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Toyota Hybridises The RAV4 And Ditches Diesel.

Toyota‘s RAV4 has been given a hefty whack with the overhaul stick. A hybrid drivetrain, new AWD systems, and a revamp of the exterior, will see the 2019 RAV4 head twoards the third decade of the 21st century with the same verve it brought when first launched a quarter of a century ago.

Currently scheduled to hit Aussie showroom floors in the second quarter of 2019, the Recreational Active Vehicle 4 wheel drive will have both hybrid and non-hybrid drivetrains, new engines, and a new eight speed auto. Engine capacities will be either 2.0L or 2.5L, with the smaller engine producing 127kW and 203Nm. Pick the bigger donk and there is 152kW and 243Nm. The hybrid package is slated to produce 155kW and a as yet unannounced amount of torque. The battery system will be located under the rear seat so no loss of storage space will occur. However, there will be no diesel engine to be made available as Toyota moves across to a hybrid SUV future.

A CVT or “intelligent” six speed manual can be selected for the smaller engine, with the manual said to be able to rev match in order to assist in economy and smoother shifts.The non-hybrid 2.5L is the one that will bolt to the eight speed auto. A lower ratio first gear not dissimilar to that fitted to the hybrid Corolla’s transmission assists in getting the vehicle up and running. This engine and transmission combination will have a mechanical AWD system, with the same size engine and hybrid receiving an electrical AWD setup. It’s smaller, lighter, and more energy efficient that a mechanical system, and coupled with a generator attached to the rear axle with a specific drive ration, will generate more torque at the rear for better driveability. Up to 80% of the torque generated can be rearward directed.

Torque vectoring also comes in and looks to be specific for the 2.5L and mechanical system. This will not only direct up to 50% of torque to the rear but will, as deemed necessary, split torque between the rear left and rear right wheel. If the onboard sensors feel that all is good, then torque and power is primarily aimed towards the front.

Sean Hanley, Toyota Australia’s vice president sales and marketing, said the new drivelines and AWD systems will add to the RAV4’s spirit of adventure and driving pleasure by delivering enhanced performance, capability and control.

“All-new RAV4 will offer even greater appeal for people looking to re-energise in comfort and luxury, whether on the everyday commute or while enjoying weekend trips away. The new drivetrains deliver confidence-inspiring performance and agility and will result in a new perception of hybrid with electric AWD capability that enhances driving pleasure.”

Extra driving goodness comes from AIM. The AWD Integrated Management automatically adjusts vital vehicle systems, according to the drive mode selected, steering assist, brake and throttle control, shift pattern and drive torque distribution. There’s Eco, Normal, and Sport modes to choose from, with Eco backing off the torque for fuel efficiency. Sport changes the steering assistance level, the throttle control, and the distribution of torque.

Inside the mechanical AWD RAV4 will be a drive mode switch for different terrains; mud and sand, or rock and dirt, can be selected for easy going soft-roading. Go to the hybrid version and Toyota will fit an automatic Limited Slip Differential, which can be activated via a toggle in the cabin, for difficult driving circumstances.

All of this will be packaged in a new body, with final sign-off for Australia yet to be confirmed as which style. Contact your local Toyota dealer to register your intert.

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.

BMW Goes X-tra Large and Seven Up

BMW is not a brand that does things by halves. Rather than putting a toe in the water, the iconic German brand jumps in. In the passenger vehicle segment it’s “lacked” one entrant and that has now been resolved with the release of the X7 range. It’ll go up against the Volvo XC90, Audi’s Q7, Porsche’s Cayenne, and VW’s Touareg. BMW also don’t tag this 5151mm long machine as an SUV. It’s a SAV, a Sports Activity Vehicle.The X7 will offer a choice of six or seven seats, with the third row a confirmed two seat configuration. That third row will have cup holders, separate USB points, and armrests. The middle row can be specified with two or three seats, and all seats are power adjustable. Sitting on a wheelbase of 3105mm, the X7 offers a cargo capacity variance of between 326L to 2120L. To take advantage of the space available, the X7 goes on a luxury cruise with Vernasca leather as standard, four zone climate control, a three part panoramic roof, and a high end ambient light system. BMW never skimps on the option list either, with a five zone climate control system, a Bowers and Wilkins Diamond Select audio system, an an entertainment system for the rear seat passengers. BMW’s M Sport package and the Design Pure Excellence equipment line are also offered.Choosing an engine won’t be hard. At launch a a 340 kW/462 hp petrol V8 in the BMW X7 xDrive50i will be available although not available in Europe. The xDrive40i will receive a six-cylinder in-line petrol unit with an output of 250 kW/340 hp and a rated combined fuel consumption at 9.0 – 8.7 l/100 km. The X7 xDrive 30d will be powered by a pair of six-cylinder in-line diesels with outputs of 195 kW/265 hp. Fuel consumption for a combined cycle is rated at 6.8 – 6.5 l/100 km with CO2 emissions combined: 178 – 171 g/km) and 294 kW/400 hp in the BMW X7 M50d. The quoted fuel consumption on the combined cycle is 7.4 – 7.0 l/100 km with CO2 emissions combined: 193 – 185 g/km). All of the power units in the line-up meet the requirements of the Euro 6d-TEMP emissions standard.

