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Archive for June, 2017

Auto Industry News – Q2 2017

We review all the major news events in the automotive industry from the second quarter of 2017.

Sales and Manufacturing

As local auto makers prepare to bow out, both the Victorian government and Federal government have belatedly given the local manufacturing scene a boost in the arm. This comes courtesy of $90m funding and a separate $100mfund respectively. The news would have been immaterial according to the likes of Holden, who claim that despite a second consecutive year of profits, manufacturing cars locally would have been unsustainable. Toyota felt the pain of its local restructure though, as its profits slumped. Ford on the other hand have turned their attention towards the future, including autonomous vehicles and ride sharing services.

On the sales front, compact light hatchbacks continue to lose momentum against SUVs, while sales for diesel passenger vehicles are now approximately half of what they were in 2008. Elsewhere, Mazda was named the most reputable car company in Australia, followed by Toyota and Hyundai.

Ending the quarter, Japan’s auto parts business Takata, who were embroiled in a longstanding controversy surrounding faulty airbags, filed for bankruptcy. With enormous liabilities exceeding 1.7 trillion yen, Key Safety Systems looks set to pounce and acquire the company.


Safety and Environment

Data was released showing Aussie motorists are producing up to 50% more emissions than drivers in European cities, while the quality of our fuel ranks 66th in the world. The UK has responded by making a push to reduce diesel vehicle sales and lower pollution, although Australia looks set to defy this trend as SUV diesel car sales soar. Manufacturers’ actions could define the battle though, with the likes of Volvo signalling they don’t intend to continue producing diesel vehicles in the future.

In other news, for the second time this year an enormous haul of counterfeit car parts were intercepted in the UAE. The batch included fake brake pads and head gasket kits, with some of the parts believed to have been on route to Australia.



In the fuel technology sector, things continue to advance. Locally, a report by the National Transport Commission identified fuel efficiency improvements in light vehicles during 2016 were the slowest in 10 years. Furthermore, findings also suggested that Australian motorists continue to move towards larger cars, as green vehicles took a backwards step in terms of the proportion of new cars sold.

The sector could be shaken up however, following a discovery at the UNSW which identified “a cheap way of generating hydrogen from water”. The discovery is leading some to predict the viability of the fuel technology and its local prospects have increased. Whether hydrogen or electricity become the new incumbent(s) remains to be seen, but UBS is tipping electric vehicle prices to approach those of petrol powered vehicles as early as next year, now that worldwide sales have tipped 2m vehicles.

Meanwhile, Roads Australia weighed in about the future of autonomous vehicles, predicting “every new vehicle sold in Australia within 10 years will be driverless”. Further abroad, but still in the self-driving segment, Apple received a testing permit for its driverless technology. Additionally, Google clocked up 1 million kilometres of autonomous vehicle driving including real world tests via an early rider program. Google’s milestone is expected to place it well ahead of any other manufacturers in this area, while also experiencing substantially lower failure rates.

With that said, one US study is suggesting we might move away from owning vehicles as driverless technology is introduced. Even more of interest, some have already started to turn their attention towards the next big potential technology, flying vehicles – something that Uber appear to be keen to get in on.

As for other technical developments, Mazda Australia was spruiking its autonomous emergency braking system as a “safety standard revolution” following its introduction across a wide variety of the auto maker’s vehicle range. Toyota is working on technology that would identify drivers experiencing a heart attack, and safely pull their car over. Last but not least, Apple announced that it will release a system update later this year featuring a “do not disturb” function that comes into effect when it detects someone is driving.


Legal and Regulatory Issues

Vehicle emissions continued to be a sticking point for various stakeholders during the quarter. After moves from Paris and London to address emissions testing, the AAA began to press the Australian Government to do more on the issue – as well as further road safety funding. BMW Australia also contributed to the broader topic, taking a swipe at our politicians for failing to promote low emission vehicles such as electric cars. On a related point, the Electric Vehicle Council was launched in Canberra and provided a $400k grant.

Even though Volkswagen set out at the beginning of the year to address its affected vehicles in the local market, the manufacturer drew the ire of many Australian motorists for its software upgrades.

As has been customary for some time now, the diesel emissions scandal engulfed other parties. This time, authorities took action against Fiat and Mercedes Benz over concerns they have been caught up in their own emissions scandals.

Finally, as the focus on autonomous driving gathers steam, ANCAP put forward the suggestion that road laws should be nationalised to facilitate the integration of the technology. Moves to do so would follow the likes of Germany, where laws have been passed to approve self driving vehicles.

Small Is Beautiful Says Kia and Hyundai

Stonic. Kona. Not exactly names that fall easily to speak of but they’re the names to watch from Korea. Aimed squarely at yet another SUV segment, the B-SUV, it’s a segment forecast to see annual sales of two million in Europe by 2020, up from just over 1.1 million now.

Michael Cole, Chief Operating Officer of Kia Motors Europe, comments: “By volume, the B-SUV market is expected to overtake the C-SUV segment by 2020, when more than 1 in 10 new cars sold in Europe will be from the Stonic’s segment. The B-SUV segment attracts buyers from across the spectrum, with 21% of all customers upsizing from a supermini, and another 15% downsizing from their family hatchbacks. Cars like the Stonic also appeal to those looking to replace their compact MPVs. The Kia Stonic will be one of the most compelling new cars in this rapidly-expanding class, backed by Kia’s unique warranty, and the brand’s reputation for reliability, quality and contemporary design. As the segment expands, the Stonic looks set to become one of our best-selling cars.”

