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Archive for October, 2016

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 MY17 Subaru Levorg GT & GT-S

Subaru has gone back to the future for the 2017 MY (model year) Levorg. It’s a name from the past applied to a modern mix of turbo charging, boxer engine, all wheel drive. Available in GT and GT-S spec with manufacturer’s pricing of $42990 and $48890 plus ORC (plus an optional Spec B configuration package from $52890 plus ORC), A Wheel Thing drives the Subaru GT Levorg and Levorg GT-S.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-frontFirst impressions are of from the front. Looks like a WRX, complete with angular headlights, low set indicators, LED backlit DRLs surrounding the headlights and air intake in the bonnet looking like a whale shark skimming plankton. At the rear it’s a blend of Forester and Outback and a slightly heavy looking bumper, dragging the rear visually close to the tarmac whilst the roofline tapers gracefully downwards. Front and rear bumpers on the GT are not fitted with parking sensors however.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-rear-quarter2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-rear-quarterIn profile, there’s tidy looking 18 inch alloys wrapped in 225/45 Dunlop rubber for the Levorg, in full alloy for the GT and black painted machined alloys on the GT-S. There’s an odd choice of exterior styling for the window trim, with a sole strip of chrome on the lower window line whilst the rest is blacked out. The GT-S follows a similar styling theme and it’s not entirely cohesive in look. Personal choice would be to have all blacked or all chromed. There’s a bit of aero design in the rear flanks, with a crease from the rear door handles to smooth air flow.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-wheel2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-wheelIt’s elegantly packaged overall, with a balanced proportion in look, with a total length of 4690 mm giving the Levorg a low and slinky look thanks to the 1490 mm height. An overall width of 1780 mm makes interior space cosy, with enough room on the rear pew for two passengers comfortably but a tad tight for three. Dry weight is 1538 kilograms.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-profile2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-profileInside it’s standard Subaru in the GT; cloth covered manually adjusted front seats, the GT-S goes leather with blue piping plus heating up front with two memory seats, sunroof and heated wing mirrors. There’s the triple screen display in dash and console, dash dials limned in a brilliant aquamarine, push button Start/Stop and a surprise.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-front-seats2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-front-seatsA Wheel Thing has long bemoaned the seeming wacky choice of lighting the button that says Dual for the aircon but it’s lit when actually only operating as a single zone. This has finally been rectified. Huzzah! For portable device charging and music playing there’s USB and Aux up front and a USB port for the rear seat passengers.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-dash-console-screenThe GT misses out on some of the touchscreen features the GT-S gets; satnav, for example, is not fitted and also dips out on Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alerts. There is a reverse camera and you’ll still get the side/front/curtain and knee airbags plus the mandatory assortment of electronic driver aids and that marvelous Eyesight forward collision avoidance system. Safety rating, as a result, is five stars.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-dashSubaru’s made sure the Eyesight system is easy to use. There’s a tab on the steering wheel to adjust how far ahead the system scans for traffic and will beep stridently when it senses an object plus will apply braking force if the computers deems the human component is not reacting fast enough. It’s a brilliant system but sometimes a tad fussy when sensing stationary objects. At least the alarm keeps the driver on their toes. The GT-S adds a visual element by fitting a series of red LEDs in the dash where one might find a HUD.

The tiller also has the SI Drive buttons; these offer three driving modes, with the more user friendly being the Sports, the in between mode ahead of Intelligent. This sharpens throttle response and engages the Lineratronic CVT noticeably quicker and imbues the transmission with a more traditional auto change feel. Sports Sharp (S#) takes it a step further; the dash shows the gear ratios, not just D, and further improves the gear change feel. It’s also this mode that the paddle shifts become relevant, as there’s now eight preset gear points to play with, and makes this gear perhaps not the one for most.

A Wheel Thing is not a massive fan of CVTs and this doesn’t escape scrutiny. There’s lag sometimes between engaging Drive from Reverse, sometimes a lag between hitting the accelerator and having forward motion engaged. That indecisiveness off the line is frustrating and potentially, in the wrong situation, dangerous. When it’s underway and hooking up, it’s a different story.

