Holden: Barina RS 2014 review

March 5th, 2014 by Robert Barry



You could be forgiven for thinking that the new Barina RS is a track searing hot hatchback thanks to the current television ad that sees Greg Murphy revving the engine and screeching the tyres around the Highlands circuit in Cromwell.

Alas, do not be fooled by the power of the telly ad because the latest addition to the Barina hatch range is only a mild butter chicken rather than a scorching Vindaloo, its a warm hatch rather than a hot one, but nevertheless its still a very good steer that will curry favour with many.

image103272_bBy adding the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine from the Holden Cruze as well as tweaking the suspension package, upgrading the brake package to discs all-round and lowering the ride height, the Holden engineers, in conjunction with their US and Korean colleagues have created a sporty and responsive hatchback that is fun to drive in the city and beyond. Continue reading “Holden: Barina RS 2014 review” »

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2013 Review

October 15th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

Looking slightly more chiselled than its predecessor, the Golf GTI tempts you with a strong engine and handling setup to use those angles to slice through the wind at high speed. The six-speed DSG gearbox eggs you on with gear changes that seem impossibly fast, and acceleration that’s almost as rapid, repeating each rev range as you gain speed like a record skipping the groove. Depending on the quality of passenger the accelerator pedal will make them either swear or giggle. There isn’t any middle ground.

volkswagen-golf-gti-2013-dcc-driving-modeFive modes are available to fine tune the performance of the Golf: comfort, normal, sport, eco or individual (where you can choose from a number of settings and store your favourite combination). They are selected using the touchscreen in the centre of the dash.

volkswagen-golf-gti-2013-rear-quarterSport mode is a huge amount of fun, blipping the throttle automatically on the downshifts and making you sound like you know what you are doing with the heel-toe technique. It’s completely redundant in the city…except that it sounds brilliant.

volkswagen-golf-gti-2013-sideNormal mode is what you will probably use the Golf in that majority of the time, unless you’re trying to be frugal (in which case, why would you buy the GTI)? Even using it in sport mode most of the time I didn’t notice that fuel economy was particularly bad.  The other modes? Well, who cares because you buy a GTI to have fun, not save the planet. Continue reading “Volkswagen Golf GTI 2013 Review” »

Nissan Pulsar SSS 2013 Review

September 8th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

Bringing back a historic name is fraught with danger. Our memories tend to be dulled over time and we just remember what we want to. If the strongest emotions we experienced with a car were good, we’ll remember the car as being good. This is why people often want to buy something truly terrible like a VW Kombi to relive their youthful road trips.


But, if we got back in one of those older cars with an objective brain we would realise that cars have moved on, and in the same way you wouldn’t go back to having an outdoor toilet, or using acacia leaves as a contraceptive, you probably shouldn’t idolise the name of a vehicle that, at best, was tepid in its heyday.

Even if you conceived your children in a 1991 Pulsar SSS the reality is that it has not stood the test of time. It is really a very tedious Pulsar with a boomerang spoiler and slightly bigger wheels. You might have thought it was exciting back in the day, but if you go back far enough in history, so was showing some ankle.

nissan-pulsar-sss-2013-front-interiorNissan put the SR20DE engine in it which dribbled out an anaemic 105kW. They could have given it some balls like the scary GTi-R, or even treated us to the SR16VE N1 which was the highest output naturally aspirated engine of its day until Honda’s F20C engine debuted in the S2000.

But they didn’t and this isn’t supposed to be too much of a history lesson because we’ve got a brand spankers 2013 Nissan Pulsar SSS to evaluate. At first glance, it’s a Pulsar with a body kit…keeping in line with the original, then. It does succeed in elevating the conservative Pulsar slightly. Very slightly. Continue reading “Nissan Pulsar SSS 2013 Review” »

Ford Focus ST 2013 Review

September 7th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

There is no point in buying the Ford Focus ST if you don’t like excitement. You will also want to give it a very wide berth if you look at manufacturer-supplied fuel economy figures and think that you’ll want to drive sensibly enough to match them. You won’t. Oh no, you’ll be taking long drives by yourself. The ST will be your secret lover and you will be burying those aluminium pedals into the carpet so you can adore the sonorous four-cylinder turbo howl from the two-litre EcoBoost motor.

ford-focus-st-2012-rqThis sound is piped into the cabin rather than letting the firewall transmit the acoustics, and you notice a definite change in engine tone as the revs rise. 184kW and 360Nm of torque means 100kph will come up in 6.5 seconds if you’re good enough at swapping cogs in the six-speed manual gearbox, but it’s not the acceleration that’s the high point of the Ford’s performance, it’s the cornering.

ford-focus-st-2012-front-interiorDirect steering is the foundation of any car that feels sporty, and the Focus has it. Only when the torque threatens to overwhelm the front wheels do electronics intervene and you lose a little bit of the connection, but basically the Focus is at home on a long sweeper or a tight switchback and everything in between. And when you’ve finished with that, put your sensible hat back on and you can cruise back home at motorway speeds getting fuel economy under 8l/100km. My trip from downtown Auckland to Whangaparaoa town centre and back achieved 7.8l/100km; Ford quotes 7.2l/100km combined. Continue reading “Ford Focus ST 2013 Review” »

Ford Focus Trend Hatchback 2013 Review

August 11th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

There’s a theory that is used to explain why people can sometimes be extremely productive late at night. The fact is that the majority of tasks we have to perform are often mundane and don’t require that much of our brainpower. Consequently we get distracted by pictures of cats on Facebook. As we get more and more tired, our ability to process information diminishes and the tasks that once took up, say, 60% of our brainpower now take up much closer to 100%, and therefore the room for distracting thoughts is less.

ford-focus-trend-hatchback-2013-rqThat’s why I’m writing this article at 2:33am on a Sunday morning after first playing a gig in my band, then going to karaoke for a couple of hours for some post-gig socialising. It’s all about focus, which neatly segues into what this article is about: the Ford Focus Trend Hatchback.

ford-focus-trend-hatchback-2013-front-interiorWhile other guys are out chasing hot girls, I’m in writing about a hot hatch. I haven’t used the expression ‘hot hatch’ recently because I hadn’t felt like I’d been surprised. I’ve driven cars you could classify like that, but I didn’t expect to get into the mid-range Ford Focus and get the same feeling as an older Golf GTi or a sporty Renault Megane. The steering is crisp, the gear changes are sharp, and the engine revs willingly.