Euisun Chung, Vice Chairman of Hyundai Motor Company, says: “With the Kona, we have created a stylish and highly functional compact SUV, perfectly suited to the needs of customers who pursue challenging, action-filled lifestyles. We aim to set new standards for the compact SUV segment, with appealing design, cutting-edge connectivity and class leading safety features.”

Kia will offer a range of lightweight, downsized, turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are available, each paired with a manual transmission, maximising driver engagement and efficiency. Buyers have the choice of Kia’s lightweight 1.0-litre T-GDI (turbocharged gasoline direct injection) engine, producing 120 ps (88kW), as well as 1.25- or 1.4-litre naturally-aspirated MPI (multi-point injection) gasoline engines. An efficient 1.6-litre diesel engine completes the range, offering the lowest emissions in the line up.

Hyundai will present A 2.0-litre MPI Atkinson unit produces 110kW, with a 0-100km/h time of 10 seconds and a top speed of 194km/h. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine delivers maximum torque of 179 Nm at 4500rpm.

The Gamma 1.6T-GDI engine boasts 130kW, a 0-100km/h time of 7.7 seconds and a top speed of 210km/h. The engine delivers maximum torque of 265Nm from 1,500 to 4,500rpm and is mated to Hyundai’s efficient and responsive seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (7DCT).

In addition to the 1.6T-GDI engine, customers in Europe can also opt for Hyundai’s downsized 1.0 T-GDI turbocharged three-cylinder engine with six-speed manual transmission. This turbocharged powerplant is optimized for efficiency and produces 88kW, a 0-100km/h time of 12 seconds, top speed of 181km/h and maximum torque of 172Nm from 1,500 to 4000 rpm. Also available will be a 1.6 diesel engine for select markets, including Europe.

Kia has gone European for the Stonic’s cabin places technology and ergonomics at its heart, offering buyers as much potential for customisation as the exterior with a range of vivid colour packs for buyers to choose from. One of the smartest cars in its class, it provides owners with a range of new chassis and infotainment technologies designed to enhance safety, comfort and convenience. The car gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, bringing seamless smartphone functionality to the touchscreen infotainment system. Like other Kia models, it is available with a broad range of technologies to enhance comfort and convenience, including heated front seats, automatic cruise control and keyless entry.

Hyundai has upped the ante. The Kona boasts a suite of sophisticated technologies, paired with user-friendly functionality to ensure driver and passengers can stay informed and entertained. The premium infotainment system offers various advanced connectivity features, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay where specified with a 5-, 7- or 8-inch display (offered as standard or option dependent on market). Further options include DAB digital radio (Europe), HD Radio (North America), rear view camera display, and 4G telematics (North America) to ensure absolute connectivity.

A new Head-Up Display (HUD) is fitted to the Kona, projecting a virtual image onto the clear glass panel mounted behind the instrument panel to enable the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road. With a projected image size of eight-inches at a two meter distance and class-leading luminance of more than 10,000 candela per square meter, the Kona’s combiner HUD ensures both excellent day- and night-time visibility. Information projected to enhance safety and usability include speed, navigation instructions, Lane Departure Warning messages, and audio information. Deployed vertically by a simple touch of a button beside the steering wheel, the combiner disappears into the dashboard when not in use.

In a first for the segment, the Kona features smartphone wireless charging. Available as an option with all Kona models, customers simply place a compatible smartphone on the wireless charging interface, located in the center console storage, to easily recharge without the need for cables. The system also indicates when the phone has fully charged, reminds occupants to remove their phone when exiting the vehicle, and detects when a foreign object is in the recharging area that could interfere with charging.

The Stonic’s design of the car is one of the brand’s most striking to date, yet it is immediately recognisable as a Kia thanks to key signature design elements, such as the ‘tiger-nose’ grille. Designed in Europe, in collaboration with Kia’s Korean design studio, the body blends sharp horizontal feature lines with softer sculpted surfaces. Customisability is important to many customers in the B-SUV segment, and the Stonic’s ‘Targa’-style roof enables buyers to choose a two-tone paint finish, inspired by the design of the 2013 Kia Provo concept. It will be available in up to 20 two-tone colour combinations, with a choice of five distinctive colours for the roof

The Hyundai Kona is currently due to go on sale in September or October, whilst the Stonic goes on sale in Europe at around the same time.

