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Archive for July, 2015

Those Fuel Consumption Figures…

FuelConsumptionLabelI don’t know what you look at first when you think about buying a new car and comb through all the stats in a car review  to see what it’s like. For me, the fuel economy figures would have to be just about top of the list, jostling for space with details like the size of the boot and the number of doors and seats.  However, have you ever noticed that when you actually purchase your new car, you never seem to get the same fuel economy figures that the sticker on the windscreen says?

Sometimes, the reason why you’re not quite wringing the same economy out of your little car is obvious: you may like to accelerate and go fast, you may do heaps of towing, or you may do heaps more stopping and starting and idling than the average driver.  However, even if you’re a light-footed driver who does the average commute, you still might not match the figures in the review or brochure.  So what on earth is going on?  Are you a worse driver than you think you are?  How do they get those fuel consumption figures anyway?

You might imagine that the way the official boffins get the figures is to take the test vehicle and actually drive it around a test track for 100 km at open road speeds, at urban speeds with a few stops to mimic traffic lights and a mixture of both.  That would give a fair impression of what the fuel economy stats actually are in real life conditions, you would think.

However, this is what they don’t do.  During the testing process in most parts of the world, the testing gets done in a lab under controlled conditions.  It’s like the experiments we did in science class at school, where there’s only one variable to be tested and everything else is exactly the same. This does mean that the fuel economy stats aren’t going to be skewed by things like a headwind during the testing process so you can compare car with car, but it’s still a bit disappointing for the average driver.

During the test in the lab, the vehicle gets put on a dynamometer or a rolling road for about 20 minutes.  The temperature is somewhere between 20°C and 30°C, and the cars being tested have been nicely run in and are tested from a cold start.  During the test for urban figures, the car “drives” for 4 km with a maximum speed of 50 km/h, a few stops and a fair bit of idling, for an average speed of 19 km/h.  For the open road speed, the car covers 7 km, gets up to a maximum of 120 km/h and averages 63 km/h.  Each test gets repeated a few times – about four times, according to one source.  To get the combined figure, they get the average of the two figures weighted by the distance covered in each test.   OK, this is a fairly simplified description of the procedure, and if you want to know all the details and all the maths, you can read it at

The regulations state that “Only the equipment necessary for the operation of the vehicle during the test shall be in use.” They also state that the air con needs to be switched off and the heating should be at “normal” (like you do when driving around when the thermometer hits 27°C?).  The widest tyres should be used.  The lights and indicators should be off.  The slope of the road should be no more than 2%, the top wind speed should be 3 m/s on average (that’s about 11 km/h) and the track should be dry.  Tyre pressure should be whatever’s specified by the manufacturers (and you can bet that they’ll put it on the harder side during testing to get more frugal figures). Need we add that there’s probably only going to be one person in the car (unless they get a robot to do it somehow) and the boot will be empty?

Yes, well, we all drive on perfectly dry roads that are practically flat on windless days with nothing in the boot and with the air con off and the windows up (on a hot day?) and the mirrors folded back as sleekly as possible to minimise drag.  And we don’t touch the indicators or the lights at all.  Which is what the manufacturers were doing when they got the test stats so they could get them looking as attractive as possible.

Back in the real world, you’re going to have wet roads, slopes and headwinds.  You’re going to use the headlights and the indicators.  You’re going to have kids, the dog and the groceries loading up the car adding to the weight and thus the amount of energy needed to move the car.  You’re going to have the air con on (or you’re going to open the window at lower speeds) to keep cool.  You’ll put on the radio (and have the aerial up – you can bet that they’ll put it down during the tests to reduce even the teeniest bit of drag).  You’ll plant the right foot occasionally to nip into a gap or to overtake.  You’re going to idle more than the urban test does, and you’re going to average higher speeds on the open road than what happens in the test. So you’re not ever going to get the same fuel economy figures that the brochure or the car review tells you.

The moral?  There are two of them.  Number 1 is to read the fuel economy figures by all means – they’ll help you compare car with car (although common sense tells you that a little Honda Jazz  is going to have better fuel economy than a monstrous big HSV ).  But take them with a grain of salt.  Number 2 is to make your driving as close as possible to test conditions… But use the indicators and the headlights – please!

Safe and happy driving,


Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo.

Once upon a time, Australia was home to Holden and Ford and some assorted imported brands that made small cars. Toyota sold Corolla, Corona, Land Cruiser and that was pretty much it. Then a car called Camry came along, with a four cylinder engine. It changed shape but didn’t really grow much, even with the addition of a V6. However, time eventually caught up with the Camry and it put on weight, getting bigger and bigger. In 2007 a decision was made to separate the four cylinder Camry from the V6 and to give the bigger engined version its own name. And lo, Aurion was born.

Aurion had big but relatively unsuccessful wheels to fill, with Toyota’s previous attempt at a V6 “big” car, the Avalon, scarcely lighting the fires of desire for Aussie drivers. Aurion, clearly based on Camry, inside and out, survives to this day but the writing is on the wall for the big car, with demand for SUV style vehicles leaving the traditional Aussie big six struggling to find a toehold.2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo profile

Aurion has a 3.5L V6 engine, with Toyota’s famous 200 “killer wasps” produced at six thousand two hundred rpm. Torque’s maximum twist, of 336 Nm, is at a high four thousand seven hundred. Dry, the Sportivo weighs a not indecent 1555 kg however the fuel economy quoted by Toyota tells a tale of excess: pure highway driving sees just seven litres per hundred of 91 octane go juice being consumed from the 70 litre tank, however if the Aurion is used in its natural environment that almost doubles to 13.3 litres per hundred. 2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo engineThe combined cycle is quoted as being 9.3L per hundred kilometres; A Wheel Thing had the Sportivo in a mix of driving circumstances and saw a best of 9.5L/100 km.

