The new Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is the new benchmark…

The Maybach is an awe-inspiring luxury car, and a quick glance at its sales figures lets us realize that this is a very important car in this absolute top segment. What to think of 60,000 units sold of the previous model, which was gaining in popularity even as it scored record sales of 12,000 units over the last year?

This car is of course a platform to introduce the latest technologies in propulsion, connectivity, creature comfort, driving aids, lighting, every new technology which has come to fruition in quality series production. This is one of the reasons why a new model of this luxury supercar is so important, and merits our attention in these columns.

Here follow the main points, but rest assured that in a further series we will in regular intervals come back in detail about the technological solutions found in this Maybach…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Mercedes-Maybach S-Class; exterior: designo rubelit red/kalahari gold; interior: Leather Nappa macchiato beige / bronze brown pearl; trim parts: designo brown open-pore walnut wood with aluminium lines

Here follow the main points:

Luxury in the rear…

The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is particularly suitable for chauffeured driving. The 18 cm longer wheelbase compared to the long variant of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class entirely benefits the rear. The focus is indeed on the rear area. This is underlined by even more refined appointments. The massage function of the calf rests on the Executive seats is a new feature. The neck/shoulder heating in the rear is another comfort item.

interior: Leather Nappa macchiato beige / bronze brown pearl; trim parts: designo brown open-pore walnut wood with aluminium lines

On request, the exclusive appearance of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class can be enhanced by a two-tone paint finish with dividing line. This is applied by hand according to the highest quality criteria. Distinguishing features at the front include the bonnet with a chromed fin and the Mercedes-Maybach radiator grille with fine, vertical chrome pinstripes. The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class also differs from its brother models when viewed from the side: the rear doors are wider, and the C-pillars feature a fixed quarterlight. A Maybach brand logo on the C-pillar underlines the exclusivity.

Leather Nappa exclusive Maybach: macciato beige/ bronze brown pearl

On request, the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class can be equipped with electrically operated comfort rear doors. With this feature, the wide rear doors can be conveniently opened and closed with little force even on a gradient.

Integration into the infotainment and control system MBUX and Blind Spot Assist ensures a high level of operating convenience and additional safety. The rear doors can also be operated from the driver’s seat – an important function when chauffeur-driven.

Let there be light…

Digital light headlamp technology (optional equipment) allows completely new functions, e.g. the projection of marking aids or warning symbols onto the road ahead. In each headlamp, DIGITAL LIGHT has a light module with three extremely powerful LEDs with light that is refracted and directed by 1.3 million micro-mirrors. The resolution is therefore more than 2.6 million pixels per vehicle.

A stunning interior

The interior of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is based on the completely new interior design of the new Mercedes‑Benz S-Class. The large areas of trim on the front seats are a new feature in the Mercedes-Maybach. High‑quality wood surrounds encase the rear of the front seat backrests, giving the impression of generous lounge seats. If the First-Class Rear is specified, a similarly striking area of trim is positioned between the two rear passengers.

Quietness reigns…

With Active road noise compensation, the interior of the already very quiet Mercedes-Maybach S-Class becomes even quieter. In a similar way to headphones with noise suppression, the system reduces unwanted low-frequency noises using counter-phased sound waves. The bass speakers of the Burmester® high-end 4D surround sound system are used for sound reproduction.

ICONS OF LUXURY COUNSELLOR MAYBACH Business Bag – full grain calf leather. MAYBACH lamb’s wool blanket THE EMBRACE I is created from pure new wool from Germany and Switzerland.

In a cosy cabin it feels like home…

Coupé and Cabriolet customers of Mercedes-Benz have long come to appreciate the automatic seat belt extender. Rear passengers in the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class are now the first to benefit from this convenience in the rear of a saloon. The belt extender is an indirect invitation to fasten the belt, and also makes the process more convenient. It is no longer necessary to move from an adopted, comfortable seating position to fasten the belt. The belt extender is integrated into the adjustable backrest of the Executive seat, and therefore always in the right position for the passenger.

Adaptive rear lighting is celebrating its premiere in the Mercedes-Maybach. This follows the wishes of the occupants in several respects: as well as the brightness, the size and position of the light spot can be adjusted. There is also a wide adjustment range between precise working light and relaxing lounge light.

The second generation of learn-capable MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) introduced in 2018 has its debut in the new S-Class. The unique feature of MBUX is its networking with a wide range of vehicle systems and sensor data. Brilliant displays on up to five large screens, in part with OLED technology, make the control of vehicle and comfort functions even easier. On request, the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class can also be equipped with MBUX Interior Assist in the rear.

Safety guaranteed

During severe frontal collisions, the rear airbag included as standard can considerably reduce the loads acting on the heads and necks of seat belt wearing occupants on the outer rear seats. The frontal airbag for the rear seat deploys particularly gently thanks to its innovative construction using a tubular structure.

ICONS OF LUXURY MAYBACH champagne flute – handcrafted in Germany by specialists Robbe & Berking Silver Manufacturer, 90 silver plated. THE EMBRACE I MAYBACH lamb’s wool blanket is created from pure new wool from Germany and Switzerland. From MAYBACH – ICONS OF LUXURY

Nimble in urban traffic

Thanks to rear-axle steering (optional equipment), the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is easy to manoeuvre even in dense city traffic. The steering angle at the rear axle is up to ten degrees. It reduces the turning circle of the S-Class by up to two metres.

Even better ride comfort and agility, as well as innovative functions such as raising the vehicle body in a lateral crash, are provided by the E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL active suspension, which is combined with the standard AIRMATIC air suspension. It is able to control the spring and damper forces at each wheel individually. Together with ROAD SURFACE SCAN and the curve inclination function CURVE, E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL makes an extraordinary level of comfort possible.

