Archive for January, 2016
Ever since the motor vehicle has been chugging on the road they have been raced. One of the first races ever was the Paris-Rouen in 1894. The cars had to travel 126 km between two French cities. Simply put; as motorcars developed, so did racing. However, particularly in modern times, you could also say that as motor racing developed, so did the motor car. I enjoy a bit of motor racing, and have occasionally enjoyed watching it trackside. One of the joys of watching the cars race around the circuit is that you can recognise the makes and models of the race cars and associate them with their everyday, road-legal versions. So what’s the difference between the road-going version and its racing cousin? Let’s take a closer look.
A mass-produced road car needs to have its set-up catered toward keeping its occupants comfortable, safe and relaxed on a journey. So, you’ll see the majority of features like a comfortable ride, air-conditioning, premium audio sound, a standard engine geared for economy and leather upholstery inside a mass-produced road car. The race car is usually stripped right back to the bare shell, and therefore lacks all these comfort features to ensure that the race-car remains as light as possible.
Rally cars have to cope with a wide range of road surfaces, and some of the surfaces can be extremely rough. The rally car must be specially prepared with this challenge in mind. All non-essential items are removed from the interior of a rally car. Two seats, a gear lever and a roll cage are the necessary bits you’ll find inside the rally car interior. When it comes to the chassis, the car’s ride height has actually been increased to travel over uneven surfaces more easily. Larger tyres with button studs absorb impact and provide greater grip on loose surfaces. The suspension has been stiffened, and the engine usually has been increased in size to gain greater power at the expense of low fuel economy. Exterior panels are usually steel and alloys in a road-going version, however in the race car these are replaced with fibreglass to reduce weight. All windows are plastic, except for the front windscreen which remains glass – reduction in weight being the reason for this. The Volkswagen Polo R has been the most successful WRC rally car in 2015, so too has the Hyundai and Citroen variants.
If you are into drifting, then the changes made to a car prepared for drifting include: lowering the suspension height to reduce body roll, stiffened anti roll bars, massive power – especially to the rear wheels, very quick steering and tyres that can last big slides for lengthy periods.
Obviously, with endurance racing like Le Mans, the cars are extremely aerodynamic, they have quick release wheels, quick to remove bumpers – in case they get damaged, slick tyres, bigger brakes and huge power for high speeds – often well over 320 km/h. A Le Mans car has to travel at high speed for 24 hours with minimal stops for refuelling and tyre changes.
Motor racing is a hugely lucrative business for car manufacturers because the models of road-going cars that are transformed to a race car are shown off on the race track to a huge proportion of car enthusiasts. If a car manufacturer’s model wins in the weekend, then this success translates to more car sales during the week. It’s pretty simple really.
It’s an icon, a brawny and chest beating icon. A Wheel Thing revisits the Subaru WRX STi, with a “proper” (read as manual) gearbox and that velcro/superglue/limpet grip.
Subaru says its all wheel drive system is “all for the driver” and that’s evident in the way the WRX STi is set up. There’s absolutely no doubt its all paw grip is part of why it’s in the Legends corner of cars you must drive, but there’s more to it than simply getting each wheel driven. There’s 221 kW at over 6000 revs from the 2.5L boxer four, but, more importantly, 407 Nm at 4000, with a noticeable rocket launch to the back, thanks to 330Nm suddenly on tap at 2500 rpm. That’s enough to see one hundred kilometres per hour in 4.9 seconds.
There’s a cost at the bowser if you choose to explore the outmost limits of this beast. Urban consumption of the specified 98 RON go juice is quoted as being 14.2L per 100 kilometres, with the tank holding just 60 litres. That’s nudging just 400 kilometres in a city environment. Otherwise, you’ve 10.4 and 8.4 litres per hundred on the combined and highway cycles to play with. A Wheel Thing, in predominantly urban traffic, struggled to see anything below 11.0L/100…
But sometimes you have to take the not so good with the utterly superb; there’s a wonderfully close gated and short throw gear lever, a family friendly clutch that doesn’t ask the driver to have a left calf muscle the size of a tree, the adjustable centre differential which proportions drive fore and aft and the Active Torque Vectoring System (ATVS) which applies braking automatically to each corner to centre the car’s attitude on road.
The good kind of insanity is helped along by a super responsive steering rack; twitch and you turn. There’s no dead spot, no numbness, instead there’s real communication and a sense of weight, spoken to the driver via a leather clad tiller, with a nice diameter and heft,plus a lock to lock of just over two and a half turns.
Coming into a corner, you feel the weight in the steering increase and the Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD) working to apportion drive…feather the throttle and downshift….then plant the foot. There’s the thrum, the throb of the flat four from the front and resonating out through the quad tip exhausts…bang, another gear, bang, and another as you ratchet through the ratios, the lever falling easily to hand as you snicker to yourself, grinning inanely. A slight slip of the clutch also makes getting away a smoother proposition.
