aluminium. The steering wheel sits quite far out, and is meaty and purposeful in your hands. What I didn’t like was that the steering-wheel controls were quite complicated and took some time to get used to. There are

The Borg controls

1.Buttons on the left, which control the screen on the centre console

2.Buttons on the right which control the screen inside the instrument binnacle

3. A weird Borg type control below those on the left that controlled the cruise control

4. More weird Borg type controls on the right that control the sound system

Look, you get used to it, and nice work that it’s all there, but then surely there should be less than the 1584 buttons on the piano black Sony sound system on the centre console. They haven’t done the best job of making buttons you use often, big or legible (E.g. door lock and unlock).

These are small niggles, and overall it’s a great place to be, I really enjoyed the lighting and quality feel of the controls. (Ambiance lighting in red, puddle lighting and the bright LED entry lights). Standard features on the Sport bring in a SONY 9-speaker 450watt system with Bluetooth, iPod prep, voice recognition, auto wipers & lights, heated front seats and dual zone climate control. It’s an incredible amount of standard kit. Bravo Ford. Bravo. Something they could have added, is xenon headlamps and daytime running lights, which you can’t spec or get on our local models.

For those with families, there’s space for 4adults, and a significant amount of space in the boot. At least 4 hookers if you squeeze them in properly.

Sony sound system

On the road the new Focus has lost a little bit of the spark of the old model. It’s not AS raw and engaging as the old model was, but I didn’t expect it to be, as the majority of the buyers just want a comfortable quiet car. That said, the chassis feels alive when it’s on the go, and in true Focus form, the car is incredibly planted. You need to try very hard to get the front to wash wide, and I’d say it’s now on par with the Golf’s chassis in terms how balanced it is. It’s even more impressive considering the 17inch 10spoke rubber that comes standard on the Sport. If things should get out of hand there is traction and stability control as standard, as well as Ford’s Torque Vectoring control to keep the front wheels from causing too much torque steer. Not likely on this model, but thanks anyways. I suspect that will come in handy on the ST though. The manual gearbox is angled close to the driver and has short direct throws, but strangely only 5 gears? It works well, but on long distance cruising the fuel economy suffers because of the lack of final 6th gear driving ratio, which might get some buyers opting for the diesel with Powershift.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meaty steering, giving enough feedback from the wheels and there was never a point it felt over assisted. The brakes too, are excellent, and the Focus comes with ABS, EBD and EBA standard across the range.

The Rear

Overall, It’s clear this car can handle a lovely turbocharged engine and there were times I yearned for some more power. That said the 2litre has a nice growl to it and the handling is superb, thanks to the dynamic chassis. The interior is comfortable and the whole car is superbly specced. The only drawback being the lack of 6th gear which will have a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

So far, in this model guise, the Ford has got everything going for it, and then comes the big surprise… the price.

R270 000 for the top of the range model I reviewed, which is excellent value considering the size, specification and quality of vehicle.

Suzuki Kizashi 2.4 Manual – 2011

Chrome Paint. Optional

Kizashi, not quite the sound you make when sneezing, but rather the Japanese word for “Something great is coming”, “sign” or “omen”. Well they got it spot on. I’d wrap the bloody Japs over their slightly small knuckles for only bringing us the Kizashi 2 years after it launched in the US and then after India? Honestly we have tarred roads and less slumdog millionaires, I expected it here before India.

The Kizashi is an important car for Suzuki. It has featured in various incarnations in motor shows for years now, the production model being a little further from the concepts than, say, for example, the Range Rover Evoque, but still, a very good looking car in my eyes. It’s Suzuki’s first mid-sized sedan after some rather successful mini 4×4’s and recently popular hatchbacks. Damn what a superb effort is has been. This could have gone so horribly south, but I cannot give this car enough kudos.

Let’s quickly put it into perspective. The Kizashi retails for R295 000 and goes up against the likes of the VW Jetta, Mazda 6, Toyota Corolla & Opel Astra. In terms of the looks department, the Kizashi is by far the best looking of the bunch. A rather fluid design language, with some exceptional looking 158 spoke darkened rims and very unique exhaust pipes makes the Kizashi stand out like Tina Turner at a Martha Stewart cooking convention.

Exhausts are an exciting affair

Whatever you’re thinking about Suzuki right now, banish that thought from your mind because it is more than likely to be something negative or cheap. The Kizashi looks quality, and you can see they’ve spent time on perceived quality inside and out. The door shuts with a solid thud, and the interior wouldn’t have a panel gap if you tried to find one. The interior is a comfortable, easy place to be. Leather memory electric driver’s seat and steering wheel, with soft touch plastics, not-fake looking brushed aluminium bits, steering wheel controls, auto lights on, ipod & usb prep, Bluetooth, a decent sound system and dual zone climate control. Everything is where you’d expect it to be and has a quality feel. The one thing I love about cars designed for the American market in mind, is the fact that their air conditioners cool like an arctic wind off the bow of a crab trawler. There’s very little to fault about the interior, everything feels, looks and is up to standard for the price. There’s enough space for 4 adults, however I’d probably say the boot is definitely not up to Jetta / Corolla sizing, but it does leave the rear looking more “sexy” and less picnic table.