Aurion is the last of the mainstream passenger cars that Toyota has (Camry, Corolla) to update externally, retaining the sharper edged styling compared to the smoother, more rounded and more assertive look Camry and Corolla have received, complete with “pyramid” grille styling. Compared to its big sedan compatriots, Falcon and Commodore, it’s still a more cohesive look, with front and rear not at odds with each other.2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo front2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo rear

There’s the somewhat blocky, almost trapezoidal profile, reflected in the headlight and taillight designs, with the only curves to be found being the driving lights at the bottom corners of the front air dam, the exhaust tips and the five spoke, 18 inch, black painted alloys. There’s some minor plastic work with the addition of a subtle boot lid spoiler and chin spoiler at the other end.2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo wheel

On the road the Sportivo puts its power down via a six speed auto, with Sports mode and paddle shifters on the steering column. It’s surprisingly quick, with a hint of rorty rasp from the front…there’s also noticeable torque steer under heavy right foot applications. Suspension was harder than anticipated, however, with a personal taste leaning towards a touch more compliance to start before sliding into a taut feel.

The steering itself feels as if there’s a variable ratio system fitted, as turns at slower speed seem to have more turn in the tiller. The shifters fitted are ergonomically placed, as expected, and do appear to change the gears quicker than leaving the ‘box to its own devices, which was smooth, slick and noticeable in braking the engine on certain downhill runs.

On flat, freeway roads, the Sportivo tracks straight and true, with a touch of road noise intruding. Undulations are despatched but there’s not a lot of gentleness in doing so, with that hard suspension.2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo dash

The interior is a mix of new and not quite so. For example, there’s no heating for the leather seats and there’s the oddity of having a light on for when the aircon is NOT in dual zone mode. The seats themselves were comfortable enough and trimmed in a tasteful mix of black and mocha.2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo seat

The dash has the same stitched look as Camry, albeit with a different design. Plastic were a mix of blacks, charcoal and an odd silver alloy look strip horizontally and wrapping the seven inch touchscreen and aircon controls. I can’t say it appealed to me.

Information wise, there’s an instant and average fuel usage graph in colour, not monochrome, front and centre, with jog buttons on the tiller to swing through the various folder options.2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo seats Being a good sized car (4855 mm in length, 1825 mm in total width with height at 1470 mm) and allowed for plenty of head, shoulder and leg room, plus a cavernous boot (capacity not listed on Toyota’s website).2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo rear seats2015 Toyota Aurion Sportivo cargo

Audio comes in the form of AM/FM/Auxiliary/USB and Bluetooth plus there’s DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcasting +). Sensitivity for the DAB tuner is quite high, with minimal dropout in Sydney’s lower Blue Mountains and less so than Mitsubishi’s DAB system. Actual quality was good but seemed to lack definition.

The three level Aurion range (AT-X, Sportivo and Presara) starts at $30990, a decent price for a big car but with an overly thirsty engine. Details and more information on specifications are available here: Toyota Aurion range

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed vs 2015 Toyota Kluger Grande.

2014 Toyota Kluger GrandeOpples and Aranges.

No, that’s not a misspelling, I’ve deliberately used opples and aranges to highlight there’s differences and similarities between the top of the tree cars, in their category, from Mitsubishi and Toyota. The Triton Exceed is the top of the range for the newly revamped dual cab ute whilst the Kluger Grande is atop the pile for that range from Toyota. 2015 Toyota Kluger Grande rearLets compare apples with oranges to see why we have an opple and arange as A Wheel Thing compares the two.

The Kluger range is fully petrol and suffers from economy issues. It’s a 3.5L V6 and slurps 91 RON petrol quicker than a Friday arvo tradie at the pub necks his beer. A Wheel Thing averaged 11.0L per 100 kilometres from the Grande…from 95% freeway work. That’s unforgiveable in today’s driving environment.
The Tritons are now almost exclusively diesel (there is a couple of 2.4L petrols) and it shows; at 2.4L capacity also it sat at around 8.0L/100 kilometres and was on a predominantly urban usage cycle.2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed engine
There’s 201 kW from the Kluger at 6200 revs, the Triton offers 133 kW at 3500. Torque from the Toyota is 337 Nm at 3700 rpm with the four door ute twisting 439 Nm at 2500 rpm. Transmissions were both self shifters, a six ratio ‘box in the Grande and a rejigged five cogger for the Mitsubishi.Kluger engine
Toyota claims, per 100 kilometres, 10.6/14.4/8.4L for combined/urban and highway from a 72 litre tank. Mitsubishi says 7.6L per 100 km on the combined cycle from a similarly sized (75L) tub.

The Suit.
The Triton hasn’t really undergone a massive overhaul; Japan’s current design philosophy is chrome and it showed, with a bright silver grille taking pride of place at the front, bisecting the slightly reprofiled headlights. 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed frontThe test vehicle supplied was also kitted with a rear canopy cover and roof mounted storage, as it had been used for what all proper four wheel drive vehicles should do. It went travelling to the Simpson Desert, courtesy of a four wheel drive magazine and the toughness showed with no major squeaks or rattles, bar the passenger seat moving somewhat as the car moved around.

The rear tray looks almost unchanged bar the tail lights: in profile the top part of the assembly leans forward into the metal whilst directly from the rear the once rounded look is now an angular shape, looking most like it’d been pinched from another Japanese two/four door ute maker… there’s also a strong crease line from the headlights joining the rear, compared to the previous model’s smoothness.2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed profile

In overall looks it’s more of the same but newer. Dimensions say it’s a hefty unit: 5280 mm in length make it one of the longest vehicles readily available in Australia, plus 1815 mm in width and 1780 in height add to the Triton’s imposing presence. Wheelbase? Well, that’s big too, at 3000 mm…Whack in the weight of 1965 kg unladen, to boot.
To add to the visual appeal, there was sidesteps and front bar; it’s a beast and makes no apologies.2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed rear tray

The Kluger has been in its current guise for a while; the vehicle supplied was fresh, with about 500 klicks on the clock when picked up. It’s a big unit too, at 4865 x 1925 x 1730 mm (L x W x H) with a near 2.8 metre wheelbase (2790 mm). It weighs a bit, too, which may account for the economy, as 2065 kilos unladen doth not make a lightweight.2015 Toyota Kluger Grande profile

The profile is boxy, angular, moving away from the relatively smoother and slightly curvy previous iteration. There’s a hint of cab forward, with a shortish bonnet compared to the overall cabin length. The window line is familiar, with Camry/Aurion hints plus there’s privacy glass as well. There’s a tailgate lid spoiler and the tail light assembly has hints of Lexus. The front is bluff, upright and in the eyes of the beholder for looks…

On The Inside.
It’s here that the two cars take a stronger divergence. The Exceed needs, quite simply, more bling, whilst the Grande comes with seven seats, sunroof, DVD player (roof mounted and with cordless headphones), heated and ventilated seats, fully adjustable steering column with paddle shifters and a somewhat unusual dash styling, with a curved shape at odds with the hidey hole styling.
In between the driver and passenger sits a huge console, big enough to hide some small bottles or cans. A brushed aluminuim accent surrounds the air vents, info screen and aircon controls, whilst the tabs around the screen are basic and bare looking in black and white plastic.

