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Archive for March, 2017

Q1 2017 – When One Door Closes, Another Opens

We review all the major news events in the automotive industry from the first quarter of 2017.


Soon to join Ford and Holden among the casualties within the local automotive scene, Toyota announced plans to close its engine casting and manufacturing facilities on October 3 this year. Australian car part manufacturers could be the beneficiaries, with local parts being touted for use in foreign diplomats cars.

On a global level, the arrival of US President Donald Trump shook things up for automakers, with some of the biggest names under scrutiny for prioritising investment outside the USA.

Despite its issues, Volkswagen claimed the mantle to become the world’s largest auto manufacturer.


Safety and Environment

In what is another troubling case, authorities seized over 500,000 fake and counterfeit car parts in Abu Dhabi that were destined for Australia. The issue continues to be one proving troublesome for the industry. In an announcement to combat the problem, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries will implement a new system designed to stop fake parts at the border.

In recent days, the AAA has played a flat bat to the Federal Government’s assertion that motorists would save fuel with the introduction of stricter emissions standards. The remarks come as 17 out of 30 vehicles tested on Australian roads exceeded fuel consumption figures by an average of 25%.

Overseas, and Norway took the radical step to temporarily ban diesel cars in Oslo to reduce pollution. The nation’s measures seem to be working though, with the proportion of EV sales to new cars upwards of 50% this year. The UK has also seen record numbers for registration of EVs.

A large spate of Australian recalls closed out the quarter, with 14 separate announcements made by the ACCC in the first fortnight of March.



Self-driving vehicles received a shot in the arm via an announced partnership between GM and Lyft that will include the largest autonomous test set for next year. In Australia, the South Australian Government committed support to 7 driverless programs. Intel announced a $20bn acquisition of autonomous vehicle technology firm Mobileye, indicating it may well want a piece of the automotive supplier landscape. Germany meanwhile, approved a draft law to allow the technology onto roads.

In disappointing news for technologists and environmentalists, local sales figures showed a huge slump for electric vehicles in 2016 despite the year being a record for new car sales. BMW Australia pinned this on the Federal Government, arguing a lack of incentives has failed to convince motorists to buy electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has committed to invest $55m into technology designed to improve traffic flow and alleviate congestion on our roads.

Another technological highlight saw Mazda propose the removal of spark plugs in favour of a new, world-first fuel technology destined for local drivers.


Legal and Regulatory Issues

Formally, Volkswagen pled guilty in a US court over its Dieselgate saga, with fines exceeding US$4bn. This hasn’t closed off all cases however, with numerous other lawsuits in progress. Also looking to put a line under its own saga, Takata agreed to pay $1.2bn in a US court,

Meanwhile, with a local class action in progress, the CEO of Choice called on Volkswagen to offer compensation to local motorists, and the ACCC took exception to reports of waivers from the automaker absolving responsibility. The ACCC also commenced action against Audi for alleged misleading conduct regarding diesel emissions, but the matter has not yet progressed with any further detail.

In a separate matter, the consumer watchdog has indicated it will ban flex commissions for car salesmen.

Renault and Fiat also drew the attention of prosecutors and regulators for diesel emissions cheating concerns. A slew of other manufacturers like Toyota, Peugeot, Citroen, Ford are also rumoured to be subject to investigation, suggesting the industry issue is far from over.

Also before the courts, Tesla was cleared of responsibility in a fatal crash involving one of its autonomous vehicles last year. The decision could have thrown a spanner into the works for a multitude of companies currently betting driverless vehicles will be the way of the future. Lastly, in another autonomous vehicle dispute, one of Google’s subsidiaries and Uber remain locked in a legal battle regarding intellectual property theft.

Six Myths About Electric And Hybrid Cars

#1: Electric Vehicles Put A Huge Drain On The National Grid

OK, there’s no denying that if you’re plugging in an electric car to recharge its batteries, you’re going to use electricity, which means that someone has to generate it.  It’s also true that if there’s too much demand on the national grid all at once, then there’ll be problems with “brown-outs” (signalled by lights dipping and flickering when the new load comes on the scene – those who have lived in off-the-grid houses will know all about this).  Notice those key words “all at once”?  The amount of power demanded by electric vehicles – at least at this stage – is peanuts compared to the demand of air conditioning in summer in the middle of the day, especially during a super-hot summer like the one we’ve been having.  In the USA, electric vehicles only account for 10% of the electricity demand. If everybody tried to (a) turn on their air-conditioning in the home and (b) charge their vehicles all at the same time, then yes, this would put too much of a load on the national grid.  The answer?  Charge your vehicle during off-peak times in the evenings and overnight when industry isn’t calling for as much power and air-conditioning systems aren’t working so hard.

#2: Electric Vehicles Haven’t Got Much Range

Some people are reluctant to purchase an electric vehicle because they have mental images of being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead battery and no way to recharge it.  It’s true that if you regularly drove long expanses of open road in the middle of nowhere, you could get yourself in a mess.  However, most of us aren’t driving around the Outback or around the farm on a regular daily basis: most of us are driving around the city. Most electric cars have a decent range of at least 100 km and some have a lot more.  The typical city commute tends to be shorter than this – a lot shorter.  Even if you live in a dormitory suburb.  On top of this, the 100-km range is at the lower end of battery life and ranges for electric cars these days.  The technology is improving as well, and some of the big names in electric vehicles (Tesla, Chevrolet and Nissan) are scheduled to release EVs that can get well over 300 km per charge.

