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Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Subaru Forester 2.5-i

Subaru‘s recently revamped Forester range has four trim levels. There is the 2.5i, 2.5i-L, the Premium recently reviewed, and the top of the range 2.5i-S. Subaru is on a winner with the revamp due to the room inside, the station wagon looks, and the excellent stand list of equipment. We reviewed the entry level 2.5-i version, priced at just over $38K drive-away, directly after the Premium.Mechanically the Foresters are identical. Subaru’s much vaunted Symmetrical All Wheel Drive partners with a 90% new 2.5-L petrol engine. Gone is the diesel and at the time of writing there is a hint of late 2019 for anything hybrid. All transmissions are CVTs and come with a very well sorted seven step Lineartronic programming. The engines are all the same and the 2.5-i was driven in a more urban based environment compared to the Premium. Consumption was never over 8.0L/100km with the final figure ticking off 7.9L/100km of standard unleaded from the 63L tank.The X-Mode drive system is standard throughout the range. The X-Mode is a system that acts directly on engine power, all-wheel drive, torque sharing at each wheel and on the brakes.With X-Mode activated, traction control becomes more sensitive. The computer will then react faster in the event that a wheel loses adhesion. It will look at which wheel it will be best to transfer the power of the engine to get out of the most difficult situations. The downhill grip control (HDC) analyzes the situation and manages braking below a speed of 20 km / h. By applying wheel-to-wheel braking, the system will allow the driver to release the brake pedal and focus only on the best direction to take.All Foresters ride on a well proven combination of McPherson struts and coil springs up front, with an independent double wishbone rear. The entry level 2.5-i felt slightly softer in tune than the Premium, with a sense of momentarily slower rebound and an ever so slightly plusher ride. But only marginally. The Tyre Pressure Monitoring System that is standard across the range also indicated the rears to be slightly less inflated that the front, oddly enough. The ride feel may have been down to the slightly different wheel and tyre combination, with 225/60/17s.Around town the Forester turned out to need a bit more of a poke of the fly-by-wire throttle to get going. In comparison to the country driven Premium, the low end of the rev range was found wanting, This contributed to the higher fuel consumption, as it does for any car driven purely in a suburban environment. There’s a sense of lag, almost like waiting for a large, single, turbo to spool up, before the CVT bites and gets the Forester underway.In traffic it’s a well balanced machine, with steering light but not fingertip twirly. It’s weighted just enough to need a small measure of push/pull, body roll in lane changing is minimal, but the tyres chosen from Bridgestone didn’t feel as if their wet weather grip was really up to the task either.Each of the corners have an independent braking sensor, and the pedal is instantly responsive to the touch. It’s a confident and positive system, pulling up the Forester straight and true consistently. In conjunction with the EyeSight forward monitoring safety system and pedestrian calibrated Autonomous Emergency Braking, it’s a very safe feeling the Forester provides.

Naturally there are the mandated safety systems such as Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, Traction Control and the Active Torque Vectoring. Subaru has fitted Swivelling Headlights to all models and that can be disabled. That’s part of the Vision Assist package which includes Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Change Assist, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.Instrumentation isn’t that different, being largely confined to the smaller 6.3 inch touchscreen in the dash, which is surrounded by high gloss piano black, and missing out on the Driver Monitoring System that the other three receive. That’s an infra-red scanner mounted in the upper centre dash binnacle that scans the driver’s face, looking for signs of inattention and tiredness.Interior trim is a bit more subdued than the Premium.There is less brightwork in the cabin but that’s balanced by the lighter shade of material used for the roof lining. It’s a shade somewhere between bone and cream, and enhances the otherwise austere look of the varying textures of black plastic. The seats are fully cloth covered, and have a interesting logo style pattern in the weave.The extra interior room comes courtesy of the subtle pulling and stretching of the chassis and sheet metal. The boot opening has been increased by 134mm, cargo by 78L, and floor width by 58mm. Exterior styling also loses a bit of brightwork, particularly in the lower bumper surrounds for the driving lights. The tail gate is manually operated and houses Euro style “C” shaped lights previously embedded in the outer cluster. Polyurethane wheel arch covers and sill coverings provide both extra protection and a neutral colour to contrast the sheetmetal. Up front Subaru has given the Forester a bluffer, more upright, nose.

Subaru offers a five year warranty. For servicing costs, contact your Subaru dealer directly.

At The End Of The Drive.
If you’re a driver and buyer that doesn’t need bells and whistles then the entry level Forester is for you. There’s enough standard equipment such as the DAB audio, USB ports, and the driving aids. The EyeSight system and associated safety mechanisms are enough for most. To find out more about the 2019 Subaru Forester range, go here.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Subaru Forester Premium

Subaru’s Forester is now up to its fourth generation and still manages to be a small to medium SUV that has the uncanny knack of not looking like a small to medium SUV. With a powertrain that is now exclusively a 2.5L petrol fed engine and Constantly Variable Transmission, spread over a four trim level range, the 2019 Forester starts at $33,490 plus on road costs for the 2.5i. The Premium tested is $38,490 plus on roads (Subaru is doing a driveaway price of $43,300 at the time of writing) and it’s shaping up to be a hidden bargain in a crowded landscape full of SUVs. The 2019 range has been given an extensive makeover inside and out, with even the engine 90% new. A Wheel Thing drives the new for 2019 Subaru Forester Premium.Subaru has loaded the Forester range with a good list of standard equipment across the range, and the Premium really lacks for little in this area. There are the standard electronic drivers aids, a few acronyms such as AVH, and a surprisingly possibly useful feature for those that do long country drives. By the way, AVH is Auto Vehicle Hold.

Power comes from a 2.5L petrol, as mentioned, as Subaru has dropped the diesel. However there are no current plans for a hybrid system. 136kW and 239Nm are the numbers for power and torque, with the rev points being 5800rpm and 4400rpm. The CVT from Subaru is one of the better sorted versions found and rarely did it feel out of sorts. A gentle throttle has the Premium moving away quietly and confidently. There’s then a more traditional auto feel as the CVT moves its way through the seven programmed rations, which are available for manual shifting via the gear selector or column paddles.Heavier pressure on the alloy pedal send a signal through the fly by wire throttle and the Premium responds accordingly. There is a more typical CVT whir up the rev range, getting to around 3500rpm before settling momentarily. As the foot lifts or the sensors read that speed is where it needs to be, the revs drop off. The only time the CVT seems a bit off is coming up to a stop and throttle feedback seems to raise a shudder on the downshifts. It also gets uncertain, when cold, shifting between Park and Reverse, Park and Drive, or Reverse and Drive. In pretty much all driving situations otherwise, the combination of quietly throbbing 2.5L boxer four and a truly fine CVT does the job.

