Blogs: Nitro and GT photoshoot

We shot the Nitro and the GT today out in East Auckland (usually we go West…especially for a V8 like the GT). The guy on the MV Augusta crotch rocket seemed keen to race, but even with the best part of 400 horses I was lost in his rather meagre helping of dust around the twisty bits.

The Nitro’s a different story: it prefers roads like its design ethic: straight lines.

We shot the Nitro and the GT today out in East Auckland (usually we go ...

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Blogs: Shrinking violets: FPV GT vs Dodge Nitro

I used to be really shy. I’d barely be able to squeak my name out in the class role call. That all changed when, at 15, I went to work at a petrol station-cum-garage-cum-video store in the hamlet of High Ferry, Lincolnshire. I’d do a couple of nights a week plus a Saturday – it was pretty slow most of the time so I got a lot of homework done, but I also had to learn to talk to people. All sorts of people with varying levels of personal hygiene. I really hated it at first. Then, after a while, I hated it slightly less. Still, it paid for my RC car racing (I got right through to the regional finals).
I pick up the Dodge Nitro today. With its enormous presence, plus the orange FPV GT that I’m already driving it’s a good job I don’t mind people looking at me and asking questions. Well, actually, they’re not looking at me, they’re mostly looking at the car with a cursory glance to see who is driving. But, if I get out of the car in a crowded area, there’s always someone who wants to know more, but thank god it’s nothing like standing behind a counter taking money for nudie flicks and wiper blades.

I used to be really shy. I'd barely be able to squeak my name out in t ...

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Mazda: Mazda CX-7 2007 Review

Mazda CX-7 2007 fq

In my former life as a sound engineer I’d burn a mix of a track to CD to play in the car to check how it sounded with rubbish speakers. If it sounded good in the car as well as through the expensive studio monitors, it was on its way to a good mix. The problem with the CX-7 is that the stereo sounds so damn good you couldn’t use this method, you’d have to resort to other weapons in the quest for a perfect mixdown: the crap TV or old transistor radio.

But you’re not reading this for recording studio tips; you want to know how the CX-7 drives. The answer is extremely well. It’s satisfying that Mazda have packed the four-cylinder, all-aluminium 2.3-litre turbocharged engine from the Mazda6 MPS into the CX-7. They have stripped 15kW and 30Nm from it, but the remaining 175kW and 350Nm of torque propel the 1745kg beast to 100kph in 8.5 seconds. The auto ‘box is fine, but for more control you can use the sequential manual which has the gears the proper racing way around (push forward to change down, pull back to change up). The acceleration is occasionally hampered by its refusal to kick down when you want it, and it’s not quite linear (mainly through changing up too late if you leave it in auto), but in a car this size, it’s welcome.

Under normal driving conditions 100% of the power is routed to the front wheels, but if they start to slip, Mazda’s Active Torque Split transfers up to 50% of the power to the rears in a fraction of a second. Add traction control, sports-inspired suspension (MacPherson strut at the front and multi-link at the back) and meaty 235/60R18s on all four corners and you have to really try hard to unsettle it. Braking is also good for a car this size – EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and EBA (emergency brake assist) ensure the right amount of force is applied to the ventilated discs in a panic situation.

Inside you’re not getting that much more room (if any) than you’d get in a class-leading station wagon (for example, Subaru’s Outback has pretty much the same cargo space), but there are some nice touches. The split rear seats can be flattened with a convenient handle release in the boot and there are a multitude of pockets and storage areas.

The driving position is comfortable. Leather seats (electric on the driver’s side), are heated and supportive. A 3-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel housing controls for the stereo and cruise control and frames the MX-5-inspired dials. The speedo dial is the biggest flaw in the layout. It needs to be rotated 90 degrees clockwise so that the needle is pointing near 12 o’clock when doing 100, not 180. The middle of the dash houses a large red LED readout for the trip computer, stereo and climate control which, incidentally, has pollen filters and independent heating ducts in the rear. From the outside the wing mirrors don’t look big, but on the inside they look enormous like Mickey Mouse’s ears and actually make the interior feel smaller than it is, and they need a convex edge to them to help eliminate the blindspot from the thick B-pillar.

