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Two of the Most Beautiful Cabriolet Speedsters

Aston Martin V12 Speedster

Two of the most beautiful cabriolet speedsters of recent times cost a king’s ransom and go like stink.  Because most of us will only ever get to read about them, I thought I’d give them a plug here just so we’re all aware that there are still some very extraordinary cars being made.  Arguably, and rightly so, these two cars may in your opinion not be quite as exceptional as a McLaren Elva, Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, a BMW Z4 convertible or even a Ferrari SF90 Spider, however if I had a Bentley Mulliner Bacalar or an Aston Martin V12 Speedster parked in my garage I would be especially pleased.

Bentley Mulliner Bacalar

Only 12 of the Bentley Mulliner Bacalars will ever exist, so, as you can imagine, the price tag of one of these is eyewatering (2.8 million AUD).  Eighty-eight Aston Martin V12 Speedsters aren’t that many either; they fetch close to 1.5 million dollars new.  It is almost inevitable that these two cabriolet cars will sell for more on the second-hand car market just because they are so rare and desirable.  However, if you happen to be reading this, and are a squillionaire, then here are two of the most attractive cars on the planet.

Born out of the Bentley Continental stable, under the hood of the Mulliner Bacalar lies a W12 engine that has been fettled to produce 485 kW of power.  It sits hunkered down on wider tracks and mesmerizing new wheels, and it boasts carbon-fibre front and rear wings, new light clusters (which look really cool) and a super glitzy centre console.  Inside the Bentley Bacalar is a world of luxury and fine materials, as you would expect.  Exclusive patterns on the switchgear knurling, for example, are only ever found on the Bacalar models.  Then there are the uniquely quilted seats, where each seat boasts as many as 144,199 stitches.  The veneer inserts that are used in the wrap-around cabin are from old river-wood trees from East Anglia peat bogs and are 5,500 years old (don’t tell the greenies this!).

Aston, on the other hand, has created a sweeter front end that looks sharper than the more muscular Bentley.  Seated down low in the cockpit, the Aston also has the more futuristic dash design, with the chrome-rimmed air vents on the vertical either side of the digital driver’s display.  3-D printed rubber is used throughout the cabin, and then the bar that runs between the seats is a superb feature that looks exciting as well as ensuring strength to the open-top speedster’s on-road rigidity.

Aston’s V12 Speedster uses a potent 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12 that produces 515 kW and 752 Nm of torque.  This power is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a mechanical limited-slip differential.  A 0-100 km/h sprint can be completed in around 3.6 seconds and the top speed arrives at a limited 186 mph (298 km/h).  It sounds stunning when the throttle opens out.

The stats are that the Bentley Bacalar can run through the 0-100 km/h sprint in less than 4 seconds, and the 6-litre W12 twin-turbo engine packs 900 Nm of breath-taking torque, capable of hurling you to speeds well in excess of 200 mph (320 Km/h).  AWD ensures maximum grip for all occasions, of course.

EVs and the Japanese Manufacturers

I like to get a feel for what is truly happening in the EV world by heading over to the Japanese to see what they are up to.  The Japanese make the best cars in the world, at least from a reliability and practical point of view, so it makes sense to me to have a look at what their plans are when it comes to EV innovation, invention and implementation.

Mazda

Mazda MX 30 EV

Mazda is planning to introduce ‘Skyactiv Multi-Solution Scalable Architecture’ for hybrids, PHEVs and EVs in 2022, and they plan to offer three EV models, five PHEV models and five hybrid models sometime between 2022 and 2025.  Mazda will also keep hybrids and PHEVs as part of their saleable new cars beyond 2030.

By the end of 2023, Mazda plans to show at least two plug-in hybrids by the end of the year.

In 2026 Mazda plans to show the platform for a new generation of EVs in the early part of the year.

By 2030 Mazda plans to offer a hybrid or electric variant for every model that Mazda has in their line-up.  However, even though Mazda will develop a dedicated EV platform by 2025, Mazda’s majority of vehicles beyond 2030 will be hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and, as such, Mazda is not about to stop developing its internal combustion engines anytime soon.

Honda

Honda EV Crossover

Honda plans to develop its own solid-state battery tech, rather than relying on outside developers.

By 2023, a Honda EV built in partnership with GM, reportedly a crossover, is expected to enter production.

Honda foresees that 40% of their models will be electric or hydrogen fuel-cell powered by 2030, climbing to 100% by 2040.  Honda is one of just a handful of automakers alongside Toyota, Hyundai, and BMW, to devote plenty of their development energy into to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Toyota

Toyota BZ EV Concept

By 2025, Toyota plans to launch 60 new hybrid, electric, or fuel-cell vehicles by the end of that year, and it also expects to have reached its goal of selling 5.5 million EVs each year.  Their dedication to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is strong, and they remain big game players in this sort of technology.

Looking across the Tasman (where NZ’s PM, Jacinda Ardern, put her foot in it by claiming that Toyota would be providing EV utes in just 2 more years) it is evident that Toyota will not be putting all their eggs in one basket and going totally bent on EV production.  Toyota is adamant that a slow EV uptake is more likely, and hence they would not be giving up on their particularly good hybrid engine technology any time soon.