Economy for the Premium is rated as 9.3L/6.3L/7.4L (urban, highway, combined) from a 63L tank for every 100 kilometres covered. These are real world achievable figures and the Forester Premium didn’t disappoint. Taken on a sojourn from the Blue Mountains to Bega, on the south coast of NSW, and return, the Premium achieved 6.9L/100km. This was done over 1100 kilometres and with a four human passenger, one canine passenger, and cargo load. Considering this takes the 1546kg (dry) machine to over 1800kg, it’s a better than decent figure.The cargo section itself in the Premium is a minimum of 498L, and this goes to 1768L. Access is via a powered tail gate with height memory function and Subaru have relocated the light to the roof. There are shopping hooks and a 12V socket here also. The loading bay is at an easy to lift and load height. The doors are wide opening for easy access and the front seats are powered, plus a two position memory for the driver is here. Rolling stock for the Premium are 18 inch alloys with Bridgestone 225/55 Dueler rubber.What isn’t immediately noticeable is the physical change to the Forester.Although looking virtually the same as the preceding style, there’s been growth in all dimensions, from height, width, length, to interior measurements. The headroom for the passengers genuinely feels overdone, with close to what feels like twenty centimetres of headroom. The cargo capacity, for example, has jumped by 78L. The floor width has gone 58mm wider, nearly an inch taller at 22mm, and the opening width has gone up by a massive 134mm to 1300mm. Up front Subaru’s designers have continued the “C” LED look, with splashes of chrome for the lower corner globe driving lights. The rear goes Euro too, with the tail light cluster also a strong “C” motif.Inside the Premium it’s almost business as usual with the triple LCD screens and the huge amount of information available. It’s a look that echoes the Europeans, with a sweeping arch that starts and ends in the upper door plastics. the trim in the Premium is classy, with a mix of smooth and rippled plastics, and the seats are cloth with leather bolsters. No heating or venting, though.The driver has the small screen in full colour, with variable info accessed via tabs on the lower left quarter of the tiller, whilst the eight inch touchscreen features Subaru’s StarLink setup. Apps such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as is satnav in the Premium. Above that is the smaller screen that show information such as average and on the fly fuel economy, car angle relative to the horizontal and it’s in a casing that hides a nifty little feature.It’s almost invisible but look carefully and a small red rectangle can be espied. It houses an infra-red scanner that reads the driver’s eyes, and will flash a message on the screen if the driver appears to be looking away from forward for too long. It’s an extra safety feature that is intended to monitor for fatigue or inattention, and the scanning feature works very well.  It also provides an extra  feature as it has a facial recognition basis, meaning that a little bit of personalisation can be added, as Subaru provides a Welcome (insert name) on the screen.There are plenty of other safety features in the Premium, such as Subaru’s much vaunted EyeSight camera setup. This provides an excellent stereoscopic forward view and goes hand in hand with the Forward Collision Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and the very handy Lead Vehicle Start Alert. Naturally Autonomous Emergency Braking is standard too and comes with Pedestrian Detection. Tyre Pressure Monitoring, DAB radio, and Subaru’s X-Mode drive selector finish off the list of features.

Here’s another acronym. SRH. Steering Responsive Headlights is what that one stands for and that’s self explanatory. It really isn’t until you’ve driven a car at night with this feature that you realise just how handy it is. The car itself looks similar yet different to the previous model. Along with the subtle increases in size, the nose itself is taller, bluffer, more upright. The Forester is like the Outback in one key area as well. Subaru’s design team build in a station wagon look yet it really is as big as other SUVs in its class such as Nissan’s X-Trail.This was important on the drive to Bega and back. With two in the back utilising the pair of USB ports, a few towels down for the pooch, and the cargo area reasonably full, the extra space becomes welcomed. And it’s a fair handler too on the long, sweeping, turns of the Monaro and Snowy Mountain Highways. The steering weights up progressively, with the long and gentle turns needing only miniscule corrective input.

Come into the tighter, closer together, corners just west of Bega after the magnificence that is Brown Mountain, and the ratio in the steering means just a little extra work is required. It’s communicative and subtle in its method. The suspension is well balanced in how it damps down on these roads too. There are some sections where it’s like riding over a gentle swell again and again, and the Premium simply dispatches these to the boundary like Bradman did in his heyday.

Drive into the turns that populate Brown Mountain, around a half hour or so west of Bega, and the Forester’s handling gets tested and found wanting for little. It’s a ten kilometre stretch of road and drops something like eight hundred metres as you drive east. The turns measured at 25 to 30 km/h simply don’t faze the the Premium; there’s  a gentle dab of the brakes, a turn, a squirt of the go-pedal, and the Premium eats the road up.

At The End Of The Drive.
Subaru’s dedication to their all wheel drive platform and boxer engine make them unique in the world’s automotive family. They’re still a niche player but it’s become a bloody big niche judging by the number of Foresters seen during the review period.What really wins here is the sheer value of the Premium. Although there is a trim level above, it’s perhaps worth considering what the differences are here. The 2019 Subaru Forester Premium is an impressive car and continues to make Subaru’s once quirky niche presence bigger and bigger.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Lexus RX-450h