It’s an exercise in synchronicity, man and machine working as one, the body subconciously snicking each gear as the left leg rises and falls in time with the engine revs. There’s grip aplenty as you haul into a corner, the sports seats snug against your torso as the G forces increase, the Dunlop 245/40 rubber getting intimate with the tarmac as the 18 inch gunmetal alloys glint in the summer sun.
Braking force is full of confidence; there’s four pot Brembo (painted in STi black) calipers up front working in tandem with the two pot Brembos at the rear, with no fade to speak off and a solid, progressive reeling in of the STi’s forward motion. On a tight road near Blackheath, on the western fringe of the Blue Mountains range, a suddenly looming series of ninety degree turns were easily despatched with a firm yet unhurried prod of the brake. Lateral grip, asks Sir? Sir will find plenty, thank you kindly.
The ride is firm, hard, sometimes jiggly yet rarely teeth rattling. With a local road A Wheel Thing’s suspension tester, thanks to the non-needed speedhumps big enough to slow a rhino in situ, there’s a very firm bump/thump at lower speeds and at road legal speeds, the same yet less intrusive. The handling is helped by the compact size; the STi weighs just 1525 kilograms (kerb weight) and sits on a 2650 mm wheelbase, inside a total length of just 4595 mm.The get up and go is matched by the assertive look (the test car was coated in shimmering Pearl White); flared guards, the tuning fork alloys, the sharp shark like snout with slimline air intake in the bonnet, the tidy looking headlight cluster and that wing….…..inside, the bare bones look of the Impreza gets somewhat of a tickle up, with a carbon fibre look inlay surrounding the gear lever, red piping in the leather inserts for the doors, ventilated seat squab material (although the seats aren’t cooled, an oversight for the Aussie market) with the seats getting red highlighting and there is, of course, a sunroof. Oh, add in two front mounted USB ports… Naturally, there’s also boot access via the 60/40 folding rear seats.
Centrepieces of the console are the centre diff selector and drive selector buttons. A Wheel Thing found that for a better feeling balance for tight cornering, a somewhat more rear driven choice made powering out (and slow entry) easier to live with. The drive slector offers a choice of three, Intelligent, Sports and Sports Sharp, which made lower rev driving around town just that much more tolerable, by seeming to increase torque, reducing the stuttering otherwise felt.Up the rev range and Sports Sharp was indeed, with a snappier response and a more noticeable pull from the 3000 rpm point. Both the diff and drive choices were made visible on the driver’s centre dash display, itself an operation in style, with sharp looking lettering and design highlights. Audio wise, the Starlink navitainment touchscreen system was linked to a Harmon Kardon setup which was surprising in its lacklustre sound and performance, lacking depth, separation and range.
Safety wise, it’s fully loaded with nearly all of the expected passive and active electronics and a full suite of airbags, as there’s a reverse camera, left hand side under mirror camera but no parking sensors. There’s Blind Spot Monitoring on board, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Hidden in a small box, directly ahead of the rear vision mirror’s stalk, is Subaru’s much vaunted forward looking radar system, looking for all the world like an old style View Masta…
“Economy” aside, A Wheel Thing has declared the STi to be a car that would be welcomed with open arms to the garage on a permanent basis. There’s room enough for four, a boot big enough for shopping every week (460L), enough “boy’s toys” to play with daily, that scintilating performance and the stove hot presence. Lob in the three year/unlimited kilometre warranty and the service structure Subaru has, it makes the $55K pricing easier to swallow. There’s also the fact that when the car was launched in 2014, it was set at $49990, a full ten thousand under the car it was taking over from.
For details, go here: http://www.subaru.com.au/wrx-and-wrx-sti
When you’re shopping for a new car, there should be a list of things that are important to you. Nowadays it’s how many USB ports or bottleholders but in the past it was about the “donk” and how many “neddies” under the bonnet. Before Australia went metric and still how the U.S. measures power, there’s horsepower. Metrification uses kilowatts and then there’s this mysterious thing called “torque”…
Horsepower, by its very name, measures output or work done in comparison to horses. Scottish engineer, James Watts (whose name also gives us part of the other measure) adoptedthe unit’s measure in the late 18th century with: Horsepower (hp) is a unit of measurement of power (the rate at which work is done) in order to compare the output of steam engines to draft horses. That was subsequently expanded to compare to other types of engines like turbines and electric engines.
Watt, being an engineer, put forward this equation:
In short, Watt had calculated that a horse could turn a mill wheel 144 times in an hour (or 2.4 times a minute), with the wheel measuring 12 feet (3.6576 meters) in radius; therefore, the horse travelled 2.4·2π·12 feet in one minute. Watt judged that the horse could pull with a force of 180 pounds. What does all of this mean? Horses would perform a certain task with a certain amount of work performed over a given time period, which boils down, without all of the physics involved, to be calculated as horsepower.
Kilowatts is the other measure of what an engine can provide and is, simply, an amount of thousands of watts. For example, a car engine may be quoted as 200 kilowatts, being: The unit is defined as joule per second and can be used to express the rate of energy conversion or transfer with respect to time. The unit was named after the aforementioned James Watt.
