Holiday delights: we drove our Volvo to the French Midi…

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Driving through the scenic valley of the Doubs, home region of the famous painter Gustave Courbet, here parked in front of an old brick manufactory. 

Our faithful Volvo 850 has some busy times lately. After the Swedish trip, it was time to take it to France, enjoying it driving through historic towns and mountain passes. The Volvo needed little preparation. Oil consumption is nil, so no topping up was necessary. We just had the rear windscreen wiper changed, and that was it. We already mentioned we had the car cleaned, with some more thorough valeting of the interior. Of course we were careful to check the tire pressures before the trip. Here follows our (travel) story…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Inside beautiful Besançon, cars are prevented from reaching the city centre…

With our faithful TomTom set up, we headed south, and decided to have a first stop at Besançon. We were so fortunate to have the good idea to avoid Luxembourg completely and drive from Brussels via Longwy, immediately entering France. Driving leisurely at the legal speed limits, which were mostly set at 110 km/h, consumption hovered between 7 and 8 liters of 95 octane fuel. Of course it runs sweetly on the new formulated “Euro” 95 fuel, Volvo’s can do this since…1977! Being totally in the holiday mood, we decided to stay on the Routes Nationales after Nancy. It proved to be quite a relaxing drive indeed, appreciating the good quality of the RN’s, well maintained and usually in excellent condition.

We had booked a fine hotel in the historic centre of Besançon, which is a stunning renaissance town with Vauban defense walls around it.

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Unfortunately, a “braderie” or flea market was going on in the centre at the moment of our arrival, and the hotel proved that day totally inaccessible by car. In our modest opinion, European and National politicians are eager to make city centre’s car free, but then fail to provide adequate provisions for tourists who happen to have luggage and are not 19 year old athletes. So gentlemen politicians, why not provide for the unfortunate few hotel owners who are the victims of these draconic,  albeit temporary measures, a couple of nice electric golf cars with the city logo on it, which can be used as luggage shuttles? Or some healthy young students? Now the poor hotel owner, manifestly going literally a (very) long way to satisfy his clients, came personally to haul our luggage on his shoulders and carry it a few hundred meters to his fine hotel. We suggested he should have a good conversation with his mayor. The local politicians should provide solutions for their hotel businesses for these special days when the city centre is locked off for a special event. “C’est l’Europe”,  the hotel owner answered. Well, it is not. Europe issues a directive with aims to alleviate the city centre’s from car traffic, but it leaves the national authorities and local politicians the free choice on the ways and means to implement it.

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It must be said that the overnight tariffs for the parking house in the city centre are very low indeed, and that the next morning the hotel was totally accessible by car, once the flea market was over. Here you see our Volvo parked in front of the Hotel Vauban the next morning. Loading the luggage proved a breeze…

We had the same problem in the historic centre of Ventimiglia, but that is another story, of which more later…

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The fortified city of Besançon offers some stunning perspectives…

The next day, we set our sails to Ornans, the birthplace of Gustave Courbet. A smaller characteristic town, dubbed “Venice of the North” as it has the Loue running through it. He painted with love the region around this town, in the valley of the Doubs, and indeed it is beautiful.

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Our Volvo was in very good company on the market square of Ornans, with an Alpine Berlinette parked next to it, which was taking part in a local “Rally des Doubs”.

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We drove through the impressive “Forêt de la Joux” or the forest of the Joux via Champagnole to Les Rousses,

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and then went on to Gex via the magnificent Col de la Faucille, which offers truly stunning views on the Lac Léman.

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Of course, Geneva and the magnificent view from the Col de la Faucille was tempting us, see the photo below,

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but we stopped short of it and visited Ferney Voltaire, where the château of the famous French philosopher Voltaire offered us a grand view over its gardens, with Geneva in the background. Certainly a magnificent backdrop for all the philosophical thoughts one might have…

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From there on, it was heading further to our holiday house, via Grenoble and Valence.

There our Volvo was happy to meet its brothers, amongst others the shining black New Beetle Cabrio, which was taking us further around during our holiday in the French Midi, and driving us through the Alps to the Italian Riviera and back, but that is another story. Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Kia Optima GT: the delights of sportiness

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If you think that in today’s traffic and driving conditions not much fun is to be had with a car that has a zest of sportiness, than just get behind the wheel of this Optima GT. The Korean designers have made their homework to put a broad smile on your face…

Just read further!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Julien Mampaey passed away: our very personal memories…

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A formidable figure in Belgian motor sport has recently left us. We have known him for a very long time. Actually, when I lived with my parents as a young law student, I was the happy and proud owner of a dark blue second hand beetle, and Julien Mampaey serviced it with dedication.

