Melbourne Motor Show starts today. So why am I not there?

February 29th, 2008 by darren

Two reasons: firstly, there’s a lot to do here, but secondly the motor shows are really a succession of endless press conferences stacked back to back every half an hour and it’s exhausting. The manufacturers supply us with most of the information anyway. Melbourne wouldn’t be as bad as, for example, Detroit (and it’s easy to get to from Auckland), and in a way it’d be cool to drop over and see HSV’s new 370kW 7-litre Commodore, but I’m a bit blase about it to be honest. I like looking at the concept cars, and although Toyota’s FT-HS potential Supra replacement will be there, many manufacturers skip Melbourne because Geneva (which is a big one) is on in a week.

Seems geographic isolation plays quite a big part…that and the fact that the entire population of Australia is the same as New York.

What’s going to happen to petrol when our currency corrects?

February 28th, 2008 by darren

News came through today that banks will put their mortgage rates up again. This in itself will put pressure on the household finances (of those with mortgages), but there’s potentially a financial crocodile waiting to spring up from the murky financial water: the NZ dollar crashing. We’re at historic post-float highs against the US dollar. 81c! It wasn’t long ago that we were at 63c. Should the currency drop that far, our purchasing power will diminish hugely. In fact, we’ll be easily knocking on the door of $2/litre petrol.

Not so long ago we were appalled by one dollar per litre petrol – the nation was up in arms, then we got used to it. People will moan, then they’ll get used to it. Then $2.50 will be next psychological price point.

People will buy smaller cars if they can; there may be a glut of large second hand cars for ridiculously cheap money (perhaps so cheap that it’s worth buying them even though you’ll use more petrol – financially, that is, not for the environment’s sake).

We can’t expect the kiwi dollar to rise indefinitely, but no one can tell when it will fall, or by how much. Until then we’ll have to hope that something else brings oil prices down.

Bye bye Mondeo, hello Citroen C4 Picasso

February 27th, 2008 by darren

With a name like Picasso you’d expect the styling to be all over the place. Odd shaped wheels hanging off random parts of the car; the interior a mess of unusually shaped objects dispersed seemingly randomly. It’s kind of like that. I’ve never been in a car that has such an unconventional layout, from the location of the air conditioning controls (below the right-hand vent near the door), to the indicator readouts (on the immovable centre of the steering wheel). Top marks for Citroen for really trying something new. This people mover is aimed squarely at the funky mother and is like riding in a simulator, such is the panoramic view from the screen. I’ll have a full article for you in a week or so when I’ve finished exploring its idiosyncrasies.

Mazda6 launch

February 26th, 2008 by darren

Yesterday I partook in the automotive junket that is a ‘car launch’. In this case it was courtesy of Mazda for the launch of the 6. The event started at Mazda’s new HQ in Mt Wellington and the Chief Designer from Mazda in Japan – Sato-san, also responsible for the Gen I MX-5, Gen III RX-7 and RX-8 prototype – was in town to explain the design concepts. Basically they were lots of Japanese words that gave them an excuse to say that the car looks great (I know how this happens – I used to own a design agency).

We left in an entourage – two journalists per car – and headed north of Auckland towards Kaukapakapa. Apart from a local trying to take us out on a blind corner by being on our side of the road it was uneventful, the new ’6 was a solid tourer, if a little under-powered. Lunch at a lodge in the middle of nowhere (but with surprisingly good mobile reception) consisted of fine foods, the names of which I sometimes didn’t know. Then it was followed by a dash back to Auckland because I had band practise, while the rest of the journos wound their way around the scenery back to the Westin hotel for dinner.

I’m looking forward to the next one – Mazda supplied us all with a complementary carry-on piece of luggage…which might have been annoying for those who had flown in already with a piece of carry-on luggage. But I was grateful.

