We drove the Kia Niro Hybrid: your smooth and stylish companion…

The second generation Kia Niro is succesfully restyled… Photo was taken here with the “vintage” Fujifilm Finepix 100fs: bought recently for merely 59 Euros…

With the second generation, the Kia Niro has decidedly come of age. It is altogether more stylish, and comes with all possible electrified drivetrain options: you can have it as a straightforward hybrid, like the Niro we tested here for you, or as a PHEV, and of course as a fully fledged EV. We impressed by the smoothness, space, comfort and user friendliness of this “pure” hybrid, which can be very frugal too… just read further.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Indeed, the Niro has gained in style. The C Pillar ends with nicely sculpted rear lights, curved like we see on Volvo’s, with a passage between the bodywork and the lamp cluster, to improve air flow along the side of the car.

Photo taken again with the “vintage” Fujifilm Finepixshowing excellent colour balance.

The C-pillar can also be had in contrasting colours. Also the front end has improved in stance and presence with a wide aluminium coloured rim around the hood and its big lights. The same goes for the interior. A sweeping design, good quality materials give you that premium feeling.

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone … wih heavy correction of colour balance and exposure.

The screen layout is very good, nice to toggle between climate and screen controls to get you swiftly to the commands you want. We like the round control knob to switch between D, N and R, with the P button right on top of it, it’s all very ergonomic and you wouldn’t want it to be otherwise once you are at behind the wheel of this Kia. Many ergonomic solutions and knobs are similar to the flagship EV6, and that’s only to be applauded.

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone

The seats are good, with even a relax mode in the front seats depending on the equipment version you choose. There is plenty of storage, and leg and headroom is also quite decent in the rear. The floor in the rear is completely flat, so even three adults can reasonably sit in comfort. Boot space is excellent with a good 450 liters, and there is a separate tray for sundry like spare wheel equipment etc.

Drivetrain: smoothness and efficiency first…

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone

The hybrid Niro has a 1,6 litre Turbo under the hood, Kia calls it its Smartstream 1.6-litre GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) gasoline engine. It is a 16 valve four cylinder, with a compression ratio of not less than 1:14, with Continuously Variable Intake and exhaust Valve Timing, or abbreviated CVVT. To improve torque and thermal efficiency in the mid rev range it is a long stroke unit, 72 x 97 mm, and you understand immediately that this is not the unit that likes to be trashed hard with corresponding high revs. Surprisingly however, it develops its maximum power of 105 PS @ a rather high 5,700 rpm, and its maximum torque of 147 Nm comes in @ 4,000 rpm.

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone. Not the frugal average consumption of 5 l/100 km.

But its torque curve is relatively flat, so indeed there is plenty of pulling power at low revs. It runs indeed very smoothly at low revs, remember, it runs on low-friction ball bearings(!) The hybrid version has a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor of 32 kW, but more importantly, developing a torque of 170 Nm, and that gives you the pleasant liveliness and delightful “EV feel” at low urban speeds. The Niro Hybrid is paired as standard with the brand’s second-generation six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (6DCT with gears optimized for transmission efficiency, and the removal of the reverse gear that saves a significant 2.3kg). This improves the overall consumption by 0.62%. Reverse drive comes indeed from the electric motor…

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone. When driving very slowly due to urban congestion, the hybrid relies on the electric motor, and shows its worth: merely 2,9 litres/100 km on the driven distance!

The Niro Hybrid shows its smooth qualities when driven with restraint and anticipation; the engine and transmission then behave supersmooth, and the Artifical Intelligence of the power train will choose the optimum balance between engine and battery power, and manages to achieve optimal efficiency, together with more than enough power combined with excellent acoustic comfort. Consumption even in the busiest of urban traffic will remain well below 6 litres/100 km, and that’s what it’s all about when we talk about environment conscious transport.

Photo taken with the Fujifilm Finepix S100fs again…

Of course, higher speeds on Autostradas will take their toll, but driving at the legal maximum speeds on our European motorways will not set you back unduly. Performance is all you could wish for: 0 to 100 km/h in 10,4 seconds, a top speed of 165 km/h, on 16 inch wheels… The manufacturer quotes an average fuel consumption between 4.4 – 4.7 litres/100 km, and CO2 emissions of 100-107 g/km according to the wheel dimension, i.e. 16 and 18 inch respectively. 

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone.

Predictable handling

The Niro uses Kia’s third-generation ‘K’ platform, conceived from the outset to support a mix of electrified powertrains and provide high levels of torsional rigidity. The Kia engineers have tuned the suspension and steering system with an eye to comfort, succeeding in also offering a responsive, confidence-inspiring driving experience.

Photo here taken with the latest “flagship” Samsung S22 smartphone.

State of the art driving aids and connectivity

The usual driving aids are found, like Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Lane Following Assist (LFA), Highway Driving Assist (HDA), Driver Attention Warning (DAW), High Beam Assist (HBA), Navigation-based Smart Cruise Control-Curve (NSCC-C), Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist (BCA), Rear View Monitor (RVM) and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA). The Niro’s front view camera and in-built navigation system integrate to display the current speed limit. The Intelligent Speed Limit Assist (ISLA) system will display the current speed limit and automatically change the set speed (after confirmation by the driver) by using the information detected through the front view camera.

Last but not least, a clear 10-inch head-up display (HUD) system projects vital driving information, including speed, ADAS data and navigation indications onto the front windscreen, very readable indeed.