The windscreen’s acute rake means there is an acre of room across the top of the dash. Three speakers sit there, reinforcing the woofers in the doors, creating an audible stage like a PA at a rock concert. It’s unusual to hear such crystal clear stereo separation in a standard car stereo, but the six-disc, MP3-compatible Bose system delivers 240W of spacious performance across all types of music using no less than nine speakers and Bose’s Centrepoint technology. And, now I’m back on the stereo again, so it’s probably time to wrap this up.

In my recording days, the only crossover I knew of was in the back of my speakers, but a crossover vehicle is a fusion of SUV practicality with car (or sportscar) handling. In that respect the CX-7 can proudly wear the crossover badge. Because of the enormous wheels and wing mirrors it is much bigger in the flesh than it looks in the pictures. It stands over 1.6m high and is almost 1.9m wide, but while many new SUVs look like a block of melting butter, the CX-7 is styled well — almost wedge-like at the front, with muscular haunches at the rear.

In addition to the ample ‘zoom-zoom’, the CX-7 has more than enough ‘boom-boom’ through the excellent stereo. The four-wheel drive will appeal to families that want added safety, the versatility of the load space is excellent, and at $48,995 it’s well-priced. In fact, if you’re a hayfever-suffering music lover you could spend all summer in here!

Price: from $48,995

Click here to view Mazda CX-7s for sale

What we like:

  • Stereo
  • Power
  • Handling
  • Versatility
  • Quiet

What we don’t like:

  • Some of the instrumentation is flawed
  • Difficult to judge the front
  • Blind spots
  • Too quiet to be truly sporty

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

In my former life as a sound engineer I’d burn a mix of a track to ...

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Road Tests / Car Reviews: Subaru Tribeca 3.0R Luxury 2007 Review

Subaru Tribeca 2007 fq

Tribeca is a thriving suburb of Manhattan — a syllabic abbreviation of “Triangle Below Canal Street”. While property developers such as Donald Trump revitalise the area, which is now one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the US, we’re going to find out whether Subaru’s Tribeca plays apprentice to the second and third generation SUVs of other car manufacturers.

With its optional 20-inch alloys and mesh grille, and finished in obsidian black pearl, the Tribeca looks prepared to whisk away an emerging mop-haired property mogul from a media frenzy. Fortunately, The Donald’s five offspring and current wife can also travel in style as it’s a seven-seater.

Downtown Manhattan’s bumper-to-bumper traffic would be the perfect place to test the Tribeca’s superb rear DVD entertainment system to keep the passengers quiet. Flip the nine-inch, roof-mounted screen down, insert a DVD (maybe ‘The Colour of Money’), start it with the remote control, and the audio plays either through the main nine-speaker (with subwoofer) audio system, or via two sets of wireless headphones. There’s also a six-stacker CD player and an auxiliary input for an MP3 player. Comfort in the back is right on the money: the rear seats can move forwards or backwards, and there is a separate rear cabin air conditioning system.

With ‘Luxury’ in the name, you would expect the front to be as plush. Both seats are power adjustable and heated. Gauges, switches and dials are all futuristic and easy to use. Leather adorns the seats, most of the plastics are soft, and dual climate control means no one will lose their cool.

Seatbelt pretensioners and active headrests in the front prepare occupants for an impending crash, while dual front, dual front side and curtain airbags adjust their speed of deployment depending on the severity of impact should the ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist not be enough. All these features have resulted in a 5-star ANCAP occupant safety rating: basically you could crash it into a casino and come out OK.

To get yourself into this sort of situation though, some speed is required. The Tribeca carries the same horizontally opposed, three-litre, six-cylinder engine from the Outback, marshalling a quite reasonable 180kW at 6600rpm, and 297Nm of torque at 4200rpm — enough to give a nine-second 0-100kph time. It’s transferred to the wheels by a five-speed auto. There’s a sports mode which makes it more responsive, or you can drive it in sequential manual mode. Subaru are experts at four-wheel drive. Their Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system supplies full-time power to all four wheels, giving the Subie an advantage in towing. In fact, the Tribeca will happily pull a braked trailer up to 2000kg.

