Audi Q7, Fiat Bravo, Suzuki SX4

October 30th, 2007 by darren

Yesterday we said a reluctant goodbye to the Fiat Bravo T-Jet, and swapped it for a Suzuki SX4, which is like a big Swift – quite a good car on first impressions. Phil ‘P1′ Clark has got his grubby mitts on that now. I picked up an Audi Q7 4.2 TDI S-Line. At $152,000 it’s a significant investment, and it has the right number of features to match the dollars you put down. Air suspension allows you to raise the ride height significantly for those extra big kerbs. Actually, joking aside, it was a good job we could do that because my pick of photoshoot location would have seen me take the front bumper off had I not been able to raise it. There was less than 10mm clearance! It’s nowhere near the Dodge double-cab ute of yesterday’s blog post, though.

Double-cab doozy

October 29th, 2007 by darren

What do you need for all those useless folk that drive at 40kph? An enormous monster of a truck to intimidate them into letting you past. This beast has just arrived in NZ and will be complied shortly, though the owner informs us he’ll have to make the suspension standard to get it complied, then reinstall it and get a low volume vehicle cert.

Good luck finding a parking spot large enough anywhere in town!

Annoying driving habits

October 27th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

I am the best driver in the world, as are you, and we know all the other people on the road are no-hopers who shouldn’t be allowed to drive a tricycle, let alone a car. So why is it that the police don’t penalise people for being irritating drivers? Send these to your friends who drive — especially the ones you know commit these heinous acts of automotive indiscretion.

Riding the brakes

People who drive automatics often rest their left foot on the brake. This means their brake lights are on all the time, and in extreme cases they will use far more fuel and wear out their pads. It also means that drivers following them don’t actually know when they’re braking.

Annoyance factor: 95%

Weaving

It’s rush hour, everyone’s heading in the same direction, the lanes stop and start at different times, and some monkey is trying to eek out a several metre advantage every kilometre.

Annoyance factor: 60% if the driver doesn’t pull in front of you; 95% if the driver does

Inexperience

We can’t expect drivers who spend 90% of their driving time at rush hour speeds to be confident and comfortable doing 100km/h on the open highway. So, let’s encourage them to fly or stay at home rather than hold us up dawdling along at 85.

Annoyance factor: 60%

Searching

Driving slowly looking for an address, but not indicating or pulling to the left so that other drivers can pass.

Annoyance factor: 75%

Lane hogging

Middle-lane magnetism, or just plain bad lane discipline. Keep left if you’re not overtaking (or right if you’re in the US or Europe).

Annoyance factor: 85%

Erratic speed

You’re doing 80kph where I can’t overtake you, but then speed up to 110kph when I can. That’s just bad karma. Or, you’re the type of person that overtakes me, then slows down to slower than I was doing.

Annoyance factor: 99%

Hesitation and indecision

Driving is not the deli counter. It requires an acute mind, but hesitation and indecision forces other drivers to try to read yours. If you don’t know what you’re doing, indicate, pull over, and let other by until you’ve decided.

Annoyance factor: 95%

Tailgating

If you really want to get that far up my backside, buy me some flowers. It’s especially annoying if I’m already above the speed limit, but within the police’s tolerance.

Annoyance factor: 100% (if I’m already driving quickly)

Words Darren Cottingham

Headlights will merge with taillights

October 26th, 2007 by darren

After seeing the new Nissan GT-R in its final form I can confidently predict that headlights will eventually run the length of the car and merge with taillights. The GT-R’s extend level with the top of the front wheel. That’s almost back to the windscreen!! And they’re not the only one. Peugeot is in on the game, as are a few others. In fact, headlights now look more like a high-speed bug splat – a crystal-clear,  high velocity splash on the front corners. Got to make it look like it’s going fast even if it’s standing still!!

Dodge Avenger SXT 2007 Review

October 26th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Dodge Avenger SXT 2007 s

Avenger is a pretty cool name. It sounds like the moniker that would be given to a muscled black guy in a long trench coat and shades who acts as a vigilante on the mean streets of LA, seeking retribution¦looking moody¦kicking ass.

But that’s not the Dodge Avenger. It more just negotiates in a friendly way with bad guys, ruffles their hair a little bit and sends them on their way. It is a comfortable family-sized four-door sedan/saloon with hints of coupe in the styling, and some enormous shoulders above the rear wheels that have to carry this brawny image.

Equipped with two-tone leather seats, the inside of the Avenger’s interior looks stylish. Its interior appointments are excellent for a car in this class and price range. A heating/cooling cup holder, driver and passenger seat heaters that would melt an iceberg, plenty of storage, a trip computer, easy-to-read instrumentation and a fully telescopic adjustable steering wheel makes for a relaxed drive.

