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Archive for May, 2010

Environmentally friendly motoring: where the rubber hits the… glass?

More and more of us are becoming environmentally aware in the choices we make and in the way we drive. Car manufacturers, politicians, city planners and transport experts are all finding ways to make motoring more environmentally friendly and sustainable. The methods they use range from up-to-the-minute and “sexy” to some that sound downright peculiar.

The really “sexy” idea in environmentally friendly motoring is hybrid cars or electric cars that don’t just use petrol or diesel but use electricity to power them. You just have to see the interest generated by the new Toyota Hybrid Camry to see how sexy this idea is. And this idea, on the surface at least, looks pretty good. If you burn less petrol, you release fewer particles and nasties into the air, which cuts down on pollution. However, as the editor of the Dog and Lemon Guide is quick to point out, this isn’t such an eco-friendly idea if the source of this electricity is from a coal or gas fired power station – all a hybrid car does in this case is to shift the point of pollution from one place to another. If your power comes from a sustainable source such as wind, solar or hydro electricity, then hybrid cars look a whole lot better. In fact, in the US, some researchers are looking at a way of creating “solar road” – roads made from solar panels that generate electricity (to run the hybrid and electric cars?) while still being safe to drive on. Well, we’ll see if this idea works!

The next hot topic in greener, more sustainable motoring is biofuels. While these still put out a few greenhouse gases, they don’t rely on fossil fuels to be produced, and when it comes to carbon dioxide, they probably cancel out, as the things used to make them take carbon out of the atmosphere. Ethanol is one readily available alternative fuel in Australia – it’s a by-product of our sugar industry – and biodiesel is also catching on. Biodiesel is produced from waste vegetable oils or even from a type of algae that can be grown in a septic tank. Many European car manufacturers are cottoning onto the appeal of biodiesels and biofuels, and Saab (among others) has put out models that are designed to run on these fuels. Besides, diesel engines, which can take biodiesel, just keep getting better and better.

Transport planners have their ideas, too. There’s a big push towards encouraging people to take public transport to work, get involved in car-pooling schemes, and to walk or bike for short journeys (i.e. 2 km trips). There’s something to be said for some of these schemes, but if you’ve got a heap of gear to cart about or its pouring with rain, most of us will probably take the car rather than the bike or the bus.

And even the roads we drive in are becoming more sustainable. Roading experts such as AUSTROADS have been looking at ways to make the roads themselves more sustainable by using fewer raw materials and more recycled material. You never quite know what’s in the lower layers of the road you’re driving on. Materials recovered to be used to make the roads we drive on include slag ash and other waste from our mining and metal industry, the bits of road they’ve pulled up to make repairs, scrap tyres, crushed bricks and even old broken glass. Funny to think that you might end up driving on the beer bottle you’ve drunk out of – about the only link there ought to be between drinking and driving. But that’s another story.

Economy cars

It’s always an interesting evaluation: comparing all the cars that have been designed to function as the world’s best fuel sippers.  If you are a commuter, then you’ll know what it’s like spending hours at the wheel in traffic jams. You will also appreciate owning a car that doesn’t cost the earth to run.


Take a look at the list of cars that I have compiled.  These vehicles are Australia’s most economical vehicles at present – and all of them are sold new. The fuel consumption figures are based on what Australia’s ‘Wheels Magazine’ has compiled.  You might like to buy a copy for yourself – they are always a good read.


The fuel consumption figures are based on the number of litres of fuel consumed every 100 km. If you think there should be a car in this list, that isn’t, please feel free to comment on what that car is.  Your thoughts are always welcome.


Hopefully this read will prove helpful to those of you looking out for a car that leads the globe in fuel frugality.  Obviously, these penny-wise cars will tend to be smaller. But, take a look, as there are one or two cars in this list that do offer some sensible practicality as well.  And, if it’s just you travelling then the smallest of these cars might tickle your fancy and be just what you need. 


The list is in alphabetical order – just to be helpful: 


Audi offers a tidy little package in its little A3 TDI version.  The 1.9 TDI engine is linked to a five-speed manual gearbox, has plenty of torque and holds a fuel economy figure of 4.5 litres/100 km.  It is probably one of the most roomy economy cars on this list.



Another small German car worth a mention is the BMW 118d.  It’s a fun drive, has an automatic stop/start function for the engine, and you might like to note that this engine offers 300 Nm of torque – a punchy little powerhouse!  Being run through a slick six-speed manual gearbox means that the BMW 118d achieves an impressive 4.5 litres/100 km fuel economy figure.  It’s rear-wheel-drive too!



