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BMW Brilliance

BMW has always been a favourite standout brand of mine, and BMW is forging new models and technology even as we speak.  It has been a bit of a gruelling year-or-two with the covid shenanigans, and car manufactures are only one small segment of the global economic pie to have taken a sizable hit.  The shortage of semiconductors has been, and still is, a problem because cars rely on these items for controlling anything from your electric windows to all the fancy driving assistance aids.  However, the winds are changing, and the rebound is occurring.  Luxury car marques like BMW seem to be doing very well, and even with the electronic chip shortages being a bit of an issue it seems that BMW will get through this period in fairly good shape.  There is always a talking point re this special car marque; sometimes the designs might look great to some and not so flash for others, but there is always a gem being turned out from this great team of motoring designers and manufacturers.  BMW cars are more often than not great to drive, good looking, practical and advanced cars.

In this covid recovery period, various chief financial officers recently mentioned that, for now, luxury marques like BMW would consciously undersupply demand levels, which seems a prudent, sensible path to take, as BMW new car prices are holding up very well – quite bullish in fact.  The increased pricing power has already trickled down to the bottom lines for BMW and Daimler.  Mercedes achieved a 12.2% return on sales in the last reported quarter, which was up from 8.4% in the same period in 2018 (2018 being of a period not affected by the pandemic or diesel emissions litigation costs).  BMW achieved a 16% return on sales, which was up from 8.6% in 2018.  BMW also reported a $5.7 billion net profit in the second quarter of this year, suggesting global auto markets are continuing to recover from the pandemic — particularly when it comes to luxury cars like BMW and Mercedes.

BMW M4 Minty Green

This is great news for BMW and car lovers in general, but what’s new in BMW’s box of tricks?  A very cool thing that BMW revealed at the recent Munich Motorshow (early September 2021) was to be found in the BMW M4 corner, where this manic machine, with its impetuous acceleration, showed a jaw-dropping minty green sheen to its beautiful, sexy exterior.  The M4 Competition wore a Mint Green paint job and sat upon gorgeous bronze 20-inch rims.  Both of these options are available as part of the brand’s expanded BMW Individual customization line, which you can find on BMW’s online configurator, where more than 130 other paint options and eight different wheel options are available.  This latest BMW M4 Competition also had a new fibre front splitter, a restyled rear bumper, a rear wing, and some unique side skirts that were all made with carbon fibre.  Carbon fibre interior seating surfaces and trim pieces are also part of the online configurator.  So, try before you buy!

The Munich motor show also allowed the public to preview a hydrogen-electric BMW X5 that is due to enter very-limited production in 2022.  This is an exciting moment because the vehicle was first previewed in 2019 as the i Hydrogen Next concept.  It’s currently in the prototype stage, and early this month it was confirmed with the go ahead, going by the name of BMW iX5 Hydrogen.

A hydrogen-electric vehicle is like a battery-electric vehicle, but instead of drawing power from electricity out of the charged battery the hydrogen-electric vehicle relies on a hydrogen fuel-cell stack to produce electricity power.  BMW’s iX5 Hydrogen has the hydrogen fuel-cell positioned up front where it draws hydrogen from 2 tanks, one in the X5’s transmission tunnel and another under the rear seats.  The tanks are made from carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic and can hold about 5.9 kg of hydrogen at more than 10,000 psi.  Tank filling takes only a few minutes.  The hydrogen fuel-cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to create electricity.  This process only has water (H2O) as a by-product – Wow!  The electricity primarily powers a single motor at the rear axle but is also used to charge a small battery that steps in from time-to-time to deliver extra grunt to the motor during high-load situations.

BMW iX5 Hydrogen Platform

The BMW iX5 Hydrogen will have a total system power output of 275 kW.  The hydrogen fuel cell, on its own, generates about 125 kW.  The vehicle’s aerodynamically shaped 22-inch wheels are wrapped in a new Pirelli tyre that is made from natural rubber and a wood-based synthetic fibre known as rayon.  These two materials replace much of the petroleum-based synthetic rubbers used in modern tyres.

The extensive field testing has already started in earnest within Europe.  Particular focus points have had the engineers examining how effectively the CO2-free drivetrain works in real-life conditions.  Also, they are measuring metrics which include reliability, safety, and efficiency during everyday conditions to ensure that the new model is perfect for mass production.  Hydrogen fuel cell technology has the potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems, and battery-electric vehicles.  The BMW iX5 Hydrogen has hydrogen tanks that can be filled quickly in only 3–4 minutes.

BMW states that the small batch of iX5 Hydrogen models that are destined to be built in 2022 will only be used for demonstration and testing purposes.  BMW doesn’t expect to have any hydrogen-electric vehicles at dealerships until 2025 at the earliest and depending on the direction that the automotive markets take.

Newest off the showroom floor is the all-new BMW iX3 with its refreshed exterior design.  The new BMW iX3 has a sexier appearance and introduces the M Sport Package as standard.  BMW has achieved an impressive CO2 emission assessment for this next-generation iX3, and the vehicle boasts an exceptionally efficient drive system.  Extensive use of secondary raw materials in the manufacture of aluminium castings and thermoplastics combines with the new iX3 boasting an absence of rare earth materials and the use of more green electricity in its production.

