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Archive for May, 2016

Tesla: The Supergeek’s Supercar

NikolaTeslaBack in the 1880s, electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla tinkered around with using an AC motor to power vehicles. For some reason, the idea didn’t catch on the way his fellow inventor Thomas Edison’s lightbulb did, and cars kept mostly running on fossil fuels for another century while gaslights faded into the past. Tesla’s electrical car was sidelined into the realms of fiction, along with his ideas for wireless electricity transmission and death rays (yep, he’s the original “mad scientist who’s developed a death ray” beloved of sci-fi, superhero cartoons and steampunk, AND he predicted mobile phones). However, concerns about peak oil led to the ideas being dusted off again and considered seriously.  Was it possible for electric cars to be feasible for everyday use? Could people invent a battery that would hold enough charge to power a car over more than just a few kilometres? Oh yes – and can electric cars be cool rather than geeky and boring?

Enter Tesla Motors, a company founded in 2003 with the long-term goal of making mass-market electric vehicles that could provide the fossil fuel market with some serious competition. The Tesla Roadster proved that an electric car could indeed deliver the goods, combining style and performance with purely electric motors. The Roadster was the first purely electric car to have a battery range of 320 km per charge. This award-winning design made the cover of Time magazine in 2006 and proved hugely popular in the USA. The Roadster had a 0–60 mph time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 165 km/h, which is more than the legal road limit (and what else would you want anyway)? Its styling was very classy indeed and used carbon fibre throughout for the bodywork.

TEsla RoadsterThe Roadster is no longer listed on the Tesla Motors website. Three sedans have taken the Roadster’s place: the Model S, the Model X and the Model 3, which are very boring and ordinary names for cars that are anything but boring and ordinary: the Model S, for example, has a 0–100 time of 3.0 seconds (performance variant) and will do so without the engine roar typical of its petrol-powered peers doing the same thing.  They are an idea whose time has come – unfortunately too late for Nikola Tesla, who died in poverty in 1943 in spite of his brilliance and many inventions (he sold his patents).

Tesla Motors is the brainchild of a Canadian entrepreneur with the delightful name of Elon Musk. Tesla is not his only breakthrough invention: he’s also one of the team who created PayPal, the man behind the SpaceX non-governmental space exploration organisation (the one that’s thinking about the Mars colony) and tons of other high-tech ideas, including SolarCity, which produces low-cost solar panels to reduce dependence on fossil fuels even further. He is the owner of the famous aquatic Lotus Esprit that appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me and has strong opinions on keeping a lid on artificial intelligence, in spite of owning an AI company.

Of course, with any vehicle, you’re going to have to think about how you’ll make sure it’s got what it takes to move, whether you have to top it up with electricity, petrol or diesel. One of the big barriers to the widespread use of purely electric vehicles is the problem of recharging the battery. You thought recharging your mobile phone was bad! This infrastructure problem is a hurdle that has to be overcome with any new fuel or power source type. With electrical vehicles, there’s also the problem that many generators run on fossil fuel, which means that this technology isn’t quite as green as you thought it might have been. However, the boffins are working on improving ways to get electricity without burning fossil fuel and coal (like Elon Musk’s SolarCity power project mentioned above), so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Tesla models can be charged with enough juice in the battery (OK, I’ll spare you the science lesson about electrical potential energy) to last them 270 km. At Tesla’s specific supercharger stations, this charging process takes about 30 minutes, which is quicker than charging my mobile phone when it’s run flat. You plug it in, head off to the shops, then come back when you get a notification via the Tesla charging app. Tesla vehicles can also be topped up with charge at “destination charging stations”, which are businesses (e.g. shops, cinemas, etc.) that have a compatible charger

Three Tesla models are available for sale in Australia today. Most of these are likely to be sold in Victoria and New South Wales, as these are the states which have Tesla-specific “supercharger” charging stations available. Most of these charging stations are located strategically along the M31 highway between Melbourne and Sydney, and another is located up in Port Macquarie. Destination charging is also available in all states except Northern Territory (most of the Top End misses out – sorry, Darwin and Cairns!). For those interested in a test drive, the showrooms are located in Sydney and Melbourne.

It’s true that purely electric cars have a long way to go until they are as popular as petrol/diesel cars, mostly for infrastructure reasons. However, given the way that hybrid vehicles have caught on, we are likely to see more pure electric cars such as the ground-breaking Tesla, gliding around Australian roads. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the Toyota Prius was a real novelty by being a production hybrid; now just about every car manufacturer is putting out hybrids. Now if we can just solve the problem of making sure that we’ve got enough sustainably produced electricity (i.e. if we don’t end up having to use fossil-fuel fired power generators to meet the electricity needs of heaps of hybrid and electric vehicles), all will be very well indeed.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Jaguar XE S Supercharged V6

Once upon a time cars came in three sizes: small, medium, and large. Once upon a time you could buy a Jaguar in just one size. Large. Now there’s a choice of SUV, sports, small medium and medium large and of course, large. The relatively new and all alloy XE (compared to the bigger XF) fits into the small medium size. Why small?2015 Jaguar XE S profileIt’s a compact sedan, with emphasis on compact. It’s just 4672 mm long, 2075 mm (with mirrors extended) wide and stands just 1416 mm high. That puts it right into the same ring as the BMW 3 series and Mercedes-Benz C Class. For two normal sized people in the front, there’s just enough room. For the two in the back, because it’s not really wide enough for three abreast to be truly comfortable, rear leg room is then severely compromised. With two sub ten year old children on the rear pews, the front seats have to be moved forward to provide some measure of comfort for them.1463294325210Odd given the wheel base is a relatively large, compared to overall length, 2835 mm, an inch longer than the 3 series and 5 mm shorter than M-B’s C Class. Also, the British contender has a slightly larger turning circle than both, at 11.66 metres compared to 11 for the continentals.

