Blogs: In-car internet – killing road trip conversations

I had a road trip from Auckland to Hamilton on Saturday. Four of us headed down as part of the larger AKSamba group to run a couple of workshops and do a gig in the ‘Tron. Lots of conversation topics were covered. We discovered that one of us had met Sean Connery, another had had an interesting evening with a sailor on the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, and another had had a fairly intimate experience with a very famous rugby player. One of the less x-rated conversation topics was what’s the difference between a fruit and a vegetable (don’t ask how we got there). This kept us entertained with various crackpot theories for, oooh, at least 20km. That’s fully one-seventh of the journey!

We happened to be driving in the VW Tiguan, but if we’d had one of BMW’s new offerings in Germany we would have been able to access the answer on the in-car internet by searching Google within several hundred metres. Then what would we have talked about for the missing 19.5km? More sordid stories of sexual liaisons? Perhaps, but maybe we don’t have that many stories to share! So, the moral of the story is: in-car internet will kill road trip conversations.

HSV (Holden Special Vehicles): HSV Clubsport R8 LS3 2008 Review

HSV Clubsport R8 317 fq

HSV’s Clubsport R8 is like a power tool. I, like many other power-crazed DIY enthusiasts, will turn a power tool on and give it a couple of revs — a couple of totally unnecessary ‘blips of the throttle’ so to speak. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a skillsaw, chainsaw, drill, or line trimmer — we all give them a couple of squirts to check they’re turned on. Even though we know they are.

Blipping the HSVs throttle bursts the 317kW and 550Nm LS3 into life and is even better than having a mulcher, bandsaw, nail gun and lathe combined into one megatool. Even at idle, the engine gives the Clubsport R8 the occasional shake. It’s a nice reminder that an LS3 is not to be forgotten.

But you shouldn’t use power tools in the wet. With traction control off (which most sane people won’t try), the Clubsport R8 feels like a Doberman on rollerblades — all bite, but very little grip. So torque-laden is the LS3 that one slip of the throttle and you’ll make a committed attempt at drilling the HSV backwards through some roadside foliage. Even the traction control can’t reign in the power, leaving the R8 with a nervousness under acceleration.

The main problem is the six-speed automatic gearbox. It’s just no match for the engine and chassis, with inconsistent kickdown when you want the power. It turns what could be an exhilarating drive into an apprehensive and meek excursion. I ended up trying to drive the R8 with the sequential manual. It’s better, but not much, with lethargic changes sometimes meaning you hit the rev limiter under acceleration while it thinks about choosing the next cog.

This just means is that HSV has chosen the wrong auto ‘box, therefore I would recommend prospective purchasers harden up and buy the R8 in manual like a proper sports car. Then they can experience the glory that is the HSV’s engine note. This isn’t a weedy, tinny, strained sound like the FPV FG range of 5.4-litre V8s; this is a symphony of eight cannons assaulting the armada of your ears. It comes from a 6.2-litre block of Detroit’s finest metalwork and it’s so lusting for recognition that HSV has put a power and torque plaque on the engine cowling.

“What’s it got, mate?” comes the question from the interested bystander. “Well, let’s just pop the bonnet so I can gloat,” comes your reply.

The LS3 has an extra couple of hundred cubic centimetres over the previous LS2 6-litre 307kW variant, and this gives another 10kW, which isn’t enough to notice, but does give bragging rights over FPV’s 315kW¦at the flywheel, anyway.

The view most people will see of your Clubsport R8 is it disappearing into the distance. Observe the twin intersecting LED rings that form the tail lights, and the quad tailpipes that emit the bellowing thunder of the engine from either side of a trapezoidal diffuser.

The Clubsport R8 rolls on 19-inch, 10-spoke mags with a rounded triangle design, wrapped in Bridgestone tyres in 275/35/R19 on the back and 235/35R19 on the front. The alloys partially conceal ventilated and slotted brake discs the size of a satellite dish, gripped by four-pot callipers front and rear. These give a stopping distance from 100kph of just 36m in the dry, doing a great job of ensuring the pointy end, with its fog lamps that frame the deep front splitter, doesn’t get damaged in an emergency situation.

