Archive for June, 2013
Mazda’s giant killer, the Mazda3, was launched in its new model guise, in London, St Petersburg, New York and Instanbul, earlier this week. Australia didn’t miss out; hosting the launch was Melbourne, ahead of the other countries.
The company’s new design philosophy was clearly on show, with the 3 gaining the bluff and upright nose of bigger sibling, the Mazda6 and has been redesigned from the ground up, adopting Mazda’s award winning “Kodo- Soul of Motion” design theme plus has been granted the full suite of SKYACTIV Technologies. It’s said to evoke a sense of forward motion, with sharp edging leading from the front wings into the headlight cluster also sparking a sense of seeing a predatory animal. It’s a bigger car than its predecessor, being 60mm longer, 40mm wider yet sits 15mm lower. The interior has been revamped, with newly developed materials with a carbon fibre look and satin chrome finishes also. A fully integrated “Human Machine Interface”, allowing phone, sms and email access via a 7 inch touch screen is included along with a Heads Up Display.
Engine wise there’ll be two petrol engines initially, with 2.0 and 2.5 litres capacity, with 114kW and 200 Nm of torque or 138kW and 250Nm respectively. Transmissions are yet to be confirmed however, with four out of five Mazda3’s finding a private home, that hardly matters as an incentive but a price drop is sure to reignite its sales candle, with dollars expected to be sub 20K plus on roads.
Mazda3 is currently scheduled for a first quarter launch next year.
They say that one of the things that causes the most car-related debate between couples is navigation and map reading. This may have been changed by GPS systems and sat-nav. Possibly, this is one reason why navigation systems tend to come as standard features on an awful lot of new cars coming out these days – it saves marital conflict over map reading.
However, this isn’t the case in our household. And this is not because our Ford has a red-hot navigation system. It doesn’t (and I’m pretty good at reading maps). What it doesn’t have is memory seats, and the different settings (forward & back, lumbar support and seat angle) are manually adjustable. So the thing that causes the debate is seat position.
The arguments caused by a lack of memory seats are less heated than the ones that stereotypically crop up about map reading. They are more in the nature of low-grade grumblings.
The typical argument about map reading goes something like this.
“You’re going the wrong way, dear,” she says
“No I’m not,” he says.
“You were supposed to turn right at that intersection that you drove past a minute ago.”
“Why the hell didn’t you say so?” He keeps driving in the same direction.
“I did say so! I told you to turn right at Queen Street ages ago.”
“I didn’t know that was Queen Street? How was I supposed to know that was Queen Street? Do you really expect me to read every single little road sign?”
“Yes, I do. I would have been able to read it if you hadn’t been driving so fast.”
“I am not driving fast. Why didn’t you tell me that Queen Street was coming up? You’ve got the map.”
“I’m sure I said to take the next right. There haven’t been any other roads to the right and I thought you had enough common sense to read the road signs.”
“I’m relying on you to tell you which way to turn and when to turn. Why can’t you do a simple thing like that?”
“I did! And you’re still going the wrong way! Why won’t you listen? I had the map here and told you.” She holds up the map and points to the intersection in question.
“You’re holding the bloody map upside down again! I don’t know why you do that – it drives me nuts and how you can read the thing properly like that, I don’t know.”
And so on and so on, ad nauseam.
Seat position grumbles are less dramatic and usually only take place once in the journey unless one of us is in a very bad mood.
His grumble: “Who’s been fiddling around with the seat position? What have you done with it this time?”
“I moved the seat forward. You know I’ve got short legs and can’t reach the pedals if I don’t.”
“I can’t get behind the wheel properly. Is that all you changed?”
“I put the seat back up, of course. It’s better for your back if you sit upright.”
“Well, it can’t be good for you, squished up behind the steering column like that. What if there’s an accident?”
“Um, isn’t that why they invented airbags?”
“Hmm.” He adjusts the seat tilt. “Are you sure that that’s all you changed? I’m sure it feels different from the way I left it.”
“I didn’t touch the lumbar support. I never touch the lumbar support.”
“Well, it feels funny, anyway.” More fiddling and fine-tuning. “Can you put your seat back? I can’t see out the side with your head in the way.”
