As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Technical

A Few Snags With Voice Control Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50-11: Man’s Greatest Small Step.

“Houston. Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger Tranquillity, we copy you on the ground, you got a bunch of guys here about to turn blue, we’re breathing again, thanks a lot.”

These two sentences marked the ending of the first part of mankind’s most audacious mission ever. Just eight years before, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy had presented a speech which included the words:”First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”Through an intensive recruiting process, the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Mercury and Gemini missions with one and two astronauts, the tragedy of the losses of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White in a test inside what would be called Apollo 1, those eight years would culminate in words spoken by Neil Armstrong just before 10:52pm Greenwich Mean Time on July 20, 1969.

“Ok, I’m just about to step off the LEM now.” And moments later:”That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”Barely seven hours before, the lunar module dubbed “Eagle” had landed safely, but not without some peril, in an area of the moon called the Sea of Tranquillity. The proposed landing site was found, with barely a couple of minutes of fuel left inside the LM, to be dangerously strewn with boulders of a size that, if the Eagle had landed, would have been at an angle that may have resulted in the two level craft tipping over or at an angle that would not allow the upper or ascent stage to fire back into lunar orbit with Armstrong and the second man to walk upon the moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, aboard.

In orbit 110 kilometres above was Michael Collins, aboard the Command Service Module, named Columbia. He would soon be the loneliest human being in existence as Columbia would orbit to the far side of the moon and be the furthest human from Earth for up to 45 minutes.At 13:32 GMT, or 11:32pm Sydney time, on Wednesday July 16, 1969, the massive Saturn V rocket fired upwards from Cape Kennedy. The five F-1 main stage rockets, delivering a million and a half pounds of thrust each, drinking 15 tons of fuel each, took the 363 feet tall behemoth to a low earth orbit point before separating from the second stage.

Once upon the moon’s surface the pair would speak to President Richard Nixon, lay out and perform experiments, and read the words printed upon a plaque fitted to one of the four legs of the descent stage. “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind” The first lunar moon walks would occupy just two and a half hours, which also included the collection of moon surface samples to be returned to earth.Live footage of the descent of Armstrong descending the LM’s ladder was beamed to the world via the radio telescope in Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek, near Canberra. The back story of this, including the powerful wind storm that hit Parkes just as Armstrong began his historic descent, is immortalised in the film “the Dish”.

After just under 22 hours on the surface, Aldrin and Armstrong would lift off, but this too, was not without issue. A small but incredibly vital switch, the switch to fire the ascent stage engine, had been broken by Aldrin accidentally. Aldrin managed a quick fix with a felt tipped pen, jammed into where the switch should have been.On July 24, the conical Command Module would re-enter the atmosphere, and successfully landed the crew and their ship in the Pacific Ocean. Battered and discoloured from the immense heat, this module now resides in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. The ascent stage’s whereabouts are unknown but is thought to have crashed onto the moon after a series of decaying orbits.
The three astronauts would receive a hero’s welcome upon their arrival aboard the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier tasked with retrieving them, and would be given a bigger welcome back in the U.S.A.

To date, just twelve men have walked upon the moon.

July 20, 1969, is the date, 50 years ago, that Apollo 11 landed the first two of those 12.

 

Give Me A Brake

Imagine that you’re driving along a typical suburban street.  A movement to the side catches your eye and you spot somebody’s dog off the leash madly rushing full tilt down a driveway, barking madly at the cat across the road.  Next thing you know, Doggo is rushing into the road.  Without thinking, your right foot darts off the accelerator and hard onto the brake.  Your car screeches to a standstill, stopping short of that lunatic of a dog and shoving you hard against your seatbelt.  You growl something about idiotic animals and people who can’t control their dogs, then keep on going, barely thinking about the mechanical miracle that has just taken place.

Brakes. We take them for granted, especially after we’ve been driving for a few years.  However, they are super-important for safety.  Imagine what it would be like without them.  You might have had a small taste of this sort of thing as a child if you screamed downhill on a scooter or skateboard (or, in my case, a bike with worn-out brake pads) – that feeling of being out of control and knowing that gravity will accelerate you faster and that there’s no way of checking or slowing that thing down.

Needless to say, brakes pre-date cars.  Steam trains needed them and so did stagecoaches, and the basic principle behind all brakes is the same.  The vehicle is moving because the wheels are turning, so to stop it moving or to slow that motion down, one needs to slow the wheels down. This is done by clamping something large and hard onto the wheel, which produces friction that soaks up the kinetic energy of the wheels. And this is the first and most important mechanical principle behind any brake: friction.  The bigger the surface area applied to the turning wheels and the more force it’s applied with, the more quickly the turning stops.

In your car, the friction is applied by disc brakes, which have been around since Citroën put them on mass produced cars in 1955.  Disc brakes consist of a metal disc that’s incorporated into the wheel. You can have a powerful pair of callipers that grab this disc as it spins and slow the turning that way.  You can think of it as a more sophisticated adaptation of your old bike brakes: instead of grabbing the whole rim, it grabs something near the centre. The callipers are fitted with brake pads that are usually made of tough rubber, which absorbs heaps of force and can handle heat – and you need to make sure that you replace your brake pads on a regular basis, as they do wear out over time and you’re sunk without them.  You’ve also got drum brakes (or disc and drum), where a stationary disk covered with an energy absorbing lining, known as a shoe, presses against the disc, applying the necessary friction.

