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Kia Australia Releases 2019 Cerato S, Cerato Sport, Cerato Sport+

The evergreen Kia Cerato sedan has been given a pretty solid makeover, with the hatch due for its own tickle and release later this year, plus GT versions for both are said to be on their way. There’s also been a range realignment name-wise.. We have driven the Kia Cerato S, Cerato Sport, and Cerato Sport+.

The Cerato S sedan starts from $23,790 plus on roads, as tested. The review car was in Steel Grey, a pleasing shade and a $520 option. The Sport was $25,790 plus on roads, clad in a gorgeous Horizon Blue, and the Sport+in Snow White Pearl came in at $28,290, plus on roads, and paint. Servicing costs are for a fixed amount over Kia’s class leading seven year warranty, and top out at $2,869.00. There’s a good range of colours available but only one is classified as a non-premium colour…If you’re after a manual, you’ll find it in the Cerato S only. You’ll also find only a 2.0L injected four cylinder across the range, with six speeds, in both auto and manual guise, hanging off of the side for the engine. It’s a peak twist of 192Nm and power is 112kW. Rev points are 4000rpm and 6200rpm respectively and there’s a noticeable increase of oomph once 3000rpm is seen on the dial. As we drove the autos only, they’re pretty much all good in the transmission sense. It’s the engine that needs refining and smoothing. See 4000rpm on the tacho and there’s a noticeable harshness and noise. It’s a metallic keen that, although somewhat raucous, is really only ever apparent when a heavy right foot is used, thankfully. It’s otherwise quiet, pleasant even.

It’s here that the auto shines. Seamless shifting when left to its own devices, it delights in its smooth and unhurried nature. Tilt the gear selector right, it goes into Sport mode, and when rocked forward and back, the changes are sharp and crisp. Acceleration in all three is enhanced by using Sport mode as the changes suit the characteristics of the engine’s tune. That engine tune helps in economy too. Kia says it’s 7.4L per 100L from the 50L tank for a combined cycle and a still too high 10.2L/100km for the urban cycle. Driven in a mainly urban environment with engines all under 3000km of age, we averaged under 7.0L/100km across the three.Road handling from the three was similar yet in one car somewhat oddly different to the others. The Sport+ rides on the same tyre and rim size as the Sport. 225/45/17 is what’s bolted to each corner and the alloys look sensational. The S has steel wheels at 16 inches, with 205/55 rubber. The S and Sport are more akin in they ride than the Sport+, with the McPherson strut front and coupled torsion bar rear feeling tighter, tauter, and less composed in the Sport+. Long sweepers with minor corrugations had the rear step out, whereas the S and Sport were less inclined to deviate. In a straight line all three sat comfortably but the Sport+ was more the princess in the bed with the pea. Minor irregularities were magnified and enhanced in the Sport+, with just that little bit more unwanted pucker factor whilst sitting on its leather clad pews. Freeway rides are tied down, there’s little to no float, and road noise is minimal thanks to extra noise reduction materials plus NVH reduction engineering. Get funky in the tighter corners in the mountain roads and handling is predictable with steering nicely weighted. Boot it out of a corner and the steering loads up and there’s no tending towards lift-off understeer.The S and Sport have cloth seats, manual adjustment, and no heating. The Sport+ has heating, no venting, and no powered front seats, an odd omission for a top of the range car. In fact, there’s really not a whole lot of difference between the three in some areas. All have the drive mode choice of Eco/Comfort/Smart with Sport engaged as mentioned. All have AEB with Forward Collision Warning – Car Avoidance, with the Sport+ getting Pedestrian and Cyclist on top plus adaptive cruise. All three have Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, voice activation, and Digital radio via the eight inch screen, with the Sport+ having the same dropout issues as experienced in the Sorento. Climate control is in the Sport+, with “standard” aircon in the other two. The driver sees info via steering wheel mounted tabs on a 3.5 inch TFT screen between two standard analogue dials. Perhaps here a LCD screen for the dials would help add cachet and differentiate the the Sport+ further.All three have Blind Spot Detection as an option, as do they have Rear Cross Traffic Alert as an option. These are part of two safety packs available at a $1000 or $500 price point. All other safety systems such as Hill Start Assist are common. The Sport+ gets an electro-chromatic (dimming) rear vision mirror, LED daytime lights, push button start, centre console armrest that slides, and folding wing mirrors. It’s also the only one with an external boot release on the car. That sounds like nothing important but when you’re used to pressing a rubber tab on the boot and not using the key fob, it’s not a smart choice.What is a smart choice is the redesign outside and in. Kia’s gone with the Euro style touchscreen that stands proud of the centre dash and it looks good. There’s turbine style airvents and the Sport+ has more brightwork around these and in the cabin than the Sport and S. There’s a pair of 12V and USB ports up front, with one dedicated to charging and the other for the auxiliary audio access via the smartphone apps. Although the front screen has been moved backwards, there’s no decrease in head, shoulder, and leg room for the 4.6m long sedan. Boot space is, ahem, adequate, at 434L with a long and quite deep design, and the spare is a full sizer, albeit steel fabricated unit.Outside there’s been a major re-skin; the front screen has been moved by nearly twelve centimetres and the bonnet line has been raised. The headlight clusters flow backwards at the top into the guards, with a nod towards the Stinger in styling here. At the right angle, somewhere from the rear quarter, there’s more than a hint of a certain Japanese luxury brand too. Sport+ has LED driving lights in a Stinger like quad design around the main headlight. There’s angular vents at each front corner that house the indicators and the Sport and S have a pair of globe lit driving lights between. Rear end design has been revamped and there’s beautiful styling to the tail lights, flanks, rear window line, and an integrated lip in the boot lid itself. Reverse lights have been moved to a triangular housing in the lower corners, echoing the front and again harken to a Japanese brand. It’s a handsome and well balanced look overall.Warranty is Kia’s standard seven years and there is 24/7 roadside assistance available as well.

At The End Of The Drive.

