As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

blog

How Unique is My Drive?

Audi RS 5

It’s pretty likely that you’ll be aware of the enormous number of brand names out there in the market place.  The mass consumer goods industry is a huge area of vibrant buying madness, and it’s all about choice and variety – isn’t it?  Who is supplying the different brands and goods served onto our own dinner tables?  Who is supplying the different brands and goods that we choose to wear for clothing?  Who is supplying the different brands of fuel for our cars?  Who is supplying the different brands of cars that we buy?

There has been a bit of an illusion of choice that’s been built up over the last few decades.  Back in the old days when most people lived in villages and small towns everyone knew who the local blacksmith was that tinkered on the locals’ machinery.  The food and produce at the local store usually came from local farmers, and the animals were bought locally or nearby.  Today, goods may have travelled the world before they arrive at our door.  And, today, generally, we know all of the company names who own and sell the favourite brands that we buy – don’t we?

We likely inherently know that PepsiCo sells plenty of drink beverages, including its flagship Pepsi product.  We may well know that Nestle makes Milky Bars, Kit Kat, scorched almonds and Nescafe instant coffee.  What is less recognizable is that Nestle also makes DiGiorno pizzas and owns two competing brands of rather nice carbonated water, which are called San Pellegrino and Perrier.  Did you know that Nestle also has at least 29 separate brands that all help make them an annual sales turnover of $1 billion!  And, inside each of these brands, the company has hundreds of different food products in all kinds of sectors.  Nestle is the world’s largest food company by revenue, and its market capitalization in dollar terms is massive; well over $225 billion in fact.

There is nothing wrong in buying from any of these brands, but it is worth noting that every dollar of your money is a vote; a vote for products and companies that you believe in, or maybe now would rather not…  But let’s get back to cars, because, as much as I like chocolate, we are all about cars here at Private Fleet, aren’t we?

A relatively recent study found that it was actually only around 14 major big companies that controlled 54 common car brands that most of us either buy our own cars from, or will, at least, be familiar with.  So, say you were looking to buy a luxury car such as a quick Porsche or classy Bentley; well, you might just have less choice than you may think.  These two luxury brands are actually owned by Volkswagen (a German-based company) who also own the Audi, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Skoda brand, as well as VW and Seat.  Interestingly, motoring fans would often consider Porsche and Audi RS cars to be entirely different, even out-and-out rivals, but here they are being owned and governed by VW.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., often abbreviated as FCA, owns Alfa Romeo, Dodge, Maserati and Jeep; oh, and Lancia, RAM, Fiat and Chrysler vehicles.

GM is the company who owns Buick and Chevrolet.  But did you know they also own Holden, Vauxhall, Cadillac, Opel, GMC, Wuling Motors and Baojun.

Perhaps if you wanted a nice car built for the masses but that wasn’t at all much linked to any other marque, then you could argue that, of the 14 companies, Daimler, Ford, Honda, PSA, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan are the truly most distinctive brands amidst the monopolies.  Daimler owns and makes Mercedes Benz and Smart cars; Ford owns and makes Ford and Lincoln cars; Honda owns and makes Honda and Acura cars; PSA owns and makes DS, Citroen and Peugeot cars; Hyundai owns and makes Hyundai and Kia cars; Toyota owns and makes Toyota, Lexus and Daihatsu cars; and Nissan owns and makes Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun cars.

It’s just another way of being informed and looking at things!

Raw Materials and Sustainability in an Automotive World

Car interiors are looking very stylish with many colours available, many textures and, of course, technologies.  Even the exterior and structure of new cars utilise some pretty sensational materials that are lightweight, strong and malleable.  So what are the main raw materials that make up the structure, style and flair that we love in our vehicles?

Inside each new car are different materials that require a number of raw materials for their production.  Aluminium, glass, coking coal, and iron ore are used in the process of making steel.  Kia and Mazda use very high-grade, high-strength steel in the production of their cars.  Mazda even states that they use very thin and strong steel.  There is a cost, though; the more high-grade, lightweight and high-strength the steel, the costlier it is to produce.  High-strength steel alloys cost more to manufacture.  Not only is the high-grade alloy harder to create in its raw form; it is also harder to work with.  Stamping it and forming it becomes harder, and so more energy and stronger tools are needed to press, form and cut it.

The automotive industry also relies on oil and petroleum products, not just for the gasoline and fuel to power the vehicles, but for the synthesis of plastics and in the production of other synthetic materials.  Petroleum products are needed to make huge amounts of plastics, rubber and special fibres.  After the raw materials are extracted from the earth, they are transformed into products that automakers or auto parts companies use in the car assembly process.

But wait; there is more – but only if you are into driving an electric vehicle (EV).  An EV is made up of all the raw materials described above, as the only thing that’s different about an EV from a vehicle that is powered by a combustion engine is that an EV uses a battery pack to get its power.  In every EV battery, there’s a complex chemistry of metals – cobalt, lithium, nickel and more.  These are all raw materials that need to be mined from somewhere around the globe.  Some researchers are expecting to see double-digit growth for batteries’ special raw materials over the next decade, and this sort of growth will increase the pressure on the raw material supply chain for EVs.

Hydrogen vehicles are powered by hydrogen.  The power plants of such vehicles convert the chemical energy of hydrogen into mechanical energy by either burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, or by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to power electric motors.  The fuel cell is more common.  A hydrogen powered vehicle is made up of the same core raw materials as the contemporary combustion powered cars and the EVs; however, like the EV, the hydrogen vehicle gets it power from a different source (hydrogen).  As of 2019, 98% of the hydrogen was produced by steam methane reforming, and this emits carbon dioxide.  Hydrogen can be produced by thermochemical or pyrolytic means using renewable feedstocks, but the processes are currently expensive.  So, you can run a hydrogen vehicle with an internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen as the fuel.  However, you can also run a hydrogen vehicle that uses a hydrogen fuel cell.  The hydrogen fuel cell is more complex, relying on special raw materials (one raw material being platinum as a catalyst) to deliver the hydrogen for powering the vehicle.