He owned a small Esso service station at the corner of the Fruithoflaan in Berchem, Antwerp; right across our apartment, and I came to appreciate his mechanical talents. But I was also struck by his generous enthusiasm, and soon we embarked in hours long conversations about cars, me telling him bold stories about fast rally and racing cars, as I went with my father often to the Zolder circuit to see the races there. I entertained him with my stories, when I needed an hour or so break from my studies, and he was listening with awe while of course he continued to work and service the cars for his clients. His interest was awakened, and I decided to coach him somewhat more and gave him copies of the German magazine “Auto Motor & Sport”, which he read feverishly after a hard day’s work in a nice warm bath.

He devoured then everything there was to know about Alpina BMW’s, which were then all the rage. His eyes lightened up when he told enthusiastically about what he had read. Soon his gold metallic 1100 cc Renault 8 Major had to go. In its place came an orange second hand BMW 2002, with matt black accents around the bonnet. He decided to test his talents, go to Zolder and race it. “I put one litre of oil more in the sump than prescribed, so the engine gets oil in the corners”, he said proudly. He made its first successes, got bitten by the bug, and the rest of the story is well known.

There we the glorious victories of the Juma team in the Spa-Francorchamps 24 hours, which his team won in 1977, 1982 and 1983.  One one of these victorious races, I vividly remember a pitstop where quick work had to be done on the engine. I stood in the Juma  pits, was very close to the action. Actually, the radiator was leaking and had to be replaced. Not a second was to be lost. Of course, no easy thing on a red hot racing engine. Here, the immense bravery and commitment of Julien Mampaey clearly showed. With boiling water splashing all around, he grabbed the radiator both hands, then unbolted the hoses together with the other mechanics. He gave the brave example, as a true team leader should.  He didn’t hesitate to come very close to the red hot exhaust manifold too. The job was done in no time, the engine growled again, and the car shot away from the pits, towards victory.

He had started the JUMA team up in 1975, and raced right away to victory with a 530iUS. The name of the team got even more famous when in 1998 his son Bart Mampaey achieved the last victory for BMW in the touring car championship at the wheel of a BMW 320i. Bart had then founded already his own R(acing)B(art) M(ampaey)  racing team. Julien Mampaey and his team had also won the Belgian Championship with the BMW 535i, with Jean-Michel Martin, the father of Maxim at the wheel. Today, Maxim drives as a BMW Motorsport pilot in the BRM team of…Bart Mampaey.

Julien Mampaey was a man of passion, with a generous heart, which he devoted to cars and motorsport, to family and friends.

His daughter Pascal, which I remember as a small child in the Esso shop, now runs the succesful BMW JUMA concession in Mechelen together with her husband Gunther Van Lent. It is heartwarming to see the work of this valiant man continued, and his name living on.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

Driving a youngtimer on long holiday trips…an undisturbed joy!

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Our Volvo standing proudly before the Cathedral in Danish Roskilde…

Many people looked at us with some amazement: driving your 22 year old car for thousands of kilometers, all the way to Scandinavia and back? With no further preparation than just ordinary maintenance? Just step in and go?  We were also anxiously asked about fuel consumption, and the need to take on spare parts. Well, as you guessed form our previous reports, this trip proved to be actually great fun, and was a very relaxing and comfortable experience too.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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With the new Koleos, Renault brings a high end SUV

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Stylish, lavishly equipped with state of the art infotainment, driving aids, chassis, engines and transmission, Renault has left nothing untouched to make this Koleos really stand out. Of course Renault has big ambitions in this upper segment of the booming SUV market. We tell you here more about the Koleos, and are of course keen to get behind the wheel of it soon, as it hits the European markets now…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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The new Koleos, was unveiled at China’s Beijing Motor Show in 2016, and is already available for sale in Australia, the Gulf States and certain South American and Asian countries.

It  tops the brand’s crossover range alongside Captur and Kadjar. It is also the fifth Renault model after Clio, Espace, Talisman and Captur to be offered with the Initiale Paris signature.

It has many qualities up its sleeve: Acclaimed four-wheel drive technology, off-road capability thanks to high ground clearance, a lavish interior equipped with the segment’s very best journey-enhancing appointments, generous cabin space thanks to a wheelbase of 2.71 metres and a total length of 4.67 metres, and last but not least the connected experience with the R-LINK 2 multimedia tablet

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Finally, New Koleos features a selection of proven powertrains and technologies, with a choice of two diesel engines mated to either X-Tronic automatic transmission or a manual gearbox.

Bold Renault styling language

New Koleos bears far more than just a passing family likeness to Talisman and Talisman Estate, which were also designed by Alexis Martot in-line with a strategy for all three models to complement one another. The most striking similarities among the three vehicles are their front-end designs, which all feature a prominent, vertically-positioned Renault logo and a chrome grille.