BMW iX3 2022

The BMW iX3 has a kidney grille that is larger still, and it has a single-piece frame that comes in Pearl-effect Chrome with blue accents to match with the BMW i styling cues.  Its headlights have been made slimmer.  It also boasts 19-inch black aerodynamic wheels, an automatic tailgate, adaptive suspension, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and Smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

BMW is a bit of a landmark in the automotive world, a benchmark, the perfect blend of performance, luxury and practicality.  In the future, BMW wants to be ready to supply customers with their powertrain of choice, whether it be gasoline, diesel, battery or hydrogen.  In the case of hydrogen, BMW sees it as an opportunity for customers that favour long-distance driving or who happen to live in regions without adequate battery recharging infrastructure.

I have so many favourite BMWs and other cars, including the 4.0-litre Falcons, which have rolled our roads over the last few decades of motoring, but let’s not be nincompoops and let’s embrace new ways of automotive power; let’s embrace the new BMW i technology.

Alfa Romeo and Stellantis

There is change in the air for Alfa Romeo.  At the beginning of 2021, a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation called Stellantis was formed on the basis of a 50-50 cross-border merger between the Italian/American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group.  The headquarters of Stellantis is in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Alfa Romeo will be among the first of the 14 brands of Stellantis vehicles that will take a full-electric approach to its new cars.  Mentioned at a meeting recently, the new Stellantis group will see Alfa Romeo become a fully electric brand that will compete globally as early as 2027 – its key markets being that of China, Europe and the US.

It is possible that the first all-electric Alfa Romeo could be an electric subcompact crossover that will arrive 2023/24 and combine with similar models from Fiat and Jeep.  Stellantis has announced plans to introduce four electric platforms that will eventually cover most vehicles across the company’s 14 brands, and the models should have a power range of 300 – 500 miles (480 – 800 km).  Alfa Romeo will use a platform known as the STLA Large, which will also be used by Maserati.  There will also be platforms known as STLA Small and STLA Medium.  Stellantis says that Alfa Romeo will pursue two battery chemistries for its vehicles.  Right-hand drive development was also to be assured, so all future EV Alfa Romeo models could easily be driven in Australia.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Next year we should see Alfa Romeo offering its first plug-in hybrid, which will be exciting.  I’m a big fan of hybrid technology.  The model will most likely be a compact crossover based on the recent Tonale concept.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Until the arrival of the Alfa Romeo Tonale, Alfa Romeo Australia will still enjoy the fantastic-to-drive Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and Alfa Romeo Stelvio mid-size SUV.  For 2021, the Stelvio SUV and Giulia sedan boast some more new technology inside the cars, which includes Level Two advanced driver assistance systems such as traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed control, active blind-spot assist and driver attention assist.

Currently, the entry level Stelvio puts out 148 kW of power and 330 Nm of torque from the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.  You should be able to buy a new one of these for around the $65k mark.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Fiat Happenings

Scattered around Australia are numerous Fiat outlets with showroom teams that are willing to buy, sell and service any of their special brand of car.  You’ll find a Fiat showroom in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast.  There are even more places around Australia who are experts in servicing or accessing parts for your Fiat or Fiat Abarth vehicles.  This leaves you very little need to hold off being the proud owner of a new or used Italian legend should you so desire.

New 2021/2022 Fiat vehicles offer a variety of small 4- and 5-seater cars that come as standard little hatchbacks or hatchbacks with a bit more Abarth pep and performance.  The Abarth brand are the performance models that are special Fiat 500s with lots of fun and plenty of zip to make your drive both entertaining and unique.  The standard Fiat 500 is a surprisingly roomy small car that is comfortable and efficient to drive.

Fiat also does a range of commercial vehicles that are mainly a variety of medium and large vans.  These are popular vans for businesses because Fiat offer their range of modern, safe vans at a reasonable price, and the team are willing to back their vans up with a competitive servicing and warranty package for any of their new Fiat-commercial-model buyers.  Fiat also offer the Ducato in a range of motorhome and camper styles.

Fiat really is a quintessential “Made in Italy” stamp with all its Italian history, style, constant innovation and decent quality being part of the modern range.  The recent Fiat 500 has seen 80% of its sales outside of Italy, and it is a model that leads the city car segment in Europe together with its cute little sibling, the Fiat Panda.

Recently, the introduction of the Hybrid Fiat 500 and Panda has given an extra boost to the sales of both models.  These are exceptionally economical cars.  In Italy, the stylish Fiat 500X has been refreshed, ready to continue playing a leading role in many Italian family’s lives.  Indeed, since its launch in 2014, the Fiat 500X has always led its segment in Italy, and the car regularly features in the European top 10 small-car segment.

Recent news from Fiat in Europe has seen some other new model launches, which would also be nice to see become available here in Australia – particularly for those of us who want to get the benefits of driving a small and efficient car with Italian style.  The final months of last year saw the new Fiat 500, Tipo, Tipo Cross and Panda range, and so Fiat has brought 2021 around with the entire line-up of cars being completely refreshed.

