I’ve just collected the most frugal car on the market, the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion. It claims to use just 3.8l of diesel per 100km. And it’s not a hybrid. So, I thought that because everyone’s going on about how frugal the Polo BlueMotion is that I should see how un-frugal I can make it. I could pack the boot with sandbags, chuck some podgy friends in the passenger seats, let down the low-rolling-resistance tyres and drive around Mt Wellington go kart track in first gear…with the windows down and air conditioning on. Perhaps I can set a record!5
When you want one of the best-looking station wagons out there to have a little more pep than the base …full story
I’ll often get a press car after another journalist has totally mangled the settings. Usually the radio is tuned to something ghastly like Talkback or The Breeze and the bass and treble are wound up to the max, the mirrors are all wrong and the steering wheel is set really high. The first few minutes of familiarisation involves tuning some better music, and adjusting the seating and steering wheel position, then figuring out where the buttons and switches are that you’ll need (indicators, lights, ejector seat, etc) so that you’re not left fumbling, or don’t accidentally turn on the wipers when you mean to go left (believe me, it’s the bain of my life, switching from Japanese to Euro cars and back again all the time).
We’re never really taught how to set our car up – what to do with the wing mirrors, where to have the seat and steering wheel positioned, etc. Wing mirrors are designed to allow you to see behind and to the side, and can also be angled down for parallel parking. But mostly in everyday driving they’ll be used to you can see approaching cars in other lanes or something overtaking you. Too many people have their wing mirrors set so that a third of the mirror is taken up with a view of the side of the car. This leaves a blind spot over your shoulder. To set up the mirrors, sit in your usual driving position, then angle the mirrors outwards until you can only just see the edge of the car. You can go further if you want, especially if you have got a really good rear-view mirror, but I find this skews my interpretation of how close a car is that’s approaching from behind in another lane. Some of the more expensive cars have memory settings for wheel, seats and mirrors, and this is great. If you’re a hulking 6-foot-2 guy and you have a diminutive 5-foot-nowt partner, a couple of button presses and you’re back to abject comfort and postural efficiency. This can only filter down to cheaper cars like any technology.
Eventually I see cars automatically adjusting to your height and weight when you first get in. They’ll detect how long your legs are in relation to your arms, automatically positioning the seat and pedals. They’ll know where your eyes are (they already have this technology to detect sleepy drivers), and will move the mirrors to the optimum position. They’ll know how heavy you are (don’t get all embarrassed), and will bolster the seats where necessary, and may even make the seats more supportive in spirited driving.. But by the time this happens, it might be that the car drives itself, so you will be free to wind up the bass and treble and absorb the easy-listening vibe that washes over you in lounge-like comfort.
A friend of mine is a physiotherapist. We were talking about causes of back and hip pain and he said a big one is people sitting in an unbalanced position while driving. If you put too much weight on one buttock while driving (which many of us apparently do), this can lead to trapped nerves, muscle tightness and a twisted spine, which is all potentially costly in terms of lifestyle and fixing the problems down the track.
What prompted this conversation is Nissan’s Murano Ti. It’s a car that has been on the market for a couple of years, but apart from a brief drive I hadn’t had the chance to do a full road test. The first thing I noticed when I got back in the car was the overwhelming sense that you are sitting on a throne, casting your kingly gaze across the landscape. The seat is very wide and comfortable, and (as a person who has had injury-related back/hip pain), I immediately noticed how straight I was sitting and how comfortable and relaxed I felt in the Murano’s power-adjustable leather heated seats. The cabin has a huge amount of room, especially for the passenger, and plenty of storage — a nice touch is the expandable door pockets. A dashboard the size of a snooker table is sprawled out in front of you — so large, in fact, that you cannot reach the windscreen without sitting on the edge of the seat, seatbelt off.
Two of the seven speakers reside in this vast open wilderness, reflecting sound off the windscreen to give a reasonably good stereo image (a phenomenon also noticeable on Mazda’s CX-7) — the seventh speaker is a subwoofer to enhance the bass.
The steering wheel contains controls for the Bose stereo — a six-disc CD player/radio — and cruise control.