When it comes to kilowatts versus horsepower, one kilowatt is equivalent to 1.34 horsepower, with neddies or ponies considered as suitable replacement words. In reverse, there’s about 0.75 horsepower per kilowatt.
Engines found in cars will quote x amount of kilowatts in their marketing material, with the higher the number seemingly the better. The “problem” with this approach is that PEAK kilowatts and horsepower are generated at high engine revs. That’s fine for applications where that approach is needed, say Formula 1 racing or powerboat racing but then fuel efficiency for the common man, not to mention the sheer driveability,becomes an issue…
Torque, the forgotten part of what a car engine does, is, in simplest terms, the amount of grunt or the measure of twisting force an engine can generate. A great way to think of what torque and kilowatts can do is by imagining a screwdriver and a stuck screw. The twist that you use to move the screw is torque and the continued turning of the screwdriver to get the screw out is the kilowatts or horsepower. Should you see a skilled driver perform a burnout, let’s say a motorsport driver that’s won a race and is celebrating, they will use both torque and kilowatts,with torque coming into play to break the traction between rubber and road then power (kilowatts) to continue to spin those tyres against the gripping force of both road and hot rubber, which then produces the spectacle of heaps of smoke.
Torque is made by an engine at a lower rev range than horsepower or kilowatts; a diesel engine will produce more torque than a petrol powered engine simply because of the way a diesel engine works. Petrol engines use electricty and spark plus to ignite the fuel vapour inside the cylinders, which pushes the piston down and turns the crankshaft. Diesels, on the other hand, use compression (squeeze a balloon until it pops) by injecting diesel fuel into an air filled combustion chamber (or cylinder, in the case of a car engine) and pushing the piston against that until it “explodes” and forces that piston back down.
Or in tech terms: The diesel engine (also known as a compression-ignition or CI engine) is an internal combustion engine in which ignition of the fuel that has been injected into the combustion chamber is initiated by the high temperature which a gas achieves when greatly compressed (adiabatic compression). This contrasts with spark-ignition engines such as a petrol engine (gasoline engine) or gas engine (using a gaseous fuel as opposed to petrol), which use a spark plug to ignite an air-fuel mixture.
Torque is also the motive force that gets your car going in the first place. Using the transmission, with a set of differing ratios or gears, that torque is sent from the engine to the driving wheels via that transmission and that torque is then what starts moving the tyres against the road. As the revs rise, kilowatts then take over to keep your car going, before the transmission changes ratio and drops the revs back down.
And, as we all now know, the less revs the engine is doing, the less fuel it’s consuming, hence the growth of gearboxes with more ratios, the most common being a six speed but with some luxury brands having eight, perhaps nine….and an engine with enough torque to utilise those ratios.
(Information sourced from Wikipedia. This article is not intended to be an in-depth explanation of kilowatts, horsepower and torque, but an overview to suit its intended audience.)
You know, there’s heaps of cool technology that will be used (if not already in use) in the automotive scene. Yes, there’s all the on-board safety wizardry that helps to keep you and others safe on the road. And, there’s Voice Control, satellite navigation and other infotainment systems on-board a lot of new cars. But what is pretty amazing is some of the new technology that Police will use for catching, say, a car thief.
Catching car criminals or even any criminal travelling in a car seems like a tough job and is all about speed, right? Well actually, there might be an easier way. Here is some of the high-tech ways for catching a suspect that Police can or will employ.
- Already seen in action, the CCTV camera is used for keeping a watch on an area and will often capture vital video evidence which can then be used in a court appearance.
- Funnily enough, the police are up-on-the-play with social media posts, and often the social media can be used for investigations. Police have their own software that scans all social media channels, and this scanning can be used to find out important times and locations of an offence. Facebook does reveal a lot!
- You may be well aware of the amazing stuff that drones can do. In fighting crime, police can use drones for surveillance, and any police officer can remotely control the drone from a distance. This is a very easy way of following a fleeing suspect, and the action can be seen as it happens by an officer in a car or back at headquarters.
- As a vehicle owner, you could subscribe to a service like OnStar which is a system capable of tracking your car if stolen. What’s more, it could be used to remotely disable your vehicle and shut down the engine. All you need to do is let the police know that your car has been stolen, and then OnStar does the rest.
- Police cars can be equipped with GPS Dart technology, which basically fires a small GPS tracker from the nose of the police vehicle so that it sticks onto the vehicle needing to be tracked. They can then plan how to catch and apprehend the suspect whilst tracking the suspect’s whereabouts.
- Already in action, police cars are equipped with automated license plate scanners. This technology is effective in catching those drivers that are driving a car that has failed its inspection or has a registration license that has lapsed. These scanning cameras can scan literally thousands of license plates per hour.
I have been pulled over by a police car that has used their scanning equipment on my car’s license plate. I wondered why it was following me so slowly for a time. I found out that my registration had expired on my trailer.