A lot of kinetic energy and a lot of momentum are involved in a moving car.  However, it takes the subtlest bit of pressure to slow a vehicle from, say, 100 km/h to 85 km/h as you approach a corner.  If your average mid-sized sedan has a mass of 1600 kg and the equation for velocity is K = (m × v2)/2… you’ll have gone from 617.83 kilojoules to 445.98 kilojoules or a difference of 171 kJ.  This is equivalent to roughly the energy expended by a petite woman doing slow dancing for quarter of an hour… and you sure didn’t apply that much with that little twitch of your foot. Obviously, something’s happened to amplify what your feet and legs did or the car wouldn’t have responded one iota.

The next mechanical principle that kicks in is the one discovered by Archimedes and I don’t mean the one that saw him running through the streets in the nude shouting “Eureka!” after his bathtub overflowed.  I mean the “Give me a long enough lever and a firm place to stand, and I can move the world.” In other words, the lever principle. One tiny movement on the short end leads to a lot of movement on the long end.  This is certainly at play in your brake system but amplification comes in the form of fluid courtesy of the principles of hydraulics.  Don’t make me go into the equations for hydraulics, as that’s university-level physics and I didn’t study that.

Fluids can’t be squashed, which is how water pistols work. Actually, a water pistol is a good place to start understanding the principles of hydraulics. You couldn’t throw water with one finger very far or with much force, but by applying pressure to that water, you can get quite a bit of water going a fair distance, preferably onto your big brother’s face.  The main force goes from your brake pedal to the master cylinder, which converts the force of your foot into hydraulic pressure, like your finger on the trigger of a water pistol.  The brake fluid then exerts pressure on the slave cylinders (one for each wheel that has the brakes) and the slaves apply the brake drum or the callipers, and everything kicks in to slow the vehicle down.

There are a lot of moving parts involved and naturally, given the nature of things, the business end of the brake will wear out over time.  And they will need to be replaced, so you really don’t want to try cheating or skipping on this important part of car maintenance.

If, for whatever reason, you’re in the scary situation where any of these systems fails, here’s what you do:

Blowing Hot And Cold: The Role Of The Radiator

When you take a look under the hood of your car, an awful lot of the space in there is taken up with the cooling system – that’s if you’ve got a vehicle that gets its motive power from an internal combustion engine (ICE).  In fact, the complexity and the importance of the cooling system in an ICE vehicle – and the consequences for your car engine if something goes wrong with it – is one of the things that makes electric vehicles look very attractive.

The topic is on my mind somewhat, as last week saw me standing around at the mechanic’s garage looking at a faulty radiator and getting the bad news that my old 4×4 was terminally ill.  It was at that moment that even though I live in a rural area where the range of electric vehicles isn’t practical, I liked the idea of EVs, as they have none of the radiator-related hassles.  (The 4×4 is going to be replaced by a smaller Toyota Camry, as I never took the 4×4 off-road all that much, but that’s another story).

Anyway, enough about me and let’s get onto radiators.

In an ICE vehicle, the rotational motion needed to turn the wheels is produced by a controlled explosion pushing a piston up and down.  If you’ve ever used petrol or diesel to get a sluggish bonfire going, then you’ve probably seen just how explosive these fuels are and how much heat is released.  In fact, quite a lot of the chemical potential energy contained in these fossil fuels – or their biofuel equivalents – is converted into heat energy rather than kinetic (motion) energy.  Actually, probably most of it goes to heat energy, which is why an ICE isn’t a terribly efficient machine, as the amount of energy going in (in the form of chemical potential energy) is nowhere near the amount of kinetic energy going out – and some gets lost as sound energy as well.  For your information, the most efficient machine in terms of the ratio of energy out to energy in is a bicycle… and we don’t really mind if it burns a few more kilojoules in this case.

All that heat energy has to go somewhere or before long, it will melt the engine.  It was heat that got the metal of the engine out of the rocks it came from and into the shape that it is now, after all.  Nobody wants that, so the aim is to get the heat away from the engine and somewhere else where it won’t do any damage.  Most modern engines use a liquid cooling system rather than air cooling, as heating up water soaks up a few more joules. It takes more energy to heat water than to heat air, as we’ve all found out on sunny days in spring when the air is warm but if you try taking a dip in an outdoor swimming pool or the sea, the water still feels like ice.  The solution is to have a bunch of pipes running through and around the engine and these will take the heat away from the engine and somewhere else.  Add in coolant that has an even higher boiling point than water and you can soak up even more heat.

There’s one small problem, and that’s the fact that if water boils, it turns to steam, which, as Isaac Watt noticed with his mother’s kettle all those years ago, expands and exerts a force on what’s around it.  This is how a steam engine works (and makes you wonder if an ICE–steam hybrid is possible: something that relies on the ICE driving the pistons until it builds up a good head of steam and then uses the steam).  However, putting water under pressure increases the boiling point, which is why water boils at low temperatures at altitude.  Of course, too much pressure will blow the hoses as well, so there’s a little regulator that keeps it just right.

