2014-kawasaki-300-ninja

First Test: 2014 Kawasaki 300 Ninja

They’re sleek, powerful, have wide tyres, stratospheric red lines and digital speedometers that reach 300 km/h. Superbikes are the pinnacle of the motorcycle industry and so capture the imagination and attention of petrolheads. However, most riders can’t unleash these bikes’ full potential on public roads, or often do not know where to start learning how to ride one of these monsters. Kawasaki has put forward a possible solution… Following in the footsteps of its 250 cm3 sports bike, the Japanese brand has released the 300 Ninja. As the name suggests, the parallel-twin engine size has increased in size to 296 cm3. Power is up from 22 to 29 kW and torque from 22 to 27 N.m. These are still small numbers, but keep in mind that the bike weighs only 173 kg when fuelled.

The black colour of our test machine is perhaps too understated because it hides some design detailing; we’d rather opt for the shoutier black-kawasaki-300-ninja-2014-drive-testandgreen combo. In appearance, the frame looks a lot smaller than those of a ZX-10R or ZX-6R, but it differs by just a few millimetres here and there. That also translates to the seating position. Once seated, the Ninja feels narrower, but overall you could have been on a larger-capacity bike.  Press the starter button and the two cylinders reveal that you are dealing with a unit that should be easy to master (not that the exhaust tone is too weedy). On pull-away, you sense the light clutch, which ties in with the easy gear change. Let the rev needle run to 6 000 or 7 000 r/min before you change gears and this Ninja will keep up with most traffic.

Although the bike is relatively well suited to commuting, the stiff suspension and nimble feel is wasted in traffic. Head to a Broad, where the bike comes alive. As the rev needle passes 8 000 r/min, the engine note hardens and the pace of acceleration quickens to the 13 000 r/min redline. Owing to the gears (six of them) being stacked so close together, you need to go through four gears to get to the national speed limit. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The bike keeps your attention, heightening the sense of interaction in the process; it often feels 40 km/h faster than the actual speed. Dive into corners and the single front disc is mostly up to the task to lower your speed before entry, while the standard slipper clutch removes any worries about a rear wheel locking up during down changes. During enthusiastic cornering, the 300 is as capable and challenging as almost any other large-capacity superbike. Because it’s relatively lacking in pace, you rarely arrive at a corner carrying too much speed. It’s then easier to maintain momentum through bends.

In fact, such is its composure that the bike almost always feels like it could have braked later and gone faster. The similarities with Kawasaki’s more powerful bikes don’t end there. The 17-litre fuel tank is the same size as those of the ZX-10R and ZX-6R. This means you are able to ride for an estimated 300 km … depending on the frequency of 13 000 r/min gear changes. At R60 000, the Ninja costs R15 000 more than the smaller and less powerful Honda CBR250R, its most obvious rival. Is it worth the price premium? Well, as an introductory lesson on Superbike Handling 101, it justifies its price. It teaches you the art of superbike riding without the related risk of speeding fines or costly bloopers.

2014-Aston-Martin-Vanquish-Volante

Drive: 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante

Just look at that exquisite carbon-fibre front splitter.” As it happens, the entire body of the Volante is made of carbon-fibre – not just the unpainted aero paraphernalia. That translates into lower mass, but also means fewer individual body panels and joins, all of which contribute to a more svelte shape. And what a shape it is. The top of the windscreen sits flush with the fabric roof, the “sucked-in waist”, elongated side strakes and LED rear light blades are derived from the One-77 supercar and the triple-skin fabric roof (which folds in just 14 seconds) sits beneath a downward-sloping tonneau that slides elegantly under the ornate rear spoiler. Considering the size of the boot (a claimed 279 dm3), the Volante’s rear-three quarter aspect is pleasingly taut.