Those same front seats become a problem for drivers even of average height, with the seats needing to be lowered to allow some head space…but that then compromised, somewhat, forward vision and the need to look out the window in certain parking situations, regardless of the reverse camera and guidance lines, because sometimes cars go forward into tight spaces and there’s the lingering doubt about clearance for the alloys and scraping on concrete…2015 Jaguar XE S front seatsThere’s also the matter of the steeply raked front screen, with the roof line meeting the glass directly over the driver and passenger’s head. Given the S had a glass roof, which drops the lining by a crucial inch or so, it just doesn’t work ergonomically. BUT, at least the designers have given the rear seat passengers a bit of extra head room.2015 Jaguar XE S profile b & wThe interior design of the XE also intrudes into space; the flying buttress wraps around into the bottom of the windscreen nicely however it also curves in at the top along the doors, potentially making driver and passenger a touch liable for claustrophobia. Even the power window switches are oddly placed, perched uncomfortably on the top level of plastic.

Being the size that it is, it also shrinks boot space, (455 litres, compared to the 3 series and C Class 480 litres) to the point a weekly shop started to look like it was going to overfill it. At least it’s a powered boot lid, with a simple button in the mid right side of the lower section needing a gentle press.2015 Jaguar XE S rearIt’s black and red leather (which looks a treat)on the seats for the XE S, with, thankfully, both heating and cooling, operated via the eight inch touchscreen. Unusually, the rear seat passengers do get the ability to warm their behinds, a nice touch on a coolish autumnal or winter’s day. There’s DAB+ audio pumping through Meridian speakers and with a fair amount of punch. There are dials just below, housed in piano black plastic, for the aircon that are easy to operate, and the designers have placed embossed lines into the plastic, mimicking the XE’s tail light design.2016 Jaguar XE S rear lightThe Start/Stop button is also located here, pulsating red in a heartbeat fashion. The centre console is of hard, hard plastic, and given the cabin size it becomes a leg rest. It’s not a comfortable feeling for the kneecap, nor is there an abundance of soft touch material in the cabin plastics full stop.

Tech wise, The XE S is loaded: Blind Spot Monitoring, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning (a subtle but noticeable shake of the steering wheel), Reverse Traffic Detection, Park Assist and 360 degree camera view. The driver gets a HUD, a simply brilliant and intuitive piece of vehicle engineering that, in A Wheel Thing’s opinion, should be more prevalent in cars, however the XE’s display was in red, and sometimes lost against the background. You can also option in a Driver Condition Monitor, alerting you to lapses of concentration and Adaptive Cruise with Queue Assist.2015 Jaguar XE S heated rear seatsNow, for the good news, and the XE’s’ raison d’être. That comes in the form of Jaguar’s bespoke supercharged 3.0L V6, powering down through to the rear wheels, and a razor sharp handling package. There’s 250 kilowatts and a very usable peak 450 torques to play with, but get too exuberant and you’ll see the 63 litre fuel tank being drained faster than a cold beer in the hand of a shearer at day’s end. Jaguar Australia says 11.6 litres/100 kilometres in the urban jungle but a reasonable 8.1 and 6.1 litres for the combined and highway cycles.2016 Jaguar XE-S rear seatsIt’s an easy spinner, revving freely when asked or lazily rotating at well under 2000 rpm in top gear. Connected to an eight speed auto, with Dynamic and Sports modes, it’ll slingshot the 1635 kg machine to say goodbye to your license speeds in around five seconds, on its way to a computer limited 250 kmh. Dynamic is engaged by the simple matter of tapping one of a pair of buttons mounted in the centre console, which changes the car’s driving mode from Snow, Eco or Normal. Not only does it sharpen the transmission’s response, it feels as if the suspension tightens up, stiffening the ride yet doesn’t lose comfort plus changes the interior lighting from a cool blue to a baleful red.

2015 Jaguar XE S PRND 12015 Jaguar XE S PRND 2









The dash backlighting takes on the same hue as the centre info screen says Dynamic Confirmed. Left in Normal or Eco, it’s still responsive, but needs just a little bit more pressure on the go pedal. The gearbox changes somewhat more softly, easing into the changes, rather than snatching them through . Outside, a passer-by would hear a gentler note from the twin exhaust, rather than the erotically charged, raspy snarl, emitted when the XE is punted hard.

Back to the road; it’s a superb, fluid and confident chassis underneath the passengers, with a solid and sporting feel at freeway velocities yet doesn’t bounce people around the cabin, offering a pliant, lush, comfortable ride at residential speeds. Undulating roads are consigned to the scrapheap, sharper bumps are leveled and the damnable shopping centre speed bumps are the only ones that feel as if they’ll overpower the XE’s setup.

