DT Dobie is showcasing its off-roaders and supposed off-roaders this weekend at the Jamhuri Motocross grounds. We showed up to find out which is which.
GTR news is the best news
NISMO ambassador Marc Gené drove the Nissan GT-R R35, GT-R Track Edition and GT-R NISMO at the National Institute of Aerospace Technology
MADRID (June 8, 2018) – NISMO ambassador Marc Gené recently set a new track record at the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) in Torrejón de Ardoz in Madrid.
Gené is one of the most successful motorsport drivers in Spain. After triumphing in the 1998 Open by Nissan, the Sabadell-born racer jumped to Formula 1 the following season. He debuted with the Minardi team, reaping solid results that led him to become a Williams test driver. After driving for the British team, Gené landed the same role with Scuderia Ferrari. Following Formula 1, Gené crowned his career with triumph at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2009, becoming the first Spaniard to win the legendary race. Gené has been linked to Nissan as NISMO ambassador since 2005.
With a driver of this level – and the entire GT-R range at Gené’s disposal – Nissan was determined to beat the record at the challenging 1,756-meter INTA circuit.
Gené had three models: GT-R R35, GT-R Track Edition and GT-R NISMO. He drove and set a better time with each. With GT-R NISMO, he recorded a new circuit record of 1:05.83 – improving on the 1:06.39 achieved with the GT-R Track Edition and the 1:06.93 time in the GT-R R35. All were the three fastest laps ever timed at the INTA.
“When they proposed this challenge to me, at the beginning I took it with caution, since it was a test track that I had never raced before,” said Gené. “But once I made the first turns of the track to the right of Juan Ignacio Eguiara of Automóvil and took the wheel of the Nissan GT-R R35, I noticed that this was very well suited to its technical track design. In this way, we made the first attempt with this version and then we broke the record, which was a pleasant surprise.”
“We tested the Nissan GT-R Track Edition, and the difference in balance, power and weight with respect to the GT-R R35 was what allowed us to shave another six tenths of a second off the old record,” said Gené. “At that time, I was already enjoying driving the GT-R at INTA, a track with super-fast corners that demand the maximum of driver and car.
“The icing on the cake was the fast lap with the Nissan GT-R NISMO. It is a real racing car that you can drive on a daily basis. It has a spectacular suspension. When you test it on the circuit, you can truly tell it has the Motorsport in its DNA. With all the controls disconnected, since I like to drive like this, I managed to go even quicker and break the record again.
“In the end, it was an incredible day with noticeable progress in the times that confirm the differences between the versions. I am very proud to have been able to achieve the track record with the three Nissan GT-Rs I tested, which proves the potential of this super sports car in the most demanding environment.”
The Nissan GT-R R35 boasts all the innovations that were introduced in the new flagship model of the firm in 2017. Updated with a spectacular new interior and exterior design, and also with different improvements in several key sections that affect driving and performance. Among them, a reinforced chassis and an increase of power in the 24-valve 3.8-litre V6 engine with double turbocharger are included. The GT-R R35 is more comfortable than ever and offers a level of elegance and urbanity almost impossible to find in a high-performance sports car of this nature.
GT-R Track Edition
While the Nissan GT-R Track Edition features equipment that includes RAYS® wheels with 6 ultra-light arms in exclusive forged aluminium exclusive for NISMO, front spoiler and a carbon fibre rear spoiler. In addition, the Bilstein® Damp Tronic suspension system has been tuned by NISMO with its 3 modes selectable by the driver. This version has improved rigidity of the specific chassis for intensive track usage. Also available as an option are the carbon V-SPEC Recaro® buckets that provide a weight reduction of 16.6 kg and the tailgate made from carbon with the aim of improving performance on the track. It is a vehicle for lovers of top-end sports cars craving high performance circuit combined with a more elegant appearance.
We testedThe Nissan GT-R NISMO, with which the INTA track record was established, is the pinnacle of the GT-R range, a high-performance racing car for everyday use that takes the best of the legendary heritage of the super Japanese sports cars, improving its iconic design and cutting-edge technology more than ever. The power comes from a 3.8-litre Twin Turbo V6 engine that delivers 600 hp. The engine incorporates two high-performance turbochargers, the same as the NISMO GT3 racing version, and the power is delivered to all four wheels through a sixspeed dual-clutch gearbox with paddles on the steering wheel.
“The Nissan GT-R has once again demonstrated its Motorsport DNA,” said Francesc Corberó, communications director at Nissan Iberia. “In the hands of Marc Gené, one of the best Spanish drivers in history, the result could not be other than the new record at the INTA track. Despite the meandering nature of its layout, Gené and the GT-R NISMO felt soon at ease so that they could get the most out of it and record a time beyond the reach of many. The history of Nissan NISMO is full of records and this adds to its long list of successes, which is an immense honor for Nissan Iberia.”
I wish I was Gené….
There was commentary following last week’s review that the tone leaned towards the ruthless but the outcome was surprisingly generous. Well, it wasn’t generous enough, I can tell you that. The reason for the intense scrutiny is because, as labeled, this is an all new car; and it therefore follows that it can and should be scrutinized a bit more deeply than other typical “first drives” of what are essentially facelift models or the introduction of new components to an existing vehicle or, perhaps, the expansion of the color palette. The all new Discovery can be had in a slew of new hues previously unavailable on the outgoing Discovery 4 car.
(The scene is the RSA’s Marakele National Park, a setting whose semi-sparse flora and dusty ground is immediately evocative of our very own game communes. For our second night in South Africa, sleeping arrangements had been made at a tented camp somewhere within the park. Keen followers of my travels will understand why I started questioning the wisdom behind my boarding the aircraft in Nairobi twenty eight hours earlier: I abhor camping following a chain of encounters with things that go bump in the night. Marakele National Park is home to a variety of these critters, in varying shapes and sizes, one of which is Loxodonta africana, the African Bush Elephant.)
Much as we did not have this particular spec in our dozen-odd convoy, the all new model marks the first time the Discovery line sports a 2.0-liter engine ever since the original gangster, the sometimes-here-sometimes-not Discovery 1 debuted back in 1989. I do not know who this engine is targeted at, but it will not be bought Stateside, nor will it be bought here. Maybe the more pragmatic and realistic Europeans will shell out for it. We, like the Yanks, have something against small engines in big vehicles, whether or not they offer performance at par with more generously endowed competition. And if previous experience with the famous “Ingenium” 2.0 liter mill is anything to go by, there will be no shortage of passable performance in the breadline model.
(The entrance to the park serves as a staging area where our broken up convoy can gather itself up again before proceeding on the day’s final leg: a 40-minute drive on murram roads through the thicket to the camp. The whole convoy of twelve, thirteen, fourteen all-new Discovery cars is lined up at the side of the road, bookended by two Range Rover Sport support vehicles. A third Sport, a white SVR, shows up and drives off into the wilderness, and it sounds like… it sounds like the aftermath of the Big Bang, actually. I’d love that exhaust note on my own crummy sixteen-year old Japanese longroof. There are rules in here, we are told at the briefing; rules that are strictly enforced and are designed to keep your game drive trouble-free. Maximum speed is 40km/h. Don’t agitate the animals by needless revving or hooting or making noises at them. Maintain some distance from the vehicle ahead of you. This is handy in case of an attack by several tons of irritable game meat: it will allow you to make a smooth getaway maneuver without risking the integrity of the expensive vehicles y’all are helming. If and where the convoy makes a turn at a junction of some sort, make sure the vehicle behind you is within line of sight before you make the turn as well. Whatever you do, DO NOT STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE UNTIL SAFELY WITHIN CAMP. All clear? Good, let’s go.)
It is hard to predict exactly how sales figures will go but my crystal ball points towards a bleak start. Many are those who describe the new vehicle as a design sellout, insisting that it reeks of the Toyota Fortuner. From a Land Rover perspective, that is calumny and vilification – no offence, Toyota, but Land Rover is a rung or two above on the luxury hierarchy, and comparing its most famous family hauler to Toyota’s duty-bound utility is like comparing a designer snakeskin loafer to those plastic safety shoes they made us wear at the Iveco factory last month. I may or may not agree: there are design cues that make the vehicle lack distinction and look a bit generic, there are holes in the overall appearance that I pointed out last week, some changes were not really necessary and avoiding them may have in fact rescued the look from tending towards anonymity: one of these changes being the switch from a vertical to a horizontal taillight treatment.
There was no word on pricing, but we have can make some guesses. The car should cost more or less the same as its predecessor, with emphasis on more. We live in times of increase: the vehicles are increasingly complex, financial systems are increasingly capitalist, shareholders and boards are increasingly demanding, it therefore follows that the vehicle should have an increase in price. While the outgoing 4 started at about KES 10 million for bare-bones XS model, expect this new car to cost up to 30% more than that, even for the puny 2.0 liter. This is for the simple fact that it CANNOT cost KES 10 million, because that is what the “smaller” Discovery Sport costs. Do you see what you have done here Land Rover? You now have two 2.0 liter, seven-seat SUVs being sold in the same market that look exactly the same but cannot cost the same for obvious reasons. You are going to cannibalize your own sales.
