Blogs: Sprinter is more of a rester

I ambled along to the Mercedes Sprinter (re)launch yesterday. I don’t usually go in for van launches because we don’t cover vans, but in this case it was worth it to see what technology Merc is carrying over from its passenger cars into van-land. Before I detect the faint vacuum of you yawning, let me just say that the cab of a Sprinter van is better than the majority of cars on the road, which is important as van-men (and women) will sometimes do a quarter of a million kilometres or more in a year! That’s a lot of butt-in-seat.

And it was a hugely comfortable suspension seat that I dropped my butt into to try out the most interesting and potentially impactful new features: the start-stop motor. This isn’t new in cars, but it is in vans. Roll to a stop, take the van out of gear, and  the engine stops after 3 seconds. Press the clutch and it starts. Mercedes reports average fuel savings of 5-8%, and on some trips up to 20%, and it won’t be pumping unburned diesel into the atmosphere while idling at the lights.

Passenger safety is also much improved with passenger cell deformation around 90% better. And then there’s the ubiquitous raft of acronyms that keep the van from going off the road in adverse situations – ESP, EBA, ASR, etc. The most interesting is the load-sensing electronic stability program and roll-over mitigation, which detects the centre of gravity of a load and adjusts the braking accordingly to avoid the van tipping over in extreme maneouvres.

The Sprinter is one of the most expensive vans on the market, but according to Brian Carr who heads up Mercedes-Benz’s commercial division in New Zealand it has one of the lowest total life cost of ownership. Certainly with the inclusion of ESP and the fuel saving, government and organisations accountable to the public for environmental performance are snapping them up.

Peugeot: Peugeot 308 Sport 2008 — Road Test

peugeot-308-sport-fq

Pareidolia is the human trait whereby we see faces in objects such as clouds, pieces of old muslin cloth, and cars. This is so prevalent that a study was conducted by Viennese company EFS Consulting which looked at whether it influenced what type of cars we like. It does.

People overwhelmingly prefer angry, dominant, masculine-looking cars as opposed to happy, playful, fun-looking cars. Whether this is social conditioning is yet to be determined (EFS will perform a study in Ethiopia soon using people who haven’t been exposed to modern cars). So where does this leave the Peugeot 308 Sport you see here? With Sport in the name, it’s obviously gagging for a liberal helping of steroidally pumped wheel arches, and a face so mean it would have frightened Kublai Kahn into messing his Emporer’s robes.

Slanting cat-like eyes and a grimacing tooth-filled mouth — that’s a good start, but what’s with the drooping punched lip? OK, two out of three ain’t bad, and from the front you don’t notice it, but start walking around to the three-quarter view and that fat lip is very noticeable.

But a car’s face is only one factor. Price, economy, performance and brand preference are others, and with a European hot hatch like the Peugeot 308, your desire for a small, peppy car that’s not run-of-the-mill is going to be one of the deciders.

The sporting credentials are adequate from the — 128kW, 240Nm, top speed of 224kph, and a 0-100kph time of 8.3 seconds. Performance doesn’t come at the expense of fuel economy with the 1.6-litre turbo delivering 7.6l/100km on the combined cycle.

A six-speed manual gearbox adds to the sporty feel, and the shifts are precise, if a little long. Care has to be taken pulling away in first gear as all of a sudden the turbo comes on boost, lots of power is channelled through the front wheels, and the traction control ends up working overtime, despite a pair of 225/40R18 tyres doing the gripping at the front.

Clean and elegant five-spoke alloys underpin the angular forward-sloping shoulder crease that makes the 308 Sport look like it’s moving forwards even when standing still. Unusually, though, despite the small size of the car, the 18-inch wheels look like they could do with being 19 or 20 inches.

I’m confused as to how a model with a Sport designation have the second highest weight of the whole range at 1471kg, a full 62kg more than the HDI AT diesel. I thought perhaps it could be a difference in specification (i.e. lots more goodies), but like in the diesel model you get the full complement of safety features — seven airbags, electronic stability program with traction control, seatbelt pretensioners, etc; the dimensions are the same; there’s the same inverted pseudo Macpherson strut suspension with linked anti-roll bar and rear torsion beam for the suspension; and the same 283mm ventilated front disc brakes and 249mm solid disc rear brakes.

