Blogs: I’ll save you Caterham

English sports car maker Caterham announced this week that it is making an entire new model. So what? I hear you say. Well Caterham is a very interesting car company; it only has one vehicle the Caterham 7 a hand-me-down model from Lotus cars. Now, in a marketing gimmick first named ‘Project Splitwheel’, Caterham is opening up its design and development program to the public via the internet using crowd sourcing techniques. This will enable car enthusiasts to give their input into the new model for the big decisions like engine capacity right down to the finer details like the new models name. Now this crowd sourcing idea sounds pretty cool, but it didn’t work out that well for crap Hollywood action movie Snakes on a Plane, did it?. So Caterham is clearly creatively challenged and has sent out a post-modern distress call, one that I shall answer.

I’ll leave the tough mechanical decisions to Caterham and those taking project Splitwheel seriously. My suggestions for the vehicle will be of a more important and functional nature, these shall include:

* Paua shell detailing — all over the dash, inserts in the doors and naturally the ashtray.

* Automated passenger seat restraint straps, for passengers who feel it’s acceptable to change the radio station or turn off traction control (as a joke).

* Cup Holders in 4 different sizes to take Red Bull cans up to Powerade bottles.

* A detachable baseball bat rear spoiler, (that generates beat-downforce) for road-rage or counter road-rage applications.

* Air horns that can play the Dukes of Hazard riff, Mr Whippy tune and can be owner programmed for any future annoying jingles.

* Torturous anti-theft measures that automatically lock the thief inside the vehicle and play Julio Iglesias on the stereo at full whack.

* A shotgun-call sensor, that can hear the call from 50meters away and give a fair verdict on who yelled it first, this will avoid passenger arguments, and maintain a harmonious driving experience

* Model name suggestion: The Caterham iRule, (Sports variant: Caterham iRuleZ)

That’s just a taster, once the execs at Caterham receive my full brief they will probably fly me to the UK, and give me a high-level position on the design team. That will sadly mark the end of this blog, have to wait and see.If you want to help Caterham too, click the link below and visit the Splitwheel website. But don’t steal my ideas.

www.splitwheel.com

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Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI Edition 10 2008 Review

mercedes-benz-ml320-cdi-edition-10-fq

The Mercedes ML320 CDI is an impossible blend of a stay at home mum and an Uzi-carrying, drug-pushing gangster.

It takes a killer mix of style and function to provide for two such different personas and the ML does just that. With a sprinter’s stance, flared fenders and wrap-around side skirts the ML has a sporty elegance that is unisex in appeal. Longer and wider than its predecessor, the ML is slimmed by a raked forward C-pillar and a sloping windscreen that aids efficiency by chopping down drag. The ML shows its bling with a wide silver front grille that hangs like a diamond necklace, with the tri-star badge as its feature stone. Its massive wheel arches remain unfilled even by sparkling 20-inch rims — some 22-inch ones would be a desirable upgrade. The tested model was the ML320 Edition 10 celebrating ten years of SUV production for Mercedes. The Edition 10 is dressed up with special badging, bi-xenon headlights, taillights with blacked out surrounds and a two-tone leather interior.

Gangsters love good booty and the ML delivers with sharp cornered signature taillights and twin rectangular exhausts that hint at wild times ahead. The ML has angular well-sculptured curves that place it aesthetically at the sporty end of the SUV market.

The ML’s interior is as highly styled as its exterior, but function and comfort remain paramount. Soft leathers, wood-finish and high-end plastics swirl together to let your passengers know that they are riding with a true player, or a style-conscious mum. Although, like with all Mercs, the dashboard plastic itself seems over-textured.

Driver visibility is top notch and the seats remain comfortable even on long drives. Instruments and controls are generally well placed but you will mistake the cruise control lever for the indicator arm at least once. There is also the electronic ‘Direct Select’ shift lever on the steering column used for basic Park, Reverse, Drive selection, manual over-ride is available by switches on the back of the steering wheel. The ML’s Direct Select takes some getting used to and is not something we are familiar with here in NZ. It does clear space on the centre console for large sized cup holders capable of 1.25-litre bottles or takeaway cappuccinos.

