Nissan Qashqai – 2litre n-tec

Let’s get this straight, there’s a couple of pretty average, tasteless and bland models from Nissan – see the NP300 (Hardbody), Pathfinder and Tiida.

Thankfully of late, Nissan has been bringing out some pretty awesome models such as the GT-R, 370Z , Murano and of course the Qashqai.

The Qashqai has a weird name but a pretty normal promise – It’s going to be a comfortable, good-looking, value for money leisure vehicle for those parents who are looking for something that has comfortable seating for 4 or 5, good fuel economy and raised ground clearance to give better all round visibility and value.

 

The Qashqai model I had on test was the 2litre petrol Acenta N-tec  (A limited edition 4×2 manual with larger 18inch rims and panoramic sunroof, premium chrome finishes and leather seats). The model range is quite vast and comprises of different engine sizes (1.6, 2.0petrol and 2.0diesel) as well as 4×2 and 4×4 variants with different trim (Acenta, Visia & Limited edition n-tec). These are also available in CVT (automatic) or manual. There’s pretty much something for everyone here, so you won’t have trouble finding your fit, but the Acenta n-tec does look the best, with very unique black and silver 18inch rims, some more leather bits on the interior and some chrome accents on the exterior.

 

Panoramic Roof = winner

Most mommies would probably spend some time checking out the interior, and I can say it’s a specious and very nice place to be. There was quite a bit of “kit”, including the leather seats, dual zone climate control, 5-3point seatbelts with ISOFIX mountings on back row of seats. There are plug-ins for all multimedia, a half decent sound system and rain sensing windshield wipers with auto-chromatic rear-view mirror and cruise control, which came in handy on the long trips. It’s a little plasticky on the interior, but most people wouldn’t really even notice.

On the safety front, standard with the entire model range is ABS, EBD, BAS and VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) along with the full compliment of driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags across the range.  The interior is a nice place to be; there’s also a lot of stowage space for all the crap kids gather, and the boot is a reasonable size with load-cover. Only gripe here is the bootlid that doesn’t raise high enough and I found myself smacking my head against the bootlid on opening.

 

The exterior is fairly exciting, without being offensive. It’s actually quite good looking, and in the right color and trim options can look pretty damn up-market! The models with hubcaps and low trim do tend to not really even catch one’s eye even if they were driving down the road flaming.

 

Nissan VS Hyundai ix35

I took the Qashqai on a road-trip to Clarens for the weekend and found it a very comfortable cruiser. It’s no dynamic wonder, but who gives a shit?! This car is made to transport families in comfort, and it does that well. The panoramic sunroof really added to the overall ambiance of the interior, and has a fully automatic cloth cover that closes to keep the sun from turning the car into a little hot box. The car did really well considering the state of disrepute of the roads between Bethlehem and Clarens, meant I played “dodge the pothole and oncoming traffic” for around 60km’s. The car handled well taking the bumps and undulating surface in its stride, even when I was veering all over the road to avoid the potholes … that didn’t unsettle it.

 

What’s unfortunately not so great is the very lack-luster 2 litre engine. Pushing out 102kW and a very low 198Nm leaves you hunting through the gears, and this means you have to spend a lot of time changing gears. Which is a bad thing, as the gearbox feels something like stirring butter with a very long stick. It’s strange how detached the gearlever feels from the gearbox somewhere down there, notchy gearshifts and a clutch that doesn’t help the cause. My friends from ZaCarShow said I’m being a little critical and most people who buy the car would happily live with the gearbox (They are probably right)

The engine is a bit of a let down too, I could have sworn the car I had was the 1.6litre, but she was the 2litre…sadly. This also affected fuel consumption as I couldn’t get below 12l/100km, manufacturer claims 10.47l/100km which isn’t bad but isn’t great either. I would definitely like to see Nissan bring the 1.6Techna engine from the Juke to the Qashqai, and you can leave all the rest out.

 

Check those rims!

There really is very little to dislike about the Qashqai for most people You can see why there are so many of them on the roads. I can’t see the point of the 4×4 model as there’s no other 4×4 qualities to the vehicle, so my pick would probably be the 2.0cdi (diesel) Acenta 4×2 instead of the petrol one I had.

You’d also be looking at the Kia Sportage, Jeep Compass and Hyundai ix35 in this company, and I can say that it’ll be a tough choice between the Kia and the Nissan, but due to Kia still have supply issues, I’d go for the Nissan.

 

Pricing of vehicle as tested 2litre Acenta Limited Edition with Panoramic sunroof – R300,000

Standard 3year / 90 000 km service plan and 3year / 100 000 km warranty

http://www.nissan.com

 

Jeep Patriot 2.4 Limited CVT – 2011

I spent two weeks with ‘a’ Dodge Caliber in the US. It was, and still is, my worst car of all time. During the period, I had 3 of them from Hertz as one after the other had to go in due to some form of problem. The CVT gearbox, underpowered engine, vague steering and terrible interior was the summation of the parts. You might be thinking I’ve made a huge mistake on this review as it’s of the Jeep Patriot, but these two vehicles share a common family DNA…They were built on a shared GS platform engineered by the then, Daimler/Chrysler & Mitsubishi. Goes to show that too many cooks do spoil the broth. We’re off to a bad start.

 

Typical Jeep Grille.

I’ve always been very confused by the proliferation of models from Jeep. Lately they have started consolidating this offering, but the shared Dodge / Jeep platforms of previous years made no sense. Way too many offerings, with too many of them that don’t stand out in any one way, nor make a groundbreaking niche of their own.