Take a mid to large sized SUV, add a smattering of real leather, toss in a pinch of hybrid technology attached to a 3.5L V6, and pin on a badge that says L. Voila, it’s the 2019 Lexus RX-450h. It comes with a choice of non-hybrid or hybrid V6, a turbo 2.0L, and either five or seven seats. Private Fleet has the hybrid and showcased it at a superb location, Dryridge Estate, in the Megalong Valley, on the western fringes of the Blue Mountains.The RX 450h mates a pair of electric motors to the petrol engine. That’s good for 230 kW to power all four wheels on demand with a torque split system. Peak torque for the 2270 kilogram (dry) machine is a somewhat surprising 335Nm at a high 4600 rpm. It feels as if there should should be more though. Transmission is a CVT and for the most part it’s hard to pick it as being one. A dial in the centre console allows the driver to choose different drive modes, and picking Sports/Sports+ changes the left hand LCD dial in the driver’s binnacle from a hybrid information screen to a tachometer. And although it’s a heavy machine with a load on, at just under three tonnes, economy is very good. Lexus quotes a better than impressive 6.0L/100 kilometres on the combined cycle, a figure that we didn’t finish all that far away from in a real world, lifestyle, testing drive.The Lexus RX-450h, for the most part, was driven in the environment it’s most likely to be seen: around town. Here it copes admirably, with the comfortable interior featuring rear seat climate control, superbly padded real leather pews front and rear, powered rear seats, and a power tail gate. There’s a full length glass roof which was at odds with the junior members of the review team preferring the Toyota Kluger Grande’s sunroof and blu-ray player. The actual dash design is the somewhat heavy horizontal layer look that Lexus favours, with most switch-gear easily seen from the driver’s seat. The trip/odometer are hidden behind the right hand tiller spoke, and the Start/Stop button behind the left hand side. The trim in the RX-450h supplied was black and chocolate plastic, counterbalanced by cream leather with a distinctively different feel to machine made leather.There’s the traditional Lexus multi-function controller in the centre console that allows the front seat passengers to access an array of information such as the audio, climate control, and Lexus information, which requires a smartphone to be paired in order to deliver the info. This pops up on a 12.3 inch widescreen display high on the dash, ensuring it’s at eye level and provides a better measure of safety, rather than looking downwards. There is also a relatively bland looking HUD or Head Up Display. A Mark Levinson audio system with DVD-Audio capability and DAB tuner is installed, and it’s worth the time to set it up for your preferred style of audio. Unusually, a Time-Shift function is added, where a user can rewind live audio thanks to a small hard drive running streaming storage. All windows are one touch up/down, and a soft touch at that. There’s a better quality material for the windows themselves to run on, with an almost silent mechanism as a result. Wireless smartphone charging is gradually making its way into more cars and it’s here too, albeit hidden in an awkward forward position ahead of the cup holders.Ride and drive is a mixed bag. The steering can feel heavy when it’s just the front wheels being driven, but lightens in proportion as drive gets shunted rearward. Lateral stability is high with only the occasional rear end hop/skip over unsettled surfaces in corners. It’s the suspension that raises and eyebrow sometimes, with a feeling that the tune, although compliant, has the body feeling as if its moving around more than anticipated and this happens at the top of the suspension, almost like a mattress with a pole and springs supporting it at each corner.. There’s more pogoing than expected but does damp itself quickly enough.

Turn-in is easily controlled via throttle application. There’s little predisposition to a nose heavy attitude in corners but on the rare occasion there was a tendency to run wide, a gentle lift of the go-pedal would tuck the front back in before a judicious squeeze would have the car settle into the desired arc. The excellent brakes also help, with a brush of the pedal enough to feel the mass of the RX-450h respond in kind, and certainly assisted in the run out to the spectacular views from Dryridge Estate. Naturally they feed kinetic energy back into the hybrid system and it can be a little mesmerising watching the dash display with arrows feeding in and out of the various car driveline components..This small vineyard, Dryridge Estate, is at the southern end of the road leading from Blackheath, a small village on the way out to Lithgow and Bathurst as one drives from Sydney. Located on the escarpment of the massive Megalong Valley, a former sea canyon, the drive starts with a series of tight and downhill oriented turns through a fern lined and barely sunshine lit set turns that will test and delight the enthusiastic driver. That’s presuming one isn’t caught behind another driver that brakes every couple of seconds. They specialise in small and intimate gatherings, provide a wonderful variety of cheeses to sample, and of course their own produce. The fact that the background should entice car companies to host launches there is a bonus.Once at valley level the forest and ferns disappear, with a broad valley floor offering uninterrupted views of the canyon walls. It’s about a twenty minute drive from the highway to Dryridge, with a couple of kilometres worth of unsealed road taking you to the estate. Facing eastwards the estate then allows driver and passenger a chance to stop and drink in the stunning view. The RX-450h was neutral and easily controlled on the downhill run, with the brakes recharging the hybrid’s battery along the way. On the flat the V6 opens up and emits a throaty roar under acceleration, and the steering seems to loosen up, almost as if it realises that it’s time to relax and back off on assisting, yet keeps in touch with the driver.On the gravel that softer upper end travel comes into its own, with that absorption level flattening out the corrugations found on the way in and back out. Heading back to the highway brings with it a similar yet different feeling. Being front wheel drive oriented there’s a subtle shift in chassis feel thanks to the now uphill run. The nose is a little harder, tighter, as each flex of the right foot has the front tyres biting into the tarmac. The torque split feels more noticeable as it pushes the rear along into the turns uphill and makes for a more nimble and exhilarating package. The multi-purpose Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber provide a decent enough grip across both types of surfaces and at 235/55/20 provide a huge footprint too.

If there’s a signature for the Lexus range it’s the exterior design. It’s better than fair to say that Lexus has a unique styling ethic and it’s unlike any other luxury oriented maker. There’s a plethora of lines and angles and very few true curves outside of the wheel arch and behind the passenger doors. The sedan range, all of the SUVs, and even the Land Cruiser based big beastie have a strong family design ethic, particularly at the front end. There’s the distinctive hour glass grille, slimline tapered headlights, and in the RX there are a pair of triangular clusters holding the halogen driving lights. The overall presence is one of a standout on the roads.

At The End Of The Drive.
The Lexus range showcases and highlights a strong desire to take on and beat the Europeans and with possibly a better hybrid range, currently, does so. There’s little to dislike about the RX-450h on the inside as it’s a beautifully comfortable place to be in. Perhaps the only “downside” would be the full size glass roof rather than offering the blu-ray set up as found in the Kluger Grande. But there is that Mark Levinson DVD-audio system to compensate. Outside the exterior is a matter of choice. The drive itself is mostly one of beckoning towards those that enjoy the balance between sheer grunt and technology. The fuel economy is certainly a winner however AWT’s preference for how a fuel engine/battery system works is at odds with Toyota and Lexus’ way of doing it. The fuel engine cuts in far too early for AWT’s liking and the apparent lack of torque is a Mr Spock eyebrow raiser.

It’s a very good highway and freeway cruiser but also distinguished itself on the type of unsealed roads found in the lower mountains and elsewhere. This dual capability adds to the allure of the RX-450h, and with the hybrid economy pairing with the luxury interior, the combination add up to be a worthwhile consideration. Here is where you can find out more.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Toyota Kluger Grande and GXL.