This ‘relaxation unfortunately extends through to the engine. It doesn’t ‘avenge’ in the power department, with a 2.4-litre mill that does not unleash fury on the tarmac like a car called the Avenger should. Converting the power to the road is a four-speed automatic that also features a sequential shift with Dodge’s unusual left/right action for changing up and down.

If you are content to cruise comfortably, the Avenger is perfect — handling is not too firm, and it’s not like a quivering, cowardly weakling either. Disk brakes all around hide behind 18-inch alloys shod in 215/55 rubber that haul the Avenger to a stop smartly. You could easily go to 19- or 20-inch wheels which would fill the Avenger’s arches out better. Unusually angled styling on the front bumper would be better matched to larger wheels as it makes the Avenger look like it’s travelling on suspension that needs lowering a couple of inches.

Multi-stage airbags — front, side and curtain — coupled with ESP, ABS and a collapsible steering column protect occupants in the event of an accident.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Avenger is the optional MyGIG multimedia infotainment system which includes a DVD player and 20Gb hard drive. Mated to a six-speaker Boston Acoustics system, the 276W amp is more than adequate to cause tinnitus. You can upload songs from your portable music player or computer via a USB. MyGIG will play MP3/WMA-format files, and there’s an auxiliary in for your iPod. The MyGIG panel is a large (just under 7-inches diagonal) 16:9 touch-sensitive screen that encompasses all the audio functions, from changing the radio station to uploading a photo to display with your music. While the car is stationary it’s possible to watch DVDs on the screen. So, I cracked open The Who’s ‘The Kids Are Alright’ widescreen edition double DVD. Chapter 37 on disk one is a studio session of ‘Who Are You.’ And that sums up the Dodge Avenger. After all this talk of how friendly and plush the Avenger is for the money, should it be called the Dodge Appeaser? Yes: it’s a comfy car that is easy to make friends with, but for kicking ass, the engine doesn’t quite cut it. Who are you? I really wanna know.

Price: from $38,990 ($33,990 for SE version)

What we like

  • MyGIG stereo (optional) is cool
  • Large boot
  • Passenger comfort

What we don’t like

  • Wrong engine for this car — nowhere near enough power, and not the right sound
  • Stereo over bassy
  • Small rear window means you’ll most likely want the optional Parksense reversing sensors
  • Optimistic fuel consumption figures (8.9l/100km)

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

My body hurts. Now I wish I had a cushy automatic

October 25th, 2007 by darren

Despite being a pom, I’m not usually whingy, but I’ve returned home from a spectacularly body-breaking capoeira class. 2.5 hours of using muscles that at best get just a mild prod every now and then. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a Brazilian martial art. Think break-dancing meets floor gymnastics meets non-contact karate, and you’d be about there…except without the ghetto blaster. I am dreading going to bed because I know that tomorrow will be like millions of tiny munitions exploding in my muscles. So now is the time I want a softly sprung automatic. Even that horrid Rolls-Royce I tried a while ago would be better than the moderately sporty, manual-endowed Fiat Bravo T-Jet I’ll have to manhandle over the Harbour Bridge’s crumbling superstructure tomorrow morning.

Lamborghini baubles?

October 24th, 2007 by darren

We received some news today from Lamborghini which is evidently proud of the ceramic baubles it (probably gets made in China and) sells on its website in the UK along with long-life candles and other tack. I’m reminded that by now I usually have my Xmas shopping done because I loathe Xmas music. In general, we buy too much rubbishy useless landfill-material for people who don’t need it, and I can’t think of anyone who needs Lamborghini baubles. When people ask me whether there’s anything special I want for Xmas I’m stumped for items under somewhere around the price of an Alfa Romeo Brera. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I, like many of my friends, have all the socks, crockery, ornaments and other miscellaneous bits and bobs necessary to have a moderately comfortable life. I even have a wind up torch.

So, that pretty much just leaves experiences to buy and receive. I like buying experiences for people – hot laps in racing cars, stage shows, and other things that can be consumed so that I can easily find something in a similar vein next year. It’s almost the lazy way of buying presents. And I like receiving experiences as gifts – it’s an easy win, and I don’t even have to dust them.

Of course, I’m not hinting here…but Santa, please don’t bring me Lamborghini baubles.

