Nissan X-Trail Diesel 2008 — Road Test

October 27th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


In the circus that the international motor industry has become recently, roles have altered and versatility has become a true virtue. The crowd has stopped paying to watch tired elephants from the bleachers and now wants to see dynamic magic shows from a comfortable seat. Nissan, always a solid performer has now stepped up to the main stage and shown that it has a few tricks up its sleeve. The latest X-Trail is a testament to Nissan’s ability to try new moves and listen to its audience whether applauding or jeering.

The concept of a highly versatile, easy to operate, compact 4wd is a true tightrope balancing act. The 2008 X-Trail is the model’s second incarnation, and although the styling is very similar, improvements have been made in many areas over Nissan’s first attempt.

The X-Trail’s styling is square and basic, it’s the type of shape that will always get an even split of critics and admirers. Chrome detailing and sharp 17-inch alloys dress up the basic look of the X-trail. What impresses me about the overall styling of the X-Trail is its ability to still look like a 4wd, with a chunky and sharp-angled appeal. One big advantage of the boxy styling is being able to see exactly where the front ends, and also being able to guess well at the rear. Unfortunately the rear pillar is quite wide and this can create a blind spot, but this is negated to an extent by large and effective wing-mirrors.

The X-Trail’s interior is where the real magic happens. The cabin is spacious and comfortable. The seats could offer more side support but are well padded and finished in soft leather. There is a feeling of quality to the cabin – everything that opens shuts again well and anything that’s touched feels sturdy. The centre control console is easy to use and the buttons are thoughtfully laid out so you seldom need to take your eyes from the road for more than a split-second. Equipment-wise, the X-Trail brings a big bag of tricks including climate control, cruise, power-heated front seats, six-stack CD player, sunroof, alarm and trip computer. The back seat has a 40/20/40 split system where two passengers can sit in the rear while folding down the centre seat for long objects like skis. For the X-Trail’s grand finale there is a false floor in the back with drawers underneath, so expensive items can be hidden away. When this floor is removed and the backseats are folded down the X-trail has a whopping 1773 litres of storage space, so there is little need for a roof rack.

At performance time the X-Trail is no clown. The tested vehicle had a 4-cylinder diesel motor with a 6-speed automatic transmission putting out 110kW of power and 380Nm of torque. It won’t break land speed records but can move well when required. The diesel motor runs quite loud particularly when cold which was disappointing. Fuel economy is top notch considering the X-Trail’s portly weight, achieving 8.1l/100km combined. The 6-speed box changes gear well but the power delivery from accelerator pedal through to tyres has a moment’s delay, and needs to be worked accordingly.

The X-trail can’t offer sports car handling, and does have the body roll you’d expect from an SUV. However, the steering is very predictable and the despite the X-Trail’s size it’s very manoeuvrable at all speeds. Grip is good thanks to the large wheels and the overall ride is absorbent and comfortable with generally good noise suppression in the cabin while cruising. If the scene changes and you’re heading off road the X-Trail can be changed into 4wd with the flick of a knob. There is also an ‘AUTO’ setting where the driver can relax knowing the vehicle’s clever electronics are dictating how to divide power for optimum traction. Drive can be redirected as much as 100 percent to the front (with 0 percent to rear) or up to 43 percent rear (57 percent front) almost immediately and as required. This makes the X-Trail well capable of sliding round a paddock or climbing a steep gravel path.

When it comes to safety the X-Trail is a total strongman, packing an electronic stability programme (ESP) with hill descent control and hill start assist. Six airbags are loaded and ready to turn on a pyrotechnic show if things turn ugly.

To summarise, the X-Trail is rightly marketed on its versatility but is no one trick pony and has strengths in ride comfort and ease-of-use. It has a solid build quality, works well for carrying various cargo and passengers and offers good value for its admission price. Even with the X-Trail’s generous dimensions you never feel like you’re riding an elephant and it gives the illusion of a smaller car for the driver while retaining all the advantages of a large vehicle. The new X-Trail is undoubtedly one of Nissan’s finest acts.

Click through to the next page for specifications.

Price: from $35,750

What we like

  • Highly functional
  • Off-road capable
  • Spacious
  • Clever interior storage options
  • Good economy for size

What we don’t like

  • Noisy diesel motor
  • Wide rear pillar
  • Front seat support
  • Looks like a circus freak from some angles

Nissan X-Trail Diesel (2008) – Specifications


2.0 litre, Turbo Diesel
Displacement (cc)  1995
Bore x Stroke (mm) 8 84 x 90
Compression ratio  15.6:1
Max power (kW @ rpm) manual/auto 127@3750/110@4000
Max torque (Nm @ rpm) manual/auto 360@2000/320@2000
Induction — Sequential multi-point fuel injection with detonation sensor
Common-rail — Direct Injection
Emission control — Catalytic converter
Alternator — 12 volt


6-speed automatic with M-Mode Opt OptContinuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with M-Mode Opt Opt OptIntelligent
ALL MODE 4×4-i with electronic 4WD selection Including Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) & Traction Control System (TCS).

