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Archive for April, 2016

Should Car Manufacturers be Releasing Reliability Data?

Recently, the good folk over at ‘CarsGuide’ penned a piece that brought into question why local car manufacturers are reluctant to release information about vehicle reliability. In many respects, it’s a completely valid and reasonable query. After all, your new vehicle is often the second largest individual purchase you’ll make in your lifetime, and no one wants to end up with a ‘lemon’. So why then are manufacturers so unwilling to publish information about the dependability of their vehicles?

Source: Confused.com

Source: Confused.com

From an owner’s perspective, having full and complete information is invaluable when engaging in a decision making process. It’s how we, as humans, filter out options that do not align with our needs, or prioritise the ones that best suit them. This is something that has been recognised abroad. From the US to the UK and other parts of Europe and Asia, industry surveys with motorists are common practice and the results are published for all to see.

In turn, this ensures manufacturers not only receive feedback but are compelled to embrace it – to act upon it and improve their vehicles. Tesla, a new entrant to the motoring space, has been one of the most prominent stakeholders in accepting feedback. The company is one of the first to admit they have had several notable problems with their ‘high end’ vehicles, however, their approach is all about finding the right solution(s) to improve motorists’ driving experiences.

In Australia, only half the feedback cycle is being undertaken. Motorists are often surveyed for their thoughts on vehicle reliability (amongst other things), but the results are never made public. In fact, it’s hard to know in what way this information is being used given its guarded nature. That being said, it’s widely accepted that mechanical issues have improved some way in recent years, while foreign made cars are amongst the frontrunners in terms of reliability.

Source: Rac.com

Source: Rac.com

However, if there is one thing to recognise in defence of manufacturers, the human mechanics of operating a vehicle cannot always be recorded – and where it can lingers some degree of uncertainty regarding the accuracy of the answers. That is, whether a driver has adequately maintained their vehicle, followed through with appropriate servicing, and ultimately how they drive their car. Now you’re probably saying these things shouldn’t matter. And they shouldn’t. But for the purpose of a direct comparison between cars and manufacturers, it’s hard to compare the likes of a HSV driven by a P-plater, with a Toyota Camry driven by a retiree.

The other element to consider is that reliability data is only one piece of the puzzle. The type of failure, as well as the cost of repairs, should also be considered. One might expect that ‘luxury’ vehicles encounter fewer reliability issues, however, if each time this vehicle requires repairs that cost three times that of a ‘regular’ sedan, what are the results really demonstrating? Furthermore, with the majority of problems these days encompassing technology problems, can these issues be compared on the same scale as that of vehicles with mechanical problems? When such experiences shape a motorist’s opinion of a certain brand’s vehicle, and ultimately influence the survey results, does a comparison between manufacturers still hold relevance?

There is certainly a need to disclose further information around vehicle reliability. In fact, manufacturers owe it to motorists, particularly if they are in search of brand loyalty and a vision to improve future cars. The caveat however, is that this data needs to be comparable, so consumers can make informed decisions.

Seeing Round Corners

Ever wanted to know what’s around the corner?  Thanks to today’s new car technology, the driver can gain insight into what might be approaching at that terrible intersection or hard-to-get-out-of driveway.  There is no doubt that the intersection can be a dangerous place when driving.  Until recently, the only sure way a driver could check what was coming beyond the intersection was to poke the nose of the car beyond any visual obstacle just enough for them to lean forward and crane the neck to get a better view of any oncoming traffic – hardly safe.  Heaven help the oncoming cyclist!

Ford has a new safety system that could change that.  Mounted in the front grille of the car is a Front Split View Camera and reveals in real-time a 180 degree view from the left to the right of the front end of the car.  It’s easy to use, and at the push of a button the driver has the 180 degree panoramic picture displayed on the car’s touch screen display in the middle of the dash.  To keep the view crisp, the camera even has a lens washer that turns on whenever the wipers are switched on.  Ford hopes to have the majority of its models equipped with this round-the-corner camera technology by 2020.

An excellent new safety feature, don’t you think?

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Lexus GS 450h & RX 450h

Toyota’s luxury arm, Lexus, has hit home runs with the GS 450h and RX 450h. Lusty power plants, seamless integration of the hybrid power systems, a stunning interior in the GS (with the RX losing points for the absurd design of the upper dash centre), a gorgeous exterior (again, for the GS, the RX is polarising for some) and plenty of standard equipment. There’s two models in the GS range, F Sport (tested) and Luxury, with the RX offering F Sport, Luxury and Sports Luxury. 2016 Lexus GS450h profile2016 Lexus RX450h profileBoth have a 3.5L V6 petrol engine plus the battery system. Both will operate in electric mode only up to around 30 kmh before the computer kicks in the petrol, even with the driver selecting EV via a button in the centre console. That’s a bit of a shame, frankly, as pure electric driving would extend the range of the petrol usage. Lexus quotes 6.3L of 95 RON from the 66 litre tank per 100 kilometres for the GS, but a surprising 5.7L/100 km for the RX…surprising because the kerb weight is 2210 kilos, 300 kegs heavier than the GS. No, I don’t get that either.

The GS matches the 215 kilowatt V6 to a battery system producing 147 kW and a handy 275 torques however limits peak power to a combined 254 kW. There’s 352 Newton metres from the V6 at a highish 4600 revs yet that low end oomph from the electric motor helps get the big car (1910 kilos kerb weight) to one hundred klicks in under six seconds. 2016 Lexus GS450h engine bay2016 Lexus RX450h engineThe RX goes for a detuned 193 kW V6, with the electrics offering (according to the website) just another 37 kW for a combined 230 kW maximum power. Maximum torque is 335 Nm, at 4600…the difference here is that the RX appears to use an “Atkinson Cycle” where the proverbial “suck push bang blow” is all accomplished during the one stroke of the engine.
To bustle that hustle there’s 356 mm front and 310 mm rear brake rotors on the F Sport version (there is also a Sports Luxury with 334 mm fronts) whilst the RX gets 328 x 18 front and 318 x 18 rear discs. The wheels vary depending on model; the GS F Sport has 235/40 front and 265/35 on 19s whilst the Luxury goes for 17s and 225/50s on each corner. Rolling stock for the RX are 20 inch alloys, with relatively narrow 235/55 rubber. 2016 Lexus GS450h wheel2016 Lexus RX450h wheel