If the water stayed put, it would boil quickly, so an extra trick is to keep the water moving.  This is what the job of the water pump is: it moves the water through the system so the water has a chance to shed that heat energy somewhere once it’s away from the business department of the engine.

Once the water has moved away from the explosive part of the engine carrying the excess heat energy, it needs to get rid of that heat before it’s pumped around again.  This is where the radiator comes in.  The radiator has the important job of dissipating the heat energy to the atmosphere.  The core of the radiator consists of a honeycomb of little tubes, usually made of aluminium, which has good heat transfer properties.  The aim of the game is to have lots of surface area to maximise the amount of air that can be exposed to the heat and take it away into the general atmosphere.  To ensure that the air in question goes away from the engine rather than towards it, there’s a fan or two in place to whirr it in the right direction; pretty amazing when you think of the speed at which the car’s travelling.

If the weather is a bit chilly, then the people inside the cabin of the car would actually like to have a bit of that hot air, thank you very much. This is where the car’s heating system comes in.  This takes a bit of the water from the system and puts it through another core – the radiator’s mini-me – and blows it through the vents into the cabin so you can warm up your cold pinkies and toesies – and get the mist off the windscreen so you can see where you’re going.  It’s all interconnected, reminding me somewhat of how your blood circulates.  In the case of my poor old 4×4, the heater suddenly deciding not to blow hot air was the equivalent of a nasty pain in the left shoulder radiating down the arm…

Actually, using your blood circulation system isn’t a bad analogy.  In either case, if there’s a blockage or if something blows because the pressure isn’t right, you’ve got serious, serious trouble.  Blood does indeed help your human engine regulate its temperature and it does this by restricting the flow to extremities when the thermometer does down, which is why it’s your fingers and toes that get cold first.  To get rid of excess heat, the body also does the “increase the surface area” thing, which is why your face gets red when you’re toasty.

Of course, if the weather cold outside and you’re putting on the hats, thick socks and gloves to stop uncomfortable heat loss into the surrounding air, then there’s a chance that the water inside the system will freeze up inside the radiator – as the laws of thermodynamics tell us, heat goes from the hotter thing to the colder thing, even if the “hotter” thing is at 1°C and the colder thing is at –4°C.  Frozen water won’t flow, so you get a blockage in the radiator system, which you don’t want.  It gets worse, too: water expands when it freezes (the only substance to do so) and it can bust any part of the cooling system it fancies in this case.  The solution is to add antifreeze, which has a lower freezing point than water.  Amazingly, the most common antifreeze, ethylene glycol, also acts as the coolant, as it has a higher boiling point and a lower freezing point.

It’s a complicated system – which is why if you haven’t checked the fluids in your engine lately or given the system a proper flush out as part of servicing, then you won’t get as much out of your ICE as you ought to.  Don’t ever neglect this part of car maintenance and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Highlander Electric

This Car Review Is About: Hyundai dipping a toe into the battery powered waters of electric cars. The Korean company has the Ioniq range of petrol/hybrid/battery, whereas the Kona has no hybrid option.With a range of around 460 kilometres, it’s more than suitable for daily running around in the urban environment, and so it proved during our week-long test.

What Does It Cost?: The range of Kona Electric starts at $59,999. That’s before government charges and dealership costs. The Highlander starts in the middle $60k range, and that puts it within the ballpark of the forthcoming Tesla Model 3. The car comes with a charge cable which plugs into a standard home power socket. For an extra couple of thousand Hyundai will supply an adapter box that gets installed at home. At a rate of around7.2kW per hour of charge, it trickle charges at a rate good enough to avoid range anxiety if plugged in overnight. In the week we drove it, it was topped up just twice.On The Outside Is: A car that is possibly overdone in styling to alert people to the fact it’s an electric car. The Tesla range, for the sake of inevitable comparisons, look like a normal set of cars outside, and have a distinctive yet still normal-ish look inside.

Front and rear lower bumpers have been restyled in comparison to the standard versions. There is a ripple, wave like, motif to them, and the front looses the centrally mounted driving lights. Somewhere in the front guards are cornering lamps, barely visible unless looking for them. Our test car was clad in a two-tone metallic Ceramic Blue and Chalk White body and roof styling, with a number of exterior colours and combinations available, at a reasonable cost of under $600 for the metallic paints. The wheels are bladed five spoke items, with the blades sporting a heavily dimpled design on one half of each of the slabby five spoked design.These reflect the nose of the Kona Electric. As there is no need for a traditional cooling system, the front has the air intakes replaced with a plastic insert that draws attention to itself by virtue of these dimples. The colour highlights these quite strongly too. This nose section houses the charge port, and here Hyundai has a solid win.

Press lightly and the cover pops open. Insert the Type 2 Mennekes charger device which is found in a sturdy bag in the undercover cargo section, attach to an extension cable, a green loop lights up, and charging is underway. To remove the charger requires nought more than a push of a simple press-stud. It’s more effective and far more simple than Tesla’s overthought system.The overall look is very close to the normal Kona but the dimpled look is probably a non-necessary addition. The dimpled wheels are unnecessary too. Normal looking wheels would have toned down the “look at me, I’m electric!” look.

On The Inside: The Kona Electric interior is more sci-fi than traditional in some aspects. The seats are vented and heated, with the car provided having white leather-look material which wouldn’t be suitable for younger childre.. The steering wheel is heated, there are cup and bottle holders, and a wireless charge pad for compatible smartphones, plus a USB port or two. All normal.