(The initial drive goes according to plan. We maintain a sober separation between the cars, maintain speeds of 40 or below and soon enough we are rewarded with glimpses of Africa’s beauty lurking in the shadows and in the undergrowth. Some giraffes here, some gazelles there. Marakele is profound: the landscape is dramatic and the peace and quiet is unnerving to the point of being oppressive to city types accustomed to bedlam. I love it here. Sunset comes, and the twilight bathes the entire setup in a dull orange glow that has me thinking: I was right to get on that plane. Some experiences cannot be bought, no matter how much money is thrown at them. The sedate pace and slowly winding down psyches (it was the end of a long day after all) mellows moods and pretty soon we forget some of the park rules. We start unwittingly closing the gaps between the cars until suddenly the entire convoy grinds to a halt. There is a late-model Nissan X-Trail heading in the opposite direction and it has stopped for its driver to mumble something to our convoy lead in the Range Rover Sport. Shortly afterwards, the two-way channel broadcast radios (what you call walkie-talkies) in the all the cars crackle to life…
“A herd of elephants has been reported blocking the road a short distance ahead, so I’ll ask everybody to stop here for a minute I see if I can clear the way for us. Stay put”
And the Range Rover Sport takes off, leaving its sister cars huddled in a muffled pool of idling engines. I think I am the only one who notices that we have bunched up together closely. Our first mistake.)
There is some justification for the upward tick in sticker price, and that is simply because the current car is far more advanced and much better specced than the unit it is replacing. Besides liberal use of expensive aluminium in the chassis, the new tech it is packing is a typically Land Rover-esque approach to semi-autonomy: Land Rovers have always been about adventure and practicality, so rather than go for yet another self-driving annoyance, they have instead boosted the driver-assist boffinry in the car to make plowing through the clag as easy and finger-light as pulling up into your own suburban driveway. I mentioned these last week: the usual – and highly capable – Terrain Response System and Hill Descent Control setups are now flanked by the all new APTC… ACTP… ATPC… whatever… the auto-throttle mechanism that takes low range driving to a whole new, graceful level. The backup cameras have “trailer assist” which is a network of lines on the screen that align the vehicle with inch-perfect precision to the trailer you are hitching on to, and the control panel in the boot allows you to adjust the ride height at the back up and down to dock on to the trailer without muscle or skinned fingers. The overall practicality of the all new Discovery has been compromised relative to previous models, but this has been compensated for by a split trunk lid that can be opened either conventionally or through a series of dance moves that involve a river dance, a fox trot and a “Throw-Your-Hands-In-The-Air-Like-You-Just-Don’t-Care” hip hop gyration. Just kidding (about the hip hop).
(We wait for some minutes. There are random cacklings from the radio. Some are just plain static, some are updates, and the prognosis is not good. The ellies up front look like they are in a bad mood, so we need to find a new path pronto. The instructions are fairly simple: first car in the Discovery convoy pull ahead slowly until you see the Range Rover Sport, you will be shown where to safely turn your vehicle and head back. Second car will follow after you have turned. Cool. We were second in line, so we primed ourselves to make the move when our turn came. As the first car slowly crept forward, a new voice piped up on the radio, a French accent crystal clear enough to indicate that the speaker was just within a few feet of us:
“Ah, guys… err… On ze right; look on ze right”
So we all look right and swallow collectively at what we see:
The all-important question has always been: would I buy one? The answer is: not really. There is nothing inherently wrong with the all new car save for the usual finicky Land Rover electronics (our reversing camera went briefly offline during the test drive) but the blurring of lines between models means that this new car will probably be priced closer to the Range Rover Sport in a bid to escape from the Discovery Sport’s cost radius. And do you know what the Range Rover Sport is? It is yet another seven-seat Land Rover product with a 3.0 liter engine, just like the Discovery. And that is why I’d rather go for the Sporty Range.
(The sight is unmistakable, it is as clear as day. There are several tons of game meat right up our chuff. The separation from us is, what, twenty, thirty yards maybe? Doesn’t really matter. We have trapped ourselves; we have driven into an ambush. Special Forces types call this kind of scenario a “kill sack”. There is a mother and her baby, never a good combination. The mother is nonchalantly feeding, deliberately plucking leaves in slow motion; suspiciously tiny morsels that indicate she is not so much feeding as standing guard over her descendant. The morsels are also deliberately fed into her mouth equally slowly as she gives us the eye. It is reminiscent of that movie scene where a particularly unsavory character slowly twirls a coin prior to visiting a nasty brand of violence to his helpless victims. But mommy Ellie is not the problem, Baby Ellie is. Baby has stopped feeding and is staring us down meanly. I have watched enough National Geographic to know that what happened next was a clear signal that the day was about to end badly for some of us if we didn’t react immediately. Baby Ellie flared her ears, pushed her trunk up in the air, shook her head from side to side, stamped the ground severally and blew one long, loud, angry foghorn blast in our direction. Mommy Ellie stopped feeding and turned to fully face us. She looked displeased.
“We need to get out of here. Now,” I instructed my colleague firmly but quietly. He responds by pushing the transmission out of Park and into Drive.
We don’t even await instructions, we start creeping forward in the typical fashion of automatics using brake tempering. The first car successfully does a three-point turn and the radio crackles at us to have a go at it as well. As we complete the turn, Baby Ellie lets off another train-like hoot. I laugh nervously. Turning around means we have lost about five or so yards to the two pachyderms, so they are within charging distance. The cars are too many and too close to each other to maneuver as skillfully as the Roman army, we have to go barbarian. Tension is building on both sides to the point that the rest of the convoy is asked to reverse, they may not get a chance to turn around. Reverse immediately and keep going, DO NOT STOP. Baby is still flaring ears and stomping the earth.
So three cars – not counting the convoy lead Sport, which is now the convoy tail – make the turnaround while the rest back up. Baby Ellie and her five tons of maternal fury are now just behind us as we hear a third blast. We chastised ourselves for forgetting park instructions and are trying to compensate for it (and possibly placate the oversized herbivores) by sticking below the speed limit, but the third trumpeting was immediately followed by a harried voice over the radio gasping breathlessly:
“Ah, whoever is now at the front of the convoy, could you please speed up BECAUSE THEY ARE NOW COMING THROUGH THE BUSHES!!”
Say no more. We gunned it and hightailed it out of there like a pack of shiny metallic jackrabbits. It feels like a scene from Hollywood: a convoy of more than a dozen Land Rovers carrying journalists kicking up dust beating a hasty retreat, the radio crackling endlessly as updates and instructions are barked in quick succession with small breaks for a very nervous French voice to do some rapid translation for our West African compadres. We are giggling nervously as we strain to peer through the dust being kicked up by the vehicles ahead of us, twirling the tiller hither and thither, dodging potholes, ducking thorns and branches (that paintwork is expensive, lest you forget).
Why did I call it a kill sack? Because on our way back to “safety” we spotted one or two other loxodonts, what looked like lone males, making their way towards the hot spot, their massive silhouettes etched proud and beautiful against the rapidly darkening dusk sky like a painting. These beasts are not military strategists, but the herd that blocked the road, the pair that harangued us and the rapidly closing in support cavalry had pulled off an almost successful ambush that Julius Caesar’s standing army would have been impressed with. We had bunched ourselves up despite contrary instructions, we failed to be keen enough to spot the mother-child pair that snuck up on us and we just barely finagled our way out of being completely surrounded. If you want to know how an encounter with an irate bush giant ends, look up videos on the internet. Being inside a metal cage is not a guarantee of safety. Tonnage trounces trickery out here in the wild: you WILL be crushed)
From the press photos, I knew from the outset that it was going to be a little difficult convincing my cynical eye that it was not looking at a Ford Explorer. In the metal, I can’t say my cynical eye was entirely wrong. There is some obvious contemporary Land Rover DNA in the design language, which can be interpreted to mean that “the all new Land Rover Discovery looks exactly like the no-longer all new Land Rover Discovery Sport, only at 110%“, but there is still the Ford Explorer’s shadow all over this car. This is going to be an interesting review…
[Full disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover asked me to buy a warm jacket just so that they could give me yet another warm jacket free of charge to keep snug and toasty in what eventually turned out to be a sunny, elephant-infested* event done in cars that had fully functional heaters. I had to wear most of my clothes at the same time just to keep my luggage within airline limits. Next time I’m bringing a T-shirt, whether we are in a desert or at the top of the Alps. Airports are stressful enough places without having to risk heat soak by overdressing out of necessity.
