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McLaren MP4-12C

Citroën DS5


Citroën’s new DS range has injected the current line-up with a much-needed dose of vitality. The DS nomenclature is held very close to Citroën’s heart, placing the prestigious lettering on only its most radical of offerings. Who can forget the original Bertone-designed 1955 Citroën DS that shocked the motoring world with its futuristic design and cutting-edge technology. The DS changed the face of automotive production and pioneered the development of hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, handling and braking. After recently introducing the DS3 and DS4, Citroën has released the third instalment in the DS range at the international launch in Nice, France – the Citroën DS5. The DS5 is a very difficult car to classify. Part hatchback, part SUV, six of the one and half a dozen of the other. The DS5 seems to change shape depending on which angle you look at it.

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While admiring the vehicle in the Le Grand Hôtel lobby I could see whispers of hatchback, grand tourer, SUV and estate vehicle. I must admit that it certainly does have presence and urges the viewer to engage with its intriguing design language. The DS5’s bold and angular shape pays homage to the 2005 C-SportLounge concept car retaining most of the original sketch’s styling cues. The front-end is styled in typical DS fashion with perforated lateral air intakes, a chrome-plated grille and LED lights, while the most distinctive feature is the outlandish chrome sabres that run from the headlights along the bonnet line up towards the A-pillars. The DS5’s appearance makes it stand out from everything else on the road leaving many road-goers pointing and rubbernecking in appreciation of its crouched and assertive stance. Surprisingly, unlike the DS3 and DS4 which share their underpinnings with the C3 and C4, the DS5 doesn’t share anything with the C5. Instead, it’s based on a widened version of the Peugeot-Citroën platform two as used by the C4.

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The widened track in combination with a left-hand drive cabin proved a little tricky when navigating through the narrow French road network. On some occasions my spacial judgement was found wanting but the DS5’s agility and relatively small turning circle sorted things out almost every time. The test drive took the Citroën convoy on a picturesque drive from the hotel in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat along the Côte d’Azur to the town of Juan-les-Pins and back – about 240km. Punctuated by mountain passes, tapered village roads and pristine stretches of motorway, the route highlighted the all-round driving capabilities of the DS5. I’ll admit I had my reservations about the DS5’s handling but I was proved wrong especially at how flat it cornered through the snaking mountain roads. It exhibited no body roll and actually had me, at some points, thinking I was driving a sports coupé – yes, the handling is that good.

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The suspension unfortunately isn’t as supple as I thought it would be. The damper settings are very sporty and the large-diameter low-profile 19-inch wheels amplify all nuances in the road surface. Quite surprising given its luxurious grand tourer-like demeanour. The DS5’s interior is its most defining attribute. Inspired by aeronautics, the driver is cocooned in a plethora of buttons and gadgets, which resemble that of an aircraft. There’s also a retractable head-up display that, along with blinds for the three-piece glass roof, can be adjusted with ceiling-mounted toggle switches. The build quality is quite superbly finished in materials that you’d expect to find in an Audi. Strangely, besides the DS insignia, there aren’t any traditional Citroën chevron badges on display inside the cabin. If you never knew any better you’d think you were riding in a luxurious German saloon, such is the refinement. The brushed metallic surfaces and trim detailing around the door-pulls were manufactured by the same company that produce trim for Bentley and Aston Martin. Even the seats are clad in leather from the finest bulls of Bavaria. The seats are beautifully stitched together and exhibit a cubistic design – Pablo Picasso would be proud. I managed to get behind the wheel of the1.6-litre petrol turbo engine (200THP) and the 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit (160HDi), which are both destined for South Africa. The 1.6-litre turbo is the most exciting of the two and makes a really good noise when shifting through the gears. Twinned to a manual transmission it generates 147kW and 275Nm. The 160HDi delivers generous amounts of low-down torque (340Nm) but the narrow torque band means it runs out of grunt pretty quickly. Thankfully, the gear ratios of the six-speed automatic harnesses the available power with aplomb.

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I also got to briefly sample the diesel-electric Hybrid4 model but it’s unfortunately not making its way to South Africa anytime soon. The DS5 comes standard with safety equipment such as EBD, EBA, ABS, ESP, intelligent traction control and beefy 340 mm-diameter front brakes. I’ve never been one for crossover vehicles but the utilitarian DS5 ticks all the right boxes. Not only does it look really good, it’s practical, sporty and has one of the most comfortable and well-appointed cabins around. Will it sell? Well, that depends on how well its niche appeal is received by consumers and, if the stigma often associated with French cars can be overlooked. The DS5 is a polished and elegant vehicle; you need only sit in one to realise what you’re missing out on.

