Friday, 17 April 2009


Durban is an almost perfect setting to launch the MINI Convertible. I say “almost perfect” because sometimes it rains incessantly for days on end. But when the weather does play ball only the words “South Africa’s playground” can come out of your mouth.

It was against this sun-kissed background that I took control of the brand new MINI Convertible along the east coast. This proved to be a great decision because I was able to negotiate small parts of the Valley of a Thousand Hills in one of the best handling cars in its class. That the body is 10% stiffer and the car 10kg lighter overall comes into play under these conditions.

The front-wheel-drive system takes advantage of the Cooper’s naturally aspirated 1.6-litre’s 88kW (120hp) and 160Nm of torque supplied. Mated to it is the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. At altitudes of between 5m and 300m this suffices but it remains to be seen how it will handle Gauteng. I’m encouraged though, by the fact that the Cooper coupe/hatch doesn’t suffer much here and that in fact those who drive this “lesser” MINI must not at all feel embarrassed. Its claimed 0 – 100km/h time is 9.8 seconds and top whack is 198km/h. Our fun route and apparently cement-fitted shoes made it impossible to achieve the stated 6.1 litres/100km fuel consumption.

Turbo boosted Cooper S on the other hand has more guts at 128kW (174hp) at 5500rpm and 240Nm between 1600rpm and 5000rpm with an extra 20Nm overboost function in overtaking. The 0 – 100km/h sprint is said to come around in 7.4 seconds and top speed is 222km/h.

MINI has the dubious distinction of being referred to whenever something tiny or small is discussed. Spaciousness then, is not exactly a forte the cars enjoy. The designers and engineers tried to overcome this by increasing the luggage compartment’s capacity by 5 litres (imagine you can fit in an extra two 2l bottles of Coke and Fanta plus a one litre of Appletizer) when the roof is down. Load space is 170 litres with the roof closed and 660 litres with the rear seat backrest folded down.

The canvass top can be sorted out in either direction within 15 seconds but if it’s only the sunroof function you want you can just open that part and leave the rest out. In keeping up with current technologies the roof can be operated at speeds of up to 30km/h.

Safety has not been compromised just because the roof is softer than passengers’ skulls. Rollover bars that react quickly in case of a rollover accident pop up in a matter of nanoseconds to protect the occupants. Some vehicles of other makes (I won’t say Mercedes-Benz CLK if you don’t) have the tendency to pop up their rollover bars even when hitting things like speed humps at higher-than-average speeds.

Something called Always-Open Timer is fitted and it appears just to the left behind the steering if that option is taken. It basically measures the amount of time the roof is down from the first time it’s opened. There’s really no engineering or performance purpose attached to the device so it’s just a gimmick for those with no clocks or watches. Exterior comes in 12 colours while the roof can be had in one of three.

Nanny electronics to help keep you in line and on the road include ABS brakes with EBD, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control. Standard wheels have the MINI internal code of 2RK and come with runflat tyres, as does the rest of the MINI range. Disappointingly these are the ugliest bunch of wheels one can put on any MINI. You can of course get better wheels from about R7 400 a set or buy them cheapest at R22 500 (R11 300 for the Cooper S) as part of a package called the Chili pack that includes things like xenon headlights and a lights package.

Standard features are surprisingly plenty and count among others, park distance control, foglights, a chunky leather sports steering wheel with multi-function ability and four airbags.

MINI has sold over 164 000 units of this version globally since MINI came back to market. This represents about two in ten of total MINI sales. Though pricing is quite steep for the topless experience, MINI should not find too much trouble in its search for buyers, even though these guys will have to wait for three months to get their cars. Fans of the brand are known to be staunch supporters who hardly ever sell their cars, hence their high resale values.

The cars come with a 3 year/ 75 000km full maintenance plan which can be extended up to 200 000km if the buyer feels like it/ can afford it.

