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Driving in Australia

Are Skinny Lanes the Solution to Congestion on our Roads?

There’s no escaping it, our roads are congested across the country. It’s a nightmare for all of us. After all, nobody takes joy being stuck in traffic. It extends our commute and leaves us with less time for the things we actually want to do. We should be wondering, what’s being done about it?

Sure, we have tolls. There are also proposals for congestion charges to reduce demand for road use, or otherwise share the road in more efficient ways like giving priority to car-pool vehicles. Governments are also investing billions in infrastructure, much of which is dedicated to roads and highways. However, does that all go far enough? Is there another simpler solution sitting right under our noses?

One of the more radical ideas floating around in the news this past week was ‘skinny’ lanes. That’s right, it is exactly what it sounds like. The idea being, our road network remains largely the same. But in place of laying down new bitumen, space would be squeezed from existing lanes to create a new, narrow lane designed specifically for motorbikes and / or smaller cars.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, the idea isn’t one that was hashed out by two high school students. Nor was it conceived with the inspiration of a couple Friday night beverages. In fact, this has come straight out of the well-known and highly regarded think tank, the Grattan Institute.

 

 

Is it really feasible?

On paper, it sounds novel to expand capacity on our roads, without actually expanding physical capacity. The urban planning side seemingly checks out.  From a financial perspective, it’s definitely a cheaper proposition than building new roads. Plus, roads wouldn’t need to be closed anywhere near as long as they would if extensive construction were to be required to upgrade roads and interchanges.

But there is one important thing being overlooked here. Australians are increasingly shifting away from smaller cars to mid-size vehicles. Some experts point to these larger vehicles being at fault for the congestion, although that really is debatable. Small cars still represent a huge portion of fleet, but if we do not remain cognisant of the clear trend, then we could be jumping to a ‘solution’ that won’t align with the way we are actually using our roads.

One could argue that such an initiative has the potential to shape car selection among new car buyers. There is some merit to this argument, but at the same time, that is also what has been said for electric vehicles – we all know their adoption has been underwhelming at best. Then you also have the issue of giving exclusive priority to certain road users, when at the end of the day we all still pay car registration to be afforded the same access on public roads.

Comparisons are inevitable with European markets, where narrow lanes and smaller cars correspond with fewer road fatalities. What is missed in those examples is the greater access they have to public transport, in addition to the compact size of their cities. On the other hand, our commute extends much further, both geographically and by purpose.

As novel as the idea may be, it’s clear it is one that needs a rethink. What do you think of proposed skinny lanes to reduce congestion?

 

4 Essential Driving Apps

As Australians come to depend on their mobile phones for just about everything we do, developers have sought to capitalise on that trend by extending it to our daily mobility and driving. With apps covering the spectrum from navigation to parking, safety, entertainment and saving money – there is usually a solution for whatever you are searching.

While restrictions obviously prevent us from using our phones behind the wheel – and definitely don’t do this – we still have so many ingenious apps to choose from. But which ones deliver the most bang for your buck? Here we take a look at 4 essential driving apps.

 

Waze (iOS/Android/Windows)

Recently in the news for what some might classify as controversial reasons, Waze is a free, community based GPS and maps app. Peer-to-peer information sharing has led to a surge in its use and value. The purpose of the app is to allow road users to advise one another of hazards, delays or impediments on the road.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before users would start sharing information on mobile police locations. Nonetheless, Waze allows you to plan your trip according to real time information. When you have so many eyes out there doing the planning for you, that’s as good as any computer simulation can achieve.

 

PlugShare (iOS/Android/Windows)

This is a niche app dedicated to electric vehicle owners, or at least those who intend to venture down that path in the not too distant future. It is another peer-to-peer community app, albeit instead of just sharing data, here you are also sharing access to the electric grid network.

That’s right, not only can you see the charging network across the country, but you can view the location of users who have offered their own power supply to keep you going on the road. The search filter allows you to hone your focus to any specific needs you might need, including charging network, charger type, whether it is a free or paid charging station, and much more.

 

Fuel Map Australia (iOS/Android)

Making it three from three, Fuel Map Australia (formerly FuelMap) is a “crowd-sourced database of petrol stations and fuel prices from all across Australia”. It allows any user to add and edit the location of fuel maps wherever you’re located, as well as add pricing details as well. With filters allowing users to sort by pricing, you’ll have few issues finding the cheapest fuel in your neighbourhood to save yourself a pretty penny. As a bonus, you can also monitor your fuel economy and log purchases.

 

Google Trips (iOS/Android)

A tech list would not be complete without the addition of Google, so it’s little surprise we round out this selection with its Trips app. Perfect for the travel-oriented driver, or weekend adventurer, the real benefit here is the integration of plans and itineraries. You can track your destinations and identify tourist attractions nearby, as well as sights, activities and entertainment options as well. Even better, if you have reservations lined up in your calendar, they’ll flow through seamlessly.

 

Make sure you install these apps on your phone before you head out onto the road.

 

Will Driving Faster Really Get You There Quicker?

(Warning – contains maths!)