Peugeot 207 GTi THP 175 2007 Review

October 23rd, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Peugeot 207 GTI THP 2007 fq

In 1984 Peugeot launched the 205 GTi. It was car that perfectly suited young people in a rush. Entering into the world in ‘The Greed Decade’, the young and upwardly mobile had disposable income and wanted a car that was exciting yet practical. The 207 GTi is the latest hot hatch from Peugeot, and as there are no plans for a 207GTI180 (which would succeed the 206GTi180), it’s the most powerful 207 in the range with 128kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque at 1600rpm.

In a similar vein to the Golf TSi I reviewed a couple of weeks ago Peugeot’s 207 GTi THP 175 (to give it its rather excessive moniker) has taken a cut in engine size from the usual 2-litre mill and instead has a small turbo to assist the 1.6-litre in the horsepower and torque department. It does this exceptionally well. Having owned a 206GTi180, I was surprised to find the 207 GTi feels as quick (around seven seconds to 100kph), and probably handles better. The torque pulls you out of tight corners with ease (even if with a little torque steer from the front wheel drive as the traction control attempts to match the friction available. Extremely firm suspension means minimal body roll and facilitates some exhilarating g-forces on the right roads, but it will be too hard for some tastes.

This three-door model has two very long and heavy side doors, care with which are required when in a tight parking space. They open wide to allow access to the back with the front seats tipped forward, but it’s by no means an easy entry for anyone bigger than a child to get to the two sculpted rear passenger seats.

Clamber into the front and you’ll notice the racing-style shoulder wings and lateral support of these deep bucket seats that embrace you like a sausage in a hotdog, but the seating position doesn’t quite cut the mustard. A tall driver will need to fiddle around a bit with the seating position to get the right setting between best legroom and best distance to the steering wheel.

Dual climate control air conditioning extends to the glovebox. Above the climate control dials is a 6-CD in-dash stereo. Controls for this, and the cruise control/speed limiter are located on stubby wands on the steering column. A photo chromatic rear view mirror,  automatic lights, wipers and wing mirrors that fold in when you turn the engine off are also included as standard.

I like every part of the styling of the 207 except for the slight overhang on the nose. It’s bulging in the right places, and from the back, its twin exhausts and roof-mounted spoiler leave a driver in no doubt that what just overtook them has some beans under the bonnet. Look carefully on the bumper and you’ll notice reversing sensors — new for the 207 — linked to a display on the dashboard representing where any obstacles are. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels conceal ventilated disk brakes and single-pot callipers.

On the inside, drilled sports pedals complement the chunky steering wheel and gripping seats. Chrome-ringed dials add the finishing touches to a sporty cabin and an aluminium-topped gearknob with leather boot.

The Peugeot has a 5-speed gearbox, while you would expect that it would have six like its rival the Mini Cooper S. But I had this conversation with them about the 206GTi180 when I bought that: Peugeot does not think a six speed is necessary with the right gearing, it’s more expensive, and it means the car dimensions and layout have to be changed because the gearbox is longer.

The new Peugeot 207 GTi has more safety features than the 206. Four seatbelt lights let you know if your passengers are buckled up. Turn to the right and the directional headlights turn on an additional bulb that illuminates further to the right of the road. The 207 GTi comes with an enormous number of acronyms to assist your safety: the usual ABS with EBD (electronic brake force distribution) and EBA (emergency brake assist), electronic stability program (with traction control) and a fuel cut-off inertia switch. What these acronyms do is take over the car to an extent when they think an overenthusiastic driver is about to get to 101% of their limits.

SSP, which appears for the first time for Peugeot on the 207, works with ESP and the steering wheel. The steering rack has a small motor attached. If you brake while the car straddles two surface, one less grippy than the other (e.g. one side on tarmac, the other on gravel), what usually happens is that the ABS turns off on the less grippy side to stop the wheels from skidding. This means that the other wheels are doing all the braking and the car tends to pull in the direction of those wheels. SSP counter steers into this to make it easier to brake in a straight line, and the net result is a 4-10% reduction in stopping distance on uneven surfaces. You can override it by turning the steering wheel, and of course, you can override all of them with one switch, and feel the car in its raw state.

It’s not really a car that goes in for passenger comfort. It’s a driver’s car that you can have a lot of fun with through twisty, hilly passes. The light steering allows quick changes of direction to the car without straining your deltoids, and the seats grip your torso preventing you from ending up on your passenger’s lap. It’s great fun, if you’re a solo driver.

Price: from $37,990

What we like

  • Handling
  • Performance
  • Styling (except for the nose overhang)
  • Lots of acronyms and a 5-star crash rating

What we don’t like

  • Impractical load space
  • Super-firm suspension not to everyone’s taste
  • Heavy doors have a tendency to swing wide without warning on opening

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

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