Ugly car: Nissan’s Mixim

August 31st, 2007 by darren

Some guys like Sarah Jessica Parker; I personally think she looks harsh (though she has a great set of abs…for a girl). Some people might even like Nissan’s Mixim. I mean, people have previously bought other abominations like the jelly-mould Ford Telstar and Fiat’s first Multipla. Motor shows tend to be a haven for the design abortions that car companies create. Ultimately 99% of these never go into production, and it’s almost expected that at least one manufacturer will bring out something that’s been beaten with the ugly stick, then beaten some more for good measure. After all, it means people like me write about them, and any publicity is good publicity.

I wore out my E

August 30th, 2007 by darren

Last week my E key started playing up. It is the most used key on the computer and its previously textured surface has been worn smooth. It got me thinking about how you can tell what kind of a life a car has had by how the interior has worn. One of the warning signs that a car might have done more kms than its odometer suggests is an excessive level of wear and tear in relation to the indicated kilometres, but it would also depend on the driver’s driving style, weight/size, and the type of driving done.Lots of short trips would add extra wear to the seats as the driver gets in an out. A heavy driver will also exert more wear on the upholstery.
A worn brake pedal would most likely mean lots of stop-start motoring in rush hour (and in a manual, this might apply even more to the clutch pedal). Then there’s the type of wear on the pedals that gives you a style of driving. In my manual car, the right hand side of the pedal is far more worn because I automatically adopt the position for heel-toe braking even in normal traffic (where it’s not really needed).

A worn steering wheel could mean a lot of windy open road driving, or it might be a driver that grips the wheel tightly in both hands. A heavily worn mat might be as a result of a particular type of shoe, lots of kilometres, or someone who fidgets.

Most cars have very durable interiors – ones that will easily last 250,000km – so when looking around at a second hand car with low mileage ask yourself whether you think the amount of wear in the car looks like it matches with the odometer.

Surround sound in a car

August 29th, 2007 by darren

Just after my rant about not needing to listen to four speakers in a car because they don’t make quadraphonic recordings, BMW released their digital radio surround sound system (DAB).

Apart from some corporate self-congratulation, I don’t see the point. Surround sound is useful if you’re watching Black Hawk Down and want to get in the thick of the bullets whizzing by your head. But when driving around, I don’t have yearnings for it to sound like I’m in Mogadishu, so I’m not listening to the sound of artillery (or early ’90s German techno, which is remarkably similar). I haven’t heard BMW’s offering, so I can’t rubbish it or give it accolades with any authority. I can say, however, that surround sound’s effect is very dependent on where you’re sitting. There’s a sweet spot in the ‘sound field’ and that’s quite small. I would imagine that the small space in a car combined with the multitude of soft and hard surfaces would make sound reflections wholly unpredictable. Add to that the cancellation effects you’d get from engine and tyre noise, and to be consistent would be nigh on impossible.

So is it a gimmick, or a valid addition to BMW’s in-car entertainment arsenal? The other main enhancement is digital radio’s ability to broadcast extra information like traffic news. But you don’t need surround sound for that.

My feeling is that surround sound could be dangerous. We use our ears to localise sounds in the wider sound field using the difference in time between the sound hitting each ear, the difference in volume between each ear, and the phase shift in the sound wave as it travels around our head. We know if a car is overtaking us because often we’ll hear it in our right ear. We know if an ambulance is behind us because we’ll perceive it as coming from behind. But if our ears have to start dealing with random sounds from our stereo speakers appearing at random places, this could reduce our ability to accurately perceive other dangers around us as we become more likely just to ignore sounds.

Testing the car stereo: part 3

August 28th, 2007 by darren

A stereo has to be tested while driving at a range of volumes from soft to loud. The type of road surface can make a huge difference to how the stereo sounds because of transmitted tyre noise. These frequencies can mask parts of the music. This is where your EQ comes in. Some cars have just a simple treble and bass adjustment (a shelf EQ that boosts or cuts above a certain frequency for treble and below a certain frequency for bass); others add a mid-range boost which boosts or cuts in a bell curve around a certain frequency (e.g. 400Hz); and others have a graphic EQ that might give you 7 ‘bands’ (frequency ranges that you can boost or cut). Graphic EQs are best for tuning the car properly as they give more flexibility.