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Distinctive for the Talisman and New Koleos are their muscular haunches and proportions, including short overhangs, which share the same ratio between overall length and wheelbase. The new Koleos’ dynamic stance is further emphasized by its large tires (overall-diameter: 730mm) and low roofline (1.68 metres).

The C-shaped lighting signature extends beyond the head light units, which themselves to create an even more forceful gaze.  Depending on the version, New Koleos is available with Pure Vision Full LED main- and dipped-beam lights. The Daytime Running Lights provide a unique, piercing light signature.

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The Koleos rear passengers benefit from class-topping knee room (289mm), plus particularly generous headroom, shoulder room and elbow room.

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This record cabin space combines with a large configurable boot and numerous practical storage

solutions. The 498dm3 VDA boot (equivalent to 579 litres) features a clever removable floor positioned at the same height as the sill to form a flat floor. Thanks to handles located in the boot, the Easy Break system allows the 60/40-split rear bench seat to be folded in an instant to free up a total carrying capacity of 1,706dm3 VDA (equivalent to 1,795 litres).  New Koleos’ cabin is particularly bright thanks to a large opening glass sunroof (0.80m2) that extends over the rear seats.

The interior and overall equipment breathes refinement, certainly in the Initiale Paris version, where 19-inch diamond-cut wheels are also available. These models are distinguishable with grille badging, beneath the Renault logo. Full-grain Nappa leather is a key feature of the Initiale Paris signature.

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Off road qualities…

In keeping with the Renault design strategy introduced by Laurens van den Acker in 2010, New Koleos is covered by the ‘EXPLORE’ design pillar, which stands for robustness and a taste for adventure.

This is immediately evident in the model’s ground clearance (up to 210mm) which is amongst the highest in the market. New Koleos’ go-anywhere ability is boosted by approach and departure angles of 19 and 26 degrees respectively.

Efficient, easy-to-use 4×4 technology

The ALL MODE 4×4-i transmission available for New KOLEOS features technology that has been proved on millions of Renault-Nissan Alliance vehicles worldwide. This all-wheel drive system permanently monitors grip levels to guarantee optimal traction whatever the conditions. Unlike many rival models, New Koleos continues to feature a control switch that allows drivers to choose the transmission mode. Very easy to use, it is situated to the left of the steering wheel and enables the driver to select one of three modes, namely 2WD, 4WD AUTO or the exclusive 4WD LOCK.

Trusted common technical architecture

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The new Koleos is built on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s CMF-C/D architecture that is shared by several other models, including Renault’s Espace, Talisman and Kadjar, and Nissan’s X-Trail and Qashqai.

The range comprises a choice of two diesel engines, which deliver 130 and 175 horsepower respectively.  These powerplants can drive through either X-Tronic automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

Unlike former CVT transmissions, New Koleos’ X-Tronic transmission performs more like a multi-ratio automatic whenever the driver needs to accelerate briskly. At the same time, this continuously variable transmission ensures seamless gear shifts when accelerating gently, as in heavy traffic, for example. So clever!

The driver has the option to select a seven-speed sequential mode when he wants to benefit from engine braking.

Renault typical state of the art infotainment

The new Koleos is fitted with Renault’s R-LINK 2 multimedia system from its second equipment level up. This connected tablet can be found across the brand’s high-end range and coordinates the majority of the vehicle’s functions such as infotainment, navigation, hands-free telephony, radio and driver aids. We liked it already so much on the other Renaults we drove recently, thanks to the following features: An intuitive interface offering the same tactile functions as a personal tablet courtesy of capacitive technology (two-finger zoom, page scrolling, drag and drop), availability of two screen formats (depending on version): 7-inch landscape or 8.7-inch portrait, both seamlessly integrated into the dashboard design.

Of course, the new Koleos offers a new smartphone replication feature, which is compatible with both Apple CarPlay for iPhone users and Android Auto for Android.

Last but not least there is inside New Koleos the Bose© developed and tailor-engineered system that takes into account the acoustic properties of the cabin. It comprises 13 high-performance loudspeakers…

New Koleos’ raft of standard equipment – traction control, latest generation electronic stability control (ESC) electronic brake force distribution and hill start assist – is complemented by a palette of state-of-the-art driver aids (ADAS). These are all accessible via the R-LINK 2 tablet.

Taking care of the owner…

In a first for a vehicle of this type, New Koleos can be fitted in accessories range with a motorised tow bar, for a fully automatic and manual-free installation. With a simple action on a button inside the boot, it appears and is ready to use in just 15 seconds. A blocking system automatically prevents its deployment in the case of an obstruction.

