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Car Of The Year Awards Surprise From News Corp.

As we head towards the end of 2017 the awards season for cars gets under way and some of Australia’s biggest media groups roll out their list of contenders for the gongs in various categories. News Corporation, the company behind CarsGuide, has released their list of finalists for their COTY awards and there’s no surprises in that the two Korean brands feature two of the more newsworthy cars of recent weeks. It’s no surprise that no Australian built cars feature but it is a surprise that there’s just two European brands in the mix…bear in mind that this is the view of this news group and it’s worth looking out for the lists from the other news groups.From Korea comes the monster killing Hyundai i30 with the comments of: Loads of standard equipment, confident roadholding and a five-year warranty. There’s also the Kia Picanto, the good looking small hatch with: value-for-money hatchback that’s well equipped and suited to city living. Kia also lobs out the polarising (to Holden and Ford fans) Stinger: Old-school, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan with room for five and a twin-turbo V6.

Audi is one of the two European entries, with News Corp choosing the new Q5: German precision engineering matched to a frugal diesel engine and cutting edge safety. Japan is the country of  origin for the rest of the finalists and it’s an eclectic mix, starting with Suzuki‘s Swift, a fun and funky and frugal little car with New Corp saying: Fun to drive turbo three-cylinder with strong safety package. Next up is Subaru‘s resurgent Impreza, recently tested by Private Fleet’s Dave: Quality cabin and crash-avoidance tech usually reserved for luxury cars.The Japanese onslaught continues with Honda‘s completely revamped Integra range including the fire snorting Type R: Explosive hot hatch with in-your-face styling and a punchy turbo engine. Mazda is in there as well with their mid range CX5: Well priced, stylish cabin design and surprisingly agile for a softroader. Honda throws in another SUV with the CR-V: Spacious, versatile interior, quality finishes and hi-tech feel. Skoda‘s brilliant new Kodiaq is the other European sourced finalist with: clever touches in the cabin, zippy turbo engine and a generous warranty.

The final word goes to Richard Blackburn, motoring editor: “Every year, it’s getting more difficult to separate the best from the rest. Brands that buyers once turned their backs on are now every bit as good as the established players, while safety technology usually reserved for expensive luxury cars is increasingly available on cheap hatchbacks.”

 

Car Review: 2018 Holden Astra LS/LT/LT-Z Sedan

It’s back to the future for Holden as the Astra nameplate on a sedan resurfaces with the sedans developed in Europe and built in Korea. The name replaces the Cruze, itself a resurrection of a previously used nomenclature. We’ve had the European sourced Astra hatch for a while and there’s also a new wagon version on the way. Private Fleet spends time with the mid-spec LT, top spec LT-Z, and entry level LS (there’s also a LS+), all fitted with the same engine and transmission combination.Up front, and the sole choice for a powerplant in the Astra sedan, is a 1.4L petrol engine, complete with turbo and good for 110 kilowatts. There’s 240 torques available between 2000 to 4000 rpm, with an extra five if you go for the six speed manual which is available in the LS only. Recommended go-go juice for the 52 litre tank is 91RON, of which it’ll drink at over eight litres per one hundred kilometres in an urban environment. On the freeway AWT saw a best of 6.3 in the LS and 7.1L/100 km in the LT-Z. Holden’s Astra sedan brochure doesn’t appear to specify weight, however elsewhere it’s quoted as being just under 1300 kilograms.The engine itself is a willing revver, especially so when the torque is on tap…for the most part. What was noticeable was the lag between a hard prod of the go-pedal, the change down a cog or two, and the resulting leap forward. In tighter Sydney traffic when a quick response was needed in changing lanes, that hesitation could potentially result in a safe move not being as safe as it should be. Also, in the LS, a noticeable whine, an unusual note at that, was audible and not found in the LT or LT-Z. Otherwise, once warmed up, the six speed auto had invisible gear changes up and down on a flat road, and downshifted nicely, holding gears, on the bigger downward slopes out west.It’s a trim, lithe, almost handsome car to look at though. It’s a longish 4665 mm in length and hides a boot of good depth and breadth at 465 litres. The rear deck lid does have old school hinges that swing down into the boot space though. The boot on the LT and LT-Z gain a small, discreet, lip spoiler as well. It’s also broad, with over 1800 mm in total width, and stands 1457 mm tall. What this gives you is 1003 mm front headroom, 1068 mm legroom, 1394 mm shoulder room, and in the rear 1350 mm shoulder room. 939 mm and 951 mm are the numbers in the rear for leg and head room.Up front, the three are virtually identical, bar chrome strips in the lower corners of the front bar for the LT/LT-Z. The headlights are LED DRL backed from the LS+ upwards and provide quite a decent spread of light. The headlight surrounds themselves gleam in the sunlight and add a solid measure of presence to the look. Wheels wise they’re all alloys, with a 16/17/18 inch and appropriate tyre size to match. There’s 205/55/16, 225/45/17, and 225/40/18s. And each of these contribute to the ride quality to the differing models…The LS is undoubtably the most plush, soft, of the three, but by no means does it lack grip when pushed. The rubber on the LS is from Hankook, the LT and LT-Z have Kumho Ecsta. Both brands provide more than enough grip and even occasionally chirp when when hard acceleration is given and both brands do provide a rumble, a somewhat intrusive rumble, on the coarser chip tarmac in Sydney. The LT and LT-Z also benefit from the fettling the Australia engineers have given, with a firmer and more sporting ride, less rebound but a small measure of more harshness.All three are brilliant freeway cruisers but it’s around town that the suspension tune really shines. In the varied road conditions that Sydney throws up, from table flat to mildly pockmarked to rutted and broken tarmac, all three dealt with them adroitly and with the words “sure footed” writ large. Only occasionally would the LT-Z, with the stiffest feel, skip and that was more so on the more ragged undulations that some corners have. There’s plenty of conversation from the steering wheel vinyl in the LS, leather in the LT/LT-Z), with an almost tactile amount of constant feedback through to the driver.Speaking of steering, the design of the wheel itself has your hands feeling as if they’re sitting between ten & two and eleven & one. The horizontal spokes sit just that little too high for a totally comfortable feel. You’ll also dip out on electric seats, even in the LT-Z, however there is more manual adjustment than in the LS. Across the range you’ll get auto headlights (which have an overly sensitive sensor), parking sensors, reverse camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a seven inch and eight inch touchscreen for LS and the LT models.