Subaru’s Impreza has been a staple part of their line up for nearly two decades, with the range giving birth to the WRX, WRX STi, Forester and XV models. A refresh was given to the Impreza in 2015 which was more of a gentle overhaul of the interior than a major rethink, as a major redo is due for 2017. A Wheel Thing’s first car for 2016 was the 2015 spec Subaru Impreza-S with the 2.0L naturally aspirated engine and CVT. Sitting at the top of the three model range, starting at $22990 driveaway, the S is set at just under $32000 and comes loaded with sunroof, cruise control, satnav and touchscreen, Bluetooth, leather seats, dual zone aircon and the 2016 model also gets push button start/stop and heated seats.
Under the gently sloping bonnet is their tried and tested boxer engine, breathing through a single exhaust pipe, with a modest 110 kilowatts (6200 rpm), 196 Nm of twist (4200Nm) and is connected to the now famous all wheel drive system via a constant variable transmission, complete with paddle shifts and six programmed gear points. Fuel is flexible, with a minimum required octane number of 90, filling a 55 litre tank.Subaru’s fuel figures are quoted as (for the CVT) 6.8L/8.9L/5.6L per 100 on the combined/urban/highway cycles with emissions said to be 157g/km of CO2, a EURO5 standard. A Wheel Thing’s test cycle finished on 7.8L/100km in a predominantly urban cycle. Acceleration is quoted as a somewhat leisurely 11.2 seconds to reach 100 kilometres per hour. Bluntly, it’s much easier and more efficient to use the paddle shifts if a quick getaway is needed with a low torque engine. Hit the go pedal, climb to about 3500-4000 and blip the shift…much quicker. A Wheel Thing has not been a supporter of CVT’s with low torque power plants since they first came to wider public attention in the latter half of the noughties.
Why? They caused widespread confusion amongst potential buyers for revving so high, sounding as if the engine was overworked and the gearbox was broken by sitting at around 4000 revs whilst speed climbed (this was before paddle shifts became the preferred option). They never appear to be as efficient in taking the torque and power and transferring them to the ground (think of a manual transmission with a slipping clutch) but they do have the virtue of weighing less. When added to the engine the WRX has, for example, it’s a totally different experience.
The current Impreza weighs in at just 1415 kilograms in hatchback guise (as tested) and that hatch also offers up 771 litres of space when the rear seats are folded. Otherwise, you can count on 340L, 120L less than the sedan’s and, as you open the hatch and lift the cover, you’ll find a space saver spare.The inside gets Subaru’s Starlink navitainment system as standard, a knee airbag has been added to to the 2016 spec model to complement the curtain ‘bags and the 2015 car stays with a insertable key while the ’16 gets a push button for Start/Stop.
The exterior is unremarkable with the test car provided clad in Venetian Red which did little to highlight the hatch’s lines. The sedan and hatch have different headlights to the WRX/STi and currently lack the LED driving lights as found almost everywhere else. There’s globe lit driving lights at the bottom corners and a hazy look inside the headlights, with a slim garnish of chrome just above the lower lights. Wheel arches have a sharpish edge to the bulge,there’s no parking sensors front OR rear but a bonus is the very wide opening angle the doors have, allowing super easy access and departure from the cabin. The rear ‘gate is manually, not power, operated.
Shortly after picking up the car, the ride of the Impreza S was noted as being soft, spongy, wallowy. A subsequent check of the tyre pressures found that all four were at just 30 psi. A pump up to 36 certainly tightened up some of the ride but also still left A Wheel Thing with the impression the suspension was still overly soft. Body roll was noticeable and the tyre squeal from the 205/50/17 inch Dunlop tyres told the story about how they were struggling to grip even in mild turns as the car leaned over them.Having said that, the steering itself is responsive enough to not cause undue worry, with predictable handling once you’ve spent sometime with it. It’s easy to set up into gentle turns and on a tightening radius turn, pulls the nose in nicely with a slight lift off the throttle.
Although it appears the engine is a willing performer, the CVT really does anchor the car. There’s that aforementioned get up and go issue, if letting the CVT do it itself. Use the paddleshifts on a flat road and things improve. However, neither work well with the lack of torque when meeting an uphill road such as the Old Bathurst Road zig zag at Emu Heights, just a few minutes west of Penrith at the base of the Blue Mountains.
Even using the paddle shifts, a drop down to first was sometimes required to keep the engine ticking over and the Impreza S under way, with a gear display on the dash flickering an arrow to indicate a need for an upshift. On a downhill run, there was a palpable sense of the engine/transmission braking, with a seat of the pants sensation of a gear cutting in and out, with the associated momentary slowing of the Impreza-S. Brake pedal feedback itself was sufficient to provide plenty of coverage on the Old Bathurst Road downhill run, an ideal brake test road.
The steering wheel itself has a good heft to it but, oddly, feels too wide for the car. Through the wheel the driver sees two analogue dials bracketing a small LCD screen for the speed and tacho and something not seen by A Wheel Thing since the early 1980’s…an economy gauge. Essentially, it’s a + or – gauge and the needle swings between one to the other depending on throttle position. There’s also the engine auto start/stop system that reengages the engine just 0.35 of a second after lifting the foot off the brake.