The Clubbie feels much bigger inside than the FPV GT. Holdens let you sink into the depths of the car and the dashboard and steering wheel seem large. The seats, while comfortable, are designed for far wider hips than mine and therefore I found them not supportive enough laterally.

Three dials sit at the top of the centre console for oil pressure, oil temperature and voltage. Beneath them lies the large screen that serves as a multifunction entertainment system and reversing indicator.

I’m sure HSV will sell plenty of autos to lazy drivers who want the kudos of a 317kW badge on the back of their car. For cruising and open road driving, the HSV has all the trimmings, though you might find the noise a bit tiring over a very long distance. With FPV having just released its FG range, which is a big improvement over its previous BF series, which should you buy? I think the FPVs edge out the HSV in terms of driving feel, but if you’re a die-hard V8 fan because of the noise, and you want to sound like Skaife every time you pull away from the traffic lights, the Clubsport R8 will give you by far the most satisfaction.

Price: from $77,990 (manual), $78,990 (auto)

What we like

  • Engine tone
  • Braking performance
  • Power

What we don’t like

  • Gearbox
  • Handbrake lever

Brakes

Front: 365mm ventilated discs. Four piston calipers Standard
Rear: 350mm ventilated discs. Four piston calipers Standard
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Standard
Incorporating Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Brake Assist (EBA), Standard

Engine

317kW, 6.2 litre LS3 Generation 4 alloy V8 Standard
Power (DIN kW) 317kW* @ 6000rpm
Torque (DIN Nm) 550Nm* @ 4600rpm
Recommended petrol – octane rating 98 RON PULP. Note that using 95RON (PULP) or lower will not cause any problems, but will result in slightly less engine performance and economy.

Exhaust

Exhaust system Stainless steel, high performance quad outlet Standard

Handling

Linear Control Suspension Standard
Sports Touring Suspension Standard
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) incorporating Standard
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) – Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) Standard
- Electronic Brake Assist (EBA) – Traction Control System (TCS) Standard
Suspension Front: MacPherson strut Direct acting stabiliser bar. Standard
Progressive rate coil springs Standard
Rear: Multi-Link independent rear suspension (IRS). Standard
Progressive rate coil springs. Stabiliser bar Standard
Steering Variable ratio rack and pinion Standard
Track (mm) Front: 1592 Rear: 1590 Standard
Turning Circle (kerb to kerb, m) 11.4 Standard

Performance

Acceleration 0-100kmh Manual 4.96 sec
Acceleration 0-100kmh Auto 5.05 sec

Transmission

6-speed Manual Transmission Standard
6-speed Automatic Transmission with active select Option
Limited Slip Differential with HSV specific ratio Standard
Gear ratios 6-speed Manual / 6-speed Automatic Standard
1 3.01 / 4.03
2 2.07 / 2.36
3 1.43 / 1.53
4 1.00 / 1.15
5 0.84 / 0.85
6 0.57 / 0.67
Final Drive 3.7 / 3.27

Exterior

Front projector fog lamps Standard
Front driving lamps Standard
Projector headlamps Standard
HSV unique sports rear tail lamps Standard
HSV Performance rear spoiler Standard
HSV Performance body kit Standard
Quad exhaust outlet Standard
Metallic Paint Standard

Wheels

19″ x 8″ front alloy wheel with 245/40 R19 98Y tyre Standard
19″ x 9.5″ rear alloy wheel with 275/35 R19 96Y tyre Standard
Full size spare wheel and tyre (as per front wheel and tyre) Standard

Cabin

Dual zone electronic climate control: driver and front passenger Standard
6.5″ multi-function display colour LCD screen. Displays stereo, heating and air conditioning information. DVD player and Satellite Navigation compatible Standard
Power windows. Driver and front passenger windows express down Standard
Electric tilt and slide sunroof Option
Front centre sliding armrest with leather trim Standard
Rear seat centre armrest Standard
Vanity mirror, driver and passenger. Illuminated with cover Standard
Sunglasses holder (except where sunroof fitted) Standard
Satin Chrome finish interior door handles Standard
Passenger overhead assist handles; rear with coat hooks Standard
Two front reading lamps Standard

