Dodge Caliber SXT 2010 Review

October 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

In our highly competitive world sometimes you have to be that little bit different just to get noticed. Carmakers worked this out a while back and have recently given the automotive world some unique and progressive designs. This holds especially true in the hatchback segment where radical styling has almost become the norm. So how exactly does a new car cultivate a unique appeal in these diverse times? To get the answers, Car and SUV spent a week with the updated 2010 Dodge Caliber because it still looks like no other vehicle on NZ roads.

What makes the Caliber aesthetically different is a mixture of traditional Dodge DNA and a body shape that’s a mash-up of hatchback, crossover and sports coupe. Its styling talks loudly and offers a truly American take on the conventional hatchback. The Caliber announces its arrival with its signature Dodge crosshair grille. In profile it shows off pumped up wheel arches, a coupe like roofline and a front foot, pouncing stance. The squared-off rear features jeweled tail lamps a narrow back windscreen and a protruding chunky bumper.  Exterior changes to the updated Caliber are minimal but do include some subtle chrome trim and a new 17-inch alloy wheel design which helps give the 2010 model an even sharper edge.

Step inside the Caliber and the unique styling continues with a fully refreshed interior design. The instrument panel, centre console storage bin and door panel trims have all been redesigned using higher quality materials. The result is a cabin that is more modern and user-friendly. There are some nice touches like chromed surrounds for the instruments and air vents and smart LED lighting which illuminates the cupholders. The hot rod red plastic inserts in the centre control stack may not appeal to all tastes but it provides another unique feature and matches up with the stain-resistant red/black cloth used on the seats. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good to grip and has audio controls at your fingertips. Continue reading “Dodge Caliber SXT 2010 Review” »

Nissan Qashqai +2 2010 Review

October 22nd, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

It’s always nice to have a little bit more. Like chocolate bars that come in ‘king size’ allowing that all-important extra bite. Or that mini-series on TV that begins with a double episode. Whatever way you look at it, a good thing is only really bettered by more of a good thing. With that in mind Nissan has taken its current good thing, the big-selling Qashqai and given it just a little bit more size. The enlarged Qashqai +2 now has the space for a third row of seating, allowing two more passengers and boosting total potential capacity to seven occupants. While the Qashqai was a gamble at the start being billed as a modern alternative to the traditional hatchback it was a risk that paid off handsomely, with more than 500,000 sales globally. Then it was facelifted for 2010 and has since been well received again. But is this larger +2 model a step too far? Car and SUV spent some time with the part crossover, part people mover to get the answers.

At first glance it’s difficult to distinguish the Qashqai +2 from its standard sibling, but look closer and its dimensions are clearly chunkier. The +2 is 211mm longer to allow for the extra seat and the wheelbase has increased by 135mm. Additionally the body is taller with a flatter roofline allowing for better headroom throughout and there’s a handy 55-litres of extra cargo space.  In terms of exterior design the +2 differs little from the standard model and benefits from the smoother look brought with the recent mid-cycle facelift. Raked headlights at the front and LED two-piece fittings at the rear help give the Qashqai a distinctive look but the standard 16-inch alloys struggle to fill the raised guards. The larger Qashqai boasts some practical features like integrated roof rails, tough black plastic mouldings all round, and longer rear doors than the standard model to help entry and exit from that third row of seats.

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Porsche Cayenne S 2011 Review

October 15th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

In 2003, Porsche surprised the motoring world and shocked badge fans with the introduction of the first Cayenne. Critics at the time thought the Cayenne would prove a modern day ‘Spruce Goose’ for the German carmaker but fortune favours the bold and Porsche were quickly on to a sales winner. Despite grumblings about the Cayenne’s styling and plus size figure it has gone on to sell almost 300,000 units worldwide and rescue Porsche from the brink of financial hardship. But the Cayenne was more than just a sales success; it showed that a full size SUV could genuinely push the sensory buttons of a driver seeking a sporty steer. Now for 2011, Porsche has unveiled its second-generation Cayenne and despite the large boots to fill its built to be more advanced in every area. Car and SUV took flight in the next-gen Cayenne to find out just how good it really is.

Porsche has clearly taken many of the criticisms of the first-generation Cayenne to heart, not least the attacks on the exterior styling. The overall design looks sleeker and lower so the Cayenne can no longer be described as an obese 911 wearing a Mumu. Porsche has stuck with sports car design cues borrowed from the Carrera like the front guards but there are also elements of the new Panamera included, particularly in the headlight shape. The gaping front air intake now has a more menacing look and the Porsche badge has been repositioned on to the dipping bonnet. While it’s easy for the eye to be fooled, the new Cayenne is actually slightly larger in all directions. With the wheelbase extended there is little rear overhang and the back doors are longer for easier entry and exit. The rear also appears trimmer with a new lighter one-piece tailgate design.