The sound of the blower is intoxicating, especially under a solid right foot, and being supercharged means instant response when the ankle is bent. Using the paddle shifts adds to the theatre, with a hint of snap/crackle/pop from the exhaust when the foot is lifted.2015 Jaguar XE S wheelOutside, there’s gorgeous metallic grey 20 inch alloys wrapped in 265/30 Pirelli tyres ensuring that grip is always there, under normal circumstances. The XE can be provoked a little too, with that powerplant up front combining with the chassis to give a little sideways kick heading into a turn and the power on. It’s almost a coupe style, with a long, flat, aluminuim bonnet (with pedestrian safety pop up installed) and a short tail.2015 Jaguar XE S frontThe steering is “on” all of the time; just the slightest movement has the XE responding to your touch, not unlike a cat presenting the belly for a rub and purring the moment you start. Being electrically powered there’s variable ratios, with long sweeping turns handled differently to tighter turns or car parking spaces. It’s communicative and precise in its accuracy.2015 Jaguar XE S dashThe dash design is clear, legible, not overthought, and is lit by a cool cobalt blue light, as are the piping lines in the console, right and left air vents, and in the doors. Select Dynamic Mode via the toggle switches in the console, and they become a devilish red shade, as mentioned. It’s a small yet effective visual touch.

Warranty? Three years and unlimited kilometres. Price? Call it around $102K plus on road costs.

At the End Of The Drive.
The XE S is a Jaguar, mostly. There’s grace, there’s pace, but not a lot of space. If Jaguar is aiming the XE at a SINK or the DINKs, it’s fine. Add an extra body and things become interesting.
Feature wise, there’s plenty on board, as there should be and you’ve got that sensational supercharged V6 heartbeat up front that’s simultaneously enticing and intoxicating. For two aboard, it’s comfortable in the leather seats, with almost every button within easy reach of both front seat passengers but just seriously don’t expect the back seat to be a comfy place.

Plastics need to soften up, the centre console really is too hard and detracts from what is an otherwise enjoyable work space. There is, however, plenty of toys to play with, that cracker engine and in truth a reasonable economy figure as well. A longer warranty, though, would be nice.

But, it IS a Jaguar, a technological advancement with the aluminuim construction, and a fantstic ride and handling package. If you need more room, there’s the XF. Or the XJ. Or the soon to be released (Q3 2016) F-Pace.

For more info, click here: Jaguar Australia

Drive A New 3-D Printed Car

With new automotive technology rampaging on it seems that we’ll be able to buy our own 3D-printed cars.  The world’s first 3D printed car is called “Strati” and is made by Local Motors, and is reportedly going on sale during 2016.

Did you know that most vehicles that we drive around in today are made up using around 2000 parts?  Local Motors indicate that the Strati is made up from just 40 parts.  Mechanical parts like the suspension, motors and battery are sourced from a Renault Twizy – which is a battery-powered two-seater electric city car designed and marketed by Renault.  Everything else on the Strati is made up of integrated single material pieces.  These pieces include the exterior shell, frame and some of the interior features, which have been printed using ABS plastic that has been reinforced with carbon fibre.



Local Motors has developed the car so that it’s available with all the digital 3D-print files and build manuals available to the public for downloading and modifying by individual users.  Local Motors aims to open around 100 micro-factories near major cities around the globe over the next ten years.  The Strati boasts a sporty, little 2-seater design that, at present, takes 44 hours to print.  Local Motors are working to speed this process up so that it only takes 24 hours to create.  The Strati’s body is laid down layer-by-layer or slice-by-slice, and the Strati has approximately 212 layers laid down in its body.  So, similar to a home desktop 3D printer, the Strati uses BAAM (big-area additive manufacturing) technology which relies on a digital 3D model part becoming sliced into layers.  These modelled layers are then used to generate real layers of ABS plastic that are generated by the 3D printer.

Amazingly, this sort of 3D technology could have you download the necessary files from Local Motors, choose your options, create your own individual Strati on your computer and Local Motors could have the car made up inside two days.  Design engineers from Strati suggest that you could even come up with your own design idea, have it looked at by Local Motors and then once settled, could be printed into your very own unique car design.  That sounds fun; you could design and build your very own car.

The Strati vehicle is currently powered by a 6.1 kW battery which can be recharged in only 3.5 hours.  It alsohas a top speed of 80 km/h – a perfect city car with zero emissions, and costing not much in power to charge.

Manufacturer, Divergent Micro-factories, is also in the business of creating their own 3D-printed cars with a difference, using the latest green technology.  Take a look at their exciting supercar model called the Blade which has a 520 kW biofuel engine that is capable of flinging the car from 0-100 km/h in less than three seconds!

The Blade

The Blade

3D-printing has been used in all sorts of engineering and modelling projects.  Progressively, 3D-printing has been used in the building industry with all sorts of ingredients used for layering down in its design.  You can even use 3D-printing and it’s layering machines to layer down a concrete building in any style or shape.  This sort of technology allows you to get back to the lego block days when you really could create anything from your childhood imagination.

So what about layering down the dimensions and shape of a 1961 Jaguar E-Type?

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport

1462696033235Range Rover’s TDV6 is the entry level model to the Range Rover Sport family and has some omissions surprising to find in a luxury SUV. We’ll come to them shortly.
What’s important here is the engine. It’s an impressive piece of earth rotating machinery, with torque enough to twist Superman’s arm. What it also delivers is an engaging driver experience, aurally and physically, shoving the passengers backwards whilst reeling in the horizon, complete with a snarl from the exhaust and a most undiesel like growl from the front. Impressive stuff from a 2115 kilo machine.2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport engine

The reason for the excitement is a V6 of 3.0 litres capacity; there’s a whopping 600 torques (peak) at just 2000 rpm with a suitably eyebrow raising 190 kW at 4000 revs. It’s the redline figure for this that raises the eyebrow further, with 6000 rpm the end of the line here. It’s a figure that only the most churlish and disliking of torque will see, or someone that likes to think about engines self destructing from revs, as that torque really is all you should need to know.