Its tailgate incorporates a smart, hands-free electronic opening mechanism. Even with arms fully laden and the keyless entry and ignition card buried deep in a pocket, the boot can be opened with a simple swipe of the foot underneath the rear bumper.

All by all a quite impressive car, this Koleos. We are keen to drive it soon!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: driving into another world…

MPsel2Mitsubishi chose a proper outlandish name for this car: the PHEV version indeed takes you into unseen territory. We never experienced so far hybrid driving with such utter smoothness and refinement, and thus this Mitsubishi proved for us to be a very special and endearing car in present day traffic.

Hans Knol ten Bensel Continue reading “We drove the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: driving into another world…”

Volkswagen unveils the new Polo…

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When Volkswagen is rejuvenating the most popular car in its segment into a new generation, the world is watching.

The new Polo is now wider, longer, rolling on the big MQB platform which is also seen in other models of the group, up to the Passat no less. It has grown to the size of the Golf IV, and it looks indeed a lot bigger than its predecessor.

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It has more room for passengers and luggage, and this sixth generation comes with multitude of driver assistance systems, and is now definitely entering the digital age. It comes to you in a wide array of versions, which will include soon a Polo GTI1 and Polo Beats. The Polo is now for the first time also available with a natural gas engine. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Fiat Tipo 1,6 Multijet Hatchback: a car for all types and purposes…

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We drove the Tipo through France in glorious spring weather: here we are in Nancy…

What is so typical about the Fiat Tipo? We would say its suitability, its excellent all round properties. It performs well, is frugal, drives most refined, vibration free and silent,  is comfortable, roomy and last but not least good looking. Add to all this the very interesting price and the low service cost, and you understand that we are very enthusiastic.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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A tale of men, women and cars: the Volvo people at Torslanda…

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The communication manager of the factory, Anneli Ericsson, introduced us to the man and women we interviewed, and we admired her for her kind, meticulous professionalism, as much as we are also grateful to Annika Bjerstaf, Editor and Press manager of Volvo Car Corporation, who accompanied us also during the visit and offered us together with her colleague the “surprise” to take our 850 on the assembly line. 

We start off here with a new series on our site, focusing on the human element. For cars are first and foremost a creation of man. A result of human ingenuity, creativity, talent and last but not least  craftsmanship. So we decided to put this all forward. We start here with a portrait of the people we met at Sweden’s largest factory, Volvo Torslanda, close to the beautiful city of Gothenburg, brimming with industry and quality of life.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Lexus has started off production of its stunning LC Coupé for Europe…

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After our recent visit to the Volvo factories in Ghent and Torslanda, our interest in manufacturing has been enlivened, and we will also focus more often on this very interesting subject. So when we heard that Lexus is now building its bold looking LC Coupé for the European market, we decided to bring this item for you in this report. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Quality takes time and needs a proper, ideally equipped place, according to Lexus. That’s why they have transformed their Motomachi plant in Japan, formerly home to the LFA supercar, to create a highly focused working environment, dedicated, as they put it, to delivering the highest standards of precision, quality and craftsmanship. Indeed, the place looks immaculate and the workstations are quite spacious.

The final assembly area has been reshaped and made an all-white area to help the engineers maintain the best focus on their work. The average time for each person’s task is almost 20 minutes, so there is more time to ensure every part of the process meets Lexus’ exacting quality requirements.

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The line culminates in a new glass-walled booth where every millimetre of the car’s bodywork is subject to intense scrutiny beneath a battery of LED lights. The area for exhaust silencer inspection is surrounded by thicker glass panels so that the slightest abnormality in sound can be detected. The operation and quality of functional components, such as the doors, are also checked here. Just look at the following photo…

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The LC is built by a team of specially selected and trained Takumi craftspeople, all of whom have years of experience in Lexus manufacturing.

As well as being assembled in the same facility as the LFA, the LC benefits from a number of technologies which Lexus first developed for production of its hand-crafted supercar. These include the use of a special process, Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM) for the production of CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Parts) composite material. By adapting RTM for volume production, Lexus has been able to incorporate CFRP in key areas of the LC, which makes a significant contribution to reducing the car’s weight.

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One clearly sees how car bodies can be lifted to the ideal height to work on, with the bodies being transported on skids moving on electromagnetic strips between the workstations.. 

The LC, scheduled to arrive in European showrooms in August, will be available with two powertrains. The V8-powered petrol LC 500 is equipped with a 10-speed automatic transmission, a world-first for a passenger car. The full hybrid LC 500h benefits from the new Lexus Multi Stage Hybrid System, a next-generation technology that delivers multiple benefits in terms of performance and an enhanced driving experience, including higher torque and more direct, linear acceleration from start-off.

We can’t wait to see it in the flesh on our roads and get behind the wheel of these gems, before the end of the year…

Hans Knol ten Bensel