The ML comes with an arsenal of equipment including an outstanding climate control system and projector-beam headlights that intimidate night into day. The Harman Kardon stereo is easy to master and sounds very sharp playing the Wiggles or Run DMC. The cabin is roomy with a back seat that can fit kids or three henchmen with ease and with a generous rear storage area, pushchairs, golf clubs or ‘people who’ve met with an untimely accident’ can all be accommodated. The ML’s interior really is exemplary; it is easily usable but never up in your face.

When paying over $100k for a diesel vehicle you wouldn’t expect it to be slow or noisy. The ML is neither – it’s an example of just how far diesel motors have developed. With a 0-100km time of just 8.6 seconds it has some skates and even when cold it refuses to let out a rattle. Powered by a 3.0L turbocharged V6 producing 165kW and a useful 398 lb-ft of torque the ML has enough power for pulling a quick get-away and refinement for cruising to brunch. Economy is also very good considering the ML’s 2-tonne kerb weight – a combined figure of 9.6l/100km is achievable. With a 95-litre fuel tank the ML can traverse great swathes of the country before refuelling is required. The 7-speed automatic transmission works hard when ordered and has brains to match brawn by using an adaptive logic to learn the driver’s style and shift accordingly.

Although bulletproof glass isn’t standard, the ML has solid safety credentials. Passengers are surrounded by a central safety cell with front and rear crumple zones. Brake assist, traction control and a full ESP programme are all prepared for trouble.

The handling is very car-like in nature. A light, rigid chassis and fully independent double wishbone front, multilink rear suspension means it stays true in cornering and refuses to submit to body roll. Off-road the ML utilises its full-time four wheel drive system which splits torque 50/50 in usual operation but sends more to the axel that can best use it when necessary. The ride is very subdued and the diesel motor is seldom heard from the cabin, with road noise almost fully blocked out driving the ML is a serene experience.

For gangsters or housewives the Mercedes ML320 makes an offer that is hard to refuse. At first it appears hard to justify the heavy price tag over other current model SUVs, but the ML just does everything so well. It works equally as well for two opposite lifestyles because it’s the complete package and that’s why the ML320 is a worthy kingpin in the SUV market.

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

Price: from $117,900

What we like:

  • Tasteful style inside and out
  • Compelling diesel performance
  • Attention to detail

What we don’t like:

  • Odd gearshift positioning
  • Oversized wheel arches

Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI – Specifications

No. of cylinders/arrangement 6/V

Bore/stroke in mm 83.0/92.0
Total displacement (cc) 2987
Rated output (kW at rpm)[1] 165/3800
Rated torque (Nm at rpm)[1] 510/1600-2800
Compression ratio 17.7
Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in sec. 8.6
Top speed in km/h, approx. 215
Tyre size, front 235/65 R 17
Tyre size, rear 235/65 R 17
Fuel Diesel
Fuel consumption (l/100 km)
Combined    9.6
CO2 emissions combined (g/km) 254
Tank capacity (l) incl. reserve, approx.    95/13
Turning circle diameter (m) 11.6

Words Adam Mamo, photography Darren Cottingham

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News: Porsche facelifts Boxster and Cayman models

Porsche Cayman fq

Porsche is unveiling its freshened up Boxster and Cayman models at the LA Auto Show this week. A fairly standard facelift, their noses and tails have been redone with a touch of Carrera GT, but each car now has a unique look. Much more importantly, the engines and transmissions have been updated as well, with the 2.9L and 3.4L powerplants getting Porsche’s direct fuel injection for a 10-25 hp increase depending on the model. Along with the extra oomph, owners will get better fuel economy with a 11-16 percent rise. Part of that boosted mileage comes from the direct-injected engines, but the newly available Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or PDK, double-clutch gearbox lends a hand.

The base Boxster and Cayman will now have 255 hp and 265 hp respectively, and the S versions will be rated at 310hp for the Boxster S and 320hp for the Cayman S. A Cayman S with PDK and Launch Control will also get to to 100kph in just 4.9 seconds. At the other end of the lineup, the Boxster with a six-speed manual will do it in 5.9 seconds. The new models will hit international markets in February 2009.

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News: Honda surprises with FC Sport concept

Honda FC Sport

This week’s LA Auto Show threw up its first surprise yesterday in the form of Honda’s FC Sport fuel cell design study. The designers at Honda’s advanced design studio decided to take advantage of the packaging flexibility afforded by a fuel cell powertrain and mid mounted it driving the rear wheels.