Nissan

Nissan ids Concept EV

Nissan is the manufacturer of the highly successful Nissan Leaf EV Hatchback, which has been in production for some years now.  By 2023, Nissan plans to have launched eight EVs by the end of the year and will be hoping to be on target to sell 1-million hybrid or electric vehicles, globally, per-year.  Nissan states that their hybrid technology and their technology to improve their internal combustion engines won’t be stopping before 2030, at least.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi has the marvellous Outlander PHEV, which has been in production for many years now.  By 2030, Mitsubishi plans for 50% of its global sales to come from hybrid or electric vehicles.  I guess that leaves 50% to be still made up of efficient internal combustion vehicles.

Subaru

Subaru Solterra EV Concept

Subaru, by 2030, expects 40% of its global sales to come from hybrid or electric vehicles.  By 2035, Subaru plans to have a hybrid or electric version of every vehicle in its line-up.  Subaru seems to be singing off a similar song sheet to Toyota, where they both suggest that the hybrid vehicle will prove to be more popular in the short term, particularly as the EV infrastructure has a long way to go.

By 2050, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Nissan have made bold plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

The big questions are: Will the EV-charging infrastructure match the manufacturer claims?  Will people be able to afford an EV, let alone the huge cost to make their home charge ready, as the ideologically bold demands that some governments introduce along with big taxes?  Who is going to pay for all of this?

I read a recent comment where a reader of ‘Car and Driver’ made a very informed comment:

“It’s a ‘no thanks’ on Li batteries from me.  Lithium extraction has already spoiled the Atacama desert in Chile and now they have their sights set on the American West.  I can reduce my CO2 footprint far more by just driving less than by purchasing a 100 kWh battery, and the 10-20T of CO2 that was released to make it. I’ll wait for fuel cells.  As a Toyota driver… I have time.”

When ADAS Features Fail

I don’t quite know why I’ve become more attentive to learning about a car’s ability to protect its occupants in the event of a collision, along with its ability to avoid the collision altogether in the first place.  I expect it has a lot to do with having close family members who occasionally need to drive themselves places.  Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) are growing in popularity.  ADAS systems can help prevent accidents not only at speed, but also when parked as a stationary car.  ADAS features are designed with one purpose in mind and that is to increase driver and occupant safety.

ADAS features include things like automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, collision warning systems, cross-traffic alert, forward and rear collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, park assist, pedestrian detection and avoidance systems, cyclist detection and avoidance systems, road sign recognition, active radar cruise control… and the list goes on.  ADAS employs cameras and sensors to detect a potential collision or event and then proceed to activate systems of avoidance if necessary.  These are important safety features which help prevent accidents.

Research on insurance claims that was carried out by LexisNexis Risk Solutions showed that vehicles involved in incidents that had ADAS on-board exhibited a 27% reduction in the frequency of claims made for bodily injury.  The results also showed that vehicles that had ADAS on-board exhibited a 19% reduction in the frequency of claims made for property damage.  Obviously, this would suggest that the systems must be doing some good.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed that the crash involvement rate for vehicles with blind-spot monitoring was 14% lower than for the same vehicle without the equipment.  Researchers also stated that the study also suggested that if every vehicle sold in the US in 2015 was equipped with blind-spot monitoring, 50,000 crashes and 16,000 crash injuries might have been prevented.

At present, one of the big downsides of the ADAS features is that they are darn expensive.  Not only do they put the price of a new car up, they also make the car costlier to insure because if any of the systems gets damaged the insurance and repair bills are usually eye-watering.  Hopefully, ADAS features will come way down in price and become similar to standard computer software and technology which is, on the whole, a dime-a-dozen now.

The other thing is that I hope ADAS will function 100% of the time correctly as intended, because vehicles designed to be able to automatically brake for objects such as other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, and to drive themselves inside highway lanes without driver input, is not an exact science.  A slightly frightening example of my concern here is when Volvo was demonstrating its pedestrian AEB technology to journalists in 2016.  Volvo used their V60 model in the demonstration, where it was travelling toward a dummy named Bob.  The V60 didn’t detect Bob being in the way, and so Bob was hit in what was a controlled environment.  An alert driver in the V60 may well have returned a better outcome.

Then shortly after, another Volvo V60 was demonstrating its collision detection and avoidance system where it was to avoid hitting a stationary truck.  The failure to detect and avoid the collision can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNi17YLnZpg

Again, an alert and competent driver could well have resulted in a better outcome, should this have happened in the real world.

In 2018, the IIHS took five new vehicles and tested them.  The Tesla Model 3, the Tesla Model S, the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes E-Class and the Volvo S90 were the test vehicles.  Each vehicle’s AEB, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems were tested.  Some of the problems IIHS encountered was that the AEB didn’t actually work in some vehicles in some circumstances.

In other tests, the IIHS observed: “The BMW 5-series steered toward or across the lane line regularly, requiring drivers to override the steering support to get it back on track.  Sometimes the car disengaged steering assistance on its own.  The car failed to stay in the lane on all 14 valid trials.  The Model S was also errant in the hill tests.”

