As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Driving in Australia

It’s School Time!

By now, all the schools around the country have re-started for the year, which means that a lot of us will have gone back to Mum’s Taxi and Dad’s Taxi duties again.  For some of you, your teenager has finally got their provisional license and can drive him/herself to school.

This means that there are going to be a lot more cars buzzing around schools, especially at the start and end of the school day.  Depending on where you live and what your school does, there may be school buses and shuttles involved as well.  In short, there’s a ton of traffic in a small area, and vehicle traffic isn’t the only sort around, as there will also be kids on bikes, kids on scooters and lots of kids walking.  In some cases, especially in rural and small-town schools, you can see other forms of transport being used – farm tractors, for example.

Nobody wants to make the news by being involved in a horrible accident involving school kids, so it’s probably about time that we thought about a few things we can do to make sure that our kids are safe as they go to and from school.

As a quick aside here, this is another area where autonomous cars are a real no-go.  Autonomous cars work by predicting what ought to happen or what is likely to happen.  Unfortunately, small children can be pretty unpredictable, especially when they’re all excited as they get out of school, and their erratic behaviour hasn’t been programmed into the control centre of an autonomous car.  So I’m thankful that the typical Aussie Mum and Dad still drive cars the old-school way!

First of all, although the designated school zones – the ones marked with flashy lights, road markings and signs – are the real hot spots, the activity around schools during the pick-up and drop-off times spreads further afield, so don’t just keep alert for kids in the actual areas. The precautions apply for at least a block further than that during busy times.

There are three general guiding principles that will help you negotiate this part of the school run safely:

  1. Slow down.
  2. Expect the unexpected.
  3. Don’t get in other people’s way.

Slowing Down

Slowing down to 40 km/h is the law in designated school zones, and failing to do so will (at least in New South Wales) get you double demerit points if the cops catch you at it.  The reason for this is simple: if you’re going slowly, you have more time to react and more time to stop when little Bella decides to rush across the road yelling “Mummy!  Mummy!  Guess what happened at school today!” or when the family dog who came along for the ride whizzes out of the car when little Charlie is putting his schoolbag in the boot.  What’s more, if the worst comes to the worst and an accident happens, lower speeds mean less damage.

I know we’ve discussed speed limits and whether or not speed is what kills in other posts, but nobody in their right mind should want to go at screaming high speeds around a school, even if their car is capable of it.  This is one place where the speed limits really do apply.  In fact, around the busy schools in my area, I’d actually prefer to go even slower than the 40 km/h limit during the active hours.  (The open road is another story.)

Expecting The Unexpected

Kids aren’t adults.  They are immature.  They are impulsive.  They are still learning that the world does not revolve around them (and some people seem to never learn this lesson!).  Some of them have been sitting down in school for the whole day and have serious ants in their pants.  This means that they can do some weird things and they can move quite fast.  We can drum the road safety message into them as much as possible, but there will be those moments when they forget it all and rush out into the road, or they’ll be so busy talking to friends that they don’t stop, look and listen.  This means that you, as the adult who’s got a driver’s license to prove that you’re responsible, have to be the one on high alert, ready for anything.  This means no phones, not even hands-free ones.  It probably means switch the radio off and get rid of anything else that could distract you.

You may need to be extra careful if your car is an electric vehicle or a hybrid (which will be using the electric motor at school zone speeds).  This is because a lot of EVs and hybrids are quieter than petrol and diesel engines, even if they have that little noise (which some older hybrids don’t have).  This means that the Listen part of the old Stop, Look and Listen is a bit harder.  Even adults can have near misses (that’s me with my hand up here) if they’ve looked one way, looked the other, thought it was clear and didn’t hear the oncoming hybrid/EV and started stepping out.

The flip side of this is that if you’re a parent, you should take a few steps to minimise the risk of your child running across the road.  This usually means parking on the same side of the road as the school, which is what the official advice says.  However, if everybody parks on the same side of the road as the school, the trail of parked cars will stretch well beyond the designated zone.  This might mean that your child will have to cross a road to get to where you’re parked.  It’s best if you get out of the car and walk to the school gate to collect Bella and Charlie (and the rest of the kids if you’re part of a carpool scheme).

You also need to make sure that you’re not the person doing unexpected things.  This means no U-turns, no sudden manoeuvres, no three-point turns, etc.  Plan your route so these aren’t necessary – and go around the block instead of doing U-turns, etc.  The only sudden manoeuvre you’re allowed to make is hitting the brakes if you see a child about to go where they shouldn’t.

Staying Out Of The Way

You can see some people doing silly things around schools, and I’m not talking about the children this time.  Yes, I know that you’re in a hurry.  I know that you think your child is amazing and you love him/her to bits.  I know that you’ve got to scream across town for soccer practice.  However, there is no excuse for parking in the school bus zone, double-parking or parking really, really close to the school crossing point.  It’s absolute chaos when every single Parent’s Taxi tries to park as close to the school gate as legally possible.

Congestion near schools during the busy times is a bit of a problem that councils and schools are trying hard to address because it can be chaos and an accident waiting to happen.  My preference (at least when my kids were still at school and didn’t drive themselves) was to park a bit further away, then walk that extra block or so.  After all, it won’t hurt you or your kids to walk a little!

In the case of picking up kids from secondary schools, you may have to park even further away, as a lot of the close parking spots are taken by the P-platers who drive themselves to school.  High school kids, however, are usually a bit more streetwise and are less likely to suddenly rush into the road without looking, although there are times when they’ve got their earbuds in or when they’re madly catching up on social media…

I’d also strongly argue for other initiatives as well as a way of reducing congestion around schools.  Setting up a carpool scheme with other parents who live near you is a popular option and it means that instead of four cars arriving with one child each, you get one car with four kids.  Walking school buses and “Kiss and Ride” drop-off spots are other options.  Of course, if you live within 2 km of the school, then walking to and from the school is an option (and it’s free!).  You’ll need to walk with your child until he/she is old enough to have the street smarts to do it solo – and this is usually the age when they are embarrassed to be seen with parents, so that works out well.