If you’re being followed by a Tribeca it’s an intimidating presence, but when you’re in the vehicle it feels less like an SUV and more like a large car. There’s a lot of ground clearance (215mm), but the low centre of gravity from the boxer engine, coupled with suspension honed from years of rally experience means the Tribeca doesn’t roll as much as some other SUVs. Out on the open road it effortlessly eats up the corners.

The billion dollar question is whether you should consider the Tribeca for your tribe of progeny. It’s not a driver’s vehicle — it’s designed to get a small crowd from one place to another in relative comfort, not set the pace through the forest. However, a comb over the specs makes for impressive reading, therefore bad hairstyle or not, if I had five or six people to transport, and $73,000, I’d be tempted to say, “You’re hired!”

Price: from $72,990

Interested in purchasing a Subaru Tribeca? This website has secondhand ones for sale.

What we like:

  • Power
  • Entertainment system
  • Versatility
  • Handling
  • 20-inch wheels (on our test vehicle)
  • Datadot security

What we don’t like:

  • Some of the optional extras should be standard (boot blind, reversing sensors)
  • Harsh engine noise when pushed
  • Standard 18-inch wheels look too small

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Tribeca is a thriving suburb of Manhattan — a syllabic abbreviatio ...

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Blogs: Giving away Territory for an FPV GT

I made a mistake. I should have taken the Territory back on Friday, but with the hectic schedule of cars over the next week (and the number of photoshoots I’ve been on), I misread my diary. Still, I didn’t have time over the weekend to do any serious driving, so it wasn’t a great loss. I arrived at Ford this morning and pulling in the driveway desperately hoped that I’d be planting my buttcheeks in the bright orange 290kW GT parked out front.

I’m now a V8-powered tangerine.

I made a mistake. I should have taken the Territory back on Friday, bu ...

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Blogs: Raise the driving age to 21?

Of course, I can say this because I’m over 21, but I’m inclined to agree with the UK House of Commons Transport Committee. They’ve recommended a rise in minimum age to 18 to cut deaths on the road. Figures from 2005 show that there were 19.2 deaths for every 100,000 motorists aged 17 to 21, a worrying rise of 55% compared to 1992. And in NZ we have a ridiculous 15! Some kids haven’t gone through puberty at that age, and they definitely wouldn’t be adept enough to text and drive at the same time like an 18-year-old would.

But that’s not all: according to the latest research by Motorpoint, the UK’s largest car supermarket, 66% of respondents to a poll on the company’s website think that increasing the age by only one year would not have enough of an impact, and that in fact it should rise by four years to 21. Of course, there’s probably a huge margin of error, but they don’t state what. This wouldn’t work in NZ because of our rubbish public transport system, but it could reduce obesity because the chubby ones would find they’d have to walk or bike places. There you go: a double-whammy. Cut obesity, reduce deaths on the road.

70% of 17-year olds in the UK now drive themselves to work, but a new legal minimum age of 18 in the UK, would both fall in line with other European states and help alleviate the growing concern that every year 50,000 of them now pass their driving test with less than six months’ driving experience, according to the Association of British Insurers, which is equally reflected by the results from the Motorpoint poll.

Of course, I can say this because I'm over 21, but I'm inclined to agr ...

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Blogs: Hello Holden Captiva Maxx

We picked up a burgundy Holden Captiva Maxx today. I’ve given it to Phil to review so that I don’t make any pipe and slippers comments about the colour…oops, I just made one. Anyway, in the world of easy-to-drive cars, the Captiva sits near the top of the ladder. It’s got practicality written all over it. But it’s not a 1968 Lamborghini Espada 400.

We picked up a burgundy Holden Captiva Maxx today. I've given it to Ph ...

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Hyundai: Hyundai Tiburon V6 Coupe 2007 Review

Hyundai Tiburon V6 coupe 2007 fq

I’ll be honest from the outset, I really wanted to hate the Hyundai, especially given some of the notoriety and stigma that surrounded the previous iteration with its jelly mould shape. So is the six speed manual, front-wheel-drive V6 a firm-but-silky-smooth chocolate cake of a car or a wobbling bowl of coloured gelatine?

After familiarising myself with the Italianesque looks I jumped right in and turned the key. I was met with deafening sound of silence as I encountered one of the Tiburon’s many great safety features: requiring the user to depress the clutch first. No more starting in gear and lurching forward then! Bettered at the very outset it was 1 – 0 to the Hyundai. Damn.

