Wheelswrite car of the year 2018

The year of the SUV – 2018

We started 2018 on a pretty high note with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. In many ways just what you would expect an Alfa SUV to be. A big step up for Alfa. What could top it?

Nissan X-trail in Onrus

The next car we tested to really impress was the new Nissan X-trail. At the time I said: “Interestingly the new ‘facelifted’ Nissan X-trail, which I have been driving this week got as many , if not more ‘stop and stares’ (as the Stelvio). Especially men.”

Early in February we reported on the very capable Mitsubishu Sport and later in the month the seriously facelifted Mahindra Pik-Up.

At the end of March we drove two very good SUV’s the “new” Kuga and Mazda CX-5 of which I said at the time: “The Mazda CX-5 is not just another crossover SUV wannabe. It is a refined, well rounded car which leads the way in so many ways.”

Nissan Navara LE 4×2 Auto

In March it was the turn of two very good bakkies. Nissan’s new Navara and Ford’s fancy FX4. The Navara is burly and it’s a bit of a beast and is the basis for a whole slew of models from several brands.
And then perhaps the cat among the pigeons. The Peugeot 3008. The 3008 comes with high specification levels and exceptionally good exterior and classy interior design. It not only looks stunning, it is very clever.

You will notice a lot of SUV’s and crossovers in this list.

The year of the SUV – 2018.

In May we had the pleasure of sampling two German examples of the crossover wave. The spacious Tiguan Allspace and the Opel Grandland. The Allspace is pleasant and easy to drive in town and out touring. VW have created a really comfortable, spacious cabin. The Grandland is based on the same platform as the 3008. Similar substance but very different style.

Mazda MX5

In the spring the fresh new VW Polo GTi really impressed. At the time we said: ”A few months ago we reported about the Mazda MX-5 and how it had a grin factor. You just can’t help grinning while driving it. Well, this new VW Polo GTi also has a huge grin factor.” We really loved the Polo GTi. It gives the Golf GTi a run for its money.
The Peugeot 208 GT was another pleasing car. Similar to the Polo GTi in some respects but very different in others.
I like Suzukis so really looked forward to the new Swift. It is new from the wheels up. I thought it a delightful little runabout.

Early in December I drove two astounding SUV’s. Peugeot’s touring oriented 3008 GT-Line and Haval’s off-road toughie, the H9. Both cars do the job required of them extremely well.

Probably the sweetest car I drove this year is the Mazda MX-5 Targa. A driver’s joy, but a strict two-seater and really a toy, in the sense that it’s whole reason to exist is fun, nothing more, nothing less. The most focused car was without a doubt the Ford Fiesta RS200 Limited Edition,

Ford ST200 LE

fun, fast and almost practical.

So, which to pick?

Must be a SUVish type of vehicle. Surely.

I am tempted to pick the Haval H9, it really is that good, especially if you need low range. The Mazda CX-5 is just such a good car though.
The Peugeot 3008 GT-Line was a pleasant surprise and oh-so capable in its context. Mmmm. Let’s not forget the X-trail and the Allspace.

Damn.

May I pick the SUV as car of the year?

Or just go with the Polo GTi.

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Haval H9 reviewed

Be prepared to be surprised with the new big SUV from Haval.

Haval H9 2.0 Petrol 4WD Luxury

The H9 2.0 Petrol 4WD Luxury from Haval breaks new ground in our market. It is an apparently tough offroad capable, luxury seven-seater, real SUV with all the bells and whistles you could wish for. Let’s say it immediately. The H9 is by far the best Chinese vehicle I have ever driven. If it had a Toyota or Hyundai badge it would already be selling hundreds of units a month possibly. It really is that good. Watch this space.

I predict that in five years Haval will have the brand recognition and cachet which Hyundai so richly deserves and enjoys now. Already the H9 outperforms the Sant Fe in some areas, bearing in mind that the new big one from Hyundai has moved upmarket and grown a bit in size.

Competition for the Haval H9 is divided into two camps. Those with real 4×4 capability and softroaders.

Haval H9

The real offroaders include the Suzuki Grand Vitara, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Prado and Fortuner, Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Isuzu mu-X.

Softroaders will include the Kia Sorento, Toyota Rav4, Discovery Sport, Nissan X-trail, VW Tiguan Allspace, Peugeot 3008 and Volvo XC60 AWD.

