Peugeot 207 GTI

September 28th, 2007 by darren

It was voted the gayest car in the world by some survey. It’s got plenty of power and handles well and having owned a 206 GTI180, I’m well aware of its foibles – back seat passengers have to be amputees, the glovebox is big enough only to fit gloves, and the seating position is challenging for a tall person. But it’s quite a good car, with a light clutch and entertaining handling. I’m not switching sides for it, though.

Biofuels, hybrids or herbivores

September 28th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

South Park parodied hybrid car owners creating clouds of ‘smug’, but do they really have anything to be smug about? In the battle against man-made global warming and reducing pollution ethanol powered cars, not hybrids, are touted the way to go and politicians and the environmentally conscious alike are jumping on the bandwagon.

There is no doubt that ethanol burns far more cleanly than diesel or petrol — we could radically reduce the pollutants in our atmosphere by switching. Or can we? You see, to create ethanol, crops need to be grown. Because ethanol is not as potent as petrol, more ethanol is burned per kilometre. It takes between 75-90% of the energy yielded from ethanol to actually grow it — ploughing, harvesting, processing and shipping all add up — and ethanol still releases a lot of carbon dioxide. Then there’s the environmental destruction caused by the conversion of land to biofuel production. This either takes forests or fallow land, or removes land from the general agriculture pool which pushes up food prices. Both of these reduce biodiversity. Add to that the increased erosion, fertiliser pollution and waterway silting and the argument for ethanol is fizzling rapidly.

Even if we manage to eek out a saving using hybrids as opposed to ethanol, at best these cars get only marginally better fuel economy than, for example, a diesel VW Polo, and they take as much if not more toxic metals and fossil fuels to produce. The most we can hope for is a fraction of a percent reduction.

There is one radical change we can make, though. Cows, sheep, pigs and chickens account for a whopping 9% of GHG emissions, but 18% of the GHG effect (methane from farts is over 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential). So, would a better solution to reduce greenhouse gases be to change to a diet of lentils and beans? Our own emissions might then match those of the livestock! It’s a no-win situation, then, so where’s my chicken sandwich.

Stupid All Blacks flags – would I want one on a Rolls-Royce?

September 27th, 2007 by darren

I put some petrol in the Rolls-Royce at BP. When I went to pay I was offered a flag for the All Blacks that I can stick in my window so it flutters in the wind. Do I want to look totally naff? No. Do I have a penchant for guys with large thighs grasping each other’s unmentionables? No. So I refused. And I would have refused even if it was something I was interested in, on principal. You see, I grew up in the cereal-box-toy generation. Every packet of Rice Frosty Corn Bubbles contained a figurine made by a sweatshop labourer and it was very exciting to get to the end of a packet with the anticipation of the next figurine. I’m jaded with the gimmicky ‘free crap with purchase’ thing. It also appalls me that a) these flags are micro-contributors to the coefficient of drags which on a large scale means more fuel consumed unnecessarily, and b) they’re just going to end up in a landfill somewhere where they’re highly unlikely to be biodegradable. I realise point A seems hypocritical based on my choice of transport for the day…600Nm of continent-shifting V8 torque, but I’m sure the All Blacks would be concerned with the environmental impact of all these flags, so here’s the email I’ve sent them for comment. (I’ve also sent a similar message to BP.) Hi I’m addressing the free flags given out by BP that support the All Blacks. At the moment I’ve just mentioned it in my blog, but would like to seek your comment so that I can write a balanced article for the news section on Monday. The issues are that they’re an environmental nightmare – they’ll end up in landfills and they contribute to increased drag and therefore increased fuel consumption. And they look naff, but that’s subjective. Things you could address would be whether the All Blacks have a policy about the environmental impact of the promotional items, and if so, had this been discussed with BP? If not, will you be considering it? I don’t want to paint myself as an environmental nut – hell, I was driving around in a 6.75-litre Rolls-Royce today when I was offered the flag – but I do care about what goes in our landfills. Good luck with the games, by the way. Darren

Do oil companies buy up patents to prevent new technology from easing our pain?

