MAMBA MOTORING

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Since 2003, Christo Valentyn has driven and reviewed more cars for Mambaonline than he can remember. In his final motoring feature for Mambaonline he looks at fifteen cars that impressed – and appalled – him in 2009.

MERCEDES-BENZ C180K BLUEEFFICIENCY – R325 000

In the race to save the planet, BlueEfficiency is Mercedes-Benz’s current answer to better fuel consumption and lower emissions. Unfortunately the company’s first local BE model is the C180K BlueEfficiency, which replaces the ‘normal’ C180K and is confusingly powered by a 1.6-litre engine mated to a 6–speed manual gearbox that claims to deliver the same power as the outgoing model. It works in theory, but if you were to drive it the way Mercedes engineered it to, you’ll never get anywhere on time. The 1.6-litre needs to be worked to get some go out of it, and should rather be mated to a slick automatic than the manual. Convincing the public to buy a 1.6-litre at this price hasn’t been easy, and I understand why.

ALFA ROMEO MITO – R228 550

It’s been a while since we had a gorgeous Italian on our roads, and the MiTo has certainly been worth the wait. Powered by a delightful 1.4-litre turbo, it’s got more oomph than its looks would have you believe and handles like an Italian should. I’m not mad about the headlights, but in general there’s a look-twice quality to the MiTo’s aesthetic. Standard specification, ride and handling is more than sufficient, and combined with innovative interior design and some gorgeous exterior colours, there’s finally something exciting – and Italian – to consider. It may be a small car, but there’s nothing mini about the experience.

Our thanks to Fiat South Africa for accommodating Mambaonline on the national launch of the MiTo.

CADILLAC CTS – R425 000

Let’s not beat about the bush – today’s Cadillacs are odd-looking pieces of automotive engineering. The CTS however takes a very quirky design cue and transforms it into a magnificently masculine and sporty sedan that has more presence on the road than many of its German counterparts can lay claim to. It’s got ample power thanks to the 3.6 litre V6, handles like something much smaller and is specced at levels that would set you back a second mortgage if it were German. But just look at it – when you start it up, it returns the favour in so many ways. It’s still a bargain of note, and it’s completely inexplicable why there are so few on our roads.

DAIHATSU CHARADE & SIRION 1.3

I am generally not fond of small cars, and Daihatsu’s Charade has done nothing to change my mind. It looks like a bug on wheels (which can be cute), but oh my, if the wheels were any thinner they could’ve been made from wood. This translates into scary cornering capabilities and a choppy ride, which is not the way I like my Sunday drives. In the urban environment it works a charm though, with a surprising amount of nip under foot. However, I’d rather find some more money and get a Sirion, even the base-model 1.3. It’s well-specced and equally nippy, but feels lightyears ahead of its baby brother when it comes to handling and general confidence. It’s so impressive, in fact, that I may just buy one for those small car days.

  • Charade Classic: R119 995

  • Sirion 1.3: R134 995

    AUDI A4 1.8T ATTRACTION – R294 000

    In recent months, one of my biggest concerns regarding Audi’s products have been the pricing on options; most of the test models we receive being loaded with literally thousands – and in some models, hundreds of thousands – of Rands worth of extras. I was however utterly delighted to have tested the A4 1.8T – the entry level in the A4 range – with just about no options. Most of the extras weren’t missed at all, which emphasises my opinion that one has to be careful when ticking those boxes. The 1.8T may be the entry level model, but it’s got enough oomph to delight and fantastic fuel consumption to boot. For the everyday commute, this is without a doubt the pick of the A4 bunch.

    HYUNDAI I10 & I20

    There is very little Hyundai is not doing right at the moment, and having driven the small i10 earlier this year, it’s completely understandable that it ranks very high on the best buys list. It’s well-specced, very nippy and has a unique character that many of its rivals lack – undoubtedly the best small car money can buy, in my opinion. The new i20 takes things up a notch and delivers an overall package that is truly impressive, to put it mildly. It’s a safe design meant to appeal to a wider audience. But with the optional alloys fitted, it’s a very neat – and nippy, I may add – value proposition. It’s better engined, specced and priced than most of its competitors and really could be your new best friend!

  • Hyundai i10 1.1 GLS: R105 900

  • Hyundai i20 1.6: R159 900

    Our thanks to Hyundai South Africa for accommodating Mambaonline on the national launch of the i20.

    FORD FOCUS 2.0 TDCI SEDAN – R275 200

    It may be showing its age compared to some of its rivals, but the Ford Focus 2.0 TDCI Sedan impressed with its general refinement and unpretentious nature. It ticks along happily in city traffic (the diesel engine’s torque coming in handy down low in the rev range), and surprises with its go when let loose. The autobox could be more refined, but considering its standard specification and general ease of use on a daily basis, it’s certainly a car to consider if you’re the market for a reliable, comfortable car with that extra boot space (especially if you’re traveling long distances). It convinced one of my best friends, who drives German V8s on a daily basis, and that says a lot.

    FIAT LINEA – R175 000

    In recent years, Fiat has introduced some drop-dead gorgeous cars in South Africa, with the Bravo still one of the most emotive hatches available today. The Linea is the latest Fiat offering to reach our shores and is set to make a big impact amongst competitors like the dreadfully predictable, government-issue Corolla. It’s magnificently styled and has immense on-road presense, is generously appointed and has a standard specification list that puts the current market segment leaders to shame. The only downside is the 66kW 1.4-litre engine under the hood. It’s lovely on the open road, but dreadfully underpowered in most other circumstances. It’s merely a preference though, as 80% of all driving takes place at 80km/h or less. Linea is worth buying just for its looks. That the rest is included is simply magnifico!

    FIAT South Africa paid for all flights and accommodation in Durban during the national launch of the Linea.

    PEUGEOT 207 GTI – R228 700

    The previous generation 206 GTI was immensely popular in South Africa, but for some reason the 207 GTI hasn’t caught on in quite the same way. It could be the fairly generic looks (fully colour coded bum

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