Pretty ain't it?

It looks good on the outside, feels good on the inside but how does it drive? Well it doesn’t disappoint at all. The Kizashi is only on sale in 1 model variant in SA, and you get the choice of manual or CVT automatic whinebox (don’t buy rather die). This means you get it, very simply, in the 2.4litre 4cylinder pushing out 131kW and 230NM of torque. Probably the only thing I can fault here is that it feels more like half the amount of kW and torque. The engine isn’t exactly “swift”. There’s very little torque and requires that you really work through the gears to get going fast. I’d be worried to see what would happen if you put a whole family in the thing and tried to drag their asses up a long hill. Thankfully I encountered none of those so it wasn’t too bad, but the car is such a great package overall I would really have liked a little more punch in the engine department. The yanks have apparently raced one down the salt pans somewhere in the middle of nowhere and Hicksville to over 350km/h (replaced the engine with a turbine no doubt but still). No less it wasn’t this engine but still, the car can handle it!

What - the steering wheel moved?

This said, I’ve yet to see a Jetta / Corolla driver dice a chaiiirna off a traffic light so this isn’t really the be all and end all. What is however, as Trevor van der Ven will tell you, is fuel consumption. Overall I achieved just under 10l/100km, which is pretty much on manufacturer claims. It’s not amazing, but you’ll easily get over 550km out on the 63 litre tank.

Another surprise, and this time for the positive, was the handling. I expected her to be about as exciting as oats in the morning, but again I was proven wrong. The front set-up is MacPherson struts with a multi-link set-up in the rear, which already says huge amounts for the handling. The chassis is far more alive than the Corolla, and easily on par, if not better than the best from the German rivals  (no doubt thanks to the 18inch wheels). Suzuki has apparently paid particular attention to lowering the centre of gravity on certain parts, and it shows in the handling department, with noticeably little body roll. Most importantly however, and no doubt way more important to the buyer of this vehicle, is the ride quality, which is su-perb! The car soaks up bumps and imperfections in the road in a way most luxury saloons do. To get to this level of balance in your chassis set up is no small feat, and is one of the reasons you have to drive it to experience this.

Airbags. Blew the roof off.

Steering is perfectly weighted, and braking also cannot be faulted due to the ABS and EBD assistance. The ABS kicks in pretty quickly but rather safe than sorry I guess. Speaking of safety, there’s a host of airbags should anything go wrong.

Overall, it’s an exceptional vehicle, and will no doubt do wonders for the Suzuki brand in SA, not only in terms of volumes of vehicles, but also brand perception.

I will single-handedly drag prospective buyers in this price category to the Suzuki dealership with my bare hands so they try it out. It’ll be a busy Saturday morning for me but I’ll do it.

The Kizashi comes standard with a 6year/90 000km Service plan and a 3year/100 000km warranty and roadside assistance.

Toyota Prius 2011

Hybrids. Green.

Many many years ago the Diesel engine spent quite a bit of time working its way into every-day motoring. Diesel engines had a terrible perception of being oil burning smoke puffing slow engines. NO wait, they were old burning smoke puffing slow engines.

Today, as a carmaker, if you don’t have a small diesel engine in the European market, your car will fail. Diesel vehicles back then had massive “DIESEL” lettering emblazoned on the cars, making sure everyone knew you were in fact driving a diesel car. (Not like the smoke pouring out the rear wasn’t dead giveaway) The engine has come a long way, and now finds its way into most manufacturers as torquey, efficient and sometimes even performance oriented models.

What has changed radically is that diesel engines are now discreetly integrated into vehicles. Emissions are more controlled so there’s no puff of smoke. The diesel nomenclature has now even changed to sexy itself up – with fun badges like TDI and D4-D. No more massive “DIESEL” lettering or cars that are bogged down and seem to have the diesel disability.

The hybrid suffers nearly the same story, just on different scale. The Hybrid has been positioned as the “Green” car to drive, and the Toyota Prius has been marching front and centre for that cause for quite some time. A genius move by Toyota, being first to market has done more for the brand image for innovation than any other car. The problem now however, is that nearly 10 years on, the need for a hybrid to look like a hybrid isn’t really as “cool” as it once was. Being seen in a Prius stood for so much in California and in the rest of the world, and to some degree still does. However if Hybrid engines are really going to succeed they don’t need to be in a quirky sleek unique package, but rather in the cars people already like and buy.