#3: Electric Vehicles Are Expensive Luxury Items

This one is not quite a myth and not quite the truth.  Yes, electric vehicles have a certain cachet and the early examples had quite a large price ticket.  Some still do, especially the fully electric vehicles (as opposed to hybrids, which are on a pricewise par with their petrol and diesel fuelled equivalents).  However, there’s a pattern that economists and sustainable energy boffins have noticed that happens with every new green technology – and even some that aren’t quite so green per se.  The pattern goes like this: (a) A new technology comes on the scene.  It’s hot, it’s new and it’s sexy, and everyone is drooling and excited about it.  (b) The well-heeled jump on board and the new technology becomes a status symbol. (c) The manufacturers start introducing cheaper versions for the mass market (which, incidentally, are improvements over the older versions).  (d) Everybody’s got one and the wealthy are looking for the next hot item.  You’ve possibly already seen this happen in your lifetime with other technologies: think of cell phones.  Some readers will remember back in the 1980s and 1990s with those brick mobile phones.  They were one heck of a status symbol.  Now it seems that the majority of teenagers have a phone that makes the old status-symbol bricks of the 1990s look pathetic.   The same has happened with heaps of automotive technology, too, where what was once a luxury item is now standard: this has happened to seat belts, automatic transmissions, car stereos, cruise control, ABS brakes and airbags.  Heck, even the car itself was once a luxury toy for the wealthy.  The same is starting to happen with EVs and hybrids.  They’re beginning to head mass-market.  Given the desire for cleaner, greener technologies by many governments giving things an extra push and we’ll soon see the price tag of new EVs come down, as has already happened with hybrids.

#4: EVs and Hybrid Vehicles Are Dinky Little Hatchbacks

I wouldn’t call the Nissan Pathfinder a dinky little hatchback.  Nor the Mitsubishi Outlander .  These both come in hybrid variants.  What about electric vehicles?  Well, Audi Australia has an all-electric SUV planned for release by 2020, and that’s just one company.  Yes, you can get small electric and hybrid hatchbacks.  You can also get hybrid sedans and stationwagons.  Land Rover has even put out some hybrid 4x4s (some of which did the rather rugged Silk Road in a publicity stunt a couple of years back).  Electric 4x4s won’t be too far behind, especially as battery range improves.

#5: Hybrid and EV batteries Have Short Lives

One of the big worries about hybrids and EVs is that they would cause environmental headaches thanks to the batteries running out and needing to be disposed of – and batteries can be a disposal nightmare.  However, if you keep the battery nicely topped up and don’t drain it completely out of charge all the time, it has a nice long lifespan and won’t need to be $$$replaced$$$$.

#6: There’s A Conspiracy To Get Rid Of Electric Vehicles

No.  In spite of the documentary that came out in 2006 entitled Who Killed The Electric Car?, there isn’t some petrodollar-backed conspiracy to shut down production of electric cars.  Yes, GM recalled its EV1 back in the 1990s and ceased production.  However, you just have to look around you and look at any good car review site (ours, for example!) to see that there are plenty of hybrids and EVs out there, with more set to enter the market.

2017 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Hatch: A Private Fleet Car Review.

Toyota adds another arrow to its Hybrid quiver with the release of the Corolla Hybrid Hatch, alongside the Camry Hybrid and Prius. It’s priced sharply, from $26990 plus ORCs and packs great value into the car thanks to borrowing features from the top of the range ZR. A Wheel Thing checks out the 2017 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Hatch.Visually, there’s no way to pick the Hybrid from its siblings, until you note the discreet Hybrid badging on the forward flanks and tailgate. It’s otherwise standard Corolla hatch, with a pedestrian friendly bonnet that almost straight line joins the windscreen. The broad swept tail lights have a sharply defined shelf in their diamond shape and are a defining feature of the rear of the car. Joining the front wheel arch and headlights is a swooping bifurcated line that joins to become one at the rear and draws the eyes to the privacy glass for the rear section.Wheels are ten spoke alloys at 16 inches in diameter clad in 205/55 Michelin Energy rubber. The Hybrid also pinches LED DRLs and auto levelling headlights from the ZR.
There’s further ZR touches inside with dual zone airconditioning, Suna traffic updates and satnav, Toyota Link (using a paired smartphone to provide data for onboard apps), and a 4.2 inch full colour LCD display for the driver that provides information including how the energy and drive is approportioned.The Hybrid Hatch is geared towards a better driving experience, with a double wishbone rear suspension, an electronically controlled brake system (that feeds regenerative energy back into the engine system), bigger 296 mm x 28 mm discs at the front as part of that energy recovery. The drive system itself consists of an Atkinson Cycle four cylinder petrol powered engine and a nickel metal hydride battery charged from the regenerative system and the petrol engine. Transmission is what Toyota describes as an E-CVT, an Electronically controlled Constant Variable Transmission.