Ratio 1st automatic  4.199
Ratio 2nd automatic 2.405
Ratio 3rd automatic  1.583
Ratio 4th automatic  1.161
Ratio 5th automatic  0.855
Ratio 6th automatic 0.685
Ratio Reverse automatic  3.457


Overall length (mm) 4630
Overall width (mm)  1785
Overall height (mm)  1685
Wheelbase (mm)  2630
Track front/rear (mm) 1530/1535
Turning circle (m)  10.8
Ground clearance (mm)  200
Tare weight (kg) manual/auto  1643/1673
GVM (kg) manual/auto  2150/2170
Approach Angle (degrees) 26
Departure Angle (degrees) 22

Rated Towing Capacity

Trailer with brakes (kg) manual/auto  2000/1350
Trailer without brakes (kg) 750


Fuel type — Unleaded (ULP)
Fuel tank capacity (litres)  65
Fuel economy — ADR 81/01 1/100km manual 7.4
Fuel economy — ADR 81/01 1/100km CVT auto 9.3
6-speed auto  8.1

Words Adam Mamo, photography Adam Mamo and Darren Cottingham

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2008 — Road Test

October 22nd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


A lot of newsprint is devoted to horoscopes. You share your star sign with roughly 8.3% of the population and at any one time you’re bound to be going through some kind of relationship issue, some kind of money issue and perhaps a health concern. Maybe even someone from your past might come into your life this week. It’s all generic fodder for the masses, designed for the lowest common denominator.

The sheer sample size should see all measurements tend to some kind of roughly equal spread — you’d expect that a Capricorn or Libran would have the same chance of meeting a tall dark handsome stranger as a Virgo or Aquarian. But this isn’t the case for accidents. UK accident management company Accident Exchange studied 115,000 accidents and found that Gemini drivers (known for their impatience, apparently) made up just under 9% of all claims. Get to the point, Darren, I hear you Geminis say. Well, guess who is a Gemini: yours truly.

So, I thought it would be good idea to see if I could crash Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution X. Only kidding, I wanted to see if the Evo X would keep me safe and fly in the face of statistics (and other blatant lies).

The first sensation you get from driving the Evo X is one of technology harnessing a monster — the intellectual Castor and Pollux rising above the raw animal form; a beast tamed and shackled by pure processing power, sticky 245/40R18 tyres, Bilstein suspension, and reined in by massive four-pot Brembo brakes at the front.

Tickle the throttle pedal and the animal within rears its head until the active stability and traction control cut in. Just like Geminis, this car comes with moods, but three rather than the twins’ two. Normal is fairly benign, disappointing even. The SST dual-clutch automatic is lazy to change down, and the performance comes, eventually. It’s the cruising mode.

Change its mood to Sport by flicking a switch, and the Evo starts to show some irritation. You’ve called its sister a harlet, but not its favourite sister. All hell breaks loose when S-Sport mode is selected. Not only did you trample its mother’s flower beds, but you ran off with its wife. Savage lurches forwards are a toe-flex away; gear changes are as fast as blinking.

Available as a five-speed manual as well, once you’ve driven the six-speed twin-clutch auto you’ll probably come to the conclusion that there’s no point in having to have the inconvenience of a clutch unless you’re going to take it rallying.

The two models have unusually divergent specification. The manual has more torque by a considerable margin (422Nm vs 372Nm), but less power (206kW vs 220kW). The manual lacks the audio controls on the steering wheel, Rockford Fosgate 9-speaker audio system, and Bluetooth telephone integration of the automatic. The automatic is 15mm longer at 4510mm, and 75kg heavier at 1595kg.

With all that power and torque from the two-litre MIVEC engine you’re a shoe in for the traffic lights grand prix, but would you purchase an Evo, or its nemesis the Subaru WRX STI? On the track, the STI has proved to be quicker in many tests with professional racing drivers, but having driven both, you won’t notice this on the road, even with spirited driving, and you might buy the Evo because you prefer the styling over the beauty-challenged Subaru.

The Evo does feel marginally better to drive, even though the cabin is not as good as the Subaru’s. The Recaro seats are remarkably comfortable and keep your body in the right place while experiencing the g-forces, and you can create some significant ones given the right corners. The Evo X is as balanced as Libra. From the driver’s seat there’s nothing particularly spectacular about the dashboard, but the steering wheel, with its integrated audio, cruise control and Bluetooth phone buttons, is a delight to control.

Unfortunately there is no way of folding the seats forward, which limits the boot’s usefulness. The boot itself contains the Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, integrated into the side, which is capable of vibrating your trousers.

If you want to buy a car that’s easy to crash (like a Renault 5 or Peugeot 205 GTI), you’d better make sure you’re one of the safer star signs — a Sagittarius or Scorpio — signs that represent only 7.7% of accidents each. The Evo is a triumph for Geminis, especially with the twin-clutch. Any corner signposted 45kph or more is ok to take at 100kph. Braking is epic. There’s the power and grip to get you out of most situations. The Evo X is not a Scorpio — there’s no sting in its tail. It’s a car that, under almost all driving conditions, is virtually impossible to crash.

To read the full specifications of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, click through to the next page.