Kia’s growth curve is strong. Its building vehicles with a good feature set, with high quality, and quietly doing so with gusto. The Cerato sedan, the latest in a range of cars that DOESN’T include a four wheel drive capable ute, is commendable for both its very good looking sheetmetal and high levels of standard equipment. What initially looks like oversights in some areas is potentially a pointer towards what will come in the Kia Cerato GT. As it stands, though, a weak link is the engine. It doesn’t feel smooth, slick, and quiet enough at revs, and for a naturally aspirated 2.0L petrol engine nowadays, a peak power of 112kW really isn’t advertising friendly. It’d be nice if the torque was available at a lower figure or if there was more of it, but for the average buyer, the main concern would be the rare occasion they’d venture into plus 3000rpm territory.

Frugal is the word that stands out here too. So bundle a good looking sedan with good petrol usage in with sharp sub $30K pricing and that feature set, and Kia is kicking goals. Kia Australia’s Cerato for 2019 is available now.

BMW Has Competition For The M2.

BMW Australia has announced another model for their brilliant M2. Powered by a 302kW/550Nm straight six, the BMW M2 Competition starts at $99,900 (plus on-roads) with a M2 Competition Pure starting from $104,900 (plus on-roads). There’s a seven speed DCT, or dual clutch transmission that will take the M2 to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds. For those that prefer an old style manual, a six speed manual is offered as a no-cost option.That peak power is from 5,250 to 7000 rpm, with that V8 eating torque across nearly three thousand revs, at 2,350 to 5,200 rpm. This backs up the M2’s intent to be a track day weapon, as there is a 1.5 kilogram strut brace and it’s a similar design to that seen in the M3 and M4. The suspension has ball joints that are engineered to have zero excess movement, and elastomer bands that transmit lateral movement to the torque struts in the suspension.

BMW’s M-differential is on board, with the design and engineering allowing a “lock-up” with an amount of zero to one hundred percent allowing precise control through virtually every driving condition. Strength and rigidity comes from a new forged alloy which is employed for suspension components and parts of the five link suspension. Stopping isn’t an issue thanks to the 400mm front and 380mm rears with six pot callipers that are an option. Standard stoppers are 380mm and 370mm.

Rolling stock are 19 inches in diameter and are 9×19 up front, 10×19 for the rear. Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber wraps these, with 245/35/19 and 265/35/19 front and rear. These are super lightweight alloys and feature a Y shaped design coated in a light sheen or black. To take advantage of these there are three driving modes, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+, operated via a dial in the cabin. There’s settings available via a toggle switch on the leather bound steering wheel.An exterior update has been fitted with a deeper front skirt for better cooling and airflow. High gloss black coats the grilles and the quad exhaust is also painted black. Wing mirrors are a double arm design that aids in airflow, a M hallmark. And specifically for the Australian market the Competition Pure also gains M Sports seats with Illuminated Headrests and Lumbar Support, front Park Distance Control and the M Seatbelts over the predecessor model.

Compared to the M2 Competition, the Competition Pure rides on the 19-inch light alloy wheels familiar to the outgoing M2, though the Michelin Pilot Super Sports retain the same dimensions as the M2 Competition specification (245/35 R 19 front, 265/35 R 19 rear). The new design wheels are optionally available.Other specification adjustments include a HiFi Loudspeaker system, manually-adjustable M Sport Seats, Bi-LED Headlights and remote central locking (in place of Comfort Access).

BMW says the cars should be available from early 2019.

Going Hard With Two Doors.

The Australian automotive industry is an oddity in the global scheme of things. A small buying population, the most brands per head of population, and innovations not seen elsewhere, make it virtually unique. Although we weren’t the first to build a car with a hardtop and two doors, we certainly made some great ones. Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Holden all have cars that are memorable and one that stands out was the Monaro 427C.

Designed, engineered, and built in Australia, this car was intended to be a track weapon and race in the Bathurst 24 Hour. The first of these races was set to run in late 2002, meaning the development of the car, slated to run in 2003, had to be brought forward. The heartbeat of the 427C was its US sourced 7.0L or 427cid V8. With the Holden Racing Team turning down the offer of developing the machine, Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) took the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R engine, a Monaro body, and the responsibility of running the 427C as a race car.
The car would later be a controversial one; the race would attract cars from outside Australia such as Lamborghini’s Diablo GTR, Ferrari’s 360 N-GT, and the monstrous Chrysler Viper ACR. All of these cars would race with the same engine they would come off the production line with. However, the Monaro at the time came with Chev’s fabled 350cid or 5.7L V8, and therefore would be ineligible to run. However, the organiser of the race, which would come under the umbrella of a racing group called Procar, allowed the Monaro to be run with the bigger engine to be seen as more competitive with capacities such as the 8.0L V10 in the Viper.

As the race was going to be run under the then current GT regulations, GRM had to design a body kit to suit both the regulations and the aerodynamics of the VX Commodore based two door. Using the V8 Supercars design as a basis, GRM fitted a wider rear wing that sat below the car’s roofline, as per the regulations. A similar front air dam was fitted to the front, and underneath the 427C utilized a number of components that could be found on a Supercar. A technically minded casual observer would see a Hollinger six speed manual transmission, wheels of 18 x 11 and 18 x 13 inches, MacPherson strut front suspension and a trailing arm rear, bolted to coil springs and thick anti-roll bars. The engine was said to be good for 600 ponies (447kW) and would be bolted into the front of a car weighing 1,400 kilograms.

All up the Monaro 427C would be 4789mm in length, run a front and rear track of 1559mm/1577mm, and roll on a wheelbase of 2788mm. The aero package provided plenty of down-force and made for a stable on track racer.

Raced at the 2002 Bathurst 24 Hour by a team of four drivers, being Garth Tander, Nathan Pretty, Steven Richards, and Cameron McConville, the car was also being touted as being available as a road car. The race car itself would prove to be strong, durable, and a race winner. Although suffering a flat tyre, a collision with another car, and pit lane races to see who could clear their car out to the circuit first, the car would ultimately win in its debut race by 24 laps.