Every powerplant will be bolted to an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. The BMW xDrive intelligent all wheel drive system, complete with optimised efficiency and rear-biased set-up, is how the power and torque gets to tarmac or dirt. Ensuring even more dynamic handling is the M Sport differential at the rear axle, which brings electronically controlled locking. It is fitted as standard on the BMW X7 M50d and as an option on the BMW X7 xDrive50i and BMW X7 xDrive40i.The chassis tech is typical high end BMW. There’s Adaptive Suspension and electronically controlled dampers, air fed springs and an adjustable ride height of up to 80mm. Extra suspension ability can be optioned, such as Integral Active Steering, and the Executive Drive Pro system. An off road option package can be specced for all models bar the M50D. A four mode drive system includes xSands, xGravel, xRocks, and xSnow. The selection of each mode has the X7 adjust automatically for ride height, transmission response, and the stability control systems.

Active Cruise Control with Stop/Start is standard however BMW offers the Driving Assistant Professional package that features steering and lane control assistance, Lane Change Warning and Lance Departure Assistance, and even a side collision warning system. Traffic assistance comes in the form of wrong way alert, cross traffic warning and BMW’s priority warning system.

The driver has two 12.3 inch full colour digital screens with which to work with. There’s a binnacle display and a control display in the centre upper dash with the pair being called by BMW the Live Cockpit Professional system. An Intelligent Personal Assistant is voice activated and software can be updated remotely.

Finally, BMW stamp their authority on the luxury SAV segment with an imposing exterior design. With a width of 2000m and a height of 1805mm, the X& is one of the bigger types of its segment. The traditional kidney grille design is even more imposing and is flanked by a pair of full LED lit headlights. Optionable Laserlight headlights can illuminate at a range of up to 600 metres on high beam. A two section tailgate is flanked by stylish LED powered lights.

Contact your local BMW dealer for more information.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Lexus RX-450h

Take a mid to large sized SUV, add a smattering of real leather, toss in a pinch of hybrid technology attached to a 3.5L V6, and pin on a badge that says L. Voila, it’s the 2019 Lexus RX-450h. It comes with a choice of non-hybrid or hybrid V6, a turbo 2.0L, and either five or seven seats. Private Fleet has the hybrid and showcased it at a superb location, Dryridge Estate, in the Megalong Valley, on the western fringes of the Blue Mountains.The RX 450h mates a pair of electric motors to the petrol engine. That’s good for 230 kW to power all four wheels on demand with a torque split system. Peak torque for the 2270 kilogram (dry) machine is a somewhat surprising 335Nm at a high 4600 rpm. It feels as if there should should be more though. Transmission is a CVT and for the most part it’s hard to pick it as being one. A dial in the centre console allows the driver to choose different drive modes, and picking Sports/Sports+ changes the left hand LCD dial in the driver’s binnacle from a hybrid information screen to a tachometer. And although it’s a heavy machine with a load on, at just under three tonnes, economy is very good. Lexus quotes a better than impressive 6.0L/100 kilometres on the combined cycle, a figure that we didn’t finish all that far away from in a real world, lifestyle, testing drive.The Lexus RX-450h, for the most part, was driven in the environment it’s most likely to be seen: around town. Here it copes admirably, with the comfortable interior featuring rear seat climate control, superbly padded real leather pews front and rear, powered rear seats, and a power tail gate. There’s a full length glass roof which was at odds with the junior members of the review team preferring the Toyota Kluger Grande’s sunroof and blu-ray player. The actual dash design is the somewhat heavy horizontal layer look that Lexus favours, with most switch-gear easily seen from the driver’s seat. The trip/odometer are hidden behind the right hand tiller spoke, and the Start/Stop button behind the left hand side. The trim in the RX-450h supplied was black and chocolate plastic, counterbalanced by cream leather with a distinctively different feel to machine made leather.There’s the traditional Lexus multi-function controller in the centre console that allows the front seat passengers to access an array of information such as the audio, climate control, and Lexus information, which requires a smartphone to be paired in order to deliver the info. This pops up on a 12.3 inch widescreen display high on the dash, ensuring it’s at eye level and provides a better measure of safety, rather than looking downwards. There is also a relatively bland looking HUD or Head Up Display. A Mark Levinson audio system with DVD-Audio capability and DAB tuner is installed, and it’s worth the time to set it up for your preferred style of audio. Unusually, a Time-Shift function is added, where a user can rewind live audio thanks to a small hard drive running streaming storage. All windows are one touch up/down, and a soft touch at that. There’s a better quality material for the windows themselves to run on, with an almost silent mechanism as a result. Wireless smartphone charging is gradually making its way into more cars and it’s here too, albeit hidden in an awkward forward position ahead of the cup holders.Ride and drive is a mixed bag. The steering can feel heavy when it’s just the front wheels being driven, but lightens in proportion as drive gets shunted rearward. Lateral stability is high with only the occasional rear end hop/skip over unsettled surfaces in corners. It’s the suspension that raises and eyebrow sometimes, with a feeling that the tune, although compliant, has the body feeling as if its moving around more than anticipated and this happens at the top of the suspension, almost like a mattress with a pole and springs supporting it at each corner.. There’s more pogoing than expected but does damp itself quickly enough.