It is expected that initially in Germany and from the second half of 2021, the Mercedes-Maybach will be able to drive in conditionally automated mode with the new DRIVE PILOT (optional equipment) in situations where traffic density is high or in tailbacks on suitable motorway sections. By taking pressure off the driver, this allows him/her to undertake secondary activities such as surfing the web or attending to emails in the In-Car Office. This allows a more effective use of time. Brave new world!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The new Discovery is amongst us: even more stylish and high-tech…

The new Land Rover Discovery will please most lovers of premium go-anywhere SUV’s. Indeed, the design of the new Discovery has gained in sophistication with new LED headlights and tail lights with fresh front and rear bumpers. A bnw R-Dynamic version is now more assertive too…

The cabin has also gained further in clean, uncluttered design with enhanced centre console featuring  New Pivi Pro infotainment with a large 11.4-inch HD touchscreen and advanced connectivity with Software-OverThe-Air updates. New new second-row seats offer superior comfort.  

The Latest straight-six Ingenium petrol and diesel engines have now 48V Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle technology for superior more efficiency.  

The new Discovery is among the world’s first full-sized sevenseat premium SUVs with RDE2-certified and Euro 6d-Final-compliant diesel engines.

The excellent offroad manners are a hallmark of the brand, and Intelligent All-Wheel Drive automatically distributes torque to the axle that needs it most for optimum efficiency

You feel good in the new Discovery, as new Cabin Air Ionisation with PM2.5 air filtration1 monitors air quality inside and filters harmful particulates.

Your family will also like it, as the Discovery comes now with a next-generation wearable Activity Key, Click and Go tablet holders for row-two passengers and Intelligent Seat Fold technology.

You can also tow almost anything. The Discovery is best-in-class with 3,500kg towing capacity2 and Advanced Tow Assist to take the stress out of difficult reversing manoeuvres…

When the car is available for a road test, we will tell you about our driving experience with his new Land Rover!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Hyundai joins IONITY charging network…

Hyundai and Kia are participating in the IONITY charging network…

As the E-powered cars are decidedly coming of age, we will keep you regularly abreast with more EV news….so here is one, and many more will follow! Soon we will also report about our driving impressions with the VW ID.3…

Hyundai Motor Group has joined IONITY, Europe’s leading high-power charging network, as a strategic partner and shareholder. Through its participation in this joint venture, Hyundai Motor Group – including Hyundai and Kia brands – will drive the expansion of the high-power charging network along Europe’s highways, promoting the further adoption of zero-emission mobility.

The IONITY charging network uses the European CCS (Combined Charging System) charging standard. Since the network uses 100 percent renewable energies, thanks to IONITY, drivers of electric vehicles are not only able to travel emission-free, but also CO2-neutral. This is an important step when it comes to making electric mobility a success in Europe.

New Sorento plug in hybrid can be ordered in Belgium…

In the meantime, Kia Motors has released a ‘cutaway’ image revealing the packaging of the new three-row, seven-seat Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid.

The photo reveals how the large battery pack, fuel tank, engine and electric motor are integrated within the vehicle’s structure, retaining maximum space for luggage and up to seven occupants.

The Sorento can be ordered in our country (Belgium) from next week onwards…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

BMW turns its electric vision into reality…with the impressive BMW iX

Until now the VISION iNEXT took centre stage when we looked at BMW’s electric vision for the future. With a year still to go before its market launch at the end of 2021, the BMW Group lets us have a first look ahead to the future BMW iX, which is currently still in the series development phase.

The BMW iX is very important: it is the first model based on a new, modular, scalable future toolkit developed by the BMW Group. It embodies a fresh interpretation of design, sustainability, versatility and luxury.

Driving pleasure, versatility and luxury.

The iX is from the outset designed for purely electric mobility, and BMW claims it is redefining the successful Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) concept.

The BMW iX harnesses the latest innovations in the fields of electrification, automated driving and connectivity to deliver a mobility experience which puts people first. Therefore, its design has been developed from the inside out, says BMW.

Sustainability is also important, and we find optimised aerodynamics, intelligent lightweight design and extensive use of natural and recycled materials.

Fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology for a long range…

The fifth generation of BMW eDrive technology consists of two electric motors, state of the art  power electronics, charging technology and a high-voltage battery. It has the zest of a true BMW: some 370 kW/500 hp, enough to power the BMW iX from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 5.0 seconds.

BMW nevertheless targets an electronic power consumption of less than 21 kWh per 100 kilometres (62 miles) in the WLTP test cycle. A gross energy content of more than 100 kWh should enable the latest-generation high voltage battery to record a range of over 600 kilometres in the WLTP cycle.

That equates to more than 300 miles according to the EPA’s FTP-75 test procedure.

DC fast charging: over 120 kilometres (75 miles) of extra range in ten minutes.

The new charging technology of the BMW iX enables DC fast charging at up to 200 kW. In this way, the battery can be charged from 10 to 80 per cent of its full capacity in under 40 minutes.

The friendly cabin is centered on the driver and its passengers…

Added to which, within ten minutes enough energy can be fed into the battery to increase the car’s range by more than 120 kilometres (75 miles). It takes less than eleven hours to charge the high-voltage battery from 0 to 100 per cent at 11 kW from a Wallbox.

More power for automated driving…

The level of computing power has been developed to process 20 times the data volume of previous models. As a result, around double the amount of data from vehicle sensors can be processed than was previously possible.

Bold and impressive styling

The exterior of the BMW iX has the powerful proportions of a large BMW SAV. The BMW iX is comparable with the BMW X5 in length and width, and is almost the same height as the BMW X6 on account of its flowing roofline. The size of its wheels, meanwhile, brings to mind the BMW X7.

