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Archive for April, 2013

Racetrack or road and an introduction.

DTSHello there everyone, I’m Dave. Although new to Private Fleet, my background when it comes to the automotive area is pretty reasonable; I’m a freelance car reviewer with my own website (, work as a motorsports commentator, interviewed some household names in Aussie motorsport, have sold cars and present a weekly wrapup on As such, I’ll be providing some reader friendly industry news & reviews on cars and invite you along for the ride.

Megan’s spot on post about indicating leads me to my first contribution. Around the age of 16 or 17, we learn, supposedly, how to drive a combination of metal, plastic and rubber that weighs over 1000 kilograms at speeds up to 90 kilometres per hour. Or, if you like, move at 25 metres per second (if we use 90 kmh) whilst, generally, gripping the steering wheel intently and looking straight ahead. It’s an increasing concern to those that work in the driver safety area that our new P Plated drivers haven’t really been taught to “drive”, they’ve merely been shown how to steer, select D and…..well, that’s about it.

Once you’ve been granted a license to drive, you’re not retested, as a rule, for potentially another half a century. Yet, in so many other disciplines, people have to undergo a mandatory test every 12 months. There’s generally constant Learner and P platestraining, updates and so on to take on board. Not with driving a car.

Some manufacturers offer, as part of their sales package, driver training and club days. Some dealers will entice a new buyer with a day’s worth of driver training. Frighteningly, all too often this offer is declined because “I already know how to drive” or “the car’s for the wife, it’s just to pick up the kids from school”. Invariably, the vehicle they were looking at was a people mover or mid sized SUV…..current car was generally a small hatchback.

Why is this relevant? Different classes of vehicle have different ways they need to be driven; a small hatchback sits lower to the ground and doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance. This means they have a lower centre of gravity than a SUV. Most of the time they’re not particularly a quick accelerator either. Most SUVs of a reasonable size have a diesel or V6 petrol engine. They’ll accelerate to 100 kmh a lot quicker. They ride higher, meaning their centre of gravity will be at a point most people coming from a small car will forget about when cornering. They’ll weigh more meaning they’ll require more braking effort or to be braked further back from the car in front if you don’t want to rear end them.

Driver training, driver education provides this sort of clear and easy to understand information. As driver training centres are few and far between, these courses are held at the safest venue possible. A motorsport racetrack. In Sydney, there are only, currently, two venues: Sydney Motorsport Park (Eastern Creek) and the Sydney Dragway. Unfortunately there are politicians, some police and some so called road safety campaigners that believe driver training is detrimental, that it will encourage people to exceed their driving ability. These calls are easily countered with one simple, unassailable, incontrovertible fact. The excessively overwhelming majority of crashes on Sydney roads are nose to tail and under the speed limit.

Driver training helps you understand what you can and can’t do; more importantly it helps you understand what your car can or can’t do. Knowing how your car will accelerate and get across an intersection can make all the difference between holding up traffic behind you or not, it can make the difference between getting across safely and in plenty of SMP Driver Trainingtime as opposed to being hit amidships. Driver training will help you make your car more visible when it’s raining or dark because you’re now more aware your dark metallic grey car is near invisible to other drivers. Driver training will help you learn that the hammering from beneath your feet when you hit the brakes is merely the ABS (anti lock braking system) working rather than something wrong and then you take your foot off and you don’t stop and you crash……And yes, it will help you know when to use your indicators correctly.

Finally, the best way to prove that you’re not as good a driver as you think you are? Go do a driver training course.

Targa: Showcasing Tasmania

I have just returned from Tasmania, host of what is billed as ‘The World’s Ultimate Tarmac Rally’- Targa Tasmania.

In its 22nd year, the ‘Targa’ takes in roads across the breadth of The Apple Isle, over six days of intense competition. There was an eclectic mix of cars, with around 220 entries in this year’s instalment ranging from $500,000-plus Lamborghinis to a 1938 Dodge, the oldest vehicle in the event.

White Lambo

As much as it’s about the cars, Targa Tasmania does something else very well: It involves remote communities. Driving into George Town, I could see kids rushing from their school playground to the fence line as the competitors drove past. There was smiling, cheering, waving…some had even made signs up to support their favourite car or driver.

After the George Town stage, cars and crews assembled in the coastal town’s centre, where spectators thronged, music played and food was served. The camaraderie, not only between crews and crowds, but between rival crews themselves, is what sets this event apart.

In recent years the route has taken competitors for a second day of stages on the remote west coast. The stunning sea-side town of Strahan hosts the crews, and is overflowed with personality. It’s wonderful tourism for Strahan and the surrounding regions, which struggle to sustain themselves given their vast distance from major town centres.

While in Strahan it was sad to hear news of the Wilderness Railway possibly being closed down, simply via a lack of profitability. Sad, because its route reveals scenery so breath-taking in parts that it could rival anything in New Zealand or Switzerland.

