Mazda reckons on victory in Targa Tasmania

31 01 2008

Mazda big wigs have thrown down the gauntlet for their 2008 Targa Tasmania campaign in the Mazda3 MPS. In a press release they have stated “We’ll win the Showroom competition and finish in the top ten.” With the driver talent they’ve lined up, they might just do it to.

Alister McRae poses with a Mazda3 

Alister McRae and Rick Bates have both signed as drivers for the event, considered by many to be the premier tarmac rally in Australia. McRae brings with him the experience of over 75 WRC events and the prestigious title of former British Rally Champion. Meanwhile, Rick Bates took out the class win in the 2007 Targa and ranked tenth in the outright placing, an incredible run for a standard production vehicle, especially considering it was only outperformed by race specification or rally cars.

In the 2WD showroom category the competitor listings currently only show 3 Peugot 206’s. With only 130kW on tap the Peugot’s will be monstered by the Mazda3’s turbocharged 190kW and 360Nm. While a class win should be assured, taking a tenth placing outright will prove a challenge for the car.

Rick Bates with the 2007 Car

In the racing categories the Mazda drivers will be facing no less that 36 Porches, 27 Mitsubishi Evo’s, 13 WRX’s, 10 Skylines, 2 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera’s, 5 BMW M vehicles plus many more, almost all of which will be race prepped.

Its definitely a big ask for a FWD mass produced hatchback to take 10th in the Targa. But having taken 10th last year in the same car, Mazda’s little hatchback that could, looks like its going to again.

2007 car in action

Ohh… is this still on… well while I’m on the air I might as well have a little rant… In Targa Tasmania there is a non racing category, were drivers get to take their rare cars out for a spin on some very nice roads, and members of the public get to see some amazingly exclusive vehicles in action. Naturally the number of places are extremely limited, and the cars are hand picked to ensure the public get to see some truly memorable machinery.

So what kinda of car made this exclusive list? Well out of the 35 entrants currently listed, there are three BMW M3’s all built between 1994 & 2002, A Mazda MX5 and a Mazda MX5 SE of the same era, plus the worst of the lot, 9 Porsches! Now the 356 I understand, and maybe have an old 911 and a new 911 to show how they’ve gradually changed over the years. But over a 1/4 of the exhibition field look like the same bloody car!

I love Targa Tasmania, its a fantastic rally held in a beautiful location. But if the organisers don’t start picking up their game, the fans aren’t going to bother. And if you lose the fans you lose the event. It is simply not acceptable to have the exhibition fields populated by the same old cars we see pottering around on the road every day. Simply imagine if the Goodwood Festival of Speed tried to pull a stunt like that.

Organisers, get with it. Stop charging exorbitant entry fee’s for people who just want to tootle around in their cars, they’re not in a racing category. Get out there, harass the owners and manufacturers and get some of the truly amazing machinery into the event. Rent out a racetrack for the five days and hold static displays there. For God’s sake just do something to make it a great day out for the fans because if we wouldn’t sit by the side of the freeway watching these mundane cars driving past, why would we bother coming to your event?





What to do with Subaru

26 01 2008

You know what I’m talking about, the new MY08 Impreza WRX STI. It started with mysterious photographs, the car shrouded in darkness… never a particularly good sign. Then in the middle of the night I got a phone call from a colleague. He was beside himself but wouldn’t say why, I simply had to get up and look at Subaru’s Japanese website.

I stumbled out of bed and with bleary eyes loaded the page. Wait… is that The Alan Parsons Project gently crooning through my speakers? Aww, how nice, a picture of a summers day with “Fantastic moments” written on it. People laughing and smiling as they drive past fields of grass and admire the sky through their sunroof. How… nice…

Well, time’s a wasting, where is that STI section? Ah it’d have to be that picture of a car lurking in the shadowy corner, ready to pounce. Hmm, let me see. Discrete badging… Refined styling… That can’t be right… I must be in the Liberty’s section… ARGHH WHAT IN GODS NAME IS THAT?!?!

Oh no… wait a minute, thats  my little sisters Daewoo Lanos. Opened the wrong page.