Photo here taken with the Fujifilm Finepix S100fs

Conclusion

The current Niro family is Kia’s third best-seller in Europe. Did you know that of the previous generation, Kia has sold 350,000 Niro models (54% HEV, 15% PHEV and 31% EV). So Kia took utmost car to hone this important car for them to another level. It is also reflected in the prices, but then it offers style and top notch technology. It will prove to be a very pleasant and smooth companion, as we said in the title of this report, when you drive it with respect for the environment and the law… indeed, as hybrid cars are meant to be driven to show their sublime qualities…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Photographers’ notes: we used besides our state of the art Samsung S22 phone also the Fujifilm Finepix S100 fs, which proved a very creditable contender…

We drove the Nissan Juke 1,6 Hybrid: a very refined and stylish urban SUV…

The Juke has invented the compact, urban SUV and indeed has gained many faithful followers over the years. Times have changed, and the reduction of CO2 emissions is crucial now. So when the facelift of the Juke came along, it was time also to launch a hybrid version. Within the Renault group, the drivetrain of the Renault Captur was the obvious choice, and so here we are with a 1,6 litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor, delivering a system power of 105 kW or 143 HP. Nissan engineers have further honed Renault’s hybrid system, and we found it operating very refined indeed. The second generation Juke also underwent some styling changes for the better, but retained its iconic shape. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Pleasing…

The front end of the Juke now features a honeycomb grille with also the headlamps elegantly integrated in the bodywork with the indicators and running lights stylishly elongated along the bonnet. We already tell you here that the headlamps feature already in the standard equipment full LED, as well as the rear lights.

The interior is also very well finished, with soft padding on the dashboard, door panels and centre console. We like the very readable round instruments, and the touch screen sits nicely high up on the centre of the dashboard. Everything is quite intuitive to handle, and one feels well at home in this cosy, rather dark interior, the latter as a (happy?) result of the typical styling of this SUV.

The steering wheel is eminently adjustable, and the front seats are very comfortable indeed. Thanks to its SUV character one sits pleasantly high, with the front seats being some 52 cm above street level. So getting in and out is a breeze.

Refined, at least when you drive it smoothly…

Driving a Hybrid is also an art, which you have to learn. Ok, the hybrid offers you thanks to its electric motor that added torque and immediate pulling power which is the very charm of EV driving. But the smoothness and silence of the drivetrain will please you even more when you drive it quietly, with anticipation and restraint.

Then the clever (thanks to computer-age Artifical Intelligence) system will manage the power stream masterfully between E- and combustion power, the engine revs will not rise unduly and in urban traffic you will achieve anything between 5 and 5,5 litres/100 km. The hybrid Juke will also let you use the e-pedal function, so you can recuperate kinetic energy via the electric motor, which then acts as a generator. Of course, you set the drive selector on the centre console in “Eco” mode, and leave it there.

When you want more performance of the Juke, you can forget about any extra economy. Logically, as then the combustion engine has to do most, if not all the work, as it has also to maintain a minimum charge in the battery. Only the e-pedal will let you recuperate kinetic energy, so you can use the e-boost of the electric motor when re-accelerating. The engine revs high, one clearly hears that it’s there, and the transmission is very busy choosing the right gears with sometimes a hint of jerkiness.

This is also the reason why high cruising speeds on the motorway are also to be avoided if you want to see decent economy. Diesels can run at high speeds with consumptions remaining between 6 and 7 l/100 km, but NOT petrol engines. The Juke will then set you back with averages between 7,5 and 8 litres/100 km. No miracles, dear readers, just the laws of physics. The Nissan engineers also set the tone already, as the top speed of this Juke Hybrid is “only” 166 km/h. You shouldn’t be doing it, if you think about the earth. Enough zest though, as the Juke will sprint from 0 to 100 in 10,7 seconds.

The Hybrid Juke has a so-called “Multi-Mode” transmission, with 4 speeds for the petrol engine, and two speeds for the electric motor. AI chooses for you not less than 15 gear combinations! The engine is good for 94 HP and 148 Nm, additionally supported by a 15 kW starter/generator. The electric motor has 49 HP and 205 Nm of torque.

Our average test consumption stayed well below 6 litres/100 km, as indeed we drove the Juke Hybrid as it is engineered to be. CO2 emissions are set at 114 g/km according to WLTP standards.

When starting from cold, the engine will at least during the first few kilometers rev quite clearly, as it has to reach its operating temperature as fast as possible and also has to keep the battery (re)charged. When you use EV power extensively in (very) slow and quiet driving, every now and then, the engine will eagerly rev again, but then this is to recharge the battery. It does this even when you hardly touch the throttle or even not at all, which seems a bit unsettling at first, but soon you get used to this.

Enjoy the music…in comfort

Driven in the right way, the Juke will seduce you with quietness, and this lets you enjoy the DAB+ radio and the excellent sound system. We had a Bose system with speakers integrated also in the headrests, and the sound experience was indeed wonderful. The suspension is comfortable, a bit firmish, but never harsh. Seating is excellent with more than enough headroom in the front. In the back, this is less generous, but legroom is very much OK. There is also enough room in door bins for even 1 litre bottles.

Connectivity is also top notch, with Apple Car play and Android Auto provided.

Stable and predictable handling

The Juke steers precise, has very good stability at speed and is predictable in corners. Even abruptly lifting the throttle in de midst of a curve will trigger the ESP and the Juke will maintain its course. The steering is reasonably direct (2,5 turns from lock to lock) as an urban compact befits. The Juke is quite safe, in the NCAP Crash test it achieved 94 pct of all the achievable points. Brake performance is very good, with the wider tires of course enhancing the deceleration.

Practical

Boot space is adequate for a compact SUV with 301 liters, and there is an under floor tray with an additional 90 l. With all seats folded there is 705 liters available when you load until the rear window base. One has to lift the luggage rather high into the opening however, some 78 cm.  

Conclusion

The Juke has its iconic looks further improved, and is certainly a smooth urban performer with its Hybrid layout. On the open road it is also a good travel companion, with high speeds letting the petrol engine work rather hard, which limits economy. But as said above, adopting the proper driving style will let you enjoy fully its “zen” qualities, for years to come…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Photographer’s notes: we took most of the photos here with the bargain of the year: a still totally pristine Fujifilm Finepix S100fs, with a Fujinon 28-400 mm 35 mm equivalent lens, bought two weeks ago for almost the original price of its sun lens hood: 59 Euros!!