The cabin is elegantly attired in Luxmil leather with satin chrome trim, glass buttons that become illuminated when pressed and a haptic feedback feature in the metallic switchgear. Whereas ergonomics are the Achilles heel of older Aston Martins, the Volante’s facia controls work well and more importantly, feel expensive. As for the “super grand tourer with 2+2 seating configuration”, however, that’s misleading, because there’s no rear legroom to speak of. What the newcomer does do extremely well is offer a fine balance between touring ability and raw performance. The inherent body stiffness and under-the-skin weight optimisation is apparent in the car’s road attitude: the springs and dampers aren’t uncompromisingly calibrated and the adaptive damping system delivers a generally pliant ride. By virtue of a 51:49 weight distribution and quick steering ratio, the Volante’s handling is precise and its tiller communicative; it feels quite wieldy for a substantial V12-engined ragtop. It also stops smartly, if perhaps a little sharply, thanks to the Brembo carbon ceramic matrix braking system. 2014-aston-martin-vanquish-volante-interior

If the Vanquish ragtop feels old-school, but in a good way, it’s thanks to the velvety performance of the Cosworth-fettled, naturally aspirated 5,9-litre V12 mated with the Touchtronic 2 six-speed automatic transmission. Throttle response is particularly impressive in Sport mode, yet the nearinstantaneous torque delivery of a force-fed motor, which doesn’t need to rev to 7 000 r/min to reach its peak, felt somewhat amiss. Still, the Volante always feels eminent, refined and swift – which it ought to, at the price.

2014-nissan-370z-nismo-review-driving

Driving: 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo

It’ s been a while since the car test team has had a go in a 370Z. The last time was the coupé in 2009 and since then the mighty GT-R has dominated thoughts of a performance Nissan. The 370Z was but a distant memory … until I drove the Nismo (short for Nissan Motorsport) version in the States. The memories flooded back. The facts first – the 370Z Nismo gains enhanced performance over the standard car. The 3,7-litre V6 now delivers 253 kW (up from 245 kW) and 373 N.m (up from 363 N.m). The zero-to-100 km/h time is a claimed 5,2 seconds, while top speed remains the same at 250 km/h. Outside and in, there are style tweaks that show the performancebred credentials of this vehicle, including a massive rear wing, mirror caps, 19-inch alloys painted in grey, a bulkier spoiler and red stripes in and alongside the car. The interior features Nismo seats, an alcantaraand- leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with red stitching at the top that is matched by red stitching on the gear lever, and red details on the instrument cluster.

nissan-370z-nismo-2014-pictures

The engine sounds raw and ready to go when you switch it on. We were able to do a short drive around a makeshift track, which afforded a good taste of its dynamic abilities. Engage the first of the six forward gears and let the revs climb so that there’s just enough wheel spin to get you off the line with ease. The power delivery is urgent and maximum torque kicks in early to plant you in your seat. Which is just as well, because you want to feel cossetted when you throw this beast round the bends. The steering is precise and the lower (by 10 mm), stiffer suspension and wider rubber allow for little lean into the bends and makes for a grippy car. But, if you push it, you can have some tailout fun. So I pushed it… These upgrades haven’t transformed the 370Z entirely, and that’s a good thing because they simply reminded me what fantastically engaging driving it offers. The 370Z Nismo has reignited my love for this vehicle and I can’t wait to drive it again when this version arrives here early next year.

2014-bmw-i3-electirc-car-driving

2014 Bmw i3 Electric Car

As gale force winds and driving rain battered the Dutch city of Amsterdam, it seemed nature itself contrived to punctuate the launch of a vehicle that may be the future of green mobility. Inside the BMW i3’s cabin, however, it was quiet and calm, with only the strongest gusts prising the frameless glass from the city car’s rubber seals to create a hissing sound. The highly topical i3 seems set to conquer everything nature can throw at it, not to mention city traffic, tight roads and electric-vehicle sceptics. Production electric vehicles (EV) are no longer simply a pipe dream. The demise of South Africa’s own electric vehicle, the Joule, was a setback for the local plug-in movement, but other automakers did not give up on the idea. Nissan launched the first high-volume production EV, the Leaf, which is now available in South Africa, and Volkswagen has announced plans to introduce the e-Golf into the local market.