A lot of effort has gone into providing new Fiats and Abarths with all the latest technology, safety, comfort and style for each new variant.  New models also boast Euro 6D-Final-compliant engines across the entire range.  The Connect trim level is directed at customers who want to stay connected at all times.  Models with Connect come standard with the 7-inch Uconnect infotainment system with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the easy and efficient way to exploit the services of your device while travelling in your car.

Standard features of the 2021 Fiat 500 also includes cruise control, a sports steering wheel with built-in controls, 15-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.  You can also select the dedicated new Perbene Grey/Vesuvius Black two-tone insignia.  The 2021/2022 Fiat 500X comes with black seats, a techno-leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, blacked-out windows, fog lights, LED DRLs, parking sensors, along with dusk sensors and rain sensors.

Here is a picture of the stunning little Abarth F595.  Check out the gorgeous body kit and quad exhausts!

Abarth F595

New EV SUVs

We still seem to be desiring the SUV over other shapes and styles of car.  This is for reasons that I can understand; things like safety, space and ride comfort tend to be found in spades when you travel inside a decent-size SUV.  Because we are likely to go through a period of history where the EV may well rule the road, are there any SUV-type EVs available now?  EVs aren’t selling like hot cakes just yet, but there some EV SUVs bigger than a pint-sized Honda E that you might be interested in.  It turns out that, actually, there are some pretty decent EV SUVs available to the buyer loaded with cash.  As yet, they aren’t the cheapest vehicles on the planet, particularly if they are of the premium luxury brands, but it’s nice to know that if you did have the money, and wanted a spacious and desirable luxury model, they are already being sold out on the market.

Tesla has the jump on its competition, and they already have a decent wodge of EV clients under their wings.  Because it was pretty much the first EV manufacturer to design and build a decent EV, it was Tesla who soaked up the early adopters of Tesla’s EV technology, and it was these buyers who were very keen to align and embrace the new EV technology early on.  What is happening now, is that because other manufacturers are only now getting fully into the swing of EV technology, the keenest buyers have already been wooed and taken by Tesla, so, for instance, if you are an Audi e-tron or Jaguar I-Pace, you have a slightly harder job of getting your buyers because you have to actually entice them away from their luxury ICE vehicles and into one of their EV variants.

Tesla Model X

Let’s first give credit where credit is due, and let’s talk about the Tesla Model X EV SUV.  The Model X can come with an optional six seats, the middle row boasting full-on Captain’s chairs.  The five-seat Model X is the standard guise.  I love the falcon-wing doors; they look so cool and make life very easy getting in and out of the car – even in tight parking spaces with as little as 11-inches on either side.  Tesla’s Model X cabin is nice, big, and comfortable.  Up the front, there is a big infotainment display screen on the dash.  This is as big and as good as it gets in any car.  The roof/ceiling is also a huge display screen, which is tinted so that the glare from the sun is minimised.  The Tesla feels extremely modern but also, at the same time, quite a simple car that is fun to live with.  It has funny features like a Fart Mode, which is an emissions testing mode that allows the car to perform fart sequencing and farting whenever it requires to do so.  People outside don’t escape the sounds either.  This feature does leave one in hysterics – you have been warned!  The Tesla Model X is very different to anything else on the road, and that makes it a unique drive.  Out on the road, the Tesla Model X is quick, and its ride does a pretty good job of soaking up the bumps.  There are better handling cars like the Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace, however.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 100kWh battery
  • Weight: 2459 kg
  • Range: Claimed at over 500 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 310 kW of power
  • 660 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 250 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.9 seconds

Tesla Model X

Audi e-tron

Audi’s new e-tron has five seats, all rather comfortable and impeccably crafted.  The touchscreen system is classy, right up-to-date, and detailed.  You do have plenty of menus to work through before finally getting to where you want to be in the infotainment set-up.  On the road, the Audi e-tron is exceptionally well-sorted.  It feels really tight around the corners, smooth and very quiet.  Though EVs are generally heavy vehicles, the e-tron disguises its mass very well, indeed.  There is plenty of well thought-out storage compartments throughout the cabin, and on a day-to-day basis this is a nice EV SUV to live with.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 95kWh battery
  • Weight: 2490 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 385 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 300 kW of power
  • 664 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 5.7 seconds

Audi e-tron

Volvo XC40

Volvo’s XC40 Pure Electric Hybrid is a smaller luxury EV SUV.  Safety features include autonomous emergency braking, run-off-road assist and up to Level 2 self-driving in heavy traffic situations.  It’s available with AWD and uses a nice silent, smooth electric set-up.  The Volvo’s version of an EV SUV is a gem.  The XC40 looks and feels very modern, and the XC40’s cabin is impressively spacious.  Standard equipment levels are high and include a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel with configurable EV-specific displays, panoramic sunroof, heated front power seats, and inductive charging for your smartphone. Also standard, is the full suite of Volvo safety features, including lane keep assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, and rear collision alert.  The 460 litres of boot space opens up to 1336 litres with the rear seats folded down flat.  These can be bought new for around $85k, making this a well-priced premium luxury EV SUV that is comfortable and swift.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 78kWh battery
  • Weight: 2158 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 418 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300/350 km.
  • 300 kW of power
  • 659 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 180 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.7 seconds