From a standstill, the Sports # is the pick for seeing 100 kmh in the quickest way….6.6 seconds, thank you. The brakes were up to the task, with a smooth bite and feedback almost from the moment of touching the pedal. Given the newness of the GT (built in May 2016) there was more than a hint of brake pad smell around town, with the stop/start traffic flow.

Moving to the rear and we’ll see the raison d’être for the car and where the Levorg shines. There’s 60/40 split fold rear seats, operated by both a pull knob on the seat’s corner and in the cavernous 522 litre cargo section, a simple pull switch to the left and right of the cargo wall. This drops the seats flat and opens up the cargo area to a whopping 1446 litres. There’s the lift up floor to access the spare wheel which is a space saver and hides a couple of extra storage pockets.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-cargo2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-cargoUp front and below the gaping air intake is the square bore and stroked (86.0 mm x 86.0 mm) boxer four with turbo. It’s an engine that sings its best party tunes between 2500 and 4500, especially when at velocity. The lightest of extra pressure on the throttle sees the turbo boost gauge creep upwards however the numbers of kilometres per hour climb faster as a seemingly endless push in the back is applied.

Subaru quotes peak power and torque as 197 kilowatts @ 5600 rpm and 350 torques between a table top flat 2400 – 5200 from the 2.0L engine. Economy? Well, this was an engine with around 1600 kilometres on the clock when tested in the GT, so would still be bedding in. Final economy was 9.5L of 95 RON from the 60L tank for every 100 kilometres covered and this was in a driving environment of 95% urban. Given Subaru quotes 11.9L per 100 km for the urban, 6.9L/100 km on the highway and 8.7L/100 km, that’s come out quite well.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-engineWhen punched hard, there’s the hint of turbo whistle from the front. It’s a sound that’s been virtually eradicated from production petrol turbo cars, sadly, and even some diesels now miss out on that. There’s the thrum of the boxer engine and the almost silent whoosh from the twin exhaust tip. There’s no doubt some aftermarket companies will already be working on replacements.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-dash-buttonsIt’s a typical turbo delivery, with that feeling of “here it com………there we go!” and is only slightly hobbled by the characteristics of the CVT. There’s that slipping clutch feeling before the system grabs hold of the engine’s torque and then makes full use of it. Again, the CVT works best when everything is already happening, especially when at freeway speeds.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-rear-seats

Road holding was, as expected, superglue in its grip. Point, shoot, apply throttle, brake, and the Levorg did as asked. You wear, rather than drive, the Levorg. Unexpected was the variance in ride quality. Subaru have fitted the Levorg with two suspension setups: for the GT there’s KYB and for the GTS, Bilstein is the supplier. Bluntly, speedhumps are not the friend of the GT and to a lesser degree the GT-S, with front and rear crashing into the bumpstops even at low and appropriate speeds. The chin would bang the tarmac and the rear would bang around, moving the spare wheel assembly and tools audibly.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-rear-seat-flipThe GT-S was a bit tighter but disappointed in not matching expectations. Compared to Skoda’s Octavia wagon, the suspension was softer, less accommodating of undulations and bumps, less tight and taut. The rear still felt soft, bouncing more than expected coming off speedbumps, and whilst the front in the GT-S was tighter than the GT, the Octavia felt more settled and composed as a package. There’s also some clunks from the driveline in parking and turning, as the all wheel drive system deals with the input the sensors send to the onboard computers.

Underneath the Levorg are coil springs and McPherson struts up front, while the rear sits on double wishbones. The combination keeps the Levorg flat and level on the freeway, adding to the perception it’s a sports car with a big boot. Steering is a rack & pinion system, with electric power assistance. It’s firm, well weighted, and doesn’t feel over assisted regardless of slow, parking, acceleration or highway velocities.2017-my-subaru-levorg-gt-s-rear-seats

Included is three years worth of road side assistance and three years warranty with unlimited kilometres. Service intervals are six months or 12500 kilometres. For towers, the Levorg is rated at 1200 kilos, enough for a small trailer, for who’d want to tow a caravan with a sports wagon?