I took it on a long cruise down the motorway, stereo blaring. One of the tests I usually do is how well the cruise control works. It’s easy to use in the Peugeot, but not accurate — after setting it at an indicated 106kph, I reset the average speed. The trip computer was showing an average of 102kph after less than a kilometre of fundamentally flat motorway. It didn’t get any better. I suppose under-reading is better that over-reading, but it’s still a wide margin.

I eventually found some sinuous roads to experience whether the 308 is all fire or lukewarm. In a hot hatch it’s spirited driving that is the true test of whether a marque has achieved perfection. The 308 Sport is a great deal of fun to drive. You do get the feeling that if the ESP and traction control weren’t there to guide you that you could easily be having the type of heart-in the-mouth experiences the Peugeot 205GTI was famous for, but it does grip well.

We may like angry faces in our cars, but we don’t like angry faces in people. Fortunately, rather than cause a scowl there will more than likely be a smile on your dial after you’ve finished driving the 308 Sport.

Click through to the next page to read the full specs of the Peugeot 308 Sport

Price: from $47,490

What we like

  • Excellent performance/fuel consumption

What we don’t like

  • Peaky first gear makes wet weather standing starts tricky
  • Poor interior storage

Peugeot 308 Sport Specifications

Engine

Litre, 1.6
Valve, 16
Cylinders, 4
Cubic capacity (cc), 1598
Bore x Stroke (mm), 77 x 85.8
Max power kW (HP) @ rpm, 128 @ 6000
Max torque (Nm @ rpm), 240 (260) @ 1600
Emission control, Catalytic converter
Emission standard, EURO 4
Emission of CO2 by weight, 180
European End-of-Life Vehicles Directive, 99%

Wheels and Tyres

Size, 225/40 R18
Alloy / Steel, Alloy
Spare tyre, Full size
Tyre pressure sensor, Yes

Brakes

Ventilated front discs 283 mm / 26 mm
Rear solid discs with sliding calipers 249 mm / 9 mm

Steering

Electro-hydraulic power steering
Height / Reach adjust steering wheel

Suspension

Front, Inverted Pseudo McPherson strut with linked anti-roll bar
Rear, Rear torsion beam, two suspension arms and an integral anti-roll bar

Performance

Maximum speed (km/h), 225
Acceleration 0-100km/h (sec), 8.3

Weights

Kerb weight (kg), 1471
Braked trailer towing weight (kg), 1650
Unbraked trailer towing weight (kg) 750

Fuel Consumption

City Cycle l/100km, 10.7
Highway cycle l/100km, 5.7
Combined l/100km, 7.6

Safety

Driver and front passenger airbags
Driver’s Knee Airbag
Front side airbags
Front and rear curtain airbags
Door / boot ajar warning
Collapsible steering column
Trajectory supervisor
ABS (with EBFD & EBA)
Electronic Stability Program (ESP) (with ASR &
Rear 3-point seatbelts with warning
Pretensioning and load limiting front seatbelts
Force limiting rear seatbelts
Height adjustable front seatbelts
Isofi x on front passenger seat
Isofi x on rear outer seats
Fuel cut off inertia switch

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

News: BMW’s new X6 monster available in NZ

BMW X6 fq

BMW’s range-topping X6 xDrive50i Sports Activity Coupe is now available in New Zealand, featuring the debut of BMW’s new big-boy 4.4 litre Twin Turbo V8 petrol engine.

The all-aluminium V8 engine with Twin Turbo technology and High Precision Injection is the world’s first eight-cylinder gasoline engine with the turbo-charger and catalytic converters housed in the V-section between the two rows of cylinders. This new arrangement gives this hugely powerful engine extremely compact proportions; reducing pressure losses on the intake and exhaust side.

The use of two turbochargers for the first time on an eight-cylinder power unit boosts both engine output and torque while delivering good fuel efficiency. Each of the two turbochargers supplies compressed air to four cylinders at a time, reducing the “turbo lag” typical of a large turbocharged engine with conventional technology.

