Toyota Prius i-Tech 2009 Review

January 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

If 1950s science fiction was ever to be believed we should all have flying jet-propelled cars by now. These fantastical vehicles were meant to be capable of intergalactic travel so we could reach our space-baches on distant planets. That hasn’t quite worked out just yet, but planet earth does have at least one futuristic vehicle.

When you think of futuristic vehicles you think of hybrids and it’s Toyota’s Prius that instantly comes to mind. Despite Honda’s attempts to creep in on its market share the Prius remains the alpha hybrid. This well-established badge recognition has obvious value to Toyota because the new third-generation Prius is much more about evolution than revolution. To find out more Car and SUV headed back to the future with the top-spec 2010 Prius i-Tech to see if it has the same spark as its predecessors.

One glance at the Prius and it’s obviously a vehicle playing to its strengths. Where the second-generation model gained success from its green credentials, fuel economy, distinctive styling and general practicality this new model represents advancement in all disciplines.

Starting with the power train, the new Prius continues with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system that handles the switching between electric motor and Atkinson-cycle combustion engine. A new petrol power plant has been fitted and displacement increased to 1.8-litres over the previous 1.5-litre unit. It produces 73kW and works in tandem with the 27kW electric motor to offer 100kW of power in total.

Interestingly, the increase in engine size actually helps fuel economy by increasing torque to 142Nm and reduces engine speeds particularly during motorway cruising. The new engine combined with improved aerodynamics has resulted in a suitably impressive 3.9L/100km fuel economy and CO2 emissions of only 89g/km.

The Prius is at its petrol-sipping best around town where the electric motor gets busy. There are four driving modes offered; normal, power, eco, and EV. The EV mode is fully electric and if your light on the accelerator will let the Prius drive up to 50kph for 1-2km or until stored power runs low.

Performance and fuel economy largely depends on the selected driving mode with the normal setting providing a good middle ground, power making use of available grunt, and economy mode which further decreases fuel consumption by restricting the gas pedal.

When set to ‘power’ and driven with haste the Prius will hit 100kph from standing in just over 10 seconds. Gear changes are near seamless and handled by an electronic CVT box that is an excellent match for the unique power train.

In terms of handling, the Prius feels assured and offers ample grip. The suspension is set with comfort in mind and most bumps and dips in the road aren’t transferred to occupants. However, there is a certain degree of body roll when the Prius changes direction quickly and it does ride a little hard on the low resistance tyres. It’s definitely not a performance focused vehicle but dynamically it’s easily capable of general driving duties both in the city and on the open road.

When it comes to styling the Prius shape looks similar to the second-generation model but only 10% of parts have been carried over. The dimensions have changed making the Prius longer, wider and with a higher roofline. Front styling is more aggressive with swept back headlights and a wide air-intake. Out back it’s all about wide pillars and a split rear windscreen perched above the special blue-ringed Toyota badging. It’s not just about looking ‘space-age’ either, the Prius’ new sheet metal has resulted in an aerodynamics figure of just 0.25Cd.

Inside the Prius, there is a Spartan feel dominated by grey plastics that are nicely textured and made of plant-based materials but are a little flimsy to the touch. The floating centre stack houses a large multi-function display screen, plenty of buttons to play with and a tiny electronic gear lever. There’s no tachometer but vehicle speed can be seen on either the centrally mounted dash read-out or through the heads up display system. The trip computer is a real treat for car nerds, displaying a wide variety of details on fuel usage and power storage in addition to regular information.

Other high-tech tricks include satellite navigation, seat heaters, smart entry and start, reversing camera, dynamic radar cruise control, LED headlights, 8-speaker stereo and a solar paneled ventilation system. The solar panels are located over the rear of the roof and run a fan to minimize increases to interior air temperature when the car is parked. If that’s not cool enough, some of the power from the hybrid battery can also be used to run the air-conditioning remotely from the key fob for up to three minutes before the driver enters the vehicle.

A lot of consideration has been put into making the Prius’ cabin spacious and it’s worked out well. The front seats are wide and comfortable and rear passengers have good legroom and ample headroom thanks to the raised roofline. The rear hatch is very accommodating for luggage and has a total capacity of 446-litre with the seats up.

Another strength of the Prius i-Tech is in its safety systems. A full nine airbag package including driver’s knee is ready to pop and there’s a pre-crash safety system that works in with the radar cruise control to alert the driver of an impending collision and reacts to avoid or lessen damage. Stability and traction control are also included as is an emergency brake lighting system that blinks the rear brake lights when the vehicle is stopping suddenly.