It proved to have excellent color and light balance, surpassing even the Samsung S22 state of the art flagship smartphone, which did not succeed in making a well color balanced photo of the e-pedal button on the centre console. The auto color balance got so completely out of line in the shadowy interior of the juke that I had to print here the photo in black and white here (see photo in the article above) instead of the exaggerated blue the S22 produced.

We drove the Seat Cupra Born…

The Spanish, more ardent version of the Volkswagen ID.3 is the Seat Cupra Born. More, sporting, more zesty, more panache, that’s what the VW group wants to offer here. And indeed, this Fully electric Cupra fills the bill, when it comes to looks, handling and performance. We put for you the 150 kW version through its paces, equipped with the 58 kWh battery. As you already well know, electric motors have formidable torque, and this Cupra surely delivers at the traffic light. It sprints from 0 to 100 km/h in 7,3 seconds, and so the beautiful EV story is again told, performance wise at least. But the Born has also other (dynamic) qualities, just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Looking at our Cupra test car, we liked its colour palette very much, and the external sporty styling elements. Also bystanders admired it, so yes it enhances clearly the personality of this car. I like the front end, the copper coloured badging, the big roof spoiler above the rear window, the nice streamlined alloys, the texture on the c pillar.

Also the interior breathes this flamboyant sportiness, although what screens, instrumentation and buttons are concerned, it is identical to the ID.3. The design of the dashboard surface does look a bit cooler though, with some added textures and copper coloured surroundings of the centre console for instance. Very nice are also the body hugging front seats.

On both sides of the steering column one finds buttons like a Formula 1 driver would use. The right button puts you immediately in the sports mode. Performance galore, but your range will soon dwindle, even more so in winter. With the left button you can click through the available driving modes, from eco to sports.

Given de immediacy and sheer amount of the available power, we found the “eco” mode more than enough for our needs, and it gave us also a more or less reasonable range. Our test car had the 58 kW battery, and this gives you a theoretical range of 425 kilometres. That supposes of course very fair weather and a driving style which even trucks find on the slow side. Under the same driving style, my Hybrid Lexus clocks then 3,9 liters/100 km… indeed, an EV rewards you with a sedate driving style in town, and very moderate cruising speeds up to max 100/110 km on the open road. Then things are truly fine. The simple truth is, the laws of physics apply everyday everywhere, for all EV’s too, miracles just don’t happen. By the way, the top speed of this Cupra is limited to 160 km/h. At higher speeds, you would spend exponentially more time at the charging stations, so there is no time gain and thus no point in going faster.

You can opt for a more powerful Cupra Born with a 170 HP motor and a bigger 77 kW battery, which would give you also a higher range of 550 km, but we found our test car totally sufficient, once you adhere to the philosophy of environmentally friendly EV driving, smooth and sedate, flow the traffic, drive with anticipation and make minimal use if the brakes, letting the electric motor recuperate the energy. We are totally convinced that this is the only way an EV should be driven. Everything else is rather absurd, given that an EV is meant to emit less and protect our world. The Cupra has also the nice “B” position on the drive selector, and that lets you use the regeneration fully so you can really drive and brake this car using one pedal only.

Smoothness is what you go for…

Refinement is your biggest reward when you choose an EV. The Born delivers here too, as you could expect. Utter silence, mechanical smoothness, it is unsurpassed. Abundant torque is always at your disposal, immediate response at the slightest blip of the throttle. Just wonderful.

The handling of the Born is also a notch better than the ID.3. The Born sits lower on its wheels, has wider tyres, bigger brakes, and steers more direct and precise. Just more fun behind the wheel here.

Otherwhis it runs on the same platform as the ID.3, the celebrated MEB platform of the VW group. By the way, it also comes from the same assembly lines as the ID.3…

The Born is well equipped, and has all you could wish for in terms of driver assistance systems and connectivity. The haptic slider controls of the ID.3 are also found on this Born. They take some getting used to, and the new ID.3 will undergo some changes, of which future Borns will also benefit of course. The annoying thing about their sensitivity is that one sometimes turns on the sound volume as you brush the steering heel spokes when taking a corner! The car is roomy enough for four, with plenty of leg and headroom in the back, due to the rather narrow bodywork it gets a bit cramped for three adults in the back. The door bins are large also in the back, and one gets also two USB connections for the rear passengers.

Boot space is adequate with some 385 liters, when you fold the rear seats down, there is still a ridge where you have to lift your luggage over. On the other hand, it prevents heavy luggage items to slide forward…

Fast charging

The Born is of course well geared for the future, and the 58 kW battery accepts fast charging of up to 120 kW. This means that you can charge from 10 to 80 pct in merely 35 minutes. When our infrastructure is up and running, this is good news. It will set you free to use the full EV power more often, provided the energy prices stay reasonable of course.

Conclusion

This Cupra Born has the extra panache which makes it even more attractive to some than the ID.3, which is build rather with a no nonsense futuristic flair, which we happen also to like by the way. Embedded into the VW group with its massive experience and know how, this Cupra will prove to be reliable and (very) long lived, so you will be able to enjoy it for many years to come, with a bit more zest added…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Polo GTI…the sporting legend lives on.

There are cars where even the initials evoke a modern day legend. VW succeeded in doing this with the letters GTI. They created a car which had it all: a Golf a 1,6 lite four cilinder developing a healthy 110 hp. This first Golf had not only an elegant design, it was also light and compact. So 110 hp meant exhilarating performance, certainly in the days and age it was born. But sheer power was not all. The VW engineers also took great care to give the car a superb handling. They also added a few sporting touches to the interior which quickly became iconic, and the recipe for success was made.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Over the years, VW continued the tradition. The GTI remained the top end, sporting Golf with above average performance and handling.

But with the Golf growing bigger and heavier, there was room in the model range to continue the original concept of nimbleness with extra power. The Polo proved to be an excellent base for this.