Then Hyundai goes to Star Trek inspired designs for the centre console. Its a floating or split level design and not exactly easy to get items into the lower storage section. The upper level is home to four buttons for engaging the drive, a tab for the heated steering wheel, another for three drive modes (Sport/Normal/Eco), and all in a somewhat chintzy looking silver. It’s horribly overdone, visually tiring, and goes past the point of sensible in pointing out to passengers they’re in an electric car.There are some good points: the drive modes change the look of the full colour LCD screen that is located inside an analogue dial. These, at least, look sensible and appropriate. There are different colours and looks to the kinds of information being displayed. There is also a HUD or Head Up Display for safer driving. The touchscreen is slightly revamped to take advantage of the propulsion system and has sub-screens that allow for personalisation and adjustment of the drive modes.

In regards to charger points for public usage, the onboard map system has these preprogrammed. That’s a good thing as this particular kind of charge point seemed to be a little spare on the group using certain apps.On The Road It’s: Soft in the suspension. It’s a well controlled softness, but it’s soft. There’s a lot of travel in each end, with the front exhibiting more sponginess than the rear. It really does feel as if it could do with a dialing up of the stiffness with a corresponding change in dampening to provide a still progressive yet tauter setup for a better ride. Hyundai say that something like 37 different damper combinations and a number of varying spring and anti-roll-bar setups were tried. However, it must be said that the suspension has to deal with 1700 kilos or so, which includes the floor mounted battery pack. That does help with handling by providing a low centre of gravity, so that softness, although the final result of the extensive testing, may not be to everyone’s taste.

There’s an unexpectedly high amount of road noise too. There’s a sensation of wind coming in via a door left open in respect to the noise level. The ecofriendly rubber adds to the ambient noise levels also.Acceleration is decently quick with a sub eight second 0-100 time, and there’s a gauge in the dash that tells you the percentage of normal, economical, and aggressive driving. Even with our drive routinely seeing hard launches, never did that aggressive driving gauge get above 2%.

To engage Drive, one places a foot on the brake pedal, presses the normal looking Start/Stop button, then presses one of the four drive buttons to get underway. Drive, Reverse, Park, Neutral are the choices.

Actual physical engagement of the drive gear is instant here, and the system does insist upon the brake pedal being used, for example, when selecting Drive from Reverse. Here Hyundai go a little more sci-fi in the aural side. There is an eerie whine, an almost subliminal sound that has people wondering if they’re hearing it or not, as it never goes beyond the level of a faint background noise.

There is a question mark about the drive system. The car reviewed was the Highlander model, meaning it came with the HUD in the dash, heating & venting in the seats etc. However the drive system was front wheel only. This meant that the front rubber would scrabble for grip off the line in those same hard launches.

There are three drive modes, which seem redundant for an electrically powered car. They’re activated via a selection tab in the console and Hyundai do provide personalisation of each for items such as climate control and recharge via the touchscreen. Regeneration levels are also changeable via a pair of paddles behind the tiller. These same paddles allow for bringing the vehicle to a full halt if the left paddle is held.The steering itself is heavier than expected in normal driving. That’s more to say it’s not as assisted as expected, feeling more akin to the front rubber being deflated by around 20 to 30 percent. All up, though, the Kona Electric, for all of its perceived deadweight, is nimble enough, with rapid and unfussed lane changing when required, a definitive sense of weight transfer when lifting off the accelerator, and the mid range urge is enough to raise a smile. Punch it whislt using the heated seats and steering wheel though, and watch that expected range figure drop, and rapidly.

It’s otherwise a delightfully enjoyable cruiser but “suffers” from a peculiar quirk. Although the electronic brains engage the drive systems almost instantly between Drive/Reverse, from a standing start there’s a small but perceptible hesitation before the actual drive kicks in. Think of that momentary lag along the lines of a diesel’s slight intake of breath. It’s an unusual sensation however once knowing it happens all of the time, adjustments on driving style make for smooth progress.

The brakes are an integral part of the drive system and they’re just on the fine side of grabby in normal driving. Downhill descents have them gently squeeze and you can feel the retardation the regenerative system endows.

Hyundai adds extra tech in the form of the smartphone app called Hyundai Auto Link Premium SIM. By tying in with the car’s telematics you can look at driving history, driving efficiency, general battery information, plus it allows a user to book a service remotely. Items such as hazard lights, or lock/unlock can also be performed by the app.

And The Safety? As expected, Hyundai’s full range of SmartSense active safety tech is here. AEB is standard, radar collision alert, Blind Spot Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and active cruise control are all here. The actual safety rating is five star.

Warranty and Services? Service intervals are once a year of every 15,000 kilometres. That second figure is appealing for some as it means they’re more likely to do less than the 15K…For those that aren’t frightened by range anxiety, and drive it as they would a petroleum fed machine, it’s a figure easily achieved. Hyundai have also capped the first five service visits at $165. Warranty wise there is a five year standard figure and the battery pack has eight years.
At The End of the Drive.

