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!

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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 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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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