Biofuel is another fuel which can be used for powering combustion engine vehicles.  Biofuel can be produced sustainably from renewable resources.  The hitch with this one is ensuring there are large enough areas and methods dedicated to growing and producing biofuel for the masses.  Biofuel is considered to be a fuel that is derived from biomass, which can be from plant or algae material or animal waste. Since such plant, algae or animal waste material can be replenished readily, biofuel is considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas and even EVs.

Without a doubt, the automobile industry is one of the largest consumers of the world’s raw materials, and it’s important we get informed as to just how green a heralded new technology is said to be.  Science and sustainability need to continue to power our much needed vehicles about the globe and not fossil fuel giants, electric companies or blinded government bureaucrats.

Mini’s Hot Secret!

MINI JCW GP

There is one other Mini that might have flown in under your radar.  It is the wildest Mini hot hatch yet, and it’s called the Mini John Cooper Works GP.  The car looks really cool and boasts the highest price tag of any Mini yet – but for good reason.

It was built as a JCW GP 60th year birthday present for Mini, and it sits low down on a 40 mm wider track.  The massive grille, bold GP badge, massive front spoiler and two large air foiling scoops just give the car a special presence that is brutal and focused.  The air intake slot in the bonnet is large and ready to suck in gallons of air to help spool the turbo.

Look at the Mini JCW GP hot-hatch side on, and the chunky styling looks awesome, mean and racy.  It features huge wheel arches, massive side skirts and an enormous spoiler.  The car is also lower than standard JCW cars.

Head around the back, and you note that the spoiler has also been skilfully incorporated into the roof guttering showing a nice level of attention to detail.  The taillights have been darkened and the twin exhaust outlets poke aggressively out from the centre of the rear skirt.  These crackle and pop with full throttle and under serious braking.  What a car!

Inside, the racy Mini JCW GP is fairly simple.  It boasts nice leather bucket seats, a digital dash, 3-D printed panels with an array of options for logos and displays.  A special ‘GP pack’ adds all the comfort and bells and whistles like heated seats and dual zone climate control, but remember this is a stripped out limited edition racer that comes standard with just the two seats.  A horizontal strut brace takes up where the rear seats would normally sit.

So just 3000 units will be made worldwide, and 65 of those will make the journey to Australia – and they have almost certainly already been sold to their lucky owners.  They are around $12,500 more expensive than a ‘regular’ John Cooper Works, so I’d imagine if you did own one and tried to sell it now, you could fetch even more than the original price.

The Mini JCW GP is significantly more expensive than more generously equipped hot hatch rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R ($56,990); but who cares – the car is a phenomenal performer and it is a limited edition.  The new John Cooper Works GP is driven by a special version of BMW’s 2.0-litre turbo engine with an output of 225 kW of power and 450 Nm of torque available.  Just the eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters is available, however this set-up ensures that the power is delivered precisely on time – every time.  Mini has developed a unique suspension for the GP, designed to make it even faster around a racetrack than the standard JCW Hatch.  Mini claims the FWD JCW GP hot-hatch will do the 0-100 km/h dash in just 5.2 seconds.  This is just the start of the rush of power and acceleration that goes on to a governed top speed of 265 km/h.  This is very quick indeed!  The FWD power is controlled with a limited slip-diff.

You’ll want to keep your ear to the ground and see if you can find a seller of the wonderful little Mini JCW GP ‘hottie’.  It’s distinctively different and extremely aggressive, and you’re in for a thrilling and wild ride.

Mini’s Hottest Hatch

Vehicles for Towing

Getting the right Tow Vehicle

For a number of people, towing the boat or caravan to the holiday spot for some much needed R&R is what makes life exciting for them.  And, on a more work-related note, towing is essential if you’re a builder, labourer, farmer or gardener.  So what does make a good tow vehicle?  A good tow vehicle must be structurally strong, and it must offer plenty of torque -­ the lower down the revs the better.

Before all else, always check the manufacturer’s tow capacity guidelines for any vehicle that you are interested in purchasing, particularly if towing is going to be one of the tasks on the vehicle’s to-do-list.  A vehicle’s towing capacity is determined by its manufacturer and it is based on factors such as: the engineering and structural design of the vehicle, the vehicle’s rear axle load limits, the capacity of its tyres, the effect the laden trailer will have on the vehicle’s handling and stability, and the durability of the car’s underpinnings, and overall road safety.

So, after checking the manufacturer’s guidelines, then you need to look at what power and, more particularly, what torque is on offer.  Generally, vehicles with diesel engines make better towing vehicles than equivalent petrol-powered models because they produce much higher torque in low-to-medium engine revolution.  They are also more fuel efficient when under load.  Peak torque figures under 200 Nm will struggle to keep up with modern-day motorway and open-road demands, and throw in a hill or two and you’ll quickly have a build-up of traffic following behind you.

RWD vehicles are better than FWD vehicles for towing because any weight that pushes down on the tow ball will generally lighten the front wheels at the same time, which lessens the traction available to the front wheels.  The more wheel chatter (where the front wheels lose and gain traction instantly) that the front wheels endure, the more the wear and tear will be found on the FWD componentry.

