Having grown up in a relatively simple age, automotively speaking, when DIY car servicing and improving engine performance by fitting special camshafts, exhaust systems and carburetion was all very much a way of life, it is amazing to witness the rapid rate at which our everyday drives have become so sophisticated.
In the 1960’s and ‘70’s features such as air conditioning, leather trim, electric windows and an audio system (radio/tape) were reserved for luxury cars or as options in upmarket models. Nowadays they are de rigueur in most cars – even budget models – while standard in many double cabs.
In addition, there are a host of other safety and entertainment features that are being fed down to even fairly basic models. Seat belts weren’t even fitted in my early motoring days and the rapid inclusion of a host of safety features over the years is certainly welcomed.
I have recently experienced, first-hand the continual growth in automotive sophistication in South Africa when attending media launches of two new models: the latest Porsche Macan SUV and the Mitsubishi Triton bakkie.
They are both light years ahead of what I grew up with, not only in terms of features but also ride comfort, engine performance and economy as well as ease of driving. Highly efficient, multi-speed automatic transmissions are becoming increasingly popular whereas in my day the latter were seen as power-sapping and made a car a fuel guzzler.
Porsche South Africa had plenty of good news in its launch presentation in Cape Town, which highlighted the huge number of improvements and added features the Macan now offers, compared to its predecessor, which was a winner of the coveted SA Car of the Year title in 2015.
Most important was the announcement that the Macan range now starts at a price of R849 000 for a very well-equipped model fitted with a 2-litre turbo petrol engine pumping out 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque. The lower cost of the power unit ensures not only a very competitive price but also lowers the entry level to buying a new Porsche in South Africa.
The keen entry level pricing is sure to give Macan sales a big boost in South Africa, where it has trailed the larger Cayenne up to now, although worldwide Macan is the most popular Porsche model. A total of 400 000 Macan have been sold in the past five years, with 2017 having been the best year, with sales of 97 000 units.
The range also includes an “S” model with a 3-litre V6 turbo that develops 260kW and 480Nm of torque for those wanting even more performance than the sprightly four-cylinder offers. We drove only the gutsy four-cylinder model on this occasion. It astounded with its competent performance and is more than adequate for everyday driving.
Re-acquainting myself with the Macan underlined its spaciousness – including a large luggage compartment and space-saver spare wheel – supple ride, outstanding road holding and a general air of all-round competence.
Now to the Mitsubishi Triton. The latest iteration is the sixth generation of a Mitsubishi bakkie in 40 years and it is very different from the fairly basic model launched in Japan in 1978. Known as the L200 internationally and Colt in some markets, this model only arrived as a third-generation model in South Africa in 1997 when it was built in East London and marketed locally as the Colt and Colt Rodeo by Mercedes-Benz.
Although it has been mainly a boutique brand, selling modest numbers, Pedro Pereira, who heads up Mitsubishi South Africa, is confident the striking appearance and under-the-skin developments will widen the appeal of the Triton significantly.
More than 20 of the latest, top-of-the-range double cab models were utilised for the media launch in the Cradle of Mankind vicinity and they performed impressively, particularly when tackling some daunting off-road obstacles.
The fact that, in many cases, relatively inexperienced off-roaders were able to complete the course of 10 obstacles without getting stuck or damaging the vehicles showed how much technology has been developed in the latest bakkies to make off-road driving relatively simple and underlines what I have been saying about the way vehicles are getting increasingly sophisticated.
In the case of the Triton, this includes Mitsubishi’s Super Select II four-wheel drive system that offers four different drive modes, differential lock, and hill descent control.
Electronic assistance is used to adapt the driveline to suit conditions. The driver uses a mode selector to choose from settings for gravel, mud/snow, sand, or rocky surfaces. The 2.5-litre turbo diesel is coupled to a six-speed transmission with intelligent shift control to optimise performance. The driver can select the drive to go to either two or four wheels, depending on road and weather conditions.
There is a raft of safety features which includes seven airbags, active stability and traction control, anti-lock braking, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, and hill start assist, as well as a rear-view camera and LED headlights.
Creature comforts include features one has now come to expect in top range bakkies as well as passenger cars. In the case of the Triton, these include a touch-screen-controlled audio system, dual zone air conditioning, leather seats, electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, multi-function steering wheel with audio and cruise control as well as Bluetooth with hands-free voice control.
The foregoing underlines the rapid rise in sophistication in, not only cars and SUVs, but also top-end bakkies which are so popular in South Africa.
By Roger Houghton