Friday, 5 February 2010


MAZDA SAYS: Mazda is ready to take on the roughest terrain and most demanding topography with the latest edition to the BT-50 range – the limited edition Mazda BT-50 EDGE.  Always ready for adventure, the BT-50 EDGE possesses a powerful 3.0-litre engine and features high-quality extras allowing you to tackle even the roughest playground in style and comfort.

The distinctive EDGE insignia adds additional flavour to the dynamic and sporty nature of the BT-50 range. The limited run of 300 will be exclusive to the 3.0-litre CRDi Double Car 4x2 SLE manual transmission derivatives.


Toyota has had a very rough couple of weeks. The company faced the largest vehicle recall in its history when about 2.4 million vehicles, including the Corolla, were recalled into American dealerships due to an accelerator fault.

Basically the fault causes the accelerator pedal to stick on the carpet such that the car doesn’t stop accelerating when the driver removes his/ her foot off it. This of course could (and has in at least two cases) cause serious accidents.

Yesterday Toyota issued a statement saying:
“Toyota South Africa Motors have been able to isolate the Auris, new generation Verso and Corolla as part of the technical study of all the vehicles that are sold in South Africa. This would imply that these three model ranges will in all possibility be included in the South African recall programme. Toyota has not excluded any other vehicle yet and will be in a position to clearly communicate which model ranges and specific date ranges for those recalled models by next week (the week of 8-12 February).”

So we’ll see what happens next week, which cars are recalled and which stay behind.

In related news, a growing number of Prius Hybrid owners in Japan and the US have reported failing brakes on their cars. That has sparked a brand new recall programme affecting about 270 000 Prius Hybrids to further give the world’s biggest automaker (in terms of sales) headaches. It might help to say we had the Prius on test a couple of weeks ago and didn’t experience any brake problems.


The chief executive of McCarthy Limited, one of the largest automotive retailers in SA, Brand Pretorius says he is encouraged by the improved level of vehicle sales recorded in January.

The total market for January of 38 075 vehicles, which included sales by Associated Motor Holdings (AMH) and Amalgamated Automobile Distributors (AAD), was 15.4% up on the figure for January 2009 and 25% above the sales volume in December last year. This is according to the latest sales results released by the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) and AMH.

“We expected a fast start to 2010 because our dealerships had experienced an unexpectedly high level of interest from customers in December, which has resulted in sales being carried over for registration in January,” he explained. 

“We are also pleased to see some fleet owners re-entering the market, while private buyers are benefitting from a slightly better rate of loan approval by the finance houses, which is allowing creditworthy customers to buy new vehicles again. The improved stock of new vehicles also impacted positively in the strong start to 2010,” added Brand Pretorius.

The passenger car segment was the star performer last month, with sales up 20.1% compared to January a year ago. The car market fared even better when compared to December 2009, with a jump of 41% in sales.

In comparison light commercial vehicle sales grew year-on-year by 9.7%, while medium trucks were down 22.9% and heavy commercial vehicles showed a 14.4% decrease.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Two weeks ago MINI unveiled a fourth model range for its lineup. The MINI Countryman range represents the brand’s first foray into the sub-compact SUV market. Typical of the current BMW Group, styling will definitely polarise. It stands higher off the ground than a normal hatch, Clubman or convertible.
MINI has installed the MINI ALL4 all-wheel-drive (AWD) system which should at least help the car through mild gravel, if not some slippery mud. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and ABS are part of this solution, and so is Servotronic steering. Runflat tyres are the norm at MINI and the Countryman benefits from their stability and safety qualities. They range from 16-inch to 19-inch in size.

Depending on the market the sitting arrangement can either be the standard four-seat layout or a three-seat rear bench can be added optionally at no cost.

Interior features include air conditioning and a CD player, while optional extras that can be ticked off on the menu include iPod integration, a large panoramic sunroof, adaptive headlights, satellite navigation and a heated windscreen.

The South African market should get two models; a baseline Cooper Countryman and a Cooper S Countryman. The former has the trusty 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine that produces a slightly higher 90kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm of torque at 4250rpm. It is said that its 0 – 100km/h sprint time is 10.5 seconds while top speed is 190km/h. MINI claims an average 6.1 litres/100km and a C02 emissions rating of 142 g/km.

On the upper end is a turbocharged 1.6-litre worth 135kW at 5500rpm and peak torque of 240Nm at 1600rpm. An overboost function (activated during actions like overtaking) will take this number up to 260Nm. The 0 – 100km/h acceleration time is claimed at 7.6 seconds and top speed peaks at 215km/h. The average fuel consumption is 6.3l/100km, equating to a C02 rating of 146g/km. Who knows, there could be a John Cooper Works model making about 160kW in the pipeline.

