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Archive for September, 2016

Soldier On Joins V8 Superlap Production Touring Cars is an organisation that’s dedicated to helping and working with our returned armed services men and women. There’s a good reason why: there’s been more returned soldiers take their own life in a year than in the thirteen years Australia has had service personnel in the Middle East. It’s a tragic number and a tragic situation.

Depression. Physical wounds. Just two of the issues the soldiers must deal with and Soldier On is there to help.

But why mention them here? The V8 Superlaps Production Touring Cars Championship has formed an alliance with the organisation, with PTC President Gerry Murphy saying: “We are honoured to be able to craft this initiative with Tony Fraser and the Soldier On team, to afford us the opportunity to give back, to say thank you, to these brave men and women who have served Australia”.

Drivers from the PTC have already contributed to community support by taking special guests from the Make A Wish Foundation for laps at Sydney Motorsport Park. With members of the PTC already having strong links to the services, it’s a natural progression to form this alliance. Tony Fraser, Soldier On’s Sporting and Programs Manager, said: “Opportunities such as the chance to volunteer with the V8 Superlaps Production Touring Car Championship are important because they provide our veterans with purpose and social connectedness. We believe these two things are fundamental in helping veterans re-integrate back into civilian life once they leave the Defence Force, and volunteering opportunities play an important role in our transition program. Soldier On thanks V8 Superlaps Production Touring Car Championship for their support and for helping our veterans.”

The official start date for the alliance will be the MoComm Endurance Race, to be held at Sydney Motorsport Park, in September. The event will also see members of the Soldier On family taking part in the event including managing the running of a car in the race, category management and media production with More Driven Media.

Major-General John Cantwell, a retired Major General and a wearer of the AO and DSC medals, who has completed multiple operational deployments and commanded all Australian forces in Afghanistan and the wider Middle East, also shared his views on the new deal.
“Many veterans are interested in motor racing and this is a fantastic opportunity for veterans to once again be part of a high-energy team, focused on winning in NSW Production Touring Cars”.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Kia Cerato S Hatch

Kia’s Cerato underwent a mild nip and tuck in 2016; with a reprofiled nose the main visual change it’s freshened the look even though the now superceded model wasn’t in danger of looking dated. Available in a four door sedan and five door hatch with four trim levels, (S, S Premium, Si and SLi) plus a sole 2.0L engine for the range, Private Fleet’s Dave Conole takes on the 2016 S hatchback with auto.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch frontEngine and transmission have been left untouched and that’s not entirely a good thing. There’s a harshness, almost a grating vibration in the drivetrain up to medium throttle, plus a notable hesitancy, a lag, in gear shifting in the six speed auto fitted to this car. The Cerato’s accelerator responds better to being pushed hard and you’ll see that vibration gone, along with the speedo and tacho needles whizzing around the dials rapidly. Power peaks at 112 kW (6200 rpm) and maximum torque is a not indecent 192 Nm @ 4000 revs.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch engineBeing a smallish capacity petrol fueled four, it’s typical that higher revs extract better performance, albeit at the cost of economy, to a point. Kia claims 9.8L/100 km of 91 RON from the fifty litre tank in the urban cycle and A Wheel Thing pretty much matched those numbers. Having said that, it’s a figure that’s too high for this sort of vehicle and is spanked by Suzuki’s new Vitara range for economy. On the highway, the six speed auto sees the figure drop to a more reasonable 5.7L/100 km. The S is the only model of the four to offer a manual, sadly.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch rearWeighing in at 1332 kilos (dry), the Cerato hatch proved nimble on its feet to counter the thirst. Although needing more steering lock than expected for low speed ninety degree turns, ie, coming into a non-stop required corner, it’s otherwise responsive, answering the call to move left or right in a freeway flow in a smooth and progressive move. The weight itself of the steering was heavier than expected, but a pleasant weight compared to the light, over assisted electrically powered systems in other cars.