Sadly, just a couple of years ago an autonomous Uber fitted with even more sensors than any standard ADAS-equipped road car killed a pedestrian at night in the US.  This happened while researchers and designers were conducting public testing.  What this suggests is that the ADAS technology is amazing and good enough to be placed into new cars.  However, it doesn’t mean ADAS will always work as intended, and it does point to the fact that drivers must still always be fully alert at the wheel.  If the driver is not fully alert, the outcome from these system fails can sometimes be way worse than if the driver was fractionally slower to manually override the systems detection time and action times.

I’ve heard of numerous occasions when vehicles have falsely detected situations.  A more common fail is when accident emergency braking (AEB) engaged on-board a car when it shouldn’t have, which meant that the AEB stopped the vehicle abruptly and unexpectedly on a clear road.  At the time, traffic is still coming up behind the vehicle.  Lane keep assist isn’t always that great either, and the results of a high-speed mishap on a main highway is tragic.

ANCAP is Australian’s big car-safety tester, and a recent representative suggested that AEB and lane-keeping assist technology, which is where the car will steer itself, was beginning to be put under the microscope.  This would test for how accurate the system actually is, and if it would actually do the opposite and steer the vehicles into a dangerous situation.  Testing ADAS features should take priority over just saying that the technology is available in the car at the time of crash testing, whereby the appropriate ADAS feature box is ticked and the job done.

ADAS mostly works for the better.  It does raise obvious safety problems, particularly when manufacturers have all the pressure to pack in as many ADAS features into their vehicles as possible for as little cost as possible to remain competitive on the sales front.  This pressure would suggest that these systems could be prone to potentially become unsafe.

With cars loaded with ADAS features, you could also say that drivers of these new vehicles might be tempted to hop on the mobile phone to check messages once they have activated the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist systems.  Essentially, it becomes easier to break the law; which takes us back to the point that we shouldn’t rely heavily on ADAS technology because it can fail to work.  We don’t often hear this preached at the car sales yard or on new-car adverts.

In Australia, features such as antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) are mandatory in new vehicles that are sold to the public.  These mandatory requirements are set to be pushed to the next level, where automatic emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist would have to be on-board any new vehicle being sold to the public.  Even alcohol detection devices may well be part of these standard requirements.  Europe is set to introduce some of these requirements over the next few years, and Australia is likely to follow the lead.  Newly imported European cars would end up with these features anyways, a win-win for us new-car buyers.

ADAS is good, but we still need to drive our cars.

Small Overlap Crash Test

The influx of all the amazing new electronic safety aids and crash avoidance systems found on-board new cars has been exceptional.  There is no doubt that these systems are helping save lives and minimising injury.  There has been one part of the latest car crash testing regime that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has brought in as part of their testing in order to help make cars safer.

The IIHS is an independent, non-profit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from motor vehicle crashes through their ongoing research and evaluation, and through the education of consumers, policymakers and safety professionals.  The IIHS is funded by auto insurance companies and was established back in 1959.  Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia, USA.  A lot of what the IIHS does is crash test cars in a variety of ways to gather data, analyse the data, and observe the vehicles during and after the crash tests to quantify how safe each car is.  The results and findings are published on their website at IIHS.org.  Car manufacturers have been forced to take these tests seriously because, at the end of the day, these results matter and will affect car sales as the public become informed about how safe their cars will likely be in the event of an accident.

Since 2012, the IIHS has introduced a couple of new tests that they put the vehicles through to see how safe they are in an event of small overlap collision.  The driver-side small overlap frontal test was brought about to help encourage further improvements in vehicle frontal crash protection.  Keeping in mind that these IIHS tests are carried out using cars with left-hand-drive, the test is designed to replicate what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.  This crash test is a challenge for some safety belt and airbag designs because occupants move both forward and toward the side of the vehicle from the time of impact.  In the driver-side small overlap frontal test, a vehicle travels at 40 mph (64 km/h) toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier.  A Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man is positioned in the driver seat.  25% percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes the barrier on the driver side.

Most modern cars have safety cages encapsulating the occupant compartment and are built to withstand head-on collisions and moderate overlap frontal crashes with little deformation.  At the same time, crush zones help manage crash energy to reduce forces on the occupant compartment.  The main crush-zone structures are concentrated in the middle 50% of the front end.  When a crash involves these structures, the occupant compartment is protected from intrusion, and front airbags and safety belts can effectively restrain and protect occupants.

However, the small overlap frontal crashes primarily affect a vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the crush-zone structures.  Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, the suspension system and the firewall.  It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion into the occupant compartment, which often results in serious leg and foot injuries.  To provide effective protection in these small overlap crashes, the safety cage needs to resist crash forces that haven’t been amplified, concentrated on one area or aren’t tempered by crush-zone structures.  Widening these front-end crash protection structures does help.

The IIHS also performs the passenger-side small overlap frontal test.  The passenger-side test is the same as the driver-side test, except the vehicle overlaps the barrier on the right side.  In addition, instead of just one Hybrid III dummy, there are two — one in the driver seat and one in the passenger seat.