Volvo XC40 Recharge Electric

Jaguar I-Pace

In my opinion, the Jaguar I-Pace wins the EV SUV beauty contest.  From every angle it looks nice, athletic, and the perfect blend of old and new design.  Even with its GT lines there is a nice amount of space inside the EV Jag.  To drive, the Jaguar I-Pace is wonderful.  It feels very crisp through the corners and it even has a satisfying growl that flows through the speaker system as you plant your right foot and accelerate hard.  Compared with its rivals, the new Jaguar I-Pace weighs in at a comparatively light 2.0 tonnes.  This is a lovely EV SUV and is probably the one I’d prefer most of all the snobbish EV SUVs currently on sale.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 90kWh battery
  • Weight: 2068 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 420 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 294 kW of power
  • 695 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.5 seconds

Jaguar I-Pace

BMW’s latest iX and Mercedes Benz’s EQC are some other luxury EV SUVs worth a look at.  And then some other considerations that are substantially cheaper than the premium EV SUVs mentioned above would be the small Mercedes-Benz EQA and the very good MG ZS EV, Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro.

Some big reasons why you’d want to change to a EV SUV right now would be the driving smoothness, the driving silence, self-driving safety features, and the potential for saving money at the “pump”.  I think it was Top Gear who recently suggested that, on average, the running costs of one of these were on a par with an equivalent petrol car capable of 73 mpg (3.2 litres/100 km).  That’s if you were to do most of your charging at home and not at public charging stations.

When ADAS Features Fail

I don’t quite know why I’ve become more attentive to learning about a car’s ability to protect its occupants in the event of a collision, along with its ability to avoid the collision altogether in the first place.  I expect it has a lot to do with having close family members who occasionally need to drive themselves places.  Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) are growing in popularity.  ADAS systems can help prevent accidents not only at speed, but also when parked as a stationary car.  ADAS features are designed with one purpose in mind and that is to increase driver and occupant safety.

ADAS features include things like automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, collision warning systems, cross-traffic alert, forward and rear collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, park assist, pedestrian detection and avoidance systems, cyclist detection and avoidance systems, road sign recognition, active radar cruise control… and the list goes on.  ADAS employs cameras and sensors to detect a potential collision or event and then proceed to activate systems of avoidance if necessary.  These are important safety features which help prevent accidents.

Research on insurance claims that was carried out by LexisNexis Risk Solutions showed that vehicles involved in incidents that had ADAS on-board exhibited a 27% reduction in the frequency of claims made for bodily injury.  The results also showed that vehicles that had ADAS on-board exhibited a 19% reduction in the frequency of claims made for property damage.  Obviously, this would suggest that the systems must be doing some good.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed that the crash involvement rate for vehicles with blind-spot monitoring was 14% lower than for the same vehicle without the equipment.  Researchers also stated that the study also suggested that if every vehicle sold in the US in 2015 was equipped with blind-spot monitoring, 50,000 crashes and 16,000 crash injuries might have been prevented.

At present, one of the big downsides of the ADAS features is that they are darn expensive.  Not only do they put the price of a new car up, they also make the car costlier to insure because if any of the systems gets damaged the insurance and repair bills are usually eye-watering.  Hopefully, ADAS features will come way down in price and become similar to standard computer software and technology which is, on the whole, a dime-a-dozen now.

The other thing is that I hope ADAS will function 100% of the time correctly as intended, because vehicles designed to be able to automatically brake for objects such as other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, and to drive themselves inside highway lanes without driver input, is not an exact science.  A slightly frightening example of my concern here is when Volvo was demonstrating its pedestrian AEB technology to journalists in 2016.  Volvo used their V60 model in the demonstration, where it was travelling toward a dummy named Bob.  The V60 didn’t detect Bob being in the way, and so Bob was hit in what was a controlled environment.  An alert driver in the V60 may well have returned a better outcome.

Then shortly after, another Volvo V60 was demonstrating its collision detection and avoidance system where it was to avoid hitting a stationary truck.  The failure to detect and avoid the collision can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNi17YLnZpg

Again, an alert and competent driver could well have resulted in a better outcome, should this have happened in the real world.

In 2018, the IIHS took five new vehicles and tested them.  The Tesla Model 3, the Tesla Model S, the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes E-Class and the Volvo S90 were the test vehicles.  Each vehicle’s AEB, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems were tested.  Some of the problems IIHS encountered was that the AEB didn’t actually work in some vehicles in some circumstances.

In other tests, the IIHS observed: “The BMW 5-series steered toward or across the lane line regularly, requiring drivers to override the steering support to get it back on track.  Sometimes the car disengaged steering assistance on its own.  The car failed to stay in the lane on all 14 valid trials.  The Model S was also errant in the hill tests.”