The engine is hooked up to a slurry eight speed auto; if you’re in a hurry, use the paddle shifts. It’s quick, sharp, instant, crisp to a fault when you do so, compared to the easy and soft change under gentle acceleration or the slide from ratio to ratio under a heavy right foot. There were instances of what is known as turbo lag, when the right foot goes down and the turbo is spinning at revs lower than required to pressure the engine into performing. Consequently, some driving situations had the big beastie lurching forward after a moment’s hesitation, requiring the driver to be on their guard.

As it’s a vehicle that asks for, nay, demands spirited driving, the economy was a surprise all the way. The official figures are: 6.9L/100 km for the combined, 6.4L/100 km for the highway and a not unreasonable 7.8L/100 km for the urban. A Wheel Thing’s stint saw 8.5L per 100 km as the final figure.

Right quality seemed less jiggly than the HST tested in early 2016, with a sensation of rubber meeting the varying road surfaces more efficiently, with perhaps a touch more softness in the air adjustable suspension. Handling was also just that little more planted, as a result, lacking the minor skittishness the HST exhibited. Rubber was 235/65/19 from Pirelli, which may have contributed.2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport wheel

The steering was quick, responsive, with the variable ratio speed sensitive making parking easier to deal with. It’s planted, stable, thanks to an almost equal front to rear rear track of 1690 mm and 1685 mm. A decently large wheelbase of 2923 mm, inside the 4850 mm overall length, does however make a turning circle of 12.3 mm a little larger than expected. 2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport front seatsInside, you’re greeted with a nice office. You get in, strap in, hit the Start button, go to zero the trip meter and then adjust the electric seats….except the TDV6 doesn’t have them. Yes. Being the entry level, it’s Mr Manual Adjustment to the rescue. Being a vehicle from the UK, there’s no problem with heating the comfortable leather seats. Cooling, however, is a different question. Hmmm…2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport dashGiven it’s the entry level model, it’s not unsurprising that the TV function (yes, truly) wasn’t fitted but it does come with DAB+, with station info on a cluttered screen. Again, the sensitivity of the tuner in the TDV6 wasn’t quite as strong as hose in the Japanese cars tested, with signal dropout and degradation far more apparent. But, when locked in, sound quality was punchy and clear.

Here’s where the geek part comes into play: not all digital stations are the same in broadcasting strength, as A Wheel Thing’s inquisitive mind found out. There’s an “i” symbol for info, on the screen, with the preferred station (Triple M Classic Rock) showing as “single channel” yet sounding like stereo.
Here’s the tech info from Adam at Triple M Classic Rock:

“It appears that because we are running classic rock at a lower bit rate to 2DayFM, we chose to use parametric stereo over discrete stereo. Essentially the stereo signal is down mixed and is encoded with some small amount of information about the stereo signal. This is called Parametric Side info. The Decoder (Car Radio/ DAB Radio) then uses the mono signal with the Parametric Side Info to faithfully regenerate the stereo signal. This technique only actually gives a “good” stereo impression and is only used at lower bitrates.
So the car in theory is showing the correct information by saying “Single Channel” but really it should show “Parametric Stereo”.”

Got that? Good. It would also account for the quicker dropout on that station when it comes to distance but doesn’t account for the weaker reception in areas other cars with DAB+ tuners have.2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport rear cargo2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport rear seatsThe interior otherwise has the split fold seats, a robotic face to the steering wheel and plenty of clear vision. There’s no sunroof fitted, though, nor is there the chillbox in the centre console. One does, however, get a power tail gate. There’s analogue dials for the driver and a small LCD screen separating the two. There’s the drive mode dial, also, offering program selections for surfaces like Gravel, Grass, Snow, and little doubt that it’s capable of doing so. There’s also the ride height adjustments, with a bit of “old man” groaning when settling down once the ignition had been turned off.2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport console

Outside it’s business as usual for the Sport range, with a strong slope to the windscreen, a stiff taper in the window line through to the rear, LED head and tail lights which provide a distinctive visual signature, more than a hint of brawn to the body style and enough bodywork to justify the Sport nomenclature. 2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport profileThe review car was in Silver metallic, suiting the bluff shape of the big car. Puddle lamps mounted on the underside of the doors show the Range Rover logo, when illuminated. What the heated wing mirrors didn’t get was Blind Spot Alert, leaving the pilot to use the organic analogue detection devices…

However, The TDV6 S does get Hill Descent Control, Gradient release and Gradient Acceleration Control, the Terrain Response Control system, plus Cornering Brake Control and the now standard electronic driver aids.

Safety isn’t an issue, with the brakes (non branded in colouring) responsive immediately, wonderfully progressive throughout the travel and, of course, airbags and most required electronic aids. Warranty wise, you’re covered by three years worth of after purchase peace of mind, including Roadside Assistance.2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport rear

2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport tail lightShould Sir decide to go offroad, Sir can feel comfortable in the knowledge of being able to wade up to a depth of 850 mm and with a variable suspension height of 213 mm to 278 mm, approach and departure angles of 19.4 to 27.2 degrees and 24.9 to 31.0 degrees are possible. Towing? Natch. 3500 kilograms, thank you kindly.2015 Range Rover TDV6 S Sport front

Using the online price calculator, the TDV6 comes out on road at just under $101K driveaway, with a list price of just over $88K.

At The End Of The Drive.
Every car is something to its driver, be it an appliance used to get from A to B to A again or an investment that rarely sees the road and is washed once a week, regardless. To A Wheel Thing, the appeal of the TDV6 was the torque, the sledgehammer response when the slipper was sunk and the surprisingly alluring noises as a result. As a road package, it felt better attracted to the tarmac, less liable to be unsettled and skittish.