Behind the wheel, three yellow-faced dials give you the essential speed- and fuel-related information. The dashboard also contains a large black LCD with yellow writing that displays other trip computer functions and various vehicle settings. This part of the dashboard juts out leaving an awkward space underneath it that contains a rubber-lined tray.
The gear shifter is perfectly positioned if you would like to use the sequential auto mode to bring out the best in the Murano’s sporty pretensions. The Murano is marketed as a sporty SUV, and endowed with Nissan’s all-aluminiun 3.5-litre 172kW engine and CVT gearbox (similar in power and spec to that of the Maxima Ti), it’s fairly sprightly for its 1800+kg, reaching 100kph in just over eight seconds. The power and torque (318Nm) is delivered in such a smooth and linear way with a muted V6 roar via the four-wheel drive that it is virtually seamless. There is no shortage of grip and I was left wondering how often the VDC (traction and stability control) would need to cut in given the wide tyres and four-wheel drive. ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist complete the driving aids.
The Murano received a 5-star NHTSA safety rating and as well as seat belt pretensioners and active headrests it has driver and passenger front and side airbags, and curtain airbags.
Moving to the outside, Nissan unfortunately supplied the worst colour possible for a press car. It looks so much better in black. Nestled between the high intensity discharge xenon bulb headlights, the Murano’s ‘architectural’ grille isn’t the prettiest; it looks much better from the back with its dual exhausts.
It is a large car with 225/65R18 tyres and 18-inch wheels attempting to fill the arches. The rear window line swoops up to meet the roof almost in a teardrop shape — perhaps a nod to the name Murano, which comes from the elegantly sculpted glass art from the islands near venice. This is a nice styling cue, but doesn’t help at all with reversing, and our car wasn’t fitted with optional reversing sensors.
Our test car, the Ti, gets heated, power-operated leather front seats, electric sunroof and roof rails over the lesser-specced ST.
Practically everything is right about the Murano — it has a huge boot, plenty of power, it’s comfortable to ride in, it looks OK (but not in the colour we got), and it comes with the safety packages we expect. And I found it good for my lower back — perhaps the Murano is more ‘hip’ than I first thought.
Price: from $59,950 (Ti, as tested), $54,950 (ST)
What we like
- Smooth power
- Supremely comfortable
- Large and flexible loading space
What we don’t like
- Reversing (you’ll kick yourself if you don’t get the optional Rear Park Assist)
- In-dash screen and controls feel a bit dated
Words and photos Darren Cottingham
I gave back the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion. I had occasion to use its horn twice, and both times I was embarrassed at how weedy and ineffectual it sounded. The second time I used it was on Esmonde Rd onramp when I was second in a convoy of cars entering the motorway at about 70kph. The lady in the car ahead decided that she would stop as if it were a give-way sign. How do these people keep their license? If only I had had an enormous truck air horn to vibrate her out of the way with.
I picked up the Santa Fe, a festively coincidental car, and large enough to fit pretty much all of St Nick’s elves (or a lot of presents). My first impression is that it is a very well-specced machine with adequate grunt. A 7-seat SUV, it’s got some neat features like the kiddie mirror, air conditioning vents right at the back, and a ‘cool box’ (an air conditioning feed to the central binnacle storage area). Open the trapdoor in the boot and you’ll find a complete safety kit including fluorescent jacket. A very thoughtful gift for a festive occasion.
Road Tests / Car Reviews: Suzuki SX4 Ltd (2007) – Road Test
Driving and reviewing the Swift’s bigger brother, the SX4, was going to be a piece of cake I thought. Anything that’s larger and more ungainly than the amazing Swift was of course going to be rubbish. Easy, job done, nothing new learned I thought. Unfortunately I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Okay, so it’s got the same cute Italian-penned good looks as its sibling, but tries to look a tad more mature, courtesy of a bit more overhang front and rear. Looking at the plunging door line, oversized door mirrors and a few other design aspects it could be trying a bit too hard, like a schoolboy’s first attempts at a moustache to impress the girls in his class.