Price: from $62,990 (manual), $67,990 (twin-clutch auto)

What we like

  • S-Sport mode, especially with the paddle-shift gears
  • Handling is sublime
  • Brakes
  • Seats hold you like King Kong held Fay Wray
  • Steering feel
  • Gearbox changes cogs in an instant

What we don’t like

  • Small boot, and back seats don’t fold forwards
  • Reversing isn’t easy with the car’s high shoulders and race-bred spoiler
  • Fuel economy
  • Occasional unexpected clunky downshift

Specifications – Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X (2008)


Displacement (cc): 1,998
Max power (DIN) kW@rpm: 220 @ 6,500
Max torque (DIN) Nm@rpm: 372 @ 3,500
Bore & stroke (mm): 86.0 x 86.0
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Fuel type: 98 octane
Fuel tank capacity (litres): 55
Fuel consumption – L/100km: 10.5
CO2 – g/km:

Dimensions / weights

Overall length (mm): 4,510
Overall width (mm): 1,810
Overall height (mm): 1,480
Wheelbase (mm): 2,650
Track front & rear (mm): 1,545
Kerb weight (kg): 1,595
Turning circle (m): 11.8


Gear ratios: 3.655 ~ 0.775
1st 3.655
2nd 2.368
3rd 1.754
4th 1.322
5th 1.008
6th 0.775
Rev 4.011
Final 4.062

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Nissan Navara DX 2008 — Road Test

October 21st, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


Coming out of retirement is usually an activity reserved for poverty-stricken heavyweight boxers, but Nissan has proved that even a ute can return to former glory with its Navara DX. The D22 model Navara was a big seller for Nissan from the late nineties till 2004 when it was replaced by a cocky new model in the Navara ST-X. Utility vehicle sales dropped and Nissan decided to return its old champ to the ring to see if it could still be a crowd favourite. After some reconstructive surgery in face-lift form, the Navara DX is back, but is it still a true contender in the highly competitive pick-up truck division?

The Navara measures up well. Most of the new styling has been done around the front end with new lights, bumper and grille, giving the vehicle an honest-looking face, neither aggressive or soft. Recently utes have become overly concerned with aesthetics, pushing them toward being more car-like in their styling, this cannot be said of the Navara DX. A thick black plastic front bumper and guards show that it is still a working vehicle and the matching black bonnet scoop lets everyone know it’s packing a punch. It is exactly this decision not to have flashy chrome detailing and a more curvaceous shape that may appeal to many buyers in the niche utility vehicle market.

The Navara’s interior styling is consistent with the exterior, its spartan and purposeful, various plastics cover the entire cabin including footwells making the entire area easy to clean with a wet sponge if not a hose. The dashboard and instruments are one area where the Navara does show some age – the heater controls and two adjacent ashtray set up really required more revision. The steering wheel is thin and poorly suited for big rough farm-workers’ hands.. The velour front seats are comfortable and easy to jump into and out of. In the double cab the rear seat is a tight fit for an adult, but comfort can be found with some leg positioning. The back doors are narrow which makes entry and exit tricky, it is still useful having this extra seating as an option, if not for everyday use. Good cabin storage is provided between the front seats, in the large glove box and two cup holders. Air-conditioning, electric windows and a single CD player come as standard; airbags are optional. The tested Navara had central locking but no keyless entry — useful for rugged conditions where an electronic remote may get wet or damaged easily, but annoying if it’s used for regular stopping, vacating and returning to the vehicle.

The Navara DX packs a tidy punch with a 2.5 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel powerplant that produces 98kW and 304Nm of torque. This unit offers some grunt when worked well through the gears and cruises smoothly at motorway speeds, if noisily. The high level of torque generated makes the Navara DX a true brawler-hauler with an impressive load potential of over 1,000kg for the double cab and 1,300kg for the single. Towing is a breeze too with a pulling capacity of 2,800kg.

Handling? The Navara leaves you in no doubt that it’s a truck, dealing with corners more like a punch drunk has-been than a heavyweight champ. Independent suspension at the front and heavy-duty rear-leaf suspension at the back is set-up for heavy loads so quick cornering with an empty load-bay isn’t advised. Potholes and dips can cause a bouncy ride and driving over judder bars is an easy indication that the Navara is more suited to a rural setting. The grip is generally good, even in the wet the tyres shouldn’t slip if driven sensibly so footwork isn’t the Navara’s weakness. Off road credentials are good with a ground clearance of 230mm, an approach and departure angle of up to 31 degrees and it can cope with a climb of 39 degrees.

The Navara DX has had a big career and Nissan has done well to extract so much from this platform, but it doesn’t have any title fights left. That said, the Navara does score points for being no-nonsense, highly functional and strong in the working duties that utes are expected to perform. The age of the model and its no-frills appearance are reflected in its pricing so it offers good value for money. The ride could be more refined and the interior is dated but the Navara remains a competent journeyman if no longer a king hitter.

For the full specifications of the Nissan Navara DX click through to the next page.

Price: from $32,995

What we like

  • Good load capacity and towing power
  • High clearance
  • Hard-wearing interior
  • Reasonable price

What we don’t like

  • Ride comfort
  • Dated styling
  • Noisy engine

Nissan Navara DX – Specifications


2.5 Litre Diesel DOHC, 4Cyl In-line Turbo

Capacity cc: 2488
Power kW:
@ rpm 98 @ 3600
Torque Nm: @ rpm 304 @ 2000
Bore and Stroke mm: 89 x100
Compression Ratio:16.5:1
Fuel System:Common-rail Diesel


Direct Injection, Common Rail

Fuel Type:


Fuel tank capacity litres: 75
Fuel economy L/100km: 9.2
CO2 Emissions g/km: (LTNZ Standard) 239.7
Emission Compliance Standard: Euro 4


5 speed Manual
Gear Ratios:

Transfer Ratio Low
2.02 : 1
Final Drive


Front Suspension: Double wishbone with stabiliser bar

Rear Suspension: Leaf spring with telescopic shock absorbers


Overall Length mm: 5090
Overall Width mm: 1825
Overall Height mm: 1715
Wheelbase mm: 2950
Track – Front / Rear mm: 1525/1505
Ground clearance mm: 230
Minimum Turning Circle m: 12

Weights and Capacities

Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) kg: 2860
Kerb Weight kg: 1765
Total Payload kg: 1095
Gross Axle Front kg:1380 Rear kg: 1800
Towing Capacity Brake kg: 2800
Unbraked kg: 750

Words Adam Mamo, photos Darren Cottingham

Peugeot 308 Sport 2008 — Road Test

October 15th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


Pareidolia is the human trait whereby we see faces in objects such as clouds, pieces of old muslin cloth, and cars. This is so prevalent that a study was conducted by Viennese company EFS Consulting which looked at whether it influenced what type of cars we like. It does.