It was a surprise to not find certain safety options not fitted in a car circling the $100K mark, but conversely it IS the entry level in its range, therefore needs the same differentiation from bottom to top as other ranges of vehicles costing far less.

The TDV6 Sport fitted A Wheel Thing nicely, leaving no doubt that the same engine in a higher range model will offer the ideal balance of “Work” and “Play.”

2015 & 2016 Range Rover and Land Rover range is where you need to go for more detailed info, book a test drive and check out the options list.

BMW Wins Best Driver's Award

BMW’s latest M car, the rear wheel drive, six speed manual transmission BMW M2, has taken out the coveted “Australia’s Best Driver’s Car” award.

The testing to find a winner was conducted by, part of the Carsales Network. The cars are shipped to Tasmania and driven hard to evaluate them over the course of a week, including roads used during Targa Tasmania.

For 2016, 13 finalists competed for the award on some of the best tarmac in Australia, being driven for some 1200 kilometres, including drag strip and and track sessions.

Mike Sinclair, Editor in Chief for the Carsales Network, said: “M2 delivers on its promise of being the born-again compact six-cylinder BMW coupe we were waiting for in spades, thanks to a combination of exquisite steering, brakes, handling and, to an extent in this company, real-world ride comfort.”

“Even at the very limit, it’s quite forgiving and that instils a sense of connection with a wide range of enthusiast driver types and abilities.”

Marc Werner, BMW Group Australia Chief Executive Officer, remarked: “This award reinforces the incredible all-round capability of the BMW M2.To take out the ABDC title against top competition – some costing more than twice the M2’s purchase price – is definitely cause for celebration.”BMW M2 rear

The BMW M2.

Taking inspiration from 1974’s BMW Motorsport built 2002 Turbo, the new M2 Coupe takes the classic ‘compact coupe, big power’ philosophy into BMW’s next 100 years.

Featuring a turbocharged 3.0-litre version of BMW’s renowned straight-six cylinder engine, the new BMW M2 generates 272kW of power and 465Nm of torque, with 500Nm available thanks to an overboost function.

Sending these outputs to the rear wheels, the BMW M2 accelerates from standstill to 100km/h in only 4.3 seconds, when fitted with the standard seven-speed M DCT dual-clutch transmission. The no-cost option six-speed manual gearbox achieves the benchmark in 4.5 seconds.

BMW’s M Division has ensured this performance is maximised by fitting an Active M electronically-locking differential, specific wider-track M suspension, recalibrated Driving Experience Control with M Dynamic mode function and M Compound braking system adapted from the larger M4 Coupe.


BMW M2 Australian Pricing*
BMW M2 Pure:$89,900, BMW M2:$98,900
* Manufacturer’s Recommended List Price is shown and includes GST and Luxury Car Tax (LCT) – if applicable, but excludes dealer charges, stamp duty, statutory charges and on-road charges, which are additional and vary between dealers and States/Territories. Customers are advised to contact their nearest BMW dealer for all pricing inquiries.

Are Cars Getting Bigger and Heavier?

911s side by side

Porsche 911 Gets Bigger

When you have a look at the cars on the road, most of them are typically roomy and comfortable to drive.  The bulk of the cars seem to be medium-to-large vehicles, with a few small cars thrown in for good measure.  With our ever increasing desire to buy a new SUV, perceiving that driving such a vehicle will make the drive a safer one, it seems that cars on our roads are increasing in size.  Trends like the increasing SUV market suggests that consumers are really wanting that bigger vehicle with space and style to boot.  So what are the factors making the cars bigger on our roads?

The Safety Element

New cars have to be designed and built with the best safety features available.  If manufacturers fail to take the safety side of things seriously, then people just don’t buy them.  Crash testing informs the potential buyers of how safe a new vehicle will be and, if the crash test results don’t get anywhere near five stars, then the consumers are getting switched off, going to another model or even another car manufacturer to buy their new car.  With safety playing such an important part in new car sales, car manufacturers ensure that their new models going into production are equipped with all the important safety features; and this often adds to the car’s weight and, sometimes, size.  Side impact rails take up space; increased crumple zones front and rear take up space; six or more airbags take up space; strengthened A pillars takes up space, so it’s easy to see how models have had to increase in size.  What about all the extra active safety features like active cruise control, rear parking aids, lane change assist, collision avoidance systems, ABS, TSC, ESC, Limited Slip Diff, rollover detection, driver alerts, launch control, hill descent control… and the list goes on; increased weight and size being the natural result.

Luxury and Comfort Features.

We all like a bit of entertainment, and with more than six speakers, a CD stack in the boot, MP3 compatibility, multiple USB and auxiliary ports, multiple auxiliary jacks, glovebox coolers, cup-holders, back seat DVD entertainment, heated seats, rear-seat recline, electric windows, AWD, a touch screen, infotainment system, satellite navigation, zoned climate control, Smartphone connection, a panoramic sunroof and more, it all adds to the weight of the car – not to mention the ability to hold all these extra gadgets with extra compartments needing to be made to house the features.  Other accessories like larger alloy wheels, boot spoilers and fog lamps all make the car heavier and look larger, too.

People Are Larger So Cars Need To Be Larger

You could argue that with people generally getting larger (fatter would be more accurate but less PC) the general public need to buy a car that fits their bigger frames.

A Positive With Increasing Car Size

One of the amazing trends that runs alongside the cars’ bigger framework, however, is the fact that the modern bigger cars are getting better fuel economy – now that’s a great thing.  Automotive design teams are doing incredibly well at making cars more fuel efficient and more powerful, even as the car’s weight, size, comfort and safety ratings are all increasing.

