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Archive for August, 2019

Building Beasts Through Biomimicry

Inspired by a fish

Right from the beginning of automotive history, car makers have named their creations after animals.  The reasoning behind this is simple: by giving the vehicle the name of a creature that’s fast, powerful, graceful or dangerous, the user will, at least subconsciously, feel that the vehicle shares those attributes.  We want our cars to have the sheer speed of the peregrine falcon (top speed in a stoop = over 300 km/h, which is faster than what your common or garden Aussie Ford Falcon can do) or the aggression of a bighorn ram (Dodge) or the agility and elegance of a jaguar.

However, what if the makers could take things a little further and actually give a car some of the actual attributes of a swift, agile animal? Not things like actual predatory behaviour, of course; otherwise, we’d see Nissan Bluebirds eating Alfa Romeo Spyders, Jaguars and Porsche Caymans competing to devour Isuzu Bighorns, and Hyundai Tiburon (that’s Spanish for shark) giving Corvette Stingrays serious grief.  However, what if we could find out what it is that gives speedy creatures like the blue marlin and the peregrine falcon their seriously low drag coefficients so we can get better and more efficient speedy vehicles?

This is where the concept of biomimicry comes in.  Biomimicry is the design concept that looks to the natural world to get ideas and inspiration for more than just names and colours.

The classic example of biomimicry in the automotive world comes from McLaren supercars and involves one of the designers being inspired by a stuffed fish.  This stuffed fish wasn’t your ordinary trout trophy but a sailfish, which is one of the fastest fish in the sea.  The designer was so struck with this sailfish that he studied it to find out some of the features that made it so fast and if it would be possible to apply these to the supercar.

Two features from the sailfish made it into the design of the McLaren P1.  The first was the scales.  On the fish, the scales create vortices that push a bubble of air around the fish, meaning that it’s slipping through less dense air rather than water so it can go faster.  In the car –which is already going through air – the features of the scales that generate these little vortices were applied to the engine to increase the flow of air for keeping things cool and for adding extra oomph. And it worked: the sailfish scale inspired design increased airflow by 17%.  The other design was the curve of the fish’s body just before the tail fin, which straightens out air and water pockets to improve aerodynamics; it works just as well on the hypercar, minus the water, of course.

Nissan has also got a bit fishy, although they were considering safety features instead.  The designers were looking at how schools of fish act.  If you, like me, have watched one of those nature documentaries on marine life, you’ve probably seen footage of those huge schools of fish that seem to have the synchronized swimming thing down to perfection.  They stop, start, swirl and turn almost simultaneously – and they never seem to collide with each other.  The team at Nissan asked how this was possible.  It turned out that each fish monitors its position relative to the fish in front of it, and makes adjustments so it can keep the right following distance.  This idea was what led to the development of forward collision detection and autonomous braking systems, which is now a very common active safety feature on a lot of new cars and not just Nissans, either.

However, care is always needed when attempting to mimic the natural world, as it can be very easy to overlook the big picture.  Mercedes Benz famously attempted to look to nature for inspiration when developing a very stable car – the Bionic concept car.  The idea seemed fantastic: the boxfish may look weird but it’s extremely stable and can’t tip over, no matter how turbulent the water is, but it’s still got low drag.  Mercedes thought this was great and set about putting together a concept car based on the shape of the fish.

However, one thing the Mercedes design team forgot to think about was the fact that although the boxfish was stable but was still able to turn around easily, it wasn’t quite as slick and fast as most other tropical fish.  The aerodynamics (or, more accurately, hydrodynamics) that stop it from going belly-up in the roughest of seas also make turning very hard.  Boxfish have two other design features in place to help them survive the jungle of the coral reef that the Mercedes Benz doesn’t have.  The first makes up for the lack of manoeuvrability by having one heck of a defence system: it puts off minute amounts of poison into the water around it to deter predators – which is why it’s bright yellow to send the message Toxic: Do Not Eat.  The second feature is the way it moves its fins, which is what gives it the turning ability as well as adding to the stability.  Just in case you haven’t noticed, cars don’t have fins and definitely don’t use them for turning.  This explains why the much-hyped Mercedes boxfish car didn’t get beyond concept stage.

Nevertheless, biomimicry is still a very hot topic in the world of design in general, as we look for ways to make cars safer and more efficient.  Maybe it’s time to insist that all automotive designers need to have tropical fish tanks in their offices.

Mitsubishi Levels Up With Outlander.

Mitsubishi have released details of updates to their popular Outlander. The stylish SUV has been updated to deliver a more refined and functional vehicle with a number of specification changes across the range.

The new exterior includes a monotone 18 inch alloy wheel for the ES model, along with a black cloth trim, with piano black door and dash trims. Mid-spec LS models have a microsuede seat trim with synthetic leather bolsters, with piano black and silver pinstripe door & dash trims. The top of the range Exceed models have black leather trim, with carbon fibre design and silver pinstripe door & dash trims. Also for 2020, the Exceed incorporates the latest generation of Mitsubishi’s Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system with active yaw technology. This incorporates a choice of driving modes, which are Eco, Normal, Snow and now incorporates Gravel.Safety technology has been given a wave of the magic wand. The ES 2.4L model has been given Forward Collision Mitigation as standard, along with rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing headlamps and auto dimming for the rear view mirror. In the Exceed model, the Outlander is the first model in the Mitsubishi range to display speed limit information in multi-information display sourcing data from the navigation app.

