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Archive for July, 2016

What Motorists Should Consider When Taking a Car for a Test Drive

When we jump behind the wheel of a car we’re familiar with, we often take for granted the number of things that contribute to our driving experience. In part, this is because we become familiar with all the facets that make it run like clockwork.

But what about when we are shopping for a new car and take control of a different vehicle? As is often the case, we start to notice subtle differences – ones that may even shape our purchasing decision. With this in mind, we take a look at the key considerations motorists should acknowledge when taking a new vehicle for a test drive.

Make a Shortlist

Before you race away from the car yard in the first vehicle that captures your attention, prepare a shortlist of options that you are willing to trial. Approach the exercise with some degree of structure. Make sure the vehicles you plan to test are exactly the same models as those you wish to consider buying.

Importantly, conduct the test drive for all vehicles on the same day, which will allow a meaningful comparison. Also, don’t forget to take the rest of the family along, particularly if you plan to share the vehicle with a partner – or to get the approval of those ‘backseat’ drivers!


Get Specific

Decide which features you need in a vehicle, and distinguish them from those considered ‘luxuries’. For example, you may wish to evaluate the importance of the vehicle’s: drive system, fuel system, upholstery, aesthetics, paintjob, airbags, GPS, cameras and sensors, as well as the inclusion of other safety-focused technology. Depending on your needs, prioritise and rank these amenities in order of importance so that you are prepared to compromise on something if need be.


The Ride Environment

While all the bells and whistles might be tempting, step inside the vehicle and familiarise yourself with its layout. How is the visibility? Is there clear access for the driver to reach controls and dials? Are passengers, especially those in the back seats, provided adequate space for a comfortable ride? Are the seats able to be adjusted and folded down? Is there a suitable number of storage compartments? How does the general build quality of the vehicle rate, both internally and externally?


The Ride

It’s standard procedure for test drives to last a short period of time. While certainly better than nothing, this often falls short of providing an adequate ‘feel’ for the vehicle. As such, try asking for a lengthened trial, where you might be able to experience the vehicle in different weather conditions, and to assess whether it fits in your garage.

Importantly, take the vehicle on roads that you would normally travel on. Not only does this familiarity help lower the chance of becoming distracted, it will assist you in making an informed and balanced assessment on the vehicle’s handling and ride comfort.

As part of the test, try operate the vehicle under differing road conditions – light traffic, heavy traffic, on a freeway, roundabouts, and sharp corners. It also helps to perform parking manoeuvres and three point turns. Meanwhile, put climate control and other technologies through their paces – this is an area where some vehicles still encounter teething issues, and there are few things more frustrating in a vehicle than a GPS system which doesn’t recognise your voice!

All the while however, don’t forget to keep your ears attuned to the ride noise, and whether this contributes to a relaxing environment. If you’re unable to find the right vehicle, there’s no harm in continuing to test drive other vehicles beyond your shortlist. Follow the above considerations and the process will be a whole lot easier.



Which Cars Are Stolen The Most Often?

car theftWe all know that it’s probably not a wise idea to leave your car unlocked on a dimly lit street overnight if you want to see it again in the morning. Most of us know enough to at least lock the doors and take other measures, including garaging the car if our house has a garage or at least shutting the gate if all we’ve got is a driveway or carport.  Nevertheless, there are some cars that are thief magnets, just like some cars are cop magnets.

Surprisingly enough, it’s not the flash new sports cars such as Porsche 911s  that are the thief magnets (cops are another story).  The ones that tend to get nicked are the ones that are common – which means that they are harder to trace and more likely to end up in a chop shop with parts being swapped around to make a “new” vehicle out of the old one.  In the list put out by the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council , you won’t find a number of the more glamorous marques on the list of vehicles stolen most often between April 2015 and March 2016.  Looks like the light-fingered rotters out there just aren’t interested (much) in BMW, Porsche, Audi or Mercedes-Benz. Either that or the people who own these can also afford good garaging and security systems.  The ones that go AWOL most often are marques like Holden (mostly Commodores), Ford (especially Falcons) and a handful of Nissans and Toyotas.

So which cars are on the top 20 list for vehicles stolen most often in Australia?  Do you need to run out and buy a noisy car alarm and a bull terrier to keep your favourite set of wheels safe?  (Actually, Staffordshire bull terriers are great family dogs that get on well with kids and don’t need much grooming as well as being good home security systems, so I’d always recommend getting one, but that’s another story).  Here’s the list for 04-2015 to 03-2016, complete with model series and model year (MY) range:

  1. Nissan Pulsar  N15 MY95_00: 831 vehicles nicked
  2. Holden Commodore  VE MY06_13: 827 vehicles nicked
  3. Toyota Hilux  MY05_11: 795 vehicles nicked
  4. Holden Commodore VT MY97_00: 683 vehicles nicked
  5. Holden Commodore VX MY00_02: 602 vehicles nicked
  6. Holden Commodore VY MY02_04: 571 vehicles nicked
  7. Ford Falcon BA MY02_05: 570 vehicles nicked
  8. Holden Commodore VZ MY04_06: 479 vehicles nicked
  9. Ford Falcon  AU MY98_02: 432 vehicles nicked
  10. Toyota Hilux MY98_04: 399 vehicles nicked
  11. Hyundai Excel X3 MY94_00: 369 vehicles nicked
  12. Nissan Patrol GU MY97+: 332 vehicles nicked
  13. Toyota Hilux MY12_15: 323 vehicles nicked
  14. Ford Falcon FG MY08_14: 311 vehicles nicked
  15. Nissan Navara  D40 MY05_15: 307 vehicles nicked
  16. Toyota Corolla  ZRE152R MY07_14: 291 vehicles nicked
  17. Holden Astra  TS MY99_05: 284 vehicles nicked
  18. Toyota Hiace  MY90_04: 277 vehicles nicked
  19. Toyota Landcruiser 80 Series MY90_98: 275 vehicles nicked
  20. Holden Commodore VF MY13+: 273 vehicles nicked

The trend, according to the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council website, is that cars from the 2000–2010 period tend to go walkies most often, with 42.8% (that’s nearly half) of stolen cars being from this era; cars from the decade before that (1990–2000) and the decade after that (2010–now) are about even at 22.9% of car stolen and 23.8% respectively.

