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It just Getz better

by TONIO DARMANIN

I have followed the recent transformation of the Hyundai brand with interest. They have always built vehicles that, although largely uninspiring to drive and somewhat bare and basic, they were practical, economical and will go on forever without a hitch. These are also generally decently priced. Judging by the number of Accent, Getz and Atos models on our roads, it is evident that, locally, this formula worked well and the brand is renovating its product range to make things even better.

In 2007, I was invited to drive a new model from Hyundai in Vienna. The i30, which I initially assumed was to replace the Accent, actually created e completely new segment for this company, fitting nicely between the Accent and the Getz and reinforcing the brand’s already strong position in the small and medium sized market. The biggest innovation brought about by the i30 and the creation of the ‘i’ range was that this Korean manufacturer had now started designing, and in some cases actually building, these vehicles in Europe… specifically directed towards European consumers. In fact, the new generation of vehicles is designed by the Hyundai European team based in Germany and the i30 is built in a state-of-the-art facility in the Czech Republic.

This new model, which shares its underpinnings with the Kia Cee’d, introduced a more contemporary design language with a styling many claim resembles that of the BMW 1 Series. However, design was not the only thing to change and, whilst building on the existing model strengths, Hyundai set out to improve those areas in which it was previously weak – serious upgrades in suspension and handling, a modernised interior with lots of standard kit and many ‘big car’ options to choose from like leather interior, sat nav and Bluetooth connectivity. Offering decent interior space and a high level of safety, the i30 turns out to be a car that is desirable and actually fun to drive. It comes in a 5-door hatchback, as well as a wagon version. To reinforce the brands reputation for reliability, it also comes with a full 5-year warranty.

In 2008, I was invited to Palermo to drive the model with which Hyundai was going to replace the immensely popular Atos, the new i10. This marked another important strategic step in Hyundai’s plans for the European market, offering one of the smallest and best priced models to compete in what is essentially the biggest and most important segment in this market. The list of potential customers for this car is endless, starting from students and first time buyers looking for a small, trendy, economical and reliable vehicle, to pensioners who no longer need a big family car. It includes families who require a second car to ferry the kids around and run errands and those who have limited parking space, in their garage or otherwise.

Hyundai was already well positioned in this segment with the Atos and faced the daunting task of replacing a successful model. The main benefits of the outgoing, entry-level vehicle were the balance between the small exterior dimensions and generous interior space, and the economy factor in terms of consumption and maintenance, all at a very affordable price. The i10 managed to built on these strengths, adding a dose of styling and interior comfort, an improved ride and superior handling, increased levels of safety, engines with better performance, lower emissions and delivering more miles per gallon.

The difference in price more than justifies opting for the 1.2 rather than the 1.1 litre engine, improving the pulling power but at the same time retaining the same levels of economy and emissions. This, combined with Hyundai’s reputation for building cars that are impressively reliable, is sure to continue worrying the numerous competitors in this segment.

The latest addition to the ‘i’ range is now also in Malta. The i20 will be replacing the Getz and completes the trio of small cars designed in Europe for Europe by the Korean manufacturer. The local market has already shown a very keen interest in the new incarnation and orders are flowing in steadily. But what is it that is making this car so popular locally?

The excellent use of interior space has actually improved since the i20 is slightly longer and wider than the Getz, while the interior has been upgraded using superior plastics and more a stylish design. Even the basic models are well accessorised with air-conditioning, central locking, CD with MP3 player and a height adjustable driver’s seat all as standard features. An interesting range of economical engines emitting low levels of CO2 while delivering increased output across the range are available. Customers can choose between a 1.2 (77bhp) or 1.4 (98bhp) petrol engine, or a 1.4 diesel with two power outputs, 74bhp or 89bhp.

Safety in the i20 has been given top priority and has won the car a prestigious award by Belgian journalists in this regard. ABS and six airbags are standard across the range whilst ESP is an affordable and strongly recommended optional extra available on every model.