As a road car, it was potentially to be motorvated by a 433kW version of the 427cid engine. But, as a business case, the numbers simply didn’t add up and would result in a mooted buy price of $215,000 being out of reach of its intended market. Just two road going cars, and just four race cars, would be built.
The Monaro 427C would go on to compete in the Australian Nations Cup Championship in 2003, and the Bathurst 24 Hour race in the same year. A second race car had been built by then. Driven by Peter Brock, Jason Bright, Todd Kelly, and Greg Murphy, the car would win by just 0.3035 of a second. Tander, driving the 2002 winning vehicle, was thwarted in a last sector charge by a yellow flag thanks to a car close to the racing line.

The 427C would race in 2004 and see a third chassis completed, before the Nations Cup category collapsed due to fiscal issues. With regulations reverting to GT Championship rules in 2005, the Monaro 427C was deemed ineligible. Of the race cars, one is with a private collector, one is in the Bathurst Motor Museum, and little if anything is known of the locations of the others.

(One photo courtesy Chris Griffiths, other source unknown)

2019 Kia Sorento GT-Line Petrol.

The Kia Sorento has been given a freshen up for 2019, like most of the Kia range. The changes are subtle but effective, with enhancements inside and out. I drove the 3.5L petrol drinking V6 Kia Sorento GT-Line trim, with an eight speed auto and seven seats. It’s priced at $55,490 (RRP) and came in the optional Aurora Black metallic, an extra $595.00. Peak power from the free spinning V6 is 206kW. You’ll need to drive like an F1 driver in training to use it though, as it’s on tap at 6300rpm. More sensible is the torque. There’s 336 of them but again at a high rev point, 5000rpm.

Fuel economy has been vastly improved, even though the engine is a 3.5L, up from the previously used 3.3L. The addition of a slick eight speeder helps as we finished on 8.7L/100km. What’s truly astounding is that the big car (1932kg before fuel and passengers) was driven in a predominantly urban drive loop, reflecting its intended usage. Kia quotes 14.2L/100km from the 71L tank in a urban drive and 10.0L/100km on the combined cycle.

The engine and drive-train are a well suited combination. The throttle response is instant, there’s a genuinely angry rasp from the V6 when driven hard, and the auto is 90% on song. The final two cogs, when driven at state legal urban speeds, seem unsure as to whether they were wanted or not. There’d be no real change in the engine revs however the transmission would drop or gain a gear. Smoothly, yes, but being indecisive is not a driver’s best perception for automatics.

The Sorento was also taken into an environment it normally wouldn’t see. On the mid western fringes of the Blue Mountains is Australia’s own grand canyon. There’s some great gravel roads on which to drive and the Sorento was given its head on a few of them. There’s no full time AWD system, rather a clever torque split on demand for the diesel and front wheel drive only in the petrol. There’s four drive modes to complement this too: Eco, Sports, Smart, and Comfort. Bearing mind it’s an urban warrior, the Sorento surprised with its gravel road manners.

Handling was composed, rarely skittish, and only really exhibited nervousness on some of the more broken and rutted tracks. The ABS system worked a treat on some mid-slope downhill runs, with a balanced and measured feel to the pedal itself. The steering’s weight was spot on for the light off-road style of driving, and the Comfort drive mode turned out to be the best choice for the required driving style. The Sorento is easy to drive from the throttle; back off into turns and the nose will run slightly wide, but a feather touch puts power to the front and tightens up the steering.

Tarmac driving is, naturally, the strong part of the Sorento’s presentation. It’s nippy, belying the weight it has. Although a good 4800mm in length, and packing a 2780mm wheelbase, the Sorento wraps around like a well worn glove, with only inexperienced drivers likely to feel it’s a big ‘un. There’s some serious mumbo from the V6, even with peak torque so high up the ladder rev wise. Standing start acceleration is somewhat indecent for the size and as mentioned there’s a real snarl from the V6 as it punches out in anger and the 235/55/19 rubber hooks up.

There’s little upper body movement meaning lane change stability is high. Again the steering is weighted just fine and the Sports mode is the pick for freeway driving. Eco is a touch sluggish, Comfort is an ideal mix, with Smart learning the driver’s throttle and braking inputs on the fly. Suspension tune is sportish, with a flat freeway ride, enough initial give before tightening up, and this lends itself to some good speed through tight corners and curves. Stopping isn’t a problem thanks to the 320mm front and 305mm rear vented/solid discs. There’s a niggle with the Lane Keep Assist though. It’s a little too assertive in its straightening of the wheel and was eventually disengaged.

It helps that the office space is a cool place to be in. The driver sees a combination of LCD digital and “old school” analogue instrumentation, a thoughtfully laid out dash and ancillary controls with a silver highlight, an eight inch touchscreen with DAB (more on that, shortly) and a ten year SUNA satnav update program, rear and mid row folding seats with aircon vents for both, heated mid row and front seats with venting up front, plus memory and powered seats for the front pews.

The rear seats fold flat into the floor and there is a mammoth 1662L of cargo space available. Those rear seats themselves are best suited for children or those that don’t identify as tall. The seats are highlighted with light grey stitching and there are GT-Line logos embossed into the leather. But the upper dash reflects quite visibly in the windscreen and sadly the Sorento isn’t alone on that.

It’s wonderful that Kia offer DAB audio in some of their vehicles now, however the sensitivity of the two tested (the Cerato Sport+ also has DAB and will be reviewed separately) is frankly near useless. In areas where other brands have clear and constant signal, the Sorento’s dropped out. In the same place. Every time. Although the sound quality through the ten speaker Harman Kardon system was fine when it was picking up signal, the lack of continuity in DAB was beyond frustrating. Otherwise, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, are available when a compatible smartphone is connected, or plug into the Auxiliary and USB points.

The Sorento range comes loaded with family features and is spot on for a family lifestyle drive. Six cupholders, two per seat row, start it off. Four bottle holders, a good sized centre console locker, map pockets, 3 12V sockets and a pair of USB chargers allow flexibility for smart devices. There’s no wireless charging point for compatible smart phones…yet.

