Subaru Impreza 2.0i X 2013 Review

November 29th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

With almost all the current Impreza X stock snapped up, you’ll be hunting around the dealerships if you want to get one without waiting a few months for the next shipment. Subaru only brought 250 of the entry-level Imprezas into New Zealand and it certainly resonated with the buying public, because at a shade over thirty grand, the Impreza brings a lot to the party.

subaru-impreza-x-2013-rear-quartersubaru-impreza-x-2013-interiorThe thorn in the side of the Impreza X, though, is the entry level Volkswagen Golf TSI. Subaru cannot continue to solely trade on its rally-bred heritage and all-wheel drive competence to entice buyers now that there’s a Euro to be had for similar money.

That said, $31,990 buys you a lot of features. Five years ago we would have stepped in a car like this with its obviously low-end interior and expected no bells, whistles or other melodic implements. Today you get a very impressive set of standard equipment including dual zone climate control, Bluetooth compatibility, leather steering wheel and gear shift boot, reversing camera, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a well-featured trip computer. It’s just missing the convenience of automatic lights and wipers.

The Impreza X is an entirely different beast to the Golf technically. While VW has been bestowing smaller turbocharged engines upon its models, Subaru has stayed with a trusty two-litre boxer motor with 110kW and 196Nm. It puts the power to the axles via Subaru’s CVT system called Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT). While this is one of the better CVT systems on the market, the VW’s seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox is far more engaging and nicer to drive with less of the unintended surge you can sometimes get with a CVT gearbox at certain revs on seemingly specific gradients. Continue reading “Subaru Impreza 2.0i X 2013 Review” »

Mini Cooper S Paceman 2013 Review

November 22nd, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

With seven Mini model lines available there’s plenty of choice, whether you want classic, small and nimble, or something with more space, like this new Paceman.

mini-cooper-s-paceman-rear-quarterDespite the Mini’s oxymoronic proportions (it’s not exactly ‘mini’ and adds almost 180kg over a standard Mini Cooper S), it delivers a relatively peppy 7.5 seconds to 100kph, which is half a second slower. You get the same 135kW, 240Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. Fuel economy is OK for a petrol car with Mini quoting 6.1l/100km combined, 5.4l/100km extra-urban and 7.5l/100km urban. Those figures are for the 6-speed manual, which we tested; if you go for the automatic, it’s more thirsty.

The Paceman’s boot is where you get the main advantage over the standard Mini. It has 330 litres of space with the seats up (over twice as much as a Mini) and 1080 litres with the seats down, versus 680 in a Mini. The Paceman’s fuel tank is three litres less than a Mini at 47 litres.

mini-cooper-s-paceman-rear-seatsThe seats don’t fold fully flat in the rear. There are only two of them, too, and you won’t be transporting basketball players in comfort. You get to the rear seats via the front doors and sliding the front seats forward. The front seats don’t return to the place they were when you moved them forward, though, so you will end up making adjustments each time. Between the seats are two cup holders.

mini-cooper-s-paceman-front-interiorMy drive to Piha on Auckland’s west coast quickly taught me that you have plenty of overtaking power, and excellent cornering ability, but the Paceman has quite an active drive when the roads are bumpy; it demands to be controlled because of the firmer suspension and sharp steering. You’ll feel like you need two hands on the wheel if the road is narrow and undulating because it feels fidgety on its large 18-inch alloys with 225/45R18 run-flat tyres, and the steering is very light. If you take command, though, it delivers a fairly engaging drive with an almost sports car-like feel at times. This is helped by an excellent driving position, supportive bucket seats and the fact that the suspension has been lowered 10mm to create a lower centre of gravity. Continue reading “Mini Cooper S Paceman 2013 Review” »

Subaru Outback 2.5i Sport 2013 Review

November 11th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

Skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, wakeboarding: they all need either long or cumbersome equipment, and transport to places where proper tarmac can be sparse. They need a vehicle that’s an enabler. The Outback 2.5i Sport is that vehicle. With four-wheel drive, plenty of ground clearance and a practical station wagon body, it’ll take a family or a group of mates for adventures.

subaru-outback-sport-2.5-2013-rear-quarterThe Outback 2.5i Sport is a raised version of the Legacy 2.5i Sport and is the step below the Forester in terms of off-road capability (the Forester has a few more mm of ground clearance and some extra driving modes to help in the real rough stuff).

subaru-outback-sport-2.5-2013-sideAs well as Symmetrical All-wheel Drive, Subaru’s main safety feature is its EyeSight Preventative Safety System. This consists of a camera either side of the rear-view mirror. The cameras capture a three-dimensional image and can tell if a car is braking ahead of you, or if you’re about to run into a pedestrian. If automatic braking intervention is required, EyeSight can make that decision before you’ve even had time to react to help reduce or diminish the severity of a frontal collision.