It seems ingrained in our human mentality.  If you go faster, you get there more quickly, right? After all, we’ve all seen this in childhood.  When you walked to school, let’s say it usually took you 15 minutes. I am possibly showing my age here with the assumption that you walked 15 minutes to school – although a 15-minute walk is pretty reasonable and there’s no reason why kids these days (that’s really showing my age) can’t do it as well.  Anyway, back to the topic.  When you were a kid walking to school, if you realized that you’d forgotten your homework and had to double back for it, you pretty soon found out that if you jogged or ran, you’d still make it to the school gate before the bell rang.

When we grew up and got cars, we applied the same logic. If we overslept the alarm or had some sort of household emergency before setting off to work, we believe that if we step on the accelerator a little bit harder, we’ll make up for lost time.  Or will we?

We’ll leave aside the issue that speeding is illegal and that you will get pinged for it if you get caught.  Yes, that means you, even if you’re going only a teeny weeny 10 km/h over the legal limit.  Let’s do the maths instead.

Let’s say your commute takes about 30 minutes and you usually drive at 50 km/h, which is the signed speed limit on the road you take.  This means that, at least on paper, you’re covering about 25 km.  The equation is Distance (in km) ÷ Your Speed (in km/h) = Travel Time (in hours).  What happens if we plug your sneaky wee attempt at speeding into this equation, with the assumption that you’re going to try driving to work at 60 km/h to make up the time spent cleaning up after the cat had vomited in the middle of the living room?  We’ve got 25 ÷ 60 = 0.416667.  To turn 0.416667 hours into the equivalent in minutes, multiply it by 60 and you get (drum roll; the smart cookies reading this will have already clicked) 25 minutes.  So what you’ve saved – in theory – by speeding 10 km/h faster is 5 minutes.  Which isn’t much.

Of course, your average travel speed probably never was your target speed, whether that was 50 km/h or 60 km/h.  We all know that in peak travel hours, you have to slow down at intersections, wait at Give Way signs, wait at pedestrian crossings for the kids who are walking to school and wait at traffic lights. This means that the amount of your journey spent actually going faster will only be a few minutes out of your commute, so you won’t actually be saving 5 minutes at all. You’ll be saving more like 1 or 2 minutes and you will end up being late for work – and you’ll probably try blaming it on the traffic rather than that cat.

However, while you’ve been pressing down the accelerator in that attempt to get to work on time, you’ve been revving your engine that little bit harder, and you’ve probably had to brake harder.  That extra bit of accelerator means more fuel consumption – or more drain on the battery, so those of you with EVs can wipe that smug smile off your faces because this applies across the board.  That extra stress on the brake also means more wear and tear, so in the long run, although you may have saved a couple of minutes on your commute, you’ll have put a bit more on your fuel bill and/or your maintenance bill.  You have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

So why did travelling faster work so well when you were a kid running to school instead of walking after forgetting your homework?  And is there ever a time when going faster will actually get you there quicker.

Let’s start with that first question.  When you were a kid walking to school, you probably went there more or less non-stop, with maybe the odd pause if you had to cross the road.  Walking speed varies by age and sex, but let’s say that you could walk at about 3 km/h.  A child’s maximum running speed at the age of 2 is about 9 km/h but you were older than that if you were walking to school and you probably weren’t running at your maximum, so we’ll say that your running to school speed was about 6 km/h.  This is double your walking speed (a 100% increase), whereas increasing your driving speed from 50 km/h to 60 km/h is a 20% increase.

Lastly, is there ever a time when going faster helps you make up lost time? The answer is probably yes, but only if (a) you’re covering a long distance so small changes add up and (b) your route is free-flowing without need to stop or slow down for significant portions of the time.  Think rural roads and well-designed motorways.  Even then, your gain in time won’t be all that much.  Perhaps, on a rural road, you might be able to shave 5 minutes off what would have been a 20-min trip by travelling at an average speed of 100 km/h rather than the average of 80 km/h.  Longer trips will get more savings in time but this may be off-set by increased fuel consumption – and it’s up to you if you think this is worth it!

Should I Choose Agreed Value or Market Value Car Insurance?

Getting your car finance sorted and picking a vehicle is one thing, but once it is time to take to the road you need to have insurance for your car. With each insurer offering a wide variety of coverage, it pays to examine the fine print carefully to make sure you are covered for what you need. From the excess, to no claim bonuses, car hire, after-accident care, and many other factors – pause and consider.

But one matter where you might have some doubt creep in relates to the valuation of your car, which among other things not only dictates the premium you pay for your insurance, but how much you are covered for in the event of a write-off. You will typically have the choice between an agreed value, or a market value. Which one should you choose?

 

Agreed value car insurance

When you choose agreed value car insurance you will need to come to a direct agreement with the insurer as to the value of your individual car. As it is a key term within the policy, this will take place when you first sign the contract.

For the most part, agreed value car insurance is beneficial when your car has particular modifications, enhancements or is unique in some particular way. For example, if you have fitted the car with performance upgrades, or additional amenities that are not stock, an agreed value should reflect a higher valuation on account of including these features.

 

Market value car insurance

Unlike agreed value car insurance, market value does not involve a direct negotiation or discussion as to the car’s valuation. It is decided solely by the insurer based on the prevailing market price for the same car in its current condition. Some people assume that this translates to the vehicle’s second hand price, however that’s not exactly the case because that in itself is a negotiation process.