Turn-in is easily controlled via throttle application. There’s little predisposition to a nose heavy attitude in corners but on the rare occasion there was a tendency to run wide, a gentle lift of the go-pedal would tuck the front back in before a judicious squeeze would have the car settle into the desired arc. The excellent brakes also help, with a brush of the pedal enough to feel the mass of the RX-450h respond in kind, and certainly assisted in the run out to the spectacular views from Dryridge Estate. Naturally they feed kinetic energy back into the hybrid system and it can be a little mesmerising watching the dash display with arrows feeding in and out of the various car driveline components..This small vineyard, Dryridge Estate, is at the southern end of the road leading from Blackheath, a small village on the way out to Lithgow and Bathurst as one drives from Sydney. Located on the escarpment of the massive Megalong Valley, a former sea canyon, the drive starts with a series of tight and downhill oriented turns through a fern lined and barely sunshine lit set turns that will test and delight the enthusiastic driver. That’s presuming one isn’t caught behind another driver that brakes every couple of seconds. They specialise in small and intimate gatherings, provide a wonderful variety of cheeses to sample, and of course their own produce. The fact that the background should entice car companies to host launches there is a bonus.Once at valley level the forest and ferns disappear, with a broad valley floor offering uninterrupted views of the canyon walls. It’s about a twenty minute drive from the highway to Dryridge, with a couple of kilometres worth of unsealed road taking you to the estate. Facing eastwards the estate then allows driver and passenger a chance to stop and drink in the stunning view. The RX-450h was neutral and easily controlled on the downhill run, with the brakes recharging the hybrid’s battery along the way. On the flat the V6 opens up and emits a throaty roar under acceleration, and the steering seems to loosen up, almost as if it realises that it’s time to relax and back off on assisting, yet keeps in touch with the driver.On the gravel that softer upper end travel comes into its own, with that absorption level flattening out the corrugations found on the way in and back out. Heading back to the highway brings with it a similar yet different feeling. Being front wheel drive oriented there’s a subtle shift in chassis feel thanks to the now uphill run. The nose is a little harder, tighter, as each flex of the right foot has the front tyres biting into the tarmac. The torque split feels more noticeable as it pushes the rear along into the turns uphill and makes for a more nimble and exhilarating package. The multi-purpose Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber provide a decent enough grip across both types of surfaces and at 235/55/20 provide a huge footprint too.

If there’s a signature for the Lexus range it’s the exterior design. It’s better than fair to say that Lexus has a unique styling ethic and it’s unlike any other luxury oriented maker. There’s a plethora of lines and angles and very few true curves outside of the wheel arch and behind the passenger doors. The sedan range, all of the SUVs, and even the Land Cruiser based big beastie have a strong family design ethic, particularly at the front end. There’s the distinctive hour glass grille, slimline tapered headlights, and in the RX there are a pair of triangular clusters holding the halogen driving lights. The overall presence is one of a standout on the roads.