2018 BMW X3 Due To Land In Oz

Mid sized SUVs are plentiful nowadays however they barely existed in the early noughties. Enter BMW and their X3. The challenge was thrown out and continues to bring to the masses plenty of choice. But never one to sit on their backsides and think that’s all they had to do, BMW has updated the X3 for 2017 to add to the 1.5 million or so already sold since 2003. Here’s how it shakes down.You’ll be able to choose from three levels, being xLine, MSport, and Luxury Line. The third is a new addition offering more choice from a starting point. There’ll be two diesel and three petrol engines to choose from.
The 265 kW/360 hp BMW X3 M40i is front and centre with combined fuel consumption being rated at 8.4 – 8.2 l/100 km and with emissions rated as combined CO2 emissions 193 – 188 g/km gives the X3 range its first M Performance Automobile. It’s joined by a second petrol model in the shape of the BMW X3 xDrive30i producing 185 kW/252 hp combined fuel consumption: 7.4 l/100 km and combined CO2 emissions: 168 g/km.The two diesel models are the BMW X3 xDrive20d with 140 kW/190 hp (combined fuel consumption: 5.4 – 5.0 l/100 km); combined CO2 emissions: 142 – 132 g/km, and the BMW X3 xDrive30d developing 195 kW/265 hp (combined fuel consumption: 6.0 – 5.7 l/100 km with combined CO2 emissions: 158 – 149 g/km)
The BMW X3 20i with 135 kW/184 hp (combined fuel consumption: 7.4 – 7.2 l/100 km has combined CO2 emissions: 169 – 165 g/km and a choice of all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive will follow shortly after the launch of the new X3. All the engine variants will team up as standard with an optimised version of the eight-speed Steptronic transmission.Rolling stock moves up an inch in standard size to 18 inches, and allows a new buyer to dip into the options list for wheel diameters of up to 21 inches. Along with that, there’s a raft of extra improvements for the X3. Consider acoustic glass for the windscreen and optionable for the front side windows, LED headlights and foglamps, and auto tailgate. To ensure great handling, there’s a 50:50 weight distribution. Inside you can option a full colour head up display, take advantage of larger sized storage areas such as a revamped centre console, a 10.2 inch touchscreen as standard and optionable instrument panels.Cargo wise, there’s a pretty handy 550L of space as standard. Drop the 40:20:40 rear seats at the press of a button and that jumps to a huge 1600 litres, plus there’s extra storage under the rear floor. To help with locking down the week’s shopping, BMW have fitted rails for what they call an Adaptive Fastening System. The room inside is courtesy of a 4708 mm length and 2864 mm wheelbase. Across the front seats theres 1522 mm of room, whilst rear seat passengers have 1477 mm.Weight has been reduced by up to fifty five kilos and aero has been improved to a class leading drag coefficient of 0.29. This adds to the standard features inside and out for the new range. The three will be distinguished by exterior highlights, with the xLine’s grille and window frames receiving a matt aluminuim look, the Luxury Line gains chrome, whilst the M Sport gets bespoke brakes, suspension, exterior trim highlights, and black leather seats with blue piping.

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The Sounds Of…

Much of the appeal of any new car – apart from factors like practicality and power – lies in the visual and tactile arenas. We admire the sleek lines or the bold aggressive chunkiness. We smile at the bug-eyed appeal of round headlights, such as those on the VW Beetle, or appreciate the clever styling achieved with pretty daytime running lights – or the classic Ring of Fire tail lights of an HSV. Chrome, interior lighting packages, exterior paint colour… it’s all visual. The interior styling also tends to cater to our senses of touch and comfort (kinaesthetics) with leather-wrapped this and that, lumbar support, heated seats and the like. Even a car with powerful acceleration and superb handling around the corners appeals to our kinaesthetic – it’s a human thing to enjoy the sensation of G-forces during acceleration and cornering.

We don’t tend to give the sense of sound much thought when picking out a new vehicle or even when driving, apart from what the sound system’s like (number of speakers, location and quality of speakers, input type…). However, we use our sense of hearing quite a lot when we’re in and around cars, although we’re less aware of it.

The role of sound in motoring was brought home to me rather acutely when I had a very close encounter with a hybrid vehicle in the supermarket carpark the other evening. It was getting a bit dark and I was waiting for a stream of cars to go past so I could get back to the old faithful Nissan with my groceries. One car goes past, then the next, so I tune out for a bit; then, as I hear the sound of an engine trailing away to one side and no sound on the other side, I start to stride forwards… only to pull up sharply as the hybrid that was last in the line of cars crawls past.  No damage was done, but this is something that we’re all going to have to look out for – literally look out for – as hybrids and electric vehicles become more common on our roads (and in the supermarket carpark).

As pedestrians and cyclists, we rely on our sense of hearing as an extra warning signal that something’s coming, especially when we can’t see down a driveway. I’m probably not the only one who had the mantra “Stop, Look and Listen” drummed in as part of road safety training and learning how to cross a road (along with Look Left, Look Right, Then Look Left Again).  I’m certainly not the only one to get a bit jumpy about the safety aspects of how silent hybrids and electrics are: last year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration legislated that quiet cars like these have to emit some sort of noise as a warning.

At the other end of the sound spectrum are the cars that you certainly can hear coming – like a former neighbour of mine with his 7-litre diesel Chevy. We all know the ones – the big bore exhausts, the V8 motors, the “muffler” that’s carefully tuned so the roar of the engine sounds just right. Now, these drivers are certainly aware of appealing to the sense of sound. Even if you’re not into big bore exhausts, most of us are not completely immune to the sound of a powerful engine doing its thing, even if we don’t quite go as far as former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson (the one we all loved to hate) doing a “Listen to it!  Just listen to it!” rant. And just don’t get me started on the Dukes of Hazard sol-mi-do-do-do-re-mi-fa-sol-sol-sol-fa horns…

Somewhere in between these extremes comes the driver who is indeed highly tuned into the sounds the engine – and indeed the whole car – is making. Maybe you are that driver.  This is the sort of person who drives passengers batty with a constant “What’s that noise?  I can hear something rattling!” This gets followed by frantic groping around the interior of the car trying to find and eliminate the cause of said rattle, with the end result that the offending pair of sunglasses in the glovebox has to be wrapped up in a beanie to silence it. This is punctuated by complaints about Funny Noises made by the engine that are only apparent to the driver. To be fair, car manufacturers go out of their way to reduce the on-road noise heard in the cabin and the sound of the engine does get used by mechanics as a form of diagnosis.

