Mercedes Benz C350 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY – A butterfly & a bee!

If you know my tastes and the weight of my foot, I suppose you’d know that as much as I loved the C180K, it didn’t have the shove that I would have liked. So Mercedes Benz didn’t waste any time in getting me behind the wheel of the C350 CDI. If it was ‘shove’ I wanted, this was not it. This was a solid left-right-left-upper cut that left me floored.
I’ve always known how powerful these modern diesel engines can be, and I do remember trying to catch an old C320 CDI up the infamous Malagwane hill in a 2002 Audi S3. I caught the Diesel Merc, but only on the bends and as soon as there was room to put foot, it was over. I’ve also ridden shotgun in an old BMW 330d and my word it was a fast.

So I had an idea that this car would be fast and sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. It has a mighty punch but that only tells half the story. I couldn’t help thinking of Mohammed Ali when I drove this car. (stay with me now) – The legendary boxing champ was lightning quick – C350 CDI BE ticks that box. That’s not what made him a champ though. It was the all-round smooth talking; ring dancing; handsome faced, quick-witted, hard hitting intelligence that made his name famous, and his boxing legendary.

This car is the same. Yes it is quick, but the V6 Diesel motor is also very intelligent. I spent 7 full days with this car, and after driving it hard for a week, I still managed 9,2l/100km fuel consumption. That’s unheard of. This car runs to 100km/h in 6,2 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h and still can manage(according to the manufacturer) a combined fuel consumption of 7.0l/100km. It develops 165kW at 3800 and a knockout 510Nm of torque as low down as 1800 r/min. I don’t always like to talk facts and figures but this is incredibly good stuff.

Like Ali however, it’s also as smooth as the butterfly when dancing around the roads of JHB. The 7G-Tronic transmission is part of the recipe of the smoothness with almost imperceptible shifts. It is such a smooth and comfortable car to drive if that’s what you’re looking for. But when you activate the Sports setting, plant your right foot, it takes the fight to the rear wheels and you’re left with slightly tensed tummy muscles.

I know there is so much more to a car than it’s power plant, but this is what makes this car the pick of the bunch for me. The C63 AMG is on the expensive side and the C350 Petrol motor is probably not as exciting. I am speculating here, but for me, this Diesel mill is what I like. It’s not the best in performance figures alone, but I can assure you that the efficiency of the motor compared to the other Germans, is right up there.

At R530,000 base price, it’s the best value for money if you have a slight inclination to enjoying some punch in a car.

If anything, the turbo lag still annoys me and that is my feeling across the board for all turbo cars. It’s very evident in this car too. You make the request for power, wait until you start doubting that it’s coming, and just when you’re about to give up it comes with such vengeance and enthusiasm that you forget all about it. . . until you need it again.

A side story: I sat at the traffic lights next to a Golf V GTi and we were both seemingly in a rush. When the lights turned green, we both urgently depressed the accelerators and pummelled down Cedar Road. He seemed to get the edge initially but then the Mercedes Benz C350CDI BlueEFFICIENCY came belting past him just when he thought his appointment was more important than mine. It reminded me of Ali once again when he won the heavyweight title at 32 years of age. After raining heavy blows on Ali throughout the Rumble in the Jungle, George Foreman started to fade and Ali chirped “You picked the wrong time to get tired” and then proceeded to floor him.

I loved the C350 CDI BE, even with all the bad diesel South Africa has, I would highly recommend owning one. What a car!

Mercedes B180 BE CDI - “Who says responsibility can’t be fun?”

When I heard I was going to be driving the new Mercedes B180 BE CDI, I did not know what to expect. While I eagerly awaited the arrival of the vehicle, I did some research and I came across a thought-provoking question posed by Mercedes,  “Who says responsibility can’t be fun?” Let the fun begin.

At first glance the Mercedes looks amazing with a sporty, lower, slicker stance and beautifully sculpted front xenon headlamps that complement the new front grille and bumper. The attention to stylish design and detail on the exterior has been carried through to the interior, which in my opinion is just as appealing. It is like stepping into an art exhibition: soft textures, flowing lines, honey comb dash that houses chrome air vents that are similar to the ones found in a SLS, plenty to keep your eyes interested. At night the interior takes on a complete metamorphosis. It’s like you are in a first class seat on an A380, with soft lighting that illuminates the interior. The A380, sorry I mean B180, has enough legroom to comfortably stretch out.