At The End Of The Drive.
The Lexus range showcases and highlights a strong desire to take on and beat the Europeans and with possibly a better hybrid range, currently, does so. There’s little to dislike about the RX-450h on the inside as it’s a beautifully comfortable place to be in. Perhaps the only “downside” would be the full size glass roof rather than offering the blu-ray set up as found in the Kluger Grande. But there is that Mark Levinson DVD-audio system to compensate. Outside the exterior is a matter of choice. The drive itself is mostly one of beckoning towards those that enjoy the balance between sheer grunt and technology. The fuel economy is certainly a winner however AWT’s preference for how a fuel engine/battery system works is at odds with Toyota and Lexus’ way of doing it. The fuel engine cuts in far too early for AWT’s liking and the apparent lack of torque is a Mr Spock eyebrow raiser.

It’s a very good highway and freeway cruiser but also distinguished itself on the type of unsealed roads found in the lower mountains and elsewhere. This dual capability adds to the allure of the RX-450h, and with the hybrid economy pairing with the luxury interior, the combination add up to be a worthwhile consideration. Here is where you can find out more.

2019 MG ZS Essence SUV

A new brand for our review section  is MG. MG itself is Morris Garages, once a name held in the same regard as Lotus and Caterham thanks to its sporty range of little two seater sports cars. However that link to the British history is about all that is left. The company is now owned by Chinese conglomerate SAIC and the brand’s range itself is a long way from the sporty little two seaters that made the company a household name. There are four models available, the MG6 sedan, MG3 SUV, MG GS SUV, and the range topping MG ZS SUV, with two trim levels. We drive the 2019 MG ZS Essence, complete with panoramic “Stargazer” glass roof, six speed DCT, and a 1.0L turbocharged three cylinder.The pair starts with the 1.5L four speed Excite, and at the time of writing was on a special drive-away price of $22,990. The Essence is currently on $25,990. The three potter has that familiar thrum peculiar to three cylinder engines, and delivers 82kW @ 5200rpm, and 160Nm between 1800 to 4700rpm. Although that’s a great spread of revs it’s got to pull, via the front wheels, a 1245kg machine, plus fuel, plus passengers. This immediately puts the ZS on the back foot in overall driveability, with performance noticeably blunted with four aboard, compared to a single passenger. The engine comes paired with a six speed DCT, or dual clutch transmission, and makes a good fist of it here. It’s mostly smooth, bar the typical DCT stutters between Reverse and Drive, and at speed was quiet and almost seamless in changing.

The weight and lack of torque is dealt with by judicious use of the accelerator. Rather than punching the go pedal, a firm and progressive squeeze yields better results from a standing start. Revs climb willingly, the cogs shift appropriately, and the economy hovers around 8.0L/100km. MG quotes a combined cycle of 6.7L/100km and a city cycle of 8.4L/100km. In a purely city based environment that in itself sounds good but the ZS has just 48L in the tank, and after just shy of 500 kilometres of travel the tank needed a quick top up on the way back to its home base. MG also specify 95RON too, which makes for slightly more expensive attack on the hip pocket.

Ride and handling are a mixed bag. The steering is light, but not a featherweight in feel. The ZS changes direction quickly and without effort. But some of that comes from the suspension setup. Initially it’s hard, harsh, and picks up smaller road objects such as the reflective “cat’s eye” markers too easily, and it’s tiresome very quickly. That same setup has the chassis move around on the road, and with sweeping turns pocked with expansion joints, the ZS skips around noticeably. Over bigger lumps the dampers soften and absorb bigger obstacles such as the speed restricting bumps in school zones well.The MG ZS fits well in the compact SUV segment. There’s an overall length of 4314mm, a width of 1809mm that includes the mirrors, which makes interior shoulder room a mite snug. It stands just 1644mm tall and packs a 359L cargo area, in a low set design, inside the 2585mm wheelbase. Fold the rear seats and that cargo jumps to 1166L. On its own the low set cargo floor helps in loading and removing the weekly shopping. Getting in and out of the ZS was also easy thanks to the wide opening doors. Build quality was pretty good, with only a few squeaks, and one of the cargo cover pins refusing to stay plugged in noticed. The trim level itself is a pleasing blend of faux carbon fibre, flat and piano black plastic, and black man made leather seats. Unfortunately there is no venting in the seats and, on the sunny days experienced during the review period, were uncomfortably hot.Entertainment comes from an eight inch colour touchscreen. Apple CarPlay is embedded, Android Auto is not. FM sound quality was fine but if you want DAB you’ll have to stream it via a smartphone as that isn’t featured either. Interestingly, there is a Yamaha sound field program for the audio, which although making an audible difference between a single versus multi-person choice, is of questionable value. There didn’t appear to be RDS or Radio Data Service either, which gives you station ID and song information.The driver has a simple binnacle to deal with, sporting a pair of dials and a truly out of date LCD screen. This is a design that has the thin LCD line style of display and in an era of full colour screens with a better layout, this stands out as an anachronism. The tiller holds the tabs to scroll through the info available on a horizontal basis but didn’t seem to load anything using the up/down arrows. Attached to the manually operated steering column is the cruise control stalk, with a speed limiter alert fitted. Again there didn’t appear to be a simple method of disengaging this as it would produce an irritating chime with a buzz note when the legal speed limit was reached.Outside the MG ZS has styling hints from Hyundai and Mazda, not entirely a bad thing here. There’s good looking LED driving lights in what they call the “London Eye” up front, a Hyundai ix35 style crease at the rear, and a bluntish nose not unlike Mazda’s CX-5. However, the 17 inch wheels (with 215/50 rubber from Maxxis) look too small, especially in the rear wheel well arches. They’re too wide to provide the right proportional look for them.