At the centre of the front end stands the prominent, vertical kidney grille. Since the electric drive system of the BMW iX requires only a small amount of cooling air, the kidney grille is completely blanked off.

This upright grille has reinvented itself as an innovative and multifunctional high-tech interface for

the advanced driver assistance systems with which the BMW iX paves the way for automated driving.

Human friendly cabin

The architecture of the BMW iX cabin underpins a perfectly clear and straightforward functionality that revolves entirely around the needs and emotions of the driver and occupants.

The displays and controls are all stripped down to the essentials, further reinforcing the impression of an uncluttered cabin offering a place of relaxation. The technology of the BMW iX only becomes visible when it is needed. This makes it intuitive to use rather than seeming overly complex.

The hexagonally shaped steering wheel, a rocker switch for gear selection and the BMW Curved Display – which forms part of the next-generation BMW Operating System – clearly advertise the futuristic form of driving pleasure.

Lightweight design

The body structure, featuring an aluminium spaceframe and innovative Carbon Cage, can claim extremely high torsional stiffness, which in turn enhances agility and maximises occupant protection, while minimising weight.

Fully capitalising on the benefits provided by the all-electric drive system and meticulously implementing proven measures from the past in the front end of the car, the underbody section, the wheels and the rear end gives the BMW iX optimised aerodynamics. This resuls in a drag coefficient (Cd) of just 0.25!

We let you look at the photos here…and are anxious to see this new BMW in the flesh!  

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the all-electric Fiat Cinquecento: Italy is now also “zen”… in urban style.

In Brussels autumn streets, enjoying the latest Italian electric gem: the Fiat 500 Elettrica…

Bringing back the stunning Alfa Romeo Stelvio test car (full test report soon on these pages…), we had the lucky occasion to slide behind the wheel for a short spin through the Brussels streets with the brand new all-electric 500. Press Officer Wim Willems of the ever so dynamic FCA Belgium PR team invited me proudly to take the wheel behind one of the still Italian registered test cars.

The four wheeled beauty – the styling of the electric 500 is truly spot on – drives absolutely “zen”, silent and smooth, and is of course totally intuitive to drive. On the middle of the dashboard are the four touch buttons let you choose between drive, reverse, neutral and park. This is literally all there is to it!

This electric Cinquecento we drove was the top notch ICON version, and the stylish fun starts the moment you get the keys of the car: it’s a black button-free pebble, a smart wearable key you carry in your pocket or bag, which communicates with the car and automatically unlocks the doors when you step closer.

The dashboard has the same color as the bodywork, which was in our test car executed in matte grey, and in the center is a a 10.25” ‘cinerama’ touchscreen display, with GPS and the Uconnect 5 system. So superbly connected you are… more on all these features when we get our hands on this electrical gem for a test.

Let’s turn to the supersmooth driving experience. You can choose between three driving modes. The “Normal” mode gives you all the nippy performance you could ever wish for: output of 87 kW – equivalent to 118 hp, 220 Nm of torque, available instantly, and sports car acceleration from 0 to 50 km/h in 3.1 seconds, or 0 to 100 in 9 seconds.

We started off our test drive with 296 km range…

But there is more. The “Range” mode treats you to a new driving experience, using only one foot. The ‘one-pedal’ function means you can control acceleration and deceleration by just pushing or lifting the throttle. When you lift off, the car recovers energy to the max, and the Cinquecento will slow down markedly until it stops.

Red hot: the test car is still running on Italian licence plates…

When your battery is low, this 500 gets you home anyway. You choose the ‘Sherpa’ mode, and here the 500 will  find the right balance between all the components of the drivetrain to reduce fuel consumption to a minimum.

One last word about the range: The 500 ICON will drive of up to 320 km in the WLTP cycle, increasing to 460 km in the urban cycle alone. Rapid recharging is guaranteed by the DC fast charging system, running at up to 85 kW.

But rest assured, we will come back on all the smart recharging solutions Fiat offers for its new electric baby. We just treat you here to the few photos I shot during our first drive!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Toyota RAV4: the car which invented the SUV…

The formidable RAV4 has now some 10 million enthusiast owners, and now enters its fifth generation. It has gained in style, and is as hybrid as ever on our shores: 85 % of the European buyers opt for the self-charging hybrid power drivetrain.

It rolls on the new GA-K platform, allowing the RAV4 to be sleeker with a lower center of gravity and increased body rigidity. This also means both better handling and ride comfort, a more spacious interior, ample load space (580 liters VDA with seats in place) and enhanced styling with lower roof and hood lines in combination with higher ground clearance.

Indeed, the new RAV4 has the looks, and the ride too…Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Self-charging hybrid, masterfully engineered…

The RAV4 continues the successful Toyota hybrid story. Under the hood purrs a completely newly redesigned 2.5-litre petrol hybrid “Dynamic Force” engine, offering 218 DIN hp in front-wheel drive form. Indeed, this RAV4 is loaded with state-of-the-art top tech.

What to think of the Atkinson cycle technology and a 14.0:1 compression ratio (compared to 12.5:1 for the previous unit). It comes with D-4S direct and indirect (!) fuel injection and intelligent variable valve-timing – electric VVTiE for the intake and hydraulic VVT-i for the exhaust. The valve-timing range for both intake and exhaust has been increased. There are still more clever solutions put in this engine. Be astonished with us…

The cylinder heads are designed to generate high tumble of the fuel/air mixture, with an enlarged valve included angle and laser-cladded valve seats. A variable cooling system with an electric water pump and electric thermostat is used to improve combustion by maintaining the required temperature. There is also a fully variable oil pump for efficient engine oil pressure management.  

Toyota’s fourth generation self-charging hybrid system makes its debut in the new RAV4, delivering multiple benefits. Key components, including the power control unit (PCU) and the nickel metal-hydride battery are more compact and lighter in weight, and the transaxle and transmission have been engineered to reduce electrical and mechanical losses.