EyeSight also takes over the throttle pre-collision, and provides active cruise control, lane departure warning and lead vehicle start alert (when the car in front of you moves out of the way while you’re under adaptive cruise control, or you are stationary and the car in front moves away it beeps to let you know). Continue reading “Subaru Outback 2.5i Sport 2013 Review” »

Honda Accord V6NT 2013 Review

November 9th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

The Accord V6 takes the NT and makes it better by putting a 206kW, six-cylinder motor under the bonnet. Now it’s got some overtaking credentials and doesn’t have the thin, strained engine sound that the NT has when you push it. In fact, it’s a pleasant, muffled V6 roar that’s accompanied by smooth, but not raging, acceleration.

honda-accord-v6-2013-rear-quarterThe 3.5-litre i-VTEC engine is hardly strained, and the 339Nm of torque is delivered in a progressive manner through a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine has VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) which shuts down cylinders that aren’t needed when you only require low power, thus reducing fuel consumption. Consequently the combined urban/extra urban fuel consumption is quoted at 9.2l/100km and that’s not far off what we achieved.

honda-accord-v6-2013-front-interiorWhile the NT gets a 5-speed ‘box, the V6’s six-speed is extremely smooth and well-matched to the engine. It learns your driving style so if you are aggressive with the throttle it will give you the lower gears earlier than if you’re just cruising.

Other than the engine and gearbox there’s very little that’s different in the V6, except that the passenger seat is now 8-way electronically adjustable as opposed to 4-way, you get a couple of chrome finishers on the exhaust at the back of the car as opposed to just one, and it’s a little heavier at 1667kg vs. 1572kg.

So let’s recap on the main points (and cover off some different information, so it’s a good idea to also read this review of the four-cylinder NT which will open in a new tab).

The three main safety features are:

  • Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) which monitors what’s ahead and will brake for you if it thinks you’re about to have an accident
  • Adaptive Cruise Control, which uses the same system as the CMBS to detect if you are approaching a slower vehicle ahead of you when using cruise control. If so, it will slow the car down to match their speed, keeping a safe distance, then can resume at the predefined speed once it’s out of the way. This is particularly useful in the rush hour crawl.
  • Lane Keep Assist System which uses a camera (LaneWatch Camera) to monitor the lanes and will provide gentle steering input back into the centre of the lane if it detects you are wandering out of the lane. This really is the first step towards having a driverless car because the system is good enough to keep you in a motorway lane for quite long distances with no steering input whatsoever, as long as the turns aren’t too sharp or the lines aren’t clear.

There are a number of other features that help with safety, too:

  • Active cornering lights – when you turn, additional bulbs illuminate in the direction you are turning. This makes it much easier to turn into darker driveways or parking spots.
  • Driver and passenger front i-SRS airbags, side airbags in the front seats with OPDS (Occupant Position Detection System) on the passenger seat, and full length side-curtain airbags
  • The full complement of Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist (Electronic Stability Control plus Traction Control), ABS, Emergency Stop Signal (hazard light activation), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist
  • Trailer Stability Assist
  • Tyre Deflation Warning System
  • Wing mirror-mount camera for blind spot monitoring. This is not as much use as you might think, and is bound to cost a lot if you break it.

honda-accord-v6-2013-sideAt the risk of this turning into some kind of features list, which you can get on Honda’s website, I’d better tell you how it drives. It’s smooth. And quiet. At any speed there’s really quite minimal road noise from the 235-width tyres, and even though they’re wrapped around 18-inch wheels there seems to be a good balance between it looking sharp, but not being bumpy.