As with the other two models in the new range from Hyundai, the biggest advancement in the i20 is its improved ease and comfort when driving it. Steering, gear exchange, suspension and road holding have all been taken to new levels and the car is now as good looking as it is fun to drive.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on March 2, 2009

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Move over James, I’m driving

by TONIO DARMANIN

If I were the President of the Republic or the Prime Minister, I would have a serious problem. With an official car like the BMW 7 Series, I would not be able to resist sitting idle in the back, however luxurious and comfortable this is, and I would probably sack the driver as I would want to drive the car myself.

In fact, BMW claim that 50 per cent of their customers in this segment actually drive the vehicle themselves while the other half are driven around by their chauffeur. This means that the company has to make the same special effort for the rear passenger as it does for the driver, so much so that there is a full set iDrive controls for the four zone automatic air-condition, multi-channel audio system with DAB double tuner, DVD system, phone and satellite navigation at the back. BMW also offers optional internet connectivity via the carputer which understandably is available only at the rear since although fast internet connectivity is fine, reading your e-mails while driving at 200km/hr might not be such a good idea.

The armchair-style seating for the rear passengers includes all the adjustments and reclining functions with optional active seat ventilation and massage programmes and big LCD screens fitted on the back of the two front seats.

This was my first visit to Dresden, the capital of Saxony, less than an hour by plane from Munich. Razed to the ground in the Second World War but rebuilt to its original splendour to rank as one of the most beautiful baroque cities in Europe, Dresden created the perfect setting for the launch of one of the finest automobiles in the world. The route chosen for us to experience the latest 7 Series and formulate our first impressions took us through the Erzgebirge Region covering 330km of beautiful country roads and consistently breathtaking scenery.

We are looking at the fifth generation of this luxurious, elegant yet sporty limousine since the series started in 1977, even though BMW have been present in the luxury performance class for over 70 years. The 7 Series is the flagship of the brand and its showcase for innovation and cutting-edge technology whereby everything new is initially presented to the public through this model and will eventually cascade down through the rest of the range. It also embodies BMW’s commitment to build cars that respect the environment through lowered emissions and controlled consumption but still offering luxury and dynamic performance ensuring sheer driving pleasure on each and every one of its models.

The 7 Series looks impressive. It presents a harmonious blend of elegance and sportiness, having the presence necessary to impress in any circumstances yet with a subtle muscularity that gives a clear indication of the sportiness and dynamism that lies beneath. This feeling is carried over inside the car where an environment of luxury and comfort fuses with ergonomics, styling, materials, functionality and positioning that takes this vehicle to a different level.

The car is big and needs serious power to perform even discretely, so a straight six 3.0 litre twin turbo petrol engine on the 740i and a 4.4 litre twin turbo V8 for the 750i are obvious options.

What is surprising, however, is the combination of performance, dynamism and economy that BMW managed to get out of their newly developed straight six, 3.0 litre common rail turbo diesel engine developing 245bhp and 540Nm of torque. With this engine, the 7 Series accelerates to 100km/hr in just 7.2 seconds and achieves a maximum speed of 254km/hr.

At the other end of the spectrum, this new engine emits 192 grams of CO2 per kilometre and with a consumption of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres, being nearly 40 miles per gallon, it is the most efficient car in this segment. This was achieved by applying the principles of Efficient Dynamics to this model including, Brake Energy Regeneration, on-demand control of ancillary units, lightweight technology optimised aerodynamics and electronically controlled air flap management.

The 7 Series is packed solid with driver assistance tools such as cruise control with ‘Stop and Go’, lane departure and lane change warnings, head-up display, side view as well as back-up cameras and the new Night Vision which can actually identify persons in the dark before the lights show them up. It also offers Integral Active Steering where both axels are utilised to turn the car and the Dynamic Driving Control function where one can select between a Comfort, Normal and Sport set-up.

