We drove the Mercedes C-Class 200d: a bestseller enters the digital age…

Never change a winning team, the saying goes. At the house of the good star, people know this all too well. So the Mercedes engineers and production specialists hone their cars to perfection, and bring them to top quality over the years. Such a car is the bestseller of the Mercedes range, the C-Class. It is entering its fifth year in production and the design of the exterior and interior benefits from a makeover. The electronic architecture is completely new. The customer now enjoys an optionally fully digital instrument display, combined with state of the art multimedia systems.  The assistance systems are now at the level of the S‑Class, no less. New petrol engines and state of the art Diesel engine(s) combined with hybrid propulsion are now also on the cards. Soon we will present these new drivetrain versions to you, but here we drove the more “classic” 1,6 litre 160 HP Diesel, mated to a six speed manual. And a part of the future had arrived nonetheless: our test car was equipped with the full digital instrumentation…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

A new face

The elegant, classic lines of the C-Class have been cautiously improved, notably the front bumpers have been redesigned for all lines. In combination with AVANTGARDE exterior of our test car, this now features a chrome-plated trim strip.

The C-Class comes standard also with halogen headlamps, which incorporate LED daytime running lamps. LED High Performance headlamps are optionally available. Also for the first time in this model series, MULTIBEAM LED headlamps with ULTRA RANGE high beam are additionally available. The colour palette has been broadened by the addition of Mojave silver metallic and emerald green metallic for Saloon and Estate. Our test car had the Mojave silver metallic, and as the photos show, this suited it rather well…

And enhanced interior

In the cabin, the optionally available full digital display takes centre stage. It has three visually distinguishable styles “Classic”, “Sport” and “Progressive”. Basically, we liked the “Sport” display best. Alongside certain menu items such as trip data or consumption figures, the driver can now additionally view the navigation display data or the ECO display in the instrument cluster. In combination with Audio 20, a high-resolution central display in 16:9 format is available for the first time, with a 10.25-inch screen diagonal.

The C-Class has now touch-sensitive controls in the steering wheel. They respond to swiping motions like the screen of a smartphone, and the buttons remember your old Samsung or Blackberry.

The advantage is that you can control the functions of the instrument cluster and the entire infotainment system without having to take their hands off the steering wheel. DISTRONIC and cruise control are now also operated with controls directly on the steering wheel.

The infotainment system can also be operated via the touchpad in the centre console with the controller, which has a haptic feedback, or by means of LINGUATRONIC voice control.

A (long distance) driver’s car

A comfortable workhorse, that is how we would define this C-Class. It is built to serve you, to get you in comfort and safety from A to B, for years on end.

Driving a “classic” Mercedes sedan is always a unique experience, typical for the brand, we would say. The seats are built to withstand the test of time, firm but relaxing and comfortable; all the controls are judiciously placed and ideal for intensive, everyday no-nonsense use.

The dashboard layout and styling emphasizes the quality “feel” of the whole car, the superb overall finish truly impresses.

Pushing the starting knob, the 1,6 litre Diesel jumps faithfully to life. Supersmooth, with all the characteristics of sound diesel: lots of zest and pulling power, hardly any need to rev it up, made for frugal transportation in all circumstances. Coupled to a six speed manual gearbox, it couldn’t be more classic here.

The gearing of the box is quite high, and third gear is just slightly too high for cruising at the now frequent legal urban 30 km/h limit, forcing you to potter around in second, which on the other hand gives you of course rather more power to respond to unforeseen situations. As we said, torque is quite healthy with 360 Nm being available between 1600-2600 rpm. Just give that turbo the change to build up power, and that’s why you shouldn’t stay in third in slow urban traffic. 

With the turbo on song, it is all quite lively. In-gear accelerations are impressive, as the 0 to 100 km/h sprint also clearly shows: it is absolved in 8,5 seconds.  Mind you, there is a drivers’ mode selection, and when you select dynamic, things really start to happen…

This C –Class is built for speed, and indeed, this Mercedes is also a true master on the Autobahn. Top speed is not less than 226 km/h. Wind and road noise, drivetrain, you name it, everything is suppressed, and Gran Turismo driving is in this sedan a very effortless and soothing affair.

The high gearing and efficiency of this Diesel make this C-Class chalk up very impressive consumption figures. It was no trouble at all to stay between 5 and 6 liters/100 km during our test, and even closer to five l/100 km on average. The manufacturer quotes a combined consumption between 4.1-4.5 l/100 km. CO2 emissions are quoted between 108-118 g/km.

This economy is of course a formidable forte of this C-Class Diesel.

Handling and comfort are top of the range, and here the vast experience of a long standing manufacturing of premium sedans truly shows.  

Besides comfort, passive and active safety have always been top priority.

 The new C-Class now comes with extended Active Brake Assist as standard. Depending on the situation, this can help to mitigate the consequences of rear-end collisions with slow-moving, stopping or stationary vehicles ahead, and even with crossing pedestrians and cyclists, or prevent them altogether.

Audio comfort and entertainment too…

The C-Class comes as standard with the Audio 20 multimedia system featuring two USB ports, an SD card reader, Bluetooth connection and media interface. So you are well entertained in your Merc, and one is just as spoilt as the drivers of the larger models.

Conclusion

This Mercedes embodies all the legendary and outstanding qualities of the brand. High build quality, comfort, performance, economy and durability. All this packed in a well styled body with timelessly good proportions, offering adequate room for five.