Specifications DS5200THP

Price: R400 000 est.

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo

Power: 147kW and 275Nm

0-100km/h: 8.2 seconds

Top speed: 235km/h


The first Porsche model that instinctually comes to mind is the 911 and that’s because it’s long been associated with racing and is one of the most fulfilling performance cars to drive. Purists often regard other vehicles in the Porsche line-up as pariahs because they’re not as track-honed and don’t offer the same sense of telepathy you get from piloting a 911 model. This, however, doesn’t mean the other derivatives aren’t any fun to drive – take the Cayman for example. It’s essentially a coupé version of the second-generation Boxster and, although it’s often criticised for its lack of oomph, the refined handling makes it one of the best driver’s cars on the market. Producing 195kW from a 2.9-litre flat-six engine, the Cayman never really caught the attention of enthusiasts so to spice things up the Cayman S was launched. This elevated driver involvement to another level with a functional, driver-focused package and uprated 3.4-litre engine. However, it’s the Cayman R that’s garnered most interest from Porsche disciples – perhaps it’s that R badge. You see, the R moniker is reserved for models that not only encompass the brand ethos, but also deliver a race-peppered driving experience. The main aim of the Cayman R developers was to improve the overall performance by reducing weight. So out went  all superfluous items and in came  lighter parts such as 19-inch Boxster Spyder wheels, carbon-fibre racing seats, aluminium doors from the 911 Turbo, door straps and a lighter fuel tank. Together these slimline parts shave 55kg off its kerb weight. Not much, I know, but every kilogram counts.

Porsche has also fiddled with the suspension geometry, lowering it by 20mm, with shorter and stiffer springs culminating in a lower centre of gravity. There’s no body roll, either, especially when shimmying from side to side – instead, the car listens to your every input and behaves impeccably when changing direction. The handling does come at a compromise though: the lowered suspension lends itself to a hard ride quality but it’s tolerable and sucks up most imperfections the road throws at it. It’s only when you hit undulating surfaces that your internal organs start to take abuse. That said, the steering is sharp and responsive. In fact, the feedback from the steering wheel is so accurate that it feels as if you’re gliding your finger tips over the surface of the road. The cabin offers a sporty yet ergonomic interior that’s garnished with body-hugging bucket seats and a clearly positioned instrumentation cluster. In standard trim, the car comes without amenities such as a sound system and an air-conditioner but can be ordered as optional extras. Porsche has created a minimalist interior that takes driving back to its purist form – even the door handles have been replaced by door straps. Apart from the vintage Porsche vinyl lettering running along the bottom of each door, the Cayman R comes standard with an Aerokit package consisting of a black rear spoiler, smoked headlights and taillights and matching side mirrors. Porsche’s engineers have managed to squeeze 8kW from the flat-six mid-mounted 3.4-litre engine by installing the ECU with revised software and fitting a custom-made, less restrictive exhaust system. Power is rated at 243kW and 370Nm, which sounds fairly impressive on paper but out on the road it could do with a little more torque. There’s also a mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD). Forming part of the rear axle arrangement the LSD keeps grip levels in check and delivers maximum spread of power to the road.

Acceleration is from nought to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds but you’re going to have to order it with a seven-speed double-clutch PDK transmission and Sports Chrono Plus Pack to achieve this. This allows the driver to tailor how the car’s drivetrain behaves by selecting either  Sport or Sport Plus. Both settings change the throttle sensitivity/shift times and are more intuitive than the regular mode delivering super-fast spine-jolting shifts. While its nought-to-100km/h time may not be as quick as its stablemates, the throaty tone from the sports exhaust makes up for it. If you’re after a spicier soundtrack you can always push the exhaust button. Once activated, bypass valves in the exhaust open to transform the hard-edged exhaust note into a rich baritone – a sound that never gets old. The off-beat boxer crescendo encourages you to drive it at the limit and as the revs climb into the upper echelons of the power band the seamless gear swopping of the PDK transmission sees to it that you don’t lose any momentum going forward. The top speed is impressive, too. If you manage to find a deserted road you can reach 282km/h, which is on par with the 911 Carrera and Targa 4.The brake set-up is also very effective. Comprising four-pot calipers all round with discs measuring 318mm at the front and 299mm at the rear the Cayman R can scrub off speed without any fuss. According to Porsche, the Cayman R will return pretty reasonable fuel-sipping figures of 9.4l/100km. I managed to return a dismal 300km per tank, granted I did drive it hard – I’m sure with a disciplined right foot a figure like 10l/100km is more realistic. What about the competition? Strangely, many consider the BMW 1M Coupé and the Audi RS3 as worthy adversaries. Both cost around R300 000 less than the Cayman and deliver similar performance figures but aren’t anywhere near as engaging to drive – well, the 1M Coupé does come close. The Cayman R is all about the relationship between car and driver and the unrelenting performance and driving experience that comes standard – no fancy gadgets here. Unlike the RS3 and 1M Coupé, the Cayman R doesn’t need a turbocharger or two to compensate for a dearth of cubic centimetres. Instead, everything about it feels natural and instinctual, and that’s the feeling you get when you drive it. A feeling its rivals can’t emulate.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 3.4-litre six-cylinder boxer

