New details from a top-secret Australian design forum have emerged, detailing the upcoming Mercedes-Benz ute that was spied testing this week in a Nissan Navara shell.
The private event is understood to have brought confirmation that the ute will be known as either the Mercedes-Benz X-Class or Z-Class, along with a number of other details:
Three model range (base, mid- and high-specification)
Two diesel engines (four- and six-cylinder diesel options)
Australian engineering input
B-Class-esque interior with dashtop screen for high-specification model
AMG styling kit likely, but AMG version unlikely
These details follow the sighting this week of a prototype Mercedes-Benz ute, wearing Mercedes-Benz wheels and the panels of a new-generation Nissan Navara NP300.
What we know already
Based on information released by Mercedes-Benz since the new model’s announcement, we know that the ute will occupy a premium space for the brand and will be based on the recently released Nissan Navara NP300, which has been engineered to support both a coil-sprung rear and leaf spring suspension setup.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the similarities will be few and far between, with the manufacturer admitting the decision to use the Navara platform was one based on cost.
At this month’s Detroit motor show, Daimler board member Thomas Weber told CarAdvice, “Yes, to come to an attractive price we are using a common platform, but all the rest is done by Mercedes – to design, to develop the vehicle specifically to meet Mercedes criteria,” Weber said, building on previous statements from the brand.
The ute, which was announced in July 2015, will be sold in key markets for the brand, which include Latin America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
It will be built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain, for global export. The Mercedes-Benz ute will also share its platform with the Nissan Navara NP300 and Renault Alaskan.
What we have learned
Based on a top secret design forum held in Australia late last year, we have discovered that the new Mercedes-Benz ute will be called either the Mercedes-Benz X-Class or Mercedes-Benz Z-Class. According to an attendee, the brand was leaning toward X-Class due to its off-road and rugged connotation.
In an attempt to distance itself from the Navara NP300 donor vehicle, organisers said that there would only be a dual-cab variant. The single variant would eliminate the need to engineer a single-cab or extra-cab variant.
The Mercedes-Benz ute range will be available in three specification levels: a trades-focused base model, a better-equipped mid-level option and a more lifestyle-oriented top specification.
The range will also be powered exclusively by diesel engines, one four-cylinder and one six-cylinder engine.
Powering the base and mid-specification models will be the same engine as the Navara — a 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 140kW (188hp) of power and 450Nm (332ft.lb) of torque. It will have a towing capacity limited to 3000kg.
The top-specification model will be available with both the four-cylinder diesel and a six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 190kW (255hp) of power and 550Nm (406ft.lb) of torque. Towing capacity would be an increased 3500kg.
Both the base model and mid-specification will come with selectable four-wheel drive, with the vehicle operating in rear-wheel drive regularly. The top-specification will be a full-time four-wheel-drive.
In terms of design, the base model is likely to be built as a tradesman’s utility with basic wheels, plastic-clad bumpers and little in the way of visual enhancements.
According to an attendee, the top-specification model had an interior similar to the B-Class, with an iPad-esque screen attached to the dashboard. The top-specification model also had integrated satellite navigation and a 360-degree surround-view camera.
In terms of pricing for Australia, attendees were told that pricing would start from around $55,000 for the base model, over $60,000 for the mid-specification and close to $80,000 for the top-specification guise.
As it becomes clear they're swimming in a shrinking pool, fish instinctively take up the struggle for available space and oxygen. Suddenly, all bets are off and only the strongest and most competitive manage to rise above an increasingly agitated pack to fight another day.
And so it goes in the Australian new car ecosystem. The 'light' category is still one of the largest in market, where the likes of Hyundai's Accent, the Mazda2, and Toyota's evergreen Yaris live. But the line on the sales chart is ever so consistently heading south.
Year-to-date sales for light cars under $25k are down no less than 20 per cent, and that's on the back of 16 per cent drop over the course of 2016. Meanwhile, medium SUVs are up close to 10 per cent.
Enter Kia's Rio hatch, the brand's global best-seller, with claimed annual sales "approaching 500,000", which is undoubtedly a big number. But in Australia, the Rio is a middle order player in a light car field of around 15 determined competitors.
