VW Passat – 2011

I’m sure quite a few of you have seen the latest VW ad for the Passat with the Darth Vader kid in it. It’s such a great ad, and co-incidentally quite a good car too.

I recently got behind the wheel of the 2011 VW Passat, in both guises – 2.0TDI DSG and 1.8TSI Manual. It was at a ride and drive event for VW’s sedan launches on their 60th year anniversary. There’s quite a few new variations of the models coming, from the Vivo, new Polo sedan and of course, the South African favourite, the Jetta. My focus, however was on that Passat.

The Passat has always been positioned as a mid level executive sedan, since its first iteration in way back when in the 80’s. There was an update late 2000’s but the unit has always struggled to bring in the numbers they’d hoped. It sells in incredible numbers in the UK, mainly as a popular rep-mobile and something different from the BMW 3Series and Audi A4’s that sell in droves as fleet cars for the corporates.

The new styling is in line with the new VW look, which keeps things sleek and conservative yet still looks fresh in design. To be frank, it’s about as exciting as listening to an Afrikaans sermon, but the Passat models have never tried to be daring. As a side note, the optional Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED’s really give it an up-market look from the front. Still doesn’t save things though.

Engines, at this point, are a petrol 1.8TSI (Turbo, 118kW @ 5000-6000RPM & 250Nm @ 1500-4200RPM) and a 2litre turbo diesel unit. (103kW @ 4200RPM & 320Nm 1750-2500RPM) The 2.0TDI unit is an effortless power plant. It delivers the torque seamlessly through the rev range, especially because it’s mated to an excellent 6speed DSG gearbox. The combination makes for effortless driving, in and around town, and on the highway. The gear changes are so seamless you just watch the rev counter jump up and down the revs. It’s the best bet for the driver that does a good hunk of kilo’s and wants to use it as a family cruiser over the weekends.

The 1.8TSI is just a different beast all together. The 135kW motor is incredibly keen to be revved up and the turbo keeps the power fed right through the rev range. There’s a good bit of thrust in 3rd at any point in the rev range making overtaking and gutsy city driving a real pleasure. The car’s not small, but it the 1.8TSI engine makes it easy work of the Passat’s weight. It does such good work you’ll find yourself racing around like you would in a hatchback. Strange … for a Passat. It’s genuinely so much fun to get revved and driving I seriously would suggest you take it for a spin if you’re looking in this category.

The suspension is familiar Independent McPherson struts with Anti-Roll bar and Multi-link rear suspension. Basically, it does relaxed driving incredibly well, and also gives a great sporty drive when you’re making darting around in traffic. The car makes use of an electronic parking brake, with auto-hill hold, which holds the car on an incline or decline until you get the revs right to go. Nice.

The interior is once again another jump in quality on the VW side. They are getting closer and closer to the sibling Audi interior quality, which is an interesting strategy, not only in terms of pricing, but also positioning of the brand. Anywho, the interior is a familiar happy VW place, with soft touch materials, quality switchgear, and a host of space inside for the family, much more so than its German rivals. Dual zone climate control and everything you’d expect from a mid segment saloon is standard in here, including a fatigue detection system, that tells you to take a break when it notices you’re nodding off. One thing none of the rivals can compete on, is the carnivorous boot. You could easily fit 3 dead hookers and a shovel and some lemons in there, with space to spare. (

There’s a host of optional equipment on the VW that bring it up to technological spec level of its German rivals – rear view camera, parking assist, dynamic headlights, keyless entry, climate controlled seats and high-beam assist. All optional of course, and bring a kid to trade in on those options.

Overall, it’s a worth competitor in my books, and the best part is it has the newest look of them all. Let’s hope the Passat nameplate doesn’t deter buyers, as it really does everything so well. Interior space and that massive boot make it a serious contender for those with families, and I’d suggest giving it a drive if you need the space, more so than the Jetta.
Pricing? We’re talking R325 000 starting for the 2.0TDI DSG and R294 000 for the 1.8TSI. Genuinely good value (careful with the options list) considering the size of the interior, and great engines on offer.