People overwhelmingly prefer angry, dominant, masculine-looking cars as opposed to happy, playful, fun-looking cars. Whether this is social conditioning is yet to be determined (EFS will perform a study in Ethiopia soon using people who haven’t been exposed to modern cars). So where does this leave the Peugeot 308 Sport you see here? With Sport in the name, it’s obviously gagging for a liberal helping of steroidally pumped wheel arches, and a face so mean it would have frightened Kublai Kahn into messing his Emporer’s robes.

Slanting cat-like eyes and a grimacing tooth-filled mouth — that’s a good start, but what’s with the drooping punched lip? OK, two out of three ain’t bad, and from the front you don’t notice it, but start walking around to the three-quarter view and that fat lip is very noticeable.

But a car’s face is only one factor. Price, economy, performance and brand preference are others, and with a European hot hatch like the Peugeot 308, your desire for a small, peppy car that’s not run-of-the-mill is going to be one of the deciders.

The sporting credentials are adequate from the — 128kW, 240Nm, top speed of 224kph, and a 0-100kph time of 8.3 seconds. Performance doesn’t come at the expense of fuel economy with the 1.6-litre turbo delivering 7.6l/100km on the combined cycle.

A six-speed manual gearbox adds to the sporty feel, and the shifts are precise, if a little long. Care has to be taken pulling away in first gear as all of a sudden the turbo comes on boost, lots of power is channelled through the front wheels, and the traction control ends up working overtime, despite a pair of 225/40R18 tyres doing the gripping at the front.

Clean and elegant five-spoke alloys underpin the angular forward-sloping shoulder crease that makes the 308 Sport look like it’s moving forwards even when standing still. Unusually, though, despite the small size of the car, the 18-inch wheels look like they could do with being 19 or 20 inches.

I’m confused as to how a model with a Sport designation have the second highest weight of the whole range at 1471kg, a full 62kg more than the HDI AT diesel. I thought perhaps it could be a difference in specification (i.e. lots more goodies), but like in the diesel model you get the full complement of safety features — seven airbags, electronic stability program with traction control, seatbelt pretensioners, etc; the dimensions are the same; there’s the same inverted pseudo Macpherson strut suspension with linked anti-roll bar and rear torsion beam for the suspension; and the same 283mm ventilated front disc brakes and 249mm solid disc rear brakes.

I took it on a long cruise down the motorway, stereo blaring. One of the tests I usually do is how well the cruise control works. It’s easy to use in the Peugeot, but not accurate — after setting it at an indicated 106kph, I reset the average speed. The trip computer was showing an average of 102kph after less than a kilometre of fundamentally flat motorway. It didn’t get any better. I suppose under-reading is better that over-reading, but it’s still a wide margin.

I eventually found some sinuous roads to experience whether the 308 is all fire or lukewarm. In a hot hatch it’s spirited driving that is the true test of whether a marque has achieved perfection. The 308 Sport is a great deal of fun to drive. You do get the feeling that if the ESP and traction control weren’t there to guide you that you could easily be having the type of heart-in the-mouth experiences the Peugeot 205GTI was famous for, but it does grip well.

We may like angry faces in our cars, but we don’t like angry faces in people. Fortunately, rather than cause a scowl there will more than likely be a smile on your dial after you’ve finished driving the 308 Sport.

Click through to the next page to read the full specs of the Peugeot 308 Sport

Price: from $47,490

What we like

  • Excellent performance/fuel consumption

What we don’t like

  • Peaky first gear makes wet weather standing starts tricky
  • Poor interior storage

Peugeot 308 Sport Specifications


Litre, 1.6
Valve, 16
Cylinders, 4
Cubic capacity (cc), 1598
Bore x Stroke (mm), 77 x 85.8
Max power kW (HP) @ rpm, 128 @ 6000
Max torque (Nm @ rpm), 240 (260) @ 1600
Emission control, Catalytic converter
Emission standard, EURO 4
Emission of CO2 by weight, 180
European End-of-Life Vehicles Directive, 99%

Wheels and Tyres

Size, 225/40 R18
Alloy / Steel, Alloy
Spare tyre, Full size
Tyre pressure sensor, Yes


Ventilated front discs 283 mm / 26 mm
Rear solid discs with sliding calipers 249 mm / 9 mm


Electro-hydraulic power steering
Height / Reach adjust steering wheel


Front, Inverted Pseudo McPherson strut with linked anti-roll bar
Rear, Rear torsion beam, two suspension arms and an integral anti-roll bar


Maximum speed (km/h), 225
Acceleration 0-100km/h (sec), 8.3


Kerb weight (kg), 1471
Braked trailer towing weight (kg), 1650
Unbraked trailer towing weight (kg) 750