If you’re a passenger, you might hear quite a different sound balance to th driver, but even where you sit in the car as a driver slightly affects what you hear. If you’re a strapping 6-foot-3, you’ll have the seat right back, so will be in a different place relative to the speakers than someone who is 5-foot-nothing and has the seat right forward. This positioning can affect how you perceive cancelled frequencies…but not by much.

I choose driving on the motorway to adjust the stereo, and at a time when it’s not busy because obviously it distracts you a bit from the road. I drive at a constant speed, then fiddle with the EQ so see if it sounds any better with a bit of boost or cut. So, the main thing that’s going to influence how you set up the EQ is your own personal preference. It’s as easy as that!

Next time: what am I listening for?

Nissan Primera SE 2007 Review

August 28th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Nissan Primera SE 2007 fq

Nissan’s UK plant in Sunderland must have been mighty pleased to hear that Nissan NZ wanted to take a load of Primeras off its hands. The 2007 Primera, while an improvement on the previous model, has failed to sell, and its future is pretty much over in Japan where its sales have plummeted.

Looking at the car, it’s not particularly pretty, but it’s not ugly either. It sinks a bit into the crowd having no immediately striking features. In fact, when I took the photos I was struggling to take any more than 15, whereas on more visually interesting cars I can easily crank off 40 or more.

On the inside, it’s a different story. The UK model is designed for the European market, which means indicators on the left hand side of the steering column, and the dials are set in a large console in the middle of the dash¦but over to the left, where you can’t see them very well.

As a medium-sized four-door hatchback, it has more than adequate space in the boot and for rear seat passengers, and if you choose the stationwagon version its 460 litres of space in the boot — or 1440 litres when the 60:40 spilt seats are folded down — is quite reasonable.

Safety features are extensive and include six airbags (front, side and curtain), active head rests, ABS with EBD and brake assist, and rain-sensing wipers. As a major point of difference in this segment, the large colour screen in the dashboard is used for a reversing camera. This is a welcome addition, but without including reversing sensors it’s a flawed solution as the camera can lull you into a false sense of security. However, it does make up for the fact that the thick C-pillar is a large blindspot.

Leather seats (with fully electrically adjustable driver’s and passenger’s seat) are standard, and have two levels of heating. They have slightly too much lumbar support for my liking, but are otherwise comfortable.

The almost horizontally aligned stereo/aircon controls are like a video game. I expected to be able to load up Pac Man and play against my passenger. Aircon and stereo readouts are clearly displayed on the large colour screen, and once you know how the controls work, they are easy to control. The steering wheel has buttons for the stereo, as well as cruise control.

The Primera comes with a similar CVT (Constantly Variable Transmisson) gearbox to the Maxima. As it’s got less power than the previous model, and less torque, this just does not work. CVT really needs grunt to compliment it and the Primera’s 103kW and 192Nm of torque are sapped by the gearbox. This means that on hilly roads, you often find the revs rise a lot while the car tries to maintain speed if you’ve got a few people in the car.

But, on windy roads, the Primera’s double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear give it crisp handling, even if the suspension can be a bit crashy over very coarse surfaces. As long as you keep your motions fluid, the Primera will hustle along at pace.

This is a Nissan with a similar interior spec to, for example, a Peugeot 407. It has European quirkiness, but unlike a Peugeot it doesn’t quite work because it doesn’t become endearing. While the Primera will appeal to some because of its level of specification in relation to price, Nissan needs a radical redesign of the Primera for it to be a viable best-seller.

Price: from $42,495

Click this link to view Nissan Primeras for sale (opens in a new window)

What we like:

  • Handling is above average
  • Good specification level for price

What we don’t like:

  • Sluggish
  • Central position of dials
  • Stereo/aircon controls not intuitive at first (e.g. why have an ‘off’ button for the stereo when pressing the volume knob is what turns it on)

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Kia Magentis 2.0 EX CRDi 2007 Review

August 28th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Kia Magentis EX CRDi 2007 fq

The Kia Magentis 2.0 EX CRDi (to give its full designation) is in trouble, BIG trouble. You see it’s managed to upset quite a few people by declaring war. War with the other Magentis models, war with other manufacturers and oh yes, war with itself.