Up in top centre is Subaru’s handy double info screen setup, accessed by a small but clearly marked rocker tab near the Hazard flasher button. There’s on the fly fuel consumption, average consumption and an indication of the drive train, plus more.The overall dash design is also one that Toyota should consider, being measureably more cohesive in look than their Corolla and GTS vehicles, plus Subaru appears to be unique in offering dual USB ports, both for the front and rear passengers. There’s also an extra touch of bling, with alloy sports pedals in the driver’s footwell brightening up the dark. Power window wise, only the driver gets an Auto (one touch) up/down switch. You sit on, rather than in, the someone boring to look at and slabby cushioned seats, with the machine made leather coverings lacking any surface detail. Being non ventilated (2016 model will be heated, ventilation for Australia should be mandatory…) means it doesn’t take long before the sweat factor sets in. There is plenty of body room with the electric seats allowing a decent stretch of the legs although left shoulder room for the driver is a touch cramped, with two adults putting on seatbelts simultaneously consistently banging into each other.That’s, in part, due to the compact dimensions of the Impreza-S hatch. There’s a total of 1740 millimetres to play with side to side, whilst overall length for the hatch is 4420 mm, a tad shorter than the sedan’s 4585 mm. You lower yourself down into the hatch, too, belying the 1465 mm height. Wheelbase is proof of the wheels to the four corner design, at 2645 mm.
Safety wise, it’s well equipped, with the usual assortment of electronic aids like stability and traction control, brake assist and brake distribution plus the airbags, passenger safety cell, reverse camera, seatbelt pre-tensioning and the peace of mind of Subaru’s three year and unlimited kilometre warranty, a three year or 75000 kilometre capped price service program and 12 months of roadside assist. There’s also Subaru’s Datadot (Datadot info) to consider.
The Impreza is a solid and dependable entry from the Subaru stable and is due to get a major overhaul for the 2017 model. Up against competitors such as the Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30 and Kia’s Cerato, amongst others, it’s one that probably can’t come soon enough.
On its own, it’s fine, but up against the Koreans and the bigger Japanese companies the basic structure’s age is showing. The suspension is just a bit too soft, the engine’s output stuggles to move it around when bolted to the CVT, which itself needs some refinement and the styling lacks the current design leaning towards a smoother, more organic look.
For further info on the Impreza range, go here: 2015 and 2016 Subaru Impreza range
With new product and an increased market awareness, Automobili Lamborghini has had its fifth successive year of sales growth, with the 2015 year also seeing the brand deliver, for the first time, over 3000 units (3245, to be precise).
2014 saw 2530 units delivered, making last year’s results an increase of 28% over 2014’s figures. With 135 dealers covering 50 countries, it’s also an increase of two and a half times the amount sold in 2010.
Stephan Winkelmann, President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. said, “In 2015 Lamborghini delivered an exceptional sales performance and new records in all key business figures*, confirming the strength of our brand, product and commercial strategy. With the introduction of several new models in 2015 and a solid order bank, we are well prepared for the year 2016.”
The Huracán LP 610-4 model has been a large part of the sales increase, with 2242 units being shipped in its first full year of availability and the best in its history for V10 sales. Sales figures of the Huracán in the first 18 months after market introduction were up by 70% compared to its predecessor, the Gallardo, in the same period after market launch.The V12 Aventador LP700-4, with hard and soft top versions, along with the Aventador LP750-4 Super Veloce, also had an increase, compared to its successor, the Murciélago, up by 124% compared to the same sales period of fifty two months. 1003 units were sent to new homes in that period.
There’s also a new model on the way. Expected to see first deliveries in 2018, the Lamborghini Urus SUV will become the third model in the current Lamborghini lineup.
Winkelmann also said: “We increased sales in all our major regions with new sales records in America and Asia Pacific. Our biggest markets are the USA and Greater China. They are followed by Japan, UK, the Middle East and Germany, each of them registering considerable growth in 2015.”
Lamborghini isn’t backing away from the motorsport commitment either, with the one-make Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo series debuting in 2015. With over eighty cars in the series, it creates yet another record for the brand. The Huracán LP 620-2 Super Trofeo is the car of choice and has raced in Europe, North America and Asia. There’s also the Huracán GT3, which competed in the Blancpain Endurance Series and won at Monza, in Italy, in April of 2015.
Many collectors of classic cars have struggled to find suitable companies and materiel to restore their vehicles; Lamborghini has stepped up with Polo Storico, its in-house restoration centre. Home to the company’s archives, the vehicle restoration and certification centre makes sure that all available spare parts for historic Lamborghini models can be sourced from one location.
Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A.
Founded in 1963, Automobili Lamborghini is headquartered in Sant’Agata Bolognese, in Northeastern Italy. The Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4, which made its international debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 2014, the Huracán Spyder and the rear-wheel-drive version Lp 580-2 of 2015 are the successors to the iconic Gallardo. With their innovative technology and exceptional performance, they redefine the driving experience for luxury super sports cars.