Lexus has been doing this for quite some time to huge success. Lexus Hybrid models outsell any other vehicle in class in the USA, and to be quite frank, this is the future of the Hybrid. It no longer needs its own car, but rather needs to find a home being sexy in the vehicle line up manufacturers already have. Sadly this is the conclusion I have about the Prius. It’s an amazing vehicle, and has come along leaps and bounds, but I think the overall hybrid package is going to see a longer life if mated to a current model (exactly that is happening soon).

House. Optional

The model I had on test was the 1.8 ECVT Advanced. The Prius comes in 2 specification levels, Advanced being the entry level at R332 700 and the Exclusive which ads some niceties at R378 100. The Advanced has pretty much everything you’d expect at the price so you’re not doing without any niceties…except the seats, which are covered in what I think is suede which just didn’t “sit” right with me. This is of course where the Prius pulls the rabbit out of the hat as most of the interior is made from recycled materials. The interior is an easy place to get comfortable, but is distinctively Hybrid. The facia runs a long slope up to the window with the electronic gauges that sit prominently in the middle. These are easy to read and give quite a bit of information (Drivetrain, different consumption read-outs and 3D holographic style indicators when you push on the steering wheel controls to tell you what button you’ve pressed)

The interior gives off the familiar Toyota quality with some international flair to it. Nothing is exactly “plasticy” because that shit isn’t easy to recycle, so there’s obviously very little of it on the interior. Great!

There is loads of room for passengers in the rear with the boot being a bit more restrictive as it’s a flat load space due to the batteries living in the rear. The only big gripe is the view out the rear with the split rear window, which is rather limited, and the “gear” lever with tacky blue Star-Trek plastic on it, even stood out in the Prius interior.

HSD Dash indicator

So the interior’s distinctively different, and takes some getting used to, but the ergonomics are simple and nothing takes too much brain power to operate. Speaking of power I was pleasantly surprised at the engine. This 3rd generation Prius now features the most powerful engine yet. Toyota increased the engine to improve acceleration and out-of-traffic cruisability as well as improvements to the Hybrid-Synergy-Drive set up. The system switches seamlessly between petrol engine and battery, and offers 3 driving modes that change at the push of a button. ECO-Mode for the more economical driving, subduing inputs to the pedal and is the best of all worlds mix. There’s also POWER mode which gives more shove but obviously sacrifices economy and EV mode which dials out the petrol engine totally. (can only be used at certain speeds, loads and conditions).

Sipping on fuel

I was genuinely surprised at how much shove becomes available when selecting Power mode! It’s no slow poke at all when in Power mode, but this is going to eat on your economy so is kind of counter productive.

The steering and braking take some getting used to. The steering being a little lighter and over-assisted and the braking, as always with a Hybrid, due to the brake regenerative technology, has a lot of grab in a short amount of travel, but these are things you quickly get used to.

Let’s talk efficiencies, which is really what the Prius is about. I returned 5.3l/100km over the 7day test period with my lowest being 3.2l/100km and highest over 10l/100km. That’s genuinely super impressive and I didn’t drive with a feather-foot touch either. I can honestly say that it’s the first time I haven’t actively tried really hard to get a low fuel consumption, but rather found driving in a relaxed manner brought about excellent fuel consumption figures.

Wave Bye Bye

Unfortunately this all said, I think the “Prius” as a car is seeing its final days. It did for Hybrid technology and electrical car innovation what the Chrysler Voyager did for family transport, but its market will only shrink with cars such as the Auris HSD and Lexus CT200h. To me the “coolness” of Hybrids will be in integrating them into existing shapes and model lines rather than creating “Hybrid” models unto themselves. Diesel became cool by fitting them into existing models as the engine developed and progressed.

Would I buy one? Probably not, but it doesn’t compliment my driving style or what I want out of a car. If relaxed driving and fuel economy is on your check-list for car buying, I can recommend the Prius. I don’t think there’s a car on the market, conventional competitors included, that compares on fuel consumption, emissions and interior size.

Lexus RX450h

Effects not included.

Until not so long ago the RX450h was the worlds first and only hybrid SUV. As you may or may not know, Lexus does very well in the United States, and for quite some time, it outsold its competitors Mercedes and BMW. The SUV is obviously very popular with the yanks, and so putting two and two together, the Lexus RX is the best selling luxury SUV over there, and I can see why.

The RX is in its 3rd generation and the model on test was the 450h LXE (R805 100). Now before you stop reading and think that’s a horrendous amount of money for a car, let me tell you that it’s worth every single cent and more.

There’s two main things that sets the RX apart from its competitors.