The dash design, as stated, is odd; there’s a beautiful, sinuous wave shape to the binnacle, only to meet an inset for the clock at the top and a wrap around to the airbag cover, whilst below is a storage locker that simply doesn’t fit with the look of the rest. But at least there’s tech like Blind Spot Alerts to give the driver something more positive.

The Exceed benefits from an updated dash but lacks in presence. There’s the piano black surrounds for the infotainment system, push button start, machine made leather, dual zone aircon and a powered driver’s seat. The seats are better than before, with more padding and support to the hips and thorax, with both getting the standard array of airbags including one for the driver’s knee.2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed dash

2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed consoleBoth don’t suffer from room, with rear seat passengers in both able to stretch comfortably. The Kluger is a seven seater, with simple pull straps to raise the pews, whilst, normally, there’s an uncovered tub for the rear section of the Triton, but in this case it was a three windowed canopy. The tub itself is huge, with more than enough room to toss a sleeping bag and rubber mat to sleep on whilst not knocking the noggin should you sit up.Kluger rear seatsKluger cargo

The Exceed may be at the top of the ladder but to look at the cabin you wouldn’t know it. There’s a real lack of appeal visually, with nothing to catch the eye and make the statement. Not all buyers of off road capable utes with dirty the car or themselves and this really could do with a higher level of visual velcro.

On The Road.
Kluger Grande is a suburban off roader; it’ll see speedhumps and puddles way more than it will any beaches or muddy tracks. There is a 2WD version, the 4WD supplied gets a lockable centre diff. The Triton, on the other hand, is equipped with an electronic 4 wheel drive selector. Operated via a dial in the centre console and displayed on the small colour dash screen via sybols, there’s a clear indication of two wheel drive, four wheel drive and high and low ratios, plus locking centre and rear diffs for getting down and dirty off road.

The Exceed was taken to A Wheel Thing’s test track, a combination of sand, gravel, muddy ruts, rocks and undulating surfaces. To say it coped with that terrain is a huge understatement. Kluger would struggle in the same environment and it’s not a terribly difficult off road track.

The Kluger’s transmission is smooth and slurs through the ratios with barely a hiccup, but the go pedal needs a good prod to get the two plus tonnes moving at anything other than a crawl. Although the Kluger feels, seats of the pants, effortless, it’s clear the lack of lower down the rev range torque hurts. There was a hint of fuel in the tank after 490 klicks were covered; as mentioned before, virtually all driving was freeway based therefore hardly stressing the drivetrain in a suburban stop/start environment.

As one would expect, the ride and handling of the Kluger is well sorted, with minimal roll, dive and squat, plus the brakes grab well enough under most circumstances to haul its mass up. Brake pressure was suitable for the Grande, with engagement almost straight away. Steering is light for the Grande’s size, but not to the point of feeling over assisted or disassociating the driver from the road.

2015 Toyota Kluger

2015 Toyota Kluger

The Triton is big, boofy, solid in its feel on the road but definitely no ballet dancer. Even with the earth rotating torque the diesel generates, the five cogger does its best to hobble the grunt. Acceleration is moderate from standstill but rapid enough once on the run. Even under full pressure, the diesel is relatively refined, quiet and will haul the Triton along nicely.

The auto has been given an overhaul, so although a touch ancient in basic design, it’s smoother and slicker in changing. The package works well and is certainly economical enough, although one wonders how an extra ratio would go. Under hard throttle, it drops smoothly and quietly back one, two, ratios, before launching forward.

Engaging the transfer case is simple; stop, neutral, select, watch the screen…all four paws grip and the Exceed ploughs through and over nonchalantly. It’s fun, agreeable and relatively stress free.2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed wheel
On tarmac…the brakes need work. There’s an inch of travel before they pads bite and then not well. More than once there were some sharp breaths as the rear of the car in front arrived quicker than was safe. It was reported to the dealership that the car was sourced from, just in case.

Steering, again, is light with enough weight to talk but not leave the driver wondering where the front wheels are going, and being a rear wheel drive off road capable working ute, it’s leaf springs at twenty paces at the rear and a touch tight at that.

The Wrap.
Apples and oranges or, in this case, opples and aranges. Why? They’re the top of the range, both four wheel drive capable and have a number of similar features like push button start and satnave, leather seats, kneebags and so on. But they’re different in that one is a proper off roader whilst the other would faint at the sight of a six inch deep muddy puddle. But one offers a DVD player and a suitable interior whilst the other….doesn’t….

They’re designed for different markets, different people and therefore will have different appeal. The Triton wins on economy and true dirt ability, the Kluger wins for features but sucks badly for economy.
Consumers, it’s your call.private_fleet_logo

Hyundai Aims At Japan With The New Tucson.