honda-accord-v6-2013-screens

In the cabin the entertainment and vehicle parameters are centred around two screens, one of which is a touchscreen, and various functions can be controlled from it, such as the audio on your phone (if connected via USB or Bluetooth). The larger screen is used to display the reversing camera image which has three viewing modes, and the satellite navigation which, now I’ve got used to using Google Maps on my iPhone, seems very clunky (like most cars’ in-built sat nav systems). There’s a kind of joystick/jog wheel to control functions on this.

honda-accord-v6-2013-rear-seatsDriver and passenger comfort is excellent. There is plenty of legroom in the back, and in the front, both seats are heated and have 8-way adjustment. Instruments are easy to read and well laid out, and there are numerous cubbyholes for storage.

The design of the Honda is very ‘executive’, and the white pearl paint of our test car attracted some positive comments from passengers. From the side the look is very sleek with two strong forward-sloping lines forming a visual channel along the door.

Is there anything wrong with the Accord? Only really the ridiculous wing mirror camera. It’s not as useful as conventional blind spot monitoring system which would show an orange light in the wing mirror if a vehicle is in your blind spot. As soon as you indicate left the image takes over the large screen and it’s all just a bit distracting.

Other than that, though, it’s very difficult to fault. You get a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty so that’s going to suit those that like to rack up the travel. The design is inoffensive and well-proportioned, and the performance is pleasing.

Price: $60,000

Pros

  • Executive looks
  • Comfortable
  • Lots of room
  • Plenty of performance

Cons

  • Wing mirror camera will be expensive to replace, and doesn’t work as well as standard blind spot monitoring

Main specifications and features

  • Engine Type: 3.5 litre, 24 valve, SOHC, i-VTEC
  • Maximum Power (kW @ rpm): 206kW @ 6,200rpm
  • Maximum Torque (Nm @ rpm): 339Nm @ 4,900rpm
  • VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) for optimising power and efficiency
  • ACM (Active Control Engine Mounts) for smooth operation under VCM
  • Compression Ratio: 10.5
  • Bore x Stroke (mm): 89 x 93
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Honda Genuine Navigation System with USB audio integration
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
  • Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS)
  • Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS)
  • G-CON (G-Force Control) Collision Compatibility body design
  • Seatbelts: 3-point ELR seatbelts (front and rear). E-pretensioners and height adjustable anchor points for front seatbelts
  • Smart Entry with push-button start
  • Combined – Australian Design Rules (ADR) L/100kms : 9.2
  • Urban – Australian Design Rules (ADR) L/100kms : 13.9
  • Extra Urban – Australian Design Rules (ADR) L/100kms : 6.4
  • Combined – Australian Design Rules (ADR) CO2 (g/km): 217
  • Weight (kg): 1667
  • Max Weight (kg): 2130
  • Boot capacity seats up (litres, VDA method): 457
  • Wheels: 18″ x 8″ Pewter Grey alloy wheels with 235/45 R18 98W tyres.
  • Twin exhaust pipes with chrome finish
  • Active cornering lights (ACL)
  • 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with Memory and lumbar support
  • 8-way power adjustable front passenger seat
  • Heated front seats with two heat settings
  • Cargo luggage floor hooks: 4
  • Leather upholstery
  • Independent driver and passenger climate control air conditioning with i-Dual zone
  • Electric glass sunroof with tilt/slide function and integrated sliding shade, with onetouch open/close function and anti-trap
  • Auto dimming rear view mirror

 

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

Holden Commodore SS 2013 Review

November 6th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

Three friends and I headed to Hamilton and one of our road trip topics was riddles. You can cover some distance figuring out some serious conundrums and it’s better than playing I spy.

holden-commodore-ss-2013-rear-quarterThe situation the Commodore SS finds itself in is a conundrum, too. To all intents and purposes it’s a dinosaur; a heavy, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive V8 that doesn’t pretend that it will go off-road.

holden-commodore-ss-2013-bootTaking a look at the supposedly more highly evolved competition you see entire genera of vehicles like compact SUVs and crossovers – they’re new and trendy. They’re ‘evolved’. We appear to have moved on from the 1980s and people don’t want big four-door sedans.

