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ANNUAL MOTORING 2009

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BMW Z4 – 3l

BMW has recently launched the latest generation Z4, which, in my opinion, has finally become a formidable sports car. The most significant change to this vehicle from its predecessors is the hard top convertible as opposed to the soft top. In the looks department, definitely a thumbs up! The new Z4 has undergone some radical changes in design and flow. Up front, the large kidney grill and swooping lights reminds one of the BMW 6 series, with a lot more spunk. The rear has also received a major upgrade, to make it look much sexier, including all new led taillights and a subtly refined rear that compliments the overall appearance of the vehicle. The vehicle appears larger, the style more fine-tuned and boy, a whole lot more aggressive. What is perhaps surprising or maybe not, is that this Beemer was not designed by the legendary Mr. Bangel, but, rather by two women.

I guess this brings us to the proverbial dilemma of choosing between a coupe or an open top. Many prefer a coupe as it is a lot more rigid, which allows for better roadholding and boot size instead of the all- out fun of driving an open top. This vehicle makes this decision easy, as you can change between the two with the touch of a button. You can easily take a leisurely Sunday drive with the top down, or a quick trip down the N1 with the top up. When the roof is closed the vehicle feels solid with minimal wind noise, while the increased headroom is quite surprising and very welcome. This makes the vehicle feel more like the M-Coupe than the convertible version.
Getting in and out of the vehicle takes some getting used to, as the vehicle sits low with a high door sill, but once in the driving position it feels just perfect. On startup, the large multi-display screen unfolds from the centre of the dash, making you feel like you are in a fighter jet; and this vehicle has the power to take that feeling to the next level. Look ahead and all you see is a bonnet that goes on forever (thank goodness for the park distance display). The vehicle is also equipped with the standard i-drive system with which we all have become very familiar. There is also a ski-hatch (Golf club hatch in SA), which opens from the inside of the vehicle so that one can access the boot. What is very surprising is the size of the vehicle’s boot. With the roof closed, the space rivals many small sedans. With the roof down however, the vehicle can still accommodate a set of golf clubs (using the hatch) and a tog bag or two. This is quite impressive when compared to its predecessors. I guess the ladies made sure of that!

So, how does this vehicle drive, well this is a Z4 3l, which means that it has a 3 litre twin turbo engine in a relatively small vehicle. To cut a long story short, it drives like a “bat out of hell”. My fondest memory of this vehicle is driving with the roof down, using the paddle shift on the steering wheel, and changing gears just before the redline cutoff. All I can say is WOW!, this made the vehicle sound like a supercar. I guess you have to drive one to appreciate fully the sheer brute gear-change and the loud burble from the turbo waste-gate.

To sum up, I quote our honourable editor, who says ”cars are a waste of money, but I can definitely see myself buying a car like this”. Says it all, doesn’t it…

Car courtesy of BMW SA.

Azim Omar CA(SA)

 

ANNUAL MOTORING 2009

Aston Martin Vantage V12

The rebirth of cool” read the invite to the exclusive launch of the new Aston Martin Vantage V12. The vehicle that I had the absolute pleasure of driving was the one and only of its kind in the country.

Since viewing the vehicle at the launch, it had been through a bit of a transformation, in that it was given the full Aston Martin racing decal makeover. This included Aston Martin branding front and rear, as well as the union jack on the bonnet and of course 007 insignia on the doors. The most striking feature of this makeover was the paint work around the grill or as it is called “Lipstick”, which is bright yellow in colour.

This vehicle has the same shape as the popular Vantage, with a few racing enhancements that give it a much sportier and aggressive stance. The most visible of these are the additional carbon fibre vents on the bonnet, the white tail lights and the rear diffuser. Since this is a super car, it has shed a few kilograms off the standard vehicle, this is thanks to the carbon fibre and aluminium body as opposed to a metal one. Further weight saving is gained with the new technology V12 which is said to be 50 kilograms lighter than a normal V12 engine. Even though this vehicle has lost some weight, let’s not forget that this is still an Aston Martin, which means that there has been no compromise on luxury. The vehicle comes with all the normal luxury creature comforts that you require, including air conditioner, power steering, radio CD, electric windows and plush carpets. The full leather bucket seats are electrically adjustable with triple memory seat configurations, for different drivers (yeah, like I would let someone else drive my Aston!).