So it’s a bit of a looker but what’s it like to punt around? Well, in all honesty it left me completely dazed and stunned, like I had just been visited by the resident schoolyard bully. It wasn’t so much of ‘bashing’ as more of a severe ‘telling off’ though.
The subject of the lesson I had just been taught? Oh yes, it was a combination of advanced Physics, Economics and Mathematics, delivered forcibly and simultaneously whilst being strapped (or belted) into a chair. As I can’t multi-task too well, being male, it did make a bit of a mess of my brain. I always hated those particular subjects as well.
In order to try and explain I will start with the Economics. What you get for your pocket money is impressive. In its class, its feature set is impressive. This model boasts additional side impact curtain airbags, leather-trimmed steering wheel with cruise controls, bodykit, keyless entry, alloys and (for your listening pleasure) more speakers than most of the immediate competitors. The interior is nicely laid out, and the dash is easy to read and use. That’s an ‘A+’ then.
What about the numbers then? Well you can drive away in this SX4 Ltd from just $24,500. You get a fuel injected 16v 2.0 twin-cam engine, delivering 107Kw at 5,870rpm and 189Nm or torque at just 3,500 rpm. 0-100kph doesn’t take too long and expect around 11 litres/100km. Ground clearance is a heady 175mm+ (more on the 4WD version) and even with a decent 600mm seat height there is still ample headroom for 6 footers. Another ‘A+’.
Into the Physics department now. Unfortunately the steering feel is a bit over-assisted and also weighted too heavily in slow corners. The brakes lack some feel but manage the job well, being ventilated, however it takes some adjustment and practice to get it right. The driving lesson as a whole is well mannered with the chassis working well on the limit, under-steering slightly and with a compliant rear end that tucks in neatly as required. Strangely for a sweet 16v engine it sounds a bit on the rough side; well the Music lesson is in next classroom along. Hmm, a ‘B-’.
Overall, the lesson the SX4 teaches us is about ‘bang for your buck’. Less (money) is more (value) on this occasion, and a new benchmark has been set for the competitors. Final mark is an ‘A-’ then.
What we like:
- Value for money
- Keyless entry
What we don’t like:
- Feel of the steering and brakes
- Pitch on acceleration/braking
- Seat trim/comfort
- Parking — judging bonnet length
Words Phil Clark, photos Darren Cottingham
You may have seen the news on Car and SUV today: $91,000 (equivalent) for a Jeep Patriot with some signwriting on it. Oh yeah, you get a couple of VIP tickets to the Led Zeppelin concert as well. A standard Jeep Patriot is NZ$40,990, which means approximately $50,000 for the tickets and the honour of owning one of seven Led Zep Jeeps.
Is this an astute financial move? Special editions of cars have tended to hold their value over time, but only when those cars have become iconic themselves. There’s a huge assumption that a Jeep Patriot will become iconic…and it most likely won’t. It doesn’t have the history and cachet of the Wrangler, and seeing as this particular Jeep is for the UK market, it probably has the wrong name. Anti-American sentiment is rife, and the name Patriot almost drowns us in Apple Pie.
I was glad I had Audi’s Q7 4.2 TDi Quattro S-line this weekend. Its voluminous carrying capacity was put to good use transporting our band’s equipment to a daytime gig in the Waitakeres. I wouldn’t usually use a $150,000+ car to do something as mundane as act as a workhorse for my musical obligations, but it made sense because it will carry a lot, and it gave me a chance to drive it on narrow, twisting roads. In everyday guise, the Q7 will seat seven people, five of them in absolute comfort, and the two right at the back in moderate comfort, as long as their legs aren’t too long. Fold the seats flat and it’s large enough to haul a lot of gear, though the boot aperture itself is not large because of the high floor.
A neat trick that the Q7 has up its ample sleeve is adaptive air suspension. Using a button in the boot you can make the car squat by 55mm to make loading easier. There are five suspension levels, and the car is able to be raised considerably to enable quite severe off-roading to be attempted. In fact, the suspension has 95mm of variation, though other than the loading mode, the lowest ones are only activated at sustained high speed (120+ and 160+kph).
Another great function for loading is the automatic tailgate — it will raise and lower at the push of a button.