Fuel Consumption

City Cycle l/100km, 10.7
Highway cycle l/100km, 5.7
Combined l/100km, 7.6


Driver and front passenger airbags
Driver’s Knee Airbag
Front side airbags
Front and rear curtain airbags
Door / boot ajar warning
Collapsible steering column
Trajectory supervisor
ABS (with EBFD & EBA)
Electronic Stability Program (ESP) (with ASR &
Rear 3-point seatbelts with warning
Pretensioning and load limiting front seatbelts
Force limiting rear seatbelts
Height adjustable front seatbelts
Isofi x on front passenger seat
Isofi x on rear outer seats
Fuel cut off inertia switch

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

HSV VXR 2008 Review

October 10th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


The VXR has some serious anger issues and I can only put this down to an identity crisis. GM has it badged as a Vauxhall in its native UK, as an Opel in Europe and here in NZ we know it as a Holden Astra. I understand the VXR’s pain. As a young man I once had an identity crisis of my own, involving a fake I.D and a nightclub bouncer. That burly sentry destroyed my I.D along with my youthful dreams of underage drinking and loose older women, and I didn’t see the inside of a club until I returned at the rightful age. I failed in my attempt, but the VXR has an HSV badge, a mark of performance and exclusivity. Is it just a cocky kid who got lucky or does it really deserve its place in club HSV?

Hot hatchbacks can sometimes be too conservative in their styling and not differ enough from their base-model brothers. This is a non-issue for the VXR. Visually it leaves you in no doubt that it will go fast. The body styling kit gives it a low and mean-looking profile. There are elements of bling about the exterior of the car and a gleaming paint job means there is lots of show with the go. The optional 19-inch alloys are stunning and pack out the guards perfectly. With bright blue brake calipers, a honeycomb sports grill and silver rimmed fog lamps the VXR could never be accused of being too casually dressed for a night out.

Inside the cabin the VXR is well appointed with leather Recaro seats for driver and shotgun. These are very supportive during both acceleration and cornering. The seats look great with big side bolsters and thick stitching but they do sit a little high and could slide back one notch further. The backseat is more than a token gesture and can fit two adults reasonably well.  The backseats have headrests that do affect rear visibility which is already minimal, but they can be removed. The steering wheel and gearstick are finished in leather and feel thick and solid in hand. The centre control console is difficult to learn, but has everything required, including a driver information computer and a front-loading 6-disc CD stacker. The VXR has air conditioning, electric windows and 6 airbags to keep you safe. Inside the hatch there is a good allocation of space considering the vehicle’s relatively small size. Overall the interior is functional and adequate but you wouldn’t buy a car like the VXR for its comfort level, you’d buy it for performance.

If an identity crisis is the source of the VXR’s anger then its engine is the means to show the world exactly how angry it really is. A 2.0 litre turbocharged powerplant producing 177kW sprints the VXR from a standstill to 100kph in 6.2 seconds and won’t stop till it reaches 244kph. The acceleration is raw and exciting, and there is some turbo-lag, but when the VXR starts pulling it’s worth the wait. The VXR has been gifted with true power and it does struggle to transfer it all to the road. Under hard acceleration torque-steer is evident even with traction control, but the steering wheel stays honest and a firm grip can easily keep control. The available torque means you don’t need to be heavy footed in first gear, just shift into second and prepare to feel the wrath.

The six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox is a real gem. Good gear ratios make the best of the power right through the range and it kicks out smooth gear changes. When pushed the VXR will drink heavily and will return consumption figures far worse than the quoted 9.29l/100km combined.

The grip, other than under heavy-handed straight-line acceleration, is very good. The car remains assertive during fast cornering and is clearly helped by the standard electronic stability programme, which at no point detracts from the fun of driving. The lowered and tuned suspension is compliant and absorbs most bumps well, but remains a very firm ride. Road noise generated by the wide low profile tyres can be a touch intrusive. The brakes provide strong stopping power but the brake pedal does feel light and can be caught lacking in response. The VXR was never going to be easy to stop.

The VXR earns its HSV badge and then some. It’s no purebred and lacks subtlety and refinement which may prove tiring on long journeys or stop-start commuting. However, Club HSV is more Aussie workmen’s pub than cocktail lounge and the VRX has enough mongrel to truly belong. It has been given a lot of juice so it slips and stumbles when pushed, but it is willing and has a tough confident charm that will work on most.

Click through to the next page for specs on the HSV VXR

Price: from $49,990

What we like

Blistering Acceleration
Stable Handling
Sharp Styling

What we don’t like

Turbo lag
Tricky control console
Poor rear visibility


ECOTEC Inline-4 position Turbocharged valvetrain 4 Valves per Cyl

Displacement: 1998 cc / 121.9 cu in bore 86 mm / 3.39 in stroke 86 mm / 3.39 in compression 8.8:1

Power: 170 kw / 237 bhp @ 5600 rpm

hp per litre: 120.12 bhp per litre

bhp/weight: 172.29 bhp per weight

torque: 320 nm / 236.0 ft lbs @ 2400 rpm


Front brake size 321 mm / 12.6 in

Rear brake size 278 mm / 10.9 in

Front wheels F 45.7 x 20.3 cm / 18 x 8 in

Rear wheels R 45.7 x 20.3 cm / 18 x 8 in

Front tire size 225/40 R 18

Rear tire size 225/40 R 18

Weight 1393 kg / 3071 lbs

Length 4290 mm / 168.9 in

Width 1092 mm / 43.0 in

Height 1420 mm / 55.9 in


Top speed 244.6 kph / 152 mph

0 – 60 mph 6.2 seconds

Words Adam Mamo, photos Darren Cottingham

BMW 123d SE 2008 Review

October 9th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


Launched in 1968, the 2002 is one of BMW’s most famous models. A two-door sedan, it pushed BMW’s reputation in the public’s eye as being a sports car accessible to the masses as opposed to the elitist 503 and 3200 CS. It’s this car that inspired the new BMW 1-Series we’re reviewing today – a small, agile coupe with ample urge from under the bonnet, in a front-engined rear-wheel drive configuration.

