Chicks, cars and so forth, and so on
The May issue of Leisure Wheels features our FUV shootout – a collection of female opinions and judgements of very special vehicles. The boys in the office, however, felt they also deserved a say!
Evolution 101 for men: women
Bob Dylan said it first, in 1964: The times they are a-changin’.
And it is especially the roles that men and women play in modern society that have changed drastically, and irrevocably.
These days women can heat up that pre-cooked meal in the microwave, send a business-related BBM on her BlackBerry, keep an eye on the Grey’s Anatomy programme on the box, and have a meaningful discussion with her spouse about the latest trends on the DOW Jones index. And, she can even be with child at the same time!
Yes sirree, the role of the fairer sex has most certainly changed significantly since that fateful day some years ago when Adam and Eve squabbled over some fruit.
The modern woman is an independent person, a professional person, an adventurous person… any kind of person she wants to be really. Think Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa, Marie Curie, JK Rowling and, well… er, Paris Hilton.
Evolution 102 for men: cars
Just like women, the automobile has come a long way since Karl Benz invented what was essentially the first car, in 1885, following the creation of his patented Motorwagen.
Today’s automobile is about so much more than just supplying transportation. It’s about fashion, about style, about practicality, about luxury and safety, about its impact on the environment, and about the way the automobile makes a damsel feel when she drives it. It’s not just a piece of metal for most ladies. It’s about who and what that specific lady is.
This brings me to the third ingredient in this tale: Men.
Two sides to the coin:
On one extreme side of the “man coin” there are some males who alternate their in-car entertainment between Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, Village People’s Macho Man and The Weathergirls’ It’s Raining Men. And so on, and so forth.
And who also, like some of their female counterparts, prefer to view the vehicle they drive as the extension of their own, er… personalities.
On the far side of this coin presides the man’s man. The one that always drives with the air-conditioning switched off, and with a hairy but nicely tanned elbow sticking out of the open driver’s window. The man that denounces Blitz and charcoal, automobiles with power steering and cellphones with more than 12 buttons. The man that only wears long pants in case of a wedding or funeral.
A group of men exist, however, somewhere in between these two extremes.
We like to call this group of men Average Joes. The LW boys reckon they fall into this category.
We wear long pants a few times in a week, we dig power steering and air-con, and sometimes – but only sometimes – we don’t mind some George Michael or Elton John tunes, in small dosages.
We are so Average Joes.
So, now that we’ve established this presumable fact, more or less, let’s look at the Fashion Utility Vehicle (FUV) shoot-out results from the newest Leisure Wheels issue. From bad to brilliant, these are our results. The Average Joes’ results.
Because the ladies, even though they are liberated and free and can burn their bra’s at any point in time, clearly still don’t quite know enough about cars yet…
The Subaru XV was the biggest disappointment for me, in this line-up. It looks good, and frankly, it drives pretty good as well. It feels sporty, communicating all the right signals to the driver through the all-wheel drive set-up. It feels ready to tackle a gravel rally stage – that’s how “good” the driving experience is. However, the two-litre engine and Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT gearbox fails miserably to support this act. Essentially, it just doesn’t have enough horses for the thin Highveld air. Floor the throttle, and the engine revs like mad – but nothing really happens. Maybe the XV with the six-speed manual gearbox will be better. But after a promising start the Scooby didn’t do it for me. I’ll have those wheels though – they are pretty darn cool.
There is nothing I can really name that I didn’t particularly like about the ASX. It’s reasonably cool, it’s comfy and safe, it’s nice and laid-back, and the panoramic sunroof is quite dandy. But it’s all just too, well… nice. And boring too. Some drivers will love the simplicity yet highly effective nature of the ASX. Although the Mitsubishi’s engine delivers 110 kW of power and 197 Nm of torque – virtually identical to the Scooby – and power is sent to the front wheels only via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the driving experience in the ASX is more relaxed, more comfortable and importantly, less frustrating than in the Scooby. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, in the Scooby, you expect it to be able to perform like a Subaru, but it doesn’t. The ASX performs just like you expect it to.
The BMW X1’s 180 kW four-cylinder petrol engine with two turbochargers looked like just the ticket to propel it to the top of my list. Oh, and there’s an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and the optional M-Sport package that also promised much, much motoring pleasure.
And make no mistake: This BMW is fast, and it digs corners too! In a straight-line the rest of the FUVs are left behind in a puff of turbocharged dust. The new Twin Power engine, coupled to the eight-speed gearbox, is really amazing. However, as an overall, tar-and-gravel package, the BMW was not very impressive. I just did not connect with the Beemer as I expected I would. It’s a rapid, practical and fashionable means of transport, but in my books, a driver’s car it is not. And this, for me, is rather sad.
I’ll admit: The Range Rover Evoque is rather attractive and pretty. No doubt it is fashionable too. As a driver’s car, it is rather special, with that 177 kW four-cylinder engine chomping at the bit to be spurred into a gallop. It feels sporty, and the compromise between on-road handling and the way it soaks up bumps and ruts on dirt roads – despite the low-profile rubber – is really amazing.
The interior is bright, luxurious, sporty, and small. Overall, it’s a great car!