The engine combinations fairly boot each car along from a standing start and make overtaking a blink and miss it affair. They’re superb highway and freeway cruisers, as a result, with the rapidity in overtaking making that act a safe option whilst easily loping along, quietly and stress free, at the designated speeds. Apart from the thrum of the V6, there’s little noise poking into the well appointed cabins, although the RX did have a sense of vibration from the driveline, as opposed to the silky smoothness of the GS.
The starting procedure is simple: get in, strap in, press the Start button and wait a moment until remembering the car is ready to go under electric power. Select Drive and see 100 kmh in around six seconds…both engines were audible in their starting but the engagement of them in the drive process was unnoticeable, for the most part, with the RX exhibiting the slightest of jolts.2016 Lexus GS450h front seats2016 Lexus RX450h front seatsCabin wise, the GS was most definitely the pick of the two, largely because of the choice made in mounting the infoscreen in the RX in the upper dash looking as if it was an afterthought in the design process. Yes, it worked as expected but it really does look as if no planning to integrate the unit into the cabin design was undertaken. Ergomically, it’s just not as well laid out as the GS.2016 Lexus RX450h dash2016 Lexus GS450h dash2016 Lexus RX450h info screenThe GS, on the other hand, spoke volumes in regards to class and good looks. The dash design is swoopy, fluid, flowing with style and simply delicious to look at. Muted grey tones on the dash and doors, a slim looking yet curvy set of lines for the dash, the centre console supporting the left arm as the driver accesses the screen’s information via the mouse. The rear seat passengers benefit by having access to their own aircon and media controls via a centre fold out plus it also holds a tab for the electric rear window blind.2016 Lexus RX450h rear seats2016 Lexus GS450h rear seats controls2016 Lexus GS450h rear seatsThere’s supple leather, heating and cooling for the seats, a user friendly Head Up Display (HUD) for both, which also scored a mark against in the RX, as the buttons for the HUD, mounted on the lower right of the dash, were fairly and squarely hidden by the steering wheel. The layout on the centre console for the mouse and drive mode selectors also didn’t feel as ergonomically intuitive as the GS2016 Lexus GS450h HUD A nice touch for both were the LCD dash dials inside conventional looking bezels; at the touch of the Sports/Sports + selector, they’d change colour and text inside without losing the sharpness of vision provided.2016 Lexus GS450h centre consoleVision all round for both was superb, with the SUV style of the RX raising the driver and passengers above traffic and giving a longer view. Both came with a full length glass roof and sun roof, with a fabric covering rolling back at the touch of a button. 2016 Lexus RX450h sunroofThe exteriors vary, naturally, by quite a margin yet have a strong family look to them.Both have the sharply angled hourglass grille Lexus has endowed its range with, both have LED head and tail lights with the indicators lighting from the innermost section outwards. It looks great and is definitely eye catching.2016 Lexus GS450h rear2016 Lexus GS450h front2016 Lexus RX450h frontThe GS is a sleek, lithe looking beastie, at a long 4880 mm, rolls on a 2850 mm wheelbase and stands just 1455 mm high. Width is 1840 mm, about standard for this class, adding plenty of space inside. It’s a high beltline yet there’s plenty of vision, as mentioned, from the glass house, with a roofline that slopes deep into the rear quarters. The RX is also a big ‘un, at 4890 mm long, with a wheel base of 2890 mm and spreads 1895 mm wide. It’s a touch taller as well, at 1685 mm. The RX is a somewhat awkward looking machine in comparison to the slinky RX, with some odd creases in the front doors and a truly strange rear window line. The rear of the roof angles down sharply from the C pillar, finishing just a few inches above the tail light. It’s distinctive, if hardly cohesive. 2016 Lexus RX450h rear 12016 Lexus RX450h rear 22016 Lexus RX450h taillight Both also score the usual unseen and hopefully unneeded electronic intervention programs.There’s also the suite of airbags including side curtain airbags (but no knee airbag?), pre-tensioning seat belts, and more electronics such Blind Spot Monitoring, Pre-Collision Alert, Lane Departure Alert and Tyre Pressure sensors. Both cars had superb road holding although the GS felt a touch floaty over some undulations at the top of the double wishbone’s suspension travel. The RX, with McPherson struts up front and trailing arm rear, also felt a little top heavy in longer sweeping turns, otherwise there’s a firm, taut yet supple when needed ride to be had from both. 2016 Lexus RX450h front headlight2016 Lexus GS450h headlightThe GS particularly delighted in its pin point handling, the nose tucking into all corners with perhaps a touch of oversteer, if anything. The RX was neutral in all situations, in comparison. Warranty wise, Lexus offers you a 48 month or 100,000 kilometre coverage, with roadside assistance and even the paint covered for that time.

At The End Of The Drive.
If asked to choose one of the two to keep, A Wheel Thing would have no hesitancy in pointing towarsd the GS. By no means is the RX a bad vehicle, by no means, the preference here is simply towards the sedan for it’s shape, looks and, in this instance, a better looking interior. With prices from $120K upwards, Lexus has set their sights on the continentals and continues to fire shots across their bows and to great effect. For further details on each of the Lexus GS450h and RX 450h, click here: Lexus GS range and here: Lexus RX range

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Subaru Outback Premium Diesel & 3.6R

It’s fair to say that the Subaru Outback is a popular car, with owners in Australia always warm and fuzzy about theirs. It’s also fair to say that Subaru is still seen as a niche manufacturer and it’s also fair to say that that niche is getting bigger with the brand recognition really achieving cut through. The now twenty year old nameplate, WRX, has gone a long way to contributing to that, but there’s the Liberty, Forester and the Outback to thank as well. In February of 2016, A Wheel Thing attended the launch of the updated Liberty, Forester and Outback and recently sampled the 2.0L diesel and 3.6L petrol powered versions of the Outback Premium.2016 Subaru Outback Premium

Of note were the subtle changes to the suspension in the wagons. It’s A Wheel Thing’s opinion that the Outback is one of the best in the medium wagon class for ride and handling. There is a bit of competition out there such as the Mondeo, Superb, and Octavia, just to mention a couple, but the incremental development work that Subaru Japan and Subaru Australia have jointly been involved it has paid off.2016 Subaru Outback Premium diesel

Tested on dirt and tarmac roads in South Australia during the launch, and driven hard in its most likely environment, suburbia, both versions exhibited the kind of ride a discerning driver looks for. On undulating roads,there’s no sense of continuing the motion, with the Outback simply following the up and down movement while simultaneously isolating the cabin from it.

