A little bit of this AND that! - BMW X1 sDrive20i

In recent times, BMW have become known to do things unconventionally by lavishing us with some unconventional cars. I guess it’s what a stalwart like BMW would do; they invent types of cars that we think we actually need. My recent studies have taught me that that’s what great marketing is. If there’s no market, we make the market. Let’s look at the BMW 5 Series GT for example. If it was not conceived, nobody would have missed it, but it’s been made and it’s available and I’ve seen many on our roads. Look at the BMW X6, a ‘Sports Activity CoupĂ©’ that is the root of many arguments. Some say it’s fugly, some say it’s exclusive, some ask, ‘what is it?’

I am not making any personal comments on those cars, (because I quite like them both) but it brings me to the BMW X1 that I’ve spent some time with. This is another one of those BMW ventures that initially, you’d think nobody would want. It’s been dubbed an Urban CrossOver vehicle so that it has double impact. 

On the one hand it’s meant to be comfortable on the highways and byways of Johannesburg city. On the other hand, it’s meant to give you the freedom to trudge where your 3-series wouldn’t be so comfortable. Did it live up to its double impact promise? Or did it turn out to be more of a double-edged sword?

To BMW drivers, perhaps this next statement is a no brainer, but the term ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ is perfectly at home in this car. BMW have to stuck to the 50:50 weight distribution model on the X1 and you can feel it. It feels like you’re driving a sedan. Also notably worth a mention is the twin scroll turbo TwinPower engine that does the hauling. What I love about it is not only the 135kW shove when the turbo is sweating, but I moreso love that BMW have managed to retain the distinctive sound that is synonymous with their cars. It doesn’t sound like any other 2.0 litre turbo car I’ve driven. It sounds almost like a V6, and it howls like a soprano at its peak. I love it. When you’re out on the road, you can also enjoy BMW’s Steptronic 8-speed gearbox which is another thing that we’ve been made to think we need. What I love about it, is that it simply works. Now you’d expect it to work for a premium, German-engineered car, but I can tell you that there are similar priced cars with similar types of boxes, that don’t work. The only odd thing about it, is that to change UP, you pull the shifter DOWN; and to change DOWN, you push the shifter up. It sounds a little confusing, but it feels perfectly normal. Just an observation.

For the other personality of the X1, you get some idea from the raised ride height, the raised driving position and roof rails, which hint at an adventurous side. When I say adventurous, it’s a sort of adventure level 5 out of 10. In other words, you’re not doing any serious off-roading here. You’re not going to take pictures with this car on the top of a mountain. What this car gives you is simply a raised ride height that allows you to drive to the Vaal Dam for a fishing trip; not the Zambezi. You can drive to the South Coast for a beach holiday, but forget about Mozambique. This adventure is for the forgiving gravel roads in Magaliesberg, the countryside of Dullstroom and the cities in between.

Here’s what I don’t like: You’d expect that interior space would be quite plentiful. But it isn’t. I found the rear seats quite cramped and I found the boot space too shallow. The other thing I don’t like is that it’s not a headturner. It looks like a Cross between an estate and an a X3 which was probably the point but I don’t like it. I also found the ride to be a bit hard, which could in part be due to the double spoke alloy 18 inchers that this car ran on.

The base price for this car is R361,500 bucks, but with all the added extras like the Automatic Transmission; Double-Spoke Wheels; the Panoramic sun-roof; the Harmon-Kardon sound system; Navigation System, Internet Preparation, Daytime Driving lights, and and and ... the all inclusive price for this X1 is R546,597. That’s an addition of 51% on top of the base price. We should be used to this by now though.

SUMMARY: Anyhow, The whole point of BMW’s Sport Activity Vehicle concepts, is that they’re meant to be cars that can do a little bit of this AND a little bit of that.