At 5200 rpm the petrol engine delivers 73 kW and will give 142 torques at 4000 rpm. The specified fuel is 95RON and Toyota quotes 4.1L/3.9L/4.1L per 100 kilometres from the 45 litre tank (combined/urban/highway). In theory, that allows the Corolla Hybrid Hatch to travel somewhere close to 1000 kilometres. Considering a dry weight of 1365 kg and a gross weight of just over 1800 kilos, that seems like a pretty decent range.
The real world begs, however, to disagree.The system is programed for three drive modes: EV, Eco, and Power. Select EV, after getting in, strapping in, and pressing the blue hued Start/Stop button, then move the somewhat counter intuitive drive selector to D (it’s sprung so it will return to a central position by itself), and gently press the accelerator as the Hybrid silently moves off. Unfortunately, no matter how gently you move off, the programming activates the petrol engine at 30 kmh and flashes a warning on the dash screen to say so.
In real terms this effectively neuters the point of having an electically operated system, as from hereon in, the petrol engine is shown to either be directing power to the front wheels or momentarility topping up the battery. Once off the accelerator, the display will show the car is in Eco but still showing the petrol engine as involved. There is a B option on the selector, with that further engaging the brakes for regenerative energy and charges the battery located under a rear pew.Essentially, the petrol engine is constantly supplying a form of power to the drivetrain, rather than allowing the electrical engine to do more work. Yes, you do get kinetic energy fed back into the system but that restriction on where the petrol engine cuts in and continues to partner with the electrical is obvious with the fuel gauge showing a final figure of a quarter full, the trip meter shows 609 kilometres covered, consumption of 5.0L/100 kilometres and the bulk of the travel has been with a sole occupant…When driven with a light right foot, forward motion is…leisurely. A little bit more pressure does increade rapidity whilst a hard launch will get the Corolla to freeway speeds reasonably quickly but, again, at the expense of fuel consumption. What you’ll also get is a very good ride quality, with plenty of comfort, fluency, absorption, with the typical short travel crash and thump from shopping centre car parks, most likely the Corolla’s second most common habitat. On the highway it’s a smooth, mostly quiet ride, with bare hints of wind noise and tarmac rumble.Turn in from the steering is tight, with a ratio that promises just 2.7 turns lock to lock. There’s some numbness in regards to telling the driver about the road and coupled with tyres that never seemed to offer 100% confidence in grip in, admittedly, almost monsoonal conditions at times, there was a seat of the pants feeling of needing to back off a bit more than one would expect would be needed. It’d be interesting to drive the Hybrid in dry conditions to see what the grip level via the seat of the pants really is.In other aspects, the Hybrid Corolla is the same as any other Toyota. It’s loaded with safety features, has the same 3 year or 100,000 kilometre warranty, some very comfortable if basic looking cloth seats front (manually adjusted, by the way) and rear, a dullish looking plastic plate running across the dash, and retro style air vents left and right. The touchscreen itself is typically good Toyota in layout and usage, plus has apps which require a smartphone to be added in order to access.At The End Of The Drive.
From one point of view, it’s a curious thing that Toyota have added a hybrid to its biggest selling range considering there’s three Prius variants to choose from. BUT, the Corolla Hybrid looks like a Corolla and it IS one of the biggest selling cars going. From A Wheel Thing’s point of view, it’s got the green credentials to appeal, especially with that final fuel consumption figure, but lacks the driveability and variety it should have due to the programming restriction of being predominantly petrol, not electrically, motorvated.
To make up your own mind head over to the Toyota website and follow the links under new cars.

Utes are Great

What makes a good ute?

The word “ute” has its roots in Australian slang vocabulary and is a short word that describes a utility vehicle.  Utes can be single or double cabs; the single cab has just the two seats or a bench seat to cater for the driver and front passenger/s, though the bench seat is less common these days.  The added practicality of having an extra three seats in the rear of the double cab ute is often the reason why people prefer the double cab over the single cab.  The single cab with a large tray allows you to throw all your tools in the back, and a spacious double cab ensures the whole family can come along for the ride.

Practicality is probably the number one reason many people buy themselves a ute.  Being able to throw some rubbish, posts or firewood onto the deck is really easy when you have yourself a ute.  The tray out the back is capable of carrying way more than you ever could in your sedan, hatchback or wagon and you’re often in hot demand when your mates are shifting house.  You can often buy 2WD or 4WD models – as is the case with many of the utes you’ll find on sale.  Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux, Great Wall, Mitsubishi Triton are just some of the utes you’ll find on sale that can provide you with 2WD or 4WD alternatives.

Utes are also built tougher than your usual sedans and wagons.  Designed and built to work hard reliably, the chassis has been built tough to withstand heavier loads and provide strong towing capabilities.  Obviously, the 4WD option will be offering a little more protection under the ute, mud plug tyres and a raised ride height – many 4WD utes can end up going some pretty way-out-there places.  It’s very common to see a 4×4 ute towing the boat to the lake or a trailer full of kayacks.  4WD traction means that getting the boat down to the water and away again in slippery conditions is a breeze.