In a previous life, I attended the Perth launch of a newcomer to the Toyota family. Called Kluger, it was a squarish, slightly blocky, petrol only, mid-sized SUV. Fifteen plus years later the Kluger remains petrol only, still has a squarish and blocky design, and not far off in size of the Land Cruiser. AWT spent a week with the top of the range Grande and mid-level GXL, with the Grande seeing the countryside whilst the GXL did what it’s designed for. The urban lifestyle run. There’s a big price difference though, with the GXL in the mid $50K range and a huge $10K less than the Grande.The standard engine is a 3.5L V6, producing 218kW, and a surprising 350 torques. Surprising because, in context, it’s the same amount as that produced by a turbo-charged 2.0L petrol engine. As a result, urban fuel economy is less that inviting, with the GXL not seeing a figure below 11.0L per 100km at any stage. The Grande is a different story; the dash display didn’t appear to show a consumption figure however we managed a reasonable half tank from the lower Blue Mountains to Cooma. This consumption stayed consistent from Cooma to Bega, back to Cooma, and then Sydney.Sole transmission option is an eight speed auto. In the GXL this drives the front wheels and the Grande is an AWD system, driving the fronts but splits torque rearward on demand. The driver’s dash screen shows this in a graphic, and it’s kinda interesting to watch from the eye’s corner when starting forward, be it a hard or soft launch. The Grande suffers in comparison to the GXL in this area. When punched the GXL will move with a decent measure of alacrity and will chirp the front tyres. The GXL around town also has a slightly better ride, with a more supple appeal thanks to the slightly higher sidewalls. The Grande is sluggish off the line, with a feeling of needing more effort to have both front and rear wheels gripping. The eight speed auto in both is…..adequate, to be polite. Cold they were indecisive off the line, and when warmed up were somewhat archaic in their change feel. Think the early four or five speed autos when one cog was finished and there was a yawning gap until the next one engaged. An exaggeration of sorts, yes, but needed to paint the picture.The weapon of choice for the six hour country drive was the Grande over the Holden Calais Tourer. According to the junior team members of the review team it was the roof mounted blu-ray player (complete with SD card input) that won the contest. There are four wireless headphones and they sound fantastic. The screen itself, naturally, isn’t blu-ray quality but the fact Toyota offers that kind of playback is a bonus. Having rear aircon and the controls at the rear of the centre console is also a bonus as the controls are both fan speed and temperature independent of the front seats. The middle seat rows are tilt and fold which allows access to the simple pull-strap operated third row seats. Or one could enter via the power operated tailgate. The Grande has an extra family friendly feature for those that use wireless charging smartphones too. Adding to the family persuasion is a plethora of cup and bottle holders throughout the cabin plus a DAB or digital audio broadcast tuner. The latter had an oddity in that it would pick up signal in areas some other cars don’t but when it lost signal it was almost painfully slow to regain it.

Actual fit and finish in the Klugers is starting to lack visual appeal. The dash design is somewhat chaotic with blocks rather than an organic look. Somehow, after a while, it seems to work. Of note is the centre of driver’s binnacle info screen. In typical Toyota fashion it’s initially a little confusing to look at, but once a few flicks of the tabs on the tiller have been performed, the info such as which safety aids are being used or how much traction is being apportioned, becomes easily accessible instinctively. Powered seats make finding the right seating position to read the screen easy, and in the Grande they’re both heated and vented via a pair of utterly simple to use roller dials. They’re coloured red and blue left and right of the centre point and have three settings to choose from. The GXL ditches the venting and goes to slightly less attractive roller dials to activate the heating side.The actual driving position is comfortable in the seats but the tiller felt a bit narrow to the fingers. All round view is very good and with broad side mirrors the Blind Spot Alert system was almost not needed. Almost. On the highway heading east from Cooma to Bega, some of the roads narrow and there are opportunities for a lack of safety of this form to lead to issues thanks to drivers that believe themselves to be better than they are. Suffice to say the Blind Sport Alert system can be a life saver. Safety wise there’s really not a lot between the Grande and GXL, with Toyota‘s Safety Sense. Pedestrian friendly collision warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Departure Alert, and seven airbags are aboard.The Grande turned out to be a decent country tourer. Under way and at cruising speed, it ticks over at the freeway speed at close to 2,000rpm. Toyo supplies the (specially supplied for Kluger Grande) Open Country 245/55/19 rubber on the Grande and Michelin the 245/60/18s for the GXL. Both exhibit a sometimes uncomfortable measure of road noise, especially on the coarser chip surfaces south of Canberra. The dearth of torque at low revs was always apparent though. That peak amount is at 4700rpm, and it was enough at times to feel the gearbox move to seventh to eighth to seventh in order to try and utilise what was available. It was also noticeable when uphill runs or an overtake were required, with a steady drop through the ratios. On the road the steering was never comfortable though, with a somewhat numb on-centre feel and with more weight than expected. However it doesn’t tax the body and with a stop every two hours or so, a driver can exit the car feeling a bare minimum of driving fatigue.The exterior design is also starting to look out of date in comparison to both Toyota’s own design ethos and in respect to the opposition. It’s still a squarish, angular look, which at least matches the dash. The front features an inverted triangular motif and isn’t overly chromed. Eagle-eye headlights with LED driving lights balance a similar look at the rear. Alongside the latest from Korea the Klugers look heavy, tired, and nowhere as slippery.The Klugers also come with just a three year or 100,000 kilometre warranty, another area that other companies are rapidly changing. Roadside assistance is a 24/7 owner service, however.

At The End Of The Drive.
Quite simply the Toyota Kluger GXL is the better value bet. There really is simply not enough between the Grande and GXL to justify the extra ten thousand, blu-ray and all wheel drive system included. Neither will see any dirt action apart from the front lawn either. The styling is fading, inside and out, however it’s fair to presume, having seen the new Camry and Corolla, that a redesign is on the boards at Toyota HQ.

Having no diesel option, unlike the Sorento or Santa Fe, leaves people looking at the HiLux or Fortuner, Toyota’s almost invisible machine. Or there are Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport, Holden’s Trailblazer, Ford’s Everest, to consider, or offerings from Volvo, Audi, VW…Take it for a test drive yourself and check out the range here

2019 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport 2.0L

The Toyota Corolla‘s recent update provides an option of a hybrid drivetrain featuring a 1.8L petrol engine and battery power, or a non-assisted 2.0L petrol engine. The range is fitted with a revamped CVT with launch gear (2.0L engine only), and it’s the 2.0L engine that makes a better fist of this combination. The engine is available across the new three model range and it’s that inside the Ascent Sport that we’ve has tested.The CVT has a feature called Direct Shift, a mechanical ratio that assists greatly, in the case of the 2.0L, in getting the Corolla off the line swiftly. Compared the the hesitancy that the 1.8L/battery system has the 2.0L is a far better proposition. There’s instant response, and forward motion is rapid to say the least. There’s no excess in economy either, with a constant 4.9L to 5.2L per 100km being seen on the econometer. That’s better than the quoted combined figure from Toyota of 6.0L/100km. The CVT feels more alive, more connected, and engages the driver on a higher level than the hybrid. Having better power and torque goes a long way to helping that. 125kW versus 72kW. 200Nm versus 142Nm.Handling is, oddly, also seat of the pants better even with a smaller wheel. They’re 205/55/16s on the Ascent Sport, with the roundy bits from Dunlop’s Enasave range. There’s occasional chirping from the tyres when pushed hard but otherwise there’s a real sense of fun and verve in the way the whole chassis holds together on road. There’s a touch of understeer when pushed hard yet it’s otherwise tenacious in every way. Straight line ride quality is subtly more comfortable, with less than flat roads made to feel pancake like.

