The Sedan is Dead, Long Live the SUV

What was once a reliable workhorse and off-road conqueror has now grown (literally) into a multi-billion dollar auto sector that’s rather hard to fault.


What was once a reliable workhorse and off-road conqueror has now grown (literally) into a multi-billion dollar auto sector that’s rather hard to fault.

A raised ride-height, commanding driving position and interior space combine into the perfect formula for a sales success. It’s not surprising, then, that SUVs have become more popular than the default sedan or hatchback – which have both seen a sharp drop in sales recently.

One class that’s struggling to find a foothold in South Africa, however, is the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) – mixing electricity with a conventional internal-combustion engine. This niche sector is often plagued by high asking-prices and a fear of change.

Could combining the traits of these two types of vehicle result in a marriage made in heaven?

The South African new car market doesn’t sport a particularly wide selection of hybrid SUVs, with mostly premium brands offering hybrid models. These manufacturers have the necessary cash flow to design, engineer, and build impressive hybrids that make sense in real world driving.

We’ve compiled a short list of SUVs – all from premium brands, featuring plug-in hybrid electric powertrains. From BMW we have the X5 xDrive40e, Volvo offers the XC90 T8 Twin Engine, and Land Rover presents its first hybrid, the Range Rover Sport P400e.

Manufacturers say people buy these vehicles because they’re looking for exceptional fuel efficiency, space, and off-road ability, as well as some sportiness if they happen to find themselves on a twisty road.

BMW X5 xDrive40e

Combining the versatility and on-road presence of a large vehicle with BMW’s proven eDrive technology, the X5 presents a compelling argument for the green-conscious SUV lover.

Taking inspiration from the brand’s trailblazing i8 hybrid sports car, the X5 xDrive40e is BMW’s first plug-in hybrid production SUV. Combining the versatility and on-road presence of a large vehicle with BMW’s proven eDrive technology, the X5 presents a compelling argument for the green-conscious SUV lover.

The cleverly controlled interaction between the X5’s TwinPower turbocharged engine and the rechargeable electric motor generating an output of 230 kW, which ensures the SUV has that extra punch for some enthusiastic acceleration, yet won’t leave you in tears at the petrol station. The hybrid returns a combined fuel consumption of 3.4 litres/100km and only 78g/km of CO2, meaning it’s exempt from emissions tax.

Of course, these figures are claimed by the manufacturer and it might prove impossible to attain that level of efficiency. Nonetheless, it’s still more impressive than conventional powertrains and a lot less harmful than those sneaky diesels.

The X5 xDrive40e features an 8-speed Steptronic transmission for seamless gear changing and almost undetectable switching between hybrid modes. Its lithium-ion battery pack can be topped up from any standard power socket, or at public charging stations, by using the included charging cable plugged into the port located on the front left fender. This allows the car to drive in pure electric mode for up to 25 kilometres – meaning short journeys can be easily completed with zero tailpipe emissions.

Looks-wise, there’s not much setting this model apart from other X5s, with only small badges on the front fenders and D-pillars hinting at its special tech. Spec it with the M-Sport package and you can a have a menacing-looking SUV with a green heart.

Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine

The Volvo features five different modes that offer drivers a range of performance and fuel efficient characteristics.

Volvo surprised the market with their first hybrid offering – the XC90 T8 – promising outright power, exceptional fuel economy, and low emissions, all in a 7-seat luxury SUV. The brand’s Twin Engine moniker simply refers to the two sources of power found in the XC90 – its petrol engine and the rechargeable electric motor.

The manufacturer believes the XC90 to be segment leader, boasting 42 kilometres of zero emission, pure electric range and 303 kW of power at the driver’s disposal – all through an 8-speed automatic transmission.

It certainly is a powerful hybrid, and with R-Design sport package selected, it looks the part too. Yet, claimed fuel consumption is only 2.1 litres/100km and CO2 emissions as low as 49g/km.

The Volvo features five different modes that offer drivers a range of performance and fuel efficient characteristics. Hybrid is the default mode and is suitable for everyday use, it alternates between the two power sources to deliver the best overall fuel consumption.

Pure Electric mode is when the car’s batteries are fully charged and can serve as its sole energy source, powering the electric motor over the rear axle. In Power mode, drivers get the combined performance of the combustion engine and the electric motor, offering the kind of acceleration that will make a few sports cars hot under the collar.

AWD mode puts the XC90 in constant all-wheel drive, which is especially helpful in tricky situations like navigating wet roads or going off-road. Lastly, Save mode allows the driver to “freeze” the battery level, if fully charged, and save it for later use with Pure Electric mode.

Similar to the BMW, the XC90 T8’s lithium-ion battery pack can be charged from any domestic power socket by plugging its cable into the port situated on the front left fender.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport P400e

The Range Rover Sport has long been the first choice for those in search of a luxury SUV with an extra dose of grandeur.

The Range Rover Sport has long been the first choice for those in search of a luxury SUV with an extra dose of grandeur. This PHEV version is Jaguar Land Rover’s first attempt at a hybrid powertrain and it hasn’t spoiled the latter’s image, but instead widened its appeal.