If you’re only pulling a small trailer load of rubbish to the dump, then it’s surprising what most vehicles will tow.  However, I’m focusing on those of us who require trailer loads that are going to be more than 700 kg laden.  Here are some useful towing vehicles you might like to consider:

The Mitsubishi Outlander is a seven-seater SUV that has a maximum towing capacity of 2000 kg braked.  Its 2.2-litre Turbo-Diesel engine boasts 110 kW of power and a very useful 360 Nm of torque.  The Outlander Turbo-Diesel motor offers 360 Nm from 1500 rpm to 2750 rpm, making towing a breeze.  It’s also a fuel efficient and roomy SUV even when you’re not towing.  A combined fuel consumption is a claimed 6.2 litres/100 km: quite impressive.

Hyundai’s Tucson has a maximum towing capacity of 1600 kg braked.  This mid-size SUV has a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine with 136 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque.  That 400 Nm is definitely a strong asset when it comes to towing.  The Tucson is also frugal without the trailer.

Another option for light towing duties would be the Suzuki Grand Vitara Sport.  With a maximum towing capacity of 1700 kg braked and 750 kg un-braked it’s a handy workhorse to have around.  Being RWD that will employ the FWD when required makes for decent traction.  A larger 2000 kg braked capacity is offered with the V6 Sport model.  The Grand Vitara uses a 2.4-litre petrol and a four-speed auto delivering a 122 kW/225 Nm combo through the dual-range transmission.  The torque comes on strongly from lower down in the revs.

A Hyundai Sante Fe with the 2.2-litre turbo diesel can tow a 2000 kg braked trailer.  On offer is a remarkably grunty 440 Nm of torque that sets off low down in the revs for easy power delivery for towing.

The Mazda CX-5 2.2-litre diesel is also capable of towing a braked trailer up to 1800 kg.  With 393 Nm of torque, this is a smooth cruiser.  Mazda’s CX-9 can tow a 2000 kg braked trailer or up to 750 kg unbraked.  Mazda’s CX-9 petrol engines perform very well and are very fuel efficient.  This is a big seven-seater wagon with a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine boasting 170 kW at 5000 rpm and 420 Nm of torque at 2000 rpm.  This CX-9 is a great family all-rounder with plenty of space on offer.

The small Audi Q3 2.0-litre diesel SUV, which can tow a braked trailer up to 2000 kg offers a decent European towing option.  A responsive 380 Nm of torque from 1750 rpm works well, and it’s also Quattro (AWD).

SKODA’s Kodiaq SUV can tow up to 2000 kg braked. It’s also roomy and very practical.  With the option of 4WD and some very powerful diesel engines, this is a really good tow vehicle to have parked up the driveway.  It also has a 620 litre boot space with five seats up or 270 litres in seven-seat guise.

What about the Volkswagen Tiguan?  This is a stable and spacious drive, offering a 2500 kg braked towing capacity.  Having the option of AWD, the Tiguan goes some serious places and is therefore great for getting onto gravel-type roads.  A towing assistance package and plenty of space makes this a likable tow vehicle.

Something a bit different would be BMW’s 520d Touring wagon, which is RWD or AWD and is a decent towing vehicle (2000 kg braked).  Excellent handling, even when towing, makes it a joy to drive.  The 4×4 automatic transmission and strong engine makes this a really easy car to manage for drivers towing a load.  There’s heaps of room in the boot to pack in everything you need for family weekends away.

Another station wagon that happily tows a trailer or caravan is the Audi A6 Allroad.  This is an Estate with AWD, and it is also very comfortable and well-equipped.  The toque-filled TDI engine makes for a quick drive and a heap of grunt.  You also get 565 litres of boot space, which goes up to 1680 litres with the rear seats down.

On the station wagon theme, the last of the recent Falcon and Commodore Wagons are RWD and have always been great towing vehicles.  They offered RWD utes as well.  Sadly these icons won’t be with us anymore.

Some more serious towing machines:

The Mitsubishi Pajero 3.0 diesel 4X4 SUV is capable of towing a 3300 kg braked trailer.

Toyota’s Prado 3.0 diesel 4X$ SUV will tow up to a 2500 kg as a braked trailer.

The Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover vehicles are a very good towing machine.  It’s also luxurious and practical, and will happily head of into the toughest off-road terrain.  The Discovery can pull up to 3000 kg braked.  Inside there’s room for seven adults as well as an impressively-sized boot to bring along the luggage for all those people.

An LDV T60 ute is a solid, capable performer. With a 2.8-litre 110kW/360Nm turbo diesel four-cylinder, this is more than enough grunt to tow up to 2200 kg.  Boasting a remarkable fuel economy figure of 10 litres/100 km towing and offering a low buying price makes this a very tempting tow package.

Though Nissan runs both a single- and twin-turbo four-cylinder in the Navara, they’re both rated to 3500 kg for towing.  The best engine is the twin-turbo 2.3-litre that pumps out 140kW/450Nm.  Very fuel efficient (around 7.2 litres/100 km unladen) and it’s also equipped with a recent rear spring upgrade..

Don’t forget to check out the Isuzu D-Max ute with 430 Nm of torque on offer.  It’s a rugged ute with 4×4 ability.  There is also the Isuzu MU-X SUV 4WD rated to tow 3000 kg (braked).  LS-T models are very well equipped vehicles that are extremely comfortable.

With a high 3500 kg tow rating, thanks to its solid rear axle, the SsangYong Rexton is a highly capable tow vehicle.  So too is the SsangYong Rhino ute.  Both use the same 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that can easily pull up to 3500 kg (braked).

The legendary Toyota Hilux’s towing capabilities are superb.  The new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel motor delivers a 130kW/450Nm blend of power.  Depending on the model, your new Hilux ute can tow from 2500 kg braked.

Mazda’s latest BT-50 ute shares mechanicals with the Ford Ranger, which means that 147 kW and 470 Nm is impressively competent.  Towing over 2500 kg braked in this comfortable, practical ute with all the bells and whistles is easy, and like many utes these days it also offers 4×4 action.

