News: Porsche shows off Panamera interior

Porsche panamera int4

Porsche has released the first official images of the interior of the new Panamera. Unlike the much criticised exterior, the inside is much easier on the eyes and features usable rear seats. The images show off a two-tone color scheme with a center console featuring an array of artistically positioned switches. The steering wheel has thumb switches allowing the driver to manually select the ratio of the seven-speed PDK dual clutch gearbox. A large navigation screen dominates the center of the instrument panel while two more are available to entertain the backseat passengers.

The Panamera goes on sale in Germany on September 12, with a six-speed manual, 4.8-liter S model starting at €102,251. From there, the price escalates quickly as options are added. At launch, only normally aspirated and turbocharged V8s will be available. Sometime in 2010-11, a V6 hybrid should arrive, and possibly a diesel as well.

Porsche has released the first official images of the interior of ...

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News: World Exclusive! – the Stig press conference

Here in New Zealand at the Top Gear Live media launch on Wednesday, we were treated to a world first — a press conference with the infamous Stig. To be expected, this was a very honourable experience for all in attendance, and one that will go down in history. We recorded the questions from the floor, and have put it down for you to enjoy here.

Stig, what is your favourite type of beer?

Stig: ¦¦

Stig, what are the chances of a guy like you, and a girl like me ending up together? Sharing a bit of helmet time together?

Stig: ¦.

Stig, have you seen Greg Murphy anywhere? In the toilets maybe?

Stig: ¦.

What’s the staple diet of the Stig?

Stig: ¦.

Stig, you’re a talented driver, and have driven numerous high performance cars in your time. I guess what we want to know though, why don’t you show your face?

Stig: ¦.

Of all the cars you’ve driven, which is your favourite?

Stig: ¦.

Did you get your start in go karts, or was it in wings and slicks?

Stig: ¦.

Stig, I have here a printout that shows footage on youtube of the black Stig. What’s the deal there?

It was at this point the Stig stood up, slammed the microphone down on the table, picked up the piece of paper showing said footage, screwed it up and threw it over his shoulder as he left the room. None the less, the New Zealand media were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience: 5 minutes with the legendary Stig. Thanks for your time, Stig!

Here in New Zealand at the Top Gear Live media launch on Wednesday, we ...

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News: 2010 Mazda CX-7 debuts with fresh look

Mazda CX-7 fq

The 2010 refresh for the Mazda CX-7 has just debuted at the Canadian International Auto Show. The CX-7 is getting a new 2.5-litre normally-aspirated four-cylinder motor, the same engine is employed in the 2010 Mazda6 and Mazda3. With the new motor the CX-7 generates 161 horsepower. The turbocharged, 244 horsepower 2.3-litre engine remains unchanged. Further details like fuel-economy, price, and trim specification for this model will be revealed at a later date.

Beyond the powertrain, Mazda has refined the CX-7 inside and out, including a redesigned front end with a larger five-point grille and different front and rear fascias. Inside, new gauge faces have taken up residence, along with a 4.1-inch color TFT information display, an available blind-spot monitoring system, three-position seat memory for the driver’s seat (and a power backrest for the passenger seat), and Bluetooth for both phones and audio.

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Mazda: Mazda BT-50 2WD 2009 Review

After arriving on the scene back in 2006 Mazda’s entry to the ute segment, the BT-50, hasn’t always been an obvious choice for many prospective ute buyers. Sharing a multitude of parts with the Ford Ranger, the BT-50 stood co-accused of being old-fashioned and basic. With the golden-boys (Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara ST-X and Holden Colorado) all posing down on centre stage, Mazda decided to breathe some life into the BT-50.

In 2008 the BT-50 received cosmetic upgrades in the form of a tidy new five-point grille, revised headlights and taillights, updated wheel design, new interior cloth trim and improved audio and air-con controls. How does it all come together? Well, very nicely.

Brawn has been injected into the exterior looks with the glaring new headlights, trademark chunky Mazda grille and a swollen bonnet line. The BT-50 looks a classic ute in shape and stance but with new colour coded guards and a modern wheel style that suits it well. The tested model had a wellside rear tray fitted with the optional sports lid. The special lid smoothed the BT-50’s profile but was fiddly to deal with and restricted rear-loading capacity. By comparison the tailgate is easy to open, solid and well connected. Aside from the tough-guy good looks, the BT-50 has good clearance, underbody protection, strong straight panels and a solid hardy feel.