Shopping centre car park speedbumps were ignored, with only the barest thump transmitted through at low speed (say two or three kmh) and at around 20 kmh there was a short, sharp, jolt which was instantly damped. The larger rubber based units on some back roads were noticeable in the relative lack of impact felt inside, with the compliant suspension taking up most of the shock and minimising any bodily movement. It’s well tied down and lacks the floatiness found in others.2016 Subaru Outback Premium wheel

It’s also quiet on the road with tyre, road and wind noise very quickly becoming forgotten. This helps in regards to fatigue on a drive, as does the ride quality. It’s a tight handler, with just a hint of understeer in slow 90 degree corner turns but tucks the nose in nicely in roundabouts. Steering is responsive, perhaps moreso in the 3.6R, with the load building up left and right from centre in a progressive manner.

The transmissions provided were CVT for the diesel, standard six speed auto for the petrol. There is a manual option available, as well as a 2.5L four potter. The range starts at $35990 for the entry level 2.5L with CVT with the range topper 3.6R at $48490.The diesel premium CVT is $44490, with that price being an increase of $1500 over the outgoing model whilst the 3.6R seeing an increase of just $500.2016 Subaru Outback Premium sunroofThe difference in the drive between the two is astounding; the traditional auto leaves the CVT to eat its dust. A Wheel Thing has not been a fan of CVT, for the most part, as the CVT added to the WRX is simply superb. There’s a discernable lag in acceleration, a lag in switching from Reverse to Drive before forward motion is engaged, a lack of smoothness in doing so as well. The 3.6R’s gearbox however is zippy, instantaneous response is given when asked for, and there’s more of a sense of the engine working firmly hand in hand with the gearbox.2016 Subaru Outback Premium engineWhat’s damning about the way the CVT dulls the diesel compared to the petrol, are the torque figures: both engines produce 350 torques, with that number for the petrol being a peak figure and at 4400 rpm but the diesel shows that between 1600 to 2800….The 3.6R is more free spirited in its revvy nature, seeing 191 kilowatts at 6000 and showing no restraint in how it spins. The diesel is, naturally, lower on peak power, with 110 kilowatts at 3600 revs but it just lacks character and a seeming willingness to put that grunt down through the all wheel drive system due the CVT. There is the question of economy, with 6.3L per 100 km for the diesel (combined)versus 9.9L/100 km for the 3.6R, however.2016 Subaru Outback Premium cargoApart from the all wheel drive system marketing that Subaru has steadily built its following on, there’s been the step by step increase in standard technology. All diesel auto Outbacks get the EyeSight collision avoidance system, with stereoscopic forward looking cameras and also now with colour recognition programming. 2016 Subaru Outback Premium dash 2The 2.5i Premium, 3.6R and 2.0D Outbacks also get the Vision Assist package, giving the driver: Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, high beam assist and self dimming rear vision mirror.2016 Subaru Outback Premium rearThe colour recognition shakes hands with the ACC, Adaptive Cruise Control, by recognising brake lights being activated in vehicles ahead, and will slow the Outback. It’ll also recognise lane changing vehicles ahead, adding to the five star safety rating the range has. A very handy feature is what’s called Unintended Start Prevention, where it’ll hold the vehicle if the accelerator is pressed but the sensors read an object in front of the car.2016 Subaru Outback Premium front seats

Subaru have also tossed in the Euro style emergency brake light system, which flashes the brake lights when the computer senses input that would be an emergency stop situation. All Outbacks now get halogen DRLs integrated into the fog lights, the 2.5I and 2.0D have electric folding mirrors as standard plus teh diesel also gets auto headlights and wipers. A Wheel Thing is of the opinion that auto headlights shouldn’t be seen as a luxury or optionable item, they should be standard across the board.2016 Subaru Outback Premium rear seats

The interiors of both are identical, down to sunroof, somewhat slabby seats, lack of detail on the leather, no cooling for the pews (surely a must for Aussie spec cars with machine made leather seats?), the SI Drive system (which changes the engine mapping and shift points in the autos), the StarLink touchscreen satnav and infotainment system…you get the picture. A Wheel Thing still feels the location of the clock has it lost within the aircon controls, not exactly an ergonomic or safe feature…Of course you’ll get Bluetooth handsfree phone connection, audio streaming and, being wagons, plenty of storage space with over 500L of cargo and enough bottle holders to suit the family.

You’ll get curtain airbags, side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, power seats (heated only…sigh), powered rear ‘gate, and Subaru’s X-Mode (auto only) for when a bit of soft roading is called for.2016 Subaru Outback Premium front

The exterior hasn’t come in for any major do-overs; there’s a new Dark Blue Pearl paint (verra noice) and a retrimmed grille for the 2.5i and 3.6R aside from the aforementioned driving light change. It’s a handsome looking vehicle, with just enough black polycarbonate to remind people of the soft road ability the Outback has, along with good looking 18 inch alloys and 225/60 Bridgestone rubber. It’s a good size overall, too, with a total length of 4815 mm encompassing a wheelbase of 2745 mm and tracks of 1570/1580 mm. And if you do wish to try out the off road ability, you’ve got over 200 mm of ground clearance to play with.

At The End Of The Drive.
Subaru’s Outback is a good and solid seller for the Japanese brand, with just under 11000 units sold in 2015 and the brand had a massive 344.7% sales increase as well. There’s a three year warranty on offer, which some would say lacks compared to some of the other brands out there. But the brand and the Outback have a strong, fiercely loyal following and there’s little doubt an extra year or two warranty makes little difference to that loyalty.