Engine capacity is 4,395 cc, max output 300 kW/407 hp from 5,500—6,400 rpm and max torque of 600 Nm/442 lb-ft comes from 1,750—4,500 rpm. The BMW X6 xDrive 50i sprints to 100 kilometres per hour in just 5.4 seconds and continues on to an electronically-capped top-speed of 250 km/h. This unique power unit is the most efficient engine in its class, outperforming ULEV II and EU5 emission standards. Average fuel consumption to EU standard is 13.8 litres/100 km.

High Precision Injection plays a key role in the efficient use of fuel. This second generation of direct gasoline injection uses piezo-injectors positioned directly next to the spark plugs in the cylinder head delivering fuel into the combustion chambers at a pressure of 200 bar. The advantage is extremely precise dosage of fuel and improved engine acoustics.

The new BMW X6 xDrive50i will replace the current six-cylinder BMW X6 xDrive35i. The Twin Turbo three-litre diesel BMW X6 35d will still be available but gets a specification upgrade to include a rear-view camera as a standard feature.

The BMW X6 xDrive50i with standard sports package is priced at $175,000 with first cars arriving early 2009. The BMW X6 xDrive35d is priced at $139,000. Both models now include Head-Up Display, Cruise control and rear-view camera in their standard specification.

News: Maserati claims Nurburgring record

MaseratiMC12_05

A British car magazine is claiming to have smashed the production car lap record at the 20 km German Nurburgring race track in a Maserati MC-12, taking just 7:24.29 minutes to lap the circuit named as ‘the green hell’ and regarded as the ultimate test of a super car.

Armed with a fleet of supercars provided by a German collector, which included a Ferrari Enzo, the Koenigsegg CCX, the Pagani Zonda F Clubsport and the Porsche Carrera GT, as well as the Maserati, American Le Mans Series race driver Marc Basseng did the driving.

While none of the cars could, in any way, be described as ‘slow’, the car that was the least quick around the track was the Koenigsegg CCX, which, while staggeringly fast in a straight line thanks to its 672 kW, had trouble using its immense power in the corners, humps and hills of the Nurburgring Nordschleife. In the Porsche, Basseng matched the time set by the legendary Walter Rohrl during the final testing of the Carrera GT, but it was only sufficient to finish in fourth place. Next came the Ferrari Enzo, just behind the Pagani, which averaged more than 165 kmh, yet was still shadowed by the Maserati MC-12.

What makes the performance of the Maserati MC-12 more impressive was the fact that not only was it the heaviest of the cars tested it was also running with conventional dampers and steel brakes. The magazine concluded that while it was not the quickest on the straights, the Maserati MC-12 triumphed thanks to the balanced chassis and race-bred aerodynamics and an engine that provided easily accessible power, a combination that enabled Basseng to get the power earlier and harder than its rivals.

A British car magazine is claiming to have smashed the production car lap record at the 20 km German Nurburgring race track in a Maserati MC-12, taking just 7:24.29 minutes to lap the circuit named as ‘the green hell’ and regarded as the ultimate test of a super car.

Armed with a fleet of supercars provided by a German collector, which included a Ferrari Enzo, the Koenigsegg CCX, the Pagani Zonda F Clubsport and the Porsche Carrera GT, as well as the Maserati, American Le Mans Series race driver Marc Basseng did the driving.

While none of the cars could, in any way, be described as ‘slow’, the car that was the least quick around the track was the Koenigsegg CCX, which, while staggeringly fast in a straight line thanks to its 672 kW, had trouble using its immense power in the corners, humps and hills of the Nurburgring Nordschleife. In the Porsche, Basseng matched the time set by the legendary Walter Rohrl during the final testing of the Carrera GT, but it was only sufficient to finish in fourth place. Next came the Ferrari Enzo, just behind the Pagani, which averaged more than 165 kmh, yet was still shadowed by the Maserati MC-12.

