Mercedes Benz SL65AMG Black Edition

The Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS) officially opened to the public on November 1st, once again turning the NASREC Exhibition Centre into a not-to-be-missed destination. Formerly known as Auto Africa, JIMS represents a growth in size and stature; with manufacturers investing hundreds of thousands of rands into their displays.

In general, the messages were green and the mood serious. Although the local motoring industry is facing some very tough challenges, including a shrinking market, tightening credit, a depreciating Rand and lots of uncertainty, it nonetheless remains highly motivated and competitive.

The highlight at the expansive Mercedes Benz stand was undoubtedly the world premiere of the SL65 AMG Black Series, a R4-million, 493kW version of the company’s well-known sports car. Only fourteen of these limited edition supercars have been allocated to SA, and four have already been sold…

Mitsubishi, which forms part of MBSA, unveiled the Pajero Sport and the brilliant Lancer Evo X, both of which will bolster the brand in the new year.

With their entire model offering represented, the star of the BMW stand was the latest 7-series, due to be launched in Europe within days and coming here in February 2009. Sporting a more cohesive design than the outgoing model, the range will comprise the 730d, 740i and 750i.

Providing much more excitement though was Renault. Despite a power failure in the middle of MD Xavier Gobille’s presentation, the company unveiled several exciting new models, including the budget-beating Logan, the Koleos SUV, the new Twingo, the Laguna Concept coupe (coming to SA late in 2009) and the locally-manufactured Sandero.

Despite a host of visual distractions at the Audi stand for the straight men in the crowd (thanks to models such as Minki van der Westhuizen, singer Lira and Lee-Ann Liebenberg), there were plenty of (more) attractive automotive offerings too. Aside from Audi’s general model offering on display, mostly in brilliant white, the wraps came off the TTS, the S3 Sportback, the RS6 sedan (at 426v kW claimed to be the world’s most powerful sedan) and probably most significantly, the Q5, scheduled to go on sale in SA in March 2009 at around R400 000.

VW Passat CC

Volkswagen, in its traditionally understated way, revealed the Passat CC (a vehicle which it says fuses the best attributes of a coupe and convertible and certainly looks better than the standard Passat) and the Scirocco, powered by the innovative 1.4 TSI powerplant, which combines supercharging and turbocharging. Both go on sale locally in the first half of 2009. Other highlights of the stand were the tiny Up! city car and potent Touareg R50 with 5,0-litre V10 turbodiesel making 258kW.

Compact SUVs are still all the rage and Volvo used JIMS to show off the XC60, another vehicle which will contribute to a busy 2009 for the motoring media. Expected early in the year, the XC60 will initially be available with the six-cylinder turbocharged 3.0T engine producing 210 kW and the five-cylinder D5 turbodiesel which delivers 136 kW and 400 Nm of torque. All Wheel Drive (AWD) with Instant Traction is fitted as standard on all variants.

Hybrids remain a hot topic and one of the leaders in the field is Lexus. With petrol/electric versions of their RX and GS ranges already on sale, Lexus General Manager Kevin Flynn took the opportunity to announce that the LS600hL will also be coming to SA. It brings together a 290kW 5,0-litre V8 petrol engine with a 165kW electric motor to return the performance you’d expect from a 327 kW combined output with a combined fuel consumption figure of 9,3 l/100km.

Next door, the message at Toyota was not dissimilar. With the Future Toyota Hybrid Sports (FT-HS) Toyota displays its belief that high performance and environmental compatibility are not mutually exclusive; the concept vehicle can accelerate to 100 km/h in just four seconds. Its hybrid powertrain delivers 300 kW. On a product front, Toyota unveiled their restyled Hilux (the range now including turbodiesel automatic versions), and a new flagship for the Yaris range in the form of the racy three-door TS, with 98 kW and 173 Nm.

The unveiling of a sexy car needs to be preceded by a sexy show and the routine which preceded the Alfa Romeo MiTo certainly attempted to be sexy and enticing. There were dancers, drama, and with a flourish there it was – a car which will see Alfa back in the sporty compact sector. Alfa Romeo says it mixes sportiness, style and emotion, and it’ll give local dealers a much-needed fillip when it goes on sale in the second quarter of 2009.

If the MiTo was sexy, the Nissan GT-R was simply butch by comparison. The company’s ultra-performance coupe, which has already earned itself a reputation as a giant-killer, is billed as the most sophisticated production Nissan ever. With 353 kW and 588 Nm deployed to all four wheels, it is probably the most powerful too. Nissan lists its top speed as 310 km/h and its 0 – 100 km/h time as 3.5 seconds. It goes on sale in the second half of 2009, and the waiting list already far exceeds the numbers allocated to this market.

Chevrolet Corvette ZO6

General Motors South Africa presented a record number of cars never before seen in SA, with an elaborate stand revolving mostly around the Chevrolet range. While the Beat, Groove and Trax showed the way forward for the marque’s small cars, the most significant model was the Cruze, a car likely to be here by early 2010, if not sooner, to plug a gap between Optra and Lumina in the model line-up. JIMS was the world premier of the right-hand-drive version.

There was plenty of eye-candy too: the drop-dead-gorgeous Camaro was there in a form which is not far from the final production version, as well as a Corvette ZO6 and a 370 kW Lumina CSV (Chevrolet Special Vehicles) to prevent traditional petrolheads from losing interest.

The equally beautiful Provoq is Cadillac’s answer response to an industry which is at a crossroads. With the world’s vehicle population heading towards one billion, alternative energy sources need to be found. The Provoq is a concept vehicle which uses a fuel cell system combined with a lithium ion battery to produce an electrically-driven car that uses no petrol and produces no emissions other than water.

Honda unveiled the second-generation Jazz, which, like its predecessor has already notched up the Car of the Year award in its home country. Near the other end of the brand’s product range is the Accord Tourer, another model which suggests wagons are on the comeback trail. It’s on showroom floors from early November.

Fiat significantly strengthened its presence in the C-segment, firstly by updating the Grande Punto range with new engines but also adding a notchback based on the same platform. Called the Linea, the sedan is a good-looker too and will benefit from the same under-the-s

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