When it comes to safety the MG ZS Essence is well equipped but misses out on Autonomous Emergency Braking. There are six airbags, not a driver’s kneebag, the basic emergency driver aids but no Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Detection, and the like.

At The End Of The Drive.
The 2019 MG ZS Essence is neither a bad car nor a good car. It does what it’s asked to do but offers no more than that. It drives well enough but needs a 1.5L or 1.6L engine with a turbo to overcome the performance issue. It’s comfortable enough but venting in the seats would be nice. The ride is ok but the jittery part of it, which is most of the time, would quickly become tiresome. The dash looks ok except for the 1980s style info screen. Here is where you can find out more.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Toyota Kluger Grande and GXL.

In a previous life, I attended the Perth launch of a newcomer to the Toyota family. Called Kluger, it was a squarish, slightly blocky, petrol only, mid-sized SUV. Fifteen plus years later the Kluger remains petrol only, still has a squarish and blocky design, and not far off in size of the Land Cruiser. AWT spent a week with the top of the range Grande and mid-level GXL, with the Grande seeing the countryside whilst the GXL did what it’s designed for. The urban lifestyle run. There’s a big price difference though, with the GXL in the mid $50K range and a huge $10K less than the Grande.The standard engine is a 3.5L V6, producing 218kW, and a surprising 350 torques. Surprising because, in context, it’s the same amount as that produced by a turbo-charged 2.0L petrol engine. As a result, urban fuel economy is less that inviting, with the GXL not seeing a figure below 11.0L per 100km at any stage. The Grande is a different story; the dash display didn’t appear to show a consumption figure however we managed a reasonable half tank from the lower Blue Mountains to Cooma. This consumption stayed consistent from Cooma to Bega, back to Cooma, and then Sydney.Sole transmission option is an eight speed auto. In the GXL this drives the front wheels and the Grande is an AWD system, driving the fronts but splits torque rearward on demand. The driver’s dash screen shows this in a graphic, and it’s kinda interesting to watch from the eye’s corner when starting forward, be it a hard or soft launch. The Grande suffers in comparison to the GXL in this area. When punched the GXL will move with a decent measure of alacrity and will chirp the front tyres. The GXL around town also has a slightly better ride, with a more supple appeal thanks to the slightly higher sidewalls. The Grande is sluggish off the line, with a feeling of needing more effort to have both front and rear wheels gripping. The eight speed auto in both is…..adequate, to be polite. Cold they were indecisive off the line, and when warmed up were somewhat archaic in their change feel. Think the early four or five speed autos when one cog was finished and there was a yawning gap until the next one engaged. An exaggeration of sorts, yes, but needed to paint the picture.The weapon of choice for the six hour country drive was the Grande over the Holden Calais Tourer. According to the junior team members of the review team it was the roof mounted blu-ray player (complete with SD card input) that won the contest. There are four wireless headphones and they sound fantastic. The screen itself, naturally, isn’t blu-ray quality but the fact Toyota offers that kind of playback is a bonus. Having rear aircon and the controls at the rear of the centre console is also a bonus as the controls are both fan speed and temperature independent of the front seats. The middle seat rows are tilt and fold which allows access to the simple pull-strap operated third row seats. Or one could enter via the power operated tailgate. The Grande has an extra family friendly feature for those that use wireless charging smartphones too. Adding to the family persuasion is a plethora of cup and bottle holders throughout the cabin plus a DAB or digital audio broadcast tuner. The latter had an oddity in that it would pick up signal in areas some other cars don’t but when it lost signal it was almost painfully slow to regain it.

