Christo Valentyn takes a look at his best and worst motoring experiences of 2008 including the five most impressive cars of the year and the announcement of the 2009 COTY finalists.
NOT ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE
MERCEDES-BENZ CLC350 – R405 000
The so-called successor to the previous (and very successful) generation C-class sports coupe, the Mercedes-Benz CLC is also aimed at a younger buyer who values sporty looks and dynamics. The CLC however falls flat on its face.
Mercedes took the previous-generation C-class sports coupe and chopped off its nose, replacing it with sportier lines. It works in a way; but creates a very squared-off look to a design that was flowing and elegant in its original form. Merc then replaced the attractive tail-lights with oversized, generic looking things. They also removed the glass boot lid and now you can’t see anything behind you – especially when you’re reversing.
The interior brings little consolation, as it’s mirrored too closely on the previous generation. While the seats are sporty and comfortable, the seating position is awkward and the cabin is claustrophobic. The controls and its layout feel outdated and the indicator stalks especially lack finesse.
Driving it is an okay experience, but the 3.5-litre V6 engine feels dull and underpowered; even though it churns out 200kW of power and 350 Nm of torque. The gearbox failed to impress me as it constantly hunts for the right gear. Driving with the steering-mounted paddles makes it a bit more bearable, but it’s generally disappointing.
In fact, disappointing is the most appropriate word I can find to describe the CLC. If you’re looking in that segment of the market, or even just spending R405 000 on a car, you can do much better: try an Audi S3 (R360 000) or a BMW 135i coupe (R390 000).
FIVE OF THE BEST: THE CARS THAT IMPRESSED US IN 2008
FORD FIESTA – R136 990 to R168 990
As Ford’s first global car since the Model T, the new Fiesta offers a tremendous package that combines cutting edge design with excellent specifications and engines. It’s one of the best options in its segment.
HONDA ACCORD 2.4 iVTEC – R285 000
Honda’s new Accord further builds on the well-established Accord reputation, offering the style, space, power and features to match several more expensive offerings from Europe.
SUZUKI SWIFT 1.5 GLS – R131 900
The Swift is the first car Suzuki launched in South Africa, and thanks to its phenomenal specification levels, handsome looks and fun-filled driving capabilities, it’s become an instant hit.
BMW 520d STEPTRONIC – R426 400
Showcasing BMW’s full complement of EfficientDynamics, the new 520d combines okay dynamics with brilliant fuel efficient economy in a still-attractive package.
AUDI A4 – R269 000 to R411 000
Audi’s new A4 successfully trumps all its opposition. Its interior is still class-leading and, with a range of well-established engines, it’s hard to fault any model. Optional LED daytime lights a must.
RANGE ROVER SUPERCHARGED – R1 097 000
Perhaps it’s the allure of being part of British aristocracy, but I’ve always had a secret love for the Range Rover. It’s not the most attractive SUV on the roads, and it’s also not particularly cheap, but there has always been something about it that made me want one. That was until I had the opportunity to drive the Range Rover Vogue Supercharged for a week…
Don’t get me wrong: I still love the Range Rover’s squared off, quirky looks, but not in Lucerne Green. A black one would be much more suitable, in my opinion. On the inside, plush leather and wood combine with superbly comfortable seats and a high seating position to make the Range Rover a very comfortable place to be. However, driving it changes the picture somewhat. Don’t let the 4.2-litre V8 engine with supercharger fool you. In order to feel like you’re accelerating the gargantuan SUV you’re sitting in, you really need to put foot, and even then it doesn’t feel much like a rocket.
However, driving isn’t the biggest problem: The Range Rover’s fuel consumption is just ridiculous. Land Rover claims a consumption of 16-litres/ 100km, but I never got it below 20-litres/ 100km, equating to just over 400kms on a tank of fuel.
At R1 097 000, you probably shouldn’t worry about fuel consumption, but that is no excuse to not make vehicles with better fuel consumption. The overall experience wasn’t entirely bad, to be honest, but at that price I expected much more. I’d rather pay in the difference and take a Jaguar XF and Audi S5.
TOP THREE: THE CARS WE DROVE & LOVED IN 2008
JAGUAR XF 3.0 V6 PREMIUM LUXURY AUTOMATIC – R543 000
Jaguar’s new XF is a bold and revolutionary step forward for the company, and new owners TATA must be laughing all the way. The XF is quite simply gorgeous, combining elegant lines with a sporty demeanor. While a V8 is always a thrill to drive, the 3.0 V6 is impressively fast. Plus, luxury remains the order of the day. It’s at the top of my wish list.
LEXUS GS450h SE PERFORMANCEHYBRID – R635 000
The Lexus GS450h’s V6 engine, combined with powerful batteries and nifty technological developments such as regenerative braking, develops mind-blowing V8 performance in a stylish and dead-silent package. It also handles like a charm and is, in my opinion, a highly desirable package. Priced higher than the normally aspirated cars, the premium is justified.
AUDI S5 – R595 500
Audi is definitely on a roll this year, and the S5 comes very close to being the best Audi I’ve ever driven. Sporting perfect exterior proportions, sublimely secure handling and Audi’s now familiar 4.2-litre V8 engine, S5 is a performance machine of note that draws significant attention with its elegantly conservative lines. At this price, it’s a bargain!
2009 CAR OF THE YEAR FINALISTS ANNOUNCED
The South African Guild of Motoring Journalists recently announced the finalists in its annual Car of the Year competition. As has now become tradition, the Guild surprised followers of the awards and the industry with this its list of finalists that features only two German vehicles, and five from Japan.
The 2009 finalists for the SA COTY title are (in alphabetical order) the Audi A4 1.8T Ambition Multitronic, Ford Fiesta 1.6 Trend 5-door, Honda Jazz 1.5 EX, Honda Accord 2.4i, Jaguar XF 3.0 V6 Premium Luxury Automatic, Mazda6 2.5 Individual, Suzuki SX4 2.0, Suzuki Swift 1.5 GLS and Volkswagen’s Tiguan 1.4 TSi Trend & Fun 4Motion
Mambaonline will again report on each finalist in the coming months.
ADIOS, AUTO EMOCION
SEAT LEON CUPRA – R264 000
When Volkswagen introduced the SEAT brand to South Africa in 2006, they made a gigantic mistake by positioning it as a premium brand. VW however soon realised the mistake and brought prices more in