Its safety, both active and passive, as well as the massive array of (optional) driving aids make it a very wise and safe choice. We are keen to drive for you the larger petrol engine and diesel versions, try out the automatic and enjoy the further comfort and safety options Mercedes has in store for this car. But already in the tested version, this C-Class proved impressive indeed…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Driving the Fiat Tipo to Deauville: a voyage in comfort and panache…

A swift Gran Turismo drive to an iconic destination: Deauville/Trouville, the beach town of artists and celebrities…

Testing the very good looking Fiat Tipo SW, we were invited to have a drive in it to Trouville-sur-Mer, a stone throw to Deauville, and have a stay at the Les Cures Marines Trouville Hotel Spa & Thalasso, where we had the opportunity to see and drive the brand new and good looking Tipo Sport version. More on this Sport version soon, we show you here some photos and impressions about the drive, the hotel and the beautiful Normandy coast…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Tipo Station Wagon we drove proved an excellent companion on this more than 400 km long trip from Brussels to Trouville-sur-Mer. The 120 HP 1,6 litre Multijet II Diesel delivers magnificent pulling power: its 120 HP are already available at 3750 rpm, and has an impressive torque of 320 Nm at merely 1750 rpm. It is coupled in our test car to the smooth 6 speed DCT transmission, and this combination is just magnificent for fast, effortless motorway driving. It picks up speed in swiftly after the numerous “péages” and holds the 130 km/h cruising speed in total silence and with very good economy indeed, which hovered during the trip at around 5,3 liters/100 km.

On the trip itself, one of the spectacular spots is of course the bridge of Tancarville, crossing the estuary of the Seine near Le Havre.

No need whatsoever to intervene with the gearbox lever on the narrow Normandy winding roads and frequent roundabouts and crossings, when we approaching Honfleur and Deauville. Just leave it in “D” and the powerful engine does the rest. The official performance figures amply show that this is an ideal companion on your Gran Turismo voyages: 0 to 100 km/h is reached in 10,4 seconds and top speed is 200 km/h, which lets you mix in with the superfast GT’s, if need be. We were just pleased with the absence of wind noise at cruising speeds, the excellent comfort of seats and suspension, the very good overall stability.

More about the car soon in a test report, we just show you here the pleasing looking SW at its arrival in Normandy and at the Hotel.

Trouville itself has style. French literary giants, Flaubert and Proust were here to be found. As to Monet and his Norman master, Boudin, they painted memorable scenes of 19th century bourgeois in their finery promenading along the broad beachfront here. In fact, Trouville was one of the first-ever coastal resorts to be developed in France. Artists may have started the trend for coming here, but by the time of Emperor Napoleon III, from the mid 19th century on, the rich and fashionable flocked to Trouville too. They ordered grand villas and palaces of entertainment, like the impressive casino.

Trouville casino was built surprisingly close to the lively fishing port, backed by a classic covered fish market, with lively seafood restaurants all around. Scallops, sole, prawns and mackerel are traditional specialities.

Marguerite Duras, perhaps France’s most famous female writer of the 20th century, was a great cultural figure who became a devotee of Trouville, spending her summers here.

She said that everyone she had ever met who had come to the resort for a first time said they dreamt of returning.

The hotel, Les Cures Marines Trouville Hotel Spa & Thalasso, breathes the atmosphere of elegant yesterday. It is nestled in the right wing of the Casino in the heart of Trouville.

Inspired by the first seawater baths, the Cures Marines Institute revives its visitors with the comforts of a magical renovation project, overseen by Monuments Historiques and the expertise of the MGallery and Thalassa Sea & Spa from the Accorhotels group, retaining style of palaces from the beginning of last century.

We just show you here some photos, and remember fondly the place and the car…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Subaru Outback 2.5i-X CVT: there is a genius out there…

New grille and headlights distinguish the latest Outback…

Some cars are bursting of ingenuity, hiding their technical marvels under the bonnet. You only discover it as you drive them. All Subaru’s are such cars, and this Outback proved this to us, once again…

Indeed, this Outback is a connoisseur’s car. What to think of a marvellous double overhead cam boxer, 175 hp strong, with a power to litre ratio of 70 HP? This is more than the legendary 2 litre 1963 356B Porsche Carrera GS, which pumped out 130bhp at 6,200rpm of its 1,966cc DOHC Flat 4-Cylinder Engine, fed with Dual Solex 40PII-4 Downdraft Carburettors… and the 1965 Porsche 911 for that matter.  

But that is far from all. This Outback has a supersmooth CVT transmission and permanent AWD, boasting excellent off-road talents. It also proves to be a practical, sturdy companion.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Pleasing looks

The styling people of Subaru are this time making their sums right, and indeed struck very elegant proportions and curves in designing this SUV. Just look at the photos and you will agree. This Outback looks good from any angle, and we met with many admiring looks and comments during our test. The new bumper and grille mark this latest version, and new headlights, which now actively track in the direction of a turn to enhance visibility. LED light is now available, as well as High Beam Assist, which  can automatically switch the headlights between the high and low settings when an oncoming vehicle is detected, enhancing safety for both you and other drivers on the road.

The same can be said of the cabin, with everything very logically in place, and with seats and steering wheel being easily adjustable, we found the correct seating position in a breeze. A 10-way adjustable power driver’s seat with 2-position memory function and 4-way power front passenger seat help make you find that good position. Infotainment and navigation are totally new, but logical and self explaining, and soon we were on our way. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are built in standard, so you can enjoy navigation with your connected smart phone.

But the Salon version we drove has an in-built navigation system which uses Tom-Tom based maps. The seating position is pleasantly high, and does not give a way much here in comparison to the Subaru SUV Forester. New ventilation vents and new and simpler commands for the climate control distinguish the newer version.

Refinement

Mechanical refinement is one of the hallmarks of this Outback. Push the starting knob, slide the handle in “D” and off you go. Boxer engines are vibrationless, and we truly enjoy this. The CVT transmission has infinite ratios, so there are no jerks or rev changes when accelerating.