  1. The amount of standard specifications
  2. No doubt, the hybrid drive train

Glowing doorsills. ooooh.

I’ll get into more detail on those later, so let’s start with the exterior styling. Styling is always really a personal matter, however the move to less clunky SUV and more “raised car” look helps this Lexus look a lot smaller than it actually is. The model I had came in a very attract pearlescent white finish, and seems to be quite a popular colour for this model. The hybrid model is distinguished from the regular models by the blue tint Lexus badge, rear lighting and hybrid nameplates under the doors, but that’s about it. No in your face I’m driving a hybrid stuff. You’d never know, until of course it sneaks up on you in the underground parking lot. Then you know.


Luxury. Done.

Moving inside, things are on another level. The only level of sophistication and utter opulence close to this would be the Porsche or Range Rover. Its direct competition cannot compare on fit, finish, quality materials and ergonomics of the Lexus. Standard equipment levels are incredibly high and the car is literally bursting with technology. The Lexus multimedia interface is one of the best systems on the market today. It’s intuitive because it works the same as the common “Mouse”. It also features HUD (heads up display), smart access that not only locks and unlocks but also switches on the exterior lighting when the driver and key gets close to the car. Heated and cooling seats, an excellent Mark Levinson sound system with 40gig HDD and voice activation, and the list goes on. It’s a fantastic place to be inside. One of the little things I really appreciated was that the cabin was 100% dedicated to RHD. So many international cars see the switch over to RHD but certain buttons are left out of reach and hard to come by because the car was designed with LHD(left hand drive) in mind. There’s no indication of this here, with every button in the “right” place. The seats are superbly comfortable, with quite a bit of rear head and legroom, and still considerable room in the rear.

The LXE model I drove also featured active bi-xenon headlamps, sunroof, 10way adjustable driver and passenger electric seats with memory function and an electrically powered tailgate.

Power Display. Distracting.

The hybrid RX features a 3.5litre V6 mated to two electric motors (On fore and other aft). It’s hard to quote exact figures but there is around 220kW and just over 670Nm of torque on offer. This is obviously a flat torque curve as the e-CVT gearbox brings the power to the front or all wheels depending on what is needed. Lexus has been perfecting their hybrid drive train for quite some time now and it is probably the best in the business. Added technology to help efficiency is an exhaust heat recovery system to reduce engine warm up periods. Provided the car is warmed up, the vehicle can run on full electric mode up to 45km/h. If you’re in eco-mode (There are 3 modes, ECO, EV and ‘ECO Off = Sport’) and you pull off from the traffic light I found myself trying not to get the engine to kick in however eventually you’ll have to plant the pedal and get moving as those behind you get impatient. When you do plant your foot there is plenty of power and torque to get this beast up to 100km/h in just over 7seconds.

As usual, with the hybrid drivertrain the only thing the driver really has to get used to is the flat torque and constant engine note when accelerating. Surprisingly the V6 can get quite throaty when pushing on, not something I expected! My combined consumption (40% highway 60% city traffic) saw just on 11l/100km which in my books is excellent for a SUV of this size and considering I didn’t doodle around. Claimed is just around 7l/100km, which I’ve heard is actually achievable.

Ride and handling is excellent considering the hybrid seat up. The 3rd generation model replaces the MacPherson strut rear suspension set up for Double Wishbones, greatly improving handling. The car feels planted when pushing on, yet supremely comfortable on every day speed, which is probably the more important of the two. Braking on a hybrid as always sees less pedal feel as always you can feel the brake regeneration working, but you’ll get used to this soon enough. This said, there’s no issue with the effectiveness of the brakes, and the RX sees a host of other safety features (VDIM – Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) such as VSC (vehicle stability) ABS, Hill assist, TRAC (Traction control) and front active head rests as well as 10 airbags.

Heads up Display. Brag factor.

There was not a person that didn’t get into the car that was not immediately impressed. There is a certain heir of quality within and out that puts it above the X5/6, ML and Q7. I would probably rather compare the Rx against the Cayenne (the only model here to also feature a hybrid) and the Range Rover Sport (or HSE Discovery), considering the exclusivity and trim levels.

Lexus prides themselves on offering near everything standard and the Rx isn’t left out of the party here. The website even supplies a vehicle comparison calculator which adds up what the extras would cost on the competitors (not named) vehicles, and really does show that even though the Rx is sold at a premium, it’s WELL worth the extra money in comparison.

Currently Porsche is the only other manufacturer to offer a hybrid luxury model to compare (however it does not offer the technical specification under the hood that the Lexus does). I would then have to compare it to diesel models that offer similar balance of efficiency and performance. When you go and look at that, the Lexus trumps on value hands down. It definitely doesn’t offer the driving or off-road dynamics of the X5 or Range Rover, but they don’t offer the incredible technology and let’s be frank, there aren’t very many of those models that ever see a dust road.