I am not bowled over by the looks of the BMW X1, nor is the space anything to shout about, but I do like the concept of it. I like it more than all the other SAV CrossOver type vehicles. It’s got sedan-like driving qualities, with a few small SUV qualities too. It’s got a sense of adventure to it, even if Mom wants to use it to do the school run. It can do a little bit of this AND a little bit of that in the simple yet undisputed way that BMW’s do. . . And compared to its competition the Volvo XC60 and the Audi Q5, I’d say, the price is not too bad.

Would I buy one? Probably not, but only because I don’t think it’s pretty enough; or manly enough. It just doesn’t appeal to ME. It doesn’t make it bad though. In fact, I say it’s quite good.

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The Delectable C-Class - Mercedes Benz C180 BlueEFFICIENCY Sedan

I have a problem. My wife is a little bowled over by the C180 BlueEFFICIENCY Mercedes Benz. Why is that a problem you may ask? She has quite simply fallen in love with a car, something I never thought she would do. And she WANTS one. In fact, she asked if we could buy the very same car I had the opportunity to evaluate. She has even blogged about her love affair with it. Here’s my take:
The C180 BlueEFFICIENCY sedan is the opening act in the C-Class show and what an opener it is. For those who are new to Mercedes Benz, it’s a great base from which to grow into an extended relationship with the 3-pointed star brand.

The C-Class has maintained a leading market share in this segment and has been voted as the Best Compact Executive by 2 of the country’s leading motoring magazines. It’s also recently undergone a facelift which made a good looking car, a stunning car. Look at the pictures and tell me you don’t agree.

The facelift however, wasn’t just on the ‘face’. The interior also had a major rework and the result is nothing short of beautiful. When you drive the car you get that sense of intricate, detailed planning and craftsmanship. And this is for a volume selling C-Class. The two-toned steering is first class, and certainly a heck of a lot better than the previous wheel. With everything on the facia to the outward stitched leather seats; to the colour coded plastic sections that run across the facia and on the doors, you just feel like you’re driving a premium quality car. For me, the interior of a car is where it should excel and this Merc ticks almost all the right boxes. I say ‘almost’ because I really do think they should have included electric lateral adjustment for the seats. Apart from that, it’s difficult to fault the car from when you’re seated inside.

Behind the wheel, the car is standard Mercedes and all I’ll say is that Kanya wanted to drive more often than I was comfortable to allow. To describe the drive, I’d use these words: comfortable, poised; balanced. Kanya said: smooth, soft, nice – which is pretty much the same thing.

BlueEFFICIENCY: This is part of Mercedes’ attempt to have mobile solutions that are harmless to the environment as well as beneficial to its customers. The C180 BlueEFFICIENCY features improved aerodynamics as part of that stylish design as well as other enhancements that improve fuel consumption. Something that got Kanya, the environmentalist, very excited was the ECO Stop/Start feature that switches the car off every time you come to a stop, and then starts it up as soon as your foot comes off the brake pedal. It’s a nifty feature that I have found quite irritating in other models, but admittedly, in the Benz, it was less intrusive. BlueEFFICIENCY models from Mercedes Benz also feature reduced emissionsand this car will only give the government an additional R2,565.

Did we save fuel during our time with the car? Well for a 1.8 Turbo unit that has enough shove for you to enjoy, I’d say the consumption was quite impressive. Granted, we weren’t trying to drive slowly and so we could only manage 9,4l/100km which I think is not bad. The 115kW mill was very good for both Kanya and myself. She liked the punch more than I did, but at least it’s something I could live with. (It's obviously nothing close to the grand finale Monster in the C63AMG Coupe I drove a few months back.) Watch that video here.

Apart from what I’ve mentioned, the car is packed with intelligence, most of which you may not even notice until you’ve spent a lot of time with the car. Safety and driver assistance systems are high on the Mercedes Benz priority list, and a car like this includes driver aids like ATTENTION ASSIST; Adaptive Brake Lighting; Adaptive braking Systems and included in the options list, there are even more. These are all features intended to keep you in the comfort and enjoyment of the driver’s seat and on the road, not anywhere off it. Like in a tree. I am digressing here.