Inside, the introduction of a power lumbar adjustment has improved driver comfort across the range. Redesigned second-row seats have improved cushioning, offering a more comfortable driving experience for passengers. Passengers also benefit from the introduction of an additional rear USB charging port, and improved air-conditioning controls controls.

There is also a new overhead console. It blends the sunglasses holder, seatbelt reminder and passenger airbag cut-off indicator. The Exceed has a sunroof which locks out this new addition.Derek McIlroy, Deputy Director of Marketing and Operations, said of the vehicle: “Outlander drivers are looking for an SUV they can use for their daily drive, but they can count on for their next adventure. The Outlander is equipped with excellent handling through the Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system, in addition to ample cargo space. This year we’ve strengthened the range by taking customer feedback and adding additional safety, comfort and infotainment features. It’s a flexible and great value SUV.”

The colour choice is extensive. Mitsubishi lists: White, Starlight, Sterling Silver, Titanium, Black, Ironbark, and Red Diamond.Pricing starts for the five seater 2.0L ES with a manual transmission at a RRP (plus government and dealership charges) of $29,490. $33,290 is the price for the ES five seater and CVT, with the LS being exclusively a seven seater. The 2WD seven seater petrol and CVT starts at $34,290, and the AWD petrol and diesel from $36,790 & $40,290. The  range topping Exceed has a petrol or diesel, and is priced from $43,290 for the petrol, and from $46,790 for the diesel. Head to the Mitsubishi website for details.

5 Ways Car Makers Reduce Price Competition

It’s a murky world the Australian automotive industry. Always has been and probably always will be.  When big, emotional purchases are on the table and there’s a complicated system of sales distribution, it’s always going to be difficult for the consumer to work out what’s a good deal.

The ‘problem’ is you can only buy a new car from an official new car dealership, licensed by the manufacturer.  Unlike almost any other product there aren’t new car resellers, independent distributors or outlets.  The actual purchase must always take place at a dealership and that dealership must be bound by conditions and obligations bound by the carmaker.  This means the manufacturer is in a unique position to influence the sales process and therefore the competition.

Of late there’s been significant interest from the ACCC and the government into what this means for the consumer in terms of pricing competition and transparency and also for the long-suffering dealerships.

 

In June, the ACCC announced they were examining the competition risk from the merger of the two biggest new car dealer groups in Australia

“The ACCC’s preliminary view is that the proposed acquisition is unlikely to substantially lessen competition for the supply of new cars in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane or nationally”

 

In August, the Morrison government announced a reform entitled ‘Delivering a fair and competitive car retailing sector’

“We have heard the concerns of those within the sector and are committed to creating a level playing field. It’s about ensuring everyone gets a fair go, including our small and family car dealers,”

 

This is squarely addressing the influence that car manufacturers have on the new car marketplace in particular with respect to their franchise agreements.

Private Fleet, having relationship with over 1,000 new car dealers, is uniquely placed to have recognised and worked through many of these issues over the last 20 years.  Here are 6 ways the car makers restrict competition:

 

1) Don’t Advertise Discounted Prices

Most independent businesses are unrestricted when it comes to what price to set for their products and services.  After all, it’s their profit margin so makes sense that they can vary their pricing structure to suit their needs.  Not so with new cars.  If a dealer advertises a new car at below RRP (or current national driveaway special), they will risk the wrath of the car manufacturers and likely be instructed to take the ad down

2) Don’t Advertise In Other Territories

Car makers allocate each dealer a ‘PMA’ or Primary Marketing Area.  If dealers advertise outside of these defined boundaries then, again, they’ll get a tap on the shoulder from the manufacturer.

3) Discourage Working With Brokers or Car Buying Services

Hits close to the bone this one.  But for almost all of our 20 years OEMs have put pressure on dealers to only sell directly and not through intermediaries who aren’t contracted to the sales and pricing conditions as the dealers themselves.  Thankfully, although dealers would never dare to publicly challenge this, in practice they have a business to run and overheads to meet so this ‘advice’ is generally ignored.  Here’s an extract from one of Toyota’s many dealer communications on the subject.

“Toyota is aware that new vehicle brokers and buyers agents may be acting as intermediaries between customers and Toyota Dealers.  This practise is of concern to Toyota.  Toyota strongly believes that Toyota Dealers are best placed to fully service the needs of Toyota customers.”

4) You Can’t Sell Brand-X if You Sell Our Brand

More and more there are multi-franchised dealers across Australia.  This makes sense especially for consumers as it makes it easier to compare models & prices in one spot.  However certain manufacturers will throw their weight around and threaten to rescind a franchise agreement if a dealer looks to take on a new ‘competing brand’.

5) No Trucking of Cars on Delivery

Dressed up as being the optimal delivery process, certain manufacturers (particularly prestige brands) insist on a personal handover between dealer and car buyer at the time of delivery.  But in practise this limits the scope of where a buyer can buy from unless they are prepared to travel a huge distance to compare options.  Consider Lexus buyers in Perth – there’s one dealer in WA.  Interstate dealers are prohibited from trucking cars across the country so where’s the competition there?