Many people opt for the dual cab ute because it can double as a work and family vehicle.  Having the extra seats for the kids at school or on holidays is always going to be handy.  A couple of decades ago, the ute was pretty basic and they had interiors that you could clean out using a bucket and a broom.  Land Rover’s Defender still has this ability, and even some of the bog standard Japanes utes are rugged enough to be able to handle a slosh of water from the bucket and a broom to clean out the muddy interior.  Most modern utes, whilst relatively tough on the inside, are actually very comfortable to drive and offer many luxuries and plenty of electronic gadgets like leather seats, fancy audio systems, satellite navigation and Bluetooth communications.  Come cleaning time, these modern higher spec models need a little more care than just a slosh with a bucket of water and a broom!

I also see the ute as an asset in the safety arena.  The modern ute is well equipped with safety equipment – some makes are better than others – but most provide airbags, ESC and ABS.  Having a higher ride height – particularly in the 4×4 utes – is also advantageous.

The best utes are built tough while continuing to be comfortable to drive.  It’s hard to go past a new Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux, Volkswagen Amarok or Ford Ranger, as these are some of the best in the business when it comes to ruggedness and comfort.

Having plenty of torque under the hood to tow some heavy metal is a big plus.  Holden’s Colorado, Ford’s Ranger and Nissan’s Navara are plenty powerful.

Choosing a new ute isn’t always an easy decision to make.  In many ways, it’s tougher than picking out your average, everyday car.  Not only do ute buyers want something big enough to carry their livestock, weekend gear or tools, they’re after a vehicle that’s reliable and functional enough to keep up with weighty lifestyle demands of work and play.  Farmers and tradies will place a lot of trust in their utes –they are after all a workhorse.

The new Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado, Isuzu D-Max, Mazda BT-50, Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara, Toyota HiLux and Volkswagen Amarok are the main rivals vying for top spot.  Foton, Great Wall and Mahindra are also handy utes worth considering.  Ford’s Falcon ute and Holden’s Commodore ute are immensely comfortable and powerful low profile RWD utes with a car-like drive for the long haul.

$20K Small Business Tax Break End In Sight

Can you believe it’s been two years since the government announced the ‘Instant Asset Write-off” incentive in 2015?

To recap, the incentive runs as follows:

Any small business (turnover <$2m) buying an asset under $20,000, is eligible to write off 100% of the value immediately rather than claim depreciation over the following years.  This was (and still is) an unprecedented scheme in terms of its generosity for small business (the previous instant asset write off threshold was just $1,000) and $1.75 billion was set aside in the 2015 budget to cover the incentive.

More Info:

However, all good things come to an end and this 2-year incentive we be no longer from 30th June 2017.

What this means is that, if you are a small business, and there’s any sort of asset purchase you’re considering under this threshold, then act NOW to save yourself literally thousands of dollars compared to a post 30 June purchase.

Naturally, our interest and expertise is in cars and these days there are hundreds of models of vehicles that fit under this threshold.  We would love to help any reader with such a purchase but above all, whether you buy through Private Fleet or directly from a dealer, we urge you to act now!  Do not leave it too late.  The purchase must be finalised before 30th June (paid for and delivered) and, with long waiting times for many models, it would be easier than you think to miss out.

I remember several years ago when another related incentive was offered and the dozens of disappointed potential buyers we spoke to who had left their run too late.  Order today for delivery mid June, if you like but get your name on the list!  Good luck!

2017 Toyota Camry Altise: A Private Car Review.

Toyota Australia confirmed recently that the Aurion nameplate will be dropped and replaced by a Back to the Future nameplate. Camry V6, anyone? However, surrounded by a fleet of SUVs and the evergreen Corolla, what’s left in the tank for the base model nameplate, Altise? Private Fleet drives the 2017 Toyota Camry Altise and comes away wondering if it’s time to put this one out to pasture?When Camry first landed on Australian soil, it was a simple five door hatch. That morphed into a sedan and wagon range which, eventually, became a sedan only and gave birth to a renamed V6 version plus sheetmetal changes. That car was called Aurion and graced showrooms for barely a decade. Now Toyota has canned that car, the Camry is left as a large car in a medium car market thanks to its four cylinder powerplant. A 2.5L capacity unit, in base trim it spins out just 133 kilowatts at 6000 rpm and a reasonable but not overwhelming 231 Nm of torque at 4100 rpm. With a dry weight of 1465 kg to pull around plus 70 litres of 91 RON and human cargo, it’s no surprise that Toyota says it’s a 11.1L/100 kilometre consumption figure for its natural environment, the urban jungle. There is a Hybrid system available which, along with the four and V6, will carry over to the imported 2018 spec model.The Camry IS a big car. At 4850 mm long, 1470 mm high and 1835 mm wide, it well and truly takes it up to its classmates in the form of Falcon, Commodore, Sonata, Optima et al, and it really is only the engine that makes it a medium sized car in classification. It’s a proper five seater, rolls on a 2775 mm wheelbase, and has a boot big enough to swallow a couple of golf club carriers with room to spare, at 515L. Inside, there’s two bottle and cup holders up front for driver and passenger, with the rear getting two cup holders and four bottle holders. There’s also Bluetooth audio, standard AM/FM radio and CD (couldn’t find a USB/3.5 mm plug setup though) however the review car was also fitted with DAB. And yes, even the average speakers on board still sounded good for DAB.Interior trim was basic: black cloth, black plastic, manual adjustment for the seats, driver’s window only was one touch Up/Down, a binnacle centre speedo flanked by a tacho and combined fuel level and dial (not digitally) based consumption display. It’s old school in layout for the console, with dials for the aircon temperature and speed but a touch more modern for direction thanks to individual tabs. It’s typical Toyota in that the ergonomics are spot on however it’s a lacklustre look, with no real visual appeal in deference to basic functionality. If there’s a win here, it’s that it looks better than, even though there’s hints of, the dash from the IS series. Another score is the amount of hip/shoulder/leg room on offer.Outside, the Altise differs slightly from its stablemates, the Hybrid, Atara, and RZ, in having globe lit driving lights, not LED, in the left and extremities of the front bumper, plus the spindle design element is not as pronounced. Compared to the superceded model it looks longer, sleeker, wider, especially at the rear with the broadened tail lights, and more purposeful there, however the front has five horizontal bars that lend an almost baleen whale look to the snout. There’s even a change to the C pillar that lengthens the windowline and there’s plenty of glass to give passengers a broad and airy feeling.That 2.5L four and not inconsiderable heft make the Camry a willing if not spirited performer on road. Acceleration is leisurely at best, accompanied by a soundtrack that never gets raucous yet indicates a struggle to really pull. The six speed transmission is smooth enough however had the disconcerting tendency to brake the engine under almost any forms of acceleration. Light throttle, move, gear change, brake, accelerate again…repeated through to medium and most heavy throttle applications. In fact, the only time the car felt as if it had any life was in a hard acceleration from a blind corner, which momentarily had the front driven 215/60/16 tyres from Michelin chirping.Coupled with a not quite en pointe’ steering set up (vague, somewhat disconnected), a suspension set up that has mild tautness up front but with short travel struts that feel as if they’ll rip out over bigger speedhumps, as opposed to a softly sprung rear end that bottoms out just a bit too easily, it’s a dynamics package that’s a bit like burnt porridge for the three bears. Not too hot, not too cold, but no longer just right.

