Archive for July, 2011

Anyone growing up in the eighties will remember them. Volvos. They were a car, and of course, still are. But I will always remember them fondly as what they were. They were square, they had push-me, pull-you styling and they were safe. Oh god yes, they were safe.

I can remember the advertising, Volvos being smashed into everything conceivable, thrown off buildings and the like. Afterwards a Swedish man would come and open the doors and show us that the little dummies inside were all okay, he would point out that the passenger cell was intact and that the pedals had, in fact, dropped to the floor so they wouldn’t push up through your foot and replace your knee joint.

There were many safety advantages to buying a Volvo, but unfortunately not much else. Evidently Volvo had one of the smallest styling departments in the world, with the possible exception of Porsche, and weren’t bothered by things like fashion. If cars were colours, Volvo would have been beige.

Then there were Volvo drivers. It was a generalisation, but an entirely apt one. You would see them coming from miles away. Not because the cars were big, but because every other car on the road was doing something to avoid it: driving into ditches, U-turns, parking and hiding behind the dash hoping the Volvo driver wouldn’t see him. If there was someone on the freeway doing eighty and holding up traffic, chances were it was a man, driving a Volvo, wearing a hat.

In the nineties something happened. It started when Volvo decided to run a couple of station wagons in the British Touring Car Championship. Everyone else chuckled and took bets on how badly the Volvos were going to do. They were right of course and Volvo finished behind the Fords, the Vauxhalls and the Renaults, not to mention everyone else.

The next year however, when everyone was still chuckling about the Volvos, the Volvos were doing something else. They were quietly, in smart Swedish fashion, winning everything they could. So now they had performance, but they still needed something else. The styling department were thrown a copy of GQ and Harpers Bazaar and sternly told to get on with it.

So, in a short period of time, Volvo had not only performance but also the beginning of style, sort of, and a different type of people started buying Volvos. No longer being bought by men in hats, they were being bought by people who had brunch, with lattes, and who spent more than $10 on a haircut. More importantly these people believed in cool, or at least their interpretation thereof, and we ended up with the Volvo C30. Everyone wins. Well…almost.

The people who traditionally bought Volvos no longer had their own marquee. They were car-less. Something had to fill the gap. I have made my summations based on being held-up, distressed by, yelling at and otherwise horrified. The old Volvo drivers have moved to Toyota.

With Volvos this wasn’t an issue, as there weren’t enough of them to matter. Now we are talking about the biggest car company in the world. There are Toyotas everywhere. Camrys, Corollas, other Corollas and yet more Corollas, and we can’t get away from the god-awful Prius.

How many times have I been boxed in on the freeway, doing eighty, by three cars and noticing that all three were a version of Toyota? Or watching, aghast, as a lady does a thirty point turn to get out of a car park big enough for doughnuts in a Road Train. Avoiding a weaving car doing the speed limit minus thirty with the male driver’s face pressed against the glass, all in a Toyota and yet, not a hat in sight.

How have Toyota managed to do this? Well, quite simply they make cars that don’t break. They are bland, boring and only exist to go from A to B, but they’ll never fail. Toyota have made their fortune by selling reliability and the person that buys reliability is not that far away from the person who buys safe. In fact they may be worse. So much worse in fact that I’ll make the following outlandish statement: If you buy a car based only on its reliability you shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

This article first appeared in the September 2009 issue of The King’s Tribune 

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‘Tis The Season

Posted: July 10, 2011 in Cars
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Bugatti Veyron Super Sport

Well, at time of writing it nearly is – and at time of reading it probably will be – December. This means many things. The shops will soon be busier, unless you’re more organised than I and got your shopping done in that short period of time after Easter Eggs disappeared and before the Christmas carols started playing.

Some families will begin to plan annual pilgrimages to far off lands to see people they haven’t spoken to all year, while many others will stay home and attend their chosen Mecca’s to continue their bi-annual conversations with a being they’ve never seen. And the eternal lie of the fat guy in a red suit will be perpetuated, taking credit for the hard work of parents who have chosen awesome, yet, entirely inappropriate gifts for their offspring.