People are wrong. The Commodore is every bit as safe as an SUV with its 5-star ANCAP crash rating, it handles better due to its lower centre of gravity, for the performance it has comparable fuel economy with SUVs of similar acceleration, and at $61,490 you can’t get a ‘performance’ SUV. It’s not going to fit as much luggage, but it does come with a large boot that’s enough for four people’s gear (495 litres).

holden-commodore-ss-2013-reversing-cameraThe Holden will park itself in parallel or right angle parks using Automatic Park Assist. You just need to control the throttle, brake and transmission. If you’re reversing out of a right angle park, the Reverse Traffic Alert warns you if a vehicle is approaching in your blind spots. And speaking of blind spots, when you are driving along, the Commodore constantly scans them and warns you using an orange light in each wing mirror if another vehicle might be in a place where you can’t easily see it. Continue reading “Holden Commodore SS 2013 Review” »

Holden Trax LS 2013 Review

October 30th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

With people still lapping up SUVs when cars will do the same job often better, Holden has added a baby SUV to its range to pull people away from the Suzuki SX4 and Ford Kuga and get its share of the buying public’s hard-earned sovereigns.

Holden-Trax-LS-2013-rear-quarterThe South Korean-built compact SUV is available in other countries as the Chevrolet Trax or Opel Mokka, and it comes in two two-wheel drive versions, the LS and the LTZ. It’s based on the same platform as the Barina and takes its powertrain from the Cruze. That means you get a car that’s short and highly manoeuvrable that comes with a 103kW, 175Nm, 1.8-litre petrol engine and 6-speed automatic gearbox.

Holden-Trax-LS-2013-side103kW isn’t that much to produce for a 1.8-litre engine but you really have to work it to get decent acceleration and that causes the engine to scream. And, it still doesn’t exactly light up the tyres in a frenzy of acceleration. It’ll cruise happily at highways speeds and drinks 7.6l/100km on the combined cycle – around average for a car this size. You can’t tell this, though, because Holden has omitted a trip computer, which is a suspicious choice. Continue reading “Holden Trax LS 2013 Review” »

Lexus IS300h F Sport and Lexus IS350 2013 Review

October 5th, 2013 by Darren Cottingham

Look closely at the front grille and air splitter and you see the types of curves and air inlets that you expect on an F1 car. And it doesn’t stop there because there are vanes and little details all over the place like on the side of the rear lights. This is the IS300h F Sport, a 2.5-litre hybrid IS-series Lexus with all the fruit. That’s probably what the F stands for: Fruit.

Lexus-IS350-2013-fqBut for similar money you could have the base model IS350 (shown on the left – the remainder of the images in the article are the IS300h). The purpose of this article is to tell you which one to go for: the lesser-powered IS300h plus the trimmings or the brawny but more basic IS350 which will smoke the tyres and give you grins with its 3.5-litre V6. The IS300h F Sport weighs in at $91,995, whereas the IS350 is $94,995 – barely a difference at this kind of money.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-rear-quarterA beautiful line ascends gracefully from the side skirt through an imaginary chord across the rear wheel, along a panel intersection and into the rear light cluster. It’s one of the best executions of this design trick that I’ve seen and it draws your eye up around the rear of the car which is a perfectly executed tail that looks both executive and sporty.

Drop yourself into the bucket seat and it wraps itself around you. The seats are both supportive and comfortable, and a great balance between gripping you enough and not restricting your movement.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-rangeIn the F Sport a central circular dial dominates the centre of the instrument cluster and in normal or eco mode it contains a gauge that measures how economically you’re driving and how much power is either being directed to the battery or drawn from it. Either side of the dial are information displays for the trip computer. Switch the Lexus into Sport or Sport+ mode and this centre ring slides to the right giving a larger screen area to the left. This will now show all manner of information ranging from what is playing via Bluetooth from your phone through to servicing information in an interface that is well-designed.

Look inside the IS350 and you get a more standard-looking set of dials without the fancy graphics that accompany the change in driving mode – they’re a bit too Camry-ish in my opinion. The IS350 only gets three modes (eco, normal and sport) whereas the IS300h F Sport adds a Sport+. Continue reading “Lexus IS300h F Sport and Lexus IS350 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.

nissan-pulsar-sss-2013-rq

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” »