At The End Of The Drive.
The Levorg offers a quality alternative and fits well into a niche, Subaru’s forte. A medium sized, non diesel, roomy, non SUV vehicle with good looks, punchy performance and efficient in its simplicity stands it in good stead. With Subaru expecting to shift somewhere in the order of north of 250 units a month, it’ll add to Subaru’s already well stocked arsenal. The GT’s Achille’s heel is the overly soft suspension in the real world or car parking and road based speed humps, leaving the GT-S to look as the winner but not by much, with both dealing with a CVT that seems to need more polishing. For A Wheel thing, it’s a case of Levorg, Lelike, not LeLove.
Subaru can help you book a test drive and provide information here: Subaru test drive link

Tesla Looks Further Towards The Future.

Tesla has announced a new, over the air, software upgrade, for the Model S and Model X. This brings a new, redesigned, User Interface (UI) to the massive touchscreen. With the upgrade due in Australia sometime from October 2016, here’s what Tesla Australia had to say:

tesla_model_s_profile-1-980x420Tesla makes the only cars on the road that continue to get safer, smarter, and more capable over time, thanks to free, over-the-air software updates. While traditional cars have static features, a Tesla is more akin to a smartphone, adding new functionality and enhancements throughout the life of the car.
Software update 8.0 kicks off a significant over-the-air overhaul of the Tesla touchscreen and introduces the biggest UI revamp since the launch of Model S. Customers who purchased their car in 2012 will receive the same value of functionality and improvement as customers who purchased vehicles last month. 8.0 combines a modern look with updates to Autopilot, Navigation with Trip Planner, Maps, and the Media Player for a safer, more advanced driving experience. In an industry-first safety measure, we’re also introducing Cabin Overheat Protection, focused on child (and pet) safety. This feature keeps the car at a safe temperature, even when the car is off, and is made possible by our uniquely large battery packs.
Intuitive media player
The media player has been redesigned and personalised to put your favourite content front and center. Search is now simpler to access and more powerful, accessing streaming radio, live stations, podcasts, and any USB device to help you quickly find what they’re looking for.
Voice commands
Voice controls are now easier and clearer to use. Initiation is quick, and clear visual feedback lets you focus on the road without compromising convenience or control.
  • Voice commands initiate with a single tap
  • Feedback in the form of a transcript now appears on the instrument panel to confirm your command
  • Visual tips remind you what commands are available tesla-update
Maps and navigation
Maps have been updated to span the entire touchscreen, displaying the most important details of your trip. The control bar fades automatically for an uncluttered navigation experience.
  • Search for destinations with a single touch or voice command
  • Zoom adjusts based on location to display what you need to see most
  • Navigate to home or work with a single swipe
  • When at home, swipe the navigation button down in the Maps app and navigation will automatically route you to work. When away from home, swipe down and navigation will route back
Cabin Overheat Protection
In an industry-first safety measure, we’re also introducing Cabin Overheat Protect, focused on child (and pet) safety. This feature keeps the car at a safe temperature for hours, even when the car is off. This feature is only made possible by an electric vehicle with Tesla’s uniquely large battery packs.
Trip Planner
Trip Planner provides a clear overview of your journey before you leave, with maps that zoom out to show your entire route. Putting your Tesla into Drive automatically starts navigation to your first waypoint.
Autopilot Enhancements
Advancements in signal processing use the Tesla’s onboard radar to persistently capture snapshots of its surroundings, creating a 3D picture of the world. Learn more about seeing the world in radar.
Displays now show angled vehicles as they enter a curve and the Autosteer indicator has been updated to more clearly indicate when Autosteer is engaged. We won’t list all 200 improvements to Autopilot in 8.0, but here are a few additions:
  • Autopilot has been tuned to be more responsive and smoother in stop-and-go traffic
  • Enhanced safety requirement which disables Autosteer during trip when safety warnings are ignored
  • Autosteer now navigates highway interchanges
  • Redesigned Autopilot indicators
  • Curve speed adaptation now uses fleet-learned roadway curvature
  • Autopilot now controls for two cars ahead improving reaction time to otherwise-invisible heavy braking events
  • Car offsets in lane when overtaking a slower vehicle driving close to its lane edge

Head to www.tesla.com for further information.