On the whole, however, the sound of an engine tends to be a subconscious or subliminal feature. We may not even be aware of it until one day, we hear a particular engine note and become overwhelmed by a rush of nostalgia, suddenly reminded of the car our parents drove when we were little, or the first car we owned. We have those moments when our hearts skip a little beat as we hear one particular engine amid lots of others, like a familiar face in a crowd, and we know that someone special to us has arrived.  And oh, the disappointment when we realise that what we heard was only another car of the same make and year… The sound of a car engine is something that affects us more deeply than we probably realise.

That’s my challenge to you this week: think about how your car sounds a bit more consciously (or mindfully, to use a buzz word). Are you a noise lover, a hypersensitive or do you like it quiet? Or do you have any suggestions about the sounds that hybrids and electrics ought to emit for safety purposes?

Private Fleet Car Review: 2017 Haval H6 Lux.

This is the second visit to Private Fleet for Chinese brand Haval. This time round, the second level H6 Lux graces the driveway, complete with poky turbo four and six speed dual clutch auto, for two weeks. Let’s see how it fared.Style wise there’s nods towards the English and Germans, with a Range Rover Evoke-esque profile, complete with slanting window line, whilst front and rear there’s Audi in the grille and tail lights, even down to the crease line from the outer edges. The lights themselves are self levelling and there’s the almost obligatory LED driving lights in the cluster. It stands at 1700 mm tall including roof rails, 4549 mm in length and rolls on a 2720 mm wheelbase. Rubber is from Cooper, 225/55, on good looking 19 inch alloys.It’s here the first issue arises. The tyres are of a hard compound and work fantastically well on gravel and unsettled or broken road surfaces. But take the H6 onto wet roads, nay, even damp roads, and grip limits diminish rapidly. The front driven wheels will spin far too easily, with traction control seemingly powerless to intervene straight away. It’s worth pointing out that this happens on light throttle, not a heavy application. They’ll also spin on a dry road if at an angle, not with the steering wheel straight ahead.The dual clutch auto is from fabled German transmission maker Getrag, and when it’s under way it’s a pearler. Note the caveat: when it’s under way…from standstill it exhibits all of the worst traits of a DCT, being a far too l gap between engagement of first, the pressing of the accelerator, and forward motion happening. This particular transmission was also not a fan of cold weather, with stuttering and indecision the primary behaviour shown from start up. It also requires a fine balance between brake and go pedal on slight slopes such as those in residential roads and doing a three point turn. So combined with the overly hard rubber, lack of traction, the stutter then grip, the initial driving part is all a bit of an eyebrow raiser.When it all works it’s crisp, super quick, and silky silky smooth. There’s even a little “phut” from the twin exhaust tips well hidden in the lower bumper. Naturally there’s a manual shift option, and that’s just as efficient whether using the transmission selector or the twin metal paddles behind the tiller. Give it some welly and it’ll slide on through as easily as a goal-sneak in a world cup level football game.It’s a pretty decent ride too, with the rear perhaps just a little too softly sprung. On the rutted and unsettled road around Sydney Motorsport Park it’s fantastic, with minimal compression and there’s a genuine feeling of stability and agility. Take the Haval H6 out onto the freeways and it’s flat as a tack. It changes lane easily and smoothly, with no indication of mass transfer. The steering? Well…it feels like a long block of rubber, with nothing on centre and as you go further left or right it tightens but still has no feeling of anything bar…rubber.Oddly, it’ll also cock a rear at slow speed when winding on lock and coming off a kerb. There’s no sense of instability but it’s a weird sensation given the otherwise competency of the chassis. Punt it up (or down) Sydney’s Old Bathurst Road on the fringes of the Blue Mountains and it’ll both slur through the gears and ride clean and stable from top to bottom or vice versa. Ask the question for an overtake on a flat road and it’ll whistle up the required head of steam in no time.While you’re doing that you can enjoy the rather excellent interior. Yes, there’s a smattering of grey plastic with a woodgrain look but aside from that it’s well laid out, easy to read and use, comfortable to sit in with quick heating (front AND rear) leathers eats plus there’s a surprising amount of leg room for rear seat passengers and an indecent amount of rear cargo room. If there’s a let down, and it’s nit picky at that, it’s the look of the background for the driver’s info and centre screens. Think a crosshatched pattern in a slightly lighter blue than the rest of the screen and you’re looking at what a coloured screen from the 1980s. Having said that, the driver’s screen will show economy (and it’s far too thirsty at consistently over eleven litres of 95 RON per one hundred kilometres), tyre pressures, and more.There’s a full glass roof with sunroof at the front and backed by a coloured coded cloth roller, LED interior lighting that varies through seven or eight different colours, truly tasteful texture to the black plastic and a pleasing contrast with white lining the lower section, plus cobalt blue backlighting to the alloy sill plates. The centre console has the tab for the colour changing, drives modes (Sports/Eco/Normal), descent control, mirror folding, park assist, and even audio. What would have been nice in the Haval H6 would be the slide out extensions in the sunshades. Far too often the sun was coming through the gap left by the shortness of the shades. The selector is tastefully trimmed in alloy and leather and Haval have even gone back in time with a coin slot at the front of the console. It’s a push button Start/Stop and here’s another quirk. The Haval H6 test car required that, after you’d selected Park, that not one but two presses of the button were required in order to power off, in conjunction with ensuring the foot was OFF the brake. Leave the foot on and….the car would start back up.The wide opening doors make ingress and egress simple and show off just how much rear leg room there is even with the front pews pushed back. The sills look good in daylight and simply stunning at night. Safety wise there’s six airbags, ESP from Bosch, pretensioning seat belts and confident feeling brakes with the usual assistance electronically plus Euro flashing emergency style brake lights. Overall, Haval have really done a fantastic job in packing and trimming the H6.