Dangit, that’s the Lanos agai….. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!

What the hell happened? Subaru WRX STI. Thudding boxer engine. Anti-Lag Exhaust belching flame. A world rally championship car unleashed on the road.

The STI was always the wild one. While the Mitsubishi Evo unleashed wave after wave of computer trickery to keep the driver in line, the STI felt more and more mechanical. It was engineered, not programmed, and when you pulled levers things went clunk. There was no pirouetting around on tippy toes like the Evo, the STI would stomp up to a corner, grab you by the scruff of your neck and hurl you screaming out the other side. The only thing keeping it out of the hedges was testosterone and the massive pair of balls weighing the drivers side down.

Subaru’s cars always looked the way they drove. Like they were built by a team of dwarven engineers, deep underground somewhere amongst huge tankards of beer and assembled with sledgehammers and blowtorches. Lately however, they seem to have been hiring *shudder* designers.

 

Subaru Tribeca, I heard at midnight they turn into goldfish!

The Tribeca was bad, and I mean really bad. But it was a big stupid looking four wheel drive, and they didn’t get rid of any of the cars we liked in order to release it. Obviously the Tribeca didn’t sell, no-one in their right mind would buy a car that reminds them of being kissed by an Auntie. It just sat around, lowering the tone of Subaru dealerships a bit but not really causing any harm. Not anymore. Have a close look at the shape of the windows, the flared arches and distinct crease running along the side of the body. For reasons only know to themselves, someone decided to carry the hugely unpopular styling cues from the Tribeca over to the STI.

It’s just wrong. The STI already had a meaning, it didn’t need a new one. Its styling used to talk of manliness, of standing around scratching yourself and spitting. It was the kind of car that would have people trudging through the rain to stand by the side of a road grinning when a STI roared past lighting its farts and throwing mud in their face. Now it looks like the kind of car that will only throw mud at your face if you’ve paid ridiculous amounts to have it flown over, fresh from a hole in New Zealand and renowned for its “rejuvenating powers”. I’m not sure if I can even work up the courage to test it… so many people laughing at me… I’m telling you straight up, it better be the best damn car I ever drive if it’s going to make up for the looks…

Subaru, why did you do it? Why did you turn the STI into a girls car? 





Dave tries his hand at stupid car names.

26 01 2008

There are some spectacularly bad names for cars out there.  Its all a result of cynical marketing really. If you want a car to seem exotic and mysterious, call its something in another language so no-one ever knows what your talking about. Take the Hyundai Tiburon. It means shark in Spanish. Around my part of the world, telling people you’ve had an encounter with a car shark means you’ve just been badly ripped off.

The thing is, it works both ways. Japan is notorious for giving cars English names which make absolutely no sense. There’s the Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard, Nissan’s Big Thumb Harmonised Truck and of course the Mitsubishi Mum 500 Shall We Join Us.

This got me thinking. You see, I’m an Australian. That means I speak English, but I also speak Strine. Strine sounds like English, and it actually is, but it’s slurred together into one long mush of a sentence and scattered liberally with nonsensical words. Australia is unusual from most other English speaking countries in that our initial population where mainly convicts. So while most English speaking countries were populated by people who wanted to be heard and understood, Australians didn’t want their prison wardens to understand them. Instead of developing a clear and precise accent, words were slurred together and often the only way to tell if your being asked a question is by listening to the pitch. For example, unlike the northern American Dialect were a question is clearly phrased, in Strine often the only way to tell the difference between a question and a statement is by the pitch. If the speaker ends the sentence in a high pitched voice, this will indicate they’re asking a question.

I’m not an expert in explaining these things, so here’s a link http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=KzneUfUXhoI&feature=related A young bloke by the name of Luke Devine gives some examples of strine. The first example Emma Chisit means, “How much is it?” to which the older man replies Attlebee aitninee “That will be eight ninety.” See if you can figure out the rest urself. Oh and the psychedelic floating pink thing… I think its supposed to be an echidna… I wouldn’t recommend watching the clip if on acid though…

Anyways, those who don’t understand Strine will probably not get this post, but for those who do, here’s what I’ve come up with, for a car line to sell overseas.