6) You Must Spend $$$ to Promote our Brand

Once a dealership is ‘granted’ a franchise, along with the agreement is a heavy obligation towards supporting the manufacturer’s brand even over the actual dealerships brand.  Want to sell plenty of cars without the fancy dealership overheads?  Nope, sell our cars and you’ve got to spend X million on an ultra-fancy forecourt to help fly the flag.  No efficient volume sales channels here please.

 

Without exception all these restrictions lead to less pricing competition for the consumer.  But what about the poor old car dealer?  Yes, I’m serious!  The dealers have their pressures and obligations to meet, staff to pay and doors to keep open. If they were allowed to run like normal independent businesses, what impact would that have on prices?  What efficiencies would we see flowing through the whole current sales process?

NEXT: Import restrictions, dealer ‘holdback’, legal intimidation…

2019 Nissan Qashqai ST – Car Review.

This Car Review Is About: Nissan’s entry level vehicle in the Qashqai range, the ST five door small/medium SUV.What Does It Cost?: Nissan’s website indicates a driveaway price of $26,990 for the manual. The auto is $2,000 more.

Under The Bonnet Is: A 2.0L petrol engine and CVT, or Constant Variable Transmission driving the front wheels. There are 106kW and 200Nm to be found which doesn’t read as a great deal. However, the Qashqai isn’t a big or heavy car at 1,375kg (dry) and the CVT is well enough sorted that it makes a good fist of what the engine can deliver. In our 60/40 urban to highway drive, economy finished on a final figure of 7.1L/100km, not far off the rated 6.9L/100km. The range estimator and driven distance combined to say there was a theoretical distance of over 800km from the 65L tank.On The Inside It’s: A not unpleasant place to be. Seats are manual for adjustment and covered in a easy to maintain fabric. Legroom for front and rear seat passengers are better than adequate, even with the fronts rolled back. Rear cargo space is rated at 430L and 1,598L with seats down, meaning it’s a family friendly vehicle.

The driver and passenger face an elegantly swept dashboard with a line that curves in and around from the doors and meets in the middle over a well laid out centre console stack. It gives a strong impression of two separate compartments without being stifling in room. The quality of the plastics in the cabin is high, with a largely charcoal hue complementing the piano black surrounds for the centre vertical section of the dash.Here also is a couple of nice additions for an entry level vehicle. A left side camera engages in Reverse to show the car’s position relative to the kerb . This minimises the alloy wheels scraping along them. It shows the same view when the front left parking sensors read another vehicle coming into range. Audio has a DAB tuner, again a nice addition, and overall sound quality was of a decent enough level. However the touchscreen has a dull, even dowdy, look to it, and that’s at odds with the otherwise pleasing look and ambience of the cabin.The driver’s pinnacle is of two analogue dials and a small LCD info screen. Nissan places the tabs for info access on the left side of the quite broad steering wheel, and it’s a natural, intuitive, layout to utilise. However, Nissan have chosen to not fit paddle shifters for manual shifting, leaving that to the gear selector lever.

The wipers aren’t Auto on, nor are the headlights. Non auto wipers can be dealt with but we feel all cars should have auto headlights with no off switch, for safety reasons.On The Outside It’s: A clear indication that Nissan knows how to link its vehicles together with a corporate face. There’s the standout silver “Vee” in the grille and arrow head LED driving lights to start. In a safety sense here, the front indicators are too small and buried in the inner corner of the driving lights means they’re awkwardly placed and easy to not see.

In profile it’s an aero look, with a graceful curve from the nose back. There are even a pair of aerodynamic aids in the shape of blades in the lower extremes of the bumper that houses the front sensors. Its a sleek look overall as it heads to the rear, with the rear passenger window kicking up to balance the slope of the cargo door.

Bridgestone supply the Dueler rubber and it’s a 215/60/17 combination on five spoke alloys.On The Road It’s: A bit of a mixed bag. The throttle can be a bit sensitive, with a gentle push having the Qashqai ST lurch forward more than expected from a stop. Getting underway is either a leisurely progress forward or, with a harder but not excessive throttle application, quite rapid. Its noticeably on pace when the rev counter has climbed to around 3,000rpm or so, as there’s a definite change to the engine’s character.

The CVT is well sorted in how it deals with the engine, giving an impression that’s there is plenty more zip than the engine’s output figures suggest. The needle swings around easily, and the computer readily defines the drive nature during acceleration. There’s either the constant surge from the engine or a more traditional gear change feel.

It works well in downhill runs too. The transmission has preprogrammed change points and it uses these to ” engine brake” readily and effectively.

There was a minor eyebrow raiser when cruising on the highway. There was a subtle but detectable back and forth feeling, with a corresponding almost imperceptible flicker of the rev counter needle. Think a slight, slight, acceleration and off the pedal for deceleration.

Highway ride quality is up there, with the suspension coping admirably with the varying undulations, and would compress nicely without issue on road joins. However, the lower travel of the ride does bang crash harshly at slow speeds on smaller bumps, giving the feeling the ride has been tuned more for long and middle distance comfort, at the slight expense of the occasional speed bump.