The response from me is muttering along the lines of “Well, if you didn’t have your seat back so far, I wouldn’t be in your line of sight.” The journey then gets underway and the grumbling stops.
My grumble when I get into the driver’s seat is the reverse. “You must have arms like a ruddy gorilla. How do you manage to reach the steering wheel properly from way back there?”
“I like to sit back and relax when I drive. You look so uptight and tense with your nose just about over the steering wheel like Mr Magoo.”
“It’s a wonder you don’t fall asleep with the seat as far back as you have it. And then you’ve got the cheek to grumble at the kids for kneeing you in the back. You’ve just about got your head rest up their noses. I’m sure it’s bad for your back, sprawling like that.”
There are other great driving debates as well, though not all of them happen in my family. Classics include:
- Will you stop going around the corners so fast – you’ve got a steering wheel to hold onto.
- Keep your eyes on the road rather than fooling around with the balance of the audio system.
- Will you kids stop fooling with the electric windows?
- Stop kicking the back of my seat.
- Get your knees out of the back of my seat.
- Get that dog off the leather seats or he’ll ruin them.
- Turn that music down – it’s so loud you can’t hold a conversation.
- Are we there yet?
Any I’ve missed?
Naturally, as part of my role as a vehicle evaluator, I’m out and about a fair bit. There’s smart road rules, there’s smart drivers (well, a couple….) and there’s just way, way, way, WAY too many bad ones. Australian governments tell us all about road safety, with the focus on all road safety deemed to be speed-centric.
I ask you: what’s truly more dangerous: travelling at 115 km/h on a freeway that is zoned 100 or 110 under sunny blue skies OR driving at late afternoon, mid winter, with cloud cover and rain with no headlights on….with your car a silver or dark colour. What’s more dangerous; driving along a straight, rural road, with clear vision, doing 80 and the road is zoned 70 OR being in a small car, changing lanes suddenly so you’re in front of a B double whilst not indicating then jumping on the brakes?
Today I was driving, in the company of a good mate, an example of Holden’s outgoing VE SS utes, the Z series with the dark grey five spoke alloys; the weather was cold but clear and traffic was moving well in all three freeway lanes. I’m in the right hand side lane, zoned at 110 km/h and travelling at a tick above that…the middle and left hand lanes were reasonably full and, inexplicably, moving at under the limit. Behind me there’s a flash; thinking it’s a sun reflection off a windscreen, I ignored it. A few seconds later, another. I look and here’s an example of Australia’s Got (No Driving) Talent; bloke gesturing to me that I should move left so he can pass. Completely ignored was the fact that for he to pass me he’d be closer to 120 km/h than I PLUS there was no room at the inn a.k.a the middle lane. Eventually he sidled past, on my left, at least 130 km/h and disappeared. Twenty minutes later, with no variance in my speed by more than a couple of km/h either way, we didn’t merely catch him, we passed him. Two more times, the same thing happened.
On the way back home, earlier than this, we passed a few Highway Patrol cars, with all but one sitting roadside, with an officer holding a radar. There was also a marked police car ahead of one with a Community Police signage….both of these changed lanes without indicating quite a few times. So while you, I and everyone else is being beaten senseless with the message “Don’t Speed”, there’s other avenues of safety being forgotten, or, possibly, exploited. Let’s not kid ourselves; safety in most states really is driven by revenue and is coated in a sickly sweet road safety sugar to make it easier for the populace to swallow. In real terms, the road toll is fairly static compared to the amount of extra drivers joining the road each year. Let’s also not overlook how many cars there are, on our roads country wide, that are equipped with ABS, airbags and so on. So our roads are becoming more cluttered, the cars we drive are far more safe yet two things stay the same: we’re being told that speed kills and no one mentions these two words….”driver training”.
If speed kills, there’s an awful amount of ghosts driving cars. If speed kills, then Craig Lowndes, Mark Winterbottom, Mark Webber, etc, must be bloody lucky. What’s that you say, they’re trained drivers? Thank you sir, my point exactly. And then there’s this: http://news.drive.com.au/drive/motor-news/1000km-at-130kmh–and-still-alive-20130620-2ok2x.html
In Australia’s capital cities there’s plenty of driver training companies; In Sydney, for example, there’s Ian Luff’s Drive To Survive. Brissie has SDT Safe Driver Training. Victoria picks up the Australian Driver Trainers Association whilst companies such as adrenalin.com.au run advanced driver training courses at racetracks, including Perth’s Barbagallo. Says a lot, doesn’t it, that companies such as these have to work over the entrenched attitude the government says we should have whilst forgetting the simple, the basic fact that better drivers drive better…..