What the Subaru Outback trades on is a good look, solid engineering, dependability and with the 2016 model, some of the best handling in its class, with the MacPherson struts and double wishbone rear. It’s a pity the CVT nobbles the diesel compared to the 3.6R as the economy of the diesel will always be a winner there but the 3.6R wins thoroughly in the performance stakes. Head across to www.subaru.com.au and follow the links for information on the vehicles available.

Real Life Bond Cars?

bondcarOne of the neat features that you can expect in any good James Bond movie is a great set of wheels.  It just wouldn’t be James Bond without the Bond car.  In fact, it wouldn’t be Ian Fleming without the car, given that Ian Fleming also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

However, cars tricked out with tons of neat features aren’t just from the movies.  We don’t yet have cars that can get invisibility cloaks or ejector seats but it is possible to get cars that might look normal on the top but are otherwise underneath.  Cars that are just a bit… well, I’m afraid that “badass” is about the only word, little as I like it (and even though the quality of being badass is nothing to do with substandard bottoms or donkeys).

Armoured cars or “personal protection vehicles” are more common than you might think.  Plenty of Hollywood superstars have them – they say that Kanye West has one that has electrified door handles to zap overly invasive paparazzi.  However, in the Middle East and Venezeula, you’ve got a combination of a bunch of super-rich folk and an unscrupulous underclass plus volatile politics and you’ve got a situation where kidnapping for ransom is likely.  And it’s not just something that happens in dodgy countries – it happens in the USA as well.  Heck, it could happen here some time.  For the oil sheiks and similar, a personal protection vehicle is a good investment.  It’s a good investment to the point that there’s even a company based in Texas (where else?) that specialises in customising vehicles so they have what it takes.

However, many of these badass personal protection vehicles aren’t the cool Aston Martins and Lotuses (Loti?) that you’d see James Bond drive.  Apparently, the cars that get done up most often are Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexus LX 570s.  In the case of the Lankies, it’s probably because they’ve got the off-roading capacity to go gnarly places in their day-to-day lives as well as taking evasive manoeuvres if needed.

The Texas Armouring Corporation (check them out at http://www.texasarmoring.com/) takes its job seriously.  Their job involves keeping the cars in question nice and luxurious while being as tough as nails – now, that sounds Bondish enough for me.  They also have to keep the handling of the car top-notch, although a bit of handling and performance will be sacrificed, as all that armour will add a bit of weight.  The job usually involves a total strip-down before the Kevlar, ballistic grade steel and other cool materials get added in.  Then comes the bulletproof glass, the run-flat tyres, the improved suspension and braking (to deal with the extra weight) and other extras before the interior is re-installed.  Some of the badass Bond-type gadgets that can be added include the electric-shock doorhandles, road tack dispensers, smokescreens and night vision.

The end result is a vehicle that might look like a regular luxury sedan but can withstand fire from an AK-47.  Here’s one of Texas Armouring Corporation’s videos showing a Mercedes-Benz being shot up in a promo video:

Of course, given the unfortunate frequency of terrorist attacks, one vehicle company now makes production vehicles that can withstand AK-47 fire.  BMW has come up with the BMW X5 Security that comes straight from the factory floor with one of three spec levels of armouring.  It looks like a regular X5 with BMW’s X-drive and all the other luxury features but it’s also got armouring, bullet proof glass, fireproofing and emergency fresh air.

The BMW X5 Security isn’t available for regular sale in Australia yet, although there are a few knocking around in the hands of the Federal Police.  Some of BMW’s other luxury armoured vehicles (based on the 7-series) were bought by the government for the top brass during the G20 conference.  The rest of us oiks have to stick with the ordinary – if you can call it that – X5 and 7-series.  However, us ordinary oiks probably don’t have to worry about kidnapping threats, so that’s OK.

Safe and happy driving, even without armour,

Megan

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 HSV ClubSport R8 Manual

It’s safe to say that the Gen-F2 HSV range will go out with a bang and a half when their supplier, Holden, ceases local manufacturing of the Commodore in 2017. With the entry level sedan, the R8 ClubSport, packing 400 kilowatts and a massive 671 Newton metres of torque, there’s subtlety and brutality in equal measure to be found by the discerning driver.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport engine

Hiding, or perhaps more correctly, lurking, under the lightweight aluminuim bonnet, is 6.2 litres of the General’s latest alloy blocked Gen 4 V8, complete with a supercharger. In this car, it sits ahead of a Tremec six speed manual transmission, with enough clutch pedal required to test but not wear out the left leg. The gear selector movement is a delight, clicking through each ratio simply but with weight and under low throttle application, it’s easy to snick the lever along, with no feeling that you need to press against it to move.

The sledgehammer up front though, is a surprise and delight feature. It’s possible to have it as docile as a slumbering puppy but as cranky as a freshly wakened crocodile that’s missed out on his coffee. That peak torque is at a high 4200¬ but there’s plenty, oh there’s plenty of twist well below that. In suburban driving, it’s possible to pootle around, at 60 to 80 kmh, in fourth to fifth, with absolutely no indication of the engine stuttering because it’s straining against the ratios.

At even lower speeds, in fourth, it’s loping along yet a mere flex of the ankle has the R8 upping the speed level ante in an eyeblink. At freeway velocities, it’s possible to see under 2000 on the tacho and license losing, here’s your cell, sir, speeds just a few seconds later. At the blunt end is a quad tipped exhaust, linked to a switch just to the driver’s left in the centre console. 2015 HSV R8 Clubsport drive modeSelect Touring, and the sound is muffled, subtle in its V8ness. Twist it clockwise to select Sport or Performance and the note immediately deepens. Under acceleration and gearchange at 4000rpm, there’s a noise like Thor clearing his throat as he whirls Mjölnir, readying for battle. Thank you, bi-modal exhaust, for your thunderous appeal.