Overall it’s an incredible vehicle, however pricey, it offers more value than its competitors at the same price, has one of the most luxurious interiors I’ve ever been in, and an incredible hybrid drive train. If you’re shopping in this price range it’s definitely worth a look.

More info on

Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

Diffuser on a Volvo?!

Well you don’t often hear people saying the words sporty and Volvo in the same sentence. It’s kind of like hooker and virgin or Art and great-national-anthem being in the same sentence together. So it’s not something that sits comfortable in ones mind, and look at what Volvo delivered…the S60 T6 AWD R-Design

I have reviewed a normal S60 T6 AWD before so I’m not going to go into much detail about the S60, but rather focus on the specifics around the R-Design changes.

So let’s start off with the exterior, which is what differentiates this Volvo from any other. The R-Design kit, which is essentially a cosmetic and accessorized performance / racing pack, ads some very attractive and sporty cues to the traditional S60 looks. There’s a black front grille, modified bumpers, rear spoiler, and most noticeably the rear diffuser with prominent twin tail pipes. I say let’s make every Volvo look like this, it’s a damn good start to getting the already quirky Volvo to stand out and most people, including myself were pleasantly surprised at how sporty they had made it look.  Included in this pack were 18inch wheels that would give you some good street cred in the Vale, as well as aluminum mirror covers. Hooray!

Stop. Staring.

Interior changes include aluminum interior trim, which was actual aluminum and not some sprayed milk bottle plastic. R-Design seats looked like they were fashioned out of a diving suit, and would be at home on a performance boat. They were, as always, supremely comfortable and more supportive than the traditional S60 seats. Steering wheel and some other bits are given the R-Design leather treatment. As I’ve said time and time again, it’s a pleasant place to be in a Volvo, the S60 being no exception to the rule. Some commented on the dashboard being a little daunting in size, however I can fault very little of the interior.

Swedish interiors. Pretty.

The S60 R-Design does absolutely no changes to the engine, the flagship T6 (a 3litre turbocharged six cylinder petrol engine) pushing out 224kW and 440Nm of torque through Volvo’s All-wheel drive system. That’s more than a BMW 335i and 20kW short of the Audi S4. To be frank, it’s fucking fast. 0-100km/h is dealt with in 6.2seconds … It’s deceptive as you really don’t realize how fast you’re picking up speed.. There is probably a little more perceived involvement in drive due to the sporty suspension, tyres and AWD system, however it’s definitely not as much a drivers car as the other two above. That said, it is lighting quick in a straight line, so quick in fact that the engine will easily pull up past 200km/h before you even notice it in wind noise or drive. Excellent stuff that.

The AWD system features something called “Instant Traction” which shifts power to the front or rear wheels dependant on the need in “lightning speed”. I must be honest, it’s not exactly as “lightning quick” as they claim it to be. I’m no tosser, I understand it’s not exactly an M3 track competitor, but pushing into a hard corner you’ll find it running wide, the traction control come on, the power being transferred to a wheel that has some of it, and then the power being cut. It’s not a very smooth system and seems to react at the speed of the dial up modem, and not lighting-zeus-speed. The problem with the S60’s has always been that the engine sits so far ahead of the front wheels which means there’s a lot of weight in the nose of the car, which immediately sends the nose wide and the stability systems in attack mode to fix that. This is really only when pressing on really hard, and you wouldn’t notice this in daily relaxed driving.


Sigh… another shortcoming is the Geartronic automatic gearbox, which leaves quite a bit to be desired when it comes to sporty shifting. It’s unfortunately (as I said about the traditional S60) the biggest weakness of the car. It does a great job when you’re just cruising along, however when pressing on it hunts for gears and you’ll be so irritated that you end up just putting it into manual. However, when that happens, you’ll wait while the car puts in a request for the shift to Swedish headquarters, the shift is than approved by the team, and then gear engaged. Not ideal.

Overall, it’s a very good-looking car…almost too good looking for what it’s going to deliver. This said, Volvo is already seeing a bias towards male drivers in the S60 range, which is against their traditional female bias…and this is good news. They are obviously hoping to attract some more macho to the range with this R-Design kit … yeah … guess it’ll work

In my eyes, it unfortunately just doesn’t come together nicely. Sporty and Volvo come together, but just not too well in this S60. It’s not water and oil, but it’s not strawberries and cream either. With great sporty looks and a beast of an engine, it’s kind of just let down as it’s not really that involved, nor really excellent in handling, nor really snappy in the gear changes. I understand what the sport kit is about, much like the guys with a 320i BMW slap on an M-Sport kit, but here it’s got half the goods, and then just seems to not really bring it all home.

Nice in Red.