The Prius gives hybrid followers exactly what they want and it has become a true halo car for Toyota. The level of technology in the i-Tech is very impressive and it serves as a likely showcase for equipment that will eventually filter down to Toyota’s lesser models. The hybrid system still forces the Prius into a price premium over similarly sized and specified petrol-only vehicles. Naturally, some of that cost will be reimbursed over time with the lower fuel consumption, but it still puts a new Prius out of many people’s price range. However, if it’s green credentials you need, you love new technology or simply require a practical family vehicle that’s a bit different then the Prius could be for you.

Price: $62,090

What we like:

  • Fuel consumption
  • Plenty of tricks
  • High safety level

What we don’t like:

  • Interior plastics
  • Price Premium
  • Body Roll

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Toyota Prius i-Tech (2009) – Road Test

Powertrain
Engine Model Code      2ZR-FXE
Type     In-line, 4 Cylinder, 16 Valve, DOHC, Variable Valve Timing-intelligent (VVT-i)
Battery Voltage     12 Volts
Bore     80.5 mm
Capacity     1798 cc
Compression     13.0 : 1
Configuration     In-line 4 cylinder
Emission     89 g/km
Test     ADR 81/02
Fuel Tank Capacity     45 litres
Fuel Type     95 Octane or Higher Recommended
Injection Type     Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI)
Location     Front, Transverse
Maximum Power     75kW 5200rpm
Maximum Torque     142Nm 4000rpm
Stroke     88.3 mm

Electric Motor
Type      201.6 Volt Nickel Metal-Hydride (Ni-MH) Battery & 12 Volt auxiliary battery
Description     Permanent Magnet Synchronous A/C Motor
Function     Motor function – Drive to wheels, Generator (Regenerative Brake Control); Generator function – Generator, Engine Starter, Electronic Continuosly Variable Transmission (ECVT) control
Maximum Voltage     AC 500 Volts

Fuel Economy Rating     5.5 out of 6
Litres per 100km     3.9
Fuel Cost Per Year2008 cost per year based on price per litre of $1.85 and an average distance of 14,000 km     $1,010

Suspension
Front     MacPherson Struts with Stabiliser Bar
Rear     Torsion Beam Type

Dimensions
Front Track     1525 mm
Rear Track     1520 mm
Gross Vehicle Weight     1805 kg
Kerb Weight     1370-1420 kg
Minimum Ground Clearance     140 mm
Overall Height     1505 mm
Overall Length     4460 mm
Overall Width     1745 mm
Wheelbase     2700 mm

Honda City S 2009 Review

January 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Reincarnation isn’t an easy concept to understand. The idea that we leave this world in one form and return in a completely new shape seems far-fetched to many. But if it’s hard to swallow in terms of humans and animals it’s much easy to believe when it comes to cars. Case and point is Honda’s new City. We all recognise the nameplate from the first generation City hatch that while diminutive in stature was near omnipresent on NZ roads. Through the 1980s and 1990s it was hard to miss the boxy little City as it shuttled Grandmas and students alike around our county, before slowly dying out.

Now, the City has been reborn into the Kiwi marketplace, but not as a micro hatchback, instead as a small sedan. Creating many questions like has the soul of the original City been retained in this new earthly form? Or aside from a boot what else does it have to offer? In search of the truth Car and SUV took the new City on a journey of discovery.

Styling wise the City has more than a passing resemblance to Honda’s larger Accord Euro despite it being based on the Jazz platform. Even with multiple mechanical similarities the City is much more than simply a Jazz with a boot. It sits lower and longer with a purposeful stance. It’s aesthetic is ultra-modern with a high-waist and a snazzy silver and black grille providing a bold front accent. Steel 15-inch wheels are standard on the City S, step up to the City E for 16-inch alloys. Overall, the styling is razor sharp and has a knack for disguising the car’s bantam size with a brawny athletic presence.

Step inside and you see exactly why the City is an interesting proposition. Where small sedans have often been marketed towards older drivers the City has a young, urban appeal in the cabin. Kicking it off it is a 45-Watt, 6-speaker stereo system that could rival cars twice the price for sound quality. A USB jack is located in the deep centre console for hooking up iPods/MP3 players and interface is excellent with steering wheel controls capable of jogging through iPod tracks.