The downside is the fuel consumption; the government regulated fuel figures quotes around 21L/100 km for the urban cycle, a figure certainly achievable due, simply, to the truly sensational surge of acceleration that engine offers and overwhelms common sense. HSV says a combined cycle is 15.3L/100 km for the manual, slightly less at 15.0 for the auto. A Wheel Thing’s varied driving style and locations had a final figure of 13.1L/100 km.

Although as potent as a fleet of battleships, the R8 really is a doddle to drive. In Touring, the steering has enough weight to connect the driver to the front end, but the next two modes increase the heft, the effort needed to twirl the somewhat too thin wheel. The clutch travel feels two stage, as in the initial part of the press has an easy progression before feeling as if it tightens up and squeezes before releasing. A little practice is all it took, before getting the procedure dialed in and becoming very quickly accustomed to the mechanism.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport rear wheel

Braking is looked after by HSV’s own setup, with red painted AP Racing four piston calipers at the front and four pots at the rear. The brake pedal has minimal travel before there’s positive feedback, with the driver confident of real power to stop the R8.

For a big car, at 4991 mm long and in the order of over 1800 kilos, it’s a wonderfully nimble beast. There’s a fairly tight turning circle of 11.4 metres, considering the front and rear track of 1616 mm and 1590 mm rides on HSV specific dampers which impart a firm, solid, yet surprisingly non harsh ride quality. The steering system has been calibrated to give a heavier feel, having the driver use more effort and supply a muscle car heft. The R8 will also change direction with alacrity but there’s always the sense of mass lurking in the background.

2015 HSV R8 Clubsport profileThe exterior is possibly the most restrained we’ve seen from HSV. Taking the donor vehicle from Holden, there’s vents inserted into the bonnet, the new front bumper with LED driving lights sitting above a blacked out and globeless insert and the larger nostrils now familiar to HSV. Along each side are sill add-ons and the rear gains a simple spoiler, sitting just proud of the bootlip itself. Rubber is from Germany, with Continental supplying the grippy and large 255/35 and 275/35 x 20 inch alloys, in a moderate twin spoke design.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport rear2015 HSV R8 Clubsport front

The interior is also surprising in its subtlety, yet also the point where some more visual appeal would have been welcomed. The plastics need more punch, the electric seats (neither heated nor warmed, as far as A Wheel Thing could ascertain) have drab plastic (with not evening markings, like some, to indicate what the buttons actually do) on the side and look as exciting as something found on a ten year old Korean car.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport front seats 2015 HSV R8 Clubsport rear seatsAlthough HSV eschews the ventral stripe in the squab the donor car has, with a red squab and plain black leather, there’s no real visual cut through. The dash has black velour only, some piping here would have helped.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport dash

Entertainment wise, there’s Holden’s MyLink satnav system, with Pandora and Stitcher apps, a tab for the Electronic Driver Interface (EDI) which isn’t enabled in the R8 ClubSport (but is available as an option, standard on the GTS) and an AM/FM only tuner, lacking DAB and a feature we probably won’t see before local manufacturing ceases in 2017. That’s a pity, as HSV has specified Bose as the speaker suppliers and they deserve a sound source capable of showing off their ability.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport HUD

Being a large sedan, there’s cubic acres of leg space front and rear, a boot the Mafia would love (good for 496L), good vision all around and the usual assortment of hidden driver and safety supplements such as Forward Collision Alert, Blind Spot Alert, Park Assist and Hill Start Assist. The driver also gets the HUD, Head Up Display, which in A Wheel Thing’s opinion is one of the best around, with a clean look and great range of information available.2015 HSV R8 Clubsport front wheel

At The End Of the Drive.

The R8’s street appeal is the monster under the bonnet, and it’s not even the most powerful or most torquey engine available from HSV. The spread of that torque, the sheer usability of it and the not so troublesome once you get used to it clutch, genuinely make it an easier car than expected to drive. There’s plenty of urge to satisfy almost anyone’s need for speed, but at the cost of visiting the bowser more frequently, as the 71 litre tank gets drained quicker than Niagara Falls.

The interior lacks real presence, which, given it’s the place an owner will spend time, handballs the excitement factor back to the engine. It’s a responsive handler and stopper, as expected, looks good in the flesh and, sans R8 badge, would be a real sleeper in red light grands prix.

It’s a fantastic handler, with real communication back to the driver and is a better than anticipated ride, but again, the sell factor is that mammoth torque that makes this car one with and for the driver. At around the $80K price, it’s space shuttle ability for a box of fireworks price and does what it does well enough to make the price, if performance is your goal, outstanding value against the Europeans. Head to www.hsv.com.au2015 HSV R8 Clubsport profile SMP to build your HSV.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Range Rover Sport HST

A Wheel Thing welcomes Range Rover into the garage, with the limited edition Range Rover Sport HST. Powered by Jaguar’s high output supercharged 3.0L V6 and with a bespoke body kit, the HST sits at around mid range (between the 250 kW V6 and the V8 engines) in the cars available.

The power plant offers 280 kilowatts and 450 torques (with peak twist at a too low 4500 rpm). Although responsive thanks to the electronic throttle, there’s the small matter of moving a minimum of two point five tonnes, hence the reason there’s a one hundred and five litre fuel tank on board. Yes. One hundred and five litres. One can almost hear Doctor Evil in the background… Urban consumption is quoted as being a sniff under fifteen litres per one hundred kilometres driven, with highway and combined as 8.4 and 10.8 respectively.RR supercharged V6It’s easy to understand why it likes a sip or three because it’s an immensely tractable and user friendly engine, with not just the power but the spread of torque being shared to all four paws via the eight speed auto and computer controlled drive system. It simply begs to be driven in anger, if only to hear the snarl both powerplant and exhaust give you.

Yes, there’s a lot of metal to move, which is a major contributor to the consumption, but if driven gently you’ll miss out on the essence of the thing. You also miss out on a connection to the drive, with everything electronic such as the “fly by wire” throttle requiring nothing more than a flexible ankle, lacking any feedback or pressure to do more than simply move your foot. The steering is light, lacking weight and a sense of presence or feedback.2016 Range Rover HST digital dash 1The eight speed transmission is smoother than polished ice, with only the rise and fall of the needle on the dash’s LCD screen giving you a sign it’s changed ratios. Knock the selector into Sports mode, use the paddles or leave it to think for itself, and you’ll find it’s crisper, quicker, a touch sharper and harsher to the senses though. Only occasionally did it feel uncertain, unready, and that was mainly just after switch on for the engine or coming out of an accelerative push and backing off suddenly with a quiet thump from underneath as it dithered between gears.