As a general rule of thumb, market value car insurance is more likely to be affordable than if the policy were undertaken with an agreed value. Whereas agree value is useful for unique cars, market value is best suited for regular cars, particularly older vehicles in average condition.

 

Questions you should ask yourself

To help you decide which option is best for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my car brand new, second hand or a collector car?
  • Have I spent money modifying the car and do I need coverage for the value of these variations?
  • What condition is the car currently in?
  • Do I believe the insurer’s valuation is fair and reasonable? How does it compare with others?
  • How long do I plan to own this vehicle?
  • What is my budget for my car insurance premium?

 

Once you’ve walked through these considerations, you should know which option suits you best.

 

When is it Time to Give Up Driving?

While millennials appear to be abandoning vehicle ownership in favour of ride-sharing transportation, an ageing population means that more and more Australians are dependent on transport solutions to remain mobile. Naturally, having driven for most of their lives, it means elderly Australian motorists are clinging onto their driving routine and taking up the seat behind the wheel of their car.

With this however, we’re seeing a higher incidence of accidents and road fatalities than years gone past. For example, since 2007 road fatalities for drivers aged between 65 and 74 has grown 2.3% per year as measured across the nation. Among those drivers aged above 75, the figures point to an increase of 1.2% per year. Drivers aged 65 or above remain the only age group to see an increase in road fatalities across that period, while also recording a 9% rise in “road-related hospitalisations”.

 

The predicament

With a wealth of advertising and education directed towards younger drivers – who do statistically account for a higher number of accidents and fatalities – an absence on the part of all the state governments across the country to tackle a worrying trend is concerning. But how should we manage community mobility to optimise safety for all road users? Just when is it time to give up driving?

Truth be told, there is no simple answer to this predicament. While each of the states have their own road rules governing elderly drivers, having accessibility to a car remains a vital component to the independence of said individuals.

Nevertheless, for couples and families, it is best to discuss and monitor the health of loved ones to ensure they remain in good condition to take to the road. Regular health check-ups become an essential part of validating this, although remember that age in itself shouldn’t be viewed as the only measure of ability when it comes to driving.

Keep in mind as well, certain lenders will have their hesitations extending finance to those individuals who have retired from the workforce and are currently relying on their pension.

 

State rules

As mentioned above, each state has different rules when it comes to requirements for elderly drivers:

  • NSW: annual medical review (aged 75-84); annual medical review and practical driving test (85+)
  • VIC: no annual medical reviews, albeit referrals may be made by doctors, family and police
  • QLD: annual medical review but no practical driving tests (75+)
  • SA: medical assessment but no practical driving tests (at 70)
  • WA: medical assessment (from 80); medical assessment and practical assessment (from 85+)
  • TAS: no annual medical reviews
  • NT: no annual medical reviews, albeit referrals may be made by doctors, family and police

 

2019 Lexus LS 500h: Car Review.

This Car Review Is About: The Luxury Sedan in the luxury arm of the Toyota family called Lexus. Named the LS 500h, with the h standing for hybrid, it’s a long, long, car that’s packed full of tech, niceties, and a couple of quirks.

