Posts Tagged ‘cars’

What’s Going On In F1?

Posted: August 7, 2011 in Cars
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I love Formula One. I mean I really love it, to the point where it’s been commented on more than once, as I’ve walked into work on a Monday morning, all bleary eyed due to staying up all hours watching the latest race. I find it deeply satisfying that we, as in Australia, also have our own official round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. Unlike my editors at The King’s Tribune, I can’t think of a better way for our State Government to spend $50-odd million of taxpayers money, if indeed that is the actual figure.

What I find perplexing about this though, more than the actual amount, is that the Australian Grand Prix is wholly funded by the Victorian State Government. Other Grand Prix around the world are funded at a Federal level and used as a marketing tool for that particular country’s tourism industry. This may be a solution for further down the track as hosting a round of the World Championship becomes even more expensive. It may also lead to a ‘sharing’ concept with different cities in Australia taking their turn to host the round. For this to work though Australian State Governments will have to adopt a ‘whole Australia’ concept rather than the State V. State outlook they currently have.

There is also the issue of where to race as Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit is currently the only FIA approved track within Australia and the development of race tracks is an immensely expensive proposition. The idea of Formula One cars racing their way around Bathurst’s Mount Panorama is the stuff of dreams but I’m not entirely sure it’s a dream that’s viable. Transport to and from that particular circuit is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. But where there is a will there is a way and Jenson Button driving his McLaren, ‘over the hill’, could only be a good thing, as far as pushing that particular barrow goes.

This is not the point I want to make today though. I am also not going to give you any overview into the season thus far as there are other websites and blog’s where you can gain that information. What I would like to do is highlight some issues that have been bugging me about Formula One for some time.

I have been watching Formula One for many years, knee high to grasshoppers and all that. In that time I have witnessed many changes to my beloved sport. The turbo era came and went, ideas such as sliding skirts, ground effect and increasingly exotic materials, most of which have now been banned, were also introduced. The late 1980’s and early 90’s, were particularly exciting as the cars of this time had active everything and the lap times tumbled.

Falling lap times were an issue for the ruling body as not only did this mean that races, 300 km long, were been completed more quickly, meaning fans were seeing less of the cars they’d come to see, but the cars were travelling faster and faster and driver safety became a concern. So turbocharging went, sliding skirts were outlawed and active suspension and braking was banned. Exotic materials, such as Beryllium, are no longer allowed in engine manufacture and the track width of cars was reduced, supposedly to improve overtaking.

So the FIA made rules and regulations to try and slow the cars down. Every year new laws come into effect which all are supposed to improve the ‘show’. For instance, qualifying has changed its format approximately 4 times in the last ten years. As a result of all this rule changing the cars are just about as fast as they’ve ever been. The FIA have also been particularly interested in lowering the cost of Formula 1. The reason for this is to make entering F1 cheaper and therefore more encouraging to other teams.

The cost of F1 is prohibitive. Every year, over $2 billion is spent taking the ‘show’ around the globe and that, as they say, is real money. But, as it currently stands the new teams that have come into Formula 1, Virgin, Lotus, HRT, have probably done more to hamper F1 then help it on its way. This may change along the way but it will only come when those particular teams start spending more money. There are signs at Virgin and Lotus that good things are to come but they are a long way, years and years, from winning races.

I have a problem with all of this. Formula 1 is supposed to be expensive. It’s supposed to be an exhibition of technology and driving skill. At the moment we have long life engines that have to last four or five races each. Gearboxes are now supposed to last something like eight races each. It used to be that these parts were pulled out and stripped down after every session. Finish a practice session, pull the engine and gearbox out of the car and replace it with a brand new combination. Qualifying soon, well pull the practice engine out and put in the qualifying one that revs well over 20,000 RPM.

Formula 1 used to be the technological pinnacle of motor sports. There are many road car technologies that came from F1. Active suspension came from F1, carbon brakes came from F1, semi-automatic gearboxes came from F1. It’s not really the case any longer. F1 has borrowed KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) from road cars. While I agree that KERS is an important and worthwhile technology I don’t really think Formula 1 is the correct forum for it. Every year the maximum RPM an engine can achieve has been made lower and lower. From over 20,000 RPM it’s dropped to 19,000, then 18,000. From 2014 we go from 2.4l V8 engines to 1.6l V6’s with a top RPM of 14,000. Please, can someone stop the madness.