It’s at this time that vehicle manufacturers start to get rid of new cars built in the current year at prices slightly higher than a new pair of socks. I have mentioned before that my father sold cars for about thirty years of his life and it is with some pride that I say he was quite successful without losing his integrity. In fact some ten years after he left the ‘game’ he was still being courted by Holden to take over various dealerships. I mention this purely to illustrate the point that I have some inside knowledge of how the car industry operates.

It’s no secret that a vehicle with a year plate of the previous year is far less desirable than one with the current year. It could be a difference of only a few weeks but it normally equals savings of thousands of dollars. If you’re in the market for a new car than there really is no better time to approach a car yard, particularly high volume car manufacturers, eg. Holden, Ford, and yes, even…yawn…Toyota zzzzz….

However, in these times of good deals and good wishes something sinister lurks. Over the next month I would like each of you to walk down the magazine aisle in your local supermarket and look at the cover of every car magazine they sell. It may take you a little while as there are a few available but you should start to notice a common thread. Yes, it’s time for the local and international publications to start handing out their awards for the year.

I flicked through the recent Herald-Sun CarsGuide and noticed the shortlist that they have compiled. I was not surprised to see that the selection was a list of unlikely winners (Peugeot RCZ), banality (Camry Hybrid) and cheap Korean crap (Hyundai i20). If the past years are anything to go by no matter how good a car is as soon as it goes above the level of about $45000 it becomes the spawn of Satan.

Other cars shortlisted for consideration by the Herald-Sun Cars Guide team include the Suzuki Kizashi, the Skoda Superb and eventual winner Volkswagen Polo GTI. Do you see what I mean now about the price limit? With the exception of the Camry and the i20 every other car is a worthy addition to the list. There can be no doubt that the Polo GTI is a worthy winner but can I honestly say that it is the best car released this year? Not a chance.

Bugatti, extremely upset about some American upstart company called SSC, or Shelby Supercars, building a car that was faster than the wonderfully improbable Veyron, built the Veyron SuperSport which tops out a fantastic 431 km/h. Ridiculous? Yes, you bet, but it does all this while keeping you cloistered in perfect comfort. It comes with a stereo, air conditioning, ABS, Sat Nav and every other modern creature comfort available today. In Australia it will cost somewhere north of $2,000,000. I would like to suggest that this car is far better than the Volkswagen Polo GTI. It is ruled out because of its inaccessibility to the proletariat.

This is a load of nonsense and must be redressed as soon as possible. It is unlikely to be done this year, for instance when reading the blurb that accompanied the Hyundai i20 it appears that it was chosen because it now has iPod connectivity which essentially means we are rewarding car companies for installing two metres of wiring and a USB port. It probably costs them about 0.0001 of a cent to install such a thing but for some reason is been haled as a revolution. Why do we support such mediocrity?

While I’m talking about mediocrity I’ve really had a gutful of car ads which still talk about power steering, air conditioning, and a stereo as being ‘features’. It’s nearly 2011, if those things weren’t available as standard I’d be spending my money elsewhere. There are of course exceptions to this rule. As I mentioned in a previous article the wonderful Porsche 911 GT2 RS has none of these things and it costs around $500,000. This car is made almost legal for the road while been a focused track car. In no way is this thing mediocre.

I understand that these publications must write to suit their chosen demographics but it also appears that every magazine have the chosen the same audience. There is an inherent fear that if a magazine thinks outside the box they may get it wrong and held up to ridicule by there rivals. Personally, I would prefer to go out on a limb and be wrong but at the same time putting some distance between myself and the rest of the herd.

It’s easy to be cynical about car awards the same way it’s easy to get cynical about entertainment awards. It’s very easy to imagine car companies delivering their cars to magazine headquarters and the winner is the one with the most money in the boot. At least that’s the way that I’d do it if I owned a car company.

The best advice I’d give to anyone about to buy a new car is to completely ignore any magazine awards and do things the old fashioned way. Work out how much you can spend, check out the cars in the price range and then test drive them. Take whatever you normally carry in your car and throw it all in and see if it fits. Pull the interior apart and put it back together and have the idiot with the grin answer your questions. No matter what advances in technology we make, sometimes the old ways are best.