Driving the 7 Series is impressive as it handles so well you actually forget you are driving a vehicle of these proportions. I spent most of the time trying out all the technology which the test car was invariably fitted with and what always surprises me with BMW is that however futuristic the technology might seem, it is always perfectly functional and so easy to use. A six speed automatic gearbox is standard on all models and shifting is smooth and seamless.

On the highway, I did notice some wind noise as the speed increased but other than that, it is difficult to fault this car in any way.

The prospects of my becoming the President of the Republic or the Prime Minister for that matter are rather slim, but I might try to convince one of them is to employ me as their driver.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on November 10, 2008

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The heat is on

By TONIO DARMANIN

In anticipation that the SUV market, which has grown consistently for the past 10 years and has gradually nibbled away at the mid-sized segment, will start to subside under the increase pressure from governments to curb the use of gas-guzzling polluters and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, the competition in the estate segment is unprecedented.

As if proof that competition is healthy was needed, the effort that each brand is making to try and out-do its competitors and distinguish its product is resulting in the creation of innovations from which only the consumer stands to gain. The effort that is being made in terms of styling, comfort, quality, safety, technology can be seen in every new model that hits the market. However, the greatest effort being made is in relation to driving pleasure. This segment has been plagued for many years with absolutely boring models, cars aimed at the fleet markets and manufacturers adopting the attitude of “pile them high, sell them cheap”.

However, if this segment is going to win back some of the lost ground from the more exciting SUV competition, it needs to get its act in order and create vehicles that appeal emotionally, not just rationally. Cars that look striking, offer all the creature comforts and are generally perceived as high quality with up-market internal quality and comfort and reflecting the status of the owner. So much so that Citroen are actually promoting the new C5 as a French car, which it is, but with German build quality, simply because German cars are perceived to be superior.

From an aesthetic point of view, I feel Citroen have done a great job. The latest C5 is distinctive and at first glance, looks more like a premium brand vehicle in the league of Audi and BMW. The effort the brand has traditionally made on its flagship model, the C6, has been inherited by the C5 and I have a feeling that eventually the bigger model will be dropped, placing the C5 at the top of the pile.

Another indication of the desire for the brands to tear away from the perceptions of the past is the way in which they change the way they refer to certain models. The terms ‘station wagon’ and the ‘estate’ are completely passé and the days where the saloon version was simply squared off at the rear to give additional storage space are finished. Today, we speak about sport wagons or, as is the case with Citroen, the Tourer. Locally, the mentality still has not fully embraced the concept of the sports-tourer, however if we eventually follow the trends in Europe, this type of model is set to become more popular. Abroad, couples with young children or living a lifestyle where they have hobbies or pastimes requiring the transportation of bulky stuff generally opt for this version as their preferred means of transport.

Citroen have managed to make a seemingly large vehicle look good. Despite the substantial loading space, however, to the dismay of the Minister of Finance, the car is not any longer than the saloon version, therefore no additional taxation due to the length of the vehicle can be levied and Citroen engines are particularly clean with low emissions.

A serious effort has been also made on the inside of the car where one can choose from a vast selection of different materials and finishes with particularly supportive front seats and enough space for three adults to sit comfortably in the back. The unique fixed hub arrangement for the steering is obviously used in this model with a vast array of functions operated from the fixed central unit of the steering. On a negative note, I did not like the way in which the rear seat folds down.

An interesting range of engines are available but it will be interesting to see how petrol and diesel engines are going to be treated under the new tax regime before one can make a choice. The gearbox is smooth and having to choose between the two different suspension systems available, I would opt for the basic which is more than adequate. The C5 kicks off with a decent basic price tag but there is a long list of goodies that will raise the price accordingly.

