Our roads are a mess - You think?

Just as we have leapt into our seat at the office, refreshed from a fantastic holiday at the coast (if you’re from Jo’burg) we’re reminded by the monotone voice on the radio of how many road deaths there were while we were on the way to, or frolicking on the beach. It makes me sick to the gut. Losing more than 1,000 lives over what should be a smiley season is just not on. It’s the same at Easter time when the rate of road death increases but on an annual scale, too many people are dying on our roads.

The arguments begin (again) and society argues that the government is to blame, the police are to blame, speed is the killer cause, taxis are the problem, education is the root of the issue, driving schools are the problem, road conditions...and so it goes on.

There is some truth in all of these arguments, but the biggest problem is us. We all think we are above both the law and each other. I read of a study a few years ago that was done in our beloved country that showed that South African’s have the highest rate of people who think they are ‘above average’ drivers. Obviously this is not true.

By what should we as society measure our success as drivers? Road stats are a good yardstick me thinks, and by that measure we are absolutely dreadful. As far as I am concerned that is the ONLY measure by which we should measure our driver skill.

There are solutions of course many of which involve government departments and civil servants, but let’s take it on the chin ourselves too. Most of us are not great drivers. How many of you text and drive? How many of you exceed the speed limit in residential areas? How many of you overtake on blind rises, around corners and on double white lines because you think you can? Why do we kiss each other’s bumpers when we’re following another car (not even in traffic)? Why do we drive cars with tyres that are on the way out? Why do we put our cellphone to our ear while driving even when our car has the connectivity built-in? I saw a guy over the festive using his phone whilst driving a new 6 series Gran Coupe. Seriously?

We do these things because we’re stupid, selfish, impatient, aggressive hypocrites. And we’re stupid. We are ALL contributors to the nastiness on our roads. This is in part an attitude problem.

It’s also sadly an educational, experiential problem. Only once you have experienced loss of control at the wheel of a car, do you realise that you need some help. That is why Finland’s idea of driver education is serious business. It’s not a BS theory test and a BS drive around the quietest suburb with a few hills. It consists of 20 written exams plus a driver test that involves collision avoidance, control on slippery surfaces such as wet, icy and muddy roads. This kind of knowledge saves lives.

We place so much emphasis on the hill test that if you move back even 2cm, you’re failed. Cars nowadays come with hill assistance and who are we going to kill in 2cm? If however, we lose control on a wet road and have no idea what happened or how to control it, then we’re all in trouble...which we are.

Another issue is we tend to do our driver tests in a Toyota Yaris and then go out and buy a car that is rear wheel driven with more than 3 times the power. I kid you not, I have known of people driving M3’s as their first car at 21 years old. Again, it’s an attitude problem perhaps with some misspent money thrown in and stupid parents.

Some quick solutions and ideas:
1)     If the road is wet, muddy, icy, oily etc – traction is reduced. Drive with that in mind.
2)     Don’t text and drive. Don’t read Facebook messages and tweets while driving. When you do these things, you can’t see the road and your surroundings which means you’re driving on autopilot, which your car doesn’t have.
3)     Make sure your car is properly roadworthy.
4)     Check your car regularly – do your pre-journey inspections, get your tyres checked regularly before you set off. (not when they’re hot)
5)     Be aware of pedestrians, cyclists, bikers. They’re road users too contrary to what you might believe and vice versa.
6)     Watch your speed particularly in residential, industrial areas. I love speed, as you know, but there are safe places to wallop your car. As you leave your house on the way to the shops is not one of them.
7)     Keep your eyes on the road as much as possible and be aware of stuff around you. Your mirrors are there to be used, not to deflect air and give you more downforce.
8)     Be aware of the capability and power of your own car. Know it’s limits, know it’s power, know it’s brakes. Do as many dynamic driving/advanced driving courses as you can to be comfortable with rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicle dynamics.
9)     Never assume you know what the other driver is thinking. I promise you, you don’t.
10) Don’t be stupid. Yes you know what I mean.

The long term solution is:
To: JACOB ZUMA and his people: Change the whole driver education system so that it involves some form of experiential learning of the dangers of the open road. 

We need to stop the horror on our roads. As cliched as it may sound, it really must start with YOU! Us. 

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Toyota Prius – The Consumption Challenge

The Toyota Prius Consumption Challenge

When mentioning hybrid vehicles the first car that still springs to my mind is the Toyota Prius. The fact is that hybrid technology has been around since 1665 with a priest and an astronomer at the forefront, even Austrian born Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had a go at creating a hybrid. Over the years Toyota has done their research and improved the hybrid technology, which has been cleverly integrated into the Prius.

The most obvious and important feature is the improved efficiency of the new power plant over the old. Toyota has taken it a step further with some additional “earth friendly” features. Let’s start with the solar sunroof, which helps keep the car cool when parked in the hot African sun. To make the vehicle even cooler you can use the immobilizer remote to switch the air conditioning on before getting into the vehicle. Love that feature.

