Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Kayalami race track is not for the faint-hearted, or sissies as we would say in Mzansi. No siree! Any racing track with a section called “the mine shaft” has no business entertaining sissies of any sort. It was with this positive and somewhat inflated attitude about myself that I climbed into the driver’s seat in the new 2009 Volkswagen Golf VI GTI after being shown around by racing maverick Gugu Zulu.

The first few corners were not too hectic; I tried to take it as easy as possible while maintaining a respectable lead over the car behind us. After that it was a free-for all as I began to understand how the car worked. Previously a different guy had patiently taken us around for an orientation session, probably not realising that we are quite familiar with Kayalami. Nevertheless VW SA wasn’t about to take chances, especially since there were no track marshals to help out in the case of a mishap.

On this day there was no mishap even though one or three of the present media VIPs had previously had excursions off the track in previous launches. No names attached. Sorry. Nevertheless the GTI seems to be made to flatter. VW says it’s installed the new XDS system, an electronic transverse differential lock which basically works by taking power away from the wheel in whose direction the car is turning. This makes the GTI turn better and quicker, and minimises understeer. The suspension is sports tuned: lowered by 22 millimetres at the front and by 15 millimetres at the rear. The entire architecture of springs, dampers and rear stabilisers was completely re-tuned

That you have 155kW to play with is no small contributor either. The new car uses an essentially new 2.0-litre turbo engine to produce 155kW between 5300rpm and 6200rpm. I know a number of people who’ve laughed at the mere 8kW gain from the GTI V (147kW) and they wondered why in the world VW didn’t at least give the car 160kW in order to keep up with the Ford Focus ST. If it makes you feel better there is a 195kW GTI R coming in about a year. Even I was quite taken aback by 155kW actually. Thing is, none of us had driven the car yet. And when I did on those long straights of Kayalami, tapped the 280Nm torque through the 6-speed DSG gearbox for a quick changedown, when I did that I understood the new GTI 6.

See, the new GTI seems to be the old GTI in many ways. The exterior is only slightly changed. Most of the change is in the front end where VW’s new face is evident. The old familiar red outline around the grille is there, so is the clear GTI moniker and honeycomb middle and lower grille.

Going to the sides one notices the same “Detroit” 18-inch alloy wheels from GTI 5 and wonders if Walter da Silva and his design team didn’t accidentally approve dusty GTI 5 designs from 2003. “These wheels are now standard, whereas in the previous car they were optional. If you were not close to the previous GTI you wouldn’t know that” is what the VW guy said. I see.

Moving right along we see doors, two a side, one at the back. South Africa is not getting the three-door GTI unfortunately. The rear shows two tailpipes as per usual but instead of them being clubbed together on one side they are separated by the air diffuser and are singularly placed on either side. But that action has not deterred the growl coming from there. It’s raspy yet pleasant, and is particularly smile-inducing when combined with the DSG gearbox.

Kayalami is not exactly the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife so one doesn’t have 20.8 kilometres to play with. The GTI then was never gonna get close to its claimed top speed of 239km/h there but along the main straight by the pits one could get reasonably lose to 150km/h. Ok, it’s not a long straight.

What did surprise was that after a few bashing laps the car hadn’t used that much fuel. This is a typical GTI trait. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that that new owners are getting less than the claimed 7.3 litres per 100km average on their cars in spite of the relatively small 55 litre fuel tank. There will be plenty of drivers I’m sure, despite the recession. GTI is for its throng of fans, not just a badge but a lifestyle. VW SA says sales of GTI 5 were never less than 40% of the entire Golf 5 total. That is quite astonishing given that Golf 5 was selling at roughly 800 units per month at some point. That’s about 320 GTIs, at least, per month. No wonder we hardly ever see any other Golf 5 derivative on the roads. Here’s a twister; VW plans to shift 1755 GTIs during the rest of 2009 or about 293 units per month, of which 60% should be 6-speed manuals. Recession anyone?

The sad news is that not everyone will be able to experience the car in the way that I did. Fact it, most people will judge it based on what they see and on the fact that they loved the previous one. This is a better car. It’s more refined, grown up but feistier at the same time. It’s also more luxurious: curving bi-xenon headlights, red brake callipers, colour coded bumpers, air conditioning, CD player with 8 speakers, multi-function computer, air bags, etc etc.

I really liked the flat-bottomed steering wheel but the manual gear lever is not my style. It’s just too simple, too basic to be GTI. On the contrary the DSG handle feels good in the hand.

For R317 300 you can get yourself the best GTI ever. I’m sure you can think of other things you can do with that money. But none of them will make you feel as alive as when you drive the GTI.

Volkswagen Golf GTI pricing

R317 300 (manual)

R331 800 (DSG)

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Chrysler South Africa recently went live with their 2nd generation websites for the mobile phone user. The sites offer a brief model overview for each brand including an image gallery, with high quality images.