Pricing, you’re looking upwards of R460 000 in this guise. So if you’re looking to just spruce up any of the S60 models, it’s worth the extra bit of cash if you can handle a sportier ride and want that sporty look.

You can find more information on this vehicle at

Jeep Wrangler Sahara 70yr Edition

I must admit, every time I’ve seen one of these on the road I’ve been slightly envious wondering what it must be like to drive. It’s one of those iconic cars that everyone seems to love. I become slightly more enamored to it at the coast, when you see the group of teens sailing past with the roof off and the music blaring, there’s something very “cool” about that.

Wheels. Bling.

Jeep celebrates 70years of existence this year so the near brand new unit I received had little over 800km on the clock and was one of their 70year special editions. It still has iconic Wrangler looks, the boxy silhouette and 2 short doors, however there is a new model on the cards next year, so should be interesting to see what they do to update this iconic shape.

The model on test was the 3.8l V6 developing 146kW and 315Nm of torque, with massive chromed 18inch rims, brushed aluminum sill plates, and special interior treatment, which I’ll get to later. Oh yes, the website also lists that it has, wait for it, a 70year anniversary badge! Raise the roof!

The Jeep, unlike the Land Rover defender, is loved by both men and women. I found it strange at how many girls swooned over the car, something they definitely don’t do over the Defender…unless they have crew-cut and a toolbox. It’s unfortunately a little out of its environment on the road, being such an incredible off-roader, it’s a little like bringing high heels to do the Otter Trail.

I say this because of a couple of factors:

Yes they made the 70year edition a little…nay…a lot more special. It’s a LOT more civilized than I thought it was going to be, with the rapper rims, and the very well specced interior, but it’s the drive that’s not exactly something every city girl would enjoy. The V6 produces enough grunt to get you around, but due to the massive circumference of the tyres and heavy drive mechanics there’s no urgency in its movements, you kind of just urge it along. The model I drove was an automatic, and the claimed 0-100km/h time of 10.4seconds is ambitious to say the least. The initial pull off grunt is good enough, but once it’s on the move, overtaking and speeding up needs to be carefully negotiated or you could land yourself in trouble. (Thankfully it achieved a 5-star safety rating and boasts dual airbags, ABS, RMC & ESC.

Ruts. Bring. It

It’s probably a good idea there’s not enough speed because the handling is something like trying to steer a waterbed across a sea of jello. Swerving for a pedestrian crossing the road, as I found, can get the car rocking and rolling until the ERM (Electronic Roll Mitigation) kicks in to keep it from landing on its roof. It’s by no means dangerous, but you really have to keep this in mind and rather just take a relaxed nature to driving the car, which I’m sure most people do. I’m no retard, I’m well aware that the combination of the car’s high centre of gravity and tyre size does not make it a Nurburgring time setter, it’s just a little disconcerting at first.

Not kak at all

Talk about a huge surprise, I thought the interior was going to be awash with shitty plastic and have the ability to hose the whole thing down. Much to my surprise it featured more creature comforts than many of the R400K+ sedans I’ve driven, and near everything was of a fairly high quality touch and feel. The 70year edition does add a few novel little chrome and leather bits here and there and let me tell you it makes the difference. Electric one touch windows, heated seats, voice control, steering wheel mounted controls, cruise control and a insanely powerful sound system was all standard. Seating is high up and access to the back is helped by the fact that the whole seat lifts and tilts to help ease access.

Downhill. Easy

I was very excited to find that the Sahara is equipped with the, and I quote, “Heavenly Hardtop” which allows the hardtop to removed in 3 easily manageable sections. Without the two front panels that cover the driver and passenger, the back of the hardtop can be “fairly” easily removed by 2 adults. Soft top is then also available to bolt on after the hard top is off. Insanely cool when you’re at the beach, as I found even the windscreen can be flapped down to really give it that open air feel. Great, if say, you’re cruising around in Mozambique.

That said, the real character and ability of the car comes out when you take advantage of the CommandTrac full time 4wheel drive system. This system allows for full time 4wheel drive with both diff-locks automatically engaged (however switched out the traction control, which is odd)

Nose first.

We took the vehicle to an off-road course and were genuinely surprised at every obstacle that the vehicle easily mounted. Due to the SWB (Short wheel base) nature of the car, departure and approach angles are astounding. It’ll crawl some of the steepest inclines with no drama (as you face the blue sky) and then crawl down the other side using the HDC (Hill Decent Control). The car is in fact so good off road, as commented by another car enthusiast that went with, that his Prado would definitely not have done half of what the Jeep did. A recipe for success off road with high ground clearance, skid plates and low anti roll bars giving loads of wheel articulation and lots of low down grunt from the V6. It’s definitely more than most people would ever need off road, and in that way it’s slightly too capable to the point of being compromising on-road.