Despite its move to fully fledged EV’s, the VW group has of course excellent combustion engines (still) in store, and so it shoehorned its formidable 2 litre four cylinder 200 hp engine into the car, and coupled it to an equally efficient 7 speed auto box. Most pleasant is the pulling power of this engine, with 320 Nm torque being available over a very wide rev range between 1500 and 4350 rpm.

The fun starts as soon as you push the starting knob, and the engine comes to life with a beautiful and very promising growl. Subdued of course, but very pleasing to the sporting ear nonetheless.

Despite all its eagerness, one immediately also feels the mechanical perfection and uncanny docility of it all. This is a well honed and perfected drivetrain, refined despite all its sportiness.

There are different driving modes at your fingertips, and the sports mode will surely inspire you most, but let it be said that the engine power is so abundant that this is a very fast and nimble machine under all circumstances.

The performance figures speak for themselves. The Polo sprints from 0 to 100 km/h in merely 6,7 seconds and hurtles to a top speed of not less than 238 km/h. The engine emits a pleasant growl, but as said, remains refined and also the chassis takes all this very well in its stride.

Consumption is very much dependent on your personal driving style, but let’s say that the relatively low weight of the Polo helps here. We achieved an average consumption of 6,4 liters. Consumption is typically rather more – between 7,5 and 8,5 liters – when runnign at very high speeds on German Autobahnen…

Sporting touches…

This Polo breathes also the unique aura of the original “Ur” Golf GTI, and is found in details such as the patterns of the seat upholstery, combined with more modern touches such as the contrasting red stitching on the steering wheel amongst others.

The digital instrumentation offers also many possibilities to put you in a very sporting mood. You can measure your lap times for instance, or you can check on the so-called power monitor the oil temperature, turbo boost pressure, engine power in kW or g-force(s).

The layout of the dashboard is good, and one has much appreciated manual controls via a round knob for volume (left) and choosing a menu item on the central touchscreen. The high gloss surface of this touchscreen shows of course every possible fingerprint, which makes frequent use of a microfibre cloth necessary…

Ever so practical

Our test car came with a DAB+ radio and AppleCarPlay, Google Auto and Mirror link, so we could hook up our Samsung S22 and enjoy it all.

On the practical front, the Polo scores. It’s a hatchback, this means you can load up to a good 600 liters of luggage with the rear seat folded down and with luggage height up to the waistline. The Polo is roomy enough to seat four tall adults too.

The truth of a sports car lies in its suspension fine-tuning and handling…

This proverb is again well proven by this Polo GTI. Of course, when one knows that this Polo platform plays a central role in the vast VW group strategy, one can only expect the very best, and indeed, the Polo delivers here. Our test car came with the optional “sport select” suspension, which offers in the “Normal” mode still quite decent comfort at slow urban speeds. This comfort improves the faster you drive, and indeed, when moved with spirit this Polo feels “just right” and puts a smile on the face of its passengers.

The handling of the GTI Polo is also top notch. Straight line stability is excellent, and on curvy roads one can steer with utmost precision. At the limit, the rear wheels start to drift, but are caught reliably by the ESP. Body roll is negligible. All this inspires confidence and gives you indeed tons of driving pleasure. The GTI comes standard with an electronic limited slip differential XDS, which controls the braking pressure of the inner front wheel in curves, which of course adds to the overall agility.

The steering servo is strong at slow speeds, when things go faster, this diminishes so the proper steering “feel” is retained. The brakes have also excellent stamina and are quite powerful indeed. Noblesse oblige…

Conclusion

For those who enjoy powerful and well handling petrol engined cars, the Polo GTI is the one to have and cherish. It will give you tons of driving pleasure, whilst remaining the well built and practical everyday car. Still sensible, but then offering close to supercar panache and punch.

Of course, it doesn’t come exactly cheap. Remember however, this is a well honed performance car, engineered and built to top standards. And given the pleasure it offers to you every day for years to come, its cost – last but not least in driving it – is very reasonable indeed…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Q4 in Balocco: the wonderful panache of today’s efficient sportiness…

The cars were lined up for us at the Bella Luigina farmhouse, centre and headquarters of the proving ground.

The world famous proving ground and high speed test circuit at Balocco, built in 1962 by Alfa Romeo to test the Giulia’s as well as the racing cars, was the setting for us to get a hands on driving experience of the brand new Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Q4. The Test Track was built at Balocco, in a strategic location between Turin and Milan.

It all proved to be absolutely epic. The handling and driving dynamics of the Tonale on the state of the art test circuit, with its plug-in hybrid 4 WD drivetrain which produces not less than 280 HP, was the stuff of legends to say the least.

In front of the stables of the Bella Luigina farmhouse – the former home of legendary Autodelta racing department –  stood these impressive Tonale’s, waiting for a test drive…

We had also a taste of what Alfa calls its “efficient sportiness” and what it understands this sportiness to be in our modern times. This Alfa Tonale indeed displays its formidable performance in a totally effortless, mechanically refined and predictable manner, which has to be experienced to be believed.

The important loan documents for a drive in this wonderful modern day Alfa, including the permission to have a go at (almost) racing speeds on the Balocco test track!

We will of course come back the coming days on this presentation of the Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Q4, a very important car in the new future strategy of Alfa Romeo.

More very soon!

Hans Knol ten Bensel   

We drove the BMW 218d Active tourer: the sheer joy of BMW driving…

BMW’s have always lightened the hearts of the men and women behind their steering wheel. Their agility, responsiveness, the feeling of being “one” with the car, this pervades you every minute you drive a four wheeled product of the brand, and this always has been with every BMW. I can tell, as I am writing the report of this test while waiting in line to pass the yearly MOT test of my beloved BMWZ3, built in 1997. (For photos of this, see my instagram page autoprova.be). The sensation is just unique.

The BMW 218d Active Tourer we tested recently is no exception. It puts a smile on your face too. The car itself has now front wheel drive, and purists might look a bit worried here, but the excellence of the handling, the way the BMW engineers have fine tuned the suspension is nothing short of astonishing. The car steers with much precision, stays neutral until very high corner speeds and goes into a mild and controlled understeer when reaching the adhesion limit. The overall typical BMW agility is beautifully maintained.