When ordering an Aston Martin, one can either settle for one that is on the floor or you can spec the vehicle to your taste. Apart from the usual colour of exterior and interior, you can choose the type of materials used on the seats, dashboard, roof lining, carpets, oh, and also the colour of stitching used.

Inside the vehicle the first thing you notice is the cleverly disguised roll cage behind the seats. As you slip into the seats you further notice the speedometer that has a max speed reading of 330 km/h. This is no pretender either, as this vehicle has a true top speed of 310 km/h and can do zero to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds, which means that by the time you complete this sentence, the vehicle will be doing in excess of 100 km/h. Pretty impressive!

The vehicle comes with the world-renowned crystal key which slots into the centre of the dashboard. To start the vehicle all you do is depress the clutch and push the key into the slot, until you hear the engine growl to life. This vehicle is fitted with a good old fashioned six speed manual gearbox, which is rare today, but so much fun. The clutch initially felt slightly heavy, but this soon disappeared as I got used to it. In fact, I got so comfortable that I managed to drive it effortlessly through the Johannesburg traffic.

On the road, this vehicle is a pleasure to cruise around in, until you reach 4,500 rpm, that’s when the devil inside is unleashed and the car turns into an absolute monster. If you prefer the brute crowd pleaser sound of the engine all the time, all you need do is engage the sport button on the dashboard. A word of caution though, don’t try it while you’re on the move as there is a sudden surge in power that is quite unexpected – almost like you’re about to launch into space. During this transformation, the engine note changes dramatically from a subtle quiet engine to a loud but “very” satisfying V12, as though it had just swallowed a red hot chilli pepper.
In the short time that I had the vehicle, I can honestly say that, if I was looking for a true super car and did not want to compromise on luxury or looks, then this has to be at the top of my list. I guess super cars have come a long way, but so has their price, this particular variant is just a tad over R3 million.

Overall, this vehicle encompasses all that a super car should be, including beauty, passion and soul…cool is definitely back!

Car courtesy of Aston Martin SA.

Azim Omar CA(SA)

 

ANNUAL MOTORING 2009

South Africa’s Love-Affair with the Sports Car and How to Get Yourself into the Driving Seat

The South African sports car market is quite remarkable. For a country with a relatively small number of wealthy individuals, local dealers consistently surprise with the number of cars sold. Porsche managed to sell more than 100 cars in one month while Aston Martin, reintroduced to the South African market but in 2007, sold 110 when expected to sell 30 to 50. When Mercedes-Benz flew company executives and Bernd Mayländer (F1 safety-car driver) to the local launch of the C63 AMG, it showed that, as the fourth largest market for AMG-badged products worldwide, South Africa is an important market.

Notably, black South Africans now also contribute to the sales successes. Spending more than the average house price on a car, especially in a country with considerable inequality, may in the past have been frowned upon from a social or cultural perspective. The new generation recognises however that an exclusive vehicle is also a business tool to close that all important deal and to secure more business in the future. When negotiating with someone in a position of power, an exclusive vehicle demands attention and insists that you be taken seriously and, with an exclusive vehicle, many people have excelled into positions of power, from humble beginnings, when unreliable public transport was their only option. To the successful, the car may also represent liberation and serves to inspire a new generation. Ostentatious perhaps? Much like accounting, it seems that prudence is no longer the be-all and end-all…

So, with cars well and truly entrenched in the psyche of so many South Africans, not surprisingly, SA’s contribution to the automotive industry has been significant. Most often in the field of design, these include: Rory Byrne – Benetton and Ferrari F1; Gordon Murray – Brabham and McLaren F1 and Supercar; Pierre Terblanche – Ducati; Keith Helfet – Jaguar and most recently South Africa’s ‘green’ solution, Optimal Energy’s Joule. Older readers may remember the GSM Dart and Flamingo, to date the only locally conceived and produced sports cars. This is bound to change with the launch of the Perana Z-one in March 2010, as well as the eponymously named Barnard, a Le Mans-inspired sports car. The Z-one, styled by Italian design house Zagato, is set to ruffle establishment feathers as a value-for-money proposition with mind-blowing performance. The Z-one will be built by Hi-Tech Automotive in Port Elizabeth, famed internationally for the exceptional build quality of Rossion and Noble sports cars and Cobra MkIII, GT40 and Corvette Grand Sport licensed replicas.