I’m sure 90% of buyers will never use that full potential. That said, if you’re an off road enthusiast, it does give better everyday driving ability than the Defender or Toyota LC series. That said, both of those vehicles see parts readily available anywhere in Africa, something of which I’m not that confident with this Jeep. Jeep allows one to spec up or select models that are even more capable off road, including a 5door variant.

I can see this car make sense for 2 types of people

A)   Those that live in Cape Town / at the coast, and can enjoy the roof off fun nature of the vehicle, as well as the ability to tear up a dirt road here and there, or even as a 2nd car at the coast.

B)   The dedicated off-road enthusiast would be able to spec this vehicle out in full Rubicon spec with serious rubber and see it tackle the toughest of what mother nature can throw at it

Now that I’ve driven it, I don’t want to drive one every day, it’s too hard to park, too squishy to drive and thirsty as poor white car-guard. If I did fall into one of the two categories above – you bet this would be my first choice!

Pricing a very reasonable – R364 990 – more detail available here –

Volvo C30 D2

Green with Envy, or fuel consumption. Which ever.

Volvo has been on a rather aggressive drive to position their cars as a slightly more youthful brand than days of yore. No more station wagon safety connotations but rather aggressively styled and good value for money.

The C30 was even Edward Cullen’s mode of transport in the Twilight series, and if there was ever better product placement to reach the youth it’s probably having your product sleep with Justin Bieber. Sales for the C30 saw a significant increase since it made its appearance in the blood sucking saga. Edward however had the mental capacity to buy the T5, which no doubt is the model I’d go for after driving the D2 around.


The D2 is the first diesel in the C30 for SA, however only available in 3door.  A wise choice considering the popularity for diesel models in the hatch category in SA. Under the hood it sports a 1.6litre 84kW (@3600RPM) diesel motor producing a quite significant 270Nm of torque (@1750RPM). Compare it to a direct rival, the VW 1.6Bluemotion and the figures on the Volvo impress with more power and torque. The Volvo doesn’t do as much shouting about being a very “green” (excuse the pun) car, as much as the VW does. Sadly, it doesn’t feel like it has more power or torque than the VW. With a very delayed low pressure turbo and first gear ratio combining to give about as much shove in first as a toddler on a bike. First gear is dismal and requires a lot of effort (read rev guessing) to make sure you get over the light in time. There’s no problems once it gets going however, as the turbo spools up and the engine is on then boil its perfectly suitable to the daily commute.

Thankfully the interior is not a let down. The floating dashboard makes an appearance and it’s a typical Volvo affair inside. A typical Volvo affair is something I’ve genuinely come to like these days as there’s nothing you can fault them on. Everything is simply laid out, easily understood and materials, even in this bottom of the range C30, of a high quality. It’s not exciting, but I guess the Swedes would fall over and riot if the Volvo interior turned into a Mini, for instance.

That dashboard floats!

Some interesting thoughts around the interior, as with all 2doors, the doors are rather long making exiting in a parking lot quite interesting. The entry and exit to the rear of the vehicle is tight, and rear seats, with someone my length driving does not allow for an adult to sit in the back, unless diagonally across the seats (only 2 read sets just by the way) A friend of mine who drives one of these also commented that the cigarette lighter/power socket, is in an awkward spot, because when you have a sat-nav / car charger plugged in, changing gears is very challenging. I would definitely spec it with park distance for the rear and front as I still cannot judge a Volvo front properly, but maybe I’m just retarded like that.


Something that Volvo is pretty retarded at was the excuse for boot and boot cover. I’m not sure what size of ferret they expect you to fit in that tiny hole in the hard cover, but it’s not my bag for work.

No space for dead hookers here

It’s the most disappointing part of the car, I couldn’t even fit a bag for a 2day trip to Cape Town through the cover. The boot itself is not going to fit an entire dead hooker, you’d have to chop and dice to make her fit, but the real doozy is the cover to keep lurking eyes from seeing what’s in there that boggles my brain. Bad design Volvo. SMH.

There’s climate control for driver and passenger, the option of integrated Bluetooth with full controls on the dash as well as cruise control. A full on-board computer and gear shift indicator (e-driving indicator) is also standard. On the safety front there is no shortage of equipment with DSTC, Adaptive brake lights, ABS with EBA. A full compliment of airbags including side curtain and a whiplash protection system is also standard. Doing it the Volvo way even in the hatch.

Handling and braking were both good. Handling surprised me as I thought it could be rather boring but when eventually gathering up enough momentum to push into a corner there was some form of chassis there, and one that didn’t dull you. Let’s be frank, if you bought the D2 you’re not going to be tearing around corners anyway. Thankfully I never had to do any emergency braking but pedal feel on the brakes was as expected for Volvo.