Of course, this (compact?) SUV has what it takes to enjoy the family. There is plenty of room for five, and a luggage space which will satisfy almost everybody, more about this later.

The seats are just wonderful, wrapping you in comfort with a sporting touch.

We absolutely love the BMW typical dashboard architecture, and the design and shape of the digital instrumentation, although we still love the iconic BMW styling of the round dials which adorn for example my now 24 year old BMW Z3.

One might regret that the iDrive round control knob in the centre console – which BMW thankfully had pioneered – has disappeared to manage all the functions and settings, and from now on everything has to be selected on the 10.25 inch touchscreen,

but this seems to be the trend of the times, and we have to admit that the functions are very logical and self explaining, albeit sometimes one has to search quite “deep” in the menu.

We very much liked also the gearbox selector neatly placed on a “floating” control pad which leaves space underneath for sunglasses, driving gloves and sundry. It has also a handy rolling control for audio volume, a knob for selecting the different driving modes, parking cameras and auto hold. Of course the start stop button lodges there too. We also liked the charging pad for the phone, which holds the phone upright, and tight so it does not slide around when you indulge yourself in some very spirited driving.

The screen graphics and the screen definition are a joy to behold, and this enhances the high quality feel this BMW gives you. Note that the touchscreen and its functions are the same as you find in the flagship BMW’s… The touch and feel of the upholstery and dashboard surfaces and panels is also top notch.

The magic of Diesel…

We tested the two liter diesel engine version of the Active Tourer, and it proved again masterfully how wonderful modern diesels have become. The four cylinder 1995 cc unit is ultra smooth, coupled to an 8 Steptronic speed automatic, it provided a velvety yet powerful energy flow to the front wheels. It has plenty of power with 110/150 kW/hp, and has ample torque of 350 Nm, which is available over a wide rev range between 1750 – 2500 rpm. You don’t hear it at speed, nor does it emit any vibrations. Performance is excellent we would think, with a 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time of merely 9 seconds. Top speed is a good 213 km/h, and we took our Active Tourer on a trip to Düsseldorf to have a go on the legendary German Autobahnen, and we enjoyed the high speed qualities of the Active Tourer to the full. We have to admit, this is what this (and many other) BMW’s are built for…

A range of 1125 km, makes one dream, isn’t it?

This effortless high speed driving and zesty touring in our cities and highways doesn’t cost you much energy with this marvelous frugal diesel. We clocked an average consumption of merely 5 litres/100 km. According to WLTP norm, the average consumption for the 8 speed Steptronic is quoted at between 5,2-4,9 l/100 km. Need we say more? This means, considering a tank capacity of 51 litres, you have an action radius of a good 1.000 km. This lets you dream, doesn’t it? How we enjoyed this mobility freedom with this diesel…

Good to know that its emission rating is 6D, and still according to WLTP norm it emits between 135-128 g/km of CO2.  

Roomy

This is a compact SUV, or crossover, and it offers resulting from its body shape plenty of space also in the back seats. It is practical too. The rear seats slide fore and aft easily via manual locking mechanisms, so you can choose between more luggage space or better legroom. One has 470 liters in standard configuration, extendable to 1,455 liters with the rear seat backrests folded down.

Conclusion

A well made car with a stylish interior and excellent and frugal performance, and of course wonderful, care-free mobility in this diesel version. Refined too, with good comfort, excellent handling (certainly for a SUV). It doesn’t come exactly cheap, but as said, it is built for a very, very long service life, and this will reflect itself in overall very little depreciation. Last but not least, there is the emotional factor: it’s a BMW… made to make you smile behind the wheel.

Hans Knol ten Bensel  

We drove the Dacia Jogger: a space car for the people…

Dacia is offering us now a roomy 7 seater at a price which defies all competition. Actually, this is a car which has no competition at all, at least for the time being. Dacia, or should we say Renault, has to be admired for it. They succeed in building cars with excellent qualities in comfort, performance and roominess at prices which other manufacturer’s simply cannot reach.

How does it drive, and how does it behave in the real world? Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Jogger now also has the looks. The Jogger is neat and well proportioned. Up to the end of the front door, it is in fact a Sandero, but then the wheelbase has been lengthened to an impressive 2,90 meters.

From the second door onwards, the roof has been raised somewhat, to allow sufficient headroom, and indeed, one sits nicely high up on the second row of seats, and besides ample legroom there is also sufficient  headroom to be enjoyed.

Even on the third row, easily accessible after flipping over with one effortless movement the second row of seats, one enjoys more leg- and headroom than the closest – and much more expensive – competitors.

With all three seating rows upright, one is left with 160 liters of luggage space, but with all the seat rows folded or even taken out, a loading space of close to 1900 liters is yours.

A practical and no-nonsense interior.

In the cabin one finds the instrumentation of the Sandero/Clio, also the handy climate controls are familiar. In the top version we tested, we enjoyed a central touch screen with navigation, but in the other versions you are invited to use your smartphone, and this is of course the logical and practical thing to do nowadays. Even in the lower equipment versions, the Jogger feels by no ways spartan.

The Jogger comes in three equipment levels, starting with the essential, costing at the moment of writing not even 17.000 Euros in our country. The next level is the expression, priced just below 19.000 Euros, and then the top level Extreme, complete with nice black 16 inch “Mahalia” alloys, costing just over 20.000 Euros.

The instrumentation is thankfully analog, with nice round dials for revs and speed, and is eminently readable. The materials used are vastly improved, and we liked the texture of the dashboard panel in the “Extreme” version very much indeed. This version leaves very little to be desired, and boasts even seat heating… The level of finish is also quite good, as is the overall sound insulation of this Jogger.