The steering and brakes feel natural and comfortable. Steering lock to lock is just over four turns. The brake pedal is communicative enough to provide decent levels of feedback and hauls up the compact Qashqai readily.And The Warranty Is? 5 years, with unlimited kilometres. Service intervals are every 10,000 kilometres. The first service is $226, the second is $306. $236, $435, $245, and $334 are the remaining four service costs. Roadside assistance is available for 12 months.
At the End Of the Drive. Nissan’s presence on road has come along in the proverbial leaps and bounds in the last few years. Stylish exteriors, family friendly interiors, good tech levels, driver friendly economy figures, and decent dynamics on road make for this particular Nissan, the Qashqai ST, a very appealing proposition for a new family. The Nissan website is where you can find out more.

Peugeot Loads Up With 508 and 308GT

Peugeot’s  all-new 508 has hit Australian shores and has a raft of class-leading technology and drivetrains. It also features the best of the brand’s design and engineering prowess, and will have them packaged in two stunning body styles. The All-new 508 will be available in Fastback and Sportswagon body styles. Dollar wise it starts at $53,990 and $55,990 respectively, with exterior colour choice ($590 for metallic and $1,050 for pearlescent) and an opening panoramic sunroof ($2,500) the only options. It’s an award winner too, with the “2018 Most Beautiful Car of the Year Award”.GT spec will be the only model trim level. Power will be from an all-new, high-output version of Peugeot’s proven 1.6L, turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine developing 165 kilowatts of power and 300 Newton metres of torque. Transmission is from Aisin and is all new. Eight will be the cog count.

The engine and transmission combination will deliver impressive performance.  Combined with the vehicle’s light overall weight, the sprint to 100kmh will take just 8.1 seconds for the Fastback, and 8.2 seconds for the wagon. Consumption is rated as 6.3L per 100km. It’s a complete redesign with the 508 shorter, lighter, and more low slung than the previous model. Better packaging means a bigger interior.Ben Farlow, Managing Director of Peugeot Australia, said that while the term “all-new” is one that tends to get over-used in modern times, in the case of the Peugeot 508 the vehicle is all-new not just in design but also in its thinking, engineering and intent. “The Peugeot 508 arrives at a time when the sedan segment is ripe for a shake-up. Not only is the 508 outstanding value, it’s great to look at, great to drive and it stands out in its class.”

All-new Peugeot 508 comes with Peugeot’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, five-year roadside assistance and five-year Service Price Promise program.They’ve also released a new, special edition 308 GT model. There is bespoke visual and dynamic upgrades will pack the same engine bar a little less torque (285Nm at 1,750rpm to move the 1,204kg dry weight) as found in the 508. Only 140 will be made available. There is lower ride height with 7mm front and 10mm rear compared to other 308 models. The suspension has been fettled, with spring and damper rates stiffened by between 10 and 20 per cent. The steering has been upgraded as has the engine’s throttle mapping.Outside will be six exterior colours; Hurricane Grey (standard) and optional Magnetic Blue, Pearl White, Ultimate Red, Nera Black and Platinum Grey. There is bespoke interior trim, the exhaust note is fed through the audio system and there is visual appeal too. Select Sport mode and the dash glows a fiery red. Naturally there is information for the driver’s display including power and torque delivery, turbo boost pressure and both longitudinal & transverse acceleration.Head to the Peugeot website or your nearest dealer.

The Perfect Form of Transport???

Here at Private Fleet, we keep an eye on trends in car design and the way things are shaping up.  At the moment, I reckon there are three biggies: fuelling systems, autonomous vehicles and sensors.

Let’s start with fuel.  We all know that the supplies of crude oil aren’t as big as they used to be and the ones that are left are frequently in places that are very hard to get at or are located in politically volatile countries.  This means that if we can cut down our dependence on non-renewable fuels, we’ll be able to keep on trucking the way we’re accustomed to.  We’ll also help cut down on greenhouse gases, which is supposed to stop global warming or climate change.

In our quest to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we’re trying a bunch of different things, all of which are getting a lot of attention in the automotive world.  Electricity is the hottest one at the moment, with a major push towards EVs and hybrids that use both electricity and petrol.  However, that’s only one of the three.  Just as well, as one has to ask where the electricity is coming from and how it’s being generated.  If it’s being pumped out by coal- or gas-fuelled power stations, then EVs aren’t the perfect green solution.  The other hot topic in fuel is to look for other things that can be used to make diesel and petrol that are renewable – biofuels.  The trick here is to find something that can be grown without taking land and water resources away from what we need to feed a hungry world.  Lastly, there’s the hydrogen fuel cell option, which doesn’t produce much in the way of waste but is a little on the fiddly side to produce and transport, although they’re working on that.

All in all, this suggests that the perfect transport of the future should be able to run on something sustainable that’s easy to get hold of, and that it should produce minimal waste, or at least waste that can be useful for another purpose.

The second hot topic is the all the innovations being added as active safety features and driver aids.  There seems to be a new one out every time I turn around.  Temperature sensors for automatic climate control, 360° vision and reverse parking sensors are old hat. Now we’ve got side impact detection and avoidance, lane change assistance, autonomous braking, even systems that detect when the driver is getting tired or annoyed.  They’re working on getting the car to listen to you, with voice activated commands for all sorts of things.