This article first appeared in the December 2011 issue of The King’s Tribune

And The Loser Is….

Posted: July 10, 2011 in Cars
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BMW X1

The old adage is true; you can’t please all of the people all of the time. This past month I have been lambasted, mostly with good nature, by friends over my selection of what I considered to be Car of the Year, the Bugatti Veyron SuperSport.

Questions have been asked. Questions such as,

“How the hell can you choose a car that costs more than $2million?”

“There’s only going to be five made. Are you insane?”

“Don’t you think accessibility is the key component to choosing Car of the Year?”

The answers of course are:

Easily. Quite possibly. No.

You see, as I stated in the December issue, the Car of the Year awards have been usurped by the affordable and banal. This award should be a celebration of all that’s automotive; it should not be given to humdrum boxes from Korea. The Hyundai i20, for example, won Green Car of The Year. How? I don’t know. The i20 doesn’t have the best fuel economy, the Ford Fiesta Econetic does and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is still the most environmentally sound vehicle, at least with a view to using recycled materials in its construction. It would appear that Hyundai executives have dumped a truckload of money on the judges and this was the only award on offer.

Continuing, this article is a little different. This is the Yang to last articles’ Yin. It offers balance. You see, you can’t have a winner without a loser, otherwise how do you judge the excellence of the winner? This article is all about the loser and, while there were a few, let’s consider the only possible grand winner, or loser, or…whatever. I have a distaste for all (automotive) things Korean but it’s not one of them, it could be a Toyota (which I hate more) but it’s not. My choice may surprise you. My choice of Worst Car of the Year is in fact European. Not just European though, German and not just German, BMW German.

Usually BMW are considered one of the best kinds of automotive Germans. The M3 and M5 still remain at the pinnacle of car design and the M Divisions updated Z4 will provide you with all the thrills you’ll ever need. Recently, however, BMW have spent far too much time chasing the American dollar. The American dollar is, or should I say was, extremely lucrative and that particular market is important for all car companies that consider themselves global. Sometimes though, when you chase the American dollar what you end up selling is your soul.

For example, Porsche chased the American dollar and we ended up with the Cayenne. How does a sports car company end up making a 4WD? It is possibly one of the most capable 4WD vehicles that money can buy and it’s been a massive success in every market it’s entered. However I don’t know that it fits with Ferdinand Porsche’s original concept behind his cars.

Now, back to BMW. I have been dreading this vehicle. I have been awaiting it for some years now. It is perhaps the most useless, needless, ridiculous, unfortunately inevitable motor vehicle ever made. Sports Utility Vehicle’s, or SUV’s, which I despise with every fibre of my being, are extremely successful. Just look on the road next time you are driving. They’re everywhere. The BMW X5 was one of the first and is one of the most successful. BMW were always going to milk the formula for every penny and of course there was going to be an X3. As soon as the 1-series entered the market it was apparent there was going to be an X1 as well. Now the prophecy has been fulfilled.

Jeremy Clarkson once said of the X3 and I quote,

“If, one day, it turns out you are mad and by mad I mean you wake up and think you are an onion, this is the vehicle for you.”

In the case of the X1 that onion has been chopped, diced and sautéed for about an hour. Until recently I had only seen it in magazines and newspapers and couldn’t get my head around it then. Now, I have seen it and I want to grab the driver by the shoulders and shake them until their bloody head falls off.

First off, it is small. About the same size as a Mazda 3 which sounds okay, if you have a Mazda 3. Secondly, it has the ground clearance of a pregnant Earthworm. No towing boats up mountain roads for those owners although it still has its token 4WD system, for some reason. I recently had the opportunity to watch a young couple attempt to put their child’s pram in, what BMW laughingly call, the boot. I sat their discreetly for some minutes as they attempted all manner of positions before giving up, placing the pram wheels in the “boot” and stowing the rest of the pram on the back seat.

