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Your huge list of 2017's best cars in SA - Part 2

2017-12-27 09:14

Image: Wheels24 / Janine Van der Post

In the second instalment of our best vehicle list, Egmont Sippel ranks the bottom half of his Top 10 cars for 2017.

Cape Town -  We all like to make lists. Egmont Sippel has one of his own, regarding 2017’s best cars.

Earlier this week, we published Part one of his bet car he has driven this year, today we continue with his countdown.

Your huge list of 2017's best cars in SA - Part 1

10) Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport (R1.441 million)

The most disappointing thing about the F-Type is its boot. It’s big enough for the spare wheel and . . . well, perhaps a toothbrush plus a T-shirt.

If your partner wears her dresses any longer than six inches above the knee, it won’t fit either. 

What was Ian Callum thinking when he designed this car?

Style, obviously. Arrestingly good looks. Form over function. The F-Type is probably the best example in the motoring world of appearance counting for everything, practicalities for nothing.

The second point of critique, albeit a much lighter one, would be those gentle reminders of Ford’s tenure at Coventry; side-mirrors, for instance, that won’t open wide enough and steering that’s a bit heavy at low speeds, a bit light at high speeds; a trait straight out of the playbook for previous-generation Volvos, a company that also belonged to, guess who? Ford.

Commonalities, they call it. Economies of scale. 

And we’re not done with steering yet. The F-Type’s rudder displays another anomaly peculiar to chassis (read plural) developed by Jaguar’s venerable chief engineer, Mike Cross: very light on turn-in, countered by an abnormally strong self-centring action.

Ideally, weighting in the two opposing directions should mirror each other a lot more closely, like on Honda’s sublime S2000 boasting hydraulically assisted steering, whilst the Jag navigates via a bespoke ZF-supplied electric system.
So a string of criticisms, hey? Is the F-Type any good, then?

The best way to deal with those negatives would be to simply toss them over your shoulder and walk on. They’re insignificant, compared to the car’s overwhelmingly positive attributes.

Looks and design first: exotic, luscious, brawny, desirable. If you don’t fall in love, or at least lust, you should consider monkhood. The F-Type bursts at the seams with muscular exuberance, yet the craftily sculpted lines, clean surfaces and perfectly proportioned sheet metal holds the shape so well that nothing strikes as superfluous, let alone garish.
The F-type clearly and unambiguously speaks the language of culture, money and class.

Yet the key moment is the start-up. Nothing else in the universe rips the ether apart like the F-Type’s exhaust note. 
It’s a primordial bark, vicious and savage, yet, at the same time, so cultured and cosmic in the refined mechanical symphony of it all, that the world’s full tonal spectrum is laid bare through the single push of a button – and it doesn’t really matter whether the start-up swings a supercharged V6 or V8.

Whaap! Whaap-whaap-whaap-whaap! Slivers of mechanical delight bounce off a deep, dark base to shatter the peace. Gold dust shimmies on the periphery of the sound cloud. The aural concoction is so rich and mesmerizing that you forget to slot the car into gear.

But once you do, oh boy! What a blast! 

And an extra-special blast, too, from the limited edition F-Type 400 Sport, splicing the supercharged V6’s soundtrack open with a shriek born from 294 kW and 460 Nm. 

Yes, 275 km/h and a 0-100 km/h sprint in 4.9 seconds is exhilarating. Super Performance brakes excel in retardation. The 8-speed QuickShift box does what the name promises to do. You can choose rear wheel or all-wheel drive. The wheels are big and the ride is firm. Grip is immense and traction too.

And there are some toys to play with in the cockpit plus juice in the tank, a limited-slip diff at the rear, a supercharger under the hood and, perhaps, a dress in the boot.

The 400 Sport also sports a prominent front splitter, yelpingly yellow badges and a massive rear diffuser.

What landed a Mike Tyson punch though, was the pitch black coat of our test unit which added an ominous dimension to a stunning car.

Then you push that red button and even the trepidation that might have been harboured for such a gangsta-looking unit is blasted into smithereens.

Let the symphony begin. Let the shining loose. Let the howl rip. 

9) VW Golf R (R657 000)

OK, we know about the GTI. 

That’s Volkwagen’s most iconic Golf. It is, in fact, VW’s most iconic car since the Beetle and Kombi.

But the GTI’s 169 kW is lightweight compared to its R-brethren, of which the new model pushes the power peak from 206 to 213 kW. At 350 and 380 Nm though, the torque difference is not quite as wide as the power gap.

Stats like the above nevertheless speaks of a wolf in sheep’s clothing – VW doesn’t believe in dressing up for the hot hatch carnival – especially as the R’s 2.0-litre turbo power is also distributed to all four wheels.