Kia Picanto Sport 2008 Review

February 26th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Kia Picanto Sport 2008 fq

I am fairly astounded at the level of kit available on this Kia Picanto Sport. For a smidge under $19,000 there are features that not ten years ago would have only been found on top-of-the-line Mercs and Beemers. In fact, even the hideous 1996 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur I suffered in order to bring the plebeians an insight to how the moneyed live didn’t have reversing sensors, ESP (electronic stability program), or electronic brakeforce distribution like the Picanto does, let alone heated wing mirrors! In fact the Rolls didn’t even have an immobiliser, which the Kia comes with as standard.

The Kia even handles better than the Rolls-Royce. Yes, I’d take the Picanto over the Rolls any day because driving the Rolls (while fun in a sort of ‘lording over the peasants’ type of way) ultimately was like manoeuvring a girder in a bouncy castle.

The Picanto is barely longer than a toaster, and the car’s designers have pushed the wheels as far into the corners as possible to make as much interior space as they can. Consequently five medium-sized slices of toast (with short legs) can travel in the Picanto, but you’d better make sure they are not too heavy because the 48kW engine (yes, just 48kW) struggles up hills even with just the driver in. 48kW in a normal sized car is barely enough to part the air so fortunately the Kia’s featherweight 936kg means that on the flat and around town it’s fairly sprightly, while returning a planet-caressing 5.2l/100km and only 126g/km of CO2. So, with a 35-litre fuel tank you could get the best part of 700km between petrol stations.

A 1.1-litre four cylinder engine peeps up from the tiny bonnet aperture from where it puts the 99Nm of torque through a five-speed manual gearbox. There is a four-speed automatic version available, though it’s not as fuel efficient. Power of this type does tend to require a binary operation of the throttle — either fully on or not at all — and the inefficiencies of an automatic gearbox obviously make this worse.

The Picanto is also more than capable of comfortably cruising a motorway speeds, though some of the bodywork whistled in our test car. I had a fairly surreal experience between Market Road and Greenlane on the motorway taking the Picanto back to Kia. I was following a red Picanto while overtaking a car transporter with eight Picantos. That’s 10 Picantos sharing 30 metres. I haven’t seen a Picanto on the road since.

The Picanto felt safe on the road. 175/50R15 tyres are more than adequate for a car this light, and it cornered like a bobsled. I had a chance to push the Kia on a coned slalom course at the Advanced Driver Training Centre at Ardmore Aerodrome — its manoeuvrability, electronic stability programme and tight turning circle were a huge advantage in negotiating the course. And it even has disc brakes all around (vented ones at the front, no less!)

Electronic stability control attempts to prevent understeer and oversteer, but should you still not be able to avoid a prang, four airbags will deploy.

The Sport version gains a small rear spoiler, black bezel headlights, and a sportier interior over the lesser specification models. Having said that, all models come as standard with a leather steering wheel, alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows and a sports-style instrument cluster.

This car will appeal to opposite ends of the age spectrum. Definitely the older generation will adore it for its practical aspects — easy to drive, easy to get in and out of (because the seat position is high), frugal, 5-year 100,000km warranty, etc. And, I suspect it will also appeal to young city-dwelling females who want a new car with iPod connector, reversing sensors and a swag of hot and spicy colour options like citrus yellow, samba green and orange/mica. Manufacturers like Kia are continually raising the specification bar with cars like the Picanto.

Price: From $18,990

What we like

  • Frugal
  • Handles and brakes well
  • Unbelievable level of kit for the price — electric windows, ESP, ABS, EBD, reverse warning sensors, etc

Things we don’t like

  • Rear view mirror is in the wrong place — can’t see behind very well
  • It has the power of 20 toasters
  • Some of the bodywork whistles at motorway speeds