*: This will be explained further in a later article]
What are we talking about?
We are reviewing the all new Land Rover Discovery.
The Discovery 5?
No. Jaguar Land Rover asked us not to call it the Discovery 5 for reasons undisclosed, they insist it is the “all new Land Rover Discovery”, which, despite sounding like the extremely irritating PR blurb that festoons my mailbox every now and then, will only hold true in the present and will make for awkward conversation five years from now. There is only a finite amount of time that you can call a vehicle “all new” after which you will have to find another name for it. So I am going to call it the “current Discovery” where necessary.
What is it?
Speaking of the present, this car is the most apt manifestation of ‘today’ in the automotive industry. It is an icon from the past with elements from the future that sits snugly in the present tense. It is the one vehicle that has forced me to concede that the world is indeed moving in a new direction, and that I am growing old and that change is the only constant. It is also a dead ringer for the Ford Explo…
Stop doing that
Ok, sorry. It is Land Rover’s seven-seat family car updated to go with the times. Gone is the square silhouette from the past four model ranges to pave way for something that looks a lot more aerodynamic and forward-thinking, but this has polarized opinions especially from people who either don’t buy or cannot afford modern Land Rovers. They say they don’t like what it looks like or what it stands for, and I think they are wrong. Get into the current Discovery and everything is immediately familiar and falls to hand.
You have mentioned the interior, get on with it then
The interior is well laid out, in a cookie-cutter Land Rover-stencil type of way, hence the familiarity; which also means it is one of the better-looking, better-feeling and luscious automotive cocoons one can find oneself in. The gauges are fancy, the buttons are lovely, the center console screen has grown bigger with more functionality, the seats are comfortable…
Hold on a minute. The seats are comfortable and highly adjustable (with memory functions on the driver’s side) but on the last day I was in a car whose passenger seat bolsters tried to squeeze the breath out of my thorax. Try as I might I could not find the control panel to adjust the bolsters (but lumbar and back support controllers were easy to find), instead opting to go for the massage utility which I immediately shut off because I hate it. I don’t mean I hate the massage utility in the Land Rover, I mean I hate massage, period; whether from a fellow human or from a Land Rover seat.
The center console is made from gleaming brushed aluminium and glossy black plastic that gives the Landy the upmarket look and feel that it deserves but again there was a problem. The surround of the gear lever and the Terrain Response System is shiny aluminium… given that the car’s new external appearance has adjusted the rake of the windscreen, if you, like me, find yourself driving in a particular compass direction at a particular time of day in particular weather, then a sunbeam will come down from the ionosphere, through the glass, strike the aluminium brightwork before being reflected and sent directly into your left retina in a gleam so acute and intense that it threatens to melt your entire eyeball along with its optic nerves. It was not a pleasant experience, and I had to drive for half an hour with my hand placed over the metal panel to prevent permanent eye damage… and also to see where I was going, which is of paramount importance when driving.
A small council-of-war with a local bigwig saw him agree with my observation and he said perhaps the use of duller metal would be in order. Yes it would, sir; yes it would.
The Discovery is, was and will be a seven-seater, but with the current car, space in the third row is not the best. It was a bit tight in there and more than once I smacked my head on the B pillar during animated conversation. These complications were absent in the outgoing Disco 4.
That being said, the overall score for the interior is a very high 83% because it really is well laid out, nice to look at and easy to the touch. The bigger touchscreen is especially nifty. The python-esque constrictor seat can be optioned out, the dazzling aluminium only torments the user in specific situations and you don’t have to carry anyone in the third row if you don’t want to, and if they insist then perhaps they deserve the pinch.
Wow. Just wow. Can we talk about the exterior?
Yes, and I promise to stop with the snide Ford references. The current Discovery has discovered (pun intended) the 21st Century and dressed accordingly. It is much sleeker, looks sportier (ahem… Discovery Sport… ahem!) and despite the soapy looks, it is still butch enough for the overly masculine among us to appreciate.
Again there are problems here. The rear third of the car, from the C pillar aft, seems like it belongs elsewhere. It looks fatter than the rest of the car, which gives it a tacked-on appearance. The C pillar itself is thick owing to the new lines taken by the third row window, and this impedes the outward view through the glasshouse for back seat passengers. It also creates a massive acreage of flat, featureless bodywork that makes the car look undershod from the rear three-quarter view; a circumstance further exacerbated by the lack of a distinctive bumper line.
Of particular interest is the number plate housing on the tailgate. Its lower edge is staggered to create an irregular hexagon that is evocative of past Discos where the staggering was on the rear windscreen. However, this has left a thin ledge into which one is supposed to affix their registration, and I seriously doubt if our oversized and admittedly ugly number plates are going to fit in there, even with their edges trimmed. It will be interesting to see what happens when the first units land here…
You are just pointing out problems, dude.
Have you met me before? Anyway…
What is it like to drive?
Awesome, in a nutshell. But there are problems…
No, listen. The problems are not problems per se, but the side effects of the advancement of technology; and they mostly affect the diesel car.
The use of electronic throttle control (fly-by-wire) and an eight-speed automatic transmission collaborating with an ECU program biased towards fuel economy and emissions reduction means the car will shift endlessly through the gears depending on load, road speed, pedal positioning and a raft of other parameters I can’t think of right now. The good part is it all works well together. The bad part is it requires a bit of thinking before it actually reacts. This is what happens:
Trundling off-road at a sedate pace (40km/h and below) means the transmission will be anywhere between first and fifth gears, or maybe even sixth. Slowing down for rougher patches before getting back on the throttle means all that programming has to decide which is the best gear to resume forward motion with: it has to be high enough to provide maximum economy but low enough to provide sufficient torque, and sometimes it takes its time deciding between second, or third or fourth, or even first. This in turn creates a discernible lag between the time your right foot flexes the accelerator pedal and this flexing translating to forward motion; enough time to introduce doubt and uncertainty in the driver’s mind about how much throttle opening is needed which then causes the driver to dig deeper into pedal travel. By the time the gearbox has decided that second as a gear is good enough, you have pressed the accelerator a little more than you wanted and… surge. It is not a critical flaw but it does make one look unprofessional as a driver and a little wet behind the ears with all the jerky, revvy movement.
There is a way around it, and it is a good part especially for those who like full control like me.
As you are slowing, use the paddles to gear down, as far down as second if necessary – you really don’t need first, to be honest. This means the gearbox has your instructions and is not floating around indecisively trying to make up its mind. When you get back on the power, the response is more immediate. I love hacking cars like this.
For some reason the petrol car suffers no such quirks. It is the one I went with first and for the first time I had no complaints to make about its driving experience. None at all. It responds when asked to, it is very smooth and pliant, has torque and ratios enough to render high revving pointless and when given the beans, it sounds like a GTR.
It is not as loud as a GTR, far from it; but it does have the turbocharged V6 howl I first heard in California several years ago, only more muted, like it is being piped from behind a particularly fluffy pillow. However, at idle there is a definite diesel-like clatter that one of my respected colleagues asserts is the sound of the electronic injectors working. If they are that loud at idle, it means they are tapping away at their nozzles really hard and one can’t help but wonder if they are long for this world…
Dynamically, the current Disco is a win. I wound up the diesel car to 212km/h (to the discreet and unspoken chagrin of one of my passengers), which is fairly impressive but to the revelation that it does struggle a bit above 180km/h, which is a speed you are not recommended to use the vehicle at anyway. Cornering at high speed also reveals a slight wobble in the chassis that can get worrisome for the uninitiated, but again, you really shouldn’t be doing such speeds in such a vehicle. I did it for experimental purposes. Do not try this at home.
There is another difference between the two engine types and that is in ride quality. On uneven surfaces, the diesel car crashes and thumps substantially more than the petrol version, which is also odd but the surmise here is, with a porkier engine, the front suspension is tasked more heavily and therefore has less stroke room irrespective of the selected ride height.
The Discovery has always been full of off-road gubbins ever since the turn of the millennium. I’m guessing it’s the same here, right?
Yep! There is this fancy new gadget called APTC… ACTP… ATPC… something like that. Anyway, it is what I consider the first step towards self-driving autonomy in off-roaders because it is the HDC’s hill-climbing opposite number.
What it does is modulate the throttle and lockup control in the torque converter to make rock-crawling a smooth affair. Like HDC, the operation is as counter-intuitive as ever: engage the system, let go of all the pedals and become a passenger in your own car as the engine revs and lets off by itself as the vehicle slowly crawls uphill and over rocks. It is uncanny and a bit unnerving at first listening to a ghost operating your throttle, but once you get used to it, it becomes a little fun.
Interesting. So what else is new?