Power: 243kW and 370Nm

0-100km/h: 4.7 seconds (PDK)

Top speed: 283km/h

Price: R839 000

Porsche Cayman R road-test video:

Ferrari 458 Spider


I’ve always been fascinated by Ferrari supercars. Growing up, my bedroom walls were plastered with pictures of the fabled F40, the 308 GTB and the Testarossa. Up until recently, I never thought I’d ever get to drive a Ferrari, but just two days after testing my first, the California, I was invited as one of only two South African journalists to drive the Ferrari 458 Spider at the international launch in Italy. I don’t think anything comes close to driving a Ferrari in its natural habitat so I treated this trip as a pilgrimage. For starters, not only would I be driving a Ferrari on some of Italy’s most picturesque and winding roads, the route would take me just 100km away from Genoa – the city of my forefathers. The morning after arriving at the hotel in Reggio Emilia, an affluent city in Northern Italy, I was woken up by a choir of 458 Spiders warming up their mechanical voice boxes in the hotel’s courtyard. I skipped breakfast and bolted down to the courtyard to catch a glimpse of the action and pick my car for the day. The test route took the form of an epic 350km round trip through the meandering roads of the Apennine Mountains and down to the Mediterranean city of La Spezia on the Ligurian coast – a proper way of determining the 458 Spider’s pedigree. The 458 Spider is the world’s first mid-engined Berlinetta with a retractable hardtop roof, choosing to eschew the traditional fabric roof configuration made famous by the 360 Spider and F430 Spider. The reason for this departure is quite simple – the two-piece aluminium roof is 25kg lighter than the fabric alternative and takes only 14 seconds to fold away. The structural augmentation of the Spider’s design has only one shortcoming – the engine is no longer visible. Ferrari’s engineers have done well to retain the natural form of the 458 Italia with the only design changes coming in the form of two flying buttresses and an aluminium tonneau cover that replaces the engine display glass. These buttresses function not only as roll bars but optimise air travel to the engine intakes, clutch and gearbox oil radiators. Ferrari claims the structural integrity of the chassis is as strong as the 458 Italia and it certainly felt that way. No matter how hard I tucked the Spider into the sinuous roads of the Italian countryside I never experienced any scuttle shake, and body roll was hardly noticeable thanks to the multi-link suspension arrangement.

The only issue I experienced was an annoying blind spot created by the buttresses – a nightmare when trying to change lanes. As a whole, the 458 Spider is just as pretty as its coupé sibling, perhaps a little prettier, but one thing it does for sure is turn heads – including that of the authorities. Just six kilometres into the test drive and the carabinieri forced my driving partner and me to pull over on the side of the road. It turned out that they merely wanted to admire the svelte lines of the 458 Spider but it was an unnerving experience nonetheless, particularly after forgetting my licence back at the hotel. The engine soundtrack is a harbinger of the power that lurks in the rear – 425kW and 540Nm to be precise. The vibrations from the boisterous 4.5-litre V8 travel up and down your spine with every push of the throttle as if you’re plugged into the car’s intricate circuitry. Driving through the narrow streets of the surrounding villages brought out the best of the engine acoustics. The hard-edged rasp of the engine penetrated the surrounding architecture and reverberated off the walls with such accuracy that it returned a sonar-like image of the town. As we approached the first stretch of Autostrada coming into La Spezia I spotted the first of many tunnels; could this trip really get any better? My throttle inputs naturally became more aggressive as I prepared myself for aural Nirvana. The echo of the free-revving V8 in the tunnels was incredible and drowned out everything in its path including several 18-wheelers while the odd-downshift and burble on the overrun was also very entertaining. No matter your driving skill, the Spider makes you feel like a seasoned professional, even when you’re at your most vulnerable. The feeling you get from driving the 458 Spider is one of telepathy, almost as if the car knows what you’re going to do next. Handling is sublime and no matter your steering input the car is agile enough to respond to every flick of the steering wheel. The manettino dial – marked Wet, Sport, Race, CT Off and ESC Off – gives you complete control over how the car reacts and lets you misbehave a little if you’ve selected an advanced mode. The MSC damper button changes the suspension characteristics of the car no matter which mode you’ve selected. Put to the test it sucked up most of the bumps and ruts the countryside’s pockmarked surfaces threw at it. Race mode supplies a generous amount of power, gear response and play but ‘CT Off’ is the most enthralling and challenging mode. It allows for a bit of wheel slippage when accelerating out of a corner sending the rear squirreling for a moment before the 20-inch wheels regain traction.

