Tracks: Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

An unusual but likeable location for a track, Albert Park can be found just outside the Melbourne CBD. Usually the season opener for F1 it gets plenty of attention from media as well as fans alike. For a city circuit though it is unusual in that its road surfaces are smooth and are not subjected to a huge amount of everyday traffic life.

Its pleasant waterside park-like environment is certainly one of its drawcards, as is its relative ease to learn and drive, and at 5.3Km its quite long too. Although hosting other small races from time to time, it only really gets prepared and used once a year for F1, and rumours are that Bernie wants a night time race on the Gold Coast. Strewth, crikey mate!

Visit the Albert Park website.

By Phil Clark

An unusual but likeable location for a track, Albert Park can be f ...

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Opinion Pieces: Road rage and breathing deeply

Miami was voted the city with the worst road rage in America in 2007, which would make it the most roadragious (did I just make a word up?) It lead one comedian to joke that it’s because people aged 20 are doing 95 and people aged 95 are doing 20.
But that’s probably just one of the causes, most of which are a result of our technology-infused, hyperactive lives exacerbating our inadequate ability to control our emotions. After all, humans have always got angry over trivial things — other people’s religions, the neighbour’s dog poohing where it shouldn’t, and their sports teams losing.
Back in April, New Scientist magazine wrote about what the electronic age is doing to our brains. To summarise their article, scientists have found that playing violent video games and watching violence on TV desensitises us to it, and separates the consequences of it from us. You can kill multiple people, steal cars, blow things up and cause mayhem, with the only result being a fatty heart and aching thumbs.
It’s not like we haven’t had violence for the past few thousand years. Life three hundred years ago was still permeated with wars, murders, hangings and the like, but it’s our overall level of politeness that has dropped. Declining courtesy in New Zealand rarely rates as news like it would in, for example, Singapore where a minor altercation between a student and bus driver can be major news.
Unfortunately, I feel that therapists are not the cure either as they often circumvent the human mind’s ability to deal with things itself by prolonging (and deepening) people’s thoughts about it. Which leaves us to deal with the issues ourselves. Some people listen to classical music, others cry when they get home, but I’ve always found a good blast through the countryside very cathartic. Consider this: your car is the only form of enclosed transport in which you can enjoy the emissions of your own digestion without offending others. So when the next person cuts you off, release one into the atmosphere, breathe deeply and thank the gods you’re not in a crowded bus.

Words Darren Cottingham

Miami was voted the city with the worst road rage in America in 2007, ...

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Opinion Pieces: Engines and Drivetrains Explained

Where do they go and what does it mean?

Mid-engined

While the majority of cars have their engine over the front wheels, which allows better carrying capacity, mid-engine cars offer a more favourable weight distribution. The engine usually sits just in front of the rear axle, behind the passenger compartment. This usually means that mid-engine cars are two-seaters as the engine intrudes into what would be used for the rear passenger space. The advantages include better handling, better braking (because the rear wheels have more weight over them), improved acceleration (where they’re rear-wheel drive as well), and a smoother ride. Because the engine is not directly facing into the wind, vents, air scoops, and additional radiators may have to be used to keep the engine cool. Common mid-engined cars are Ford GT, Lotus Elise, Porsche Boxster and Ferrari 355.

MR, MFWD and MF

Almost all mid-engined cars are rear-wheel drive (MR), though some are four-wheel drive, like the Bugatti Veyron, and one or two were even mid-engined front wheel drive (e.g. Citroen DS).

FMR

A front-mid (FM) engine sits just behind the front axle, and combined with rear-wheel drive gives a better weight distribution than a front-rear (FR) car, where the engine is over the front axle. Examples include the Maserati Quattroporte, Mazda RX-7, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and Dodge Viper.

Rear-engined

The Porsche 911 is the most developed rear-engine rear-wheel drive car in the world, having had over 40 years of incremental iterations to hone its engineering. Rear-engined cars are where the centre of gravity of the motor is behind the rear axle. They’re notoriously difficult to make stable because the engine acts like a pendulum, meaning once that back end steps around it’s more difficult to control than an excited puppy.