Well, the all new Discovery does come with an array of interesting new perks. The tow hook can be stowed away out of sight electrically. The reverse camera has a new functionality that allows you to back up to your trailer with a fair amount of accuracy without the need of a spotter. There is a control panel on the left side of the boot that allows you to raise and lower the back of the car on demand. This is helpful when attaching your trailer and/or when loading/unloading the vehicle.
Gone is the sideways opening hatch, replaced with a split tailgate like a Range Rover, the difference being this version has the two “lips” overlapping rather than meeting along a seam. The hatch that swings from above closes over a smaller interior flap that swings from below. Both are powered (naturally) and can be opened either together or one at a time.
Interior: 83% (very lovely place to sit in)
Exterior: 75% (looks handsome, if a little generic)
Acceleration: 80% (new age forced induction 3.0 six cylinder engines have come a long way)
Braking: 80% (a bit so-so… stops well enough for most tastes)
Ride: 80% (85% for the petrol car, 75% for the diesel)
Handling: 75% (quite decent handling for an SUV, but it IS an SUV and cannot hold a candle to the likes of the Porsche Cayenne)
Practicality: 80% (doesn’t score less because it is a seven-seat family hauler with a clever split tail gate and fifty different ways of accessing the boot. Doesn’t score higher because getting into and out of the rear bench is a bit of a task, and it is pinched back there)
Kit & Caboodle: 95%. There really is no beating a Land Rover in terms of apportionments, from the luxury adornments to the electronic off-road stuff to the detailing. The class leader is still on top.
OVERALL SCORE: 81%
The all new Discovery is a technological marvel and it moves the model line a step forward development-wise, aesthetically as well as dynamically. However, there is an elephant in the room (pun intended, as shall be seen next week) and that is the Discovery Sport.
The lines in JLR’s portfolio are getting blurred. Both cars are seven-seat SUVs of broadly similar size, the main differences being one has air suspension and packs 3.0 liter V6es while the other has more conventional running gear and has to make do with two liter fours.
Among the gripes that formed part of the initial feedback from my online followers was the car does not look as good as it should, which is subjective; and that it lacks distinction, which I kind of agree with. After driving it, all I can say is Jaguar Land Rover has done what it usually does, which is outdo itself yet again. It will be a tough call topping this.
(Next week: we discuss specs and pricing as I also narrate how some elephants lay a trap and we drove right into it)
Someone in my social media circles recently posited a thought-inspiring question: what is the future of motoring journalism in Kenya? Well, I don’t know, since I’m not a journalist. I think motoring journalism is a bit weak given the caliber of gophers sent by various media houses to cover automotive events (95% of these people know precious little about the subject matter, sad to say); however, generation of car-related content is not – and there are more of us along this non-journalist line, and my compadres have been making serious inroads on various platforms as far as generating content is concerned. And that is what I do: generate content aimed at or about the motoring industry. I am a columnist, not a journalist (nor am I a mechanic, just to be clear); and this is what my immediate past has looked like:
May 28th 2017: WE HEAD TO THE LAKESIDE FOR THE GREAT RUN XI
Just outside of Nandi Hills town, as you head southwest towards Chemelil, is a road that could easily qualify as a petrolhead’s dream – smooth, well marked (for the most part), curvy, winding with corners of both varying and non-constant radii – save for a few situational hazards: the corners are blind, there is little or no runoff in case you overcook it, the drops off the side are sheer and worst of all, it is two-way, so gunning it in an apex-to-apex full-throttle waltz is a big no-no lest you introduce yourself face-first into the radiator of an unwitting oncoming fellow road user.
There are lessons that can only be learnt out there through experience; and while some are hard and painful and typically involve outlawed speeds, some are inevitable and will soon be etched indelibly in one’s driving psyche irrespective of prevailing velocities. One of these lessons is on brake fade, and there is no better (or worse, depending on what section of the lecture theatre you are occupying) road to teach this than the snaking, sinuous tarmac deep in the Rift Valley I have briefly described above.
A steep gradient, the blind and progressively sharp corners and the congenital instinct of self-preservation will cause any driver with substance between his ears to drop anchor every so often; with inexperienced helmsmen making the rookie mistake of riding their brakes all the way down, and it is a long way down. The brakes will heat up. Once they get hot enough, they will stop working properly. This is made obvious to the driver by the gradual reduction and subsequent inaction of the brake pedal as flexing of the right foot on the fat boot fails to produce tangible results. The speed piles on. Glutes clench. Palms sweat. Teeth grit. Hearts pound. Muscles contract. Pupils dilate. Veins pop. The speed piles on some more. There isn’t much one can do besides look for a soft landing as one rapidly sweeps past a well kept vintage Peugeot 504, sails over a sleeping policeman smacking the car’s underbelly on the swollen asphalt, ripping open the oil sump and spilling its guts all over the road before grinding to a bone-shaking halt several yards down the path. I hope you have stopped trembling by now, sir. That was a close one.
That was just but one of the highlights of the Great Run XI, which saw us leave Nairobi from Mombasa Road, tear through the Southern Bypass, join the A104 and take it all the way past Nakuru and on to Burnt Forest where we turned left, into Kapsabet, past Nandi Hill, hit Chemelil – pun intended – and on to Awasi, Ahero and finally Kisumu. This was a different kettle of fish altogether, again pun intended. It may have been our eleventh outing (yaay!) but it was our first sojourn to the lakeside city.
As has now become the norm, there was quite the welcoming committee awaiting us at the other end. Some may be from the controversial political class (local MCAs or aspirants thereof) while others are from the world of celebrity: an actress with Kenyan roots won an Oscar and her mum* graced our event.
(*Thank you for hosting us at Korando, Mrs. Nyong’o. Rest assured we will brag about this for several years to come…
As for Mama Dolphin, keep up the good work. It is people like you who make the world a better place.
-The Great Run)
June 4th 2017: WE HEAD TO EUROPE ON AN EXTENDED TOUR OF IVECO’S MANUFACTURING PLANTS
The tour saw us visit the European hubs of Milan, Brescia and Madrid in Italy and Spain respectively where we got a chance to interview some head honchos on what Iveco’s intentions are, and I can’t really print the outcome of those interviews here because they will read like a sponsored documentary feature and this newspaper has something we call “editorial policy”. These interviews, can, however, be found on my website in both prose form and as an audio file.
What I can say is: Iveco is coming. They intend to open an assembly line in Mombasa in or by September – my guess is this will be based at AVA plant the way Volkswagen based their Polo-building shed at KVM – and they are not afraid of any railways, irrespective of gauge. . They will still build and sell trucks here in Kenya, train or no train. How they intend to do battle against Scania, Mercedes-Benz and MAN, the three established and dominant heavy commercial forces in the country, forms part of the content of that interview, so perhaps you really should drop by my site for a look-see-hear. Hurrah for industrial growth!
This was not the only interview held. There was another one…
June 22nd 2017: WE HEAD TO THE INTERNET TO HOLD AN EXTREMELY SHORT INTERVIEW WITH AN INSURANCE COMPANY
I am sure most of us have questions for our insurance companies, and I’m no different. So when I recently got an opportunity to act as inquisitor to one such outfit, these were the queries at the forefront of my mind-brain:
(Disclaimer: for the sake of full disclosure and maintenance of journalistic standards, I have to quote my source verbatim. My source is one Vincent Munderu, a PR account executive speaking on behalf of Resolution Insurance.
Second disclosure is Resolution were kind enough to ask if I needed resolution – pun intended in every way – of any qualms I had about insurance and I said yes)
- What, exactly, is “excess”? Why should I pay it? I already pay premiums, how come instead of compensation in case of an accident I’m required to pay yet more money?
Excess is the first amount of each claim borne by the insured. It is simply the amount you have to pay towards a motor claim.
Insurance companies charge excess to avoid being bogged down by minor/petty claims which are in most cases equivalent to administrative costs.
Charging excess also eliminate the customers’ moral hazard by ensuring they are more careful when insured.
It also helps to prevent minor fraud which can be committed by the insured.
- I have heard some stories going round about how some of the things I do to my car may void the insurance: things like installing spacers or modifying the engine. Do you have a complete (or nearly complete) list of these warranty-voiding adjustments?
Modifications are changes to the insured car’s standard specification and this includes optional extras. The insured has to inform the insurance company immediately any important changes affecting the vehicle(s) insured. If communicated early, the insurer may clarify to the insured those which affect the risk or not and put measures in place to cater for these.
Examples of modifications include but are not restricted to changes to the appearance and/or the performance of the insured car. For instance, Wheels (e.g. Alloy wheels/rims) suspension, Bodywork, engine replacement, under body neon, loud exhaust, super dark tint, rolling coal, Bull bars and changes made to your car by the previous owner(s) among others.