Sadly, just a couple of years ago an autonomous Uber fitted with even more sensors than any standard ADAS-equipped road car killed a pedestrian at night in the US.  This happened while researchers and designers were conducting public testing.  What this suggests is that the ADAS technology is amazing and good enough to be placed into new cars.  However, it doesn’t mean ADAS will always work as intended, and it does point to the fact that drivers must still always be fully alert at the wheel.  If the driver is not fully alert, the outcome from these system fails can sometimes be way worse than if the driver was fractionally slower to manually override the systems detection time and action times.

I’ve heard of numerous occasions when vehicles have falsely detected situations.  A more common fail is when accident emergency braking (AEB) engaged on-board a car when it shouldn’t have, which meant that the AEB stopped the vehicle abruptly and unexpectedly on a clear road.  At the time, traffic is still coming up behind the vehicle.  Lane keep assist isn’t always that great either, and the results of a high-speed mishap on a main highway is tragic.

ANCAP is Australian’s big car-safety tester, and a recent representative suggested that AEB and lane-keeping assist technology, which is where the car will steer itself, was beginning to be put under the microscope.  This would test for how accurate the system actually is, and if it would actually do the opposite and steer the vehicles into a dangerous situation.  Testing ADAS features should take priority over just saying that the technology is available in the car at the time of crash testing, whereby the appropriate ADAS feature box is ticked and the job done.

ADAS mostly works for the better.  It does raise obvious safety problems, particularly when manufacturers have all the pressure to pack in as many ADAS features into their vehicles as possible for as little cost as possible to remain competitive on the sales front.  This pressure would suggest that these systems could be prone to potentially become unsafe.

With cars loaded with ADAS features, you could also say that drivers of these new vehicles might be tempted to hop on the mobile phone to check messages once they have activated the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist systems.  Essentially, it becomes easier to break the law; which takes us back to the point that we shouldn’t rely heavily on ADAS technology because it can fail to work.  We don’t often hear this preached at the car sales yard or on new-car adverts.

In Australia, features such as antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) are mandatory in new vehicles that are sold to the public.  These mandatory requirements are set to be pushed to the next level, where automatic emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist would have to be on-board any new vehicle being sold to the public.  Even alcohol detection devices may well be part of these standard requirements.  Europe is set to introduce some of these requirements over the next few years, and Australia is likely to follow the lead.  Newly imported European cars would end up with these features anyways, a win-win for us new-car buyers.

ADAS is good, but we still need to drive our cars.

Small Overlap Crash Test

The influx of all the amazing new electronic safety aids and crash avoidance systems found on-board new cars has been exceptional.  There is no doubt that these systems are helping save lives and minimising injury.  There has been one part of the latest car crash testing regime that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has brought in as part of their testing in order to help make cars safer.

The IIHS is an independent, non-profit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from motor vehicle crashes through their ongoing research and evaluation, and through the education of consumers, policymakers and safety professionals.  The IIHS is funded by auto insurance companies and was established back in 1959.  Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia, USA.  A lot of what the IIHS does is crash test cars in a variety of ways to gather data, analyse the data, and observe the vehicles during and after the crash tests to quantify how safe each car is.  The results and findings are published on their website at IIHS.org.  Car manufacturers have been forced to take these tests seriously because, at the end of the day, these results matter and will affect car sales as the public become informed about how safe their cars will likely be in the event of an accident.

Since 2012, the IIHS has introduced a couple of new tests that they put the vehicles through to see how safe they are in an event of small overlap collision.  The driver-side small overlap frontal test was brought about to help encourage further improvements in vehicle frontal crash protection.  Keeping in mind that these IIHS tests are carried out using cars with left-hand-drive, the test is designed to replicate what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.  This crash test is a challenge for some safety belt and airbag designs because occupants move both forward and toward the side of the vehicle from the time of impact.  In the driver-side small overlap frontal test, a vehicle travels at 40 mph (64 km/h) toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier.  A Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man is positioned in the driver seat.  25% percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes the barrier on the driver side.

Most modern cars have safety cages encapsulating the occupant compartment and are built to withstand head-on collisions and moderate overlap frontal crashes with little deformation.  At the same time, crush zones help manage crash energy to reduce forces on the occupant compartment.  The main crush-zone structures are concentrated in the middle 50% of the front end.  When a crash involves these structures, the occupant compartment is protected from intrusion, and front airbags and safety belts can effectively restrain and protect occupants.

However, the small overlap frontal crashes primarily affect a vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the crush-zone structures.  Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, the suspension system and the firewall.  It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion into the occupant compartment, which often results in serious leg and foot injuries.  To provide effective protection in these small overlap crashes, the safety cage needs to resist crash forces that haven’t been amplified, concentrated on one area or aren’t tempered by crush-zone structures.  Widening these front-end crash protection structures does help.

The IIHS also performs the passenger-side small overlap frontal test.  The passenger-side test is the same as the driver-side test, except the vehicle overlaps the barrier on the right side.  In addition, instead of just one Hybrid III dummy, there are two — one in the driver seat and one in the passenger seat.

