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Aston Martin N430 Special Edition

Every man growing up at some stage wished he had owned an Aston Martin. This is a lot to do with the Aston Martin being closely associated with James Bond. An ordinary guy with the most extraordinary gadgets. If there were an Aston Martin to have, this would be the one.

The Vantage N430 has a similar look to the Vantage, with tweaks here and there.  To start with, the shape is one that is classic sports car, something that Aston Martin has always achieved. Their cars are masterpieces to look at, no matter how old they are. The natural elongated bonnet, short rear end and extended doors are traditional sports car look. In keeping with the Aston Martin quality, the fit and finish is implacable. Every line and every seam is perfectly crafted and fitted together. From the crease line running the length of the vehicle to the fold-away door handles, nothing can be faulted. The rear end is finished off with classic Aston Martin rear lights, twin exhaust pipes, and a raised rear section of the boot, which gives the effect of a rear spoiler. Depress the side of the door handle to pop it out and as you tug on the handle, the frameless doors open with ease. Be careful though, as the doors do open wide, making hopping in and out easy.

As you slip into the monogrammed front sports seats, you realise that this is no ordinary N430. The one-piece carbon-fibre seats are snug but finding the perfect driving position does take some time. The three-spoke suede-covered steering wheel not only looks the part but plays the part very well in that you will never lose grip of the wheel no matter what the situation. The dashboard dials are typical Aston Martin, which is opposite to conformity. The speedo is on the left while the rev counter is to the right, both with the same prominence. However, they both move in opposite direction to the norm. So the rev counter starts on the bottom left and then moves counterclockwise, while the speedo starts bottom right and moves clockwise. As you drive it for the first time, you are not sure what speed or what revs you get up to. That all changes very quickly as you get into the rhythm of the vehicle.

The centre console is neat and plain, with carbon-fibre backing. There is an infotainment screen at the top that can be folded away for no-distraction driving. More importantly, the centre console houses the heart of the car, namely the slot to insert the block key and the gear section buttons. The cabin feels roomy and spacious for a sports car, and thanks to the top-notch climate control you’re never too hot. Looking to the rear of the vehicle, the one thing that gives away the sheer might of the vehicle is the slight protrusion of the roll cage.

So it’s time to feel like you’re on an important assignment as you insert the block key into the hidden slot that is covered with an Aston Martin badge. Depress the key and the car comes to life; first the lights on the dashboard then the amazing growl from the 4,7-litre V8 engine. This immediately gets the hair on the back of your neck raised. It’s instinctive that your right foot automatically goes in for another roar before you allow the beast to settle down. The vehicle comes with a seven-speed sports shift gearbox, which means that you can drive it in auto once you get used to it – but who will want to when you have all the control at your fingertips with the flappy paddles? Select drive and lightly depress the accelerator, as you don’t want to awaken the beast until you get onto the road. As you start on your way and feel the need to prod the beast, you floor the accelerator. As the growl moves through your body, all you feel is the rear wheels fighting for traction. Your knuckles whiten up as they grip firmly onto the wheel.

This is not a beast to be played with. The vehicle is capable of catapulting you to 100 km/h in 4,8 seconds and will continue until it tops out at just over 300 km/h. Even though the ride is firm, you don’t really feel it as you’re more concerned about the growl. This vehicle could be used for daily rounds if you can manage the ride and – more importantly – if you can manage the speeding fines, as no one can drive this car at 60 km/h on an ongoing basis.

All that’s left to say is that the Aston Martin N430 is all that an Aston is supposed to be and so much more.

MANUFACTURER SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 4,7L  V8
Power: 321 kW
Torque: 490 Nm
0–100 km/h: 4,8 s (claimed)
Price: From R1 780 000

Audi TT

The all-new Audi TT is the reinvention of an iconic Audi coupé. The new shape has kept the original silhouette. Like the original, the vehicle has pronounced wheel arches that almost look squared off and are linked by a bulging lower-side skirt. The rear window with its rounded bottom, clamshell bonnet and large twin tailpipes are also in keeping with the original TT. However, there is a certain clinical precision in the new vehicle. The new front end has added so much to the look with its new grill that is squarely edged off. This, together with the new bumper treatment with its angular air intakes that seem to be linked via the front spoiler, gives the vehicle a certain edginess. This look is perfectly completed with the all-new optional headlights, which make this TT stand out from any of its predecessors. The slightly revised bonnet looks sleek and pointed. The overall look from the front is similar to the TT’s larger sibling, the Audi R8.