Regarding the when and where cars get stolen, the most common time for a car to get stolen is between 4:00 p.m. and 7.59 p.m. on a Friday afternoon/evening, followed by 8:00 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. on Saturday night.  In other words, when you’re having the end of the working week drinkies or hitting the pub on Saturday, it’s best to put your car in a very safe place!

If you own a 2000s era Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore, you are probably starting to get a bit nervous about now.  What can you do to help protect your car?  What’s more, you also need to protect your car keys, because if a thief can get his or her hands on the car keys, the job of nicking your vehicle is much easier.

Here’s a few tips for keeping your car and your keys safe (there’s more on the website):

  • Make sure that your front fences and hedges are kept to a good height so they don’t give a thief a good hiding place from the street (time to call Hedge-Trimming-R-Us?)
  • Motion-sensing security lights help deter thieves.
  • Don’t put your address on your car key tags. If you lose your keys and a rotter finds them, he or she will know exactly where to go.
  • Don’t hide spare keys on or around your car.
  • Store your car keys where they aren’t visible from the windows easily (so that convenient set of hooks by the front door is out).
  • Install a gate – the more a rotter has to do to get into your place, the less likely he/she will be to try. Put a lock on the gate if you don’t have one on the garage or if you don’t have a garage.
  • Get a garage.
  • Get a dog – even a yappy little Chihuahua will let you know if someone is poking around where they shouldn’t.

Car Safe – Entrapment from NB content on Vimeo.


A wee warning about car alarms: we all know that they can go mental and decide to go off at odd moments.  I remember very well the time that the Mazda Bongo van we once owned had an alarm go mental like this in the carport.  My husband rushed outside to investigate and switch the ruddy thing off… without putting any clothes on first.  Unfortunately, a passing policewoman also came to investigate…  At least she was smart enough to realise that the guy in the nude fooling around with a car with an alarm going berserk was probably the owner!


Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-X AllGrip 4×4 diesel

2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 KosciuzkoA Wheel Thing once sold cars. One brand was Suzuki so it is a genuine pleasure to have the 2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S diesel AllGrip in the garage. For the second car of five from Suzuki that A Wheel Thing will review, the Vitara with the torquey 1.6 litre diesel was the one supplied, coinciding with a weekend away that included a visit to the Australian alps and to the home of one of Australia’s most recognised cheese brands, Bega.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 BegaFirst up, the RT-X looks exactly the same outside as the RT-S tested previously bar different painted alloys and the discreet AllGrip badge on the rear door. Well, unless you’re a train-spotter and notice the LED/xenon headlights, electric folding mirrors with LED flashers for the indicators, the different shade of plastic inserts for the front and rear bumpers, and are tall enough to see the panoramic sunroof. There’s also Parking sensors fitted to the RT-X.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4Inside you’ll see suede cushioning on the leather seats, effectively making heating elements redundant, a light metallic grey plastic trim on the dash console with AllGrip badging, Auto headlights and rain sensing wipers, a push button for the Start/Stop which is out of the driver’s eyeline and sometimes not easily found intuitively, with the Parking sensor button (located in a strip just above the driver’s knee) being pressed instead. What the Vitara (and most cars) needs are the extensions to the interior sunshades when pulled over to the driver and passenger windows.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 seat In between the front seats, you’ll find the selector for the six speed auto and a simple yet effective dial for the drive mode selector, being Auto, Sport, and Snow, with a tab saying Lock as well. These show up on the (still monochrome, why not colour?) centre screen in the binnacle facing the driver. There’s also an extra stalk for the tripmeter, compared to the single in the RT-S.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 profileClosing the doors sometimes needed an extra push, as a “normal” closing move had the last door to be closed not fully sealing, indicating an extra bit of venting to equalise pressure is needed. There was also unexpected interior fogging, as in too much too often, especially when the exterior temperature was showing double digits.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 gear selectNormal driving is left in Auto, Sport holds the upward gear changes longer (along with the paddle shifts on the steering column being called more into usage) and Snow looks after Mud and Gravel as well.
Even the Bluetooth streaming capable sound system gets an extra tickle, with a pair of tweeters fitted to the A pillars, improving the presence and soundstage. It’s not a vast improvement over the RT-S overall, but substantial enough to be a more comfortable listening environment for the office.2016-Suzuki-Vitara-RT-X-engine-dieselUp front is Suzuki’s chattery and throttle sensitive 1.6 litre diesel. Power is rated at 88 kilowatts (@ 3750 revs) but it’s the 320 torques at only 1750 rpm that make it the cracker it is. It’s also superbly efficient, with a final consumption figure, after 1450 kilometres of driving in just over two days, of just 5.0 litres per one hundred kilometres covered. It’s a smallish 47 litre tank on board yet it was after a sensational 773 kilometres from full when the tank was topped up.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 economyIf there’s a niggle for the driveline, it’s the dual clutch transmission that is the only gearbox option for the diesel. It’s prone to the same “lemme think” pause when going to Reverse from Park, with the roll forward or back and at a stop in Drive, the brake pedal needs a firmer push otherwise there’s the lurch as first gear is in then out, kinda like the hokey-pokey. To counter balance this, Suzuki fit Hill Hold Control, which isn’t always effective. Underway, it’s slick, smooth and mostly imperceptible in its shifts. Push harder and there’s an increase of chatter from the front and a longer, more linear surge of torque as the speedo numbers climb.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 rear quarterOtherwise, what you drive is a responsive, frugal, sounds bigger than it is, engine. That economy is helped along by a body weight that tips the scales at around 1200 kilograms, so it’s a fantastic torque to kilogram equation. It’ll surge forward from a standstill at the lightest touch of the pedal and will kick down readily enough for overtaking on the long open highways south of Canberra and on the Hume and Federal highways between Sydney and Canberra. Naturally it’ll run out of puff at revs where a petrol engine is just hitting its stride but only rarely did it feel that a 2.0L may have been a better option.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 rear quarter leftRidewise, it feels tauter all round but has the same short/hard and long/soft suspension combo of the RT-S, even down to the underside of the chin belting the road coming off a road calming bump. Being a constant four wheel drive, you’ll notice more weight in the steering as the centre diff works with the rear to apportion drive and handling is affected as a result.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 sunroofIt’s less prone to being knocked around by cross winds, unlike the RT-S and feels more sure footed. In the wet and greasy conditions found near Thredbo and Mt Selwyn, some judicious driving was called for, more to ensure the capabilities of the drive system were met rather than exceeded. A light dab of the throttle to get underway, traction to the ground and you’re away.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 dashIt’s more easily settled by throttle application as well; the transmission will kick down a gear or two on a down hill run on a long turn, using the engine to assist braking and the front can then be pushed back onto the ground with a flex of the right foot. The power comes back in and the car recomposes itself. On the straight runs, there were times when the steering seemed lighter, as if the drive system was pushing more torque to the rear. In tight cornering, the 2500 mm wheelbase again proves handy, endowing the Vitara with a nimbleness many will enjoy, including a sub six metre turning centre.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 dash buttonsThere’s little doubt that the niche the Vitara aims for is soft roading; the Vitara gets an approach angle of just 18 degrees, departure angle is a decent 28 degrees but the rollover point is also just 18 degrees. That’s good enough for most people and there’s Hill Descent Control built in to give an extra bit of courage and confidence for those in need. The Continental tyres fitted to the polished and painted 17 inch alloys are the same 215/55 profile type you’ll find on the RT-S, more attuned to tarmac than serious off roading.2016 Suzuki Vitara AllGrip diesel 4x4 wheelPricewise, it’s up there, with $35990 plus ORCs, but you do get that wonderfully efficient diesel, plenty of room and driveability, the sunroof (normally a 2K plus option elsewhere), satnav, the techy dual clutch gearbox and paddles and the Continental rubber as standard. But you don’t get a full sized spare tyre.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S spare wheelAt The End Of The Drive.
What makes the Suzuki Vitara diesel RT-X a winner is the engine. Flexible, unbelievably economical (that figure was achieved with four aboard and luggage as well), it pulls like a train and gets the dual clutch auto singing. The cloth inserts on the seats negate a need for heating, which was a HUGE benefit given the morning temperatures. Yes, there’s a couple of niggles but they’re livable. It certainly is an almost ideal chariot for a weekend away for a family and has a good feature set for the price.
Head to 2016 Suzuki Vitara range for extra details.BTW 2016private_fleet_logo

ESP Does Not Mean Your Car Is Psychic… At Least Not Yet

Molecular Thoughts

In the last 10 or so years, ESP has become almost as standard in new cars as seatbelts.  OK, the manufacturers may not call this feature ESP, which stands for Electronic Stability Program(me) (the preferred term for Audi and a few others).  It could also be called Electronic Stability Control (ESC – the original term used by Mercedes Benz and BMW) or some fancy marque-exclusive name like “Advance Trak” (Ford) or Porsche Stability Management (guess which marque uses that one!).  ESC is the most common abbreviation but ESP has a tendency to stick in the mind a bit more, what with the mental images of psychic cars.  Or maybe this only sticks in my mind because I’m weird.

Right, no matter what you call it, ESP or ESC is designed to prevent those hairy situations that happen during understeering or oversteering.  For those of you who aren’t sure what this means, understeering happens when you don’t get enough turn when going out of the corner and fly off the side of the road, like a stone flying out of David’s sling while the sling itself (the road) keeps curving around.  Oversteer is the reverse, when you end up turning more sharply than you ought to and end up on the road on the other side.  This happens through driver error while we’re going through the learning process but it can happen to experienced drivers as well when the road is slippery.

Yaw Pitch RollThis is where ESC or ESP kicks in.  During understeer that isn’t caused by driver inexperience, the front wheels start sliding rather than rolling.  During oversteer, the rear wheels are the ones doing the sliding.  ESP detects that a wheel isn’t spinning all of a sudden when it ought to be but is sliding and skidding.  This is done with yaw control.  Yaw is a lovely old nautical term that’s been used for several centuries to describe how things swing and sway around a centre point, along with its siblings pitch and roll.  You can visualise these easily by holding out your hand flat with the palm down and your thumb and pinkie pointing out so it looks like a plane.  If you wiggle you hand from side to side so the tips of your fingers stay level with your wrist and your thumb and pinkie stay level, that’s yaw.  Flip your hand over so it goes palm up, then back again and you’ve got roll.  Tip your hand up and down like you’re doing a snake-arms wave dance move, and you’ve got pitch.  With me so far?  Well, the yaw detector feels how the car is yawing and matches this to what the steering system is doing.  If there’s a mismatch, the rest of the system kicks in.  It works alongside the traction control, which compares how fast the wheels are turning with how fast the engine is going (a mismatch means slipping (spinning too fast) or skidding (not spinning fast enough)).

