Smart swallows thirteen contortionists to celebrate 10 years of production

June 27th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


How many people can you fit into a diminutive Smart fortwo?

The amazing answer is 13 following a car cram staged to help celebrate smart’s 10th anniversary. Owners and visitors to the annual smart Destination Brooklands event held at Mercedes-Benz World, in the UK were invited to take up the Smart-packing challenge.

With the drivers and passengers of 1,200 smarts attending the event there was no shortage of potential participants but the winners proved to be the aptly-named ‘Smart car-tortionists’, a group of body-bending specialists chosen for their gymnastic feats. They included Iona Luvsandorj, semi-finalist in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent TV series.

With remarkable flexibility, a total of 13 contortionists managed to climb aboard the micro smart which measures just 2.7 metres long by 1.6 metres wide, proving that the fortwo is small on the outside and big on the inside.

Renntech power-up the Mercedes-Benz McLaren 722

June 26th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


When Mercedes-Benz introduced its SLR McLaren 722, there was a bit of confusion about the special-edition’s name. Many believed the car would offer a fire-breathing, 722 hp supercharged V8, but it doesn’t (it makes 650 hp). Some believed that “722″ meant there would be 722 of the cars made, but that was wrong, too. In the end, the 722 badge actually referred to 7:22AM – the starting time of Sterling Moss’ epic 1955 Mille Miglia run in a then-new Mercedes SLR.

Renntech have rectified the confusion, and more, by turning the wick up on the the McLaren with upgrades to extract 740hp out of the supercharged V8.

Modifications include upgraded intercoolers, a larger crankshaft pulley, adding a less restrictive, motorsports-style exhaust system and re-mapped ECU software to achieve the headline 740hp figure and a whopping 950nm of torque. Scary.

Smart Police switch to electric

June 26th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


Smart is helping the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) cut carbon emissions in London as they take part in the market trial of the fully electric, smart ed (electric drive).

Four versions of the low emission, two-seater car will be used in congested urban areas for routine police operations.  Two of the cars have Metropolitan Police livery and will be deployed in Central London and at Heathrow Airport.

The smart ed is powered solely by electricity and is charged using a standard three-pin plug. The car emits no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons or particulate matter. It is economical and can achieve the equivalent of around 300 miles per gallon.

The smart ed has a top speed of 60 mph and has a range of up to 70 miles in between charges. The car has all the safety equipment that customers expect: ABS, ESP, passenger and driver airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners.

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI 2008 Review

April 3rd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI 2008 fq

Almost every week I get a massage. It’s not that kind of massage. I’m talking about the kind of pain-filled, deep tissue ‘tune-up’ massage to keep my levator scapulae loose and my trapezius toned. My masseuse shall remain unnamed so that legions of readers don’t beat a hasty path to her door with their ailments because this might prevent me from getting an appointment with her thumbs of Detroit iron.

The Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI is a car that is perfect for driving to a massage. I’ve never been overtaken by as many other vehicles as driving in this car. I’m relaxed. I’m ready to be kneaded. I’m driving at the speed limit¦this coming from a guy whose ideal afternoon would be spent exceeding 2G on a racetrack in a Radical SR3, and who regularly uses up the majority of the 9kph grace the police give above the speed limit. This is not because the C-Class is mushy or wallowy under sharp cornering — it’s not at all; it’s possibly because of the intelligent suspension that adapts the damping force automatically depending on the road surface. It leads to a very quiet, composed and comfortable drive, but without the car wandering all over the place on the road. And this also translates to a feeling that you’re sitting in total command of the wheels in the perfect centre of gravity of the car.

While I’m laying in agony as her forged fingers part the muscle fibres, I can look forward to the Merc’s wafting and smooth ride, ably assisted by its torquey diesel engine, as it’s also the perfect car to drive home from a massage in. You see, after I’ve experienced an hour of pain, I want to be cosseted and caressed automotively. Until I get home, that is, where I will continue to be relaxed as long as Paul Holmes isn’t on the TV, and there’s not a hungry mosquito performing low altitude flybys on my head.

So what about the Merc’s muscles? It sports a 2148cc diesel with 170hp and an impressive 400Nm of torque mated to a 5-speed automatic. This gives a satisfying surge to 100kph in a respectable 8.5s, and will return a quoted combined fuel consumption of 43mpg, or 5.5l/100km (I couldn’t get anywhere near this, though, recording 7.3 on a run from Hauraki to Grey Lynn in light traffic where I really tried to be economical, and 6.1l/100km Hauraki to Stanmore Bay at night using cruise control on the motorway to keep the car at 90kph).

Two settings are available in the gearbox — comfort and sport — and the gears can be changed manually using Mercedes’ non-intuitive left/right sequential shift. Comfort changes up earlier and down later.

Three brushed-aluminium style, bevelled dials are nestled behind the steering wheel. The centre larger one shows speed, and forms the periphery of a white-on-black display for the trip computer, cruise control/speed limiter, temperature and gear indicator.

A sliding panel covers the rectangular screen in the centre of the dashboard that shows system parameters and audio functions. These functions are controlled using the rotary data entry wheel and two buttons where your left arm rests. A suitable CD in the six-disc changer can add to the experience. Or you can connect an auxiliary music device. Look, I’ve even got Classic Hits tuned in – I must be relaxed because I usually listen to George!

Knight Rider-style proximity warning lights for the front and rear sensors only beep when you’re very close to an object. Before that, they progressively light up. Most other manufacturers use audible warnings and/or a screen with a representation of the car and where the obstacle is getting close, so this system takes some getting used to, but is effective.