What makes the performance of the Maserati MC-12 more impressive was the fact that not only was it the heaviest of the cars tested it was also running with conventional dampers and steel brakes. The magazine concluded that while it was not the quickest on the straights, the Maserati MC-12 triumphed thanks to the balanced chassis and race-bred aerodynamics and an engine that provided easily accessible power, a combination that enabled Basseng to get the power earlier and harder than its rivals.

News: Mitsubishi rolls out Evo X GSR Premium edition

Mitsubishi Evo X prem fq

Mitsubishi has refreshed its 2009 Lancer Evolution X line-up with the introduction of a new top-end GSR Premium edition that sits above the RS and GSR models. No different mechanically from the other EVO Xs, the Premium edition is distinguished on the outside by the 18-inch BBS alloy wheels, front fog lights and the body colored hood scoops while it also features a set of Bilstein shocks.

Inside the GSR Premium gets Recaro leather bucket seats, a satellite navigation system, side and curtain airbags as well as a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system. For 2009, the Japanese-market Lancer EVO X range also benefits from minor revisions to the instrument panel and a new floor console.

Prices for the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer EXO X GSR Premium edition are set in Japan at 4,798,500 Yen ($75,900 NZ) for the version equipped with a 5-speed manual gearbox 5,050,000 Yen ($79,800 NZ) for the Twin Clutch-SST model.

News: Government plans to ban parking on grass

The Government is proposing to make parking on grass an illegal act.

“The rule amendment is one of many likely to pass unnoticed, as it’s part of a bigger raft of changes to Land Transport rules headlined by amendments to the cell phone regulations,” says NZ Motoring Writers’ Guild president Jacqui Madelin.

“The government’s discussion paper expresses concern about damage to the grass surface and access for pedestrians where there’s no footpath, but dismisses safety concerns,” she says.

Most drivers park on the grass where parking on the roadway would obstruct traffic or risk an accident. Any parked vehicle may reduce visibility, but keeping the roadway clear should be a priority.

Perhaps of more concern to homeowners is that it can be difficult to tell where the grass verge ends and your garden begins.

“Few people know it’s already illegal to drive a motor vehicle on a lawn, garden or other cultivation that is adjacent to a road,” she says. “It’s a moving offence but parking officers can’t ticket it — yet; a policeman is needed.”

“The Guild supports road safety, and many of the minor measures in the 42-page discussion document. There should be a speed limit when towing a disabled car; we should wear our seatbelts properly; but not all the proposed amendments are as sensible,” she says.

To have your say on the grass parking situation, simply log on to www.nzta.govt.nz/consultation, click on the ‘Draft Land Transport Rule’ and read what’s proposed — the overview is clearly laid out, and it’s possible to make your submission by email. Deadline for submissions is October 16.

Blogs: Escorts of the Ford variety

To say you can tell a lot about a man from the car he drives is a false notion. Personal situations change and so do vehicle requirements and a man who once owned a muscle car may now drive a mini-van. It may be true however that you can tell something about a man by asking the best car he has owned.

So instead of using my first blog entry to allow myself to introduce¦ myself, I will use this opportunity to talk about Escorts, not of the expensive female variety but Ford Escorts.

After owning around 10 cars, that have met various fates, it has only been the humble Escort that has captured my heart. My Escort wasn’t the nicest car I have owned or the fastest but it had character and spirit, something absent from so many more modern vehicles. Mine wasn’t a restored Mk I model or a modified Mk II, mine was a UK import MK III a 1985 XR3i to be exact. It was from a time when British Ford was in bed with Cosworth and their sweet love making magically filtered down to all models through that era. On paper I shouldn’t have loved the car at all, it only had a 1.6 injected motor, it had no electrics or even power steering. It did look cool however with a chunky 80’s style body kit and distinctive Ford four circle rims, it had a low laid back stance and weighing just 900kg was as dangerous as it looked. Sometimes it seemed that everyone hated the car; my mother hated it because it dropped oil on her driveway, my neighbours hated it because of its big bore exhaust with a hole in it, and my girlfriend hated it because it apparently inspired me to act like a dickhead. So it was me and my Escort against the world.