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BMW 330d Coupe 2010 Review

October 8th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

With the Commonwealth Games in full swing it’s easy to waste away a few hours watching athletes from around the globe battle it out in their chosen sports.  One of the more popular events is the gymnastics where buffed up competitors have tailored themselves mentally and physically to cope with the various disciplines. A mighty upper body for hanging from the rings, powerful legs for vaulting and a mix of grace and flexibility for the floor routine. But what’s most impressive is not the athlete’s ability to master a single area but to have absolute competence in all of them.  Among the various athletes in the automotive world the BMW 3-Series would surely be the gymnast.

Known as a consummate all-rounder the 3-Series embodies athleticism, low-key style and progressive technology. Diesel power is a more recent move in the 3-Series repertoire but one that’s quickly being mastered, resulting in some of the finest performance-focused diesel vehicles built to date. Could BMW’s newest example continue this growing reputation for dynamic diesel delivery and further the 3-Series dynasty. Car and SUV hit the mats with the new 330d Coupe to mark its form and find out more.

So what’s special about the 330d?

Many things, but what’s first noticeable is the low-slung coupe sheetmetal. Like a zip-up sheep costume the coupe’s inconspicuous clean lines nicely conceal the wolf within. At the front BMW’s wide kidney grille sits prominently between excellent LED element headlights. A sharp crease line tracks along the sides below elegantly curved windows and a raked forward C-pillar. The rear proportions are just right with minimal overhang, a black diffuser and twin chrome exhaust tips hinting at performance intent. Our test vehicle was further upgraded with the M Sport body kit and nicely matched 19-inch double spoke alloys (17-inch is standard). Overall, the 330d Coupe has an understated elegance that may not appeal to the ostentatious, but will still illicit plenty of sideways glances at the lights.

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Peugeot RCZ 2010 Review

October 8th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Peugeot’s only used the RC moniker for one other car — the RC Cup — and it has revived the racing-inspired denomination for its sports coupe, the RCZ. Is this car going to be a winner, though? Car and SUV takes Peugeot’s bold cab-forward two-door sports car for a thrash to the coffee shop.

The RCZ looks a lot more expensive than it is. Enormous wheels wrapped in sensibly low profile tyres fill the wheel arches like a cake in a tin; the proportions allow you to see Audi TT and Porsche Cayman, but then when you’re on the inside it’s lacking some of the refinements you’d expect (satellite navigation, for example) because you’re under the illusion you’ve paid $20,000 more than you actually have.

Like most other Peugeots, it requires a bit of faffing around to find a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel is too big when it feels like it’s at the best angle, but the seat’s electric motors will eventually find an adequate position. Having said that, I still felt good driving it. You wouldn’t buy a car like this if you didn’t want to achieve a certain amount of ‘look at me’ while driving through Ponsonby, and that makes up for any minor ergonomic issues.

Let’s talk about practicalities, though: the RCZ’s boot space is at least twice what I expected. Anticipating only being able to take the piss, I was amazed that it was possible to take at least enough luggage for a week’s camping. Space is helped by Peugeot’s inclusion of an electronic ‘emergency spare’ which is basically a small air compressor that pumps sealant into the tyre in the event of a puncture. This also frees up some hidden compartments under the boot floor in which you could leave valuables, or store a first aid kit and jumper cables long term if you’re more practical.

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BMW 550i SE 2010 Review

October 1st, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

BMW’s 5-Series has never been ostentatious, it’s never screamed out for attention or keenly elicited pedestrian glances. Instead, it’s flown under the radar of many since its inception back in 1972, but for those who know better the 5-Series is one executive saloon that’s hard to beat. Now in 2010 the 5-Series has entered it’s sixth generation and remains low key but is stronger and more advanced than ever before. Car and SUV spent a week behind the wheel of the top spec (below the M Division’s M5) 550i to see what’s new and what’s stayed the same. On paper, the 550i is the true stealth bomber of the range, equipped with a full payload of raw power, cutting edge technology and bulletproof build quality.

Exterior aesthetics were a heated talking point of the previous E60 5-Series penned by controversial designer Chris Bangle. The new 550i sees a return to the understated strong looks that defined earlier models. While there remains a clear resemblance to the E60 model the muscular creases in the bonnet and along the flanks combine with the prominent kidney grilles to better create a modern example of a familiar bloodline. Critics could argue that the new 5-Series hasn’t done enough to break new design ground, but few would blame BMW for playing it safe this time around. That said, the new 550i does stand out as an athletic machine with wide 19-inch wheels and gaping twin chrome exhaust tips offering a subtle hint to the power hiding underneath its contemporary sheet metal.