espESP always works in tandem with ABS (anti-braking skid) brakes.  This is because the main way to stop a skid is to reduce the speed, which your ESP system may do by overriding what your right foot is doing and controlling the throttle to take the power down, and by braking.  However, as most of us experienced when we were learning to drive, if you slam the brakes on when you’re travelling at speed, you skid.  What we had to do when learning old-school style without any driver aids was to pump the brakes so they didn’t lock up and skid.  ABS brakes, however, spare us all the tap-dancing, as they’re able to pump the brakes much faster than we can, even if we’re part of a Riverdance line.  A really good ESP system will apply the ABS brakes to as many wheels as it needs to (one, two, three or four) to get the speed down and get the “what ought to happen” and the “what is happening” in the yaw and traction departments happening.

ESC has been proven to reduce accidents on wet, slippery or icy roads.  However, like any other driver aid or active safety feature, it’s not a substitute for common sense and driving to the conditions.  No matter how good the ESP package is, it can’t suspend the laws of angular momentum.  It also won’t do anything about understeer or oversteer caused by driver error when an inexperienced driver turns the steering wheel too little, too much, too soon or too late, as these won’t cause the mismatch that triggers the system.  Although it’s called ESP, it can’t actually read your mind as to where you want to go.

At least cars can’t read your mind and work out where you want to go quite yet.  Inventors and other clever-clogs are working on it, however.  In China at the end of last year (2015), some researchers at Nankai University, came up with a brainwave – or, more accurately, a brainwave detector.  This consists of a headset that contains EEG sensors that read the electrical pulses given off by different thoughts, which are then transferred to the steering and braking systems.  According to a press release and a video, the team has managed to rig this up to what looks like a standard Haval H9, and the “driver” can make the car go forward, reverse, stop, lock and unlock.

The mind boggles at how this could be combined with Google’s Driverless Car concepts.  But hopefully, the mind won’t boggle too much or goodness knows what might happen.

Fatalities Are Up. Why?

No apologies for the bluntness of the title. However, I’ll clarify that the following is specific to New South Wales, with information provided courtesy of the NSW Government’s Transport for safety site.

Why this, though? It’s simple. In NSW, the most populous state in Australia, there’s been an unexpected and unwelcome spike in road deaths for 2016 compared to 2015 and what’s called the three year average. Naturally, the road safety organisations, police and government are left scratching their heads as to why. Although it’s been a downward trend, the rise that’s concerning the relevant bodies started in mid 2015.Type of road user

Here’s something that stands out: in NSW, men are twice as likely to die on the roads compared to women with last year’s toll almost exactly the same as the three-year average for men (121 in 2015, 121 on average) and women (56 in 2015, 53 on average). But in 2016 (at the time of writing), it’s 167 men to 54 women. The age breakdown raises eyebrows too. It’s the 40-59 year old age bracket that heads the list. So far in 2016 there’s 65 compared to 49 last year. That’s also 23 and 19 more that the 17-25 year old males for the same time periods. In the 26-39 slot, there’s almost identical numbers, with 37 this year compared to 35 in 2015.Gender breakdown

Unsurprisingly, it’s on country roads where more people have lost their lives. 2015 saw 113 in total, 2016 has already exceeded that, with 142. The three year average before was 118. On suburban roads, the difference is marked: 79 for 2016 versus just 65 for all of 2015. In a look at who, it was the car driver that lead the tragic figures, with 109 this year, against 78 for 2015. Motorcyclists are on an upwards trend, with 31 in 2015 but already 34 in 2016. Frighteningly, there’s already 46 pedestrians listed for 2016. That’s a jump of 14 compared to all of 2015.Type of road user

What isn’t listed is a breakdown of the causal factors, however senior police said: speed, intoxication, fatigue and distraction are consistently key factors of recent fatal accidents: all elements that are a driver’s responsibility. “Out of the five fatalities, four were males; in all five cases, the actions of the driver involved will be the subject of each investigation; in three of these crashes, a vehicle left the road and hit a tree or power pole.”Road death breakdown

“Those speeding, drink or drug driving, not wearing a seat belt or proper helmet, fatigued or distracted, are the ones that continue to put themselves, their passengers, and other innocent road users all at great risk, which continues to cost lives on our roads.”


The bottom line is this: don’t drive like an idiot and use some common sense and courtesy.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S

A Wheel Thing welcomes Suzuki to the garage, with the first of five in a row being the entry level Suzuki Vitara RT-S. It’s a 1.6L engine and five speed manual transmission combo driving the front wheels and with prices starting at just $23990, it’s a great way for a new driver to get out on the road. Here’s why.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S profileSuzuki’s Vitara range is part of a stable of cars that come from the niche Japanese automotive manufacturer. This particular vehicle, the RT-S, is, in A Wheel Thing’s opinion, one of the most ideal cars that a recently licensed driver can get into to hone their driving skills.
Up front is a frugal four potter, with Suzuki claiming consumption of just 5.8L per 100 kilometres. A Wheel Thing backs that up, with 5.6L/100 km from 560 kilometres worth of most urban driving, from a 47 litre tank.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S engineNo, it’s not a firecracker, with Suzuki reserving the fuse lighting for the 1.4 Turbo engine (which will be reviewed in August 2016). There’s 86 kilowatts at 6000 revs and a reasonable 156 torques at a highish 4400 revs, but not unexpected for this size engine. It’s partly why the manual transmission is “only” a five speed, not six, as the fifth gear ratio of 0.725:1 sees around 2800 rpm on the tacho at 110 kilometres per hour. That’s reaching the bottom limits of effectiveness for torque to twist a sixth ratio. Another positive which aids consumption is the light weight for the size of the car; just 1075 kilos kerb weight for the manual.

