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Archive for July, 2018

Private Fleet Car Review: Suzuki Vitara S Turbo All-Grip.

It’s been some time between drives with Suzuki’s cool and funky Vitara. A recent catch-up with the turbocharged petrol fed S Turbo All-Grip, one built in November 2016 and close to ten thousand kilometres on it gave us a chance to see how they’ve held together.Sizewise the Vitara is a compact machine, with an overall length of just 4175mm. However clever packaging sees a wheelbase of 2500mm squeezed in. Breadth and height is decent too, at 1775mm and 1610mm. Up front is a 1.4L BoosterJet four, complete with 103kW and 220 torques from 1500 to 4000 revs. Transmission is a six speed auto and a torque split system to divert oomph from the front to the rear on demand.Having said that there is a drive mode selector button inside for Sports and Sand/Snow which lights up on the monochrome centre dash display. The switchover is seamless but the transmission was prone to stuttering and hesitation when cold. There’s a win for economy though, with a thousand kilometre week finishing on 6.1L of 95RON being consumed per one hundred kilometres. That’s from a 47 litre tank and pretty much on the money with Suzuki claiming a 6.2L/100 km for the combined cycle.Acceleration is pretty good, with that level of torque matching the light weight (1235 kg plus fuel and passengers). It’ll quickly and quietly drop a cog or two on demand and roll forward at speed easily enough. Overtaking then also becomes a simple matter of flexing the right ankle, and thanks again to its light weight, stopping is a brezze. Time and again the brakes would haul up the All-Grip with less than usual pressure but it helps when the pedal travel is intuitive and pressured well enough.It’s still the edgy yet slightly boxy shape that was available in the noughties, if perhaps somewhat more upright and squared off at either end. The front end sports LED driving lights in the lwoer quarters but also has globe lit driving lights that come on and override the LEDs when a switch on the indicator stalk is used. Hmm….The grille itself is a series of hexagons but it’s a solid sheet, meaning air is drawn in only through the lower extremities.Rubber is not off road suitable, even though the Vitara is, ostensibly, capable of light off-roading. They’re 17 inch Continentals with a 215/55 profile, wrapping five spoke black alloys. Dry weather grip is superb but in the wet weather they combined with the MacPherson strut front & torsion beam rear to feel skittish. The coil springs fitted to the Vitara S Turbo All-Grib are tuned for a more sports oriented ride, with a small amount of compliance dialed in to give comfort initially. As such the whole package needed dialing back on accelerator and steering input on Sydney’s greasy roads, just to be sure.Ride and handling is well sorted otherwise. It’s comfortable, if a touch taut. Bang crash is minimal on catseyes, speed reducing bumps in shopping centres, and the bigger road based bumps. Unsettled surfaces have the Vitara All-Grip unflustered and the suspension tune allows the dips and wallows to be flattened out with nary an intrusion felt past a momentary bump. Turn-in is precise and feedback is natural from the front.Inside is a compact but non-claustrophobic workspace. There’s splashes of colour such as the red ringed speedo and tacho displays matched by the simple twist and open airvents, a metallic grey insert on the passenger’s side of the dash, and alloy plastic touches on the tiller and gear selector. The radio is AM/FM only in this one, but partners with Apple CarPlay and voice command to provide interactivity. Satnav is standard across the Vitara range.Safety is high with seven airbags including a kneebag, with a full suite of traction control systems. Autonomous Emergency Braking isn’t fitted but remember that this car was built a year and a half ago from the review date. ISOFIX seat restraint points are standard. Hill Hold Control is also fitted to all autos and Hill Descent Control is available for the All-Grip. There’s parking sensors, rain sensing wipers and reverse camera as well.

Cargo space of 375L (seats up, 710L down) is compromised by virtue of the car’s smallish size. Pop open the non powered rear door and there’s a split level cargo area with blind. The lower level highlights a major safety issue common to almost every car maker. That is a space saver spare. Consider for a moment that the Vitara is an off/soft road capable vehicle so fitting them with a space saver is hardly sensible. Consider also the dry weight of the Vitara is only 1235 kilograms so a full sized alloy would have been a minor weight impost over a steel space saver.

The car was driven on a longish day drive to Canberra and return, copping a vee shaped construction nail in the right rear. Complicit in the situation was the suspension tune as there was no indication of a flat. There was no pulling, no drag, no obvious noise as such. The tyre itself looked initially to have been only a nail but upon being “deconstructed” showed a clear groove on the inside exterior where it had rode the alloy’s rim. This resulted in an unwelcome ninety minute delay at a certain tyre retailer.At The End Of The Drive.
Available in seven colours, the Vitara S Turbo All-Grip is currently available on a drive-away program at $33,990. It’s immensely good value, a comfortable ride, and in real terms ideal for a couple. Having piloted these cars before they’re borderline for a family of four outside of urban usage, again simply because of their compact footprint. Although rear legroom is adequate it’s the cargo area for baggage that holds it back and that’s unavoidable.But it IS a fun drive. Overwhelmingly so. It’ll be interesting to see what Suzuki does when its inevitable update comes along. Here’s where you can find out more about the existing model: 2016 onwards Suzuki Vitara

Space Saver Tyres; A Flat Option.