At the time of writing, the Camry Altise petrol had a driveaway price of just of $30K, but was also being offered with a special driveaway price of (from) $27990 with free satnav. There’s also the standard three year warranty or 100,000 kilometre covered, plus up to five low cost, capped price, standard logbook services at $140 for the first 4 years or 75,000km, whichever occurs first. Naturally there’s a full suite of safety systems including seven airbags,

At The End Of The Drive.
It’s been said of certain kinds of cars that they’re whitegoods on wheels. They’re designed to do a job, without any real appeal but also to do it without any hint of failure. Being the entry level member to the Camry family, that role falls to the Camry Altise. It has looks that are inoffensive without being overtly visually appealing, it has a drivetrain that does a job without being exciting nor overly dull. There’s an interior that mixes a bit of modern tech with more than a nod towards history.

Harsh it may be, but the 2017 Toyota Camry Altise is the four wheeled embodiment of a whitegood on wheels. As such, it’s this level of spec that may continue to sell to fleet buyers that require naught more than the appliance to get them from A to B to A again. With the 2018 range, to be imported from Japan, yet to be fully confirmed, the question of whether to retire (in this writer’s opinion) the Altise won’t be answered but given it’s a cost effective entry level member, it’s unlikely to be shuffled into retirement.
Head to 2017 Toyota Australia range for info on all Toyota products including the Camry.

Cop Cars Around The Globe

A couple of days ago, the Dubai police force created a bit of a stir in the automotive world by managing to scoop the Guinness World Record for the fastest police car on the roads: a Bugatti Veyron.  With a top speed of 407 km/h and a 0–100 time of 2.5 seconds.  The acquisition and fitting of the Veyron as a police car is something of a PR exercise for the Dubai Police; however, it joins some of the other supercars driven by the police in this country, making the United Arab Emirates possibly the country where it’s most fun to be a cop.  Others in the Dubai police fleet include a Aston Martin One-77, a Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4, a Ferrari FF and the “humbler”(?) Audi R8 , Nissan GTR and Mercedes SL 63.

Not many of the boys and girls in blue around the world are so lucky.  Most of them have to put up with much more mundane machines, albeit with all the extras that cops get to play with, including the lights and sirens.

The Ford/Holden rivalry extends to the police fleet, with Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores making up the bulk of the fleet in various incarnations for the past 30 years or so.  Now, however, with the demise of Ford and Holden in Australia, taking these iconic marques with them, the cops are looking for new wheels that can do the business of high-speed chases.  The Kia Sorento SUV is one contender, along with the Ford Mustang, Chrysler 300  and BMW 5-series.  The new Kia Stinger is also a contender – or at least it will be when it goes on sale in Australia.  Watch this space!

United Kingdom:

In spite of the original Top Gear Unholy Trinity sneering that the British police got about mostly in Vauxhall Astras, the modern equivalents of Robert Peel’s special troops get around in a selection of BMWs, mostly 3 and 5 series, plus a few others, including the quirky Renault Twizy (probably as a PR exercise, as this is going to be useless in a high speed chase)


What do you think they use as police cars in Germany?  Plenty of BMWs (320 Dt being popular), Audi A4s and a smattering of other local marques, including Opels and Volkswagens.


The most common are the Ford Crown Victoria and the Chevrolet Impala.  However, Ford USA also puts out some cop cars that come off the factory floor ready to go on duty, the Ford Police Interceptor Utility being one of them.