The new battery pack is 11 per cent lighter than before and transmission losses have been reduced by 25 per cent compared to the previous system.

How does all this work in practice? The engine is very docile, and develops 221 Nm between a very large rev range from 3,600 – 5,200 rpm. Admittedly, these are rather high revs, but the low-end pulling power is of course greatly helped by the electric motor, which develops a healthy 202 Nm.

This means that this RAV4 will pull away always with very impressive power, and this we find is the very “zen” beauty of Toyota’s hybrid system. The electric motor alone is good for 88 kW, so you can imagine what happens when you put your foot down.

Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is absolved in merely 8,4 seconds. But in the lower speed ranges, the velvety power is overwhelming. The hybrid system carefully manages how both engines participate in the total power delivery, and engine revs are kept especially low at partial throttle openings.

Silk smooth progress is for you to be enjoyed: even at spirited driving the engine hums quietly, and all this contributes to let you relax behind the wheel. What is also pleasant is the total smoothness of the drivetrain, not the slightest jolt or shock will disturb you or your passengers. Not many (super)cars will reach this level of total smoothness.

Besides all this smooth power, the hybrid system warrants also excellent economy. The secret is to accelerate and decelerate smoothly, to drive with anticipation. This lets the hybrid system use the recuperation function fully when slowing down, and use the electric motor as much as possible at constant speeds below, say 70 km/h. This results in excellent economy, also and even more so in slow urban driving and stop and go traffic. It proved no effort to reach averages of 6 l/100 km. Toyota quotes 4.5/4.6 l/100 km as average consumption, with CO2 emissions being 102 g/km. Oh yes, the top speed is a good 180 km/h. More than enough for all, we would say.

Driving pleasure…             

The new platform enhances handling stability and precision. The RAV4 has improved the response of the Electric Power Steering by moving the assist motor from the column to the rack, and indeed this RAV4 steers accurately. The handling is neutral and predictable.

The RAV4’s GA-K platform also distinguishes itself in its use of a double wishbone rear suspension system. What’s more, thanks to the low center of gravity and high body rigidity, the suspension does not have to be rendered stiffer to meet dynamic targets. Indeed, we found the RAV4 quite comfortable too! Its suspension travel is wide, and we know of few cars in its class which takes the many potholes and bumps on our Belgion roads with such ease.

A strong point is also the good visibility. The TNGA platform allows the hood to sit 15 mm lower, adding two degrees to the driver’s forward field of vision, and the external mirrors have been moved to a lower position on the front doors. Luggage space is 79 liters more than in the previous, fourth generation RAV4.

Flexibility is designed-in so that the space can easily be adapted to gain more cargo room when required: with the rear seats folded down, the new RAV4 can accommodate a 29-inch mountain bike without any wheels having to be removed.

Well equipped, also for safety…

The new RAV4 offers generous equipment specifications across its range, with all models equipped as standard with the latest iteration of Toyota Safety Sense and an E call emergency contact function. Quite impressive!

The improved system features a single-lens camera and millimeter-wave radar, both with enhanced performance to expand the scope of hazard detection and functionality. The unit has also been made smaller, so driver gains an even wider field of vision. We found this RAV4 delightful with the wide range of safety features.

The Toyota Safety Sense unit includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (iACC), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Road Sign Assist (RSA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB). In addition, it introduces Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), which provides more advanced driving support.

The system can determine collision risks at speeds from zero to 180 km/h. If it calculates an imminent risk of collision, it will alert the driver and prepare the brakes (PreCrash Brake Assist) for maximum stopping force. If the driver fails to act, it will trigger Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can reduce vehicle speed by up to 40 km/h, potentially bringing the car to a stop and avoiding an impact.

The new intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (iACC) is also able to work in conjunction with the car’s Road Sign Assist system. When the car is travelling at a constant, pre-set speed, iACC can recognise new speed limits on major roads and let the driver adjust the speed to keep within the limit, simply by using switches on the steering wheel.

The intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Tracing Assist work together in slow, stop/go traffic, tracking the vehicle ahead within the traffic lane, maintaining a safe distance and speed, bringing the vehicle to a halt when necessary and moving off seamlessly when traffic flow resumes. We found this feature a delight to use and indeed it takes away quite some stress in urban stop and go traffic.

Roomy cabin and creature comfort

We found the cabin quite practical; it is purpose built with all the knobs and handles in the right places. The gearlever/selector is now totally classical in looks and feel, and this is maybe a good thing for many SUV enthusiasts. Seats are excellent, the lower, more dynamic seating position was appreciated. As said, there is plenty of room inside. Of course, excellent connectivity and an intuitive to use navigation system was appreciated and makes this RAV4 a pleasure in daily use.

Conclusion

A well styled, but above all superbly engineered SUV, which is sturdy, practical, mechanically refined, frugal, and roomy.

It has a very comfortable ride, and the smoothest of drivetrains. This SUV displays lively performance and surprises with excellent economy. Its unique hybrid system makes it truly stand out, and will make it also totally future proof in our ever-greener world. The RAV4 will continue to be a bestseller, and deservedly so…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Audi A3 Sedan 35 TFSI: cleverness in elegant motion…

Driving an Audi is always something very special. You are surrounded by German perfection, enjoying the touch of top notch materials and the sight of clean cabin styling and instruments. The steering wheel transmits agility and handling precision into your fingers, the engine responds eagerly to the slightest movement of your right foot. You hear an efficient throb, even if it isn’t the five cylinder anymore. Yes, an Audi. The second generation A3 sedan which was introduced in the spring of this year continues the tradition. It has style, breathes German high-tech panache, feels built to last, and is elegant down to the smallest detail.