The on-board drive system offers a range of terrain modes, under the name of Terrain Response, like Mud, Snow, Gravel, and works with the torque splitting system, traction control, and transmission to adapt instantly to the surface being driven on. What you don’t get, however, is a dual mode or high/low range style transmission, instead relying on the Torsen centre diff and electronics to do the work. When Dynamic mode is chosen, the LCD screen changes the dial surrounds to an angry red, a hint at the on tarmac orientation the HST has.2016 Range Rover HST drive modesTaken onto a well graded dirt road, not gravel but more akin to limestone, the big HST was fairly surefooted, with only the occasional skittish behaviour exhibited. The ABS system didn’t seem overly keen on this terrain though, with some testing showing indecisive behaviour. On the positive side was the superb dust sealing the company imbues the Range Rover with. Yes, black jeans very easily showed the dust but that was from rubbing against the car outside, as the sealing kept it there.2016 Range Rover HST rear dust sealThe suspension is airbag fitted, allowing the driver to raise or lower the body, depending on speed and terrain. If raised to maximum height and then pedalled to around 30 kmh, the HST automatically lowers itself. For those unaccustomed to such a thing, it’s an eerie, uncanny thing to witness from inside, with rear following nose in raising to maximum height. It’s speed sensitive too, so once you’ve raised it to maximum height and hit 30 kmh or so, it’ll automatically lower the car again. There’s also a feature called Auto Access Height, which brings the car lower down to allow humans to get in just that little easier.

Naturally it’s adept, sure footed, with a light steering feel and has an uncanny ability to tuck the nose in tightly coming into low speed ninety degree bends. On tarmac, it’ll change direction quickly enough but there’s no mistaking it for a convertible, not with that mass. The HST needs a powerful brake system to haul it in at speed and gets one. There’s an instant connection between pressing the pedal and feeling the pads grip the discs, something quite a few manufacturers should aim for. It doesn’t mean it’s grabby, it’s far from it. There’s a proper sense of progression as the pedal descends through its travel.

The brakes are visible through the huge 21 inch diameter alloys, complete with 275/35 Continental tyres doing double duty as road and light off road capable rubber.2016 Range Rover HST wheel 12016 Range Rover HST rear seats2016 Range Rover HST front seatsBeing a Range Rover, the driver and passenger are swaddled in luxury; from the proper (Connolly) leather bound electric seats, with heating AND (bless) cooling, glass roof with retractable sunshade, digital radio and a digital TV system for the front passenger (with headphones). Although the touchscreen is cluttered, reducing the radio info to a few square centimetres of screen space, it’s still relatively intuitive to use once some practice has been done.2016 Range Rover HST digital TV2016 Range Rover HST touchscreenIt’s a nifty piece of tech, the TV system, blocking the driver from seeing the screen when under way, showing them just the radio or satnav instead. There’s a premium Meridian audio system to listen to as well, with USB, Auxiliary, and Bluetooth streaming. It’s clear, punchy, with well defined bass but sensitivity was lacking, with dropouts and range not as far reaching as other cars with DAB fitted that have been parked in the drive. The HST also came with a Head Up Display and, to be honest, it didn’t seem as easy on the eye as that found in a certain Australian built lion branded vehicle.

It’s not all roses, with some odd ergonomics, such as placing the window switches into the very top of the door trim, right next to the window yet the actual door handle is not where the body naturally reaches for. A Wheel Thing consistently reached for the door handle thinking it was a few inches above where it was actually sited. Although a seemingly logical spot for the window switches, again it seemed odd when the hand and arm reached and didn’t find them where expected. Some of the plastics seemed a bit hard to the touch and the cabin somewhat dated in overall look.2016 Range Rover HST door ergonomicsThere’s a couple of nice luxury touches; at night the lamps embedded into the base of the wing mirrors shine a Range Rover profile downwards and there’s a lit logo in the sill panel. Nowadays, LEDs are being used inside for lighting, replacing the small bulbs once used, and they emit a purer white light. There’s a proper cool box fitted in the console, with a real chill when switched on and it’s big enough for a couple of cans or a 600 mL bottle or two.2016 Range Rover HST cool boxIn profile, the Range Rover HST shows a distinct wedge profile, with a sharp rake to the front screen and not quite so for the rear, but also the more recent design changes of the last few years, with the smoothing off of the squared off, bluff and blunt, look the range has had since inception. It strengthens the family relationship with Land Rover and brings the car into line with the streamlined, aero look that other makers have on their bigger SUVs. Being clad in a colour called Marrakesh highlights the subtle straking embossed into the sheetmetal.2016 Range Rover HST full profileThere’s the vents slotted into the front fenders, the bespoke HST badging, blacked out head and tail lights that angle back into their respective corners, a black painted roof and pillars match the satin black wheels and the blacked out front end vents.2016 Range Rover HST2016 Range Rover HST front2016 Range Rover HST rear cargo Of course one gets a power tailgate leading into the LED lit cargo area. Under the skin lies Park Assist, visual aids for the system, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control plus Wade Sensing should you take the beastie swimming. Perhaps the most interesting addendum, though, is the automaker’s ‘InControl Remote’ app. Using a smartphone, drivers will be able to interface with their Range Rover by checking fuel level, monitoring window and door lock status, and pre-setting cabin temperature.

At The End Of The Drive
This was A Wheel Thing’s first Range Rover drive and, frankly, one of the hardest reviews to write. A Wheel Thing wanted to fall in love. But didn’t. The Range Rover Sport HST, although a luxury off road capable SUV, failed to engage on an emotional level. I felt removed and isolated from the expected experience, for the most part. It was a frustrating sensation, and not one I welcomed.