Driving the Prius made me feel like I was doing something for the environment, but was I? A challenge was set by Toyota on twitter to get the vehicle to 4.2 l\100km as claimed by them. After clearing the trip I was ready for the challenge. I set off on electric or EV mode. A few kilometers in, I was on 3.2 and thinking this might be possible. Freewheeling as much as possible and using the regenerative braking system I managed to keep the batteries at full capacity. Being very frugal on the accelerator, trying to use the EV mode as much as possible, by the time I reached the half way mark of my 20km journey, the batteries where empty. That’s when the petrol motor kicked in. I had to use Eco mode, which meant a combination of the electric, and petrol engine. This did not help the consumption, but at the end of the day when I reached my destination I had managed to get 3.8 l\100km. To achieve 3.8 was no easy feat though, I had to select my route carefully and drive at about 40 when not freewheeling. So yes the figures are achievable, however if you trying to keep up with the flow of Joburg traffic it makes it a bit difficult.
On average my consumption was around the 5.0 to 5.5 l\100km under normal driving conditions in traffic traveling from Nortcliff to Sandton every day. That’s not bad considering it’s a 1.8 petrol however, this got me thinking with all this great technology why not run a smaller turbo diesel or petrol motor for better consumption? The other reason would be for power on the open road, the engine sounds like its straining when you need to overtake or go up a hill, which again does not help with consumption.

On the positive side, the Toyota Prius is very surprising when it comes to space. We managed to get the following in comfortably: two bags of organic fertilizer and a few plants, four shopping bags and a pram, two kids and the wife ready to direct traffic and still had space for the aunt in the middle. With the car loaded the drive home was still very comfortable.

The Prius definitely has its place as one of the greats when it comes to the advancement in hybrid technology, but at R381 100,00 it’s a bit heavy on the pocket. There are other options out there if you are looking to save fuel. The one that stands out for me with similar consumption figures would be the VW Golf Blue Motion 1.6 TDI priced at R284 000,00. 

The Toyota Prius is still a technological masterpiece showing off how far the world has come in hybrid technology and efficient motoring. But it's no longer alone. 

Follow me on Twitter @Weso506

BMW 116i 3-door Sport Line

BMW 116i SPort Line Car Review
BMW 116i Sport Line

I drove the old 1 series BMW 5-door a few years ago and I really hated it. The overall design was flawed in that everything seemed to be packaged with the lack of space in mind. The rear was cramped, as was the boot and even the front was cosier than I would expect from BMW’s first foray into hatchback-land. I liked the departure from traditional hatchback styling and I liked that it was rear wheel drive but that was it really.

Taking delivery of the new 116i Sport Line 3-door model, I wasn’t going to make the same comparisons of space. I was going to judge this Crimson Red 3-door hatch on its own merits, of which it has plenty.

First off, it looks fantastic. I love the unmistakeable ‘waistline’ that extends from the rear tail light clusters all the way to the fenders. I also love the double spoke 18 inchers that give the car its sporty presence. If you don’t know, BMW offers the new 1 series in either Urban Line; Sport Line & M-Sport Line packages. The Urban line is supposedly more metropolitan and offers exterior aesthetic options such as white mirror caps, white slats in the grille, different wheel options and more trendy body colours from which to choose. The interior options also include similar optional appointments and I assume this Urban Line package appeals more to art directors and food stylists than people like me. I am not a big fan of the Urban Line package but what is great about the options is that it gives the 1- series a broader appeal which is great for people like you and me...and the art directors.

Exterior Styling appointments on the Sport Line 

If you’re in it for the love of the drive, then this entry-level 1 series won’t disappoint. It’s purposeful and dynamic and produces 100kW from the 1,6 TwinPower Turbo unit. That’s the same power as my Peugeot 307 but it’s so much faster. (Yes, we matched them up). It’s also so much more fun and a genuinely thrilling drive. The steering is perfectly weighted as is the solid gearshift action and the engine in Sport mode feels strong and aurally exciting. The BMW 50:50 weight distribution and the rear-wheel drive make swift changes of direction a lot of fun particularly in Sport mode. I’ve come to expect this level of driver-joy from BMW but to experience it from a 116i entry level car is extraordinary.

18 inch double spoke alloys create a sport, purposeful presence

Is it fuel efficient? Is it considerate towards our environment? I am not best suited to say but it continues BMW’s Efficient Driving Dynamics thinking with Brake Energy Regeneration; Start/Stop system and ECO pro mode. Driving with this in mind, I managed to do 7,6l/100km after 220km of driving in urban Johannesburg which is really good considering I wasn’t testing this car solely based on its fuel consumption.

The BMW 1 series is what the marketers at BMW would use to lure younger buyers to the brand and then hopefully keep them brand loyal and track them into bigger and more expensive Beemers as the years roll on. I’ve never met any more brand loyal people than BMW drivers so what they’ve managed to do with this new 116i Sport Line is brilliant. It’s 100% BMW and the Sheer Driving Pleasure motto is completely fitting for this car in the same way that it is for a BMW Z4. You can also buy a new 1 series according to a host of options so that the car you end up in is exactly you. So there’s many reasons to visit a BMW dealer to talk about this car.