Digital radio is also on board the LT and LT-Z to take advantage of the quite decent speakers on board. Also available in the LT and LT-Z are parking assist and with front parking sensors, Blind Spot Alert, auto headlights with tunnel detection, whilst the LS+ joins the party with Lane Keep Assist, following distance indicator, and Forward Collision Alert. However, window wise, only the LT-Z gets auto up and down for the driver’s window.Trim wise it’s cloth seats or machine made leather, soft-ish touch plastic on the dash, a grey coloured surround for the touchscreen and a frankly boring look for that in the LS, versus a higher sense of appeal and presence in the LT/LT-Z with chrome and piano black. Aircon in the LS is dialled in whereas the others get dials but with LEDs in the centre to show temperature and add more visual pizzaz. There’s a colour info screen in the LT and LT-Z’s driver binnacle which mirrors that seen in the touchscreen. Both look fantastic and appeal greatly. The LS? Standard monochrome. There’s clearly a high level of quality in the build being based on a Korean sourced sedan, but inside the Astra sedan does lack visual appeal, even though it’s not a physically unpleasant place to be.At The End Of The Drive.
At the time of writing, just a few days before Holden ceases manufacturing, the company had announced a seven year warranty being made available for the Astra range. However, there are terms and conditions so please speak to your local Holden dealership. Also, again at the time of writing (October 2017), the LS Astra sedan was being offered from $20990 driveaway if you choose the manual. Pick the self shifter it’s from $21990. The LS+ auto is from $23490 with the LT and LT-Z from $26290 and $30290 respectively. Again, please check with your local dealer. Those prices include stamp duty, 12 months rego and compulsory third party insurance, by the way.

All three (of the four trim levels available) cars tested did not disappoint; the LT-Z for me would be the pick, if only for the more sporting feel of the ride, the higher trim level and the fact that DAB is included, as it is below this model. But as a model range intended to effectively assist in kickstarting the importation model for Holden from October 2017 onwards, it’s somehow slipped under the radar. And that, so far, is a shame because it’s a very capable vehicle and more than worthy of continuing the legacy of the Holden Astra name.
Here’s where to go for inforamtion: 2018 Holden Astra range

Holden On For The Future: Commodore VXR.

We’re not far from seeing the cessation of automotive manufacturing here in Australia, with Holden, Toyota, and HSV due to wrap up before the end of 2017. Holden will move to fully sourcing cars from Europe and with the sale of Opel to PSA Group, owner of Peugeot and Citroen, have a potentially larger portfolio to choose from. In the interim, however, Holden has provided details of the forthcoming Commodore and that’s a decision that’s divided Holden fans. That decision is to have kept the nameplate of Commodore and not move to something else.
Gone is the SS nameplate and replacing it is VXR. Here are the details.It packs a 3.6-litre V6 engine pumping out 235W and 381Nm, is paired with a 9-speed transmission and adaptive all-wheel drive system boasting torque vectoring technology and a twin-clutch rear differential. Combined with the selectable drive modes, the all-new Commodore VXR blends power with control for ultimate driver engagement. Differentiating the VXR as the jewel in the next-generation Commodore crown, the range-topping model boasts Brembo front brakes and a unique sports set-up allowing drivers to switch between driving modes. Driver-adjustable settings include Continuous Damping Control (CDC), steering, transmission and the adaptive AWD system.