Soon you learn to lift the accelerator early when accelerating smoothly, so the CVT chooses immediately the highest possible ratio, and this allows you to cruise at the legal urban speeds at close to tickover speeds, say 1000 rpm or so. Needless to say that this will dramatically reduce urban fuel consumption, which we maintained between 7 and 8 liters, driving with some restraint. The manufacturer quotes a combined consumption of 7,3 liters/100 km, and  CO2 emission(s) of 166 g/km. We must admit that Subaru did a very good job here in reducing fuel consumption further. We point out here too that the CVT transmission, which had hitherto 6 electronically controlled ratios you could choose from, now has an electronic seventh (very) high ratio, which again enhances economy.

 The Subaru is quite responsive when you push the throttle deeper, and the fact that the CVT will choose the right ratio for optimum pulling power results in excellent agility and will get you out of any traffic situation if needed. Performance is more than adequate, with a 0 to 100 km/h time of 10,2 seconds and a top speed of 198 km/h.

Spacious…

The Outback is quite roomy, and will seat comfortably two adults in the back, which enjoy plenty of head- and legroom. Three baby seats can easily be fitted on the back seat, and in the back there are also two USB charging points provided. The Subaru offers also lots of luggage space, with a minimum volume of 559 liters and 1848 liters with the backrests fully folded down.   

X-Mode will make you an expert off-road

Pleasant handling and versatile off-road with lots of pulling power…

New shocks make the Outback more comfortable, body roll is better contained, and this Outback does not protest at all when driven in a spirited manner. This Outback has Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with Active Torque Vectoring which helps provide sharper, more stable handling. It automatically senses steering and braking inputs to help keep the vehicle on the driver’s intended path. It really works!

Never forget, it has 8,7 inch ground clearance, and performs very well on terrain. It has standard X-MODE, which optimizes the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system for maximum traction. X-MODE also incorporates Hill Descent Control for stability and confidence when descending more difficult grades.

It is also ideal for pulling that horse trailer, and can indeed tow up to 2.000 kg.

…and safe with EyeSight 3.0.

The confidence of EyeSight is now a standard feature on the Outback. This advanced safety technology monitors traffic movement, optimizes cruise control, and warns you when you’re swaying outside your lane. The Pre-Collision Braking feature can even apply full braking force, bringing you to a complete stop in emergency situations, reducing the rate of rear-end crashes with injuries by 85%. You have actually an extra set of eyes on the road…

Last but not least we have a word of praise for the Harman Kardon premium audio system in our test car, with 12 speakers and a 576-watt-equivalent amplifier.

A standard Rear-Vision Camera enhances rear visibility when backing up. Its display includes guidelines to help you see the vehicle’s path and judge distance to other objects. And with available Reverse Automatic Braking, your vehicle can even stop itself to avoid objects behind while in reverse.

We liked the fact that you had also a side view of the car on the split screen when manoeuvring, and could also put on the front camera when you want for better vision at the front end of the car.

Conclusion

This Subaru is a five star car: safety, reliability, boxer engines, excellent off road qualities with permanent 4WD, Eyesight 3.0, all this combined delivers indeed an outstanding vehicle, which is a dream to use everyday for all purposes of your busy (family) life.

In our country, the Subaru is rare and therefore rather exclusive, but keep in mind it is quite popular in the States and Japan, for all the good reasons. So we would conclude, have a (test) drive in one, and soon you will be a convinced follower…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove Jeep Power around the lake: the Grand Cherokee SRT and Trackhawk…

Driving the already legendary Grand Cherokee Trackhawk along the scenic villages around the beautiful Lago di Garda…

One of the absolute highlights of two days of Jeep driving amidst the beautiful scenery of the Italian Lago di Garda was a stint behind the wheel of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and the SRT. The Jeep® Grand Cherokee is the flagship of the Jeep brand and the most awarded SUV ever, and this gem of a car created the premium SUV category 27 years ago and with more than 6.4 million units sold since its introduction. More about this Jeep Grand Cherokee in its “normal” version(s) later, we focus here on the stunning Trackhawk and SRT versions.

Indeed, it had to happen, and the whole car world was actually expecting this: the more than 700 HP V8 of the Dodge Hellcat, the “muscle car” par excellence, was to be dropped in the engine bay of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It all happened last year, and now we had the chance to drive it: the supercharged 6.2-litre HEMI® V-8 engine, delivering 710 hp at 6000 rpm, mated to an 8 speed automatic transmission. High-strength, forged-alloy pistons, powder-forged connecting rods and sodium-cooled exhaust valves all add to the power of the Supercharged 6.2L V8 engine. Do not expect a hissing monster though.

The massive V8 burbles smoothly through slow urban traffic through the villages around the Lago di Garda, and progress is silky smooth. Until you floor the throttle. Supercar acceleration is the instant answer, and the engine growls away. 0 to 100 km/h is reached in some 3,7 seconds, the top speed is 289 km/h, if you only dare.

The Drive Mode selector, and the “launch” mode at the push of a button.

Of course, good traction is provided for with all this power. A “Quadra-Trac” active on-demand four-wheel-drive system, which also includes a rear Electronic Limited Slip Differential (ELSD) and a single-speed active transfer case is at your disposal.

A 6,4 litre V8 Hemi in the SRT…

Not yet an expert in unleashing all this power and putting it “just right” on the tarmac? Good to know that there is a “Launch Control” on SRT® and Trackhawk® , which optimizes track performance by coordinating the engine, transmission, driveline and suspension for a textbook launch and consistent straight-line acceleration.

The traction management system has been specifically retuned for the Trackhawk and SRT versions as “Selec-Track.”  It features five vehicle setting – Auto, Sport, Track, Snow and Tow – to allow the driver to achieve the best driving experience on any surface.