At The End Of The Drive.
Haval H6. Not a particularly inspiring name but logical in the sense of how Haval will position their vehicles. Somewhat derivative styling, quirky transmission, and rubber bar steering aside, it’s a delightfully packaged vehicle, well equipped, a good drive and ride on dry and gravelly roads, and at just on $30K (plus free satnav as of June 2017) a very well priced item to consider. When Haval tighten up the DCT and make the feeling of steering more accessible it will be a hard package to ignore. Here’s the link to have a look for yourself: Haval Australia H6

It's Swift For Sure As Suzuki Updates An Icon.

Suzuki‘s brand new Swift has landed in Australia and Private Fleet will be able to provide reviews of two members in the range in July. Here’s a look at what’s now available.

There will be a four model range: GL, GL Navigator, GL Navigator with Safety Pack and the top of the range GLX. There will be two engines available with the GLX receiving a 1.0 litre direct injection turbo and the other three a 1.2L DualJet multipoint injection powerplant. Power for the former is 82 kilowatts with the 1.2L rated as 66 kW. Importantly, torque for the three potter turbo is 160 Nm between 1500 and 4000 rpm, with the 1.2L receiving a peak figure of 120 torques at 4400 rpm.The entry level GL will power down via a five speed manual, the Navigators will use a CVT, and the GLX Turbo is fitted with a six speed auto. There’s currently no word yet of a Swift Sports model. Economy, unsurprsisingly, is frugal. The GL is rated at 4.6L/100 kilometres, the GL Navigator twins at 4.8L/100 km, and the GLX is 5.1L/100 km (combined cycle). The variances come from the weights, at 870 kg, 900 kg, and 915 kg (kerb weights).

Pricing is sharp: the GL will kick off at $15990, the Navigators will be $17990 and $18990, and the top of the range GLX is $22990. The GL will roll on 15 inch steel wheels, the others will be on 16 inch alloys and the GLX will have polished alloys to boot.Feature wise all but the GL will receive Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, Cruise and Adaptive Cruise Control for the GL and GL Navigator & GL Navigator Safety Pack and GLX, plus the Navigator duo and GLX get satnav (hence the Navigator name). The difference in safety between the two Navigators is simple but marked. All cars will get teh standard electronic aids plus airbags, however the Safety Pack adds in Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Weaving Alert plus the non Safety Pack Swift gets Hill Hold Control as well.The exterior has been completely refreshed and strengthens the family look with the bigger Baleno. In profile there’s some carry over with the window line, but it’s the flanks, headlight and taillight design, grille, and rear pillar that mark the difference. The headlights are more angular and sweep into the front guards plus the GLX lamps are LED. The Navigators have conventional halogens and LED driving lights are fitted to the bumper. At the rear the GLX is distinguishable from the GL range by virtue of having LED brake and tail lights and have a distinctive C shape.Size wise the newly redesigned chassis is thirty kilos lighter and the new Swift is shorter, has a longer wheelbase, and sits lower overall, with the seating positions also lowered. There’s no compromise though in regards to overall space, with the cargo area up 32L to 242L. The redesign covers the interior as well, with a D shaped tiller, restyled dash and console, a better look and feel to the plastics, and a more ergonomic look throughout.
Outside there’s an improved colour palette, with Burning Red Pearl Metallic and Speedy Blue Metallic being added to the existing Super Black Pearl/Mineral Grey & Black Roof/Premium Silver Metallic/Pure White Pearl options. The new 2017 Suzuki Swift range is available for oredr and test drives now at your local Suzuki dealership. Head to Suzuki Australia for information and to book a drive.

Will the X-Class be a Tradie Favourite?

Mercedes Benz X-Class Ute

I love utes – always have – and that’s why I’ve owned my current Navara for nearly six years.  It’s not brand spanking new but let’s just say it’s been a workhorse in the garden and beyond, and it has been really well looked after.  Longevity is what this Nissan Navara D21 is all about; it just keeps going without anything major needing to be done.  Could longevity and practicality be the key highly sort after characteristics of what a great ute should be?  If you happen to be a Tradie, then these features have to be playing on your mind when you buy a new ute for work.

Toyota Hilux, Ford Falcon, Holden Rodeo and Nissan Navara are big names wheeled about amongst Tradies who have worked the hard yards with typically these utes being commonly their favoured working companions.  These are the guys that know which utes last the distance, so when a new ute like the Mercedes Benz X-Class is about to make a glamourous entrance on the big stage, will it fly high or sink?  The coming years will reveal whether the new X-Class will still be made mention of around smoko tables on builder’s sites, landscaper’s gardens and farmer’s markets.