The centre row passengers have sunshades in the door for both privacy and sunshade. Access to the rear seats is via the tilt and slide centre row or via the powered tailgate. Soft glow LED lights brighten up the black interior and beige/bone trimmed and highlight the two centre row mounted suit hooks. The alloy plate sill panels also brighten up with a red backlighting. All up though the Sorento, as comfortable as it is, does lack a real and measurable quotient inside: cachet. It’s still somewhat plasticky and not quite as eyeball grabbing as some Euro competition.

Family safety is assured thanks to the Sorento GT-Line’s extensive list. A high definition screen links to cameras placed around the Sorento’s exterior for a full 360 degree look around. Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Emergency Stop Signal are all on board. AEB is standard throughout the Sorento range.The Sorento’s exterior has been mildly massaged from the previous model, with slight changes to front and rear bumpers. There’s adaptive LED headlights in the GT-Line, with leveling and swiveling adding to night-time safety. There’s LED running and fog lights fitted, and the rear lights are also LED. The nose is bluff and smooth at the same time, with a subtle curve to the headlight’s upper edge on either side of the black & chrome grille.

Exterior colours are of a seven colour choice, with one (Snow White Pearl) being exclusive to the GT-Line. Otherwise there’s Clear White, Silky Silver, Metal Stream, Platinum Graphite, Gravity Blue, and the Aurora Black as seen on the test vehicle. There’s the standard seven year warranty and the capped price service intervals as well.

At The End Of the Drive.
Kia continues to go from strength to strength with is vehicles and the Sorento GT-Line is no different. Heaps of room, a broad range of family related features, and a family lifestyle oriented drive characteristic are big winners. The off road capability, a capability unlikely to be explored, from a front wheel drive SUV, place it ahead of its most likely competitor for moving people, Kia’s own Carnival. The better than expected fuel economy comes with a caveat: the test drive was with most one passenger, not a family and cargo.

At around the $60K drive-away point, it’s against Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Volvo’s XC40 and XC60, and models from Germany in regards to the intended buying market. Until all other makers standardise a seven year warranty then Kia will win straight away on that. As flexible as the interior is, it needs a lift visually. The DAB tuner needs a sensitivity boost whilst the lane assist service needs the opposite.

Make up your own mind by heading to Kia Australia website – Sorento to check out the 2019 Kia Sorento range.

2019 Volvo XC40 R-Design Launch Edition.

Volvo has come a long way from the boxy look of twenty years ago. Like most other brands they’ve moved into into the SUV market with gusto and their latest, the XC40, was launched here in Australia in May. We drive the top of the range R-Design with Launch Edition packaging.It’s a similar external design to its XC60 and XC90 siblings with one marked difference. There’s a sharp angle to the rear of the XC40 that kinks up from the door. Nope, it doesn’t mean rear seat headroom is compromised. A good six foot plus passenger will fit in there nicely. The R-Design offers a colour combination choice inside and out so here there can be buyer customisation. It’s a classy look in the supplied vehicles white body and black roof combination, LED driving lights in the now classic “Hammer of Thor” design that’s embedded into a LED/bending headlight combination. The signature Volvo tail light clusters are LED lit and both ends look superb at night balancing the LEDs in the doors. Embedded in the bonnet’s shut line on the driver’s side is a small rubber Swedish flag that commemorates the Launch Edition. Factor in LED downlights in the door handles and at night it’s a striking look.Power is provided by a silky smooth 2.0L turbocharged petrol engine mated to a eight speed auto. Peak power is 185kW, that’s at 5500rpm, so it’s the 350Nm of twist that makes this thing work. Yep, it’s a standard amount of torque for this size of engine, but it’s the spread over three thousand revs which really sings. It’s on tap from 1800 to 4800 and meshed with perfect ratios the XC40 R-Design is one of the most usable, driver friendly, cars around. It’s a pity that engines are hidden under a plastic shroud now.The XC40, like most cars now, is a keyless start vehicle. Open the door and the full LCD dash screen lights up, highlights a system checklist, and awaits the driver’s input. Foot on the brake, press the dash mounted starter, and the engines comes to life. Volvo have gone for a rocker gear gear selector, not a traditional gate style. Once the driver realises it’s a forward/backwards motion and the gears selected (Reverse, Neutral, Drive) show in the right hand dash dial, either a press of the electric parking brake or a gentle stab of the go pedal has the XC40 underway.There’s a Stop/Start system fitted and as effective as it is on shutdown, it’s not completely smooth on startup. Each and every time the engine kicked in the car would lurch, even with the brake pedal depressed. It’s a minor but annoying glitch. Ease away and there’s a bare whisper of engine and the faintest slur felt as the eight speeder does its thing. Plant the right hoof and the XC40’s all wheel drive system grips and slingshots the car forward. Volvo quote just 6.4 seconds for the 0-100 km/ sprint and that may be a touch conservative.

There’s three different notes to the XC40 R-Design. A gentle throttle has the machine move along quietly, almost electric car like. Mid throttle and there’s a purr from up front. The transmission is more noticeable in its changes yet as smooth as calm water. Mode three is when the accelerator is used in anger. That purr becomes a muted snarl, a hint of real aggression comes out, and the changes are sharper, snappier, edgier. It’s an assertive feeling and one the XC40 R-Design revels in.