September 26th, 2007 by darren

You bet they do. A bit of amateur sleuthing on my part last weekend (OK, some call it ‘listening in to someone else’s conversation) was an interesting insight to how Big Oil jumps on a patent with no intention of ever capitalising it – just to make sure that the general public don’t get the benefit of its efficiencies. I’m going to tell the story as it was told by the person who now has the rights to the technology in NZ, so I can’t verify every fact. The technology in question was based on wind power to generate electricity. Nope, not those enormous turbines, but something small and efficient enough to run on your roof and power most of your house. It was developed by a guy at NASA working for their ‘alternative energy’ department. When NASA restructured and closed down that department he kept an eye on the patent. When it came up for renewal he grabbed it, then onsold it for several million to a large oil company, fully expecting his baby to be commercialised. Ten years later, the patent lapsed again, with nothing having been done. So he snatched it again, only this time he’s not selling out. He reckons its worth half a billion dollars because essentially each unit can take a house mostly off the grid (as long as you live in a moderately windy place. In Wellington, you’d generate enough power to sell back to the grid: NASA technology developed over 20 years ago that has been hidden from the public until now. We hear of other stories involving super-efficient engines that don’t run on petrol, or other forms of propulsion involving water or magnets, yet what happens to these technologies and the people that invent them? Well, most of them are shams. But, this one isolated incident captured in a conversation in a small NZ town could be an indication of a much wider technology hoard by the large oil companies that prevents us from benefiting from cars that could be much more fuel efficient. The world’s automakers now have a very compelling reason to develop cars that are as efficient as possible: they will sell. And you can be sure they have armies of white-coated scientists developing ways to get a competitive edge in their engines. So, despite (if it’s true) Big Oil’s attempts to restrict our access to beneficial technology, the market will drive solutions from other angles.

Honda Jazz Sport 1.5 VTEC 2007 Review

September 26th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Honda Jazz Sport VTEC 2007 fq

It’s been 5 years since Honda launched the Jazz and it’s remained pretty much at the top of its class, especially in terms of load space and versatility, but with a new model around the corner we thought we should take a last look at the Jazz. We roadtested a Jazz Sport in Blaze Orange.

Blaze Orange is a colour that you don’t lose in a car park. It’s instantly recognisable amongst the whites, silvers, reds and blues of the car world, like Ford’s range of colours on its Falcon. The Jazz Sport is a pumped-up version of the 1.3-litre Jazz and comes with side skirts, sports exhaust tip, mesh lower grille, roof spoiler and front fog lamps and reversing sensors in the bumper. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 185/55 profile tyres set the car off, concealing ventilated disc brakes up front.

It’s the Jazz’s ability to swallow up luggage that belies its dimensions — only 3.85m long and 1.68m wide. The Jazz extends its corners as far as possible without looking like a box, and you’ll appreciate the height that gives a respectable 380 litres of luggage space even with the rear seats up. Fold them forward and the flat floor gives you 1321 litres.

A seven-speed gearbox is something you wouldn’t expect to find in a car in this class, and with all those ratios matched to CVT there’s barely any break in the acceleration. Use the button on the steering wheel to change it to sequential manual, and you can play with the gears using the paddles just behind the steering wheel. The 81kW from the 1.5-litre VTEC engine isn’t brisk (even when highly revved), but is usable enough around town. The Jazz also feels the most accomplished in its class when travelling at motorway speeds, its slightly firmer suspension giving more precise handling and better feel of the road. A Macpherson strut up front and trailing arm with torsion beam, both with anti-roll bars, coupled with a low kerb weight of 1065kg means hurling the Jazz into the corners is fun and reliably consistent.

You sit fairly upright and high up in the Jazz, though it is possible to adjust the seat to a more laid back position. Good visibility all around is like sitting in an MPV and it is complemented by tiny turning circle making manoeuvring simple. An attractive and well-planned cabin features large buttons and dials for the stereo and air conditioning. Stereo controls are duplicated on the leather steering wheel for the in-dash single-CD player. A convenient under-dash parcel shelf is welcome cabin storage.

The Jazz achieved 5.59l/100km in the EnergyWise Rally in 2006, and its quoted fuel consumption on the combined rate is 6.1l/100km. It has a LEV II low emission vehicle rating.

The usual trio of ABS, EBD (electronic brake distribution) and EBA (emergency brake assist) are present, along with driver and passenger front and side airbags, and seatbelt pretensioners.

The Jazz has won plenty of accolades and its easy to see why. It would be an easy car to live with, and one that even after five successful years on the market is still showing the way.

Price: from $24,600

What we like

  • All that space
  • Handling
  • Fuel economy

What we don’t like

  • Showing its age

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Raise the driving age, or enforce insurance premiums?