Although a comfortable office, the luxury feel needed more; more softness on the plastics to impart a real sense of luxury, with perhaps something like walnut burr trim as well. The touchscreen was somewhat cluttered to look at with the radio screen selected and the TV feature is of questionable value, as was the sensitivity of the DAB radio.

A discussion with a person well accustomed to dealing with the brand elicited the response of “Perhaps it did everything too well”. Perhaps it did. But that’s the point of the Range Rover range. It’s intended to be the best and, again, bare in mind the HST sits mid level.

On the upside is the presence the car has, the brawny ability of the engine and the undoubted ability the Range Rover has. The muted roar of the exhaust and the mid range punch on road are, for a driver oriented person, both enticing and sensual.
Head here to check out the Range Rover Sport and book a drive for yourself: Range Rover Sportprivate_fleet_logo

 

 

Are Convertibles Running Out of Gas?

Once viewed as the future for automotive development and progression, convertibles have seen various iterations – in fact, by definition, some of the first vehicles seen by the motoring world were classed as convertibles. But with sales numbers on the slide, and manufacturers now turning their attention towards other motoring initiatives, is the humble convertible running out of gas?

In theory, there are meant to be several benefits to the convertible: additional sunshine and wind-flow through the car; greater visibility; access to carry tall objects; not to mention the serene feeling that accompanies driving without a hood and having the wind blow through your hair on a sunny day.

In practice however, while convertibles have come a long way, they generally suffer from an array of hindrances. This includes: less noise protection (unless a ‘hard top’); less privacy at traffic lights; a lack of immediate protection against the weather or from objects above; safety issues in the event of a rollover; design shortcomings as a result of the roof’s storage; some loss in performance and fuel economy due to additional strengthening of the chassis to minimise ‘scuttle shake’; security concerns with a ‘soft top’; and functionality aspects like having to remain stationary to fold up the ‘top’.

With the sale of 4WD and luxury vehicles having increased considerably over recent years, convertibles have taken a back seat. Whereas manufacturers once offered many popular models in a convertible format, that trend has subsided for some time. Since the early 2000’s, worldwide sales for convertibles have dropped over 40% – in 2013 they were at a level of only 465,800.

In the biggest markets of the US and Europe, motorists have opted for cars that are more facilitating of their daily commute and the desire for other features, while in the Middle East and Asia, motorists have adopted to vehicles that shelter out their external environment – something BMW has noted. Locally, Australia’s attitude has also reflected an adjustment towards embracing cars more suited for outback driving, while the increasing affordability of compact cars, popular sedans and particular luxury cars remain tough competition.

The above would seem to suggest doom and gloom is abound. However, there are many notable exceptions to the rule. Most recently, the Mazda MX-5 took out awards for the Australian, and World Car of the Year, and has long been a favourite amongst motoring enthusiasts. Abroad, the likes of the Lotus Elise, Porsche 911 & Boxster, MGB Roadster, Aston Martin Vantage, and Mercedes Benz SL are popular, while in the early 2000’s the Honda S2000 had a cult following. And with the latest Ford Mustang now in hot demand, manufacturers haven’t entirely abandoned the convertible concept.

Although the image of a sports convertible looks a little more out of place today than in eras gone by, and the vehicles are perhaps not as practical as others, they’re not meant to be – they’re a fun driving experience, and best enjoyed by those who appreciate the rush of adrenaline from driving.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Not quite the John Candy/Steve Martin film, but more a query in regards to transport options. As it appears Australia will have a Federal election sometime this year, the age old question about fast trains (especially in Australia’s eastern states) gets hauled out of the too hard basket and recycled for another look-see. TGV

To fly between the three main cities, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, on the eastern seaboard, takes an hour to seventy minutes, with the usual conditions about weather applying. In context, the Sydney-Melbourne route is considered to be the world’s fifth busiest air route. To fly from Sydney to Perth or the reverse varies, from four to five hours, however the fast train option doesn’t quite apply here. ProspectorAlso, theres plenty of intra-urban trains (some will, in certain areas say, not enough), rural trains such as the Prospector that runs between Perth and Kalgoorlie, the XPT service between Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane (11 to 14 hours) and some other destinations, and the world famous Indian-Pacific…which takes 65 hours to travel Perth to Sydney.

If one was to drive, non stop, it’s somewhere in the order of ten to eleven hours. from Sydney to either other city. So why don’t we have a fast train option yet? Firstly though, in order to be considered a fast train in this context, the rolling stock must reach 200 kmh. There’s the well known bullet train in Japan, the 320 kmh TGV in Europe and a trial, of sorts, here in Australia, with a Tilt train reaching 210 kmh.

There’s been numerous studies, as it happens, since the early 1980s. In 1979, the “Premiers Meeting” suggested the electrification of the rail network between Sydney and Melbourne. “Oddly enough”, it was rejected  on economic grounds, which appears to be the reason why all such subsequent proposals have been shelved. One proposal in the early ’80s, from the CSIRO, was costed at $2.5 billion dollars, with then estimated revenue at $150 million per year whilst operating costs were estimated at around $50 million. However, the construction costs were allegedly found to be $1.5 billion under what the purported true cost would be and the project was binned.bullet train

In 1986, a VFT (Very Fast Train) project was investigated. The route would have been from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra, with stops at locations such as Goulburn and Albury-Wodonga. The estimated train speed would have been 350 kmh. Construction costs then were estimated at $6.6 billion but would take just five years to be built, being based on existing trackwork. However, the Australian Democrats and Australian Conservation Foundation raised objections, focusing on the coastal corridor plan that was put forward as part of the route. Again, cost, amongst other reasons was cited.

As journalist Dominic Knight noted recently: “Just try travelling from Sydney to Newcastle, a route that inexplicably begins the trip to Newcastle, which is north-east of Sydney, by travelling due west to Strathfield, and you’ll get a sense of just how absurdly archaic our train network is.” And: “Australia’s the only first world country I’ve ever visited where intercity trains, with their dedicated traffic-free corridors, are reliably slower than driving.”