Heading out towards Lake St. Clair on Targa’s final day, I was awe-struck by the perfect tranquillity of the landscape between the old mining centre of Queenstown and Derwent Bridge (seriously, try the steak at the pub). The barrenness of Queenstown is quickly replaced by deep, clear lakes, imposing mountain ranges and thick, lush forest, with 360 degree views interrupted only by birdsong. It’s truly idyllic; I haven’t been so moved by Planet Earth since I saw Lake Como in Italy, and it’s lucky that the most beautiful sections are not part of the closed road sections of Targa…as I’d bet someone would end up driving clean into a lake.

It’s an epic undertaking but if you can manage the logistics and love the outdoors, the west coast of Tassie- indeed, pretty much Tassie in general- is a wonderful place for a driving holiday.

Names For New Cars: What Will Work And What Won’t

Let’s imagine that we have been contracted to some new Asian car manufacturer who wants to get it right when it comes to car names and not come up with something ridiculous like the perfectly genuine Mitsubishi Mini Active Urban Sandal. What is going to work and what definitely won’t?

Of course, we could always go with the tried-and-true method beloved of European car manufacturers: that of using a combination of numbers and letters that tell you the engine size, the general class or type of car, and maybe the fuel type. This method works perfectly well for BMW, Mercedes and Volvo, with Lexus also getting on board.

look_it_up_TBut that’s so boring, even if it is safe. What’s more, those alphanumeric things don’t stick in the mind and the imagination in the same way, so from an advertiser’s point of view, something that isn’t just a combination of random letters and numbers works better.

The big thing when it comes to picking a name for a car is to find something that suits the image of the car and the sort of target market. The name ought to say something about the car and what it does. It should be memorable – but for the right reasons, not for the wrong ones.

Car type: 4x4s
Image and atmosphere needed: Things to do with the wilderness, the great outdoors, exploration, adventure, rough and toughness… Wild places on the earth, people who discovered them.
Names that have worked: Nissan Safari, Nissan Pathfinder , Landrover Discovery, Ford Ranger, VW Tourareg .
Names that could work: Locator, Granite, Tundra, Pampas, Trek, Prospector, Quest, Colombus, Shackleton, Amundsen, Livingstone, Viking, Magellan.
Names that won’t work: Anything that overplays the dangerous bit or is named after an explorer with a name that can sound odd or wimpy: Risk, Hazard, Stanley, Cook, Eric.

Car type: Eco-friendly small car, preferably a hybrid or electric. Usually a hatchback but not always.
Image and atmosphere needed: Something from the natural world that’s pretty to give the right sort of fun, green image, preferably something that moves quickly.
Names that have worked: Nissan Leaf, VW Beetle, Suzuki Swift, Nissan Bluebird, Datsun Sunny
Names that could work: Dolphin, Sparrow, Marten, Aspen, Maple, Arroyo, Spark.
Names that won’t work: Swallow, Fish, Frog, Whale, Lizard, Toad, Puddle, Banana, Platypus.

Car type: Fast sports car.
Image and atmosphere needed: Something dangerous and aggressive, or possibly high temperature.
Names that have worked: Jaguar, Alfa Romeo Spider, FPV F6 Tornado, Porsche Cayenne, Hyundai Tiburon.
Names that could work: Mako, Barracuda, Mamba, Redback, Brumby, Piranha, Tabasco, Fever.
Names that won’t work: T-Rex, Brontosaurus, Hammerhead, Rhino, Explode, Muscle, Poison. Anything that’s just too try-hard.

Car type: Luxury executive saloon.
Image and atmosphere needed: Something classy and sophisticated with an overtone of prestige, wealth and opulence. Some European marques tend to use classy women’s names.
Names that have worked: Holden Statesman, Holden Commodore, HSV Senator, Renault Megane,  Subaru Legacy.
Names that could work: Platinum, Kaiser, Marquis, Baron, Tiara, Imperator, Viscount, Heritage, Catriona, Sabine.
Names that won’t work: Anything that’s just too in-your-face ostentatious. Precious, Autocrat, Aristocrat, Dictator, General, Pope, Archbishop, Pontiff, Caesar, Prince, Rex, Jenny, Maria.

Anything involving adjectives can get on shaky ground, especially if the adjective is the sort of thing people naturally call a car if they’re giving it a rave review. So Wonderful, Awesome, Brilliant, Amazing, Marvellous, Incredible and Fantastic just aren’t going to work. They’re just asking for trouble and mockery.

More Than 2.5 Children?

Those with large families – and even those with average families with the standard 2.5 children – often go in for big MPVs with six or seven seats so everyone can sit in the car comfortably without squishing poor little Two Point Five who has to sit in the middle seat that’s been designed for 0.5 of a person in the average sedan (although I’m pleased to note that in larger sedans such as the Ford Fairlane  sitting in my garage, there’s room for three kids over the age of ten plus the dog in the back seat, and nobody’s got knees in the driver’s kidneys).