What Does It Cost?: $196,125. That’s before options, government charges, and delivery charges at the dealership level. It’s a fair bit of coin and places the LS 500h firmly in the same area as the Audi A8 and entry level BMW 7 Series. However, the Lexus website indicates a driveaway price of not much more than $203,500 for the LS 500h in Luxury trim. Add in the Sports Luxury package and that’s up to $209,400. From here there are enhancement packs that include items such as handcut Kiriko glass and hand-pleated black leather.Under The Bonnet Is: A ten ratio, super slick, automatic that is bolted to a battery pack and 3.5L V6. Peak power is quoted as 264kW. The non-hybrid version has 310kW and 600Nm from a twin turbo V6. Economy is quoted as 6.6L/100km. Emissions are 150g/km. We reached an average of 9.7?100km on a 70/30 suburban/highway cycle.On the Outside It’s: Dominated by that air intake that’s made of 5,000 individual pieces. Lexus handcraft the spindle grille and in their own words: “The design process behind the grille would be considered extravagant if the result were anything less than visionary.” Indeed. The 5,235mm length starts with that, and that huge grille sees full LED illumination either side, both in headlights and the separate driving/indicator lights.At just 1,450mm in total height, the LS looks longer than that length measurement suggests. Such are the proportions that the driver is placed at the halfway point of the car. Subtle lines highlight the gentle upswing of the rear window line before a surprisingly small bootspace of 440L finishes with LED tail lights. Both front and rear indicators follow the Audi-eque style of flashing longitudinally in sequence, rather than all at once. Rubber is Bridgestone’s Turanza and at 245/45 front and rear on 20 inch diameter chromed alloys, it makes for an impressive footprint.On The Inside It’s: An impressive place. There are: Heated and vented front seats with three memory positions. Heated and massage capable rear seats. Blu-ray player and screens for the rear seats. 23 speakers of DAB quality sound from Mark Levinson. 12 airbags. Quad zone airconditioning. A passenger side section of the dash that lights up internally. Mood lighting. Rear and side window sunshades, which sees the rear lower on engaging Reverse… And that damnable touch interface on the centre console. It’s time to bench it and go for something ergonomically and user friendly. There’s also no wireless charge pad…The centre console houses some operating buttons and one is for the height adjustable air suspension.Back to that touchpad. Even allowing for touch and sensitivity setting changes, it’s not intuitive in usage. The cursor on the 12.3 inch display screen never seems to correctly line up with the icon being sought, some options are a swipe as opposed to a click like a mouse, and the menu system itself doesn’t always make for user friendly interpretation.The seating position for each pew is simply operated. The driver’s seat moves when power is switched off to provide lift and space for easier exit from the car. The rear seats have multiple modes for top of back, lumbar, and lower back massaging. It makes for interesting passage for the rear seat passengers, especially those that are in late primary and early high school. Because there is a screen each, their comfort level is higher than a single roof mounted screen. However, their centre fold out console which has a touchscreen for aircon and audio, allows the rear seat passengers to control audio for the front seats too…a separate audio source for headphone wearers would be more suitable.For the driver there is a classy looking binnacle and dash. Leather material surrounds the area and is stitched. The screen is full colour and changes in look depending on which drive mode is selected via the toggle dial on top left. Normal mechanical analogue gauges on either side show fuel and temperature. There is a HUD as well. This shows a broad variety of info but the display is limited to being adjustable for brightness and height only.Design wise, the dash showcases and mirrors the grille. Sine wave lines stretch from side to side, and in front of the passenger is a translucent panel that is lit internally to match the lines. The stitching in the seats in the test car also matches the stitching and dash, making for a cohesive appearance. What’s also cohesive is the feel of the centre console storage lid. Buttons on either side allow the lid to be opened in either direction. It’s a small yet eminently usable feature.Out On The Road It’s: A mix of power, grace, sportiness, and hmmm. It will launch, and hard, from a standing start. It will handle back country roads, of rutted surfaces and sweeping corners, as easily as it does smooth highways and suburban roads. It can be driven with verve and a nod towards sports as equally well as it can be driven gently and politely. The hmm is the reaction time from the air suspension.

As much as the LS 500h can waft along, hit anything of a height of five centimetres or more at certain speeds, and rather that “pillow” over the top, there’s a solid bang instead. It’s a small jolt, to be sure, but a jolt nonetheless. It isn’t a common occurrence either, as the car isn’t intended to be driven in such environments to invite those intrusions.We took the LS 500h on a drive loop from the Blue Mountains to Kiama via the Hume Highway, the Mount Keira road near Wollongong, then back via the Jamberoo Road through to Robertson, home of the The Giant Potato, then back roads north through to Mittagong and along the Hume again. It’s a superb and relaxed cruiser on the freeway, with plenty of noise insulation keeping the extraneous noises to a minimum.Sink the slipper and the V6 roars into life. There’s an odd note to it, but in a good way, with a hint of V8 to the tone. Acceleration is indecent for a big car, and the power steering assistance is calibrated to provide instant response to the slightest touch. Drive itself is engaged via a rocker switch selector, with Park engaged via a push button.Get into the winding roads heading down to Wollongong and out from Kiama, and the chassis sits flat, allowing the steering and drivetrain to perfectly combine for a drive experience best described as exhilarating. The Lexus can be pushed hard, harder than expected, with a surefooted and confident approach. Range Road, just to the south east of Bowral, the home of the Don Bradman museum, showcases the ability of the chassis, with varying road conditions meeting sweeping turns before sharp corners that test the brakes and handling. Apart from the aforementioned bang from the suspension occasionally, the LS 500h shone brightly.What About Safety?: A four position camera system allows for 360 degree viewing and the high definition display screen makes for crystal sharp viewing. Depending of trim level there are ten or twelve airbags. The LED headlights are adaptive in direction and the rear lights flash under emergency braking. Naturally Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Monitoring are standard, as is Autonomous Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Detection. Radar Cruise Control with distance adjustment is perfect for the highways and freeways. The bonnet is pedestrian friendly, with an emergency pop up system if the sensors read an impact. There is also Front Cross Traffic Assist, alongside Lane Keep Assist and Roadsign Detection. The Front Cross Traffic Assist is very handy in areas such as the Kiama lighthouse carpark.And The Warranty Is?: Still just four years or 100,000 kilometres. On a service booking, Lexus may provide a loan car or organise a pickup & return for a home or business address. More info on owner benefits can be found here.

At The End Of the Drive. The question is simple. Is $203K worth the ask? This car will appeal to a wealthy and retired audience, or perhaps a niche chauffeur service. There is no doubt at all that the car can be driven in a hard and sporting manner just as easily as its more likely purpose. The trackpad interface is only a small part of the experience, yet it’s a series of papercuts that overcomes any supposed advantage. The economy could be better too, but again the intended market wouldn’t worry about fuel costs. As an example of technology in an automotive sense, it wins here.

Have a look at the details here.

 

Say Hello To The New Baleno and Colorado.