Today’s (June 18, 2013) announcement from Holden has sent another collective shiver through the automotive fraternity; with the feeling from many that the request for staff (and, allegedly, not including management) to cop a pay cut to reduce costs is a prelude to Holden announcing it will, like Ford, cease local manufacturing. Holden’s chief honcho, Mike Devereux, is quoted as saying that it costs, in Australia, $3750 more to build a car, than anywhere else in the world. The cut for workers, in the two plants Holden operates (Elizabeth in South Australia and Port Melbourne, Victoria), is said to be in the order of up to $200 per week, a substantial dent. It’s in order to continue and reinforce the building base Holden has, but it is more far reaching than that. Should Holden up stumps, it effectively condemns Toyota to do the same, as one local manufacturer simply cannot sustain Australia’s part supply industries. Devereux also said that some workers aren’t being paid what they’re worth, with many at management level not receiving a pay rise for over three years.
As always, there’s two sides to every story; it’s rumoured that some Holden execs that have been with the company for less than two years are said to be on wages of over four hundred thousand dollars. That’s a fair bit of coin, considering Australia’s Prime Minister isn’t being paid much more. Having said that, if an average worker is being asked to cop a pretty decent pay cut and the subsequent adjustment to their living conditions, one would think it’s only fair that a commensurate reduction in wages and lifestyle adjustment be applied to the higher end of the ladder.
Bundled in with all of this is more human cost; around 400 workers at Elizabeth and 100 at Port Melbourne are scheduled to be made redundant, with the company hoping most will be from a voluntary basis. To add to the dilemma is the mooted reduction of automotive manufacturing support, by a half billion dollars, should the current Tony Abbott led Coalition win, as expected, the September Federal election. All politics aside, any reduction in support is a ludicrous idea; what should be scrutinised is Holden’s and the government’s business model. Coming off a loss of $152 million for 2012, it’s all well and good to look at the simplest form of saving money. Holden’s operation structure, its operating costs and just WHY it appears that Australia’s manufacturing costs are so comparatively high would, on the face of it, bear some deeper investigating.
Some of the blame for this may, in truth, lay within General Motors and Holden; with the rise of Hyundai and Korea, plus the dominance of brands such as Mazda, is it possible that Holden hasn’t reacted quickly enough to change the cars that people once bought to be the cars that people WANT to buy? Is it a form of hubris; Australia’s own, immortalised in the jingle “Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars” felt that people would buy a Holden BECAUSE it was a Holden? Advertising a car as world quality doesn’t necessarily mean that it is world class. The Cruze, as good a car as it is, does fall short against some of its opposition such as the Mazda3 or Hyundai’s i30, for example, and the Commodore can be said to have failed to match the Mazda6 or the i40. Large car sales have fallen, too, leading to Mitsubishi and Nissan closing their doors for local manufacturing, in part. Ford’s recent decision, although not unexpected, has the potential for Holden to mirror that. Regardless, today’s announcement is something Australia’s struggling car industry both needs…..and doesn’t.
Does this sound familiar? I’m doing the Mum’s Taxi thing, picking kids off and running them down to after-school activities like the typical parent these days. It might not be a long drive, but the amount of signage that I go past is fairly large.
You’ve got the school speed limit sign complete with the times that these apply. You’ve got a roundabout or two to go through with all the signs associated with those (at least they’re not multi-lane roundabouts). There are a handful of Give Way signs on the way, a couple of Children Crossing signs, a No Parking sign outside the school and some Bus Stop signs on the way to the activities. I’m lucky that the route I use doesn’t involve traffic lights with all the umpteen different signs that are involved there depending on the lane that you want to go to. Signs everywhere – flashing, in some cases.
But those aren’t the only signs I see. Thanks to an acute outbreak of road works by my local council, I’m coming across the “road works” signs (once known as Men At Work signs), plus road cones and people in high-viz vests putting up bright coloured barriers to stop people driving/walking/biking into the hole they’re trying to dig.