Anyway, the MPV is the car of choice for a lot of families, especially if they do have larger than average families. The MPV is certainly a lot more stylish for getting about in than the standard thing you saw large families driving back in the 1990s: the van. In some circles, you occasionally heard about the “white van brigade” as a term to refer to families that (a) had more than three kids, (b) were usually somewhat religious in their outlook on life and/or quasi-hippy types and (c) homeschooled their many children. They all had white vans, such as the good old Mitsubishi Express  or its earlier incarnations, the Mazda Bongo, etc, and you’d see a right row of these lined up in the car parks of some churches on Sunday mornings. They were good vehicles but they tended to be a bit bland and boring, even though they were practical. The MPV has changed all that, adding style and colour as options for big families.


However, if you are a parent of one of those larger families, don’t just rush out and buy the first MPV you see in the car yard or read about on our car reviews page. Always test drive the car first – and don’t just test-drive the engine. See how the car goes with the various family members in it, booster seats, car seats and all.

This is where I need to mention the cautionary tale that happened to a woman I know – let’s call her Catherine (not her real name). Baby number three had just arrived and, of course, the baby had to go in a proper rear-facing car seat in the back. Catherine’s MPV was of the type that had a sliding panel type of back door, with a seat that folded up to allow access to the back row. Child number one could go in a booster seat in the front without any problems, but Number Two had a problem. There wasn’t any room for the booster seat and the baby seat in the middle row, unless you had ultra-thin hands to reach down and operate the seat belt plugs. So Number Two had to go in the very back seat. However, the only place that the baby seat could go and still be reached was that fold-down seat, as Catherine’s arms weren’t long enough to reach the other side of the car – the sliding panel was the only way in to the back bit, apart from the hatch into the cargo area. Just as well the hatch into the boot was there, as this was how number two had to get into the car. I have no idea what Catherine is going to do if Number Two throws a hissy fit and refuses to get in the car.

If a lot of your children are quite large, then hop into the very rear seat to check out the legroom. One teenager of my acquaintance was recently riding in the rear row of a Volvo XC90  (which contained a horde of other teenagers) reported that the rear seat hasn’t got a lot of room for long legs, and this tall young man and his friend had to be pretty flexible to fit in. This wasn’t the latest sort of Volvo XC90, and later versions may have corrected this issue – but do check out what the space is like in the very back and ask yourself how you’d like to go on a long distance trip inside it.

As always, the test drive is a must – and take the whole family with you, no matter how much they moan.

Giving An Indication Of Your Intentions

My fellow-blogger Adam has recently written a few posts about in-car information and the battery of gadgets in modern cars to let you know what, when, where, how much, and so forth. Too much in-car information drives me bonkers, too, especially if some of the in-car information is not just being provided by a beeper or a light but by my teenage son sitting in the back seat and telling me how to drive (and he’s not quite old enough for his licence yet).

What I really would like to know and what I would like to see in cars which probably would make our roads a lot safer would be some way of telling me what the car in front of me is about to do. I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the optimal level of revs to maximise my fuel economy when I’m approaching a busy roundabout or when I’m driving in heavy traffic; I want to know what the contractor in the Ford Transit  in front of me is about to do. If car manufacturers really loved us and gave us what’s good for us rather than (or as well as) the fun things we want, they’d give us more ways to communicate our intentions to our fellow drivers.

indicatorSome of these have already been invented. In fact, they were invented a long time ago. In spite of this, an awful lot of drivers don’t use the darn things or else they use them improperly. Those orange flashing lights on the side of your car are there for a purpose, people! Use them!

The worst misusers of indicators are seen on roundabouts. The rules state that when you approach a roundabout, you signal which way you are going. This means that if you’re turning right, you indicate right, and if you are turning left, you indicate left. If you are going straight through, you don’t indicate when you first enter the roundabout but you do indicate left when you are about to leave the roundabout. You DO NOT indicate left as you come up to the roundabout if you are going straight through, or else all the cars, bikes and pedestrians who ought to give way to you as you go straight through will think you’re turning left and go ahead. I’ve had a number of close calls thanks to people doing this wrong, to the point that I don’t believe that a car indicating left at a roundabout is actually turning left until I actually see the change in direction. Holds up the traffic behind me and has made me late but avoids crashes.


brakelightThe other invention that is out there to tell other drivers what you’re doing is the brake light, which lets the person behind you know that you’re stopping. I guess the horn is another one, as this lets the person in front of you who is ogling the flash Porsche  that just went past that there is a queue behind them and the traffic light has turned green. From time to time, I’ve wanted a few extra lights to let other road-users what I’m doing as follows:

  •  An accelerator light – to let the person who is tailgating with the hope of overtaking me as soon as they get a clear bit of open road that I am speeding up so we don’t end up inadvertently racing.
  •  A Sorry light. Everyone stuffs up from time to time. It would probably help ease road rage if you could flash an apology to someone you have held up, cut off or had a close brush with.
  •  A light to show that you’re going slow because you’re trying to read the road signs because you’re new to this bit of town.