Titled the P400e, this new model uses both JLR’s Ingenium petrol engine and an electric motor to deliver a total power output of 297 kW from the permanent four-wheel drive system, powered through a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. The new powertrain mixes dynamics and fuel efficiency with the tried and tested RR-level of comfort and refinement.

The P400e’s lithium-ion battery allows the posh SUV to travel up to 51 kilometres in all-electric mode, crowning it the electric range winner of this list. Like the previous two, the batteries can be charged by plugging its cable into a specific port hidden behind the grille.

Boasting a claimed fuel economy figure of 2.8 litres/100km and only 64g/km CO2, the Sport PHEV is the most fuel-efficient model in Land Rover’s history. It waits to be seen if the luxury SUV can live up to these figures, but they’re still impressive nonetheless.

Driving the future

Hybrid cars, and hybrid SUVs primarily, are still considered a niche market within South Africa, mostly inhibited by limited choice, high price tags, and the allure of frugal, yet malign diesels.

Still, with global warming, air pollution, and more stringent emission laws being passed, car manufacturers are now more ardently searching for alternate, earth-friendly powertrains.

It makes sense, then, that with the popularity of the SUV not dying down anytime soon and the increasing influx of new hybrid and battery technologies, vehicles like these will become more commonplace.

The models on this list are just a hint of what’s to come in the future – vehicles that are eco-conscious and partly electric, but still offer all the creature comforts that have made SUVs the most popular choice worldwide.


The media landscape is an unfair playground

I always find it interesting when two children fight. They come up with the most bizarre accusations before it either ends in a fist fight or tears.

Here I of course refer to Caxton-owned Moneyweb and Media24’s Fin24 as the children and their copyright case the actual fight.

The allegations started back in September 2013 when Moneyweb first accused Fin24 of copyright infringement. In May 2015, they took Fin24 to court, but the final ruling was only made later on.

Now I don’t always enjoy children fighting, unless it’s for a good cause, that is.

What Moneyweb’s accusations highlighted was that our country’s Copyright Act is ancient. 1978-ancient. That’s 38 years ago for those too lazy to do the math. The internet didn’t even exist back then! Yet these two online news agencies had to adhere to old-school print laws.

Maybe that is why the South African media, especially online, sat up and took notice in May when the Moneyweb versus Fin24 case finally received the conclusive ruling.

But what led to last year’s court case? Basically Moneyweb alleged that Fin24 unlawfully aggregated seven of its articles and wanted them removed from their website.

According to Moneyweb these articles all contained content that was original and created at great expense to the company. To Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk, this was a massive violation and termed it “systematic plagiarism on an industrial scale”.

At this point I like to imagine one child calling out the other for cheating in a game of hide-and-seek. They bring in an adult to make the ruling and, to the crying child’s dismay, the other one gets off scot-free.

But let’s return to the real world, shall we? Moneyweb probably thought they were going to win their case, seeing as our country still adheres to the abovementioned old-school ‘print’ Copyright Act, the one from 1978.

However, that’s not what happened. The South Gauteng High Court ruled Moneyweb’s claims as “extravagant” and that Fin24 only committed copyright infringement on one of the articles in question.

And Moneyweb’s originality claim? Well, in terms of originality, the Copyright Act states that an article needs to prove its ingenuity and uniqueness in order to qualify for protection.

Moneyweb failed to prove that four of their articles were completely original, leaving a red-faced Van Niekerk.

Next, Judge Daniel Berger found that only three of their articles were actually original enough to warrant any interest. Extravagant, for sure.

What’s noteworthy though, is that Berger found that two of the original articles were adequately aggregated by Fin24, where they didn’t duplicate sizeable chunks from the primary copy.

Though, according to Berger, the previously mentioned naughty article was almost identical to the original. It’s rather disappointing that only one article was declared plagiarised. You can only imagine Moneyweb’s frustration.

But this memorable court case reached its crescendo with a specific ruling by Judge Berger. A ruling that will undoubtedly change the South African online media landscape and its view on copyright infringement.

He ruled that if a website used a hyperlink in its article to refer back to the original one, it would count as adequate and satisfactory in terms of citing the source.

I suppose this was the coup de grâce in Moneyweb’s case. This ruling effectively told them that they could do nothing about Fin24’s aggregation and then slammed the door in their face.

But not before billing them, of course. Moneyweb has to pay 70% of Media24’s legal costs. Now that was the last nail in the coffin.

Returning, if I may, to the playroom fight analogy, we find the child who cried foul-play did not get the justice they craved but instead got detention.

Perhaps they got detention for not being a team player, not willing to share and wanting all the glory for themselves.

Media24’s chief executive Esmaré Weideman spoke a lot of truth in her response to the ruling. She pointed out that finding and reporting of stories that are of interest to the public should not be monopolised.

“It would lead to the illogical result where the first reporter can monopolise a news story and prevent another reporter from re-reporting the story’s core elements,” said Weideman. Kind of like this article.

Her point that such a move would destroy a lot of careers is a valid one. If we all had to find our own original story every time, the media industry would come to a standstill.

