Blogs: The Impreza launch

Subaru definitely know how to put on a good launch. A 4:45am start meant I got to the airport at 6:15 for the 6:50am flight to ChCh. I’ve owned a few Subarus (Legacy RS RA, version 1 WRX hatch, and version 4 STI Type R coupe), so I was looking forward to seeing what version 10 was like. From the photos we’d had, my initial impression was that it was a different type of ugly to the previous cars. Versions 1-9 of the WRX and WRX STI (and particularly version 7) were ugly. Why break the habit of a lifetime? I mean, WRX owners buy them for the power, handling and rally-bred image.

Arriving in Queenstown on a fantastic day with clear skies, all 15 or so of us were bundled into a bus and taken to the helicopter area where, in a hangar, a car lay hidden beneath a car cover. Chris Rickard, Subaru’s GM, gave us a few of the juicy details, made out he was about to do the reveal, then the hangar door rose to reveal helicopters. We weren’t about the see the car then: we had to wait.

More later…

blue car corner

Subaru definitely know how to put on a good launch. A 4:45am start mea ...

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Blogs: An ungodly hour, even for a WRX Author: darren [22-08-2007 19:01]

Tomorrow morning I have to get up at the ungodly hour of 4:45. This is because Subaru are flying a whole load of journos down to Queenstown to have a thrash in the new Impreza WRX on the deserted roads of the Southern Alps, and I have to be at the airport by 6:10. I’m so in the habit of switching my alarm off and falling back to sleep that I have put the alarm clock well out of arm’s reach.

In Subaru’s invitation was the following curious line: Please supply your approximate height and weight so we can ensure your bed comfort at Heritage Queenstown. The cynic in me thinks: Please supply your approximate height and weight so we can ensure all the fatties aren’t put in the same car, thus seriously compromising its performance. Of course, they might have organised some evening entertainment – perhaps a little weight-graded rugby, followed by an appropriately proportioned escort (not of the Ford variety).

So I told them I’m 8 foot 2 and 4 stone. That’ll fool ’em.

Tomorrow morning I have to get up at the ungodly hour of 4:45. This is ...

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Nissan: Nissan Maxima Spec R 2007 Review

Nissan Maxima Spec R 2007 fq

I have a highly academic and ‘environmentally conscious’ friend who I like to bait with powerful four-wheeled weapons. Not for her the heady thrills of acceleration when a serious intellectual film beckons. Enter the Nissan Maxima Spec R to play leading man — a car less Nicholas Cage’s The Family Man, and more Marlon Brando’s The Godfather.

Team Nissan in Newmarket had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: the Spec R, dressed in its best black tux, not the lithest looking contender, but with a huge presence and packing a powerful punch.

The Maxima’s imposing looks weren’t wasted as my friend is not a total automotive philistine. She got in the car and proclaimed how ‘nice’ it was (she tends to be short of adjectives for automotive beauty). So I baited the hook by telling her it would reach 100kph in about 6.5 seconds and it had 180 tree-hating kilowatts driving the front wheels. Oh, such a look of disdain. “But doesn’t all that just burn lots of fossil fuels.”

Bait taken, hook, line, sinker and pretty much the whole rod. “According to the yellow sticker on the window, the AA independently tested the Maxima and it only uses 8.09l/100km,” I countered, “which is probably less than your 1990 Toyota that’s done 180,000km.”

Ever the feisty one, “Imagine how economical it’d be if it didn’t have all that power”, she smugly added. “Yeah, but it would mean you would have one less thing to be annoyingly righteous about.”

Anyway, friendship over, the serious job of finding out whether this Maxima deserves the moniker of Spec R was underway. A standard Maxima Si looks like a very sensible car, so it’s satisfying that Nissan have given it a bit more excitement in the form of a body kit, larger mags and wheels (18-inch, with 225/45R18 tyres), revised suspension and a rorty exhaust.

And how that exhaust sings the song of the 3.5-litre V6. Every stab of the throttle sees all 1513kg lunge forward, and the pleasure of blasting between corners on a twisty road becomes addictive. What goes quickly must also stop, and the disc brakes with their ABS and EBD assistance are exceptional. The steering is light with not quite enough on-centre feel, and this can cause you to turn in slightly earlier than you want to — not a major for everyday driving, but it took a few kilometres to adjust to the sharp bends where accuracy is important.