Front-engined

Front-engined, front-wheel drive cars (FF) are the safe choice for the average motorist. They understeer when pushed hard, and they give more room in the cabin because the cars don’t need a transmission tunnel through to the back wheels. Most family cars are FF.

Front-engined, rear-wheel drive cars (FR) are the choice for many a sports car and muscle car. Common cars include the Toyota Altezza (Lexus IS200), most BMWs and Mercedes saloons/sedans, and the Corvette Z06.

Four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD)

FWD gives the ultimate grip, but saps engine power with all the extra moving parts. Some cars have viscous centre differentials so that power is channelled only to either the front or rear unless they start to skid, then the diff apportions more power to the other wheels.

Words Darren Cottingham

Where do they go and what does it mean? Mid-engined While the majo ...

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Opinion Pieces: A Subaru WRX STI Version 8 Type-RA Spec C by any other name would drive as sweet

Names of cars can achieve mythical status, and this is why teams of branding people spend millions of dollars ensuring that names like the Nissan Cedric happen as infrequently as possible. But, they do slip through, either as a result of a poor translation or a looming home-time deadline on a Friday afternoon.

Car names evoke emotions, and emotions invoke opening your wallet. So, before you’re suckered in, check out these tricks:

Car names as animals and birds

There will never be a Ford Wombat. No, it must be deadly, like the Shelby Cobra or Dodge Viper; stealthy but swift, like the Ford Puma; elegant and graceful like the Triumph Stag; efficient and ruthless killers like the Ford Falcon or Plymouth Barracuda; or it can be a prey animal as long as it’s in a noble, workmanlike, industrious way, like the Hyundai Pony, Dodge Ram, and Volkswagen Beetle.

Car names as places

Giving a car a desirable place name gives it added credibility, even if the car is bad (that means you, Hyundai Santa Fe and Pontiac/Opel Le Mans). The Americans love naming their cars after places¦usually their own places seeing as the vast majority of them only know about other countries if they’re at war with them. So, the Shelby Daytona Coupe, Pontiac Bonneville, Dodge Dakota and Chevrolet Tahoe all fit the bill.

Car names as mythical creatures

TVR do a good line in dredging up names from Greek mythology — Cerbera and Chimera, for example — but other manufacturers have also dabbled, such as the Renault Clio (Muse of History) and the various incarnations of the Phaeton (son of Helios and the Sun). They’re not making any more mythology, though, so the number of names is limited.

People’s names on cars

This one has a mixed track record. At one end we have the Ferraris (Enzo and Dino), and at the other we have the aforementioned Cedric and the Ford Edsel. Nissan kept the trend alive with the Silvia, and the Serena. It’s probably best to steer clear of names, especially ones like Rupert and Hitler.

Names in other languages

As most of the major car manufacturers are from non-English-speaking countries it’s hardly surprising that many names derive from other languages such as Lupo (wolf), Viva (alive), Astra (stars) and Ignis (fire).

Numbers, series and classes

Probably the safest, and the ultimate cop out, is to use a series of numbers or classes. Mercedes has an enormous range of classes — A-class, B-class, C-class, CLK-class, CLS-class, E-class, GL-class, M-class, R-class, S-class, SL-class and SLK-class, not to mention the AMG-tuned range. BMW has its 1-series, 3-series, 5-series, 6-series, 7-series, M-series, X-series and Z-series, and then there’s the crossover with the Z4M¦confusing! Peugeot has a monopoly on numbers with a zero in the middle, after objecting to Porsche’s use of 901-909 (hence the birth of the 911). But, they did not challenge Ferrari over their 208GT4 and 308GT4, and they would most likely leave 007 alone.

There are also overused letters — GT, RS, R, GTR, L, LX, T, etc. Adding a letter on the end often means you get one or two extra features, but it now seems more sporty or luxurious in your mind.

Names that are ridiculously long

With the plethora of initials and names, we’re presented with names that are so long that by the time you’ve finished reciting them you’ve forgotten how you started. Peugeot’s 206 GTI 180 has nine syllables without the manufacturer’s name, and don’t even go there with Subaru and Mitsubishi’s rally weapons, or anything tuned by a third party like Nismo, Alpina, Rinnspeed, Techart or Brabus.