The XC40 is suspended on the proven combination of MacPherson strut front and multilink rear. They by themselves mean a good ride. There’s sports tuned dampers and 20 inch alloys to consider. Whoa! 20 inch alloys? And Pirelli P-Zero 245/45 rubber? Doesn’t that mean a hard and uncomfortable ride? Nej. (Swedish for no). Irrespective of road condition it’s supple, pliant, resilient. There’s no bump-thump, no suspension crash, it’s a magic carpet ride. Just ahead of the rocker gear selector is a button for the four drive modes, of which one is Off-Road. This is as likely to be used as Elvis reappearing after 41 years. Tap it though and it changes the look of the dials in the driver binnacle.Actual road noise is also negligible. There’s sufficient insulation as it is inside the XC40. A nice, and sneaky, touch, is the amount of marine grade carpet fitted to the door trims. Intended to provide some grip and support for bottles it also doubles as sound deadening. It’s indicative of the careful thought that has gone into the planning of the XC40. The actual interior handles are subtly spaced away from the door trim to allow for easier pulling. The sound stage has been improved thanks to the simple expedient of relocating some of the drivers. Even the door ‘s arm rests inside have a redesign allowing taller bottles and better ergonomic access when opening and closing.The cargo area is accessed via touch tab or a kick sensor. Normally these tend to be literally hit and miss. The XC40 R-Design’s sensor is a little more carefully calibrated and worked with a proper forward/back kicking motion, not a swipe to the left. The same kicking motion will close it up too.On-road manners are almost superb. I say almost because the steering feels over-assisted and at speed there’s a subtle feeling of twitchiness. Perhaps it’s more related to that aforementioned steering but the XC40 R-Design never truly felt 100% composed on the road. Liken the feeling to having a well trained pup that’s constantly pulling at the lead and you’ll get the idea. Having said that there’s also no lack of confidence in the grip level. There’s plenty of both long sweeping corners and tightening radius curves in which to play in, and the Pirelli rubber shows why it’s famous. The words “tenacious grip” spring to mind and coupled with that sports style suspension the XC40 R-Design can be punted fluidly and hard. Road manners are otherwise spot on. The interior is typical Volvo. That means fit, finish, feel is just right. There’s a hint of old school Cadillac to the flattish dash and Caddy tail-light inspired air vents.The R-Design throws in a smartphone wireless charging pad, a pair of USB ports for the front seats, one for the rear, and heating all around via the three screen touchscreen. That’s typical Volvo and as intuitive as they can be after a bit of familiarisation, a timer to revert to a home screen would be preferred. However there’s no complaints about the sound. the R-Design has Harman Kardon sound and there’s plenty of bass, plus a clarity and depth rarely heard in cars. There’s also a 360 degree camera setup and it looks absolute fantastic. It’s in high definition too so clarity for the driver makes for easier movement.The R-Design comes with six external colour choices including a startling Fusion Red Metallic and a sumptuous Black Stone that goes so well with the R-Design black roof. By the way, Volvo emboss R-Design into the kink and it’s a subtle yet welcome addition. There are three interior grades of trim options. There’s the pretty much standard leather style, a textile and leather, and “Lava” floor and door inserts. An aluminuim plate style inlay is a trim option for the doors and dash. It looks great if lacking in tactility. Head room (including the panoramic sunroof), leg, and shoulder room is ample for both front and back seat passengers. There’s more than enough cargo space for a family and shopping…or scooters…or golf clubs as a certain car show host calls them.Volvo built its reputation on safety and naturally the XC40 R-Design is no different. City Safety is the name Volvo gives to its pedestrian, animal, and cyclist detection system. Bang in Intellisafe which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Pilot Assist (semi-autonomous driving) and more, PLUS features such as Blind Spot Information, Front and Rear Collision Alert, Run Off Road Alert, and a full suite of airbags and electronic aids and there’s barely time to draw breath. The semi-autonomous system is understated in how it reads the road and instead of a hefty tug it’s a grandma’s hand on the shoulder and a quiet whisper in the ear.

At The End Of The Drive.
Volvo is on a clear winner with the XC40 R-Design Launch Edition. It’s gorgeous to look at, gorgeous to drive, and full of intuition personified. At around $60K it’s a budget price for a luxury package. Buy it. Yes, it’s that good.
Here it is: The New Volvo XC40

Mercedes A-Class Arrives For August

Mercedes-Benz have updated their A-Class range and they go on sale here in Australia in August. There’s been quite a few technical additions, a change to the motorvation, and repackaging to provide more room inside. The first model to be released will be the A200, with the A180 and A250 to come before Christmas.

Perhaps, however, the prime attraction is what’s called MBUX. The Mercedes-Benz User Experience is a voice activated and controlled natural language recognition system. The words “Hey Mercedes” are the starting point, and this will allow a driver to speak and enter a navigation destination, select music types or stations, make end end phone calls on the go, send texts, and operate vehicle functions. An AI system will modify the MBUX as it learns the vocal styles of the user/s. You can find out more about it hereA new engine foe the A-Class is the 1.33L, 120kW, 250Nm petrol fed four. That’s mated to a new seven speed auto which is good for a 5.7L/100 kilometre fuel economy (claimed,combined). This is inside a 4419mm length, up from 4299mm. The wheelbase goes to 2729mm, an increase of 30mm from the previous model. Extra width of 16mm and internal repackaging has 9mm and 22mm extra shoulder room front and rear, with 7mm and 8mm extra headroom as well.There’s been a twenty kilo weight reduction, part of which comes from a reduction of the window trimming. This aids visibility all around. Even the boot has been increased, with a new 370L capacity, up 29L.There’s new 18 inch “Aero” alloys, a pair of10.25 inch digital screens that tie in with the MBUX system, keyless start, wireless smartphone charging for compatible handsets, LED headlights, and NTG 6 MB Navigation. Safety levels are huge, with nine airbags on board (front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, side bags for rear occupants and knee bag for driver. Mercedes-Benz also add in as standard Active Brake Assist with a semi-autonomous brake function. Active Lane Keep Assist, Active Park Assist with M-B’s Parktronic, and Blind Spot Assist, Traffic Sign Assist, and high quality reversing camera.

Mercedes-Benz are quoting $47,200 plus on roads and dealer delivery, with an expected on-sale date of August 10.

Greeted With Raptorous Applause: Ford Ranger Raptor

Anticipation can lead to either joy or disappointment. When it comes to the long anticipated Ford Performance Vehicles Ranger Raptor, so far it’s looking more of the former. Here’s what we know.