Whether the 1 series will become as iconic as the 2002 is debatable. The coupe version looks better in the flesh than it does in photos, and makes the five-door 1 Series look like a frumpy bread van. Where the concave ankle line is reminiscent of a sagging beam in the five-door, in the coupe it reminds you of an athlete’s hamstrings, working in tandem with the quadriceps to deliver rapid forwards motion; at least, from most angles. Walk around the 123d coupe and you’ll occasionally catch a flaccid glimpse, but mostly it’s all tone and taughtness, accentuated by the angular crease of its deltoids, and the headlights smeared towards the pumped wheel arches. These are filled by optional M Sport 18-inch alloys sporting 215/40R18 tyres, that semi-conceal sizable brake discs.

The back of the car is half way there to looking the business. The boot lip extends backwards like it can’t quite keep up with the speed of the car, but how great would the rear look with twin exhausts and a rear venturi? Really great is the answer I heard you say.

Squeeze down into the bucket seats (the wings of which are adjustable), and the immediate sense is one of luxurious sports car, albeit with way too much lumbar support and no way of adjusting it (it’s a $650 option that wasn’t included in the plethora of options attached to this car).

Auckland to Napier is an interminable drive. I usually try to do it at 4am to miss as much traffic as possible, but I left at 4pm, confident that the 123d’s über-torque ratings would slingshot me past dawdling weekenders. Using the six-speed sequential steptronic gearbox is barely necessary as 400Nm is available from just 2000rpm. Mix that up with 150kW and 100kph can be yours in 7.1 seconds, with objects in your rear view mirror disappearing rapidly. The 123d does a great job of changing gears itself, anticipating what you need, or you can do it using the gear lever or the steering wheel-mounted push-pull paddles.

I averaged 5.8l/100km on the trip in this automatic model — that includes hills, bursts of overtaking, and the cruise control set at 105kph (undoubtedly I’d have been more economical at 90kph). Cheaper cars will often deviate significantly from the cruise control speed, so I thought I’d put the BMW to the test. I drove for 40km straight, which included bends and hills and it returned an average of 104.8kph — pretty good considering the Peugeot 308 I tried a few weeks ago was 4(!)kph different to my cruise setting after just half a kilometre of fundamentally flat road.

The Napier-Taupo road is perfect for testing a car’s long distance handling capabilities. A car should not leave you tired after a spirited drive around the twisty bits, and not bore you to snooziness on the straight bits. Fortunately, neither of these occurred. The first 30 or so kilometres out of Taupo presents roads with vanishing points, and it’s speed trap country, but once you get into the hills, there are some steep gradients combined with off-camber corners. In the BMW you don’t bother lifting off unless the corner signs read less than 60kph, and for the hills the twin-turbo two-litre diesel engine’s torque is more than a match for gravity.

Day turned to night and revealed a frustrating design faux pas for the otherwise excellent cruise control: you push the stubby wand forwards to increase or set the speed, and that lever is just below the one for the lights. So, my apologies to the two drivers I accidentally high-beamed.

For a coupe, the boot is a handy size, which comes at the expense of rear legroom. The interior, with its optional Boston leather and walnut highlights had its solid feel reinforced by the steering which pushed back a good deal of road information, but without being unduly nervy or unrelaxing.

I could live with a BMW 123d. Just. After the long trip my back had become used to the lumbar setting, even though it wasn’t quite ideal. I enjoyed the power, the engine’s refinement, and the rewarding handling. While the 1 Series will never be as iconic as the 2002, it had definitely captured part of the essence.

Click through to the next page to read the full specifications of the BMW 123d SE.

Price: from $65,000 (including the 6-speed sequential automatic); price as tested with optional Boston leather interior, multifunction steering wheel, 18-inch wheels, locking wheel bolts, M Sports package, electric sunroof, auto-dimming rear view mirror, sun protection glazing, electric seats, storage compartment package, wood trim, rain sensing wipers, cruise control, lights package (e.g. a courtesy light under the door handle when you unset the alarm, radio upgrade and (deep breath) USB interface, $83,165.01

What we like

  • It’s got the looks¦from most angles
  • Handy sized boot
  • Twin-turbo diesel engine has excellent power and is frugal, too
  • Steering feel is like a sports car

What we don’t like

  • Can look frumpy from some angles
  • Front seat needs lumbar adjustment
  • Rear seat legroom is tight
  • Enormous price difference between the base model and the optioned one we were supplied

Technical Data

Type type / cylinders / valves per cyl. In line / 4 / 4
Effective Displacement (cm3) 1995
Power output (kW) 150
at (rpm) 4400
Max. torque (Nm) 400
at (rpm) 2000
C 02 emission -EU EU4
Exhaust emissions classification (manual) 161 (157)