Driver

Steering wheel height and reach adjust Standard
Leather wrap HSV unique Sports steering wheel Standard
Multi-function steering controls for: Standard
- Sound system – Trip computer Standard
- Bluetooth phone – Satellite navigation (where fitted) Standard
Multi-function driver display, featuring: Standard
- Trip computer information – Sound system information Standard
Priority key. Stores settings for: Standard
- Climate control – Sound system Standard
- Trip computer – Speed alert Standard
- Headlamp and interior lighting time delay options Standard
Alloy faced pedals Standard
Leather wrap gear selector Standard
Cruise Control Standard
Rear Park Assist Standard
Power exterior mirrors Standard
Road speed dependent intermittent wipers Standard
Automatic headlamp mode. Switches on at twilight or low light Standard
Headlamps auto-off feature (variable delay) Standard
Trip computer with triple display, including: Standard
- Average speed – Odometer/Tripmeter/Trip time Standard
- Distance/Time to go – Average fuel consumption Standard
- Digital speedometer – Visual and audible speed warning Standard
- Tracks two trips simultaneously (eg. Short day trip within long interstate trip) Standard
- Fuel used/range Standard
Service reminder. Appears 1,000km before service is due Standard
HSV Sports instrument cluster Standard
Tachometer Standard
HSV sports triple center gauges (Voltage, Oil Temp. and Oil Pressure) Standard
Sound system able to accommodate mobile phone kit. Auto mute when in use Standard
Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity Standard
Satellite navigation Option

Seating

HSV Sports seats with cloth trim Standard
HSV Sports seats with leather trim (Onyx) Option
4-way/2-way electric/manual adjustment of front drivers seat Standard
Adjustable driver and front passenger seat lumbar support Standard

Sounds

Entertainment Rear seat overhead DVD player Option
Blaupunkt AM/FM stereo Standard
6 disc in-dash CD player. MP3 Compatible Standard
Eleven speakers including sub-woofers. Total 230 watts Standard
Speed dependent volume control Standard

Storage

Twin cup holders in centre console Standard
Centre console storage compartment Standard
Auxiliary power socket in console Standard
Fold down rear seat centre ‘ski’ hatch for long loads Standard

Safety

Dual-stage airbags for driver and front passenger Standard
Side impact airbags for driver and front passenger Standard
Side curtain airbags Standard
Front lap/sash seat belts with load limiters and pyrotechnic pre-tensioners Standard
Front seatbelt sash height adjustable Standard
Rear seat child restraint anchor points (3) Standard
Active front seat head restraints to help reduce risk of whiplash injury in a collision from behind Standard
Road Safety Emergency mode after seat belt pre-tensioners are triggered. On-board computer turns engine and fuel pump off. Unlocks doors. Turns hazard lights and interior lamp on, if battery power is available Standard

Security

Remote control priority key: Standard
- Operates central locking – Operates interior lighting. Time delay on entry. Automatic illumination when engine turned off – Operates exterior lamps, to show location of car at night – Enables/disables alarm system – Unlocks boot Standard
- Disables remote boot release button in glove box (when locking) Standard
Horn sounds if either front door is ajar when remote locking Standard
Sound system only operates in original vehicle Standard
Flip key Standard

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


Land Rover: Land Rover Defender 110 SW 2008 Review

Land Rover Defender off-road front

I’d only been driving the Land Rover Defender 110 for two hours and I came across the perfect test of its rugged pulling power: a medium-sized truck stuck in the mud after trying to do a u-turn across a piece of grass.

“Got a rope?” the driver yelled across to me. At this point what I should have said was, “Sorry mate, this is a press vehicle and as such they don’t come with the accoutrements associated with getting knee deep in a swamp.” But I didn’t, I just apologetically said no. This now means that the truck driver thinks that I have a Land Rover for picking up my non-existent kids from a hypothetical inner-city school.

The Land Rover doesn’t belong in the inner city though, and never has. The Defender is as ‘country’ as friendly waves and neighbours who know each other’s names.

Land Rover came up with a formula for the Defender’s predecessor, the Series 1, 60 years ago. It’s been modernised a bit (you get power steering and electric windows now, for example), but basically you’re still getting a vehicle designed to traverse gruelling, rock-strewn territory like it’s a field of pancakes.

