Month: May 2018

The Forest Whitaker of SUV’s – Land Rover Discovery Driven

Land Rover Discovery

New Land Drover Discovery Driven

There is much in common with the new Land Rover Discovery and Forest Whitaker. Well, the most obvious being the name Forest and the Discovery’s ability to traverse through forests with ease. Forest, as we all know is a phenomenal actor. Accolades such as an Academy award, a BAFTA, Golden Globe and more prove this. The same goes for the Land Rover Discovery. For years it’s won awards from various institutions. Whether it’s off-roading or for just being a good overall vehicle, the Discovery is a staple for those with adventure on their sights. Family appeal is something both Forest and the Discovery have in common, as he has four children – making the Discovery a perfect vehicle to fit them all in. The last attribute applies specifically to the All New Discovery, but we’ll talk about that just now.

Land Rover Discovery

Fixing what wasn’t broken.

Creating a new land Rover Discovery is not an easy thing to do, since the vehicle has a cult following. Generally, when this is the case, its fans don’t like too much change. From the original 1989 vehicle, to the fourth generation, the Discovery shared the same DNA, similar to how the Porsche 911 has kept the same lines. For the 5th generation, what did Land Rover do? They took the old Discovery and burned the designs. Square has been replaced with round. Hardcore has been substituted for soft. The result is a vehicle that has caused jaws to drop, some in a good way and others in a bad way. Honestly, I feel the new Discovery’s design success is very spec based. With the right wheels, the right line package and even the right colour choice, can mean the difference between a great looking Discovery and a weird looking Discovery.

Stepping inside a new Land Rover Discovery is our favourite aspect of the vehicle. Are we in a lounge? Is this a house? Truthfully speaking, being a 5ft7 male and driving this car, made me feel like a child in the driver’s seats. The sheer mass of the vehicle is noticeable. For those with procreation on their minds, like Mr. Whitaker – look no further. Unlike its rivals, the Discovery is not a very dynamic vehicle. You can feel its size in the corners, understandably so. Expecting this car to feel like it’s Range Rover siblings would be too much of an ask. Rather, comfort is where this vehicle outshines many. It’s ability to lock in the tar and go on and on and on is very impressive. Everything about this car screams “road trip”. Countless storage spaces in the cabin, comfortable seats and a third bench that can accommodate adults are some of the key features that make you want to go far in this vehicle.

Land Rover Discovery

 

The model we drove was the HSE Luxury which basically means it’s the fancy one. That fanciness does give you larger wheels, navigation, 3 zone climate control, extended leather package, surround camera, keyless entry and more as standard. Most importantly, the new Discovery comes chock full of safety equipment, a prerequisite of any vehicle in this league. Technology is something the car boasts and we loved demonstrating some aspect of it to inquisitive neighbours. One of those features was the electrically adjustable seats. At the rear of the vehicle, you’re able to adjust all five rear seats – laying some or all flat if need be, with a button. This can also be operated through an app, which allows you to control the seats from your phone.

Powering this vehicle is a 190kW/600N.m 3.0 diesel engine which uses an 8-speed automatic gearbox. This engine does well considering that the Discovery weighs around 3 tonnes. At times, it does feel like the vehicle is taking its time to get going but once it gets going, it does a fine job at maintaining that speed, especially on the highway.

The daily commute in a vehicle of this size may take some time to get used to if you’re coming from a standard sized SUV. Once you get the dimensions right, however, it gets easier and easier. Overall, the Discovery does well in the city but felt lonely to drive for someone like me who has no wife or kids. Those with family will enjoy not hearing the kids scream “stop touching me” as they’ll have more than enough space to themselves.

The final Forest feature.