The last three decades have seen many innovations that have been placed into cars, trucks, and other forms of automotive motion. Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, airbags, even FM radio and CD/MP3 playing capability. Tyres have improved in size, water drainage, and grip levels. Then there’s the space saver tyre. Intended to be a weight saving device and providing an option should a main tyre receive a puncture, just how effective can one of these be?
Given that many travel for decades without ever suffering a flat tyre or indeed any form of damage, having a space saver does make perfect sense. They’re lighter and by virtue of their name, simply don’t take up as much room, especially with the rise of larger diameter wheels and tyres. However, HOWEVER, it’s also fair to expect that most of the time, that when they get called upon for usage, that one is in an area not far from either home or a tyre retailer.

Herein lies an issue or two. First up they’re rated for a speed of fifty kilometers per hour. Maximum recommended velocity is eighty. Maximum recommended distance is 450 kilometres. That’s all fine when you’re in the built up areas surrounding your home, but when you’re three hundred kilometers away from home, in a car that’s not your own but a press review car, and one that’s ostensibly soft road capable, then there’s a problem.

Suzuki, like many car makers, fits its vehicles with a space saver. The Vitara All-Grip is fitted with Continental tyres and they’re 17 inches in diameter. Although it also comes with a switchable drive system, splitting torque to the rear wheels as well as the front, it’s not really intended for much else than tarmac with perhaps a bit of mud and sand work occasionally. Again, most people would do this within reach of assistance.
The Vitara was driven from the Blue Mountains to Canberra to visit the financial controller’s mother in hospital. Upon arrival it was noted that the right rear had a bottom flatter than a steamrolled pancake. What looked like a screw was later found to be a two inch on either side vee nail. What was also notable was that the Vitara’s handling did NOT exhibit any form of instability.

Thankfully a change of tyre had the Vitara suitable for driving. But remember, dear reader, that we’re three hundred kilometers from home and in between are roads rated from 100 to 110 km/h…Playing into favour was the time. Any later and finding a tyre store close with which to do a repair or swap would have been problematic, a problem that would have been instantly solved if a full sized spare had been provided. As it turned out, the inner side exterior sidewall had been scored enough to lessen the structural strength and thereby rendered it unuseable.
Further providence came in the form of the press contact and a Bob Jane’s within a safe speed fifteen minutes away. Again, if a full sized spare had been fitted neither a visit then nor an overwhelming ninety minute wait from entry to departure have been required. Consider, too, that if a place had not been available then a three hour return journey would have been at least four and with the end result, at minimum, being a space saver spare on the verge of unuseability.

So what options are there? The initial diagnosis was to fit a plug and patch. Potentially illegal, according to some. If it had been a “simple” nail, perhaps a can of that inflating and sealing goo might have helped. Stress that word “might”
What about fitting run flat tyres? Hmm…not an option unless you’re a royal or a communist country dignitary like Trump. They’re also severely speed and distance limited, with a recommended top speed of ninety kilometers per hour for a maximum distance of just eighty kilometers. Again, not suitable for long haul drives.

Then there are slightly different options like full sized spares on a steel wheel. Cheaper, but heavier. Nuff said. Full sized spare tyres that again are distance limited to their compound. Nup. What about the space saver itself? Well, as stated, speed and distance limited. BUT, and that’s a big but, bigger than a Kardashian’s actually, your car’s stability and braking systems can be negatively affected.
Emergency distance braking is increased. A study by the RACV proved conclusively that space saver tyres affect stopping distance. The vastly smaller footprint also means traction is compromised and contributes to instability under braking.
Simple solution: bin the space saver and fit a full sizer.

Got A Frosty Windscreen?

During winter, frost is one of those annoyances that face drivers after a cold, clear night. OK, we don’t get frosts anywhere as near as hard as they do in, say Canada or Norway, but we still get them here a bit in the southern bits of Australia (OK, you lucky Queenslanders and Northern Territorials, you can feel smug and go off to read something else).  Frost isn’t just a hazard on the roads but it’s a real pain all over your windscreen.  If you’ve had to leave your car out overnight, or if you were parked on the street during that late-night party, then you can come back to a sparkly windscreen that won’t let you see anything except glitter.  Not safe for driving, especially in icy conditions.

So how are you going to get that ice off your windscreen?  It’s all very well to stay that prevention is better than the cure and that you should have garaged your car overnight or at least tried the old trick of putting a cover over the windscreen to keep the frost off (e.g. a tarpaulin or even a flattened-out cardboard box – and those sunshades can do the job, too, giving them a job over winter as well as during summer).  Your windscreen is iced up and you need to get the kids to school on time or get home from the party, and everybody’s sitting there with chilly fingers and wanting you to hurry up.