Length (mm) 4360
Width (mm) 1748
Height (mm) 1423
Luggage capacities (m3) 370
Fuel capacity (litres) 51


Drag coefficient (Cd) 0.31
0-100 km/ h sec (manual) 7.1 (7.0)
Maximum speed in km/h (Manual) 236 (238)

Fuel consumption

EU, in town Litres/100km 1 (Manual) 7.9 (7.4)
EU, out of town 1 Litres/100km,(Manual) 5.1 (5.0)
Fuel consumption / Range (ltr /100km / km) – Automatic transmission 6.1/835

Technical Features

4-cylinder diesel engine, common rail system with direct injection
Diesel Particulate Filter
Variable twin-turbo
Electronic vehicle immobilisation (EWS III)

Safety Features

Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Cornering Braking Control (CBC)
Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), and Brake Force Display
Automatic Stability Control & Traction (ASC+T)
Dynamic Stability Control (DSCIII) with ASC+T function integrated
Dynamic Traction Control (DTC)
Driver & front passenger airbags w seat occupant detection sensor
Side airbags for driver and front passenger integrated into backrests (thorax)
Head airbag front and rear, curtain head protection system
Side impact protection
Front belt tensioners
02PA Locking wheel bolts
0302 Alarm System
Runflat tires including runflat indicator

Exterior Features

0321 Colour coded bumpers
Twin electric door mirrors
0346 Chrome line exterior
03AP Windscreen with grey shade band
0420 Sun protection glazing
0507 Park distance control (PDC) rear
0520 Fog lights
Windscreen in laminated safety glass, green tinted

Interior Features

0411 E lectric rear windows
0431 Interior mirror with anti-dazzle function
Height adjustment passenger seat
0481 Sport seats driver & passenger
0470 Child Seat ISOFIX with passenger seat de-activation
0473 Front armrest
0493 Storage compartment package: nets on rear of driver’s and front passenger’s backrests, 12 V socket in the luggage compartment, two lashing eyes, 2 tensioning straps on the luggage-compartment floor.
2 Cupholders in centre console
0534 Automatic air conditioning with Climate Control
0550 On-board Computer

In-Car Entertainment

0663 Radio Professional with single CD player
0694 CD Changer Preparation

Customer Assurance

BMW Service Inclusive – 3 years scheduled service and maintenance programme
2 years BMW Factory Warranty (with un-limited kilometre limitation)
3 years Vehicle Paint Warranty (with un-limited kilometre limitation)
12 years BMW Anti-corrosion Warranty (with un-limited kilometre limitation)
3 years Roadside Assistance Cover (with un-limited kilometre limitation)

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

Holden Calais V Sportswagon 2008 Review

October 6th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


I once went on a blind date, it was a forgettable evening but I can remember well how I felt before the initial meeting. I was a little nervous but also excited by the unknown and the possibilities that may bring. I felt the same way again the day I was to road test the new Holden Calais V Sportswagon. The terms sports and wagon have rarely been connected before and this is what concerned me. Would I be disappointed? Would our encounter become dull and laboured?

My nerves rapidly shifted to admiration when I first saw the Sportswagon in the flesh, it had a little more width in the rear than I’m used to, but I can dig that. The exterior styling has a definite European elegance foreign to previous Commodore wagons. The vehicle lines are fluent from tail to nose and are well accented by an aggressive waiting-to-pounce stance. Handsome 18-inch alloys fill out the guards nicely and match up well with some subtle chrome detailing on the body. Twin exhausts round off the sports look.

At first I was polite and gentle as we took a leisurely drive. Day turned to night but I felt it too forward to go home just yet, so I decided to find out what the Sportswagon’s made of on the inside. The general atmosphere of the interior cannot back up the good looks of the exterior, the plastics feel flimsy and anything that opens doesn’t quite shut as well as it should. That said, the interior is very practical with everything you need within easy reach.

The seats are good soft leather with electronic adjustment and memory settings for the driver. The front seats are wide and long horizontally but lack support during lateral movement. Seating in the rear is comfortable for three adults with Holden even boasting that rear leg room has increased since the previous larger model. Steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and trip computer are useful.

There is an ingenious roof-mounted DVD player with a drop-down screen for rear passengers, whatever is playing can be repeated on the main screen in the front while the car is stationary. The Sportswagon’s practicality extends to good storage options in the cabin with a large central binnacle under the front armrest, bins in all doors and a glove box big enough for both flowers and chocolates. There are well placed cup holders for front and rear occupants and separate compartments for sunglasses and coins. I found the driver’s control console simple to work and it wasn’t long before I was pushing all the right buttons so it was time for a mad dash back to mine.

The Sportswagon’s 3.6 litre V6 motor puts out a quiet hum at pace rather than the throaty growl that other six-cylinder motors often achieve. With 195kW on tap acceleration is keen but not explosive, which is acceptable when taking into account the vehicle’s near two-tonne curb weight. The five-speed automatic transmission works the gears nicely and in sports shift mode there is even more grunt on hand. If you must go faster you’ll have to get the V8, and if you need faster again you will have to wait for the HSV model, and if you need faster than that you really have no business in a wagon.

How was the ride? Well, the Sportswagon is built for comfort and at motorway cruising speed it provides just that, it’s quiet inside and very sure footed. On windier roads the vehicle does tend to feel a little high and floaty, it can lean when pushed around corners. That said, the steering is honest and precise and it does handle well considering its length and weight. The Sportswagon also has Electronic Stability Control (ESP), side, front and curtain airbags in case things turn sour.