What I don’t understand is that the FIA are all about saving costs. Nothing could be more expensive than developing a new engine and making it reliable enough to not only last one 300 km race, but four 300 km races. This is not Formula 1 as I knew it growing up. We are no longer watching cars that have been designed to wring the very last drop of performance out of their respective packages. More often than not, due to refueling no longer being allowed, we are watching giant economy runs where the drivers are been ordered to turn down the ‘wick’ and not race each other. All to ensure that no extra damage is done to the engine so that it can be used next race.

More often than not we know what the result is going to be after the final pit stop as the guys worry about the next race and look after their equipment. I just want to see racing again, right to the chequered flag. I just want to see drivers drive without worrying about their fuel level or their tyres. I just want my Formula One back.

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The SUV Conundrum

Posted: July 30, 2011 in Cars
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Okay, we’re going to get a little interactive here. Hands up if you own one of the following; Ford Territory, Subaru Tribeca, BMW X3 – X6, Toyota RAV4 or Kluger, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento or Tucson, Mitsubishi Outlander, Holden Captiva, Mercedes M-Class, Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V or any other so-called SUV.

Right, got them up, good, now keep them up if you can tell me why. Seriously, what made you buy one of these over a regular station wagon? For the life of me I can’t figure it out and I deal with pretty much every one of the aforementioned vehicles on a daily basis. Where, you might ask? In the scrub? No. Out on a mountain trail? Again, no. In fact I deal with them on the daily school run. This makes the mystery of these vehicles run ever deeper.

In the commercials for these cars we see families leaving the city behind and heading into the bush. We see them climbing mountain roads and heading into regions that even Sir Ranulph Fiennes would balk at, towing a boat! They are the ultimate answer to a question that nobody has ever asked.

When the first SUV, or Sports Utility Vehicle, lobbed onto our shores, motoring journalists across the nation didn’t even know how to refer to them. The first term used was Soft Off-Roader and referred to the Toyota RAV4. Off-roader? Most of these things would have trouble climbing a leafy driveway. So that one was scrubbed and we borrowed the term SUV from the Americans.

When I think about the term SUV in its entirety I can’t even work out how that one fits. Let’s break it up. S stands for Sports. When I think of Sports and how it relates to vehicles I think Lotus Elise/Exige, I think Porsche 911, I think touring cars and Formula One. In other words I think lightweight track cars that make the driver and car connect in a way that ensures driving nirvana. I sure as hell don’t think of a near two-tonne lumbering barge that even when you really give it the beans has trouble getting to one hundred km/h inside double figures.

U stands for utility. Once you tick the option for the extra row of seats, (and yes, I’ll admit that having seven seats can be handy), the luggage capacity for one of these is reduced to the size of a hand-bag. So unless you’re carrying the average super-models lunch you’re going to run into problems trying to fit the shopping in, let alone heading out to Bunnings to pick up supplies for that little DIY project. Utility in Australia means just that. The Holden Ute, the Ford Ute, Toyota HiLux and others. They’re one-tonners and they get the job done. How many tradies do you see on-site with their Captivas waiting in the wings?

V stands for Vehicle, and when you get right down to it that’s what you’re buying. Forget everything else. At best they’re a niche market that’s gone mainstream. I would conservatively suggest that 85% of these vehicles are driven by women and I sometimes watch and wonder what they are thinking when they’re struggling to get into a Shopping Centre car park or trying to perform a three-point turn. I’m not suggesting that male drivers could do these manoeuvres any better, I’m just trying to point out they’re a big car and big cars are harder to park than smaller cars. It’s just common sense.

A friend recently bought a Ford Territory and I posed the question to him. Why? The best he could come up with was that it has a high-driving position. Personally, I hate a high driving position for a number of reasons. One, you’re high, and that means you’re further removed from the road and therefore less likely to be able to feel what the car is doing. Two, you’re high, this means that your centre of gravity is too. This is why back in the early days of these vehicles had a nasty tendency to fall over when navigating a slight bend. When it all comes down to it the only reason to buy a vehicle with a high driving position is so you can see over all the other idiots that have bought these stupid vehicles.

In Europe, sales figures of SUV’s have plummeted as the public have drifted back to station wagons. They have realised that there is no distinct benefit to buying one. You get no extra room, no extra features and a worse driving experience. Because these vehicles also have a token 4WD option you get a massive amount of weight which in turn pushes your fuel costs up until even people like me, with massive V8’s, are laughing at you as you fill your tank for the third time that week.

