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Archive for June, 2015

Private Fleet Car Review: Audi S1 Quattro Sportback.

Sports cars are, generally, thought of as having a front mounted engine, driving the rear wheels and no roof. That’s certainly not untrue, however, there’s plenty that offer the same ability and experience with different drivetrains and a different look.
A Wheel Thing looks at an all wheel drive sports car with a roof, the Audi S1 Quattro Sportback.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback

It’s a lusty 2.0L turbo, pumping out 170 kW and an impressive 370 Newton metres of torque. Combined with a six speed manual and pushing power to all four corners and a selectable drive system which adjusts engine tuning and suspension, it’ll sprint to 100 kmh in a tick under six seconds and top out at an electronically limited 250 kmh.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback enginePower comes in at a peaky 6000 rpm but the engine’s party piece is the linear delivery of that monstrous torque: it’s mesa flat from 1600 to 3000 revs, allowing scintillating acceleration under way and back bending launches off the line, with a short throw gear selector providing rapid punching through the six forward ratios.

Along the way, the engine throws out surprising fuel economy, with Audi quoting for the five door hatch 7.3L of 95 RON being consumed for every 100 kilometres for the combined cycle (9.3L for suburban and 6.0L for the highway). It needs that economy as the S1 can only squeeze in a 45L tank.

The Suit.
The S1 manages to cram this performance into a sub four metre long vehicle; at 3975 mm it’s in no danger of being considered a big car yet manages to tempt drivers with a 2469 mm wheelbase, big for a small car. It’s broader than what the looks suggest,with a total width (including the overly stubby mirrors) of 1906 mm, or 1740 mm sans reflectors. Height is just 1417 mm.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback rearThe car provided came clad in Misano Red and Brilliant Black, an eyecatching combination. Rolling stock was a grippy set of 225/35 tyres wrapping five arm facet design alloys at 18 inches in diameter, hiding red painted brake callipers. There’s a spoiler at the rear of the roof line and Quattro stickers adorning the lower part of the rear doors.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback wheelAudi’s signature “koala nose” grille sit proudly between the Xenon headlights and LED driving lights at the front whilst a subtle alloy strip highlights an air intake at the lower extremity, with the rear featuring a sports diffuser at the bottom, housing four chromed tips for the sports tuned exhaust. Sitting above them is a piano black strip with LED powered brake and night lights, looking like a pair of demonic eyes at night.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback tail lightsThe five door weighs 25 kilos more than the three door Sportback, at 1390 kilos against 1415 kilos.

On The Inside.
Yes, it’s compact inside but not as tight as you’d think. The main issue here is rear seat legroom, with a person of average height sitting in the front seats needing to move their well appointed and supportive pews back enough that the plastic backed seats compromise, drastically, any real leg space there was.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback rear seatsInterior trim is muted; there’s grey leather for the seats, black plastic abounds apart from the body coloured trim on the backs of the front seats and on the centre console surrounding the gear lever. There’s also red piping highlighting the alloy look airvents whilst alloy also raises the profile of the interior door handles, pedals, aircon, exterior wing mirrors and the upper surrounds of the red console.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback manualMounted in the top centre of the dash is Audi’s infotainment screen; in true Audi style it takes some getting used to as it’s operated by a dial and buttons in the console immediately forward of the slick shifting gear lever. The dial (and a button) rotate through navigation, audio and settings; it’s not exactly intuitive but becomes easy to use after a bit of practice.

It’s a 6.5 inch screen, with the navigation screen proffering plenty of information. There’s a hard drive to store music plus two SD card slots for media as well, plus Bluetooth audio streaming on board. Audio quality was high, with clear and punchy bass underpinning a fairly well defined soundstage. The tech continues in offering a wifi hotspot, local petrol stations and apps.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback night dashThe seatbelt mounts for the front seats are awkwardly mounted and located, close to the pivot point for the centre console are rest that folds up. The rest gets in the way of the left elbow and the mounts themselves are not easy to slot the belt latch in to, with adult hands feeling claustrophobic trying to slot the mechanism in. Also, the rear vision mirror is simply too small to really be considered safe.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback rear vision mirrorThe dash itself is simple, legible and hints at the family linkage that Audi has with a couple of other Euro makers, with a monochrome centre screen flanked by two large dials in the binnacle holding the tacho and temperature on the left and speedo and fuel gauge on the right.
The column has indicators on the left, wiper controls from both front and rear windows plus headlights whilst a third column makes it messy with the cruise control. This could and should be relocated to the spokes.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback front seat belt mounts

Interior fit and finish is highly specced with nary a squeak or out of place noise. What was “out of place” was the larger than expected battery located rear and centre in the boot, underneath the 210L cargo space. Spare wheel? Um. No.