Here we drove for you the 35 TFSI 1,5 litre petrol with the 7 speed S tronic, which is assisted a bit with regenerated E-power…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Slender facelift

The latest A3 has been upgraded somewhat, remaining however well within the classic Audi styling mold. Its wheelbase remained the same, just the body got now 4 centimeters (1.6 in) longer at 4.50 meters, and it is 2 cm wider. A concave surface under the broad body shoulder make the A3 look more punchy and leaner. The roof line slopes down coupé like from the B- and finishes in a striking spoiler on the tailgate, which is optionally available in carbon.

The new A3 Sedan achieves a Cd value of 0.25 and is therefore 0.04 Cd points better than the first generation. All this thanks to attention to detail: there is a controllable cooling-air inlet with two electrically actuated louver modules behind the Single frame grille…

In the cabin, the instrument panel with the central MMI touch display is inclined slightly toward the driver. It has a 10.1-inch diagonal and includes handwriting detection as well as natural language control that can optionally draw on the capabilities of the cloud. The 10.25-inch instrument cluster behind the steering wheel is digital even in the basic model. Wow! We simply love also the clean instrument styling of these digital displays.

Of course, there is “Audi virtual cockpit plus”. The screen then measures 12.3 inches and offers three different views, including sporty graphics with inclined digits and a particularly dynamic layout. The RPM and speed are shown here as bar diagrams with angular red graphical elements. Upon request, a head-up display is available, we had it on our test car.

Driving the Audi: sharp, alert, precise…

Be inspired behind the wheel. This car responds beautifully when you steer it with verve. The 1.5-liter direct injection engine produces 110 kW (150 PS) between 5 and 6000 rpm, and has plenty of pulling power across the mid rev range. Torque is 250 Nm between 1500 – 3500 rpm. The 7 speed S Tronic makes you a better driver. You hurtle from 0 to 100 km/h in 8,4 seconds, and become a top player on the German Autobahnen: top speed is 232 km/h.

The suspension supports all this sportiness superbly. We left the drive select function in our test car mostly in the “comfort” position, and even then, you steer with precision and uncanny agility. Selecting a dynamic position will influence damper settings, steering and throttle response. But there is also an “eco” setting…

Indeed, with the S Tronic automatic, the car can coast when you lift the throttle. This led the Audi people to adopt here brake regeneration alongside the obvious coasting function. They installed a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which supports the engine with up to 50 Nm (36.9 lb-ft) of torque when driving off and accelerating from low engine speeds. It also allows the A3 Sedan to switch the engine off while coasting. Drive with anticipation, and you will be amazed in how many situations you can put the kinetic energy of your Audi to (very) good use.

We also appreciated the utter smoothness when this Audi switches from shut down coasting to revving engine power. It was not perceptible, and that is no small feat!  We achieved quite creditable consumption figures in sedate town driving, between 6 and 7 liters/100 km. Of course, on the open road, the Audi is efficient, and when driven at legal limits you can achieve anything between 5 and 6 liters/100 km. Audi quotes 4.9 – 4.7 l/100 km and combined CO2-emissions of 113-107 g/km.

You remain highly connected in your Audi…

The top infotainment system in the new A3 Sedan is the MMI Navigation plus, which uses the third-generation modular infotainment platform (MIB 3). The MIB 3 boasts computing power ten times higher than in the predecessor model, connects the car via LTE Advanced speed, and connects the smartphones of the passengers to the Internet via Wi-Fi hotspot. The MMI Navigation plus offers a multitude of Audi connect services as standard, including online traffic information, news, and additional information such as photos, opening times, and user reviews relating to points of interest.

The A3 Sedan is also connected to the smartphone via the Audi smartphone interface, which integrates iOS and Android cell phones with Apple Car Play and Android Auto in the MMI, as well as via Audi phone box. The latter connects the device to the car antenna and can charge it inductively.

Did you know that if the car is switched off, the myAudi app continues navigation from the car on a smartphone? This way, customers reaches their destination directly.

What is more, the A3 Sedan can be locked and unlocked as well as started via an Android smartphone with the Audi connect key. Personalization allows up to six users to store their preferred settings in individual profiles, including those for the seat, climate control and media.

The DAB+ digital radio comes as standard. Options include online radio and the hybrid radio, which automatically switches between FM, DAB, and the online stream depending on a station’s signal strength, thus ensuring optimum reception. We enjoyed the music in this Audi, for sure…

Conclusion

Convincing, if you like superb finish, build quality, clean timeless styling and last but not least an engaging driving experience. This sedan will underline what you stand for, will age (very) well and give you owner and driving pleasure every day you live with it. It doesn’t come very cheap, more so when you delve deeply into the extra’s, but reliability, longevity, high resale value and therefore low depreciation are also things you have to take into account when considering the overall running costs for this quality car. Drive it cleverly in town, and it is there quite frugal too…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Toyota GR Supra 2.0L: a thoroughbred sports car gets even more pure…

Who doesn’t dream of a two-seater sports car with flowing coupé lines, a racy cabin, long hood, wide stance and a superb styled rear? A sports car with ideal 50/50 weight distribution, handling from the seat of your pants, equipped with a thoroughbred engine?

Such a car is the Toyota GR Supra. Until now, it came with a 3 litre six engine, being the first global model to be developed by TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Now this same team has engineered another, even more pure version for the sports car aficionados: a Supra with a double overhead cam, 2 litre 16-valve petrol unit with a twin-scroll turbocharger.

This four-cylinder Supra is 100 kg lighter, and the engine’s shorter length means its mass is located closer to the center of the car. A true driver’s delight with stunning performance? You bet! It proved indeed to be one of the nicest 2-seater “pur sang” bolides we have driven lately…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Already its looks are stunning. Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada adhered to the classic form of a front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels, building on the heritage of Toyota’s past Supra generations and original 2000GT sports car. Indeed, this latest Supra has much of the compact purity of the legendary 2000 GT, which moves the heart of every car enthusiast.  