With a mammoth 760Nm of torque and 240kW the 2450kg Q7 has a startling turn of speed, achieving 100kph in just 6.4 seconds. This goes some way towards hiding its large dimensions, but you’re still aware you are driving a car almost two metres wide and 5.1m long.
Our test car was fitted with the optional 21-inch alloys with 295/35 tyres. Push the Q7 hard and it understeers like you’d expect a large SUV to. But the Q7 is a car that is most pleasant to cruise in. It is supremely comfortable to drive or be a passenger. Leather seats all around have six-setting heaters and electric position and lumbar settings at the front. The second row of seats reclines. Dual climate control with sun and humidity sensors and multiple vents in the rear keep the cabin temperature just right, and there is a plethora of bottle and cup holders for all seats.
Audi has done a great job of ergonomically designing the controls for the Q7. While there are over 60 dials and switches within the driver’s reach, many of the more intricate functions are carried out using Audi’s MMI display in the dashboard, which warrants a manual of its own. A dial and buttons placed just in front of the central binnacle allow easy scrolling and selecting of options for audio and car settings visible on the screen.
The audio system itself has a fabulous sound. My usual test CD (Gladiator soundtrack) filled the cabin with the full range of deep ominous double bass through to sparkling and delicate dulcimers and windchimes. The test car’s optional Bose eight-speaker system will accept an iPod input and display track listings and other information on the MMI’s screen. This screen also can function as a TV display with the optional TV reception kit, it will integrate with your mobile if it’s Bluetooth-enabled, and it is the centre of Audi’s parking assistant.
A relatively distortion-free reversing camera displays what is behind you with two animated lines that react to steering inputs showing the driver where the Q7 is turning. There are proximity sensors both front and rear and a superimposed diagram of the Q7 shows whether you are getting close to obstacles. Individual sound boxes positioned around the car beep more and more frenetically to give you a spatial awareness of which corner’s pristine paint finish is in jeopardy. The system is good enough to manoeuvre in tight spaces without even looking outside of the car.
The screen allows you to see if children are standing behind you
The optional Lane Change Assistant is welcome on a long car like this. The system incorporates a small light on the inside of the wing mirrors. If a car is moving into your blind spot, the light illuminates softly. If you indicate to move into the lane it flashes brightly as a warning.
As well as that very obvious safety feature the Q7 features ESP (with an additional towing stabilisation mode that will attempt to correct an out-of-control trailer), the usual ABS, EBD and EBA, and a swag of airbags including a full length curtain airbag right to the back of the car.
So that covers just a small slice of what the Q7 does. The two manuals are an inch thick between them, and the options list is extensive. A new owner could be immersed in menus and settings for hours, fine tuning the parameters.
There really isn’t anything much to complain about with the Q7, as you would expect for a car in this price bracket. It has everything you would expect in terms of safety and performance and if you’re in the market for a large, plush SUV which will pull a heavy load (well over three tonnes if the trailer is braked), this ticks all the boxes.
Price: Q7 range from $122,900. Base for this model: $151,900. As tested $158,100
What we like
- Parking/reversing assistant (it’s essential with a car this size)
- Lane change assistant (optional)
- Towing ability
What we don’t like
- Small boot aperture (if loading matters to you)
- Lose something down the side of the front seats and it’s almost impossible to extricate (minor, I know)
Words and photos Darren Cottingham
You used to be able to buy a Pajero Evolution, but that was 10 years ago. Mitsubishi is about to have a crack at its 13th win at the Dakar rally (and its eighth in a row), but you can’t even buy anything remotely like the vehicle it uses (you can read about it by shift-clicking here). Doesn’t this kind of make a mockery of the model range? I mean, Audi doesn’t call its Le Mans racer the same as its standard range. The R10 is the Le Mans car, the R8 is the next one down – the road car.
And in touring car racing (which Audi has just won in Germany) it uses an A4, and it even still looks like an A4.
Am I imagining this, or is Mitsubishi missing a marketing opportunity – a limited edition run of hardcore Pajero Evolutions that will work on the road, but will also be absolute demons off-road. I’m sure there’s a market for several thousand worldwide.