It’s also why certain road journeys are quicker than taking the train. A driver can comfortably cover the distance from Kalgoorlie to Perth in six hours or so; the Prospector is over eight hours in duration. There’s also the time of travel to the airport, then checking in….and checking out via the baggage pickup at the destination. Assuming the airline got your baggage there…

Driving also needs breaks; for a reast, food, a toilet break. All of these can be done on the train. And it’s clearly not an issue of building a trainline from scratch between the cities.

So when will a government bite the bullet and start now before the real cost becomes so much it’ll be cheaper to build a carbon fibre space elevator? And safer than driving a car long distance? Sadly, don’t hold your breath…S-M HST

 

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Holden Astra VXR

With Holden due to source more cars from Opel than ever before, they’re telling us via a solid marketing campaign. One of the nameplates we’ve had and that has returned in force is Astra. A Wheel Thing sampled the latest Astra VXR six speed manual, a model due to be completly revamped for late 2016 or early 2017.2015 Holden Astra VXR engineIt’s a stylish looking beast, with the test vehicle clad in a flat, not metallic, red and riding on 20 inch alloys. The two doors, framed at the top in chrome, open wide and allow access to a surprisingly capacious rear seat and cargo section. In profile it’s amost a continuous curve, with the roof coppinga discrete spolier and the front a sharpish, almost rakish look.2015 Holden Astra VXR front
Under the long bonnet lies Opel’s 2.0L turbo four, one with punch and verve, mated to a six speed manual, the car’s Achille’s heel. There’s a hefty 206 kilowatts on tap at 5300 revs but more impressive is the mesa flast torque delivery between 2450 to 5000. Besting most two litres by fifty torques, Sir will enjoy 400 of them across that range. It makes for immense mid range go and flexibility aplenty on the freeway.

Need to overtake? Depending on where you are, it’s either a measure of flexing the right foot just a bit more or dropping back a cog or two and launching the rocket. There’s a buzz from the front, not unpleasantly so, and a soul bending surge as the speedo does silly things. The seats (which have air powered bolsters, by the way), sigh gently as they support the driver’s mass being pushed into them.

Left leg goes in,, left leg goes out and in between the lever is moved, the revs drop and the turbo spins idly for a moment (turbo lag is noticeable only at low speeds and off boost) before huffing and puffing again. It’s flexible, usable, enjoyable to drive, but…

Downside? Always one, minimum. The tank is small, almost too small at 56 litres (with a preferred taste of 98 RON, ta very much) to provide a sense of true comfort. Although the VXR isn’t excessively thirsty, at around 9.0L/100 km average, in city use the figures rise well above 10.0L/100 km. Holden quotes a combined cyle of 8.0L/100 km, which in the most ideal of ideal worlds would provide 700 kilometres of travel….

Although the shift is light it also lacks precision. The gate movement is sloppy, loose (and yet only around 9000 kays on the odometer), at odds with the well weighted clutch pedal, the lightning fast response of the engine to throttle and the wondrous brakes. Fast changes are nigh impossible without repeat practice and the possibility of finding the slot you don’t want is high.

These are the brakes that should be standard in the Ford Everest and Ranger; sensitive enough to tell you when the pad is just nipping the disc, the progressive bite as they compress and the feel of the pedal as it latches on as soon as you touch it and tightens up in the travel. Superb. Or, in a word, Brembo.

What isn’t superb is the woefully out of date centre stack design. The updated version can’t come quick enough to dispatch those buttons and dials to the bin of history. See the picture to gauge for yourself. At least the surround looks nice.2015 Holden Astra VXR consoleApart from the console, there’s not much else to worry about; hugely confortable and supportive seats (three settings for heat, great for a cold day but no cooling on hot ones) with the front section of the squab adjustable for extra under thigh support, wide opening doors (remember, only two of ’em) to access the back seat and yes, there is leg room, rather than feeling as if one must be a contortionist by nature. Boot size is a decent 380L. There’s the General’s MyLink satnav infotainment system to play with, suitably aluminised trim on the centre console and subtle lighting at the base of the console stack.2015 Holden Astra VXR cabinThe audio system was beyond superb in such a small car. Complete with a sensitive DAB tuner, the clarity of the sound, the range and depth was simply brilliant and a real punch to the low end notes. It’s backed out by the hands free Bluetooth system, audio streaming and Apple’s Siri EyesFree. You’ll also get rain sensing wipers, Hill Start Assist, curtain airbags and tyre pressure monitoring at each corner.2015 Holden Astra VXR dashIt’s nice to have a luxury feel inside but what if the ride is bad enough that it dulls the presentation? Thankfully the VXR’s ride is surprisingly compliant, even with the 20 inch alloys and licorice thin rubber (245/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sport) with a massive, for the size of the VXR, wheelbase of 2695 mm, helping to soak up the smaller ripples. Size is just 4466 mm overall, making both ride and internal space (rear legroom is 870 mm) so much more impressive.2015 Holden Astra VXR wheelIt’s a cozy ride on the flat and dispatches any minor irregularities to the bin. Go slow over shopping centre speedbumps and that’s where the sports suspension settings make themselves known, with spine and teeth receiving a belting. Point it at some corners and tightening radius turns, there’s barely a hint of roll and you can feel the chassis readying itself to be punted hard….the response? More please. It’s the auto equivalent of trim, taut, terrific as the initial give (and there’s enough to be surprisingly comfortable) turns up the harden up factor, keeping the VXR level all the way through. It also means dive and squat (acceleration and braking) is almost negligible. You can thank something Opel calls HiPerStrut technology.2015 Holden Astra VXR rearThe Wrap.
It’s roomier than expected, handles as if it’s superglued to velcro and has a wonderful engine. But it’s undertanked and had a substandard gear change mechanism, possibly a couple of things people consider to be pretty damned important. It’s a delight to sit in, bar the dog’s breakfast console, looks pretty enough still (the new model looks sensational) and from $39990 driveaway (at the time of writing) is incredible value for the performance.
Check with your Holden dealer (or your Opel/Vauxhall etc dealer overseas) for warranty and service conditions. Online brochure available here: Astra brochure2015 Holden Astra VXR profilePrivate Fleet Logo - widget