As such, it’s a free revving unit, if somewhat buzzy at high revs and from the line does need a bit of rowing through the gears. Happily, that’s not a chore as both the gear mechanism and clutch are smooth, well weighted and the pickup point becomes instinctive very quickly, again ideal for new drivers. Under way and around town, fifth is mostly fine, but some may find fourth a better choice. The dash screen does indicate what gear you’re in, unusual for a manual transmission. Finding some hills to climb such as the Great Western Highway or the zig zag for the Old Bathurst Road at the base of the Blue Mountains will see a need to drop back through the gears, down to first at one point on the zig zag whilst the highway climb should only need a drop to third.

The gear lever, as mentioned, is smooth in the move, with just enough notchiness in the swap between gates to give feel and feedback. Occasionally, however, it didn’t wish to find third from second, but this was moreso on a hurried change than a measured movement. In the H pattern it’s fitted with, Reverse is at bottom right, directly below fifth, and it took a few “wait a second” moments to remind the brain not to go for sixth where a six speed ‘box would normally have the hand move.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S front seatsThe Vitara RT-S has a welcoming interior and a couple of unexpected equipment surprises as well, being an entry level vehicle. Design wise, it’s a clean look, with airvents being the user friendly twist and turn design, there’s some piano black plastic surrounding the seven inch touchscreen (complete with satnav and apps such as Apple CarPlay) sitting above the simple to follow aircon controls. 2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S radioThe dash plastic has the familiar rippled look (with perhaps too much reflection into the windscreen), the cloth covered seats have manual adjustment only, power windows all round but only the driver’s window is Auto up/down.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S rear seatsSpeaking of the dash, the centre screen between the speedo and tacho is monochrome only and doesn’t show the speed as an option, whereas you will get instant and average fuel consumption, distance covered, external temperature and trip meter.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S dashYou’ll also get a reverse camera, tilt and telescope adjustable steering wheel column, 2 ISOFIX child seat mounting points, and a headlight switch that is Off/parkers/on (no auto headlights, they’re found higher up the range) and just at driver’s right knee height is the switch for the additional halogen driving lights. Safety for the new driver is also assured, with seat side, curtain, front and driver’s knee airbags, traction and stability control, reverse camera and pre-tensioning seatbelts.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S frontOutside it’s recognisable as a Vitara, even with design hints from a decade’s ago model. Rectangular style headlights, halogen driving lights set deep in the front bumper, a “three box” profile, a compact body but with plenty of interior room and a cargo space just big enough for a week’s shopping. Sadly, you only get a space saver spare in the rear, rather than a full sizer.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S spare wheel2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S wheelSixe wise, what you get is 4175 mm of Vitara in length, spread across 1775 and 1610 mm for width and height, wrapping a 2500 mm wheelbase, with that providing a turning circle of just over five metres. That’s helped by a wider front track than the rear, at 1535 vs 1505 mm. What you also get is a slightly compromised cargo area, with only 375 litres available, increasing to 710 with the seats folded. BUT, it’s just big enough for a reasonable weekly shop for a family and just big enough for a weekend away. An added bonus is the lower than expected tail gate entry.2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S rear2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S rear cargoUnderneath the Vitara is the tried and true mix of McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension. It’s skittish and unsettled on some surfaces, with the rear moving left or right suddenly. It’s surfaces like road joins, some ripples etc and it’s easily controlled however. Another niggle is the rating of the dampers; they seem to be more tuned for hard absorption on short travel and soft for long travel, allowing the front and rear to feel as if they’re crashing down onto the bump stops.
Out on a straight and level road, it tracks well enough, with the Continental rubber, 215/55 in size, wrapping gunmetal painted five spoke 17 inch alloys and doing a great job of holding on and helping the front end turn in nicely. Undulations are noticeable for a few moments before being damped out and there’s considerable road noise on coarser chip surfaces as well.

At The End Of The Drive.
As suggested at the beginning, the Vitara RT-S will make an ideal first car for a newly licensed driver. Safety features, room enough for four comfortably, a user friendly interior, an economical non turbo engine and a fluid manual transmission make the Suzuki Vitara RT-S a more than reasonable argument and at just under $24K the dollar factor has a solid case for as well.
For more details on the range: 2016 Suzuki Vitara range and contact your Suzuki dealership for details on warranty and servicing costs.private_fleet_logoBTW 2016

Should Motorists be Concerned by a Record Number of Car Recalls?

If you’ve been following motoring news of late, you may have noticed a heightened level of discussion surrounding vehicle recalls. This comes off the back of over 1.6 million cars being recalled across Australia during the first six months of this year. To put this number into perspective, last year 1.3 million vehicles were affected – a number that, at the time, was a record in its own right. With the year just over half way, and the seemingly inevitable prospect of further announcements ahead, do Australian motorists have reason to be concerned by the sheer number of recalls?

With nearly 600,000 new vehicles sold within the first six months of the year, the earlier figures suggest that recalls considerably outpace sales – something that wouldn’t seem too far-fetched given they cover a breadth of years. However, it hasn’t always been this way. 10 years ago, the number of cars subject to a recall were 339,000 – while for the same year, over 962,000 new vehicles were sold. A contrasting story to today’s picture. So is it a case of auto manufacturers cutting back on quality? Are they instead being more pro-active? Is vehicle technology causing us more grief than we anticipated?