So, what’s the last Forest Whitaker quality this car possesses? Well, one thing no one can dispute is Forests abilities, but watching him on screen can be distracting at times. Why? Because he has a noticeably droopy eye. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The Land Rover Discovery shares a similar trait with its rear number plate positioning. The number plate holder is positioned to the left of the boot, which doesn’t look right. It’s something that cannot be unseen and is arguably the most annoying feature of the car. Unlike Forest, who was born like that, surely the LR designers must’ve felt that their internal symmetry gauges were beeping when signing that design off? Every Land Rover has indeed had an off-set number plate, but it was built for a square number plate. In the new Discovery, the number plate is horizontal and as a result just looks wrong. If there was one thing I’d change about the car, it would be that. I guess if Forest wanted to, he too could go for an eye lift, but he’s comfortable enough to not be phased by other’s opinions of him. Perhaps Land Rover feel the same way. They know their car is good, all we need to do is learn to deal with it…

The Kevin Hart of BMW’s – M240i Driven

BMW M4240i

BMW M240i – The Kevin Hart of BMW’s

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is what many men would like to look like. 6 foot something, muscles for days and he can lift up one eyebrow independently like a boss. Ask yourself however, can he fit in a MINI Cooper comfortably? Can he easily pop into Woolworths and find a shirt that fits? I’m pretty sure his “bog” must be a little bit bigger than others too…As impressive as his mass is, when he’s not using it, it can be cumbersome. Kevin Hart on the other hand is someone who is also in very good shape as well. In fact, if you follow him on Instagram, you’d know how ripped the guy actually is. He’s a small man though, a very small man. That being said, he probably doesn’t battle doing everyday things. Clothes? No problem. Shoes? Easy fit. MINI Cooper? You damn right. Kevin’s size gives him a nimbleness that The Rock just wouldn’t have. I bet if you asked both of them to run through a busy mall of people, Kevin would be first to get to the end point of the race. The BMW M240i is the Kevin Hart of BMW’s, it’s loud, fast and after many hours of driving it, you don’t get tired of it.

BMW M240i

I’ve always known that the M240i was good, but having both an M240i and an M4 Competition Package on test made me realize just how good the car really is. Let’s talk about size. Being a compact car with a big engine, you have no problem finding, taking and even creating gaps in traffic. “You’re not meant to drive like that!” Um, last I checked, I was in a red BMW M240i with M Performance parts and an exhaust that goes PAH when I change gears, I can drive how I like thanks. I joke. Seriously though, the marriage of size and 250kW on tap is the recipe for one of the most usable cars on the road you can get right now. Yes, if you have kids you’re screwed, but who needs kids? The only kid you need to worry about is the one the BMW M240i successfully brings out in you.

BMW M240i

Next up is the chassis on the car. What a chassis it is. Let me put my journo pants on and say, “steering feel is not what it used to be in older BMW’s blah blah blah”. Now let’s talk real-world driving. In Comfort, the car responds well, steering is light, gearbox is calm and ready to use all the gears. For day to day stuff, this is the mode you’d want to use. In Sport, personally the car is perfect for my type of driving. It’s responsive, holds the revs slightly longer and is always ready to pounce on unsuspecting hot hatches. Sport Plus does the same but with some allowance for rear end slippage. This mode is best for quiet nights and roundabouts. Who said that? No one likes to wag some tail at the exit of a roundabout! That’s not responsible! (Wink wink) The only time you should put traction off in the BMW M240i is if you’re on a racetrack, or you’ve just watched any instalment of Fast and Furious. Should you get caught doing anything untoward, simply get out the car, raise both hands in the air and tell the cops that “this is Brazil”. If you need me to bail you out, I’m reachable on 011 555 22 55. Yes, it’s a landline.