The curvaceous dashboard blends quality black plastics with alloy-look trim and a leather-bound steering wheel is pleasant to the touch. Controls are stylishly but logically laid out and are always illuminated making them easy to operate while driving. With air-conditioning, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking with alarm, rear under-seat storage and numerous cup-holders the City offers a generous amount of kit in base model form.

The seats in the City are comfortable with good support and the rear pew is surprisingly accommodating with excellent leg and headroom for a small vehicle. The seating position allows good visibility but could offer a lower adjustment to suit taller drivers.

For all the City’s interior trickery it’s the cavernous boot that is really magic. With a staggering 506-litre capacity the City’s boot can take more luggage than many larger sedans, including the Accord Euro and even the Holden Commodore.

Like the boot the bonnet has a lot of free space inside, with Honda’s tiny 1.5 litre 4-cylinder motor struggling to fill the capacious area. The 88kW engine is lifted straight from the Jazz and while it’s eager to please reaching 100kph will take nearly 12 seconds. However, the City weighs just 1110kg and has no problems moving swiftly around town when worked hard. It’s not the most refined powerplant around but is offset by a well-insulated cabin that lets little engine, road and wind noise inside.

With a drive-by-wire throttle and clever programmed fuel injection, petrol consumption is miserly with 6.3l/100km possible on the combined cycle.

The engine in our test vehicle was mated to a 5-speed manual transmission which allows short and easy changes. Combined with a light clutch pedal and even lighter electronic power-steering the manual City is a no fuss vehicle to pilot even in stop-start traffic.

Leave the bright lights and take the City on more twisty roads and it sits flat and remains settled during cornering. In terms of dynamics it’s competent and predictable but don’t push too hard because stability and traction control are notable omissions from the City’s spec sheet. In 2010 even cheaper new vehicles are expected to be fitted with stability control and its absence could prove an influencing factor for the safety conscious buyer.

Safety features the City does have include front passenger, driver and side airbags as well as curtain airbags, ABS brakes, seatbelt pretensioners and a reinforced passenger safety cell.

Now we’ve reached a state of complete enlightenment, what’s the verdict?

We tested the base model City S and it certainly didn’t feel entry-level, the interior is spacious, stylish and well assembled with an excellent equipment list as standard. Priced from $26,900 with the manual transmission it offers value for money and could be the pick of the City range.  It’s dynamically impressive for a small sedan and cheap to run. Although it can feel underpowered at times, during regular suburban driving that will prove a non-issue for many. The XL size boot and spacious cabin add to its practical value and there is a reassuring sense of quality inside and out.

Even with its new body shape and modern fit-out the new Honda City isn’t a total reincarnation of the old favourite. It still offers the same reliable budget motoring that the original City did with ‘almost’ everything you need and nothing you don’t. So if you’re purchasing in the niche small sedan segment give it a test drive.

Price: from $26,900

What we like:

  • Quality interior
  • Sharp styling throughout
  • Massive boot

What we don’t like:

  • Lack of traction & stability control
  • Sluggish engine
  • Drivers seating position

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Honda City S (2009) – Specifcations

Powertrain
Engine 16-valve, 1.5 litre, i-VTEC
Maximum Power 88kW @ 6600rpm
Maximum Torque 145Nm @ 4800rpm
Valvetrain i-VTEC (Intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift, Electronic Control) performance and economy enhancing technology

Chassis
Suspension System MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension
Turning circle (metres) 5.0
Front Brakes 262mm (10.3″) ventilated discs
Rear Brakes 239mm (9.4″) solid discs
Braking System ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) with EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist)
Wheel size  15 x 5.5JJ
Tyre size  175/65 R15
Full size steel spare wheel.
Wheels  15″ steel wheels

Dimensions
Length (mm)      4410
Width (mm)     1695
Height (mm)     1470
Wheel base (mm)     2550
Track front/rear (mm)     1695
Steering wheel turns, lock-to-lock     2.7
Turning circle (metres)     5.0
Kerb Weight (kg)     1110 (man) 1145 (auto)
Maximum warrantable towing weight (kg)  1000 (man) 800 (auto)
Luggage capacity (litres, VDA)     506

Fuel
Fuel tank capacity (litre)      42
Recommended Fuel     91-octane regular unleaded
Emission Control standards     Emissions fall within Euro IV and LEV II international standards

Land Rover refreshes range in NZ

January 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Land Rover has undertaken a multitude of changes to its 2010 models in NZ including the Discovery 4, Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover Vogue.