Ford’s Ranger packs great tow grunt and capability with its 3.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.  You can tow up to 3500 kg braked.  There is also a 2.0-litre bi-turbo option for towing up to 3500 kg.

A whopping 500 Nm from its 2.8-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder has the Holden Colorado ute take top spot for popular 4WD ute towing grunt; and it tows like a champion.

In V6 guise, the Volkswagen Amarok packs a 550 Nm or 580 Nm torque delivery option with its 3.0-litre V6 engine.  You can tow up to 3500 kg braked, but with the optional softer suspension pack this drops to 3000 kg braked.

Very Serious Towing Machines

Capable of towing up to 3500 kg braked, the Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series ute has a V8 under the hood.  The 4.5-litre 32- valve quad-cam turbo diesel V8 with 151 kW and 430 Nm is a total beast and highly recommended for use as a tow vehicle.  Impressive fuel economy (for a V8) should see well under 12 litres/100 km fuel use when unladen.  The only gearbox is a five-speed manual.  Toyota’s reputation for reliability and dependability makes this a beauty.

Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series GXL (4X4):  This vehicle cruises comfortably and effortlessly over long distances, powering up long hills without a sweat.  Extremely capable when the tarmac runs out, along with its smooth six-speed automatic and 4.5-litre twin turbo-diesel V8 you’re always finding grunt at any revs.  The combination of 200 kW at 3600 rpm and 650 Nm at 1600 rpm makes this one of the very best vehicles for 4X4 towing.

Nissan Patrol TI 4X4 (Y62):  OK, this is petrol; but with 298 kW and 560 Nm on offer, who cares!  This base-spec eight-seater Patrol is rated to tow 3500 kg (braked).  Comfort and premium technology makes this an effortless vehicle for cruising and towing.  And premium off-road action is guaranteed.

The RAM is the ultimate tow vehicle

RAM Laramie 2500 4X4: This one has a maximum towing capacity of 6942kg (braked) and its power comes from a 6.7-litre six cylinder Cummins turbo-diesel engine (276kW/1084Nm!).  The sweet six-speed automatic transmission makes towing a doddle.

RAM 3500: is another big tow option with a maximum towing capacity (braked) of 6171kg.

 

Robert Opron and the Simca Fulgur: Better Than Nostradamus?

The question as to where all the flying cars are now that we’re in 2020 has become a bit of a cliché.  It’s been a bit of a cliché ever since we hit the new millennium. This is a reference to the way that popular culture envisioned what family cars would look like in the 21st century.

However, at least one car designer had ideas that were a bit more down to earth – literally.  The year was 1958 and the designer was Robert Opron. This designer had accepted a challenge to produce a concept car for the 1959 Geneva Motor Show for his parent company Simca. Never heard of Simca? This was a French company owned by Fiat that rivalled Citroen for the title of “France’s answer to the VW Beetle”. I owned one back in my student days – possibly a Simca 1300; it had a front engine like a normal car rather than a rear engine and it’s probably worth a mint now, so I’m rather regretting selling it. Its only quirk was a flaw in the speedo: after it hit 50 mph, the needle went back down even when I accelerated.

Anyway, enough memories of student cars and back to Robert Opron.  Opron later took his genius to Citroën, then Renault, then Alfa Romeo. He has been recognised as one of the top 25 designers of the 20th century, although he wasn’t the chap responsible for the very distinctive Citroen 2CV. The Renault Alpine was his, though, as were a number of 1980s Renaults.

Opron had come across a challenge issued by the Journal de Tintin.  Yes, that’s Tintin as in the intrepid red-haired reporter who has a dog called Snowy and a best friend called Captain Haddock.  The challenge was to design a “typical” car for the 1980s or for the year 2000. The challenge included a list of specifications that had to be included in the design, including the following:

  • fuelled by a nuclear-powered battery or a hydrogen fuel cell with a range of 5000 km
  • running on two wheels, balanced gyroscopically, at speeds over 150 km/h,
  • voice controlled
  • radar guidance for navigation and for detecting hazards
  • top speed of over 300 km/h
  • automatic braking if it detected a hazard
  • headlights that adjust automatically with speed

Although Opron didn’t produce a full working prototype, he did show a shell of the concept at the 1959 motor show and the full details of the concept car, known as the Simca Fulgur, were published in the Journal de Tintin (this suggests that it would have appeared alongside The Red Sea Sharks and/or Tintin in Tibet – just in case you were curious, like I was).

The Simca Fulgur – which takes its name from the Latin word meaning “lightning” – looked like the classic Jetsons flying car, except it didn’t fly. It captured the public imagination somewhat and became the basis for what people thought futuristic cars would look like. Or what UFOs would look like – take your pick.

Anyway, from the perspective of late October in 2020, 61 years later, it’s amusing to take a look at the cars of today and see how close we’ve actually come to getting some of these features. How well did the Fulgur predict what we’d have on our roads?

  • Voice control: Yes, we’ve got this, although it’s not quite a case of telling the car your destination and letting it get there (they’re working on that). But you can use voice control on quite a few things, including the navigation system.
  • Top speed of over 300 km/h: Yes, but most cars that are capable of this have their speeds limited for safety purposes.
  • Autonomous braking and hazard detection: Yes. However, human input is still needed.
  • Automatically adjusting headlights: Yes, although they adjust for the ambient light levels rather than how fast you’re going.
  • Electric motor with hydrogen fuel cell technology: Yes, although the range isn’t anywhere near what was predicted. We’d all love a range of 5000 km in an EV (electric vehicle) or HFCV (hydrogen fuel cell vehicle).
  • Electrical motor with nuclear power: Are you kidding me? Since Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power isn’t quite the sexy answer to our energy problems that it was back in the 1950s.
  • Balancing on two wheels with gyroscopic stabilisers at speeds over 150 km/h: No. Just no. If you want that sort of thing, get a motorbike, not a family saloon.