Engine: a 2.0L diesel provides peak power of 157kW and 500Nm (1750 – 2000 rpm)and means the Raptor will have plenty of bite, thanks to a bi-turbo system that will drink from a 80L tank. It’s EURO V compliant at 212 gr/km, will be offering a 8.2L/100 km fuel economy for the combined cycle, and see a top speed of 170 km/h. with a 0-100 km/h time of just over ten seconds. Good figures from a 2.3 tonne machine before fuel and passengers. The transmission is a ten speed (yes, ten speed) automatic with ratios picked to ensure quicker shifts and to be as close as possible to the right gear for the throttle setting. It’s good enough for a 2500 kilo towing (braked) figure.Chassis: 283mm of ground clearance, a broader track than the standard Ranger at 1710mm front and rear, and 285/70/17 wheels & BF Goodrich All Terrain rubber, specially made for Raptor, combine with composite material front fenders and a bumper with integrated LED fog lamps to provide an assertive on and off road presence. Turning circle is a tight 12.9 metres. The load tray is 1743mm in length and 1560mm in width on a 5398mm long body. Maximum width is2180mm with the mirrors out.Inside: a bespoke interior with blue stitching, leather highlights and “technical suede” for extra lateral grip, a rejigged look to the instrument bezel, and perforated leather sections on the steering wheel make for a classy cabin environment.Ride and Drive: There’s a Terrain Management System, TMS, which includes a Baja mode. This sharpens up the engine and transmission and blunts the intrusion of the traction control to give a driver a real off-road experience. It’s a pair of Macpherson struts up front and Ford’s tried and true Watts linkage at the rear.Brakes: Plenty of swept area on the discs means plenty of stopping power.332mm x 32mm up front and 332mm x 24mm at the rear meet a 54mm caliper. They’re bolted to Position Sensitive Dampers that provide, at full extension and compression, a higher level of rebound force. Mid range damping force is specifically tuned for comfort during normal driving.

Extras: A “breadcrumb” feature in the satnav allows drivers to backtrack the way they came when in areas that may not be included in the mapping system. There’s a Rollover Mitigation System to deal with the 32 degree approach, 24 degree departure, and 24 degree break over angles.

DRIVER ASSISTANCE AND CONVENIENCE TECHNOLOGIES
Adjustable speed limiter, Auto lighting, 25W HID headlights with LED Daytime Running Lamps, LED Fog Lamps, cruise control, Electronic Automatic Temperature Control, Electronic Stability Control, Passive Entry Passive Start (PEPS), Rear Parking Sensors, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Hill Start Assist (HAS), Hill Descent Control (HDC), ESC system with Trailer Sway Control (TSC), Load Adaptive Control (LAC), Roll Over Mitigation (ROM), Traffic Sign Recognition, Steering Wheel Paddle Shifters, Part time 4×4 with Terrain Management System, Unique Transmission Calibration and “Live in Drive” Functionality, rain sensing wipers, rear view camera, Roll Stability Control
SYNC 3 with touchscreen navigation, Auto Start/Stop.

2018 Kia Picanto GT-Line

What do you do to improve your baby city car? New wheels, some exterior garnishes, additional lighting and a cool exterior colour. What don’t you do to improve your baby city car? Give it more grunt and change the gearbox is what. And that’s exactly what you’ll find with Kia‘s otherwise good looking Picanto GT-Line. Quite frankly it’s a wasted opportunity from the Korean car maker. We’ll cover that off later in more detail.What you do get is the standard 1.25L petrol fed four, a four speed auto, 62 kilowatts and 122 torques at 4000 rpm. Fuel economy is, naturally, great at 5.8L/100 km of normal unleaded for the combined cycle from its 35L thimble. Consider, too, a dry weight of 995 kilos before passengers etc. Kia’s rationalised the Picanto range to a simple two model choice, the S and the GT-Line. If you’re after a manual the S is the only choice. Price for the GT-Line is super keen at $17,290. Metallic paint is a further $520, taking the test car’s price to $17,810.It’s a squarish, boxy, yet not unappealing design, especially when clad in the silver grey the test car has. Called Titanium Silver it’s more of a gunmetal grey hue, and highlighted by red stripes at the bottom of the doors, red rimmed grilles for the airvents and the lower section is splashed with silver around the globe driving lights. The grille itself is full black and the angle of the grille combines with the laid back styling of the headlights (with LED driving lights) to provide an almost Stormtrooper look. At the rear the neon light look tail lights complements the twin pipe exhaust. It’s a cool and funky look.Kia has upped the 14 inch alloys to classy looking eight spoke 16 inchers. Rubber is from Nexen and are 195/45. As a package they look fantastic. Going further is the grip level. For a vehicle that’s a long way off from being a sports car it has some of the most tenacious grip you’ll find under $30K. AWT’s Blue Mountains lair is close to some truly good roads for handling and ride testing. On one particular road, a specific one lane and one direction (downhill) road, the slightly too light steering nevertheless responds to input cleanly and succinctly. Cramming a 2400mm wheelbase inside an overall length of 3595mm helps, as does the low centre of gravity. It’s a throttle steerer too; come into a turn and back off, let the car make its own way and feel the nose run slightly wide. Throttle up and the nose settles, straightens, and all is good with the world. Body roll is negligible and direction changes are executed quickly, Braking from the 254mm and 236mm front and rear discs is rapid, stable, and quick.Ride quality from the Macpherson strut front and torsion beam rear is delightful for the most part. It does lend towards the taut and tight side and that could also be attributed to the lower profile rubber. Yet it’s never uncomfortable in normal and everyday usage. Hit some ruts or ripples and it’s here that the Picanto GL-Line gets flustered. The short travel suspension will kick back at the chassis and the car will, momentarily, become unsettled. On the flat it’s composed and will provide a comfortable enough ride but with any undulations may get a little choppy thanks to the short wheelbase.It’s on overtaking or uphill climbs that the drive-line shows its Achilles heel. Kia seems to be the only car maker that has stayed with a transmission so archaic and out of step with the industry. For both versions of the Picanto, as much as many loath them, a CVT would be a better option. For the GT-Line, and emphasis on the GT, a turbo engine such as those found in the Suzuki range or even Kia’s own tech would be a better option. Although our test drive finished on a commendable 6.6L/100 km, an extra cog or two would help that and make the Picanto a far more enjoyable car to drive.Inside, too, could do with a lift. Although there’s piano black door inserts with hints of red striping, and red highlights on the driver and passenger seats, the rest of the cabin, complete with Cadillac tail-light inspired air vents, lacks real cache compared to the opposition. Considering its size there’s adequate room up front, barely enough for the rear seats, and a 255L cargo space over a space saver tyre that’s fine for two people shopping wise. All good however the standard all black theme would greatly benefit from strategically placed dabs of colour.However, there’s an Audi style touchscreen mounted on the upper dash edge. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are on board but satnav isn’t, meaning you’ll need the smartphone connection for guidance. It’s AM/FM only, so misses out on DAB. The 7 inch screen is clean and user friendly, as is the driver’s view. Simple and unfussed designs work best and here Kia has nailed that. Two dials, speed, engine revs, fuel level and engine temperature. Simple. A centred monochrome info screen with information made available via tabs on the steering wheel. Simple.Small in size the Picanto GT-Line may be but it doesn’t lack for tech. AEB or Autonomous Emergency Braking is standard, as are Euro style flashing tail lights for the ESS or Emergency Stop Signal. Add in six airbags, vehicle stability management, Forward Collision Warning, and it’s pretty well covered. It does miss out on Blind Spot Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert though, but rear sensors are on board. This is all backed by Kia’s standard seven year warranty and fixed price servicing that will cost just $2552 over seven years.