Ride quality is something that Kia Australia has invested heavily on, and it shows. There’s revised springs at the front McPherson struts, a slightly stiffer setup to improve the already excellent balance between comfort and handling, plus improvements to the power steering unit, adding to the feel and weight, as mentioned. There’s even been a change to the steering’s computer processing, which enhances the three driving modes of Eco, Normal, and Sport.

Tyre grip from the 205/55 Nexen NBlue rubber is pretty damned good too, with superglue meets spider’s web when it comes to hanging on, and silently, when really thrown into turns. There’s minimal road noise as well, plus that softness can be enjoyed on the flatter roads with just a hint of float creeping in, rather than a nauseating up and down, again thanks to the springs and shocks being further calibrated for Aussie roads. The overall impression was of a slightly soft yet unfussed ride, matched with enough grip to suit most drivers in the market for this car.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch wheelOutside, the changes to the nose are reflected in the shape of the headlight assembly, grille, and lower corners of the bumper up front, with flow through vents. The effect is a sharper and edgier look and actually harkens back to the model before the one this replaces.

The rear in the S is unchanged. Not even the tail light lenses have been changed…The S is also the only version to get steel wheels and plastic covers but all four do get a full sized spare. The hatcg is also slightly shorter overall than the sedan, at 4350 mm against 4560 mm for the sedan, but both ride on the same wheelbase at 2700 mm. It also stands a fraction taller at 1450 mm, with 15 mm the difference between the two. Parking sensors? Front and rear, thank you.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch boot2016 Kia Cerato S hatch spare wheelInside, cargo space is over 620 litres, more than enough for a weekly shop for a family of four and houses a full sized spare. There’s the usual assortment of bottle and cup holders, the traditional placement of USB/Aux sockets for external audio sources plus Bluetooth as well. The S gets a non touchscreen head unit which can be optioned out to include a 7-inch touchscreen audio visual unit with reversing camera, Android Auto connection and dusk sensing headlights in a $500 option pack. The dash display is non colour and you’ll get the tried and proven dials for the aircon in a single zone set up.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch front seatsThe plastics themselves have a mix of textures, with the dash a ruppled design whilst the tabs and buttons have that almost suede look. Kia say that there’s been an improvement to the overall presentation of the plastics…personally you’d be hard pushed to tell. The interior is also Model T when it comes to colour choice; you can have black, black, or black. Outside one can choose from eight, including a pearl white, two shades of blue and a grey.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch dashKia don’t skimp on the safety, of course: airbags at the front, side and curtain, front seatbelt pretensioners, Hill Start Assist, Emergency Stop Signal, whilst niceties such as Land Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are left to the Si and SLi.
When it comes to warranty, there’s Kia’s standard seven years and there’s also their capped price servicing, staring at $289 for the first year or 15000 kilometres (at the time of writing) with a maximum cost of $487 for year four.2016 Kia Cerato S hatch rear seatsAt The End Of The Drive.
As always, Kia have provided a serviceable product. With a RRP of $22290 plus an optioned metallic paint cost of $520, (but a drive away price on introduction of $19990), it’s wallet friendly. Combine that with a user friendly chassis, a competent chassis, a comfortable enough office at the entry level, the only real downside is the niggling thorn of fuel economy. Ten litres per hundred kilometres is simply not good enough anymore.
More details can be found here: 2016 Kia Cerato hatch.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Kia Picanto Auto

2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto profileCity cars aren’t generally seen as a viable alternative to the medium and bigger cars here in Australia. There’s been attempts by big companies, such as the Mercedes-Benz backed smart car, which was more ridiculed than welcomed. There’s the slightly larger alternatives, such as the Mitsubishi Mirage and now Kia is now having a go, with a car called Picanto. In order to give the car a fighting chance, it’s been keenly priced at $14990 driveaway with metallic paint the only current option. There is a five speed manual available overseas.

It’s also been given some reasonable equipment in the sole specification model currently available, a good move given that it is due to be replaced by a newer model (it’s been available for five years overseas) in the next year and a half. You’ll get electric windows and mirrors, rear parking sensors, the full suite of airbags including curtain ‘bags, Hill Start Assist Control, Emergency Stop Signal (flashes the brake lights in a heavy or emergency stop) and halogen daytime running lights (DRL). It doesn’t get a reverse camera however.