Actual fit and finish in the Klugers is starting to lack visual appeal. The dash design is somewhat chaotic with blocks rather than an organic look. Somehow, after a while, it seems to work. Of note is the centre of driver’s binnacle info screen. In typical Toyota fashion it’s initially a little confusing to look at, but once a few flicks of the tabs on the tiller have been performed, the info such as which safety aids are being used or how much traction is being apportioned, becomes easily accessible instinctively. Powered seats make finding the right seating position to read the screen easy, and in the Grande they’re both heated and vented via a pair of utterly simple to use roller dials. They’re coloured red and blue left and right of the centre point and have three settings to choose from. The GXL ditches the venting and goes to slightly less attractive roller dials to activate the heating side.The actual driving position is comfortable in the seats but the tiller felt a bit narrow to the fingers. All round view is very good and with broad side mirrors the Blind Spot Alert system was almost not needed. Almost. On the highway heading east from Cooma to Bega, some of the roads narrow and there are opportunities for a lack of safety of this form to lead to issues thanks to drivers that believe themselves to be better than they are. Suffice to say the Blind Sport Alert system can be a life saver. Safety wise there’s really not a lot between the Grande and GXL, with Toyota‘s Safety Sense. Pedestrian friendly collision warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Departure Alert, and seven airbags are aboard.The Grande turned out to be a decent country tourer. Under way and at cruising speed, it ticks over at the freeway speed at close to 2,000rpm. Toyo supplies the (specially supplied for Kluger Grande) Open Country 245/55/19 rubber on the Grande and Michelin the 245/60/18s for the GXL. Both exhibit a sometimes uncomfortable measure of road noise, especially on the coarser chip surfaces south of Canberra. The dearth of torque at low revs was always apparent though. That peak amount is at 4700rpm, and it was enough at times to feel the gearbox move to seventh to eighth to seventh in order to try and utilise what was available. It was also noticeable when uphill runs or an overtake were required, with a steady drop through the ratios. On the road the steering was never comfortable though, with a somewhat numb on-centre feel and with more weight than expected. However it doesn’t tax the body and with a stop every two hours or so, a driver can exit the car feeling a bare minimum of driving fatigue.The exterior design is also starting to look out of date in comparison to both Toyota’s own design ethos and in respect to the opposition. It’s still a squarish, angular look, which at least matches the dash. The front features an inverted triangular motif and isn’t overly chromed. Eagle-eye headlights with LED driving lights balance a similar look at the rear. Alongside the latest from Korea the Klugers look heavy, tired, and nowhere as slippery.The Klugers also come with just a three year or 100,000 kilometre warranty, another area that other companies are rapidly changing. Roadside assistance is a 24/7 owner service, however.

At The End Of The Drive.
Quite simply the Toyota Kluger GXL is the better value bet. There really is simply not enough between the Grande and GXL to justify the extra ten thousand, blu-ray and all wheel drive system included. Neither will see any dirt action apart from the front lawn either. The styling is fading, inside and out, however it’s fair to presume, having seen the new Camry and Corolla, that a redesign is on the boards at Toyota HQ.

Having no diesel option, unlike the Sorento or Santa Fe, leaves people looking at the HiLux or Fortuner, Toyota’s almost invisible machine. Or there are Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport, Holden’s Trailblazer, Ford’s Everest, to consider, or offerings from Volvo, Audi, VW…Take it for a test drive yourself and check out the range here

SUV, Hatch or Wagon?

SUVs like the Volvo XC40 look really cool!

 

The ever popular Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Station Wagons like the new Ford Focus are brilliant.

 

Why do most women like the SUV, wagon or hatchback shape?  These are the preferred vehicles that women are driving.  SUVs definitely offer that extra status not to mention size.  It seems too that Teal coloured cars are the ones that most excite the ladies.

SUVs are hitting our road on mass, thanks to the buyers, female and male, preferring their practicality, safety and room.  You can buy FWD only SUVs, which if you never go in search of the wide open spaces outside of Suburbia then these types of vehicle will do all your townie jobs nicely, and often with plenty of room to spare.  AWD equivalent SUVs are more expensive anyway!