The Coupé and Roadster versions of the Aventador LP 700-4, along with the Aventador LP 750-4 Superveloce, represent a new benchmark in the world of V12 luxury super sports cars. With 135 dealerships throughout the world, in half a century Automobili Lamborghini has created a continuous series of dream cars, including the 350 GT, Miura, Espada, Countach, Diablo, Murciélago, as well as limited editions including the Reventón, Sesto Elemento and Aventador J. The Veneno Coupé, Egoista and Veneno Roadster were produced to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary in 2013.
The automotive news overseas is humming about how Ford has just managed to put its driverless cars through its paces in a model city in snowy conditions. This is a big breakthrough for the world of driverless cars, because snowy conditions usually send the LIDAR (like radar but using lasers) sensors that make driverless cars “aware” of their situation berserk. To say nothing of what snowy conditions do to your traction when cornering or braking.
I’m not comfortable with the idea of driverless cars. This is not because I’m a technophobic Luddite (now there’s some big words for you to start the year off). It’s more because I spend a lot of time behind a computer and I know all too well that computers don’t always do what you want them to do. They stop working for mysterious reasons. They get too clever for their own good and try to do things that you don’t want them to (such as the time that my son borrowed my smartphone to check his Facebook feed, with the result that all his friends ended up on my contact list and I pocket-dialled them). Even those super-smart algorithms that customise the ads you get on social media make mistaken guesses about the sort of thing I am likely to buy (I’m already with that bank and I have bought my first home, thank you. And I am not interested in a university course. Or special offers on sunglasses. Or weird old tips.). So I can just imagine how things can go wrong with a driverless car.
This is especially the case if said driverless car is plugged into the sat-nav or GPS system. I’ve heard stories about navigations systems that have decided that the most efficient way to go is to take a 4×4 track that is marked as an official road but is only open for a handful of months a year, or decides to send you down a road that was permanently closed last year (and the system doesn’t know it). And what about all those stories from the UK about delivery trucks getting stuck in tiny old alleyways that barely fit a little wee Fiat 500?
So you can imagine what would happen with a driverless car. What if it decides that the best way to get to the shops is via the local golf course? What if it suddenly crashes like all computers do in the middle of a busy intersection?
The inventors, designers and legislators agree with me, too. Just last month in the US (in California, of course), the Department of Motor Vehicles decreed that all driverless cars must also have traditional controls, rather than the no-steering wheel, no-pedal Google prototype. In addition, the same governing body said that responsibility for crashes and traffic violations will still be squarely on the shoulders of the “driver” of the driverless car.
As for the inventors, one of Toyota’s inventors who just landed a nice big funding packet, Daniela Rus, points out that there are tons of things that robots and artificial intelligence can’t do for you, as they don’t have the sensitivity. Heavy weather like fog, snow and torrential rain is still an issue for driverless cars – which is why Ford was so thrilled about getting a driverless car to work in the snow – and so is heavy traffic.
The place where driverless cars are really likely to stuff up is in shared spaces. Shared spaces, as covered in one of my posts last year, are where pedestrians and cars aren’t in separated zones but share the same bit of “road”. This helps with road safety, as drivers (and pedestrians) have to stay fully alert to what and who’s around them, and use a bit of courtesy and common sense to avoid collisions. In situations like these, drivers and pedestrians communicate in subtle and very, very human ways: a quick cock of the head to one side, a raised eyebrow, a glare, a smile, a brief hand gesture… Computers, even the most sophisticated, just can’t handle these things. They may be able to recognise your face in a crowd but they can’t recognise your emotions. These shared spaces are becoming more common in town plans, just to make things more interesting.
Driverless cars also have trouble with other places where humans or other sentient beings have overridden the norm. They won’t spot the line of ducks or the boneheaded spaniel on the road ahead. They don’t really know how to tackle the situation commonly encountered on a country road where a farmer is moving stock along the road. Around town, cops on point duty when the traffic lights have failed, a ball bouncing into the road closely followed by a crazy kid, a pedestrian suddenly stepping out, the road works crew’s hand signals and the local school crossing are all things that autonomous cars (to give them their official name) can’t really cope with.
Yes, I know jumbo jets fly on autopilot around the world all the time. However, I also know that jumbo jets with autopilot function (i.e. all of them) have a pilot-in-charge and two back up copilots on hand, all of whom have trained for much, much longer than the typical driver has, just in case things go wrong.
Anyway, where’s the fun in a driverless car?
Safe and happy driving (computers don’t get the “happy” bit),
More info is available at these links:
Cars are a labour of love to the motoring enthusiast. If you own a vehicle that has done a few kilometres and is also old enough to not be under a manufacture warranty/servicing regime, then you can save yourself some money by doing the car’s servicing basics yourself. Things like an oil and filter change, air filter replacement, coolant fluid check and tyre pressure checks can be easily done by any half-useful person who knows which end of a spanner to hold; and these key maintenance factors do look after your vehicle. You can quite easily purchase a maintenance manual for your car online, at a library or through your local bookshop. Many ‘do-it-your-selfers’ can save a few dollars by doing these few important tasks themselves. Just don’t forget to put the oil back in the vehicle – unlike my father-in-law who, after draining the oil out, didn’t get round to putting it back in. Forgetting the life blood of an engine is a very spectacular way of ending its life.
