We drove the Jeep Renegade 1.3 150 HP: a compact SUV with pure Jeep DNA.

The original Jeep has grown into an absolute icon. One loves its shape, its purposeful compactness, its go anywhere usability. Modern urban dwellers love to inject its pure, outdoorish character into their lifestyle, and therefore what better thing to do than to choose this Jeep Renegade. It approaches the dimensions of the original, and also the body contours and cabin design take you fully into the Jeep world.

Like its veteran original, the Renegade we tested has also a small four cylinder petrol engine under the hood, but that is where, so many decades later, all comparison ends. Because this Renegade is crammed with the very latest state of the art technology the FCA group has to offer, and then we are not even talking about the PHEV version, which we recently announced in these columns.

This Renegade has impressed us, and quite frankly, it does the Jeep name (very) proud. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the new Fiat 500X Sport: Dynamic Gran Turismo pleasure…

We already told you, dear reader, in our “teaser” about our venue to the “Luigi Ridolfi” Federal Technical Centre in Coverciano (FIorence), to have a stint at the wheel of the new Fiat 500X Sport.

The 500 X is the most global model of the Fiat range. This iconic compact crossover is designed and engineered in Italy and built in the FCA factory in Melfi. It was launched in 2014, but has lost none of its appeal, as it has been renewed last year. Now the 500 X accentuates sportsmanship, and emerges as an alternative to compact C-segment cars with a sporty look.

Does it live up to its promises on the open road?

Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Lexus ES300h: the classic Lexus sedan of your dreams…

If you want to experience what Lexus really stands for, than get behind the wheel of this sleek and stylish ES300h: smooth comfort and roominess, technical perfection, sleek and velvety power, a full luxury cabin, and totally stunning economy. It embodies it all, in a masterful and very attractive way.

Of course, you must like sedans. We still do, and let us tell you right away, we were totally sold on this Lexus. We drove it extensively, and took it also to the French capital of light. We couldn’t think of a more appropriate transport to the city of elegance and savoir vivre…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Lexus UX 250h: a premium compact SUV for future-loving connoisseurs…

Driving the future. Now. Literally, without any strings or plugs attached. That is what Lexus driving is all about. Superbly engineered, dramatically styled. With an eye for quality and modern day luxury:  this is what Lexus’s most compact SUV offers you.

It runs on the new GA-C-platform, which is also seen in the new Corolla. It shares also (most) of its drivetrain. Indeed, the well known 2 litre Atkinson Cycle four cylinder plays here the fiddle in harmony with its electric cousin under the bonnet, in clever hybrid fashion, just like in the Corolla. This means absolute technical perfection and utmost reliability is yours to enjoy. But that is not all. The bodywork of this SUV has what it takes to please you, both inside and out. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the BMW 320d sedan: the icon of four door sportiness remains joyful as ever…

There are cars which are true benchmarks, and when it comes to a dynamic sedan, then the BMW 3 series is the absolute standard to which all others are judged. It embodies all BMW stands for, and it is also their most successful model. Therefore it is carefully honed to perfection by its maker with every new generation they build. The 3 series is now in its seventh generation, introduced at the Paris Salon last year. We can tell you, it is and remains a true joy to drive and own.

We drove the economical and smooth 2 litre Diesel unit, which has with 190 HP enough zest to let the car display its sportiness and handling.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Subaru Forester 2.0i: your companion in the woods of life…

The truth is now known to us all: to save our planet we need a lot more trees. We would add, we also need a good car to go with it: and this could very well be the clever and superbly built Subaru Forester…

It is a car which continues to surprise and amaze us. The engineering is top notch, it performs like a dream, has terrific 4WD, gets you wherever you want to go, in all seasons, in all circumstances and weather conditions, is indestructible and getting ever more frugal too.

We drove it for you, and here are our findings…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Toyota Corolla hybrid: green power for millions

Toyota and Lexus are friends of the earth since decades. They offer E power in hybrid form across their whole range now, and this started already back in 1997 with the Prius, a car which has been a star on Californian (and many other) roads worldwide ever since.

The hybrid drivetrain of this car is nothing short of a stroke of genius, and therefore hardly surprising that it is also seen on the Lexus range. Faithful readers know that I am the happy owner of a Lexus CT 200h, a car which is running around with an average consumption between 3.9 and 4.6 litres/100 km.

The subject of this test is also to find out whether the continuously further developed hybrid system brings further gains in efficiency compared to my faithful Lexus.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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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