This suggests that the perfect transport of the future should have a ton of sensors for all sorts of things, should be able to react according to the input of those sensors without the driver having to do anything, and should be able to interface with the moods of the driver.

Lastly, we’ve got the topic of autonomous cars: ones that will steer themselves, pick the right speed, pick the right part of the road and all the rest of it all by themselves.  This is closely related to the improvements in sensors and driver aids.  If autonomous cars reached their full perfection, you’d be able to hop in when well and truly under the influence, tell it to go home and then nod off until you find yourself parked outside the front door.

If we all of these factors together, we can get an idea of what the designers are trying to come up with.  Let’s imagine what it would look like: something that runs on plant-sourced fuels and produces biodegradable waste that can be converted to fertilizer; has ultra-sensitive sensors for temperature, mood and upcoming hazards in practically a full circle; is voice activated and even does voice-activated acceleration and parking; and can think for itself even when the driver is exhausted or drunk.  Natural materials for the upholstery and a cheap production method would be an advantage as well.  It already exists: when I was a child in a rural town, we called this a HORSE.

2019 Toyota 86 GTS Manual and Auto – Private Fleet Car Review

This Car Review Is About: Toyota’s joint venture with Subaru, the two door sports coupe Toyota call 86. In this case we drove, back to back, the 86 GTS Manual with Dynamic Sports Pack, and the 86 GTS Auto.How Much?: The GTS Manual with Dynamic Sports Pack is priced from $43,534 driveaway with the “standard” GTS priced from $40,497. The Manual has Apollo Blue paint, a specialist colour for this model and trim, with the Auto being clad in White Liquid. Metallics are a $500 option. The auto is $42,866 with Ignition Red, $43,381 with the Liquid White.

Under The Bonnet Is: Subaru’s fabulous flat or “boxer” four. Peak power is 147kW (auto) and 152kW (manual) from the 2.0L capacity engine, with peak twist being either 205Nm or 212Nm. There are slightly different cog ratios in the manual as compared to the auto, with the manual’s final drive at 4.3:1, compared to 4.1:1 with the auto. Peak power is at a lofty 7,000rpm, with that peak torque found between 6,400rpm to 6,600rpm in the auto, 6,800rpm in the manual. In order to get those figures the engine is tuned to run on 98RON. Economy is quoted at 7.1L/100km or 8.4L/100km for the auto and manual on the combined cycle. Due to the physical size of the 86, fuel tank capacity is just 50L. We returned figures in largely urban driving of 7.9L/100km for the auto and 8.6km/100km for the manual. Gross vehicle masses are 1,670kg (auto) and 1,700kg (manual) with dry weights between 1,250kg to 1,280kg.On The Inside It’s: a nightmare for rear seat passengers, a tight squeeze for front seat passengers, and a harken back to “the glory days” of Toyota with a retro look and feel to the cabin’s design. The front seats use a lever method for moving the seats forward to allow access to the rear, but they also use levers for seat back and height adjustment, not the preferable electric or at least “roller dial” adjustment. They are heated via a two position switch but only for the squab, not the whole seat.The GTS spec has Alcantara trim on the doors and dash for a little extra comfort, plus carpeted floor mats which also add a little extra sound deadening. Pedals are alloy with rubber tabs for the retro look and aiding shoe grip. The dash dials are fully analogue with a small 4.2 inch LCD screen set at the bottom right. This provides oil and coolant temperatures, G-force instant and history, a power and torque delivery graph, and more. The main screen is 6.1 inches in measurement and is a modern look on a retro theme. There’s a solid black surround, a CD player slot, and AM/FM only, meaning no DAB. Satnav, reverse camera, and streaming apps are standard.The actual look is of dials and toggle switches. It’s meant to evoke a sense of looking back in time and it works. The dual zone climate control, the air intake for fresh/recirculate, even the glowing red LEDs for the clock and temperature displays, are all “olde timey” in look. The centre console plastics are a chintzy silver plastic and have the traction control tabs embedded. Both have the standard push button Start/Stop and that’s visually obvious by being located in the bottom right corner of the centre console stack. And for those that prefer mechanical stopping, a proper hand brake is employed.The dash is a sweeping design that joins both doors in an arc and wave and has the centre airvents looking not unlike a impulse engine housing from a starship. The top of the dash binnacle and the flat panel have the Alcantara trim, and there is a subtle silver hue to the airvent surrounds. That colour is also wrapping the gear selector. Thankfully, both headlights and wipers are Auto on. There are a couple of centre console cup/bottle holders, and just enough room in the door pockets for a bottle. The boot is also surprisingly big, and coped well enough with a weekly shop. For its more obvious audience, a couple or single, it’s ideal for an overnight bag or two.On The Outside It’s: Largely unchanged from the original model however a very mild facelift was applied in 2016. Tail lights are LED as are the headlight cluster driving lights. There are aerodynamic strakes in the lower quarters of the front bumper around the globe lit driving lights. The chin of the front bumper has been subtly restyled, and there are even thin strakes on the outer edges of the plastic at the bottom of the windscreen for air guidance.

