We drove the Dacia Duster TCe 125: your true friend on all roads…

We all love a car which is a faithful companion to all places you want to go in this magnificent world. A car which fulfills your dream of mobility no matter where or what. Without costing you an arm and a leg, giving you rather the freedom to spend your money on those long voyages and travels you always wanted to do, of course with your four wheeled companion.

Well, such a car is the Duster, now in its second generation, aptly named Duster 2. It now comes in a most attractive package, as it has been expertly restyled, undergoing also a state of the art makeover of the mechanics. We took it through its paces for you here. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Mercedes CLS 450 4MATIC Edition 1: the star shines more than ever…

Lovers of elegant, sleek four-door coupés have found since 2003 their superlative mount with the Mercedes CLS. This elegant car is now in its third generation, and the fluent lines are the logical evolution of the Sensual Purity design idiom: sharp edges and lines have been significantly reduced; the car is indeed more rounded, yet breathes the same sleek elegance of its predecessors. It is brimming with state of the art electronics, driving assistance systems and infotainment. But also it’s heart is rejuvenated: the engine range is completely new. It is available with three six-cylinder engines, 2 diesel engines and a gem of a petrol engine, a 3 liter six, which we drove for you here. The sound and fury of this velvety engine has the unmistakable Mercedes aura and character, and yes, it is a 3 liter, like in the 300 SL Gullwing… but of course, this is a car of another age, and edges marvelously close to absolute perfection. Just read further!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Quantum leap in Turin: the new generation Fiat 500X gets a new heart…

The redesigned and rejuvenated 500X, Italian’s Crossover bestseller, starts also a new epoch in state-of-the-art petrol engine engineering, with a new generation of so-called “FireFly” engines. This is innovative engine design at its best, and we will very probably see this new generation of engines soon in other models of the FCA group.
The engine was a true revelation for us, but this is not all. The 500X has gained in style and character, has now even more original “Cinquecento” content. It now carries an impressive standard equipment in driving aids and infotainment, and has more style than ever.
Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Opel Insignia Grand Sport Exclusive: the fascination of balance

Opel cars have reached a remarkably high level of sheer driving dynamics which make them such a pleasure to drive, and this latest generation of the eye pleasing Insignia range amply proves this point again.

We sat behind the wheel of the 2 liter Diesel version, with not less than 170 HP, coupled to an 8 speed automatic. The perfect combination to make this car a magnificent open road cruiser, with of course ample pulling power in urban situations…

But it is the overall, the well honed balance of this car which impressed us most, its responsiveness, agility and precision, combined with excellent seating comfort, which makes it stand out in its class. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Fiat 124 Spider “S-Design” : dreams are made of this…

It is an evergreen wish for everyone who ever sat behind the wheel of a car: driving an open two-seater on gorgeous summer roads. The dynamic PR people of FCA Belgium made our dreams come true, when they offered us to test their pristine white 124 Fiat Spider, which now comes in a new “S-Design” version of the already totally iconic 124 Spider, which saw life two years ago at the fiftieth birthday of the original. This gem marries the very best of both worlds: the zeal of perfection and workmanship so typical for the orient when it comes to building this car, combining it with the panache and passion of Italian designers in shaping the contours and curves, last but not least adding to it the sheer genius of the engineers making the heart of a car: its engine. The result is an open two-seater car which is nothing less than stunning, offering incomparable driving pleasure in its class, and leaving you with a timeless iconic classic, which you can pass on to future generations…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Even more zest and panache…

This “S-Design” version has been presented on the latest Geneva Salon, and emphasizes still more the excellent “Gran Turismo” qualities of the 124 Spider.

The “Lusso” version became an extra Mopar® treatment. The roll bar, screen surroundings and the side mirror bodies have a smooth, polished finish, and the car is also shod with special 17 inch alloy wheels of very smart design, which adds an extra purposeful sportiness to this spider. On the rear end shines a three-colored logo, there is a sporty red striping running across the sides of the 124. The seating position has also been moved somewhat closer to the rear axle, and the contours of the dashboard are accentuated with clearly visible stitching.

A thoroughbred heart

Of course we expected quite a lot form the thoroughbred four cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet of this 124 Spider, and indeed it certainly delivered. Remember, Ferrari and Maserati blood is running through the veins of the Fiat group, and this certainly shows in the behavior and power delivery of this 140 hp 1368 cc unit.

Pushing the starting knob will already embalm your ears in a thoroughbred growl, and even at low revs – when driving away from cold – it lets you hear its noble pedigree. It sports sequential fuel injection, Fiat’s unique Multi-Air valve system, and a turbo running at up to 2.49 bar pressure.

When the engine has warmed up, it emits a beautiful staccato when you rev it, and this it certainly does. The engine pulls nicely at low revs, let there be no mistake, and the ample torque lets you potter through dense urban traffic at anything between 1500 and 2000 rpm, which delivers very nice urban consumption figures, which in practice boil down to around 8 liters/100 km.