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

MECHANICAL

Engine type: 1.1L 4 cylinder petrol

Displacement (cc): 1086 cc

Compression ratio: 10:3

Max. power: 48 kW @ 5500 rpm

Max. torque: 99 Nm @ 2800 rpm

Fuel economy (combined cycle) 5.2L / 100 km

Co2 emissions (g/km) 126

TRANSMISSION

Gear box: 5-speed Manual

SUSPENSION

Front suspension MacPherson Strut

Rear suspension Torsion Beam

WHEELS

Tyres: 175/50 R15

Braking system: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs

Alloy wheels: 15″

Space saver spare wheel

STEERING

Steering system: Power assisted rack & pinion

Minimum turning radius kerb to kerb (m): 4.7

FEATURES

SAFETY

ABS brakes with EBD

Electronic Stability Programme (ESP)

Dual front airbags

Dual side airbags

Passenger airbag on/off switch

Child safety rear door locks

Vehicle immobiliser

Front seatbelt pretensioners / load limiters

High mounted stop lamp

Reverse warning sensors

EXTERIOR FEATURES

Body coloured electric outside mirrors

Wing mirror mounted indicators

Heated rear mirrors

Rear seatbelt pockets

Front & rear fog lamps

Front & rear mudguards

Side skirts

Rear spoiler

Front spoiler

Black bezel head lights

INTERIOR FEATURES

Stereo Radio/CD/MP3 with 6 speakers

Auxiliary audio input and cable for iPod

Sports interior

Leather steering wheel and gear knob

Power windows

Remote central locking

Air conditioning

60:40 split folding rear seats

Front & rear height adjustable head rests

Luggage net

DIMENSIONS

Overall length: 3535 mm

Overall width: 1595 mm

Overall height: 1480 mm

Wheelbase: 2370 mm

Min. ground clearance: 145 mm

Kerb weight min. / max:. 936 / 1030kg

Luggage capacity (seat up / seat folding): 157 / 882 litres

Fuel tank capacity: 35 litres

Towing capacity – unbraked (kg): 400

Towing capacity – braked (kg):700

Yet another number plate sells for hundreds of thousands

February 22nd, 2008 by darren

Someone set off a fad. Now a Delaware man has paid US$675,000 for the number 6. And he would have paid more. It’s yet more confirmation that the market for collectibles is booming in the face of a looming depression. The link has a great summary of the proceedings at the auction – very exciting.

I’m trying to think what might be next. Perhaps phonecards might make a comeback, or Angora goats.

Any ideas?

Audi S5 2008 Review

February 22nd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Audi S5 2008 fq

I went to school with a guy called Ben Pridmore. He was two years younger than me, and not really that popular with the girls because his brains were spilling out of every cranial orifice. He eventually went on to become an accountant with a beard. Oh, and the world memory champion. He can remember the order of a randomly shuffled deck of 52 cards in 26.28 seconds.

In a complete coincidence I picked up a newspaper in Melbourne when I was there for the tennis to read that he’d been beaten in a memory test by a chimp. The test consisted of remembering the location flashing squares appearing on a screen and Ben couldn’t get the monkey off his back. Read about it here.

So, if I could trade in my brain for a hybrid brain of Ben Pridmore and the chimp I’d be more than capable of remembering every numerical combination of models from Audi, Mercedes and BMW. You should really take a look at it. Audi has the A3, A4, A5, A6, A8, Q7, S3, S4, S5, S6, S8, RS4, RS6, R8 (spot the change in sequence), and the TT and allroad; BMW has the 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, M3, M5, M6, X3, X5, Z4, Z4 M (and that’s not including the sub-models within each series like the 123d, 135i, etc); and Mercedes has the A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, E-Class, G-Class, M-Class, R-Class, S-Class, and each of these has a set of numbers, and there are letter variants like SL, CLK, CLS, SLK, etc. Mercedes has 48 alone (not including commercials and vans) and I started counting the rest but visibly aged during the process. In all, there are probably more than 100 model variants available just with those three manufacturers.

It’s a good job then that I don’t need Pridmore’s perfect recall to spell S5 and remember that it has a V8 even though Audi’s model designations are confusing with their engine sizes — A4 (4-cylinder), S5 (8-cylinder), A6 (6-cylinder), RS6 (10-cylinder), etc.