Looking at the list you can see that the competition is stiff in this segment, so value-for-money will be key.

Viewed from a little distance the H9 looks a bit like a cross between a Land Cruiser and a Patrol, so it looks the part, but it is technically more like a Fortuner. It is a big car but not out of proportion, more fit for purpose.

Haval H9 2.0 Petrol 4WD Luxury interior

Inside the Haval is impressive. The leather front seats offer both heating and cooling and are electrically adjustable, the driver’s eight ways. It is easy to set up a really comfortable driving position. The dash is well equipped and laid out, with an eight-inch touchscreen with satnav, personalisable LCD instrument cluster, three-way climate control and a good sound system. The drive mode controls are on the tunnel between the seats. It has a long list of standard features in both the luxury as well as safety departments. All-in-all an impressive cabin with high perceived quality levels.

You may wonder, can a Chinese brand deliver high quality? Well, Haval is part of GWM which sells a million vehicles a year and their Steed bakkies have been holding up well locally without many complaints from owners. They have around 35 dealers in place already and the list is growing rapidly. In the Cape they have dealers in Malmesbury, Claremont, Goodwood and Cape Gate.

The H9 only comes with a 2.0 L direct-injection turbo-petrol engine delivering 180kW and 350Nm through an eight-speed ZF gearbox and a 4×4 system with eight modes. Borgwarner provides the transfer case, Eaton the limited-slip differential and Bosch the electronic stability control system. Pretty big names backing the off-road performance. It is a pity they do not offer a turbo-diesel variant.

Haval H9

Expect fuel consumption of just under 12 L/100km unless you are off-road when all bets are off. The car is relaxing to drive due partly to the good driving position but also the good marriage between the drivetrain and engine. The H9 will make a Grand Tourer, especially if you are going to the game parks and wilder areas. On highway she just steams along happily at the legal limit.

Safety is taken care of by a full complement of active and passive safety systems.

If value-for-money is important to you, the H9 should be on your shopping list if you require real off-road capability.

For peace of mind the H9 comes with a five year or 100 000 warranty. The five-year or 60 000 service plan and a long and complete list of features is included in the R599 900 list price.

Originally published in AutoSold.

Mahindra KUV 100 Nxt review

Mahindra KUV100 NXT

Small crossovers are becoming all the rage in town. There still only one real small off-road SUV, the Suzuki Jimny. All the others are on-road cars.

Just under, or around R200k you actually get a few choices. Alternatives include the Suzuki Ignis (R180k), Honda BR-V (R249k), Renault Sandero (171 900), Haval H1 (R177) and the Mahindra KUV 100 starting at R160k. My pick of the bunch is either Sandero or Ignis.

Autotrader says the KUV 100 “cleverly sidesteps the pothole of trying to compete against the exceptionally popular Polo Vivo or similar – instead, it aims to offer buyers the lowest-priced new cross-over SUV on the market. “
Mahindra’s KUV is bigger inside than you think, excluding the tiny boot which has a very high sill. In short, it has the cabin space of a small SUV-size vehicle, but the length of a hatch.

Mahindra have been building jeep-like vehicles and bakkies for many years and do know what they are doing. The little three-cylinder 1,2 mFalcon D75 turbo-diesel engine produces 57 kW and 190 Nm. The car feels gutsy and once the turbo kicks in, has lots of go. The gearbox and clutch combine well with the engine and are more than adequate for the job on hand.

Mahindra KUV 100 NXT

The steering is quite light and more than a little vague, but you can turn on a tickey.
In the cabin you quickly see where they saved money. I found the seats a little thin and almost flimsy.
The centre console is a large hang-down panel, with 3 rotary controls for the aircon. The gear lever is on the console next to the steering wheel, within easy reach and with short shifts.

The parking brake is really old-school and like bakkies of twenty years ago, you pull a handle and twist to engage. The audio switch is small and fiddly, and the centre controls screen is small, flanked by buttons which have the set menu access like Info and Phone, and 4 inner buttons which correspond to the current screen menu displayed.

There are steering-mounted controls for audio and Bluetooth phone, and a USB port on the upper console.
The Mahindra KUV100 comes in 3 spec level options: K4+, K6+ and K8.
All KUV100 Nxt models ship standard with dual front airbags and ABS, with K6+ and K8 variants adding EBD, automatic door locks and an alarm.