Suzuki Australia has announced that the Baleno has been given an update and will be available in Australia late this year. The new look Baleno GL will be here from August and the Baleno GLX variant available for purchase from September 2019. Pricing will remain incredibly sharp, with the Baleno GL and with a manual transmission starting at $15,990, the auto just $1,000 more, and the auto only GLX at $18,990.

Key changes to the exterior design include a newly designed front grille, revised front and rear bumpers, whilst the 15” steel wheel hub cap and the 16” alloy wheel have received an updated look.
The updated Baleno GLX will also feature UV protection glass on the windscreen, upgraded headlight projectors from HID to LED, plus automatic headlight leveling. Metallic paint is a $500 option, and the colour range is: Fire Red, Arctic White, Granite Gray Metallic, Stargraze Blue Metallic, and Premium Silver Metallic. Interior changes are limited to a revised door trim colour plus all-new seat fabric design and colour. All engine configuration and specifications remain unchanged as per the current model.

Suzuki Australia General Manager – Automobile, Mr. Michael Pachota said the introduction of the updated Baleno will be key for Suzuki’s growth in the light car segment. “A welcome improvement has been introduced in the Series II with a sleek but aggressive sporty aesthetic, amongst other additions. The new look design successfully freshens up the Baleno and remains perfectly fit in our Suzuki model line-up for the Australian automotive market.”

He added: “Impressively, even with these improvements, current pricing is sustained and with the recent introduction of a 1.4 litre engine in the GLX variant, bringing the entire range below $18,900 RRP, will no doubt further increase our opportunity in the light car segment.”

The new look Baleno comes with Suzuki’s 5 year Capped Price Service (CPS) warranty program.

Holden have also updated one of their staples in the stable. The Colorado has a new addition and some extra features added as standard. The model designated as LSX is now the entry level to the Colorado family. Sitting at the top of the tree is the Z71 and this now hasrugged fender flares and a bash plate now standard on the flagship model. A convenient new ‘soft drop’ tailgate is also exclusive to the range topping Z71, while the mid-range LTZ 4×4 gains leather trimmed seats with the front ones now heated. The Z71 and LTZ now also receive a Duraguard spray on tub liner as standard.
“The addition of the DuraGuard tub-liner means that MY20 Z71 and LTZ Colorado are the only pick-ups that retail for under $70,000 to feature this premium technology as standard equipment,” Andre Scott, the general manager of light commercial vehicle marketing at Holden, said. Careful research has also produced factory backed accessory packs, with Mr Scott adding: “Take the Tradie pack for example. It includes a towing package, side and rear steps, a roof tray, 12V auxiliary power, floor mats, canvas seat covers, weather shields, bonnet protector and cup holders – it’s enough to make sure any jobsite is done and dusted.”
Contact Holden for availabiliy details.

Upgrades and Updates Makes Tesla Longer Lasting.

Tesla has revealed details on an update to their drive systems. Further development of their latest generation of drive unit technology raises the efficiency level to 93% which improves overall range by over 10%. Part of this comes from pairing a permanent magnet motor in the front with an induction motor in the rear.

In addition to adding range, power and torque increases significantly across all Model S and Model X variants, improving 0-100 kmh times for the Long Range and Standard Range models.

Paired with the new more efficient drivetrain design, V3 Superchargers have improved on power delivery. Model S and Model X are now capable of achieving 200 kW on V3 Superchargers, and 145 kW on V2 Superchargers. Together, these improvements enable our customers to recharge their expected range by up to 50% faster.

The air suspension system has been updated for Model S and Model X with fully-adaptive damping, giving it an ultra-cushioned feel when cruising on the highway. It also applies when using Autopilot. It’s an in-house software package  using a predictive model to anticipate how the damping will need to be adjusted based on the road, speed, and other vehicle and driver inputs. The system is fluid in its ability to adapt the suspension for the road conditions, automatically softening for more pronounced road inputs and firming for aggressive driving.

Another improvement is the leveling of the suspension system while cruising, keeping the car low to optimize aerodynamic drag. As with all of Tesla’s in-house software, the adaptive suspension can receive over-the-air updates. This ensures the latest information can be made available as soon as possible.

Wheel bearings and new tyre tread designs are being added to the range to improve range, ride, and steering.

Car Review: 2019 Tesla Model X 100D

This Car Review Is About:
One of the two vehicles currently available from Tesla. The Model S and Model X are very closely related and come with a choice of drive combinations. A new model, a smaller car called Model 3 is scheduled for Australian release from July 2019. The vehicle tested is the non-P 100D. P for Performance, 100 for the kiloWatt hour drive, D for Dual motor (or, if you will, all wheel drive). The Model X can be specified with different seating configurations and the test vehicle was fitted out as a six seater. What About The Dollars?
Cost for the car tested started at $129,500. Metallic paint is $2,100, with the big black wheels $7,800. The seating colour scheme was $2,100 with the dash trim, a dark ash wood look, a standard no-cost fitment. It’s the electronic bits that add on, with the full self driving option and auto-pilot $7,100 and $4,300 each. With options fitted, Luxury Car Tax, and GST, plus charges such as government taxes, the car as tested came to $186,305.