So then to the first real test — the peak-time commuter grind in Auckland traffic — where I was going to equalise with ease. With a torquey 2.7-litre engine under the hood you could expect a beefy clutch, possibly taking both feet to depress, but not so here. The clutch travel and bite was in fact perfect for stop-start driving, complemented well by the exceptionally quiet V6 engine, making short work of the boring slow bit of the journey. Ahem 2 – 0.

As the traffic gradually clears its time to pay more attention to motorway cruising manners. As you work your way up through the gears you notice the close ratios of the gearbox work well with the engine to keep the horizon coming. The gear shift has a long throw which is unsuited to the close ratios, and when cold you need the precision and speed of Bruce Lee to make any swift changes. Once you are into sixth and with clear roads ahead you can ‘engage’ cruise control to make life easier. The controls are located on the steering wheel, which is handy, but they do have a tendency to brush your knees or clip your fingers when twirling the wheel. 2 – 1 then.

On with the biggest challenge: off to Pak ‘n Save then for the monthly food shop. An hour later and $500 lighter we arrived at the back of the Hyundai with two large trolleys, it was one of those ‘bugger’ moments when you envisaged leaving your better half at the store while you did one of two trips to get the goods home. But its boot is more spacious than you would expect, and with a few bags next to my son in the back it was all sorted — I was stunned; in fact embarrassed at 3 – 1 now.

With the shopping unloaded and passengers disembarked it was time to test whether the Tiburon is the life and soul of the party, or a wallflower. The V6 produces 127Kw at 6000rpm and 245 of Sir Isaac’s ‘Newton Metres’ at 4000rpm, the dash to 100 takes 8.4 seconds, delivered in a sophisticated, if quiet, manner even with a hint of ‘whistle or whine’ á la turbo cars, I might add.

Driving along the twisty stuff with constant camber and elevation changes I found what I was looking for. With the Electronic Stability Programme off and the hammer down the chassis came alive, delivering a controlled and positively understeer-free performance. It was so unexpected, yet utterly satisfying and rewarding to finally unleash the true capabilities of the Tiburon. That makes it 4 – 1 then¦

Delving further into what makes the Hyundai Tiburon go, I was disgusted to find there was even something to please the Greenies amongst us. Apparently it can accept biofuel levels well above the targets set for diesel and petrol by the Government. Hyundai NZ even run their press fleet on a 10% mix of the stuff (E10). Time for an early bath then with a resounding 5 -1 to the Tiburon.

For a little light entertainment it was time to find some driving music on the MP3/wma compatible CD player. It has all the usual accoutrements you would expect plus an input for your iPod too, so that your kids can plug their tunes in when they’ve heard too much 80s stuff. Accidentally hitting one of the preset FM radio stations the cabin was filled with The Who’s iconic ‘Who Are You’; ironic then that this was the question being asked of the Tiburon.

I think the answer is that it’s the best value coupe on the market, having now truly come of age. There are no cars in its price range to match, and with a slight air of exclusivity about it, it looked the part on my driveway. But can you have your cake and eat it? Not quite. If you are over six feet tall, driving it is difficult. The gearshift is notchy, there are pointless dials (e.g. torque meter) in the dash, and for a V6 sports coupe its refusal to give you pleasurable audio feedback as the revs rise diminishes the satisfaction. Still, it beat me 5 – 1, and until another manufacturer can bring a similarly specced and priced car to the party the Tiburon is certainly nothing to trifle with.

If you want to increase the whizz-bang factor then you could do worse than look at this site for inspiration and parts

Price: from $39,990

Looking to purchase a Hyundai Coupe? Click here to view Coupes for sale

What we like

  • Silky smooth V6
  • New shape a step up on the old design
  • Sorted chassis
  • Leather interior and semi-bucket seats are comfortable
  • 17″ y-spoke wheels look the part
  • Bit of personality to be found when you want it

What we don’t like

  • Long throw shift
  • Location of cruise control
  • Rear ¾ blind spot visibility is quite limited
  • Door trim handle – will wear/mark quickly
  • More steering feel required

Words: Phil Clark; Photos: Darren Cottingham

I'll be honest from the outset, I really wanted to hate the Hyunda ...

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