What emerged as a playground fight enlightened us to the fact that our Copyright Act is ancient and is begging for an update. It also highlighted what procedures online media need to take in the future, and most importantly, that life is not fair.

Five student wheels worth considering

You’re a Stellies student and you’re considering a new car, you want to stand out but not break the bank. This year offers some enticing new models and below is a list that is both budget-friendly, yet still trendsetting.

The cars listed here are all priced below the crucial R200k price bracket, which makes them worth considering whether you’re a student or a working city-slicker.

They were mainly chosen based on price, as this is a big deciding factor. Features of the car were also considered as well as safety and reliability.

In alphabetical order, they are;

  • Citroen C1 – This boutique city-car is fresh off the boat and features funky styling; like the split headlights, LED-accents and tinted-glass boot lid. It’s also the most fuel-efficient car in this list. If you decide on the priciest model, the Airscape, you’ll get a folding fabric roof – neat! The C1 comes standard with a 7-inch touch-screen as well as six airbags.

“I like that my [C1] can accelerate fast, but the air-conditioner’s circulation is quite bad,” says Christine Collett, a final-year BA Social Work student.

  • Fiat Panda – Often ignored because of its prettier sister, the Fiat 500, the Panda is cheaper and definitely more spacious. With five doors instead of three, you can easily pack in more friends. Its tiny engine means it’s very fuel-efficient. The Panda comes standard with all the tech any student demands, including an adorable name.

“I love that [the Panda] is cute and reliable, never had a problem with it,” says Claire Atkinson, a final-year B.Com student.

  • Honda Brio – The Brio offers a punchy engine and reliability your dad would be proud of. Featuring the most powerful engine in this list, the Brio offers pace for not a lot of dosh. It’s also offered with the essential tech, making it a sensible buy. Just pick the black interior and not the fading beige colour that comes as standard.

“It’s so [fuel] efficient and really has power for its size, I love it,” says Clarice Coetzee, a BA Politics student, about her Brio.

  • Smart ForFour – Having just gone on sale in South Africa, this Smart is a must-have for any respectable trendsetter. With its two-tone paint-work it’s sure to turn more than a few heads. Surprisingly affordable, this city runabout is rear-engined as well as rear-wheel drive, like some sports cars. Pick the priciest model and you get niceties like touch-screen infotainment, cruise control and LED accents in the headlights.
  • Suzuki Celerio – This Japanese tot comes with all the toys you need; six airbags, electronic stability programme [ESP], Bluetooth, electric windows, etc. The boxy shape of the Celerio means it’s got lots of space inside – loading up your mates won’t be a hassle.

“The boot is nice and big, but [the Celerio] struggles when it’s fully loaded,” says Antoinette Mills, a Stellenbosch resident.

According to the National Association of Automotive Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), the December 2015 sales figure for these five cars combined was only 302 units. Which is only 0.9% of the entire passenger car sales figure for the same period.

Dana Snyman – ʼn storie-sendeling

Dana Snyman sien homself as ʼn storie-sendeling, iemand wat alles doen wat hy kan om die evangelie van stories uit te dra.

“Mense het stories op ʼn manier net so nodig as wat hulle brood en water nodig het om te kan leef,” sê die bekende storieverteller.

Wat In die Bloukamp, sy agste boek, anders maak is dat dit geïnspireer is deur sosiale media.

“Facebook is ʼn wonderlike plek om mense se stories te sien,” sê Dana. Hy het ʼn paar jaar gelede begin om stories op sy Facebook-bladsy te deel. Al die positiewe reaksie van die publiek het hom geïnspireer om ʼn bundel uit dié inskrywings saam te stel.

Nadat hy as misdaadverslaggewer by Beeld gewerk, het Huisgenoot en die reistydskrif Weg gevolg. As joernalis het hy Suid-Afrika platgereis en menigte mense ontmoet. Deesdae is Dana meer as gelukkig in Jacobsbaai aan die Weskus met sy drie honde. Hy is nou ʼn voltydse vryskutskrywer.

Dana het die vermoë om stories te vertel wat nostalgie opwek en hy gebruik sentimentaliteit in sy stories wat baie Afrikaners waardeer en wat soms ʼn traan uitlok. Op dié manier het hy ʼn volksliefling geword.

Hy beantwoord dieper vrae met geesdrif en is passievol oor die rol van stories vertel met woorde, eerder as beelde.

“Die geskrewe woord moet toenemend buig voor die visuele media. Daar is baie redes daarvoor, maar soms dink ek dis sommer net luiheid en gemaksug.”

Dana voel in Suid-Afrika se huidige politieke omstandighede moet Afrikaanse storievertellers “toenemend sensitief wees vir wat [hulle] sê.”

Hy meen dat mense deesdae dit makliker vind om ander te beskuldig wanneer hulle, hulle vrese uitspreek in die openbaar, en dat ons met meer simpatie en takt na mekaar moet begin luister.

“Die tong en die oor is vir my ewe belangrik.”

Hy voeg by dat Woordfees nog van altyd af sy gunstelingfees was; vir die min lawaai, sinvolle gesprekke, en dít boonop nog in ʼn mooi dorp.