If you haven’t got school aged children and you’re not doing the Parent’s Taxi run, then it’s best to plan your journey so that you don’t have to drive near a school during the busy hours.  Go another way if you have to or make that trip at another time.

If we all do our bit, then our kids will stay safe as they go to and from school.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Lexus LC 500

This Car Review Is About:
The 2019 Lexus LC 500. It’s a big, luxury oriented, coupe with stand out styling, a brawny 5.0L V8, and a fair bit of heft. There’s heft to the price too: $189,629 plus on road costs as of February 2019.Under The Bonnet Is:
A V8 of five litres capacity. It’s the same one as found in the GS F, which produces 351kW and 530 Nm. Consumption on the combined cycle is rated as 11.6L/100km. There’s a ten speed auto that hooks up to the rear wheels via a Torsen limited slip diff, and if you’re a touch green around the gills, a hybrid version is available. Transmission changes are made via paddle shifts on the steering column, and the gear selector is atypical in that it’s a rocker movement towards the right, forward for reverse, back for Drive, and Park is a P button. Back to the left where M is listed gives Manual control.On The Inside Is:
A stupidly small amount of room. It’s a BIG looking car, with 4770mm overall length, a wheelbase of 2870mm, and 1630mm track. The driver sits just aft of the mid point and has plenty of leg room forward. So does the passenger. But it’s here that the good news ends. The rear seats are great for a suitcase or a bag or two of shopping. With the front seats in a suitable position up front, the gap between rear of seat and squab is minimal. Minimal. The up side is that the powered seats self adjust for fore & aft movement when the lever to flip them forward for rear seat access is pulled up.The seats themselves are low set, meaning anyone with muscle issues may struggle to lever themselves up and out. And with a low roof height, raising the seats may compromise the noggin of taller drivers.

Then there’s the passenger section. It’s quite aligned with a single seat fighter jet in concept, with a tub and grab handles on either side. Then there’s the dash. The passenger gets little to look at directly ahead apart from a sheet of faux carbon fibre style material, and Lexus have left the LC 500 with the multi-fold design. The air-con vents are squirreled away in a niche line with just a single vent in direct centre. Sometimes it felt as if the air flow isn’t happening.Up top and centre is the Lexus display screen. It’s wide, in full colour high definition, and operated via a track pad (no mouse) in the centre console. In full daylight it’s still clearly visible. Unfortunately, in a well meant effort to add extra visual splash, there is a aluminuim strip just below it and sitting on top of the centre airvent. It catches sunlight really well, and spreads it around the cabin really well. That includes straight back into the driver’s eyes.

Drive mode selectors have been relocated from here and are on dials on the left and right of the driver binnacle. The binnacle houses a full colour LCD screen that has a sliding circle that activates different looks to the screen. Yes, it might be somewhat gimmicky but it also allows a driver to choose some or all info at will. A super clear HUD is also fitted and again, it’s excellent in its instinctiveness.

The rear seat, what there is of it, is largely hampered by the exterior design. And there’s some interior fitment that is part of it. Lexus have moved the battery to under a boot floor cover to help with weight distribution. But the slope of the rear window line means head room is compromised, and the boot itself is two overnight bags in capacity.There is a very good range of interior trim colour combinations, with a total of eight coverings and shades available. They’re all a great place to sit and listen to the excellent Mark Levinson audio system which is DAB compatible, plus allows DVD playback. Speaker count? 13, sir.

The Outside Is:
Eyecatching. The low height, 1345mm from tyre bottom to carbon fibre roof top, makes the car look lithe, svelte, and a set of coke bottle hips add a measure of sensuality to the lines. A slim, broad, front houses a beautifully sculpted triangular design that has LED headlights, driving lights, and indicators in a vertical strip. Huge 21 inch polished alloys are clad in 245/45 rubber from Michelin, bookending that pinched in waist and airvents to reduce wheel well pressure.The boot really is tiny, at something like 195L of capacity. There also doesn’t appear to be an external button to open it either, with the key fob and interior tabs the seemingly only method. The bootlid also holds the wing, activated via a centre console mounted tab. Rear lights are wrapped in a chrome housing and their sharp edged look complements the nose. Exhaust pipes are buried in an elegant looking rear valance.The test car came in White Nova, a semi pearlescent shade. There are ten (yes, ten) other colours such as Zinnia Yellow and Garnet to choose from. All colours do a great job of highlighting the LC’s distinctive lines, and complement the somewhat restrained look the spindle grille has. Yes, you read that right. The grille is not the stand out part of the car’s look.

On The Road It’s:
Hobbled by its heft. Although looking like a relative lightweight, thanks to its low height and slim lines, there’s over 1900kg hiding under the skin. And with the engine producing peak torque at over 4000rpm, acceleration is quick, changes are quick, but everything feels dulled off slightly. It lacks the rawness, the sharpness, the knife edged attitude of the GS F, and in reality it’s more of a Grand Tourer in nature. It doesn’t provoke the same visceral response that the GS F provided. The Torsen differential is noticeable, too, in slow speed tight corners as found in Sydney’s north shore, and there’s a rear end skip on certain long sweepers that have road expansion joints built in, momentarily unsettling the LC’s broad rear end. Launch hard in a straight line and there’s a squirm from the rear as the meaty rubber grabs hold.Actual ride quality is tending towards the jiggly side when driving in the normal mode. Although there is an active suspension on board, it really doesn’t come into play until Sport/Sport+ is engaged. Suddenly the road feels smoother, handling sharpens up, and the engine note seems more brusque, with an added bite. And it is perhaps the engine that is, in an audible sense, the highlight of the whole package. Press the start button and there’s a quick whirr before a guttural growl comes from the pipes. It’s a higher pitch in tone compared to the more subterranean note from the GS F on idle, and there’s a real edge of anger to it when seriously under way. And thankfully there’s a real sense of the fire and brimstone being thrown around thanks to the snarl, and the crackle & pop of the engine on upshifts and backing off the throttle.The transmission is a gem however not always seamless in changes. When easing the LC around the exhaust note is comparatively subdued, but get in on the freeway and stand on the go pedal to fully appreciate the ferocity of the engine and sound. It does take some time, relatively speaking, for the urge the engine has to kick in, but when it does overtaking numbers are stellar. And so is the exhaust; it doesn’t caress the ears, it grabs them and pounds the angry notes down into them. That’s thanks to what Lexus call “sound control valves” that open and close on demand to offer the changing soundscape. That’s aided and abetted by an Active Noise Control system that cancels out extraneous noise, not unlike noise cancelling headphones.And The Safety Factor Is:
Naturally very, very high. The brakes, like the whole LC, don’t have the instantaneous response from breathing upon the pedal that the GS F has, but there’s no doubting the stopping power regardless. Six pistons up front and four at the rear haul up the LC confidently every time. Partnered with the full suite of active and passive safety systems, such as Lane Keep Assist, Radar Cruise Control, Autonomous Emergency Braking, and a pedestrian safety bonnet, it’s well up there on the safety ladder.The Warranty Is:
Four years or 100,000 kilometres, with the additional benefit of Lexus Drive Care. That covers items such as a up to $150 one way taxi fares, a courier service for small parcels, even personal and clothing costs up to $250. Contact Lexus for servicing costs, though.