All in all, not too bad a job of predicting the future, Monsieur Opron – you did a better job than your compatriot Nostradamus.

Supercars – Just For the Hell of it!

Bugatti Chiron Super Sport

Fast cars mean different things to different people.  What is the draw card for driving a quick car?  For me, a super-fast car does hold an aura that you just can’t associate with your typical Toyota Corolla or Ford Mondeo.  I have nothing against these two amazingly practical, comfortable and reliable cars.  They are great cars for everyday life in much the same way that the trusty hackney pony/horse was the common horsepower used by most family carts in the 19th century.  The thoroughbred horse, however, was the show pony; this was the one that had the aura, the glamour and the speed.

So, similarly, there’s something about supercars.  It’s not just how good they look; it’s about the engineering and development that has gone into making them so quick.  A supercar challenges the laws of physics every day.  And there aren’t too many of us “kids at heart” who don’t enjoy the speed and the thrill covering the ground quickly.  I did have the most amazing experience as I was driving into Wellington city, NZ, of all places.  This was some years ago now, and I was cruising in to Wellington to catch the ferry to Picton.  I happened to be travelling behind a few cars that were drifting five-or-so km/h under the speed limit.  From out of nowhere, a Porsche 928 S whipped out and around me in an acceleration of speed that left me in awe.  It slipped in and out of the cars ahead of me like they were standing still, and the visual excitement has stuck with me to this day.  I have also never seen anything like it since.  He wasn’t dangerous, either.  Each overtaking manoeuvre was carefully calculated and quite safe.  The time it took to whip past each car was over as quickly as it started.

So, just for a bit of fun: What are the fastest production cars in the world today?  They’ll definitely be quicker than the awesome 928 S, for sure!

The number 1 undisputed champion is the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport which has been clocked at 304.7 mph (487 km/h)!  Like the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, this purpose-built speed machine was taken to its top speed by British sportscar veteran Andy Wallace at the VW Group’s Ehra-Lessien test track.  Using a quad-turbocharged W16 engine that produces 1578 bhp (1177 kW), this was a supercar on a mission.  It was given a new gearbox with longer ratios, and front and rear bumpers that were optimised for higher speed runs – the perfect match for claiming the world’s top spot.

Who will be next to break the record set by the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport?  Now that Bugatti have promised to bow out of setting production car speed records, there are a few potential successors to its crown.

Hennessey Venom F5

The Hennessey Venom F5 carries on where the Venom GT has left off.  So with its 6.6-litre twin-turbocharged V8 producing 1817bhp (1355 kW) and 1193 lb ft (1617 Nm) of torque, we should see this Hennessey Venom move easily past the 300 mph (480 km/h) barrier.

SSC Tuatara

Until now I had never heard of the car, but the SSC Tuatara packs some serious speed along with its sharp looks.  The car is claimed to have already sped past 300 mph, unofficially.  SSC will only build 100 Tuatara supercars, and don’t ask how much to buy one!  They are eye-wateringly expensive.  The car was originally planned to run with a 6.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8, however the production car is set to use a 5.9-litre block with a higher redline.  On E85 fuel, it should produce 1750 bhp (1305 kW) and be capable of more than 300 mph in a straight line.

Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut

Now here is a name I have heard before… ‘Koenigsegg’.  The Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut is the latest of the Koenigsegg supercar line and it has to be one of the hottest looking machines on wheels.  Koenigsegg claim the car is more than capable of over 330 mph (528 km/h).  Seriously, we couldn’t think Koenigsegg was going to let Bugatti keep the speed record for long, could we?  The Swedish manufacturer has been around for some time now and has set previous uppermost speed records.  Gunning for top spot, the 1600 bhp+ (1193 kW+) supercar will be the fastest car Koenigsegg has ever produced. Simulations suggest the combination of the twin-turbocharged, 5.0-litre V8 engine, its low 0.278 drag coefficient, and its unique multi-clutch 9-speed transmission will allow the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut to reach a top speed of 330 mph+.

Now, I’ve always had a soft spot for anything Swedish!  I used to own a Volvo, but that was given to my son who needed a car when he left home.  And we did own a Saab (my favourite of all cars owned by us).  Its Turbo 2.3-litre could really get-up-and-go, but nothing like a Koenigsegg, mind you!

An Automated Way of Life

Instead of a person performing tasks like accelerating, braking, turning or changing lanes, an autonomous vehicle uses its sophisticated vehicle computer system to calculate, monitor and perform these everyday driving tasks itself.  Australian governments are working together to make sure that automated/autonomous vehicles can be legally and safely used when they are available for purchase in Australia.  Already today, some new cars have automated features such as self-parking, active cruise control or lane-keep assist.  These features assist the driver with driving, but a licensed human driver is still in control of the car.  Over the next few decades vehicles will likely become increasingly automated, and eventually a human will not need to drive a car at all.  Think of the road network of the future being a giant computer programme that is performing the road transport requirements for the people.

Whether we like it or not, the onset of automated vehicles is upon us.  In fact, in America, automatic road trains/trucks to get goods from one depot to the next is already reality.  Several companies, including Aurora, Daimler, and Embark Trucks, are competing for a slice of the future of self-driving freight trucks.  Waymo is also expanding its own self-driving trucking routes throughout the American Southwest and Texas, following previous tests in Arizona, California, Michigan, and Georgia. This long-haul automated trucking works well in America, and it could be key for Australian trucking companies in the near future.  While most of the current use has been on iron ore and coal mines, the roll-out of autonomous fleets in Australia is spreading.  Newmont, Australia recently announced plans to make the Boddington mine the world’s first open-pit gold mine with an autonomous haul truck fleet.