Under The Bonnet Is:
Empty space. Yup, the Tesla Model X has a “frunk”, a front trunk, or in Aussie speak, a front boot. It’s big enough for a travel case of hiding the home charge cable that Tesla supplies. The engines for the 100D are located underneath at the front and rear, and engage via a single speed transmission. It’s this combination that gives the Tesla Model X startling acceleration, and in Ludicrous mode, a drive option available in the “P” designated cars, it’s quicker again. Call it three seconds to 100kph and you’d be on the money.On The Inside Is:
A choice of seating options. The test car came fitted with a white leather covered set of six seats. The three pairs all have their own form of power adjustment. Up front the driver has fore and aft movement, seat back adjustment, and lumbar support. The middle row are also adjustable for fore and aft, allowing access to the rear seats. However they do not have seat back adjustment. The third row are powered in a slightly different way, with a button locking or releasing them for raising or lowering.

Tesla fit a massive, vertically oriented, 17 inch touchscreen that houses virtually all of the functions. Audio, navigation, music access, air-conditioning, doors, car features, settings, online user manual, and some special features are all here. The map system is from Google and rendered in superb high definition on the screen. Drive orientation is in the upper right corner and can be set to swivel in direction or North as a permanent upper orientation.The overall front section presence is clean, uncluttered, traditional even. The driver’s binnacle has a full colour LCD screen that shows information such as energy usage, map, radio, and more. The steering column is perhaps the weakest part ergonomically. A left hand side indicator sits above the cruise control lever and both can be easily confused for the other as they’re very close together. The drive engage lever is on the right and is simple in operation.The centre row seats move forward and as they close towards the front seats gradually nose downwards to allow access to the rear. The rears are not adjustable for anything other than folded or not. Behind them is another storage locker with a lift away cover that otherwise provides a flat floor.The touchscreen itself houses “easter eggs”. At the top centre of the screen is a “T” symbol. Hold that for a second or two and a graphic that describes the individual car shows. A second or two later a screen appears above that and has an Atari games symbol, a Mars map symbol, a reindeer, a Christmas tree ornament and others. The Atari symbol brings up five games including Asteroids and Missile Command. The reindeer has the car’s driver display show a Father Christmas and sleigh, and rings Christmas bells on the indicator stalk. There is also an “emissions testing” icon that brings a grin to every ten year old boy when a sub-menu of different farts comes up.

On The Outside Is:
The extended roof version of the Model S. Extended as in the Model S formed the basis for the Model X. A higher roof line houses the famous folding gull wing doors, and there’s another part of the delight. When the Christmas ornament is pressed from the easter egg list, it invites the passengers to exit, and close the doors. A few seconds later if it works, as it’s sometimes hit or miss, the front windows roll down, the superb sound system pumps up, and the exterior LED lights up front flash in synchronisation. The doors themselves open and flap in unison and it is one unbelievably entrancing sight to see.The rear view sees an embedded airfoil otherwise the same looking tail lights at Model S. The nose is slightly different but unmistakeably Model S. The footprint is huge, with fan shaped alloys painted in black spanning 22 inches in diameter. Rubber is Goodyear Eagle and are 285/35.

The doors are normally hinged at the front, gull winged for the rear, and the driver’s door can be set to open on the approach of a person carrying the Tesla key fob. Unlike the Model S the door handles don’t extend out from the body, and require a firm press on the handle or via the key fob individually. A tap or two on the top can open or close all doors.

On The Road It’s:
A mix of elation and mild levels of meh. The meh is the steering feel. Although there are three drive modes that change the weight of the steering, it feels artificial and isolated. That’s not unexpected in such a technologically oriented vehicle. But that’s the worst of the on-road feels.

The time with the Model X coincided with a trip from the Blue Mountains to Bega via Canberra. Door to door it’s just on 500 kilometres. The full charge range of the Model X is knocking on 480km. An app that can be installed into your smartphone shows, once the car is linked to your account, the range expected, and when charging, the charge rate and charge distance. The AMOUNT of charge can also be adjusted, from zero through to 100%, with 80% being the default.

All Tesla cars come with a charge cable to hook the car up to a home’s electric network and Tesla themselves provide a higher output charge station to their buyers. These charge at 7 to 8 kilometres of range per hour. The first stop was at the supercharger portal in Goulburn. That’s a two hour drive with a supercharger near Canberra airport approximately another hour away. Superchargers will add in somewhere between 350km to 400km of range in an hour according to the app.Cooma is the next supercharger stop, another hour or so from Canberra, and this one is in an off the main road and not entirely welcoming location. It’s a set of six in a carpark entrance for a shopping complex, and on our visit half of the supercharger bays were taken up by non electric cars. The drives gave us a chance to properly evaluate, in a real world, family usage situation, and although the range expectations were one thing, proper usage delivers another.

Cargo was two adults, two children, a small dog, and a few overnight bags. Then there is the weight of the car and the topography to consider. Autopilot and cruise control were engaged and a small point on the autopilot. The lever needs to be pulled toward the driver twice to engage, and the cameras strategically embedded around the car will then “read” the roadsides in order to keep the Model X as centred as possible. The autopilot function itself was in “Beta” testing mode and again accessed via the touchscreen.The biggest appeal of the the Model X, and Model S, for that matter, is the sheer driveability of the chassis and drivetrain. Electric motors deliver torque constantly, as per this and acceleration across any driving condition is stupendous. The “P” designation adds in “Ludicrous” mode, which amps up the “get up and go” even further. Engage the drive, and it’s a double pull to bring the car out of hibernation mode, and plant the foot. That mountain you could see on the horizon is suddenly there before you.