In the pilot seat of this test vehicle you have plenty of safety gadgetry, as well as the Comand Online multimedia system, which helped me with the responsible side of the question. I would like to take a minute to get all techie and mention the Comand system which is brilliant. I love how easy it is to navigate the menus, its very intuitive. Connected via Bluetooth to my smart-phone I was able to access the internet to find a new restaurant; then phoned to make a reservation and using the navigation get there, while enjoying my music. This is controlled from the center console or even better the LINGUATRONIC. For fun it has a flappy paddle gearbox as well as a rather good sound system (Extras). On my way to visit some friends in Hartbeespoort I put the family sport tourer to the test. I must say the diesel is a perfect performer, with 80kw @ 3200 – 4600 and 250 nm of torque, there is no hesitation when overtaking. When the sports button is pushed, the acceleration is taken to a whole new level. In the corners there is not much body roll making you feel more secure compared to other family MPV’s, that leave you feeling like you are driving a Double Decker bus. The electronic steering is disappointing as there is not enough road feedback and can be light weighted at times. When driving this vehicle I found myself feeling like a youngster and had loads of fun, forgetting about the other safety-warning device, standard in most family cars, the wife.

Being a man I had some words with my wife, and she had some paragraphs with me. Surprisingly it was not because of my driving, but about how comfortable she was and how much she loved the Mercedes. I then shared the base price tag with her R299, 600.00. She started reasoning like a man saying “that’s not bad because you get this, and this, and this… etc”. Then I told her the approximate price of the current car we were test driving at R393, 000.00, and still she said, “yes, but you get this, and this, and it’s pretty. This excited me because I also loved the Mercedes, as a family man I am always looking for the best of both, family comfort and a sporty drive. The Mercedes has plenty to offer and having to give the car back was difficult.

When you get behind the wheel, the quality of materials and the attention to detail is amazing. The motor and overall drive is suited for a Sunday family outing as well as a sporty little escape for dad. I think the designers have got it right, a brilliant balance of style and engineering. In conclusion, I agree with Mercedes, responsibility can be fun in the B class.

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Renault Offensive – Part 1: Mégane Renault Sport Trophy 265

Megane Renault Sport new car launch South Africa
Mégane Renault Sport Trophy 265 Limited Edition
Renault has lifted the covers off the latest incarnation of an already brilliant hot-hatch, and YES, it’s even faster than before. The 265hp car is a limited edition model only 30 of which will storm onto South Africa’s roads at a cost to you of R410, 000. So get your orders in now. I’ve given you the most important info up front.

There’s no doubt that the Mégane RS launched in 2010 is as damn near perfect a hot-hatch when it comes to raw performance. Renault Sport, a completely separate division of Renault, has managed to work closely with the F1 engineers in knowledge sharing so that the resultant road-car exceeds expectations and oozes competition driving heritage.

The current line-up in the Mégane Coupe RS range consists of the RS Sport; a more comfortable and balanced talent than the other model in the line-up, the RS Cup which has a stiffer set-up, a limited-slip differential and Recaro bucket seats for a more race and trackday oriented lifestyle. The range is a near perfect blend of comfort AND sportscar handling, so what does the Trophy have up it’s sleeve?

As you have noticed from the images, the Trophy 265 has some exterior detailing changes, mainly the 6-light LED daytime running lights, red racing decals that run on the front splitter, the doors and side sills. The new Trophy 265 also wears darkened alloys that are surrounded by a red strip and conceal parts of the red Brembo brake callipers. I am not a fan of the decal work especially on the sides of the vehicle, but I do like the black alloys and the fact that the detailing is more exclusive. With only 30 cars destined for South Africa, exclusivity is guaranteed at a price of R10,000 more than the RS Cup.

R410,000 gets you a sensational car in the Mégane Trophy 265. The engine is the talk of the town here and has been tuned to send 265hp from the turbo-charged 2.0 litre engine to the limited slip diff front wheels (when you engage the Sport button.) The result is unrivalled.

I didn’t get to drive the Mégane Renault Sport Trophy around a racetrack, but a few bursts of high speed runs down the Plettenberg Bay Airport runway convinced me that this car is exciting and has been designed to achieve maximum performance for enthusiastic motorists.

To put it into perspective, this car set the fastest hot-hatch time around the famous Nordschleife Nürburgring of 8mins08secs. This is faster than such cars as the Quattro Audi TT-RS and the Golf-R. Bringing it closer to home for you, the mighty Trophy competed at the Simola HillClimb this year and driven by the legend that is Deon Joubert, set a time of 49:50 seconds up the hill; faster than some unmentionable exotic cars and even faster than the BMW 1M.