BMW M240i

Jokes aside, the fast cars available today are not always the most usable. The BMW M4 is a classic example of this. On the normal road, you probably only get to use 60-75% of the M4’s dynamic attributes and power. Traffic, curbs and backache are realities of life. Also, have you tried parking any car with an M DCT Transmission? It’s the gearbox equivalent of bipolar. The M4 is in my opinion a peach on a track and is still very enjoyable on the road, but it’s The Rock of the car world. The problem is that the line between enjoyment and making a mistake is often very close. For cars with as much power as the M4, like The Rock, you may battle to find a “shirt” that fits. The road is either to short or to small to really exercise all its muscles. The M240i however is the right balance. Enough power, the right size and a forgiving chassis allows you to push the car to 80 – 90% of what it can do, on the road. The difference is that you’re less likely to make a mistake if you know your car well enough. Responsible driving is obviously important. Sometimes just enjoying the overrun burble of the car at 60km/h is enough to put a smile on your face. Like Kevin Hart, it’s relatable, it doesn’t try too hard and most of all it can make you giggle. It’s automotive comedy packaged very attractively. The optional M Performance parts fitted to the car also make individualizing your 2 Series easier. They don’t come cheap however, especially considering that some of the parts are made of real carbon fibre. At a startup price of R720 500, it’s not um…cheap. In fact, it’s quite pricey considering you’re going to throw in a few extras. Then again, for the performance and thrill you can extract out of the car, very little rear wheel drive cars will give you that experience for that price. In the world we live in, proper rear wheel drive thrills come at the R1mil + mark, so depending on what you want, you may find the M240i reasonable compared to its rivals.

New Aston Martin Vantage driven.

Aston Martin Vantage

New Aston Martin Vantage driven.

I must mention that one of my most memorable automotive experiences, involved an Aston Martin. The particular model was the Vantage N430, a car that I had the chance to drive – as a friend had close ties with the local importer in South Africa. Some context is required for me to justify why this vehicle is arguably one of my personal top 5 favourite cars. Firstly, it’s not an easy vehicle to drive. Especially if it’s fitted with the automatic gearbox, which it was. Knowing how to extract a linear experience out of those old school sequential/manual systems is something no millennial would’ve had to do with modern cars. Dual clutch systems have been around since most of us have been driving, so the “lift-off – shift up – get back on” routine is unfamiliar to many of us.

Aston Martin Vantage

This more tedious style of driving a sporty automatic vehicle was the only way of ensuring that the vehicle doesn’t choke on upshift. The N430, equipped with that gearbox felt imperfect, but in a good way. Would I live with the gearbox? No. Parking is a pain and creeping in traffic even more so. Driving in a spirited manner however and getting the shifts right, created a somewhat new sensation, especially with the astonishingly good V8 screaming to the redline. Which brings me to my second point, the engine. What a pleasure. No boost, no whoosh, no lag – just full on unadulterated and normally aspirated lunacy. Cars like the N430 prove that fast doesn’t always mean fun as the N430 can be called quick in today’s standards. A BMW M140i would probably beat it to 100km/h and even further. The guy in the Aston however, will forever be in a state of ecstasy as each revolution brings about a different type of aural pleasure. Lastly, what brings it all together is the chassis. Being a small car, the original Vantage offered nimbleness and rigidity as one of its main attributes. As a result, you have a positive front end and an antsy rear end, creating a giddy feeling, like an excited Jack Russell, eager to play. Taking all those three elements and putting them together, made for a visceral yet human experience for me – forever etching an impression on my mind.

Where to from here?  

It turns out that after speaking to older colleagues, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about the previous Aston Martin Vantage. Many shared fond memories of the car, compliments and complaints but overall many positive sentiments – putting me at ease as a petrol-head’s mind can easily get infatuated. This experience helped me when the time came for me to drive the new Aston Martin Vantage, a car which has been revealed for some time now in luminous green paint. The sheer aesthetic appeal of this vehicle is enough to get you excited. The car we drove donned the same paintwork as the photos, but in person looked even better. As important as the outside bits are, the most important thing is what makes it tick on the inside? Interestingly, I drove myself to the meeting venue in a Mercedes AMG GTC, a car which the Aston Martin shares the same engine with. That being the case, it was a personal interest of mine to see how similar the engines felt. Before we get into that, let’s talk briefly about the actual inside of the car. Being a car from the early 2000’s, the original Vantage had a quality cabin, but age had caught up with it. Sitting in some of the final iterations of the car emphasized the need for change, as the competition was much further in terms of technologies offered. The new vehicle fixes that. The DB11’s DNA can be seen, with a central infotainment system giving you data, media and other information that can be useful to the driver and passenger. One of the most impressive aspects of the interior cabin was the overall quality of everything. The stitching and materials used, felt in line with the perceived driver of an Aston Martin – someone who doesn’t compromise on style and quality.