What’s the cabin like? Well there’s plenty of room, enough in fact, to consume a 1.95m adult and there’s space behind the seats for a some luggage. The interior can be shaped according to your taste – I liked the sport bucket seats with carbon-fibre fascia accents and cuoio leather. The F1-style shift light on the summit of the steering wheel is also a nifty option particularly if you’re after a pseudo-Formula 1 experience. The route back to the hotel gave me an opportunity to test just how quickly the Spider can reach the horizon line. The seven-speed F1-derived dual-clutch transmission is a thing of precision – it sends optimal power to the rear wheels with help from the E-Diff. Select manual mode and the column-mounted paddle shifters come into play. The response is rapid with the gear changes forcing the exhaust to crackle in appreciation as the rev needle slingshots to 9000rpm. Despite weighing 50kg more than the Coupé the Spider can complete the 0 to 100km dash in just 3.4 seconds and hit 200km/h in 10.8 seconds. Mid-range torque is phenomenal with over 80 per cent of the torque accessible from as low down as 3200rpm. The generous lumps of torque mean that even cosseting the throttle – in any gear – will result in your head smacking the headrest. The Spider can reach a top speed of 320km/h – quite believable given the rate at which it accelerates. Balls to the wall and your peripheral vision becomes blurry. At some point I looked down at the speedo binnacle to find myself travelling at 250km/h-plus, yet at no point did I feel uncomfortable or lose faith in the car’s stability. Thirty kilometres from the hotel and we hit peak hour traffic. I selected automatic, placed the manettino in sport and let the car do its thing. The throttle mapping became more accommodating and the gear changes more civilised showing just how drivable it actually is. How does it compare to other Ferraris? Well, having recently driven the California I can vouch that the 458 Spider is a far more personal and driver-focused car. In fact, it’s very difficult to find any negatives about it. Compared to the hundreds of cars I’ve driven this year the level of driver involvement and the sensory experience that accompanies it is unmatched. It’s number one on my all-time list and will stay there – I’m sure – for a very long time. The 458 Spider will go down as one of the greatest Cavallino Rampante’s ever made and will undoubtedly become the poster car of choice for car enthusiasts the world over.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: €226 800

Engine: 4.5-litre V8

Power: 425kW and 540Nm

0-100km/h: 3.4 seconds

0-200km/h: 10.8 seconds

Top speed: 320km/h

Launch drive video:




My patience was wearing thin. After spending 12 consecutive hours flying from Cape Town to London I’m told that there’s still a long way to go before I can drive the Range Rover Evoque. The bus ride from Heathrow to Farnborough airport felt like a lifetime and the 45-minute charter flight to Anglesey in North Wales, an eternity. Thankfully, Anglesey is sunny in August and the lush, green landscape is strewn with historic architecture, unpronounceable village names and narrow winding roads that stretch as far as the eye can see. I could also see the Range Rover Evoque test-drive fleet from the aeroplane window. Apart from being the spiritual home of Land Rover, it’s easy to see why the Isle of Anglesey was chosen for the starting point of the global media drive – it’s one of the most picturesque places in the United Kingdom.
For those who don’t know, the Range Rover Evoque is the manifestation of the LRX concept car that was unveiled at the North American Auto Show in Detroit in 2008.The first thing you’ll notice is just how small the Evoque is when compared to its stable mates. That’s because it’s based on the Freelander platform but is far more luxurious and flaunts an elegant physique and well-appointed interior – an interior that has been co-designed and approved by none other than Land Rover design consultant/Evoque brand ambassador Victoria Beckham – eish!
Although available in a practical five-door arrangement the three-door coupé model looks best, especially when garbed in the Dynamic package. A 300-kilometre on-and-off-road drive through North Wales and Liverpool was the ideal environment to gauge just how good the Evoque is at handling everyday driving conditions. Thankfully, the Evoque is very competent on the rough and demonstrates high levels of grip on almost every surface.