I now have to wonder whether they bought the pram first or the stupid ridiculous BMW badge. Let’s face it, that’s what the majority of people will buy. It just so happens that this badge has the automotive equivalent of a wart growing out of it. Either way, do people even check their requirements before making purchases anymore? If you feel the need to buy a status symbol, I don’t know, buy one of those small, stupid dogs and a handbag.

But, in the end, if you really must have one of these awful, dreadful and pointless motor vehicles then, for god sakes send me a message on Twitter. Make sure that message has your address and I will be around, every morning. To slap you. Hard. Until that need goes away. It’s the least I can do.

This article was first published in the February 2011 edition of The King’s Tribune

Tomorrow is the last day of Melbourne’s turn to host the Australian International Motor Show. Next year the show travels back to Sydney and Melbourne will not see it again until 2013. If you have not attended yet I would urge you to, particularly if you are a fan of things automotive, design and particularly technology. There are some amazing things happening in automotive technology right now, particularly with hybrids.

I’m not a fan of hybrids really. I see them as being a stop gap measure to ensure that we continue to use fossil based fuels and make already rich companies even richer. There are alternative sources of propulsion, pure electric and fuel cell, which I think are far more worthy of being developed. Yes, they are extremely expensive right now but show me a new technology that isn’t.

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics

Either way, hybrids are here to stay and there are some interesting proponents of the technology on display at Melbourne. Probably the most interesting is the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics. It’s an exciting design and shows a similar style to that which we have been promised by science fiction movies for decades. It uses a diesel engine in conjunction with electric motors and at it’s most urgent will produce similar acceleration to the current M3, which is impressive.

BMW promise a combined fuel economy of 3.76 l/100 km and maximum combined CO2 emissions of 99 g/km. Most importantly though, it drives now and as I stated in my previous article will form the basis for the whole range of ‘i’ vehicles that BMW is about to launch.

Another interesting concept is a new company called A Better Place. A Better Place have just launched their first site in Denmark and are committed to an entirely different approach to electric motoring. Electric cars aren’t a new idea. They have been around for a long time, however, they have not been done well due to the limits of available technology. Mostly this has been down to batteries being heavy and a not very efficient way to store whole lots of power. Batteries are also expensive and raise the cost of their associated vehicles exponentially. Take a look at the Mitsubishi iMiev’s cockpit; it’s pretty bare in there. Now look at the price of the overall vehicle and compare what you can get in other cars for the same price.

A Better Place acknowledge all this and what they are proposing has some merit. Rather than purchasing the battery pack, which cost around $20 000, they allow you to lease the pack from them. What follows then is very similar to a mobile phone plan. The monthly cost of the batteries relies on how many kilometres you drive. Okay, so nothing really groundbreaking here yet, right? Hold on.

Say you’re driving along and you realise you are not going to make your destination on the current level of charge that your battery pack currently holds. A Better Place, as mentioned above, are currently building sites in Europe. They look a little like a car wash. When you’re driving and realise that your car is going flat your Sat Nav locates the nearest A Better Place site and directs you to it. You drive your car in one end and are deposited out the other, rather than exiting with a clean car you will find that your old, spent battery pack has been replaced with a brand, new freshly charged one. Part of the purchase price also includes a home charging station and the cost of using it, if I understood the boffins at the A Better Place stand correctly, is  included in the cost of the monthly plan.

I can see this working quite well in Europe where people generally travel only short distances at a time, but, perhaps not so well in Australia. Australia does not have a centralised population, we’re everywhere and we tend to drive long distances as a result. This is going to be the biggest hurdle to people’s uptake of electric cars in Australia. I’m also quite happy to be proven wrong on this issue and with A Better Place having the backing of several vehicle manufacturers including Renault it may be that that’s the case.

HSV Black Edition

The return trip proved a little different to the first, scouting mission. I was expecting to look at several cars that I missed on the first visit and indeed that was the case when I spent some time looking over HSV’s new Black Edition cars.

HSV don’t really do subtle very well and while these retain shouty elements they are far more restrained than the rest of the range. Unfortunately build numbers are limited to 25 of each model which ensures that most of them will spend their lives in garages rather than the road, where they belong.