Convertible owners: Enjoy it year-round!

With autumn finally providing those crisp, clear, blue-sky mornings in Melbourne, my thoughts have turned towards how best to enjoy them. Of course, with a mind so focused on motoring, there is the inevitable “I should take a car out for a country drive today” scenario which, as I sit tied to my desk this morning, has its merits. But which car would I take on my ideal autumnal morning drive?

2013 Mazda MX-5

I’m lucky enough to be looking after a friend’s early Mazda MX-5 this week, so the answer to that question is somewhat foregone. The car has to have a removable roof…

In Australia, we have a long tradition of enjoying open-topped motoring, but it is largely a summery endeavour. Moreover, many convertible owners are actually more concerned with looking good as they crawl through peak hour in Double Bay or Brighton than enjoying the unique thrill convertible motoring can provide.

Despite the weather clichés, our friends in the UK are generally more devoted to ‘sports cars’ than we are. They also have a certain pride for their home-grown products, which sees scores of ‘classic’ (I prefer to call them wheezy, but that’s a story for another day) MGs and Morgans out and about throughout the year, regardless of weather. (As an aside, I find it interesting that, despite our climate and love for the outdoors, I can’t think of a locally produced convertible (feel free to add any nominations in the comments)).

If you do have access to a convertible, I urge you to follow the UK’s lead. If the sun is gentle and the sky clear, get up early and rug up completely. Remove the car’s roof, switch the heater to full blast and enjoy the ever-changing scenery our great country has to offer. It’s a truly invigorating way to spend a day, and the elemental exposure really awakens the senses…especially if it rains!

More Geneva Motor Show Highlights

So the Australian Motor Show has been cancelled, which means that we’re back to talking about the Geneva one instead of building up the anticipation. So let’s dive on in, having already rambled on about the weirdness that this year’s show produced.

The Geneva Motor Show wouldn’t be the Geneva Motor Show without some hot and exciting new cars put on display to an eager world. These days, we all know that frugality and fuel economy and reducing the carbon footprint are very in things indeed. But behind the doors of the Geneva Motor Show and under the bright lights, you can leave that behind and return to the fantasy of the muscle car and the sports car in all its glory… well, almost!

As expected, there were some drool-worthy new offerings unveiled by lots of the major European designers. Lamborghini has a new in-your-wildest-dreams car that looks like Batman should be behind the wheel, the new Veneno (they say that it’s named after a fighting bull but is the Spanish for poison. Go figure). McClaren had a bright yellow sports number that looks as though it’s escaped from the racing track, apart from a few extra curves or so; this was the MP4-12C. The MP4-12C has a nod towards being eco-friendly, as it is a hybrid car… but it certainly doesn’t look like your typical Nissan Leaf , to say the least. Rolls-Royce also decided to get sporty with the Wraith (someone’s been reading Lord of the Rings) and has put out what it considers to be a rival to Bentley’s Continental GT. Alfa Romeo has turned the concept of the 4C that was shown as a prototype at the 2011 show into a reality, with the 4C now entering production and going on sale in the UK in September this year (fingers crossed – it might make it Down Under, too).

Volkswagen also got on the sporty bandwagon (bandwagen?) with the XL1, which claims to have the lowest drag coefficient ever seen on a car. Again, VW has gone for the eco-friendly thing and has made sure that the XL1 has low emissions and a hybrid engine. It also claims to be the most efficient car in production and was discussed in an earlier post .

Volkswagen also had a more down-to-earth offering with the latest incarnation of the Golf. Audi  has also got something worth waiting for. Three somethings, in fact, in the form of the RS Q3, the S3 Sportback and the A3 e-tron, which we’re confident will make it down here and be added to our reviews page when the time comes.


Subaru managed to turn a few heads with a new concept. This was the Viziv. Now, how do you describe the Viziv (the name’s supposed to be derived from Vision for Innovation)? Well, when I first started writing car reviews for Private Fleet, many years ago, a mess-up in the list to be reviewed asked me to describe a “Subaru Impreza  Forester ”. The resulting query from my end as to which model was to be described was clarified soon enough (both of them, of course) but also attracted the comment that the blend of the sporty Impreza with the sturdy AWD Forester would be an interesting crossover. Well, that pretty much describes the Viziv, which has the 4×4 drivetrain and the super-sporty handling (and looks). Oh yes – it’s a hybrid vehicle, too