No doubt, Mercedes-Benz will have done their homework.  Their current new vehicles are known for being classy luxury sedans, wagons, coupes, and in more recent years, SUVs.  So with the addition of the new X-Class Ute, we should be seeing plenty of luxury – particularly in the X-Class interior.  Mercedes Benz V-Class vans have been around for some time now, too, and they have been pretty solid workhorses.

The new X-Class range of vehicles are expected to arrive in Australia from 2018, with the exact launch dates, specifications and pricing to be announced closer to the time.  Having shown off the concept at various motor shows, the X-Class lines look sleeker than most utes I’ve seen – except for the likes of the Falcon and Commodore utes.  The new X-Class ute isn’t really in the Falcon and Commodore ute class, however, and with its fulltime AWD and serious off-road capabilities the X-Class can be taken into serious off-road terrain.  Sleek but aggressive and intimidating are words that come to my mind to describe the solid and bold X-Class looks.

Interestingly, the new X-Class for Australasia will be built at a Nissan plant in Barcelona, Spain in a marriage with Renault and Nissan.  The X-Class will be built using the new Navara platform; however the engines, all-wheel drive systems and interiors will all come from other Mercedes-Benz sources like the C-Class and V-Class range.  The top X-Class model will be powered by a very powerful V6 diesel engine which will be mated to a Mercedes-Benz’ 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system.  The AWD system will combine an electronic traction system, a transfer case with reduction gear, and two differential locks for the serious off-road expedition.  This powerful drive system in combination with a tough ladder-frame chassis will result in the X-Class achieving payloads of more than 1.1 tonnes, and a towing capacity of up to 3.5 tonnes.

Mercedes-Benz Concept X-Class Interior

Volker Mornhinweg, the head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, says “Our future X-Class will be a pickup that knows no compromise.  Ladder-type frame, high-torque six cylinder engine, and permanent all-wheel drive are compulsory for us.  As an added value, we will bring safety, comfort, agility and expressive design – in other words, everything that distinguishes vehicles bearing the Mercedes star.”

Did you know that in Australia, Argentina and New Zealand more than 14 per cent of new vehicle registrations are for a one-tonne ute!  No wonder we’re seeing the likes of Mercedes and VW getting stuck into a slice of the pie, too.

2017 Kia Rio Si: Private Fleet Car Review

Kia’s rollout of updated and revamped cars continues, with the Rio the latest of the family to receive a makeover. Private Fleet goes one on one with the $22000 (includes metallic paint)2017 Kia Rio Si.Straight up, gone are the goldfish goggle eyed headlights, trimmed down to slim line units from front on and sweeping back into the fenders. The grille is reduced to a mail slot and sits above a larger and restyled air intake bisecting two smaller slots fitted with driving lights that come on when cornering. In profile the window line echoes that of the Sorento as do the tail lights and overall the Rio seems to have a more upright stance than the outgoing model.That sleek new body hides a mix of modern and dinosaur style technology. There’s a peppy and zippy 1.4L multipoint fuel injected four, good for a maximum power output of 74 kilowatts and torque of 133 Nm. That figure is reached at 4000 rpm and it’s noticeable that pull from this engine, by the seat of the paints, comes in from around 2500. The dinosaur in the room is the archaic four speed automatic transmission. This, wholly and solely, holds back any decent driveability. Under light acceleration the shift from first to second feels as if the car has hit a puddle of molasses. When pushed the drop becomes even more visible, going from 5000 rpm down to just over 2000.

Although it shifts smoothly and slickly enough, the Rio would be better equipped with a CVT. Using the manual shift option barely improves the experience. It also affects fuel economy adversely, with the official figures being quoted as 6.2L/100 km from the 45 litre tank for the combined cycle. A Wheel Thing saw a best of 7.2L/100 and that was on a freeway at constant speed after a week of urban driving.Inside it’s a complete freshen up. A real boon for people that like variety is the addition of Digital Audio Broadcast or DAB radio. Yes, digital radio in a $22K car, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s a simple and clean look to the seven inch screen, which also offers in the Si and SLi satellite navigation with traffic information, with the typically ergonomic and easy to read look that typifies Kia. The leather bound steering wheel on the tilt and reach column is home to cruise control, audio, and Bluetooth buttons, with the formerly slightly sharp edges in previous versions now of a softer and rounder design.Air-conditioning is effective and the dials are old school by the fact they’re…dials. In the console below is the USB, 12V, and auxiliary ports for external music supply as the Rio no longer carries a CD slot. Vale the silver disc. The dash and console itself, of a semi gloss black plastic (which reflects badly in the dash, a safety distraction) on the upper section and a gunmetal look across the horizontal, flows and blends smoothly into the door trim. Oh, it’s a key start, not push button, for the driver and their passenger as they sit in cloth and leather trimmed seats.The 4065 mm long five door sits on a handy 2580 mm wheelbase, allowing cargo space of 325 litres with the rear seats up, increasing to 980 litres folded. With an overall width of 1725 mm and height of 1450 mm there’s plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room for four adults. There’s also a USB port for the rear seat passengers, plus ISOFIX mounts, a feature virtually standard in Australian specification cars nowadays as are the six airbags, driver safety programs (bar Autonomous Emergency Braking and Blind Spot Alert).Apart from the four speed auto, it’s a delight to drive on the road. Although the alloys are just 15 inch in diameter, with 185/65 tyres the Rio rides and handles well enough for most road conditions. It’s crisp enough in turn-in with a surprising lack of understeer. It’ll lane change quick enough, given its 1162 kg plus passenger weight and will do so with minimal body roll. The torsion beam axle stabilises the rear but the rear suspension attached is a little too soft with that rear end feeling as if it would bottom out easier. The brakes also need a tightening up, with again a little too much travel before a satisfactory amount of bite happens. The usual bumps, lumps, and undulations do affect the little car but it remains mostly well tied down and does allow for a comfortable enough ride in the urban environment.At The End Of The Drive.
Bluntly, it’s a crying shame the Rio has been hamstrung with that four speed auto. The engine feels as if it wants to deliver more, the chassis is competent enough, the new look is sweet, and the trim levels across the three models provides a well appointed choice for buyers. As more and more makers with small cars with small engines move to CVTs, for all of their foibles, it’s a better option for the Rio than the current one.
For information, details on Kia’s seven year warranty and associated service plan, and to book a test drive, head over to Kia Australia here: 2017 Kia Rio range.