The Spec R can chew through the motorway miles with ease, and showing less than 2000rpm when cruising at 100kph in sixth gear, it’s quiet. The driver’s seat hugs you like one of the family and its position is perfect. Less can be said about the rear, unless you’re under 5’10″. Tall passengers can expect to have their hair frequently ruffled against the roof lining. But, passengers generally don’t buy cars, so a quick reminder that the bus is far less thrilling or convenient will shut them up.

The best way to drive the Spec R is to take it out of the CVT auto and change the gears yourself — it’s far more rewarding, and sounds better. It has the sporty edge that you would expect from a car badged a Spec R, and you have to understand that that is what you are buying it for. Yes, the throttle response is probably too aggressive for rush hour, the interior trim is a bit cheap, and it hasn’t got the most intuitive or ergonomic switchgear, but it’s an affordable luxury car with a generous helping of power, not a prestige car. It proves that performance in a large car doesn’t always equal frequent stops at the petrol station, or require a six-figure investment. In many ways it is let down by little flaws, but for the power thirsty, the Maxima Spec R is the don of its class.

Price: from $46,995

Looking to buy a Nissan Maxima?. Click here (opens in a new window)

We like:

  • Power
  • Handling
  • Twin exhausts give a thrilling growl
  • Seats and seating position

We don’t like:

  • Engine noise thrills are dampened by CVT
  • Get better quality speakers if you’ll spend a lot of time in the car
  • Large boot let down by small aperture

Words Darren Cottingham, photos Jared ‘Clutch’ Clark

I have a highly academic and ‘environmentally conscious’ friend wh ...

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FPV (Ford Performance Vehicles): FPV GT 2007 Review

FPV GT 2007 fq

I used to be very shy. I could barely squeak in acknowledgement as our form teacher called out the names in class. Then I got a job at a garage/video store/petrol station a couple of nights a week and on Saturdays. That soon got rid of the shyness. After that I used my new found customer confidence and took a step up the career ladder to McDonalds where I contributed to the obesity of the locals (interestingly, the town I grew up in — Boston, Lincolnshire — is now the fattest town in the UK¦and it could have been because of me!)

What does this have to do with FPV’s GT? Well, it’s orange and sufficiently rare to attract attention. Park it in a crowded car park and people look. People ask questions. Kids point. It’s not for shrinking violets and people with inferiority complexes. But, if you did want to shun human contact it’s got enough grunt — 290kW and 520Nm of torque — to leave the seething masses behind.

The styling is bold, but not over-the-top. From the front, there’s a deep front tri-slot splitter with FPV mesh, spotlights, and optional black Boss 290 stickers on the bonnet bulge. At the back there’s an angular spoiler, rear skirt and twin exhausts (the view most people will see of you). On the side the optional black stripes are punctuated by the enormous 19-inch five-spoke mags wrapped in 245/35ZR19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres that keep the GT glued to the road. FPV’s suspension settings and choice of tyres means it’s quite tame in the dry, even with traction control turned off.

Turn the key, push the button to start and the 5.4-litre Boss 290 V8 Quadcam engine settles into a low hum. Blip the throttle and it never develops into a harsh roar; it’s a smooth and muted note. This translates well into driving comfort. Over long distances, it’s not intrusive, only reminding you when you have to get by something slow. For those occasions, you can either leave the automatic box to figure out what to do, put it in performance auto which kicks down earlier and changes up later, or go with the sequential shift — forwards for down and backwards for up (the proper way, like a racing car).

Having driven the Typhoon a few weeks earlier it was interesting to compare the handling dynamics of the GT. The Typhoon is obviously quicker, but it also seemed to push less on the front end when going hard into a corner. Perhaps the extra mass of the V8 over the straight-six is what caused this. The GT has less willing to pop its tail out of slow corners, and this also is reinforced by its 0-100kph times, which are a good 0.7 seconds slower than the Typhoon.