The latest addition to the fleet of the gendarmerie is the Renault Megane Coupé RS .  Keeping it local and classy!


India also believes in keeping things local, which means you’re not going to pick up the equivalent in your local Aussie car yards if you have a hankering to drive what the cops in India drive.  At any rate, you’ll have a hard time finding the Mahindra Scorpio and an even harder one finding the Mahindra Marksman (which comes complete with machine gun mounts).


Without the need to keep things local and with a need for serious security, the Israeli police – which is considered to be a division of the military Special Forces – need something pretty rugged.  Toyota Landcruisers, Isuzu Troopers and Land Rover Defenders all get used, as do Hummers.  In urban areas, a selection of sedans get used, with Toyotas being spotted frequently.


Wikipedia lists a host of Ladas as being the patrol car of choice for the Russian police.  However, before you decide that this is the best place to try a heist, think again.  The fleet has recently been updated with a collection of Audi R8 V8s.


In a land where rally driving is one of the top sports and getting a license means some really intensive training including ice driving, what do the cops use?  The English version of the official Finnish police site is coy about the marques used but prodding elsewhere suggests that alongside vans of various types, the Mercedes Shooting Brake is part of the fleet.  See how you go with one official video – even if you speak no Suomi, you can pick out the words for “police” and “Mercedes Shooting Brake” easily enough.

Incidentally, for those who prefer a second-hand car to a new one, I’ve heard it said that getting an ex-cop car can be a good pick.  They have high mileages but have been superbly maintained with speed camera fines taxpayer dollars.  All the extra bells and whistles, beginning with the lights and sirens, are removed before sale, though!

2017 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sedan: A Private Fleet Car Review.

Car makers tend to have a vehicle that seems to define what that brand is. Holden has the Commodore and Kingswood, Ford the Falcon, Jaguar the XJ6. For Japanese goliath, Toyota, you can say Land Cruiser and Corolla and it’s the latter that perhaps embodies how a brand can be seen. Private Fleet checks out the heart of Toyota, the 2017 Corolla Ascent, in sedan and CVT form. Apart from the obvious difference in body shape between hatch and sedan, Toyota have given the sedan some subtle but noticeable design tweaks. The bonnet’s shut lines are more aligned with the Camry and the headlight structure is longer, running down towards the centre of the grille further than the hatch’s. Toyota have also given the front a more Camry and Lexus look, with the “spindle” look more noticeable. The taillights echo the Camry and there’s three distinctive crease lines under the C pillar, plus an aero ridge inside the wing mirrors to deflect rain. It’s the rear that lends a slightly frumpy look to the car, with a curve coming down from the lights and a high set join line, making the rear look heavy. The Ascent has 15 inch steel wheels with an alloy look complete the exterior. It’s also bigger than the styling has you believe, with an overall length of 4620 mm encapsulating a 2700 mm wheelbase and 470L boot, bracketed by a low 1460 mm height and a surprising 1775 mm width.Inside it’s typical Corolla and, in parts, doesn’t look like it’s changed since the 1970s. Black solid plastic, rotary dials for aircon and vents contrast with the brilliant blue backlit dials and touchscreen. There’s some brightwork with alloy look plastics on the doors, steering wheel hub, centre console and on the edges of the touchscreen. The seats and steering column are manually adjusted, with a basic black cloth covering the pews. Staying true to the history of the Corolla, Toyota fits a non electric, “old style”, lift up hand brake. And there’s never anything less in the presence than the feeling of typical Toyota build quality.Up front is the tried and proven combination of a 1.8L block with a four valve alloy head. Drinking unleaded at a rate of 6.8L/100 km (claimed, combined cycle) from a 55L tank, the engine produces 103 kilowatts at 6400 rpm, and requires 4000 revs to produce a maximum torque of 173 Nm. The test car was fitted with a seven speed CVT, in opposition to the standard six speed manual. Toyota have programmed this to act a little more like a traditional auto, in that there’s more feeling of a change of gear and a little less focus on the traditional CVT characteristic, that climb through the rev range and holding at a certain point as speed builds. The variable valve timing’s change is also perceptible, with an extra kick at somewhere around 3500 rpm.On the road, the Ascent’s ability to be an average, every day, mode of transport is on display. It’s neither under or overwhelming its ride, handling, comfort level. It just simply…does. Acceleration is neither leisurely nor outstandingly rapid, steering is neither sharp nor excessively vague, with more than a seemingly normal turn left and right to get the car around corners. The skinny-ish 195/65 tyres will provide enough grip for normal driving, but anything remotely sporting has them understeer and squealing in protest. They’ll also tramline, having the Ascent follow ruts and ridges, however the steering is polished enough for drivers to stay in control. However, the brakes are amongst the best in class, with a beautifully weighted feel from top to bottom, and no sense of anything other than the foot being able to read just where in the process the grip level is.Although entry level, there’s a rear camera, parking sensors, Bluetooth, a cruise control related distance sensor, apps via the touchscreen (which require a smart phone to be paired), and a range of driver’s information via the dash’s central screen. There’s no DAB, nor do all windows get one touch up/down movement. However there’s still only a three year warranty for car and paint and just five years for corrosion.At The End Of The Drive.
The Corolla Ascent sedan is the embodiment of the reason why the Corolla has been, for so long, the world’s number one selling car. It does what it does, quietly, with an unassuming way about it, without setting the world on fire. And that’s the appeal of the Corolla: there’s no surprises, you know exactly what you’re getting, and it’s dependable and reliable as a sunrise.
For pricing and details, go here:2017 Toyota Corolla Ascent