On The Road.
The strength of the S1 is its powerhouse engine. That incredible flexibility brought on by the torque, couple with the smooth, close ratio, six speed manual, make it a doddle to drive around town, with an easy progression through to fifth before reaching 60 kmh. The clutch is light but not vaguely so, giving enough feedback through the travel to let the driver know when it’s in or out of gear in changes.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback headlightsAcceleration is gentle when needed, ferocious when required, with that all paw delivery working hand in hand with the Pirelli rubber to rocket the S1 along at any speed and with an indecent amount of confidence in its handling. The low ride height and centre of gravity work together beautifully, “spoiled” only by the suspension that has the S1 sitting as flat as a pancake and has as much give as one, as well.

The quad tipped exhaust emits a somewhat subdued yet subtly raucous tone when the S1 is on song but lacked the truly visceral bark and popping something like a Fiat 500 Abarth adds to the soundtrack.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback dash

Under way, overtaking is done as easily as breathing. It’s either a gear or two back or a simple press of the right foot, depending on current and desire velocity. It certainly winds up nicely enough, either way, surprising a few people in bigger engined cars as to how the gap between them and the S1 suddenly went to a yawning chasm.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback cargoThe suspension is taut, very taut, with the barest compliance initially to absorb undulations but it dislikes any bumps bigger than a five cent piece. However, it’s a sports car so it’s part of the package. The location of the battery to rear also helps with the balance of the car, with the S1 being able to change direction in a blink with fear of the front and rear wishing to go AWOL….a shortish wheelbase in the context of the car’s size didn’t hurt either.

The Wrap.
The 2016 Audi S1 has an impressive engine and gearbox, a sports car ride, manages to provide enough room for one or two people and can be specced with many options (click here:

It’s certainly a car for a driver that likes to DRIVE a car, rather than be a passenger in “D” world and really suits a single person or a couple as the lack of truly flexible rear leg room places shackles on it being a family friendly car. The overall economy, Audi’s quality, the sheer exhilaration that engine and gearbox imbue, along with the sure-footedness the quattro drive train provides, will appeal to many but only a few will truly appreciate the depth of ability and talent the S1 has.Audi S1 Quattro Sportback front seats

Backed by a three year and unlimited kilometre warranty as standard (Audi do offer an extended warranty) there’s plenty of peace of mind as well

Head to for info on all Audi products.

For A Wheel Thing TV:

The Car: Audi S1 Quattro Sportback.
Engine: 2.0L, four cylinder.
Fuel: 95 RON.
Tank: 45L.
Power/Torque: 170 Kw/370 Nm @ 6000/1600-3000 rpm.
Economy: 9.3L/6.0L/7.3L per 100 km, urban/highway/combined.
Transmission: six speed manual, all wheel drive.
Dimensions (L x W x H in mm): 3975 x 1906 x 1423.
Wheels/Tyres (as fitted): 225/35 on 18 inch alloys.
Warranty: three years, unlimited kilometres.

Wheels For The Disabled: Automobility.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning. No, it’s not open your eyes, fart, or have a scratch. You got out of bed. Unassisted. Unaided. Unsupported.

Give that some thought for a moment….sure, there may be some aches, some pains, some popping of joints, but you got out of bed all by yourself. Imagine, then, how that simple and unconscious movement for us must be for those that have no leg movement, no body movement or no control over their limbs. Effectively, the only mode of transport is a wheelchair. But what happens when you need or want to go further? That’s where Automobility steps up.

Automobility is a company, like many others, that offers transportation options for those that need that support. Unlike any others, Automobility design, engineer and build in house to a standard that surpasses all of the requisite Australian Design Rules (ADR), down to gutting a donor car, removing parts such as the rear suspension and installing bespoke items.van

The company is based in Montrose, just over thirty kilometres east of Melbourne, Victoria’s capital city. Founded in the mid noughties, the business is now a fully fledged entrant into the disabled services area, with a full sized workshop in order to modify the cars. In May of 2015, Automobility unveiled their new creation, utilising the 2016 Kia Carnival as the starting model.Automobility Kia Carnival

Don’t worry, carers aren’t forgotten; the design ethos allows flexible seating options, from three to six passengers, allowing the person in question to feel secure in the knowledge their family and/or carers are along for the ride. The design parameters also factor in a ‘char’s width; from 540 mm up to 700 mm in width, with anchor points to ensure no unnecessary movement.