At The End Of The Drive.
After an engaging week with the LC 500, we came away with the strong feeling that it’s a definite GT, a Grand Tourer. It’s a relaxed and comfortable highway & freeway machine, but suffers in comparison in tight inner city and suburbia. The aural appeal is huge on start up, but the limited room inside and in the boot really count it out of being anything other than a single or couple’s car. For a more multi-purpose and/or family oriented performance car from Lexus, the GS F fits the bill far better.

Get a start on comparing your desires for grand touring inside the 2019 Lexus LC 500 here.

 

 

A.N.C.A.P.

All new vehicles sold in Australia and surrounding areas MUST undergo testing to determine, in a level of stars up to five, how safe that car is. The higher the number and, ostensibly, the safer the car. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program is what is used and it’s a substantial overview of what makes a car tick the boxes safety wise.

From January 1 of 2018, ANCAP changed the parameters in what they were looking for in categories. There are four key areas: Adult Occupant Protection, Child Occupant Protection, Vulnerable Road User Protection, and Safety Assist.

First up is Adult Occupant Protection. ANCAP looks at the kind of protection, the kind of safety, offered to the most likely passengers in the front and second row seats of a car. They look at offset impacts, side impacts, whiplash injuries for front and second row, Autonomous Emergency Braking in a city setting, and rate the categories appropriately. Full width and frontal offset are the highest for adults, with a score of 8 being applied along with 8 for Side Impact and Pole (oblique). That last one is not uncommon, as it’s been found that drivers looking at an object in a crash situation have a higher tendency to impact that object.To achieve a five star rating for Adult Occupant Protection, the areas must achieve a total of 80% of the possible maximum score of 38. 80% is also the minimum requirement for the Child Occupant Protection, which has a maximum score of 49. There are just four margins here, Dynamic (Front) at 16 points, Dynamic (Side) with 8, 12 points for Child Restraint Installation, and 13 for On Board Features.

On the star rating, Adult Occupant and Child Occupant both have 80% to reach five stars. 70% is four stars, 60% for three stars, 50% for two stars, and 40% for just one star. Vulnerable Road User Protection and Safety Assist have 60% and 70% respectively.Vulnerable Road User Protection takes a look at Head Impact (24 points), with 6 points apiece for Upper Leg Impact, Lower Leg Impact, pedestrian related AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) and cyclist related AEB. The specifications here are about looking at frontal designs of vehicles; will it mitigate injury to a pedestrian and/or cyclist, and will it overall mitigate or avoid impact with pedestrians and/or cyclists?

The final sector, Safety Assist, measures the amount of safety features (the presence factor) and effectiveness of those systems. The current maximum score is 13, with 2020 moving that to 16. Speed Assistance Systems are rated to 3 points, Seat Belt reminders also rate as 3, and Lane Support Systems as 4. AEB in an inter-urban environment is current 3, with that increasing to 4 in 2020. A new category, Junction Assist, with two points, comes in next year.

A.N.C.A.P. themselves says:

In the real-world…

AEB systems use camera, radar and/or lidar technology to detect the speed and distance of objects in the vehicle’s path and automatically brake if the driver does not respond in order to avoid or minimise the severity of a crash.

At our test centre…

Over 100 different AEB test scenarios form part of our assessment with a vehicle’s ability to autonomously brake at lower city speeds (AEB City); at faster highway speeds (AEB Interurban); at stationery vehicle targets; at moving targets; and at braking targets all taken into consideration. Vulnerable road users are also considered, with collision avoidance testing undertaken to encourage and determine the effectiveness of more sophisticated AEB systems, detecting and preventing or minimising collisions with pedestrians and cyclists (AEB VRU) – at daytime and at night.

Autonomous emergencybraking diagram

Scores achieved in each physical and performance test feed into the respective area of assessment. The overall star rating of a vehicle is limited by its lowest performing area of assessment.

(With thanks to A.N.C.A.P.)

 

 

 

A Legend Returns: Toyota Supra Is Back.

One of the automotive world’s worst kept secrets was finally let into the public domain today. The Toyota Supra is back in the automotive spotlight and harks back to history with its classic straight six engine up front driving the rear wheels. Dubbed the GR Supra, it’s due to land in Australia in late 2019.The fifth generation platform packs a 250kW/500Nm, twin-scroll turbocharged, six cylinder engine of 3.0L capacity. Power hits the tarmac via Toyota’s eight speed automatic gearbox. Toyota’s Gazoo Racing section has been brought in to work on the cars which are all to be built in Graz, Austria. Testing was held at the Nürburgring Nordschleife and included a session with Toyota’s own president, Akio Toyoda. Launch Control sees a zero to one hundred time of 4.3 seconds.The driver can take control of gear changes using paddle shifts on the steering wheel and can select Normal or Sport driving modes to suit their preference and the conditions. The vehicle stability control has a special “track” setting that can be selected, reducing the level of system intervention so the driver has greater control of the vehicle’s dynamic performance.Design cues from Toyota’s heritage are evident in the sheetmetal. The S2000‘s long bonnet inside a compact body shape, with the distinctive “double bubble” roof is complemented by the fourth generation’s broad rear flanks and rear spoiler. Toyota’s penchant for pet names is here, with chief designer Nobuo Nakamura giving his team a simple brief around the concept of “Condensed Extreme“, ensuring they were free to express their vision of a pure and individual sports car in a truly original design.