2017 Lexus IS200t &amp; 2017 Lexus IS350: A Private Car Review.

Lexus released in late 2016 an update to their IS range. It’s available with a two litre turbo petrol, two point five litre petrol with a hybrid system, or a three point five litre V6 and a sole eight speed auto, across three trim levels, being Luxury/F Sport and Luxury Sport. The stylish and sleek looking cars have received some mild exterior tweaks and interior renovations. Private Fleet drives the Lexus IS200t Luxury and Lexus IS350 Luxury back to back.In profile, the IS is a long bonneted, short tailed, beauty. In essence, it’s not unlike a car dubbed the most beautiful in the world, with that ratio, with Jaguar’s E-Type seen as such by one Enzo Ferrari. That profile has been a design highlight of the IS since its release and the 2017 version carries that on. It sits low, too, at just 1430 mm. LED powered lights fore and aft for running lights and tail, plus the IS350 has LED headlights and they look great bracketing the familiar angled hour glass grille motif. There’s a stylish, almost shoe branded, swoop from front to rear that rises from the sills to the rear wheel arch within the overall 4680 mm length, which is up 15 mm from the preceding model thanks to a new front bar design. The IS200t is on 17 inch diameter wheels with the IS350 on 18s, and both look as if they struggle to fill the wheel wells. Overall, however, it’s a handsome look.Inside, it’s a different story between front and rear seats. In the back there’s enough leg and hip room for most thanks to the overall 1810 mm width, and plenty of head room too. It’s leather aplenty, and there’s the added bonus of sensibility, with heating and venting for driver and passenger seats. The onboard satnav is effective but has the annoying habit of telling you, 24/7, that you’re coming to a school zone. Surely a bit of software work can be done to change that to the days and hours required?Back to the front and it’s here where the IS trips up. Totally at odds with the sleekness of the exterior and looking like a throwback to the 1980s, is a angular and messy mix. Protusions and curves collide to provide an unharmonious mix, plus there’s an odd gunmetal sheen to the plastic itself. It lets down the presentation as there’s otherwise reasonable ergonomics, great audio with DAB (with the 350 getting a Mark Levinson system), the mouse and touchscreen combination (both of which were slightly overhauled, with the screen going up from seven inches) which becomes quite intuitive, and easy to read screens (also redesigned).A console mounted a dial for drive modes (which shows on the dash screen) and steering wheel buttons from the Lexus RC line of vehicles which are soft touch and simple to use again at odds with the pyramids of the dash. If there’s a highlight amongst the seeming jungle of jumble, it’s the analogue clock, proudly sited right in the centre of the upper dash. It’s a metallic look by day but glows a soft white in the darkness. There was also a (optionable item) full glass roof fitted to the IS350 .Engine wise it’s a pairing of turbocharged four cylinder and naturally aspirated 3.5L V6, both with a close ratio eight speed auto and Stop/Start technology. There’s 180 kW or 233 kW, and 350 Nm or 378 Nm, delivered at 1650 rpm or 4800 rpm. These last two give each car utterly different driving characteristics; the IS200t will launch well and continue to pull through to over 4000 where the power band comes in. The IS350 will pull hard but doesn’t have the same feeling of urgency. What it does have a far, far, better soundtrack than the smaller engined version. Planted hard, the right foot has that 3.5L V6 go from a bellow through to a howl to a metallic keen that sounds fantastic and intoxicating. The turbo four lacks the ability to caress the eardrums the same way but is a more user friendly drive. With the torque coming in so low and available over a wider range, the IS200t becomes the better choice as a driver.The steering ratios feel different,and each has variable ratio geometry which tightens up a turn or so either side. The IS350 feels less wieldy, more leaden, compared to the more responsive and nimble IS200t. Yet the conundrum is that, according to the Lexus website, the IS200t is 35 kilos heavier, at 1680 kg, than the 1645 kg IS350. Put it down, perhaps, to the broader range of torque, the seat of the pants saying that the IS200t is somewhat more dynamic than the IS350 although there’s a dedicated performance damper setup in the front for both along with aluminuim lower suspension parts.