Driving pleasure…

The Jogger has well proven technology under the hood, with the 999 cc three cylinder turbo petrol engines. There is a bi-fuel 100 Hp version, and a petrol one, the Tc 110, indeed being good for 110 HP. Both engines have good pulling power, with some 200 Nm torque for the petrol engine. This results in plenty of liveliness, with 0 to 100 km/h sprint times in under 11 seconds and top speeds in the region of 180 km/h. Mind you, this is even slightly faster than a Porsche 356 “super 90” of the late fifties (!). Many of today’s Mille Miglia drivers can only dream of this performance…

The engines are coupled to a six speed manual, which keeps the driving fun at top level. It is indeed delicious to rev the engine at full power through the gears, listening to the melodious throb of the engine and seeing the rev needle climb up. Classic driving in the purest sense… super enjoyable! We already mentioned this in our Instagram post on @autoprova.be

Of course, good consumption figures are only achieved when revs stay at 2000 rpm or thereabouts, and the driver assist indicators in the dashboard let you choose the right gear(s) for this.

Under these conditions, the Jogger clearly scores, with consumptions between 5,6 and 6 liters/100 km being easily reached.CO2 emissions hover between 127-130 g/km.

Roomy and comfortable

The long wheelbase not only gives extra room, it also provides more comfort. The Jogger offers predictable handling, and above all a smooth ride, and this Dacia is indeed fit for very long (cruising) trips with the whole family.

Dacia, a philosophy to follow…

The Jogger teaches us a lesson: this is actually all one needs in a car, except maybe a good automatic, but then again, is it so difficult for any driver to understand the kinetics of an automobile and learn the art of proper and smooth shifting? Millions and millions of drivers have done it, by the way…

Besides the already offered bi-fuel engines, a hybrid version is soon to be launched, and this will offer more environmentally responsible economy.

We would suggest, take a long, hard look at this Dacia Jogger, it literally moves boundaries and has a unique position in today’s car world.

The sales results and its increasing popularity already prove it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We tested the Citroën C5 AirCross on a European tour…

Comfort and panache in the 9th Arrondissment in Paris…

What better way to test the grand touring qualities of the C5 AirCross than to take it on a tour through Belgium with a trip to Paris as an icing on the cake?

This is exactly what many owners of this sleek 225 HP hybrid version would do, so our test includes many “real life” situations.

We can tell you right away that the C5 totally convinced us with its refinement, performance, outstanding comfort and frugality. Of course, this report should be read in conjunction with the previous article about the driving impressions of the C5 AirCross in Nice, in June this year. Just tap the link https://autoprova.be/2022/06/18/we-drove-the-new-citroen-c5-aircross-a-suv-with-added-panache-and-superb-comfort/.

But now read further here!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Our C5 AirCross on the sunny Knokke boulevard…

Right from the start of our test we chose the “B” hybrid mode and also selected the “eco” driving setting. Indeed, power is abundant in all driving situations when touring, and power delivery is very smooth indeed under this setting. We also took care to select the “battery save” mode, i.e. keeping the battery charged to drive some 20 km on battery power, just in case.

One has to select this every time one starts the car anew, which is a bit cumbersome, but soon enough one flicks through the menus every morning to select this, and there is also a dedicated button below the touchscreen which lets you land immediately in these energy management modes, so after a while this becomes a breeze to include this in the morning starting routine.

The plug-in hybrid C5 AirCross proved remarkably frugal…

Your servant and its passengers greatly appreciated the superb comfort of the seats, further enhanced by the smooth suspension. Be it on the cobblestones in Damme, Brugge or Liège, or the Parisian streets, everything is beautifully ironed out, and even after hours of driving, one feels utterly relaxed and fit.

Indeed, this is what Citroën driving is all about, and not only does one enjoy the “floating carpet” ride, the impressive sound insulation does the rest. Nor do any vibrations reach the cabin.

The DAB radio and sound system overall add greatly to the driving pleasure and entertainment on longer trips, with the navigation system being also top notch. The map can also be seen in the line of vision of the driver within the instrument cluster, which helps greatly in dense (Parisian) traffic situations.

Seating position, instrument and dashboard layout are all exemplary…

The C5 AirCross is as can be expected an excellent motorway cruiser, in urban situations however, the styling of modern day SUV’s does not give the slightest clue about the edges of the car, and this goes not only for the C5. Of course one has camera’s and warning systems, but we must admit that the camera’s on the C5 lack definition and clarity. We would like to spend a few Euro’s more to have a camera system with better definition.

In Mortsel, Antwerp, we parked the C5 in front of Chateau Cantecroy…

The beautiful alloys are thankfully somewhat protected by the tyre walls and the rims do not protrude, which is a blessing with the many high and razor sharp kerbstones modern day architects are throwing (literally) before our wheels. Nevertheless, the tyre walls stick out only marginally so much caution is still very much advised. We sweat blood and tears in an older narrow Parisian parking building, but thankfully did not harm the alloys (nor the bodywork) at all. Increasingly one notices that modern cars have become bigger and bigger, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to negotiate them through older parking garages. We saw recently at the presentation of the sleek 408 Peugeot that a better tyre protection is designed for its magnificent alloys.

The C5 offered also comfortable luggage space…

The C5 has also a very adequate and practical luggage space, and we mentioned already in our report about the presentation of the C5 AirCross in our columns (see https://autoprova.be/2022/06/18/we-drove-the-new-citroen-c5-aircross-a-suv-with-added-panache-and-superb-comfort/)

It’s the only SUV in the segment to offer three individual sliding, reclining and retractable rear seats. The boot volume goes from 580 L to 720 L in the petrol and diesel versions and from 460 L to 600 L for the hybrid version. It offered easily enough room for thee large suitcases and further clothing like jackets and hats.

Of course, consumption is very much depending on your driving style, and in the case of a plug-in hybrid, how often you (re)charge it. During our trip, recharging was not very much in the cards, but we nevertheless achieved a consumption between 6 and 6,5 litres, which considering that there was also quite much urban slow (sightseeing) driving involved, is a very good value indeed.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We let you enjoy the photos here, which were taken here by our Sony Alpha 5100 mirrorless camera. More about this camera here, and we invite you also to klick,on the following link: https://autoprova.be/2017/05/12/we-purchased-a-sony-a5100-our-compact-camera-collection-grows/ Indeed, we have this camera already since 2017….