Tucson signForget about buying your new RAV4, CX5 or X-Trail, Hyundai have unveiled the new Tucson, the replacement for the long in the tooth ix35.Tucson
Available in four models, with three engines and transmission choices, Hyundai has set their sights and are targeting the Japanese cars so many see as first choice. Tucson familyTucson5Tucson HighlanderTucson Elite and Highlander
There’s the Active with 2.0L MPI engine, the Active X (expected volume seller), with 2.0L GDI, Elite and Highlander with 1.6L turbo that out torques the 2.5L Maxx Sport CX5 and a 402Nm 2.0L diesel.Tucson 1.6L Turbo
There’s a six speed manual and auto, seven speed dual clutch auto for the 1.6L and, as expected, razor sharp pricing. Rolling stock varies from 17 to 19s on the Highlander with Continental tyres.Tucson Elite and Highlander wheelTucson Active and ActiveX wheel
On road the pick is the diesel, with that never ending surge of torque, however the Active X, with just over 200Nm and a slick shifting six speed auto, never seemed lacking for urge, even with four boofy blokes aboard.Tucson GDI
Ride quality is superb, with firm yet compliant suspension around town, with many drivers drawing attention to the refinement and quietness of the cars inside, plus the high quality look and feel to the cabin and plastics.Tucson Elite and Highlander interiorTucson Active and ActiveX dash
At the dealership launch, all four were put through their paces in a city based driving environment, with plenty of curious glances from passers by.
The Elite fitted with the 1.6L and seven speed auto drew favourable reviews, as it should, with 265Nm.Tucson Active and ActiveX
There’s plenty of cargo room (488L) versus 403L for the CX5, a bigger towing limit and more power for the diesel against the RAV4’s 2.2L (1600kg v 1000kg, 402Nm v 340Nm), rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing headlights, 10 way electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, satnav and better economy (7.7L/100km v 8.3L/100km) from the Elite turbo v the X-Trail 2.5L auto ST.
You can also expect to see Android Auto and Apple Car for the Active and Active X later this year.Tucson moodTucson4
Hyundai anticipate vehicles being available from early to mid August.
Contact your Hyundai dealer for more details.Tucson pricing as of August 2015 and subject to changeTucson2Tucson3








#ForzaJules Forever: The Race Doesn't End Here

“Jules fought right to the very end as he always did. But today, his battle came to an end”

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

After 9 months of fighting, after 9 months of prayer and after 9 months of hope, you just never thought it would happen. He was going to pull through. He was going to be fine. When the statement was released by his family this morning that Jules Bianchi had succumbed to his head injuries following his horrific crash in Japan last year, the motorsport world fell silent. As I write this I have a lump in my throat, how do you process something like this?

“One by one, only the good die young, they’re just flying too close to the sun, and we’ll remember forever” 

Switch off the engines, let the tarmac lay silent. For the first time in 21 years, the counter has been set to 0. Not since the infamous race at Imola in 1994 has F1 seen one of its heroes taken from us. The difference he was the waiting. We had time. We started to hope. A racing driver has an immutable passion and determination; they are a true fighter. There is no fear. There is nothing they cannot do. Except this.

We can only hope that the sport can look into the circumstances that caused his death, just with Senna in 1994 and do what they can to make the sport safer for the future. We have learnt our lesson in the worst way possible. But this is the time to change.

My reasons for writing this however are not to remember the pain, the suffering and our great loss. It is for this same reason that I will refuse to include any images of Bianchi’s crash in this article. Reliving that torturous day will not change the past. But what we can do is remember Jules for what he was. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Since the first moment I started watching motor racing, I have always supported the underdog. There is something indescribably exciting about watching the rise of an unexpected superstar. Jules Bianchi was always tipped as the next big thing in Formula One; Ferrari had made their intentions clear. In a few years time we were more likely than not going to see Jules behind the wheel of a Ferrari winning races, and I believe championships.

I am not just saying that given the current circumstances. Ever since that race in Monaco last year, Bianchi proved beyond any doubt that he was a star in the making. Despite a time penalty, the eventual 9th place finish that Bianchi achieved remains the only ever points score that Marussia has achieved in its near 6 year history.

Image Credit: Marussia

Image Credit: Marussia

Speaking at the Monaco GP this year, Alonso showed his support and awe of what Jules achieved at Monaco:

“It’s hard to understand when you are in a car that is not competitive, to get some points. It’s some kind of miracle. That is what Jules did last year, ninth place here. He was the star of the race. Now, to come here again and not see him together with us on the grid is very sad. It’s not only here we remember him, it’s every weekend”

He was right. Marussia has never been a competitive car and yet Jules put it in a competitive position, pulling off some of the most spectacular overtakes on a track that many consider as ‘almost impossible’ to pass on. No ordinary driver would therefore be able to achieve that. There was talent. There was something special there.

Rosberg may have won the race, but it was Jules Bianchi that won our hearts that day at Monaco.

Just recently I turned 24, and I thought I was doing pretty well for myself. And then I realise that Jules Bianchi was 25 and was already earmarked as a future Ferrari driver. It is when you think about things like that, that your life really is put into perspective. At the same time, you realise how much of a talent Bianchi was.

Image Credit: / Ferrari

Image Credit: Ferrari

That is exactly how Bianchi should and will be remembered. Not for the horrible events that overtook him that day, but for his talent, his kindness and his determination.

It is such a sickening shame that it had to end. But then I remember the words of Gandalf:

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it”

To pay our final respects, I ask that we all do something. Take a listen to Just Drive by Alistair Griffin and simply close your eyes. The song is everything Jules was and always will be. Listen to the lyrics and remember a truly great talent.

There’s a hell of a race going on up there. It’s time to take your place on the grid

The race doesn’t end here Jules, in fact it has only just begun.

#ForzaJules. Forever.


Stereotypes: The Farm Ute

This is apparently a Mitsubishi Triton, but don't ask what colour it is.

This is apparently a Mitsubishi Triton, but don’t ask what colour it is.

Usually seen: Any rural road, either tarsealed or gravelled.  Sometimes seen parked outside agricultural supplies shops and supermarkets in small towns.  Frequently seen bumping over fields and farm tracks.

Typical examples: Toyota Hilux , Nissan Navara , Mitsubishi Triton 

Description: The farm ute is seldom seen in built-up areas, usually because the farmer will pinch the family saloon (aka the wife’s car) to head into town wearing good clothes.  The ute is purely for business, and that business involves doing things with crops and uncooperative animals.  Looks do not matter when it comes to the farm ute; in fact, if it looks pretty, it’s suspicious.

