I have been asked to write about my highlights and lowlights of 2013, in a motoring sense, and if there’s anything I’m looking forward to in 2014. That’s the easy part, so let’s begin there.
Ford MustangThe Ford Mustang is finally, officially, making its way to South Africa. It’s no secret that I harbour childhood fantasies of owning the iconic pony car; my father restored an early model in our home and I have fond memories of that noisy brute. I think I cold mimic the sound of a big block V8 before I could say “sandwich”.
The 2015 Mustang looks fantastic. Modern, but with enough lines to pay homage to its ancestry, it will be powered by some smaller turbocharged engines in a bid to make it a “world car” – in line with Ford’s post-recession success strategy. It will still be available with a big V8 though, which is obviously the one I will own, as soon as my tender gets approved by the minister of transport. What? Nothing.
Rumour has it that the new Mustang will have new technology that will enable it to go around corners. I’m sceptical; I’ll just have to wait until I get my hands on one.
Looking back2013 was a fantastic year for motoring. And I have been privileged to sample some fine machines. Highlights include the new Bentley Continental V8. Although it weighs slightly more than my apartment, that twin turbo powerplant has enough grunt to make the big gal feel athletic.
Sure, it has a SatNav system nicked from a Passat, but the interior is remarkable for its quality and luxurious feel. The leather, for instance, is only sourced from countries where it is illegal to use barbed-wire, so the hide is flawless. It doesn’t smell like a new car in there. It smells like a new yacht.
The BMW M6 with the new, factory fitted Akrapovic exhaust was and is phenomenal. Exotic supercar noise and performance, for a relative fraction of the price. Sure, the exhaust alone costs over R100 000, and you could buy a Hyundai i10 or something. But a Hyundai i10 will not give you goosebumps every time you accelerate, where as the car attached to that expensive exhaust will.
The Ferrari 458 Spider is in a league of its own. Never have such drama and precision come together in one achingly beautiful package. The naturally aspirated V8, the most powerful of its size, which sits just behind your head produces a cacophony of snarls, growls and screams that make you feel more alive than any other car I’ve ever driven. The handling is almost as mythical as it is accomplished; it flatters the amateur and rewards the professional like few other cars with this level of power are capable of.
At over R4 million, it is expensive, yes. It is expensive to maintain, yes. But these vulgar notions from the real world do not bother the 458. It is more than a car. It is a life-affirming machine that builds and plays on your emotions. I’m going to stop now. It is making me sad just writing about it.
And then, on the other side of the emotional-motoring spectrum, the Nissan GT-R. I was fortunate to hoof the latest version of this monster around the epic Kyalami racetrack. Every single year, Nissan’s GT-R team head to the Nurburgring for a month to improve the car. Each year, this car gets better. While that might annoy some owners, for me it is a mark of a brand that is not resting on its laurels.
The new GT-R is faster than physics. If you dropped a GT-R out of a plane, it would accelerate from 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. It’s just physics. But, in a straight line, on the ground, using technology (and possibly witchcraft), the latest TrackPack edition of the GT-R can reach 100km/h in 2.7 seconds. This is a machine that is faster than gravity.
It is so unnervingly quick to the average driver, that planting your right foot and the sensations that follow awaken instincts deep inside you that immediately cause you to soil yourself, for want of a better phrase. It is utterly fantastic.
Cars you might actually buyRight, I suppose I had better talk about some cars that you might actually purchase with your hard earned Rands.
The BMW 3-Series is a great all-rounder. I’m not mad about its unibrow, narrow-eyed front styling, but even the smallest-engined, budget 3 Series offers a great drive, great interior tech, comfort for five people and a decent boot. Hard to argue against it really.
The Renault Clio looks good doesn’t it? I think it is the best looking car anywhere near its price range. But, like the sirens on the rock, do not be fooled by its beauty. It is not a very nice car to live with. The downsized engine, while efficient, has to work too hard and is generally frustrating to drive, unless your name is Margaret and you are pushing 90 and not in a particular hurry. The back seats only fit hobbits and the build quality leaves much to be desired. It feels like it has been built by underpaid disgruntled Frenchmen, and we all know how disgruntled Frenchmen can be as it is.
It’s a pity really. But fear not, Renault is making some very cool cars. The Renault Duster is awesome. At its price point of under R200 000, it is unbeatable. And if you want a small car, save some money and buy the Sandero. It’s based on the last Clio anyway and is built by slightly less disgruntled Romanians.
The Hyundai Santa Fe was a very nice surprise. Comfortable, offering a superb ride, a plush interior and a handsome exterior, it is a good as anything you might buy from ze Germans. But it almost costs a German amount of money, so it will likely remain attractive to those who aren’t badge snobs. Which is perfectly fine, those are the sort of people I would have at dinner anyway.
As you might imagine, I could go on forever. It’s been a great year. At the risk of sounding like a complete tosser, I’ve driven more cars than I can remember. So in writing this, I challenged myself to think of the one car (in a real world price bracket) that really stood out. The car that really took up a special place in my heart and mind.
The Subaru Forester XT and Subaru WRX come close. Both are exceptional in their own right. The Fiesta ST is also up there. Special mention must be made of the Audi RS4, the Audi A3 and the Mercedes E300 Hybrid. That last car is a phenomenal achievement in packaging and economy from Mercedes.
But, hand on my heart, it’s got to be the Honda Accord Tourer. What a complete vehicle. I often joke about this with my colleagues, but it seems only motoring journalists like station wagons. The venerable Hannes Oosthuizen, former editor of Car magazine, even wrote a column about station wagons. And I just cannot understand why South Africans don’t flock to purchase these bastions of practicality.
The Accord Tourer comes in at just over R400 000. But there are some stunning examples of Honda Accord Tourers on Cars.co.za for around R250k, which is just unreal. That, fellow car lovers, is a bargain. The naturally aspirated 2.4-litre petrol is powerful enough to keep things interesting, while returning decent, if not stellar, fuel economy. Combined with a ride that is a brilliant compromise between sporting and comfort – long cruises are eaten up effortlessly, while twisty roads are made fun to tackle – it could be every car you’d ever need. If I ever procreate, this is the car I will buy.
The front seats are some of the most comfortable ever fitted to a car. The sound system is epic, with fully integrated subwoofer and more speakers than you could possibly need, but obviously want. Sure, the infotainment setup is a little dated. But that, and I’m not joking, is my only complaint.
It embodies the best characteristics of what any car should be: a great companion. The Accord Tourer feels like it has your best interests at heart, whether that’s ferrying the dog to the park, fetching the kids, road tripping to your holiday destination or just getting to work with your favourite music sounding as if the band is playing from the backseat.
It is my car of the year. And I would greatly appreciate it if a few of you would go and buy one, so that Honda keeps importing them into the country.