With new engines, upgraded interiors, improved brakes and suspension and refreshened looks, the latest Land Rover and Range Rover models have introduced more than 5000 changes in total.

Externally the cars have smoother, simpler surfaces, particularly at the front, with a new more aerodynamic bumper on the Discovery 4. The Range Rover Sport has a new two bar grille, side vents, front bumper and mudguards to create a more sporting stance. The top-spec Range Rover Vogue has a new bumper and grille and the interlocking circular design headlights now feature LED lights.

Inside the Range Rover Vogue has a new virtual instrument cluster with traditional dials replaced by a Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen which is capable of presenting more information.

There is also a dual view screen option, which allows the driver and passengers to look at different things on the centrally mounted dashboard screen at the same time. This could include Sat.Nav. information being displayed to the driver, while the passengers watch a DVD.

The Discovery 4 has new fascias, doors, seats, consoles, instruments, switch gear and steering wheel.

The Range Rover Sport gets a more luxurious cabin, while retaining the sporty cockpit feel with new seats.

A revised suspension set-up on the Discovery 4 reduces body roll and improves ride quality. The Terrain ResponseTM 4WD system has been improved for all models and a “Sand Launch Control” programme added to prevent the wheels from digging in when starting off from a standstill in soft sand.

In terms of engine updates the 3.0-litre TDV6 and 5.0-litre V8’s now provide more power and torque and better economy with lower emissions. The 3.0-litre TDV6 replaces the 2.7 version and produces 180 kW and 600 Nm of torque, for 29 and 36 % improvements in power and torque respectively. But the engine is nine % more economical and has nine % less CO2 emissions.

The new V8 is available with fuel injection in the Discovery 4 and Range Rover Sport with 276 kW and 510 Nm while the supercharged variant has 375 kW and 625 Nm and is available on the Range Rover Vogue and Range Rover Sport.

The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 replaces the 4.2-litre version with 29 % more power and 12 % more torque. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions have been reduced by seven % with the new engine.

With this increased performance, all models have larger braking systems, with a Brembo system helping out on the Supercharged models.

Pricing of the Discovery 4 starts from $89,990, while the Range Rover Sport begins at $134,990 and the Range Rover Vogue from $184,990.

Maserati gets its own Alfa Romeo MiTo

January 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Alfa Romeo is building a special version of its Mito and the only way to get a drive is to own a Maserati with the unique version of Mito being produced exclusively for Maserati dealers to use as loan cars.

The special-purpose cars will be styled in Maserati Blu Oceano, and fitted with the new 1.4 125 kW MultiAir turbocharged engine which is set to arrive in New Zealand later this year, making this special Alfa Romeo Mito available to local Maserati dealers.

The cars will be distinguished by their unique color and  also by two other exclusive features: the “Limited Edition” plaque on the dashboard, and the kick plate made from specially treated aluminum, bearing the words Alfa Romeo for Maserati.

This unique Alfa Romeo Mito will also have a series of high-end details, supplied as standard: Pelle Frau upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel complete with radio and telephone controls, bi-xenon headlights, SatNav, and a hands-free Blue&Me system including a USB port. 18′ alloy wheels, rear spoiler, rear bumper and aluminum pedals are all fitted as standard. All the cars will come with the DNA suspension system, and electronic shock absorber control system.

It’s a tidy machine, but will Maserati owners worldwide be deliberately blowing their engines just to get a ride in one? Possibly not.

Ferrari to reveal production hybrid model

January 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

News of a future hybrid from Ferrari is nothing new, but an actual date is now planned when the Italian supercar manufacturer will reveal the 599 Super Hybrid. And it’s close too, during the first week of March at the Geneva Motor Show, according to Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo.

The announcement came during the recent unveiling of Ferrari’s new F10 Formula One car, which is appropriate as it was during the 2009 F1 season that Ferrari first began using its Kinetic Energy Recovery System — a hybrid technology that captures energy normally lost to braking.

It’s currently unclear what kind of hybrid setup Ferrari will show off in its 599 super hybrid, but something similar to the F1-tech KERS system seems likely, and Ferrari has also been researching all-wheel-drive hybrids as well.

Check back as we bring you more on Ferrari’s first production hybrid vehicle.