The interior is closer to the SX too, with cloth seats, a slightly less visually appealing look and feel to the plastics, but still not without a decent comfort level though. DAB audio features and the tuner is better than that found in the Kia Cerato recently reviewed for sensitivity. There’s a good level of standard kit including driver aids and safety equipment including Toyota’s Lane Trace Assist and Lane Departure Alert with steering assist.Like the ZR and SX as tested and reviewed recently, the exterior has also been given a make over. The front end has been sharpened with a harder edged style to each side of the headlights, with the rear mirroring that. The outer edge swoops down at the front while the rear has a more heavily defined crease line forming something akin to an “X” look, drawing a line from a bumper crease through to an extended inwards tail light motif. The rear window is laid forward by an extra fourteen degrees and the triangular rear pillar is gone, replaced by a more traditional arch look. It’s a distinctive look that builds upon the revamp from a couple of years ago.

At The End Of The Drive.
The 2019 Toyota Ascent Sport without the Hybrid drivetrain is a better car for it. The package is economical, effective, and simply more enjoyable. At mid $20K for a driveaway price (check with your dealer) it’s a bit more expensive than some of the opposition but the loyal following the car has will overcome that. As technologically oriented as the Hybrid package is, the non-hybrid version brings back something the hybrid doesn’t have.

Fun.

Here is where you can find out everything you need to know.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Pajero Sport GLX

Once upon a time there was the Mitsubishi Triton. Then came the rise of the SUV. Enter, stage left, the Mitsubishi Challenger, a family wagon based on the Triton. Time passes, and now the Challenger is called the Pajero Sport. It’s still based on the Triton, and in GLX form it’s a basic yet comfortable machine. At the time of review it was priced in the mid $40K bracket driveaway.Power is provided by a slightly agricultural sounding diesel with a 2.4L capacity packing 133kW and 430Nm. The useable driving rev range is from 1000 rpm to 2500 rpm and off throttle it’s quiet enough. On throttle and it evokes the diesel rattle of the 1980s. The eight speed auto that’s standard across the range is slick enough however did exhibit some thumps and a jolt, a mild one yes, but a jolt when shifting between Park, Drive, Reverse. It’s not a deal breaker as it’s otherwise a good performer. There’s typical turbo lag, though, from standstill, and perhaps just a little too much of it. Packing 430Nm it’s a little less than others but it’s not all that obvious though. Punch it at highway revs and there’s plenty of torque through the auto to get the Pajero Sport up and hustling. From a standstill, and once the turbo has overcome the lag, it’ll launch well enough in 2WD, and just a little more so in 4WD high range.Mitsubishi has a great economy system. There’s the mandated urban, highway, and combined figures that the government has for all cars, but Mitsubishi is one of a very small number that shows the change of economy depending on how the car is driven, on the fly. Around town the Pajero Sport GLX hovered between ten and eleven litres per one hundred kilometres, but move to the freeway and you can see the economy rate improving, to a final figure of 7.9L/100km. The dash binnacle has a colour LCD screen with a five leaf logo, and it’s here that the driver’s indication of how “eco” they are is on display.The Pajero Sport is a big machine. In GLX form there’s plenty of rear room. Why? It’s a five seater. What this means is that you could fold up a small apartment block, whack it into the cargo area, and still have space for a Great Dane. And an elephant. There’s no skimping on head, leg, and shoulder room either, even with high set seats. Being Triton based does mean it’s a little on the thin side compared to its opposition but there’s ample space for two in the rear seat. The cloth seats are covered in a pleasant weave, are well padded, however there’s a “something” in the right side of the driver’s squab that continually pushed into the thigh when disembarking. It’s also only a manually adjustable seat, meaning that it’s fiddly to get just the right spot.It’s a simple layout for the GLX. No dual zone aircon, an uncluttered look inside, muted shades of black and grey, and a cleanly laid out seven inch touchscreen but the menu system isn’t intuitive for someone that may not be tech-savvy. Apple and Android compatibility is here, naturally, and needed as there isn’t onboard satnav. Surprisingly, also here is DAB or digital audio. It’s a pity that the sound quality was flat and compressed, even after adjusting the sound parameters. Other switch gear is generic Mitsubishi but they’ve managed to have a better look and feel than some competitors in the same market. Being the entry level means there’s spots in the dash that in higher grades have buttons, and although it’s a cost effective measure it looks a bit second rate.Nowadays the call is for USB and 12V sockets to be more available and the Pajero Sport GLX delivers here with four USBs spread between front and rear seat passengers, a 12V in the front, rear, and in the cargo section, and there’s even a three pin plug hidden away in the interior. Red back-lighting is in the tabs and buttons and it looks fab but the icons and fonts being lit tend towards the harder to read side of things. And being entry level it dips out on items like auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, and perhaps a luxury touch by no powered tail gate.It’s a well mannered beast on tarmac, but there’s an odd feeling to the steering rack. Imagine, if you will, a thick rod of lightly pliable rubber. Place either end in the hands and twist, feeling the resistance build. That’s effectively how the steering feels. There’s a full ninety degrees of turn required before there’s a semblance of directional change, meaning there’s some forward planning required for moving left or right. Forward planning is also required for the brakes. There little feel and bite for the stoppers.The Pajero Sport comes with the Terrain Select four wheel drive system. One can dial up two wheel or four wheel drive in high range, or low range with Mud, Gravel, Snow, for some decent dirty excursioning. The Blue Mountains are blessed with numerous tracks suitable for trialing a four wheel drive car, and the Pajero Sport didn’t disappoint. High range modes are swappable up to one hundred kilometres per hour but that’s not recommended at those velocities. The car must be at standstill and in Neutral for the low range options. There are also driving aids for off road work such as Hill Descent Control. This applies the brakes judiciously and for the most part is more than adequate.The GLX’s suspension tune is a compromise, by the car’s user nature, with a hard, quick reacting, feel on tarmac, but a slow and easy slide off road. Driven at velocities of no more than forty kph the ride soaks up the natural irregular surfaces without excessive transmission of those to the cabin. Hit the light reflectors on the highway at the posted speed and that change to bang bang bang is immediately noticeable.Although there’s a ride clearance of 218 mm the Pajero Sport feels like it could do with another ten to twenty. There’s ample approach, departure, wading, and break-over angles (30 degrees, 24 degrees, 700mm, and 23 degrees), and they’re of a level that would be barely explored by the vast majority of buyers. For those that do want to go hard, perhaps a different tyre to the Bridgestone Dueler 265/60/18s fitted may be an option, as they did slip a few times in some sections of the off-road track.Although it’s the bottom of the ladder version there’s still enough mandated safety features to please. Forward Collision Alert is here and it’s a mite sensitive in certain situations, throwing up a false positive and startling the driver. Reverse Camera and guidance is standard, as are parking sensors front and rear. Airbags all around plus the normal traction control features round out the safety package.There’s a limited colour choice for the Pajero Sport, with just four available. The test car was in a colour called Terra Rossa, with metallic paint a $590 option. Warranty is fives years or 100, 000 kilometres. Roadside assist is free for the first twelve months and Mitsubishi offers three years of capped-price servicing at a total cost of $1425 on a 12-month/15,000km schedule.