What’s your thoughts; and do you have any interesting photos to back this trend up with?

Peugeots Side-by-Side

Peugeots Side-by-Side

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser

2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser front profileToyota has long been regarded as the Corolla car company and that’s fair enough. However the brand also made its mark by producing the tough as nuts Landcruiser. Production and release goes back to 1951 with the FJ nameplate coming into being in 1954. It’s proven to be a solid and dependable vehicle, selling world wide and conquering the harshest environments. In the early 2000s a secret design group commenced work on a new “Rugged Youth Utility” vehicle. 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser side profileSharing much of the Prado underpinnings, such as the ladder bar chassis, the FJ Cruiser quickly gained popularity after finally being exposed to the public and news broke of its off road capability.A Wheel Thing tested the FJ recently and found that the car’s off road capability is limited by the driver. Fitted with a swag of electronic aids (and, somewhat surprisingly, automatic only) plus a high and low range transfer case, it’s a high tech trekker with a low tech history.2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser front profile 2The powerplant is Toyota’s 200 “killerwasps” V6, albeit in four litre guise and pushing out the grunt via a five speed automatic, via the front wheels predominantly. A press of a button locks the REAR diff plus there’s a variable speed CRAWL control, allowing the driver to move at a slow but constant velocity across terrain. Backing that up is A-TRC, diverting torque to each corner on demand and adapting to the driven ratio, be it high or low range. 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser interiorNaturally there’s plenty of the normal driver aids such as brake force distribution, ABS, airbags and more. The off road ability is given extra oomph with approach and departure angles of 36 and 31 degrees, ground clearance of 224 mm and a side or break over angle of 29 degrees. The huge tyres, 265/70/17 in size, along with the near 2700mm wheelbase and track of close to 1900mm add their muscle to the Cruiser’s strength.2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser front angle2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser front

On the road it’s quiet inside the basically appointed cabin, with tyre roar muted until you push hard into a turn. It’s also a good idea to plan about a few seconds before hand, as the tyres, being a dual purpose setup, aren’t a fan of being told to turn hard on tarmac, protesting audibly. Being a high sidewall height helps absorb bump/thump and provides a smooth compliant ride. 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser wheelAcceleration is leisurely when under way, with peak torque of 380Nm coming in at a surprisingly high 4400rpm. It requires a severe prod of the go pedal to provoke some excitement in changing gears, with the engine and exhaust emitting a somewhat monotone drone. Seating is comfortable, supportive and easily adjustable whilst the dash is simply laid out with black on white dials.2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser dash

Design wise, the FJ Cruiser is not unexpectedly clever; the cabin has rubber flooring and water repellent coating on the seats inline with its ostensibly off road intentions and there’s interesting extra quirk with the rear suicide doors. Once the main doors are opened, a small lever to the fore of the rear doors opens and swings them back, making access to the rears much easier. The tailgate is a side, not top, swinger and comes with the rear vision camera embedded in the spare wheel cover plus an upward hinging glass window.2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser doors 12015 Toyota FJ Cruiser doors 22015 Toyota FJ Cruiser doors 3 The front window was fitted with three wipers, keeping the near vertical screen clean but nothing could be done about the distracting reflection from the inside. The exterior is a deliberate harkening back to the original FJ, with the grille and headlights an almost carbon copy, having a nod to history by having the word TOYOTA rather than the corporate badging, whilst having an almost Humvee like squat profile. Packaging is clever; with an overall length of 4670mm it’s not huge yet TARDIS spacious with a massive amount of rear cargo space . 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser rear cargo closeupWidth is 1905mm allowing great shoulder room and a feeling of airiness. The downside of retro is the usage of very cheap looking brushed alloy plastic highlights around the aircon vents, they look and feel terrible. The exterior colour on the test car was a bright yellow, with the colour scheme carried into the cabin. Again, it’s a minimalist look which doesn’t entirely work however it is ergonomic and allows the touchscreen entertainment system/satnav to blend reasonably well into the vertically styled dash.2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser rear cargo

The FJ continued the solid off road history that Toyota is famous for and mixes in a lot of electronic smartness to help a less talented bush driver. It’s a fun ride that, for the most part, overcomes a few quirks but definitely adds to the family timeline. Priced from $47k plus on roads, (driveaway is around $51700)it is, in my opinion, an exceptionally well priced buy for the size, room and, more importantly, the proven off road ability Toyota’s 4WD family history has. May of 2016 revealed that Australia will no longer see the FJ Cruiser, with production ceasing in August of 2016. After being launched in 2011, Toyota saw 11000 plus FJ’s finding homes down under.2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser rear

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Toyota is set to bid a fond farewell to the FJ Cruiser, a retro-inspired rugged off-roader that became an instant classic when it was launched in Australia in 2011.TOY_FJ_Heritage_160419p1599lr

The FJ Cruiser will end its production run in August with Australians having bought more than 11,000 vehicles at an average of 180 a month – a considerably higher rate than originally expected.

Drawing its rugged DNA, inspiration and design cues from Toyota’s famed FJ40, the FJ Cruiser was developed as a basic, capable and affordable vehicle aimed specifically at serious off-roaders looking to push the limits.

Toyota Australia’s executive director sales and marketing Tony Cramb said the FJ Cruiser built on more than half a century of Toyota tradition in producing tough off-road vehicles.

“The FJ rides into the sunset as a vehicle renowned for its ability to traverse rugged outback trails while offering plenty of utility for all types of activities and being equally well-suited for everyday driving,” Mr Cramb said.