Invented names

Jackaroo, Korando, Ceed, Impreza, Exige, Hiace, Legnum. Would an infinite number of monkeys on typewriters come up with some of these? Probably not.

Names that should never have been

A Hummer is English slang for flatulence, Pajero is often used in Mexico to mean ‘one who pleasures himself’, and Toyota’s Enima is far too close to enema. But, the popular urban legend around Chevy’s Nova meaning ‘does not go’ in Spanish is not true.

Real words

Discovery, Polo, Legacy, Commodore, Accord, Laser. Well, let’s just thumb through a dictionary until something pops up. There’s always the problem of trademark infringement or accidentally picking a name that has a non-competing undesirable product though, so prep those intellectual property lawyers!

So, you can always modify a real word slightly: Integra, Multipla, Agila, Previa, Octavia. Shove an a on the end of a word, and you’re on your way.

Are all the cool names used?,

Well, if you want to get the .com of your new car name, you’d better be prepared to make up something wacky. The more history we have, the less opportunity there is for cool new names, but the more opportunity there is for resurrecting evocative older names. With global markets naming is more complex than ever, so suddenly those numbers and codes look mighty attractive.

Words Darren Cottingham

Real words

Discovery, Polo, Legacy, Commodore, Accord, Accord, Laser. Well, let’s just thumb through a dictionary until something pops up. There’s always the problem of trademark infringement or accidentally picking a name that has a non-competing undesirable product though, so prep those intellectual property lawyers!

So, you can always modify a real word slightly: Integra, Multipla, Agila, Previa, Octavia. Shove an a on the end of a word, and you’re on your way.

Are all the cool names used?

Well, if you want to get the .com of your new car name, you’d better be prepared to make up something wacky. The more history we have, the less opportunity there is for cool new names, but the more opportunity there is for resurrecting evocative older names. With global markets naming is more complex than ever, so suddenly those numbers and codes look mighty attractive.

Words Darren Cottingham,

Names of cars can achieve mythical status, and this is why teams of br ...

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Renault: Renault Scenic II Dynamique 2007 Review

Renault Scenic II

Renault’s aptly named Scenic II is perfectly tailored to travelling whilst observing. Riding in it feels like you’re somehow on a scenic lookout. It’s not tall like an SUV, because you still feel like it’s a car, but it’s a car on tiptoes trying to sneak glimpses of a more distant horizon.
The horizon certainly won’t be appearing at speed, though, because the two-litre engine musters only 98kW. What it does do with flair, however, is transport lots of people (well, up to five of them), animals and/or stuff.
The front and rear bumpers have been redesigned, with the grille gaining more prominence. Headlights and taillights have been brought up-to-date (i.e. LEDs), and the equipment and interior trim levels in our test ‘Dynamique’ model are an improvement. More sound deadening means you can enjoy the six-disc in-dash, MP3-compatible CD player, and there are the driver assists such as steering column-mounted audio controls, light and rain sensors, and climate control. Safety is also good with six airbags and a five-star NCAP crash rating.
In the rush hour test it performed boringly well. It was exceptionally comfortable and the seating position gives a superior view of the surrounding traffic. To escape the tedium I took it to a windy road and again, it coped better than I expected. All its digital trickery (Electronic Stability Programme, Electronic Brake Distribution, etc) prevented me from falling into the scenery. If only it had another 40kW to play with, it would be a really fun drive.
Its extreme practicality must make it the favourite of many an upwardly mobile breeding female with family dog and accoutrements — up to 400 litres of them in the boot, which is easily enough to pack a camping holiday. In fact, there’s almost enough room to have a revolution in there. Renault have thought about who will be travelling in this car, so there are lots of friendly features for rear passengers. As well as sunblinds on the passenger windows, on the back of the driver and passenger seats there are fold-down trays with cup holders. The tray is airline-style, and big enough for a small laptop, or a kid’s book. There’s even a fold-down mirror in the front so you can keep an eye on the little tykes.