Beautiful instrumentation with a centrally placed rev counter…

The suspension is of course well tuned to this extra power, as well as brakes, and the Grand Cherokee remains eminently drivable.

Don’t forget there is also the Bilstein® Adaptive Suspension system, which can adjust the dampers for sport or track performance if desired, while the rear Electronic Limited Slip Differential features a four-point axle mounting to better distribute the massive power to the wheels.

For the heavier terrain work, the Quadra-Lift air suspension system allows you to change the ride height of the Grand Cherokee up to a maximum ground clearance of 28 cm.

We were deeply impressed by its handling and ride when driven with more abandon, and how perfectly balanced the whole car was. The unique driving experience is further enhanced by excellent seats and instrumentation, with not only a beautiful central rev counter, but also a special “Performance Page” on the central touch screen, where you can see anything as time of your acceleration, G-Force, all engine data like oil temperature, etc.

We enjoyed also having a stint at the wheel of the more suave SRT. Not that on the urban scenic roads around the Lago, you could test fully the difference in performance compared to the Trackhawk. Under the hood of the SRT version growls the 6417 cc V8 Hemi, good for 344 kW or 468 HP @6250 rpm. The same 8 speed auto transmission as in the Trackhawk knows this engine also needs to be revved to reach all out performance, as maximum torque of 624 Nm is reached at 4100 rpm. Of course, also here the Launch Control  and the choice between five dynamic Drive Modes with the  Selec-Track® System, as described above.

We enjoyed the same beautiful well balanced handling, indeed an SUV which also truly stands out if you expect that extra performance. Using launch control, it will still be able to catapult you from 0 to 100 km/h in 4,9 seconds.

We just coloured this image in front of this old factory a bit more (fiery) red to enhance the Trackhawk spirit…

We let you enjoy the photos here, and we dream along with you about this unforgettable experience… and there is more Jeep news to come with driving impressions of the full range!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Opel Grandland X: a Crossover-SUV with some grand qualities…

We always had a weak spot for Opels for their willingness to perform, handle and drive with zest and ease. It leads many Opel owners to become enthused drivers, and appreciate their cars the longer they own and drive them.

Combine all these good dynamic qualities with their robustness, the quality of workmanship and materials used and you have a cocktail which is very much appreciated throughout Europe.

Of course, Opel also has embarked fully into the SUV trend, and has put some very interesting contenders on the road. We are driving for you here the Grandland X Flagship version, and were glad to rediscover again all the good Opel qualities…masterfully retained despite the fact that Opel and Peugeot have co-developed this mid-sized SUV-Crossover, and this even long before GM even considered getting rid of their German subsidiary.

Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “We drove the Opel Grandland X: a Crossover-SUV with some grand qualities…”

We drove the Kia ProCeed GT Shooting Brake: the power and the beauty…

When we first stood eye to eye with this Kia, we were convinced. This shooting brake has what it takes. Just look at the fluent lines of this Shooting Brake, which seems to move even when standing still. And then we say nothing about the dynamic 204 HP heart of this car, and the way it handles and rides.

Just some extra info here to complete the picture: the popular and very European Kia Ceed range has been designed in Kia’s European Design Centre in Frankfurt under the guidance of European Head of Design Gregory Guillaume and President of Design and Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer, and is manufactured at the Zilina plant in Slovakia. It has sold 1,3 million cars in Europe since its début in 2006, and is indeed going from strength to strength. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Well proportioned and pleasing…

Indeed, the design team in Frankfurt know what they are doing. We rarely saw in this class – taking into account its wheelbase of 2.650 mm – a car which looks so sleek and elegant. Indeed, the ProCeed is only 5 mm longer than the Ceed, and shares its “K2” platform. No surprise that the ProCeed actually won the Australian Red Dot Design Award, and we must admit that in the black colour scheme which we found on our test car, this Kia has style and panache. The GT version we drove also runs on 18 inch alloys, which don’t hurt either.

The cabin follows through on the elegance shown outside. Matte chromed inserts, nice round dials, a well positioned “floating” 8 inch touchsreen above the heating / ventilation commands, all very inviting and intuitive. This is one of the cars where one is not overwhelmed by too much futurism and where one finds its way in seconds. The design and execution of the door panels is also showing excellent taste and has a distinct premium touch. The central fascia panel is now finished in a high quality, anti-scratch gloss black…

Driving is believing

A gentle push on the matte chromed starting button and “Drive” is soon selected on the excellent 7 speed dual clutch transmission. A docile 1,6 litre petrol engine hums to life.

But this is no sleeper, even when it sounds very refined and subtle when idling. This machine is the Hyundai Gamma GDI series unit, with four valves per cylinder and D-CVVT or dual continuous variable valve timing. Wow! Turbocharged, it delivers a solid 204 HP at 6000 rpm, and offers a healthy 265 Nm of torque over a wide rev range between 1500 and 4500 rpm. Yes, you understood. This means zest, and indeed it will shoot away from 0 to 100 km/h in merely 7,7 seconds, hurtling further to a top speed of 230 km/h. If this is not super car performance, it comes really close.

The GT pilot is treated to an even more sporting experience, not only with extra engine sound coming from the speakers, but also with the possibility to select different driving modes. In the “Sport” mode, steering response is different, and the gearbox will let rev the engine markedly higher. The ProCeed has in standard version already all what it takes to cling to the road. Electronic Stability Control, ESC is standard, as well as Kia’s Vehicle Stability Management (VSM). This means Torque Vectoring by Braking-technology can be included.