It clearly has ideas above its station, as it’s the range topper at $39,950, a place normally reserved for a V6 model. It has the least power (blink and you’ll miss it: 103Kw) compared to both its brothers in arms, but has the cheek to produce the most torque at 305Nm from a lowly 1800rpm.

The competitors would have felt ambushed too, as Kia continue to make up ground by engaging them on quality, equipment and price.

This latest Magentis range is built on an entirely new platform from the previous model, with this EX packing the latest Common Rail Diesel Injection (CRDi) engine with a Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT), returning a healthy combined consumption of 7.3L/100km.

Further raining on their parade it sports a dazzling array of features at this level. For example, auto-sensing wipers, auto-sensing lights, park assist, electro-chromatic rear view mirror, wiper blade defrosting, electric driver’s seat, front/side/curtain airbags, impact-sensing door locks, cruise control, Electronic Stability Control and so on.

Exterior design is contemporary in some areas, mostly at the front, but it skirmishes with the very plain door lines and side window aspects. Internally too you will find some conflict, and may be caught off guard by the presence of a cassette player as well as the toweling type cloth upholstery, which look like aftermarket seat covers from Repco.

Exterior design is contemporary in some areas, mostly the front, but it skirmishes with the plain side and window aspects. Internally it is comfortable and spacious, with not too much silver or aluminium effect trim. It scores well on the usability stakes for the controls and the instrument cluster is a nice modern touch.

You may, however, be a bit caught off guard by the presence of a cassette player as well as the toweling type cloth upholstery, which look like aftermarket seat covers from Repco.

Easy to drive with light and nicely weighted steering, the front wheel drive chassis is capable on most roads. The brakes have lots of feel and are progressive. Performance wise it is quick off the mark initially with all that torque, but then settles back into retirement a little too quickly taking 11.7 secs for the 0-100 km/h stroll, and will apparently go on to hit 199 km/h. CO2 emissions are 191g/km which will help the daisies.

In summary, it represents good value for money, particularly to the older generations. I suspect the Magentis will continue to wage war on its competitors, and if it can evolve itself a little further it will end up a well rounded weapon of choice. Keep going Kia!

Price: from $39,950

Looking for a Kia Magentis in New Zealand? Check this site out (opens in a new window)

What we like:

  • Value for money
  • Equipment levels
  • Controls — usability
  • Safety
  • Economy

What we dislike:

  • Aftermarket look upholstery
  • Basic levels of support in seating
  • Auto sports shift can be tricky
  • Depreciation

Words Phil Clark, photos Darren Cottingham

The Impreza launch: part 2

August 25th, 2007 by darren

We all climbed in the helicopters. Mine was helicopter 2, a Squirrel and I scored a window seat. Lifting off from Queenstown, we let helicopter 1, a larger Eurocopter model disappear into the distance before heading over Queenstown and towards Deer Park. As we came around Deer Park our pilot hugged the side of the hill closely, rising over the top of the ridge to reveal a blue WRX.

This would have been a fantastic shot has someone not parked a red Corolla next to it. Never mind. Onwards down the side of Lake Wakatipu to Kingston where we passed over the Kingston Flyer train, and landed in a field where there were 11 assorted Imprezas (base model R, R Sport and WRX). After a short talk, and a photo op, we were paired up and away we went on a voyage of discovery through Southland.

My first steed was a black WRX and I shared the car with Chris Rickards, Subaru’s NZ GM. The idea was to follow the planned route that was written in the booklet. It gave us instructions of which road to turn down at a certain number of kilometres. Following three other cars with Brian Cowan at the head of the pack, we made brisk pace along the flowing roads. Until Chris pointed out that we probably should have turned off several kilometres ago. I wildly flashed my lights at the car in front, then we all turned around and I lead the cars back down the correct road.

But, Chris and I were buried in conversation and missed the second turn off. Fortunately the other guys didn’t and we did a quick u-turn and caught up with them. Then came the gravel stage, and that’s where the WRX really did shine. A 100kph it was rock solid, and with traction control turned off there’s enough grunt to have some fun.