Aerodynamics was never the Defender’s strong point, and Land Rover doesn’t make any apologies. A 2.4-litre common-rail diesel engine churns out 90kW and 360Nm and allows the two tonne Defender to bludgeon the air out of the way, though not in any rapid way.

Fully kitted out for a life of muddy wellies, hunting trophies, dogs and (worst of all) children, the Defender’s interior is mix of easy-to-clean rubber flooring, half leather/half fabric seats and large chunky switches. The switches, knobs and stalks aren’t remotely Japanese — they’re all very eclectic and English and in places you wouldn’t find them on a Corolla. It all looks very rugged, but if you peer closer you’ll find creature comforts such as heated seats, an MP3-compatible stereo with auxiliary input, air conditioning, an enormous central storage bin and ABS with traction control.

On the outside the Defender features a towball rated to pull 3500kg, next to a folding rear step. Moving towards the front the side runners are welcome when getting in such a tall vehicle and around the front there’s the classic Brunel grille and headlight surrounds (the instruction manually, incidentally, tells you how to pull many parts of the Defender apart to repair any damage you may sustain, including the complete headlight unit).

This all rests on an immensely strong ladder chassis that carries the lightweight aluminium body. The rivets are still visible, and the panel gaps are significant; it all points to no-nonsense practicality and functional simplicity.

Long wheelbase Land Rovers have the turning circle of a herd of wildebeest but this didn’t seem to matter when I took the Defender to a farm west of Auckland with three other passionate Land Rover owners and their machines, including a 1953 Series 1. You can read about that in an issue of Classic Car magazine. Anyway, the 235/85R16 road tyres weren’t the best choice for a late autumn jaunt around the clay tracks, but dropping the pressure to 18psi saw us through. A low range box with diff lock helps the Defender charge across the tough stuff.

If you’re buying a Land Rover solely for the off-road experience you’ll probably want the shorter Defender 90 rather than the 110, for its added versatility in tricky situations (such as the seven extra degrees of departure angle and superior turning circle). But the Defender 110 is still a very capable unit off the beaten track – approach and departure angles are excellent with 49 and 35 degrees respectively, and the Defender will climb a 45-degree slope. It’s the better option for carrying more cargo and towing heavy loads over long distances.

It’s easy to look at the Land Rover compared to the ‘softer’ pretenders (the SUVs) that are cunningly disguised to look like they will survive off-road and think that there’s a certain quaint ‘agricultural-ness’ about it. We’re used to driving enormous vehicles that look the part but would struggle with a particularly high kerb because they’re designed to drive like a car. The Land Rover certainly sacrifices some of the smoothness that you would expect from a solely road-going car, but that is its raison d’être — it’s a workhorse vehicle that belongs in the wilderness being put to hard work.

Price: from $67,990

What we like

  • Rugged practicality and interior space
  • Every other Defender owner in the city waves at you
  • The Queen drives one (and stops hers in the middle of streams, apparently)

What we don’t like

  • Interior layout needs a redesign
  • Too tall for some car parks
  • Turning circle

Powertrain

·    2.4 litre common rail diesel engine

·    6-speed manual transmission

·    2-speed transfer box and Locking centre differential

Engineering

·    Permanent 4-wheel drive

·    3,500kg towing capacity

·    Front and rear beam axle with coil spring suspension

·    Deep section, fully boxed chassis frame

Comfort, convenience, safety and security

SE
Stereo radio & single CD, MP3 / AUX with speakers & tweeters

·    Heated front seats

·    Heated windscreen

·    Rear door stowage net

·    Heated rear window and wash/wipe

·    60:40  split folding bench seat

·    Remote central locking

·    Electric front windows

·    Tinted glass

Interior and Exterior

·    Rear folding step

·    5 or 7 black part-leather seats

·    Leather steering wheel

·    Cubby box

·    Front and rear mudflaps

·    Body coloured wheel arches

·    Brunel grille and headlight surrounds

Wheels and tyres

Michelin XZL Std steel

7.50R16

N/A

General Grabber Alloy

235/85R16

S

Key: S= Standard, O = Option, NCO = No cost option, N/A = Not available

Interior Features

Interior

Seats: Part leather

S

Individual rear stowable seats

O

Cubby box with twin cup holders

S

Steering wheel – leather

S

In car entertainment

In Car Entertainment

Stereo radio & single CD / MP3 / AUX

S

Comfort, convenience and safety

Comfort, Convenience and Safety

ABS/ETC

S

Air conditioning

S

Alarm/immobilisation

S

Cold Climate Pack (heated front seats and windscreen)