We would often return home late at night along the Auckland waterfront at a sprint. Sitting only inches from the ground my Escort would tell me about every bump in the ground, every movement in the wheels and every knock in the motor. New cars with their fancy ESP, power steering, firm suspension, and sound deadening have lost that communication between man and machine which once existed. However, it was on one of these waterfront races home that my Escort sucked through its K&N filter for its final breath. I pushed it too hard that night, but it was a more meaningful end for my Escort than just collecting rust in a car port somewhere.

Like an escort of the leggy female variety it was an encounter that was expensive and cut short too soon. I couldn’t own another Mk III Escort, not now I have been ruined by modern conveniences. I have also watched enough Knight Rider recently to know that nostalgia can be misleading. If your reading this blog you’re probably into cars, and if you’re into cars you must have been inspired sometime by some car. It was an Escort that inspired me, what inspired you?

News: Return of the Renault Clio Sport

Renault Clio Sport

Hot on the heels of Fernando Alonso’s second consecutive win at the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix, Renault’s smallest hot hatch, the Clio Sport, now as the RS 197 has returned to New Zealand.

Priced at $39,990, the limited edition three-door Clio RS now produces 197 horsepower from its two litre fuel injected engine, a 15 horsepower improvement on the previous Clio RS 182.

Only a handful of cars have arrived on New Zealand shores and can now be spotted at Renault dealerships. The next shipment will not arrive until well into 2009.

Compared to the regular Clio III, the RS’ body has wider front and rear wings to accommodate the larger wheels and tyres, side skirts and a semi-rigid under-bumper splitter, while the stance has been lowered. Extractor vents and an active rear air diffuser are fitted to aid stability and prevent rear-end lift by creating a zone of low pressure beneath the car. This results in a down force rating of between 40 and 70kg at high speed, lowering lift by around 65 per cent and eliminating the need for a rear spoiler.

Underneath is a development of the Renault/Nissan Alliance B Platform, which is also used by the Nissan Tiida and Micra. But the Clio III RS 197 is significantly different thanks to a 10mm longer wheelbase, as well as 48mm wider in the front track and 50mm in the rear, compared to the regular Clio III hatch. It also rides 15mm lower. The subframe is the same as used on the Megane RS 225, and employs transverse strengthening for greater front-end rigidity. Its bushes, front shock absorber mountings and rear suspension mountings are also stiffer.

Braking is via Brembo-supplied callipers at the front, featuring 312mm cross-drilled discs) and 300mm solid discs in the rear, while the 17-inch lightweight alloy wheels are shod with 215/45 tyres.

Turning the front wheels, via a new six-speed manual gearbox, is a development of the old RS 182’s normally-aspirated 1998cc 2.0-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine with variable valve timing.

The French may have invented the metric system but Renault panders to Great Britain, the largest consumer of its RS products, by revealing the RS 197’s horsepower rating in its name. That’s 145kW, achieved at a high 7250rpm, while the 215Nm torque comes at 5550rpm, courtesy of the RS division. The result is a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.9 seconds.

RS has optimised the engine’s intake, exhaust port length and profiling for greater efficiency, worked on the valve seat aerodynamics, improved air intake and gas flow, increased valve lift from 9mm to 11.5mm to create a longer and wider valve aperture, and redesigned the combustion chamber and piston heads for a high compression ratio of 11.5:1. Lower emissions are a result, with carbon dioxide pollution dropping to 199g/km, while the combined average fuel consumption rating is 8.4L/100km.

On the safety front, the Clio III has earned a five-star European NCAP crash-test result. Present are an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC) that is sports-tuned with higher threshold programming and can be disconnected, ASR traction control and eight airbags — including two anti-submarining devices underneath the front seats.

Interior trim includes aluminium pedals, a perforated leather wrapped steering wheel with red centre-point stitching, RS logos on the instrument faces, door sills and front seats (which are of a bolstered ‘sports’ design), and a chrome-zinc centre console.

Standard features include air-conditioning, cruise control with speed-limiter, remote central locking, power windows, a multi-function trip computer, single-CD sound system, 60/40-split folding rear seat and 17-inch alloys.