For example, as some of you may have read, last year I drove from Melbourne to Surfers Paradise in my V8. This was a trip that my father in law did in a Hyundai Sportage V6 not so long ago. The results: I managed 5000 kms at a combined average fuel use of 10.4l / 100 km. The Hyundai managed just 12.5l / 100 km. It was basically the same trip except I had more in town running which should have made my figures a whole lot worse.

Then you get that special idiot who’s bought one of these who comes out with the standard, “I like having the option of going off-road.” Yeah, really, how’s that working out for you Sparky? Let’s face facts, the closest any of these will go to being off-road is parking on someone’s nature strip, and even that will be a struggle. They are a compromise, they are supposed to drive like a car on the road and perform like a Range Rover when they’re off it. What we end up with is something that can’t do either. A real off-road driver buys a LandCruiser or a Range Rover which is fantastic in the scrub but handles like a boat on the road, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. No compromise and no excuses, they are what they are, dedicated off-road machines.

The SUV is a category of vehicle that should never have existed. There was no need for them then and no need for them now. The sales figures though suggest otherwise and prove that the idiots are indeed breeding. I urge you all, if you’re considering buying one of these mutants, take a wagon for a drive before making your final decision. You will thank me for it later.

This articles was first published in the May 2010 issue of The King’s Tribune.

Love The Beast

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Cars
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All Australians know Eric Bana as a Hollywood darling come from the streets of Tullamarine in Victoria. What most probably don’t know is that Bana has a hobby. As often as he can Eric pilots his Porsche 911 GT3 in the Australian GT3 Championship. Eric also still owns the first car he ever purchased, a Ford XB Falcon coupe, nicknamed ‘The Beast’.

This lays the framework for Love The Beast. I realise that this film has been out for a while now but due to its limited cinema release, and the difficulty of finding a rental shop that stocks it, I only saw it recently. This review will also serve as companion to the next series of articles I will write.

Love The Beast is a documentary based on two of the great loves in Bana’s life, racing and his Falcon. It documents the build-up to Bana’s participation in the 2007 Targa Tasmania and the preparation that the Falcon must undergo to become a fully fledged racing car.

Interspersed with this are interviews that Bana conducts with Jay Leno, Dr Phil McGraw and my personal hero, Jeremy Clarkson. The interviews are all related to a person’s relationship with their vehicles of choice. Dr. Phil’s specific brand of psychobabble is quite revealing, while Leno and Clarkson speak from the heart as motoring enthusiasts. For those that don’t know Jay Leno owns quite possibly the world’s largest collections of vehicles and we get to have a quick walkthrough of his premises, consisting of about four large sheds and we get to hear Clarkson refer to Bana’s car as ‘crap’.

The film covers Bana’s history with the Targa Tasmania. He first competed in this event in 1997, which was the first time his Falcon became a racing car. Armed with no knowledge and limited practical experience Bana and four friends run ‘The Beast’ in Targa and finish third in their class. At the end of the event Bana swore that he would continue to compete in this event. However, working commitments mean, that ten years later, 2007 is his first real opportunity.

So, with his four friends from the 1997 event and his mum and dad, Bana’s participation in the 2007 event is filmed. Other guest appearances include long time Targa participants as well as Bathurst 1000 and Targa legend, Jim Richards. Although the Herald-Sun, and other news outlets, reported the outcome of Bana’s race I won’t repeat it here on the outside chance that you, dear reader, didn’t catch it.

What struck me most about this film isn’t the cars, although that is what the film is about, but, the people involved. The way that cars bring people together is captured so elegantly and seamlessly that you don’t realise it at the time of watching. This is a film about family and friendship as much as metal and one of the standout movies that I have recently seen.

Do you want a star rating? Do you want me to try and objectively qualify the quality of this film? Well, I’m not gonna play that game. The film was exceptional as I have mentioned but it wasn’t perfect. It inspired me to the point that I now really want to buy an old car and fix it up with my own sons. The way the film was laid out and presented was good and the building of tension, even though I knew the outcome, had me riveted. The best I can do is to say that I would recommend it to everyone, especially non-car people, so that they may understand what it means to have a special connection with a piece of metal. Just like Bana and his ‘Beast’.

This article first appeared in the March 2010 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

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.