A multitude of other safety functions help both you and other cars. For example, the brakes will periodically dry themselves in the rain, and will prepare themselves for an emergency stop if the accelerator is lifted quickly. During an emergency stop the brake lights flash, and hazard warning lights are activated. The car even warns you if a tyre loses pressure. And if all that fails to keep you out of trouble, there are seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag).

Available in three trim levels, Classic and Elegance trim get the three-pointed bug shredder on the bonnet above the chrome-plated grille, while Avantgarde models get a more muscular overall stance the Mercedes emblem embedded in the grille.

The C-Class was nominated as Car of the Year in New Zealand, and that’s no mistake as it’s a very competent car. Like all Mercedes, the options list is large including a panoramic glass sunroof, digital music system with surround sound, bi-xenon headlamps, sports suspension and more.

As an entry-level executive cruiser Mercedes has priced it well (I would have guessed eighty grand, others in the office guessed higher, but it’s a shade under 73, so it’s a bargain). Its forte is elegant and reasonably frugal executive motoring. It’s a relaxing end to the day driving the C220 from the office. I don’t have to worry about enormous fuel bills, I’m in leather-clad comfort (man-made Artico leather), and I have the three-pointed bug shredder dealing to the mosquitoes on the way home. Bliss.

Price: from $72,990

What we like

  • It’s the consummate laid-back executive cruiser
  • Comfort
  • Price is excellent
  • Quiet at speed
  • Very easy to drive
  • Perhaps if we could build a massaging device into the driver’s seat¦

What we don’t like

  • Indicator stalk in the wrong place — it’s too low for 10-2 or 9-3 hand positions
  • Too much delay between pressing the pedal and acceleration happening (from standstill) — this can catch you out if you’re trying to pull out of a junction quickly
  • Left/right sequential shift isn’t intuitive and there’s no delineation between when you’re in sequential mode and not

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

New Zealand Standard ‘CLASSIC’ Specification (C 200K & C 220 CDI)

Paint: Metallic
Trim: ARTICO man-made leather
Equipment: 16-inch light alloy wheels (7-spoke design)
2-zone “THERMATIC” automatic climate control, separate temperature controls for driver and front passenger, dust filter and air recirculation with Instrument cluster with three displays and three analogue dials
5-speed automatic transmission with Cruise Control & Speedtronic speed limiter
AGILITY CONTROL steering with safety steering column
AGILITY CONTROL suspension with selective damping system
Airbags and sidebags for driver and front passenger, windowbags for driver, front passenger and rear-seat occupants
Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
ASSYST maintenance interval indicator
Audio 20 with CD changer
Automatic-locking doors with emergency opening
Brake Assist system (BAS)
Brake pad wear indicator
Central locking with interior switch and crash sensor
Child seat recognition
Electronic immobiliser including “ELCODE” locking system with infrared/radio-frequency remote control and visible locking-verification signal
Electronic Stability Program (ESP®) with acceleration skid control (ASR)
First-aid kit
Foot-operated parking brake with hill start assist
Front seats with power height, backrest and squab angle adjustment; driver’s seat with manual lumbar support
Head restraints (5), adjustable; crash-responsive NECK-PRO front head restraints; three rear head restraints, manually height-adjustable
Headlamp Assist (automatic headlamps)
Headlamp range adjustment
Heated exterior mirrors left and right, electrically adjustable
Interior lighting switched on automatically when vehicle is unlocked
ISOFIX child seat attachment points in the rear
Leather steering wheel
Multi-function steering wheel
Multi-function steering wheel with enhanced screen
Outside temperature display
Parameter steering
Phone pre-installation
Piano-lacquer-effect trim parts
Rain sensor
Rear sidebags
Seat occupancy recognition for front passenger seat
Side impact protection
Spare wheel
Stowage compartment in centre console
Sun visors with illuminated vanity mirror
Through-loading feature with load-securing facilities and 1/3:2/3 split-folding rear seat
Trip computer in multifunction display
Tyre pressure loss warning system
The table below shows figures for both manual and automatic transmission. Automatic transmission data where different is shown in brackets.
Insurance Group 14E
Arrangement / Cylinders / Valves Inline / 4 / 16
Displacement (cc) 2148
Rated Output (hp at rpm)¹ 170 / 3800
Rated Torque (Nm at rpm)¹ 400 / 2000
Compression Ratio 17.6
Acceleration from 0 to 62 mph (s) 8.5 (8.5)
Top Speed, approx. (mph) 142 (141)
Tyre Size
205/55 R 16
205/55 R 16
Fuel Consumption (mpg)²
35.8 (31.0)
60.1 (55.4)
47.9 (42.8)
CO2 Emissions (g/km)²
156 (173)
156 (173)
160 (177)
Tank Capacity (l) incl. reserve, approx. 66/8
Boot Capacity (l) 475
Turning Circle Diameter (m) 10.84
Kerb Weight (kg)³ 1585 (1605)
Perm. GVW (kg) 2070 (2090)

¹ Figures calculated according to Directive 80/1269/EEC, version 1999/99/EC

² Figures calculated according to Directive 80/1268/EEC, version 1999/100/EC

³ Figures calculated according to Directive 92/21/EC, version 95/48/EC, (kerb weight with fuel tank 90% full, driver, 68 kg, and luggage, 7 kg) for standard-specification vehicles. Optional extras and accessories will generally increase the kerb weight and reduce the payload capacity.

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

July 13th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

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,