“It will leave lasting memories as one of the most iconic vehicles in Toyota’s rich SUV history, helping to bring renewed energy to the Toyota brand,” he said.TOY_FJ_Cruiser_160418ba4951lr

The thoroughly modern FJ Cruiser updated the classic FJ40 theme in a contemporary way. The front grille with two round headlights recalls the FJ40’s frontal styling. Other heritage design cues include the bonnet and wheel-arch contours and a rear-mounted and exposed full-size spare tyre.

The FJ Cruiser design offers plenty of functionality. Side access doors open 90 degrees in clamshell fashion for easy access to and from the rear seats. A swing-up glass hatch is incorporated into the side-hinged tailgate, opening independently and also useful for accommodating longer items.

The FJ Cruiser capped off its first year on sale in Australia by winning 4×4 Australia magazine’s 4×4 of the Year title. Judges said the FJ Cruiser proved to be the “real deal” with its “well-proven and robust mechanicals”.

It is powered by a 200kW, 380Nm 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine with five-speed automatic transmission, part-time 4×4, an electrically activated rear differential lock and switchable Active Traction Control technology to maximise off-road climbing ability.TOY_FJ_Cruiser_160418b0085lr

FJ Cruiser has the best approach and departure angles in the Toyota 4WD range – 36 and 31 degrees respectively.

Local testing resulted in unique calibration of the heavy-duty all-coil suspension and power steering to suit Australian conditions, plus the fitment of 17-inch alloy wheels and 70-profile tyres.

Australia’s course-chip road surfaces prompted improvements to FJ Cruiser’s NVH that were adopted globally.

Safety features include six airbags, vehicle stability control, anti-skid brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, active front-seat head restraints and a reversing camera with the display located in the electro-chromatic rear-view mirror.

Other features include rear parking sensors, rear fog lamps, privacy glass, cruise control, air-conditioning, a premium steering wheel with audio controls, multi-information display, eight-speaker audio system with a CD stacker and central locking.

Satellite navigation became standard in early 2012. An upgrade in March 2013 boosted the FJ Cruiser’s “go anywhere, do anything” appeal by more than doubling its fuel range and adding an off-road cruise-control system, CRAWL.

Fuel capacity was expanded to 159 litres with the main 72-litre tank supplemented by an 87-litre sub-tank, providing a notional driving range of almost 1,400km*.

CRAWL is a “feet off” system that controls engine output and brake pressure to maintain low uniform speeds over severe or slippery terrain, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on steering.

Later in 2013, FJ gained newly designed seven-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.TOY_FJ_Cruiser_160418b4750lr

During its time in Australia, FJ Cruiser has been offered in a total of 13 colours including bright hues to reflect energy and vitality as well as solid, tool-like tones to highlight the vehicle’s tough image and terrain-conquering ability.

The final exterior colour palette is French Vanilla, Sandstorm, Ebony, Hornet Yellow, Red Fury, Retro Blue and Cement.

Offered in a single grade with a high level of specification, the FJ Cruiser is priced from $46,990. Metallic paint (Cement) is $550 extra.

FJ Cruiser is covered by Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing at a maximum of $220 per service.TOY_FJ_40_160418b0272lr

Quick Getaways

Race-cars and super-cars have plenty of power, and sometimes this can be a handful to manage when accelerating quickly away from a standstill.  There is some special technology that new muscle cars now have which enables optimum power and traction for the best fast getaway.  The better the launch control system, the faster the getaway.  So how does a decent launch control system work?

Launch control is a clever piece of technology which acts electronically to balance the optimum ratio of power with enough traction so as to get the car moving forward from a standstill with minimal wheel spin.  The quickest getaways come from the best systems that control the colossal levels of optimum power under hard acceleration with the amount of wheel spin.  Wheel spin under hard acceleration suggests that the tyres are unable to grab at the road because of excessive torque reaching the driving wheels.  Too much torque and power results in the tyres losing grip on the road, and there is a lack of forward motion at this point.  Launch control systems, electronically, allow an input of an optimum amount of engine revs that will provide enormous but not too much power at the driving wheels.  A rapid and defined engagement of the clutch also occurs so that a mistimed human clutch progression is nullified.  Electronically managed wheel spin, at take-off, results in smoother, quicker acceleration.

One part of the launch control system includes the many sensors and computers that are constantly calculating the amount of torque available at the drive axles.  If the computer recognises that there is too much power available at the axle which would make the wheel spin, then the power is electronically adjusted in minute timeframes – as small as milliseconds.  Launch controls systems are quite complex as they even take into account things like tyre temperature, tyre pressure, road surface and engine temperature; all of which are variables that can affect the desired rapid fast getaway.  Even when driving quickly, there are also traction control systems that use torque vectoring and individual wheel braking to spread the torque evenly between the driving wheels.  Numerous supercars are now All-Wheel-Drive (AWD), so the torque vectoring occurs evenly between left-to-right wheels as well as front-to-rear wheels.

With ever increasing levels of power becoming available for race cars and supercars the need for better launch control in fast getaways, and torque vectoring when cornering, is all the more necessary, particularly when striving to get an edge over the competition.  A successful launch will propel a supercar or race car to big high speeds in a matter of seconds, and once the launch has been completed the on-board computer switches the launch control system off, passing the control over to the traction management system and also back into the hands/decision of the driver.

You’ll also find that aspects like downforce are very important to gaining traction when accelerating fast from a standstill and at high speed.  Supercars like the BMW M4 and Porsche 911 have active aerodynamics which changes the rate of downforce according to the speed, thus keeping the car hugging the road as much as possible for better traction and control.