This car is an astonishing story. The RS has won local Hot-Hatch of the year awards numerous times. It has embarrassed some big name cars when it comes to performance, and it has done so without much drama and boisterousness. The car is a sexy, authentic representation of motoring glory. It’s a comfortable, easy-to-drive, everyday car that at the push of the Sport button, can transform into supercar-hunting fury.

At this price, there really is NOTHING to match up to it.

Ferrari Show Day 2012

Ferrari Show Day Monaco Grand Prix Piazza Montecasino
The iconic Ferrari F40
When & Where: Montecasino, 27 May 2012

For many of my teen years, a special place on my bedroom wall was reserved for red, iconic cars named Ferrari. I remember the Ferrari F40 and later the F50 posters that were stuck with hardened and old prestik. I even remember the creases on certain parts of the image, where the buxom blonde was posing. Why there were creases, I do not know or remember.

Ferrari continues to make aspirational, iconic, mouth-watering cars. Living in the ‘Northern Suburbs’ of Jozi, we get to experience them belting down Cedar road on an early Saturday morning in all their beauty and aural glory.

Ferrari Show day Ferrari FF on show Monte casino
What do you make of the Ferrari FF?
Courtesy of SEFAC, the official Ferrari Owner’s Club and Montecasino, anyone who’s keen on motoring heaven can come spend the day in the presence of not one, but many Ferraris. The annual Ferrari Show Day is a natural fit for Monte, and this year there will be more than 70 Ferrari’s on show on the Montecasino Outdoor Piazza. YES, I will get to see my F40 there. I will also get to see the new and controversial all-wheel drive Ferrari FF and of course, the sublime 458 Italia that some argue is the most beautiful Ferrari ever made. You can come and decide.

We’re booking a table on the Piazza at MondoVino restaurant and we’ll get the food and drink flowing whilst we ogle all the Prancing horse machinery. The Monaco Formula 1 grand prix race will also be screened on the big screen; so really, there’s no excuse for petrolheads to miss it.

Ferrari Show Day 2012 Montecasino competition at Monte casino
You could WIN this!

Entry is free, but I do suggest you make a day of it and book a lunch table or something.

Courtesy of the Ferrari Store, they’re also giving away some incredible prizes like a Ferrari Jumbo watch valued at R6k and courtesy of SEFAC, some Kyalami track day experiences too. To enter, click here and hope for the best. It’s going to be a good day.

The Recipe for a perfect petrolhead weekend: Go to Zwartkops for the Wesbank Super Series leg on Saturday the 26th May. Then end it off with this.

MINI Cooper S Countryman – Take me home

I spent a significant part of the May 1st public holiday out in the countryside where I was first sprouted; where I grew up to love nature, steak, fishing, African sunsets and even cars. Swaziland is a beautiful place and it seemed the perfect one to ask the MINI Cooper S Countryman to accompany me. We loaded the MINI with luggage for 2 adults + one 7 month-old bambino and the adults and bambino of course. In summary, the response I got was a perfect 10 in effort, but in the end, the MINI sang John Denver’s ‘Country Road’ to me and asked me to take it home. Back to the city of Jozi!     

The MINI Cooper S Countryman is everything MINI. It’s a quirky expression of design and individuality and though it may not be the most beautiful car in the universal sense of the word, it certainly turns heads. A short stop-over at the Shell Ultra City on the N4 made me realise that almost everyone who noticed it, noticed it. It’s a striking car and the combination of white alloys with the striking True Blue metallic paintwork helped with that.
It’s same story inside the 4-man cabin. The MINI eccentricity continues with the large circular speedometer that forms the dominatrix of the dashboard. The circular design continues into many other areas in the cabin, with elliptical door rings and a mixture of metal, rubber and plastics infused together to form a cabin that is the word in cool design. What I like the most is the centre rail which runs from the front to the back of the cabin catering for all 4 occupants. On the centre rail are things like branded sunglass and cup holders. These can be moved back and forth to suit your tastes – I love these - though they kept falling off at the slightest touch which made me spill my Coke a few times. Seriously.