The ProCeed GT was developed under the guidance of Albert Biermann, President Vehicle Test & High-Performance Development for Hyundai-Kia. Six months of additional tests have improved the handling even further, and this really shows. Agile and precise, this ProCeed feels utterly at home on mountain passes, winding roads, city boulevards and Autobahnen. A true, well handling GT, with thoroughbred character and panache.

The handling does not come at the expense of comfort, and indeed this ProCeed handles even quite uneven roads without trouble. For spirited as well as long distance driving, the recaro-type front seats provide excellent support. Consumption is reasonable, and we stayed in the 7 to 8 liter/100 km range without effort.

Practical

The name shooting brake says it already. You can expect passenger and luggage space, and indeed, this ProCeed delivers. Luggage space is plenty, with 594 liter, and of course, the rear backrests can be folded in 40:20:40 fashion. Our test car came with the Smart Power Tailgate, and the loading floor is completely flat.

There is also a net for small luggage and a rail system. A last word about the infotainment system: combined with the 8 inch screen the navigation and Kia Connected Services are steered by TomTom®. The system has full smartphone-integration with Apple CarPlay™ (for the iPhone 5 and newer) and Android Auto™ (for Android-phones which run on version 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher).

Our test car was also equipped with a marvelous ‘Premium Sound System’ from JBL with the restoration technology Clari-Fi.

Conclusion

A very endearing, stylish shooting brake with a marvelously willing and pleasant drivetrain, which invites you for a very engaging drive as well as a smooth stroll on urban roads. The available space is quite sufficient, the styling, choice and quality of materials and sheer workmanship and finish are quite worthy of a premium segment car. When considering a roomy hatchback with a beautiful rear end, certainly do have a long look (and drive) of this one…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the new Mercedes B-Class 200d: a three star bestseller with a sporting and futuristic touch…

The B Class is everything a Mercedes stands for, and embodies it admirably: space, superb finish and workmanship, a high quality drivetrain, high level comfort and refinement for its class, longevity and economy.

It is quite versatile with its wide choice of drivetrains and engines, and has in its recent facelift received a sportier stance externally, combined with a futuristic dashboard makeover, sporting the latest trends in driving info, connectivity and (info)entertainment. 

The B Class stays also young at heart with new state of the art diesel and petrol engines, and this time we opted for diesel propulsion, and discover with you what it has to offer presently in terms of economy and environmental qualities. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

On the Widescreen you can even choose your experience worlds…

A new user experience in front of your eyes…

Besides the altered exterior, which is clearly more dynamic, and sporting, certainly in the AMG version, it is the new avant-garde interior makes for a unique feeling of space, with the distinctive design of the instrument panel. The intuitive user interface of the adaptive MBUX multimedia system is quite impressive, and its strong points include brilliant graphics, “Hey Mercedes” voice control, a standard touch screen and functions such as MBUX Augmented Reality.

The standard display…

The almost endless features and possibilities fitted in the premium, “chique” designed clusters and screens impressed us. Many features are taken from the S Class, and the user experience is quite stunning.

The sporting one…

The cutout in front of the driver houses the fully free-standing display unit, which comes in three different versions: with two 7-inch displays (17.78 cm), with one 7- and one 10.25-inch display (26 cm) and, in the Widescreen version, with two 10.25-inch displays. A head-up display is optionally available.

And the one who tells you how you have been driving…

We chose for our test driving the map display on the screen in front of us, with map/music info on the central screen. But a wide array of functions are available, last but not least the voice command. The system is called MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) multimedia system, its ability to learn thanks to Artificial Intelligence makes the system unique.

It can tell you every second the power developed by the engine…

It has touch screen control as standard as well as, depending on equipment, a high-resolution Widescreen cockpit, navigation display with Augmented Reality technology plus intelligent voice control with natural speech recognition, which is activated by saying “Hey Mercedes”. The touch screen is part of the integrated MBUX touch control concept – a trio consisting of touch screen, touchpad on the centre console (optional) and touch controls on the steering wheel.

A Blackberry feel…

The latter feel like your faithful old Blackberry or early Samsung smartphones, soon you get again used to this somewhat “vintage” touch.

You can play endlessly on the screens, and as the photos show, choose for example in which emotive environment or “theme world” you want to be in: to travel, to experience, drive economically and efficient, etc. You can check every instant of your drive how much power and torque your engine delivers, you can see in front of you your (city) driving score, choose your driving modes, Individual, sport, comfort or eco…

State of the art diesel power…

The transverse-mounted version of the two-litre OM 654q diesel engine with 110 kW and 140 kW celebrates a clean début: It is the first engine to fulfil the Euro 6d norm, which is only mandatory for new models as of 2020. It has an aluminium crankcase and stepped-bowl combustion process. It meets this Euro 6d standard thanks to extended exhaust after treatment with an additional underfloor SCR catalyst. With a cylinder spacing of just 90 mm instead of 94 mm, the new engine is more compact than its predecessor thus allowing the exhaust after treatment components to be installed directly on the engine, where the exhaust temperature is higher, making for more efficient after treatment.

It is a very smooth unit, unobtrusive also when cold, and offers not only utter docility, which is ideal in urban traffic, but also plenty of zest and power. It develops 110 kW/150 hp between 3400 and 4400 rpm, and has a healthy torque of 320 Nm between 1400 and 3200 rpm. Put it in the dynamic mode, and you will know what we mean. This B 200d is certainly no sluggard: 0 to 100 km/h is absolved in 8,3 seconds, and top speed is a very impressive 219 km/h.

The new B-Class is initially available exclusively with dual-clutch transmissions. New here is the eight-speed 8G-DCT, which is used in combination with the diesel engine. It is, in good Mercedes tradition, smooth, alert and efficient.

This translates also in very good (urban) consumption figures: the manufacturer quotes between 4,2 and 4,5 l/100 km combined, and we had no trouble to stay within the 5-6 l/100 km range. CO2 emissions are also quite reasonable with values between 112 and 119 g/km.