If you just can’t face the job of changing the oil and other basic checks on the vehicle, do shop around for the best deals in car servicing. It’s surprising how variable the cost of car servicing can be between garages. There are even servicing outfits strictly geared up for doing the basics – like ‘Oil Changers’. The convenience of just dropping your car in when you like, waiting for usually less than half an hour, and driving off again can’t be underestimated. It beats being without a car for a day.
When it comes to getting your WOF done, this is the time when anything that needs fixing on your car to be roadworthy will be found out. When it comes to repairs, this is an area that demands good automotive knowledge and will be the right time to employ an expert’s skills if the job is beyond your skill set. Also, when your car comes to a halt because it breaks down, if you can’t fix it, then an expert will be needed for the diagnosis and repair. It’s usually electronic components, air conditioning and the like which will be beyond the average ‘do-it-your-selfer’.
It’s actually quite fun doing maintenance on you own car, particularly if you have an interest in cars. You do get quite a lot of satisfaction from doing so.
Although the icons of Australia’s automotive industry, Ford and Holden, went backwards in sales in 2015, overall sales hit the million mark for the fourth year in a row, with preliminary figures tipping 1.156 million.
Holden went backwards by 2.9% and was within reach of Hyundai, with less than 1000 sales between the two. The Blue Oval, meanwhile, hurt even more, with sales dropping by 11.6% and outside of the top five, beaten by Mitsubishi for the first time. The iconic Falcon, once one of the country’s favourite cars, sold less than 6000 units and was comfortably outsold by Germany’s Mercedes-Benz, with their C Class sedan.It wasn’t all bad news for Australian made cars, however. Toyota’s Camry cracked the number one position in December, for the first time in 2015, helped by a pricing structure and finance package that made the vehicle’s value a better proposition. 5320 Camrys found new homes in December, making it just the third time the Camry has topped a monthly sales chart, with the Corolla, a perennial top seller, moving 3470, just twenty more than its persistent rival, the Mazda 3.Toyota and Ford stood nose to nose in the workhorse stakes, with the Ranger just 290 units behind in December, with 2840 against the 2130 of the HiLux. The Commodore, also once a family favourite, shifted just 2620 in December and in series 2 guise, with Mitsubishi’s revamped Triton, with 2140 units, making inroads.Hyundai’s i30 moved 2000 units in December just ahead of the 1920 of Mazda’s CX 5 and stablemate Tucson, at 1630.
Overall, Toyota also took the number one spot for December and for 2015, with a rise to 206237 units, an increase of 1.3%. Mazda saw a huge increase for 2015, with a huge 13.2 percent putting them into second overall, with 114024. Mazda also took the runner up position in December, albeit with half of Toyota’s 21K units, at 9700.
Third for 2015 and December was Holden, at 102951 and 9145.
Hyundai jumped by 1.9%, to 102004, to claim fourth and fifth went to Mitsubishi, at 71752. The bottom half of the top ten: Ford 70,454 — down 11.6 per cent, Nissan 66,063 — up 0.05 per cent, Volkswagen 60,225 — up 9.9 per cent, Subaru 43,600 — up 7.6 per cent, Honda 40,100 — up 21.5 per cent.
What also stood out in 2015 was the continued rise of ute sales, with the Triton, Ranger and HiLux, tradionally seen as workhorses, more and more being used as family vehicles in a dual cab configuration. Small cars continued to sell well also, ahead of the SUV category. Production volumes, month by month, were also mostly down in 2015, as Ford prepares to wind up local manufacturing this year and Holden & Toyota look to do so in 2017.
2015 saw Lexus and A Wheel Thing join forces for the first time, with the new to Australia (in late ’15) IS 200t finding its way to the garage for two weeks and including a return trip to the nation’s capital. How does it cope with highway and suburban driving? Let’s take a look, with the Lexus IS200t F-Sport (mid spec) spending Christmas and New Year’s at A Wheel Thing’s garage.Under the bonnet is the raison d’etre for this car’s existence; a twin scroll, turbocharged and intercooled, 2.0L petrol engine, driving the rear wheels, with a maximum power output of 180 kW with peak power coming at 5800 rpm. That’s bolted up to an eight speed auto, with well spaced ratios, and possibly one of the smoothest, non intrusive, changes around. Torque is (what seems to be an industry standard) 350 Nm, at a slightly lower than normal 1650 revs.