There are three distinct elements to the GR Supra’s look: a short wheelbase, large wheels and wide stance; a taut, two-seat cabin; and a long bonnet with a compact body that reflects the drivetrain combination of in-line six engine and rear-wheel drive. All are embodied by the “Condensed Extreme” ethos. And although bigger than the two door 86 coupe, it’s a shorter wheelbase and rolls on bigger rubber.The driver and passenger are facing a distinctively designed cabin with a cockpit taking cues from a single seat race car. The seats themselves are race influenced, with thick bolsters for extra side support, holding the driver and passenger snugly. The dashboard is a low slung affair, allowing excellent forward vision, with the asymmetric centre console marking a clear division between the enveloping driver’s cockpit and the more open passenger side of the Toyota GR Supra’s cabin.Toyota’s engineering teams have worked to give the GR Supra a superlative ride and handling package. Structural rigidity is said to be higher than the Lexus LFA supercar, with a centre of gravity lower than the 86 and a 50:50 weight distribution, with the movement of the engine rearwards to achieve that figure, contributing to the end result.A newly designed suspension frame has a five-link rear end matched by a double-joint spring MacPherson front. Unsprung weight is helped by using aluminuim for the control arms and swivel bearings. Each corner has 19 inch forged alloys wrapping high-performance stoppers. Every Supra that will be sold in Australia will have an active differential for even better handling.

Pricing for Australia is yet to be confirmed. Contact your Toyota dealer for details of the forthcoming 2020 Toyota GR Supra.

The Fine Art of Waving

Well, I hope that 2019 has started well for you.  If you are reading this while still out on a road trip, good for you!

I also covered a few miles over the holiday season, driving to visit relatives as well as to get a bit of R & R.  While toddling around the place and occasionally zooming around the place, it came to my attention that when you’re driving in rural areas, it seems to be the done thing to wave to other drivers… but not if the traffic’s heavy.  There seems to be some sort of unwritten code about waving at other drivers.  Well, it’s about time that this code got written down!

The first rule seems to be that like waves to like.  You don’t see car drivers waving to truckers, truckers waving to motorcyclists or motorcyclists waving to car drivers.  However, truckers wave to truckers, car drivers to car drivers, and motorcyclists to other motorcyclists.  There are a few exceptions to this rule.  Small children riding as passengers are allowed to wave at anybody and should be waved back to because it’s a nice thing to do and provides a bit of a human connection during a long boring trip in the back of the car while visiting Grandma.  Truckers and motorcyclists are also allowed to wave back to children on the side of the road who wave to them.  The other exceptions to the “like waves to like” rule are (a) if someone has pulled over to let you pass or done something else nice and (b) if you recognize the other driver.  Actually, these last two exceptions always apply: one always acknowledges friends and extra courteous behaviour.

Waving is also only done to oncoming vehicles. You do not wave to vehicles that you’re overtaking or who are overtaking you.  You also do not wave to stationary vehicles or to vehicles in the lane beside you.  Only oncoming drivers count.

The next rule for waving as a car driver is that it only really takes place in rural areas and in places where the traffic isn’t heavy.  We don’t wave to each oncoming vehicle in the city – in the city, we tend to see other cars as impersonal things coming towards us as we travel along in our little metal bubbles.  In the country, however, another driver is another human in a large and mostly empty landscape.  If rural traffic is heavy for whatever reason – congested interstate highways and the roads leading to music festivals, for example – then waving is optional.

Thinking about this, it would be kind of fun to extend the “like waves to like” rule to city driving as well, just to add a bit more of a personal side to things. After all, driving is becoming more and more automated these days, and we spend so much time connecting with others via screens, so a bit more contact with real humans is always welcome.  However, you don’t want to spend half your driving time waving.  I therefore propose the following: in the city, you can wave to other cars with the same make, model and colour as yours.  Like calling “Snap!”  This kind of happens already in the case of classic cars and in the case of somewhat less common vehicles.  But let’s all give it a go!

In fact, Nissan had a campaign a few years back (in 2011, in fact) trying to come up with an official wave for drivers of the LEAF  hybrid to give other LEAF drivers.  A hunt through the Nissan Electric Facebook page  suggests that the results were inconclusive but at least they tried…  Maybe they tried too hard.

Let us now turn back to the typical wave from driver to driver on a rural road.  How does one do it?  Fully taking one hand off the wheel and sticking it out the window while waving frantically is only saved for when you see a friend driving the other way.  If you do it at a stranger, you’re a bit of a weirdo and you’ve transgressed the code of behaviour.

There seem to be different types of wave.  All of them are considered polite acknowledgements of fellow drivers and you are free to choose any style that suits you.  If you are particularly bored and want to keep the passengers amused, get them to keep a score and see which one is the most popular.

  • The nod: This is the most basic acknowledgement of the humanity of another driver. This is done by quickly bowing one’s head forward or in the direction of the other driver (i.e. on a slight diagonal).  Used by more introverted people, staunch silent types and those who like to have both hands on the wheel at all times.
  • The single finger: No, not THAT single finger salute! This is the polite version and is a bit more visible than the nod.  This involves straightening the index finger (pointer) of one hand or the other (usually the right hand – but I’m right-handed.  Do lefties raise the pointer of their left hands?).  All other fingers stay curled around the steering wheel.
  • The flap: This is an extension of the single finger wave. Instead of just one finger uncurling and leaving the wheel, all fingers plus the thumb open up while the heel of the hand rests on the steering wheel, giving the oncoming driver a brief flash of palm.
  • The full hand: The whole hand leaves the steering wheel and is raised no further than head height. The palm faces the oncoming driver.
  • The karate chop: Here, the hand leaves the wheel can be lifted as high as high as the head or even slightly above it, but only the side of the hand is presented to the oncoming driver rather than the palm.  It’s kind of like a sloppy military salute.