MINI Convertible pricing:


R272 500

Cooper automatic

R288 600

Cooper S

R327 500

Cooper S automatic

R343 600

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


General Motors South Africa will no longer sell models like the Astra GTC and OPC, as well as the Meriva, Zafira and Tigra. According to GM, that’s because the Rand has depreciated so much against the Euro (which is the import currency for such models) that selling these models would mean they’d have to hike up prices by up to 30%, effectively outpricing themselves out of the market.

Nevertheless Opel in Europe is upbeat and they have released details of the new Insignia OPC/ Vauxhall VRX. The car is a continuation of the Opel Vectra which was not offered to the Mzansi market. Opel has not had much luck with the sedan model in this country and they decided a few years ago not to sell such body types here anymore.

The Insignia is a four-door family sedan competing with the likes of Volkswagen Jetta and Mazda 6. It uses a 2.8-litre single turbo V6 ECOTEC engine worth 242kW. It is said it will cover 0 – 100km/h in 5.8 seconds and has a top speed of 250km/h.


Godzilla” has been awarded the highest honour in performance motoring when it scooped the 2009 World Performance Car of the Year Award. The Nissan GT-R beat other top 3 cars the Corvette ZR1 and the Porsche 911 Carrera for the title.

The World Performance Car of the Year Award is adjudicated by a group of 59 motoring journalists from around the globe. It forms part of the World Car of the Year Awards.

The GT-R runs a 3.8-litre V6 twin turbo engine worth 357kW and 588Nm of torque. Tests conducted say it can do 0 – 100km/h in about 3.5 seconds and it is one of the fastest cars around the famed Nürburgring.

Highly exclusive cars like the Pagani Zonda R, Koenigsegg CCX-R and the Bugatti Veyron can never be considered for this award while the rules remain as they are. The rules state a car must be widely available in a number of markets and sell over 500 units per year.

Since the inauguration of the WPCOTY Award these are the cars that have won it: Porsche Cayman S (2006), Audi RS 4 (2007) and Audi R8 (2008).


VW will launch the new Golf Mk VI (aka Golf 6) in Mzansi at the end of April soon after it had won the 2009 World Car of the Year award. Announced at the New York Auto Show the new Golf is said to have impressed the 59 judges more than other vehicles which were nominated like the Audi A4, BMW 7 Series, Citroen C5 sedan, Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Jaguar XF and Fiat 500.

We are not sure which models will come to Mzansi yet but in Europe the Golf is sold with a number of engines. These include a 1.6-litre with 59kW (80hp), a 1.4TSI with 90kW (122hp), 2.0-litre TDI with 103kW (140hp) and a 1.4TSI with 118kW (160hp). A new GTI is already out (expected in Mzansi around September) and it produces 155kW (210hp) and 280Nm of torque.

Already selling at R313 000 without any of the options, the Golf V GTI will certainly be outpriced by the coming car which I guesstimate should enter the market at around R335 000 stock while the DSG version may sneak in at about R355 000.


With the Nissan 370 Z Coupe already confirmed for Mzansi, we may well see the new Roadster also making it to these shores. I wouldn’t put my money on that though; the current economic situation is forcing many Mzansi-based automakers to either completely shelf or postpone certain models deemed likely to be slow sellers in the market. Which would be a pity for the 370 Z Roadster, a car preceded by the highly-successful 350 Z Roadster of 2006.

Casting aside recent moves by the likes of BMW Z4 to go hard top, the 370 Z has remained true to the traditional roadster theme of working with a soft canvass roof, which is electrically-adjustable. Nissan says it will open or close in about 20 seconds. It runs on P225/50R18 front and P245/45R18 rear wheels supplied by Bridgestone.

The 370 Z Roadster features a 3.7-litre naturally aspirated V6 with power of 244kW (332hp) and 366Nm of torque. The standard gearbox is a 6-speed manual which is said to be even better than that of the 350 Z. A 7-speed auto will be sold in the US but this one is doubtful for the Mzansi market.

I estimate the car will be priced at between R600 000 and R630 000 if it’s launched here within the next 18 months.