It’s compact, and it has all the works: it throws in all the goodies of the Sony a6000, which means that it has a 24MP CMOS sensor, Bionz X processor, on-chip phase detection covering 92% of the frame and Wi-Fi with NFC. And this tilting LCD, flipping upward 180 degrees.

The camera can record 1080/60p video, supporting the XAVC S codec, allowing for bit rates of 50Mbps. It also has the ability to simultaneously record 720p video while recording at higher resolutions.

We drove the Mercedes C Class 200 d: the compact S Class for you…

Did you know that the Mercedes C Class is the brand’s absolute bestseller, and that it is already built since 30 years?

The biggest market for the C Class is…China. The sedan version proves there to be the most popular.

Entering now since end 2021 in its fifth generation, the C Class is most liked on our shores in its “T “ station wagen version. That’s how we tested it, and we stayed also very traditional in choosing the diesel version, a drivetrain type in which the brand with the good star has written legends over the years.

And yes, we appreciated fully the smooth, carefree power and beauty of a diesel, which has grown in a noble mannered workhorse which ensures you absolute carefree mobility just everywhere on this planet of ours. We were again deeply impressed by the workmanship, the build quality of the bodywork and the timeless quality of the materials, last but not least the “compact S-Class” character of this C class, which now inherits much of the infotainment and electronics of the flagship Mercedes. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Impressive inside and out

The Mercedes design team under the able direction of Gordon Wagener added some panache to the exterior of the latest generation C Class. So we have digital headlights, serious power domes on the hood, even quite a sporty and almost aggressive grille design in the AMG styled version. The car looks lean and elegant from any angle, with always a keen eye for aerodynamics.

The S Class character of the car comes completely into its own when you step inside. The array of digital instruments and the massive centre touchscreen is certainly convincing, and yes, this Mercedes brings you fully into the digital age. The degree of sophistication is enormous and you are well advised to read the instructions carefully, spend some time with it to discover the wonderful world of digital info Mercedes has in store for you. The second generation of the MBUX system is here ready for you to act on your commands, beginning with “Hey Mercedes”…

For the Navigation, we enjoyed the MBUX Augmented Reality in our test car. It shows you on the massive centre screen traffic sign boards, house numbers and the like, to clarify things and assist you in finding your way efficiently in urban areas.

Bigger…

The C Class has a bit grown in size: it is 1 cm larger but the track has even widened more significantly as well as the wheelbase. The “T” version, which as we said far more than half the European buyers prefer, offers useful luggage space of course, with 490 liters when all the seats are up, to a maximum of 1510 liters. The boot lid itself is rather small, which can bring some awkward surprises when you want to load bigger items at the Ikea store…

The Fifth generation C Class now offers more passenger space, and even in the back, persons up to say 1,85 meter find enough headroom.

Updates over the air…

The software in the new C class is kept up to date over the air, and can even be upgraded with further options if you so wish. Of course, functions which at the moment are still being developed can then be installed later…

The C Class now also inherits the double steering wheel branches with haptic touch commands of the flagship S Class…

We also liked the very clear overhead display on our test car, which came also with the LED digital light headlamps. You can even display symbols and marker lines with these headlamps, to guide you through narrow passageways for instance…

Legendary diesel power

It’s about time we tell you more about how this 200 d performs and drives. The 1993 cc engine develops some 200 HP or 147 kW, and has a hefty 440 Nm of torque available for you. Coupled to a very smooth and reactive 9 speed automatic transmission, performance leaves nothing to be desired. What to think of a 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time of merely 7,4 seconds and a top speed of 243 km/h?

You can choose the “sport” display, with for example oil temperature indication and G acceleration and torque readouts…

All this doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg at the pump: according to the WLTP norm, the 200 d uses anything between 5 and 5,8 liters/100 km. No trouble at all for your comfort oriented servant to stay within these limits during our test. The car is actually a MHEV, and indeed is assisted in stop and start movements by a small 20 HP/15 kW electric motor (actually an 48 V starter generator) which delivers an additional torque of 200 Nm.

Don’t expect six cylinder smoothness from a bigger 4 cylinder, but electronic combustion management and driveline calibration has achieved wonders over the years, and this is a very smooth diesel indeed, built for cruising over long distances as well as leisurely boulevard driving.

Comfort is always written very large at Mercedes. The seat comfort is to notch, as well as the Burmeister sound system…

The C class has a very surefooted handling, and this is even further enhanced by an (optional) directional back axle. Indeed, below 60 km/h, the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front wheels, which virtually shortens the wheelbase and makes the car more agile in town. Above that speed, the rear wheels steer in the same direction, which effectively lengthens the wheelbase, adding stability at speed. The C Class is comfort oriented of course, and here both in suspension and seat quality it truly scores.

Conclusion

The 200 d Class convinces, in many ways. It is the ideal partner for a long mobility relationship, and your love and appreciation for this car with the good star will only grow over the years.

Its well proportioned styling will not only accompany you elegantly over the years, it also will help to retain the resale value of the car. The test car is the latest generation of “clean” diesels, and we can assure you, it will be around for a long long time, in Europe and worldwide. We might even see the advent of newly engineered synthetic clean Diesel fuels, coming from African based solar plants, who knows….

The millions and millions of diesel engined cars running around daily in our world and their corresponding environmental footprint is simply too large to be ignored, and this enormous (commercial) car park cannot be simply scrapped. So can you buy this diesel with an eye to the future? Yes you can…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Photographers’ notes: we photographed the 200 d Mercedes with our mirrorless Fujifilm X-A5 system camera. It delivers excellent image quality, excellent high ISO performance. Last but not least one enjoys a very good dynamic range from RAW files.