- Recently I was told that the windscreen of a passenger bus may cost as much as KES 300,000 to replace. Given the vagaries and hardships that PSVs go through, said rumor alleges that there is a company that has two insurance policies for the same vehicle: one covering the vehicle itself and another one specifically for the windscreen. Care to shed some light on this? Does this mean I can cover parts of a car other than or alongside the entire vehicle?
Windscreen cover is not always automatically insured under a motor insurance policy but comes as an additional benefit at a specified limit particularly on a comprehensive policy and as an optional extra (Rarely) on stand alone or Third Party/ Third Party Fire & Theft policy.
One does not need to cover parts of a car under different policies.
- Related to 3 above: what are some of the unusual policies that insurance companies issue? Things like protection against riots and/or random acts of God.
There are a number of extensions/additions which insurance companies issue to enhance the standard motor policies.
They include among others; Political Violence and Terrorism (PVT), Personal Accident insurance for insured and spouse, Courtesy car (Loss of use), Forced ATM Withdrawal in case of hijack, alternative accommodation, Medical expenses, Entertainment unit, loan repayment etc.
It is important to note that these additions are at a specified limit agreed upon in advance and some have got financial implications in terms of premium.
* * * * *
So I can insure my car radio…Hmm. Very interesting. Just before this interview I was made privy to a motor claims report from the first quarter of 2017 that sheds quite some light on motor trends (wink, wink) in Kenya. You people crash a lot.
By “you people”, I mean drivers of Toyota cars based in and around Nairobi. Of the 99 cars covered by my interviewee that had accidents, 59 were Toyotas. They consistently consisted of more than half the statistics on a month-on-month basis, delving deep into the double digits while the next common brand (Nissan) trailed them with a maximum of 4 in January and one each in subsequent months. I know “the car in front is always a Toyota”, and I said so is the one behind and the one you probably are in as well, but this is just ridiculous. Do we really have 15 times more Toyotas than we do Nissans on the roads, assuming the accidents are a reflection of density distribution based on brand?
The claims were ruthless as well: Nairobi led with KES 14.6 million (and 24 cents, ha-ha), substantially gapping the second placed coastal city which had a mere 1.9 million to its name. See what I meant by Toyota-driving Nairobi dwellers crash a lot?
(Full Disclosure #3: There was an entry at the bottom of the page labeled “Nation” with a KES 4.16 million claims figure against it, more than twice the amount in the entire coastal region. I don’t know what it means but I hope it doesn’t mean I’m fired for snitching on my paymasters).
There is a temptation to ask what the need for insurance is, besides abiding by the law and keeping one’s tail out of jail. Sure, we never know when disaster strikes, but what are the odds of that happening? It does make sense to insure a public service vehicle, both from statistical and anthropological points of view: they are exposed to more traffic, travel longer distances, undergo harder use and are driven by people of questionable sanity in some cases (Route 125), so their case is open and shut. But what about my second hand Honda Civic? I drive it two hours a day in areas of high traffic discipline certainty and I keep sober, so what is the cover for, you ask?
You never know, that is the answer. Some policies include repairs as part of the cover, and until you have to pay out of your own pocket for a headlamp on one of these new-fangled vehicles running around, you will never know how much these things can really cost (some dip into six-figure territory).
July 12th 2017: WE HEAD TO SOUTH AFRICA TO PUT THE NEW LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 5 THROUGH ITS PACES
The more keen among you may notice that the date here lies not in the past, but in the future. Keep an eye peeled for the rundown on what the new car brings to the table.
* * * * *
So this is what motoring “journalism” boils down to: hours spent on the internet reading irrelevant material (there is a 1:1 scale McLaren sports car that weighs two tons and cannot move, mostly because it is made entirely of Lego bricks), hours spent thinking about what to write, a few minutes spent writing and some days spent “in the field”, – which mostly involves interviews that threaten to send the involved parties to sleep – before bankrupting oneself on extensive road trips and/or patting oneself on the back once that manufacturer’s invite comes through the mailbox informing you that you will once again be flying free of charge to a picturesque corner of the globe to sleep on expensive bed sheets and dine on exotic fare before helming the tiller of a car that you will probably never own in a thousand years.
It’s future? It is guaranteed, provided there is anyone interested, but rest assured it is not as easy as it looks. Like nursing, it is more of a calling than a legitimate career path because it requires commitment, dedication, a very open mind and the pay is not what people think it is.
Now, much derision has been made about the use of driver aids from a purist approach, but in retrospect and with a touch of eye-opening from BMW’s South African bigwigs, one can see their importance. You could say that I may have eventually been swayed; or you could say one can only stay resistant to change for so long. Adapt or die.
Lane Keep Assist/Lane Change Warning System & Radar-guided Cruise Control
This lane maintenance system may have a variety of labels and slight variations in how it works but the essence is the same: it helps the driver maintain his lane on the motorways. In some cases, the car will steer itself back in line should it stray over the markings, or in a case like the new 5 Series, the steering will vibrate and keep buzzing until you stop stepping on the line.
This looks like promoting laziness or ineptitude on the driver’s part, letting the car almost drive itself; because if you combine radar-guided cruise control and Lane-Keep Assist, you essentially have a car that is damn near sentient in traffic. Well, not quite…
First off, these are not self-driving (fully autonomous) cars as we have come to know them in recent times, so that means there is only so much the car will do for you. Several times the car will remind you to keep your hands on the wheel via a series of optical warnings. The radar will also warn of looming calamity via aural and visual admonition before intervening on your behalf. These can become an annoyance after a few instances, not to mention the buzzing steering wheel. So what is the outcome of all this?
The opposite of what people believe, that’s what. You become a better driver. Listen here. The constant warning lights, beeps and thrums can get old really fast after which they degenerate into a legitimate irritation. You could summon some silence but raise your driving risk factor by shutting them off where possible, or alternatively, you could increase the peace by just driving better. Stick within the lines. Maintain your following distance. Pay attention to your blind spots. Modulate your throttle inputs to prevent wheelspin (and the attendant traction control warning light/beep). Just drive as well as your parents did back in the day when the only electricity running through the car was channeled from the battery to the headlamps and “early warning systems” involved terrified passengers/pedestrians screaming at you about how threatened they felt by your inattention to your surroundings. Follow?
So, the tech benefit is two-pronged: first it keeps you safe. Second, it makes you a better driver by being belligerent when you aren’t. We may not all want this kind of help but eventually we will all need it. Traffic density has been increasing exponentially over the past three decades, which makes driving now a lot trickier than it was in our fathers’ times. The road network is becoming wider and more elaborate, just keeping track of where you are and the path you need to take without begging the woman living in the dashboard for help calls for mental engagement not unlike attending a math class. Car design is evolving to a point where external all-round visibility has to be compromised in a nod to safety, as was seen with the G30’s A pillars. There is only so much you can do to stay off the guardrails and/or the next guy’s fenders before finally admitting that yes, perhaps that blind spot warning system is an actual real lifesaver and not yet more evidence of the wussification of the millennial demographic.
The importance of economy driving
The X6M50d had a fancy techno-whizz instrument cluster that showed many things as mentioned last week, and one of them was the battery charging meter. It kind of works like a video game and goes like this:
In Eco mode, the dash clocks have blue outlines with white markings. The aim here is to get a green tint somewhere (you win!!), and there is a trick to achieving this. Start by taking your foot off the throttle. You are halfway there, as the meter now shows zero. To get green, brake ever so slightly, and the meter goes into the positive: your battery is now charging via regenerative braking, like a Formula One car’s KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). Yippee!!
This may at first glance seem like a counterproductive approach to economy driving (whereby minimal braking is a key technique), but hold that thought.
[“Hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability” -Agent Smith, The Matrix]
By asking you to charge your battery by braking, BMW is trying to prepare you for the future; and the future is upon us.
I did say that the X5 XDrive40e borrows tech from the BMW i8 hybrid supercar, right? Hybrid tech is the future; be it the Henrik Fisker/James May method of using the internal combustion engine as an onboard generator for the electric motors that drive the wheels, or using both the engine and the electric motors as means of propulsion either alternatively or concurrently (a la McLaren P1).
On paper, it might be easy to suggest otherwise or criticize. Case in point: that same XDrive40e. It has an internal combustion engine. Why not use that as both propulsion and as a generator when the car’s batteries run out? Charging the car while parked (e.g. overnight) may be convenient most of the time but is not always practical, especially in a country with a shaky power grid such as ours; and “regular” cars do charge their accumulators while on the move, don’t they?
It may not be that simple or straightforward from an engineering point of view; just the same way there are cars that run both petrol and diesel in the same engine (see the M35 Deuce-And-A-Half), it’s not that obvious putting this technology into everyday use. The best compromise scientifically is an energy recovery system, which is what KERS is.