Hyundai is part of the growing band of brothers that have joined the fully electric powered car family. It’s a technology that has history against it, and the future on its side. But there’s no need for today’s cars to be made to look like something from 200 years in the future. Aside from the Star Trek meets Jetsons looks, it’s a capable enough chariot. Pricing is something that will change for the better but for now, it’ll have to do.
Hit up Hyundai here for more info.

Car Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Highlander & 2019 Hyundai Tucson Elite.Private Fleet

This Car Review Is About: A pair of SUVs from Korean goliath, Hyundai. It’s great to have to Hyundai back in the garage, and the two cars reviewed, Kona and Tucson, show the direction of one section of the car market. The Kona was the highest trim level, the Highlander, with the Tucson a mid level trim, the Elite. Kona comes in four trim levels with the conventional, non-electric, powertrain. There is Kona Go, Kona Active, Kona Elite, and Kona Highlander. There is also the limited edition “Iron Man” version. Tucson is Go, Active X, Elite, Special Edition, and Highlander.

Under The Bonnet Is: A choice of turbo or non-turbo engine. The Highlander spec Kona came with the Atkinson cycle 2.0L that drives the front wheels, the turbo is AWD. 110kW and 180Nm are the peak power and torque outputs, at 6,200rpm and 4,500rpm. The Elite came with the same capacity engine and front driven wheels, but slightly uprated in regards to power and torque, at 122kW and 205Nm, which are available at 6,200rpm and 4,000rpm. Tucson also has the 1.6L/AWD, and adds AWD to a 2.0L diesel.Both cars run E10 compatible fuel systems and are EURO 5 compliant. Transmission for the 2WD Kona is a six speed auto, as is the Tucson. The Elite Tucson is available with the diesel and 1.6L petrol, which gain an eight speed auto and seven speed dual clutch auto respectively.Consumption for the Kona is rated as 7.2L/100km for the combined, 9.7L/100km for the city, and just 5.8L/100km on the highway cycle. In 2.0L and 6 speed auto trim, the Tucson has 7.9L/100km combined, 11.0L/100km in the city cycle, and a reasonable 6.1L/100km for the highway. Weights are 1,290kg (dry) to 1,383kg for the Kona, with Tucson ranging from 1,490kg (dry) to 1,590kg.

On The Inside Is: A really funky interior for the Kona Highlander, a restrained and functional interior for the Tucson. Highlander spec for the Kona sees the body colour added to the piping on the seats, colour coordinated seatbelts, the air-vent surrounds, and gear selector surround. As the test car came in a colour called Lime Twist it makes for a very eye-catching look.The Tucson Elite review car had mocha coloured seats and an otherwise standard looking interior. There are notable similarities between the two in respect to the layout of the dash, and a couple of of differences. The Tucson, for example, has two separate buttons for fresh and recirculating, whereas the Kona uses one. The Kona also goes for a Head Up Display, accompanied by a slight buzz as it rises monolithically out of the top of the driver’s binnacle. The actual dash designs are different; the Kona is at odds with the sharp and edgy exterior design by having a flowing, organic, dash. The Tucson is a more traditional look, with a flatter profile and has air vents at either end that are reminiscent of an American classic car’s rear end.Kona Highlander has dials for both fan speed and temperature, Tucson Elite has a separate pair of tabs for fan speed, and two dials for individual front seat temperatures. Naturally the Kona offers venting and heating for the front seats but the Elite offers neither., even with perforations in the seat materials. Kona Highlander has a wireless smartphone charge pad, two USB ports up front, with Tucson Elite having a sole USB port front and rear.Headroom is identical, at 1,005mm up front, and virtually the same at 961mm for the Kona, 963mm for Tucson in the rear. Front seat legroom is lineball with Kona scoring 1,054mm for the front, Tucson 1,053mm in the front, with the shorter overall Kona losing out in the rear leg room stakes. It’s 880mm to 970mm. Shoulder room for the Kona is 1,410mm/1,385mm front and rear, whilst the Tucson has 1,450mm/1,410mm. Load up the rear and the Kona has 361L/1,143L to the Tucson’s 488L/1,478L. Both have steering wheel controls for audio, dash screen information, Bluetooth phone connection and voice activation, with both looking virtually identical. the driver’s displays are the same, and the upper centre dash for both is where the touchscreens for audio, satnav, and more are found. There are minimal design differences between the two, and both have screens that are a delight to use in their looks, simplicity of usage, and layout. Both have the almost mandatory apps including Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and DAB audio.

On The Outside It’s: Revolution and evolution. The Kona is one of the new breed of small SUVs that are supplementing the medium and large SUV segments. The marketing for the Kona is aimed at the younger demographic and the design of the Kona itself is of an appeal to the same. Kona eschews the traditional front end design of upper mounted headlights and replaces them with LED daytime running lights. the headlights themselves are mid mounted, with the lower centre air intake featuring conventionally powered lights, with cornering lamps also up front. The rear has LEDs in the Highlander, with separate clusters for the reverse and indicators. Tucson is in its second generation and has been given a refinement front and rear. The LED DRL strips are now set as “eyebrows” to the headlights, rather than being located in the lower front quarters. The grille and headlights are reprofiled, there are new wheel designs, and the rear has been subtly reprofiled from the originals slightly bulbous shape, and the horizontal line in the lower third of the rear door has been deleted. Both have the durable black polyurethane body mouldings for soft-roading protection and visual appeal.