The S5 reminds you it has a 4.2-litre V8 whenever you prod the throttle. Instant response comes from quattro four-wheel drive turning 260kW and 440Nm of torque through huge 245-width tyres. With all that power and four-wheel drive it understeers under acceleration. To get the most out of the chassis and handling it’s best to carry as much speed as possible into a late-apexed corner to get the car as straight as you can before applying the power. Driven like this it’s one of the sharpest handling luxury coupes I’ve wrestled with, and without putting them back to back on a track I’d say in league with the BMW M3 which is thirty grand more.

Back to more sedate motoring, I managed 12.9l/100km on my economy run from Takapuna to Grey Lynn, fractionally above Audi’s quoted 12.4l/100km. Not bad for an engine of this size and power. The S5 actually helps you achieve as economical ride as possible by recommending which of the gears you should be in. For a start I was always in far too low a gear. The S5 reckons that if you’re doing over 1500rpm under gentle motoring you should be changing up. If you’re doing less than about 1100rpm you should be changing down. With all that torque it’ll happily burble along at 55kph in sixth around town, or you can scream to 100kph in 5.1 seconds totally ignoring the drowning polar bears.

Gearshifts, like a sports car, are chiropractically notchy and need a firm action to make clean changes. Steering feel is weighted beautifully at speed, and is given extra assistance for manoeuvring at low speed. Parking sensors front and rear as standard help you to judge the wide hips of the S5, and the high waistline doesn’t seem to hamper visibility. The mirrors have two memory positions so it’s possible to set one for reversing to avoid kerbing the beautiful 18-inch wheels.

Inside is what you would expect from a car in this bracket. The luxurious touches are there, interspersed with the occasional bit of hard plastic. Leather seats all around for the four occupants are supportive and infinitely adjustable, and feature an S5 moniker. With the driver’s seat set for my fairly tall body, I could still sit in the back. The front seats have a dedicated forwards/backwards button on the back of them to aid rear-seat passengers in exiting the car.

To start the S5 is a rigmarole. Insert the whole key unit in a wide slot that would be perfect for kids to put bits of Lego in. Depress the clutch. Push the key again. Depress the brake. Push the handbrake button (it’s one of those hydraulic ones). Now you can move. Not exactly that flash for quick getaways.

But I think most purchasers of Audi will find all this academic, and that is most neatly summed up by a visit I paid to friends two nights ago. They didn’t see the car because their house is a building site and I didn’t want to risk their off-road driveway in a $138,000 car, but one of them said ‘Audi has really got some beautiful cars nowadays.’ I’d agree. I like the styling and I especially love the LED headlights. People very often aren’t logical when purchasing a car. They don’t buy a car in the rational way they’d remember the order of a deck of cards. It’s about its connection with your personality, its image, and whether it makes you feel Ace.

Price: $138,900 including the $1,000 optional stainless steel mesh trims in the cabin

What we like

  • Toys
  • Power
  • Styling
  • Handling
  • Noise
  • Sizeable boot

What we don’t like

  • Overly complicated startup procedure
  • Electronic handbrake makes hill starts difficult
Engine / electrics
Engine type V8 spark-ignition engine, four-valve technology, two-stage variable intake manifold, DOHC
Valve gear / number of valves per cylinder

Intake camshaft adjustment, roller cam followers with hydraulic adjustment / 4

Displacement in cc / bore x stroke in mm / compression

4163 / 84.5 x 92.8 / 11.0

Max. power output in kW (bhp) / at rpm

260 (354) / 7000

Max. torque in Nm / at rpm

440 / 3500

Engine management / mixture preparation

Fully electronic engine management with drive-by-wire throttle control,
Bosch MED 9.1.1; petrol direct injection, demand-controlled high-pressure and low-pressure fuel regulation, continuous lambda control, mapped ignition with solid-state high-voltage distribution, cylinder-selective adaptive knock control, air mass measuring system