Braking, though, is like opening a parachute. Its stopping ability, for its weight, is incredible with the optional six-pot Brembos up front and four-pot at the rear. That’s a total of 20 pots — enough to start a catering firm. Even the standard car gets the same 355mm (front) and 328mm (rear) cross-drilled and slotted rotors, though it has four pots at the front and a single one at the rear.

Even without the discontinued Shockwave colour, FPV’s GT brochure shows 46 combinations of colours and stripes with names like Vixen, Silhouette, Ego, Breeze and Toxic. Yes, none of those names really tell you what the colours are, but they sound better than red, dark blue, black, turquoise and lime green.

If you can justify another $7,300 you could look at the GT-P — it has different mags, reversing sensors, upgraded seats (with more power adjustment) the aforementioned premium brake upgrade and some cosmetic detail changes.

I quite like the GT, though I like the straight-six turbo Typhoon better. But if you must have a V8 for the noise and/or the image, the GT’s price point is attractive against Holden’s offerings.

Price: from $71,990

If you’re looking to purchase a FPV GT, click here (opens in a new window)

What we like

  • Easy to drive
  • Looks great
  • Any colour you like (even black)

What we don’t like

  • Needs more power to justify the V8 over the Typhoon or Force 6 Turbo straight-six

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

I used to be very shy. I could barely squeak in acknowledgement as ...

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Blogs: Intelligent key outwits forgetful driver

I’m still trying to get used to the Micra’s key…or rather, lack of it. I sometimes still go to put the key in the non-existent keyhole. The Micra has an Intelligent Key with a transponder. As long as it’s in the car, the car will start. If not it won’t. I haven’t tested throwing it out of the window while driving along to see what happens. Perhaps it’ll lock me in and call the Police!

I'm still trying to get used to the Micra's key...or rather, lack of i ...

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Dodge: Dodge Nitro R/T 2007 Review

Dodge Nitro RT 2007 fq

Dodge’s campaign for the Nitro reads ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ Dodge could have called it the Pharaoh, and used ‘Who’s your Mummy?’ But puns aside is the Nitro really ‘your Daddy’, would you want it to be your Daddy if it wasn’t, and if not who actually is your Daddy?

To answer this plethora of parental pontifications, I took the Nitro to the pony clubs and rolling hills of Whitford, east of Auckland.

The front of the Nitro echoes its bigger pickup brother, the Dodge Ram SRT10. The whole car is purposeful and bulging. With the oversized front it’s like a bodybuilder doing push-ups — muscular and grimacing.

There’s a large fatherly kick up the backside in the form of a 4-litre V6 producing 195kW and 360Nm of torque at 4200rpm, which drives through a five-speed automatic to reach 100kph in less than eight seconds.

Though it’s touted as a capable off-roader (it even has a four-wheel-drive diff lock), with 20-inch mags on each corner I daren’t take it into the squishy stuff. Content to remain on the blacktop I discovered the Nitro’s paternal, domineering presence a reassuring and comfortable drive. Just don’t expect it to corner like it’s a sports car. Occupants sit high up, and this means a high centre of gravity and its consequential body roll. The fat 245/50R20 tyres did as good a job as they could to rein in my boyish exuberance, and disc brakes all round haul the Nitro to a halt effectively.

The weight contribution from the enormous 368W stereo with monster subwoofer in the boot is probably significant. Who cares, though, because in this consummate lifestyle vehicle you can roll up anywhere in the Nitro and bring the party with you. There are five seats, enough luggage space for 832 litres of your favourite beverage (or 1994 litres with the back seats folded), and you can tow 2270kg (braked trailer with the weight distributing hitch). Getting your luggage in and out of the back is assisted by the convenient Load n’ Go loading tray which slides partially out of the boot and will hold 181kg — almost enough for an American to sit on.

The stereo controls are, unusually, on the back of the steering wheel with no markings to tell you which buttons do what. Fortunately learning which side changes the frequency and which buttons control the volume only takes a little while. Cruise control is located on a stalk on the right of the wheel, and the buttons on the wheel itself change the display of the trip computer. This display has other functions: it’s a compass, it gives you a readout of what frequency is on the stereo, and it will even tell you the tyre pressures of each wheel.