The physics concept behind KERS is to get as close to a perpetual motion machine as possible. The energy spent accelerating the car (electrical or chemical energy converted to kinetic energy) can still be reclaimed to a large degree when slowing down (kinetic energy back to electrical energy) through the use of dynamos attached to the braking system. This minimizes waste, increases efficiency and by making the car close to self-sufficient in energy production and consumption, spares the environment further degradation. It also improves the car’s braking ability by virtue of weight of the dynamos, which in turn means increased life in braking system components such as pads and/or rotors (think of it like the use of engine and exhaust brakes in heavy commercial vehicles).
Hybrid tech is inevitable; eventually everybody will embrace it as crude oil levels continue to dip and when the black stuff eventually peters out, electric cars are going to take over; either way, cars will have batteries from now on; and I’m not talking about the accumulators under the bonnet that we charge using alternators. How those (lithium ion?) batteries are charged may vary but it is fairly obvious that an onboard charging system is far more sensible in the battle against range anxiety than a ship-to-shore cable running from your car to a wall socket. And that is why the X6 I drove encouraged me to brake as much as I could when I could when in Eco Mode. Because KERS is life.
I’ve never been a fan of this, for one very simple reason. I may have ties to the automotive aftermarket modifications scene and I know just how important oil pressure and temperature is not only for normal engine operation, but for turbochargers as well (of which I have two). So an engine that cuts out automatically every few seconds really grates on my veins and sends my OCD haywire – I’m from the old school. I warm my engine up in the morning, I don’t shut it down in traffic jams and I have a turbo timer that keeps the motor running long after I have locked the car and entered my house.
I had to ask BMW’s resident geek in Mzansi. Surely all that intermittent starting and stopping cannot be good for the hot, hard life that a turbo lives, can it? Heat dumping and oil coking are just two of the biggest attendant problems of interrupting the sweet lubricating and cooling circulation of synthetic 5w40 by suddenly cutting off the oil pump. There is the battery to think about as well: starting an engine draws a lot of current from the battery and frequent application can easily kill your accumulator long before its due date.
So, it seems somewhere along the way things changed. As explained by the tech guy in George, the lubricating system of these new cars have a one-way (non-return) valve somewhere downstream of the oil pump, which means when the pump goes offline after the engine is shut down, all the oil won’t just trickle back into the sump through gravity. That means when restarting the engine, there will still be oil right where it is needed, within the engine. That also means these cars don’t need that “warm up” period after a cold start like El Turbo does – the oil may not be warm, sure, but it is still in play; unlike our old cars where the warm up may not be literally warming up so much as getting the oil from the sump and into the engine. Think of it as hybridized wet sump-dry sump lubricating system.
This, however, means that the non-return valve leaves stagnant oil within the turbo on engine shut-off, and this is akin to locking the janitor inside a tiger cage as he’s cleaning it while the tiger is asleep. When the tiger wakes up, running will not help the cleanup man; he has nowhere to go, you locked him in, remember? Heat dumping leads to oil coking which in turn leads to a dilemma: immediate service or a ruined engine. What kind of choice is this?
Ah, but you see, the oil’s duties have been relegated strictly to lubrication only. Cooling the turbos is now done by water, not unlike the main cooling system for the engine; and just like the main cooling system, circulation continues (however briefly) even when the engine is off; providing a sufficient enough cool-down/spool-down buffer to prevent killing the tin snail. This should be answer enough to my friends from the Great Run IX who wondered why the Volkswagen Amarok I was driving (and majority of modern cars) does not have a timer installed despite running a heavily boosted diesel engine.
As for the frequent starting, current is rarely drawn from the accumulator itself. There is an array of capacitors that serve this purpose; and capacitors are by definition designed to charge and discharge rapidly, which means they are exactly what you need when drawing large currents in short bursts on a frequent basis.
No further questions, your honor.
What happened when the curtains closed
So, at the end of the G30 ride and drive event, we had a sit-down with the manager of Product Communications, a smiley suit from BMW’s Group Communications Division, to have a word. The man is pleasant to be around and has a very good sense of humor. In our lively conversation, he at one point wanted to know if I had tried out the current lineup of BMW’s SAVs; what I call the X cars.
“Well, that’s no good. You have to try them.”
This is a conversation I have had several times before with other automakers, and it is usually followed by a promise to make a phone call to the local importer (what we know as “dealers” or “franchise holders”) instructing them to supply me with the vehicle in question within hours of my getting back home. These promises are sometimes (most times, actually) not kept, or the instructions not followed.
Not when the Communications Suit is around.
One of the support vehicles of our G30 convoy was an X6 M50d; while the shuttle van between the airport and the hotel was an X5 M50d – a pair of BMW’s top-tier diesel-powered landlubber tractors, and The Suit, thinking fast and exercising his powers, ordered them to be made immediately available for our appraisal. In other words, we got to play with them after the rest of sub-Saharan Africa’s motoring journalists had gone home. This is what transpired:
(The lengthy afternoon drive was preceded by a heavy lunch that threatened to send me straight to sleep, but once the black X5 M50d drove up to the hotel entrance, all the drowsiness left my head and I could not wait to get my hands on it. Well, I had to settle for the X6 M50d first because my Kenyan counterpart had the same desires as I did and he was not shy about acting on them. We agreed to switch cars somewhere up ahead; a fortuitous happenstance for me, as you will soon find out)
Since I drove the X6 first, then it gets looked at first
The exterior looks just like the outgoing car’s did: which means it is a mash-up of the roofline from a 6 Series Gran Coupé (the 4-door version) and the lower half of an X5. This also means I’m still not a fan, but when inside, at least you can’t see its silhouette. What you see instead is one of Germany’s finest interiors to ever grace a pretend-SUV. Then you fire it up. It is a diesel mill but there is no clutter or chug. Just oily, imperceptible smoothness and if you are absent-minded you might press the Start-Stop button again thinking the car is off, only to discover that you have just turned it off after all.
Nudge the throttle and the rev needle dances happily, again quite unlike a diesel engine. And this is one quirky diesel: it comes with not one, not two but three turbochargers. Eih? It says on the tin that this 3.0 liter tri-turbo six-cylinder is good for 380hp. Perhaps redemption looms for our past sour relationship?
The car is lovely to be in (up front), and has plenty of toys but it still suffers from the previous X6’s shortcomings, which is ironical given that the platform code for this transgender coupé-utility is F16, a name which immediately evokes thoughts of fighter aircraft.
As far as diesel-powered cars go, the X6 could as well be a fighter aircraft. It goes like stink and has a techy cockpit with displays on demand customized for the prevailing vehicle dynamics. I have not copy-pasted that last statement from a brochure somewhere, let me explain what I have just written:
In normal driving, you get a normal instrument cluster, with a speedo here and a tach there and little digits marking the various quantities and partitions thereof of each. The overall color scheme is white on black. Pretty regular stuff, really. In eco mode, the dash glows blue and the amount of details in the cluster increase. These now include a charging meter for the battery, whose significance we will be discussing in a later article. Then there is Sport mode. Everything goes red and all the little numbers disappear except for three of them: there is a large read out in the center of the speedometer that tells you how fast you are covering ground (the speedometer itself is now a red face clock with a needle; 0 on the bottom left corner, 260 on the bottom right corner and nothing in between… nothing else, just a black background.
Perhaps there is a good reason for this dearth of detail when in the sociopath setting, and that, I presume, is because you will not have time to decipher the readouts when you light up the afterburners on this F16. You will be too busy doing your damnedest to keep the car on the road.
The F16 may pull like an F16 but on uneven (not exactly rough) surfaces, it bobs and weaves a lot. You can feel its not-insignificant mass wiggling about, battling the suspension for composure. The car starts wandering all over the place. The steering is stiffer than the over-servoed affairs typifying the SUV experience as expected, and the car feels even bigger than it already is. You’d think you are in a Landcruiser, only with a much nicer interior. That means that the new X6 suffers the exact same problems that its predecessor suffered: it tries to be two things at the same time and fails at both.
What two things? Well, it is meant to be sporty, but the sport setting turns it into a bit of a handful on anything but mirror-smooth, arrow-straight tarmac. The X5 from which I presume it was derived and which I drove next, felt a lot better. It is also meant to be a lifestyle-y kind of car for mild adventuring; but one of those low profile tyres – back left – let go after taking a pounding on a murram road. Another fail became evident when, after installing the space-saver spare, there was nowhere to place the original massive rubber circle and it ended up filling valuable boot space, which was in short supply to begin with owing to the slanting roofline west of the B pillar.
[Note*: This X6, like the previous model I reviewed five years ago, and like almost all other BMWs, comes with run-flat tyres. They are convenient but they tend to compromise ride quality in general, and when the run-flat technology is in use – i,e when you have a puncture – the car is actually unpleasant to drive. That wheel change was not as necessary as it was desirable, if only to restore some of the driving niceness that comes from palming a BMW’s tiller. It is, after all, a BMW, all foibles aside].
