This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
*To read one of our road tests, just select from the menu on the left.
*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the reports.
Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday December 14,2011
One thing you have to give the motor industry; it mutates. Little entry-level cars grow into medium sized family sedans with commensurate price tags, while midsize saloons absorb sophistication to morph into ‘nice, but pricey.’ Take Ford Focus. It was introduced as a small car in 1998 to replace the Escort, a popular runabout with a giant-killing, rally-winning sibling on steroids. Now it’s a medium-sized family car in the ‘C’ segment, priced between R200 000 and R300 000, with a rally-winning sibling in the next price range.
The engineering has changed, with the 1800 cc petrol engine dropped in favour of a 1600 developing the same amount of power but just a few Nm less torque, and power increases for both two-litre motors. Petrol fans enjoy a boost from 107 kW and 185 Nm to 125kW and 202 Nm, while diesel-heads get a push from 100/320 to 120 kW/340 Nm. Sport-oriented ST models live one level up and continue as before.
Apart from changes to styling and interior ergonomics, the real differences are felt, but remain mostly unheard and unseen. The body structure is stiffer and stronger, resulting in reduced NVH levels. Front airbags have been reworked to render them equally effective but less likely to injure those they are designed to save. Then front and rear suspensions, steering and electronics were upgraded for improved handling and safety. More sound deadening material and thicker window glass also contribute to reduced noise levels. But that’s not all; the air conditioner delivers cleaner air, while little design details improve child safety and reduce severity of pedestrian injuries.
The car we drove was a four-door 2,0 TDCi Trend fitted with the company’s Powershift twin clutch, six-speed automatic. This is the only diesel derivative available – no manual transmission, no hatchback. The gearbox is best used in automatic mode where it performs smoothly, intuitively and far more quickly than you or we will ever change gear.
Its only flaw is that somebody decided to fix what wasn’t broken, by deleting the option of changing ratios using stick or paddles. Manual changes are now courtesy of a thumb-push button on the side of the gear knob – top half changes up, while lower half shifts down. You can get used to it and it still works lightning-fast; just wish that ‘whoever’ hadn’t fiddled with it, that’s all.
Road performance is quick, with 100 km/h coming up in a touch over nine seconds and topping out at 211. The multitude of tweaks show their worth in the form of a quiet and supple ride, absence of body noise and the way it handles the meandering midlands road. Part of the secret lies with something Ford calls torque vectoring control. It detects when one of the front wheels is about to start spinning and applies a touch of braking force to it, transferring torque to the opposite wheel. The result is rather like having a limited-slip differential; it usually happens unnoticed and makes a big difference to handling.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, its boot is of a decent size at 421 litres and is nicely shaped with a reasonable loading height. The rear seatbacks split 60:40, fold almost flat and the cushion flips up. The spare is a spacesaver. Upholstery is in cloth, seat adjustments are all mechanical and storage options are sufficient, rather than awesome. Rear seat headroom rates about ‘nine’ on the tall passenger’s comfort scale, but space for knees and feet is somewhat cramped. There are three belts, three head restraints and ISOFix anchorages for baby chairs.
This is a South African Car of the Year finalist. It is practical, solid, goes well, has a competitively priced parts basket and deserves its place in the line-up. Our only reservation is that it’s priced at the upper end of its market segment among really strong competitors, but has no obvious ‘wow’ factor. If it wins, it will be a triumph of practicality over soul.
Price: R285 320
Engine: 1997 cc, DOHC, 16-valve, common rail turbodiesel
Power: 120 kW at 3750 rpm
Torque: 340 Nm between 2000- and 3250 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 9,2 seconds
Maximum speed: 211 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 7,5 l/100 km
Emissions class: Euro5
Tank: 60 litres
Warranty: 4 years/120 000 km with 3 years’ roadside assistance
Service plan: 5 years/90 000 km at 20 000 km intervals
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
Want to ask a question, comment or just tell me you thoroughly disagree with what I say? That's your privilege, because if everybody agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place. All I ask is that you remain calm, so please blow off a little steam before venting too vigorously. Email us from here