On top of all this, you’ve got all the advertising material and the signage to tell you that you have actually reached the gym or wherever you need to go. Signs, signs, signs. And in a few places, you’ve got the signs for cyclists and pedestrians into the bargain.
It doesn’t get much better once you get into the countryside. Not only do you get the boards telling you that you’ve got XXX km to go until you get to the city where Grandma lives and signs telling you to watch out for horses/wombats/strong crosswinds/railway crossings, you also get the signs telling you about the intersections you can expect ahead of you. These include my candidate for most pointless sign: the one about falling rocks. OK, it’s kind of handy to know that there might be a rock on the road ahead of me, but you can get debris on the road anywhere, so I’m usually scanning the road for hazards. But if a rock falls when I’m driving through the area, I never know what I can really do about that. Second on my list of “statements of the blinking obvious” is the one about a railway crossing ahead complete with “prepare to stop” emblazoned on it. Really, I’m going to drive out into the middle of the intersection in front of an oncoming train without that sign, aren’t I?
Signs might be all very well and good, and they do serve a useful purpose. However, if we are continually confronted by signs left, right and centre (and let’s not even start on the information provided by in-car information systems at the same time), we become blasé about them and start tuning them out. It certainly doesn’t help when businesses decide to make their signs look rather like road signs. Sometimes, the powers that be up the ante by adding brighter colours and flashing lights. But then everyone starts doing it. And then we tune out the new level of attention-grabbing signage and the cycle continues.
I can just remember when the local fire engine had just one or maybe two red lights and a siren. Now, every emergency vehicle seems to flash like a Christmas tree on steroids and sounds like it’s doubled the decibel level of the sirens just to cut through all the other flashing lights and sounds around us. Yes, it’s important to see emergency vehicles, but is it really necessary to go to these levels? Just think how quickly people respond when they see those little red and blue lights mounted discreetly on a Holden Commodore letting them know that they’ve just lead-footed it past an unmarked police car…
I sometimes wonder if the information overload actually contributes to road safety rather than addressing it. I’m not alone in thinking this. There are Austroads research publications about this and there have been those campaigns about the dangers of distracted driving. However, the billboards reminding us not to drive distracted are themselves distractions…
Holden has always had a contender for each of the categories that make up the Australian automotive landscape; some work (Commodore, Barina) and some don’t (Epica, Viva). Since the, well, epic failure of the Epica, the red lion’s presence in the medium car segment has been lacking. Cue, the Malibu.
It’s a physically large car, not far off Commodore size at 4865mm long, 1855mm wide and 1465mm wide and will come with a choice of two engines; a 2.4L petrol with 123kW/225Nm of torque or a 2.0L diesel (117kW/350Nm) with no choice for transmission but a six speed auto, with gear ratios adjusted to suit the different engine characteristics, with towing capacity at 1200kgs. There’ll be two trim levels and keeping with the majority of the Holden family nomenclature will be called CD and CDX. In reality there’s very little to differentiate between the two, with LED tail lights, some leather trim, fog lamps and rain sensing wipers the main standouts however the CD will get electrically assisting steering while the CDX gets hydraulic. The CD will roll on 16 inch wheels with the CDX getting 17s. As expected, safety is not compromised, with the usual suite of passive and active electronic aids, such as curtain airbags and traction control plus the new MyLink integrated entertainment system.
Under the long and shapely bonnet, the 2.4L aluminuim block gets noise reduction engineering and oil cooling jets on the pistons to aid in longevity whilst the German sourced diesel is refined and quiet, with a particulate filter standard to reduce emissions. Although a world car, the Malibu copped a substantial amount of Australian input, to deal with the variable quality roads (suspension) and driving requirements (engine and gearbox mapping) plus specifying tyres for our right hand drive environment. Even in the styling, Australia’s own had significant input, with Michael Simcoe (the Monaro from the early noughties) overseeing the project, including the fact that the Malibu’s rear end styling was originally slated to be used on the forthcoming VF Commodore.
Prices will start from $28490 plus ORCs for the CD up to $35990 plus ORCs for the CDX diesel; with deliveries to Holden showrooms due to roll out by month’s end, this could be a worthy contender in the medium car segment, up against the Camry, Mazda6 and, Kia Optima, Hyundai i40 and Mondeo.