The Armstrong DropGut, a sporty convertible, in Australian the name means a warm passing wind.

The Armstrong Chundabucket, an aggressive offroader, in Australian it means chunky waterfall.

The Armstrong Fooktfranga, A people carrier, in Australian it means an unexpected surprise.

 Well that’s it. This seemed far funnier in my head than its appearing in print but :p not like it cost you anything to read did it lol





Honda Accord’s new VCM V6

23 01 2008

Hot off the presses, Honda are making moves to increase their stake in the V6 Family car market. The updated Honda Accord is to be unveiled to the Australian market at the Melbourne motor show.

Honda Accord

Lets be honest, the styling is same old same old. This is the four door family car market, so no-one is expecting a revolution. The Accord is tidy and neat, a car that looks appropriate for any situation and that’s exactly what its supposed to do.

So where’s the kicker? What is going to make this car something special?

Its all in the engine. A 3.5 litre V6 is going to be fitted, but its party piece is its VCM, or Variable Cylinder Management. Similar to systems fitted to the Chrysler 300c, Honda’s VCM works by sealing off cylinders when the car doesn’t need its full power. In other words, most of the time. The power is there when you want it, but you don’t have to keep paying when not using it.

Honda V6 Engine with VCM Technology

This paragraph is going to be a little technical, so if its not your scene just mosey along to the next one. The engine will switch between 3,4 or 6 cylinders, depending on the power needed. This can result in the economy of a four cylinder engine. The pistons still need to be moved through the cylinders even if they aren’t actively firing, but by sealing the valves an air spring is created in the cylinder which assists. The real economy comes from the remaining pistons however. When running at part throttle, large capacity engines drop pressure within all cylinders, this results in poor performance and reduced fuel efficiency. By completely sealing off some of the pistons, those remaining have greater internal pressure and better fuel efficiency.

Honestly in hind sight I cannot believe it has taken so long for engines like this to hit the Australian market. We have a lot of highway driving and systems like this will result in better fuel efficiency than that of a hybrid. Hybrid cars are very good for stop/start inner city driving due to their electric motor being able to stop completely when the car is stationary and recover energy when the car is slowing down. However, when cruising at highway speeds the efficiency of hybrids drops dramatically. The drain on the electric motor is constant, requiring the petrol engine to constantly keep topping it up. With the added weight of having to carry both an electric and petrol motor as well as battery packs, a lighter car with just a petrol engine is capable of much better fuel consumption. In the case of the Honda, the car has your regulation V6 engine, there’s no electric motors or battery pack weighing it down, they simply use the V6 smarter.

In Australia the majority of the population don’t have to deal with traffic jams and stop/start inner city driving. They live in suburban area’s and instead commute along highways. The fact of the matter is, technology like VCM is far more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly than hybrids, while still letting you have the power of a V6 engine when you want it.

VCM technology “Yes” for highway commuting, Hybrid technology “No”

Holden and Ford take note, if you want to claw back market share from the smaller more economical rivals, here’s your answer right here. GM already have a successful version of this technology but so far have only fitted it to some of their American pickup range.

Honda have made a brilliant maneuver by being the first to introduce this technology to the Australian market. This is the kind of fuel saving technology that will work here, I look forward to getting behind the wheel of the car.

It looks like its going to have the right stuff. Well done Honda.





Show or Go? Radiator Cooling Panels

22 01 2008

Hmm well you learn plenty in a week of having a blog. Technical pages get heaps of hits, opinion pieces go untouched. Well give the people what they want! Allow me to introduce my new column. Show or Go? Here I’ll be taking a hard look at some of the more dubious performance upgrades you can attach to your car and finding out if they actually make the car go faster, or if they’re just for show.

My first analysis will be an old favourite of mine. Radiator Cooling Panels.

Aka Hood Panels, Aka Bonnet blockers, Aka Mega happy cooling panel 3000!

I first came across these while working in my local tuning shop. A good earner, they sold well and were easy for modifiers to fit. Everybody wants their cars to run cooler and you’ll find these fitted to some seriously high performance machines in the D1 series. So they must work… right?