The rounded rooftop and curved windows complete the side view. However, this is not as striking as the front view. At the rear end, the revised light clusters are in keeping with the new headlights and seem to fit snugly around the boot-lid. At night, the rear end is reminiscent of the  TT’s cousin, the Porsche Boxster, as they have similar-designed rear light clusters. The rear spoiler is still electronically controlled so it can be raised at the touch of a button or once you pass a certain speed.

As you open the frameless door and slip into the low seat, you almost feel that you are just a few millimetres from the ground. The dashboard is in keeping with Audi’s new minimalistic look. However, the TT dash has been taken to the extreme as there is no screen at all, not even a small LCD to let you know what is currently playing on the entertainment system. This does not mean that the TT does not have the latest infotainment system, but rather that Audi have decided to change the norm. They have replaced the speedometer cluster with a full-colour LCD that can be customised depending on your preferred view. To start, it will look like a typical sports display with large speedometer and rev counter, with the fuel and other necessary information on the sides, while the centre of the screen shows the navigation of infotainment. But this all changes when you change the display to full navigation. This makes the speed and rev counter small, and the entire screen turns into a three-dimensional navigational map.

This is the type of cockpit where the driver is in full control, much to the disappointment to the passenger. Even if you want to change the radio station, only the driver can see which station is selected. This is a love or hate feature as you either love being in control or hate having to be asked to change stations.

The rest of the cockpit is well finished with comfortable body-hugging seats and, believe it or not, there is actually space in the rear seats as long as the rear passengers don’t need much or any leg room (that is, 2+2).

On the road the two-litre TFSI motor is an absolute dream as it has both power and performance coupled with excellent fuel economy.

The steering response is crisp with good feedback, something that is expected from a sports coupé. However, the one thing that is not expected is the constant loss of traction on hard acceleration. It’s almost like the front wheels refuse to find grip. I have to admit this was a disappointment, as the vehicle’s drive did not match its look or power.

In conclusion, Audi has done a brilliant job in reincarnating the TT in a fresh modern look without losing its original ambiance.

The new look has been extended to the interior with the solid Audi built. However, if you are planning on buying one, I strongly suggest you part with the additional 50–60k and take the Quattro version, as the frontwheel drive cannot manage the power. Other than that, this is a brilliant sports coupé.

MANUFACTURER SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 2,0L 4-cylinder Turbo
Power:  169 kW
Torque: 370 Nm
0–100 km/h: 6,0 s (claimed)
Price: From R566 500

BMW X6 M50D

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The refreshed BMW X6 has had a nip and tuck and is now ready to take on the challenge from competitors it never had previously. Even though many have said that the X6 does not look good or that it’s pointless having a 4×4 coupé, it seems to have carved a niche in the market. So much so, that other manufacturers have started to follow suit. In fact, it has done so well that BMW has also launched a smaller version, namely the X4.

What makes this vehicle stand out from the usual 4×4 is its rather bulky look. The roof line is lower and the coupé-style rear end almost looks like a 6 Series on serious steroids. In keeping with the new look from the BMW stable, the latest version has revised headlights and grill. The rear lights have been smoothened out and are shaped perfectly into the body. The chunky look is completed by oversized wheels that fill the large wheel arches. The raised ground clearance makes the vehicle look like an unstoppable machine.

Based on the exterior look, one would expect uncomfortable sports seats and a steering wheel that requires Superman to park. But this is 100% the opposite to what the X6 has on the inside. To start with, the oversized leather-bound seats feel as soft as marshmallows.

The steering is feather light, but what’s even better is that you don’t need to use it to park. All that is required is to activate automatic parking, and as you drive the vehicle will find a spot that it can fit in. Then you simply select the gear chosen and hold the park button; the car does the rest.

The dashboard layout is in keeping with the BMW look and feel, with the now expected screen sitting above the centre console. In this vehicle with its large size BMW has increased the size of the screen to ensure everything is in proportion. The driver’s position is excellent and the raised ride height makes for easier driving, as you can almost always scare off the minibus taxi that tries to cut in front of you.
The rear seats are as comfortable as the front ones. The rear headroom is also excellent considering the roof is so sharply raked.

Luggage space is good, but not as good as that of X5; then again, the X5 does not look as amazing as this vehicle.

The 5.0D does not come with a five-litre motor but instead with a three-litre straight six with M Power twin-turbo technology.

Even though the engine size does not match the nameplate, the power surely does. The new technology in the diesel makes it feel almost as good as the petrol version; that is, until you need to fill up. The diesel version is a fair bit lighter than the petrol one and power wise, there is little to tell them apart.
Overall, the new X6 lives up to everything you would have expected from this new beast. The most amazing thing is that it is as easy to drive as any small sedan but has the added sporty look that makes you look more like a six-foot rugby player.