Private Fleet Car Reviews: 2017 Holden Astra RS manual hatch

Holden’s move to bring in its range of vehicles from Europe has already paid off with the fully European sourced Astra. With an all turbocharged engine range, the 2017 Astra family, which starts at $23990 driveaway, offers power, performance, and plenty of tech, as A Wheel Thing drives the 2017 Holden Astra 1.6L RS manual.It’s the 1.6L four here, with an immensely handy 280 torques between 1650 to 3500 revs and rolls off to the 147 kW peak output at 5500. So far it’s a numbers game, including six, six being how many forward ratios in the manual transmission supplied. It’s a delight, this transmission, with a beautifully progressive clutch pedal and a pickup point that feels natural. The gear selector is also well weighted, with no indecision in the close throw and tautly sprung lever. Reverse is across to the left and up, easily selected by a pistol grip trigger on the selecter’s front. It’s a delightfully refined package, one worth investigating, and a prime reason why we should move away from automatics as our primary transmission. Economy? A Wheel Thing finished on a sub 7.0L per 100L of 95 RON from the 48 litre tank.It’s a sweet looking machine too. A sharp yet slimline nose, with striking silver accents, rolls into a steeply raked front window, with good side vision before finishing with a somewhat odd looking C pillar design incorporating a pyramidical motif. There’s a black sheet between this and the roofline and there’s further eyeball catching with the deep scallops in the doors. Beautifully styled tail lights finish off what really is a handsome vehicle. Inside you’ll find a well sculpted office. There’s piano black highlights that contrast with charcoal grey black plastic and cloth trim on the seats in a checkerboard pattern. The dash design itself is organic, flowing, and evokes the design ethos of higher end luxury cars. The pews front and rear are wonderfully supportive and have just the right amount of give and bolstering. Rear seat passengers get enough leg room for comfort also and there’s no problem with head room for front or rear with 1003 mm and 971 mm respectively. The driver and passenger do not get electric seats, though, however there is DAB for the high quality audio system that’s part of the GM family’s MyLink set. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility along with streaming apps. For those that like to carry kids and shopping, there’s 360L pf cargo space with the seats folded up, cupholders front and rear, USB charger point, seatback pockets, and door pockets as well.The driver and passenger do not get electric seats, though as they’re reserved for the RS-V, however there is DAB for the high quality audio system that’s part of the GM family’s MyLink set. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility along with streaming apps and the leather clad tiller has audio and cruise controls that are pure GM in their ease of use. For those that like to carry kids and shopping, there’s 360L pf cargo space with the seats folded up, cupholders front and rear, USB charger point, seatback pockets, and door pockets as well.It’s its road manners and driveability where the Astra RS really shines. The six speed manual is fluid, smooth, and completely complements the torque delivery of the 1.6L powerplant. What makes the Astra RS a delight to drive is the beautifully balanced suspension. It really is one of the best ride packages you’ll find. Period. The suppleness of the suspension is deft in its ability to change with road surface changes, whilst it firms up to provide a sporting feel when required. Rubber is from France, with lightning bolt 17 inch alloys wrapped in Michelin 225/45 tyres.From smooth freeway surfaces such as those found in western Sydney where some areas have been freshly resurfaced, to gravelled and rutted entrance roads, the Astra RS feels comfortable and poised across these and every surface in between. Thrown into off camber turns the hatch sits flat and under control and rarely does the rear end feel as if it’s not attached to the front. The steering itself is weighted just so, with a fine balance of effort versus connection to the front. There’s a bare hint of understeer being a front wheel drive car and while hint ar torque steer when the go pedal is given a hard push from standstill.Holden will give you a three year or one hundred thousand kilometre warranty, which, given the levels of warranty offered by others is starting to look a little dated. However they do offer Lifetime Capped Price Servicing plus you can take the car for a twenty four hour test drive to make up your own mind. Yes, you’ll find driver aids on board and the RS gets Automatic Emergency Braking in the suite of aids.

At The End Of The Drive.