Each rear seat is independently movable — it will slide forwards or backwards — and the seats can be individually completely removed from the Scenic giving you a huge load space. One niggle is that you can’t easily drop the back seats forwards via the boot — you have to open the passenger door to get at the handle. Fold down a seat, though, and it will comfortably fit several snowboards. There are also a reasonable number of cubby holes under seats and in doors, but none of them fit a water bottle except for the enormous central binnacle.
Starting the Renault is a function hampered by security. Insert the black credit card-sized key into the dash to disable the immobiliser then press a button to start the engine. This sort of process has a certain (tolerable) presence with an Aston Martin, but as the Scenic’s engine bursting into life isn’t accompanied by eight cylinders piercing the tranquillity it seems tiresome.
The Scenic II is a trendy looking car, and its ‘bottom’ (a contentious styling issue on the Megane) has had some nip and tuck. It is practicality packaged with a little French design flair, and for a smidge under 43 grand, it’s great value for money.

Looking to purchase a Renault Scenic? Click here to view Scenics for sale

Price: from $42,990

What we like:

  • Styling
  • It’s quiet
  • Brakes are keen
  • It’s tres practical
  • Price is good
  • User controllable speed limiter

What we don’t like:

  • Lack of power (exacerbated by the gear ratios)
  • Engine harshness between 100-110kph
  • Difficult to get a comfortable seating position without being quite upright

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Renault’s aptly named Scenic II is perfectly tailored to travellin ...

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Blogs: Thank the Chinese for $2 sunglasses

I had enough. Another pair of moderately expensive sunglasses lost to a press car somewhere. So, from now on I’m only buying $2 sunglasses.

What’s happened with sunnies is that for $2 you can now get what looks like a $200 pair of sunglasses because the Chinese manufacturers don’t exactly respect the intellectual property of Gucci, Prada and YSL.

And the same goes for cars – Lifan’s Mini ripoff debuted earlier this year; another company released a car that looked remarkably similar to a smart fortwo. Even Great Wall (which will be coming to New Zealand) has a ute that looks like a couple of other manufacturers’ utes have been smooshed together.

Is it that cars are now designed on a computer by a committee and almost all of the really distinctive shapes within the realms of practicality have already been and gone? Certainly there’s less opportunities for radical design on sunglasses, and therefore any design might look like something that was or is already made by a ‘designer’ company somewhere.

Perhaps (and this has been said by many before me), it’s that Chinese industry is great a copying and not so great at innovation?

It’s just a pity they can’t make a 1kg block of tasty cheese for $2.

I had enough. Another pair of moderately expensive sunglasses lost to ...

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Nissan: Nissan 350Z Coupe 2007 Review

Nissan 350Z fq

When you open the boot of Nissan’s 350Z there are two striking things: one is the sheer size of the rear strut brace (which takes up a reasonable proportion of the space), and the other is the sticker that explains how you can fit two golf bags in the remaining miniscule area.  Obviously aimed at the American market, this sticker is a not-so-subtle hint that the boot can actually fit more than you’d think.

Nissan 350Z golf stickerThe 2007 350Z has come a fair way [pun intended] from the previous incarnation. The looks are subtly different, and along with a raft of minor changes, it is more powerful. Now sporting 358Nm of torque, its 230kW is transferred efficiently through the 18-inch, 245 profile rears. There’s sufficient urge that I inadvertently uttered a phrase I never thought I would: it has enough power. The team uttered a collective gasp, so let me quantify that: for the money the 350Z, as a driver’s car, is one of the best I have driven, and this particular one has the five-speed automatic ‘box, as opposed to the six-speed manual. The problem with powerful, torquey, rear-wheel drive autos is unexpected kickdown half way through a bend when driving ‘with spirit.’ Now, this problem can be eliminated as there’s a responsive sequential gearshift so you can choose to be in the right gear if you want, but I’d guess most people will leave it in automatic.