In addition, a dealer locator, showing the full Southern African network, allows the user to instantly call a dealership without having to retype the number on the cell phone.

Another unique feature enables the user to visit the Dodge mobile site and make a test-drive booking to participate in the Discover Dodge competition that is currently under way, without having to visit the website.

Chrysler South Africa’s Mobi-sites can be found at the following addresses:

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


The thing about the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is that it was always supposed to be the classiest car in its class. It was meant to represent those buyers who love the brand but couldn’t quite afford the S-Class, yet they still wanted all those nice goodies that come with an executive class car. Over 60 years ago Mercedes-Benz created such a car. They didn’t call it the E-Class yet but it was essentially an example of what I’ve just mentioned.

I thought about this over the hills of Durban and the meandering roads of Pietermaritzburg as I went about testing some of the new E-Class’s limits. The makers say no other car in this class (Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series) combines the attributes of a top handler with such finesse and comfort. Words like that stir up certain reactions in someone like me and I tend to want to find out for myself. Like any good journalist would.

Until I get all three protagonists back to back there’s no comparison to be made here. Except that this new E-Class is nothing like any other E-Class I’ve ever driven, apart from the E 55 AMG and the E 63 AMG.

Launched in Mzansi yesterday the company had brought out three models; an E 300, an E 350 and an E 500. Redesigned from scratch the new E uses a new design language for Merc, one that is sharper, edgier and ultimately boxier. Shapes dominating the landscape are trapezoids and squares instead of the previous generation’s circles and teardrops. The lines are certainly kinkier, flowing and floating less than before.

The first model to come to my hands was the E 350. Using the same 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine the car produces 200kW at 6000rpm and maximum torque is pegged at 350Nm between 2400rpm and 5000rpm. Running the whole show is Merc’s trusted 7G-Tronic gearbox. Our car was fitted with paddles behind the steering wheel. Don’t use the paddles. They are schitzophrenic. Stick to the automatic mode, either in normal drive or in Sport. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0 – 100km/h time of 6.9 seconds and a maximum speed of 250km/h. average fuel consumption is said to be 9.6 litres per 100km from the 80 litre fuel tank.

The E 350 went like a nice big cruiser and handled well. The standard 17-inch wheels with 245/45 R 17 tyres seem adequate enough, but for R5 500 extra you can get the 18-inch set instead. Our E 350 also came with the R33 000 Driving Assistance package. In that are systems like the Lane Keeping assist

Inside we got things like a 6-CD changer (I couldn’t find any slots that could play my USB nor my SD card), dual air conditioning, a four-spoke steering wheel with satellite controls and blind Spot Assist. The latter lets out a beep when it senses that the car has veered off its lane without the driver intending it to. We also had Distronic Plus which, if utilised, keeps a certain following distance between your car and the car in front. When the car in front slows down, you also slow down automatically. When it stops suddenly you do the same.

We then slid into the E 300 which has a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre V6. This is the same motor that goes into cars badged E 280 and C 280 but that misbadging has now been rectified to reflect the correct engine size. It pushes out 170kW at 6000rpm and maximum torque of 300Nm between 2500 and 5000rpm. The 0 – 100km/h sprint time is claimed at 7.4 seconds, top speed is 247km/h and average fuel consumption is listed at 9.2 litres per 100km.

Somehow I had more fun in the less powerful E 300; it felt more focused in its execution, more agile, and offered better handling response. Not that the E 350 was a dog, but I sensed more freedom in the E 300; the bigger-engined car seemed to be overly assisted, not including safety systems like ESP and steering assistance. It was like an invisible hand was guiding it, a lovely feature if you like serene drives but confusing if you like a car that talks back to you.

Sadly I didn’t get any wheel time at all with the E 500 but it has a 5.5-litre V8 making 285kW at 6000rpm and 530Nm between 2800rpm and 5800rpm.

All the cars either have an ELEGANCE or AVANTGARDE trim, both of which can be specced to the buyer’s tastes, including choosing the interior colour scheme and one of twelve exterior colour options. You can also get an AMG kit to make the car look like an E 63 AMG but without the associated go. There are accessories such as an iPod holder, boot luggage net, child seat, roof boxes and a bicycle rack.

A special limited Launch Edition is being sold and it comes with some equipment packages as standard.

The MobiloDrive maintenance plan is still unfortunately still stacked against the consumer. People who buy the new E-Class will have to contribute up to 50% of the maintenance costs under this plan. Look at the prices and you’ll notice these same people are quite deep-pocketed anyway so this might not be such an issue to them.

Mercedes-Benz confirmed that the new 386kW E 63 AMG was on its way to South Africa and would be available from about September this year.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan pricing
E300 R558 000

E350 R634 000

E500 R788 000

E300 Launch Edition R591 000

E200 CGI BlueEFFICIENCY R471 000 (launches in October)

E250 CDI R496 000 (launches in October)

E350 CDI 617 000 (launches in October)

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