Exhaust emission control

Two close-coupled ceramic catalytic converters, adaptive lambda control each with two oxygen sensors (control sensor and regulating sensor)

Emission class

EU 4

Alternator in A / battery in A/Ah

190 / 450 / 95

Drive / transmission
Drivetrain type

quattro permanent four-wheel drive with self-locking centre differential, ESP

Clutch

Hydraulically operated single-plate dry clutch; dual-mass flywheel

Gearbox type

6-speed manual, synchromesh on all gears

Gear ratio in 1st gear / 2nd gear

3.667 / 2.050

Gear ratio in 3rd gear / 4th gear

1.462 / 1.133

Gear ratio in 5th gear / 6th gear

0.919 / 0.778

Reverse gear / final drive ratio

3.330 / 3.889

Running gear / steering / brakes
Front suspension

Five-link front suspension, upper and lower wishbones, tubular anti-roll bar

Rear suspension

Independent-wheel, trapezoidal-link rear suspension with resiliently mounted subframe, anti-roll bar

Steering / steering ratio / turning circle in m (D102)

Maintenance-free rack-and-pinion steering with power assistance / 16.3 / 11.4

Brake system

Dual-circuit brake system with diagonal split, ABS/EBD and ESP with brake assist; tandem brake booster; ventilated discs at front and rear

Wheels / tyres

8.5J x 18 cast aluminium wheels / 245/40 R 18

Performance / consumption / acoustics
Top speed, km/h

250 (governed)

Acceleration 0-100 km/h, s

5.1

Fuel

Super Plus unleaded (98 RON)

Fuel consumption: urban / extra-urban / combined (l/100 km)

17.8 / 9.2 / 12.4

CO2 emissions: urban / extra-urban / combined (g/km)

427 / 221 / 298

Standing / drive-past exterior noise level in dB (A)

90 / 75

Servicing / guarantee
Oil change

15,000kms or 12 months

Audi Cover/Vehicle/paint/rust perforation warranty

3 years / 3 years with unlimited mileage / 3 years / 12 years

Weights / loads
Unladen weight (excl. driver) / gross weight limit in kg

1630 / 2130

Axle load limit at front / rear in kg

1130 / 1090

Trailer load limit unbraked in kg

750

Trailer load limit on 8% / 12% gradient, braked in kg

2100 / 1900

Roof load limit in kg / permissible nose weight in kg

75 / 80

Capacities
Cooling system capacity (incl. heating) in litres

12.2

Engine oil capacity (incl. filter) in litres

10.7

Fuel tank capacity in litres

63

Body / dimensions 2)
Body type

Unitary steel body, galvanised, crumple zones at front and rear

Number of doors / seats

2 doors with additional side protection / four seats

Drag coefficient cD / frontal area A in m2

0.306 / 2.17

Length (L103) / width excl. mirrors (W103) / height (H100-M)

4635 / 1854 / 1369 (mm)

Wheelbase (L101) / track at front/rear (W101/W102) (mm)

2751 / 1594 / 1581

Height of loading lip in mm (H196)

666

Luggage capacity in litres, acc. to VDA block method (V211) (V214)

455

Cupholders win out over fuel efficiency

February 21st, 2008 by darren

I don’t drink coffee, but I do carry a water bottle pretty much everywhere, and if you’ve read some of my reviews you might remember that it annoys the hell out of me when a car doesn’t have a place to put a water bottle. In fact, I would seriously consider not buying a certain vehicle if it didn’t have a place to put my H2O, even if it used more fuel per 100km.

While people care more about fuel economy now than three years ago, according to Forbes cup holders still matter more. And that’s not going to change until hybrids are the same price as regular cars. Currently it takes between 3 years and several hundred years (e.g. if you buy a Lexus hybrid) to pay back the saving. Consumers look at that and then start craving coffee. There’s the problem. Unless it’s worth significantly more in consumers’ pockets, you’re fighting an addiction, and thus a losing battle.

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