It’s just not a great car for me. It’s too flashy and too bright. I just can’t picture myself handing over R600 000 for a car like this. If I did, I’d also have to get the Hugo Boss watch, the Diesel jeans, iPad3 and whatever else is trendy to go with it. I’ll rather leave that to Victoria Beckham and Gareth Cliff.
The Jeep Wrangler is one cool customer. And now, armed with a 209 kW V6 engine and a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic gearbox, the new-old Wrangler is as good as it has ever been. We tested the Rubicon, which is a pity because the Sahara version has an independent front suspension, which means it rides a bit better than the Rubicon’s solid front axle.
On tar you have to keep this Jeep in check – on a bumpy road it doesn’t like sticking to a specific line much. On bad dirt roads the situation is not really better. The ride is hard, bouncy and not very comfortable. Yet, this very characteristic, combined with the Rubicon’s truly spectacular off-road driving ability and the powerful new V6 petrol burner, is what makes it special for me.
It’s got character. It’s real, it’s tangible and it needs a firm hand to keep in check.
Victoria Beckham doesn’t hold your hand when you drive this Jeep. Chuck Norris does.
It’s a recipe that I like: Take the platform and drive train of a revered performance hatch, add four-wheel drive and a compact SUV body. The result is Ford’s Kuga.
Armed with the Ford Focus ST’s five-cylinder turbocharged engine, coupled to a smooth and responsive five-speed auto ‘box, this FUV hauls … people. But maybe even more impressive is the Ford’s ride, grip and composure. On tar it is sure-footed and predictable. You can chuck this compact SUV into a corner at speeds which seem way too fast, yet it will claw its way through, without fuss. It is really impressive. Yet on gravel is manages to soak up the deepest of ruts in its stride, in a most unexpected manner. Grip is phenomenal too.
The Kuga may not be as flashy as the Evoque, but it has bucket loads of guts. And character too.
Since BMW took over the MINI brand in 2000, more than a million New Mini’s have been sold. Initially there was only the three-door shell on offer, powered by a variety of engines. However, even in the Mini One D (with an underwhelming 66 kW of diesel power) there is plenty of sport, agility and character. A Mini like the One D will never be very fast, but it feels fast and responsive.
The Countryman Cooper S takes this “feel-good” feeling to an even higher tier.
Besides the added benefit of two more doors, the 135 kW Mini makes me want to head to the nearest race track, where I can let rip and fully exploit the excellent handling of this front-wheel drive tjorrie. Yes, on gravel roads the ride is rather horrible and bone-jarring, what with the sport suspension and the optional low profile rubber.
Frankly though, I don’t care much about that – it’s on tar where this machine comes alive.
Sure, some hairy-armed men may now make jokes about Barry Manilow or The Village People. I don’t care. I still dig it. It’s expensive, sure. I do care about that.
Whatever, I still dig it.
The Mini Countryman Cooper S and the Nissan Juke are very similar in the smile-per-kilometre segment. As an added bonus the Juke is just so much more affordable. The turbocharged 140 kW DiG-T Tekna model sells for R260 000. It also has the ability to amaze. It’s the way the Nissan feels when you drive it… it’s almost as if you are wired into the Juke. Every movement, every nuance, every sensation – it’s all there. As an added bonus the little Nissan rides better on a bad dirt road than the Mini. The biggest bugbear I have with the Nissan is the styling. One day I think it’s okay, the next day I reckon I must have been spending too much time in front of the microwave to have ever thought it okay. Quite simply, it’s a bit weird. Inside the weirdness continues with a spoiler-on-the-dashboard effect, complimented by a motorcycle “fuel tank” between the front seats. The boot is mostly a token attempt at a stylised boot. But you forget about the quirks as soon as you start driving this Nissan. It’s a handful, especially with the traction control switched off. You have to own it, especially on a gravel track, with the electronics on the reserve bench. I dig that a lot. A real lot.
My number 1
At the end of 2011 I drove the Toyota FJ Cruiser on less-travelled roads between Bloemfontein and Cape Town – and fell head over heels in love with this retro-styled behemoth.
It’s big, chunky and solid. It’s not particularly fancy and “plush” on the inside. And truth be told, those rear doors that are hinged on the “wrong” side are a right pain, as cool as they may be. Rear seat passengers don’t get miles of legroom either, and the boot is surprisingly small, considering the exterior dimensions. The 200 kW V6 petrol engine likes the drink a lot, and besides that 200 kilowatts the FJ never feels as spritely or as performance-oriented as say the Mini or the Nissan – mostly because if weighs about 14 times as much as the Mini and the Nissan.
Still, its ride is sufficiently dynamic and entertaining to keep me occupied between the fuel stops. However, it’s not the FJ’s ride, looks, doors or interior that makes me think up excuses to drive it to the Spar around several blocks and through several dongas along the way.
Instead it is the way it make me feel when I drive it. The feeling of inextinguishable solidity, and of being in complete command of one’s own destiny.
And there’s also that knowledge that, if I ever need it, this retro-baby will go the whole nine yards in a tough 4×4 environment too. Honestly, I reckon Chuck Norris drives an FJ, with AC/DC’s Thunder blaring over the sound system.
And in the FJ even our man Chuck can relax – and just enjoy the ride.