For those not in the know, a radiator cooling panel is a sheet of metal or carbon fiber that fits across the front of the car above the radiator. The idea is to prevent air from traveling over the top of the radiator, and instead force it through the radiator where it will have an actual cooling effect. A picture is worth a million words methinks.

Example of a Radiator Cooling Panel

 

The gap left open above the radiator that all the air escapes through 

 

All nice and plugged up now!

Ho ho ho, silly manufacturers. Don’t they know that leaving a big gap above the radiator means all the air will just flow past it? Whatever will we do with them.

Well of course they bloody well knew there was a gap there. Ladies and gentlemen, if I may direct your attention upwards. Have a long hard look at the bottom of your bonnet. You will notice, this:

OMG! Someone drew some badly photoshopped arrows underneath my bonnet!!1!

No as a matter of fact I’m pointing out the rubber seal that sits on the underside of your bonnet. And lets all look downwards again…

 

Got it yet? Hang on I’ll draw some lines that will explain a lot.

Ooooooh, anyone feeling like an idiot yet?

Yes in fact the manufacturers have blocked the top of the radiator using that rubber seal along the bonnet. Once air is forced into the front of the car it comes up against that rubber seal. It cant get past there so it finds another way out, by going through the radiator.

The reason cooling panels are popular in D1 is because they use carbon fiber hoods. These stripped out bonnets don’t have the rubber seal, so they need to make do with a cooling panel. But have a look at the pictures above, see all the gaps in the cooling panels to make room for the bonnet latch and so forth? Make no mistake, the near airtight seal of the rubber is a far better alternative that some chopped up tin.

So the Verdict. Unless your car is sporting a carbon fiber bonnet, cooling panels are definitely

ALL SHOW, NO GO!

How bad is the damage?

If you’ve got a full carbon fiber bonnet then your in the clear. It’d give you a better result if you had a rubber seal, but because that isn’t possible at least your cooling panel is of some use. 

If you have a stock bonnet with an aluminum Cooling panel your officially baby rice. Plenty of people have been in your shoes, don’t be to embarrassed, yes it has absolutely no use, but least you didn’t pay lots for it.

If you bought the $600 full carbon fiber cooling panel… Sorry buddy, you’ve paid through the nose for something that does little more than add weight. Rice king for you!

 

 





Jaguar XF wins car of the year!

21 01 2008

This is just a quick note between rants. You can’t believe how delighted I am that the Jaguar XF has won the 2008 “What Car?” Car of the Year award. The XF was such a brave move by a company notorious for building stuffy cars aimed at the 60 year old, golf playing crowd and I’m overjoyed to see it getting its dues.

Jaguar XF; ‘What Car?’ Car Of the Year, 2008

I’m well known for my dislike of manufacturers who refuse to move forward. They spend their time and money pandering to the whims of the few from the baby boomer generation stuck trying to relive their youth. Dodge Challenger, Fiat 500, new Mini and new VW Beetle… Yeah I’m looking at you. However, of all the manufacturers that insisted on this lazy and uninspiring school of design, Jaguar was by far the worst.

They dragged everything out of the old car and shoved it into the new ones. Inside lived switches like something used for intercepting Nazi transmissions and the wooden dashboards… I mean seriously, why so much wood in a car? Is it there in case the boiler runs out of coal? Lets not even speak about the exterior, grimly hanging on to that horrible grill. The only car with a stupider looking front end for the sake of some BS ‘tradition’ is the Veyron.

Even the XK earnt my wrath. The Aston Martin is a pretty body design, but its stale. They’ve been slapping updates onto it for over a decade now and for Jaguar to go and build the same bloody thing… Yes its pretty, but if I wanted a car that looked like a DB7 I’d have bought the sodding DB7.

Attention British Journalists and particularly Mr Clarkson: This is the DB7. They built this car in 1994. It was very pretty. However:


DB9

These are all the same bloody car with different headlights. Please stop raving about it. It’s now 2008 and it’s getting to be embarrassing.