 I didn’t return the best fuel consumption figures, getting around 8l/100km which is nothing to write home about. I drove it like I normally drive and if that’s what it’s going to return for my driving style (mostly city with limited highway) then I’d rather stick to a larger turbo engine and get 10l/100km. I expected it to be a lot better, as this friend of mine who does the jhb-pretoria commute (vomit) every day, achieved around 6.5l/100km, so it’s possible.

I was neither excited, not blown away by this Volvo, and I shouldn’t be, because that’s not what it’s there to do. It does its job very well, being a fairly frugal value for money city car. It does it even better when you consider the price of R252 000. (As Tested R260 000 with Essential Package – see for more info) It’s priced R10K under VW’s 1.6bluemotion which is its best competitor considering engine (a 5door though) and gives considerably more in terms of kit and equipment and looks a hell of a lot better than anything out there in this price range. I don’t think Edward cared much for value for money, or fuel consumption, and we know he rather liked the T5, so his view is out for now.

Competitors in the price range is the Alfa Giulietta 1.4, Mito 1.4T, Audi A1 1.6d, and A3 1.4T. It’s tough competition and to be honest I’d rather opt for a 1.4Turbo on another model or the Golf, but if you can’t handle the boring styling of the Golf and need more value for money than this is the car for you. Also it’s the model choice for vampires around the world, so if you’re one of those it’s definitely for you.

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

Opel Astra 1.6 Turbo boet

Opel Astra 1.6Turbo

Good – Looks, engine & loads of kit (Value for dolla)

Bad – Notchy, vague gearshift, vague pedal feel and low quality interior finish

Red is the new black

I learnt to drive in a 1996 Opel Astra 1.6 sedan. It had a rear suspension that made a Cadillac feel sporty, notchy gearshifts and some very lazy pedal feel. That said, it was my first car, and I loved the freedom! Strangely enough there’s a lot of DNA that seems to have made it over from that 1996 model into this 2010 incarnate.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a vast improvement, starting with the great engine. The SPORT badge means it’s got a… surprise… sporty engine! A 1.6litre turbo engine developing 132kW @5,500RPM and 230NM of torque from around 2,200RPM. The engine has got heaps of pull, more than enough for city driving and easily cruises along or overtakes with the overboost function that raises the torque to 250NM. Sounds riveting don’t it? Well you’ll pay for that performance at the pumps, as I got nowhere near the claimed 6.8l/100km.

No less

Probably the largest surprise is how many people I watched have a good look at this car. It’s no Lamborghini Aventador, but I guess because there are so few of them on the road, this Red Astra turned some heads. New curvaceous lines and unique styling makes this a very good looking car in my opinion. The rear dips down to give it sleek look from the side, and from the front and back, it’s definitely not the ginger kid at school. The 1.6T Sport comes with some kiff 18inch rims and definitely looks the “sport” part.

So far Opel has impressed on two fronts they haven’t before. One, a lovely turbo engine, and two, a unique sporty look that stands out of the crowd of hatchbacks out there. Unfortunately you don’t get to drive this car from the outside, so you’ll be left staring at the interior. This is a radical improvement from Opel interiors of old, with a fresh trendy look. The interior is quite easy to get accustomed to, with a fairly logical layout to most features, and features it has. This Sport model features leather trim, heated seats, auto lights and rain sensor, dual zone climate control, steering-wheel mounted controls and a host of safety equipment. There’s also Bluetooth, and voice activation for the phone. Say what Kit?! That’s pretty impressive for a car of this price. Sadly it’s let down with what looks like, but does not feel like quality trim.

Smell the low quality plastics

Low quality plastics are the order of the day, and at night this shiny plastic is beautifully bathed in red mood lighting from all over, just like a MOTEL sign. Lovely. Thankfully, seating is more comfortable than anything a MOTEL has to offer, with a good balance of comfort and support in the front seats.

What brings back memories to the ‘ol chariot of ’96, is the notchy gearshifts and vague pedal feel. It’s probably due to this press car being through its fair share of journos but the pedals and the gearshift just felt loose like an Oxford street hooker. It’s something you’d never feel on a Golf, and something that didn’t feel German at all. What did feel very German is the great ride and handling. A great mix between a firm, yet comfortable suspension, however when you really push her into the corners the front does scramble for traction.

Round. Looking good.

Overall, I’m genuinely impressed with the amount of kit they’ve managed to squeeze into the car at the price, but they seemed to have sacrificed interior quality materials for some nifty tech bits. I’m sad to say that this is the only “German” car that doesn’t feel German in most of what it does. It competes very well against its eastern counterparts but definitely misses the mark against the Golf in terms of quality German feel.


Pricing for this model – R284,680

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