We drove the BMW X3 xDrive20i: again a class of its own…

With the X series model range, BMW is certainly making its mark in the SUV class. The X3 has gained already not less than 1,5 million followers all over the globe and understandably expectations are very high indeed when a successor enters the field.

The third generation of the iconic X3 range made its entry a few months ago in 2017, and we tested – in the trend of the times – the petrol engined 2 litre version, and were truly impressed by the utter refinement, smoothness and power of the drivetrain.

But that is not all, the subtly restyled body and the further perfected suspension add the necessary ingredients to make this X3 again a winner. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the new Jeep Wrangler: sheer authenticity on wheels

The Wrangler is available in two- and four door versions… 

The Jeep is the car which gave us back our freedom in WW2, and it does this ever since right to this day, with increasing authenticity.

Because it is a truly authentic and honest car, and this the Jeep was indeed from the day of its birth, what’s more, it brought the freedom to everyone behind the wheel, to choose any path and road (in life) he or she wanted.

Stroke of genius in uniting form and function…

Its original designers had a multiple stroke of genius in designing every element of this wonderful machine. Indeed, its components have been totally inspiring to many, striking a perfect balance between form and function.

Soon everything about this original “General Purpose” vehicle had become totally iconic, and it was only natural that very soon after the war, people developed a never-ending love affair with this “GP” or Jeep, an affection which has grown ever since.

The Jeep community has of course grown throughout the decades, and this inspired today’s designers to reach out for and dig ever more into the original DNA of this Jeep.

Chris Piscitelli, head of design center Jeep Brand, (see photo above) emphasized this again in his presentation at the Jeep Camp near Zeltweg.

Fourth Generation Wrangler is born for the modern day urban and adventurous purist…

With the Wrangler being the true successor of the original in its simplicity and ruggedness, it is for this model that the search for this authenticity has been much pursued. The fully redesigned Wrangler is the result of this, and as you can judge from the photos, it truly looks the part.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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More power and zest for the Mazda MX-5 Roadster…

At the moment of writing we are driving the very entertaining and refined Mazda CX-5, and we hear from the dynamic PR-Manager Peter Gemoets that Mazda is launching an update of its bestselling roadster, enhancing the inimitable thrill of the Jinba Ittai driving experience.

Jinba ittai, or the thrill of perfect unity between the horse and its rider with the arch… 

For those who are not familiar with this concept and do not know what it means, we tell you here that Jinba ittai (人馬一体, “person [and] horse [as] one body”) is a Japanese four-character compound, describing unity of horse and rider which is pertinent to Yabusame, Japanese mounted archery. We could not resist the temptation to make a drawing of one of those valiant warrior/riders with their big arches, galloping on their horses…

Hirotaka Kanazawa: “it all comes down to the relationship between the car and the driver”

A beautiful symbol, indeed evoking what Mazda is striving to reach with its CX-5, namely the unity between the driver and its four wheeled mount, the MX-5. As we told you already in our test report of the MX-5, it is one of those cars which delivers you tons of driving pleasure. This is also precisely what people like Hirotaka Kanazawa, the managing executive officer of Mazda Japan, and responsible for car development, tells us: “we firmly believe that when we make a fantastic car, it all comes down to the relationship between the car and the driver”. We show you here his photo, and an image taken in the research and development department, where the all important relationship and “feel” is tested between steering wheel and gear lever…

The “feel” of the car with your hands on the wheel and the gearlever… this is what they test at the Mazda development centre… 

The 1.5 and 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol engines have further improved combustion and greater torque now, and comply with new WLTP/RDE test cycle, meeting Euro 6d Temp emission regulations. Both powertrains benefit from refined acceleration control to minimise lag between throttle applications and vehicle response.

The SKYACTIV-G 2.0 engine is now higher-revving and acoustically further tuned, with maximum engine speed raised from 6,800 to 7,500 rpm, maximum horsepower increased from 160 to 184 PS @ 7,000 rpm, and maximum torque from 200 to 205 Nm @ 4,000 rpm.

Five new i-ACTIVSENSE safety technologies are also introduced: Advanced Smart City Brake Support which detects vehicles and pedestrians ahead and helps avoid collisions, and Smart City Brake Support (Reverse) which detects vehicles and obstacles behind, as well as Driver Attention Alert, a Traffic Sign Recognition System and a Rear View Camera. This we also enjoy now in the new CX-5 we are testing.