A Wheel Thing’s test car came clad in the optionable metallic paint, a $540 ask. The colour? Honey Bee. An odd shade of yellow. Masculine, it is not. Neither are the archaic four speed auto, 1.25 litre petrol fueled four cylinder. The red backlit pixel screen radio display is another hint at age, as are also the simplistic dials in the dash and the red centre display.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto dashThe engine is covered by a bonnet about the size of a newspaper and is unadorned by the plastic shrouding so commonplace nowadays. It’s by no means a powerhouse but may actually be better served by connecting to a gearbox A Wheel Thing loathes. With just 63 kW and 120 Nm a CVT potentially would be better suited to the characteristics the soft drink bottle sized motor has.
Size wise, it’s right in the ball park for city cars and looks at the Mitsubishi Mirage, Suzuki Celerio and Holden’s Spark as competition.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto engineIt sits on a 2385mm wheelbase, huge given the overall length is 3595 mm. There’s 14 inch diameter steel wheels clad with plastic covers and wrapped in 160/65 tyres. Overall width is 1595 mm, making this a definite four seater only. You’ll also only get just a space saver wheel.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto front profileInside, the colour scheme is black, however that’s broken by an aluminuim look plastic swathe across the dash and the lower part of the steering wheel also has an insert, looking for all the world like a happy face. It certainly is a contrast yet doesn’t look out of place. What does, and showing that there are other models available, is the insert just above the driver’s right knee for a push button Start/Stop, as the model here is “old school” insert key and twist.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto front seatsBut there’s new school with USB/Auxiliary connections, placed in Kia’s tradition front and centre of the console. Said console lacks an arm rest, though. It’s not a deal breaker as many would prefer cup/bottle holders instead, but there is room enough for both.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto consoleThe radio is a simple push button and dial setup, along with the simplistic display, yet the sound quality is reasonable from the system. There’s no A pillar or door mounted tweeters but still manages to deliver a decent soundstage. Bass response though, was lacking, as was radio sensitivity in some areas whilst being driven around. Nice to see that the humble CD player was still included.

Although, not unexpectedly, the front seats lack electric adjustment, they’re easily sorted with the manual levers and are surprisingly comfortable. There’s black cloth covering them with what resembles an electrician’s diagram print woven in. It’s eye catching and breaks up the otherwise drab look nicely. The Picanto is a compact car with just enough leg room in the back for children or two slim adults, and the rear seats also well padded and supportive, however anyone with a wholesome figure would struggle to feel comfortable.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto rear seatsIt also means that rear cargo space is minimal, making the Picanto a more suitable car for single people or couples when it comes to a weekly shop. At least there’s folding rear seats to increase the available space to 918 litres, up from 292. Overall interior feel was positive, although there was a vibration from the sliding seat belt height adjusters under acceleration and on the rougher tarmac surfaces.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto cargoApart from the alloy look plastic insert, the steerer is traditional Kia, with user friendly toggles for audio and Bluetooth. It’s just thick enough to feel comfortable to the hands and connects the driver nicely to the front wheels. As such, there’s not much to report as the car’s chassis is competent without being overly engaging. The short overall size means, though, you can get it into gaps in traffic and car parking spaces that others may not, and the light weight means it’s fleet and easy to move on the road.

There’s a short travel suspension up front, meaning that there’s a solid thunk as the nose goes over and drops when doing the larger speedbumps at low speeds. The rear is less prone to interference, thankfully, and rides better than a competitor tested recently. There’s more stability and less tendency to skip around on curves and unsettled surfaces and hangs on well enough in twisty road situations. The tiller also provides enough feedback to get a good handle on what’s happening up front.2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto rearPeak torque is delivered at 4000 rpm, and with just the four ratios to play with, it takes a bit of time to get the 885 kilo car to…well…get up and go. But while you’re doing it you’ll be sipping unleaded fuel from the 35 litre tank at a quoted combined cycle figure of 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres. The urban cycle is 6.7 litres per 100 and highway at 4.5L/100 km. It’ll also emit just 125 grams of junk into the air for every kilometer travelled.