At The End Of The Drive.
The Pajero Sport suffers from an insidious disease called invisibility. With the advent of SUVs such as Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Tucson, Kia’s Sorento and Sportage, and the like, the need for a high riding, multiple passenger carrying, vehicle based on a four door ute, is declining.

Bespoke designs such as Mitsubishi’s own ASX and Outlander are seen as the preferred alternative by people whose camping lifestyle is sparkling wine and portable gas barbies, not beer cooled in a stream and snaggers cooked over an open fire. But its boofy ute based nature will suit the latter, and for that we remain thankful that cars like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLX remain available.

Go here to build your 2019 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

2019 Toyota Corolla ZR & SX Hybrid.

Toyota has given its evergreen Corolla a substantial makeover. Inside and out it’s a new car and there’s also been a slight change to the way the range is structured. There’s three hatches: Ascent Sport, SX, and ZR, with hybrid technology featuring strongly. Private Fleet drives the 2019 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid and 2019 Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid with the Ascent Sport to come.The cars come with either a 2.0L petrol engine, or in the hybrid’s case, a 1.8L petrol engine. Sole transmission choice is a 10-step CVT in the SX and ZR, the Ascent Sport does offer a six speed manual alongside the CVT. Pricing is competitive, with the range starting at $22,870 + ORC for the Ascent Sport manual and finishing at $31,870 + ORC for the ZR Hybrid. Premium paint is a $450 option and the Ascent Sport offers privacy glass and satnav at $1000. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000 kilometres with a new capped price service program at just $175 per service.Toyota says the economy of the cars is improved; the ZR Hybrid is quoted as 4.2L/100km for the combined cycle, a figure not reached by AWT but nor far off it at 5.0L/100km overall. A 1400kg dry weight is a good starting point. The engine itself is an Atkinson Cycle design and produces 72Kw & 142Nm by itself. Alongside the battery system that has a 6.5Ah output, the combined power is 90kW and 163Nm. The transmission features a three mode choice: Eco, Sport, and Normal. The CVT itself when fitted to the 2.0L has an innovative feature and one that Toyota claims is a world first. A “launch gear mechanism” Direct Shift is engineered in, allowing the engine and gearbox to work together and provide a fixed first gear ratio. Once the car has reached a preprogrammed speed it reverts back to the steel belt CVT mechanism. It does sound noisy but isn’t a thrashy note, rather a sound of refinement and “I’m working here!” Underway it works seamlessly and silently in the background, with the only time it reappears being when the accelerator is given the hoof.