S

Convenience Pack (electric front windows & remote central door locking)

S

Headlamp levelling

S

Heated rear window & wash wipe

S

Rear door stowage net

S

Sliding Glass (rear side windows)

S

Sunroof

O

Tinted glass

S

Exterior

Exterior

Alloy wheel & 235 tyre

S

Michelin XZL 750 Heavy Duty

N/A

‘Brunel’ grille & headlight surrounds

S

Cargo cover – with side windows

N/A

Folding rear step

S

Front mudflaps

S

Metallic paint

S

Roof – body coloured

S

Side runners

S

Side steps

S

Suspension — heavy duty (90 = 2550 kg. 110 = 3500 kg.)

N/A

Tow ball drop plate & electrics

S

Under ride protection bar

O

Wheel arches — body coloured

S

Bodystyle Applications

Increased payload option available

NO

Towing  short distance [eg agriculture]

***

Towing  long distance [eg exhibition units]

*****

Carrying equipment [heavy, valuable, vulnerable]

***

Carrying materials  loose, dirty, smelly, livestock]

*

Carrying people

*****

Extreme off-Road

[Max. including 750 or 235 tyre option, where applicable]

***


Seating

5 seats

[optional third row rear seats available]

Fuel tank capacity

Diesel – litres

75


Fuel economy MPG (l/100 km)

Urban

13.5

Extra Urban

9.5

Combined

11

Drive by noise

73db

CO2 g/KM

291

Certifiable emissions

EU4

Approach/Departure angles

Gradients at kerb height

Maximum gradient

45°

Approach angle

49°

Departure angle

35°

Ramp break

150°

Traverse angle

35°

Weights

Gross vehicle

3050

Minimum Kerb weight*

2041

Maximum Payload**

1009

Key: *Kerb weight = unladen weight + full tank & 75kg driver, **Payload = GVW — kerb weight

Minimum kerb-kerb turning

Minimum turning radius metres (feet)

Tyre size

235×16

Minimum turning radius

7.18 (23.6)


LOAD CAPABILITIES

Maximum Axle (Kg)

Station Wagon

Std

Front axle [kg]

1250

Rear axle [kg]

1850

Gross vehicle weight [kg]

3050


Suspension

Front

Live beam axle, dual rate coil springs, telescopic hydraulic dampers. Panhard rod.

Rear

3050kg live beam axle, multi-rate coil springs, telescopic hydraulic dampers. “A” frame.


Obstacle clearance

Ground clearance mm (inch)

Tyre size

235

Minimum ground clearance, unladen

314 (12)


Towing (Kg)

Braked Trailer

3500

Unbraked trailer

750

Recommended max. trailer nose weight [kg]

150


Roof Load System

Approved Land Rover Genuine Parts roof rack. All weights in kg. Weight includes roof rack

Roof rack

75

Ladder rack

75

Wading depth mm (inch)

Wading depth

500 (20)


Brakes

Servo assisted front and rear disc brakes on all models.

Steering

All models have power assisted steering. Worm and roller.

Dimensions

Track front/rear

1486 [58.5]

Cargo bed length

*add 161 mm if spare wheel removed

1900 [74.8]

Tailgate aperture width

864 [34]

Largest box length

1100/1470** [43.5/57.9**]

Largest box width

660 [26]

Largest box height

1050 [41.3]

Width

1790 [70]

Height with 205 tyres

1968 [77]

Height with 750/235 tyres

2021 [80]

Overall length

4639 [183]

Wheelbase

2794 [110.0]

Words Darren Cottingham, photos Dan Wakelin


Blogs: I know why New Zealand produces great racing drivers

New Zealand has a small pool of racing drivers and a small number of tracks compared to the USA and Europe. We have a small number of classes and series that don’t feature enormous numbers of races. There’s a reasonable selection of circuits, and it’s about to get better with Hampton Downs.  We do have a bit of a travelling logistical problem with the north and south islands, but it’s not like you’re racing in Miami one week and LA the next.