The Sportswagon’s great rear end is a feature in itself, unlike its chunkier ancestors, the new model is built on the same wheelbase as the Commodore sedan. This has come at a cost in load capacity but compensation has been made in other areas. The tailgate hinge extends well into the roof, creating a wide opening for throwing gear in, this also means that the hatch hardly swings outwards on opening. The load height of the rear floor is high, making it easier to load items, while there is a clever cargo blind with two height settings. With the back seats folded down there are two metres in length from tailgate to front seats and a 2000 litre capacity, which should be plenty for most applications.

It was fun while it lasted but the Sportswagon really needs a family to fulfil its complete potential, I’m not ready for that just yet. If my circumstances were to change then the Sportswagon would provide an attractive mix of style, practicality and performance.

Click through to the next page for a list of specifications

Price: from $62,290

What we like

  • Styling
  • Strong performance for size
  • Highly practical

What we don’t like

  • Interior quality
  • Rear visibility
  • Wing mirrors

Holden Calais V Sportswagon (2008) – Specifications

Engine and transmission

195kW,(#) 3.6 litre High Output Alloytec V6 engine with 5-speed automatic transmission with Active Select
Limited Slip Differential (available only with sports suspension)

Control and handling

Electronic Stability Program (ESP®) incorporating:
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)
Electronic Brake Assist (EBA)
Traction Control System (TCS)
Linear Control Suspension
Sports suspension: Sport tuned spring and damper.
Reduced ride height (available only with Limited Slip Differential)


18″ x 8″ alloy wheels. 245/45 R18 100V tyres (4)
17″ x 4″ steel spare wheel. T155/80 R17 111M tyre
Full-size spare wheel and tyre


6 disc in-dash CD player. MP3 compatible
7 speakers. Total 150 watts
Speed dependent volume control
Rear seat overhead DVD player


Leather appointed seats
8-way electric adjustment of front seats
Adjustable driver’s seat lumbar support
Adjustable front passenger’s seat lumbar support
Driver’s seat position memory for up to 3 drivers
Rear seats fold flat

Cabin comfort

Dual zone electronic climate control
6.5″ multifunction colour LCD screen. Displays stereo and climate control information. DVD player and satellite navigation compatible (where fitted)
Front centre armrest with leather trim
Sunglasses holder
Two front reading lamps
Door entry lamps

Storage and cargo

60:40 split fold rear seats
Twin cup holders in centre console
Centre console storage compartment with armrest lid
Auxiliary power socket in console and rear cargo area
Shopping bag hooks in rear cargo area (2)
D-ring tie-down points (4)
Luggage net (adjustable) in rear cargo area to keep small items in place


Front fog lamps
Projector headlamps
Dual exhaust outlets
Quad exhaust outlets (V8 only)
Chrome finish body side mouldings


Steering wheel height and reach adjust
Leather wrap sports profile steering wheel
Multifunction steering wheel, featuring illuminated controls for:
Sound system
Trip computer
Bluetooth® for compatible mobile phones (where fitted)
Satellite navigation; Turn-by-turn (where fitted)
Multifunction driver display, featuring:
Trip computer information
Sound system information
Priority key. Stores settings for:
Climate control (where fitted)
Sound system
Trip computer
Speed alert
Headlamp and interior lighting time delay options
Driver’s seat and exterior mirror positions
(Calais V-Series and Calais with leather option only)
Alloy faced pedals
Leather wrap gear selector
Cruise control
Front and Rear Park Assist
Power exterior mirrors
Heated exterior mirrors with ‘puddle’ lamps and position memory
Passenger side exterior mirror dips when reverse gear selected
Rain sensing wipers
Road speed dependent variable intermittent wipers
Automatic headlamp mode. Switches on at twilight or low light
Trip computer with triple display, including:
Average speed
Odometer/tripmeter/trip time
Distance/time to go
Instantaneous/average fuel consumption
Digital speedometer
Tracks two trips simultaneously (eg. short day trip within long interstate trip)
Fuel used/range
Visual and audible speed warning
Sound system able to accommodate mobile phone kit
Auto mute when phone is in use
Bluetooth® for compatible mobile phones
Satellite navigation. Turn-by-turn
Satellite navigation. Full colour mapping

Occupant safety

Dual-stage front airbags for driver and front passenger, side impact airbags for driver and front passenger and side curtain airbags
Front lap/sash seatbelts with load limiters and pyrotechnic pretensioners
Rear seat child restraint anchor points (3)
Remote control priority key:
Operates central locking
Operates interior lighting. Time delay on entry
Automatic illumination when engine turned off
Operates exterior lamps
Enables/disables alarm system
Unlocks tailgate
Horn sounds if either front door is ajar when remote locking
Sound system operates only in original vehicle

# Maximum figures as per ECE regulations
* Figure quoted using 98 RON (PULP)


3.6L 60-degree Double Overhead Cam V6 with 4 valves per cylinder. Twin knock control sensors with individual cylinder adaptive control. On-board diagnostics.
Continuously variable camshaft phasing for inlet and exhaust cams. Variable Intake Manifold (VIM)
Capacity: 3564
Compression: 10.2
Power: 195kW@6500rpm
Torque: 340Nm@2600rpm
Exhaust system: Dual exhaust outlets
Gear ratios:
1st 3.42
2nd 2.21
3rd 1.60
4th 1.00
5th 0.75

Words Adam Mamo, photos Darren Cottingham

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