September 25th, 2007 by darren

Fueled by a number of high profile accidents involving speeding young people in allegedly modified cars, there’s an emotional push to raise the driving age and enforce compulsory third-party insurance. I grew up in England. You have to be 17 to drive, and third-party insurance is compulsory. One I wholeheartedly agree with, and the other I think is a great idea but in reality wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference – it may even make it worse. Raising the driving age to 16 (or maybe 17) is the best idea for this country. The majority of kids don’t leave school at 15 and therefore have no need to drive to work. Once they leave school, we should not disadvantage those who live in areas where New Zealand’s notoriously bad public transport system is even worse than usual. So, 16 it is. In the UK it’s virtually impossible to have a powerful car when you’re under 25. The insurance grouping system assigns a number based on the car’s performance, cost to repair when damaged, availability of parts, how long it usually takes to repair that car, the level of security and its value. A one-litre car with less than, say, 75kW would be perhaps group 6 and would be mostly affordable. A 2.5-litre Impreza Sportswagon (not even an STI) is in group 19…one less than a Ferrari 430. The insurance industry wants to use enforcement measures to ensure everyone pays. Well, duh! Of course they do, because they’ll be making far more profit. I doubt we’ll see a reduction in our premiums just because an extra couple of hundred thousand people are insured – accidents still need to be paid for and if everyone has insurance the insurance companies will be footing the whole bill themselves as opposed to being able to recoup cash from uninsured drivers. As a person who has had comprehensive insurance for 95% of my driving life, I personally think insurance is a great idea – it’s peace of mind in an accident. If I’m judged to have whacked the Lexus (whether I actually did it or not), all I’m up for is the excess and not potentially tens of thousands of dollars. But, I don’t think it’s the answer to the problem. People who like to drive dangerously will drive dangerously whether it’s an old 1.3-litre Starlet, or a highly modified turbo car which probably handles better and is safer than a cheaper, less powerful car. In fact, if we force younger people into cheaper cars, the crash rate may increase because the cars’ capabilities are less. As in all great scientific experiments, we should probably only change one factor at once and evaluate how that affects the situation. My vote is to raise the driving age to 16 or 17 and nothing more for the moment.

Audi TT 2007 – road test

September 25th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Audi TT 2007 fq

At the risk of copping an enormous amount of flak, the Audi TT is like Alanis Morissette’s second album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Her first album was almost too easy to like. It was chock full of instantly catchy songs, and her fresh new voice. But when you’ve got to follow a record like that up, what do you do? You make something insidiously rewarding where you have to make more of an effort to like it. Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting the previous incarnation of the Audi TT was like Alanis Morissette’s first album — it wasn’t a jagged little pill — but what happened with the second album was that the first time I listened to it I didn’t really like it. The brilliance was hidden.

My first Audi TT experience was a medium-slow meander through Grey Lynn back to the office. It’s a journey that begins with the nothingness of Great North Road topped off with the mediocrity of Richmond Rd via the shops. No twisty bits; no last-minute braking into a tight left-hander; no tearing through the gears with the exhilaration of knowing you can do it again after the next corner.

I reported back to the troops: it’s “OK” I said, “nothing special.” But how wrong I was, because I wasn’t listening to the harmony and subtle counterpoint; I hadn’t scraped beneath the veneer and polish of the Audi’s mix.

On the third listening I realised it was a truly deep album and that more listening was required to unlock its secrets. Look past the annoying bits — like that gaspy thing she does with her voice far too often. The problem with the Audi is that it’s just far too much like a competent, comfortable car in town — easy to drive, easy to park, and it’s a head-turner — but release the Audi from its urban constraints and suddenly the melody rises from the background, the song enters your lungs and exits in unison with the car via your hands.

All 147 kilowatts of the two-litre four-cylinder turbo tug at the tarmac, reined in by the all-to-frequently engaged traction control, and it’ll get to 100kph in 6.5 seconds. I don’t ever remember turning a stereo off to specifically hear a gearchange before, but using the S-tronic dual-clutch six-speed sequential (optional on this model, but standard on the 3.2-litre version) you can control the changes with paddles on the steering wheel or by pushing the gearstick backwards and forwards, and it gives almost a sonic thud between the shifts that are in themselves so quick it’s like there’s no pause. Even if you employed Chuck Norris to move a conventional gearstick with one of his faster-than-lightning punches, it wouldn’t change as rapidly as the Audi.