When it comes to design a top handling car, its wheelbase and track dimensions are the first things to consider. It is widely recognized that the best balance of agility and stability is obtained with a ratio between wheelbase and track of around 1.5 and 1.6. Achieving the 1.55 “golden ratio” was thus the starting point for the GR Supra development team, the key building block on which everything else has been optimized. (For reference: wheelbase = 2,470 mm; rear track = 1,589 mm).

Superb four-cylinder…

The engine sits indeed in the right place. And it sounds and performs right too. Maximum power is 258 DIN hp/190 kW at 5,000-6,000 rpm, while peak torque of 400 Nm is available across the whole mid rev range, from 1,550 to 4,000 rpm. Performance is indeed at the rendez-vous…

What to say of a 0-100 km/h acceleration in 5.2 seconds, with top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h… The charm also lies in the totally effortless way this performance is achieved. This sports engine is totally civilized, and while it will respond eagerly to the slightest pressure of your right foot, it is utterly docile and flexible in town traffic, and in the “normal” driving mode, it will happily potter along at 1200 rpm at legal speeds. Choose the sports mode, and the excellent 8 speed ZF automatic will spoil you with alert and lightning speed gear changes, and make you a better driver…

The staccato of the engine revving up under full power is a delight to your ears, and all this pleasure is further enhanced by the excellent handling of this Supra.

Economy is not as dramatic as you would expect from such a high-performance car, as the engine is efficient and the car is not heavy. We clocked with a lot of (very) brisk driving an average consumption of some 8,2 liters/100 km.

State of the art suspension

The Supra steers with precision. The high rigidity of the chassis makes a finely tuned suspension possible. The suspension design comprises double-joint-type MacPherson struts at the front and a five-link system at the rear.

The GR Supra 2.0 is fitted as standard with 18-inch forged alloy wheels. To optimize the balance of front and rear grip, larger wheels and tyres are used at the rear. The specific Michelin Pilot Sport tyres are 255/40 ZR18 front and 275/40 ZR18 rear.

The Supra also corners as on rails thanks to its 50/50 weight distribution, and even novice drivers can drive immediately fast with utter confidence on those winding mountain sections of your Gran Turismo trip.

Do not forget that TOYOTA GAZOO Racing was instrumental in honing the new sports car’s performance, working on the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife and surrounding roads in Germany to achieve the most agile, stable and rewarding handling possible. Further extensive testing was carried out on roads around the world.

The Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), available as part of the optional Sport Pack, enhances performance with instant response to changes in the road surface, adjusting the shock absorber force at each wheel to maintain a flat vehicle posture, excellent steering response and supple ride comfort. Sensors constantly monitor the way the car is being driven and the road conditions, controlling the damping force accordingly.

The driver can choose between two AVS modes – NORMAL and SPORT – to suit their mood or the driving conditions. NORMAL mode strikes a high balance between vehicle stability and ride comfort, enabling a sporty drive without sacrificing comfort. SPORT mode delivers a flat vehicle posture, reduced body roll and a more agile steering response.

A cabin to dream (and drive) away in …

The cabin of this two-seater is a heavenly place for each trip, be it 1 or 1000 kilometers. Soon you have found the ideal driving position behind the wheel, and all the instrumentation is ideally positioned in your line of sight, with the large rev counter of course taking central place.

The low, slim horizontal dashboard maximizes the forward view through the windscreen, and you intuitively keep your eyes on the road.

But don’t expect this Supra to be anywhere spartan. The standard multimedia system for the GR Supra 2.0 is controlled via a centrally mounted 8.8-inch high-resolution TFT touchscreen display. This can also be operated using a controller on the center console which has an intuitive touchpad control on its upper surface. It is designed for fingertip control so the driver doesn’t have to change their position at the wheel to operate it.

The package includes a four-speaker audio system with DAB radio reception, Bluetooth, a USB port and wireless smartphone integration using Apple CarPlay.

Conclusion

A formidable sports car, a dream on the track, on the mountain pass, on the motorway, but also well at home in tight and slow daily urban traffic. A stylish companion, which offers you all the practical creature comfort you could wish for, all this makes this Supra a car nice to live with every day. Then also, it’s a Toyota, which means top notch reliability, good economy and reasonable service cost. So enthusiasts, this Supra has all it takes to become an icon, and could be your four-wheeled companion, to cherish for years, if not decades to come…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the A Class 250 e: another milestone in plug-in hybrid mobility…

Mercedes is joining the plug-in hybrid trend on the road to zero-emissions driving. It does this with the third generation hybrid drive under its celebrated EQ Power label, with the future-oriented commitment so typical for the brand. Indeed, wonderful times are ahead, so it appears. This A 250 e promises indeed formidable economy and emission values: combined fuel consumption 1.5-1.4 l/100 km, combined CO2 emissions 34-33 g/km, combined electrical consumption 15.0-14.8 kWh/100 km.

All so wonderful, but of course under the condition that you use its plug-in capacity. Otherwise, it is just a zesty petrol engined compact Mercedes with good performance and road qualities… but one which gets you home no matter the distance!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Electric Charging stations are an absolute must…

Indeed, plug-in hybrids are very much OK if you can charge then every day at home or office. If this is not available, Mercedes helps. Via its “Mercedes me Charge”, you can optionally obtain access to one of the world’s largest charging networks, with over 300 different operators in Europe alone Thanks to its navigation system, Mercedes-Benz drivers can find these stations easily and can gain convenient access to the charging stations via the Mercedes me Charge card, the Mercedes me App or directly from the car.