The XF is the very epitome of what needed to happen if the British automotive industry was to be saved. With Ford getting ready to bow out and Jaguar currently in flux, it certainly picked the right time to appear. It’s a car that focuses purely on the end result, while everything before it focused on the means to get there.

Prior to the XF, in order to provide a luxurious four door saloon, Jaguar would go through a long list of must haves. Stupid grill, check. Carve the interior from a tree, check. 90 year old man living in the boot to get the musty smell just right, check. On and on it went. A long list of components that when put together in the 1940’s built a fantastic car. When put together in the year 2000 they resulted in a labouring monstrosity that made small children cry.

Jaguar have done a complete 180 with the XF, they built a proper luxury car then added the touches to make it a Jaguar. The Jaguar is reborn. Now the start light gently pulses like a heartbeat as you approach. Push it and the car awakens. Vents rotate out and the gear selector rises up into the palm of your hand. Its still a Jaguar, pieces of wood appear around the interior, you sink into masses of top quality leather and there is still an over-sized grill hanging off the front. But now it feels like they’re building luxury cars, not just gluing together pieces of old Jaguars.

XF Interior

A lot of people don’t like the start-up procedure, or the subtle blue lighting through the interior. But here’s my take on it. When it comes to the Aston Martin’s of the world, I cringe at every start-up. Emblazoned across the dash appears “Power, Beauty, Soul.” Its just so… American. The proper British way of doing these things is to never say it. You never, ever spell it out. If you need to tell people you’ve got that certain something, the truth of the matter is you don’t. That’s why the Aston Martin is so embarrassing when it insists on shouting a marketing catch phrase every time it’s started. The Jaguar simply exists. It leaves you struggling to describe just how good it is, while it modestly sits in the corner being gorgeous and wondering what all the fuss is about.

When you push the start button, it acknowledges you’ve arrived. Like a good butler it delivers the gear selector to your hand, ensures the air-conditioning vents are just as sir likes them, makes sure the car is in working order then waits for your next decision. Yes its flashy, there are blue lights and computer screens but try thinking of it this way. In a nice restaurant a drinks waiter will approach your table. If he waits attentively, hands over the wine list then commends you on your choice before disappearing with a bow, it’s an altogether classy affair. If he stands by your table shouting the prices of each bottle and asking for payment in advance its tacky. Whether the drinks waiter is wearing a top hat and tails or a modern Armani suit is of absolutely no importance to the proceedings.

In other words, to all the (Old) people currently poo pooing the new interior, for your own sake be quiet until you’ve actually sat in the car and experienced it. It just works, trust them, they’re British. The Jags are still achingly stylish and quintessentially classy. The only difference is that they’re cool now too. The cat’s got its claws back.

Cringe / Class





Mazda MX5

18 01 2008

The latest incarnation of the Mazda MX5 confused the hell out of me. What kind of twisted logic fits four cup holders to a car with two seats? Do MX5 drivers dribble a lot? Do they alternate between hot and cold drinks while driving? Then there was the driving experience, how can it be so Japanese sports carish and yet not? I was confused and I wanted answers.

Leafing through the propaganda, one philosophy becomes apparent. “Jinba Ittai”, Rider and Horse as one. It’s pretty hard for it not to be apparent, its in every second paragraph. The steering has Jinba Ittai, the 2 litre MZR series engine runs on Jinba Ittai, the roof liner is a sensuous weave of cotton and Jinba Ittai. And as soon as it was patiently explained to me that they were not talking about a perverse relationship up in the snowy mountains but creating a unified driving experience, where the boundaries between driver and machine blur yadda yadda yadda, then it started to make sense.

Mazda’s marketing team have overheard a catchphrase being used by the engineers and they’re Jinba Ittai’ing that poor pony to death.

Thankfully Mazda is one of the last remaining Japanese manufacturers that let the engineers build the sports cars so I’ll make a promise to you the reader, and to the Mazda engineers. I’ll stop repeating the marketing and start reviewing the machine. Oh and I wont unify or blur borders with anything, be it equestrian or mechanical.