Automotive manufacturers initially responded to these driver-side small overlap test results by improving vehicle structures and airbags, and most vehicles now earn good ratings.  However, IIHS research tests demonstrated that those improvements didn’t always carry over to the passenger side.  Discrepancies between the left and right sides of vehicles spurred the IIHS to develop a passenger-side small overlap test and begin issuing passenger-side ratings in 2017.

It is good that vehicle safety always seems to be on the improve and, with each new model, the new-car buyer can expect a safer vehicle.  Thanks to crash testers like the IIHS, ANCAP and Euro NCAP, we are experiencing safer cars on our roads.

A Moment of Silence

Holden HSV

Over the last decade there have been a few car manufacturers who have pulled out of selling cars in Australia.  But, as those leave, there have also been numerous new marques who have arrived on the scene, which is great to see.  Let’s not forget the old faithful marques, who are the manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, BMW and Porsche who have been selling cars in Australia for three decades or more.  So what’s changed over the last ten years?

Over this last decade we have had to say goodbye to Holden – perhaps the saddest exit.  The company was founded in 1856 as a saddlery manufacturer in South Australia, only to be wound up over the last year or so.  The Holden roots in Australia have run very deep.

Chery made its arrival in 2011 and stuck around for a few beers and was off again in 2016.  Chery once sold Australia’s cheapest new car for under $10k.

During the last decade, Dodge wrapped things up as well, though we still see the RAM logo in the form of the RAM Trucks that are sold new in Australia.  A RAM Truck is the king of the Ute/light truck world.

Equally as sad, for some, as the vanishing of Holden has been the cessation of the awesome line of HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) and FPV (Ford Performance Vehicles) muscle cars.  Oh how things change when people get a whiff of the climate change spin and big money opportunities with such amazing “clean” vehicles like EVs.

One luxury marque that made a brief appearance was Infiniti.  Only recently, we’ve waved goodbye to this very classy and elegant line of cars that for some reason struggled to make their way into a buyer population who were stayed in their buying habits.  Some of the Infiniti cars were seriously quick, had unique style and were reliable and comfortable.

2012 saw Opel opening many showrooms across Australia.  The new Opel Astra and Opel Insignia cars were quite stylish cars, though they only managed a few sales.  They too had a few beers and then folded up a year or two later.

Proton cars also came onto the scene in 2012 and sold a few hundred cars, however the aging models did not sell well in 2017 at all, so they were axed.  There are rumours of them making a comeback with a new range of cars under Geely’s ownership.

1991 Saab 900 Turbo 16 S

Another very sad day in the last decade of the Australian and global motoring industry was when Saab were forced to wrap up.  I miss their individuality and the range of powerful four-cylinder, turbocharged engines.  Australia has also said goodbye to Smart cars, a range of tiny city cars that were made by Mercedes.  They never sold well.

The new popular car marques that have entered the Australian car market over the last few years has been: Genesis, Great Wall, Haaval, LDV, Mahindra, MG, RAM Trucks and Tesla.  Most of these are of Asian origin.

Tesla

Cars For “When you get to my age!”

“When you get to my age…” is a statement commonly made by those of us who may well be getting on in years.  Older drivers will likely have more to consider when they come to buying themselves a new car.  The need for lots of power may not be such a deciding factor either, and comfort and safety might be the attributes you’d be needing instead.  It can also be a fun time buying the new car because you haven’t got all the family commitments to keep in the back of your mind, which would otherwise have swayed your choice of car in the past.

The list of new cars below has been put together with the ‘oldies’ in mind but it by no means is definitive.  It is nice to have a practical car which will take the grandkids out to the park or off to the zoo, but these cars also have comfort, reliability, decent space, good safety features, easy infotainment technology and good climate controls.  You’ll also find that the following cars are pretty economical and reasonably easy to get in and out of.

The Peugeot non-commercial range of cars are fine cars with style, comfort and practicality.  They offer five-star safety and good pricing.  Who says motoring has to be boring!

Peugeot 508 Wagon

Toyota’s Camry, Corolla, or RAV4 models are well-priced, safe, efficient and reliable.  Lexus models are premium Toyota cars with lavish comfort, excellent reliability, economy and safety.

The Subaru Impreza or Forester are a good go to car for practicality.  Maybe you have a dog or need comfort and AWD traction.  Their efficiency, safety and reliability have always been good.

Volvo’s new S60, XC60 or XC40 are sensationally comfortable, safe and lovely to drive.

Volvo XC40

Mercedes Benz B-Class range are a great package for comfort and practicality.  The style is hard to beat, and they also have the amazing big infotainment screens that wowed the world.

Honda Civic or Accord cars are hugely efficient, reliable and comfortable cars.

Citroen C3, C3 Aircross or C5 Aircross are remarkably comfortable, practical and look cool.

Hyundai Kona has electric power and comfort leading the way, with practicality to boot.

Jaguar’s XE is a lovely car with everything an ‘oldie’ could wish for.

Jaguar XE

Renault has the Captur model range that provides classy SUV looks, outstanding comfort and safety, practicality and nice solid driving dynamics.