I feel the C5 represents a quantum leap in terms of quality, styling and materials used over the previous model. It offers the versatility and comfort one would expect without losing the looks, and the size and weight do not negatively affect the driving dynamics of the car. The Tourer is a worthy contender in a segment that is becoming ever more competitive and where we are bound to experience interesting developments in the near future.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on October 6, 2008

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Ain’t she Swede!

by TONIO DARMANIN

Saab is one of those brands that I always enjoy discussing. The Scandinavian way of thinking has always assured that vehicles originally designed and built with the exigencies of a nation with particular climatic and geographic conditions in mind will be different. The emphasis on safety and reliability resulted in a string of models that, although lacking in the aesthetic department, gained a reputation for robustness, dependability and for offering the highest levels of security to those travelling inside. They were also pioneers in the use of turbo technology and applied the knowledge they gained as airplane manufacturers to excel in aerodynamics and performance.

When General Motors took over the brand, they obviously had to rationalise production by matching models across the group to gain the necessary economies of scale, however they were smart enough to retain the basic values that the Saab brand represented. Hence, the new 2008 93 Convertible I test drove does share, for example, its chassis with, amongst others, the Opel Vectra, however it does present a structural and styling independence that is immediately identifiable. Far from the odd shapes of Saabs of old, the new range of models distinguish themselves for their strong, sporty presence, and in the case of the 93 Convertible, both with the roof up or down.

White is possibly the most fashionable colour at this point in time to the extent that it is being referred to as “the new black”. The Saab in this colour looks amazing and the unlikely combination with a beige roof actually matches perfectly. The butch impression you get as you approach the car, with the front drawing a resemblance to the Aero X, is enhanced once you open the door and sit inside it. The driving position is excellent and the seating position is near perfect, whilst the 93 also offers adequate room for three other adults. Ergonomically, instruments are clustered sensibly inside the “cockpit” and within easy reach of the driver. It oozes luxury and uncompromising quality and I felt safely cocooned even with the hood down, a different sensation from any other convertible.

Given the background of the typical market for this car, one might question the validity of offering a convertible in the product line-up, the North-European climate being what it is. What Saab has done is to build a vehicle that, once the roof is up, feels exactly like a fixed-top coupè and the insulation, including that for sound, makes this a car that is enjoyable in any circumstance, and in any season.

On the other hand, the car is aimed at an international market and whether it will be driven to the North Cape in winter or up to Paradise Bay in August, it is versatile enough to offer the limit in driving pleasure in either case. It would likely be a next progression to consider evolving to a retractable hard top but on the other hand, being Saab, they might not bother.

The 93 under test was a Vector model equipped with the 2.0 turbo petrol engine developing 210bhp and generating 300Nm of torque between 2,500 to 4,000 revs. The same block is used for two lower-powered configurations, namely 150bhp and 175bhp, but this particular specification ensures the best balance between sporty performance and contained economy and emissions. The car pulls away beautifully with a respectable 0-60 time of just over 8 seconds for the 6 speed manual version.

Shifting is precise and smooth, although I personally would probably opt for the 5-speed automatic box. Steering is precise but reacts, as expected, to the mix of forces between traction and change of direction, as does any front wheel drive car. Suspension is particularly comfortable, not too soft, but once you get used to driving it, you will realise that you do not need to come to a dead stop in front of the slightest obstacle and even our infamous sleeping policemen do not manage to make the ride unduly uncomfortable.

Additionally, the 93 range has available what Saab refers to as ‘ReAxs’, whereby all four wheels help in the steering, a bit like the effect on a skateboard, making road holding truly exceptional.

The car is loaded with all the refinements to make driving it easy and comfortable. It is a pleasure to drive and it not only looks strong and safe but feels it too, and more importantly, it is truly a reliable and particularly secure car. Saab’s “real life” safety research helps them develop technologies that help them build vehicles that are safer than most, particularly comforting when one is looking at a convertible.

A final consideration is that of perceived value. The vehicle creates an aura of exclusivity, not being a car that is commonly seen on our roads, and with the styling and design of this new model, I was surprised to find that the pricing is much more accessible than I imagined.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on September 1, 2008

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Talkin’ Bout an Evolution

by TONIO DARMANIN

Tracy Chapman was actually talking about a revolution and that is what this radical model started off as before progressing into an evolution which has now reached its 10th incarnation over a span of 16 years.