 

The Patriot has recently been “updated”, giving it a refreshed exterior look (new bumper and integrated foglamps) new 17inch mags and a much improved interior. The interior update brings it in line with the rest of the fleet and you can feel the upgrade in quality materials. The interior is much the same as the Wrangler, mostly plastic, with SOME very plasticky bits, but overall, the interior is of a much higher quality than before. The gearshift sits rather awkwardly (A-la Calibre) on the dash, but is easily within reach. (even though you don’t need it much as the model on test was a … vomit … CVT)

The interior sees reasonable spec, with heated seats, on-board computer (a fairly confusing arrangement in the instrument binnacle), Automatic climate control that blows so cold it could no doubt solve global warming if the doors are left open, and a Radio/CD/Aux sound system (the option of a Uprated Navigation system is there). Sadly the sound is not as epic as the system in the Wrangler, which made me sad.

Interior - Improved

Get into the Patriot and you literally sit IN, and not ON the vehicle, which you can clearly see when getting into the vehicle. Passengers sit rather low with the small windscreen and extremely limited exterior and B pillar rear views giving limited visibility out of the car. Front seats are fairly comfortable (With six-way adjustment), but space in the rear and boot leaves much to be desired.  As said before, the interior is quite a step up from previous model, with loads of space to store bits away from prying eyes.

 

Taking a view from the outside, and it looks typically old-school Jeep. Squared look with a prominent Jeep grille, the updated Patriot does with some plastic bits on the doors and moves the fog-lamps in a bit on the nose of the vehicle. I actually like the original classic Jeep looks, but as always, exterior is a very personal opinion.

 

What I can give some opinion on is the engine and drivetrain. The Patriot is the moffie in the Jeep off-roader family, even though it employs the “Freedom Drive I” (Not making that up) which is an active AWD system. Jeep does state it’s a light-off roader, so they’re not making any claims that this is a direct descendant of the Wrangler family, and I respect that. The system really is more for the northern hemisphere, with Freedom Drive giving confidence in the snow and occasional mud / forest road it might encounter. The system proportions torque to the axle that needs it most through an Electromagnetic Controlled Coupling (ECC). I didn’t get to test the system out, but I’m guessing around 95% of buyers won’t neither.

Boxy

On tar the vehicle handles well, the fairly stiff suspension set up allowing limited lean into corners, however that could also be attributed to the low centre of gravity and ride height. The steering is typical Jeep, with a little bit of play in the centre, but overall it feels detached from the front wheels. The retuned suspension (Four-wheel independent MacPherson strut front and multilink independent rear) does show notable improvements, but that’s much like saying your grandmother looks a little better in her purple knit than the blue one.

 

Speaking of grandmothers, the 2.4litre dinosaur being used in the Patriot is a Jeep favourite. I’ve got to be honest and say that this engine needs a serious refresh, or just throw it out and start again. Hell, throw them all into a volcano and melt them down. With 125kW and 220Nm of torque, the Patriot was never going to haul ass down the blacktop, but this engine just doesn’t cut it. On its own it’s underpowered for litre capacity, but it was then cursed by being mated to a CVT gearbox.

CVT gearboxes are to cars, like being neutered is to a dog. I genuinely want to meet the man that engineered the CVT gearbox. It makes no sense in any car other than a Hybrid, so I hope he’s perished in a CVT related incident. In layman’s terms, the CVT gearbox runs a chain on a cone, instead of a chain on individual gears. This means when you mesh your foot against the floor the revs climb up to 6000RPM (or as I found, far past the redline into the black) as the chain runs up the cone, and stays there as the ear piercing whine from the 2.4litre engine increases the speed. There are no ‘thunky’ gear changes, which is also something any driver would have to become accustomed to. I will come and hold a gun against every Patriot buyer’s head, to make sure he/she buys the manual version. I’ll be saving them a lifetime of pain, and will no doubt be added to their Christmas card list.

 

Surprisingly Jeep is quite a bit smaller than Freelander

Sadly, the Patriot just doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t do any one particular thing very well, and the competition has it trumped.

For R309 990 for the 2.4 Limited CVT, the Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35, Subaru Forester or even Nissan Xtrail shows more value and better on road dynamics, which is no doubt where this vehicle will spend most of its time. Yes the Jeep is the only car in this price (bar the Subaru) that features full time 4wheel drive, which may count for something if you can justify it, but considering the low ride height I doubt you can.

 

My advice – if you’re hellbent on a Jeep at this price, go for the brand-new Compass. If you’re not loyal to any Patriotism, or Americanism, then have a good long look at the competition above.

 

For more information visit www.jeep.co.za

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 http://www.lexus.co.za

Lexus RX400h – 2008

First drive for the day, one of the, if not THE, first Hybrid SUV. Massively successful in the USA, especially the roads of California ,where the hybrid lifts social status to Madonna’esque levels. The one I drove had around 68 000 km’s on the clock, and still looked in reasonable condition. There were no rattles, everything was still stuck in the place it came in from the factory so this is good news for any second-hand buyers. The concern only around hybrid drivetrain lifetime, as this technology is fairly new. However, in this model, the drivetrain still seemed to function as intended. Best part however, watching the LCD screen that displays the power delivery and drivetrain visuals. Giving you a realtime illustration of where power is coming from, to which axle, from battery or engine. It’s so distracting, I nearly crashed the car numerous times. This engine set up is called Hybrid Synergy Drive. It’s a V6 3.3litre mated to a CVT gearbox (not my favourite, but understanding considering the setup) that charges battery that drives the two electric motors. It either only uses the electric motor (computer decided under certain conditions) or cranks in some extra juice from the gutsy V6.

Overall, impressed with performance, which is seriously brisk, at 0-100km/h in 8seconds. In usual Lexus style, the interior is very well appointed, and with ample space. The new generation RX450h is a step up from this, however I did not get to drive the newer model. The RX450h is the current Hybrid SUV on sale from Lexus

Hyundai ix35 GLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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