The award-winning KODO-Soul of Motion design is further enriched through a darker paint finish for both 16″ and 17″ alloy wheels, and the eye is further seduced with the availability of a new brown canopy colour for soft-top models.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

Audi presents the second generation of its iconic A1…

We have always loved the A1 Audi, and many car enthusiasts with us. The second generation is now soon to roll of the production lines in Martorell, and not in Brussels anymore, where next year the all-electric flagship Audi will be produced. The new A1 has a more angular, and bolder stance, and Audi tells us it shows reminiscences of the “Ur”-Quattro. Especially the big and large forward tilted C-pillar gives indeed extra zest to this new A1.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Lexus LC 500 h: a Gran Turismo coupé of absolute superlatives

A beauty from the east has come to our shores… 

Unique and truly standing out, this is how we can fittingly describe this beautiful coupé. Brilliant engineering gives this hybrid gem its performance and panache. The stylists also pulled all the stops and tested the boundaries of shaping and form techniques to produce a Lexus with an absolutely brilliant personality and presence. With the LF-LC concept car in 2012 we had already a preview of this stunning car, and at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit it made its public debut.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Audi launches new Q8: a SUV with even more sporting flair

The Audi Q8 is a large SUV, exuding – as Audi puts it – sporty dynamics and upscale prestige. Practically 5 meters (16.4 ft) long, 2.00 meters (6.6 ft) wide and 1.71 meters (5.6 ft) tall, the SUV coupe is wider, shorter and lower than its Q7 sister model.

With a wheelbase of nearly 3.00 meters (9.8 ft), it offers a spacious interior that beats of its direct competitors in most relevant dimensions, including interior length and headroom.  There is a three-seat system in the rear with longitudinally adjusting upon request. With the seatbacks folded down, the luggage compartment under the power rear hatch holds up to 1,755 liters (62.0 cu ft). The body has svelte accent lines, muscular yet refined, we love it from any angle. Just be still a bit patient: the Audi Q8 launches on the European market in the third quarter of 2018. Just read more…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the BMW i3s REx: E-joy, style and cleverness on wheels…

E-driving is not only cool, it can also give you lots of driving pleasure. BMW has proved this point now already over 100.000 times last year with its E-fleet, more specifically i, BMW iPerformance and MINI vehicles with fully electric or plug-in hybrid drive systems. Of course, the i3 being its most popular icon. Indeed, this cleverly designed and styled car has grown into just that: a symbol of clever and durable mobility.

We drove for you the nimble and lively “s” version, and we loved every meter we drove it.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “We drove the BMW i3s REx: E-joy, style and cleverness on wheels…”

We drove the Audi A8 L50 3.0 TDI quattro: the beauty and perfection of four rings…

If you would think luxury sedans are somewhat less breathtaking nowadays, then just slide behind the wheel of this latest A8. Its style, panache, technical refinement and uncanny agility will astound you. The Audi engineers have build here a car which strikes an ideal balance between comfort, driving pleasure and stylishness. It embodies all the magic of driving and enjoying a motor car, where everything is engineered to perfection. It handles, performs, drives just as you expect from a superb automobile. It wears its four ringed badges proudly, and this is well earned…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The latest edition of Audi’s flagship sedan breathes the clean smooth and pure styling language we have seen in recent models, with some angularity thrown in too. Proportions of this “L” version are very well maintained, and the big 20 inch wheels suit it very well, adding elegance as well as a hint of dynamic boldness.

The same refined elegance is found in the interior. The digital instrumentation shows in normal configuration two very readable clocks for revs and speed, with in the center console a shiny black touchscreen for navigation, infotainment, with driving modes and airco/ventilation settings also embodied in the same unit. The central armrest houses the usual USB slots and a wireless charging pad for your phone. Everything is very logical, comfortable and intuitive.

The large, sweeping surfaces and dashboard contours are accentuated by thin, elegant LED lighting strips, with color schemes to suit your mood. The seats were executed in Valcona leather and whirred in your chosen position as soon as you pushed the starting button.

The V6 3.0 TDI is well known to your servant as I own an A5 V6 3.0 TDI cabrio, and its sound and feel made me immediately feel at home. In the A8, this engine develops a very healthy 286 HP between 3750 and 4000 rpm and is coupled to a marvelous 8 speed automatic with tiptronic manual shift mode. The A8 is a full time quattro, with default torque split 40/60, variable between 70/30-15/85.

Torque is of course abundant, with 600 Nm being available over a very wide rev range between 1250 and 3250 rpm. Performance of this 2 ton car is – as you can expect – rather superb, with 0-100 acceleration being absolved in 5,9 seconds, and the top speed is an electronically governed 250 km/h.

The bare figures tell nothing about the absolutely effortless way this performance is achieved, and indeed the abundant and always available massive torque makes the A8 feel agile and nimble in all driving situations. Just for the record, accelerating through the gears from 80 to 120 km/h costs only 4,6 seconds, doing this in fifth gear for instance costs merely 6,1 seconds. Need we say more?