Sport Line / Urban Line M135i 116i
In BMW fashion interior appointments are functional and simple
The base list price for this particular model is R283,000 but you could spec this car to cost more than R400,000 if you wanted absolutely everything on the options list. The car I drove was specced with niceties like Lane Departure Warning, the BMW Professional SatNav package and reversing camera.

I really didn’t like the first 1 series but I really do like this one. It looks the part, plays the part and in typical BMW style it does so in impeccable fashion. I haven’t driven the new M135i that everyone is raving about but so far, I would say this 116i Sport Line is possibly the best value car in the range.

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Citroën DS5 – Aesthetic Genius

If you watched Avatar in its opening weekend before other people could tell you about it, you probably walked out of the cinema a little dumbfounded? It’s because you had just witnessed something never-seen-before; something that was extraordinary film genius.

Every now and then the world experiences these breathtaking moments of brilliance. Think on icons like Usain Bolt & Felix Baumgartner; or on unexplainable phenomenons like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. These examples are all people, but they all have the ability to take your breath away and make you feel alive even if just for a few seconds.

The Citroën DS5 is the same. I have never laid eyes on a car that inspired so many thoughts and dare I say it, emotions. From every angle the car is a remarkable prodigy that seems so ahead of its time. It’s a designer’s wet-dream turned into an even better reality. And it’s a real car in production and on sale in South Africa right now.

When the drama settles (it never quite ends) you realise the detail with which this car has come off the production line. Starting from the rear, the twin chrome tailpipe surrounds are like nothing you have ever seen. They’re dramatic and shapely and remind me of those on a Lamborghini Aventador. They sit on either side of a black strip made of a glossy material that is also used on the rear spoiler that juts out the top of the rear. It’s beautiful. The side profile continues the use of chrome detailing just below the doors that is accentuated by the mix of black and chrome 19” alloys. From the A-pillar to the front bumper, pronounced chrome ‘swords’ extend to separate the bonnet from the fender and it is here that I found myself the most gobsmacked. It’s just so different and detailed. 

This car was based on a concept car first shown to the public in 2005 and I must say, the real car is so much better looking than the concept. That doesn't happen often. 

While the exterior is bewildering there’s no letting up when you open the door. If anything, the interior detailing is even more 'awe' some. The leather seats feature a very cool watch-strap design with colour coded stitching to match. They’re supple and as always feature heated, electric, massage function comfort. The facia design and cabin in general was inspired by the aero industry but I get a sneaky suspicion that some plane manufacturers have probably taken a note out of the Citroën book. It’s properly beautiful in here with distinctively crafted buttons and switchgear for the windows and traction control. Look up and there are a few more switches, 3 of which operate the electrically adjustable blinds revealing an awesome glass roof. That’s one blind each for the driver and passenger and one larger one for the rear seat. It’s insanely brilliant.

There are some problems with the DS5: the car I drove was the THP 200 Sport version and it featured the brushed metal ‘grey aluminium’ trim. In all honesty, this was just too much. It was too polished and a little brash in my opinion. A simpler, more plain brushed metal would have been fine, but that is a personal preference and this option is not standard by any means. I would spec my DS5 differently.

There are more problems when you wipe your mouth, realise this is a car and actually drive it. The first issue is that the ride is way too hard. The 19 inch low-profile wheels don’t help and I cannot say the drive is comfortable on anything less than very good roads. If the car was blisteringly quick and handled like a sportscar, then I wouldn’t mind but it doesn’t handle exceptionally at all which brings me to the next problem. The steering is very dead and putting down 147kW of power to the front-driven wheels doesn’t inspire any confidence. The engine is the same high pressure 1,6 turbo unit that is used across the cars in the stable as well as by Mini and Peugeot. So it's a good engine with the typical qualities of a turbo, but it's the way it puts that power down that was disappointing. I didn't enjoy the drive.

Citroën has thrown out the design rulebook and made a car that is like a mobile piece of art. I wouldn’t even call the DS5 beautiful, but rather striking, breathtaking genius. It has 4 doors and a boot which makes it fairly practical should you be looking to buy a stylish, unique looking 'family car'. But they seem to have forgotten to use the same thinking in designing how this mobile flamboyance struts it’s stuff on the road. That's it's only shortfall. 

At just under R400, 000 the big question is, would I buy it or recommend you buy it? At this price range, this is the league of 3 series, C-classes and even VW GTi 35 editions and brand new B-Classes. My answer would be a NO. For me, the genius, exclusive design is amazing but I am most interested in the way a car drives and for this reason, I feel a little let down by this Citroën. The DS5 is not terrible to drive, but it lacks the lustre that is found in every other aspect of the car.

On the design and presence scale though, nothing comes close.

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