One should also keep in mind that this trend has been in place for some time – with 2015 previously being a record year for recalls, and 2014 before that. Further afield, recent years have seen a record numbers of vehicles recalled in the US (over 50 million) and Europe, particularly following the fallout from high profile incidents such as Dieselgate, General Motors’ ignition switch problem, and cars involving Takata airbag components.

Notwithstanding the occasional blemish in a separate trend, it’s worth noting that vehicle safety, as gauged by the number of vehicle fatalities, has improved considerably across Australia. In the same time that vehicle recalls have escalated nearly 8-fold, motor vehicle deaths have declined nearly 25%. While in many instances vehicle recalls are related to safety issues, these figures would seem to suggest that auto manufacturers are addressing such issues before they become a problem.

This is a view that has been supported by many industry analysts and authorities, with a growing acceptance that auto manufacturers should be issuing bulletins or calling in vehicles for precautionary measures or minor modifications – something that has been viewed as a proactive approach. It’s important for motorists to understand, and distinguish, that a recall doesn’t necessarily equate to a fault. Often, it is to conduct an inspection and ensure everything is correct. Wouldn’t you rather have the peace of mind knowing your car has recently been inspected?



If a manufacturer fails to adopt this proactive approach, as was the case with General Motors last year when it was fined, the company opens itself up to brand damage and considerable liability – even in instances where motorists might not be directly affected. It’s also acknowledged that with the advent of technology and shared learning practices, car makers are now equipped to diagnose vehicles problems with greater ease – an area that previously may have been overlooked, thus skewing the number of recalls lower.

While there are still numerous technology related recalls, a frustrating sign that we are still very much experimenting with technology in our cars, the number of vehicle recalls shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a sign of shortcuts being made with respect to quality. Manufacturers are now approaching recalls with a different tact, and with a greater deal of transparency than they once did – something that as motorists, we should take greater comfort in.

2016 Ford Focus RS Lights Up Aussie Roads

Ford’s research and development engineers must have something in the water they drink. From a long history of sporting oriented cars and with a continued push to extract every erg of performance from their four cylinder range, the recent unveiling of the Focus RS model to the Australian motoring media has taken the superlatives to a new level, thanks to their latest work.

Here’s Ford Australia’s PR release:
The hugely anticipated 2016 Ford Focus RS brings Ford’s most advanced and capable performance hatch to Australian customers. With more power, as well as a driver-focussed Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive, the RS brings scintillating performance and technical innovation at a lower Manufacturer’s List Price than its predecessor.image141295_a“The all-new Focus RS is a very serious machine with high-performance technology and innovative engineering that sets a new benchmark for driving exhilaration,” said Raj Nair, group vice president, Global Product Development, Ford Motor Company. “The RS line has a proud history of technical breakthroughs that have gone on to benefit all Ford customers, and the new Focus RS is no exception.”

The all-new Focus RS is the 30th car to wear the legendary RS “Rallye Sport” badge, reserved for Ford models that have pioneered performance technologies. Focus RS follows in the footsteps of Ford models including the 16-valve 1970 Escort RS1600, turbocharged Sierra RS Cosworth of 1985, and four-wheel-drive 1992 Escort RS Cosworth.image141299_aThe bold, muscular stance and wind-tunnel tested aerodynamic improvements give the 2016 Ford Focus RS an unmistakable performance posture. With a goal of zero lift front and rear, the RS boasts a uniquely aggressive front bumper, raised rear spoiler and dramatic yet functional rear diffuser. While its exterior’s bold colour palette, 19-inch alloys with Michelin Super Sport tyres and Brembo brakes scream athleticism, the RS badge signifies that its performance story is not merely window dressing.

Thanks to a new Launch Control function – the Focus RS finds itself in the company of premium dedicated sports cars.

This RS has more power than its predecessor, its all-alloy 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder boasting a twin-scroll turbocharger and a substantial 257kW2. Maximum torque of 440Nm is delivered between 2000 and 4500rpm, with 470Nm available for up to 15 seconds on transient overboost during hard acceleration1.

The EcoBoost engine itself shares its backbone – including block, crankshaft and therefore 2261cc capacity – with the 2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost. Produced in Valencia, Spain, especially for the Focus RS, it has been significantly reengineered to deliver not only more power and torque, but a sharper acceleration response backed with a cack-and-burble from its larger exhaust system on lift-off for an entertaining drive both on- and off-throttle.

The Focus RS is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission that remains true to the RS goal of the most exhilarating, engaging driver involvement. It continues the RS tradition of using manual transmissions as the ultimate in driving pleasure.

The 2016 Focus RS comes standard with Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive – a Focus first. Ford engineers didn’t stop there. The sophisticated AWD system enabled Dynamic Torque Vectoring, which means that the Focus RS can split its torque not only front-to-rear, but also side-to-side for unprecedented road-holding.image141272_aSport Mode is one of four selectable drive modes – the first RS model to offer such a feature – that maximise the livability and enjoyment of the Focus RS. Each of these modes alters the steering, which has been recalibrated for more linearity, as well as the ESC, engine and exhaust settings. They also alter the adjustable dampers, another first for the 2016 Focus RS. Normal and Sport are calibrated for road use, with Track and Drift modes for the occasional closed course and racetrack experiences only. The dampers can also be changed independently, with two settings available. The drive modes operate independently of the Launch Control system.

The high-performance character of the RS is reflected inside the car with heavily-bolstered partial-leather Recaro sports seats as the centrepiece of the cockpit. There’s also a flat-bottom steering wheel, while the Focus RS offers technologies new to the RS marque including Ford’s SYNC connectivity system. Simple voice commands such as “Find a race track” enable RS owners to get instant directions to the nearest public circuit.