Things took a slight turn after this when Beloved announced that she wanted to look at vehicles that could tow her horse float. So the next few hours were spent looking at 4 x 4 Turbo Diesel Dual Cab utes with occasional glimpses at Bentleys, Porsches and other desirable pieces of metal,including the awe-inspiring Lamborghini Aventador, which Beloved dismissed with, ‘Yeah, it’s never going to happen.’ Well, certainly not with that attitude.

Land Rover Discovery

I don’t know enough about 4 x 4’s to accurately report on them except to say that we pretty much whittled down the contenders to the Nissan Navarra or the Toyota HiLux. This was based pretty much on guess work and toys that you got in the cabin. Then we got to Land Rover and spoke to a very nice man who works at the Geelong Land Rover Dealership. Beloved walked away suggesting that the Discovery would suit our needs very nicely indeed. Now there were some jokes told, by me, about school runs and soccer mums but I have the feeling that she could well be right. Watch this space I suppose.

I would also like to add that Bentley’s are the most ostentatious and garish vehicles entirely suited to dictators and mafia types. I would have one in a heartbeat. I think they are the only vehicle that you can actually see where the money goes when they’re built. Wood and chrome as far as the eye can see and perhaps the one car where I would be happy to sit in the back.

Holden Cruze CD Sedan

Holden Cruze CD Sedan Series II

Series II Cruze’s are now being built in Australia alongside the Commodore,and while I didn’t have an opportunity to drive the Series I, which was built in Korea, I am told that the difference between them is quite large. The car passed the first test because when I picked up offspring from school they declared the car to be ‘cool’. To be fair they said the same thing about the Hyundai Getz we had last month so it may be that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

It comes with most things you would want in a car, air conditioning, CD player, cruise control, heated side mirrors, iPod connectivity, 6 airbags, stability control and a few other bits and pieces that most people, including myself, deem necessary. All in all, when I found it didn’t have something I had to remind myself that this was a $20 990 car.

The Exterior

I quite like how the Cruze looks. The body itself has clean well differentiated lines that makes rivals, such as the Mazda 3, quite frankly, look a bit of a mess. It’s bold while still remaining conservative. Overall though, there is very little difference on the outside between the Series I and Series II Cruze. The car I was testing had steel wheels with hubcaps which puts it a little behind the Toyota Corolla but on par with the Mazda 3 Neo. I’m still not 100% sure on the tail lights but it is definitely something I could live with.

The Interior

The interior of the Cruze is a genuinely nice place to be which is fortunate. The first hour with the vehicle was spent in one of the worst traffic jams I have ever seen on the West Gate Bridge. This been caused by four morons crashing their cars into one another. The interior was probably the biggest surprise of the entire car. The base model Commodore, the Omega, is a horrible place to sit with grey, dreary plastics and basic creature comforts. I was expecting much the same.

One of the questions I had after picking the car up was, ‘Has this car been specced up?’ Turns out the only option that had been installed were the Rear Park Sensors. Where I was expecting flat seats with no support the exact opposite had been installed. Where I expected to find dull, dreary plastics I instead found a faux brushed titanium. Sure the plastic was hard and probably cheap to produce but no-one said that was the way it had to look. All the dials, knobs and switches were surrounded with a chrome bevel which added a certain level of class.

At night the dials are surrounded with a cheery blue glow, by day they are quite easy to read, although the entirely optimistic indicated top speed, 220 km/h is a bit of a laugh. All the controls are reasonably intuitive to use and well placed, the iPod connects without a hassle and is totally controlled by the steering wheel controls. The stereo itself is a little low-rent and several radio stations kept dropping in and out of reception. Another point of annoyance was the lack of lighting around the ignition which means you’re constantly scratching the trim around it as you search for where to put your key. No left foot rest means there is nowhere to put your left foot when you’re not changing gears and the gap between the clutch and the firewall is a little bit too narrow for my foot. I was also surprised by the lack of Bluetooth connectivity which, in my humble opinion, should not be an option. But really, I’m nitpicking here.