Automotive manufacturers initially responded to these driver-side small overlap test results by improving vehicle structures and airbags, and most vehicles now earn good ratings.  However, IIHS research tests demonstrated that those improvements didn’t always carry over to the passenger side.  Discrepancies between the left and right sides of vehicles spurred the IIHS to develop a passenger-side small overlap test and begin issuing passenger-side ratings in 2017.

It is good that vehicle safety always seems to be on the improve and, with each new model, the new-car buyer can expect a safer vehicle.  Thanks to crash testers like the IIHS, ANCAP and Euro NCAP, we are experiencing safer cars on our roads.

A Moment of Silence

Holden HSV

Over the last decade there have been a few car manufacturers who have pulled out of selling cars in Australia.  But, as those leave, there have also been numerous new marques who have arrived on the scene, which is great to see.  Let’s not forget the old faithful marques, who are the manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, BMW and Porsche who have been selling cars in Australia for three decades or more.  So what’s changed over the last ten years?

Over this last decade we have had to say goodbye to Holden – perhaps the saddest exit.  The company was founded in 1856 as a saddlery manufacturer in South Australia, only to be wound up over the last year or so.  The Holden roots in Australia have run very deep.

Chery made its arrival in 2011 and stuck around for a few beers and was off again in 2016.  Chery once sold Australia’s cheapest new car for under $10k.

During the last decade, Dodge wrapped things up as well, though we still see the RAM logo in the form of the RAM Trucks that are sold new in Australia.  A RAM Truck is the king of the Ute/light truck world.

Equally as sad, for some, as the vanishing of Holden has been the cessation of the awesome line of HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) and FPV (Ford Performance Vehicles) muscle cars.  Oh how things change when people get a whiff of the climate change spin and big money opportunities with such amazing “clean” vehicles like EVs.

One luxury marque that made a brief appearance was Infiniti.  Only recently, we’ve waved goodbye to this very classy and elegant line of cars that for some reason struggled to make their way into a buyer population who were stayed in their buying habits.  Some of the Infiniti cars were seriously quick, had unique style and were reliable and comfortable.

2012 saw Opel opening many showrooms across Australia.  The new Opel Astra and Opel Insignia cars were quite stylish cars, though they only managed a few sales.  They too had a few beers and then folded up a year or two later.

Proton cars also came onto the scene in 2012 and sold a few hundred cars, however the aging models did not sell well in 2017 at all, so they were axed.  There are rumours of them making a comeback with a new range of cars under Geely’s ownership.

1991 Saab 900 Turbo 16 S

Another very sad day in the last decade of the Australian and global motoring industry was when Saab were forced to wrap up.  I miss their individuality and the range of powerful four-cylinder, turbocharged engines.  Australia has also said goodbye to Smart cars, a range of tiny city cars that were made by Mercedes.  They never sold well.

The new popular car marques that have entered the Australian car market over the last few years has been: Genesis, Great Wall, Haaval, LDV, Mahindra, MG, RAM Trucks and Tesla.  Most of these are of Asian origin.

Tesla

The 2021 World Car Of The Year Is…

Volkswagen’s ID.4. The electric SUV is the German brand’s fifth WCOTY after: 2013 World Car of the Year – Volkswagen Golf, 2012 World Car of the Year – Volkswagen UP!, 2010 World Car of the Year – Volkswagen Polo, 2009 World Car of the Year – Volkswagen Golf VI.

It’s still unclear as to whether it will make its way to Australia. What will be unavailable is a 77kWh battery, offering a range of up to 520 kilometres. Power is rated as 150kW and torque at 309Nm providing a 0-100kph time of 8.5 seconds. The rear is where the engine is located. Battery charge from a 120kW DC source can provide 320 kilometres of range in a half hour, and the 11kW charger built in can provide 53 kilometres in an hour.

It’s expected that a dual-motor version will be released with power bumped to around 225kW. Chassis wise, it’s a bespoke EV design, and on a length of 4,580mm, it sits neatly between VW’s Tiguan at 4,486mm and the Tiguan Allspace, a seven seater and 4,701mm in length. Crucially, it will offer cargo space of 543L (rear seats up) to 1,575L (seats folded), offset against the Tiguan’s 615L/1,775L and the Allspace’s 230L and 1,655L. Up front is a cargo area of sorts, with the cargo being the 12V battery for the ID.4’s ancilliaries and accessories, plus the various cooling system equipment parts.

ID.4 will be built across three continents and in five factories, highlighting the still “Dieselgate” beleaguered company’s move to a stronger EV presence in a market that is growing worldwide.

Ralf Brandstätter is the CEO of Volkswagen, and he firmly believes in positioning this EV as a mainstream model “with the potential for significant volumes.” Those volumes, he says, are in in Europe, China, and North America. The ID.4 will also “play host” to a range of related brand vehicles from Skoda, Audi, and Cupra.