Car-Jacking 2016-Style: Can Your Car Be Hacked?

hackerFact number one: more and more components of modern cars are controlled by electronics and computer systems.  Fact number two: cars are one of the most significant items in the Internet Of Things, where things that aren’t computers and mobile phones go online and send info from A to B or receive information.  Tons of new cars of the more connected type have the ability to run a diagnostic test, send the info to the maintenance people and send you a report (e.g. Ford’s SYNC Vehicle Health Report).  You can also get apps to help you find where you parked your car if you are one of those who have a tendency to get forgetful in car parking buildings.  Many cars are so connected that they’re probably the most mobile of mobile devices.

Fact number three: hackers exist.  Scary stuff.  You’ve got a car with all these electronically controlled safety devices (including steering correction and brake deployment), your car is connected to the internet and there are evil-minded folk out there who like to create a bit of havoc.

Scientific American magazine in February 2016 ran an article that explained that hackers can’t take over your car.  However, Norton – the internet security experts who put out some of the best online protection software (thanks, guys; it works on my computers) – warn that some features of cars can and have been hacked.  Not that there have been cases of cars being suddenly taken over by Evil Dr Loony-Boffin, whisking the hapless driver and passenger away to a secret underground lab where sinister experiments are conducted (cheesy thriller film, anyone?).  However, Norton reports that there have been cases where disgruntled employees have immobilized engines remotely, or where researchers have managed to trigger tyre pressure warning signals or even disable the brakes.

The most high-profile story about car hacking comes from the US, where a pair of cyber security experts hacked a Jeep Cherokee in the name of research, and managed to take out the brakes (and do other stuff) while someone else was driving it.  Wired magazine filmed it:

For those of you who drive or are interested in this variety of Jeep Cherokee, this hacking attack was part of a security test and the offending weakness has been fixed with a patch (I haven’t done any coding since the old BASIC days in the 1980s when the home computer came out, so don’t ask me how this works).

The second reason why you shouldn’t panic just yet is that these hackers weren’t malicious but were doing a heavy-duty security test of the sort that MacGyver used to carry out: break into a “secure” system to discover its weaknesses.  It also took them quite a long time to do it.  Most brainy teenagers out to cause mayhem don’t have quite that level of dedication.  The fact that there are inventive, creative and intelligent people trying to hack all these connected cars means that the weaknesses will be fixed.  We saw the same thing happen with emails and computer viruses, and we’ve all got antivirus software and spam filters these days.  Thanks to these guys, who have what must be one of the more fun jobs in the world, we’ll get cars that are connected and safe.

The third reason why you shouldn’t panic about your car being hacked is that the hackers in the Jeep video had to plug their laptops into the car first.  That’s right: the hackers had to have physical access to the car first.  If you follow all the usual rules about physical car security and use reliable, reputable mechanics, you should be OK.  You should also be careful about what you plug into your car, especially those fleet monitoring devices or similar.

Fourthly, many of the attacks that were demonstrated in the video weren’t life threatening.  In another test that wasn’t on the video, including one where the remote hackers took over the cruise control, a lot of the attacks could also be over-ridden by an alert driver.  The hackers also said that if a driver has both hands on the wheel the way we were all taught to, the steering hack could be over-ridden.  Handbrakes also exist if the brakes are cut remotely.

Fifthly, according to Norton, there isn’t much point in cyberattacks on cars, even for terrorists.  It would take a lot of technical work to hack just a few cars, and what would be the point of that when we all know they can wreak a lot more havoc with truck bombs?  Having tyre pressure monitoring lights and weird pictures coming up on the dashboard are merely annoying rather than being real threats.

Last but not least, not every car has this level of connectivity, even the newest models.  If they’re not connected, they can’t be hacked.  Those of you with older vehicles can now look smug.  Even if you have a tendency to lose your car in parking buildings.