So maybe the order of automation roll-out might be trucks first along with public transport, and then private vehicles to follow?  The implementation of autonomous vehicles isn’t a cheap dream.  Understandably, the level of research and development, as costly as it is, is so important to ensure all road users remain safe in-and around an autonomous vehicle.  The sort of research and development needed for safety reasons costs loads of money, and this (as always), along with the requirement of actually keeping people safe while implementing the use of autonomous vehicles, are the real brakes on the realization of the dream for complete global autonomous vehicles.  But is that just the tip of the iceberg?

Autonomous vehicles obtain emerging technologies that can potentially disrupt cities, economies, infrastructure and the way we do life together.  Add those truths into the mix and we can see what a phenomenally expensive, chaotic and disruptive new technology this is, but the actuality of total autonomous transport could be astounding!  Not something that’s everyone’s cup of tea but definitely worthy of at least partial implementation.  Maybe that’s the way it is going to be introduced, subtly and gradually over time so people can get used to paying for it as well as using it.

How To Identify A Boy Racer Car

We might loudly proclaim that we hate them and that they’re annoying, but deep down inside any serious motorist, very well hidden indeed, is a wee bit of a boy racer. Just a little bit of one.  Otherwise, why would we be so drawn to high-performance vehicles with motors that roar and purr?

All the same, few of us over the age of 35 would really admit to being a boy racer, especially if we happen to be girls. We keep that part of us well hidden and only let it out in small doses occasionally.  We drive sensible family vehicles.  If we do get to the point where the budget allows us to plonk down our hard-earned cash on a high-performance vehicle, we prefer something that combines true performance with understated style. Others of us, of course, simply own the whole boy racer image and want a proper boy racer car that looks the part. Or, more precisely, the sort of vehicle that a boy racer car aims to imitate.

The true boy racer car isn’t quite the same as a high-performance machine. To really qualify as a boy racer car, one has to take a fairly sporty number that doesn’t cost the earth (Nissan Skylines and Subaru Imprezas used to be fairly popular but there are others) and then modify it like crazy. Not just any modifications, either. If you tinker with and tune the engine to boost its performance, what you can end up with is a “sleeper” – a vehicle that might look ordinary but isn’t. Boy racer modifications are all about attention-grabbing looks… and sounds. It’s about making heads turn, especially the heads of younger drivers. It’s the motoring equivalent of pouring on half a bottle of aftershave in an attempt to impress the ladies (note: we’re not going to be that impressed).

These vehicles are referred to in the US as “ricer cars”, which is a gender-neutral term. However, I have a suspicion that this may be a slight racial slur, as I have no idea what these cars have to do with rice, apart from the fact that the cars that usually get these modifications tend to be of Japanese origin, though not always. I’ve seen pictures of some BMWs, Fords and Holdens pimped up like crazy. So “boy racer car” is what I’m going to have to call them – I mention the term only so you can have fun Googling bad examples.

To be a true boy racer car, at least three of the following modifications ought to be present:

  • Dramatically lowered suspension. This seems to be the only actual mechanical fine-tuning done to a boy racer car, as the aim is to improve the handling and make the ride a bit stiffer just like a real sports car. The rule seems to be that the lower it is, the cooler it is. Just don’t take it so low that you can’t clear the kerb or speed bump.
  • After-market spoilers. If done well, a good after-market spoiler will give extra grip and improve the on-road performance. It’s a matter of aerodynamics. However, the stereotypical boy racer hasn’t quite got it into his (it’s usually his, rather than her) head that it’s not how big it is but how it’s applied that counts. What you’ll end up seeing on a boy racer car is a massive spoiler. Sigmund Freud wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised…
  • Other body kit. If you can’t actually lower the suspension, make the car look lower by adding side and front skirts.
  • Fancy paint jobs. Go-faster racing stripes and decals are just the start. The idea is to look something like a professional racing car but without actually having any sponsors. There seem to be two main schools of thought in the paint jobs of boy racer cars. One goes for the racing car look, with longitudinal stripes and chequered flags. The other type goes for bright custom colours, often neon green, purple, hot pink and similar gaudy shades.
  • Aftermarket alloys. OK, this one isn’t unique to boy racer cars and it is possible to put on alloys that look tasteful and add a bit of personality. However, if the alloy wheel is enormous and/or brightly coloured, it’s definitely getting into boy racer territory.
  • Tinted windows. Not just subtle tinted windows or tinting that comes from the factory so that you aren’t dazzled with glare on a bright sunny day. We’re talking about stick-on tinting from your local automotive supplies shop so dark that you can barely see who’s in the car.
  • Bonnet blowers. While these have a serious purpose if the vehicle in question has been given an engine upgrade and needs to be cooled more efficiently, in a true boy racer car, it’s for looks. Again, the mentality seems to be that the bigger the better. Never mind that something that big is going to interfere with the aerodynamics.
  • Loud exhausts. Nothing says “performance” like an exhaust that roars and screams like an animal. This feature is found on classier vehicles as well. Jaguar designers, for example, are known to carefully tune the note of the exhaust so that it evokes the perfect visceral response. Boy racer cars, however, don’t have quite the same type of finesse and just go for decibels.
  • Even louder stereos. If they can’t go fast enough around town to bring the noise of the exhaust into play, then the stereo is the way to catch people’s attention from at least a block away or two. The stereos have enough bass to make the ground shake and the vehicle vibrate visibly to the point where onlookers wonder if it will make the ridiculously big spoiler held on with superglue fall off.

If you think I’ve missed any of the key characteristics, then add your suggestions in the comments below!