The pleasant high seating position make the B Class a very nice car to drive in town, and certainly female and older drivers appreciate it. It is of course also very well at home on the Autobahnen, an excellent Gran Turismo car it certainly is, with seating comfort also beyond reproach. If you are in a hurry on winding roads, the B-Class is also an excellent companion. Its chassis copes well with the kinetic forces of spirited driving, and handling is utterly stable and totally predictable.

In all versions of the new B-Class, the front wheels feature McPherson struts and forged-aluminium wishbones, to which are attached cast-aluminium steering knuckles. In combination with the more powerful engine variants or if the customer opts for one of the optional suspension systems, use is made of a sophisticated four-link rear axle.

The new B-Class comes as standard with extended Active Brake Assist, which can help mitigate the severity of rear-end collisions with slower-moving, stopping or stationary vehicles ahead – and now even with crossing pedestrians or cyclists – or prevent them altogether. Of course, a host of driving assistance modes and functions are available, last but not least our test car was equipped with park assist, for instance.

Practical

The rear seat backrest comes as standard with a 40:20:40 split. Depending on version, from mid-2019 it will be possible to slide the rear seats forward by 14 centimetres and to move the backrest into a more upright position to vary the capacity of the luggage compartment behind the rear seats between 455 and 705 litres. With the rear seat folded down and luggage loaded to the roof, the luggage compartment, which is flat thanks to the adjustable load compartment floor, can accommodate up to 1,540 litres behind the front seats.

It can also just show you the road…

Stylish sportiness

The B-Class is now also more dynamic on the outside. The slightly lowered roof line and larger, 16- to 19-inch wheels making for dynamic proportions. The relatively squat, progressive front end marks the second generation B-Class visually. Low-profile headlamps, the inside of which is already high-grade, detailed and precisely designed on the basic model with H7 headlamps and LED daytime running lights. When ordered with LED headlamps or higher, the B-Class comes with its own daytime running light signature in the form of a double torch.  

At the back, the width of the vehicle is accentuated by two-part lamps, reflectors integrated in the bumper and a distinctive black bumper bottom section. The large roof spoiler, along with high-gloss black spoilers at the sides of the rear window, add also an air of sportiness. We liked it!

Conclusion

The B-Class breathes harmony and indeed offers all the intrinsic superb qualities of a Mercedes. It brings you also the future world of infotainment, combined with the electronic cleverness and safety and comfort which we only expected from top range (S-Class) models of the brand.

Combine this with practicality, future proof economy and reliability, and you will agree that this B-Class is indeed the most clever choice you can make when you want to spend your motoring life behind a three pointed star. By the way, I bought the previous generation B-Class for my wife, two years ago. And it continues to put a broad smile on her face…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Mazda 6 Skyactiv-G 2.5, 194 HP: a flagship with style and panache

Mazda styling is reaching top levels nowadays, and the Mazda 6 clearly shows it. Just have a look at the fluent contours and the ideal proportions and balanced surfaces of this large sedan, and be convinced with us. The Mazda 6 body has recently been revised and has gained further in maturity and elegance, with also the interior having had a stylish make-over. Under the hood, the G 2,5 and other SKYACTIV powertrains have been further perfected, and driving dynamics have also been improved. We took this elegant sedan for a test, and it showed its many qualities. Just read on…

 Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Jaguar F-Pace: a thoroughbred feline fit for all roads and uses…

We all know that SUV’s are all the rage, and are becoming ever more popular. No small wonder then that this stylish Jaguar SUV, launched in 2015, is the bestseller of the iconic brand. But then, you may ask with us, is this popular SUV still remaining a true Jaguar, combining pace (performance) with grace and space? Will the growl of its powerful engine lift your spirits, will its chassis seduce you with its graceful handling and comfort, will the beautiful body and interior put you in the exquisite mood and ambiance which only a Jaguar can convey? Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Feline contours

Looking at the photos you will agree, this F-Pace has the looks so unique to Jaguar. The waistline which ends in a higher tail contour, reminiscent of the rear end of the Jaguar E-type, where its high mounted rear bumpers also followed the waistline, the well rounded curves, the proportions of the wheel arches, well integrated in the fluent lines of the whole body, the subtle central bulge on the engine hood, all this is well and truly Jaguar.

In the interior, the digital age and the utmost attention to passive safety has put its own boundaries and accents, and so, alas, you will not find a wood rimmed steering wheel, nor does it lay thinly rimmed in your hands, the trend of times has commanded otherwise. But once the digital instrumentation lights up on the screens, one sees the familiar big round dials, and the classic lettering in the instruments, white on black, of, well, vintage Jaguars. As readers know, your servant is the proud owner of a Mk II 3,4 litre Jag, and yes, I felt well at home in this one.

The latest generation digital infotainment screens and functions are also intuitive and the proverbial breeze to use, and rank among the very best you will find in any car nowadays. The centre console is wide – again a celebrated Jaguar tradition- and houses the ergonomic rotary gear selector of the excellent 8- speed ZF auto box, and one just has to turn the column to choose the right function, and it will discreetly descend into its mount when you stop the car and engine, so neat and practical, and (luck has it) so unique to Jaguar. Going from “D” to “R”everse is just a short twist on the column selector, and that is soo clever!