There’s also options for the disable person to be the driver; a ramp at the rear lowers and the person drives themselves into the vehicle, with an access point built in behind the steering wheel, allowing the person to lock themselves into place and operate the vehicle much in the manner an able bodied person would. This provides extra freedom and mobility.Automobility Proton Exora

Automobility provides their “Docking Station”, allowing parking of manual or power operated ‘chairs. The deisgn allows for movement of the unit to suit the ‘chair’s design, with fore and aft adjustment of up to 30 mm. There’s different heights as well, from 45 mm to 90 mm. Backing that up is flexibility in the design; this allows changes to the front, centre, rear seats or a combination of all three, depending on the wishes of the client.

How did Automobility come into being? Owner, Jeff Watters, explains:
Having been working as an Automotive Engineering consultant since 1989, I was retained in the late 1990’s by a company who was entering the wheelchair access vehicle manufacturing market.The design brief I was given included;

o Ride comfort for the wheelchair user similar to the OE vehicle

o Good visibility for the wheelchair user

o Flat floor for where the wheelchair user is transported

o Adequate aperture for entry of the wheelchair.

My philosophy was to start with a clean sheet of paper which resulted in an “easy fix” for the aperture and flat floor aspects of the design brief. However, the flat floor aspects created significant design difficulties in relation to the rear suspension. My solution to this was the adaption of an age old suspension design called trailing arms – a principle never applied to wheelchair access vehicles anywhere in the world at that time.Automobility Kia Carnival secure mounting

Luckily, in one way, for Jeff, that company went into bankruptcy, and with Jeff looking to move from the role he was in into manufacturing, some dollars were found and the company was bought, spawning Automobility in February, 2001. Jeff kept on board some of the employees of the previous business, operating out of his home’s garage before sourcing premises in Croydon, Victoria.

To say the early days were easy is to say Mt Everest is made of green alphabet soup; Jeff had to supplement the income of Automobility by continuing his consultancy business but perseverance paid off and word, like Old Regret, got around. As Jeff says:

· Automobility was the ONLY company able to comply with the Australian Standards for wheelchair access vehicles in relation to internal clearance for wheelchair access vehicles

· Automobility designed the first correctly positioned lap-sash seat belt assembly wheelchair bound occupants

· Automobility and myself hold Australian and USA patents on our unique independent rear suspension and wheelchair occupant lap-sash seat belt.

· Realising that our clients’ needs only started when they got their Automobility vehicle, we established a National repair and service network to ensure that our client’s vehicles could be maintained Australia wide – including the introduction of a 24 hour emergency contact telephone number to be there “24/7” for our clients.

· As the number of Automobility vehicles in the community continues to grow, we realised that we needed even more service and repair agents. After a passing comment from my wife, I entered negotiations with Pedders Suspension and now Automobility and Pedders Suspension have formally partnered – providing the Automobility service and repair network with an additional 120 agents across Australia – the ONLY time such a partnering has occurred worldwide.

· We’ve now completed the world first conversion of the latest Kia Carnival YP for wheelchair access.

· Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, with competitors now offering very similar variations of our conversions as “their own” designs.

Where Automobility leads is in its forward thinking: previous design parameters in cars had doors that were smaller than the wheelchairs, necessitating some serious engineering, along with rear door vehicles having a hump where the rear drivetrain was. Plus, the rear suspension had extra travel to accommodate the weight of the ‘chair and occupant, leading to a bouncy and uncomfortable ride. Jeff’s original design brief covered off providing similar ride comfort to the donor vehicle, better visibility for the ‘chair’s occupant, flat floor access and more.Automobility Kia Carnival flat floor

A major hurdle was the flat floor aspect; Jeff overcame this by resorting to a tried and true design, trailing arms. This allows Automobility to section and rebuild the rear of donor vehicles such as Kia’s award winning Carnival. This provides the flatter access require, allows more flexibility for other occupants and ups the safety factor in regards to mounting the ‘chair and occupant more securely.