The first real test took the Evoque convoy through the Snowdonia National Park where a series of rocky climbs, steep descents, sharp bends, deep furrows and sticky mud trails gave me an opportunity to properly test its mettle. Despite the lowered stance, the Evoque surprised me, particularly the manner in which it handled the descents. The speed-adjustable hill-descent function is a really handy tool. It takes some getting used to,but it essentially harnesses the ABS system to mechanically crawl down a slope with the driver needing only to steer. The four-wheel drive terrain response system – as with other Land Rovers – works well on trickier surfaces but seems to strain somewhat due to a shortage of mechanical traction and suspension travel – it’s a brilliant system nonetheless. The cabin can become bumpy and uncomfortable while negotiating uneven surfaces, but the optional MagneRide damper set-up nullifies this by delivering high levels of traction to enhance comfort.
It’s out on the road, however, where the Evoque is most at home. Its sportscar-like handling means it sticks to the road like a leech and leaves you, on most occasions, forgetting that it’s an SUV. Although there weren’t many opportunities to test the Evoque’s acceleration and top speed, at least I was able to test its manoeuvrability around the narrow village roads of Wales and busy streets of Liverpool. In the corners, the steering feels nicely weighted and responds crisply and quickly, but the brakes need to do a fair amount of scrubbing to bring it to a stop. The road system in the UK is very odd; I don’t think I’ve ever driven through as many roundabouts as I did during my two-day test drive. However, to avoid the monotony of these roundabouts I treated several of them as mini slaloms before hearing the Spice Girls song ‘2 become 1’ playing on the radio – a bad omen, perhaps? Just as I backed off, a red double-decker bus straddled the lines forcing me to take evasive action – could it be that I was saved by the Spice Girls?The Evoque is the most efficient vehicle ever made by Range Rover, discharging only 199g/km (2.0-litre turbo) and 174g/km (2.2-litre turbodiesel). The fuel economy figures are equally as good, returning a mere 8.4l/100km and 6.6l/100km respectively. I drove both engine derivatives but preferred the petrol version for obvious reasons. The 2.0-litre turbo engine is powerful (177kW and 340Nm) and pulls well enough to sprint from nought to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds and can reach a top speed of 217km/h if needed. The exhaust note is throaty, too.

As the banality of downtown Liverpool tested my patience, a detour on the route map took my driving partner and me through yet another challenge: a subway tunnel. The now derelict 19th Century Williamson Tunnels in Edge Hill run under the city and were specially cleared of dangerous debris for the Evoque test drive. It was, however, littered with obstacles such as rubble, ruts and water hazards that were yet again no match for Evoque’s traction abilities.
The Evoque’s interior is unquestionably Range Rover. The pop-up gear selector dial is borrowed from Jaguar and the dashboard, door cards and seats feature high-grade twin-needle-stitched leather. The Meridian 825W audio system is brilliant and belts out sound through a 19-speaker arrangement. The panoramic glass roof is also really cool, especially when you’re driving through a tunnel and even the lighting display on the cluster changes from white to red when you enable dynamic driving mode. Even though the Evoque proved its worth on some of the United Kingdom’s toughest terrain, one test still remains – South Africa, where minibus taxis, stray cattle and potholes the size of craters are everyday fare.
The Range Rover Evoque will do battle against the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, which are both very good vehicles but nowhere near as pretty as the Evoque and, let’s be honest, pretty cars sell. Despite it being able to traverse a feral landscape, the Evoque is ultimately going to be used by soccer moms to take the kids to school and the Afghan hound to the park with the only bit of off-roading coming in the form of mounting pavements and hopping kerbs – quite annoying considering its pedigree. I wonder how different things would be if Sylvester Stallone was the brand ambassador?

Specifications

Price: From R582 995
Engine: 2.0-litre Turbo
Power: 177kW and 340Nm
0-100km/h: 7.6 seconds
Top Speed: 217km/h

Road-test videos

Range Rover Evoque Part 1

Range Rover Evoque Part 2