Go here for more info: http://www.holden.com.au/cars/malibu
or here for Paul Gover’s review: http://www.carsguide.com.au/news-and-reviews/car-reviews-road-tests/holden_malibu_v_mazda6_v_kia_optima?utm_source=carsguide&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carreviewsroadtests
After my last post, where I had a bit of a snigger about some of the stupidest car accessories I’ve ever seen, I thought it was probably about time that we had a look at some good ones.
Of course, when it comes to compiling a top ten list of good accessories, it’s not easy. There are so many different types of motorist in the world. What is a brilliant idea for one type of driver is a real waste of time and money for another driver. So if I’ve left one of your absolute “must haves” off the list, apologies in advance – and let the world know what it is and why you like it in the comments section.
- P plates and L plates. I have a teenage son so they’re legal requirements.
- A towbar. Being able to do your own hauling is so handy. In fact, essential, at least in our family. There is always a load of greenwaste to take to the local recycling depot, bikes and surfboards to take on holiday, kayaks to take to the nearest suitable body of water, people to help when they’re moving house, furniture to pick up from the store and a caravan to be pulled. Trailers can be hired, but what are you going to do if you haven’t got any way of hauling the trailer you’ve hired? My family have always insisted on towbars, to the point that my dad got one put on the Alfa Romeo they inherited from my grandmother. The installer said he’d never had to put one on an Alfa before…
- Rubber floor mats. Someone is going to get into the car at some stage with wet, dirty shoes or boots. Or the dog will get into a mud puddle when you’re out on a picnic. If they’re not in the car already, buy them. They are so much easier to clean off.
- Roof racks. Great for adding extra storage, so much so that a lot of vehicles come with them as standard. If they haven’t come with yours as standard, it’s a smart move to take them off when you don’t actually need them, as they add drag and reduce your fuel efficiency.
- Seat covers. You can get them to protect the upholstery from dirt and tears (seat covers are easier to wash, especially if you have a child who hasn’t quite got the hang of holding on until you can find a suitable place to stop and pee). You can get them to personalise your car. Or you can get them to cover over the cheaper upholstery with something more luxurious such as sheepskin.
- Bike racks.
- Jumper leads. Much easier than pushing a heavy Land Rover!
- Storage holders that involve small pockets. I hate fumbling around in the depths of the glove cabinet for the house keys (kept separate from the car keys so someone else can open up the house while I’m putting the car away), a pen or my cellphone.
- A map. They’ve improved a lot but GPS systems and sat nav sometimes get it wrong, and they don’t always pick up things like road works or heavy traffic. Having a real hard-copy map helps you find a good alternative route.
- A microfibre cloth for cleaning off the inside of the front windscreen. There’s always something that manages to get onto it. A good cloth also doubles as a cleaner for sunglasses and regular corrective glasses. Smudges and smears reduce visibility and that reduces safety.
It’s not long now (at the time of writing) until the Holden VF Commodore range hits showrooms around the country; it’s expected to be the last Commodore made, designed and engineered in Australia……unless it sells well enough to return as a wholly Australian car.
The outgoing VE Commodore finished up production in May after close to seven years of production. Although the exterior is still a good looker, the interior specification and the march of technology have left it behind. Make no mistake, the forthcoming VF IS world class.
Holden has streamlined the range slightly, dropping the Omega and Berlina and launching the Evoke. It’s still powered by the 3.0L V6 and six speed automatic transmission combination whilst the the rest of the range stays with the 3.6L SIDI engine or 6.0L V8. The range has undergone a substantial weight saving regime, with aluminuim panels such as the bonnet, plus extra wind tunnel testing has provided a more slippery and aerodynamic shape (drag is now down to 0.309 compared to the VE’s 0.330 Cd), aiding in fuel economy. The Evoke is rated at 8.3L per 100 kilometres, matching and bettering some four cylinder cars. Electric steering, an electric handbrake and other subtle revisions such as redesigned wheel wells have seen overall fuel usage reduced by 23% since the VE’s launch.