The braking system can be set for two energy harvest levels and on the ten kilometres worth of downhill running at Brown Mountain, some forty kilometres west of Bega, added an effective twenty kilometres of range. It’s the uphill runs that pull the range expectations downwards, and severely at that. The ever-growing network of destination chargers alleviate range anxiety and a visit to the beautiful coastal town of Merimbula found a destination charger at a bayside motel. The navigation system can provide locations of chargers and when a destination charger shows, a tap of the screen advises the usage, as in in this case, passing through holiday makers. A big thanks to the good people at the Albacore Apartments, by the way. There are two Tesla destination chargers and these add range at 75 to 80 kilometres per hour.

The return trip was via Cooma without stopping and heading to Canberra’s Madura Parkway charge stop. Handily located next to a major fast food store and a number of other shops, an hour’s break saw the Model X arrive back at its Blue Mountains lair with perhaps 70km worth of range left.

Actual ride quality is on the high side of decent considering the size of the wheels and low profile rubber. Ride height can be ajusted via the touchscreen but a high ride setting lowers the car back to its standard height once a preset speed is reached. The Model X is stiff but not bone-shakingly so, taut, but not uncomfortably so. It’s flat, exhibits minimal body roll, and is surprisingly compliant on unsettled and rough surfaces. And although the steering lacks “humanity” it also points the Model X exactly where the wheel tells it to. Naturally, brake feel is spot on too.

The Safety Systems Are:
A solid list of 360 degree cameras, parking sensors that measure in millimetres and show on the driver’s screen, distance sensing radar cruise control, AEB, overhead and knee airbags, plus the usual electronic driver aids. The cruise control can be set to one to seven seconds of distance between the Model X and the car ahead. It’s worth noting that the braking can be on the hard side so driver involvement is still required to watch the road ahead. The same goes with the autonomous steering. Hands on the tiller are recommended at all times.

And The Warranty Is:
Four years for the body and structure. The drive systems and battery get eight years. Extra information is here.

At The End Of The Drive.
The timing of the drive came just after the leader of the Australian Opposition party put forward a proposition that by 2030 fifty percent of cars to be made available for sale be electric. Naturally this sparked the conversation about costs, range, and the time taken to recharge versus refueling a petrol or diesel car.

There’s an undeniable time factor in regards to recharging. But there is a welcome upside. The Goulburn stop provided an opportunity to visit a street mall, the Cooma break a visit to a park with historic significance. The Merimbula stop provided a chance to sample the local lifestyle and the Canberra stop a welcome half way point, lunch, and a leg stretch. The Model X itself is not a tiring car to drive meaning driver fatigue is minimised.

Therein, as the saying goes, lies the rub. The return trip from Bega took as much time as a normal petrol/diesel powered trip, even allowing for the hour or so to recharge. The upside was the break allowing a safe, straight through, return drive and the lack of fatigue from driving a comfortable vehicle. The downside was the evidence that range expectations versus the real world have some way to go before the two meet with a lesser margin in between.

And yes, the cost is significant, especially with the extra Australian government charges involved. However there are plenty of cars that start at the same price and offer an extensive option list. And there is the fluctuating cost of fuel. Depending on location it is theoretically possible to not pay a cent in recharge costs with an electric car.

Tesla will be releasing a lower cost version, effectively, of the Model S, and a new, smaller, SUV called the Model Y is in development. With battery technology improving and the uptake of solar power and batteries for home usage also on the upswing, plus the promise of further electric cars as standard from makers, they all mean that for the Australian market our driving future is in for an undeniable change.

Model X information and more on the other cars from Tesla can be found here.

It’s School Time!

By now, all the schools around the country have re-started for the year, which means that a lot of us will have gone back to Mum’s Taxi and Dad’s Taxi duties again.  For some of you, your teenager has finally got their provisional license and can drive him/herself to school.

This means that there are going to be a lot more cars buzzing around schools, especially at the start and end of the school day.  Depending on where you live and what your school does, there may be school buses and shuttles involved as well.  In short, there’s a ton of traffic in a small area, and vehicle traffic isn’t the only sort around, as there will also be kids on bikes, kids on scooters and lots of kids walking.  In some cases, especially in rural and small-town schools, you can see other forms of transport being used – farm tractors, for example.

Nobody wants to make the news by being involved in a horrible accident involving school kids, so it’s probably about time that we thought about a few things we can do to make sure that our kids are safe as they go to and from school.

As a quick aside here, this is another area where autonomous cars are a real no-go.  Autonomous cars work by predicting what ought to happen or what is likely to happen.  Unfortunately, small children can be pretty unpredictable, especially when they’re all excited as they get out of school, and their erratic behaviour hasn’t been programmed into the control centre of an autonomous car.  So I’m thankful that the typical Aussie Mum and Dad still drive cars the old-school way!