Aston Martin Vantage

Lift off:

Firing up the new Vantage is a cause for a smile. Engaging the sport exhausts, is a cause for a grin. Pressing the drive button and setting off was easier than expected, thanks to an eight-speed automatic gearbox – one that is more traffic friendly. In its most normal mode, the Vantage is comfortable. Being a petite vehicle, it doesn’t feel cumbersome in an “everyday” setting. Visibility is adequate, gear shifts are soft and damping is almost GT like. Spending time in the normal setting is not what you do when time is a factor in a car such as this. So off I went into Sport mode and proceeded to wake up the dead as the V8 noise increased dramatically. Sport, Sport + and Track mode of course liven things up by increasing throttle response, firming dampers and adding excitement. Toggling between these three modes allowed me to get to know the car slightly better. The engine is a peach. It screams, it barks on down shifts and the fact that it’s turbocharged means that it’s fast. 0 – 100 km/h in 3.6 seconds fast.

Aston Martin Vantage

Coming back to the Mercedes AMG power-plant, I’m happy to tell you that this car doesn’t feel like an Aston Martin with a Merc engine. The engineers at Aston Martin have tweaked a few things, including the way the engine sounds, so it’s very much “Aston-Martinized”. Having a great engine is one thing, but the chassis is the key and this is where the Vantage shines – as it’s 30% more rigid compared to the old car. What that means is that you’ve got a nimble ride and an eager front end. Even with systems on, one can feel that in the right setting – a skilled driver could easily manage some rear end slides. On the normal road however, the Vantage is a thrill to drive. Is it a worthy successor to the old car? Definitely. The segment it competes in however is very competitive, as Porsche is the staple when it comes to being an everyday sports car. What the Vantage offers however is slightly more exclusivity, but at a price – especially in South Africa. Pricing for this vehicle will be tricky, as the exchange rate varies frequently. At the time of this test drive, the new Vantage would cost a South African similar pricing to that of a GT variant of the 911. By the time the vehicles enter our market, it will be interesting to see where it’s positioned. Being that as it may, the heart wants what it wants. The Aston Martin Vantage does indeed offer a whole lot of “want factor.”

 

Land Rover 70th Year Anniversary Expedition

70 years of Land Rover – Kingsley Holgate Expedition

Many of the motoring launches we attend usually include plush hotels, top food, and of course, a brand spanking new vehicle to review. And as comfortable as these launches can be, this just isn’t the right way to celebrate 70 years of heritage, innovation and the iconic Land Rover brand.

70th Year Land Rover Exhibiton

If we think back to the first ever defender in 1948, to the modern era 2018 Discovery, we can see that these vehicles are so much more than just a means to travel from A to B. The reality is however in the city, many of the 4×4 vehicles we see on the road, have never graced any kind of surface which can be considered as proper off-road terrain.

Speak to those who have gone off-road and many of them will tell you just what a fantastic experience it can be. But as much fun as off-roading, and traveling across borders is, some expeditions have a more serious side to them, one with a bigger picture in mind. I had an opportunity to learn more about those expeditions, as I joined Land Rover and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation for the last few days of their Land Rover 70th-anniversary expedition.