So, whether you choose a relative newcomer or an established contender, the sports car experience is now accessible to a wider market, and different options are available depending on your lifestyle and budget.

Conventional ownership is ideal for the enthusiast driving an everyday supercar. Drive-ability and use-ability have improved significantly although some may still prefer something more practical for the peak-hour commute. Consequently, owners may end up only using their special car every other week-end. Besides the quoted price, buyers should consider costs to specify the vehicle to their requirements, finance charges/cost of capital, depreciation, insurance and any service/maintenance costs not covered.

Fractional ownership – share the car and the costs. If you can convince a few friends and agree on which car to buy, this may be an option. Some injudicious use of the accelerator pedal by enthusiastic drivers may result in excessive wear and tear or even a time-out at the panel beaters at the expense of all owners… Fit a tracker and draw up an agreement to ensure the friendship outlasts the first set of tyres!

Rentals – ideal as a one-off, or to experience a variety of cars. Add to the sticker price a daily insurance levy, based on the vehicle value. In addition, you’ll be required to put a deposit hold of approximately 10% of the car’s value on your credit card, so pre-arrange the facility or, alternatively, pay a cash deposit.

Shared-access membership clubs is a cost effective option to get behind the wheel of a variety of exotics. A popular approach overseas, this concept is relatively new to South Africa. For an annual membership fee, you may reserve the use of a variety of exotics for a number of days per annum. Think of it as the bulk-discount version of renting a variety of cars. The membership fee is generally determined by the number of days in each car and the value of the fleet.

Eckhardt Gerber CA(SA), RA, is Partner: RSM Betty and Dickson (Cape Town).

 

ANNUAL MOTORING 2009

Mercedes Benz E 500 Coupe

Press release “Square lights are back”.

This was the first I had heard of the all new Mercedes Benz E-Class and then, surprisingly, I heard about the coupé version. Needless to say, I had to get my hands on it. This is not just a vehicle that has had two doors cutaway from a four door sedan, i.e. your usual coupé, but a totally different vehicle to the four door sedan and definitely in a class of its own.

At first sight you notice how low this vehicle stands compared to the sedan. Also, the front end has received a totally unique cosmetic enhancement, with elongated headlights that run up the side fenders giving the vehicle a much sportier look. The vehicle also has the classical coupé body sans b-pillars.

Inside, the Merc has sufficient space for four adults in absolute comfort, together with their luggage. The rear seats look as though they belong in a thoroughbred sports vehicle, with a one-piece head and backrest. In the front, the seats are definitely one of the most comfortable bucket seats in which I have ever sat. The test vehicle had the optional contour seats, which have small air cushions in the backrest that can be contoured to your body shape, making for that perfect fit. There is a leatherbound sports steering wheel and gearshift with paddle shift on the steering wheel, which makes you feel like you are driving a formula one vehicle!!

The one additional feature that I believe deserves a mention is the “distronic” system. This is a cruise control with an understanding mind, basically, the vehicle is equipped with a radar that calculates the distance between your vehicle and any object in front of the vehicle. So that if you have the vehicle set on 120km/h and suddenly you approach slowmoving traffic, the vehicle will automatically slow down and, if need be, bring the engine to a complete stop. This was actually a lot of fun, as all I had to do was steer the vehicle. But a word of caution, please pay attention to the road, as the vehicle does not yet drive itself!

Overall the 5 litre V8 engine was an absolute pleasure to drive. The grunt from the V8 was always just a push away on the accelerator. As the vehicle did not have B-pillars, there was no obstruction of view and the car felt very airy and spacious. A must-have extra is most definitely the panoramic glass sunroof, as it makes it feel almost as good as a convertible. On the flip side, the vehicle is pretty thirsty, requiring frequent stops at the pumps, which I guess will not be too much of a problem if you can afford to buy this vehicle.

On the road, the Merc was a tame city cruiser, but, at the touch of a button (the famous sport button), it morphs into a wild and exhilarating sports beast, with sufficient power to take on and defeat most other vehicles on the road.

Overall, this car turned more heads than expected and was a pleasure to drive. So hats off to Mercedes for yet another excellent sports vehicle.

Car courtesy of Mercedes Benz SA.

Azim Omar CA(SA)