A flood of orders since full specification of the Focus RS was confirmed at the 2015 Frankfurt motor show has underlined the customer desire for an affordable, exquisitely engineered Focus around the globe. More than 6200 orders were taken in Europe before the launch showing the affection, respect and desirability of Ford’s RS products. The Australian order book followed suit – the first allocation of more than 300 Focus RS’s has quickly been snapped up, with Ford Australia working on further stocks from the Saarlouis, Germany, factory.image141312_aSuch anticipation comes courtesy of the Focus RS’s already brimming trophy cabinet. Ahead of Australian launch, its most recent accolade is the 2016 Auto Express Hot Hatch of the Year. That comes after awards, among others, from What Car? as a 2016 ‘Game-changer’, Autocar awarding it a maximum 5/5-star rating, while Top Gear announced the Focus RS its 2016 Car of the Year. To top it off, Autocar also named RS Chief Engineer, Tyrone Johnson – who today presents the Focus RS to the Australian media in Brisbane – its 2016 Engineer of the Year.

“The Focus RS sees the return of one of our most revered models,” said Graeme Whickman, CEO and President, Ford of Australia. “It builds on our showroom appeal of models including the Focus ST and Fiesta ST, XR Sprint Falcons as well as the hugely popular Mustang.”

The 2016 Ford Focus RS is another example of Ford’s commitment to Australian customers and comes on top of a $2 billion investment in local R&D over the past six years.

It’s already garnered plenty of acclaim from members of the Australian motoring press, with John Carey from Wheels magazine saying: “Ford delivers stellar performance and handling at a price that reads like a misprint.” Feann Torr from said: “After an hour of hard driving, I’m sold. I want this car. Now. This isn’t just a great hot hatch; it’s one of the best performance cars yet.”image141300_aHere’s why:

ENGINE DATA: 2.3-litre EcoBoost
Type: Inline four cylinder petrol, turbocharged, transverse
Displacement: 2261 cm3
Max power: 257 kW at 6000 rpm, Max torque 440 Nm between 2000 – 4500 rpm(470 Nm on transient overboost)
Transmission: 6-speed manual, Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive
Fuel: 95 RON unleaded.
Kerb weight: 1524 kilograms.

Price is $50990 plus on roads, with prestige paint being a $450 cost option along with the Performance Wheel pack at $2500. there’s just four colours, being Nitrous (a blue), White, Magnetic (grey) and Shadow Black.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium

It’s always a good feeling to slip back into a Subaru Forester. Think of catching up with an old mate at your favourite pub, after you’ve pulled on your comfy boots and decided on having your favourite meal and a pint of your favourite suds. That’s what it was like in late June for A Wheel Thing, with the updated 2.0L (177 kW/350 Nm) petrol and CVT equipped XT Premium.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium headlightOutside it’s been a minor set of changes, with the tail lights and head lights now equipped with LEDs and lit in a squared off C shape. There’s xenon headlamps up front and swept back into the fenders to accentuate the eagle eyed look Forester has had over the last couple of models. The grille has been reprofiled as has the front bumper.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium frontOut back the tail lamp clusters stand proud of the rear fenders and have a nicely chamfered design to the edges. Above the driver is a sizable sunroof, covering both front and rear seats. The test vehicle was clad in silver, necessitating the auto headlights to be flicked on manually as their sensitivity under Sydney’s grey skies wasn’t enough to illuminate automatically.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium wheelThere’s black painted 18 inch alloys (new aero efficient design for the 2016 model), with rubber supplied by Bridgestone in a 225/55/18 profile. They were grippy enough and added an extra level of comfort to the suspension setup, modified slightly from the 2015 model. There’s a touch more comfort, a touch more luxury in the ride quality, plush even, leaning towards the luxury side the XT is aimed at, rather than an out and out sports style.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium rearIt’s surprisingly twitchy on road, this particular vehicle, affected by cross breezes and passing trucks, needing a keen sense of attention from the driver in wet weather. I have to say it was an unusual situation to experience, as it’s so rare for a Subaru car to be suchlike in its driving. Otherwise, it’s a neutral handler, with the faintest hint of tight corner understeer (dialled out by the Vehicle Dynamics Control, for the most part), with Subaru’s famous all for the driver all wheel drive system playing its part.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium dashThe SI Drive system has also been fettled, with an eight step programming for the CVT and receiving throttle input information, going from a continous drive mode on light throttle input to the eight speed feel when under heavy load. Underneath, that ride quality has been helped by minor but noticeable changes to the spring and shock absorber settings, a more rigid front suspension cradle and rerated suspension bushes.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium front seatsInside, it’s more of the same; familiar dash layout, familiar instrumentation, familiar ergonomics. It’s as easy to deal with as the aforementioned comfy boots and bucket of suds for anyone that’s spent time with a Forester over the last few years. It’s certainly an easy place to get accustomed to for anyone that hasn’t, with clearly laid out switchgear, good ergonomics and sensible design cues apart from that damnable prediliction for lighting up the climate control’s dual zone button when in fact it’s only blowing into one zone. But you will also get Subaru’s much vaunted Eyesight system, which only once failed to work, due to direct sunlight shining directly down the camera barrels.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium buttonsThere’s, of course, electric seats. Comfortable, slip into ’em like your favourite shoes, electric seats with two heating settings (no cooling), clad in black leather, with thicker underside cushioning and with split fold rears accessing the cargo space. There’s Subaru’s X-Trac system underneath for softroading, accessed via a button in the front centre console. Even the vanity mirrors are now lit. What the XT Premium doesn’t get is a DAB equipped tuner.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium console What the Forester has been given, however, is a good working over with the refinement brush. Both suspension (adding to the ride quality experienced) and the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels have been further refined (by five percent, says Subaru) thanks to slightly thicker glass and changes in the body’s structure plus increasing sound deadening materials. It’s evident by the lack of exterior noise making its way into the cabin. Apple’s Siri voice interface has been added, the tail gate is powered, and there’s memory seating as well.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium rear seatsIt’s a good size, the Forester, with a compact 4610 mm length hiding a 2640 mm wheelbase. It’s tall, at 1735 mm and spans 1795 mm thanks to the heated wing mirrors extended. Weight is deceptive, with the XT Premium tipping the scales at 1657 kg, a full 157 kg heavier than the entry level 2.0L manual. Unsurprisingly, as a result, it’s also the highest in fuel consumption, with Subaru quoting 8.5L of unleaded being used for every 100 kilometres on a combined cycle. A Wheel Thing saw consistent nine plus around town. Warranty wise, you’ll get three years and unlimited kilometres.2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium cargoAll this adds up to be a reasonable ask in dollars; the range starts at just under thirty thousand, with the XT Premium auto ten dollars shy of forty eight thousand. Given the company it keeps, such as the Sportage, Tucson, Kuga, Captiva, RAV4 and the like, it may seem up against it but the sales numbers tell a different story, with the Forester range a consistent sales chart topper.