The Kingsley Holgate foundation focuses on conservation and education throughout Africa. Part of their primary tasks are rhino conservation, an initiative called  Rite to Sight, water purification and malaria prevention. As we arrived at a village in Shakaland, I experienced a glimpse of the great work they take part in.

Many children from the local primary school lined up, each with their own Rhino art they produced after receiving education around Rhino conversation. It was wonderful to see the many different expressions from each and every child and it was heart-warming to see the importance being placed on educating the next generation.

This was followed by the one sport which speaks the most languages, football. The aptly named black rhino and white rhino teams played against each other with the man of the match winning a bicycle. After trying to display my skills in the warm up, I didn’t crack the starting 11, but being asked to judge the “man of the match” award was a true privilege and the talent on display made that job very difficult.

While the young were catered for with a simple sack of air, the older ones from the village were not forgotten with the Rite to Site campaign. Many from the local area who struggle with vision queued up to have their eyes tested and then received glasses from the amazing Kingsley Holgate team.

70th Year Land Rover Exhibition

While this expedition was fairly local, Kingsley and his team take to the dusty roads of Africa and spread this love and education far and wide. What is their literal driving force during these trips? Land Rovers – a brand which over 70 years has evolved into one of the major players in the SUV and 4×4 market. At the 70th year exhibition, were Land Rover’s from all ages, including one model which had driven from London to South Africa, as well as the owner that did it many moons ago. With all these vehicles in one place, tackling the same terrain, you can really see the evolution of the brand. 70 years on, Land Rover now sell some of the most capable 4×4 vehicles, with the added benefit of luxury and technology.

While for many they are just a way to do the school and work commute in style, for organisations such as the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, they are so much more. For the foundation and others doing impressive community work in these cars, these vehicles and the brand, have greatly assisted in providing much-needed help and assistance throughout Africa. This is the bigger picture, which was amazing to see – even though it was a small glimpse.

A starry night, some “Captains and Coke”, a bonfire and endless expedition stories was the perfect ending to understand what Kingsley and his team get up to. I walked away realising that this is a team that loves the work they do, and really are true adventurers. Well done to Land Rover for 70 years of innovation and well done to the Kingsley Holgate Foundation for their fantastic work. We wish the whole team all the best on their next expedition.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class: Does it have the X Factor?

Mercedes-Benz X-Class

We drive the Mercedes-Benz X-Class

First things first, I feel we need to discuss the elephant in the article – this elephant isn’t Nellie, but rather Nissan.

You probably know by now and if you don’t, you will by the end of this sentence – that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is based on the Nissan Navara. This is a bakkie which graced South Africa last year with features like 5-link rear suspension for improved comfort and performance. While some may say that under the body panels of the X-Class is a Navara, Mercedes say that everything we see or use has been retouched by a Mercedes engineer. Even so, Mercedes concede that without the involvement of Nissan, the X-class would of never made it from the boardroom table to South African tarmac in the space of four years. I am happy to take their word for it. Enough with the politics now, let’s judge this new bakkie like any other in it’s class and determine how the X-Class fares as the latest bakkie to enter the South African market.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class

A night drive through the roads of George finally led us to the launch location where we were greeted by a huge X which lit up the night sky via bright lights, along with an extravagant launch setup. After the meeting, greeting, general formalities and a video introduction to the vehicle, two Mercedes-Benz X-Class models burst through wooden doors – which were big enough to hold back an army. If looks are anything to go by, the X-Class is a Mercedes-Benz product. It shouts premium through design and from a visual perspective, lives up to it’s bold name. However, looks aren’t everything.