Make no mistake, though, even given the relative lack of oomph, the Picanto still climbs hilly roads well enough. In the lower Blue Mountains is a road called the Old Bathurst Road, a switchback with some tight corners. It’ll do this well enough, although it’s fair to say that having no cars in front make the job a bit easier. The transmission needs a bit more refinement as well, with a lack of smoothness in the changes, some jerkiness even on the flat road, plus the engine is somewhat thrashy when pushed…which is most of the time if not freeway cruising, where it’s then quiet enough.

As a new car buyer, you’ll get Kia’s seven year and unlimited kilometer warranty, plus the capped price servicing. There’s 15000 kilometre service gaps and you’ll see a highest service cost of $415 in year six.

At The End Of The Drive.
One of the true benefits of being an independent vehicle reviewer is being able to drive cars that wouldn’t be considered as being part of the household. For A Wheel Thing, the Picanto is a car that would not suit the household’s usage pattern. But it certainly would suit a single person, a young couple, or perhaps a retired couple.
It’s gentle to drive, perhaps a tad thirsty for the engine’s size, but that lack of torque and just four speeds are why. The colour on the test car is certainly not to A Wheel Thing’s taste but that is a personal choice. To make your own choice on the Picanto a reality, go here: Kia Picanto

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design Polestar Optimised

In an earlier test, Private Fleet’s Dave Conole had the then brand new Volvo XC90 up against Audi’s Q7, with the German narrowly taking the win. Since then, Volvo’s R-Design group have waved a wand over the XC90, an award winning car, with its 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged four cylinder 400 Nm/235 kW powerplant, adding some very stylish touches to the $101950 plus on roads and options behemoth. Here’s what you get.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design profileUp front, a glossy black grille insert, along with the standard multiple parking sensors. You’ll get colour matched sills below the door and bumpers, with the front and rear gaining sportier extensions to the lower extremities, shiny twin exhaust tips, 20 inch rolling stock in a five spoke design (with Michelin rubber) and a larger rear spoiler.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design rear2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design wheelUnderneath the square acre of sheet metal that masquerades as a bonnet, there’s the aforementioned four cylinder petrol engine, not that you’ll know visually, hidden as it is under a plain black plastic shroud. There’s also the aforementioned 400 torques and 235 kilowatts….note the title. It says Polestar Optimised. In layman’s language that’s an extra eleven kilowatts, taking the total to 246 @ 6000, up from 5700. Torque increases to 440, at a peak rev point of 4500, compared to 400 between 2200 to 5400. Consumption?2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design engineAmazingly, it stays the same at 9.8/7.0/8.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the urban/highway/combined cycles from the 71 litre tank whilst hauling the 1965 kgs (dry) to one hundred kmh in just over six seconds. Emissions sit at just 186 grams per kilometres and there’s auto stop/start tech attached. Transmission is a smoother than Belgian chocolate eight speed auto, with paddle shifts which look like proper metal, but are plastic.