For info, to book a test drive and for enquiries, head here: 2016 Subaru Forester range and follow Subaru on social media.private_fleet_logoBTW 2016

LED Lights: Small Is Beautiful


In just about every new car that comes out, you’ll find LED lighting somewhere around it, whether it’s in the form of daytime running lights, the tail lights or the interior lighting.  Car manufacturers seem very proud of featuring LED lighting in the designs.  You might be wondering what all the fuss is about.  Is this just the latest fashion or is there some real advantage to having LED lighting in your car?

If you have ever started the day with a flat battery caused by leaving the headlights on or a door slightly open or even the passenger reading light on (i.e. all of us at some point), you will have discovered the disadvantages of the old style incandescent bulbs the hard way.  Ditto if you have ever had a bulb blow on you at a bad moment.  LED lights don’t blow anywhere near as often as incandescents and they also use a lot less power.  And that’s the advantages.

Let’s go back to basics.  What is an LED light, how does it work and why don’t they blow or use as much power as the invention credited to Thomas Edison? (Historical note: Edison didn’t so much invent the lightbulb as improve it and buy out the patent from the other guys working on electric lighting.  The first guy to light a building entirely by electric lights was the UK Joseph Swan. History lecture over.).

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) have been around for quite some time, having been discovered back in the early 1900s when scientists were starting to mess around with this new-fangled electricity stuff.  LEDs are semiconductors made from materials like gallium, selenium and good old silicon.  Skipping complex explanations about how all types of diode only allow electricity to flow in one direction, what’s special about an LED is that with only a tiny bit of electricity flowing through it (2–3 W), they start glowing.

For the best part of 100 years, LEDs weren’t particularly useful as they weren’t very bright. They lit up in dull red and you could see them glowing if it was dark but you couldn’t use them to find your way from A to B.  Other diodes were much more fun in the early part of the 20th century, such as the ones used in crystal (cat-whisker) radios.  In the 1960s, people started tinkering with computers and electronics, and found that LEDs were a good way of showing that a circuit was going.  They were pretty expensive at first but soon became mass produced and became more widespread.  You know those red numbers on timers and other whizz-bang gadgets in movies and TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s?  Ditto green lights?  Those are LEDs at work.

The fun really started when someone found a way to get colours other than red and green.  If the human eye picks up more or less equal amounts of the three primary colours of light (red, green and blue), this is perceived as white.  This means that if you shove a red, a blue and a green LED close together, it will look like a white LEAudi-led-lightD.  Make your semiconductors out of other materials and you get other colours, including actual white.   More tinkering around with refraction by various physicists around the world led to the production of a nice bright white LED bulb and the possibilities really opened up – about 100 years after the initial discovery of LEDs.

There are three reasons why LED lighting is popular for heaps of applications, not just in the automotive world.  Firstly, they use next to no electricity, so if you are in the habit of leaving lights in your car on, this won’t drain the battery overnight.  It also won’t put demands on your car for extra energy, which increases fuel efficiency (and is even better news for hybrid and electric vehicles).  Second, they last for ages.  Thirdly, they don’t waste energy in the form of heat.

There’s a fourth advantage, which is more to do with aesthetics: LED lights tend to be smaller, which means that they can be worked into prettier designs (Audi has some nice ones).  The fact that LEDs come in different colours also means that you can play around a bit with interior ambient lighting, which is also a lot of fun.

Work is still underway.  While LED lights have become bright enough to be used aroundr8-grey-rear-lights the home, as daytime running lights and as tail lights (HSV do this well), they haven’t got bright enough yet to be used as headlights… at least not yet.

LED, Xenon and Halogen Headlights

OK, so how do LEDs stack up against the other big two forms of lighting in vehicles, namely halogen and xenon?


  • Cheap
  • Common
  • Easy to make
  • Eventually blow themselves out
  • Use heaps of watts of electricity
  • Waste a lot of those watts in the form of heat


  • Really, really bright
  • More energy-efficient than halogens
  • Longer lifetime than halogens
  • Expensive to make
  • Take a little bit of time to reach full brightness
  • A tendency to dazzle oncoming drivers, pedestrians and cyclists


  • Don’t use much electricity
  • No waste heat
  • Last for ages if kept at the right temperature (i.e. cool)
  • Small size allows more scope fordesigners to make something beautiful
  • Not bright enough for headlights
  • Need to be kept cool, which can be a problem near a traditional internal combustion engine
  • Still a bit on the pricey side