We were then introduced to the two model lines, Progressive and Power. While the latter is the more premium of the two, featuring chrome trim, bigger wheels and LED headlights, the Progressive is the model more suited for weekend picnics at the top of precipices. In all honesty though, I was initially disappointed with the interior of the Progressive model, I found the amount of interior plastic to be just too much for a Mercedes product. I could understand if this was a “workhorse” bakkie, but with a starting price of R670k, it makes you think. I did think deeper about it. Looking back after driving this car a few days ago, this model is more suited for the adventurers of the world, taking the vehicle to places where a more durable, rugged setup is needed. Perhaps in that setting, the interior plastics would definitely serve their purpose, but still not at that price. Like the words of Vannesa Carlton, “I’m torn”. There is an argument for both sides to be made I guess.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class South Africa

The interior featured on the Power model was much improved compared to the Progressive variant, with leather on the upper doors and dash. Better it may be, it wasn’t mind-blowing inside the cabin. This is the model for those who may take their X-Class across the border once in a blue moon, but generally, use it for the daily grind of a work commute and the school run. It’s the “Sandtonized” version. You can spice the interior up with optional accessories such as the wood trim.  Both Progressive and Power models feature the Mercedes Command interface like many of their other vehicles, which is a big plus for the X class – as it does add a touch of class and modernity to the interior.

Seating was unlike many other bakkies on the road with good back and lumbar support, this was appreciated when attempting Devils Peak Pass  –  a route which has seldom been used by mainstream commuters since 1805 and featured rough, rocky passes and climbs. The reward to this route is the spectacular views you see at the top of the pass. Of course, the X-Class handled this with ease and we found ourselves more worried about getting the perfect shot as opposed to actually making it to the peak.

The range of genuine accessories available on the X-Class was pleasant to see, which items such as canopies, roll covers, style bars and bed liners all available. With the accessories available set to grow.

Throughout the day I sampled the X-Class 250d, which produces  140kW  and is a product of Nissan. Yes, the power supplied was enough. Enough to go off-road, enough to overtake and enough to cruise comfortably. To nitpick, a little bit more power to go with this extremely comfortable bakkie would be great. Whilst travelling on dirt roads at speeds of over 100km/h was really nice, road driving reminded me of a well-built SUV – which is a great thing. In terms of overall comfort, the X-Class is as good as a Volkswagen Amarok, is it better? That’s negligible.

So let’s answer the question I asked in the title, does the Mercedes-Benz X-Class have the X Factor?

Maybe I set the bar to high in my head, maybe there has been too much “hype” around the vehicle and just maybe the concept models gave us too much of an expectation. It’s like being told you’re going to meet Beyonce’s sister. In your mind you’ll expect a replica of her to appear, but you may only end up with Solange.

If I look at the Mercedes-Benz X-Class as just another bakkie, it’s a great all-round product. However, I look at the X-class a Mercedes-Benz product, a brand which I grew up with and have always been fond of. Right now, the current X-Class line up is a premium product, and for a first attempt as a bakkie, its impressive. For me, it doesn’t quite have that “ X-Factor” I was looking for. It can sing, but it doesn’t hit the tones I expected it to, again this is mainly due to the badge that it wears – naturally we want to be blown away.

There is a potential saving grace however and it comes in the form of a V6. Expected during the first quarter of 2019, the V6 X-Class will feature a Mercedes 350d engine and going by the overseas models, the added luxury too.  This could really be the model that sets the X-Class apart. Hopefully. If I was in the market for a premium bakkie, I would hold out until the V6 variant arrives next year for a true Mercedes-Benz experience. Go big or go home right?

Mercedes-Benz X-Class Pricing in South Africa

Mercedes-Benz X-Class comes with standard maintenance plan that covers your vehicle for 100 000 km / 6 Years, with the option of extending the maintenance plan up to a maximum of 180 000km/8 years

X-Class Progressive X 220 d 4X2 Manual : R 642,103.00

X-Class Progressive X 220 d 4X2 Auto : R 694,025.00

X-Class Progressive X 250 d 4X4 Manual : R 668,726.00

X-Class Progressive X 250 d 4X4 Auto : R 696,785.00

 

X-Class Power X 250 d 4X4 Manual : R 763,256.00

X-Class Power X 250 d 4X4 Auto : R 791,315.00