The main visual difference in the Z is the bonnet’s ‘power bulge’ which conceals the bellowing 3.5-litre V6. Peering over the bulge from the electronically adjustable leather driver’s seat has the same sensation as being in the first carriage as the rollercoaster edges its way towards the inevitable steep drop. Push the right hand pedal and you know you’re about to experience some extreme acceleration, it may be accompanied by screams (of joy, of course), and you know you’ll survive intact with a grin on your face. The 350Z holds the road like the rollercoaster does to its track, assisted by Vehicle Dynamic Control, Traction Control System and suspension that inspires confidence while never being crashy or harsh. Push into a corner and you can tell the electronics are working. Mild understeer is accompanied by buzzes and vibrations back through the pedals and in the engine bay to let you know that your excesses have been regulated by computer chips.

To haul the 350Z back, step on the drilled aluminium brake pedal and the Brembos clamp ventilated disks all round, augmented by ABS, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Distribution. If all these acronyms don’t manage to keep you on the tarmac there are six airbags and seatbelt pretensioners (SRS). In the case of a severe frontal impact the brake pedal is designed to move out of the way, and the engine and driveshaft will break away.

If this all sounds rather too exhilarating for you on your way to play the back 9, it is possible (with restraint) to drive the Z sedately. Slip a suitably relaxing CD in the six-stacker, turn the heated seat on and let 240W of Bose audio wash over you.

On the brand level, sitting in the Z embodies the anticipation of what’s just beyond that bulge, beckoning you to press the accelerator to get there more quickly. It’s golf with a nitrous-assisted cart and a caffeine-fuelled caddy, and one where the drive is perfect just about every time. The 350Z has entered my top ten list of favourite cars. It didn’t score a hole-in-one, but it’s on the green and near the cup.

Looking to buy a 350Z? Click here (opens in a new window)

Price: Coupe 5-speed auto (as tested): $72,990

What we like

  • Noise, oh that noise
  • Power
  • Handling

What we don’t like

  • You can’t put anything in the boot without it being on show
  • I’m still not a fan of the switchgear

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

When you open the boot of Nissan’s 350Z there are two striking thi ...

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Blogs: Spring is the road kill season

Spring brings with it some awesome things, the beginnings of summer, daylight savings, running-shoe-wearing girls walking in pairs around the suburbs. But one darker, less discussed element of Spring is that it’s road kill season. Hardly a recommended dinner table topic (unless road kill is the main course) road kill is an unspoken reality of kiwi life.

We exist closely with all sorts of native species, and there are occasions when our paths cross except us humans are in 1.5 tonnes of metal cutting a track at 100kph and the animals are just being well¦ animals. On a recent trip north I was road testing a VW Golf GTI on the open road (tough job) I came round a corner at pace to see a mother duck walking a trail of five or six baby ducks across the road. This put me in a rather unfortunate position, not helped by the fact that ducks love to walk in single file with a perfect half foot gap between them, what’s up with that? So the rule as I know it with avoiding road kill is that braking is cool, swerving is not. My mother always said never swerve to miss animals, but the way I figure it that was ten years ago when I was:

A)    A much younger and more inexperienced driver
B)    Cars didn’t have modern duck avoiding features like Electronic Stability Control and Brake Force Distribution

So not for the first time I went against my mother’s good advice and lined up the small gap between the last trailing mini duck and the roadside ditch. Real life road testing doesn’t get any more real than that and the Golf GTI was up for it. It hit the loose chip on the roadside and broke traction ever so briefly before it’s acronym heavy safety systems pulled it back straight, the drivers wheel narrowly missed the last duck and I continued on my way watching the rogue posse of ducks finish their dangerous crossing from my rear vision mirror.

So what’s the moral of this near road kill tale?

A)    Stay flexible in your road kill avoidance beliefs
B)    What your mum tells you is a good rule of thumb, but there are occasions where these rules can be stretched if you recognise the opportunity for a more favourable outcome
C)    VW Golf GTIs can do anything including saving the lives of baby ducks.
D)    Duck Crossing road signs aren’t a joke, don’t steal them

ducks crossing

Spring brings with it some awesome things, the beginnings of summer, d ...

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