Ford earns $2.7B USD profit in 2009

January 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

The Ford Motor Company has recorded a fourth quarter profit for 2009 that’s helped the automaker end the last fiscal year with its first yearly profit in about four years. Ford’s 2009 Q4 income was $868 USD million versus a loss of $5.9 billion USD the year prior, the effect on the year as a whole generated $2.7 billion profit compared to a loss of $14.8 billion in 2008.

Now, Ford’s Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth is forecasting a profitable 2010 and is claiming the company’s outlook in 2011 is “solidly profitable.”

Apparently much of last year’s profit had to do with debt restructuring, but Ford also lowered its structural costs by $5.1 billion, which also beat the company’s own goal of a $4 billion reduction.

Ford also announced that it will raise its first quarter production levels in North America by 20,000 units, from 550,000 to 570,000. This will help the automaker meet rising demand for its cars and trucks and keep inventory stable around the industry standard 60-day supply.

It’s not pink it’s Salmon

January 29th, 2010 by Adam

I told myself that this day would come, that there would be a time I would have to man-up and deal with the rough cards dealt out. The man at the Suzuki dealership and I stood together, little was said but we both knew that it was time I left and took the new Suzuki Alto press vehicle for review with me.

The Alto is a micro car with an ultra economical three-cylinder engine, not exactly as masculine as a HSV or Toyota Hilux but that wasn’t the problem. The small issue laid in the Alto’s colour, it’s a special hue, a blend of red and white you could say. Or alternatively you could call it pink.

As I pulled away from the dealership, I told myself not to feel self-conscious and it was just a colour. I quickly tuned the radio station to The Rock and reclined the seat back perhaps a little further than I usually would. There wasn’t an issue here nothing to see, or so I thought. At the first set of lights I reached a lowered Subaru Legacy pulled up alongside and two young men looked over at me, talking and laughing between themselves. I fought off an urge to drop the window and explain how I happened to be driving a pink micro car. Instead I let the 1000cc three-cylinders of fury sitting beneath the Alto’s bonnet do the talking, and they saw who was boss for about 0.3 seconds before they made me eat their carbon emissions and screamed off.

So the episode left me thinking: Is a man who drives a pink car still a man?

The answer isn’t an easy one, it’s not like getting into the driver’s seat of a pink car is instant castration, it’s more about the conscious decision to use a pink vehicle as your preferred mode of transport. For me the choice hadn’t been my own, it was a requirement of my work, so yes I remained a man. Which was lucky cause I wasn’t ready to give up slashing outdoors and not drying my back properly after a shower.

In fact, you could say the ability to drive a pink car and not be affected by other people’s assumptions could be a way of strengthening masculinity. Isn’t that why pink shirts were a fad for guys a while back, oh that’s right, salmon coloured shirts.

So later that same day I was out again in my pink Alto press car, when I stopped at an intersection and a young lady smiled at me. Now, I’ve driven many expensive and powerful vehicles this year and this has never really happened before. So what was special about the pink Alto, well you can make up your own mind, but I think it’s because she saw me not as a guy in a pink car, but more as a man with a story to tell.

So I just did.

Carlsson C25 Super-GT – it’s crazy-exclusive

January 28th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Mercedes specialist tuners Carlsson are at it again, this time with the Carlsson C25. The C25 is a reworked SL65 AMG Black Series with more curves, cuts and vents than the ‘standard’ model.

Under the bonnet lays a absolutely mad 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 producing 753 horsepower and 848 pound-feet of torque. According to Carlsson the engine could have actually produced 996 lb-ft of twist but it’s had to electronically limit the beast.

It won’t surprise you to hear that the Carlsson C25 is pretty damn fast  and will sprint to 100kph in just  3.7 seconds. But what will surprise you is news that the Carlsson C25 is so exclusive that there will be one for sale. Thats right, Carlsson will only be selling one per country. No word yet on which countries are included but there will only be twenty-five of them, as Carlsson is only making twenty-five C25s.

No word on pricing yet either, but we’re guessing large enough to guarantee we don’t see one here in NZ.

Interestingly, Carlsson is choosing not to sell the C25 as any sort of track day special vehicle. Instead, they are maintaining that the C25 is a “Super-GT.” According to Carlsson’s CEO Markus Schuster, “There are more than enough super sports car in this world which can only be safely driven on a race track. Therefore, we deliberately wanted to develop a car which is highly exclusive on the one hand and can be used for the daily journey to office on the other hand.”

Not sure how comfortable the ride to work would be in the C25 but it sure would be fun.

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