The electric folding wing mirrors are heated to help on those frosty winter mornings, as are the front seats, (the driver’s seat is power-adjustable), and a photochromic mirror darkens if traffic is following you at night. The footwell doesn’t suffer transmission tunnel intrusion like it does a bit in the Jeep Wrangler, and overall, the driving position is comfortable.

My partner Jen (who only knows that cars have four wheels and are bad for the environment) said, “Why do they call it a Dodge — it’s more like a hit?” And she might just have it. It’s a smack in the face with standover tactics to political correctness. The Nitro should be your benevolent-but-tough older brother. He’s the one that beats up the kid that picks on you (and a few that don’t), teaches you interesting swearwords and lets you hang out with his much cooler mates. But ‘Who’s your Brother’ just doesn’t have the same ring.

Price: from $50,990 (petrol), or $55,990 (diesel)

There are Dodge Nitros for sale on this website (opens in a new window)

What we like:

  • Styling
  • Power
  • Engine note

What we don’t like:

  • Roads with corners reveal the very conservatively calibrated stability control

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Dodge’s campaign for the Nitro reads ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ Dodge cou ...

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Ford: Ford Territory Turbo Ghia AWD 2007 Review

Ford Territory Turbo Ghia 2007 fq

The Territory Turbo Ghia, while large isn’t overly domineering to other road users. It has a bonnet nostril feeding air into the intercooler (the only major difference from the non-turbo versions) and is extremely well proportioned, sitting almost expectantly ready to launch forwards.

Packing the same 245kW engine out of the Falcon XR6 Turbo, Ford’s Territory Turbo Ghia holsters a 4-litre inline-6 with forced induction. There’s a hint of Bell Jet Ranger as the turbo spools up and then all four wheels grapple with the equation of 480Nm of torque, tarmac plus large mass of steel and cow hide. Surging forwards like it’s been jabbed with a cattle prod, the instantaneous fuel consumption figures on the trip computer start to look scary. You know that when the gauge stops at 99.9 litres per 100km, that it’s actually more than that. Still, that’s no worse than many other large cars when asked to win the traffic light grand prix.

So, to see how economical I could be I planned a trip from Takapuna to Whangaparaoa where, to be as frugal as possible, I would use the cruise control when practical. The Territory’s cruise control is better than many — it doesn’t search for the speed, and it even keeps the right speed going downhill. The problem when using cruise control is you become painfully aware of how woeful many people are at maintaining a constant speed, especially when they get to a hill. I notice if my speed drops from 100 down to 80; some people evidently don’t. Anyway, a quick prod on the accelerator, the atmosphere is gulped in courtesy of the turbo, and you’re by them.

There’s another reason for this trip. The Territory is a seven-seater, and I’m not contraceptively challenged, therefore I need to borrow a child — one is fine; I can’t cope with any more. Fortunately this is where step-brothers come in handy: one step brother to be precise. He’s 11 (well, 11 and a half because that extra half matters), and intensely annoying. The acid test for the Territory is if he shuts up in the back without me having to use chloroform and gaffer tape.

There’s some instant credibility with the reversing camera, which shows on the screen in the central console. The camera has a fisheye lens and can see a 130-degree view and up to 15 metres behind you. He’s impressed with how comfortable the leather seats are, that there are cup holders in the back and storage compartments galore (30 of them), and that when I stamped on the accelerator his youthful neck muscles were given a workout.

We set off for a jaunt around Orewa. It’s 5:30pm. He started feeling drowsy. No, it wasn’t the exciting adult conversation lulling him to sleep. It’s revealed that when he stayed over at his friend’s the night before they were up until 2am growing puppy fat courtesy of the PlayStation.

But it didn’t really matter because 11-year-old passengers don’t buy cars, and I was mostly already convinced of the Territory’s effectiveness in transporting large numbers of people. We have the lower specification Territory TX AWD in our office in which we’ve taken six adults from Auckland to Beach Hop (Whangamata), then across to Super Lap (Taupo) including luggage, and it was fine, if a bit cramped for poor Fred who had the rear seats to himself. And the Turbo Ghia really is a huge step up from that in terms of comfort and driving dynamics.