I first raced an Evo VI Tommi Makinen (who won 4 consecutive WRC driver’s titles between 1996 and 1999 in an Evo) Limited Edition on an improvised track at the bottom end of the Hal Far Raceway six years ago and last year pushed a highly tuned Evo IX against a most unlikely competitor, the Clio V6, on Taxiway Lima at the Malta International Airport.

Two experiences that gave me a particular flavour and feel about this car.
I have also driven the latest four versions of the Subaru WRX STi, the penultimate one on a racetrack in Sicily, so I was interested in seeing what the latest representation of this unique genre of sports car, the Evo X was all about.

This road-legal rally car was originally destined exclusively for the Japanese domestic market but an export version introduced in 1998 to cater for the strong demand creating volumes of grey imports particularly into the UK, and the popularity of these Japanese exotics here in Europe, has since grown exponentially. The primary appeal is the fact that there is apparently no limit to the amount of tuning that they are capable of undergoing and that, in many cases, they are more practical and can outperform supercars for a fraction of the price.

The Evo X is insanely fast, shooting to 100km/hr in less than five seconds. It is powered by the customary turbocharged 2.0 litre, all aluminum in-line four cylinder engine that has undergone modifications to the exhaust, intercooler, ECU and fuel pump to develop 291bhp in the “entry level” format of the UK spec version with power upgrades to 325bhp and even a staggering 354bhp as options.

However, the trump card of this car has been and still is its handling. It boasts S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) using torque vectoring technology to send different amounts of torque to any wheel at any given time. AYC (Active Yaw Control) is a performance-oriented system which aims to increase cornering speeds.

It is based on a computer-controlled rear differential that can actively split torque, based on input from various accelerometers in the vehicle measuring longitudinal and lateral G Forces, steering, ABS parameters, and throttle position. It accomplishes this via two hydraulic clutches which can limit torque on individual axles.

What does all this mean to the end user? Essentially you can enter and leave corners much faster, simply point and shoot, with a reduced chance of the car over or under steering. On a track, this will obviously result in better lap times. On the road, where the car will generally be used, it translates into a car that offers better handling and safer driving, even at high speeds (although this smells of a contradiction in terms!)

The chassis is forgiving, even to those who are experiencing this type of vehicle for the first time, and the set-up, although necessarily stiff, does not make for an uncomfortable ride as long as the road surface is decent. The latest model offers the option of the SST twin clutch, semi-automatic, sequential paddle shift transmission.

Quite a mouthful and the technology is state-of-the-art, however, traditionalists insist that the standard manual gearbox, back down to five-speed rather than six-speed featured in the Evo IX, is still the more satisfying option for this type of car. Brembo brakes are standard as are the 17 inch alloys but one can opt for climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, sat-nav, and a premium stereo with a 20 gig hard drive and MP3 socket.

The test car looked good in black and the touches of carbon-fibre suit it, although a lighter colour would probably bring out the contrast with the aggressive face of the X better.

There is a marked improvement inside where the Recaro bucket seats, forming part of the standard kit, offer the required support where it counts. It still feels and looks uninspiring with room for improvement both in styling and in quality and feel of the plastics used. Space is plentiful for front and rear passengers with rear legroom being impressively abundant and the substantial luggage booth endorses the practicality of this car, even when put to everyday family use. It is literally a family car with supercar performance.

As with previous models, driving the Evo X evokes a constant adrenalin rush. The head-back thrust when the car accelerates and the confidence it inspires when taking corners are truly impressive. In fact, with this car, Mitsubishi seem to be wallowing in perfecting the art of supercar embarrassment.

Compared to the Evo IX, the X seems to have lost slightly on brute force but has gained tremendously in terms of handling. It stacks up well against its direct rival, the WRX STi but both these cars now have to face up to a new phenomenon in the Japanese Exotics arena in the guise of the Nissan GT-R. I cannot wait to lay my hands on one and when I do, you will be the first to know.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on August 4, 2008

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Cool roadster. Stunning coupé.