Just over a couple of hours later (and with 30km on the clock that we shouldn’t have done) we pulled into Colac Bay for lunch at the Pavilion.

The second leg was in the 2-litre R Sport manual, which I shared with Dave Moore first, then Brian Cowan after a brief change. Eleven Imprezas piled into a sleepy service station in Tuatapere, giving the owners a bumper $450 in fuel sales.

On we went past stunning scenery, occasionally swapping drivers. I got the best leg, though: the final blast along the side of Lake Wakatipu. A beautifully windy road; I only wished I was in the WRX and not the naturally aspirated R Sport.

Overall, the WRX is a fantastic car, and I’ll have a write-up about it shortly!

impreza launch

Holden Captiva MaXX 2007 Review

August 25th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Holden Captiva maxx 2007 s

What is it with Holden’s model names? The theme runs with ‘a’s and ‘ra’s appended at will.

We had Calibra (of calibre), Frontera (no frontiers), Adventra (adventurer), Agila (agile), Vectra (sort of sounds like victor) and so on. Anyway you get the picture.  So what about the Captiva, does it mean captivated or captive (as in ‘hostage’)? Time to find out.

First impressions are good. The European-designed, Korean-built Captiva MaXX looks modern, sporty, chunky and purposeful, befitting the SUV market well. The pointy nose and shark-like gills at the front provide a real sense of purpose that could cause drivers in front to ‘take flight’.

On closer inspection you may even notice that this range topper has different panels, lamps and other details that set it apart from the other three variants of Captiva (as designed in Australia). It could almost be another model, nearly.

In the cabin there are nice touches like multiple 12V power outlets (for devices chargers, etc), a cooled glovebox, fancy rear cup-holders and card slots, all against a backdrop of grey trim, leather ‘faced’ upholstery, faux wood inserts and aluminum. Not quite ‘First Class’, but it tries hard.

Sitting in the Captiva I was left with the distinct impression that one of the boffins on the design project could have been on loan from Boeing. The handbrake lever wouldn’t look out of place in a cockpit and the seat design, which you don’t so much sit ‘in’ as ‘on’, would not be out of place in the passenger cabin either.

And there’s more. The convenient ‘arm rest’ controls on the drivers door, the overhead lighting controls, in fact all that’s missing is the flight attendant call light. Anyway, not that any of this is a particularly bad thing, just different, and different can be good.

As your passengers embark and stow away their luggage in the available 865 litres of cargo space, it’s time for the pre-flight checks:

  • ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) √
  • ESP (Electronic Stability Program) √
  • DCS (Descent Control System) √
  • EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) √
  • TCS (Traction Control System) √
  • ARP (Active Rollover Protection) √
  • DID (Driver Info Display) √
  • SRS (airbags and Supplemental Restraint System) √
  • Active AWD (All Wheel Drive) √
  • 6CD with MP3 √
  • Winter take-off mode √
  • Seatbelts fastened √

Fire up the silky smooth 3.2L Alloytec V6 engine, with its 167kW and 297 Nm of torque (@ 3200rpm), and it’s clear the trip won’t be too arduous. It won’t require re-fueling too frequently either, with the AWD system running in 2WD most of the time, delivering an average 11.6 l/100km.

When taxiing, initial throttle response is a little slow, then it picks up and you’re off. Further up the rev range with the 1770kg of mass in full tow, it takes longer to get through the gears (0-100 km/h takes, well, too long).

With autopilot (cruise control) engaged and riding high at 17,000mm, you can kick back, look out of the window and watch the world fly by. If you fancy pulling some stunts along a twisty section or two, engaging the Active Select mode (tiptronic style), then be beware its not easily done. The slow steering, firmish ride, big tyres and high ride height are more suited to being piloted on school runs through town.

So if you want a good all round package trip, aimed squarely at going under the radar of Ford to claim a chunk of its Territory, then the ticket price is a captivating $50,990.

Price: from $50,990

Looking to purchase a Holden Captiva? Click here to view Holden Captivas for sale

What we like:

  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Value for money
  • V6 engine
  • Interior features

What we don’t like:

  • Lack of rear visibility
  • Seats
  • Faux wood trim
  • No engine temp gauge
  • Controls not that intuitive

Words Phil Clark, photos Darren Cottingham

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