Instantaneous fuel usage heart attacks aside, the Territory Turbo Ghia used 13.2 litres per 100km average on my trip. On the flat, cruising at 90, it’s very economical, it’s just when you want to accelerate at all that the best part of 2.2 tonnes empties the tank like a step-brother with a Coke — we managed 16.7 for the rest of our time with the Territory.

So, if I had five kids to transport and $72,990 burning a hole in my pocket would I buy the Territory, or would I sell two of the kids and get something else? I like the Territory. I’m not a kids person, but it’s packed full of convenient features. It’s a car that’s immediately easy to drive — it’s comfortable, powerful, looks good and is very practical.

Looking for a Ford Territory Turbo in New Zealand? Check this site out (opens in a new window)


  • Comfort
  • Power
  • Features
  • Interior well thought out
  • Practicality


  • Needs a sports suspension mode to match the power
  • Thirsty
  • Road noise on rough surfaces
  • Like all Fords, the stereo is adequate but not stellar

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

The Territory Turbo Ghia, while large isn’t overly domineering to ...

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Ford: Ford Territory XR Turbo AWD 2007 Review

Ford Territory XR Turbo 2007 fq

We dropped off the Territory Turbo Ghia AWD and picked up the Territory XR Turbo AWD to do a comparison. So what difference does nine grand make? The answer is, quite a bit, but only really on the inside.

You see, get rid of the leather, the chunky steering wheel, some of the electric motors in the power adjustable seat and the third row of seats (which are optional for the XR Turbo), and you save yourself 50kg (down to 2125kg). As a result, the four-litre, 245kW engine feels as eager, the brakes work as effectively, and it still could do with a sports suspension mode to match the six-speed Sequential Sports Shift gearbox.

All-in-all, the performance hasn’t really changed at all, the XR Turbo feeling perhaps fractionally more responsive. This could be a result of the seats not being quite so plush, though. I found that I drove relatively slowly in the Ghia because of the comfort; the XR Turbo, while still being more than adequate for my unpadded bottom, does less to tame my impatience.

There’s not dual climate control like you have in the Ghia, but you still get steering wheel-mounted cruise control and stereo controls. The stereo is the 100W version (down from 150W, but doesn’t sound worse than the Ghia’s – I’ll resist the temptation to get all nerdy and explain why 150W is barely different to 100W anyway). The stereo and climate control are represented on a smaller LCD, which doesn’t have as many functions as in the Ghia’s colour LCD. Consequently the trip computer moves to the dials, and shows average and instantaneous fuel usage, elapsed trip time, average speed and the distance until you’ll need to fill up with premium again.

The same safety features are present on both models: ABS, dynamic stability control, and traction control. Not that you need the traction control unless you’re on Teflon-coated ice or are prepared to pull some fairly ridiculous manoeuvres to get the all-wheel-drive to break free.

This grip gives you a good reason to buy a Territory for a towing wagon. The standard towbar will pull up to 1600kg, though with an unbraked trailer the maximum limit is 1000kg. Upgrade this to the heavy duty towpack that has probably been forged by a man with arms the size of my torso, and 480Nm of torque enables you to pull 2300kg in a braked trailer.

Other than the interior fitout, it’s pretty much the same car. There’s not much to distinguish the two on the exterior. Aside from the badging, the trainspotters will notice the lack of reversing sensors in the bumper, rear camera (which is hidden near the boot handle, and the roof spoiler (which is standard on the XR Turbo, but optional on the Turbo Ghia). They both get 18-inch wheels with 235/55R18 tyres, concealing large vented disc brakes with twin-piston callipers up front and single piston callipers at the rear.

If you’re hankering for the extra creature comforts (and those extra two seats as standard), the Ghia is for you, but other than that, the XR Turbo does the job.

Price: from $63,990.

Click this link to view Ford Territorys for sale (opens in a new window)


  • Power
  • Interior well thought out
  • Practicality


  • Needs a sports suspension mode to match the power
  • Thirsty
  • Road noise on rough surfaces
  • Like all Fords, the stereo is adequate but not stellar

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

We dropped off the Territory Turbo Ghia AWD and picked up the Terr ...

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