Under any throttle application there’s no appreciable feeling of gear change, but you can hear the system double clutching, slurring through the ratios around town and when the slipper hits the go pedal with some extra urge, the XC90 surges forward, pinning you back in the Nappa leather seats and watching the needle on the digital screen’s tacho flick as each gear is picked up. It’s an amazing feeling, especially under rapid acceleration, to not feel anything change but knowing that it does. Also, it has to be pointed out that the Polestar upgrade is an option any XC90 owner can ask for to get the same feeling.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design front seatsInside, it’s an experience; you’re greeted and cossetted by a mix of that black leather, high quality tactile plastics, carbon fibre look finishes, a 12.3 inch portrait oriented touchscreen, subtle LED interior lighting including the door scuff plate having the R-Design logo, a B&W sound system (yeah, it’s ok…cough), seven seats, and space enough to fit a weekend’s shopping. From IKEA. With ALL seats up there’s still 436 litres of space at the rear.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design rear seatsYou’ll also enjoy Volvo’s CleanZone climate control system with separate controls (four zones) for the rear cabin, three memory positions for front seat passengers, with those seats gaining lumbar and extendable thigh support cushioning adjustments via toggle switches on the lower seat sides, and flat fold second & third row seating, providing 2427 litres of cargo space. 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design rear cargoThere’s the usual nooks and bottle/cup holders spread throughout the cabin. The front seats also have heating but that’s $650 option, an odd choice by Volvo to ask extra coin for that feature. The rear glass is also laminated and tinted, also an optionable pair of costings at $850 and $525.

Outside, there’s the “Bursting Blue” metallic paint (albeit a $1900 option), the black painted 20 inch alloys (which can be replaced by optionable 22 inchers at $3850 inchers…pass), LED headlights that swivel and housed in a design that harkens to Swedish folklore.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design indicator 12016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design indicator 2 Entitled “Hammer of Thor”, it’s a striking and eyecatching look at the front, balancing the tall vertical LED tail light cluster found at the rear. There’s also the soft touch powered tail gate opening up to that cavernous cargo section.

It looks big, and is. There’s the 4950 mm overall length, a 2008 mm width, which accounts for the interior space being as large as it is, and stands tall at 1776 mm on a 238 mm ride height. The fact that Volvo have kept the starting weight to below two tonnes is stupendous, as a result. Rubber is 275/45 at each end of the 2984 mm wheelbase, bookending 1665 mm and 1667 mm tracks front and rear.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design satnavBeing at the top end of the XC 90 range (which, by the way, starts at $89950 MRRP), there’s plenty of safety and technology to play with. The touchscreen gives you full control over the aircon, satnav, tells you what the seats are doing, shows the user manual and offers up AM/FM/Bluetooth but….no DAB. But it does attract fingerprints quite nicely.

However, there’s more safety systems than there are letters in the alphabet: airbags all around including driver’s kneebag, corner traction control, blind spot information system, roll stability control, drive mode settings (found via the chromed knurled dial in the centre console, which also houses the Star/Stop mechanism), hill start assist and hill descent control, understeer control, whiplash protection, cross traffic alert and rear collision warning, adaptive safety and more, with most covered by umbrella terms such as CitySafety and Intellisafe Surround.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design dashOn road, apart from horizon blurring and forcing eyeballs to the rear of heads, you’ll find one of the best rides out there, thanks in part to the electronic bewitchery underneath. It’s a suspension that’s tuned for sporty comfort, or comfy sportiness, depending on your wont, giving a beautiful and supple ride to start before firming up and smoothing all but the bumpiest of road surfaces. 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design rear airconUndulations become non existent, car park traffic bumps are nodded at, and the road holding prowess thanks to the track and the rubber’s width, not to mention the double wishbone front with coil srings and gas shocks and multi link rear, is so confidence inspiring you’d think you were in a smaller and lower Polestar badged vehicle….

Service and warranty are 12 months or fifteen thousand kilometres (you’ll be seeing the latter first) and three years with unlimited k’s.

At The End Of The Drive.
The XC90 R-Design Polestar fettled machine is missing two things. A fridge and a shower. There’s more than enough room inside to use it as a granny flat, with the added benefit of being able to motorvate in crisp, quiet, luxury. It’s a pearler drive, looks damned good in the blue and with the Hammer of Thor lights, with plenty of heads on swivelling stalks attesting to the visual appeal, sounds good inside and will whisk you to the next timezone in an eyeblink.
At a tick under $102000 plus on road costs and options, it’s a heckuva lotta machine for the kronor. But yes, it’s still up against the Germans, such as the Q7. Does this mean that the Swedish brand must put aside its neutrality in the battle against its fellow European based competitors?

Head to Volvo Cars Australia to check out the range and book a test drive to make up your own mind.