Even the harshest design critic would struggle to fault the 550i interior, with high quality leathers, metals and plastics that cosset the driver. There are a wide variety of artistic shapes and textures but all switchgear is thoughtfully placed and easily operated. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is thick to the grip and houses audio and phone controls. There are numerous class touches including illuminated climate control displays that disappear into their surrounds when not required and a large high-def colour control screen that’s recessed into the dashboard for good visibility even in harsh lighting conditions. The i-Drive jog dial control system is excellent, it’s very simple to use and has functions for a variety of applications, from playing music stored on the in-built hard disk to checking oil levels and tyre pressures. There’s too much standard equipment to list but some tricks to show off to friends include a heads up speed display, a booming 12 speaker stereo system, 4-zone air conditioning with backseat controls and a voice recognition system. If you want to get into the lengthy (and pricey) options list, high-tech gems like seat mounted rear DVD screens, active cruise control or a night vision safety system are available.

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Mitsubishi Outlander LS 2010 Review

September 17th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Sharp styling is always nice, and strong performance can be exciting, but nothing speaks to new car buyers as loudly as price. The Korean carmakers have known this for decades and now Mitsubishi has cottoned on and released a new entry-level model in its very successful Outlander range. Like buying ‘home brand’ at the supermarket the Outlander LS forgoes some of the fancy packaging to chase down a more attractive price – $37,990. That’s a tempting sum to swap for NZ’s best selling medium SUV especially coming with Mitsubishi’s 5-year/10-year warranty.  But in achieving this price what concessions have been made on this brazen base-model? Car and SUV opened the packet on the Outlander LS to take a closer look at the contents within.

Visually the LS, like all Outlanders has a more traditional boxy SUV shape when compared to the highly curved new-school SUVs like the Hyundai ix35 and the Mazda CX-7. Classic good looks aside, it’s only under close inspection that the LS differs from its more expensive siblings. Mitsubishi’s ‘jet fighter’ grille, first used on the Lancer then on the facelifted Outlander range, hasn’t filtered down to the LS model. While this leaves it a facelift behind other Outlanders the overall styling on the LS is modern and gives it genuine presence. Tough black plastic mouldings protect the underside and it rolls on 16″ steel wheels with silver covers. Overall, it’s a smart looking machine with its high beltline, tinted rear glass and subtle chrome touches.  With the exception of the steel wheels there is nothing about the Outlander LS that really screams ‘base model’.

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Hyundai i45 Elite 2010 Review

September 10th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Hyundai has established itself as the true giant-killers of the automotive world, with good-looking, quality product served up at a palatable price. Currently there isn’t a carmaker around that doesn’t pay attention when the Korean firm releases a fresh offering. But for Hyundai it’s no longer about the journey from mediocrity to earning a seat at the head table, it’s about reinforcing position and feasting on the fruits of its efforts. Hyundai’s new i45 represents the latest stone to be loaded into the sling and as it’s launched into the competitive mid-size sedan market keen observers are wondering if it will strike its target or fall in the dust. Car and SUV spent a week with the i45 to chart its flight-path towards success.

The first step towards winning over buyers and opposing badge snobbery is with sharp styling and the i45 delivers in full with a busy blend of razored lines and raked-back surfaces. Clearly drawing from European inspiration the i45 makes a statement at the front with a blinging chrome grille, teardrop headlights and a gaping front air dam with deep-set fog lamps. Along the sides a deep rising crease runs front to rear finishing in wrap around rear light clusters. At the back twin chrome exhaust tips sit below a short boot deck and a long, swooping rear windscreen. Overall the i45 is a genuine looker, with an ultra-modern and exclusive look. The high beltline and coupe-like roof also work in a practical sense with ample headroom inside, and the long rear doors provide for easy entry. The executive look is finished off with smart 18-inch alloys in Elite trim – as tested.

The premium treatment with fluidic lines and solid build quality continues inside. Cool blue illumination and a silver-ringed instrument cluster look great, as do the brushed aluminium and chrome highlights. The dark plastics feel quality and are pleasant to the touch. The curved dashboard feeds into a gloss black centre control stack and while the switchgear is unorthodox in appearance it’s logically laid out and is easily operated. Audio and cruise controls are repeated on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and there’s a range of small storage options. On the i45 Elite the seats are trimmed in supple high-grade leather and would prove comfortable on long journeys.

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