So, motorsport at the top level in New Zealand is more accessible. In the UK and USA I think that there are a lot of chequebook racers. In NZ I don’t think this is the case. Natural talent is much more easily spotted amongst the pool. In the USA there might be 1000 guys in contention for the top spots in various series. In New Zealand there will be 10. In America to be heard above the din of the 1000 you need to have a marketing machine behind you. The best marketers aren’t necessarily the best race drivers.

At some point there will need to be a significant financial outlay – a driver will need to go to Australia, Europe or the USA and prove their worth there. But, at least it’s likely to be the most talented. We’ve seen this with McLaren (who was the recipient of a Driver to Europe scholarship in the late 1950s), Hulme, Radisich, Dixon, Murphy and now Hartley (European open wheelers), Whiddet (international drifting), Coppins (motocross) and Cunningham (Indy Lights).

Let’s hope the situation doesn’t change so that New Zealand can keep fielding racing drivers who show the world the way.

Blogs: Dixon wins the Indy 500

Apparently the Indy 500 is the biggest race in the world, but from the footage it seems that it’s the race with the biggest spectators in the world. Congratulations to Scott Dixon, though, who thoroughly deserves the win. I never raced against him in New Zealand (he was a league or two ahead of me). It’s comforting that a country of so many people and so few decent racetracks (compared to the UK and USA) can turn out so many top-flight race drivers. McLaren, Hulme, Dixon, Cunningham, Hartley, etc – when all you’ve got is Taupo, Pukekohe and Manfeild in the North Island, how can you prepare for something like Laguna Seca, Indianapolis and the other iconic tracks of the world?

Roll on Hampton Downs. Perhaps it will see a new breed of race driver who is even more versatile. Look out world

Holden: Holden Astra SRi Turbo 2008 Review

Holden Astra SRi turbo fq

Like Marshall Bruce Mathers III, the Holden Astra suffered hardship as a child. The first generation was a rebadged Nissan Pulsar and therefore was beaten up by other cars on the block; primarily at the traffic light freestyle battles. While Mathers grew up to be Eminem, the Astra grew up to be the SRi Turbo.

Now with much less chance of being bullied (and much more respec’, as they say in the ‘hood), Holden’s most sporty Astra competes with the likes of the Ford Focus XR5, Peugeot 207 GTI and the Mini Cooper S in the front-wheel drive hot hatch market — some quite capable contenders, all with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Hot hatches should be designed for maximum driving pleasure, and the Astra SRi Turbo does not disappoint. Lose yourself in the music the engine creates — a harmonious distortion of force-fed cylinders and exhaust resonance that rises quickly until punctuated by a faint hint of blow-off valve as you snatch another one of the six gears. It doesn’t have the annoying turbo whistle that the Ford Focus XR5 has, but it does have the punch. The gearshift action could be slightly shorter, but is precise and slick enough to make quick changes to keep that turbo spinning.

Using the inbuilt stopwatch you could attempt a 0-100kph measurement. I would guess a low seven-second pass — good, but not enough to leave you uttering expletives like a Detroit rapper.

The tasty sports pedals are not quite set up right for efficient heel-toe action on the downshifts you’ll want to make on your favourite piece of winding blacktop, so be careful bringing that clutch back up under brakes that the engine braking doesn’t unsettle the car too much. Not that it should have too much effect because the Astra SRi comes with Electronic Stability Program (ESP) as standard, which controls the brake force to each wheel in the event of a skid, correcting ham-fisted over-enthusiastic cornering.

You really have to push the SRi Turbo into a corner to invoke this, though. The 225/40ZR18 tyres stretched around 18-inch five-spoke alloys bite hard into the tarmac. On the other side of the corner traction control stops the fronts from spinning up. Couple this with the IDS+ (Interactive Driving System Plus) sports chassis pack with Continuous Damping Control and there’s some joy to be had switching directions.

Now, I’m assuming that the ‘Sport’ button on the dashboard somehow changes the car’s attitude but, unlike the Mercedes-Benz C320 CDi I collected after the Astra, which has a similar sport button, I couldn’t detect it. The IDS+ system works towards reducing body roll, and if the Sport button accentuates this, it’s subtle, because it already seemed to be working fine.