First of all, although the designated school zones – the ones marked with flashy lights, road markings and signs – are the real hot spots, the activity around schools during the pick-up and drop-off times spreads further afield, so don’t just keep alert for kids in the actual areas. The precautions apply for at least a block further than that during busy times.

There are three general guiding principles that will help you negotiate this part of the school run safely:

  1. Slow down.
  2. Expect the unexpected.
  3. Don’t get in other people’s way.

Slowing Down

Slowing down to 40 km/h is the law in designated school zones, and failing to do so will (at least in New South Wales) get you double demerit points if the cops catch you at it.  The reason for this is simple: if you’re going slowly, you have more time to react and more time to stop when little Bella decides to rush across the road yelling “Mummy!  Mummy!  Guess what happened at school today!” or when the family dog who came along for the ride whizzes out of the car when little Charlie is putting his schoolbag in the boot.  What’s more, if the worst comes to the worst and an accident happens, lower speeds mean less damage.

I know we’ve discussed speed limits and whether or not speed is what kills in other posts, but nobody in their right mind should want to go at screaming high speeds around a school, even if their car is capable of it.  This is one place where the speed limits really do apply.  In fact, around the busy schools in my area, I’d actually prefer to go even slower than the 40 km/h limit during the active hours.  (The open road is another story.)

Expecting The Unexpected

Kids aren’t adults.  They are immature.  They are impulsive.  They are still learning that the world does not revolve around them (and some people seem to never learn this lesson!).  Some of them have been sitting down in school for the whole day and have serious ants in their pants.  This means that they can do some weird things and they can move quite fast.  We can drum the road safety message into them as much as possible, but there will be those moments when they forget it all and rush out into the road, or they’ll be so busy talking to friends that they don’t stop, look and listen.  This means that you, as the adult who’s got a driver’s license to prove that you’re responsible, have to be the one on high alert, ready for anything.  This means no phones, not even hands-free ones.  It probably means switch the radio off and get rid of anything else that could distract you.

You may need to be extra careful if your car is an electric vehicle or a hybrid (which will be using the electric motor at school zone speeds).  This is because a lot of EVs and hybrids are quieter than petrol and diesel engines, even if they have that little noise (which some older hybrids don’t have).  This means that the Listen part of the old Stop, Look and Listen is a bit harder.  Even adults can have near misses (that’s me with my hand up here) if they’ve looked one way, looked the other, thought it was clear and didn’t hear the oncoming hybrid/EV and started stepping out.

The flip side of this is that if you’re a parent, you should take a few steps to minimise the risk of your child running across the road.  This usually means parking on the same side of the road as the school, which is what the official advice says.  However, if everybody parks on the same side of the road as the school, the trail of parked cars will stretch well beyond the designated zone.  This might mean that your child will have to cross a road to get to where you’re parked.  It’s best if you get out of the car and walk to the school gate to collect Bella and Charlie (and the rest of the kids if you’re part of a carpool scheme).

You also need to make sure that you’re not the person doing unexpected things.  This means no U-turns, no sudden manoeuvres, no three-point turns, etc.  Plan your route so these aren’t necessary – and go around the block instead of doing U-turns, etc.  The only sudden manoeuvre you’re allowed to make is hitting the brakes if you see a child about to go where they shouldn’t.

Staying Out Of The Way

You can see some people doing silly things around schools, and I’m not talking about the children this time.  Yes, I know that you’re in a hurry.  I know that you think your child is amazing and you love him/her to bits.  I know that you’ve got to scream across town for soccer practice.  However, there is no excuse for parking in the school bus zone, double-parking or parking really, really close to the school crossing point.  It’s absolute chaos when every single Parent’s Taxi tries to park as close to the school gate as legally possible.

Congestion near schools during the busy times is a bit of a problem that councils and schools are trying hard to address because it can be chaos and an accident waiting to happen.  My preference (at least when my kids were still at school and didn’t drive themselves) was to park a bit further away, then walk that extra block or so.  After all, it won’t hurt you or your kids to walk a little!

In the case of picking up kids from secondary schools, you may have to park even further away, as a lot of the close parking spots are taken by the P-platers who drive themselves to school.  High school kids, however, are usually a bit more streetwise and are less likely to suddenly rush into the road without looking, although there are times when they’ve got their earbuds in or when they’re madly catching up on social media…

I’d also strongly argue for other initiatives as well as a way of reducing congestion around schools.  Setting up a carpool scheme with other parents who live near you is a popular option and it means that instead of four cars arriving with one child each, you get one car with four kids.  Walking school buses and “Kiss and Ride” drop-off spots are other options.  Of course, if you live within 2 km of the school, then walking to and from the school is an option (and it’s free!).  You’ll need to walk with your child until he/she is old enough to have the street smarts to do it solo – and this is usually the age when they are embarrassed to be seen with parents, so that works out well.

If you haven’t got school aged children and you’re not doing the Parent’s Taxi run, then it’s best to plan your journey so that you don’t have to drive near a school during the busy hours.  Go another way if you have to or make that trip at another time.

If we all do our bit, then our kids will stay safe as they go to and from school.