Step inside and your quickly confronted with a good-looking interior and class-leading ergonomics. The front seats are wide and well bolstered, the cloth has a feeling of durability but this hasn’t come at the cost of comfort and appearance. The front seats sit flat and do well to minimise the typical ute feeling of sitting so close to the vehicle’s floor. Up front this is fine but get a tall rear seat passenger and they will be forced into a knees-high seating position that could prove uncomfortable on longer journeys. The dual-cab tested could fit three in the back, but with only a lap-belt in the middle and compromised legroom some of the BT-50s competitors can offer better rear comfort.

The dashboard layout and centre stack are very well designed making controls easy to use and good looking. The bright silver central control area appears bold but thought has gone into the ergonomics, and buttons and dials have a quality feel. This could be said about all the touch surfaces in the cabin. The driver’s ringed instrumentation is modern and easily read, and night-time cabin illumination is effective. Useful storage options are mixed into the design including a flat tray drawer that sits above the glove box, perfect for maps, pens or invoice books. The BT-50’s interior can match it with the best for functionality and looks. But it’s never really been all about dressing room good looks in the ute market: on-field performance is a truer measure of potential success.

A 3.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel motor that uses common-rail direct injection powers the BT-50. Power is a useful 115kW and there is 380Nm of torque on hand. It accelerates well and completes the 0-100kmh dash in around 12 seconds. Not a sprinter by trade the BT-50 uses its gift of low down torque and a lack of turbo-lag to always feel brisk. The power plant can be lumpy and noisy when cold, but once warm becomes very quiet and smoothly predictable in its performance. The motor is well mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, which uses the engine’s torque to keep the BT-50 in a responsive rev range.

Our tested model was 2WD leaving me unable to comment on the BT-50’s 4WD performance. The rear-driven model handled itself competently, and when faced with climbing a grassy bank pushed itself up neatly. On the tarmac the steering is sharp enough to point the ute into corners accurately and it sits flat with little understeer. Driving unladen the BT-50’s rear can skip around, but any traction loss can be controlled with the direct steering and throttle input. Unfortunately steering feedback is caught lacking, with little report on the surface beneath.

Ride quality is another area of concern, with independent front suspension and a live rear axle with leaf springs the BT-50 is currently consistent with most competitor utes. But suspension sophistication is improving, and the set-ups of Mitsubishi and Toyota are threatening to leave the Mazda BT-50 behind. The suspension does well to deaden impacts from road ruts and bumps, but can be floaty and does generate excessive vertical movement.

Overall, the BT-50 is a worthy player in the ute game. When compared to other true working utes the BT-50 is hard to touch for driver enjoyment. The cab is freshly styled and well appointed, the power train is strong, and the handling and throttle response on point. It’s just that little bit more fun than most utes and even with an ageing suspension set up it still has enough fresh moves to be a worthy test drive.

Click through to the next page for a full list of specifications.

Price: from $34,095, 4WD from $41,995

What we like:

  • Interior styling
  • Sharp handling
  • Strong diesel engine

What we don’t like:

  • Bumpy ride quality
  • Rear passenger leg-room (double cab)
  • Steering feedback

Words and photos, Adam Mamo

Mazda BT-50 2WD (2009) – Specifications

Engine

Type: 3.0 In-line 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC, turbo, intercooled
Engine capacity cc: 2,953
Maximum power (EEC) kW: 115@3,200rpm
Maximum torque (EEC) Nm: 380@1,800rpm
Fuel tank capacity L: 70
Bore x Stroke mm: 96 x 102
Fuel Injection: Common-Rail Direct Injection
Compression Ratio: 18

Drivetrain

Transmission type: 5-speed Manual or 5-stage Automatic

Steering

Type: Ball and Nut – Engine Revolution Sensing

Suspension

Type: Front – Independent, double wishbone with torsion bar springs
Rear: Rigid, Leaf Springs

Brakes

Type: Front – Ventilated Discs
Rear: Drums (leading/trailing with auto adjuster)

Dimensions & Weight

Overall length mm: 5,076 – 5,169
Overall width mm: 1,715 – 1,807
Overall height mm: 1,622 – 1,750
Wheelbase mm: 2,985
Ground Clearance – Laden mm: 181 – 207 (3)
Minimum Turning Radius, Curb-to-Curb m: 6.0
Cargo Box Length (at floor) – Double Cab (mm): 1,530
Cargo Box Width (at floor) mm: 1,456
Cargo Box Height (at floor)mm: 465
Towing Capacity (kg) – Braked: 3,000 (2,500 Automatic) – Unbraked: 750

Words and photos, Adam Mamo

After arriving on the scene back in 2006 Mazda’s entry to th ...