The GTS Manual with Dynamic Sports pack comes with Brembo brakes and red calipers, Sachs suspension, and bespoke 17 inch black alloys. Rubber is from Michelin and is 215/45/17. There’s a small rear wing for both. The manual has it in full black whilst the auto was in black with body coloured end plates. There are twin exhaust tips and both are chromed. Indicators are embedded in the leading edge of the front wheel arches which also extend into the line of view from the driver’s seat. The auto also featured the excellent Brembo stoppers. Just a breath on the brake pedal has the Brembos applying grip, and with a beautifully modulated pedal, the driver can judge perfectly a “slow in fast out”corner drive.On The Road It’s: A huge amount of fun. Deliberately designed with a mix of skatiness and grip, the low centre of gravity, relatively thin rubber, and taut suspension make for a car that is always feeling like it’s ready to break loose. Get it onto a road that has more corners than straights and the chassis immediately shows why it delivers smiles in spades.

Although peak power and torque figures are north of 6,000rpm, the gearing and the engines are perfectly matched to give, if not true outright zip, a very good semblance of it. Because the driver sits so low to to the ground too, there’s a sense of higher speed. That’s helped by a raspy metallic induction note, especially in the auto with the longer gearing. On that point, the auto sees 100kmh/110kmh at 1,000rpm lower than the manual. 100kmh in the manual is 2,700rpm, 3,000rpm for 110kmh. Toyota’s head of PR, Orlando Rodriguez, advised that the manual was the pick for buyers and when the slight facelift in 2016 was applied, the change to the manual’s engine tune and final drive was applied due to the higher sales volumes. The auto’s driveline was left untouched.The manual is more manic to drive and the transmission changes have added faster acceleration times. The gear change is a combination of a definitive selector mechanism and a clutch that allows the driver to find JUST the right point to engage and slingshot away. Revs are dialled up, the left foot lifts to engage the clutch, and there’s a fine point where the rest of the travel upwards, and the accelerator’s pedal goes downwards, that works almost like a launch control. There is no clutch slippage, the narrow rubber hooks into the tarmac, and it’s off.

The auto is, naturally, easier to get under way and is by no means locked out of the fun facts. Left to its own devices it’s good enough, but use the paddle shifts or gear selector for a manual change, and it’s noticeably quicker, sharper, crisper. The selector in the manual is notchy, precisely metallic in feel, not unexpectedly, with a gate mechanism that tells the driver “yes, this is second, yes, this is third”. Reverse is a lift of a lock-out lever and across, and this too is definitive in its engagement and movement. Both have a suspension that tends towards the harder side of ride, with the Dynamic Sports Pack adding a hint more of the sharper edge. It’s the sort of feel that would have the Michelin rubber roll over a coin and tell you not only is it a five cent piece, it’s heads up and made in 1991. But neither are excessively uncomfortable, even with the rear end kicking up a corner every now and then. There is just enough “give” to dial out the upper end of the harshness. The dimensions of the 86 help with handling. It’s shorter than it looks, at 4,240mm and squeezes in a 2,570mm wheelbase.

Steering is thought process quick, with a lock to lock of just three turns. Think your way through a corner and the wheel points the broad nose exactly where it should be. Once the seating position has been sorted, and it really would be easier with the roller dial adjustment, not the levers, the car becomes an extension, and that’s how a good sports car or car with more sporting pretensions than others, should feel. Although it’s not the roomiest of cabins, there’s enough for the left arm to grab the manual gear selector, both arms to be just at the right angle to steer and not be cramped or over-extended, and therefore that steering becomes the extension.What About Safety?: Camera for reverse, seven airbags, hill start assist, and the mandated driver aids.And The Warranty Is? Toyota announced in January of 2019 that passenger cars would receive a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty, which could be bumped to seven years on the engine and drivetrain on “properly maintained vehicles” that are equipped with genuine Toyota parts.

At The End Of The Drive: The joint venture between Toyota and Subaru has provided a car that has found itself a strong niche. There is a bespoke motorsport series, the car is used in driver training, and drivers that have either one will acknowledge another driver. It’s a car that feels as if it needs more power however the chassis is tuned to take advantage almost perfectly of what there is. It’s also the kind of car that has a set audience and those that appreciate what its intention is, will be the ones that extract every erg of enjoyment from the drive. On a cost effective or “bang for your buck” basis, for a dollar per smile, at $40 to $45K, it’s a bargain. The Toyota website is where more information can be found.

Pencil Sharp BMW M240i

BMW Australia has managed to negotiate a super sharp driveaway price for its stonking M240i coupe. With deliveries due to start for Q4, buyers will look at $74,900 as a driveaway starting price. Standard inclusions make for a long list.

Up front is their M Performance TwinPower Turbo 6-cylinder in-line petrol engine. Peak power is 250kW of power with peak twist rated as 500Nm of torque. It’s quick, with a 0-100kmh of 4.6 sec. Drive gets to the tarmac via an 8 speed Sport Automatic gearbox, and the car rides on their proprietary Adaptive M Suspension with stopping power thanks to the M Sport brakes. The driver connects with the road through the variable sport steering, including the servotronic speed-sensitive assistance. Both driver and passenger have Sports seats to park their rear in and the driver has electric adjustment and memory positioning. Both front pews are heated but not vented. Sounds are fr

 

om Harman Kardon and pump through a 12 speaker set. An 8.8 inch touchscreen houses the controls including the nav system, a 20gb solid state hard drive, and also the Connected Drive services.