Traction is therefore prodigious, particularly on wet roads.

In fact, the R comes alive on a rainy day. Even the engine sounds a bit crispier when temperatures drop. 

Wolfsburg also refrained from slicing the soundtrack into a thin slivery blare synthesized into the cabin, like they have done with the revamped GTI. 

The engineers have proceeded though, to punctuate gear changes with an electronically generated bark which is hugely disappointing, especially in Race mode. It sounds fake because it is fake.

There are other small fallibilities too. Calling up icons to change the car’s driving mode allows a flash of info on the screen, after which it disappears again before the driver – who has to watch the road as well – can exercise a choice on the touch screen. Any updates on the driving mode in use at any given moment also requires a push of a button; there is no permanent display.

Comfort, by the way, remains the best setting for the R, mainly as Sport and Race adds unnecessary weight to the steering without imparting extra feel or fluidity, whilst low-profiled 19” tyres are given the best possible chance to smoothen out the ride without losing much in the way of handling control.

Live, however, around the abovementioned irritations and the R – weighing in at 5 kg short of 1.4 ton – remains a reassuringly competent car; not hot as hell, not a Honda Civic Type R, but with enough oomph and clout to be deeply admired and respected, especially on an engineering level, as the car performs to the highest mechanical and dynamic standards.

The R is, for instance, really stable under all conditions and stops strongly. The 7-speed DSG double clutch box is truly quick and clinical. And 4Motion ensures giant slaying performances when others start to slip and slide.

Yet, a hint of understeer bias ensures that handling remains a safety-first affair and when it gets down to the wire, the Golf GTI Clubsport still is the best hot hatch in the VW stable.

By golly, it’s probably the best hot hatch in the world, the Civic Type R excepted.

As the Clubsport is not marketed here anymore, R657 000 spent on the R seems like a bargain, especially when measured against stickers prices on a Ford Focus RS (R700 000) or BMW M2 (almost a million).

8) VW Amarok V6 Highline (R693 000)

Is a bakkie a car? Or is a bakkie just a bakkie?

Well, for many a decade a bakkie used to be a bakkie and nothing more; a utility vehicle, a workhorse.

Then the double cab (DC) craze started and bakkies became family vehicles as well, after which they were refined into SUV competitors.

Yet, deep down, they remained bakkies. No manner of fancy modernities like infotainment screens or Bluetooth and the like can hide the agricultural rumble at start-up, especially in diesel DC’s that still rock and shake and sway on robust underpinnings, even when idling.

Enter the Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI.

With leaf springs at the back, yes, unlike the new Nissan Navara with its next-generation coils, in preparation, no doubt, of Merc’s upcoming X-Class, which is built on the Navara platform.

Notwithstanding this classic bakkie building block – leaf sprung suspension at the back – the Amarok nevertheless changed the way these vehicles could ride, as well as the extent to which body sway and roll can be controlled. 

The latter is really the first big breakthrough delivered by the Amarok; the V6 TDI rides impeccably and body control is exemplary.

The second breakthrough is obviously the V6 TDI; 165 kW/550 Nm towers over 130 kW/420 Nm from the Hilux 2.8 and 147 kW/470 Nm from the Ranger 3.2.

The third breakthrough is the Amarok’s brilliant 8-speed outo with (optional) column mounted paddles, by far the best box in the business which arguably widens the gap to the opposition even more than the V6 TDI mill.

I’m not one for bakkies when compiling Top 10 lists for cars. 

But the Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI is so damn good, that it had to feature in this one.

7) Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury (R1.365 million)

What to say about the new Disco? It’s doing it’s damnest to chase the Range Rover in style, size, sophistication, luxury and price.

Was the biggest difference between the two not necessarily size at one point, but actually character, with the Disco featuring as hardcore adventurer?

Well, that’s still the case. The new Disco clears the ground by 283mm (up by 43mm), whilst wading depth is now 900mm (up by 200 mm). Approach, break-over and departure angles equal or better the previous car’s. Options include an active rear differential lock, an auto-crawl function and a multi-mode Terrain Response 2 system. 

All of this contribute to newly-found off-road prowess. 

But the Disco now also performs a lot better on tar. The roof might tower a bit taller, giving the car a top-heavy look, but a new body mostly made from aluminium instead of steel sheds almost half a ton in weight, contributing massively to much improved handling which is properly complimented by a plush ride, courtesy of air suspension.

Less mass has also helped to improve performance even though engines are unchanged from the previous fourth generation Disco: a 3.0-litre turbodiesel (190kW, 600Nm) and a 3.0-litre supercharged petrol (250kW, 450Nm), both servicing all four corners via a smooth 8-speed auto. 