The other good thing is that it is capable of climbing any roadside curb you can throw at it, but that’s about as far as it goes for off-roading. On-the-road is a totally different experience as it corners more like a sports coupé that an SUV. Well done to BMW on sophisticating the X6 and leading the way in SUV coupés.

MANUFACTURER SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 3,0L 6-cylinder Turbo-Diesel
Power: 280 kW
Torque: 740 Nm
0–100 km/h: 5,2 s (claimed)
Price: From R1 380 000

McLaren 650S

The 650S is one of those cars you would have had perched above your bed when you grew up. The swooping bonnet and windscreen typical of supercars is what catches your eye at first. The distinctive P1-style front bumper certainly makes this vehicle stand out from the MP4-12C. Then there are the doors that open like conventional McLaren doors, which is totally unconventional in any normal vehicle. The McLaren doors open out and forwards, almost like wings. With both front doors raised, its like a sexy beast that just draws you in … you just cannot look away. Also, in keeping with typical McLaren, the rear end has the exhausts that are mid-mounted, that is, middle horizontally and vertically. The rear lights and bumper treatment echo the front end design.

The rear spoiler looks fixed but automatically raises at speeds in excess of 100 km/h or at the touch of a button. Even though it does add to the look, it is not just for show. The raised spoiler increases down-force, resulting in added traction. The spoiler also doubles up as an air brake. This works when you’re travelling at higher speeds and press the brake paddle rather firmly – the spoiler pushes forward and up in order to disrupt the smooth airflow. This, together with the large disc brakes, brings the vehicle to a rather abrupt stop.

Enough of the outside, let’s get to the luxurious inside. As you open the door, the surprisingly comfortable electronically adjustable leather bucket seats beckon. Pull the door down and you cocoon yourself into the cockpit. The centre console is rather narrow and simple, and houses everything that you need, from navigation to entertainment system. Not that you will want to use this, as driving the vehicle offers all the entertainment you need. The ventilation and window controls are located on the top section of the arm rests on each door. The dashboard is also plain with only one circular vent in the middle and the driver’s command section. This includes a large tachometer (rev counter) which incorporates a digital speed display. On either side of the tachometer are digital displays that give information such as fuel level, trip and odometer, outside temperature, and the selected gear. The squared-off-bottom steering wheel is perfectly placed and the suede finish makes it perfect to control the vehicle and never lose hold of it. The steering feedback is brilliant and you always feel in total control.

Depress the stop-start button and the beast lurking in the engine bay comes to life. As this is a mid-engine vehicle, the motor sits just behind your ear and the growl as it awakes is music to one’s ears. The only way for me to explain this sound is for you to imagine a slightly softer version of a Formula 1 vehicle. The growl quickly settles down to a rather muted hum.

The vehicle has three driving modes – normal, sport and track. In normal the vehicle drives like a normal vehicle with softer suspension settings as well as quieter engine sounds. This mode is for every-day driving. Then there is the sport mode: select this option when you are in the mood for some fun. The amplified sound from the engine makes you want more as you keep pushing the accelerator down. As for the track mode, be careful in this mode as it does disable the traction control.

On the road, the McLaren is as well behaved as your foot is. When you put it into sport mode and floor it, you will get to 100 km/h in just under three seconds –definitely not for the faint hearted. The good thing though is you always feel in total control. Road holding is at another level altogether. It does not matter what you do, the vehicle just sticks to the tarmac and goes in the direction of the steering wheel. The paddle-shift gear changes are precise and quick. There is a slight millisecond delay that makes it feel like a manual gearbox through the gears. When you push the vehicle to its red line, the sound vibrations are not only music to the ears but to the entire body. In fact, it’s so infectious that bystanders feel it too. This is truly exhilarating; like getting an adrenaline shot straight to the heart.

If you want to enjoy the sound even more, you can lower the roof. As you depress the button, the C-pillars raise to reveal additional storage space. The roof quickly folds away into this space and changes the look of the vehicle. The wind blows slightly through the top of your head, and if you want more wind you simply lower the windows. The amazing thing is that you can comfortably drive with the roof down at 120 km/h while having a normal conversation with your passenger.

All in all, the McLaren 650S looks amazing and has the power and sound to match. It’s a supercar that can be used daily if you don’t mind a bit of a stiff ride, and then on weekends for a day at the track. I think McLaren have found the perfect combination of pure adrenaline and fun. This is one of those vehicles that will always remain in every car enthusiast’s dreams.

MANUFACTURER SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 3,8 l  V8 Twin Turbo
Power: 487 kW
Torque: 678 Nm
0–100 km/h: 3,0 s (claimed)
Price: From R4 500 000

Written and compiled by Azim Omar CA(SA), a member of The South African Guild of Motoring Journalists

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