No separate contracts are necessary for this: apart from simple authentication, customers benefit from an integrated payment function with simple billing after they have registered their payment method once. Each charging procedure is booked automatically. The individual charging processes are clearly listed in a monthly invoice.

The car: top performance…

The A 250 e is fast. We can say, almost superfast. What to think of 6.6 seconds for the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h, and a top speed of 235 km/h? You can drive it in E-power only mode, and even then its electric 75 kW motor will push it to 140 km/h. So with everyday charging, you have a lively E-car under your right foot which is more than powerful enough to give you genuine driving pleasure combined with “zen” electric smoothness.

But if you are faced with an immediate longer trip, with no time to find charging stations for your empty battery, the 1,33 litre four cylinder gets eagerly to work. It smoothens out on the autobahn, otherwise it lets you know it is there, but then with a pleasant touch of sportiness. It develops 118 Kw/160 hp at 5500 rpm, and its 250 Nm torque starts at 1620 rpm, which gives it plenty of punch in the lower and mid rev ranges. Oh yes, total system power is 160 kW/218 hp, and system torque is an impressive 450 Nm.

Charging a breeze…

A lithium-ion high-voltage battery with a total capacity of approx. 15.6 kWh is ingeniously packed in the car. It sits under the rear seat and can be charged with alternating or direct current. A corresponding vehicle socket is located in the right-hand side wall of the vehicles.

This means that the compact plug-in hybrids can be charged at a 7.4 kW Wallbox with alternating current (AC) within 1 h 45 min from 10-100 percent SoC (Status of Charge). For direct-current charging (DC), the battery can be charged from 10 – 80 percent SoC in around 25 minutes.

So if you are a (mostly) urban driver, plenty of charging opportunities!

Driving the A 250 e exclusively on E power in urban situations is the thing to do. If the battery is empty, – it’s useable range is around 55-60 km on a charge – the willing petrol engine gives you plenty of zest, but not the supersmooth progress we have grown accustomed to in our own hybrid Lexus for instance.

Gearchanges by the 8G-DCT dual clutch transmission are noticeable at slow speeds and smaller throttle openings, and economy is in these circumstances what you can expect from a solid Mercedes with a sporting engine. In short urban errands, anything between 8 and 14 litres/100 km could be your sort, but luckily once on the open road the engine gets really into its stride and consumption hovers between 5,5 to 6,1 liters when cruising at legal cruising speeds.

Drive programs to choose from…

But there is more. With the launch of MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) the previous plug-in operating modes of all EQ Power models have been converted to so-called “drive programs.”

After 52 kilometers, the battery is empty, and the earger 1332 cc four cylinder gets to work… but for better urban driving economy, you are well advised to plug in and prefer e-power!

These new drive programs are “Electric” and “Battery Level”. Maximum e-performance can of course be had in “Electric”. The combustion engine is then only engaged if you floor the throttle. In the “Electric” program, the energy recuperation strength under braking/decelerating can be selected via paddles behind the steering wheel. The paddles on the steering wheel enable the selection of five different recuperation levels (DAUTO, D+, D, D- and D–).

Comfort, ECO and Sport modes are also available.

So you can give priority to electric driving, or choose more dynamic driving in combined drive mode or give preference to the “Battery Level” i.e. the combustion mode to save electric range, for example.

Mercedes remains Mercedes… and more about its future plug-in strategy

When looking at chassis, bodywork, cabin amenities and finish, the good star always tells us a beautiful story. The new A Class scores top marks here. Excellent seating position, ergonomics, MBUX, or Mercedes-Benz User Experience, comfort, handling, looks and practicality, everything is there.

Looking at the future, the new plug-in hybrids of the S-, E- and C-Class with electric ranges of up to 50 km in accordance with NEDC are now more than a year with us. In the C- and E-Class, Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer to combine the diesel engine with plug-in technology, offering this set-up in the Saloon and Estate versions of these two model series.

This year, about 20 model variants will have the plug-in layout… so the good star is indeed well plugged in!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Photographers’ note: All photos were taken with our big Nikon DSLR, which amply shiws in the crispness and balance of the images…

We drove the Toyota Camry Hybrid: practical E-power with comfort and grace…

We just love the hybrid solution Toyota/Lexus is offering us since many years. It delivers superb smoothness, has unlimited range with no recharging hassles and yet gives you the benefits of “zen” E-power when you need it most: in urban driving. All this combined with unequaled economy. The 4,7 liters/100 km we clocked over the last 1,5 years of daily driving with our Lexus CT200h amply proves this point.

Now Toyota has brought its US bestselling Toyota Camry to our European shores. Did you know that the Camry is the best-selling D/E segment sedan in the world with annual sales of more than 700,000 units?

In Europe it is sold only in hybrid form, and rightly so. The Camry met totally with our expectations, and is in my opinion at present in its hybrid form the only practical solution for all-round E-mobility in Europe, considering the present status of the EU-wide charging infrastructure.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Camry is a spacious sedan with pleasing proportions, and indeed looks elegant from any angle. It certainly has a premium aura and look, and offers ample room for five and their luggage. The latest generation Camry is a product of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) design and engineering philosophy. TNGA places enthusiast-oriented ‘fun to drive’ characteristics and alluring styling on an equal footing with excellent build quality, reliability and safety. It surely delivers…

Let’s first have a look at its drivetrain.