* As a side note, I’d like to thank VW for another great Ride & Drive event, extremely well organized with exceptional presentation – check out a short clip on the presentation here –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy-D9T2gbKU

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Lexus is-f – 2010

Lexus IS-F

I was recently granted the opportunity with Lexus East Rand to drive a range of their cars across Joburg. The highlight, for me, was the Lexus IS-F, so it’s been granted its own post

Some background, the Lexus IS-F is Lexus’ answer to the BMW M3, Mercedes C63AMG and Audi RS4. It’s built on the Lexus IS platform (Google it if you don’t know) The F in my books, stands for “F*ck off fast”.

Here are some interesting things I noticed whilst driving this beast.
In any gear, just over 4000RPM the sound emitted from the engine and exhaust is probably what it sounded like when that Volcano in Iceland blew its lid. There’s only 4 seats, so sorry for your 3rd born (Side note, anyone with 3 kiddies should rather be driving a Voyager)
Sprinting start 0-100km/h is reached in 4.6seconds, and no less than an 8speed sequential shift gearbox that can shift gears as fast as a Ferrari F430.
Oh yes, and the 4 exhaust pipes, mounted 2 either side above each other looks … well … f*cking awesome!

Impressive to start with, but it doesn’t end there. The 5litre direct injection V8 sourced from the Lexus LS600 (their super saloon) cranks out 311kw in the IS-F and leads it up to a top speed of 270km/h. A little slap in the face to the German marquees that all have a gentleman’s agreement to limit most of their production cars to 250km/h. This is all very hard to understand unless you’ve driven one. The sound, speed and sheer acceleration is so exhilarating it could be sold as a shot in bar.

Handling has also seen the same attention as the engine, with up-rated stiffer suspension in the front (a heavier V8 needs more support) as well as larger anti roll bars and an even lower ride height. What amazes me, is that even though it’s a high performance saloon, compared to the C63 and M3, it’s way more comfortable, without totally losing the dynamic edge in the handling department (Ok it’s probably no M3 on the track)
You can feel the weight in the front, but handling is still phenomenal, with loads of grip from the 19inch rubber.

There is a Sport mode for the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) which dials in heavier steering, more responsive throttle, and fiddles with the stability systems to give more leeway on track days. I left that button alone.

The interior didn’t blow me away. There’s the renowned Lexus quality interior, but besides for the blue leather on the steering wheel, stitching, and ‘carbon fibre’ it is pretty standard IS inside (which isn’t a bad thing!)
That said, everything you need is there, and the seats are SURPREMELY comfortable, with just the right amount of lumbar and side support.
Once again, a great mix so you don’t have to compromise too much in your day-to-day driving.

I threw her down the highway, and easily charged up to illegal limits, too easily in-fact. The great thing is you can flappy paddle (full manual selection with torque converter from 2-8th gear) into 8th gear and cruise along with the engine thrumming just over 2000RPM.
Downside to cruising in 8th gear… you really need to shift down a couple of gears to get in the sweet zone to chase after a matt black M3 that just sped by.

There’s very little to dig at on this car, but I have only a few gripes and I’ll list ‘em below:
– Exterior isn’t easily distinguished from standard IS
– Sport button is hidden away like it’s the ugly step son
– Interior is a little bland, and the 4 seat set-up might not suit everyone
– Not as heavily driver focused as the BMW M3 / Audi RS4

The overshadowing positives:

– Better every-day comfort, along with better fuel consumption (yawn) than its rivals
– Doesn’t want to kill you around every corner when you throw the throttle down (unlike its rivals)
– The gearbox and brakes are an exquisite combination to the engine
– Near damn everything standard at a very competitive price (once again considering the rivals)

Note – a VERY recent revision to the model has been made with changes to the interior, suspension and some small exterior changes. This new revision retails at R792 000 (includes Lexus standard 4 year or 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan)

Thanks again to Lexus East Rand (Dealer of the year 2009) for the opportunity