Which means the new fourth generation Rio, launched here in January this year, is critical to Kia's chances of grabbing a larger slice of the rapidly diminishing light car pie.
Not surprising then, that the entry-level S model boasts upgraded multimedia connectivity and enhanced safety tech, not to mention improved dynamics and more space. Sounds good, but is it enough to get a jump on the light car big guns?
Is there anything interesting about its design?
The architect of Kia's recent styling revolution is Peter Schreyer, a gifted designer that raised automotive eyebrows around the world when he upped stumps at Volkswagen Group in 2006 to join the Korean carmaker.
Under his watch, the Kia design team has internationalised and unified the look of the entire range, from the tiny Picanto to the jumbo-size Carnival people mover.
A signature element across the line-up is the tabbed 'Tiger Nose' grille, and the new Rio proudly wears a sleek and neatly refined version of it, with distinctive, raked headlights sitting either side.
From there though, the overall look is pretty much hatch by-the-numbers. Inoffensive but uninspiring, with a generic approach to the profile and rear treatment.
An odd touch is a pronounced handle on the rear hatch door. Flying in the face of the current trend towards low-key integration of this type of function, it looks like a clumsy throwback to the 1980s.
Inside, the dash is cool and clean, with the central 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen standing proud of the main fascia. Key controls are clear and simple, while the soft-form instrument binnacle houses a large speedo and tachometer, with a multi-function LCD display (including a digital speed read-out) between them.
The Rio S interior colour palette ranges all the way from grey to dark grey, with tightly woven and subtly textured cloth trim on the seats.
One small whinge relates to the four button blanks in the console. Yes, the S is the base model, but blanks in place of controls for 'stuff' fitted to higher variants really rams the fact home.
How practical is the space inside?
Measuring just over 4.0m long, 1.7m wide, and 1.45m high, the Rio fits the light car template to a tee. Its 2.6m wheelbase plants the wheels close to each corner to maximise interior space, and the result is surprisingly generous accommodation.
Plenty of space up front, with two cupholders (of different sizes) in the centre console and bottle bins (big enough for 1.5-litre bottles) in the doors. There's also a storage box between the front seats and a decent glovebox.
For powering and connecting purposes you'll find a 12 volt outlet, an auxiliary line-in socket, a USB port, as well as a drop-down sunglasses box in the roof. And if you're on the gaspers, there's even a cigarette lighter (the ashtray is removable).
Swings and roundabouts in the back, with a handy amount of head and legroom (for this 183cm tester) offset by the lack of controllable air vents, central armrest or cupholders.
Three adults across the back will be uncomfortably tight for anything other than short journeys, but there's a 12 volt power socket, USB port, a map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat (only), and (500ml) bottle bins in the doors.
Open the rear hatch and you're greeted with 325 litres of cargo space with the 60/40 split fold rear seat upright. That's enough to hold our three piece suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), or the CarsGuide pram, albeit in an awkwardly side-on position.
Fold the rear seats down (flat) and the load space increases to a substantial 980 litres. As well as the main cargo area, there's a handy storage bin on the passenger side, a light, parcel hooks, and four tie down anchor points. The spare is a space saver.
Towing capacity is understandably limited, with 450kg allowed for an unbraked trailer and 1000kg for a braked trailer.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The Rio S manual wears a $16,990 price tag (before on-road costs) which positions it more than 10 per cent above entry-level offerings from key segment players like the Hyundai Accent Active, Mazda2 Neo, and Toyota Yaris Ascent.
For that money you'll be on the receiving end of standard features including remote central locking (with keyless entry), the 7.0-inch multimedia screen managing a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, (manual) air conditioning, auto headlights, and reverse parking sensors.
Not bad for a five-door hatch at the budget end of the spectrum, but forget cruise control, sat nav or alloy wheels. For those you'll need to step up to the Si at $21,490, and if your heart's set on rain-sensing wipers, climate control air and a sunroof, the top-spec SLi is your only choice at $22,990.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The single Rio engine option is the 'Kappa' 1.4-litre, naturally aspirated petrol four cylinder, producing a modest 74kW at a peaky 6000rpm, and 133Nm at a relatively high 4000rpm.