The RS Astra, priced in the mid twenty thousand dollar range, is perhaps one of the most complete packages you can buy as a driver’s car. A torquey engine, a slick manual transmission, a comfortable office and with enough tech on board for emjoyment and safety, plus a beautifully tuned chassis add up to provide one of the most pleasureable drive experiences available. And that price makes it a competitive package in regards to value as well. Go here to check it out plus look at the new sedan: 2017 Holden Astra hatch range

Private Fleet Car Review: 2017 Holden Trax LS Turbo

Holden has a history of importing small cars for SUV style duties. Suzuki gave us the Drover, Isuzu the Jackeroo and a jacked up Barina became the Trax. A refresh to the car has been performed, with noticeable changes inside and out. The 2017 Holden Trax LS spends a week in the urban jungle.Up front is the 1.4L turbo four that once resided in the Cruze. In that car, even with an auto, it was lively, peppy, zippy. Not so in the LS auto. Holden have released the LS with the 1.8L engine and manual or the turbo four and auto only. Even with 200 torques at 1850 rpm it’s pulling close to 1400 kilos and felt as if the gear ratios were holding the little SUV back. When punched hard and under way, the performance characteristics did change…having said that, the auto had an unusual and odd whine, one not out of place in a manual transmission that wasn’t calibrated correctly.The turbo four drinks 95 RON as its preferred tipple and will do so at 6.9L per 100 km (quoted,combined) from a tank weighing in at 53 litres. That’s pretty much on the money in the week A Wheel Thing had the petite LS Trax however that’s the combined figure. Given this kind of car will be in short distance, stop start, style of travel, figure on something closer to 8.0L/100 km.

Ride quality is a mixed bag in the front wheel drive only Trax LS with a even and smooth feeling on freshly laid roads morphing into unsure and tentative on broken and rutted surfaces. There was even occasional mild bump steer and an odd sensation of the front MacPherson strut suspension’s settings not balancing the compound crank axle rear. Driving over the mildly broken surfaces of some local roads would have the front gently absorbing the irregularities and the rear would feel less tied down. All in all, just not a balanced mix. Handling was also a mixed bag with a numbness either side of centre of the tiller, a feeling of twitchiness in the communication from the steering wheel, and just hints of understeer from the Continental 205/70/16 rubber when pushed.

The brakes were the same odd mix, with nothing but pedal pressure for what felt like an inch before a gentle bite, a too gentle bite at that. In order to get any sense of stopping power a harder shove was required and there was no sense of progression, rather a change from soft to grab hard, a most disconcerting sensation in high traffic. That’s perhaps due to the drum rears, not discs. It’s also apparently fitted with HSA, or Hill Start Assist, however even gentle slopes such as those found in undergroup car parks had the car rolling back once the foot was off the brake.

The transmission in the LS Turbo is, as mentioned, a six speed auto. It is fitted with a manual override, accessible via a simple toggle switch on the selector. This was invaluable in the climb up Sydney’s Old Bathurst Road, just west of Penrith, at the base of the Blue Mountains. In traffic, rather than the indecisive self selector, by using the manual it would more than happily crawl/walk/run uphill depending on the traffic gaps. It was quicker in changing gears doing this and came in handly also in overtaking.Brownie points, also, for the interior of the Trax. It’s an office come boys club in that it’s a comfortable place to be yet efficient in design and layout. It’s a traditional key in the right hand side of the column, standard GM switchgear, all blended into a smooth, flowing, organically styled dash with the pews comfy and providing plenty of lateral support. There’s the MyLink system on board and housed in a seven inch touchscreen which includes phone projection which is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the LS misses out on DAB as the entry level model in the three model range. There’s an LCD screen in the dash binnacle which also houses analogue dials, appropriate for an entry level vehicle.There’s also Bluetooth streaming, USB and Auxiliary inputs but the death of the car-based CD player was also on show, with no slot to slip the silver disc in. A point off, though, for the design of the tiller, as the centrepoint is above the horizontal centreline which makes for an uncomfortable 11 and 1 hand position. Storage wise you’re looked after with a tray under the passenger seat, door pockets, good sized cup holders and sunglasses holder.There’s good rear legroom at 908 mm, headroom at 985 mm, and shoulder room is good for two adults at 1340 mm. This is inside a petite 4257 mm overall length yet packing a 2555 mm wheelbase. This means the corners are pushed out into the pumped out guards and sees the otherwise somewhat dumpy looking five door seem a touch larger than what the dimensions suggest. The height has a bit to do with it, being an inch shy of 1700 mm.Otherwise, you’re looking at a redeveloped nose, bringing the Trax into line looks wise with the Colorado and Captiva, with the flattened six sided lower air intake under the single bar upper. There’s LED driving lights but no halogens in the lower quarters. The rear is less made over, with the family resemblance to big sibling Captiva perhaps more slightly enhanced and hides a 356/785 litre cargo capacity accessed by an easy to open and lift tailgate. Naturally there’s a camera for reversing and it provides a crisp and clear picture on the screen.There’s six airbags, the now mandatory safety aids under the skin, pretensioning seatbelts, collapsible pedals, plus Holden’s standard three year or one hundred thousand kilometre warranty. Reverse sensors partner with the aforementioned camera to complete the package. At the time of writing, the first four services will cost you $229 each at intervals of one-year or 15,000km, a fair ask for peace of mind and for budget conscious buyers.At The End Of The Drive.
The LS Trax with turbo four and six speed auto was, at best, competent in this particular vehicle. Performance was somewhat lacklustre until pushed and that transmission whine was a worry. It does though look smooth and organic inside and offers enough usable room for four adults. At around $25K driveaway it’s not a budget breaker either however. For details and to book a test drive to make up your own mind, go here:2017 Holden Trax range