Future versions of the ID.4 are said to include all-wheel drive and a choice of both batteries and engines. These include a 109kW, 125kW, 129kW or 150kW rear-mounted electric motor with a 52kWh battery the power source for the first two, and a 77kWh battery for the latter. This battery

will also be the source for two all-wheel drive versions, with either 195kW or a mooted GTX packing the 225kW engine.

Kleva Kluger Is A Hefty Hybrid.

Toyota’s near twenty year old Kluger nameplate is joining the Toyota family of Hybrids. The big petrol powered machine, which has never had a diesel option, weighs in at a hefty two thousand kilos (dry) in its forthcoming Hybrid form. It will become the eighth Hybrid for the Japanese company.

The Kluger will come in 2WD or AWD petrol, or AWD Hybrid, and the Hybrid has the Toyota 2.5L petrol, whilst the Kluger stays with the familiar 3.5L V6 capacity in a new engine block. There willbe three trims levels, with the GX 2WD petrol starting from $47,650, the GXL 2WD petrol from $56,850, and Grande 2WD petrol from $68,900. Move to AWD and pricing runs at: GX AWD petrol from $51,650,
GXL AWD petrol from $60,850, and Grande AWD petrol from $72,900. The Hybrid range starts from $54,150 for the GX AWD hybrid, $63,350 for the GXL AWD hybrid, and $75,400 for the Grande AWD hybrid. Premium paint is a $675 option, with the Grande offering a rear seat entertainment system at $1,500.Sean Hanley, the Toyota Australia Vice President Sales and Marketing, said the addition of a hybrid option to one of Australia’s favourite family SUVs demonstrated Toyota’s commitment to driving sustainability forward. “The popularity of SUVs continues to grow and the new Kluger hybrid models mean that families can have all the space, comfort, refinement and versatility of a large SUV with a low environmental impact. In addition to that, the stylish new look, improved safety and high level of advanced technology makes the Kluger the perfect SUV for the modern family.Power comes from the 2.5L four and a pair of electric motors up front, backed by a single rear mounted engine. Toyota says the Hybrid’s combined power is 184kW, with the petrol engine contributing 142kW itself. Torque isn’t quoted for the Hybrid, however 242Nm is the 2.5L petrol engine’s figure and emissions of 128g/km. Jump to the 3.5L and 218kW is backed by 350Nm with drive being passed through a new eight speed auto.

The Hybrid has an electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT). The e-Four AWD system allows up to 100 per cent of drive to be sent through the front wheels or up to 80 per cent through the rear, depending on the conditions being driven in. This Dynamic Torque Control AWD system, which effectively disconnects the rear diff when AWD isn’t required, will be available in the GX and GXL. The Grande also receives a torque vectoring system, splitting torque to left or right as required. There will be three driving modes too, with Eco, Normal, and Sport offering a breadth of choice. Also included in the AWD models is a terrain adjustable program for Rock and Dirt, Mud and Sand soft-roading.Underneath the wheelhouse, the new Kluger is built on an updated chassis, called Toyota New Global Architecture or TNGA platform. The wheelbase is increased by 60mm longer wheelbase as is the overall length. It’s also somewhat broader than the current 2021 model for more interior room and stability on road. The suspension has been redesigned with multilink front and rear setups, with better overall ride quality, better handling, and better behaviour under braking conditions. Bigger discs at 340mm front and 338mm add their presence.

An exterior revamp sees a lessening of the heavily squared-jaw look, with slim LED headlights and taillights, with the front fenders rolling inwards slightly at the top for a visual weight reduction. There is a new line for the rear wheel arches, with a sinuous curve rolling up from the doors that reminds of the current IndyCar rear structure. Wheels themselves will be 18 inch alloys on the GX and GXL, and bespoke Chromtec 20 inch alloys for the Grande.The increase in space means increased comfort and Toyota adds in sliding and 60/40 split centre row seats, with the seven seater having 60/40 split fold also. Trim material finish has gone up a grade with soft touch dash materials, a higher quality cloth trim in the GX, and faux leather for the GXL. That grade also has gained heated front pews. GX and GXL have an 8.0 inch touchscreen, Android and Apple compatibility with DAB and Bluetooth, plus satnav for the GXL along with tri-zone climate control. Grande adds in a sunroof, HUD, and an 11 speaker audio system from JBL.

GX has dual zone, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers as standard. Five USB ports make for family friendly smart usage. The increased wheelbase adds up to increase the cargo and third row space as well. Also upped is safety, with Toyota’s Safety Sense gaining traffic sign recognition, intersection turn assist, and emergency steering assist across the three, backing up the already substantial safety package.

The current expected release date for Australia is June.

Overseas model shown, courtesy of Toyota

2021 Subaru XV S & Premium: Private Fleet Car Review.

Subaru in Australia positions itself as a niche player. That may well be the case but it also does the brand a disservice. For example, March of 2021 saw 4,212 Subarus sold, with over 10,700 on a year-to-date basis. That puts the brand, for the month and YTD, ahead of Volkswagen, Honda, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, and just over 300 shy of Nissan. It’s one of the brand’s best set of sales numbers.It’s an astounding result for the company here in Australia given the range is Outback, BRZ sports coupe, Forester, Impreza sedan and wagon, WRX, and Impreza wagon-based XV. There is no large SUV nor a two or four door, two or four wheel drive ute.We were able to drive, back-to-back, two examples of the late-2020 updated XV. In honesty, the naming system needs work, with a base model simply called XV, then L and a hybrid, Premium, then S and a hybrid version. S and then Premium is what we were supplied with however it would make more sense to change S to Premium and vice-versa.