Although there is an ECO button it is best ignored. Keep the KUV in PWR mode, which is normal power anyway. Otherwise it is super pap.
You can switch the stop/start mode off with a button to the right of the steering wheel marked ESS.

The model we drove was the top of the range Mahindra KUV100 Nxt K8 Diesel at R219 999.
We have not driven the petrol version, but can say the diesel is a joy. Expect around 5 L/100km in mixed driving.

This car is not meant for long-haul highway driving, off-road excursions are large framed people.
Expect a cabin facelift in 2019. The centre panel will be upgraded.

A three-year/100 000 km warranty comes standard, while K6+ and K8 models also feature a three-year/50 000 km service plan.

Originally published in AutoSold.

Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL Manual Mk2 reviewed

Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL Manual

Remember the old tyre commercial with the tag line: “Its so wide”? Well the new Swift, and it is completely new, although it looks quite like the original at first glance, is 40mm wider than the old model. That translates into a roomy cabin with enough space for all four occupants. Even the luggage area scores, the boot is now a little bigger at 268 litres.

Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL

The engine stays the same but the dash and electronic systems are all completely new.

Suzuki’s new HEARTECT platform now underpins the Swift. It integrates with Suzuki’s Total Effective Control Technology (TECT), which applies good design and clear engineering principles using very high-tensile steel to lighten the body weight, while improving crash safety.
The system was designed to integrate active and passive safety systems, including the two front-occupant airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and ISOFIX seat anchors. A significant benefit is the reduction in weight. The new Swift weighs in at 875 kg, which is a 95 kg lighter than its predecessor making it one of the lightest vehicles in the upper-B segment.

This new Swift was a top three finalist of the World Urban Car of the Year, and as the first- and second-generation models were highly popular in South Africa, with roughly 30% (or 2 966 units in 2017) of all Suzuki sales, the car should sell well.

There are three models, a base GA with five-speed manual at R159 900 and two GLs , manual and automatic.

All versions of the new Suzuki Swift are equipped with air conditioning, front and rear electric windows, power steering and remote central locking as well as a tilt-adjustable steering column, a detailed information display that includes information such as fuel consumption and range, and a security alarm and immobiliser.
On the GL-models, Suzuki adds an audio system with easy-to-use Bluetooth-connectivity and USB socket, steering wheel controls for the audio system and electrically adjustable side view mirrors. So it makes sense to go with the GL, and I would recommend the automatic at R189 900.

The interior is typical Suzuki. Functional and well thought out with ample storage spaces inside the cabin, including two front and one rear cup holder, side door pockets, a console tray box, glove box with lid and a passenger seat pocket.
The D shaped chunky steering wheel feels good in your hands and has audio system controls.

The high compression, normally aspirated 1.2L four-cylinder engine delivering 61 kW at 6 000 rpm and 113 Nm at 4 200 rpm used in the previous model is retained. This is good as it is proven, up to the job and known to be reliable and pretty frugal.

Fuel consumption is rated at 4.9 litres per 100 km in a combined cycle, giving it a real-world range of over 750 km on its 37-litre tank. I got a very frugal 5.7 L/100km which including some spirited driving on the Franschoek pass. You should be able to average close to 5 L/100km.

The Swift has a good 5-year / 200 000 km mechanical warranty and a 2-year / 30 000 km service plan.

Some of the competition in the upper-B segment include the Ford Figo, Kia Picanto, Honda Brio, Hyundai Grand i10, Toyota Agyo and Volkswagen’s up! and Vivo.

Peugeot 208 GT-Line review

Peugeot 208 GT-Line
Feisty. Zippy. The Peugeot 208 GT-Line certainly zips along quite nicely, thank you. It has a delightfully growly 1.2 turbopetrol tricylinder engine which produces all sorts of motoring music (sounds) when encouraged with the right foot.

The 208 GT-Line is a small hatch similar in size to a VW Polo, Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta or Nissan Micra.

There is a certain Gallic touch and charm to the styling, from the feisty looking claw motive LED taillights to the aluminium door sill finishers and aluminium pedals. The piano black grill with subtle red highlights is quite assertive without being overly aggressive.