BMW took the brave step to create an all-new i-brand rather than converting existing models to electric powertrains. Designed on the proverbial clean sheet of paper, the i3 marks the first time that carbon-fibre forms the basis of the body-in-white structure in a volume-production vehicle, and the material helps to reduce the vehicle mass, including batteries, to only 1 195 kg. The layout of a rear-mounted electric motor, which is mated with the rear axle by a single-speed transmission and connected with batteries under the floor, allows the vehicle to be compact and agile (its length is less than 4,0 metres and the turning circle dips under 10,0 metres), but spacious. Styling-wise, the newcomer appears to have been driven straight from the set of a sci-fi movie. The design is striking, with the clever use of body colours that showcase the lines and creases of individual body panels. The 19-inch wheels of 155-section (for low rolling resistance) fills the wheel arches and LED lights round off the package. The scribes at the i3 launch event were divided on some design elements (especially the dipping shoulder line), but I expect the i3 to draw as much attention as a supercar once it reaches our roads.

2014 Bmw i3 Electric Car-side-pictures

Inside, the futuristic theme continues. The interior is awash with recycled and raw materials such as the wood trim on the facia. Flowing panel lines meet a floating infotainment screen and the beautifully crafted steering wheel falls easily to hand (with the largest range of reach adjustment I’ve encountered). The small, square instrument screen seems a little out of place considering all the styling drama inside, but it displays the necessary information in a logical manner. Suicide doors (that can be opened only when the front ones are ajar) with fixed windows give restricted access to the rear bench. Only two passengers can be accommodated in the rear as cupholders occupy the central space. Legroom is limited, but there is copious headroom. The boot area above the engine compartment can hold 280 dm3 of luggage and the loading space can easily be increased by folding the rear seats flat. It’s not possible to put the  electric motor on show because bolts ensure that the base plate of the boot remains in place.

To set off in the i3, you have to push the start button on the oversized stalk to the right of the steering wheel and twist its end piece to the D-position. The BMW does not creep forward at the release of the brake pedal as a conventional automatic vehicle would; it requires pressure on the accelerator to get going. The response of the electric motor is instantaneous and with 125 kW and 250 N.m on tap, the i3’s acceleration is brisk, despite its solitary fixed-gear ratio. Kinetic energy is recuperated through regenerative braking when the driver lifts their foot off the accelerator, and top speed is a claimed 150 km/h, which means that cruising at the national limit is effortless. This is not the vehicle’s forte, however, as the technology makes most sense in a city environment where i3 occupants enjoy their own quiet space in rush-hour traffic while the vehicle deals with every situation in a graceful manner. In true BMW tradition, the steering is quite meaty, with excellent feel – yes, the i3 is still a driver’s car. The suspension setup is on the soft side to promote a comfortable ride but, surprisingly, the grip levels are much higher than I anticipated. The elevated driving position is quite MPV-like and gives the driver an excellent all-round view.

2014 bmw i3 electirc car interiors

2014 bmw i3 electirc car interiors

EVs tend to be harbingers of connected-car technology and the i3 is no exception. With a SIM card permanently in the vehicle, an owner simply has to download and install the i3 application on their smartphone to gain access to a menu of features. This includes remote state-of-charge monitoring, viewing historic driving performance, unlocking doors and even activating the horn. Other onboard functions include the abilities to search for the closest charging station, view your available range on a map and find modes of public transport. There are various charging options available to i3 owners: a normal household wall socket that offers a charging time of around eight hours; a dedicated home-based system that utilises three-phase electricity and can charge the battery in three to five hours (depending on charger specification); and a dedicated 50 kW DC public charge point (developed by BMW) that is said to be capable of loading the i3’s pack fully in less than 30 minutes.