Consumption, though, is still on the thirsty side, notwithstanding the huge weight loss.

The designers also had an appetite for saturating the Disco with modern techie stuff (USB ports, 12 volt charging points and in-car 3G WiFi hotspots abound) whilst Bluetooth and a wide but flat touchscreen makes the obligatory appearance in a tough off-roader that has acquired black top sophistication as well. 

Talking of which: you can henceforth fold the rear seats of the 7-seater Disco forward – electrically and remotely – by using a smartphone app. In standard issue, however, the car remains a five seater, whilst the privilege of two extra fold-aways at the back – good enough for shorter adults, by the way – will empty your wallet by a further R22 000.

Other options include some clever towing tech, like a camera to help the driver line up the tow hitch, plus auto-steer for tricky reversing manoeuvers involving a trailer or caravan, plus a surround camera.

You pay extra as well, for adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist.

So, Disco 5 is an extremely capable vehicle, easily the best of its kind yet – which makes it all the funnier that rounded-off corners and a weirdly proportioned top heavy look should be the main topic whenever the new Landie is discussed.
And perhaps with good reason, as ultra-modern styling might just not sit all that comfortably next to a bushveld tent.
A ball-room gown doesn’t go down well at a veldvleisbraai, now does it?

6) Peugeot 3008 1.6 GT-Line (R570 000)

Peugeot’s renaissance did not kick off with the appointment of Carlos Tavares as CEO in 2014. It did not start with the company’s new drive towards premium status over recent years.

No. It was born a decade and a half ago already, with a modern new design centre in Vélizy, on the outskirts of Paris.
The PSA Peugeot Citroën Design Centre – named ADN, for Automotive Design Network – is at last beginning to bear the fruits of that massive investment in the late 1990’s, twenty years ago.

Vide the new 3008 for proof. 

Stylistically, the new compact SUV (competing against the likes of Hyundai’s Tucson) might not present the best resolved design on the market, but it sure carries aesthetic clout; the 3008 is interesting to look at – triple LED rear lights imitate the claws of Peugeot’s emblematic Lion – whilst the exterior sports some expensive-looking jewellery, giving impetus to Peugeot’s up-market aspirations.

The interior is, likewise, a tour de force, boasting novel design philosophies, especially in terms of ergonomics and architecture.

Small Pug steering wheels ain’t nothing new, but the 3008’s tiller goes one step further in flattening out, not only the bottom of the wheel, but also the top.

This now to create a better sight line to a digitalized instrument binnacle positioned to minimise the movement of eyes when a driver needs vehicular information. 

The highly mounted binnacle, visually accessible by peering over the steering wheel, instead of through its spokes, is in fact an expanded full-house version of what is known in other cars as a heads-up display, and can be personalized to suit your needs.

In the process, Peugeot also had to miniaturize the steering wheel and mount it quite low, so that it almost sits in the driver’s lap.

Yet, this works, too – except that a smaller tiller translates any given input into a more excessive reaction on the road, heightening directional instability.

The effect is hardly noticeable on the 3008, though.

Conversely, the novelties in cabin design are quite striking, starting with the above-mentioned positioning of the instrument binnacle and extending to an open-faced grotto carving out a voluminous utility space underneath a dash that is cleverly turned towards the driver, in the process creating a cockpit that clearly, if inoffensively, designates the pilot as the most important person in the car. 

Of particular notice is also the velt-like ribbon dividing the dashboard into upper and lower volumes, as well as an oddly shaped gear lever plus expensive-looking clover switches lined up in the middle of the dash.

In combination with properly stitched leather seats those clovers generously contribute to the cabin’s premium feel. 
But oh dear, in the middle of a sunny South African day, with the sun beating down from directly above, they also combine with the shiny aluminium strip dividing the driver’s cockpit from the front passenger seat to reflect some unwanted light to such an extent that it is impossible to read the designating icons on those switches.

At that point you have to guess which is which.

The cabin comfortably seats five, though, and the boot offers 520 litres – with a full-sized spare wheel. The back seats fold flat and there is a huge panoramic sun roof. The ride is plush and handling not bad at all, given a ground clearance of 219mm.

All five versions of the 3008 are powered by a 1.6-litre turbo petrol (121kW/240 Nm) using a 6-speed auto to distribute power to the front wheels; no all-wheel drive is available.

Standard equipment, however, is top of the pops.

Add it all up, and you’ll understand why the 3008 is the current European Car of the Year.

• Watch this space in the near future to find out which five cars impressed Egmont Sippel the most, in 2017.


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