Despite the perky two-litre petrol engine, Ford reckons you’ll get 6.6l/100km. I didn’t even try because I was having too much fun keeping the six-speed PowerShift gearbox in Sport mode where it runs up and down the gears with a speed of change that feels a little like VW’s DSG. However, Ford does recommend you quench its thirst with Continue reading “Ford Focus Trend Hatchback 2013 Review” »

Hyundai Veloster Turbo Elite 2012 Review

November 21st, 2012 by Darren Cottingham

We took a look at the naturally aspirated Veloster Elite a few months ago. If you read the article you’ll see that I said that the turbo version will be awesome. Let’s find out whether it is.

My history is with four-wheel drive rally cars of the 90s. I liked the stiff suspension, the four-cylinder turbo sound and the agile feeling that you get when you don’t have a Continue reading “Hyundai Veloster Turbo Elite 2012 Review” »

Mazda3 MPS 2012 Review

April 10th, 2012 by Darren Cottingham

It’s interesting driving the cars that you know are going to be coveted by the future generation of performance-hungry young drivers. Because of our fairly cheap insurance in New Zealand, people under 25 can afford to insure cars that would be uninsurable in many other countries. As we have a sister title, NZ Performance Car, I’m acutely aware of the type of cars that will be making their way to the next generation once they’re a few years old.

Mazda’s MPS is one of them. OK, it’s front-wheel drive, which makes it a bit annoying for drift kings and track day heroes, but it’s a hot hatch with enough Continue reading “Mazda3 MPS 2012 Review” »

Bring The Hot Hatch Back

January 28th, 2012 by Tim Grimley

There has been an ever-so-slight outpouring of media brouhaha this week over a survey which revealed that buying a house in New Zealand – particularly Auckland – is a tough ask. Because our earning power is comparatively low when compared to the rest of the developed world, it now takes around 6 times the average household income to put a roof over your head.

This makes me quite apoplectic with rage.

Not about the house prices themselves I hasten to add as these are pretty much governed by the laws of supply and demand. Decent housing stock in the better, more accessible areas of our main cities is a finite commodity and as such can command serious premiums. And like all luxury commodities available to capitalist man, there will be some fortunate, hard-working, affluent souls who can afford it and the rest of us who cannot. If this offends your sense of justice, then why not pop off to North Korea and let me know how Communism works out for you.

Arm and a leg

No, I take decidedly more umbrage with the fact the survey was even conducted in the first place. I don’t know how much time, effort and expense went into this, but producing an end result that tells you little more that it’s a bit of a stretch to fork out for a pad in Remuera isn’t exactly breaking new ground. One can only assume that when they aren’t collating this particular tome the good folk at Demographia – the company behind the study – content themselves with unravelling such mysteries as the Catholicism of Popes and whether bears lean towards defecation in heavily treed areas.

It is no secret that more and more people have to make money stretch a lot further nowadays and it is inevitable that sacrifices will have to be made. And short of selling children into slavery and changing diets to consist entirely of Budget brand margarine, the single easiest target in any household is the family steed. In times of plenty having a plaything in the garage or a V8 as the regular runabout is a wonderful thing indeed, but in this dark fiscal age it seems we’re all destined to abandon fun forever, buy a Prius and wait to die.

If only there was a way we could afford some motoring pleasure in our lives whilst staying within the constraints of our increasingly meagre budgets. All our problems would be solved if someone – anyone – could sit down and come up with a vehicle that went like the toilet door on curry night, but cost about the same as a plate of poppadoms.

Oh, hang on a moment – they have. The hot hatchback.

The hot hatch was very much a child of the 1980s. This was the decade of excess, where greed was good and vast herds of investment bankers roamed free in their ubiquitous Porsche 911s. And that made hot hatches quite a lesson in irony. Because while they were designed to be the working man’s entry into the performance car club, they were also frugal, inexpensive to buy and were every bit as user friendly as the cooking models on which they were based.

Heart and soul

Sadly in recent times mainstream hot hatches have become decidedly more tepid affairs and the performance oriented options like MINI’s Cooper S and the fabulous Abarth 500 have shifted into the airy and expensive realm of the fashionable. This is all very well, but for the budget conscious buyer of today, things need stripping back to the roots; take a very cheap hatchback and tart it up with bucket seats, a trick camshaft, alloy wheels and a body kit. The brand is immaterial – up to the point their 205 GTi stole the hot hatch title from Volkswagen’s Golf, Peugeot’s level of street cred was shared with those knitted things your grandmother used for covering spare toilet rolls – but the end product must be uncompromisingly fun to drive whilst still be capable of accommodating a couple of sprogs and half of Pak ‘n Save.

I can only surmise it will be the Chinese – currently the default white knights of the motor industry – who will eventually pick up this particular baton and run with it. Acquiring companies such as MG Rover and Volvo has handed them a historical knowledge base into which they can tap and they can rest assured that a proper, old-fashioned hot hatch would do wonders for the worldwide brand credibility of anyone who makes a decent fist of it.

Besides, Geely GTi has a certain ring to it don’t you think?

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