By TONIO DARMANIN

I hate it, I absolutely hate it. The minute I start warming up to a car and getting the best out of it, it is time to return it to the showroom, this has become the story of my life. The only consolation is that normally, within hours, I would be jumping into the driver’s seat of the next model to test drive and starting the process all over again. It does so happen, however, that occasionally, I do come across the occasional car that leaves a mark, sows a seed, lingers in my mind even after I’ve handed back the keys. A machine that seems to hit all the right buttons, that makes me feel like I could spend more and more time driving it, possibly spend money buying it.

The Mercedes SLK is one such car. This stems from the fact that it is a cool roadster doubling up as a stunning coupé, delivers awesome amounts of power to the rear wheels, handles brilliantly, is beautifully finished and offers an endless list of tempting options. What more can a man (or a woman for that matter) want?

I first drove the model that is today being face lifted in 2004 and – like the 185,000 owners who bought the second generation SLK, as well as the 335,000 who bought the previous edition – I immediately took a liking to the car.

The facelift, thankfully, only brought about minor cosmetic changes which include an F1 inspired facia incorporating chisel-designed bumpers that look subtly aggressive and now accommodate aero diffusers, darkened tail lenses, trapezoid exhausts, a discreet AMG spoiler and larger rear-view mirrors incorporating led indicators. The in-colour at the moment is white, which is actually being referred to as ‘the new black’, however I was blown away by the particular silver, new to the model, with which the SLK was decorated.

The test car had been ordered with the optional sports package meaning exclusive 18 inch, six double-spoke alloys to die for, the new three-spoke steering wheel and gear leaver are covered in leather and this, together with the rest of the interior, is finished with red top stitching. Black roof lining, red seatbelts and trim elements in carbon look make the new SLK look distinctive, adding to the luxury feel. I found the standard sound system lacking, particularly when driving at speed with the roof down so the Harman Kardon surround sound system and the media interface enabling the connectivity with an MP3 player and USB stick would
top my accessory shopping list.

The roof opens elegantly and effortlessly in 22 seconds impinging quite seriously, as these roofs normally do, on the luggage space. Access to the vehicle with the ceiling up would be, I presume, quite tight for a tall driver but I did not get to test this. The car was open when I picked it up at the showroom and it remained so throughout the entire test-drive.

I only operated the closing mechanism to get a couple of photos and a look at the nicely finished interior but I much preferred the unlimited headroom option. Seating is low and the driving position uncompromisingly sporty; great ergonomics put all the knobs and switches in just the right places and within easy reach of the driver and the multi-function steering wheel helps. I consider the SLK a comfortable two-seater with enough cubbyholes in which to store your keys, mobile phone, sunglasses, wallet, MP3 player, etc.

One option that was originally introduced on the previous model
is the Airscarf which diffuses warm air in the neck area to make open-air driving more comfortable in colder climates. This option would make sense here in Malta if – as happened with heated seats that can now also cool – the system can diffuse chilled air making top-down driving in hot weather literally cooler.

Safety is obviously a prime consideration, particularly in this type of vehicle, however Mercedes have developed possibly the most advanced active and passive systems that focus on avoiding an accident in the first place, however should this occur anyway, then passengers are afforded the highest levels of protection to avoid or at least minimise injury.

By far the most popular model is the SLK200 that I drove, equipped with a 1.8 litre supercharged, 4-cylinder in-line petrol engine developing a respectable 184bhp and 250Nm of torque. The five-speed automatic version accelerates from 0-100km/hr in 7.9 seconds with the manual version doing this in just 7.6 seconds, and reaches a top speed of 232 km/hr. Average consumption is quoted at a respectable 36 miles per gallon and emitting 182 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

Other versions that can be considered are the SLK280 with a 3 litre V6 engine developing 228bhp, the SLK350 at 301bhp and the ultimate SLK55 AMG, powered by a 5.5 litre V8 and producing 355bhp.