Abundant, smooth, growling power…

The heart of any car is its engine, and in a Jaguar it simply HAS to be powerful, with abundant torque and pulling power, from low revs onwards, and on top of all that it has to develop that deep, feline sound. No small feat for a Diesel engine. But then, this is a V6 (yes, to me, a Jaguar is only a Jag with a SIX cylinder engine, sorry…) and it has 3 litre of displacement. So there are 300 HP available, at 4000 rpm. Of this, the Jaguar E-Type could only dream. With on top of all that 700 Nm of torque in store for that necessary feline punch, and this at merely 2000 rpm. So the outright performance is truly Jaguar, and indeed, the classic E-type could hardly match its 0 to 100 km/h acceleration of 6.2 sec. It would also have needed the right rear tyre size and final drive ratio to reach the same top speed of 241 km/h which this F-pace is capable of.

The thermal efficiency of a (large) Diesel is legendary, and shows abundantly here too that they belong into the larger SUV’s when there is no electrified or hybrid propulsion present in the drivetrain. It took just a restrained driving style with the engine humming along around 1000 rpm at urban legal speeds, to reach consumption averages between 7,4 and 7,8 liters/100 km in dense urban traffic. A petrol engine of similar size and power does not come even close to these figures in such a 4,7 metre SUV with a kerb weight of 1884 kg. The ingenium technology in these all aluminium engines offers low friction, and all this truly pays off.

We couldn’t resist making this line drawing version of the inconic Jaguar badge on the front grille. This F-Pace is indeed a true Jaguar…

Handling like a thoroughbred

As shares some of its architecture with the XE and XF, it handles very car-like. Of course, you can choose between driving modes that stiffen the suspension and boost steering response, but even in normal settings the F-type handles like a dream, displaying also very little body roll for an SUV of this weight and size. With the larger engines, the F-type offers standard 4WD, and this sends all the power to the rear wheels most of the time, with occasionally 20 pct sent to the front. On slippery surfaces, up to 50 % of the pulling power can be sent to the front wheels.

 A key ingredient to these impeccable road manners is its lightweight construction. Don’t forget that 80 pct of the body, excluding the doors, bonnet and plastic tailgate, is made of aluminium. Then there is the near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, an integral link rear suspension, and the aluminium double wishbone suspension at the front which is closely following the F-type setup. Electronics will analyze steering movements up to 500 times per second, body movements up to a 100 times per second. Do we need to say more? This Jaguar is in all its sportiness graceful and comfortable, never too hard, even in this sport mode.

Everyday practicality

The F-type is an SUV, and that means born and built for the modern day mobile couple and family. It easily seats five adults, has a minimum trunk volume of a very decent 650 liters, space for ski’s, toddler isofix seat anchors, electric tailgate, you name it. All thinkable driver assistance options can be had, the infotainment supports Apple and Android Car Play, the sound system is nothing short of superb.

Conclusion

The F-Pace is Jaguar’s bestseller, and for all the right reasons. It has feline, beautifully curved and timeless looks, both inside and out, displays uncanny panache behind the wheel, handles well balanced and displays all the growling Jaguar power you could ever wish for. Don’t forget also, this car is voted World Car of the Year 2017 en World Car Design of the Year 2017; Thi year, the model range has been extended with the
300 SPORT and Chequered Flag. In the diesel version it is as frugal as modern times command it, and if you decide to go green all the way, then Jaguar as the latest I-Pace, which is also a formidable looking car with many (E-) promises.

Needless to say we are very keen to lay our hands on one, but for the time being, and indeed for many years to come, this F-Pace will fulfil everything you could possibly wish of a Jaguar, and this better than ever.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the new Audi Q3 Advanced 35 TFSI 150 hp: four quality rings for excellence…

In the segment of premium compact SUV’s, the Q3 has always been a solid contender, and with the major improvements introduced in the latest generation, it looks it’s to stay very much on top. It has been voted first in the “compact SUV/off-road vehicles” category in the readers’ choice of “Best Cars 2019” by German technical magazine “auto motor und sport.”Indeed, the confident styling, the superb workmanship, impeccable finish and build quality will already convince you, even before driving it. But also behind the wheel, it has lots more in store, just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Clean and sharp contours

The Audi styling language has been sharpened up lately and the rounded contours have now been superseded by more angular surfaces and edges. It makes the whole car more elegant and lighter, and altogether more lively.

This added dynamism is also found in the available colour palette, and indeed our test car was sprayed in an attractive pulse orange, a new color, which suited it well.

The ‘new generation’ angular styling language is boldly continued in the interior, with as a highlight the suede finish of the dashboard surface panels, repeating the body colour. Led lighting is now introduced in door panels and throughout the cabin, and a large central screen running across part of the instrument panel makes abundantly clear that the digital age has well and truly arrived at Audi.

The digital instrumentation is an example of clarity and elegant design, and the large round dials for speed and revs can be made smaller to allow other information to take central stage in the line of sight of the driver.

Infotainment is of course top notch, and we enjoyed the DAB radio along with the premium sound system. The navigation also leaves little to be desired in terms of intuitive usability and accuracy. Of course there are also a host of driving aids to be enjoyed, of which more later.

Refined drivetrain

Under the hood purrs a state of the art 150 hp 1,5 litre gasoline TFSI unit, coupled to a smooth and alert 7 speed auto S Tronic gearbox. In terms of smoothness and liveliness, this entry level engine earns top marks. It develops ample pulling power at low revs, is vibrationless and silent, and is willing to rev beautifully under a marvellous staccato when you floor the throttle.

The engine embodies the latest techniques. What to think of for instance its cylinder linings, which  have an iron coating that is applied via plasma spraying and significantly reduces friction. The cooling module allows efficient thermal management, assisted by the exhaust manifold integrated in the cylinder head. The turbochargers generate up to 1.3 bar of (relative) charging pressure. The common-rail system injects the fuel at up to 350 bar – the high pressure results in spraying, even distribution of the flame front and low particulate emissions. Combined CO2 emissions are between 134 – 130 g/km.