What about not waving?  Is this acceptable?  The code here states that if the other person doesn’t wave to you, you don’t have to wave back.  However, if someone waves to you, it’s polite to wave back.  If you fail to wave back, you will be judged, often according to what you drive.  If you are driving a new(ish) luxury model, you will be perceived as a stuck-up snob who sees themselves as better than anybody else on the road.  If you are in a muscle car, you’re considered a power-obsessed jerk who thinks they own the road.  If you’re in a battered old vehicle, you’re considered to be a bum and a lout with no manners.  If you own a small hatchback, you’re considered to be a selfish millennial/old fogy.  If you drive none of the above, you’re just considered to be rude.  Children (or possibly other passengers if you’re bored enough) are then permitted to poke out tongues or do other rude hand signs at the non-wavers, preferably once they’ve passed out of sight or just as you’re passing each other.

Have a great summer of driving and always be courteous. Including waving.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Kia Optima Si

Kia’s once large sedan contender has been overshadowed by the Stinger, itself an excellent and vastly underrated vehicle. The Optima, though, remains the hidden gem in the bigger sedan family and the updated 2019 Kia Optima Si still impresses. The test car provided comes at a cost of $33,390, paint at $595 for premium paint, making the test car $33,985 plus on-roads.Power comes courtesy of a naturally aspirated 2.4L four for the Si or a turbocharged 2.0L four for the GT. Peak power is 138kW at 6000rpm, with peak torque a reasonable 241Nm. That comes in at 4000rpm, with a steady curve to there from idle. Powering the front wheels via a six speed auto that’s been slightly recalibrated for 2019, Kia quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 8.3L/100km from the 70 litre tank inside the 1540kg (dry) Optima.Rubber is from Continental, with Kia specifying their ContiPremiumContact5 at 215/55/17. It’s a grippy choice, with the front driven Optima making good use of the tyre’s adhesion. During the week’s review period, Sydney had both summer and winter driving conditions. The Continental rubber powered through both with equal levels of confidence. They also coped with the Si’s propensity to torque steer, an unusual sensation in an age where that quirk of front-wheel-drive cars is almost non-existent.Suspension is the proven combination of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear. The suspension has been massaged for the 2019 Optima, with the dampers erring towards the sporting side, a choice that sporting drivers will enjoy. Others may find that a little too severe. Indeed, on Sydney’s mix of unsettled and undulating roads as opposed to the new and smooth tarmac found in roadworks, the Optima Si had no issue in equalising both into a comfortable and composed ride. The only time PF semi-wished for a softer setup was over the bedamned shopping centre and local residence speed restrictors.The setup provides a nimble and communicative chassis. Steering input is received and processed quickly, with rapid changes of direction. Body roll is minimal, and the overall feel of the body is one of connection, not isolation from the road and its varying conditions. The steering is also relatively free from bump-steer.

Overall drive response is perhaps also not for those that aren’t of a sporting bent. The throttle response is virtually instant, with a “light-switch” feel. Tap the accelerator pedal and the engine engages instantly; go off, and it responds by damping down the revs quickly. It does take a bit of practice to get the smooth and progressive acceleration less responsive systems have. It’s a free revving engine, too, eagerly spinning around and bringing with it a steady rate of urge. It’s a tad buzzy past 4000rpm but that’s a rarity in seeing those numbers in normal driving. The transmission is a simply gorgeous piece of engineering, with invisible, seamless, changes. There’s no real sense of transition between ratios at all, with zero forward and back bodily movement as the cogs swap quietly and efficiently.Kia’s efficiency in packaging is in abundance in the Optima Si. Inside the 4855mm overall length, (yep, just 8.4 centimetres shorter than a VF Commodore) is a 2805mm wheelbase. That’s just eleven centimetres shorter than the Commodore’s. This equates to ample leg room front and rear, a luggage space of 450L (SAE measurement, 510L VDA, and complete with full sized spare), and 1475mm shoulder room up front. Rear seat passengers have 1432mm shoulder room and 904mm leg room.The Si has manually adjusted seats up front, with the driver getting a two position lumbar support seat. Cloth is the material of choice all round in the Si and all seats are comfortable enough to have passengers egress after a long drive feeling fine. Kia’s worked hard to make sure the cabin is a good place to be, and the quality of the fit and finish is testament to this. The trim is black, with a leather look texture, and there are subdued uses of an alloy hued plastic. The Optima has the almost standard arch sweep at the upper edge of the dash., joining in one fluid line both sides of the cabin.Switch-gear is typically clinical Kia in layout and look. The touchscreen in the Si is a seven inch unit, the GT gets an eight inch setup. Audio is AM/FM only with no DAB tuner fitted to both. The Si also misses out on satnav. However there is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with voice recognition, backed by Bluetooth streaming and the usual USB/Aux inputs. There are four cup holders and four bottle holders, map pockets, and back of seat pockets. Rear seat passengers also have a pair of charging sockets and air vents.The exterior received a mild refresh in 2018. The Schreyer grille now has an almost Maserati look to it, and the lower front bumper has been reprofiled with the lower intake now more angled in towards the corners towards deep-set cornering lights. The familiar angled headlights retain their LED driving lights and commence a long, sweeping, line to join the rear non-LED lights in the Si. The GT has LEDs here. The profile is a handsome coupe style and the test car came clad in Temptation Red.Safety is naturally of a high level with a five star rating. Lane Keep Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking are standard, with the Si not receiving Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Dusk sensing headlights are standard, as are a pair of ISOFIX seat mounts. There are six airbags and the usual mandated safety equipment levels. Parking sensors front and rear take the edge off any parking problems in those tight shopping centre carparks.The seven year warranty is standard and Kia has a seven year fixed price servicing structure, with 15,000 kilometre or one year intervals. Year one/15,000 kilometres comes in at $289, with year four the most expensive at $559.

