Mafia Motoring 101

Words & Photos: Francois Steyn

So you’ve returned from a holiday in Italy where you met Giulia, the woman of your dreams, and decided to get married. The only problem being that her father’s name is Tony and you’re soon to become the son-in-law of a mafia godfather. He’s accepted you into the famiglia and as a wedding gift he’s given you a violin case for your rifle and a white hat with a black ribbon. Now all you need is wheels for the fortnightly drive-by shootings you’ll be in charge of. There are only two requirements, it has to be black and it has to spell R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The latter means it doesn’t necessarily need to be fast, though it’s a bonus if it is.

Photo credit: Francois Steyn

With just over five hundred large to spend and the Chrysler 300C off the market, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee or BMW 5-series are perfect for the job.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 3.6 V6 has an aggressive stance with loads of bling, from the large seven-bar grill in the front to the chrome wheels, window surrounds and door strips along the side. The narrow greenhouse is tinted in the rear, perfect for keeping your business your business. The up market, stylish interior is a leap forward from the previous model, with a thin wood panel along the doors and dash, and surrounded by silver strips. The leather seats are heated and extremely comfortable, and the dual climate control works well. The multifunctional steering wheel and centre console with touch screen display has a premium look and feel to it. The former houses the audio and cruise control buttons, as well as the onboard computer controls. There is only one stalk on the left hand side for the lights, indicators and window wipers.

Situated behind the gear lever is the control centre for the Selec-Terrain system, much like Land Rover’s Terrain Response, and the Quadra-Lift air suspension. The latter is operated via two buttons, up or down, which allows you to lift or lower the suspension by as much as 104mm while driving within certain speeds. When you park and open the doors, the suspension automatically drops to the lowest setting, and when at its highest, with 270mm of ground clearance, it will drop a notch by itself if you exceed 35km/h. It will also drop to aerodynamic mode when travelling above 110km/h for more than a couple of seconds to save fuel. However, the onboard display warns you before this happens. The Selec-Terrain knob has five pre-programmed options, namely Auto, Sport, Mud/Sand, Snow and Rock. This electronically coordinates 12 different management systems including hill start assist, traction control, transmission shifting and the transfer case amongst others to get you through any obstacle. The low range button and hill descent buttons are to the left of the Selec-Terrain control.

The new 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar petrol engine is more powerful than the previous V6, now delivering 210kW and 347Nm of torque, and claims to be more fuel efficient. Drive is permanently sent to all four wheels via a very smooth five-speed auto ‘box. It has the option of manual shifting, but it takes the better part of a second after throwing the lever before the cogs swap. At a steady 90km/h in dense fog, the onboard computer showed an average fuel consumption of 10km/l over some 40 kilometres. This is in part due to the tall fifth gear, with the revs at around 2,000r/min at 120km/h and the lowered ride height. The rest of my time with the Jeep was at normal speeds and occasional hard accelerations, which saw the figure drop to and settle at a more realistic 7.5km/l. Although the Grand Cherokee looks like a shopping truck, especially in black, it is more than capable off-road and you’d be hard pressed to find an obstacle that will get the better of it.

All the safety features are standard, there’s ample room in the rear and the seats are also heated. The rear seat rests fold flat for a large luggage compartment, and dust and gravel is easily cleaned with just a brush. Special features include reverse camera and all around park assist. This system is a bit paranoid and leaves you metres off the mark if you take heed. It can be switched off though, but helps if you really cannot see. The rear-view mirrors also dip automatically when you reverse. Auto dimming xenon headlights are standard and on the Overland model, a panoramic sunroof as well. I like the small touches, which shows Jeep really has thought of everything to take on the competition. A perfect example is the flash light in the rear luggage compartment wall, which charges while stowed away. At around R532,990 it is also very well priced against the competition.