The V6 engine note can please even sporting drivers, and is of course never unduly harsh or stressed.

The engine is quite efficient, and coupled to the velvety and clever gearbox even slow city driving will deliver very reasonable consumptions in the range of 8 liters/100 km, on the open road during a tour through Holland including relativele dense traffic we reached effortlessly an average consumption between 5,6 and 6 liter/100 km. We also appreciated the coasting function when lifting the throttle at speed, and this added further to the very relaxing experience this A8 offers on the Autobahn. For a two ton automobile with this performance and smoothness, Diesel engines are impossible to beat when it comes to achieving low fuel consumptions, there is simply no way around it. This is certainly true under partial load and slow driving conditions. CO2 emissions are a very reasonable 152 g CO2/km. Considering what Bosch has in store for reducing Nox emissions drastically in the next Diesel engine generations, in my opinion, the Diesel engine is far from dead, and will continue to play a role in our mobility.

Combining velvety comfort with impeccable handling

Besides the well-honed drivetrain, perfection is also achieved when it comes to the suspension, translating in superb comfort and precise handling.

Audi continued the tradition of making the A8 a true drivers’ car, and indeed, one can throw it with spirit through fast or slow corners, the electronically controlled damping settings holding just the right value in milliseconds. In the dynamic mode, the A8 steers totally flat through corners, with the steering offering every bit of responsiveness you could whish for. Our test car also came with the dynamic four wheel steering. It has to be experienced to be believed. It is controlled by the electronic suspension platform (ESP). The new steering system approaches the steer angle and directional stability as separate issues, once again probing the boundaries of the physically possible.

At low speeds and on tight bends, steering effort is greatly reduced. But this is never allowed to unsettle it. The A8 is even unruffled by an abrupt lane change at high speed. The driver always feels intensive, finely differentiated feedback from the road.

The optional dynamic all-wheel steering combines two distinct high-tech steering systems. The dynamic steering on the front axle incorporates what is known as strain wave gearing where the ratio changes as a function of speed. The rear wheels are turned by a spindle drive and two track rods – at low speeds by up to five degrees against the direction of steering, to facilitate maneuvering and reduce the turning circle by about one meter to 11.4 meters (37.4 ft) on the A8 or 11.8 meters (38.7 ft) on the A8 L.

At medium and high speeds, the wheels are turned by up to two degrees in the direction of steering, for increased stability. Dynamic all-wheel steering matches the steering ratio optimally to the driving situation, adjusting the ratio across a range of 9.5 to 17. At the limits of driving dynamics or on surfaces that are slippery under one side of the car, dynamic all-wheel steering again stabilizes the new A8 by manipulating the steering at the front and rear axles. Wow!

We were impressed by the amount of comfort the “comfort” mode offers you, when driving at slow speeds through ancient urban cobblestoned streets and squares.

Of course, the seats are up to the task, offering excellent support and are of course electronically adjustable to suit your taste in seating comfort.

With the L version, rear leg room is of course massive, with boot space still being a quite creditable 505 liters.

Driving in this A8 is of course also a quite formidable sound experience. Our test car came with the optional Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound System, and God knows we enjoyed listening to Chet Baker for instance, “in a soulful mood”, or “Secular Hymns” from Madeleine Peyroux…  or “Islands” – the Essential Einaudi, suiting the refined character of this Audi at best. The DAB radio will also spoil you with formidable clarity.

Maneuvering the A8 in town is made a breeze with the comprehensive driving aid systems. Camera’s fore and aft will guide you, and as our test car came with the Audi side assist package, it will also warn you when you steer the car with its beautiful alloy wheels close to kerbs. Of course there is a 360° surround view of the car on the central screen when you park it…You even can see your car in 3D from any angle on the screen. With the optional park assist systems, you can not only let the Audi park itself, it does this even remote, via your smartphone!

Conclusion

Every gramme of this big sedan is well styled, honed, clevery engineered, beautifully finished and built with a sense for perfection and true craftmanship. Yet it never feels ponderous, imposing, it just breathes refined elegance. That’s what many people like about the Audi products, and this A8 strikes a very fine balance, and translates this design and engineering philosophy to the highest levels for those who want comfortable, yet refined and dynamic transport. And what’s more, the chassis and platform takes many future driving technologies, of which soon more in these columns…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

BMW performs last driving tests of its new Z4 before launch…

Long bonnet, short overhangs, low centre of gravity, soft top: the new Z4 two-seater doing its laps at the BMW test centre in Miramas in the south of France is instantly recognisable as a purebred roadster.

The new BMW Z4 is currently undergoing another particularly important stage of the process towards serial production maturity, in this case involving driving dynamics testing of a heavily disguised prototype.

Trials at the Autodrome de Miramas are focusing on fine-tuning of all drive and suspension systems.