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News: Saab to debut 9-3X at Geneva Show

Saab 9-3X fq

Despite a shaky looking long-term future, Saab will continue adding more product to its portfolio next month when it debuts the 2010 9-3X at the Geneva Motor Show. The 9-3X is a hyped up version of the 9-3 SportCombi that employs the Swedish brand’s Cross Wheel Drive (XWD) system that first debuted on the Turbo X sedan. It has a 1.4 inch higher clearance than the standard SportCombi, and sits on new multi-spoke 17-inch wheels and is powered solely by Saab’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder.

The exterior also features new styling elements that reinforce the high-riding wagon’s off-road prowess, including the popular two-tone paint scheme that highlights its flared fenders. The 9-3X also comes with roof rails to carry your surf board and skis, skid panels for when high curbs attack get  and twin tail pipes.

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News: Maserati to roll out Spyder and GranTurismo GTS

Maserati Granturismo fq

Maserati only has two model lines but is certainly keeping busy. As one of only a few luxury carmakers to improve its sales figures in 2008, the Italian marque is undoubtedly looking to build upon its growth with an eye towards setting yet another sales record. The push will be product-driven giving us all something new to drool over.

First up is the Quattroporte GTS, the sportiest version yet of Maserati’s performance luxury sedan, which debuted at the Detroit Auto Show . That will reportedly be followed by a similarly-equipped version of its two-door counterpart. Called the GranTurismo GTS. The high-spec GranTurismo is expected to ditch the manual transmission in favor of the performance-tuned automatic coupled to the 433-hp, 4.8-litre V8 from the Quattroporte GTS. Other changes will include tighter suspension and token sporty touches all around.

The biggest news will be the debut of the new Spyder. While a smaller sports car has been speculated, sources expect this Spyder to be GranTurismo-based, retaining its four proper seats under the open top. The new Maserati Spyder could make its public debut as soon as the Frankfurt Show later this year, so check back for further updates.

Maserati only has two model lines but is certainly keeping busy. A ...

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News: Sydney Auto Show cancelled for 2009

Eight automotive brands failed to make the trip to this year’s Detroit Auto Show in the states and it was all doom and gloom. By comparison, last year’s Sydney Auto Show in Australia had eighteen brands decline the offer to showcase their vehicles. The shortfall of manufacturers on display contributed to a 40% dip in visitors to the Sydney show last year. Facing that same predicament this year, the options were to put on another poorly attended show or go to a biannual format and let Melbourne handle the 2009 honours.

Unsurprisingly, Sydney has opted to sit this one out. Carmakers have been pushing for just one show major show in Australia for some time now, which makes some sense given that Sydney and Melbourne although big cities to us don’t have the population to really warrant two shows. The Melbourne Motor Show will still run from February 27 to March 9 this year, and Sydney will return in October of 2010.

Eight automotive brands failed to make the trip to this year's Detroit ...

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News: Mercedes introduces armoured E-Class

Mercedes E-Guard

Mercedes has prided itself on passenger protection for some time, but the new Mercedes-Benz E-Guard takes wrapping occupants in cotton wool to the next level. The E-Guard is the latest addition to the automaker’s line of armored vehicles, based on the standard E-Class and upgraded with an array of security measures.

Mercedes installs body armor right into the chassis, replaces the windows with bulletproof polycarbonate, a blast-proof floor and run-flat 17-inch tires. The result is virtually indistinguishable from a standard E-Class, making the E-Guard less of a target for would-be assassins and carjackers in the world’s less friendly locales. To help cope with the added weight, Mercedes has fitted a special Level II air suspension, while the standard engines from the E350, E500 and E350 CDI pull the extra duty. While some may say it’s impossible to put a price on safety, Mercedes begs to differ, charging a 10,000 euro premium for the armored E-Guard.

Mercedes has prided itself on passenger protection for some time, ...

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