Two main factors make a farm ute what it is: the mud and the flat deck out the back.  If it hasn’t got these, it’s not a farm ute.

The mud may get onto the farm ute in a number of ways. It may get kicked up from the surface of a gravel road or a farm track, or it may get splattered onto the sides of the machine by wet dogs, runaway bullocks and a range of farm implements.  The mud is a semi-permanent fixture on the ute, especially as the closest the farm ute ever gets to a car wash is when it gets driven out to inspect the irrigation system or when it rains.  If you are squeamish, don’t inspect the mud too closely, as some of it may be animal crap.

If you are squeamish, you really don’t want to take a look at the flat deck itself. This will definitely have animal excretions on it of all varieties. You will also not be able to get close enough to the deck to inspect it, as it is likely to have at least one dog standing on it, chained to a set of bars behind the rear window.  Other animals likely to be found on the flat deck include sheep (live), calves (live), pigs (dead after a hunting trip) and cattle (dead and sometimes in bits).  The flat deck is also likely to contain miscellaneous sacks of animal feed, seed or fertilizer, and a selection of coils of wire, spades, crowbars, ropes and other tools.  The whole point of the ute, after all, is to carry more stuff than the tractor, motorbike or quad bike does, as well as usually being road-legal, meaning that if the farmer needs to go down the road from farm block to farm block, or to the agricultural supply store to pick up the jumbo-sized sack of dog biscuits, a new elastrator and a salt block or two.

Utes may be twin-cab or single-cab, although single-cabs are more common.  Double-cabs tend to be used when there’s a crew of workers to be lugged around or if there’s a heap of stuff that shouldn’t get wet or muddy, such as grass seeds or chemical sprays.  Double-cabs tend to be a kind of mobile toolshed. Even in a single-cab ute, the front seat is likely to hold random bits of paperwork as well as a lunchbox and thermos flask – where the dogs can’t get at it.  The interior will also be muddy.

Bells and whistles are also in short supply inside the farm ute.  GPS systems are useless, as even the most sophisticated ones aren’t going to tell you the shortest way from the cattle yards to Field 3 in D Block.  Any rear parking cameras are going to be covered in mud before too long, so they’re no good, either.  Must-haves in the farm ute are the radio (so you can listen to the cricket while mending fences) and the horn (for turning the ute into a sort of mechanical dog that barks to move stock along).

The farm ute may or may not have 4×4 capacity, although it frequently does.  This is because the typical farm ute usually sees more off-road action than many fancy 4x4s.  Fancy 4x4s – the ones that look like they had a military origin along the lines of Jeep and Land Rover – are never used as farm utes.  This is because they lack the all-important flat deck.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Audi TT Quattro S Line.

It’s a rare occasion for A Wheel Thing to be in the seat of a proper sports car; with a huge nod of thanks to Audi, A Wheel Thing went one on one with the Audi TT Quattro.

Turbo technology for consumer level petrol powered cars has come a long, long way since the 1970’s. Audi’s bolted a “hairdryer” to a 2.0L petrol engined four cylinder, with a massive 370 Newton metres of torque available across a mesa flat range, from 1500 to 4300 revs. With the TT weighing just over 1410 kilos unladen to a total gross weight of 1730, it’s a measly four point six kilos (roughly) being moved from each metre of Mr Newton’s finest torques.2016 Audi TT Quattro engine

Peak power is on tap from 4500 to 6200 revs, ensuring a smooth transition from twist to pull in the pursuit of driving nirvana. Top speed is an electronically limited 250 km/h (speedo says 300…) while the ton comes up in six seconds (front wheel drive) and 5.3 seconds with all four paws. The oomph is sent to all four corners via a six ratio, dual clutch, automatic transmission and an electronic, rear axle mounted, multi plate clutch. The whole shebang operates seamlessly.

The Suit.
There’s no doubting its heritage, with a look clearly pointing to the now iconic original whilst being as modern as tomorrow. There’s the same, fluid, rounded profile, the hatchback third “door”, a compact size (under 4200 mm in length) however the front is somewhat sharper, more up to date with LED headlights (with a distinctive vertical bar) whilst the shapely rump gets neon look lights. Rolling stock is 19 inch alloys, with grippy 245/35 rubber thanks to Hankook.2016 Audi TT Quattro headlight2016 Audi TT Quattro front2016 Audi TT Quattro tail light2016 Audi TT Quattro rear

There’s LED powered indicator strips underneath the headlights, which strobe when the car is locked and unlocked. Sadly, it’s not something many drivers would know of and appreciate. What it does, however, is further amplify how much thought Audi has put into the nuances of the TT, such as the iconic alloy fuel filler lid, emblazoned with TT.

The front is angular; there’s the hexagonal “Single Frame” main air intake, flaked by two deep set ducts that echo the edgy design of the headlight casings. The lower edge of the bonnet continues as a crease line, joining front to rear and breaking up the flatness of the doors. The rear finishes off nicely, with more than a hint of the original in the lower extremity, with the addition of a balanced look thanks to the dual exhaust. In essence, it’s a beautifully cohesive exercise in design.2016 Audi TT Quattro profile

On The Inside.
Sure it’s snug, like slipping on a boot whilst wearing winter socks. Yet there’s no feeling of claustrophobia…except for any rear seat passengers. If you’re two feet tall, you’ll fit; otherwise, forget it. Yes, the padding is spot on, as is the support, but when you’re dealing with a short wheelbase, leg room for those at the front isn’t the priority.2016 Audi TT Quattro left rear seatAudi have taken simplicity to a new level in the area that counts for the most; where the driver sits. Take the centre upper console: gone is the normal (nowadays) info screen, in it’s place is “old school” with thre air vents and it’s here that Audi has taken simplicity to ridiculous heights. Nowhere to be found are dials and levers near the vents, instead the temperature/fan speed/air direction mode are located inside a touch button/dial in the centre of the vents themselves. Simple. Smart. effective.2015 Audi TT aircon2016 Audi TT Quattro cabinIt’s the driver, though, that gets the best toy (apart from the car itself) to play with. Audi call the dash the “Virtual Cockpit”; fitted with a gorgeous high resolution 12.3-inch display , it shows everything the driver needs, from speed, tacho (which reacts as quickly as the engine thanks to a high speed refresh rate), to the music station or media feed, to a whole navigation screen. Being a high definition screen, it’s super clear, non fatiguing on the eyes and, of course, uber cool.2016 Audi TT Quattro cargoAudi TT Virtual CockpitTo use it, there are either controls on the steering wheel or a dial wheel with a touchpad on top. Two main buttons next to the dial help you pick between navigation (based on Google Earth and Street View!) and media, then the rest is done with the dial and touchpad. It’s super easy to use, and makes it very easy to use without taking your eyes far off the road. Especially having the full navigation screen just there, it’s deliciously simple and wonderfully efficient.