The sheer pleasure of acceleration is even better experienced with important management control systems like Launch Control and Traction Control being employed.  These sophisticated systems are also what push the buying prices of supercars upward – as you would expect.


Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Toyota HiLux SR5 V6 Petrol

The Toyota HiLux SR5 sits at the top of the tree for the popular range; A Wheel Thing tested the 4.0L petrol engined four door version recently and was left with the impression that Ford, Holden, Mitsubishi etc shouldn’t be worried…

For a four wheel drive capable ute, a torquey engine should be the go. This is where diesels are ideal for this class of car and yes, there’ll be those that will consider off roading going through a puddle on their front lawn, therefore a petrol donk is the go.2016 Toyota HiLux V6 engine Due to the high revving nature (3800 for peak torque of 376 Nm) and low gear ratios, the 4.0L V6 isn’t able to get the SR5 off the line all that quickly, needing something around 3000 plus to see something approaching alacrity…it wasn’t the thriftiest of things, as a result, with around 13.0L of its chosen 95 RON tipple per 100 km the end result from a 80 litre tank.

There’s 2000 kilos to move from the start, plus a 3000 kilo towing capacity, which makes the SR5’s lack of urge from the big V6 all the more a standout.
Toyota quotes 12.0L for a combined and a Range Rover HST (with supercharged V6 of just three litres capacity) beating 16.4, as in thirstier, for the urban cycle. Even a freeway run is quoted as 9.4L per 100 km. Peak power is just 175 kW at over 5000, by the way. Transmission is a six speed auto and that’s it (the 2.8L diesel option for the SR5 gets both manual and auto) and it’s mostly ok, smooth enough yet had a predilection for holding gear at around third or fourth for too long. 2015 Toyota HiLux SR5 V6 petrol frontRecent external facelift aside, with the somewhat protuberant nose and eyebrow LEDs, the interior needs a lift as well. No sunroof? All plastic interior? No HUD? A driver’s seat with electric adjustment as a $2k option, rather than included? Carpet mats, not rubber? No Blind Spot Monitoring? Single zone aircon?2016 Toyota HiLux SR5 interiorYou DO get a redesigned dash look, with a simple and clear layout under the binnacle, a seven inch touchscreen (which still looks like a last minute addition, but not as badly as the Lexus RX) with a user friendly menu system, Bluetooth audio, DAB radio (putting it ahead ahead of the Koreans, who, admittedly, lack an entrant in the ute field but none of their mainstream cars have DAB), push button start and decent dash dials although there’s no colour display. The tiller is adjustable for reach and rake however and there’s hints of an attempt to brighten the cabin, with brushed aluminuim highlights on the steering wheel spokes and driver’s side air vent. 2015 Toyota HiLux SR5 V6 petrol dash2015 Toyota HiLux SR5 V6 petrol front seatsHaving said that, the Triton and Ranger do feel as if their dash is of a more cohesive look, a point A Wheel Thing has noted about Toyota’s styling previously. For example, the electronically engaged four wheel drive system dial is awkwardly located near the drivers knee, isn’t terribly easy to see and potentially could be knocked by said knee. The top section of the dash also looks somewhat separate in the greater design scheme of things. But, again, a couple of little things like two 12V sockets and a 220V three pin socket are included.

There was also the need to duck the head upon entry and rear seat leg room was tight. That in itself was odd as the HiLux is one big unit. It’s 5.3 metres in overall length (the test car was the four door with tray) but has a 3085 mm wheelbase, shorter than most in its class.2015 Toyota HiLux SR5 V6 petrol profile With that amount of space between front and rear wheels, it appears that Toyota has prioritised the load space at the expense of the back seat, with a tray length (interior) of 1570 mm. Given the target aim of the SR5, well off tradie style that will hardly, if ever, utilise the off road credentials, a more family friendly space would be appropos.2015 Toyota HiLux SR5 V6 petrol wheelSpeaking of road credentials, either the tyres were underinflated or the suspension is softer than expected, as it seemed doughy, spongy, in the lower part of the ride and managed to also feel quite jiggly on uneven and undulating surfaces and, oddly, choppy on shopping centre parking speed humps . With the tyres fitted (265/60/18) and the ride quality being as squishy as it was, it wasn’t unusual for the nose to run wide in corners and slightly woolly steering didn’t help either.

In gear acceleration was…leisurely, requiring a hard right foot to see much happen on the speedo, although the noises from up front, under the steel (not alloy) bonnet, would infer otherwise.

As always, you’ll get plenty of peace of mind and safety in the form of three years warranty or 100000k, airbags, driver assist such as Hill Descent Control and diff locking. Part of the testing for the updated model included over 650000 kilometres of testing in Australia. You’ll also get ANCAP’s five star safety rating, diff lock for the rear, 279 mm clearance. Service intervals are six months apart or 10000 kilometres (Amarok, Navara, Ranger, for example, are 12 months or 15000 kilometres) with a capped cost of $180 per service for the first six.

At the End Of the Drive.
At just under $56k plus on-roads and premium paint at $550, which take it up to around $61700 for a private buyer, it’s starting to not look like the best value 4×4 ute around. The relative lack of comparable features, the ride quality, the economy and drive, the interior trim, if benchmarked against the rest, leave the HiLux SR5 looking flat and left behind.

To make up your mind about the 2016 Toyota HiLux SR5, with 4.0L V6 petrol engine and standard auto, go here: 2016 Toyota HiLux SR5