Driving

This is, unfortunately, where the Cruze falls down a little bit. The biggest weakness with the car is the 1.8 litre engine. Although the output of 104kW of power and 176Nm of torque seem perfectly reasonable, the car itself is heavy at 1385 kg and around town I had to work the engine a little harder than I would have liked. Holden’s claimed fuel use of 7.0L/100Km is a little bit hard to believe as I struggled to achieve 8.5L/100Km.

The engine aside, the Cruze is a good car to drive. Just near my house there is a road which, with all its pot-holes and ruts is probably the worst road in Australia. At 60 km/h the Cruze skipped over it without too much bother. Road noise is kept to a minimum and fits within the overall comfort levels of the cabin. Holden has done a very good job tuning this chassis and suspension to local driving conditions giving steering a well weighted feel and providing a limited amount of feedback through the wheel.

Although I’m reasonably tall, 191cm, the car was comfortable for me to sit in all positions, except the rear middle seat and even with the driver’s seat back there was ample space in the back seat for the offspring. Boot space is large enough to fit a couple of good sized suitcases and the spare wheel was of the full-sized variety, not sure whether this is standard but you could probably negotiate this with the dealership.

Overall

This is the first review of a vehicle that I have actually done so it’s a bit hard to give it score out of 20 or a star rating until I have reviewed other cars. Probably the best thing I can do right now is ask the following question, “If I had to spend my own money, would I buy this car?” You know what? I would, although I would probably spend the extra cash and upgrade to the CD-X. While I’m at it I would also take the 1.4 L turbo engine.
The Cruze remains a particularly important vehicle in the Holden line-up. They have invested a large amount of money upgrading the Elizabeth plant to manufacture it. Now that the Cruze has passed the Mazda 3 as the top selling small car it appears that their investment will pay off.

Lamborghini Aventador

The Australian International Motor Show has returned to Melbourne this year. For those who don’t know there was a major outcry from motor vehicle manufacturers a few years back, complaining about the cost of attending both the Melbourne and then the Sydney Motor Show.

The solution was much the same as what was decided in many European countries. The site of the Motor Show would alternate between each of the cities. This results in more manufacturers attending the Motor Show and giving the punters the best bang for their buck.

I love the Motor Show. It brings the glitz and glamour of the car industry and puts it all on show. This was also the first year that I was granted media access which meant that I was able to enter before the general public. Unfortunately, my actual place of employment decided that I had to attend work that day and I turned up late, missing all the loud and flashy bits. This was unfortunate but on the flip side most of my fellow motoring hacks had left for the day giving me better access to the PR boffins, most of which had already doffed their formal frocks and were happy to talk in their more casual attire.

I will be going back to the Motor Show to have a more protracted look; this was more of a scouting mission. I ignored most of what can be considered the mundane and focused on collecting the available press information and checking out what the industry likes to call Concept Vehicles. Generally speaking there are two types of concept vehicle; those that work and those that don’t. Those that do work can probably be divided into two categories as well; those that will be built and those that definitely won’t. This is often a fine line.

So what impressed? Well, talking in the order that I visited each individual stands, Holden brought the Cruze Hatchback concept. This will be the hatch version of the car that I drove and reviewed just recently. It should be on sale in the last quarter of this year and is production ready. They also had a new Colorado show truck which looked big and chunky and I wish I knew more about 4 x 4 type vehicles so I could report on it better. It was red, if that helps.

Holden Cruze Hatch

BMW brought one car. One! It is their new BMW Vision concept which reportedly is a fully functional vehicle and has to be seen to be believed. Essentially it is a diesel hybrid and the technology will form the basis of their new i-range which for starters will contain the i3 and i8. Knowing BMW the i1, 5, 6 and 7 will follow shortly thereafter.

Nissan bought their updated GT-R and the new Leaf electric vehicle. All the work on the GT-R has been done under the skin so it looks the same as the old one. The Leaf has plug at the front where the engine would normally be and a solar panel on its roof. I will find out more about it but at the time I had other things on my mind.