The gearbox is utterly responsive, and has a well balanced gearchange behaviour according to the chosen driving mode. Because – noblesse oblige – the Q3 driver can choose how his car behaves according to his driving mood. Indeed, customers can order the Audi drive select dynamic handling system as an option. This system allows the driver to choose between auto, comfort, dynamic, efficiency, offroad and individual mode.

One has the choice between and together with engine and gearbox responsiveness steering and damping are also adjusted accordingly. When one has chosen the “dynamic”mode, pure driving pleasure is to be fully enjoyed, and indeed in terms of agility and steering precision, this Q3 truly scores very high indeed in this premium compact SUV segment. Even the standard steering system of the new Audi Q3 is sporty and direct with a ratio of 14.8:1. With the optional progressive steering, this ratio applies to the central position – the further the driver turns the wheel, the more direct the ratio. At full lock, it is 11.4:1.

In Audi drive select offroad mode, in which the adaptive dampers are set to soft, hill descent control can provide assistance (see illustration). Activated at the touch of a button, it constantly maintains the speed specified by the driver (up to a maximum of 30 km/h) on a steep downhill gradient of more than six percent through automatic brake interventions. The driver specifies the preferred speed by accelerating or braking. This allows the driver to concentrate fully on the terrain. In addition the MMI displays the tilt angle accordingly.

A few words more about this gearbox: In the entry-level gasoline version we tested, the two dry clutches manage without their own oil supply on account of the lower torque of 250 Nm (184.4 lb-ft). This improves efficiency even further. Oil is supplied to the gearwheels via a small, mechanically driven gear pump. In conjunction with Audi drive select, the seven-speed S tronic provides a freewheel function that becomes active in many situations if the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. It is deactivated in dynamic and offroad modes. We remind you here that the the Audi Q3 35 TFSI exclusively uses front-wheel drive.

Performance with this 150 hp version is more than adequate, with a 0 to 100 sprint time in 9.2 seconds, and a stable and effortless top speed of 207 km/h. When truly put through its paces with panache, this Q3 really shows what mettle it is made of, and indeed, in the true German tradition we would say, this Q3 feels totally at home on high speed outings on the Autobahnen, displaying the superb qualities of its chassis and suspension, and the thoroughly tested and proven quality of its (drivetrain) engineering.

In terms of economy, we remind you that the engine has the cylinder on demand efficiency system. Actuators on the camshafts temporarily shut down the second and third cylinders at low and medium loads by closing the inlet and outlet valves. The engine management system suppresses fuel injection and ignition. All this is totally imperceptible to the driver.

Despite all these technical refinement, the fuel consumption of a petrol engine car depends largely on your driving style. The very best we could achieve was an average of 7,3 liters/100 km, on a longer open road and motorway drive, with admittedly some 35 pct urban traffic thrown in. The manufacturer quotes a consumption between 5.9 – 5.7 l/100 km.

Suffice to say that a choice of three gasoline and two diesel engines, combined with front-wheel or quattro drive, is available for the Audi Q3. Their power outputs range from 110 kW (150 hp) to 169 kW (230 hp).

Infotainment, instrumentation and driving assistance: the digital age is with us…

The Q3 is manufactured at the Győr plant in Hungary, and is standard fitted with the digital instrument cluster, MMI radio including Bluetooth, multifunction leather steering wheel, air conditioning and LED headlights. In terms of assist systems, along with the Audi pre sense basic and Audi pre sense front safety systems, the Audi side assist lane change warning system and the Audi active lane assist lane departure warning system are fitted ex works. The light/rain sensor and the adjustable speed limiter also come as standard. We must say that this adjustable speed cruise control has decidedly come of age, and works is stunningly smooth and progressive.

Audi has done away with the analog instruments. Even with the standard MMI radio, they are replaced by a digital instrument cluster with a 10.25-inch screen diagonal, which the driver operates using the multifunction steering wheel.

First option: MMI radio plus. This first configuration level is called MMI radio plus – here, the customer can upgrade the digital instrument to the Audi virtual cockpit, which they can configure in many areas. In addition to the usual data such as road and engine speed, it also displays information on music tracks and Audi connect services.

If the customer has specified navigation, the display also includes the navigation map. The MMI radio plus also includes an MMI touch display with an 8.8-inch screen diagonal. It is integrated into the high-gloss black glass-look surround in the center of the dashboard. Then there is a still higher level: MMI navigation plus. Here, the MMI touch display measures 10.1 inches. In addition, the Audi virtual cockpit is available as an option in a plus version with a 12.3-inch screen diagonal. The driver can call up three different views on the screen, including a “dynamic” screen. Here, the engine and road speed are shown in square instruments with red graphical elements – a really sporty look. In all displays, the graphical user interface is so clear that the information can be read quickly. The menu structure is streamlined and easy to understand, as on a smartphone

Practical with more boot space

The luggage compartment has also benefited substantially from the growth of the new Q3 –it is the largest in the premium compact segment. Depending on the position of the rear seats and backrests, its capacity totals 530 or 675 liters (18.7 or 23.8 cu ft) With the backrests folded down the figure rises to 1,525 liters (53.9 cu ft) The loading floor can be adjusted in up to three levels; the low loading sill of 748 millimeters (29.4 in) makes it easier to stow heavy luggage. If the parcel shelf is not needed, it can be stowed under the loading floor.

Conclusion

The new Q3 has decidedly matured to a top contender, as we said before. Thoroughly engineered and built carefully to reach perfection, in terms of styling, quality, performance, handling, comfort and economy and longevity. It is in this segment of compact SUV’s a benchmark, without any doubt, by which others will be judged. Needless to say it will top the charts in the fleet segment, and win also the hearts of many private Audi enthusiasts and followers…

Hans Knol ten Bensel