We drove the Fiat 500 L: your perfect travel companion

The stylish 500 L in front of the Amphitheatre in Nîmes…

We were always quite charmed by the clever rounded shape and styling of the Fiat 500 L. Its curves and lines are drawn by Italian designers which have an uncanny genial talent to hit those ideal, timeless proportions. Indeed, this compact people carrier will still hit the tune of the times within say, fifteen or twenty years. It came to us this time with a restyled front end, clad in charming Donatello bronze metallic and a black gleaming roof which sported a large glass panorama ceiling. We took it on an extensive continental tour through France, and it filled our car loving hearts with joy, every meter we drove it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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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 Mazda CX-5 194 HP AWD: Sportiness, style and refinement…

Introduced in our market in 2012, Mazda launched a second generation of its SUV bestseller in 2017. The styling is further improved, the car has more power and handling is now even more inviting than ever. The CX-5 is besides this sportiness also a very refined SUV, with very low interior noise levels and offering roominess and comfort. We drove the top Skycruise equipment level with AWD, 6 speed auto and a very impressive 2.5 liter SKYACTIV engine, and needless to say, this CX-5 proved a very charming companion indeed…

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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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

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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

 

We drove the Lexus NX300h: where bold styling meets ingenuity…

The Lexus NX is quite popular in its segment, and is one of its bestsellers in the European market. It has been facelifted twice now since its introduction in 2014. Its futuristic styling and angular contours make it stand out from its rivals, and for some this is also the reason to buy one. It carries of course the perfected and well honed hybrid technology the Japanese lucury brand has been well known for, and that is one of the more rational reasons to take this car among your favorites…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Kia Niro HEV revisited … and as frugal and refined as ever!

Recently we tested again the latest edition of the Kia Niro HEV, and were impressed again by its style, refinement and practicality.

Modern day hybrids are certainly here to stay, chalking up very impressive consumption figures. To tell you right away, the Kia 1,6 GDI “Kappa” engine in combination with the 6 speed Double Clutch transmission and a 32 kW electric engine delivered on a long drive in the Dutch countryside on secondary roads with lots of roundabouts an astonishing 4,6 liters/100 km, with quite a bit of stop and go dense holiday traffic thrown in too.

It is of course not only the economy which counts, it is also the way this performance is achieved, or rather the effortless and very refined way this performance is delivered. Especially slowing down for roundabouts and accelerating away from them is an exercise in which this hybrid due to its technical layout truly excels. Under moderate braking, the batteries are charged, and the Niro accelerates then subsequently under the assistance of e-power. Smooth, vibrationless, silent.

The combined power of the driveline is 141 HP, with 265 Nm of torque. This is virtually equal to the low end pulling power of a normally aspirated three liter engine, to put everything in perspective.

All this pulling power is available at the slightest blip of the throttle, and that is the beauty of it. Flat out acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is done in 11,5 seconds, top speed is 162 km/h.

When maneuvering and parking, the e-engine does the work, and this makes it of course a very restful exercise.

A few words about the transmission: Kia developed the so-called Transmission-Mounted Electric Device (TMED), to optimize the cooperation between the engine and the e-motor, which makes it possible to transmit the full power of both units parallel through the transmission, with minimal power loss.

Style and practicality

We already commented earlier on the very pleasing contours of the Niro, and the car is styled in both styling centers in California and Namyang in Korea. The wheelbase is quite long with 2.700 mm, and the battery pack is lodged under the rear seat. This gives the Niro a standard luggage volume of 427 liter, which can be enlarged to 1425 liter.

Infotainment with Kia Connected Services, Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay™.

We enjoyed the top of the range sound system with 8 JBL speakers and a 320 watt amplifier. The car was equipped with the DAB+ radio, and came also with Android Auto™, suited for Android devices with Lollipop 5 steering systems and higher. Users can also stream music through Google Play Music™.

Apple CarPlay™ will make complete voice control possible through Siri for several functions and apps, enable navigation with Apple-maps, and also make dictating text possible. Apple CarPlay™ supports also audio-apps, like music streaming and audio books which passengers have downloaded on their i-phone.

Needless to say we were spoiled again, and certainly enjoyed our “zen” drive with the Niro, listening in the quiet cabin to the beautiful semi-finals and finals of the Queen Elisabeth Competition for classic song and bel canto…

Conclusion

This second acquaintance convinced us one more of the uncanny mechanical refinement, style, practicality and last but not least economy of this Kia Niro. Add to this the low maintenance costs and expected longevity, with a 7 year/150.000 km guarantee thrown in, and you will agree with us that this Niro has a lot of good arrows on its bow…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

We drove the Skoda Karoq 2.0 TDI 150 HP 4×4 automatic: the Yeti successor gets a classic look…and is better than ever.

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When it comes to compact and bigger SUV’s, Skoda has some formidable cards up its sleeve. Its SUV’s all look pleasing and well proportioned, and are strong contenders in their respective segments. For the successor of the Yeti, Skoda opted for more mainstream styling, to win the hearts of ever more followers. It also offers even more room. Our test car came with the trusty two litre diesel engine, cleverly coupled to the 7-speed 4×4 DSG transmission. Clearly showing us again how smooth, powerful and thrifty modern powertrains have become…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Tiguan Allspace 1.4 TSI DSG: the beauty of space…

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The Tiguan is an absolute bestseller in its home country, and VW decided to widen its appeal by offering a longer version, which allows it to be a 7 seater, or rather 5+2 as VW calls it, as the extra two seats are meant for smaller kids. The Tiguan has gained in stance and elegance with this elongated body, and it was also for us an opportunity to drive the latest generation Tiguan, and again be amazed by its chassis, suspension and the state of the art petrol engined drivetrain…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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