Therein lies the rub. As of March 2017, driveaway pricing has the IS200t at just over $65K and the bigger engined version at around $7K more, with a hybrid version slotted in between. As an overall drive, the IS200t has a touch more finesse, a touch more conversational ability, a slightly better ride but neither match, to be blunt, the ability of the Megane GT tested just a week or so before. Then there’s the fuel costs…both are rated to run on a minimum of 95RON, for starters. There’s a reasonable fuel capacity of 66L, and the IS200t is rated at 7.5L/100 km, against the 3.5L’s 9.7L/100 km (combined cycle quoted).Bearing in mind the performance aspects of each, and that the IS350 seemed more responsive and performance luxury oriented only when really given some stick, those figure would very quickly be broken. As it was, the IS200t finished at around 8.5L/100 km and the other closer to 11.0L/100 km. The range for the bigger engined car was also less than the smaller and did in fact require topping up twice before returning the vehicle. This is even with (both vehicles) the drivetrain slipping automatically into Eco as a gauge after acceleration, but will remain in Sport until told otherwise. And there were times when Sport did actually make the drive better by providing sharper throttle response and acceleration. The IS200t did feel, too, as if it moved around more than the IS350, but overall felt just that bit more engaging to drive. Braking? Neither felt as if the pedal wasn’t connected, with bite straight away and a beautifully progessive response as you press harder, allowing the driver to judge precisely just how much was needed for the stopping distance.To offset this, Lexus do offer a standard 48 month/100,000 kilometre warranty, and 48 months roadside assist, plus a bucket load of standard equipment. There’s a full leather interior, a pedestrian sensing bonnet that fires up should a human intrude, Lane Change Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring, Emergency Brake Light (rapid brake light flashing), and the obigatory reverse camera with lane guidance. You’ll also get the Lexus Safety System+, which consists of a Pre-Collision Safety System, Active Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning+ with Sway Warning Systen and Auto High Beam. There’s also a Tyre Pressure Monitoring system on board.At The End Of The Drive.
There’s pluses and minuses with these two. A better sound system in the IS350 (which is an optionable item, by the way, in the F Sport Enhancement pack) against a more frugal and better handling IS200t. Hard core dedicated LED headlights in the IS350 and a far more aurally attractive soundtrack aren’t enough, in this comparison, to overcome the cheaper to buy and run and seat of the pants better handler IS200t. Head across to 2017 Lexus range. for more info about all cars in the Lexus lineup for 2017.

Alternative News: The Hyperloop.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Famed and distinguished author and scientist Sir Arthur C. Clarke has this as the third of his three laws, much like “The Three Laws of Robotics” his equally distinguished fellow writer Isaac Asimov postulated. To that end, Elon Musk is offering something that could almost be seen as magical because of the technology involved and if it comes to fruition will change the way mass public transportation is undertaken. Welcome to The Hyperloop.

In actuality, the technology is the hard part, the concept is simple. In essence, it’s a pod that will contain passengers (or cargo) that will be inside a tubular structure, with that tube largely evacuated of air and with the much talked about magnetic levitation system to propel the pod.

The basic idea has been around for some time, perhaps two hundred years, however Musk reinvigorated the idea in 2012. A concept of design was shown in 2013, paralleling the highway in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The distance between the two is something around 560 kilometres and the concept estimated a travel time of just over a half hour, meaning travel speeds would be in the order of over 950 kilometres per hour. Top speed would be 1200 kph, so that travel time would allow for the initial acceleration process, travel, and deceleration.

Musk first raised the idea at an event hosted by a website dedicated to technology, in Santa Monica, in July 2012. Describing it as a “fifth mode of transport”, Musk said the Hyperloop (so named because it would be a closed system in a loop) would be “a cross between Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table”. He also pointed out the benefits of such a system, being it would be a 24 hour, all weather, collision free, system.

The original concept had the pod riding on a cushion of air barely 2 millimetres in depth, with each pod having an air transfer system, moving high pressure air as speed built up, to the rear. By moving to a very low pressure setup, the transfer system was deleted. A set of linear induction motors would propel the pods and because of the vastly reduced friction, the pods would be able to coast along without losing much forward velocity. The pods themselves would be around seven and a half feet in diameter, enough to comfortably have a two person side by side configuration.

Musk threw open the design rules and in 2015 his SpaceX group announced a one mile test loop close to their main facility. Several university groups have joined in, including MIT, which unveiled their concept in mid 2016. With the T in MIT standing for Technology, MIT went on to demonstrate, for the first time in the world, a working prototype in January of 2017.

As mentioned, the concept is not new. A British engineer named George Medhurst took out patents in 1799 and wrote a book in 1812 detailing propelling people and goods through air-tight tubes.  The fabled Crystal Palace building in London had a railway, using fans 22 feet in diameter to move a module in a tunnel, whilst in America an underground tube system was trialled for three years in the early 1870s. Rocketeer Tobert Goddard described a system, vacuum trains, in 1910, and physicist Gerard O’Neill wrote a fictional book which incorporated trains on magnetic levitation in tunnels with almost 100% vacuum inside…

Naturally cost is a factor, including some plans for having a terminus outside of the final destination, neccessitating a further transportation method. One costing had $20USD of a one way ticket being enough to cover the costs over twenty years for the mooted SanFran-LA route. That presumed 7.4 million riders per year, however some have already questioned that that cost would be suitable. Some figures of $100 billion USD for the initial system have been mentioned, with a proportion of that cost being pylons to raise the Hyperloop above the surrounding area.

Apart from cost, the Hyperloop system does, in fact, seem feasible, with many engineering studies confirming the validity of the concept. For Australia, the eastern seaboard would be, much like the U.S., a like location, between Melbourne and Sydney, perhaps via Camberra, and from there to Brisbane with, again, perhaps a stop at Newcastle and Port Macquarie or further. Much like the much discussed Very fast Train proposal, however, it’ll need a true visionary and an economic commitment to reduce our reliance on four wheeled transport and aircraft.