Skoda’s entire range of cars are comfortable, well-priced and spacious.  Superb models are very stylish and they come in sedan and wagon.  There is a model for everyone.

Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail variants are very comfortable, safe and practical; they also offer one of the better SUVs in AWD form with decent go anywhere ability.

Nissan X-Trail

Kleva Kluger Is A Hefty Hybrid.

Toyota’s near twenty year old Kluger nameplate is joining the Toyota family of Hybrids. The big petrol powered machine, which has never had a diesel option, weighs in at a hefty two thousand kilos (dry) in its forthcoming Hybrid form. It will become the eighth Hybrid for the Japanese company.

The Kluger will come in 2WD or AWD petrol, or AWD Hybrid, and the Hybrid has the Toyota 2.5L petrol, whilst the Kluger stays with the familiar 3.5L V6 capacity in a new engine block. There willbe three trims levels, with the GX 2WD petrol starting from $47,650, the GXL 2WD petrol from $56,850, and Grande 2WD petrol from $68,900. Move to AWD and pricing runs at: GX AWD petrol from $51,650,
GXL AWD petrol from $60,850, and Grande AWD petrol from $72,900. The Hybrid range starts from $54,150 for the GX AWD hybrid, $63,350 for the GXL AWD hybrid, and $75,400 for the Grande AWD hybrid. Premium paint is a $675 option, with the Grande offering a rear seat entertainment system at $1,500.Sean Hanley, the Toyota Australia Vice President Sales and Marketing, said the addition of a hybrid option to one of Australia’s favourite family SUVs demonstrated Toyota’s commitment to driving sustainability forward. “The popularity of SUVs continues to grow and the new Kluger hybrid models mean that families can have all the space, comfort, refinement and versatility of a large SUV with a low environmental impact. In addition to that, the stylish new look, improved safety and high level of advanced technology makes the Kluger the perfect SUV for the modern family.Power comes from the 2.5L four and a pair of electric motors up front, backed by a single rear mounted engine. Toyota says the Hybrid’s combined power is 184kW, with the petrol engine contributing 142kW itself. Torque isn’t quoted for the Hybrid, however 242Nm is the 2.5L petrol engine’s figure and emissions of 128g/km. Jump to the 3.5L and 218kW is backed by 350Nm with drive being passed through a new eight speed auto.

The Hybrid has an electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT). The e-Four AWD system allows up to 100 per cent of drive to be sent through the front wheels or up to 80 per cent through the rear, depending on the conditions being driven in. This Dynamic Torque Control AWD system, which effectively disconnects the rear diff when AWD isn’t required, will be available in the GX and GXL. The Grande also receives a torque vectoring system, splitting torque to left or right as required. There will be three driving modes too, with Eco, Normal, and Sport offering a breadth of choice. Also included in the AWD models is a terrain adjustable program for Rock and Dirt, Mud and Sand soft-roading.Underneath the wheelhouse, the new Kluger is built on an updated chassis, called Toyota New Global Architecture or TNGA platform. The wheelbase is increased by 60mm longer wheelbase as is the overall length. It’s also somewhat broader than the current 2021 model for more interior room and stability on road. The suspension has been redesigned with multilink front and rear setups, with better overall ride quality, better handling, and better behaviour under braking conditions. Bigger discs at 340mm front and 338mm add their presence.

An exterior revamp sees a lessening of the heavily squared-jaw look, with slim LED headlights and taillights, with the front fenders rolling inwards slightly at the top for a visual weight reduction. There is a new line for the rear wheel arches, with a sinuous curve rolling up from the doors that reminds of the current IndyCar rear structure. Wheels themselves will be 18 inch alloys on the GX and GXL, and bespoke Chromtec 20 inch alloys for the Grande.The increase in space means increased comfort and Toyota adds in sliding and 60/40 split centre row seats, with the seven seater having 60/40 split fold also. Trim material finish has gone up a grade with soft touch dash materials, a higher quality cloth trim in the GX, and faux leather for the GXL. That grade also has gained heated front pews. GX and GXL have an 8.0 inch touchscreen, Android and Apple compatibility with DAB and Bluetooth, plus satnav for the GXL along with tri-zone climate control. Grande adds in a sunroof, HUD, and an 11 speaker audio system from JBL.

GX has dual zone, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers as standard. Five USB ports make for family friendly smart usage. The increased wheelbase adds up to increase the cargo and third row space as well. Also upped is safety, with Toyota’s Safety Sense gaining traffic sign recognition, intersection turn assist, and emergency steering assist across the three, backing up the already substantial safety package.

The current expected release date for Australia is June.

Overseas model shown, courtesy of Toyota

Australian Car Sales Continue The Upwards Swing.

VFACTS and the FCAI have released the sales figures for March of 2021 and it’s good news. March 2021 saw 100,005 units moved, an increase of 18,315 over March of 2020. In a year to date sales sense it’s 263,648, up from 233,361 for the same time last year.

SUV sales were up 32 per cent and Light Commercial vehicles were up by 28 per cent. Eight of the top ten selling vehicles for the month were SUVs or Light Commercials, driven by increasing demand from the Private buyers.