The N4 was a pleasant experience and I got to sample the 135kW power plant that does work in the MINI Cooper S Countryman. It’s a good engine but it didn’t excite me. There was no aural pleasure from the drive nor any significant shove when you put your foot down. I missed the whine that the old Cooper S used to make as the supercharger did its business and I think that was part of the lack of excitement. I had an expectation which is not always the best way to approach a car evaluation so on that note, let me give the engine and gearbox the credit they’re due. 0-100km/h in 7,9 seconds is a fair play. However, I was disappointed with the intrusive cabin noise.
As we turned off the N4 and headed for Carolina, the corrugated roads, many corners and the repatched potholes showed me a new side to this car. Again, I had expectations that this crossover type car with raised ride heights and comfy-looking seats would have a softer side. But it had the opposite. The Countryman has a very hard suspension and you would think that this would be good when you start cornering, but the torque steer made the experience even worse. There is just way too much happening on the front wheels and every time I asked the car to accelerate hard AND turn at the same time, I felt uneasy at the wheel. Engaging the ‘Sport’ button tightened things up but it wasn’t enough to cover up the fact that something was not lakker. My wife also commented that the car felt very uncomfortable and unstable. It got so bad that the next morning I let out some air from all 4 tyres and it made a world of difference. Again, not enough difference to sway my opinion on this matter, but it was a little better to live with.

Swaziland is known for its commitment to maintaining great roads – NOT. We spent a lot of time on the farm and off the beaten track, driving on gravel roads and tarred roads that may as well be gravel. The MINI just didn’t feel at home and after 4 days out in the country, John Denver played on the radio and I likened that song to the MINI singing to me those very words. "Take me home, country road, to the place where I belong, William Nicol, Sandton drive, take me home, country road."
I spent a lot of time wondering who this car was for: Ex Mini Cooper owners who now had families? Single Moms who are still fashion conscious and trendy? Adventurous folk who still value going to art galleries and painting in their spare time? I don’t know really. If it is any of these then you weigh up the options:

- It has 4 doors, 4 adjustable seats and a boot so it’s the most practical MINI you can buy.

- It has a host of aesthetic options to suit your tastes, it’s designer-appealing and funky, so it’s still the MINI you’ve come to know and love.

- It has a great engine, punchy acceleration and fair fuel consumption. (with a small 47 litre tank)


- You can get it with 5 seats if the 4-man setup doesn’t suit you, but then you lose that individualistic style and so what’s the point?

- It does have a boot, but it lacks boot space, so unless you’re less than 4 and you can adjust the seats to increase the capacity, that too is a letdown for the family guy.

- The ride is too hard, and the torque steer is not Ayoba.

You can get a MINI Cooper S Countryman with a permanent All-wheel drive system that I believe would be the best choice in this range. However, the All-4 comes with a price tag of over R415,000 and that is perhaps on the expensive side.

The MINI Cooper S Countryman has its place for sure. That place is the city or close to it. It may be named Countryman, but it’s rather a country boy. No, not even, it’s a city boy.

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Renault Simola Hillclimb 2012 - Petrolhead Temptation

Temptation for petrolheads comes in many forms, but none as insatiable as the Knysna Speed Festival that culminates with the epic Renault Simola Hillclimb. In 2012, the Knysna Speed festival is a week-long ‘jamboree’ of everything fun about motoring. It includes events such as the Knysna Kart Grand Prix, Knysna Motor Show, Knysna Soap Box Derby, Knysna Speed Festival Golf Day, Knysna Slot Car Challenge, Town Parade and Car Display, and two 4x4 events, the 4x4 Challenge and the 4x4 Elephant Trail.

The Renault Simola Hillclimb is the main event of the Knysna Speed Week and it comprises the Classic Car Friday and the King of The Hill Shootout. For me, this is where the fun starts as all sorts of machinery and man come to compete against the clock, the hill and the elements. Last year, the King of the Hill went to a man named Wilhelm Baard who drove a Nissan GTR for every scientific penny it is worth.

For this year, some of the cars that will be competing in the hillclimb are as follows: McLaren MP412C (2012 model – make a mental note of this one). We have a Porsche 917 Le Mans Replica, Porsche 993GT2R, Nissan GTR and GTR R35, Ferrari F360 Challenge, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Renault Megane R26 and RS250 Cup, Bentley 4.25 Blower Special, 1933 Alfa Romeo Monza and a 1927 Bugatti T37. This is what is so epic about the Renault Simola Hillclimb – there is none of this same size fits all racing. It’s an array of everything from Classics to Sports vehicles, from hot hatches to racing machines and exotics, barrelling up the twisty and treacherous Simola Hill in a quest to set the quickest time.

I will be joining Renault South Africa as they launch not 1 or 2 but three new vehicles at this event. I’ll also be dashing up the hill in these incredible cars that I’ve had such a close relationship with for the past few years. I’ll bring you all the action, all the highlights and of course, I’ll get you as close to the black stuff as possible.

Here’s a very cool idea: Visit Renault South Africa’s Facebook page, click on the Renault Simola Hillclimb app, and enter the competition. You could WIN a package to the Hillclimb with a partner and get to experience the Renault Sport technology that I’ve always raved about. Click here to enter.

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