At The End Of The Drive.

The Kia Picanto and the 2018 Kia Picanto GT-Line represent astounding value. Consider a RRP of $17,810 plus on roads, a decent set of safety features, and that could be better than it is fuel economy, and it’s a walk up start for anyone looking for a city car that’s a good looker, a sweet handler, and will have enough room for a average shop for one or two people. Our shop for four filled the boot and required only a bag or two to be relocated to the back seat.Kia’s Picanto is a very good car, but a real need for change in the engine and transmission would make it better. Yes, it’s economical but could be better. Drive one and make up your own mind or have a look here 2018 Kia Picanto info to find out more.

German Odds And Ends: VW Crafter Van & Audi TT

They’re the lifeblood of the small courier driver business, of the larger postal delivery services. LCVs or Light Commercial Vehicles come in various shapes and forms, including the van. There’s plenty to choose from and Volkswagen has just made that choice even more difficult.

The Crafter range offers a more car-like experience both inside and out. There’s the Medium wheelbase, Long wheelbase, Long wheelbase with Overhang, the cab chassis versions in both single and dual cab options and with single and dual rear wheel designs. All up a new Crafter comes in a minimum of 36 versions but with 4 body styles, 3 lengths, 3 heights there’s a total of 59 derivatives including front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, and 4MOTION all wheel drive. The starting price for the immense range is for the Crafter 35 TDI340 LWB (Long wheelbase) SCC (single cab chassis) 8 Speed with auto and FWD at $48,290. Just two hundred more sees you in the Crafter 35 TDI340 MWB (Medium Wheelbase) Van 6 Speed Man ‘RUNNER’ front wheel drive.

There’s different load capacities that are dependent on which drive configuration is chosen. Tick the front-wheel drive option and there’s a cargo capacity of up to 18.4 cubic metres and a maximum cargo space height of 2196 mm. Total permitted weight is between 3.55 to 4.0 tonnes. Load width between the wheel arches is 1380 mm and cargo space length is 4855 mm. Have the driven wheels at the other end and the permitted total weight ranges from 3.55 to 5.5 tonnes. The load width on the heavy vehicles with dual rear wheels has been increased in comparison to the previous model by 402mm, thus allowing it to be loaded using a wider range of standard carriers.Inside it’s a more comfortable workspace. LED lighting has been fitted, the base model has four way electric adjustment and there’s a higher level of comfort available. Called ergoActive, it’s part of a German health and safety campaign to help drivers look after their postures and driving positions. Central locking is standard, dual zone climate control is available, and the Trendline package offers extra features such as a second 12V socket, chromed highlights, and front fog and cornering lights.

Dimensions wise there’s the medium wheelbase 5986mm, a long wheelbase at 6386mm, and the overhang version with 7391mm. Engine wise there’s a 2.0L diesel that offers either 340Nm or 410Nm. More features and details will be released in coming months. Head to Volkswagen Australia for more information and to register for updates.

Audi‘s iconic TT coupe made its world debut in 1995 and was available for sale in 1998. The 2018/2019 update brings exterior and interior changes, and updates to the drivetrain. There’s a six speed manual, and a new seven speed DCT or dual clutch auto. The S Line package or magnetic ride drop the ride height by 10 millimetres and work with the progressive steering and four link rear suspension to further enhance the already fluid handling.Standard wheels are 17 inches in diameter, with 18, 19, and 20 as options. These complement the redesigned front and rear, with interior features accessing the Audi drive select dynamic handling system that’s available from the base model, a rain and light sensor, heated exterior mirrors, and the multi-function steering wheel plus This allows the infotainment and voice control system to be controlled entirely using the steering wheel. Also standard are the illuminated USB ports as well as Bluetooth for wireless pairing of devices. The front has a more assertive grille and is flanked by stylish air vents with the rear featuring a subtle work-over to the classic lines.The new TT is due for Australia in the first six months of 2019. Head to Audi Australia to register your interest.

Women and Auto Design

Honda/Acura NSX

The chances are your car was designed by a man, but with more women becoming involved in the automotive industry we might well wonder whether our car was designed by a man or a woman?  This is an interesting question that many of us have likely never given much thought to.  We all love a nice looking, nice driving car, so I wonder how many women are involved in the automotive design industry that we don’t know about.  Really, there are very few clues that would reveal a car designer’s gender.