Speaking of buttons, this is the major downfall of the Astra SRi. The heated seats are great (maybe not quite as good as a Focus XR5, but still very supportive laterally), pedals are nice, steering wheel is perfect (like wrestling a baby anaconda), and there’s plenty of safety in the form of front driver/passenger airbags and full-length curtain airbags, but there are some seriously unfunky things happening in the middle of the dashboard. Most Japanese and German cars have fairly standard ways of performing simple operations like changing the direction of the air from the vents. Not so for some of General Motors’ products. After four days of driving the Astra SRi Turbo I was still not quite sure how to consistently navigate the computer, and I definitely didn’t try it while driving.

If you decide to put some funky beats on the Blaupunkt six-disc, seven-speaker, 130W, MP3-compatible stereo you’ll find it’s acceptable but not stellar. Again, its operation is not as intuitive as most other marques.

Overall we have a car that’s optimised extremely well for the driving experience, but with some of the interior ergonomics left wanting some attention. I’m sure that with an instruction manual and a couple of hours an owner will master the controls. I never did find that stopwatch to do the 0-100kph time, though.

Price: from $40,990

What we like

  • All the driving bits are great — power, engine note, grip, gearshift action, steering wheel, seats

What we don’t like

  • The rest of the interior needs some work to make it user-friendly

Holden Astra SRi Turbo

Powertrain

1998cc, Turbo, DOHC 16 valve ECOTEC 4 cylinder engine

6-speed manual transmission

Four cylinders. Double overhead camshafts operate four valves per cylinder. Sequential multipoint fuel injection. Electronic Spark Timing (EST) with hall sensor. Cylinder selective knock control and direct ignition system (DIS). Electric cooling fan. Variable intake manifold.

Coil-at-plug ignition. Turbocharger with intercooler. Electronic Throttle Control. Aluminium cylinder head

147kW @ 5400rpm

262Nm @ 4200rpm

Mechanical

Electro-hydraulic rack and pinion power steering

4-wheel disc brakes, front ventilated

Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). Four sensor/four channel

Brake Assist (BA)

Double-isolated front suspension, using subframe

Compound torsion beam and trailing arm rear suspension

IDSPlus Sports Chassis Pack with Continuous Damping Control (CDC)

Traction Control (TC)

Electronic Stability Program

Wheels

18″ x 7.5″ alloy wheels (five-spoke).

225/40R18 tyres

Tyre valve cap tool located behind fuel filler flap

Exterior

Body coloured, heated mirrors

Body coloured door handles

Body coloured bumpers, front and rear

Body coloured side protection mouldings

Chromed tailgate handle with electronic touch pad

Rear fog lamp

Front fog lamps

Turbo lower body kit (front, rear and side skirts)

Rear roof spoiler

Anti-corrosion: Galvanised body panels. Bodyshell dip-primed electrostatically

Driver

Steering wheel, height and reach adjust

Leather wrap sports steering wheel (standard for CDTi manual only)

Alloy-look sports pedals

Electric remote control mirrors. Heated glass with auto off

Intermittent wipers front and rear (front only on TwinTop)

Rear window demister

Cruise control

Variable instrument dimming

Tachometer

Graphic information display: Time. Date. Outside temperature. Warning messages.

Audio settings. Trip computer functions. Trip computer includes: Instant economy. Average economy.

Fuel used on trip. Average speed. Trip distance. Distance to empty. Stop watch

Check control: Remote control key batteries. Brake light bulb and circuit. Brake pads.

Washer fluid level. Coolant level

Headlight level adjust

Headlamps left on warning buzzer

Door ajar warning lamp

Seatbelt warning lamp

Foldable keys

Service reminder

Sound system

AM/FM stereo electronic tune radio. Seek. Preset station scan

6-disc in-dash CD player

Multi function or graphic display includes: Radio band. Preset station number. Frequency. CD/radio functions

Seven premium speakers. Total 130 watts

Sound system remote controls on steering wheel

Speed dependent volume control

Seating

Seat trim in woven cloth

Heatable front seats

Padded front seat head restraints. Height adjust

8-way adjustment of front sports seats. Recline. Slide. Height. Cushion tilt

Adjustable lumbar support — driver and front passenger

Driver and front passenger front airbags

Driver and front passenger side impact airbags

Curtain airbags

Three padded rear head restraints with height adjust

Pyrotechnic front seatbelt pretensioners. Lower belt mounts on seat frame for consistent fit when seat moved forward or back