Subaru’s concept offering the SV Concept appears to fit somewhere below the existing Forester and overall did nothing but confuse me as it’s not much smaller than the Forester. There were interesting things happening at Mazda as they bought their two new concepts, the Minagi and Shinari. The Minagi is a SUV which will probably become the basis for the CX-7 and CX-9. My thoughts on SUV’s are pretty well known and I didn’t waste any extra time on it. The Shinari is awesome. There is no doubt as few changes will be made and then it will be released as the RX-9, replacing the RX-8.

Toyota is displaying two new vehicles, the new Yaris, which is an impressive little thing and one of the few Toyotas that I would consider buying and the FT-86 concept. Now, I would like to spend some time talking about this car. It is supposed to be going into production and has possibly had the longest gestation period of any car. It has been around so long as a concept that it’s had three variations and is now into Series II, I’m starting to think that the ‘86’ in the title represents the year it was designed. It was developed in conjunction with Subaru, looks absolutely fantastic and shows that Toyota have the ability to build something other than whitegoods on wheels.

Toyota FT-86 II

Hyundai were still waiting on nine cars to be delivered and I skipped through there pretty quickly. One interesting point I did manage to glean from them is that the awful, awful Hyundai Getz is now defunct and probably means that we’ll soon see the i10 in Australia. Mitsubishi had some cars on display and I must say were a little underwhelming, they may or may not have the i-Miev on display. I really wasn’t paying attention and I apologise for that.

For some reason, in my opinion, Ford have ruined the Focus and proudly have the new Territory front and centre, the Mad Max concept vehicles commissioned by Top Gear Australia magazine are some exciting pieces of design and you get to vote for the winner.

Mercedes-Benz is showing the updated C63 AMG, SLK and CLS. The AMG SLS Gullwing is the highlight, it’s stunning, as is the mildly insane G-Wagen, although for different reasons. I may have then walked into Honda but I really can’t remember. What I do remember is walking into the middle row to see the absolute highlight of the entire show.

Lamborghini have chosen to grace Melbourne with the presence of their Murcielago replacement, the LP-700 Aventador, which probably means something in Italian. I fully spent about twenty minutes looking at this car from any number of angles and can say without a doubt that its side profile is its best side. There were cars either side of it and I can’t remember seeing them, so overwhelming was the Aventador, I think one was a Gallardo.

Porsche, bless ‘em, have put ‘Moby Dick’ on their stand. For the uninitiated Moby Dick is a truly legendary race car and just insane. The last version of the outgoing 997, the Carrera RS 4.0, has only just been announced in Germany and unfortunately did not make it to Australia; however, the new Cayman R did and sits alongside the Panamera, Cayenne and the latest iteration of the 911 Speedster. Strange things are still afoot at Volvo and not one ugly car is to be seen on their stand. The V60 plug-in hybrid is an extremely good looking station wagon and an advertised economy of 1.9L/100 km may be some kind of record. It is wonderfully appointed inside the cabin and if sold in Australia should shake things up in that particular price bracket.

Volvo V60 Hybrid

At this point things got a little weird, I got into an argument with the people at Jaguar who gave me some seeds, no really, seeds. For plants. They then tried to tell me that Jaguar have an eco model which made me upset. Jaguar aren’t about eco, they’re about shouty, flashy cars and British pride. They’ve done diesel in the past but it still had a level of performance that meant it could do 9 minute laps around the world famous Nurburgring circuit. I left Jaguar and walked over to sister company, Land Rover, to have a look at the Range Rover Evoque. It’s an SUV, reasonably handsome, well-priced and apparently sold-out until mid-November.

Kia gave me some Maracas and told me that I had missed Todd McKenney singing something about Rio. This pleased me greatly and with high spirits I walked across to Skoda. Everyone should consider Skoda if in the market for a new car. Volkswagen technology and build quality, good looks and practicality. Make sure you check the new Superb as it is really impressive and one that I want to go back for.

Volkswagen have relented and announced the Scirocco R will finally be sold in Australia next year. Built on the Golf platform it is a two-door coupe and one of the best looking cars on the planet. The Audi team were extremely busy and unfortunately no one seemed to have much time for me. I asked for the press pack to be told that they were all gone. When I asked if there were contact details to obtain one I may as well have asked for some Uranium. I had a quick look at the Audi R8 GT, one of my favourite cars in the world, and walked away. I’ll try again when I go back.