It's an all-alloy, overhead cam, 16-valve design, featuring variable valve timing (inlet and exhaust). It drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual (as tested here) or four speed automatic transmission.
How much fuel does it consume?
Kia quotes combined (urban/extra urban) fuel economy of 5.6L/100km for the six-speed manual Rio S, emitting 129g/km of CO2 in the process.
That's a pretty handy number, and the other good news is the engine is tuned to run on regular 91 unleaded. At that rate, the tank's 45-litre capacity equates to a theoretical range of around 800km.
Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway running, we recorded 8.4L/100km (courtesy of the on-board computer), which still converts to a handy 535 kays between fills.
What's it like to drive?
Kia claims the new Rio's bodyshell is stiffer than the outgoing model's, which has allowed a more compliant (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension set-up, and like every other Kia model offered in Australia, the Rio's underpinnings have been comprehensively revised and tweaked by local tuning guru Graeme Gambold.
The results are impressive, with a balance between ride comfort, body control and dynamic response cars costing at least twice as much would be proud to call their own.
With just 74kW on hand to shift 1.1 tonnes of hatchback, and that peak number arriving at a lofty 6000rpm, you'd hope for some low down torque to help with step-off acceleration and mid-range kick.
But no such luck. Torque is less than mega, and with the peak arriving way up at 4000rpm, when you need some extra urge for a snappy lane change or overtaking there's simply nobody home.
In terms of the driving environment, while the interior looks good, the feel bit doesn't exactly measure up. The plastics used around the dash, doors and console are so hard, it's like driving a Tuppaware container on wheels. In fact, those trusty, air-tight receptacles are probably more forgiving than the Rio's main cabin surfaces.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
7 years / unlimited km warranty
The oversize ace up the Rio's sleeve is Kia's industry-leading seven year/unlimited km warranty, which includes seven years roadside assist and seven years capped price servicing. Whoa.
Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), and the cost of each of those services is detailed on Kia Australia's website, including detail on everything that's replaced, inspected or otherwise checked each time. Cue applause...
For the record, (guide) costs over those seven years are - $226, $382, $277, $561, $255, $470, and $270.
The 2017 Hyundai i30 SR Premium gives you 150kW of power and a load of standard features that belie its modest $34k price. It begs the question: how much hot hatch do you really need?
You are looking at the flagship of Hyundai's hyped third-generation i30 range. It's called the SR Premium, and it's designed to make prospective Volkswagen Golf GTI buyers pause.
On paper the Korean contender looks the goods. It's quick, has thoroughly reworked suspension and standard features that belie its $33,950 before on-road costs list price.
The argument: It's not quite as fast or potent as the German, but it is about 10 grand cheaper and not a million miles removed. So how much hot hatch do you really need?
Rivals trying to do exactly the same thing include the Ford Focus Titanium, Holden Astra RS-V, Honda Civic RS, Mazda 3 SP25 Astina and Renault Megane GT-Line.
Let's break this down. Under the bonnet is the same 1.6-litre GDi turbocharged petrol engine used in the Elantra SR, making 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, the latter from 1500rpm.
This engine sends its power to the front wheels via a standard DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with paddles - only the base $25,950 i30 SR with less equipment gets a six-speed manual option.
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The all-new 2018 Range Rover Velar has been revealed, filling the space between the smaller Evoque and larger Sport in the British marque’s line-up, and will land in Australia later this year, in the Summer. Pitched as the “avant garde Range Rover“, the Velar is claimed to offer new levels of refinement and technology for the brand, and is set to go on sale in Europe later this year.
When the Velar goes on sale in Australia, pricing will range from $70,300 to $135,400 before on-road costs. A special ‘First Edition’ variant will also be offered at launch, priced from $167,600 – again before on-road costs are applied.
Although full Australian details are still to be revealed, headline features in the Velar include the debut of the new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system with two high-definition 10-inch touchscreens, along with Matrix Laser-LED headlights, Jaguar and Aston Martin-esque flush deployable door handles, and a minimalistic design approach.