Rubber for the Highlander is 235/45 on 18 inch alloys, with the tyres from Hankook. The Tucson is slightly smaller in width at 225/55/18, with Kumho the supplier here.

On The Road It’s: A bit chalk and cheese. Although the Highlander is no heavyweight, the high rev point for the peak torque means off-the-line mojo isn’t great with the 2.0L non-turbo. Patience is required and any move from a stop sign before going into oncoming traffic needs to be well judged. Rolling acceleration isn’t fantastic but it’s nice enough and builds in a linear fashion.

The Tucson Elite is more spritely, more responsive from the start. Although it was the non-turbo engine, the performance was definitely more engaging and sparkling. Peak torque is higher in numbers and lower in the rev range, so the cogs can deliver the torque more efficiently, it seems.

Both exhibit well mannered on-road credentials. The Highlander is harder in the suspension, with a notably tighter ride across all tarmac surfaces. Steering initially felt like twisting a thick rubber rope, the Tucson lighter and easier to deal with daily. The Kona eventually felt as much of an extension as the Tucson. Braking in both was balanced, progressive, and although not instant in response from a press of the pedal, could be judged perfectly as the pedal went down.

The Tucson had an opportunity to show off its soft-road ability with a long drive in a national park and on gravel roads. Up front, the ABS calibration definitely errs towards a tarmac bias. Some of the roads are just wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass at low speed safely, and occasionally the Tucson’s stopping ability into a certain section was called upon. There was no lack of control, the car went straight ahead, and once or twice the pressure was such to engage the emergency flashers.

On the rutted surfaces the suspension was tuned well enough that body control was solid. There was little noise intrusion, and the suspension transmitted little of the jiggles through. The front end felt connected to the front and even when provoked somehow managed to keep understeer to a minimum.

The Safety Systems Are: Quite solid in both. The Hyundai SafetySense package in the Kona Highlander is shared with Kona Elite, and included Forward Collision Alert with Pedestrian and Car avoidance, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lanbe Keep Assist, and six airbags. In Tucson trim, the Elite gets these but they’re an option below. The Lane Keep Assist is perhaps a bit aggressive, with a non-subtle tugging of the wheel in the driver’s hands as it works to centralise the cars in a lane. And The Warranty Is: Five years/unlimited kilometres is the current Hyundai package. 12 months worth of roadside assistance is included at purchase, the first service is free. Hyundai also offer a Lifetime Service Plan, and your local Hyundai dealer can explain how that works in more detail. There is also the Hyundai AutoLink app, and it looks pretty cool to play with. It’s a multi-function monitor system that transfers info from the car to a smartphone, allowing tyre pressure checks, fuel and battery status, even driving time.

At The End Of The Drive. The growth of the SUV market seems almost unstoppable. Here, a major world player offers a small and medium sized option, with the Santa Fe at the top of the tree. The Kona and its marketing seem to be ideal for a clientele in the 20-30 year old demographic, and potentially a sing;e or couple with no children. The Tucson goes towards the mid 20s and upwards, and with one child at least.

Neither are horrible to live with and certainly the Kona became easier to understand in how to drive it as the week progressed. the Tucson, in comparison, was like strapping on a familiar set of boots, partly because I was involved in the original model’s launch program. The fact that the room up front is identical and really not that much different for the rear seat speaks volumes for the overall design and packaging of the Kona.

On a tech level the Kona Highlander has the HUD to offer, and for those that don’t wish to use it there is a switch that lowers the screen. Dynamically the Tucson comes out as the winner, but a trim-for-trim comparison would provide a more apt comparison. In either respect, Hyundai kicks goals as a car brand to aspire to, and the “N” series of i30 is certainly highly regarded.
2019 Hyundai Tucson range and 2019 Hyundai Kona range info is available in more detail via these two links.

2020 RAV4 Ready To Roar.

If you’re not a fan of SUV style vehicles, best you stop and look away now. The Toyota RAV4, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is widely regarded as the original SUV. 2019 has the release of a vastly updated car and range to continue the legend.

The range will include, for the RAV4’s first time, a hybrid. There will be two petrol engines, four trim levels, and 2WD or AWD variants.
The Gx range is the entry level, with GXL, Cruiser, and a solitary, and new Edge trim spec.. Here’s how the pricing structure shakes down.

GX Petrol 2WD manual: $30,640, GX Petrol 2WD CVT $32,640, GX Hybrid 2WD CVT $35,140, GX Hybrid AWD CVT $38,140;
GXL Petrol 2WD CVT $35,640, GXL Hybrid 2WD CVT $38,140, GXL Hybrid AWD CVT $41,140;
Cruiser Petrol 2WD CVT $39,140, Cruiser Hybrid 2WD CVT $41,640, Cruiser Hybrid AWD CVT $44,640 &
Edge Petrol AWD Auto $47,140The base petrol engine is a new 127kW/203Nm 2.0-litre, direct injection, four-cylinder engine that drives through Toyota’s now well-proven continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a launch gear mechanism. The GX also gets a manual with a rev-matching program. The hybrid goes a step further, with a 2.5L Atkinson Cycle powerplant. Peak oomph depends on the driven wheels. There are combined maximum outputs of 160kW for 2WD variants and 163kW for AWD versions. This also continues Toyota’s fuel efficiency drive, with just 4.7 litres/100km2 for 2WD variants and 4.8 litres/100km2 for AWD versions.There is also a nifty rear axle mounted drive system. Toyota fits an additional rear motor generator to provide power to the rear axle for the electric AWD system. Complete with a Trail mode, it enables up to 80 per cent of the total drive torque to be delivered through the rear wheels.