Outside are Adaptive LED headlights and the signature kidney grille is finished in Cerium Grey. Mirror covers are in black. There is also high-beam assist with extra safety assistance from the BMW Driving Assistant. That includes the Approach Control Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Pedestrian Warning, light city braking function and Attentiveness Assistant. Extra goodness for the driveaway offer comes from double-spoke 18-inch M light alloy wheels, sunroof, metallic paint and a wireless charge pad for compatible smartphones. Interior trim goes to Hexagon Alcantara and Anthracite/Black upholstery. Carbon fibre interior trim and Dakota leather upholstery can also be optioned.

Buyers can choose from these exterior colours: Black Sapphire Metallic, Mineral White Metallic, Mineral Grey Metallic, Estoril Blue Metallic, Sunset Orange Metallic, and Long Beach Blue Metallic. Wheel options are double-spoke, Jet Black 18 inch M light alloy with 225/40/18s up front and 245/35/18s for the rear. There is also double-spoke style, Bi-colour Jet-Black 18inch M light alloy and 225/40 R18 for the front, with 245/35 R18 at the rear. Then there is double-spoke style, Cerium Grey Matte 18 inch M light alloy plus 225/40 R18 and 245/35 R18.

Contact us or your local BMW dealer for more details.

Renault and INFINITI Unveil Project Black.

INFINITI and the Renault F1 Team have completed the track-focused development of an unique high-performance, dual-hybrid powertrain. It’s been especially created for the INFINITI Project Black S prototype. The development work was signed off at Salzburgring in Austria by Renault F1 Team star Nico Hülkenberg, where two prototypes were put through their paces. A decision on the potential of the system for consumer use will be made by the end of this year.

The Project Black S prototype is part of an evolving collaboration between INFINITI and Renault F1 Team. It’s served as a test-bed for development of the new Formula 1 inspired powertrain technology. The latest version of the Project Black S was revealed in Paris in fall 2018. Since then, powertrain engineers from Renault F1 Team and INFINITI have developed the unique technology further, exploring whether it could be deployed in a high-performance road car. Furthermore, the program has provided an insight into how INFINITI can work hand-in-hand with partners on developing new projects and technologies.Mike Colleran, Deputy Chairman, INFINITI Motor Company, comments: “The work that has gone into Project Black S represents a milestone in INFINITI’s road to electrification. This test-bed for new ideas, and rapid development, represents everything INFINITI hopes to achieve with its electrified cars in future, such as smart energy management from advanced high-performance powertrains, a thrilling drive, and a performance aesthetic.”

Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director of Renault F1 Team, said “A technical partner to the Renault F1 team, INFINITI’s experience of working with homologated hybrid powertrain technology was instrumental in the co-development of our dual-hybrid system. The Black S project now gives us a rare opportunity for the direct transfer of genuine F1-honed technology back into a road car. Making this leap, from circuit to road, is something we are incredibly excited to be involved in”.

A key aim of the Project Black S program was to explore the potential for new motorsport-inspired electrification technologies and development processes. Project Black S fuses expertise from road and race track, with its dual-hybrid powertrain, all-new, purpose built brakes, and optimized suspensions, all complemented by the use of advanced lightweight materials throughout the purposeful new bodywork and a motorsport-inspired interior.

INFINITI’s Mike Colleran comments: “Working with Renault F1 Team has opened our eyes to new ways of working. Outside of the traditional process in which we engineer cars and technologies, this collaboration has shown us what can be achieved with a small, dedicated team. We will learn from this to enhance the way we create other cars in future.”

The Project Black S dual-hybrid powertrain technology is derived from Formula One and engineered specifically for road use. A focused, agile team of designers and engineers from the two technology partners has enabled the rapid development of testing prototypes. A test-bed based on the INFINITI Q60 sports coupe and its 400 hp VR30 twin-turbo V6 engine, the dual-hybrid system combines supercar performance with smart energy management.

The VR30 engine has been transformed with the creation of two heat-energy harvesting systems with Formula 1 relationships. There is the MGU-H or motor generator unit – heat, which develops electricity under acceleration. Paired with a kinetic harvesting system or MGU-K: motor generator unit – kinetic, that generates electricity under braking and an all-new energy management system, Project Black S is a unique and exciting electrified performance hybrid prototype.In a similar manner to Renault F1 Team’s R.S.19 racecar, the Project Black S’ smart powertrain stores this energy and discharges it as the driver requires, spooling up the turbochargers instantaneously as the driver opens the throttle, boosting power sent to the rear wheels via the MGU-K over continued periods of acceleration.

Currently, the dual-hybrid powertrain is capable of producing up to 418 kW (568 ps, 563 hp) – 40 percent more than the prototype’s donor car, the INFINITI Q60 Red Sport 400. Uniquely, it provides sustained and sustainable hybrid performance, delivering electrically assisted acceleration, lap after lap.

The prototype offers drivers complete control over how the powertrain uses this energy, with three Formula One-inspired drive modes – Road, Quali and Race – each altering the way in which the powertrain harvests and discharges power.