Big Boots Matter

Luggage Space

If size matters to you when it comes to what you can (or can’t) fit in your boot, then how much space is commonly available in popular new car buys?  The chances are you’ll want to know, so first are some of the most popular vehicles bought in Australia and their boot volume (litres).  All the vehicles listed have their rear seats in place, because we all know the greatest vehicles carry a decent amount of luggage without having to flip their rear seats flat.  There’s nothing worse than telling little Johnny that he can’t travel with his mates because the split folding rear seats have been split folded to take the school camp food!

At the end is a list of the best picks for carrying 550 litres or more behind the rear seats.  You might be surprised, or not…

Supermini

Average boot space: 340.88 litres

1/ Renault Clio – 395 litres

2/ Honda Jazz – 354 litres

3/ Volkswagen Polo – 351 litres

Audi A1 – 335 litres

Skoda Fabia – 330 litres

Hyundai i20 – 326 litres

Kia Rio – 325 litres

Peugeot 208 – 311 litres

 

Hatchbacks

Average boot space: 479.40 litres

1/ Skoda Octavia 590 litres

2/ Peugeot 308 501 litres

3/ Honda Civic 492 litres

Renault Megane 434

VW Golf 380 litres

 

Small 4-door sedan

Average boot space: 464.75 litres

1/ Honda City | 536 litres

2/ Honda Civic | 519 litres

3/ Renault Megane | 503 litres

Kia Cerato | 502 litres

Toyota Corolla | 470 litres

Hyundai Accent Sport | 465 litres

Hyundai Elantra | 458 litres

Holden Astra | 445 litres

Mazda 3 444 litres

Audi A3 | 425 litres

Mazda 2 410 litres

Mitsubishi Lancer | 400 litres

 

Medium 4-Door Sedan

Average boot space: 501.82 litres

1/ Volkswagen Passat | 586 litres

2/ Skoda Octavia | 568 litres

3/ Toyota Camry | 524 litres

Kia Optima | 510 litres

Hyundai Sonata | 510 litres

Subaru Liberty | 493 litres

BMW 3 Series | 480 litres

Mazda 6 | 474 litres

Subaru Impreza | 460 litres

Ford Mondeo | 458 litres

Honda Accord | 457 litres

 

Large 4-Door Sedan

Average boot space: 509.2 litres

1/ Skoda Superb | 625 litres

2/ Volkswagen Arteon | 563 litres

3/ Holden Commodore | 490 litres

Chrysler 300 | 462 litres

Kia Stinger | 406 litres

 

Station wagons

Average boot space: 560.9 litres

1/ Holden Sportwagon 895 litres

2/ Skoda Superb 660 litres

3/ Peugeot 308 SW 660 litres

Ford Focus SW 608 litres

VW Golf SW 605 litres

Hyundai i30 SW 602 litres

Audi A6 SW 586 litres

Volvo V70 575 litres

BMW 5-Series SW 570 litres

Jaguar XF SW 565 litres

Kia Optima SW 552 litres

Ford Mondeo 541 litres

Mercedes Benz E-Class 540 litres

Subaru Levorg 522 litres

Mazda 6 SW 522 litres

Renault Megane SW 521 litres

Subaru Outback 512 litres

Peugeot 407 430 litres

Toyota Corolla SW 392 litres

Mini Clubman SW 360 litres

 

SUVs

LIGHT SUVs

Average boot space: 346.2 litres

1/ Citroen C3 Aircross – 410 litres

2/ Holden Trax – 356 litres

3/ Hyundai Venue 355 litres

Ford EcoSport – 346 litres

Mazda CX-3 264 litres

 

SMALL SUVs

Average boot space: 385.91 litres

1/ Jeep Compass 438 litres

2/ Honda HR-V 437 litres

3/ Kia Seltos 433 litres

Nissan Qashqai 430 litres

Renault Kadjar 408 litres

Mitsubishi ASX 393 litres

Toyota C-HR 377 litres

Hyundai Kona 361 litres

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 341 litres

Mazda CX-30 317 litres

Subaru XV 310 litres

 

MEDIUM SUVs

Average boot space: 496.67 litres

1/ Volkswagen Tiguan 615 litres

2/ Toyota RAV4 580 litres

3/ Nissan X-Trail 565 litres

Honda CR-V 522 litres

Subaru Forester 498 litres

Hyundai Tucson 488 litres

Mitsubishi Outlander 477 litres

MG HS 463 litres

Renault Koleos 458 litres

Kia Sportage 446 litres

Mazda CX-5 442 litres

Ford Escape 406 litres

 

LARGE SUVs

Average boot space: 669.50 litres

1/ Holden Acadia 1042 litres

2/ Holden Equinox 846 litres

3/ Mazda CX-9 810 litres

Toyota LandCruiser Prado 620 litres

Hyundai Santa Fe 547 litres

Toyota Kluger 529 litres

Subaru Outback 512 litres

Ford Everest 450 litres

 

Keep in mind that most vehicles we buy now do have split folding rear seats, so when we don’t have to carry passengers we can make use of the rear seat space in exchange for carrying cargo/luggage.  Many of us don’t want to have to use the rear seat space for luggage; often the back seats are occupied with passengers anyway, so the vehicles that provide over 500 litres behind the back seats are going to be the ones that offer excellent luggage space.

If we look at averages alone, the Large SUV is easily king for luggage carrying duties. Most are seven-seater SUVs, too; but make it just the 5 seats, and they can only be a win/win combination.  The next step up would be a van!

However, both the Station Wagon and Large sedan are other excellent options for you to go to for decent luggage carrying ability.  Even the Medium Sedan offers some cars that provide excellent big boots: the Volkswagen Passat (586 litres), Skoda Octavia (568 litres) and the Toyota Camry (524 litres) are the best examples.

One thing that did surprise me was that the boot space in a small SUV isn’t much to write home about; its average for the class being a dismal 385.91 litres.  This dropped to an abysmal 346.2 litres for light SUVs.  These vehicles, and smaller are best avoided if decent boot space is what you need.