The slanting roofline also brings about other complications. Let me deviate a little: when the “Bangled” 7 Series – the E65 – came about, one of its highlights was “cinema-hall” or “theatre” sitting, whereby the rear bench was marginally higher than the front pair. It makes for a nice view and commanding feeling when looking down (however slightly) on your chauffeur (7 Series have chauffeurs, not drivers; unless you are James Bond from last week). Quite a number of cars have tried to follow that formula with varying degrees of success, until in comes the X6.
The coupé-like curvature of the tin hat doesn’t require a soothsayer to immediately see that there will be problems with rear headroom, so the designers, to also immediately counteract this point in a smug I-totally-saw-this-coming way, sank the rear seat lower in the body to create space for people’s heads. Keep in mind that this is a 4WD vehicle and there has to be a driveshaft feeding the rear diff; and this driveshaft goes below the back-seat passengers’ derrieres and you can see that packaging becomes a whole new impediment. This, I think, is why the X6 is goddamn tall and yuuuge. Parts of the engineering had to be shoehorned into the design for it to make sense to those it makes sense to.
Enter the X5, code-named F15, and the difference is immediately noticeable. It feels more compact, visibility is infinitely better and like the 5 Series saloon, one can tell this was built with driver orientation in mind. It may not be the harbinger of inevitability* (*See Part II: The Implications of BMW’s New Tech, coming next week) that the X6 is, but it feels so much better. The X5 may seem a bit yesterday compared to the X6, but it is the one you will want to drive more; which begs the question: who exactly buys the X6 and why?
For starters, the F15 is a trifle more analog, which makes it just that much more appealing to old fogies like me. The instrument cluster is not digitally dynamic like the one in the new 5er or the F16. The steering is lighter and more direct, while the car feels more chuckable. It doesn’t seem as heavy as the X6, though, surprisingly, the numbers say otherwise: the X5 weighs in at 2265kg vs the X6’s 2185kg. Shocking, I know.
I didn’t get to try the X6M50d on unpaved roads, but mild off-roading in the X5 shows just how clever the gearbox is. There is plenty of engine braking when slowing down into corners or on descents; and this was without my having to press buttons or turn dials like in a Land Rover/Range Rover telling it where it is. The automatic downshifts were bang on; perfectly intuitive like the transmission control module was reading my mind.
The X5M50d trumps the X6 further in looks and practicality. Starting very subjectively with the colors of the cars at hand (the X5’s near-black and the X6’s muddy gray), more objectively the outline (the X5’s generic but handsome SUV profile vs. the X6’s centauride, lithe-upper stocky-lower frame) and ultimately the everyday usability (the X5’s “normal” boot vs the X6’s fastback hatch), the X5 has its brother against the ropes from the word go. The comfort levels and driving dynamics are just the final knockout punch, which again leads me to ask: who exactly cross-shops the X6 and why? I don’t quite buy the “his-and-hers” theorem that is always bandied about in explanation to the existence of both. Gender specification with regard to women as far as car design is concerned is a minefield you don’t want to navigate; Lamborghini (among others) famously found this out the hard way last year.
The “Third Wheel”
Now, you don’t think we were left to our own devices with the two expensive tractors, do you? Of course not. The Smiling Suit came with us, and he had his own special white horse in our flashy posse.
There is not much I can say about it until I get to test it on its own merit, but it is also an X5; though not as you know it. Called the XDrive40e, the “e” part is what makes it stand out, and yes, you guessed right: the “e” stands for “electric”. It is not a fully electric car, it is what we call a “plug-in hybrid”.
It looks just like a normal X5, until you start reading the badges and see the “e”. Born in 2015, the car borrows the tech from BMW’s famous “i” cars, particularly the i8. It can run on petrol only, both petrol and electricity (I see the irony here, shut up!) or electricity only; in which case the furthest you can go is 23km before the batteries run flat. To recharge them, you need to plug the car into a wall socket and wait. Yes, the tech seems a bit fledgling on the surface (e.g. why not charge the batteries while on the move?), but we are headed somewhere. More on this charging malarkey next week, it gets a bit interesting from here.
Epilogue: it so transpired by sheer happenstance that it was fortuitous for me to instigate proceedings with the X6M50 rather than the X5M50. You could call it “saving the best for last”, but you could also call it blind luck: not long after handing over the reins of the X6 to my colleague and taking over the X5, the X6’s rear left tyre divested itself of precious pressure via a sizeable rip on the inner sidewall. My colleague was therefore saddled with a limping steed while I sat smugly behind him reveling in the joys of helming a costly SUV in a scenic locale with no flat tyres to worry about.
Way back in the 90s, before the turn of the millennium, BMW released what is arguably the best car they have ever made: the E39 M5 saloon car rocket ship. Earth-shattering firepower aside, the car began as a 5 Series saloon that was breathed upon by the German automaker’s skunkworks M Division; but that is not the important part: what we are interested in is the “5 Series” aspect. While the 7 Series has always been BMW’s flagship, the 5er has been its face.
So what made the E39 such a good car? The looks, mostly. The good looks were either because it was understated or despite the fact that it was understated. It depends on what your starting point is. The E34 before it was equally staid and not half bad either, but the E39 took that design rulebook and flipped forward one page. The E60 that came after it did not turn over the rulebook so much as chew it up, spit it out, walk all over it and flush it down the toilet. That design, to date, still takes some getting used to. The F10 that is only just exiting stage left to pave way for the all-new G30 was a wee bit anonymous at risk of blandness. It looked like yet another random Euro-box and, coming after the oddball E60, could be said to almost lack identity. The G30 is more of a refresh or an update of the F10, same way the E39 was an E34 update. Maybe the E39 is back. Maybe.
(BMW SA installed me into the business class seat of a South African Airways Boeing 737-800 for the sole purpose of my thrashing their precious baby around the mountain passes of the Western Cape near the towns of George and Knysna (‘nice-nah’); thrashing which I did with considerable glee right up to the point where I drove into an unforeseen traffic stop and had my passport details recorded for reasons that were not disclosed to me. Two weeks later, I am still unsettled as to what that policeman wanted with my 100% LEGITIMATE travel document; because he asked for my driving license and I, for a variety of reasons mostly based on “forgetfulness”, may have failed to present it for his perusal. Pray for me)
The G30 looks both sharp and conservative; as is to be expected of anything that comes out of Bavaria (but is not always the case). The lines flow, the seams match, the panels blend and all those other noun-verb combinations that mean good things, until you get to the back where the upper two-thirds is ever so slightly evocative of the E34’s tail-lights (sweet) and the lower one-third is shrouded in black cladding that looks a lot like plastic (meh).
[*Note to self: If I ever buy a G30, it has to be in a dark color. Toilet Seat White doesn’t seem to work that well as a hue]
It’s not an absolute fail on the design part to be fair; but it does cheapen the look ever so slightly. A dark color, such as grey or navy blue – or even black – at least dilutes its effect so that you don’t notice it much. I’d also like to know what the options are on painting that plastic shroud, because I would really like mine to come in body color.
The face is typical blue-propeller complete with the kidney grille and is unmistakable. The ///M badges on the front quarter panels of our test cars are a hint of what is to come; but here we have to pause again and ponder what the world is coming to. Once upon a time, German performance badges meant something: seeing an ///M or ///AMG or RS decal on a car meant that you were looking at proper muscle. Nowadays, more so with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, they could either mean real muscle… or a muscle shirt. They denote an appearance package as much as they do a performance one.
The face is ‘corporate’ -a decade-old fad of making all of one’s products resemble each other – that every automaker has now embraced. That means it is the same face you will see on any new BMW you come across. That is not necessarily a bad thing, the current face works.
Now we’re talking. Modern trends are immediately visible from the deployment of glossy black surfaces, brushed aluminium, mood lighting and digital gauges. Mercedes-Benz put a giant tablet in place of a dashboard in their new E Klasse, so naturally BMW plopped one in their E Kla… – sorry, their 5 Series – as well. The difference is the three-pointed star stretches its tablet across 60% of the dashboard and replaces absolutely everything that a driver could previously see and touch, save for the steering wheel. BMW have stuck to their driver-oriented roots and maintained a traditional layout (instrument cluster with rotary dials and gauges…) with a modernist touch (… all digitalized).
The driver orientation continues in the centre console which is canted ever so slightly towards the driver, a feature that harks back to earlier models such as the E34.