For 2021 there have been some minor changes to pricing. The base model starts from $29,690 (up $450), with the L from $31,990. That’s an increase of $380. The Premium jumps by a heft $1,170 to $34,590, with the S up by $760 to $37,290. The Hybrids, now a pair rather than a single offering are unchanged at 435,490 and $40,790. These are not inclusive of on-road costs.Externally there are minimal sheetmetal differences between the two. The wheels themselves are different in design, plus have an inch of diameter in difference. The Premium has 17s, the S has 18s and a more striking design. The Premium sources rubber from Yokohama at 225/60, the S has Bridgestones at 225/55. A mid-life update in late 2020 saw minor tweaks to the front bumper and around the driving lights in the lower sections, plus a refresh of the grille.The Premium now has folding wing mirrors and they’re heated as well. The S has self-leveling headlights and they are auto on, as are the wipers. Unfortunately the Premium and below don’t have auto on lights, a safety issue in our opinion.

There is an extensive colour palette too, including Lagoon Blue for the Hybrids. There is Crystal White, Dark Blue and Horizon Blue, Magnetite Grey and Crystal Black, along with Cool Grey, Ice Silver, Plasma Yellow and Pure Red.On the road the pair have gained suspension updates too, with a change to the front providing a slightly more precise handling. The front has MacPherson struts & coil springs, with the rear having double wishbones. Although ostensibly there’s been no change to the rear it feels slightly softer and more compliant over the smaller ruts and bumps. It’s quick to damp out any intrusioons from the road however we did notice some bump steer and a slight skip sideways over road joins.Drivewise the engine and transmission are unchanged, with the 2.0L flat four working quite handily with the CVT. It’s modestly powered at 115kW, with torque a handy 196Nm. The trick to extracting the best from the CVT is to not go heavy and hard from the start on the accelerator.A light but progressive press seems to extract the best overall acceleration, with a linear growth in speed, rather than the more traditional feel of slipping under pressure.

There is manual shifting available via paddle shifts, which can be quite handy in certain driving conditions such as uphill traffic, providing the driver with more overall control. Having said that, the CVT in both did display some of the traits they’re known for, with sensations of surging at low speed, but we also have to say that they weren’t as noisy as we’ve experienced.The drive system now has the SI Drive, an electronic program that adds some sporting spice to the engine’s mapping and the the changes in the CVT’s seven preset ratios. The S mode sharpens the throttle response and the XV feels sprightlier, zippier, and makes for better highway manouvering. The steering itself has some weight to it, but not so that it’s fighting the AWD system. It’s quick in response, and is ratioed for a tight 10.8 metre turning circle. The AWD system is naturally well sorted with no noticeable pull from either end but the grip levels are noted when hunting corners at speed.

Economy on both finished smack on 7.0L/100km, equaling the quoted economy figure on the combined cycle. However, our figures were on a our traditional 70/30 urban to highway, with Subaru quoting 8.8L/100km for the urban cycle. It’s a reasonable highway cruiser, with the revs ticking over just below 2,000 at Australian limits. It’s quiet, too, with the engine only showcasing its metallic keen and the boxer warble from the exhaust when pressed.

Safety for the Premium sees the “Vision Assist” package added in, with the Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, automatic braking in reverse if an object is sensed, and a front view monitor via a left wing mirror camera. The whole range has seven airbags including a kneebag. All but the entry level version have the Eyesight package which includes Adaptive Cruise, Brake Light Recognition which alerts the driver to say the vehicle ahead has moved on, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keep Assist. The latter is less aggressive in its workings than that found in the two Korean brands. Tyre Pressure Monitoring is standard, however, across all models.The S ups the ante thanks to Subaru’s X-Mode, a preprogrammed soft-road mode for snow or mild off-roading. There’s a bit of extra “looxshoory” with memory seating for the driver, heating but no venting for the front seats, good looking stitching across the dash and binnacle, piano black gloss trim, and auto dipping wing mirrors.

The expected user controls such as Info on the lower left of the steering wheel remain, showing a multitude of options on the dashboard’s upper screen. The 6.3 inch main screen stays with its frustrating lack of information being fully displayed as in artist and song title, whilst otherwise remaining easy to read and use.Premium has cloth covering in the centre of the seats and it’s a funky mix of bright yellow stitching contrasting with the light grey cloth and black leather. The interior door handles have a faux carbon-fibre inset, with the S having a higher quality sheen. The S also has alloy pedals and footrest. The rear seats have a fold-out centre section with two cupholders.Neither have a charge pad for smartphones nor a powered tailgate. There are 12V sockets up front but no rear seat ports. Cargo space is 310L with the rear seats up, 765L when they’re folded. The spare is a temporary or space saver. With the XV being the same body as the Impreza hatch, but raised in ride height, it makes for loading the cargo bay just that little bit easier thanks to less bending down.There’s a five year and unlimited kilometre warranty on the XV range, with capped price servicing with prices available via your dealer. There is also 12 months complimentary roadside assistance, and three years satnav maps update.At The End Of The Drive. It’s an axiom of driving a car that you’ll suddenly see “thousands” of the same car all of a sudden. That was so true during our fortnight with the S and Premium, with an XV seemingly on every corner.