Then there’s the addition of the S Line componentry: from the gloss black grille, front and rear bumpers and door sill inserts and more, allowing a driver to personalise their car thoroughly. Speaking of cool, Audi has eschewed the traditional bulbs for the interior lighting, with cool white LED’s doing the trick, even down to framing the speaker housings in the door.2015 Audi TT speaker light2016 Audi TT Quattro audioThe centre console plays host to the jog dial that allows you to swing through the various settings, plus there’s a couple of switches for Navigation and Radio but it’s forward of the gear selector lever that we’ll find a VIB (Very Important Button). It’s marked “Drive Select” and it’s responsible for the varying driving characteristics the TT can offer.2016 Audi TT Quattro centre console2015 Audi TT centre console

There’s Sport, Dynamic, Auto and it adds weight to the steering, sends more grunt to the rear to provide a more sporting edge, lowers the car by up to ten mm, all dependent on which setting. Does it work? Does it ever! Combined with a beautifully sized, leather wrapped, steering wheel, it’s automotive nirvana.

On The Road.
Audi has pushed and pulled the TT into various weight saving strategies; there’s lighter seats, all aluminuim panels and that engine takes advantage of every lost kilo (end weight is around 1230 kg). It’s thought sensitive in steering and engine/gearbox response as a result. The various Drive Select settings allow the driver to take advantage of the electronic parameters and the whole package comes together, holistically, to provide a complete driving experience.

Acceleration is seat of the pants quick, it’s almost tactile in how the car reacts from light to heavy throttle pressure. Audi quotes 5.3 seconds to 100 kilometres per hour, however the pucker factor says it’s quicker. With a gentle prod, the TT’s torque is already working, with a sensation of refined effortless as the speedo’s numbers seem to change quicker than they should.

The steering is around two turns lock to lock and is so tight that the merest twitch of an eyebrow will have the car moving in a left or right direction. Lateral grip is stupendous; try as one might, there was no way known the TT would lose traction sideways and it’s obvious how good longitudinal grip was.2016 Audi TT Quattro wheelIt’s not all beer and chips though; there’s road noise, plenty of it, intrusive at times through the excellent B&O sound system. The rear vision mirror is also located at just the right spot to block (from the driver’s seat) leftward vision, making it difficult to see oncoming traffic at intersections. Ride quality was variable; a slow speed over a speed bump would have the TT comfortable-ish, but at a reasonable clip would have the same bump shattering bones and rattling fillings.2015 Audi TT SMP
Fuel consumption was surprising for such an animal, one expects fuel to be slurped quicker than a tradie’s beer on a Friday afternoon during summer, final consumption was 7.2L per 100 kilometres.

The Wrap.
A Wheel Thing relies on the support of manufacturers in order to provide reviews; as such, access to cars of the calibre of the TT are rare and A Wheel Thing publicly thanks Audi Australia for their support.
There’s been sports oriented cars in the garage: Volvo’s explosive Polestar, Ford’s brutal XR8 and HSV’s sledgehammer Club Sport, but the TT offers a level of finesse and iron fist in a better measure.
The TT is raw, almost unbridled, in its hard edged appeal to a driver that enjoys a true driver’s car. The razor sharp steering, the taut suspension, the muscular stance of the TT’s haunchs, appeal greatly and with the range starting at just over $71K (front wheel drive manual) plus on roads, with the test car a touch under $95K drive away, it’s not a horrendous amount of money for pure exhilaration.

For further information on the Audi TT, go here:Audi TT

The Car: Audi TT Quattro S Line.
Engine: 2.0L in-line, four cylinder turbocharged.
Power/Torque: 169 kW/370 Nm @4500-6200 rpm/1600-4300 rpm.
Fuel: 95RON recommended.
Transmission: six speed S-Tronic dual clutch automatic.
Consumption: 8.4L/100 km urban, 5.5L/100 km highway, 6.5L/100 km combined.
Tank: 55L
0-100 kmh: 5.3 seconds (claimed).
Wheel/Tyre (as fitted): 245/35/19.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS Diesel.


Mitsubishi’s update to the Outlander is a mix of looks and minor suspension work. There’s revisions front and rear to the sheetmetal and refinements to their engines. A Wheel Thing takes the 2016 Outlander diesel XLS for a run, backing up from the petrol version tested recently.

It’s the 2.2L diesel that Mitsubishi has had for some time, with 110 kW and a “decent” 360 Nm of torque, between a usable but lightswitchy 1500 to 2750 revs. It’s an on/off proposition, thanks simply to two things: the placement of the accelerator pedal and the CVT transmission.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel engine

The pedal is placed so the upper half of the foot, the part that most people use to press, is not right on the middle or upper section of said pedal, therefore it feels as if the toes were pressing in the lower half. The rev range then kicks in; light pressure had the XLS move away sluggishly, a decent prod had the torque explode through the drivetrain and pushing people into their seats as the vehicle suddenly surges forward.

The CVT itself is reasonable enough, but like so many CVT’s it never feels as if the full ability of the engine is being put down to the tarmac, whether it’s a lower torque petrol or a gruntier diesel, as is the case more and more in SUV’s.