Photo credit: Francois Steyn

If you don’t like slow, gas-guzzling SUV’s and you crave superior refinement and something fast, then the BMW 530D deserves some consideration. Although it has a conservative appearance, the black paint, bonnet creases and large silver 19-inch spoked rims lend it a subtle aggressiveness. The interior is well laid out in typical BMW fashion, with no surprises. Everything is either wrapped in leather or soft-touch, high-quality plastic. Steering wheel controls work well and the i-Drive knob is very user friendly. From here, everything from Bluetooth cell phone functionality to the owner’s manual can be easily accessed. There is a panoramic sunroof and the rear-view camera has two red lines that indicate your maximum turning angle at any given time. Green lines on the screen show you your intended course at the current steering wheel position. All very clever stuff and you can actually trust it because it is spot-on accurate. At speeds below 60km/h, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction from the front wheels for a very tight turning circle.

The 3-litre, turbo-charged straight six oil-burning mill is a world beater and offers more torque (540Nm) than a normally aspirated 6-litre V8 petrol engine. It also generates 180kW of power, which is sent to the rear wheels via a superb eight-speed Steptronic gearbox. You have the option of full auto, sport orientated auto that hold the gears for longer and full manual shifting via the lever or paddles behind the steering wheel. The changes are almost instantaneous and ultra smooth. In top gear, the revs are a mere 1,500r/min at 120km/h. Over the more than 1,000 kilometres we covered, including some spirited driving, the average fuel consumption was around 12km/l. Not bad for a car that will reach 100km/h in just over six seconds and go on to a limited 250km/h top speed. There is also a system called Brake Energy Regeneration that uses the kinetic energy created during braking to charge the battery and further reduce fuel consumption.

Between the seats to the right of the gear lever is a switch to change the driving modes. In Normal mode the suspension soaks up undulations with ease and the gearbox changes up as soon as possible to keep fuel consumption in check. Flick into Sport mode and the revs rise as it selects a lower ratio. The suspension firms up and the digital display shows the drivetrain coloured in orange and asks whether you want to customise the Sport mode. By doing this you can select whether only the drivetrain or chassis, or both should be beefed up. The third mode is Sport+. This enables Dynamic Traction Control, which allows some wheelspin and controlled power oversteer. Throughout the week I could not fault the car on anything, but I could also not get myself to fall in love with it. It did everything perfectly in pure BMW style, but it was still just a large black car. In Sport+ though, using the flappy paddles to change gears and charge up Du Toit’s Kloof Pass everything started making sense. I think they call it pure driving pleasure. Yours for a tad above 600 grand, it includes BMW’s bulletproof maintenance plan and warranty.

In conclusion, these two technological masterpieces are perfect to earn you the desired R.E.S.P.E.C.T, essential if you want to survive in your new famiglia, and they are great looking in black too. Good thing you won’t be washing your own car!

Your new life with Giulia is set to start on the right foot. But if you’ve also watched one too many mafia (or ‘The Fast and the Furious’ for that matter) movies, you know you now need to start looking out for the gunmen on their Honda CBR1000RRA Fireblade superbikes in your rear-view mirror, who will try to come between you and your next birthday. With its 131kW and 112Nm of torque, rocketing a mere 210 kilogrammes to a top speed of around 300km/h, there are not many cars that will shake it. In first gear you’ll reach the 13,000r/min red line at over 150km/h, after which a few short shifts through the slick six-speeder will see you in jail in no time in the real world.

This is a mad machine, but at relaxing and more legal speeds it is still very easy to use. At a digitally indicated 120km/h, with the revs at 5,000r/min, it feels mild mannered and relaxed. The seating position takes no time to get used to and is not that extreme in superbike terms. The 320mm brakes are super sharp and have combined ABS on the RRA models, quite a handy safety feature if you’re going to use it every day. The chassis is a peach and you can turn the Fireblade by telepathy. It takes minimal rider input to flick it over from side to side and the limit of adhesion when leaned over is far beyond my limit of experience or common sense.

Over the two weeks I tested the Honda CBR1000RRA Fireblade it returned 17.6km/l. Not bad at all for a guided missile. The list price at the time was R151,999 and I know you will be able to pick one up for way below that if you shop around a bit. This means that for the price of a VW Polo you can buy a brand new machine that will put cars in excess of a million bucks to shame. Even the 270kW and 530Nm of the crazy 6-litre V8 Chevy SS Ute I rode earlier this year felt subdued after my time on the Fireblade.