I was honestly impressed with the punch of this relatively small engine giving the car a genuinely sporty feel whilst attaining sensible consumption levels. The SLK is a pleasure to drive, following the steering with pinpoint precision through corners and offering plenty of grip and stability. Body control is brilliant, even at elevated speeds and although I noticed a slight tendency to understeer when taking a sharp corner at speed, the stability control is quick to intervene to keep the situation under control. This is probably due to the light set-up of the car that in turn contributes to a truly sporty driving experience.

The sport package also includes the sport suspension which lowers the car, making it more stable and improves adherence to the road, however this could cause some discomfort on the less even surfaces of some of our roads.
Transmission is near perfect via the five-speed automatic gearbox, an option I would not order the car without and the engine intonation as the car accelerates through the gears is music to the enthusiast ears.

The SLK has a number of valid rivals in the premium roadster segment namely the Z4, the Boxster, the Audi TT and the Alfa Spyder. On the other hand, it is endowed with a classy elegance combined with subtly aggressive looks and brilliant performance and handling, making it a truly valid contender.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on June 2, 2008

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To Palermo in a Tucson to test-drive the i10

Well, I must confess that when told that we would be driving up to Palermo to test drive the latest Hyundai i10, I wasn’t exactly over the moon. For starters, I have heard stories of getting stuck on the catamaran for hours on high seas and everyone around you being sick. Moreover, the infamous driving habits of the Sicilians was another source of concern.

Well at least we were driving up in a Hyundai Tucson, a spacious and comfortable ride, I must say. The crossing was in fact quick and within an hour and a half we disembarked in Sicily. The SUV was driven off the catamaran and we started the journey. We did get lost on the Sicilian side roads but once we got a grip of the route, we were well on the way.

The 2-litre diesel powering the vehicle provided decent acceleration for an enjoyable experience with 82.5kw at 4,000rpm and 245Nm of torque available between 1,800 to 2,500 rpm. The engine is relatively quiet and its flexible nature provided the driver with all the power required. During the 700km round journey, at times we were cruising at speeds of 170km an hour despite a full load of passengers and luggage. Being an SUV, the Tucson also manoeuvred pretty well around the busy roads of Palermo.

The interior is quite spacious and five adults can travel with relative comfort for quite a distance. The dashboard is well within the drivers’ view without having to distract his or her attention from the road for the essential information. The luggage space available is capable of accom­modating the equipment necessary for a television filming crew together and personal luggage.

An ideal vehicle for a family and very versatile, were my final thoughts following the trip, but anyway it was the i10’s turn now.

Hyundai chose the picturesque seaside town of Palermo for the international launch of the i10 and to be perfectly honest, I never had imagined that Sicily was so beautiful. My perception of Palermo was that of crime and disorder, but at most it can be described as chaotic, especially in the centre. Once out in the countryside, it improved considerably, apart from the food!

Even though the i10 forms part of the mini-segment, it provides a decent drive with a smooth and silent ride. In terms of performance, the i10 is powered by a 1.0-litre engine which covers 0 to 60 miles an hour in 15.2 seconds. Once up to speed, it moves on at a decent pace despite a low gearing of 20mph per 1,000rpm in fifth gear. The steering provides decent feedback and body roll is quite contained in the fast bends, despite the tallish build of the car.

The interior is accessed by the wide opening doors and inside passengers
have plenty of headroom and legroom especially in the back. It is decently trimmed with no bare metal or unsightly screwheads and equipment levels are on the generous side. Luggage capacity is a sensible 258 litres. The clincher, of course, is that, unlike all its competitors, the i10 comes with a five-year unlimited mileage warranty. And since this is backed by what is now the fifth biggest carmaker in the world, it’s a proper guarantee, not just a piece of paper.

There is no doubt that this useful little car is where a lot of buyers are going to have to put their money in years to come.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on May 5, 2008


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French finesse with a German feel

The days of the boring saloon are over as can be attested by the shrinking segment, primarily because the consumer is opting for MPVs, SUVs and Crossovers. This has forced car companies to up their game to attract potential customers’ attention once again to the saloon.