There’s no doubt that the automotive industry is still dominated by men, but women are beginning to make important inroads.  The vast majority of female car designers are employed doing textile jobs where they select seat fabrics, choose exterior colours, and oversee the interior design and styling.

Exterior design, which is considered to be the choice job in automotive design, is led by men.  It’s not that automakers are wilfully trying to keep women out of the top design jobs.  Indeed, Motor Trend’s spokesperson MacKenzie thinks that “If there was a woman designer who was talented, a hard worker and competitive, which is what this job demands, the car companies would knock each other out of the way and rush to hire her.”  Maybe the early years of a person’s life, and there exposure to certain things, has more to do with what type of work will interest them later in life.  The stereotypical one kind of toy for boys when they’re young and another kind of toy for girls might have more influence on the shaping of their career choices than first thought.  MacKenzie says that the majority of students who come to the design school were smitten at some point in their lives by the look and performance of vehicles – and not just cars but things with wings or things that zip down rails.

This is fascinating stuff and begs the question that perhaps dolls and tea parties aren’t the only thing small girls might be interested in.  Definitely, I found our daughter, as a child, often played with cars and blocks as well as playing rugby with her older brother.  She also had dolls to play with, too.  Her passion for rugby still continues to this day as well as her love for Jeeps.  She is just about to finish high school and attend university to study physiotherapy.

Michelle Christensen and the NSX

2018 has provided us with some wonderful new car designs, and one of the raciest and best looking super car designs has to be that of the beautiful Honda NSX.  This gorgeous design was, in fact, designed by Michelle Christensen, the Acura NSX exterior design lead.  How did she get there?  Michelle Christensen is the first woman to lead design on a supercar.  She directed the eight-person team responsible for Acura’s (Honda’s) resurrection of the NSX, which ended production in 2005.  In her words: “They wanted an emotional, 3-D kind of feeling,” Christensen says. “My priority was to keep that.”  Prior to designing the NSX, Michelle worked on Acura’s RLX sedan and its now-discontinued ZDX crossover.  She grew up working on muscle cars with her father in their San Jose, Calif. garage and got her design chops at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.  There’s that childhood input again.  The fact that Acura chose Michelle Christensen as the lead for the awesome NSX’s exterior speaks volumes about the inroads women are finally making at the upper ranks of automotive design.  Awesome!

Did you know that the once GM’s leading artist-engineer H.J. Earl (Harley) saw into the the future and drew input from his group of talented women designers, and they came alongside his “all-male” car designers.  His women automotive designers of the 1950s proved to be ground-breaking, controversial and extremely successful.

In 2004 Volvo Cars unveiled a concept car that, till then, had never been attempted in the more than 100 years of automotive manufacturing: the first car designed and developed almost exclusively by women.  Unveiled at the New York Auto Show, the car, though created from a woman’s perspective, included features appealing to both sexes — including easier maintenance, intelligent storage solutions, a better line of vision, computer-aided parking and a bold, yet elegant, exterior.

The car included features not typically found in man-made cars: no hood; no gas cap; easy-clean paint; head restraints with room for ponytails; numerous exchangeable seat covers of various colours and materials (linen, leather, felt, etc.); compartments for handbags; gull-wing doors that make it easier to load and unload larger items and children; computerized assistance for parallel parking; and improved sight lines.  Owners carrying large items were able to set the doors to open automatically when they reach the doors.  At the point-of-purchase, retailers can conduct a body scan of the driver measuring height and length of arms and legs.  The data is stored in the vehicle’s key, and the car recommends a seat position for the driver that provides her or him an optimal line of vision and reach.  The car also electronically notifies the owners chosen service centre when maintenance is due, and the service technician contacts the owner to book the appointment.  Do any of these ideas/features that these women thought of sound familiar in any of our brand new cars today?  The answer is definitely yes – the automatic door and boot rings a bell!

Bridget Hamblin and Honda

Bridget Hamblin, a Honda Civic engineer, led the car dynamics team responsible for the performance of the 2016 Honda Civic, the brand’s most important car and winner of the prestigious North American Car of the Year award.  Hamblin earned degrees in mechanical engineering at Penn State and the University of Dayton before joining Honda as an engineer working on vehicle suspension and steering in the research and development department.  She says that: “Rather than having sought out the automotive industry, it found me.  My education in mechanical engineering proved to be a perfect fit in vehicle development.”  An Automotive research and development engineer with nine years of experience and a strong background in vehicle dynamics, objective vehicle testing, vehicle handling metric development and passenger car development has gotten her along way ahead in automotive design.

Before joining the Civic project, Hamblin helped develop the Honda Odyssey.  “Because it was my responsibility to lead the development of Civic’s vehicle dynamics, I find a lot of pride in the car’s steering, ride, handling and stability, which is truly impressive.  We really pushed the envelope by benchmarking the Civic, an entry-level vehicle, against European luxury competitors like the Audi A3. And it shows. Being awarded the North American Car of the Year was the icing on top.”

Anna Gallagher, a senior launch manager for Jaguar Sports and Lifestyle cars, held several positions at Jaguar Land Rover, including global brand manager for the new Jaguar F-PACE SUV, before being promoted to senior launch manager for Jaguar Sports and Lifestyle cars.  She was also responsible for the launches of the Jaguar XJ and XJR sedans.  Gallagher says. “I found that I can also give a different perspective so we end up with a more balanced discussion or even solutions we wouldn’t have found with an all-male team.”  The stylish Jaguar F-PACE is the only Jaguar that has always had a female marketing manager heading up the program.  “We needed to protect the coupe-like design, but I also knew that a reason for rejecting cars, particularly from women, in this segment is rear visibility.  Our target customer would have children in the rear so we had to ensure as many children as possible can see out of the windows.”

Women purchase about half of all cars on the market and influence the vast majority of car sales, yet for a century men have made most of the decisions in the design, development and production of a car.  Let’s see a greater shift in these traits!