At The End Of The Drive.
The 2019 Kia Optima Si slides unhappily, it seems, into that niche of very good cars that are largely ignored by the buying public. Sedans on the whole are a class of car that were once loved but now sit, licking their wounds from an SUV mauling, in the shadows. The Optima itself, a handsome looker, a good drive, and well equipped, suffers from a number of factors in not having the sizeable presence it once had.

Head to the Kia website for more info.

The Right Car For Your Dog Part 2

OK, in my previous post on this topic, I covered the legal stuff to do with taking dogs in cars.  Now we get to the fun bit: what sort of vehicle suits your furry friend.  Or friends, as the case may be.

When I first started thinking about matching dogs to cars, I just about wrote sedans (saloons) off from the start.  After all, you don’t really want a dog on the back seat standing up where it can snuffle down the back of your neck while you’re driving.  Nor do you want to have scratchy doggy paws on lovely Nappa leather seats, because that would wreck them (the seat upholstery, I mean, not the paws!).  However, I remember taking the Staffordshire Bull Terrier we used to have (RIP, old fellow!) in a sedan without any trouble.  He was quite happy curling up in the footwell for most trips and didn’t try to sit on people’s laps (unlike the current bitzer).  During longer trips, we also put him in one of those doggy carrying crates that sat nicely between my two children in the back seat of the sedan we had back then (probably a Ford Fairmont), which had the added advantage of stopping them hitting each other during long trips.  What’s more, if you do have a sedan with leather seats in your possession already when you acquire a new puppy, there’s no need to sell the car – you can put down a nice blanket or doggy bed for Fido to occupy during the trip.

If you do decide that a sedan is the best for you, then I really do recommend one of those doggy carrying crates.  They do stop your dog deciding to stretch his or her legs by bouncing all around the place inside the cabin on a long journey, and you can fit a snack for your dog in there.  They’re also easier to clean in the case of little accidents – meaning accidents of the canine kind, not car accidents.

It’s obvious where the dog will ride if you have a hatchback, station wagon, 4×4 or ute. But it’s not quite as simple as that.  There is a certain style that one has to consider and it’s nice if you can find a harmonious match between the dog(s) and the vehicle.  You don’t see poodles or Chihuahuas standing on the deck of a ute (safely leashed, of course), bouncing up and down and yapping squeaky yaps at everybody going past.  Jack Russell terriers and fox terriers maybe.  But not poodles or Chihuahuas – or anything else small and fluffy (e.g. Bichons) or super-glamorous (Afghan hounds). The sort of dog that looks right on the back of a Toyota Hilux  or a Nissan Navara  is something rugged and tough and suggestive of the great outdoors – a farm dog (which aren’t an official Kennel Club breed but we all know what they look like) or a Dobermann or even a Labrador.  Conversely, although a Great Dane might fit in the back of a little hatchback – if the back seats are folded flat – this is going to be just too much dog in one car.  Besides, where are you going to put any passengers or your shopping where they won’t get slobbered on?

To give you an idea of how this works, here’s a list of the 10 most popular breeds in Australia (2017 statistics – the figures aren’t out for 2018 yet) matched the most appropriate general vehicle type:

Labrador Retriever:  Your Labs are medium-large dogs and although they can fit in the back of a hatchback or across the back seat, they look best in something larger.  It’s a cliché, but the suburban family SUV or MPV is a good match for the suburban family pooch.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier: A smaller dog that fits cosily into the back of even a 3-door hatch but doesn’t look weird tied on the deck of a ute, so a Staffie suits all vehicle types. However, as a short-coated dog that’s a big softy in spite of the tough looks, a Staffie would prefer to be inside the vehicle on a rainy day.  A hatchback suits a Staffie just fine.

French Bulldog:  Compact, French and a little bit quirky.  I have just described one of the smaller Peugeots but it applies to the dog as well.  A match made in… France.

German Shepherd: A big tough dog that is probably just about smart enough to drive the car.  Something with lots of space would do the job – maybe a nice long station wagon or a 4×4.  Put a German Shepherd in the back of a white Commodore or Falcon and you might get mistaken for a K-9 cop.

Border Collie:  Working collies go on the back of grubby farm utes.  Show-type border collies are better suited to something classy with a hint of the outdoors – say, a Range Rover.

Golden Retriever: See Labrador.  However, as this has longer hair, best to keep it out of the back seat of the MPV or any humans who later ride in these seats will be forever trying to get the dog hairs out of their clothes.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Another breed that looks loopy on the back of a ute and is so small that it will get lost in the interior of a big 4×4.  They love to snuggle up, so if the little hatchback is too small for you, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (big name for little dog) will be happy in a basket in a sedan.

American Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Amstaff): Like the regular Staffie but bigger, like all things American.  A muscle dog like the Amstaff looks best in a muscle car like your HSV or FPV.

Miniature Schnauzer:  A toy dog with a bit more fizz to it than a Cavalier etc., so not the sedan this time.  Go for the hatchback of any type or the station wagon.

Rottweiler: Go big.  This breed can cause serious damage to a little hatchback if it decides to jump onto the bonnet.  A station wagon at the very least; a 4×4 is even better but your Rotty will settle for an SUV.  Rotties were originally bred for pulling carts as well as herding cattle, so make sure your SUV has enough towing power that it can pull more than the dog.

The Right Car For Your Dog Part One: The Legal Bits

Come on, fellow pet owners: admit it.  You’ve sometimes considered the needs of your furry friends (who you might refer to as your fur-kids) when purchasing a car.  I’ve done it myself.  I’ve said no to some lovely little numbers in the past simple because they weren’t compatible with our doggo.  I haven’t gone so far as to sell a vehicle I already owned because it wasn’t dog-friendly – although I did do this for my children.

OK, now we’ve got that out in the open, so let’s talk about it.  There you are: the time has come for a new set of wheels for whatever reason and you’re looking for a new car.  You want to make sure that all of the family is happy, and this includes the four-legged members of the family.  Meaning the dog, that is.  Cats don’t always take too well to riding in cars – some do and some don’t, but dogs usually enjoy riding in cars.  So what do you have to think of when choosing a car that’s compatible with your dog?