A new model reaches the RAV4 family. The Edge trim level also has a 2.5L petrol four, and there’s 152kW of peak power, with 243Nm of peak torque available, reaching the ground via an eight speed auto. A mechanical AWD system can split torque at up to 50:50 front to rear from a 100% front driven only delivery. The Edge trim level will also feature off-rad drive modes, being Mud and Sand, Rock and Dirt, and Snow.RAV4 has also been given an extensive makeover outside, with a stronger resemblance to the HiLux family. The exterior redesign brings a sharper look, a bolder look by moving away from the curvier outgoing model, and 17-inch,18-inch and 19-inch alloy wheels which add a visually solid and planted presence on the road. The GX starts the party with LED headlights, auto wipers, and dual exhaust pipes. Inside there’s a 4.2 inch driver’s display, 8.0 inch touchscreen with DAB audio and voice recognition, higher grade trim feel and quality than before, and improved safety features including AEB as standard.The GXL has 18 inch alloys, up from the 17s on GX, and adds privacy glass for the rear windows. A rear camera with guidance lines is added. Wireless charging up front and rear airvents get a nod as well, plus there’s five USB ports, with three for the front seat passengers. The Cruiser trim level goes to 19 inch wheels, heated front seats and a powered driver’s seat. The driver’s display gets bumped up to a 7.0 inch screen. The Edge gets more cosmetics, venting for the front seats, and a leather look material for the pews.Underpinning the slightly shorter (5mm), lower (30mm), and wider (10mm) body is the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform that features a 30mm longer wheelbase and wider track, that has been extended by between 25mm and 55mm. This, together with a revised front MacPherson strut and new multi-link rear suspension, gives the new RAV4 substantially improved driving dynamics, superb ride comfort, and improved handling.Safety is raised, as expected. Seven airbags including driver’s kneebag, with the Toyota Safety Sense package including AEB with pedestrian detection for day and night conditions, and daytime cyclist detection, active cruise control for the autos, lane trace assist and lane centreing, plus lane departure alert with lane keep assist.

Check with your local Toyota dealership for availability and to book a test drive.

Sleek And Sporty: Rimac Concept 1 and Rimac Concept 2.

Rimac is one of a number of new brands that is looking towards a purely electrically powered future for cars. Rimac itself has seemingly snuck under the radar, with its most notable achievement to date being the destruction of a car at the hands of a British car show host…

Rimac Automobili is based in Croatia and was founded in 2009 by Mate Rimac. He says that his original idea was to start with the proverbial blank sheet and grow an automotive design business from what started as a hobby. The dream was to build the world’s first fully eklectric sports car, and the kicker was having a petrol powered car’s engine that Rimac was racing expire, allowing he and his team to convert it to a fully battery powered system. As many components weren’t available “off the shelf” Rimac and co had to develop the parts themselves. They now hold 24 individual patents.Concept 1 was spawned from a series of cars being converted from petrol to electric. The success of the conversions had the owners of the converted cars spread the word of the company’s work. From here, Rimac was able to realise part of his dream and drew up plans for what would become the Rimac Concept 1.

Franfurt’s 2011 car show saw the first public showing of the Concept 1, and was greeted with largely positive reviews. At a cost of around USD$980,000, just 88 would be built. Rimac Concept 1 features a quartet of electric motors, with an output of 913kW/1224hp, and 1600Nm/1180lb-ft for torque. In a lightweight body of carbon fibre, the 90 kWh motors launch the Concept 1 to 100kmh/62mph in 2.6 seconds. It’ll see the double ton in 6.2 seconds and will crack the quarter mile in 9.9 seconds.

Range for the Rimac Concept 1 has also been increased as as the team further developed the car. Original range estimates hovered around the 200 mile mark, with current best world figures now around the 310 miles distance.Owners receive the Rimac All Wheel Torque Vectoring System, which distributes torque between all four paws on demand and depending on driver’s setup choices. The interior is bespoke leather and handmade trim.

The Rimac Concept 2 takes the original and expands and improves upon it in almost every area, including price. With expected first deliveries schedule for 2020 as the car undergoes testing and homologation, the current expected hit to the wallet is just under Eu1.8,000,000 or a tick over USD$2,000,000.

Rimac has really “upped the ante” for the Concept 2. Top speed? 415kmh/258mph. Power? 1408kW/1888hp. 100kmh/62mph time? 1.85 seconds. Range? 647km/402 miles. It’s been touted as being able to twice lap the fabled Nurburgring twice with no drop in overall performance. And charge time is said to be up to 80% in around a half hour.Autonomous driving is on board and is at a Level 4 standard. Eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, lidar, and six radar sensors will go a long way to ensuring Level 4 driving for the owner. Extra smart tech comes in the form of facial recognition to unlock the butterfly wing doors that form an integral part of the super slippery body. Built of carbon fibre also, the chassis and body house the battery pack, mounted low for better weight distribution, centre of gravity, and handling. Weight is estimated though to still be around 1930kg/4300lb. There’s nary a hard edge to be seen on the Rimac Concept 2’s body, with sleek lines, plenty of aero influences, and a huge rear wing, necessary if Sir is to travel at 200mph.