The next-generation Commodore VXR will be on sale alongside the rest of the sedan range, along with Sportwagon and Tourer body styles, in early 2018.NEXT-GENERATION COMMODORE VXR KEY HIGHLIGHTS:

Performance credentials:
3.6-litre V6 engine
9-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifter select
Adaptive AWD with torque vectoring
Hi-per strut suspension
Three driver-select modes for engaging drive experience;

Sports inspired styling:
Front and rear sports fascias
Unique VXR rear lip spoiler
20-inch alloy wheels
Unique VXR sports performance front seats
Heated and ventilated leather front seats

Cutting-edge driver assistance systems and technology:
Next-generation Adaptive LED Matrix headlights
360 degree camera
Autonomous Emergency Braking (with pedestrian protection)
Adaptive Cruise Control
Lane Departure Warning
Lane Keep Assist
Forward Collision Alert
Side Blind-Zone Alert
Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Head Up Display

The next generation Commodore VXR also adds sports styling to its “Sculptural Artistry Meets German Precision” design language with bespoke twenty inch wheels, larger rear spoiler, front and rear sports fascias, and premium VXR sill plates.

Head to www.holden.com.au for details on the current and forthcoming range.

BMW Goes Back To The Future With M4 CS.

BMW Australia has released details of the forthcoming M4 CS. With a whopping 338 kilowatt engine and packing a torque punch of 600 Nm, the hot two door will start from $211,610.00 with an expected release date of late 2017.
It’ll sit at the top of a refreshed M4 range, comprising the M4, M4 Pure, M4 Competition and also sources elements from the limited edition M4 GTS.The CS also harkens back to the 1960s, with the CS nomenclature first seen on the beautiful 3200 CS of 1962. It swapped to the 2000 CS in 1965, and the evocative 1971 E9 Series 3.0 CS. The current version uses BMW’s legendary straight six powerplant, with a 3.0L capacity. There’s two mono-scroll turbos strapped to the engine, which features a rigid closed-deck cylinder block, forged crankshaft and arc-sprayed cylinder walls, the six-cylinder is light and strong with minimal friction loss and outstanding high-rev capability, all the way to a 7,600rpm red-line.The turbos dump unwanted air via a dual-branch sports exhaust system with quad 80mm tailpipes which adds an aggressive acoustic while keeping back pressure as low as possible. Electronically-controlled exhaust flaps further contribute to exhaust volume and gas flow depending on the vehicle’s load state and selected drive mode.

Changes in the engine’s electronic management system leads to a 7kW power increase over the M4 Competition, with 338kW available at 6,250rpm. Vitally, peak torque is improved by 50Nm to a round 600Nm, a match for the legendary M4 GTS. According to the BMW M dynamometer charts, the M4 CS peak torque figure is generated from 4,000rpm to 5,380rpm.There’s a specific chassis tune for the M4 CS, with the aluminuim based structure allowing a driver to choose from Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. Up front is a lightweight double-joint spring strut layout, with the five-link axle featured at the rear. All suspension links and wheel carriers are made from forged aluminium. The M4 CS will ride on 10 spoke forged alloy wheels, with the front being 9 x 19 inches and weighing just 9 kilos, whilst the rears will weigh just under ten kilos and be 10 x 20 inches in size. Brakes are four piston fronts and twin pistons at the rear.The whole car weights under 1600 kilos thanks to lightweight carbon-fibre and carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), with an exposed carbon fibre diffuser that is specific to the CS and helps to substantially reduce front axle ‘lift’. The twin headlights are LEDs, the bonnet is CFRP, as is the roof and weighs six kilos lighter than a steel roof. The rear diffuser is also CFRP and is borrowed from the M4 GTS as is the exclusive Organic LED rear lighting system.It’s more track and sports focused inside than a regular M4, but there’s still plenty of luxury, with Alcantara trim on the door armrests, passenger side dash tim which includes an etched CS designation, on the centre console and mixed in with leather on the seats. A leather wrapped tiller is available as a no-cost option.

There’ll be a Head Up Display with M specific content, BMW’s Connected Drive Services, hands free Bluetooth, digital radio and parking distance control for the front and rear sensors. Two metallic paint options – Black Sapphire and San Marino Blue – are available as standard equipment, while the non-metallic Alpine White is a no-cost option.In addition, two special BMW Individual paint finishes are available for $4,400*, the bespoke Lime Rock Grey and the Frozen Dark Blue II.

M Carbon Ceramic brakes, roller rear sunblind, sun protection glazing, a headlight washer system, TV function and Apple Car Play integration are also optionally available.

For more information head to BMW Australia and you can follow BMW here: BMW Group on Facebook

(With thanks to BMW Australia for information and images.)

Private Fleet Car Reviews: 2017 Holden Astra RS manual hatch

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

At The End Of The Drive.

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