Front seatbelt force limiters, controls maximum force on chest

Front seatbelt sash height adjust

Brake pedal (and clutch pedal on manual vehicles) release in serious frontal collision

Anti-submarining ramps in all seats reduce the risk of sliding under seatbelt in collision

All seatbelts retracting lap/sash

Rear seat child restraint anchor points located on back of rear seats

Cabin comfort

Electronic climate control air conditioning

Heating/ventilation system includes pollen filter

Power windows, front. Express down/up

Power windows auto reverse safety function (when power windows fitted)

Sunglasses storage

Interior lighting auto off when ignition switched on. Auto off timer if engine remains off

Tinted windows

Cup holders, one in each front door and glove box lid

Rear seat back 60:40 split, foldable

Split level glovebox for smaller items. Removable middle shelf. Pen holder. Lamp

Centre console storage tray

Compartment in centre console

Storage bins in all doors

Coat hooks

Lamp in boot or cargo area

Security

Radio frequency remote control key operates: Interior lighting. Central locking for keyless entry.

Door deadlocks. Boot or tailgate. Fuel filler door

Key has rolling security code

Engine immobilised automatically when key removed from ignition.

Ignition lock cylinder ‘freewheels’ if anything other than correct key is inserted

Door lock in driver’s door only. Lock cylinder ‘freewheels’ if anything other than correct key is inserted

Hinged, removable cargo cover, with colour keyed fabric

Audio display in multi function display separate from sound system unit to deter theft. Security PIN coding

Specification

Fuel tank (litres) 52

4 wheel disc brakes, Front ventilated,

4-channel ABS with brake assist

Suspension: IDSplus Suspension. Independent. MacPherson strut. Decoupled strut mounts. Continuously Controlled Dampers. Coil springs. Stabiliser bar

Steering: Electro-hydraulic power rack and pinion

Front track (mm):  1484

Rear track (mm): 1481

Turning circle (m): 10.85

Dimensions and weights

Length: 4290

Width (inc mirrors): 2033

Width (exc mirrors): 1753

Height: 1460

Cargo volume: rear seats up 302 litres, rear seats down 1030 litres

Kerb weight: 1401kg

Towing capacity: 630 unbraked, 1300 braked.

Warranty/service

3,000km (at no cost) inspection, then every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first. Holden Dealer ‘Tech 2’ latest computerized analysis system available for engine management system. Spark plug replacement every 60,000km. Cartridgeless paper oil filter. Audible disc pad replacement warning.

Engine timing belt replacement every 120,000km.

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


Blogs: Even the Indy 500 is now green

The 2008 Indy 500 is set to include a few firsts: the first woman driver with a legitimate chance of winning is a big one. But also the Indy is going a bit green – the cars are using ethanol (though we’re not sure how green that is if it comes from corn because of the environmental destruction wrought on farmland in the US). Even the pace car – an ethanol-powered Corvette Z06 – is a bit ‘greener’ than a standard ‘Vette.

I have an even better idea on how to make the Indy 500 greener: call it the Indy 50. Then there’ll only be one-tenth the emissions. I am a genius! Someone send me some money for that idea.

Blogs: What is too much ‘luxury’

The Mercedes-Benz C320 CDi that’s sitting in the carpark, trying to entice me to drive it, has an electric headrest. That means it has a motor and a switch and wires that go between the switch on the door right around underneath the seat and up into the top of the seat. All that means weight. Lots of it. You see, I can understand the reason for an electronic headrest – if you have two drivers, one short and one tall, the Merc has different seating settings, and that may also involve adjusting the headrest.

But, we’re just adding more and more weight to our cars unnecessarily. I predict that many of these items may start to be regretted by the manufacturers as they have to progressively meet emissions requirements. Extra weight equals extra fuel costs. So, if Mercedes has a goal to average, say 180g C02/km you may find that heavy items such as headrest adjustment motors are the unwanted baby that you just can’t throw out with the bathwater.