Any vehicle that can offer at least 550 litres of luggage space in the boot without having to fold down any of the rear seats is a winner for cargo carriers.  If you are looking for a vehicle (that isn’t a van) that will deliver good boot space (550 litres or more) for things like: school bags, computer equipment, sport gear, holiday luggage etc., then you’ll probably need one of the following vehicles:

Hatchback:

Skoda Octavia Hatchback

Skoda Octavia Hatchback 590 litres

Medium 4-dr Sedan:

VW Passat Sedan

Volkswagen Passat  586 litres

Skoda Octavia 568 litres

Large 4-dr Sedan

Skoda Superb Sedan/Hatch

Skoda Superb  625 litres

Volkswagen Arteon 563 litres

Station Wagon

Holden Commodore Sportwagon

Holden Sportwagon 895 litres

Skoda Superb 660 litres

Peugeot 308 660 litres

Ford Focus 608 litres

VW Golf 605 litres

Hyundai i30 602 litres

Audi A6 586 litres

Volvo V70 575 litres

BMW 5-Series 570 litres

Jaguar XF 565 litres

Kia Optima 552 litres

Medium SUV

VW Tiguan SUV

Volkswagen Tiguan 615 litres

Toyota RAV4 580 litres

Nissan X-Trail 565 litres

Large SUV

Holden Acadia 7-seater

Holden Acadia 1042 litres

Holden Equinox 846 litres

Mazda CX-9 810 litres

Toyota LandCruiser Prado 620 litres

Hyundai Santa Fe 547 litres

 

Are You Too Old To Drive?

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that youth is wasted on the young.  It might not be quite so widely talked about, but there are some benefits to not being as young as you used to be. All the same, there’s no denying that even if you have truckloads of experience as a driver and can remember the days when it wasn’t compulsory for passengers to wear seatbelts and when having automatic windows was posh, the time may come when the old body lets you down and won’t react the way it used to do.  There is a reason why medical tests are compulsory for those over 75 every year and two-yearly practical driving tests are needed for those aged over 85 if you want to stay on a normal driver’s licence. It’s kind of like getting a roadie test but for the driver rather than a vehicle.

However, although I know plenty of people in the age bracket who don’t seem to show many signs of their age apart from a few wrinkles and grey hair, there are others who start showing a few signs of slowing down before they hit the 75-year mark.  My mum, for example, decided to pull back on the driving for safety reasons because she felt that her reactions were getting too slow to drive in the city, although this was “just a case of getting older and nothing to worry about” even though she was well short of 75 years old (it turned out to be early onset Parkinson’s but that’s another story and I’m glad to report she’s doing well on medication).

To be able to drive safely, what do you need to be able to do? What does it take to have what it takes? I came across a set of questions that older drivers can ask themselves to help assess how fit they are to drive.  Do any of these ten questions ring true for you? If you answer yes to a lot of them, then maybe it’s time you had a chat with your doctor about driving and medical tests. Sometimes, a few exercises and a new pair of glasses may help – although sometimes, it won’t.

  1. Is getting your seatbelt on a pain and does it take you several attempts at the best of times?
  2. Do you have trouble turning the steering wheel (and you’ve got power steering in the car and you’re not driving an old classic without it)?
  3. Is it hard to do head-checks (looking over your shoulder to check the blind spot)?
  4. Does driving on even short trips tire you out more easily?
  5. Do you have a few problems picking out things like road markings, kerbs, median strips, other cars and pedestrians?
  6. Do you have problems remembering who gives way?
  7. Does your mind wander while you’re driving? Here, we’re not talking about briefly running over the options for dinner or your to-do list at the traffic lights, or idly pursuing a train of thought on a long empty country road (we all do this), but going completely away with the pixies in the middle of the city or to the point that you suddenly come to and haven’t got a clue where you are.
  8. Do you get honked at a lot by other drivers? OK, everyone gets drivers tooting at them from time to time, but if it happens a lot, especially at traffic lights or intersections, then it’s possibly the case that you’re a bit slower to react that you used to be (it’s not the case that Young People These Days are more impatient, especially when the Young Person who just honked at you is a tradie in his 40s).
  9. Is reversing or parallel parking difficult, even if it’s been easy for you in the past?
  10. Have you picked up some wretched condition like heart problems, stroke, early-stage dementia, etc.?

The good news is that if your hearing is going a bit (all those rock concerts back in the 1970s and a lifetime of working with power tools make for great memories but worse hearing), this shouldn’t stop you from driving, as most hazards have a strong visual component, and even things like police and fire sirens usually come with lights as well.

For older drivers, it’s possible to get a modified licence so you can keep driving but only under certain conditions. You might want to put yourself under your own personal restrictions if you found yourself answering Yes to a lot of the questions above. A modified licence is rather like the grown-up version of the provisional licence and restricts you to driving only in certain circumstances. With a modified licence, the conditions will vary depending on your situation. For example, your modified licence may allow you to drive only short distances (e.g. to town and back, rather than interstate to see the grandkids).  Modified licences allow you to stay active and independent but without putting yourself (and others) at risk.

Conditions you may wish to put on yourself rather than official restrictions and conditions under a modified licence could include not driving alone, only taking familiar routes, not driving at night or not driving in bad weather, and avoiding driving at times when you know you get sleepy (e.g. the middle of the afternoon on a hot day).

Having a new vehicle with modern driver aids such as blind spot alerts, reverse parking sensors and autonomous emergency braking may help you stay on the road for longer. However, if you upgrade your vehicle to something with such features, make sure you take some time when you’re not actually driving anywhere to get familiar with all the buttons, symbols, beeps and knobs. And remember that as is the case with most things in life, you need to use those driving skills so you don’t lose them!