Using the vertical flow fuel stack mounted behind the driver and an electric motor between the rear wheels, the FC Sport is a three-seater in the style of the McLaren F1 where the driver sits in the middle of the car with the two passenger seats on either side and further back. The FC Sport is strictly a styling study right now, so a fully functional version seems unlikely, but this zero-emission technology may pop up again somewhere else in the future.

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News: Edo Competition converts Ferrari FXX from race to road

Ferrari FXX edo f

Those crazy cats at German tuning company edo competition are determined to make their mark on every supercar they can find. They’ve developed upgrades for the Porsche Carrera GT, Maserati MC12 Corsa, Ferrari Enzo, and now they’ve got their hands on a Ferrari FXX racecar. Built for the track, edo competition has apparently got it road legal by installing a new windshield, hand brake and all necessary lighting. A new suspension system with adjustable compression and damping and a modified exhaust system have also been fitted. You would assume that more would be required for total road legality, but judging from the photos they have no hesitation about whipping this car around the street. Fine for the German autobahn, but how long would it last on kiwi roads?

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News: BMW gives the 7 Series a twin-turbo V8

BMW 7 Series fq

BMW is launching its latest 7 Series flagship for the American market at the LA Auto Show this week. As expected, the new 7 is equipped with a direct-injected twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 as its sole engine option in the States. The big motor pumps out 400 horses and an impressive 450 lb-ft of torque. This should be enough grunt to rapidly move even a heavyweight vehicle like the 7 series.

Also new for 2009 is BMW’s first ever use of a multi-link double wishbone front suspension, which breaks from the German automaker’s usual front struts layout. There is a long-wheelbase model of the new 7 as well, known as the 750Li, for those who wish to be driven rather than to drive. Perhaps the Concept 7 Series ActiveHybrid, which will be unveiled shortly, will foretell a production hybrid version of BMW’s range-topper.

Check back as we bring you more updates from the LA Auto Show

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News: 2010 Mazda3 – more details released

Mazda 3 fq

Mazda has released a few more details on its 2010 Mazda3 just two days ahead of its official unveiling at the LA Auto Show later this week.

As with the out-going model there will be a base 2.0-litre engine that comes standard along with an optional larger unit, now enlarged to 2.5 litres. The displacement increase matches up to a power increase, raising power output to 167hp from 156. Both engines sit under a newly-domed hood and breathe air from a grinning front grille that seems to be the new car’s most controversial styling feature.

Both a four-door hatch/wagon and a sedan will be offered, but only the sedan will go on show this week in LA. Check back as we bring you more news from the LA Auto Show.

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News: Fiat | NZ Car of the Year | 500

Ford Mustang 2010 fq

Ford today finally took the wraps off its modestly revised 2010 Mustang range, which includes updated hardtop and convertible models. On display this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the new ‘Stang has a thoroughly updated exterior and an improved cabin.

The 2010 Mustang is at once the same and different. Like the 2005-09 model, it’s immediately recognisable as Ford’s famous pony car. If anything, it looks even more like a late ’60s Mustang thanks to some additional curvature in its lines, especially along the belt-line. At the same time, it also looks more contemporary. The designers have improved the aerodynamics and reworked many of the design details. What may be even more important for drivers of the Mustang is an all-new interior that finally dispenses with cheap, hard plastics and looks like it was designed in this century.

When the 2005 Mustang debuted, one of the biggest and most justified criticisms was its interior, specifically the cheap materials and hard plastics. Those criticisms are completely banished in the 2010 Mustang. All the plastic surfaces on the dash are now soft to the touch and pleasant to look at. Even the trim across the dashboard is aluminum rather than metallic-finished plastic.

In true Mustang tradition, there is a “steed for every need.” At launch, customers can choose from a V-6 or V-8 with their choice of coupe, convertible or glass roof,

The 2010 GT retains its 4.6L three-valve V8, which has now been bumped up to 315 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The air intake has been reworked so that fresh air is drawn from behind the grille rather than from the wheel well. The duct from the air filter box to the throttle body has been straightened and smoothed out to reduce flow restriction. The whole car has also been stiffened and new sound insulation has been added for a quieter driving experience.

Ford today finally took the wraps off its modestly revised 2010 Mu ...

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