Inside is a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, and there’s a 4K video mode too, although this is restricted to just 15fps. You also get a touch-sensitive rear screen that flips through 180 degrees for quick and simple selfies. We love it, it’s a bit slow in autofocus, but the image quality is there, and it looks terrific.

We drove the Lexus 500 LS 4WD: the magic of perfection…

When you like smooth motoring and enjoy a car which is well engineered and built, (as we do) then Lexus has a superb car in store for you: their flagship sedan, the LS. We enjoyed it greatly, and tell you here more about this car which makes an admirable statement about the Lexus philosophy in designing and building automobiles.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Lexus LS is styled as a sleek slimousine with coupé-like character.

Of course we are moving fast towards total electrification of our cars, and all the car manufacturers are strategically moving in that direction. Lexus – and also Toyota – have already since decades taken a long term view about environmentally responsible mobility, and have come up with the hybrid Prius and the Lexus 200CT many years ago. They have been sold in millions and made a statement how smoothness, reliability and go anywhere mobility can be combined with unparalleled economy. Your servant clocks an average fuel consumption with his Lexus 200CTh of 4,7 l/100 km, an average over the year, and actually this year in year out.

No small wonder that Lexus has maintained and honed this solution to ensure easy mobility, in these present times when a convenient charging infrastructure for carefree full EV mobility is still a daydream in many countries in this world. It therefore also takes a long hard look at hydrogen as a power source.

In the Lexus LS, one finds this “classic” hybrid technology, now engineered and honed to absolute perfection.

Under the hood purrs a 3,5 litre V8 Atkinson cycle petrol engine, good for 295 HP. It is coupled to a 10 speed CVT, and is assisted by two electric motors, who have a combined power of (only) 60 hp. With a battery having a capacity of 11 kW, you cannot use this LS for extended “pure” EV drives in urban areas. The 4WD is made possible thanks to an integral transmission. The electric power is only used to deliver power in situations where the full use of the petrol engine would not be efficient. So one has the advantage of very reasonable fuel consumption, especially in congested urban traffic, where – given a relaxed and anticipative driving style – averages around 8 litres/100 km are easily reached. These are very good values for a large limousine. The manufacturer quotes 7,1 l/100 km as average consumption.

The other advantage is the utter smoothness of the power delivery, especially from standstill and in stop and go traffic.

This smooth and silent progress is one of the very strong points of this Lexus, and this is in our opinion what the designers had in mind for their flagship sedan. Of course it has the power to deliver: 100 km/h is reached from standstill in merely 5,5 seconds, top speed is 250 km/h.

In the wide array of driving modes at your disposal, you can even opt for the “sport” and “sport+” modes. The CVT transmission will then be ultra alert and reactive to any movements of your right foot, the pneumatic suspension will be setting itself a bit firmer and the steering will be more sensitive and direct, but nevertheless the sheer weight – a good 2,425 kg – and size of the car will not invite you to really throw it around each corner. It is a bit out of character for this sleek automobile, primarily designed to move you from A to be in well insulated comfort, and that’s where it excels. By the way, you have the choice between further driving modes, Eco, Normal, Comfort and Custom…you guessed it: we chose between Eco and Comfort all the way through our test.

Impressive and elegant

The Lexus LS is a flamboyant and impressive automobile. It stretches 5,24 metres long and its fluid roof contours which are continued to the boot give it a coupé like character. The grille is uniquely Lexus in its bold styling signature and gives the LS panache and personality.

The Lexus exudes opulence, but also quality and workmanship, as the overall bodywork finish is superb.

The same can be said for the interior, dashboard and seats. The seats are a chapter on their own, and you can opt for the most exclusive leather finishes, ventilation and massage functions and the like. Six chromed bands stretch across the dashboard, giving it a fluid elegance. In the centre towers a 12,3 inch touchscreen, and there is also a big touchpad next to the gear selector lever, which lets you choose all the screen functions. We like to use this touchpad, as it avoids you touching the screen and getting it muddled with fingerprints. When the car is in motion, it is easier for you to touch the more accessible and ergonomically stable pad anyway.

Of course you can monitor on the display exactly what the hybrid system is doing, besides all the other info functions and layouts. It is worth every minute you spend on reading the instructions to familiarise yourself with the wide array of possibilities, functions and infotainment, as you then will enjoy this flagship car so much more.

We were of course smitten again by the superb quality of the Levinson audio system, which still sports a CD audio player, a tradition applauded by “classic” audiophiles like your servant…

Comfort

The Lexus LS 500 offers you superb comfort, with ample leg- and headroom for all (four) passengers. The subtle pneumatic suspension does the rest. Especially in the Comfort setting, it literally swallows for you all ridges and potholes ancient urban streets have in store for you. Sound insulation is also of paramount importance for the Lexus engineers, as well as total filtration of any vibrations or mechanical noises from the drivetrain. All this adds greatly to the total “zen” experience which going from A to be in this LS entails.

The screen lets you monitor all the hybrid driveline functions…

Sporting aficionados will find maybe that they lack a more direct “feel” of the car and the road conditions, but being cocooned by a soothing behaviour of the car in all driving situations is actually aimed for by the engineers when they set out creating this unique automobile.

Conclusion

The present Lexus LS series is already amongst us since 2017, and got an important facelift in 2011, both visually and technically. It makes a bold statement with its “Zen” philosophy of environmentally responsible smoothness and performance.

This panache is further underlined by a tradition of craftsmanship, resulting in a superb finish and excellence in the quality of the materials used.

If you want to drive an alternative to the German savoir faire in building top class executive sedans, have a drive with this LS series, and enjoy the change…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Photographers’ notes:

The photos were taken with our faithful Canon G9 X. A 209 g gem which offers a 1″-type 20.2MP CMOS sensor and 28-84mm equivalent F2-4.9 lens encircled by a control dial, as well as a fixed 3″ LCD. It has been our favorite workhorse for years now, and it is still performing very well. We use it mostly on Aperture Priority mode, also for the photos here.