However I continue to have a slight beef with the EV, Electric Vehicle, mode that the Hybrid tech has in Toyota cars. Select EV, hit the accelerator, and it almost immediately switches into both EV and petrol assisted mode. Move away gently and it stays in EV mode until the lowly speed of 20km/h is reached and again the petrol engine kicks in. Having driven purely electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and normal (non plug-in) hybrids, I would prefer the battery system to be more gainfully employed and have the petrol engine’s assistance lessened. It does assist in charging the battery as the levels drop but in a free-flowing drive environment is should be doing this, not driving the front wheels along with the battery system. As a result the mooted fuel economy should be further improved. However the centre console located gear selector is PRNDB, with the B being a stronger regenerative braking assistance. This means that the kinetic energy from braking is also harnessed and returned to the battery.The three drive modes work well enough in the real world, with Sport providing a crisper throttle response, faster acceleration and better high speed response. The ten speeds can be accessed via steering column mounted paddle shifts in the non-hybrid cars. The hybrid system itself in the ZR and SX is displayed in regards to its interaction via LCD screens in the driver’s binnacle. The SX has a small full colour screen mounted to the right hand side with the ZR’s seven inch screen a full colour display that shows a bigger version of that available in the SX. This includes a drive mode display showing the battery driving the front wheels, the petrol engine driving and charging as well. These are access via a simple four way toggle switch on the left hand spoke of the tiller which itself has been redesigned and is a new three spoke look. The look of the bigger screen though is busy and perhaps somewhat overloaded with info. It then points the ZR towards a younger, more tech-savvy, audience, and moves it away from the traditional mature aged buying base of the Corolla. Even the SX, perhaps?Toyota have followed the Euro route with a high centre mounted touchscreen for audio, apps (including ToyotaLink), and navigation. It’s smart and logical with a higher eyeline not distracting the driver from what’s ahead. The ZR amps this up by offering a HUD or Head Up Display with plenty of info such as speed zones, and soothes the ears with DAB via a well balanced JBL sound system. A voice activation system has been added, as has Siri Eyes Free. There’s leather accented seats in the ZR, cloth in the SX and Ascent Sport, but no electrical adjustment across the range, an odd omission in the ZR. However the ZR does have heated front pews and a wireless smartphone charging pad (as does SX), albeit hidden away under a dash section that perhaps protrudes too far into the cabin, counterpointed by a 24mm lower line. The dash itself is less busy and angular than before, with a more integrated and smoother look. Although not powered the front seats are comfortable and have plenty of under-knee support. Keyless start and dual zone climate control are standard in the SX and ZR. There’s also a higher grade feel and look to the textiles inside the ZR.There’s ample rear leg room and shoulder/head room is more than adequate. Boot space is just about right for a weekly family shop, As usual Toyota’s ergonomics are well thought out in where a natural hand movement would go, except in the case of the door grips. They’re forward of where a natural reach would go and in AWT’s opinion too close to the door’s pivot point. Safety is high in the ZR, indeed across the range, with seven airbags as standard as is a rear view camera. Adaptive Cruise Control is on board for all three, with a minimum speed of 30km/h and operates across a range of three preset distances to the car ahead. PCS or Pre-Collision Safety is here and works in a day & night environment range. AEB or Autonomous Emergency Braking is part of this and the ZR also has Blind Sport Alert and Lane Keep Assist or, in Toyota speak, Lane Tracing. Cameras around the car measure the car’s position in relation to roadside markings and gently tug the car into position, along with uttering audible chirps to alert the driver. There’s also an active voice guidance safety system that’s integrated with the satnav, providing warnings such as school crossings and speed cameras.Underneath there’s been plenty of changes. It’s part of the Toyota New Generation Architecture, TNGA, with a 40mm lower, 30mm wider, and 40mm longer body that looks more assertive and confident. A 40mm longer wheelbase gives the 225/40/18 rubber on the ZR (205/55/16 for Ascent sport and SX) a more planted feel however there’s a lot of road noise from the Dunlop tyres on the ZR. The SX’s rear is far quieter. Ride quality has been improved by ditching the torsion beam rear and building in a multi-link system. McPherson struts have been a staple of the automotive industry for decades and Toyota have stayed with a tried and true setup here. Springs, dampers, mounting points, die-cast aluminuim frames and more have transformed the handling of the Corolla. Although the rear is a touch soft in AWT’s opinion the overall ride and handling is near nigh spot on. In low speed turns there is no understeer at all, the steering response at speed on the freeway and urban road system is intuitive, and the whole chassis is worthy of applause. There’s negligible float at any speed, turn in is assisted by an electronic “active cornering assist” system, and even the dreaded bump-thump from the shopping centre speed reducing devices is minimalised.The exterior has been well massaged, with the metal between the hatch and rear passenger doors changed to a more, for the want of a better word, natural look, for a hatch back, moving away from the previous triangular motif. The tail lights are freshened and sit underneath a fourteen degree sharper window. The window-line itself draws the eye to either end, and especially to the redesigned front end. There’s a lower cowl and a cropped front by fifteen millimetres that lend a more assertive look. Being a Hybrid the Toyota logo is limned in a cobalt blue, bracketed by even more slimline looking headlights and LED driving lights in a sharp, linear, look. There’s no spare tyre in the Hybrid, but there is in the standard petrol engined version. A tyre repair kit is added for the ZR Hybrid. The Ascent Sport gets either a full sized or space saver (Hybrid) and the SX is a space saver only. The rear also has an X subtly embedded into the design, with a line from each lower corner curving upwards and inwards, as are lines from the top edge of the rear lights.Eight colours are on offer to highlight the fresh, new, look to the world’s biggest selling car. There are solid, pearl, metallic and mica colours headlined by four new hues of metallic Volcanic Red and Peacock Black. In mica there are Eclectic Blue and Oxide Bronze. As well as the three new colours, Corolla hatch is also available in a premium Crystal Pearl along with Glacier White, Silver Pearl and Eclipse Black.At The End Of The Drive.
Spanning fifty years and more, the Corolla is a mainstay of markets around the world and continues to be a top ten and top five seller here in Australia. With the Hybrid tech making its way into the mainstream model range for Toyota, in this case Corolla, it opens it up to a new market but begs the question of what will happen to Prius…As a driving package the 2019 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid is trim, taut, and terrific. It’s responsive to minor steering inputs without going overboard, it’s composed and unflustered across a broad range of environments, and is “let down” by excessive road noise, a couple of design quibbles, and a slightly softer than expected rear end. However it’s a very competitive price range and price point for the ZR Hybrid, and if the bells and whistles of the ZR don’t appeal, the 2019 Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid, at $28,370 + ORCs may be a better and lighter wallet biter. All information can be found here for the 2019 Toyota Corolla range

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

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

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

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

Mazda Goes Great, It’s The CX-8! And How About The Mazda6?

Mazda has added a new CX model to the range, with the CX-8 also being the sole diesel powered entry to the family. The seven seater will have a 2.2L oiler with 140kW and 450Nm of torque. Name plates will be Sport with front and all wheel drive, and Asaki AWD as the range leader.Pricing will naturally be competitive with a starting price of $42,490 (manufacturer’s list price) for the FWD Sport. The AWD Sport will start from $46,490, and the Asaki from $61,490.  The Asaki will feature heated front and rear seats, a Bose sound system, brown or white elather trim, and a woodgrain dash finish.Size-wise the CX-8 will be on the same 2930mm wheelbase as the petrol only CX-9, but is slightly smaller in length, width, and height. It’s based on the CX-5 platform but shares the same wheelbase as the larger CX-9.Adaptive Cruise Control, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitoring, and Lane Departure Warning are expected to be listed as standard equipment, along with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors for the Sport. Further details are expected closer to the launch date.CX-8 is due to be released for a July 2018 sales date.

The Mazda6 has also had the wand waved over it. There’s a refinement to the exterior including LED headlights with integrated fog lamps, a 170kW/420Nm turbocharged 2.5L petrol four, and upgrades to trim.
Standard equipment includes the i-ACTIVESENSE safety package which includes Mazda Radar Cruise Control, and the top end Atenza gains a 360 degree viewing monitor and vented front seats, a boon for Aussie drivers in warm climates. The seats themselves have been redesigned with better support and higher vibration absorption levels.There’s 14 variants for the 2018/2019 Mazda6, covering sedan and wagon, with Sport, Touring, GT, and Atenza trim levels. Pricing starts at $32,490 (plus on roads) for the Sport sedan with the 2.5L 140kW/252Nm petrol four, and tops out at $50,090 plus on roads for the Atenza diesel wagon. A 2.5L SkyActiv four cylinder petrol is also available with 170kW and 420Nm at 2000 rpm.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2018 Toyota Camry SL V6 & Ascent Hybrid.