Rear legroom is ample, for lack of a more flamboyant description. There is a sunroof, which is a nice touch. The seats are leather all across the available test cars, but there may or may not be cloth options for the light of pocket and for vegetarians*
[*This is not a joke. Strict vegetarians take the meat thing very seriously; and that includes sitting on or being surrounded by animal organs, processed or not]
Me being me, I of course notice a few things. The glossy black surfaces such as the tablet and the HVAC controls (touch-screen, for all intents and purposes) are pleasant to look at but they collect fingerprints like an overzealous federal agent on the trail of a serial killer. Obsessive-compulsive types may need to keep a soft dry rag handy because there will be a lot of wiping down of that interior the more you use these features, and you will want to use them, because 1. why not? and 2. they make life so much better. Heated seats, anyone?
I found it odd that the 530d had electric steering adjustment while the higher-ranking and better equipped 540i had a mechanical one.
Of particular note is the reduced all round visibility. Fancy new cars come with new-fangled technology that enhances safety and drivability, but this seems to be at the expense of long-held protocols, such as actually looking outside to see what is around you rather than relying on cameras and sensors. The A pillars on the G30 are “yuuuge!“‘; couple this to the steeply raked windscreen and the rear view mirror and the result is you might as well not bother looking out the passenger side because you will not see much. Rely on warning beeps from within and sharp toot-toots from without to herald impending disaster during a lane change. This is quite a flaw; the explanation is the A pillars house the curtain airbags and as such they need to be thick, but still… they are not so much pillars as they are Ionic Columns.
Over the two-day drive period, I got to test drive the 540i (current range-topper before the M550i comes around followed by the mighty M5) and the 530d. I know the numbers say otherwise, but would you believe me if I told you that, as far as sensations go, the diesel car yields absolutely nothing to the petrol one when you put the hammer down? No? Well, believe it, lady.
Both cars pull convincingly, and by convincingly I mean astonishingly. It’s shocking how easily and how fast you will reach 200km/h in these cars when you flex your right foot. Both cars will chirp the rear inside tyre when exiting a junction “enthusiastically”, a habit I am finding difficult to shed any time I am in a RWD car; traction control be damned.
The explanation is simple: both cars sport one of the most scrumptious powertrain layouts ever: a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-6 engine at the front with a diff at the back; the petrol power screams all the way to 340bhp while the diesel engine grunts in with 620Nm. Whichever path you take, you will be acquiring pace a lot faster than most other road users with the taps fully open.
This is typically the part where I start spewing a word salad about throttle openings, forward surges, excitement, sweaty palms alongside a few twisted metaphors to try and paint a clearer picture of what really went down, but this time round I will keep it simple. The car goes exactly like you think a BMW should, in both petrol and diesel iterations; and like a typical premium German car, you don’t feel how fast you are going until the head-up display reminds you that you have been consistently flouting speed limit regulations by a substantial margin for the past hour or so.
[*In keeping with the times, now we have videos of the cars in action. Forgive the quality of workmanship, but I am yet to reach Francis Ford Coppola’s skill level]
Another avenue of anxiety for yours truly. The origin of my unease is the absence of ABS in my own twin turbo longroof Subaru. This absence has been occasioned by the removal of certain key elements (mostly fuses) from the braking system; the reason why is not important but the effect is I now have to watch out for what I call “skating” (floating noisily over the road surface on locked tyres) and the subsequent crash that may follow. This has made me three things: 1. very nervous whenever emergency braking is involved 2. insanely accurate as far as braking distances go and 3. very good at trailbraking.
Now, when palming the wheel of a car that costs almost 17 times as much as my ABS-less wagon, braking is a whole different affair. Hard driving also means hard braking, which the car did with poise and aplomb; however, the real test came on the freeway when we were…ummm… “hustling along” and a bakkie (pickup truck) cut us off just as we were about to pass it on the right. Several prayers accompanied frantic deceleration as images of a massively expensive wreck loomed large in our minds. This car stops, and stops very well with no drama whatsoever: no shimmy, no dance, no squeal. All you need to do is stand on the pedal and the car will do the rest; a tactic I am cagey about using in my old warhorse lest I break its knees.
Ride & Handling
The ride is as smooth as one can want it to be, but wander onto a dirt track with those low profile tyres and thumping ensues. It is not that big an annoyance, but it is not exactly pleasant to live with either. Can we get back on the tarmac please?
The handling is excellent, but there may be one or two flecks of dirt in the ointment. It may have been just me but on tight corners or those of reducing radii, the car’s weight started to make itself felt the tighter it became, in the way a typical large luxury saloon usually does, and a setback that Jaguar seems to have fully cured in their own cars. The larger XJ saloon felt more sorted compared to the comparatively compact 5 Series (this is a very brave statement to make, I know, but it is what I observed). The stiffening “active” steering feedback is also not that much of a plus, it makes one tired after a while. I much prefer the evenly-weighted, static-ratio setups of yore. The response is dead accurate, however, and chucking the large saloon about in a touge-style car chase down a narrow switchback road is free of histrionics, more so if the driver I was pursuing would just man up and ease up on the overzealous braking (it later transpired that “manning up” was not a choice phrase to use, as the driver was a woman)
Equipment & Audio
The G30 is well equipped; apparently even better equipped than the first-born son, the 7 Series. There is plenty of stuff to spec up your car with, particularly the 540i: what with the tablet screens, digitalized clusters, touch-sensitive HVAC controls, leather, head-up displays, lane-keep assist and…. shut up and listen for a minute here. There is one party piece that trumps absolutely everything else.
Remember Tomorrow Never Dies, the James Bond film from 1997? There was a scene where our martini-loving protagonist gets mugged in a parking lot and for scripting and product placement reasons, drives himself out of trouble in spectacular fashion; controlling his gadget-laden car remotely using an Ericsson® JB988 brick cellular phone. It may or may not be a coincidence that the fictional spook was piloting another BMW, the boxy E38 “750iL” (it was actually a 740iL with 750iL badgework).
In a case of life imitating art, you too can drive your G30 remotely, just like 007. The functionality may not be available as a phone app yet, but the feature is activated and operated using the massive key fob on which is a tiny little screen flanked by two buttons that you press to move the car forward or backward as desired.
Unlike the British secret agent’s over-endowed transport solution, the G30’s remote driver technology has ‘limitations’, and I’m using the word loosely here. While the object of Miss Moneypenny’s affection hooned himself out of a tight spot from a parking garage and into sunlight, the G30’s drone feature is meant to only get in and out of tight spots, literally. The range limit is 10 meters back and forth (combined); that is as far as you will go before evil minions pepper your shiny new car with NATO rounds while cursing you in eastern European accents. You also cannot steer left or right. Expect Audi to do one better and introduce extended range and steering capability before the year 2020.
Part of James Bond’s action-packed getaway drive may also have involved mowing down henchmen foolish enough to step into his E38’s path, but there will not be any perpendicular vehicular homicide with the G30; at least not while driving it with the key. A front-mounted sensor array ensures that the 5 Series ‘sees’ anything that threatens its facial integrity and brakes itself… very hard I might add; a stunning revelation that was demonstrated using one of us as a potential crash test dummy henchman. It’s the stuff of science fiction and/or YouTube videos watching a driverless grey German saloon creep up on a leggy blonde and stop itself dead in its tracks inches from her knees.
During the test drive, when my co-driver took the wheel, an animated conversation involving a lot of hand movements led to a surprising discovery: the presence of gesture control. It is quite a strange feature, and one I derided on these very pages but a year ago owing to the scope of randomness available in the permutation table of hand gestures, but the long and short of it is this: wiggle your secondary driving hand, or the one nearest to the dash-based tablet like you are conducting an orchestra and things happen. It is quite odd and a little unnerving, but it could also be a matter of convenience where instead of fumbling around for the stereo’s volume control buttons to lower the decibel levels, just draw a ‘6’ in the air and voila! Nothing happens. Until you draw another 6, then another and another until there is dead silence, volume is now at 0 (drat!); so now you have to draw a ‘9’ to bring it back up again, nothing happens, another 9, and another….
Just use the center console knob; it’s a lot more straightforward.
For the first time I have no solid answer for this and the reason is fairly simple: the price has not been set yet for our market. Expect it to undercut the Mercedes-Benz E Klasse ever so slightly, which means the price will hover somewhere in the region of 9-10 million bob for the more ‘ordinary’ version (520, 530) and maybe up to 20% more if you want to pretend to star in the next film adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novels.
This will make it really good value, because I cannot say enough just how exquisite the new 5er is; and this is coming from a man with an irrational dislike for BMWs ever since an E46 deliberately introduced itself broadside to my front offside fender as I was ferrying my then-unborn son and his mother around the city (that driver qualifies as an exemplary candidate for James Bond-style perpendicular vehicular homicide, if I ever see him again). That, though, is beside the point.
The G30 is good to look at – especially when dark-skinned; it has a lovely, contemporary interior; it is as wonderful to drive as BMWs are supposed to be; and it is not just relevant, it is actually very important to the future of the motoring industry as a whole courtesy of the tech it carries; a disquisition point I will delve into further next week. See you then.