  • Starting the car and giving it full blast with the heaters. This does the trick but it does take a long time. Glass is pretty slow to warm up, so if you’re trying to heat it up enough to melt the ice from the inside, you’re going to have a long wait, and you may have to have the engine running and/or drain your battery a lot. It’s not the quickest and certainly isn’t the most economical way to do it. This method will, however, work for those odd little corners and the back windows once you’ve managed to clear off the windscreen and can see your way to start driving.  Your passengers will also appreciate the warmth!
  • Scraping off the ice. If you do this, you have to be sure to scrape the ice off most of the windscreen, not just a little patch giving you a tiny glimpse of the road.  You’re going to need good visibility.  You have to choose the right thing to scrape off the ice.  Metal scrapers of the sort you use to remove stickers from the glass are a real no-no, as they can easily leave a nasty and permanent scratch on the windscreen.  Besides, who’s got one of those handy when you need to remove the ice from the windscreen?  Having something plastic is better – a friend of mine once used the edge of a credit card to do the job.  A squeegee doesn’t usually work, as the edge is too soft.  A plastic spatula would work – unleash your inner MacGyver and see what you can find.  Wear gloves if you can while scraping off the ice, as you’re going to get the crystals all over your hands.
  • Commercial de-icing sprays. Again, who actually has these handy when you need them, unless you live in Canada or the like?  You can make your own out of two parts of isopropyl alcohol or any other strong spirits (vodka, for example) and one part of water, with a bit of detergent thrown in for good measure.  You spray it on then get the wipers going, and maybe finish with a bit of scraping.  The smell of alcohol will dissipate soon but if you get any on yourself, this may take a bit of explaining if you’re stopped by the local cops.  (No really, officer, I only used vodka as a de-icing spray and that’s why there’s an empty bottle sitting on the front seat, honestly…).
  • Warm water. The best solution of all.  It’s quick and does the whole windscreen at once. If you have a big enough bucket of warm water, you can also de-ice the door windows for even better visibility.  All you do is grab a decent amount of water (i.e. a bucket, a saucepan or a jug, not a coffee cup), slosh it over the windscreen and turn on the windscreen wipers.  Job done.  There are two important things to remember, though.  The first and the most important is to use warm water, not hot water.  Don’t grab the kettle that’s just boiled and use that.  If glass heats up too quickly, it will shatter.  All too many people have made this mistake and ended up with no windscreen as a result.  However, warm water – warm enough to stick your hand in comfortably – will be fine and will melt the ice without risking your windscreen.  The second is that you need to take care not to slosh the water over yourself or to stand too close when the windscreen wipers are working or you get wet, which really isn’t nice when the temperatures are low.

And don’t forget to take extra care on the road once you start driving!

A Lotto Win Away: Aston Martin DBS Superleggera.

Iconic British car maker Aston Martin has unveiled their hotly anticipated Ferrari 812 competitor. It’s called the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera. Priced at US$305,995 it packs a supercharged 5.2 litre V12, punching out 533kW and a tree-stump pulling 900 Nm of torque across a mesa flat rev range of 1800 to 5000 rpm. Based on the DB11 AMR, that’s 63kW and 200Nm more than the donor block.
The car has a dry weight of 1693 kilograms and rolls on gorgeous black paint alloys at 21 inches of diameter. Pirelli P-Zero tires are the chosen rubber. The drivetrain has been uprated and provides a 0-100kph time of 3.4 seconds and will see the ton three seconds later.
Aston Martin has delved into the books of history with the name. DBS hasn’t been used since 2012 and Superleggera, Italian for “light weight”, goes back to the 1960s. To that end, Aston Martin have eradicated  121 kilograms of mass. It also, until 2012, sidelines the evocative Vanquish nameplate.
One of the design briefs was to visually spread the gap between AM’s model range. To that end, the DBS Superleggera has a more assertive grille and angrier looking headlights complete with angular LED driving lights. The grille is in a nosecone designed to increase down-force before combining with an extensively modified floorpan and rear diffuser to add up to a total of 180 kilos of down-force. Drag wasn’t sacrificed, with the same drag coefficient as the lesser down-force endowed DB11. There’s just 70kg here.
The profile is low, sensual, and definably Aston Martin is some elements. What’s new are the airvents leading from behind the trailing edge of the front wheels and edging back into the leading edge of the doors. The bootlid no longer displays the iconic Aston Martin emblem, it now proudly says the company name and sits between super slimline LED tail lights. This sits above a retuned exhaust, said to offer an extra ten decibels of what chief engineer Matt Becker says is “quality noise”.
There’ll be plenty of that on demand, with the traction control system being reprogrammed to cope with the extra torque and its delivery to the tarmac. Becker says of the reprogramming: “If you slide the car and you know how to drive, it gives you all of the information you’ll need about when to put your foot on or lift from the throttle.”
Aston Martin is targeting both its own existing Vanquish customers, but more specifically owners of the Prancing Horse. This car is part of Aston Martin’s “Second Century” plan, where a new model per year for seven years is released. This includes a convertible version of the DBS Superleggera due for 2019. Aston Martin expects to start deliveries before Christmas of 2018.