The drive system is similar to the Concept 1, with full torque vectoring, and the ability to switch between front wheel, rear wheel, all wheel drive modes on the fly. The driver’s display screen can overlay driving lines to show an almost arcade game like look if the system senses that the car is being driven in the appropriate environment.

Just 150 examples are to be made and it’s said that all examples have been pre-sold.

Car Review: 2019 Tesla Model X 100D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic Sign Recognition: What Is It?

What’s one of the more common scenarios for picking up a speeding ticket besides simply being leadfooted?  Apart from accidentally letting the speedo creep up because you’re looking at the road ahead rather than at the dial (avoidable with cruise control, of course), the other time speeding tickets happen to nice well-behaved drivers who weren’t meaning to go too fast and wanted to keep to the limit is when you’re driving in an unfamiliar town or (even more annoyingly) a part of town that you knew but has recently been redeveloped.

You know how this one goes.  You’re toddling along through town and then you get to a bit that looks like the houses are coming to an end and you’re getting into more rural areas so you press the accelerator down a wee bit to get up to 70 km/h.  Or you know that there’s a town coming up ahead but it still looks like you’re in market garden and lifestyle block land so you keep your pace up a bit. but next thing you know, there’s disco lights in the rear view mirror and you’re getting a ticket. Because what you thought was now a 70 km/h area actually wasn’t one at all and you should have been doing 50 km/h.  Dagnabbit!

The problem in this situation is that you either didn’t see the sign or you thought that you’d gone past the sign without seeing it, and instead, you relied on the visual landscape cues around you to decide on your speed.  Traffic psychologists say that most experienced drivers rely on these visual stimuli all the time and if the Powers That Be could afford to do it, this would be the most effective way of making sure that the typical driver stuck to the speed limit (we’re not talking about those leadfoots that scream through quiet streets at 80 km/h, making you worry about every single dog, cat, cyclist and small child in the neighbourhood).  In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only person who drives through certain small towns at 50 km/h thinking “No way should this area be a 70 km/h zone!  Too many houses and shops!  I’m going slower.”

However, they can’t afford it and they probably need the revenue from those speeding tickets (we all know this happens) so they rely on the traffic signs – the lollypop signs, as we call them in our house.  What every driver needs is a navigator in the passenger seat whose job is to keep an eye out for said lollipops and remind the driver.  This is precisely what traffic sign recognition is supposed to do for you when you’re driving alone.  It keeps a lookout for those traffic signs and displays what the current speed limit is on the dashboard display.

When I first heard of traffic sign recognition technology, which is now a safety feature or driver aid in a lot of high-end luxury cars like Mercedes and BMW, I groaned a little bit.  Not because I didn’t like the idea of having a feature that let me know what speed I’m supposed to be going but because I had this dread that the technology would pick up on every single sign on the road ahead and display that.  Information overload isn’t good for decision-making processes so this sounded like more of a distraction than a help.  The cynical part of me also wondered when they’d monetize this so that certain ads or signs would pop up, notifying you of particular businesses ahead – the dreaded golden arches, for example.

However, I needn’t have worried.  The designers are all too aware that most modern roads are awash with signage, which is why it’s so easy to miss those lollipops in the first place.  The tech uses pattern recognition technology, so that it only picks up on actual traffic signs – the ones with the white backgrounds and a red circle around them, with the number displayed in black.  The software and the front-facing camera home in on these patterns and can recognise the numbers, and it’s this that gets displayed on your dash.  The software can also pick up useful signs like Give Way, Stop and No Entry – and warn you if you go ahead anyway!

The exact tech goes through a very complicated process to extract the necessary data at the right speed – my eyes started crossing while trying to wrap my head around it, so I won’t attempt a simple explanation here. If you’re the more nerdy sort, then here’s the low-down.

Traffic sign recognition (aka traffic sign assistance or TSA) is quite a handy little feature and it’s no longer found exclusively in high-end executive saloons.  It’s found in new versions of familiar little family cars like the Ford Focus.  In fact, there’s a rumour going about that this will become mandatory on all new cars sold in the EU from 2022 (2020 is just next year, so this is no longer the Big Benchmark and planners will lose their favourite pun about 2020 vision).

At this stage, at any rate, the vehicles are sticking to the basic signs rather than adding in all the safety warning signs.  This is partly because traffic signs around the world vary somewhat.  Software that recognises a Swedish polar bear warning sign would be useless in Australia, where we have kangaroo warning signs, for example.  What’s worse is that even signs that mean the same thing vary slightly from country to country.

But what happens if the sign in question is obscured by vegetation or has been shot out of recognition or knocked down by some hoodlum?  Well, the software can’t recognise what it can’t see, so once again, you’re back to your visual cues.  At least you can try arguing that the sign was obscured to the cop.  It sometimes works, especially if you did see the edge of the sign but couldn’t read it thanks to a tree.  If you’re unlucky, they’ll spend your speeding fine on clearing that vegetation or upgrading the sign.