Citroen are fully aware that looks rank highly on the customers list of priorities when selecting a new car and have made tremendous effort in this department. They wanted to design a car that will appeal to today’s selective customer in a seductively French way. On the other hand, Citroen understood that it would be difficult to beat the Germans at the car-building game so they wanted to give the new C5, in their own words, “an unmistakably German feel”.



While the front styling is very French and very Citroen for that matter, with sweeping headlamps and the distinctive double Chevron grille, from the rear the C5 can easily be mistaken for an Audi or a BMW. Derived from the large Citroens of old and used recently in the C6, the concave rear window is another particular feature on the C5 that has now reverted back to being a saloon rather that a hatch-back.

Another crucial consideration for today’s customer is interior luxury and perceived quality. Here, Citroen ensured that driver and passengers feel they are travelling in first-class, creating an environment inside the vehicle that is stylish and elegant but at the same time of the highest quality and robust. Space is also essential and the new C5 offers this in abundance. As a relatively tall driver, I could adjust the seat and steering to find a near-perfect driving position with heaps of head, leg and shoulder room.

I could also transport a further four adult passengers in comfort with enough space for luggage in the voluminous boot. Some of the competitors, namely the Mondeo, offer a hatch-back saloon look-alike option which is not available so far in the C5 range. What should be shortly available in Malta is the Tourer which is equally stunning to look at but offers the additional space required when considering this type of vehicle.



The cockpit-style dashboard centred around the driver makes a nice change from the flat architecture ones with central dials often used by Citroen. I like the concept of the fixed-hub steering whereby the controls remain in a permanent position at the centre of the wheel, giving the driver easier access and avoiding the need to use the somewhat small and cluttered controls in the central console.

The main dials are also innovative with the needle travelling on the outer side of the dial leaving space in the centre for the digital display of information. Smoothness and sound insulation add to a pleasurable experience in the car and here the new C5 excels.

There are two types of suspension options to choose from, namely the Hyractive 3+ hydro pneumatic suspension that carries forward the tradition that this company produces cars with the most comfortable suspension possible. However tempting this option may be to confront Maltese roads, it will come at a price, but I also drove the car equipped with a normal spring suspension and can confirm that the ride quality is nonetheless excellent.

I had the opportunity of driving the various variants of the C5 in Lisbon over different surfaces varying from cobbled side streets to the magnificent highways in this region. I also ventured into some winding mountain roads on the outskirts of the city and was surprised at how composed, smooth and silent these new models are.



Analysing the technical specifications, the choice between the 1.8 petrol and the 1.6HDi diesel engines is not an easy one. The petrol is €1,500 cheaper, accelerates slightly faster and achieves a minimally superior top speed. On the other hand, the diesel offers substantially more pulling power, gives a claimed 50+ miles per gallon and emits far less CO2 per kilometre which could result in lower taxation once the new emissions based tax regime is introduced.

Whatever the eventual choice, both engines are well suited for the vehicle and do the job competently. Having experienced the 110bhp diesel engine for a year when I ran the Peugeot 407 on a long term test, and being familiar with its capabilities and performance, I would personally go for the diesel.

Albeit lacking feel and feedback, the steering is precise and the manual gearbox is sweet as candy, however I would still opt for the smoothness and comfort of the automatic gearbox. Loaded with standard equipment and with lots of options to choose from, the C5 can offer a serious alternative as a family car or an executive saloon. I remember being thoroughly impressed with the Citroen C6 when I drove it in the Champagne region some months ago and the influence and sharing of many components from the brand’s flagship model in the C5 can definitely be felt.

Two versions have been launched today in Malta and include the 1.8 petrol starting at €30,000 and the 1.6 HDi diesel starting at €31,500 making the C5 extremely affordable for the package on offer.


This article was first published on Times of Malta on May 5, 2008

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