It’s a smarter car as well, with rear view camera and Park Assist standard across the range plus some models feature a rear radar system, providing a warning of oncoming sideways directional traffic. Also on board some models is a blind spot alert system and lane departure system. The Commodore is also the first GM large car to feature tech such as Park Assist, making it a world leader in its class. Keyless start becomes more common; however one form of technology that has been around for a while, HUD or Heads Up Display, is reserved for the Calais V and SS-V spec cars. It provides a comprehensive information package, such as speed, current transmission gear, phone information and more. These two also gain Forward Collision Alert technology, informing the driver if there is a obstacle or vehicle ahead that has come into the Commodore’s sensor range; operating at 40 kmh or above, the system increases the brake system’s hydraulic pressure if the sensors warn of a potential threat, reducing the response time for the brakes to activate. A new and quite intelligent addition is Remote Vehicle Start. Available for Commodores with an automatic transmission, the car can be started from up to 100 metres away plus will engage the aircon and heated seats (if fitted). Parking sensors are standard, including on the ute.
Ride and handling have been worked on across the board; there’s Touring for the Evoke, Calais and Calais V, calibrated for a light day to day driving feel. Sports Tune is on board for the SS, SS-V and SV6 to provide more handling and steering feedback whilst the SS-V Redline series gets a Competitive setting for those that are more of an enthusiastic driving style, providing better feedback and steering input. Brakes have been uprated as have the suspension isolation points, working hand in hand with acoustical engineering to provide a quieter cabin whilst Hill Start Assist and Hill Hold Control add to the driver safety experience as does Trailer Sway Control, which cuts engine power and engages the brakes if it senses any instability from a towed item.
Much has been made of the VF’s revamped interior; with re-rated seat cushions, material and a redesigned console and dash. The aircon vents have been relocated whilst the centre dash cops a large multifunction touchscreen, varying between mono to full colour, depending on model. As mentioned, the VF gets an electronic parking brake, removing the jaded and unpopular hand brake design of the VE. Also, the centre console redesign moves the window switches to the driver’s door, another long overdue change. MyLink gives the driver/passenger more options for music, including Pandora and Stitcher (internet based radio services) plus enhanced interactivity with Siri EyesFree.
Finally, a price reduction, with up to $10K being slashed from the upper end whilst the well featured entry level model, the Evoke, has been reduced by $5k, with a starting price of $34990 and the Calais is certain to be a sharp bet with $39990 on the ticket. The Caprice exterior remains almost untouched but cops the Calais interior and some extra fruit to justify its $59990 (V series spec) asking price. Servicing gets capped pricing for the first four services over three years or sixty thousand kilometres with intervals at fifteen thousand kilometres or nine months.
With the majority of Holden and Ford large cars, plus a commendable number of Toyota large cars, sold for fleet purposes, Holden clearly hopes that the world class refinements, additions and better value per dollar will reverse the trend towards the Japanese and Korean opposition that have made such a huge dent in the segment’s numbers. Right now, it’s worth more than a second thought to go to Holden for your fleet purchase and assist in, potentially, keeping this iconic brand here.
I must admit I’ve still got a long face since I heard the news about the Ford Falcon getting the chop in 2016, so here’s something a little different to bring a smile. Here are some of the funniest and most ridiculous car accessories available for us all to buy – if you want to.
The world’s most stupid car accessory goes to a group in China. We all know how car occupant safety is paramount, so why would a group of individuals come up with the idea of designing a seat-belt shirt? I almost feel naked when I don’t wear my seatbelt in the car – particularly when I’m not the one driving! Some people obviously go to great lengths to avoid making it click, and that’s why the seatbelt shirt was invented. The seatbelt shirt has a diagonal black stripe that runs from the left shoulder down to the right hip or from the right shoulder down to the left hip, and this makes it look like you are wearing your seatbelt when you’re senseless enough to not be wearing it. Talk about jumping out of a plane without a parachute!
What about the bag of testicles to hang off the back of car bumpers? I’ve seen a few of these around, and I’m not quite sure why we need to make our cars male or female. As far as I know cars have never been able to be produced in this way!
To finish this crazy article on gadgets and paraphernalia that really serve no purpose other than to make you look like a dork, how about putting a hand that waves the peace sign onto your hatchback or station wagon? They attach to the rear-window wiper and wave back and forwards with your wiper when it’s going. I guess it’s better than any other rude hand signs I see from time-to-time being waved from car windows!