First of all, you have to keep the legal stuff in mind.  Fortunately, the laws for travelling with dogs are a lot less stringent than the laws about children in cars.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s illegal to drive with a dog sitting on your lap. Obvious in the case of a St Bernard or a Newfoundland that might weigh more than you do but it also applies to Chihuahuas.
  • A dog (or any other animal!) has to be in an appropriate area of the car where your pet can’t interfere with the driver. This means that the driver’s footwell is out of the question Small dogs probably also shouldn’t sit on the bit behind the back seats in a sedan where they block the rear view mirror.  It’s best if your dog is restrained but this isn’t a legal requirement – yet!
  • Your dog probably shouldn’t be in the front passenger seat. The only possible exception would be a poodle or other teeny dog in a handbag.  Anything larger could easily become a nuisance to the driver, either by whacking you with a wagging tail or putting a nose (or paw) onto the controls.  A big dog will get in the way and a small dog would be badly hurt or even killed by an airbag going off in an emergency situation.  If you feel you absolutely have to have your dog in the front passenger seat (e.g. in a single-cab ute on a nasty cold rainy day) then use one of those doggy seatbelts or Doggo will try to get all over you.  Or at least my dog would.
  • If your dog is on the back of a ute deck without a canopy, it has to be restrained so it can’t jump or fall off (or lunge at passers-by when the ute’s parked).
  • Don’t leave your dog in the car – your dog can’t stay cool enough and can overheat very, very easily, which constitutes animal cruelty.

While we’re on the topic of dogs in cars, there are two things more that you need to know.  First, opening the window a weeny bit doesn’t do much to cool down the air temperature in the car, and it’s cool air that your dog needs to stay at the right temperature.  Leaving the A/C on or parking in the shade does something but not much.  And giving the dog water does nothing because the water heats up inside the car as well.  The only time that you’re probably OK to leave a dog in a car is if it’s a nasty cold rainy day, preferably during winter.  Second, breaking into a car to rescue a dog that you think is suffering inside a vehicle is considered vandalism, breaking and entering.  What’s more, if the dog in question isn’t suffering from heat exhaustion – for example, if it is a chilly day – the dog will see “strange person aggressively breaking into my property” and will react accordingly.  Dear well-meaning person who tried to break into my brother’s Subaru  (which was parked in the shade with the windows half open during winter) to “save” the pair of pitbulls sleeping on the back seat, you were flipping lucky that said pitbulls were a soppy pair of wimps and not at all like the stereotype pitbulls.

The answer to the question as to what to do with your dog when you’re out and about and need to nip into a shop where you can’t take the dog?  Step One is to leave the dog at home but this isn’t always feasible.  When I took my dog to the vet and I needed to pick up some bread from the supermarket practically next door, I did not drive home, drop off Doggo then go back to the supermarket!  Step Two (which is what I did) is to have the right sort of car: either a ute where you can open the back door of the canopy, which does allow enough air to circulate, or something with nice handy spokes on the alloy wheels or else a towbar so you can tie the dog up outside the car.  Step Three is to look for an alternative to tie your dog to.  If you’re lucky, your local shops have a spot where you can “park your dog” outside.  Failing that, a parking meter will do and it will keep your dog entertained with the doggy equivalent of social media at the same time.

OK, but what sort of car do you need for when you’re travelling from A to B with Doggo beside you for company?  The breed of car will depend on the breed of dog – and that deserves a post of its own, so I’ll cover it in Part 2.

BabyDrive: Everything You Wanted To Know About Kids In Cars In One Handy Place

If you’re about to become a parent for the first time – or if you’re revisiting parenthood after a long break (it happens) – then you might be wondering what sort of car is right for your new family.  It’s not a stupid question.  Once upon a time, it might have been all right to sling the carry cot across the back seat and make the older siblings share a seatbelt and/or ride in the boot, but you’d get in major trouble if you tried that today.  They’re serious about car seats for children these days and the law says that children under the age of seven can’t wear an adult seatbelt – and even then, this depends on their size and height and some children may need a booster seat until they’re 12 or so.  (As an aside, I’m kind of glad that they didn’t specify a particular height or weight for using a booster seat – some petite adult women, such as my 18-year-old daughter, may not meet these and who wants to sit their license while sitting in a booster seat?).

Anyway, if you’re a parent-to-be, you mind may be buzzing with questions about what sort of car you need to get.  And if it isn’t, it should be!  A lot of first-time parents fall into the trap of putting a lot of thought and care into the birth plan and how they want the birth of their new baby to go.  While this is all very well, what they don’t tell you (and what I wish I had known all those years ago) is that labour and birth only last (at most) one day.  All the other bits about parenthood and life with a small child go on for months – years!  So if you haven’t started thinking about what sort of car you need as a new parent, it’s time to give it some thought.

There are a lot of things to consider and it’s easy to make a mistake.  Let’s just say that there’s a possibility that you may have to put that little sporty roadster on hold for a bit and buy something more family-friendly.  Been there, done that.  We said goodbye to our old Morris (which would be an absolute classic and worth a mint today if we’d hung onto it) because the pushchair wouldn’t fit in the boot and got a Toyota sedan – which was then traded in when Child #2 came along because there was no way that anybody could sit in the front seat when there were two car seats in the back – and no room between said seats either!  I’ve been watching my brother and his wife start to go through the same series of problems.

Imagine that you could find someone who could give you all the advice you need – kind of like a motor-savvy big sister who can answer all those very practical questions even better than we can here at Private Fleet (although we try our best!).  For example, if you’re expecting Child #3 and the eldest is still of an age to need a booster seat, or if you’ve got twins or triplets on the way, are there any cars out there that can fit three car seats across the back?  Which cars provide enough leg room in the rear seats so that bored toddlers don’t try whiling away the time stuck in traffic kicking the driver in the kidneys?  How do you know if the stroller will fit in the boot?