The French love to rival the Germans, so it is no surprise to see that the Citroen C3 and C4 feature.  Loaded with style, the Citroen C3 HDi has a very competitive price, a beautiful ride and fuel consumption of 4.4 litres/100 km.   Bigger and roomier, the nice looking Citroen C4 HDi is simply gorgeous.  And, it boasts 4.5 litres/100 km fuel economy.



Super cute, and with endless loads of flair, the nicely packaged turbo-diesel Fiat 500 will capture your attention.  Whether the 1.3 JTD engine is mated to a five-speed or six-speed manual gearbox, both options provide a thrifty 4.2 litres/100 km fuel consumption.




The Italian flamboyance continues with the Punto 1.3 and 1.4 JTD models.  The Punto knows how to handle the road ahead – making it very rewarding to drive.  And hey, it looks like a Maserati!  While returning 4.6 litres/100 km this won’t make it a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous group.  Both of these Fiats are also very hotly priced.





Now for a benchmark: Ford has the stylish Fiesta Econetic.  This is Australia’s most economical car at present. Nothing beats the 3.7 litres/100 km fuel economy figure.  Nicely proportioned, and a great handler, the Ford Fiesta Econetic is the complete package.



Honda’s ever reliable Civic is so very technologically advanced and nice to drive.  Blessed with a satisfying interior, Honda now offers a Honda Hybrid sedan that has a sprightly 1.3 litre Hybrid Honda engine.  A 4.6 litres/100 km fuel economy figure ensures it keeps the other marques honest.



Hyundai has come to the party with its 1.6 litre turbo-diesel.  The Hyundai i30 SXCRDi is Australia’s cheapest diesel car to buy new.  The car is pleasant to look at, and it has a nicely finished interior and plenty of zip.  With 255 Nm of torque, and a fuel economy figure of 4.7 litres/100 km, it’s got to be tempting!




Running very close to the little Ford Fiesta Econetic, is Mini’s Cooper D.  The Mini Cooper D has one of the catchiest exterior designs in this line-up, and with a small 1.6 litre, turbo-diesel engine the Cooper D makes sure it offers plenty of punch.   The engine is linked to a manual six-speed gearbox, meaning that the mini Cooper D achieves a fantastic fuel economy figure of 3.9 litres/100 km.  This Mini has, perhaps, the best handling characteristics in this comparison.  Definitely worth a look!



Very classy, the new Peugeot 207 offers a fine economy package in the XT HDi.  With just 4.8 litres of diesel being used every 100 km it won’t exactly send you broke. Pug’s bigger 308 1.6 HDi offers plenty of practicality, and is very stylish and beautifully designed -inside and out. 



Definitely the smallest car here, the Smart ForTwo fits into car parks like you wouldn’t believe!  Small and safe, comfortable and peppy, any smart CBD commuter will check out the tiny Smart ForTwo.  Boasting a combined fuel economy figure that sits well under 5 litres/100 km – and this coming from out of a petrol engine – do your sums and you’ll see why this set of four wheels makes sense.



Here is a quick plug for those of you who need economy in an SUV package.  The muscly looking SsangYong Actyon has a 2.0 litre turbo-diesel engine that packs over 300 Nm of torque, has four-wheel-drive, is well priced and goes about its business quietly.  Getting any 1.8 tonne vehicle to manage under 5 litres/100 km is a feat.  Well done to SsangYong!



Budget priced, and one of the few petrol powered cars in this list, is the Suzuki Alto.  Take away the added expense of maintaining and running a diesel, and the Suzuki Alto 1.0 litre GL and GLX with a fuel economy figure of 4.8 litres/100 km makes a heap of sense.  The Suzuki Alto is also nice looking, has six airbags and even comes with ESP as standard – in the GLX model.  Great for around town – you’d be nuts to not consider an Alto.



Where would the world be without Toyota?  For a very frugal, spacious and practical drive, the clean burning Toyota Prius III offers a 1.8 litre petrol hybrid engine.  It doesn’t come cheap, but it is certainly friendly on the environment.  Expect 3.8 litres/ 100 km.



Start with the Germans, and finish with the Germans, – Volkswagen always has offered very well designed, reliable and fuel efficient motorcars.  Superbly finished, refined, elegant and roomy, the Golf 77TDI variants easily boast fuel economy figures that sit below 5 litres/100 km.


So, here’s your list. Digest the information, and see if I have missed anything useful? 