There’s good reason for that; the Subaru XV is a willing performer, well priced, and not a bad drive once the vagaries of CVTs are understood. Economy is a plus too, so the hip pocket pain is minimised. Not unattractive to look at in the driveway is another plus, making the 2021 Subaru XV the smart choice.

With thanks to Subaru Australia.

Australian Car Sales Continue The Upwards Swing.

VFACTS and the FCAI have released the sales figures for March of 2021 and it’s good news. March 2021 saw 100,005 units moved, an increase of 18,315 over March of 2020. In a year to date sales sense it’s 263,648, up from 233,361 for the same time last year.

SUV sales were up 32 per cent and Light Commercial vehicles were up by 28 per cent. Eight of the top ten selling vehicles for the month were SUVs or Light Commercials, driven by increasing demand from the Private buyers.

Category wise, the passenger segment went down from 21,783 to 21,360. The SUV figures were 51,705 compared to 39,162 in March 2020. LCVs were 23,255, up from 18,165 in March 2020.

In the Passenger car segment Hybrids saw a slight increase, with 2,658, up from 2,441 in March 2020. Hybrid SUVs also saw an increase, with 2,190 in March 2020 up to 3,890 this year. PHEV SUVs doubled from 119 to 258.

For the Light Cars (under $25K), MG’s MG3 took the crown, with 1,238, an increase of over 30%. Third place was a real battle with Suzuki Swift (471), Kia Rio (452), and Suzuki Baleno (432) making a good sales fight, whilst in between was the Toyota Yaris on 636.

Small Cars (under $40K) and Toyota’s Corolla was under pressure from Hyundai’s i30. The Corolla moved 2,892 against 2,514. Third was tight with the Mazda3 just pipping the Kia Cerato, with 1,577 to 1,453. In the plus $40K range it was a battle between the German duo of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The A-Class stole first on 358, just nudging the 1 Series on 340. The 2 Series Gran Coupe took third on 222.

For the Medium segment it was the Toyota Camry out in front in both the under and over $60K bracket. 852 units moved, ahead of the BMW 3 Series on 567, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class on 364. Camry, though, was down substantially from 2020, with 1,332 last year.

Kia’s Stinger continued to win the Large Sedan, with 173, down by just two from last year. Porsche’s new Taycan, a fully Electric Vehicle, entered with 161, six ahead of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Kia also outclassed the competition in the People Mover segment, with the Carnival reaching 616, up from 475 in March 2020. Honda’s Odyssey consolidates second with 162, up from 130.

Volkswagen snared third with its new Multivan for 121. In the over $60K segment it was Mercedes, Mercedes, and Toyota, with the V-Class (42), Valente (24) and Granvia (22), duking it out.

There’s been a change in the Sports car segment though. Ford’s Mustang still sold the most with 130 in the under $80K segment, however was outsold by the Mercedes-Benz in the over $80K by the C-Class Coupe and Convertible on 139. The 4 Series from BMW snared 110 for third in both segments.

Moving into the SUV segment and in the Light SUV category Mazda’s CX3 pummeled the opposition in the sub-$40K bracket with 1,744. Toyota’s Yaris Cross slid quickly into second on 846. For third it was another tight battle with Volkswagen’s T-Cross (655) edging out the Hyundai venue and Kia’s new Stonic on 636 and 624.

For the under $40K Small SUVs the Chinese made MG ZS stole the show on 1,510. Hyundai’s recently revamped Kona saw 1,462, just ahead of the Mazda CX-30 on 1,225. Nissan’s Qashqai was the only other entrant into the 1,000 club, squeaking in on 1,003.

Above $40K and Audi’s Q3 found 852 homes, ahead of the Volvo CX40 with 416. 279 and 249 went to Germany, with the X1 from BMW and GLA-Class from Mercedes. Mazda’s CX-5 gave the RAV4 a shake in the Medium sub-$60K, with Toyota selling 3,522 over the Mazda’s 3,022. Nissan’s X-Trail performed solidly for 1,932, just ahead of Subaru’s Forester with 1,439. Mitsubishi’s Outlander 1,085, just ahead of Honda’s CR-V on 972.

In the plus $60K bracket, only Mercedes cracked the 600 mark on 607 for the GLB. The GLC-Class wagon was a distant second with 374, with Audi Q5 on 336. The Lexus NX and BMW X5 went nose to nose on 295 and 291.

In the Large SUVs and under $70K it was Subaru’s outgoing and incoming Outback with 1,341, ahead of the 1,211 for Toyota’s Prado. 1,179 is the number for the Isuzu M-UX. Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport sold 886, whilst their ancient Pajero, due to be cancelled at the end of the year, sold 292.