Some dynamic handling and nimbleness is to be expected from this new Z4. Just look at the BMW Z4 M40i. A new, extremely powerful in-line 6-cylinder engine, a lowered sports suspension with electronically controlled dampers, a newly developed front axle, M light alloy wheels with mixed tyres, an M sports brake system and an electronically controlled lock in the rear axle differential create an overall package that sees this BMW M Performance model setting a benchmark for driving pleasure in the roadster segment.

“The vehicle concept of the new BMW Z4 is geared consistently towards agility and driving dynamics,” explains Jos van As, Head of Application Suspension. “The high level of body stiffness and the very rigid suspension attachment provide the perfect basis for a set-up that guarantees the performance qualities of a genuine sports car in terms of steering precision as well as longitudinal and transverse acceleration.”

Like the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, the Miramas test centre offers perfect conditions for the new BMW Z4 to demonstrate its driving dynamics potential. Used by BMW to develop and test new models for more than 30 years, the centre comprises a long asphalt oval and a motorway ring road for high-speed tests as well as slalom, serpentine and circular tracks and a number of handling courses and circuits featuring highly diverse types of surface.

These are currently being used for detailed analysis and optimization of the roadster’s acceleration, steering and brake response. For example, the final form of the adaptive M suspension as it interacts with the rear axle limited-slip differential is developed on the same circuit as is also used for testing purposes by BMW Motorsport.

The new generation Z4 will give you agile handling, spontaneity and steering precision when changing direction and will allow you to accelerate in dynamic style out of bends – without neglecting creature comfort…

Needless to say that, as an enthusiastic Z3 owner, we are very keen to get behind the wheel of this new Z4!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

BMW expands its battery and “E”-production in China…

The “E” units are installed and assembled…

The BMW Group continues to drive the expansion of electro-mobility as part of its Strategy NUMBER ONE > NEXT.

To achieve this, the company and is adapting its production structures to growing demand for fully and partially electrified vehicles.

Just seven months after opening its battery factory in China, the BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) joint venture laid the foundation for a comprehensive expansion of the plant. At the “High-Voltage Battery Centre Phase II”, BBA will produce the new, more powerful batteries of the fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology for the fully-electric BMW iX3. Starting in 2020, the BMW iX3 will be built at the neighbouring BBA plant Dadong.

Production of battery cells… 

One fact which probably you did not know: China is the BMW Group’s largest single market and understandably the pacesetter for e-mobility worldwide. With six electrified models currently available, the BMW Group offers Chinese customers the widest range of options in the premium segment.

In 2017, the BMW Group more than doubled its sales of electrified vehicles in China from the previous year and expects this growth to continue in 2018. Earlier this year, production of the new BMW 5 Series Plug-in Hybrid got underway at the BBA plant Dadong. Expansion of the battery factory underlines the BMW Group’s commitment to China.

Loving care and attention to detail, also in China…

Production of fully-electric cars to be integrated into existing structures…

The BMW Group is indeed pioneering in electromobility. You could see this already in our columns, dear reader, at the interview of Mr. Robert Irlinger. Just type “Irlinger” in the search window, and read on…

The company’s Leipzig plant began building the fully-electric BMW i3 in 2013. Today, the BMW Group produces cars with combustion engines on the same lines as plug-in hybrids at ten locations worldwide.

The mounted battery cells are installed and tested at the end of the production line…

Three battery plants in Germany, the US and China supply local production of electrified vehicles with batteries. In the future, production of fully-electric vehicles will also be integrated into existing manufacturing structures.

In addition, two enhanced flexible vehicle architectures will be suitable for all drive forms, thereby reducing complexity in production. This gives the BMW Group maximum production flexibility and enables it to respond quickly to market and customer demands worldwide. It also ensures optimal utilization of production capacity, avoids high investments and creates job security.

Ii is all happening in CVhina: the BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) joint venture

The BBA Brilliance Automotive joint venture was founded in 2003. Over the past 15 years, it has become one of the most successful premium automobile manufacturers in China, encompassing production and sales of BMW automobiles in China, as well as local development tasks.

 

In 2017, the BBA automotive plants in Tiexi and Dadong produced almost 400,000 vehicles for the Chinese market – an increase of around 30% year-on-year. The maximum capacity of the two plants will reach 520,000 units per year from 2019.

Some more astonishing facts: since 2009, the joint venture has invested more than 52 billion RMB (approx. 6.7 billion euros) in the BBA plants, and employs more than 16,000 people.

In 2014, the BMW Group and Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd. extended their joint venture contract early and laid the foundation for deepening the successful cooperation. The extended contract is valid for ten years (from 2018 to 2028).

The future will hold many further E-surprises…

Hans Knol ten Bensel