Car reviews are always a personal point of view. People have a love for a brand and that’s personal. Toyota has that brand loyalty and it’s won them millions of customers over decades. Toyota‘s Camry is a big part of that loyalty here in Australia and we first saw it as a five door hatch somewhere in the 1980s.The mid noughties saw the V6 Camry reborn as the Aurion and was sold side by side with the four cylinder and hybrid Camrys. Now, in 2018, we’re back to no Aurion and a V6 Camry. One of those, the top of the range 2018 Toyota Camry V6 SL trim spec, with barely two hundred kilometres on the clock, graced the driveway. There’s also a Hybrid version that sits above the Prius range and below the similarly styled Lexus offering.Exterior and interior styling are strongly reminiscent of Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus. Tweaked for Toyota’s audience, there’s sharply angled headlights with LED lighting at both ends on the V6, standard globes for the Hybrid, a full length glass roof with sunroof offered for the full petrol car, and an almost coupe rear roofline. There’s aerodynamic strakes on the wing mirrors and embedded in the rear light plastics. The boot itself has a designed in extended lid that doubles as a spoiler. It’s perhaps the front end that brings a Spock like raised eyebrow, with a twin level V that stretches from each side to meet at the (blue hued on the Hybrid) Toyota logo.Inside it’s strongly Lexus, with multiple dash folds, a beige and black trim combination in the V6 car supplied, some buttons too easily hidden by the steering wheel, and a disturbingly cheap look plastic on the centre console compared to the rest of the interior. The dash design is an S shape line from the driver’s binnacle that winds down to finish near the passenger’s knee. Leg room isn’t an issue though, nor is cargo space. The Hybrid has moved the battery pack from the boot to under the rear seats, giving a full 524L of space. With a 2825mm wheelbase, an increase of 50mm over the outgoing version, front and rear leg room is more than adequate for intended passengers. What isn’t is no USB ports for them in the Ascent, that’s left for the SX and SL to deliver.Up front is a easily spun 3.5L V6. Peak power is 224 “killerwasps” at a almost stratospheric 6600rpm. Peak torque is 362Nm at a more typical petrol rev point of 4700rpm with quoted economy of 8.9L/100km for the combined. This is quite achievable in real world driving but utilise the spirited V6’s revving ability and that figure goes south and quickly. Power is put through to the ground via an eight speed auto connected to the front wheels. It’s not the most refined eight speeder around, with each change regardless of throttle position having the body rocking back and forth in sympathy. Compared to the super smooth nine speed in the ZB Commodore tested immediately before, it was almost harsh in its changes.The Hybrid counters this with a combined total of 160kW however this is less than the full capacities available from the petrol and battery system separately. The four is a 2.5L unit with 131kW and 88kW from the electrical side. Transmission here is a CVT and rarely does it feel out of step with the drive-train. It’s also a combination that equals the urge of the V6 when pushed, will quietly hum away on a (very) light throttle, and will pick up its side skirts and bootscoot away rapidly anywhere in between. Economy is quoted as 4.2L/100 km of 95RON or E10. AWT saw a best of 5.0L/100km and that was on a fuel sapping run to Canberra and back. The tank in the Camry seems to be of a V shape, meaning as the fuel level lowers the trips towards half, quarter, empty become quicker.Camrys have, somewhat fairly, been tagged as whitegoods on wheels. There’s little engagement, they’re designed to move human bodies from A to B and back again without issue. And these two do. If the word fun can be injected into these two, it’s the Hybrid more likely to do so but only just ahead of the V6, in a driver’s sense. A niggle with the Hybrid that AWT has had is the all too quick engagement of the petrol engine to supplement the battery system. On a flat road and with an eggshell’s pressure on the accelerator, the Hybrid will move away under battery only up to a point where the computer, regardless of whether EV has been selected via a button in the centre console, brings in the petrol engine.A dash screen on both allows varying info such as navigation, audio, and in the Hybrid, shows the power distribution and battery level. It shows the change between battery only, both, or when the petrol is driving and charging the battery. It’s here that faint thunks from the CVT as it deals with the changing drive inputs can be felt.

Road holding in a straight line shows that the Camry V6’s rear end is too soft. Every minor ripple set the Camry’s rear bouncing, and more often than not a good dip would have it on the bumpstops. The front was defineably tauter, with the same bumps that had the rear flustered consigned to a mere bump. Combined with a V6 and front driven wheels, a heavy foot will also induce a phenomenon rarely seen in cars nowadays. Torque steer. Some plough on understeer was noted as well with Bridgestone Turanza 235/45/18 rubber not seemingly up to the task. Another disconcerting suspension issue was the readiness of the rear end to skip sideways when on a turn and hitting even a small irregularity.Somehow, the Camry Hybrid felt better sorted at both front and rear. Float was reduced, turn in was crisper, there was a lesser feeling of understeer, a minimised lateral movement and compression at the rear. Ride felt more confident, perhaps thanks to the Michelin Primacy 215/55/17 tyres. Even in the rainy periods that struck Australia’s most populous city during the test week, the Hybrid gave a more composed and sedate performance on road, instilling a higher level of confidence.Features wise there’s plenty. DAB audio is in both and the model dependent varying sized touchscreens are easy to use although have a pre-programmed split screen look. Default mode has a map on two thirds and audio on the other third, however the soft touch Audio button then brings up the chosen source. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t installed but a connected smartphone allows music apps to be used. There’s a charging pad for compatible smartphones snuggled in under the lower dash fold, next to a 12V and USB/3.5mm socket connector. The tiller has tabs on the left spoke that allow access to the dash screen. Cupholders front and rear via the console and pull-down are in, as are door mounted bottle holders. LED lighting is featured and the glass roof in the V6 was simple to operate via the standard roof mounted toggles.Airbags (seven, including kneebag) and driving aids abound, with the Hybrid having the drive mode options in the console. The SL trim level has a Head Up Display which is discrete to the point it’s almost unnoticeable. Park Assist front and rear is fitted and it’s a doddle to use. Reverse parking comes with a camera and guidelines on the screen to help in tighter car park and roadside kerb parking. Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert is SL specific.

At The End Of The Drive.
Pricing for the 2018 Camry range starts from a manufacturers list price of $27,690 for the four cylinder Ascent. The Hybrid Ascent is $29,990. Go to the Hybrid SL and you’re looking at $40,990. The SL V6 is $43,990, bot of course check with your dealership and for special offers head to Toyota Australia’s website

The cars themselves will sell to the Toyota faithful and potentially steal a few from elsewhere. Pedaled hard the Hybrid edges ahead of the V6 purely on driveability, is definitely more economical, and in SL form they have a goodly range of kit. From a driver’s point of view however there still doesn’t seem to be a real level of engagement, that sense of momentary flutter when getting in. For AWT it’s perhaps the somewhat disjointed looking dash design and the V6 SL’s lack of real ride as opposed to what a free revving V6 engine offers. That’s possibly best left to the V6 SX for those that want a rorty and sporty V6 Camry.