Monday, 1 February 2010


Markus Gleitz can sure keep a secret. He kept one for over four years from his family, his friends and even his girlfriend. No, Gleitz is not some German secret agent. He’s an automotive designer based in Ingolstadt. And his secret was the Audi A5 Sportback. See, the new cars you see driving around on the road aren’t exactly new in the sense of something like an iPod or a TV. Designers and engineers work on a car for about five years before it’s ready to go public. Gleitz started work on the A5 Sportback sometime in 2004, beginning with a proposition sketch which was presented to Audi bosses.
As in any other office environment, the competition amongst colleagues is quite high; everyone wants to impress the bosses. In this instance it was Gleitz’s interpretation of the A5 model that captured the boss’s attention and he was given the go-ahead to help further develop the model.

People, including myself, have often wondered where exactly the car fits into the whole Audi range. I mean you already have the A4 with four doors and the A5 with its two doors. Plus there are Avant models to suit the more practical family that wants extra space. Why go Sportback? In fact, what exactly is a Sportback.

Sportback apparently slides between what we South Africans call a station wagon and a coupe. The roofline is slanted and extends sideways to elongate the shoulder line for that extra space. Wheel arches are wide but the upper body isn’t as wide as a wagon’s.

Gleitz took some time off from his busy schedule (I asked him time and time again what he was working on at the moment but to no avail…or did he tell?) to join us during the car’s launch down in KwaZulu Natal. It’s not often that one gets to meet the guy who actually designed the car you drive, albeit some years before. He’s totally unassuming; a young buck so far from his 40s that you’d think his life hadn’t begun. Yet the maturity of his design left me breathless.

Nothing like a nice three-hour drive to explain why the Sportback exists. While the freeloader goes for the Avant and the carefree moneyed eye the Coupe, the responsible neighbourhood racer picks the Sportback. Not only does it offer excellent interior space but it also looks very good as well. Simplicity is a trait now quite synonymous with the Audi brand. In fact VW Group (of which Audi is a major part) has adopted the word simplicity as a cornerstone of its styling philosophy. Chief Designer Walter de Silva, an eccentric Italian, is the driving force behind keeping things simple. “If a line has no use don’t include it” he’s said to often say.

I must admit I wasn’t particularly bowled over by the car’s styling at first. After all the A5 Coupe – interestingly designed by a Japanese man – is still the iconic coupe not just at Audi but in its segment as well. The Sportback was just a mere addition of two extra doors, in my head at least.

But after driving it through the valleys of northern KZN I began to mingle with it. I began to appreciate the kind of buyer who might be interested in it. Station wagons are not so cool in the SA market; we just don’t buy them. Coupes are very cool indeed, but most can’t swallow the kind of padkos, pram, cotbed, grocery bags etc that we are accustomed to. Plus getting into the back is a mission. Enter the Sportback. The wheelbase is 2.8 metres long which is almost as long as a whole sub-compact Japanese car. Space with pace.

Pace is good, but is there a compromise in handling? Not a chance. Technically the car shares almost everything with the Coupe, which means handling is on the upper end of the fun-on-meter. This is especially applies to the quattro models which give you not just the safety net of AWD when needed, but the feeling that you are driving a rear-wheel-drive car. Almost.

My first leg of two found me taking the keys of a 3.0 TDI. I love that engine, it’s one of my favourites on the market. It’s the same 3.0 V6 diesel turbo, common rail DOHC with direct injection found in other Audis. Maximum power is 176kW between 4000rpm and 4400rpm while maximum torque of 500Nm appears from 1500rpm to 3000rpm. Good flexibility indeed and it shows on the open road where the link between the accelerator, 7-speed S Tronic gearbox (Sportback is only available in automatic in Mzansi) and wheels seems as short as Mike Tyson’s temper. Speaking of the pint-sized bulldog, the TDI will munch kilometers with the ease of a chainsaw through a dry log. It just keeps pushing. Audi claims a 0 - 100km/h acceleration time of 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h. We couldn’t achieve neither, but I’m sure we would get pretty close if we tried harder.

Truth be told the 3.2-litre V6 is not my cuppa I’m afraid. In Gauteng where the altitude hovers around 1500m such engines really suffer. So much so that a 155kW 2.0T would give it a throat-choking scare and possibly kick its arse in the right hands. But at the coast it breathes well enough and growls appropriately. Power is rated at 195kW at 6500rpm and peak torque is 330Nm between 3000rpm and 5000rpm.

The more time I spent with the A5 Sportback the more I got to appreciate its properties. More importantly I began to understand its purpose and realised that Audi has a winner in its hands. Having shrunk at a slower rate than its two main rivals in 2009, the brand will make use of its latest addition to the fullest as it chases BMW for supremacy in the premium sector.

Audi A5 Sportback Pricing
2.0T FSI multitronic (R414 500)
3.2 FSI quattro S tronic (R503 500)
3.0 TDI quattro S tronic (R511 500)