On the whole then, I am not too surprised by what the C-Class delivers in terms of quality; performance; comfort; safety and perceived value. The car is not cheap though, and once you’ve ticked all the options for various style packages, you could end up with an over R450k car. And that is just for the opening act. Is it worth it? When you really analyse the systems and features that are packaged into this car, I’d say yes. And when you compare it to the closest rivals, it’s not out of the ball park. I didn't like the standard trim of our car, specifically the wheels. But I'm nitpicking.

For a volume seller, Mercedes Benz has made a dream car. It’s hard to fault on any level, and since the recent launch of the new 3 Series BMW, I’d say that the C-Class can still hold it's own. Don’t be surprised if, in a few months, 2 things happen:
1) That the Merc is still voted in the Best Compact Exec.
2) That the Middleton household have one in their garage.

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The Lexus Effect - Lexus GS300 SE

For the first time in my life, I’ve had the privilege of being behind the wheel of one of motoring’s luxury-only brands. I walked into this experience with some pre-conceived ideas and after a few days behind the wheel, I must apologise for not giving you, Lexus, the credit and respect you so deserve.

As Kanya and I are in the market for a new car, we both look at the cars I evaluate from 2 perspectives. The one is for you, the readers and ‘consumers’ and the other view is very much a personal one. The Lexus has done a thorough job of convincing me that on the one hand, it’s a stunner of a car, oozing technology and sophistication. But on the other hand, it’s just not for us. We’re just not there yet. Let me explain:

If you read Lexus’ marketing and sales material, you get the sense that they really are interested in things like luxury, refinement, comfort, harmony, smoothness, tranquillity and class. I knew it was a luxury brand and quite frankly I used to found the cars a little bit bland, a little too under-the-radar. If you look carefully at the Lexus GS300 though, you soon realise that they’ve paid amazing attention to detail in every curve, in every inch. But it’s something that grows on you and the more time I spent with this car, the more that happened. Look at it carefully. It is not boring by any standard.

From the driver’s seat, it’s a little more dramatic and the detail is more in-ya-face with a host of buttons, emblems and switchgear throughout the cabin. The keyless entry system is not new tech by any means but it belongs here. The luxury begins and ends with this system and it wouldn’t be right to have this car without it. Push the start button and all the electronics come to life in a fusion of green backlighting on the buttons, a touchscreen multi-function display from where most of the in-car functions can be controlled, like the navigation, climate control settings, a 6-Disc DVD Mark Levinson system that is just incredible.

The drive started off a little bit underwhelming for me. ‘Jus cruising’ is what the car does. Silently, effortlessly. Even when you boot the accelerator pedal, the car seems to gather speed without letting you feel any less comfortable. You can just hear that V6 winding up to a soft shrill, but nothing that will get you excited. It’s so refined and so smooth. I have never driven anything this smooth and comfy before. The 183KW V6 engine is whisper soft and travelling beyond the 120km/h limit seems to be where the car is at its happiest. It's a tourer for sure. It’s soft, comfy & larny. It’s like a fur jacket made from real...fur. It’s so nice; and so comfortable that it feels a little strange.

This is what I’d say about the Lexus GS300SE: It’s exactly what the marketing collateral says. It’s supremely sophisticated and every bit the luxury they say it is. It’s spacious, safe, packed with tech and the niceties that you didn’t even think you needed. They’ve thought of everything for you and then some. There is so much in this car that it takes a few days just to get used to where everything is. You sometimes sit in the cabin knowing there is a feature to adjust the mirrors but you just can’t think of where it is. It is there, but it takes some time to find it. You know it has USB and iPod connectivity, but it’s just not within your eyes view. It’s there, but you have to find it. And that’s really my summary of the car.

It’s impeccable and every bit the brand, but it takes some getting used to. It’s not something that needs to grow on you. It’s something that YOU need to grow into. I love it, but I’m just not grown yet. I still want the drama that comes from the exhaust. I still want to feel a little more alive in the driver's seat. I still want the rock n roll.

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