Over $70K and it was the X5 on 309. Behind it was some close infighting with the Lexus RX (185), Range Rover Sport (181), and GLE-Class wagon (176) providing stiff competition for each other. Above that it’s a two horse race in the Upper large under $100K, with the LandCruiser and Patrol on 2,244 and 305, selling nearly eight times as many than the full field in the over $100K bracket.

In the ute segment, the 4×4 pickup and cab-chassis bracket had HiLux on 4,068 ahead of Ford Ranger with 3,710, continuing the Japanese brand’s number one position. Mitsubishi’s 4×4 Triton moved 2,223 for third. Isuzu’s D-Max was fourth on 1,338, ahead of the Mazda BT-50 and sibling under the skin, on 1,177.

Notable in those figures is the rise of the sharply priced Chinese built MG range, and the continued growth of non-PHEV Hybrids. Overall for March 2021, Toyota sold 21,319, with Mazda on 10,785. They were the only two brands to see double-digits for the month. Hyundai continues to outpace its Korean sibling, with 6,852 over 5,802. Mitsubishi moved 6,430 whilst Nissan sold 4,559, under the 5,977 of Ford. MG? 3,303 and ahead of Honda.

X Marks The Spot For Genesis

Genesis has unveiled a new concept car. A stylish, low set coupe, the Genesis X is an EV and GT (Gran Turismo)for the future. Launched in a hi-tech media joint presentation with Jason B. Bergh with the location being a private rooftop in Los Angeles, and a showing of a film that brought together the Californian car culture to meet the vision of Genesis and its sustainable ideals, Genesis X highlights a different take on concept cars.A key visual identification of the concept is the Genesis Two Lines element. Seen in the company’s current vehicles, the Two Lines is extended on the concept, both on the exterior and interior, and the charging devices built in.

Exterior design work sees the bonnet a one-piece “clamshell” unit, presenting a harmonious and uniform surface. The unbroken appearance allowed the designers to highlight the Two Lines idealism with both fenders having an unbroken sweep of lights strips from either side of the signature Genesis grille towards the door lines.

The grille’s structure has been reworked for a deeper three dimensional presence, and the interior sections have been painted the same Lençóis Blue as the concept’s exterior. The colour is said to evoke the hue seen in the lagoons of the Maranhenses National Park in Brazil, where a lake forms only during the rainy season. This sits above a classically styled air intake and thinner lines for the grille structure.

This brings to the Genesis X concept a sporting look yet functionality isn’t overlooked, with air to cool the electrics and batteries, channeling air through a aero-designed undertray for efficiency and increased drag reduction for better range.Jay Chang, the Global Head of the Genesis Brand, observed: “The car that we are unveiling today is a concept car that embodies the essential elements that Genesis pursues in its designs. Please take a moment to meet the future of Genesis design through this concept car, which embodies our brand’s progressive and audacious spirit.” SangYup Lee, the brand’s Global Design Chief, echoes that with: “The Genesis X Concept can be described as the ultimate vision of Athletic Elegance, the inherent design language of Genesis. The signature Two Lines theme and sustainable luxury will be blueprints for the futuristic designs and state-of-the-art technologies that Genesis seeks to adopt in its future models.”

In profile it’s a classic GT motif, with long bonnet and truncated rear, joined by a gentle parabolic curve that in a quarter view highlights the tapering cabin and rear wheel flares. The rear has a dual parabola oval that houses the Two Lines taillights. There is no visible bootline seen in the concept though. The rear window has a pair of metallised strips that visually counterbalance the front and look to be, on the left side, the port for the charging of the battery. There’s more aero and tech with the wing mirrors eschewing the traditional glass mirrors. Here, Genesis goes slimline and embeds digital cameras. Aero and sportiness are combined in the bespoke, yet simple, five spoke wheels. These will cool the brake calipers whilst minimising drag at speed.For the interior Genesis highlight their “green” aspirations with “upcycled” leather trim. These are made from leftover materials, rather than sourcing them from new. In a weave pattern, the material is used on sections of the steering wheel, the safety belts, and the airbag cover. Also, to differentiate between driver and passenger for the four seater coupe, the trim designers took the unusual route of using two different colours. The passenger’s trim is Ocean Wave Green Blue, the driver’s a Scotch Brown.There’s further differentiation with the driver’s seat separated from the passenger via a solid looking floating console with a wrap around binnacle enveloping the driver’s section. This houses the Free-Form display, which manages various functions such as clusters, navigation and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, and the Crystal Sphere Electronic Shift Lever, which integrates driving mode settings. Again, the designers have woven in the Two Lines ideal, with the binnacle drawing the lines to the air vents and side window mouldings.To debut the Genesis X Concept to consumers around the globe, the brand opened its digital motor show website (digitalmotorshow.genesis.com) with the unveiling of the concept car, offering visitors various interactive experiences and 360-degree views of its interior and exterior.

At the time of writing, Genesis had not released details of the EV drive.