Toyota wisely opted for a large(r) 2,5 litre four-cylinder unit, developing enough power (131 kW) and torque to keep revs down even under spirited driving. It has, Toyota says, a world beating maximum thermal efficiency of 41%. Mated to a zesty 120 HP electric motor, total system power is a healthy 160 kW. It develops combined over 400 Nm, which puts it at par with potent Diesels. All this makes the Camry a very brisk performer, offering impressive but silky-smooth punch when accelerating from slow speeds. The all-important 10 to 30 km/h sprint to join safely a moving urban traffic lane takes merely a second, from 60 to 100 km/h – the crucial parameter to join motorway traffic – costs only 4,9 seconds. The sprint from standstill to 100 km/h is absolved in 8,3 seconds. The Camry is a very potent motorway cruiser too, with top speed electronically limited to 180 km/h. More than enough for today’s traffic conditions, we would think.

The charm of the hybrid system lies not only in the ever-present pulling power, it also excels in the totally clever way it switches imperceptibly between E- and combustion power. Improvements to the conversion efficiency of the Power Control Unit (PCU) and the transmission efficiency of the transaxle and motor combine to reduce system energy losses further by some 20% compared to the previous model. In urban traffic, with its ever-changing lower speeds, the drivetrain computer uses the qualities of the electric motor to the full, and its very judicious use reflects itself in unseen low consumption averages.

Toyota claims up to 50% zero emissions driving on the everyday commute, and this is totally realistic. Our own Lexus stays in town easily in the 4,5 liter/100 km range, and this bigger and more powerful Camry not only achieves the same economy, it does even better. All this with a very “zen”-like smoothness and silence, which makes this hybrid drivetrain so endearing. The manufacturer quotes CO2emissions as low as 98 g/km, fuel consumption of only 4.3 l/100 km. Our test consumption boiled down to an average of 5,3 litres/100 km, where the Camry was driven with spirit on the open road.

The so-called “ADrive Mode Select” switch enables the driver to select a choice of ECO, NORMAL and SPORT driving modes. All three modes may be used when the vehicle is operating in the separately-switchable EV mode.

In addition, the enhanced self-charging hybrid system also includes new “Sequential Shiftmatic” technology that allows the driver to ‘shift’ with the console-mounted lever, mimicking a quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, for a more dynamic, engaging driving experience.

Finally, a new Auto Glide Control (AGC) function allows the new Camry Hybrid to decelerate more slowly than during normal driving, such as when it is coasting with the accelerator pedal released approaching a stop light. Thus, AGC contributes to improved fuel economy by reducing the need for re-acceleration. We found this very cool…

Silent and stable

When you are somewhat more in a hurry, the noise levels hardly rise, thanks to the good torque characteristics of its bigger engine, which makes high revs hardly necessary under power. You remain also in total command of this Camry. The finely tuned totally new suspension and neutral handling of this sedan takes fast bends very well in its stride.

Besides this totally redesigned suspension, key to the new Camry Hybrid’s enhanced dynamic abilities and ride quality is also an all-new, GA-K platform-based bodyshell. We found the Camry handle precise and very balanced indeed. Comfort and sound insulation are also very good. This is a sedan built to be driven restfully for hours on end, and indeed this Camry displays marvelous Gran Turismo qualities.

Well-equipped interior with all today’s amenities…

The know-how of Toyota shows clearly one slides behind the wheel. Very readable instrumentation is set in an ideally sculpted dashboard, an array of logical and easy to use accessories, excellent connectivity, effective driver assistance systems, you name it. This car is an effortless pleasure to use, with gearshift and screen command knobs and handles somewhat less idiosyncratic than the (earlier) Prius/Lexus versions, although we have grown to like just that on our Lexus CT200h. But getting a bit closer to the mainstream layout for gearshifts and the like might be the wiser option for people who drive regularly several cars. Safety is paramount too. Toyota “Safety Sense” active safety technologies are fitted as standard on all grades.

Just to mention here Pre-Collision System (PCS) with pedestrian detection, Full Range Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Alert (LDA), Automatic High Beam (AHB) and Road Sign Assist (RSA). Followed by Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA)

Further driver support and safety enhancing systems include a Rear Cross Traffic Brake (RCTB), Drive Start Control (DSC), front and rear Intelligent Clearance Sonar (ICS), a Back Monitor with parking guidelines, and a full suite of brake and traction control systems.

Very readable was the colour, 10″ Head-up Display (HUD).

We also appreciated on our test car the excellent and smoothly reacting adaptive cruise control. The sound system is a chapter in itself. The Camry comes standard with a 6-speaker audio system, but our test car, with the “Executive” equipment level, got the 9-speaker JBL Premium Sound System which has been specifically tuned for installation within the new Toyota sedan.

At the heart of this system is a Class D, eight channel JBL amplifier driving nine JBL speakers which include 25 mm horn tweeters integrated within the A pillars, and a new 265 mm sub-woofer located beneath the load space floor. Need we say more? Well, we do:

The system incorporates ‘Clari-Fi’ technology which supplements the frequencies that are lost on compressed audio files -such as MP3 or streaming audio files- in real time, restoring the sound quality and stereo mix as closely as possible to the original recording… we were just smitten!

Already in its standard version the Camry comes very well equipped. The base price is already competitive, but if you see the wide array of standard equipment, things look even better.

Space

The Camry is a true five seater with luggage space to match. The adoption of a rear double wishbone suspension system reduces shock absorber incursion into the load space, offering a luggage capacity of 500 litres for vehicles equipped with power reclining rear seats, and 524 litres for those with 60:40 split seating. The lighter and smaller newly developed Ni-MH battery has enabled the relocation from the luggage compartment to under the rear seats, not only freeing up additional luggage space, but also lowering the vehicle’s center of gravity and enhancing handling stability.

Conclusion

The Camry Hybrid is a world class bestseller for years now, and its latest generation merits a European (re)discovery. Crammed with state-of-the-art technologies, from the self-charging hybrid electric powertrain to faultless driver assistance systems and infotainment/connectivity, it combines all this with style and practical space.

Hans Knol ten Bensel