From this, Jeff says it’s increased the pleasure level in dealing with clients and hearing the reaction from them, plus seeing the smiles on their faces as well. Along with further development and refinement of their systems, Automobility’s partnering with Pedders ensures Australia wide backup and support.

Finally, there’s the growth of Automobility: from a single vehicle per month, with four employees crammed into a 500 square metre factory, there’s 2.5 square kilometres of floor space, 24 employees and over ten vehicles per month rolling out of the doors and an inventory of vehicles ready for almost immediate delivery. Build time? Compressed from over 200 hours to under 100.

Add in the support from Kia Australia (plus Proton and VW) and Europcar providing their clients Automobility built vehicles, it’s fair to say that there’s wheels for the disabled of higher quality and far better safety than ever before.

Head across to for even more info.

The Biofuel Potential of Elephant Grass

What’s a big fluffy-looking grass that could be one of the answers to dwindling fossil fuel supplies?  The answer is Miscanthus – also known as elephant grass.


Elephant grass (Miscanthus × giganteus) has been getting a bit of interest from the biofuel boffins since as early as the 1980s. And it’s got a fair bit of promise. It’s not an oil-producing plant but it does make a good feedstock for ethanol.

Elephant grass is a perennial (plant it once and then it just keeps on going) that grows from rhizomes (that’s big fat roots).  It puts out fresh shoots every spring, grows up to 3 metres high in summer. In the autumn, it starts to go to sleep, sending a lot of the nutrients (including nitrogen and carbon) underground to the soil and the roots (and also smothers a few weeds with the shed leaves).  This leaves tall stems that are kind of like bamboo standing.  These stems are harvested in late winter or early spring before the new leaves start poking up again, and it’s the stems that get used as an ethanol feedstock.  Then the cycle begins again.

Now, there are a number of issues that have to be tackled when it comes to finding a good plant source of biofuel. Firstly, there’s the land issue. There’s only a certain amount of arable land in the world, and with the global population growing the way that it is, we’re going to need quite a lot of it to feed us all (we probably also need to do something about the amount of food that gets wasted every year, but that’s another story).  Then come the issues with water: again, there’s only so much fresh water out there at any one time for people and animals and plants to use, even if the water cycle means that it all keeps circulating. And you’ve got pesticides: if a crop gets a lot of pests eating it, then farmers need to dump on the pesticides, which (a) takes up a lot of resources and (b) puts a whole lot of junk into the soil and water.

It’s an added bonus if a plant used as a biofuel feedstock is pretty easy-care. That way, it doesn’t mean that the farmers use heaps of diesel in the process of ploughing, sowing, harrowing, weeding, fertilising and harvesting.  Plants that have other benefits also get big tick marks.

Stems of elephant grass ready for harvest at the end of winter.

Stems of elephant grass ready for harvest at the end of winter.

So how does elephant grass stand up?

Elephant grass has a high yield per hectare. This means that for every acre of elephant grass planted, you get a maximum of 25 tons of biomass (depending on the exact variety) that converts to over 3000 gallons of ethanol – better figures than you get for corn grown for biofuel and heaps better than timber.  It’s not a food crop for humans or for animals.  This means that on one hand, it will take up land that could be used for growing food. On the other hand, it means that it won’t drive up the price of food, like corn grown for biofuel can.  It needs a moderate amount of water, but it’s pretty undemanding regarding other inputs.  Because it’s a perennial plant, it doesn’t need to be re-sown every year. It also smothers weeds and puts some organic material back into the soil, meaning that you don’t need pesticides and it cuts down on the amount of fertiliser needed for a good crop – although a wee bit of fertiliser will be needed for best results.  All a farmer has to do, more or less, is stick it in, water it and harvest it at the right time.

And is there anything else that elephant grass is good for? It can be used as a substitute for coal in coal-fired power plants (one US plant breeder claims that 1 acre of elephant grass can power two typical US households for a year).  The stems also get used for kitty litter, bedding for racehorses, paper and composites (eco-friendly plastic substitutes). Unfortunately, these aren’t by-products of the biofuel industry. However, the tall green stands does provide cover for wildlife during summer.  It can also be used as an ornamental plant – although it’s a bit on the large side!