Well, this sort of big sisterly advice is exactly what you’ll get from a great new site that’s linked with Private Fleet called BabyDrive (yes, this is a shameless plug for the site but no, I did not write it, although I wish I had, and I wish Tace the reviewer lived a bit closer than Queensland because she’d probably be my new BFF).  This is a great site that has all the answers you need to do with choosing a new vehicle that will suit your new family – yes, it even tells you which vehicles can fit five car seats comfortably and which MPVs have the easiest access to the third row of seats.  It’s the sort of thing I wish that I had on hand when I was a new parent – and I’d certainly recommend it to any parent-to-be looking for a new family vehicle.  Like we do, BabyDrive reviews vehicles, but unlike us, they do it all from a parenting perspective.  You won’t find the hot little roadsters reviewed here and the car reviews don’t cover torque or fuel economy stats much.  However, each car is rated for driver comfort (you’ve got to love a review that tells you whether the headrest position works well with the typical ponytail hairstyle adopted by mums on the go!), carseat capacity, storage, safety and noise.  The reviews include some descriptions of driving as a new mother that will give you a rueful chuckle or two – even if you, like me, have your baby days well behind you.  It’s the sort of review that we couldn’t do here on Private Fleet unless I kidnapped my baby nephew.  We’ll tell you the other bits and pieces – as well as helping you score a great deal on pricing (another thing that’s appreciated by not just new parents!).  The reviews feature a video segment as well as a written review – great for those who are more visually oriented.

The noise review is particularly useful, especially given the tendency these days for cars to produce all kinds of beeps as warnings.  If you don’t know about the old parenting trick of going for a wee drive to help soothe a fretful child off to sleep, you know it now!  However, all the good soothing work of a nicely purring motor and the gentle motion of a car on the go can be undone by some wretched lane departure warning shrieking or a parking sensor bleeping, waking your baby up just as you get home.

And yes, you will find some hatchbacks reviewed on BabyDrive!  Of course, the big SUVs, MPVs and 4x4s feature heavily (and, as an extra piece of advice from a more experienced parent, these will stand you in good stead once your kids hit the school and teen years, and you have to take your turn doing the carpool run, or if you are ferrying a posse of teens to the movies or a sports match).  However, if it’s not a “BabyDrive” (i.e. something suitable for small children), then it won’t feature!

Check it out yourself at BabyDrive.com.au.

Fossil Fuel, EVs or Bio Fuels?

Fossil Fuels

Is petroleum diesel still a fuel that is going to be around to power our cars in the future?  On the surface, it might look like the era of the diesel engine might be drawing to a close, especially when we hear that some manufacturers are pulling the pin on building new diesel engines.  The truth is that non-renewable resources, which include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, petroleum and natural gas, are all finite in their quantity available in nature for the future.  Diesel fuel is a petroleum product, and so is considered to be a finite non-renewable resource.  Certainly it would seem that petroleum-based diesel has a limited window of opportunity for powering motor vehicles around the globe.  But is this actually the case?

Added to the seemingly limited supply of our fossil fuels, we also hear that some car manufacturers are deciding to avoid building new diesel engines all together.  Volvo was one of the first to announce boldly that by 2019 there would be no more diesel powered Volvo cars and SUVs in their line-up.  Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions cheating scandal has meant that they have decided to stop selling diesel models, as well.  Volkswagen Group is pretty big when you consider that VW, Audi and Porsche are all under the same banner.

Because our global economy relies on so many diesel engines for performing many mechanical tasks we can’t drive the world’s diesel fleet over the cliff and forget about them just yet.  The reality is that even America’s economy would grind to a halt immediately if they decided to go without diesel power overnight.  Diesel engines are used in so many commercial applications – trucking, construction, shipping, farming, buses and much, much more.  Diesel motors are still far more energy frugal (assuming proper and legal emissions treatment is followed) compared with gasoline equivalents.  For any sort of heavy-duty transportation work or for towing purposes, the low-end torque of a diesel engine simply cannot be matched by gasoline motors which have to be worked much harder for the same amount of work – and therefore pump out more emissions.

EVs

EVs are getting plenty of press at the moment, but in reality they have a very long way to go before they can truly be considered as a true logistical alternative to the diesel motor.  There just simply isn’t the network in place to produce so many EVs nor power so many EVs for our global economy to continue growing at the pace it is.

Biofuels

What I haven’t heard so much of lately is the advancements made in biofuels.  Biofuels seem to me to be the much more sensible replacement option for petroleum diesel, as biodiesel fuels are a renewable resource.  Biofuels are derived from biological materials such as food crops, crop residues, forest residues, animal wastes, and landfills.  Major biofuels are biodiesel, ethanol, and methane; and biofuels, by their very nature, are renewable over a period of less than one year for those based on crop rotation, crop residues, and animal wastes or about 35 years for those based on forest residues.

Emissions from burning biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine have significantly lower levels of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulphur oxides, odour, and noxious “smoke” compared to emissions from the conventional petroleum diesel motor that we are more familiar with.  Also, carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of biodiesel are reduced by about 10% when compared to petroleum diesel, but there is a more significant carbon dioxide benefit with biodiesel made from plant oils.  During the photosynthesis process, as the plants are growing and developing, carbon dioxide is drawn from the environment into the plant, while the plants release beneficial oxygen into the environment.

How are EV batteries made?  Are they as clean as renewable biofuels?  If EVs are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, the climate benefits are limited.  Because of the complex batteries that EVs use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one.  While fewer emissions are produced by the cars themselves while driving on the streets, CO2 is still being emitted by power plants needed to charge the EVs.  And, disposing of those complex EV batteries creates an environmental hazard in itself.  EV batteries also need to be made from non-renewable minerals such as copper and cobalt, and rare earths like neodymium.

Some other negatives for EVs are that the mining activities for the minerals in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation which include: deforestation, polluted rivers and contaminated soil.  Not so great!  And, in addition, many automakers use aluminium to build the bodies of EVs, and a tremendous amount of energy is required to process bauxite ore into the lightweight metal.

Trucks, ships and tractors still think diesel power rules!  Even though some car manufacturers have abandoned petroleum diesel fuelled cars, there are other automotive manufacturers that have actually ramped up their diesel vehicle production.  General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Mazda, Kia, Jeep, Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet are all manufacturing plenty of new diesel motors.

Hmmm?!  Biofuels then?