The Suit/On The Inside.
Click here:A Wheel Thing reviews the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS petrol. for the review of the petrol powered XLS and the Outlander’s new clothes.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel rear2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel dash2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel front2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel cargo2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel front seats2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel rear seats2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel wheel2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel door handle position

On The Road.
It’s here that, oddly, the diesel’s ride quality differs from the petrol. It’s stiffer, more taut, less compliant but still comfortable and less prone to understeer compared to the petrol version. There’s more steering feedback, it’s not as somewhat vague or numb in comparison with even the braking system feeling more up to the task. It’s all quite…odd.

The overall impression was one of more solidity, more coherence, a more holistic feel; once the engine and gearbox had settled on where they wanted to be, the XLS hummed along quietly, with 100 kmh ticking the engine over at just under 2000 rpm, right in the middle of the peak torque figure. The positioning of the accelerator makes this a bit more difficult than it needs to be, but overtaking and freeway acceleration is an easy affair thanks to the torque.

However, again, the CVT dulls the experience, with that sense of sapping the ability of the engine and drivetrain to take full advantage of that 360 Nm. “Normal” driving just doesn’t imbue the same sense of pizazz and zap that a traditional hydraulic gearbox does, and even with preset ratios selected via the paddles there’s little improvement.

The Wrap.
The XLS, in kit and fit and finish, is fine. The diesel is lusty yet hobbled somewhat. The ride is better controlled and economy (6.2L/100 km combined, claimed from the 60 litre tank) offers Sydney to Melbourne range on the highway system.

The XLS audio system here DOES have a DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcast +) system, which was pretty clear in reception up to Sydney’s lower Blue Mountains (where stations don’t guarantee signal) but, like any car based digital system, was prone to dropoff (also known as the cliff fall effect) unexpectedly.

As a package, the diesel is, A Wheel Thing feels, a better proposition than the torqueless petrol version. As a result, of the two, this is clearly the pick.

For pricing and details, head to the website: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander range

The Car: Mitsubishi Outlander XLS diesel.
Engine: 2.2L diesel.
Transmission: Constant Variable Transmission (CVT).
Power/Torque: 110 kW/360 Nm @ 3500/1500-2750 rpm.
Tank size: 60L.
Economy: 6.2L per 100 km (combined cycle.
Dimensions: (L x W X H in mm): 4695 x 1810 x 1640.
Wheelbase/Ride Height: 2670 mm/ 190 mm (unladen).
Seating: seven, two rear fold down, 60/40 split fold middle row.
Weight (dry): 1535 kg.
Cargo: 128L/477L/1608L depending on seating configuration.
Service/Warranty: refer to the Mitsubishi website for terms and conditions.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Toyota Camry Atara SL

It’s amongst the first of the last from the Australian manufacturing arm of Japanese goliath, Toyota. To say the Camry has had a facelift is to say the Burj Khalifa is a tall building. Effectively, every single component externally, bar the roof and the window line, has been redesigned, re-engineered and rebuilt. The 2.5L engine stays at the same capacity and offers two different peak outputs, depending on which Camry you buy. A Wheel Thing drives the top of the range Atara SL, wondering if a cardigan was required and was pleased to find out the answer.2016 Toyota Camry Atara profile

It’s Toyota’s venerable 2.5L four, offering 133 kW or 135 kW (with the dual exhaust model) at 6000 rpm. Most drivers, of most cars, will never see that rev limit, which makes this number irrelevant. What is relevant is the torque, at 4100 revs of 235 metres of Mr Newton’s best, up four over the single exhaust.2016 Toyota Camry Atara engine

There’s enough to get the 1505 kg (dry) Camry up and rolling deceptively quickly yet, oddly, doesn’t feel as if there’s anything there when the go pedal is asked to do something.
Toyota claims 7.8L combined cycle economy over 100 kilometres using 91 RON unleaded….A Wheel Thing saw a best of just over 10L per 100.

The transmission is a six speed auto, a smooth and quiet one at that. It works hand in hand with the engine, for the most part, with barely noticeable shifts under most throttle applications. Under a heavy foot, needing acceleration, it drops back, one, two ratios and there’s a fair bit of noise coming from under the Camry’s scalloped bonnet. Forward motion seems to not increase rapidly although the tacho is right around, rev wise, where peak torque is meant to be.

The Suit.
If one was to place this alongside the preceding model, one would be hard pressed to see a resemblance, unlike Audi’s “new” A4 (unveiled June 2015). Apart from the roof and the windows, every other panel is new. And damn, it looks good. From a sculpted, scalloped bonnet, to the deep dish, inverted Vee shaped, front air intake, to stylish 18 inch alloys to the Lexus-like profile and tail lights, it’s possibly the best looking, nay, sexiest Camry we’ve seen.2016 Toyota Camry Atara front


From the front, head on, there’s no resemblance at all to Camrys of yore, rather the aforementioned inverted Vee, eagle eye headlights and LED driving lights set into the slopes of the Vee. In profile there’s a strong resemblance to a vehicle from Toyota’s luxury arm, whilst the windows are the only clear (no pun intended) carry over from the prior model..2016 Toyota Camry Atara rear

The rear has a refinement of the angular lights whilst the bootlid opens up, via the lightest of touches on the pad, to reveal a chasm that seemingly (belying the actual 515L capacity) swallows the Grand Canyon and leaves room for a battleship.

On The Inside.
Yup, there’s plenty to like here too, but it’s not entirely perfect. There’s plenty of room, of course, comfortable seats and ergonomics are mostly well thought of. There is a clash of interior designs that are jarring to the eye, however.

The dash’s upper level has a stitched material look to it, but is hard to the touch. At either end there’s not a smooth blend into the door trim and they’re made of different material to the dash. There’s the same slightly bulbous look to the lower part of the forward console, with the result being a look that impacts on the legs and leg space.2016 Toyota Camry Atara front seats

The actual dash is a nice piece of engineering, with a smooth arched binnacle over the dials; there’s a four inch full colour LCD display, with an unusual layout to the information shown, plus a 6.1 inch touchscreen for the navigation and audio system (ten speakers for the Atara SL). Another oddity stands out, with the Atara’s dual zone climate control showing a light for when it’s off, not on…

The mix of colours is, to A Wheel Thing, a constant hindrance to being fully appreciated. The plastic alloy look is and always has been a cheap and chintzy add on, detracting from the otherwise pleasant enough ambience the cabin has. Except for the high visibility reflection of the dash in the windscreen…2016 Toyota Camry Atara reflective windscreen

The seats, in faux leather, are comfortable without a huge measure of support, with flat cushioning; the audio controls on the steering wheel (a clever nod in design, looking not unlike the Toyota emblem) double up on the search buttons, with seek and select preset leaving volume adjustment to be used separately, rather than leaving the seek to the touchscreen.