INFINITI’s Mike Colleran added: “There is still work to be done. Now we have two completed prototypes we will fully evaluate the production potential of Project Black S. It is still too early to predict the outcome as we need a solid business case, but the latest rounds of testing have proved its unique performance and underlines our pursuit of electrified performance. This is an exciting phase of the process. We will consider every element of the development prototypes to establish the feasibility of volume or limited production in future.”

A Few Snags With Voice Control Systems

Michael, I don’t think these modern cars are quite up to my standard yet.

Ever since at least the 1960s or possibly earlier, technologically minded geeky sorts have dreamed of having machines that will hear your voice and carry out your commands and popped this sort of tech into sci-fi stories. Kind of like having a very obedient slave who will do whatever is asked but without any of the nasty ethical implications.  Possibly the dream of voice-activated machines is even older – if you look hard enough in old books, robot-type things have been turning up since the 1600s.  Certainly, in the 1970s and early 80s when the way you got a computer to do something was by feeding in a punch card, the idea of just being able to tell it what to do would have seemed like the ultimate.  The people with these fantasies were probably the ones who dreamed up Knight Rider and the intelligent car named KITT… and the ones who are designing cars and in-car tech grew up watching this show.

Fast forward to today and we’ve got quite a few computerized systems inside our vehicles, It’s likely that if you pick up, say, a brand new Mercedes-Benz, it will have far more electronics and computer bits and pieces than the Apollo that reached the moon.  Even better: a lot of bits and pieces inside a new car are voice activated. We’ve got to the point that if you watch a rerun of Knight Rider with a teenager, their response to KITT’s cool functions is likely to be “So what?”

These bits and pieces tend to be related to things like navigation, music and the phone; in other words, the sorts of things that you do on your phone anyway.  The idea behind it is a compromise between safety and connectedness. Instead of having to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel to poke around with your playlists or to call the boss and say you’ll be late because you’re stuck in traffic when you actually are stuck in traffic, you can do this just with your voice.  Both Apple and Android allow you to do this, and a few marques have their own systems – Ford, BMW and Fiat, to name a few.  In some vehicles, you can also control the temperature settings via voice control, though those who have used them report that you have to be specific and keep it simple. I guess the people developing the tech didn’t really want the climate control system to suddenly add a bit of chill when the sound system is playing “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot”.

There are more ideas in the pipeline and have just been introduced.  If you’ve got the right apps and the right devices (hello, Alexa!), you can check if the boot and the sunroof are closed properly and what the battery status in an EV is (BMW); lock and unlock the doors remotely (Ford Chrysler) and more.  There’s talk that BMW is thinking of introducing a feature that will allow you to dictate and send an email entirely by voice.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that? I keep getting mental pictures of someone trying to write something really important having a near miss on the road (caused by somebody or something else) so that in the middle of the formal apology or job application, the reader encounters the words “Stupid mutt – get out of the way!” (That’s the polite version – insert unprintable adjectives if desired.)

Which leads me nicely to the couple of existing snags with voice recognition software in vehicles – and outside of the vehicle that a number of people have picked up on.

The first relates to getting the voice recognition system to actually pick up on what you’re saying. The interior of your vehicle tends to be noisier than, say, your living room.  Even if you’re in a nice quiet EV or hybrid running on the electric motor, there is noise from the ambient traffic around you, bumps in the road and fans.  The noise increases if you’re in an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle or if your hybrid is running on the non-electric motor. This makes it hard for those voice recognition systems to make out what you’re saying. Heck, it can sometimes be hard for another human to make out what you’re saying in these conditions, as quite a few married couples probably already know.

The system also has trouble distinguishing the voice of the driver from the voices of the passengers, so if there are kids in the back trying to chatter away while you try to tell the navigation system to find you the nearest petrol station (or EV charging station) or call your mother, it won’t understand you.

Then there’s the problem with different voices.  I remember the first time I came across some voice recognition telephone system and trying a number of times to get the stupid machine to recognize me, only succeeding when I faked a really, really cheesy American accent.  Voice recognition systems are a whole lot better than they used to be but they still have problems.  They like what they consider to be a “normal” voice.  The trouble is that what a lot of these systems consider to be a “normal” voice is one with a standard accent.  Introduce a very broad regional accent (Scottish and Irish drivers, for example, have real problems) or a non-native speaker accent and voice recognition systems throw a wobbly.  A few researchers have also discovered that in-car voice recognitions systems have more problems with female voices than male voices.  Which explains why my Brazilian sister-in-law doesn’t use these features.

Navigation systems are the main place that people notice these glitches.  If you’ve programmed your system to go somewhere and it’s reading the directions out to you, it has to “guess” how to read the street names out, sometimes with hilarious results.  Or you try saying the name of some restaurant you want to find the way to but it fails to pick it up; these systems are fine with mainstream outlets like Starbucks but they go to pieces on niche and boutique places – think English pub names like The Goat and Compasses or French restaurants like Mon Petit Escargot (I made that one up).

These problems often mean that the users get frustrated and end up picking up the phone to do the dialling or the searching manually, which defeats the purpose of having the hands-free voice activated in-car tech in the first place.  Add in the fact that the users are probably getting frustrated by this stage and you’ll probably find that they’re driving less safely than they would if they just pressed a touchscreen in the first place.

However, the problems with voice recognition systems, in cars and out of them, have their funny side, so on that note I’ll leave you with this little clip…