But of course the real fun starts when you floor the throttle at let the engine breath beyond 4000 rpm. Marvelous accelerations in the gears really warm your sporting heart, and the slick gearbox with short and fast gearchange throws adds to the pleasure. This is superb sporting driving in the truly classic sense, and we thoroughly love it.

Under full power, the 124 Spider is of course a quite fast performer. 0 to 100 km/h is reached in merely 7.5 seconds, top speed is a good 215 km/h. Remember, this car is 1050 kg light.

But the bare figures don’t tell the whole story. It is how the whole car behaves when you drive it with spirit which brings the true magic into the driving experience. And here the chassis and suspension designers have done a fantastic job, and this is certainly an aspect where the collaboration between Mazda and Fiat has paid off. This is one of the finest handling cars we have come across in this class, and compared to any car for that matter. It steers with precision and without any perceptible roll, it just eats corners, gives ample feedback when you drive it close to the adhesion limit, is utterly stable and predictable. It awakens the better driver in you, and lets you rediscover what sporting driving is all about.

It is in our humble opinion also one of the crucial reasons why this car is being designed and built, and will be with us forever, in whatever (propulsion) version. It will always be with us, in roughly the same chassis and external dimensions, with the same handling characteristics, so much is certain.

The superb engineering and ingenuity which went into chassis also translates into the way it behaves on the road: even on the worst Belgian pavés, not the slightest rattle or judder will upset you, the car feels rock solid throughout.

All this is not at the expense of suspension comfort. This 124 Spider will not surprise you with any harshness, and even on well-worn secondary roads, you and your passenger never feel uncomfortable. True Gran Turismo qualities therefore for this 124 Spider? You bet… Long distance driving doesn’t cost your life and limbs at the pump either. Reasonably high top gearing, a small frontal surface area and an efficient engine all sees to that. The manufacturer quotes 8.5 liter for urban, 5.1 for extra urban and 6.4 liter for motorway consumption. (EU NEDC figures). CO2 emissions are quoted at 148 g/km.

A lot depends of course on your driving style, and here we kick an open door, we know…

An Ideal driving position

As long as you are not the very tallest amongst us, this 124 Spider will fit you like a glove. The very lay-out of this car does not allow you a very wide range in height adjustment, as it is limited by the tallness of the canvas top, with also the cabin platform and transverse sills limiting   fore and aft movement, but it is good to know that the steering wheel can be adjusted both vertically and horizontally over quite a wide range.

As said, an ideal seating position is soon found, with all the handles and knobs sitting snugly at your fingertips. Instrumentation and dashboard layout are virtually identical to the Mazda MX-5, and are a well-honed fit. The same can be said for the knobs and functions on the steering wheel, which took very little to get used to again, as we took the MX-5 earlier this year on an extended (wintery) early spring tour.

It is all very well thought out. On this “S-Design” version, we were even more spoilt in the sound department. The 124 came here with a Bose sound system, and indeed, if you would ever (hard to imagine…) get tired of the superb engine sound, this system has also everything in store to soothe your ears.

Surprisingly practical

One would think intuitively that a two-seater Spider is not your best mount for everyday use, but this 124 proved us again totally wrong, as did the MX5 by the way. Driving it with the top down even for the shortest stretch is perfectly possible, as the canvas top flicks down in one single arm movement, and it needs only a gentle push from your wrist to klick the canvas hood into place behind your head. A large handle above the central glove box between the seat backrests will unlock the canvas top out of its open position, and in one swoop with your right arm you pull the canvas hood back over your head in the closed position. Easy rider: it just needs the slightest form of training, and you perform this open and close routine like a movie star…

To assure an excellent cabin climate in all circumstances, the S-Design version has automatic air-conditioning.

The boot space seems rather small on paper with a good 140 liter, but it is in practice eminently useable, as it is rather deep and boxy. It takes easily two large bags, and this is enough for him and her for a fortnightly trip.

There is no visible storage room in the cabin, understandably as this is an open car, but as said there is a lockable storage bin between the seat backrests.

Safety has of course not been forgotten, as the S-Design comes with four airbags, and there is a zest of luxury with leather seats and a leather covered steering wheel.

Conclusion

If you want to experience car driving in its purest, timelessly classic sense to the full, then this Fiat 124 Spider has to be your mount. In this respect, nothing comes even close in its (price) class. But it is not only the way it drives, it is also the way it looks, which has stolen our heart. Well proportioned, its beauty will not diminish with age, just as its iconic predecessor.

On top of all that, it is incredibly well made and finished, rolling off the same production line as the MX-5, and it has an absolute jewel of an engine, which will you let cherish this car even more. This car belongs on your driveway or (apartment) garage, to be enjoyed throughout your motoring life, and – if you are a bit careful with it- to pass it on to future generation(s)…

 

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

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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