Climbing into the MX5 the first thing you notice is that its low. Previous models felt like you were sitting on top of the car with your elbows flapping in the wind, not anymore. Now you slide down the seat to nestle inside the car. All around you’re cocooned by the bodywork and for drivers in the 180cm plus region you’re cocooned just a little to much. Here’s where the 200% cup holder to seat ratio started to irritate me. Centre console mounted cup holders will always be a nuisance in manual cars, they’re either blocking the radio or they’re in the way of your elbow when you’re shifting. To counter this Mazda put a second “bottle” holder in the door. And here’s the crux of the matter.

The old MX5 was loved by middle aged house wives, is was sporty and cute without being dangerously quick and guzzling fuel. The new model ticks all those boxes to, so that makes this next bit important. For those who’ve got big thighs, that door mounted cup holder is in the way. You can still drive perfectly well, but the cup holders are always just there, poking your leg like a three year old needing to pee. It doesn’t compromise the drive but I definitely did notice it on my test.

The dashboard is well placed, everything is within reach and put together well. But the MX5 is an affordable car and it shows. Plastic’s the name of the game and its everywhere. Compared its European rivals the MX5 feels less luxurious and more utilitarian. But when comparing the prices its only to be expected. Whilst it does use a lot of plastic in the build, it’s well made and never feels cheap. Storage spaces appear everywhere in the car, surprising amounts for a car of its size, and its boot is generous. There’s more than enough room to pack for a quick trip away and the multitude of compartments around the interior mean you can keep your sunglasses and various essentials handy for day to day driving.

On the outside my confusion continues. The styling is masculine. Mazda has given the MX5 pumped out wheel arches and a cheeky little power bulge in the bonnet. But I’m left wondering why. The MX5 is a small car with a small engine, why have they tried to make it look aggressive? For me there are two ways to go with small cars like this. Make it look cute, but risk being to embarrassing for the more dedicated enthusiast, or make it look sexy. Give it the kind of curves that will have middle aged men out on their front lawn polishing it with their eyes closed and then you’ve got a recipe for an icon. But Mazda went aggressive. From the front it looks like some sort of large mouthed fish. Coupled to a body that bulges here and there, it honestly makes me think of a steroid abusing Koi with an attitude problem. It’s still a good looking car, and some people will love its style, but for me it could have been so much more.

Still, the soul of a sports car is its handling. The 2 litre engine was exactly what I expected, competent for the job, with enough torque throughout the range to keep acceleration brisk and small enough to keep fuel consumption down to a frugal 8.8 l/100km. Its matched with the joyous six speed gear box which is perfectly geared for a spirited drive in the country, but might require a little more shifting around the city than ideal. It’s beautifully made, the throws are short and it gives great confidence that you wont miss a gear when under pressure. But it’s a oily smooth shifting experience now, and part of me does miss the slightly more mechanical feel of the older model that would snick into place.

You need to work the engine to really get the car excited and that’s pure Japanese sports car, but suddenly when it turns into a corner I come over all confused again. My previous experience in lightweight Japanese cars is that mid corner they’ll be a trembling mass of machinery ready to head in any direction with a squeal of tires and squirrelly grip. They feel darty. The MX5 on the other hand doesn’t. It picks a line and holds onto it tenaciously. It’s solid, sure footed and uncompromising. It feels like a German sports car. Don’t get me wrong, its not a bad thing, it’s a beautiful thing, the car feels like its on rails and linking up corner after corner on the back roads is a joy, but it no longer feels like the featherweight Japanese sports cars of old. The MX5 has matured.

Even more surprising is ride comfort. You can still feel the bumps but its far more comfortable around town than I was expecting after its joyous mid corner handling. And steering feedback is a dream, exactly what you’d expect from a car of its pedigree. In short it’s a car that looks like its Japanese, Has an engine that behaves like its Japanese, but corners like a German.

It’s a brilliant car, even with its quirks, and unparalleled value for money in its class. If you’re looking for a second car with enough storage space to be practical, that corners so well you’ll look 20 years younger when going around a hairpin and doesn’t rack up the fuel bills, this is the car you want.