Overall, the whole show is impressive and if you’re looking at buying a new car any time soon is one of the best ways to look at a lot of vehicles really quickly. While you can’t take any for a test drive you can book a drive with your local dealer.

There are some disappointing omissions. Alfa Romeo and Ferrari have chosen not to attend which is unfortunate as Ferrari just released the FF ‘Shooting Brake’ prior to the show and I was hoping to catch a glimpse. Renault do not have a dedicated stand which means that the Magane Sport 250 was absent and that was upsetting as it is one of the best looking cars available today.

As I said above I will be going back to the Motor Show for a more in-depth look.

If you are unable to attend yourself and wish me to look at something for you please Twitter me at @Skoeman74. I am also available at email address skoeman74@gmail.com I will try to answer any questions that you may have.

This article also appeared in The King’s Tribune and MyHQ.com.au

Size Matters

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Cars

Holden SS-V Sportswagon Special Edition

I love my V8 and not just because I could probably take the vast majority of cars at the lights. It’s because this engine is just so damn flexible. At 100 km/h the engine speed is a mind boggling 1500 Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) which is just a smidge over idle. The lowest fuel consumption I have recorded is 8.4 l/100km, which doesn’t sound that good until you realise it is a 6.0 litre V8 engine.

However, when you decide that enough is enough and you want some speed, in a couple of seconds you can suddenly be travelling well over 150 km/h, something that has caught Beloved out a number of times when she overtakes a truck. The ease that this engine can achieve this continually astounds me. Its power delivery is smooth, linear and completely manageable. As the old saying goes, “You can’t beat cubes!”

Or can you?

Most car companies offer their wares with a choice of engines. Some will tell you that a small engine will give you better fuel economy, but is this really true? I haven’t ragged about Toyota for a while so I’ll use them as an example, with a story about the car that kicked off my hatred for the largest car company in the world.

Many years ago Beloved’s job required her to travel a bit, so she was given a car. Unfortunately it was a Toyota Camry. More specifically it was a 4 cylinder Altise. It had the world’s flattest seats that meant you slid all over them when taking a corner. It also had the worst set of springs and dampers ever fitted to a car, which meant you bottomed out over any number of bumps. It was hateful.

The engine was far too small for the car’s weight, so you constantly had to wring its neck to produce forward momentum. As a result the engine was working too hard and it used an incredible amount of fuel. It wasn’t until I talked to someone who had the same car with a V6 that I realised how much extra fuel we were using.

What you need to gauge is how much power and torque the car’s engine produces. Torque is essentially how much pulling power the car has and Power relates to how much energy it can provide to assist with this. It’s not much good having one without the other. The lower RPM that peak power and torque is achieved the better off you will be.

The other factor to consider is the car’s weight. If the car weighs half a moon you better have the other half in the engine bay or you’re not going to get anywhere. It’s all physics, equal and opposite reaction type stuff. Everything I have mentioned above should be available in the brochure. If it does not then ask the grinning idiot, he or she should have some idea. The internets should also be able to help you out.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should buy a V8, because I do use a fair amount of fuel in mine and it is just not practical for everyone, particularly if you’re mainly running the car in the city. But consider the whole package of the car. It’s all well and good to have climate control, sat nav and a kick arse stereo system but all these things are heavy and will add to your fuel consumption. If you have a small engine to begin with and then start ticking option boxes you may get a nasty surprise when you first get to the fuel pump.

Again, and I really can’t say this enough, take the car for a test drive. How does the engine perform? If the engine feels like it’s struggling to pull the car along then it probably is. Most cars have a tachometer these days, how high is it running? The higher the revs, the more fuel it’s using.

It’s not just about fuel though. With higher engine speed comes more wear and tear on moving parts which could also lead to higher service expenses.

V8’s are starting to look better and better, I’ll be sticking with mine.

This article first appeared in the April 2011 issue of The King’s Tribune