Standard features include automatic dual-zone aircon, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.
The perceived build quality of the interior is good, but there are some less-premium plastic trim elements.
The 7-inch touchscreen touchscreen infotainment system is easy to use but ever so slightly outdated, for example the display option is very limited. Devices can also be connected via USB and Bluetooth and the system offers MirrorLink for Android and Apple CarPlay. The phone system is very easy to use and very clear. So the system is okay. It has the basics.
The tiny multi-function steering wheel with full leather-trimmed rim is set low and close. The dials are placed far away in a pod in front of the driver and key controls have been grouped into a touchscreen on the centre console in the centre.

Odd though is the trip computer information (including fuel consumption) displayed on the infotainment system rather than on the instrument cluster in the pod.
Very comfortable supportive seats with red detailing offer comfortable supportive seating and a great driving position. Big passengers may feel a little squished on a long road. Not a whole lot of legroom for the rear seat passengers, or headroom.

The 208’s special interior ambience, is achieved with mood lighting, and white backlighting for the instruments and controls.

Peugeot 208 GT line ready to pounce

Ride quality is quite soft, yet still firm enough to make the car feel engaging. It corners easily and instils the impression of control. Feels like fun. The 208 GT-Line has an impressive ability to soak up poor road surfaces, never losing its poise.

GT-Line’s thrumming little gem of a 1.2-litre PureTech turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine produces 81kW and 205Nm, which together with the light body gives the car plenty of go. Other testers got 6.7-litres/100km, well off the claimed 4.5-litres/100km, but my figures were even worse at around 10L/100km, but then I tended to massage the growl pedal frequently. It is just too tempting.
Being French, it has all the safety kit you want in a car.

It costs R100k less than a Polo GTi, although understandably it does not offer quite the same performance it is not so far off in and around town. Without a doubt it is rand-for-rand a better buy.

Fun to drive, very responsive and wieldy with a pleasant, comfortable cabin. The 208 GT-Line  delivers a really nice package.

Renault Clio 88 kW Turbo GT-Line which is priced at R269 900 with a top speed of 190mk/h and 0-100km/h in 9,6 seconds, looks like real competition for the VW Polo 1,0 TSi.

The 208 comes with a 3 year or 100 000 km warranty and 45 000 km service plan.

2019 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year Finalists

2019 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year Finalists

Twelve exceptional vehicles will battle it out for the ultimate automotive accolade: the 2019 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year. The list comprises vehicles from Italy, Japan, Korea, Germany, France and Sweden and, in keeping with the diverse South African automotive landscape, it covers almost every motoring genre.

They are, in alphabetical order:

Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Honda Civic Type R
Hyundai Kona
Lexus ES
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Nissan Micra
Porsche Cayenne
Renault Duster
Suzuki Jimny
Suzuki Swift
Volvo XC40

The South African Guild of Motoring Journalists believes that each and every finalist is a contender worthy of wearing the 2019 AutoTrader SA Car of the Year crown.

The 25 Jurors will be given the opportunity to drive all the finalist vehicles over the next 3 months under normal driving conditions experienced by the average consumer. The formal AutoTrader Car Of The Year evaluation days that will be held in Gauteng in March 2019 will allow judges the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the vehicles. At these evaluation days – the most critical of which will be the scheduled procedures to be held at Kyalami – the COTY Jury will assess the cars independently, with routes and modules designed to test the vehicles on specific criteria. The Jury will also have access to performance test data, comparative pricing and specification data, as well as comparative parts pricing data.

All finalist vehicles represent examples of outstanding automotive engineering, and after careful deliberation by the 2019 Jury, Category Winners will be awarded to Premium Sedan (executive and premium sedan), Leisure SUV’s (SUV’s / crossovers), Lifestyle Utility (bakkies / derived SUVs e.g. Toyota Fortuner), Urban Compact (small hatch and small sedan) and Mid-Size (MPV, medium sedan and hatch) Winners. All of the Top 12 are eligible to be crowned the 2019 AutoTrader South African Car Of The Year regardless of Category Wins. Judging by the tight scores on the Finalists there is little doubt that the scoring to find a winner will be a very close race. An invitation to the Banquet where the results will be revealed in April 2019 will be a very sought-after ticket indeed!