Hopefully it’s a helpful read to you all.  Happy commuting!

Another New World Record??….for lawnmowers

The quirky Brits are at it again, trying to regain the record for the World’s fastest lawnmower, currently held by another quirky guy from the USA.

“Project Running Blade” hopes to take a “more-or-less everyday ride-on mower above 100mph (160kph)”. The current record stands at 81mph and was set in 2006 at Bonneville Salt Flats (the favourite haunt of many World record attempts-so this is serious stuff) by American Bob Cleveland.

“This is a proper record, and building a lawnmower capable of speeds well into 3 figures is no easy feat undertaken in an afternoon,” says Stephen Vokins, Project Runningblade’s team principal. “For a start, it still has to be a lawnmower, capable of cutting grass properly. And then it has to obey the laws of physics that will try to stop it going so fast, both through drag and also aerodynamics. There is a real danger that if the aerodynamics are wrong, it will flip up in the air, with disastrous results.


Runningblade in its earlier Mk1 form
Runningblade in its earlier Mk1 form

“Be under no illusions: this is no collection of blokes standing around in a shed wondering what to do until the pub opens. Backed by some of Britain’s finest companies who are contributing their expertise and funds to the project, this is a hand-picked team of professionals and experts in their fields, all bringing their knowledge and experience to achieve something that no-one has ever done before – to crack the ton on a ride-on lawnmower!”

No mention is made of whether it has to still cut lawns whilst going for the record.

The obvious question we ask is “Why????”

SOLD! For a New World Record Price

Two Million Dollars? Four Million dollars? TEN million dollars? No, much more than that!

The US financial press have reported the sale of a 1936 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic to an unnamed buyer in California for between thirty and thirty five million dollars (US). If true, that’s a staggering amount, particularly as the Bugatti was purchased by the seller, the late Peter D. Williamson, a neurologist, for $59,000 in 1971.

Since then Dr. Williamson, who was the President of the American Bugatti Club, has spent years, and not inconsiderable dollars, restoring it, such that it won “Best of Show” at the renowned “Pebble Beach Concours’ in 2003. Even so it still must have provided a very healthy profit to the late Dr. Williamson’s estate.

There were only three Bugatti 57SC Atlantics built from the prototype. The only other one in existence is owned by the US designer Ralph Lauren and forms part of his fabled car collection.

No matter how beautiful, rare or desirable, can any car really be worth this staggering amount?

Have our priorities changed when we buy a new car?

How much do you think about safety when buying a car?  Surveys tell us that a new car buyer is taking a greater interest in how well a car has performed in reputable crash tests.  


Kicking tyres is a fun pass time for many blokes, and I guess that there are a good number of women who enjoy checking out cars as well.  How nice a car looks has always hit somewhere near the top of the list for a number of prospective car buyers, as well as the vehicle’s performance figures – be it acceleration or fuel consumption.  Another important point of consideration is how practical the car could be.  In earlier days, the car’s safety record would have been one of the last things to have considered before forking out the money to the car salesperson. 


Things have changed a lot.  Now, top of the question list for plenty of discerning car buyers is how well will this car, I’m looking to buy, protect me in a severe accident? 


Today there is so much excellent information from many top crash testing organisations that will aid us to make, what we feel, is the best decision when choosing a new car. 


Modern technology is so incredibly advanced, and car manufacturers know that safety features help to sell there cars – more than it has ever done in the past.


Take a look at the data and results from Australia’s leading crash testing organisation: ANCAP.  You have access to crashworthiness information by year of car manufacture.  Without a doubt newer cars are, on average, safer than older ones. Furthermore, if safety features are optional, purchasing a car new allows these optional features to be fitted to the car.  These days, airbags, electronic stability control and ABS are the basic safety features that new car manufacturers really need to have inside their vehicles to make them a competitive safety package.


Does it bother you how safe your car is – the one that you have your heart set on? 


Buying almost new does have its benefits, however.   Purchasing a used car often saves many thousands of dollars over purchasing the same car new. This can allow you to buy a larger car or a car with better safety features than you may have been able to afford otherwise.  Generally, larger cars, and cars with more safety features, provide better real world occupant protection in a crash than smaller cars with less safety features. It is often the case that an older second hand large or luxury car will provide better crash protection than a new small car with few safety features.  And, you can purchase the larger car for around the same money as the new small car.


It’s super to see that safety is being taken seriously by the new car manufacturer.  After all, you can always replace a smashed up car – not so easy your loved ones.