SUVs are bigger than anything else on the road besides trucks and buses, so anyone will likely be attracted to the safety aspect of owning an SUV.  Many guys will like the fact that their special other half drives a big safe SUV, which often ends up carrying the kids too.  Having a higher ride height does give you a commanding view of the road ahead, and generally speaking, the extra ground clearance works wonders should you be into off-roading.

SUVs are easier to get in-and-out of, and for loading child seats, child accessories, and library book and shopping bags.  Generally speaking you step inside an SUV, rather than sink down into them- like in a hatchback.  When it comes loading cargo into the boot the space is usually large, higher and easier to access.  That said, there are some nicely designed station wagons and hatchbacks that are very practical.

Downsides to owning an SUV are that they cost more to feed; cost more to maintain, and they generally need more wizardry and expensive technology to defy the laws of physics should you want to drive them quickly around corners.  Still, manufacturers are beginning to build a wide variety of SUVs to suit your tastes.  You can even buy convertible SUVs or 2-door coupe SUVs – which pushes the contemporary envelope somewhat.

So if you are a lady on the lookout for a nice new SUV – perhaps Teal coloured or close to it, that is competitively priced then there are some models you may consider.  OK, you men could consider this as well – though you’ll probably prefer a silver, black or white colour (though flaming orange and buttercup yellow is said to get a guy’s heartrate up).  So, how about a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, BMW X3, Ford Ecosport, Ford Escape, Ford Everest, Foton Sauvana, Haval H2, Hyundai Sant Fe or Kona, Jeep, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-3 or CX-5, MG GS, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross or Outlander, Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008, Renault Koleos, Skoda Kodiaq, Subaru Forester or XV, Suzuki Vitara, VW Tiguan, or any of the Volvo XC models?  Modern, safe and great multipurpose vehicles, this list is a good mix to get you thinking.

But if you don’t go the SUV way, there’s plenty of savings to be had by sticking to a hatchback or station wagon instead.  If you spend most of your time travelling within the confines of Suburbia then the SUV size might not make so much sense if a Station wagon or Hatchback will do.  And even at their most practical, an SUV is a bit more difficult to park in the tiny city car parks – unless you have an SUV with all the self-parking aids.

If you think that a good small hatch or station wagon will suit your needs just as well, you will enjoy the benefits of this type of vehicle being cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, more fun to drive and, thanks to the swelling tide of SUVs on the road, you’ll be bucking the trend and looking pretty cool.

Here’s some wagons or hatchbacks you might like to consider: Volvo V60, VW Golf wagon or hatch, your good old Toyota Corolla wagon or hatch, Subaru Forester or Impreza or Liberty, Skoda Octavia Wagon, Renault Megane, Proton Preve, loads of Peugeots, Nissan LEAF (Electric Vehicle), Mitsubishi ASX, a Mini, MG3, Mercedes Benz B-Class or C-Class, a Mazda 3 or 6, Kia Cerato or Soul, Hyundai i40 or i30, Honda Civic, Holden Astra, Ford Focus or Mondeo, Citroen C4 or C5, BMW 3 or 5 Series wagon, Audi A3 or A4, and Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Audi Unveils The e-Tron

Audi has unveiled the e-Tron in a webcast from California. Focusing on the design element, price, and the extensive charging network that Audi and its business partners have and will invest in, the e-Tron, Audi’s Tesla challenger, is available now to order online in the US. Audi have also partnered with global retail giant Amazon in what is currently a unique move, allowing one stop at home charging via the Amazon Alexa smart-home device.An energy recuperation system is expected to harvest up to 90% of the battery’s usable capacity to power the vehicles twin electric engines. Quick charging for the 95 kW/h battery provides up to 150kW or 80% from empty in around thirty minutes. A zero to 60mph time of the 5.5 second mark has been quoted also. Driving range won’t be an issue although Audi didn’t confirm expected range. With a raft of charging stations available throughout the US on major roads, connecting and recharging from the west to east coast won’t be an issue. With the immediate competition offering figures between 240 to 295 miles of range, an extensive network will alleviate range anxiety.