Category wise, the passenger segment went down from 21,783 to 21,360. The SUV figures were 51,705 compared to 39,162 in March 2020. LCVs were 23,255, up from 18,165 in March 2020.

In the Passenger car segment Hybrids saw a slight increase, with 2,658, up from 2,441 in March 2020. Hybrid SUVs also saw an increase, with 2,190 in March 2020 up to 3,890 this year. PHEV SUVs doubled from 119 to 258.

For the Light Cars (under $25K), MG’s MG3 took the crown, with 1,238, an increase of over 30%. Third place was a real battle with Suzuki Swift (471), Kia Rio (452), and Suzuki Baleno (432) making a good sales fight, whilst in between was the Toyota Yaris on 636.

Small Cars (under $40K) and Toyota’s Corolla was under pressure from Hyundai’s i30. The Corolla moved 2,892 against 2,514. Third was tight with the Mazda3 just pipping the Kia Cerato, with 1,577 to 1,453. In the plus $40K range it was a battle between the German duo of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The A-Class stole first on 358, just nudging the 1 Series on 340. The 2 Series Gran Coupe took third on 222.

For the Medium segment it was the Toyota Camry out in front in both the under and over $60K bracket. 852 units moved, ahead of the BMW 3 Series on 567, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class on 364. Camry, though, was down substantially from 2020, with 1,332 last year.

Kia’s Stinger continued to win the Large Sedan, with 173, down by just two from last year. Porsche’s new Taycan, a fully Electric Vehicle, entered with 161, six ahead of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Kia also outclassed the competition in the People Mover segment, with the Carnival reaching 616, up from 475 in March 2020. Honda’s Odyssey consolidates second with 162, up from 130.

Volkswagen snared third with its new Multivan for 121. In the over $60K segment it was Mercedes, Mercedes, and Toyota, with the V-Class (42), Valente (24) and Granvia (22), duking it out.

There’s been a change in the Sports car segment though. Ford’s Mustang still sold the most with 130 in the under $80K segment, however was outsold by the Mercedes-Benz in the over $80K by the C-Class Coupe and Convertible on 139. The 4 Series from BMW snared 110 for third in both segments.

Moving into the SUV segment and in the Light SUV category Mazda’s CX3 pummeled the opposition in the sub-$40K bracket with 1,744. Toyota’s Yaris Cross slid quickly into second on 846. For third it was another tight battle with Volkswagen’s T-Cross (655) edging out the Hyundai venue and Kia’s new Stonic on 636 and 624.

For the under $40K Small SUVs the Chinese made MG ZS stole the show on 1,510. Hyundai’s recently revamped Kona saw 1,462, just ahead of the Mazda CX-30 on 1,225. Nissan’s Qashqai was the only other entrant into the 1,000 club, squeaking in on 1,003.

Above $40K and Audi’s Q3 found 852 homes, ahead of the Volvo CX40 with 416. 279 and 249 went to Germany, with the X1 from BMW and GLA-Class from Mercedes. Mazda’s CX-5 gave the RAV4 a shake in the Medium sub-$60K, with Toyota selling 3,522 over the Mazda’s 3,022. Nissan’s X-Trail performed solidly for 1,932, just ahead of Subaru’s Forester with 1,439. Mitsubishi’s Outlander 1,085, just ahead of Honda’s CR-V on 972.

In the plus $60K bracket, only Mercedes cracked the 600 mark on 607 for the GLB. The GLC-Class wagon was a distant second with 374, with Audi Q5 on 336. The Lexus NX and BMW X5 went nose to nose on 295 and 291.

In the Large SUVs and under $70K it was Subaru’s outgoing and incoming Outback with 1,341, ahead of the 1,211 for Toyota’s Prado. 1,179 is the number for the Isuzu M-UX. Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport sold 886, whilst their ancient Pajero, due to be cancelled at the end of the year, sold 292.

Over $70K and it was the X5 on 309. Behind it was some close infighting with the Lexus RX (185), Range Rover Sport (181), and GLE-Class wagon (176) providing stiff competition for each other. Above that it’s a two horse race in the Upper large under $100K, with the LandCruiser and Patrol on 2,244 and 305, selling nearly eight times as many than the full field in the over $100K bracket.

In the ute segment, the 4×4 pickup and cab-chassis bracket had HiLux on 4,068 ahead of Ford Ranger with 3,710, continuing the Japanese brand’s number one position. Mitsubishi’s 4×4 Triton moved 2,223 for third. Isuzu’s D-Max was fourth on 1,338, ahead of the Mazda BT-50 and sibling under the skin, on 1,177.

Notable in those figures is the rise of the sharply priced Chinese built MG range, and the continued growth of non-PHEV Hybrids. Overall for March 2021, Toyota sold 21,319, with Mazda on 10,785. They were the only two brands to see double-digits for the month. Hyundai continues to outpace its Korean sibling, with 6,852 over 5,802. Mitsubishi moved 6,430 whilst Nissan sold 4,559, under the 5,977 of Ford. MG? 3,303 and ahead of Honda.