RANGE EXTENDER

The i3 will be offered with the option of a 650 cm3, twin-cylinder range extender engine from the BMW C650 scooter (see page 116). This is essentially a generator that doubles the EV-only range of 130 to 160 km to 300 km to address the issue of range anxiety. In most cases, it will be unnecessary to tick this option box as a high percentage of people commute less than 100 km in a day.

Kia Cerato Koup 2014

Driving: Kia Cerato Koup 2014

Saying Kia Motors is a brand on the rise has become passé. The Korean manufacturer is firmly established on the world stage. It has an ever-expanding portfolio and competes in all significant market segments. Earlier this year, the firm launched the latest incarnation of its Cerato range. The saloon and hatchback variants will soon be joined by the Koup derivative, examples of which I drove on Kia’s home soil in South Korea. The previous-generation Koup heralded Kia as a maker that had moved beyond making humdrum econoboxes, but rather stylish products at good prices. In this new guise, the model maintains the rakish aspects of its forebear. Kia’s signature “tiger-nose” grille still takes pride of place on the snout but is far slimmer on this car. To help further differentiate the two-door model from the hatch and sedan, there is a larger lower air dam. Swept-back headlamps and detailed foglamps complete the frontal aspect ably.

The profile has a beautiful rising waistline, creating a cab-forward look, and the lower half of the doors/rear fender has a bowed line as seen across all Cerato models. Large-diameter alloys complement the stance. Viewed from behind, the Koup keeps most of what made the last model so distinctive: the high trailing edge and angular taillamps that wrap round from the boot to the fenders. Kia states that the Koup has grown in length by 50 mm, all of which is found between the axle lines, helping to create a larger cabin. More so than its prime competitors, which I’ll get to later, the rear bench is able to accommodate adults.

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The Koup’s facia has been angled slightly to create a drivercentric feel. The rake-and-reachadjustable steering has a good range, but the electrically adjustable driver’s seat doesn’t drop low enough, and I am not exactly the tallest guy. Quality levels seem to increase with each successive Kia model and that holds true here as well. Much like its siblings, the Koup has a MacPherson strut front and torsion-beam rear-suspension arrangement, the latter not quite high-tech or particularly sporty. More notable is the inclusion of an all-new engine for this family. Kia decided to launch the new Koup with a 1,6-litre turbopetrol. The direct-injection unit produces 150 kW and 265 N.m of torque developed between 1 750 and 4 500 r/min. Claimed fuel consumption for the combined cycle is a low 6,9 litres/100 km (7,2 for the automatic). Power is transferred to the front wheels by either an automatic or manual transmission, both featuring six forward ratios.

Korean roads, especially those in and outside the capital city, are extremely well maintained and therefore do not really tax a car’s suspension setup. While traversing the arterial roads that lead away from the city, the less forgiving nature of the torsion beam made itself felt, but the ride was never harsh. The electrically assisted steering provides little in the way of feedback but does have driverselectable variable weighting.

A car of this nature with these levels of power and torque should be entertaining to drive. Sadly, that fun-to-drive aspect does not seem to be present. Either Korean horses are weak or the six-speed automatic transmission (the only option to sample on the launch) saps a lot of power. There just isn’t a surge of mid-range torque you expect from a force-fed car, in the same way a Mini JCW, Peugeot 208 GTi or Fiesta ST, all also turbocharged, deliver their power.

2014 kia creato koup interior

2014 kia creato koup interior

Since the Cerato’s introduction in 2004, over 2,5 million have been sold, proving that Kia is a serious player in this market. Like its forebear, the Koup is distinctive. In theory, the new motor should make it a strong competitor to other coupés such as the thoroughly entertaining Toyota 86 and VW’s Scirocco, but not with a self-shifting transmission. I look forward to driving a manual version when it arrives here.