The e-Tron is based on the Q series of AWD vehicles, features the signature Audi grille which will have a platinum hue to signify Audi’s electric intentions, and will start in the USD$74K range. It also means that visually they are immediately more relatable, in an electric car sense, to buyers familiar with the Audi styling. Interior styling should be “standard” Audi with the multi-media and virtual cockpit fitments. There will be a pair of large screens for the centre section of the dash, with a 10 inch and 8.6 inch screen for satnav/entertainment, and climate control usage. With the driver having the Virtual Cockpit it means most conventional tabs and buttons have been removed. Autonomous driving will be on board but to a level that still requires human input. A Comfort and Sport mode is programmed to have the semi-autonomous factor as well. A panoramic roof and four zone climate control are standard. The much talked about digital mirrors will come later.Audi have provided the e-Tron with a signature look up front. Alongside the stylish grille are new four bar LED driving lights that blend well into the overall Audi styling. And the rear is standard Audi as well, with a clean and uncluttered design.

The entry level e-Tron will have twenty inch diameter wheels, a 360 degree camera, and a pounding B&O sound system. Vented and heated seats will be standard. Spend a little more and the Prestige at USD$81K offers a HUD or Head Up Display, massaging front seats, and dual pane acoustic (noise reduction) windows. Then there is the First Edition, a limited run numbers version. USD$86,700 has Daytona Grey paint, 21 inch wheels, and just 999 will be available in the US.
The car is due for deliveries in the US in the first quarter of 2019.

Mercedes-Benz EQC Unveiled and Mitsubishi ASX Updates.

It’d be fair to say that Tesla has been seen as an innovator when it comes to the fully battery powered car. Their Model X is a beautiful example of practicality, being a large and roomy people mover, with no challengers. Until now. Mercedes-Benz, an originator of the electric car, first put forward a concept of a people mover powered by electricity at the Paris Motor Show. That concept has now been released as a working version under a new branding, EQ. Known as the EQC, this SUV styled machine is powered by a pair of motors, one each for the front and rear combining to produce 300kW. Consumption is rated at 22.2 kiloWatt hours per 100 kilometres driven.Peak torque is quoted as 765Nm, and top speed is limited to 180km/h. Range is said to be 450 kilometres which of course will depend on driving conditions. It’ll be a hefty beast though, with a kerb weight of 2425 kilos for the 4761mm long machine. Gross Vehicle Mass for the 1884mm (sans mirrors) wide and 1624mm high EQC is 2930 kilos, with the battery pack making up 650 kilograms of that. However there’s enough oomph to get the EQC to 100km/h in a breath over five seconds.

Charging is courtesy of an on-board charger that is capable of delivering 7.4kW, making it AC home charging compatible. Using a M-B supplied “Wallbox” increases that by up to three times, with up to 110kW, and in forty minutes from nearly empty up to eighty percent.Styling is a mix of standard high riding SUV, a sloping rear roofline to add a bit of coupe, and a standout front panel in black. This encloses the headlights and a grille like structure. There’s an LED strip that borders the top of the panel that draws a line between the headlights. Design highlights inside have a ribbed edge to the instrument panel that resembles the heat exchange vanes from a music amplifier. Mercedes-Benz have ensured that the EQC will feel like a driver’s car by designing a cockpit-like feel to the cabin. Charging information can be found via the MBUX, or the Mercedes Benz User Experience. Charging current and switch off times can also be set here. MBUX will have its own tile on the screen to access EQ functions.

One of those is a form of pre-journey climate control, where the system can be activated to a certain present temperature before the vehicle is called into use for a drive. The satnav system will constantly calculate the best route based on charge time and usage plus aid in finding the best charging station on a distance basis. Pricing and release dates are yet to be confirmed.Another SUV is on its way however this is an update from an established vehicle. Mitsubishi‘s ASX has been given a freshen up and a surprising decision embedded in the update. There will be no diesels in the three model range, with a 2.0L petrol fed power plant as standard instead. Another surprising change is the move away from an AWD option to a purely front wheel driven system. Only one option will have a manual and that’s the entry level ASX ES at $23,490 RRP and a CVT equipped version at $25,490 RRP. The ES can also be specced with the ADAS option.Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Lane Change Assist (LCA) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM), along with reversing sensors, dusk sensing headlamps and rain sensing wipers. Exterior features include front fog lamps and door mirrors with side turn lamps. The ASX ES optioned with Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) will have a recommended retail pricing of $26,990. The LS is $27,990 RRP with the top level Exceed well priced at just $30,990 RRP.

All vehicles will have DAB audio, seven airbags, smartphone compatibility, a minimum of two USB ports, reverse camera, and two ISOFIX child seat mounts. The LS adds Forward Collision Mitigation, two tone alloys, auto high beam, leather accented seats, and auto headlights & wipers. The Exceed takes this list further with heated front seats, six speaker sound system, the ADAS as standard, plus a glass roof.Check with your local Mitsubishi dealer for availability.

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.