Keep the Audi at less than full throttle and you’ll only experience the tyres massaging the tarmac; beyond there, 280Nm induces torque steer out of slow corners, despite the 255/35R19s on all four corners.

This soft-top version can lower or raise the hood in 14 seconds while you readjust your hair and put on your shades. Cruising around town is a breeze (no pun intended), but it really needs a better wind deflector for motorway driving because in a crosswind it’s like driving along being gently patted in your left ear.

Audi loaned us an S-Line version, which has the larger mags (19 inch with 255-width tyres), and an uprated stereo.

On the interior you get supportive and embracing leather seats. They’re height adjustable, but not electric. The waistline is high, giving you a real sense the car is enveloping you. A flat-bottomed fully adjustable steering wheel contains controls for audio, while cruise control is on a stalk.

Instrumentation is a standard Audi red on black screen. Behind the seats is a large area, but it can only be accessed using a small aperture between the seats. The boot area is generous for a car this size that has to accommodate a folding roof.

Exterior styling is graceful, while being slightly muscular. At the rear a small spoiler extends from the boot lid. It can be controlled from within the cabin.

The construction is an aluminium spaceframe which adds to body rigidity. Safety features include ABS with EBD, stability control (ESP), seatbelt pretensioners and front and side airbags for passenger and driver. An alarm and immobiliser come as standard.

It’s unfortunate that the best part of the car — the gearbox — will remain unappreciated by the majority. If you can stretch another twenty grand, you can have the 3.2-litre V6 with 184kW, 320Nm of torque, magnetic ride suspension (optional extra on the 2-litre model) and four-wheel-drive.

Price: from $84,500 (manual) (S-Line options $88,500); $88,500 (S-tronic), $92,500 (S-tronic + S-Line). 3.2-litre quattro from $105,900 — 113,900.

What we like

  • Styling
  • Power
  • Handling
  • Oh, and the amazing gearbox
  • Very effective seat warmers

What we don’t like

  • Front-wheel-drive means torque steer
  • Lack of storage cubby holes
  • Electric seats are optional, not standard

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Raglan – it’s got some great driving routes

September 24th, 2007 by darren

A while ago, fellow columnist Phil Clark suggested that we should do a series on great driving routes. I don’t really have time to go gallavanting around Godzone to find the pick of the twisty bits. But, a weekend trip to Raglan has thrown up a great one I’d like to share with you and it’s got some notable scenic diversions on the way. You’ll need to start early to complete it in a day and it’s a fantastic way to get back from Raglan to Auckland. Also, the earlier you set off on the first leg, the less likely you are to be following some hippy’s surfboard-laden Kombi billowing blue smoke.
Head out of Raglan on Wainui Rd. This turns into Calvert Rd at the Whale Bay roundabout – carry on going – Whale Bay’s ok, but there’s precious time to be wasted here, and if you’ve been a Raglan a couple of days you’ve probably already seen it. The road turns into gravel and it’s twisty. Carry on going for about 30km and the road will turn back into tar seal. You’ll see a turn to the right for Ruapuke Beach. You can take this diversion if you’re desperate to see the waves (or need number ones or twos – there are public toilets there). If not, carry on onto Whaanga Rd. A few kilometres on you can turn left to the start of the Mt Karioi track. Doing the track from this side is an hour quicker than from the other. And it’s worth it. Expect to take 1 hour 40mins to the top if you’re not a lard lover.
Wheeze your way down to the bottom and set off again. Whaanga Rd turns into Ruapuke Rd and you’ll head through Te Mata, Kauroa and back up to the main 23 highway from Hamilton to Raglan. Turn right. Travel until you see Ohautira Rd. This is a fantastic road with fast flowing corners, and if the gorse is in flower you’ll see whole mountains turned yellow. Stop off at the Waingaro Hot Springs to ease your aching muscles from the climb. If it’s school holidays, the pub/hotel opens at 12; if not, you’ll have to carry on to find something to eat.

When you’ve finished relaxing, head off again. Take the left-hand turn to Huntly – don’t go to Ngaruawahia because you get more twisty road going the Huntly way. Once you’re back into Huntly you’ll head over the bridge and join the main highway back to Auckland. If you set off at 7am from Raglan, you’ll be at the start of the walk by 8am, back down the bottom of Mt Karioi by 12:00, at the hot pools by 1:00, then allow a couple of hours back to Auckland.

If you’ve got a great driving route, email it to me and I’ll start a new section in the site: [email protected]

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