Recommended fuel is 95 RON at a minimum, which was sipped at a best figure of 6.4L/100 km (on the Hume Highway) from the 66L tank. This was under cruise control conditions, set at 115 kmh and the tacho dead on 2000 revs. Lexus quotes a combined figure of 7.5L per 100 kays. Suburban driving saw an average of 8.9L/100 km, good for somewhere around 700 kilometres, if driven gently. And therein lies the rub…
The IS F Sport comes, as so many do now, with Sports mode; effectively this changes the engine mapping and gear change points. Because the engine is such a willing spinner, an eager performer, and the transmission such a smooth and well controlled unit (for the most part), seeking and finding the right ratio so easily, it begs to be punted hard. It’s a sweet spinning mill and responds within an eyeblink when the pedal is pushed, as do the wonderful brakes. And whether using the paddle shifters or the gear selector (use the paddles, they’re easier), it’s a crisp, quick, move from one to the other.
When left to its own devices, it is pretty damned good; sometimes, though, it would find a lower ratio at some speeds and refuse to move, either by itself or when asking it to. On downhill runs that came in handy for engine braking but in a highway situation, not so. Ratio wise, it finishes at 0.685:1, with that helping the economy figure out on the freeway.
Ride and handling were superb; the steering has some lovely weight either side of centre before the variable ratio kicks in and response becomes more rapid. Lock to lock is about 2.75 turns. On the freeways, it was firm and flat, except for some unexpected and unwelcome wallowing, a floatiness, in the rear with a certain amount of load on the return trip from Canberra.Loaded up with shopping, packed into the 480L boot, the weight was noticeable in the drive but also in how the rear sat flatter, without the wallow. Otherwise, the suspension is tuned for, unsurprisingly, a sporting feel, meaning speedbumps really become speed bumps…The 225/40/18 (fronts) and 255/35/18 (rears) tyre and wheel combination doesn’t help either.The F Sport sits on a 2.8 metre wheelbase, contributing to the razor sharp handling. Front and rear track are slightly different, with the front wheels 1535 mm apart whilst the rears (with the 18’s fitted) are 1540 mm , and with a balanced chassis (almost 50:50), is immense fun to throw around. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a somewhat better looker than its predecessors, especially with the redesigned headlights, separating the LED driving lights from the main assembly. At just 4665 mm in total length, it’s surprising in its interior room. It stands just 1430 mm high, meaning you need to lower yourself down and into the cabin before sitting on the heated and ventilated electric seats. In a rear and front view, it menaces, thanks to the 1810 mm width. In profile, its distinctive wedge shape gives a solid clue to the aerodynamics the engineers have worked on and it’s only up close when the small nodules give a better clue as to the distribution of airflow over its lithe body. The front end is a definition of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, with the angular hourglass grille and swoopy lower part of the air dam with vents for the hard working front brakes. The car’s length is bracketed by similar looking “swooshes” in brilliant LED’s.Once settled into the well bolstered and supportive seats, facing a LCD screen with a sliding dial (truly!), the driver and passenger are greeted by possibly one of the ugliest dashboards seen since the 1970’s. The utter lack of cohesiveness in the design and the colours of the plastics are at total odds with the ergonomics of the switchgear.There’s some niggles, too, with the navitainment system. It’s operated via a mouse type device just to the front left of the centre console, itself a somewhat odd piece of work. It plain refused to default to anything other than the map system when the car was started; by using the mouse to select some other item, such as the radio, it would hold that selection for maybe thirty seconds before again reverting back to the map.
Select the Menu tab and then something else didn’t always work either. Annoying? Yes. Very much so. Audio wise, it’s a Mark Levinson system, with a DAB tuner as well, sounding clear and punchy across the range.
There’s a surprising amount of room inside but it’s definitely a more comfortable four seater than five, with two kids in the back seat squeezing a moderately sized adult.The dash itself is interesting, with a LCD screen and that sliding dial, moved via a tiller mounted tab. There’s a wealth of info, including the gear you’re in, turbo pressure, and more, to be found. It’s a clean, simple and easy to read look but the value of a sliding bezel is questionable. Being a mid level car doesn’t mean it’s short on tech: there’s blind sport alerts, cross traffic, a guidance system for the rearview camera and parking sensors, Auto stop/start, the choice of drive modes, hill start assist, pre-collision alert, tyre pressure warning, pedestrian safety bonnet and adaptive cruise. There’s the usual swag of safety features such as curtain airbags, pre-tensioning seatbelts and the Euro style emergency brake light system.
Being the first Lexus reviewed by A Wheel Thing, there were no expectations. From that perspective, the exterior certainly grabs the eyeballs for the right reasons while the dash design grabs the eyeballs for the wrong ones. Thankfully, it’s not reason enough to not buy the IS, but it grates every time you get inside. The ride, handling, responsiveness of the engine more than make up for it, however. It’s taut, responsive, fun. As a sports oriented car should be. The ergonomics are spot on, the vented seats came in handy during the rare warm days and the car doesn’t weary the driver. Toss in the four year warranty (or 100,000 kays, whichever comes first) to further tempt you…
At around the mid sixty thousand mark, it’s up against some stiff competition and the exterior may not be suitable for some. But you’d be missing out on a great powerplant and transmission combo and that lovely ride. For more info on the IS 200 range, click here: Lexus IS 200t