Safety isn’t overlooked for occupants, with seven airbags including curtain and driver’s knee. There’s pre-crash avoidance for the Atara SL, front and rear parking sensors (lower models get just two rear), blind spot and rear traffic alerts systems as well.

There’s a couple of nice touches in the Atara SL, such as an electric rear sunshade, auto high beam and digital radio but heating/cooling for the front seats didn’t seem to be readily visible. Keyless start is available for bar the entry level Altise petrol.

On The Road.
It’s surprisingly un-Toyota like like in its ride; it’s taut, firm, not plush, this Atara SL. Small bumps are dealt with, partially, and coming across those in turns has the nose feeling skittish, skipping across the road. That same tautness has the nose pushing into massive understeer in one roundabout, an unusual design that gives a driver a half figure eight entry and exit.

The steering ratio is quick (the column is also adjustable for reach and rake) with good response and feel through the system. It always felt communicative and was barely vague dead on centre, like so may are. The 215/55/17s help in feedback, yet, surprisingly don’t have a tendency to tramline, given the relatively thin footprint.

The torque of the 2.5L, being delivered so high, nevertheless sees the Camry moving to freeway speeds quickly, it’s when the high revs for the torque are called upon it feels as if it’s fallen into a hole. 235 Nm is a decent enough amount from a non turbo petrol engine, but it just doesn’t seem that it’s there. The lower ratios of the gearbox take advantage of the lesser torque nicely compared to the upper limits.

As expected, there’s good braking feel as well, with minimal travel before the foot begins to be told the pads are biting and it’s progressive, firmer, for the rest of the way.

The Wrap.
Much like its Australian based competition, Ford and Holden, with their final outings also rated as being the best made, the Camry Atara SL stands tall amongst its brethren. The external looks may polarise, perhaps even put off traditional Toyota customers, but some would say that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In a crowded market and against contenders such as the Mazda 6, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Holden’s failed Malibu, a bold move from Toyota may be what the Camry, a car long seen as needing its driver to be outfitted in a cardigan, needs for that cardigan entry token to be ditched.

For pricing and extra information, head here: 2016 Toyota Camry range
For A Wheel Thing TV:

The Car.
Toyota Camry Atara SL.
Engine: 2.5L petrol.
Fuel tank: 70 litres.
Economy: claimed (from 91RON) 7.8L per 100 kilometres combined.
Transmission: six speed automatic with paddle shift.
Power/Torque: 135 kW/235 Nm @ 6000/4100 rpm.
Weight (unladen): 1505 kg.
Dimensions: 4850 x 1835 x 1470 (L x W x H in mm).
Wheels/Tyres: 215/55/18.
Turning circle 11 metres.
Servicing: 4 years capped price (see Toyota for conditions).
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Those Signs On The Dashboard

One of the things that you have to learn when you buy a new car is what all the information displayed on the dashboard is what all the warning lights mean. In the cars I remember from my childhood, like the old Mitsubishi Sigma station-wagon my dad let me steer down the driveway, and the Simca that was the first car I owned, there were only a few warning lights: usually the fuel light.

Today’s cars have many more sensors and information systems to let you know just about everything that’s going on with its inner workings. This information is usually presented to you via a little light on your dashboard. But these little lights don’t (or usually don’t) come right out and say something intelligible and straightforward like “Fog lights not working” or “Engine about to explode”. This is because the car was probably designed by Germans, built by Chinese, intended for Brits and sold to Aussies. Just as well, or these information lights might end up with classic examples of Chinglish along the lines of “Lanterns for use when soft cloud sleeping on ground not happy”.

Here, then, is a guide to what they mean…or at least what they look like they mean In the diagrams below, the numbers refer to the columns and the capital letters to the rows

Figure I:

  • 1A: Soprano singing very high note; may shatter the glass of the windscreen.
  • 2A: Beware of signpost shaped like a spanner.
  • 3A: Aliens attempting to beam up sailing ship.
  • 4A: Pigs with turbo-propellers fitted so they can fly. Activate manure-proof umbrella immediately.
  • 1B: Badminton competition ahead.
  • 2B: Asteroid approaching.
  • 3B: (exact meaning of this has been sensored censored, as this post needs to be G-rated).
  • 4B: You have overturned your bowl of noodles.
Figure I

Figure I


Figure II:

  • 1A: Whales visible ahead.
  • 2A: Beware of Lego building blocks on road ahead.
  • 3A: Turn around and go back: you’re heading the wrong way.
  • 4A: North is this way.
  • 5A: This car is Chitty-chitty-bang-bang and is about to take off.
  • 6A: Very large insect on windscreen.
  • 1B: Do you have the balls to drive this car?
  • 2B: Flowers
  • 3B: Please ensure that head is at the top and feet are down the bottom before attempting to drive.
  • 4B: You need to go on a diet.
  • 5B: Daleks ahead.
  • 6B: Fair Isle or Scandinavian knitting not recommended while driving.
  • 1C: Rub steering wheel to make genie appear and turn car into magic carpet.
  • 2C: See Figure I, 4A
  • 3C: See Figure I, 3B
  • 4C: Visit nearest STI clinic immediately
  • 5C: See Figure 1, 2B
  • 6C: You are about to be kidnapped by the Illuminati.
  • 1D: Whales this direction
  • 2D: Exit this way
  • 3D: Dark Lord approaching. Destroy One Ring immediately.
  •  4D: See 1A
  • 5D: Love your six-pack!
  • 6D: Do not attempt to drive this car unless you are psychic


Figure II

Figure II

And if you take this seriously, I suggest that you grab the handbook that was sitting in the glovebox of the car when you bought it and look up what they really mean.

Safe and happy driving,