Elephant grass grows reasonably well in the more temperate parts of Australia. In fact, a close relative of M. × giganteus (Miscanthus sinensis – also known as zebra grass) is considered to be an invasive weed in Victoria and New South Wales.  Let’s hope the powers that be don’t just spray it off but make the most of it!  Elephant grass, however, is a hybrid, so it’s not likely to spread as invasively, as the seeds aren’t fertile.

Safe and happy driving,


BTCC Memorable Drives: Groundhog Day at Oulton Park

Image taken from:

Image taken from:

With the next round of the 2015 BTCC season at Oulton Park fast approaching, I thought I would take an alternative slant on proceedings. Instead of yet another Oulton Park preview post, of which you will find many, I thought it best to take a drive down memory lane. Today marks the glorious return of BTCC Memorable Drives, and I have chosen one of my favourite moments from the Super Touring era. What happens when you take Alain Menu in a blisteringly fast Renault and put him behind Paul Radisich in a not-so-fast Peugeot at Oulton Park?

The 1997 season of the BTCC was utterly dominated by Alain Menu in the Williams Renault. But the arrival of 1998 would not bring such returning fortune for the Swiss-ace. In a year dominated by cripplingly awful luck, Menu was not destined to win the title, despite often showing he had the fastest car on the grid. Nowhere else was this more apparent than at Oulton Park, where Menu had developed somewhat of a reputation in his years in the series.

After a rocky start to his 1998 campaign, Menu must have been relieved to arrive at Oulton Park, given his previous record. The sprint race confirmed his abilities once more with a resounding victory over Rickard Rydell in the Volvo. The feature race looked set to repeat his returning dominance as he shot off into the lead, and even managed to retain his advantage after the pit stop.

But the great touring car gods were not shining brightly for Menu on that day.

Cue Paul Radisich.

Image taken from:

Image taken from:

The 1998 Peugeot was not the fastest machine to take to the track. What they did have on their side however was driving talent in the form of Tim Harvey and Paul Radisich. In the world of motorsport, sometimes defence can be just as profitable as offence. Paul Radisich was just about to prove that.

The charging Menu found himself behind Radisich as the theoretical race leader, but Radisich was still ahead of him on the road. The Peugeot team had told him to stay out as long as possible to get the point given to drivers who lead a lap of a race. Considering the entire BTCC community seemed to think that the Peugeot team were down on power and performance, Radisich put up a tremendous defensive effort against Menu. The frustration clearly got too much for Menu, who eventually shoved poor Paul Radisich out the way into Fosters, nearly losing the lead to Plato through Cascades.

After conceding defeat and having been swallowed up by the chasing pack, Radisich yielded and pitted at the end of the lap. Finally Menu had some clean air and a chance to drive away to his second win of the day.

Or so he thought.

A problem in the pits left Radisich stranded for what seemed like centuries, before finally being released. And I will give you three guesses who he exited the pits in front of. Oh yes, the Swiss ace once more had his view filled by his favourite Peugeot driver. As they flew down the Avenue into Cascades, Menu made his move again, leading to what may just be one of my favourite bits of commentary from Mr Charlie Cox,

“He must think he’s like Bill Murray in that movie groundhog day, every day’s the same! Every laps the same! Every time he comes around he has to pass Radisich! And he’s having to do it again! He’s passing Radisich… He’s more than passing Radisich he’s off!

In his eagerness to re-pass the Peugeot, Menu lost his usually unbreakable concentration and shot his Renault up the inside at the first opportunity he could find. Considering the field massing behind him, normally it is the most sensible thing to do to clear lapped traffic as soon as possible. But in his case, the phrase more haste less speed was applicable. He may have indeed thrown his car up the inside, but he did kind of forget to brake, shooting the car off wide onto the grass.

This uncharacteristically silly move from Alain Menu lost him not only the race lead, but ultimately a podium position as Anthony Reid would also pass him before the chequered flag.

But words can only do so much: for your viewing pleasure here is that incident for your aural pleasure:

Alain Menu is Bill Murray in Groundhog Day!

It just goes to show, motorsport is not just about overtaking. As Menu discovered to his detriment, sometimes a bit of thought and forward planning goes a very long way!

Let’s hope this weekend will be just as action packed!

Don’t forget, like, comment and share with your own favourite memories from Oulton Park and the BTCC!

Use #BTCCDrives or #BTCCOultonMemories to join the conversation!

As ever, follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!