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Preparing For The Summer Road Trip

Christmas and New Year are just around the corner, which means that the summer holiday season is finally upon us. This doesn’t just mean that this will be my last post here for 25016 (not sure what my fellow Private Fleet bloggers will be doing, though!). It also means that a lot of us are thinking about the big summer road trip. A lot of us take our annual vacation at this time of year, and still more of us travel to stay with the relatives for Christmas – I know my in-laws are on the road heading towards my place as I write this. The main intercity and interstate roads get a lot busier as people start doing a Chris Rea (i.e. driving home for Christmas) and as others head off for a getaway.

OK, there’s all the usual road safety things to be aware of, such as fatigue, irritability after being cooped up in a car with hot, grumpy kids for hours on end, increased police presence on the road as they clamp down on speed, etc. and ping you for being just the teeniest bit over the limit and slapping you with a hefty fine right before Christmas, etc. etc.  I’m sure I’ve written about this in the blogs of Christmas past.

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Claw Marks: The Jaguar Driving Experience.

Many car companies offer buyers of their products a driving school experience. Jaguar is no different in that respect. Where this fabled British car company does differ is that…well….you get to drive Jaguars. Sydney Motorsport Park is the venue in NSW and I recently had an opportunity to do a session with the Jaguar Drive Experience.The afternoon session kicks off with a catered lunch, before an introduction to the team and instructors. There’s no doubt as to the qualifications of the drivers, with V8 Supercar driver Tony D’Alberto and GT driver Nathan Antunes amongst them.

Each session is planned to be timed down to the second; that includes a video presentation, a rundown of the history of Jaguar, and splitting attendees into teams and being identified into numerical order for the driving sessions. The cars on display give a good insight into what Jaguar is all about: a choice of supercharged V6 and V8 hardtop F-Types, the supercharged V6 XE, and the limousine with a machine gun, the supercharged 5.0L V8 XJ.

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Which Build Year Should I Opt For?

When we think of the best time to purchase a new car, there’s often a lot spoken about the end of financial year sales – even with their own acronym celebrated in various TV jingles. But there’s also another period consumers should watch closely – the end of the calendar year.

That’s right, soft toys, socks and jocks aren’t the only things on sale, with most dealers and auto-makers keen to offer discounts in an effort to clear out their vehicles from the current year. In fact, the cars that aren’t sold by the end of the calendar year will often enter the New Year with discounted prices. This is because dealers are reluctant to hold stock for a vehicle that in the eyes of buyers may been seen as superseded – particularly as months go by, and the vehicle still carries the tag of being last year’s model.

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2017 Mahindra XUV500 Auto: Private Fleet Car Review.

Mahindra is not a name known to many car drivers in Australia and for those that are aware of the brand, the mention of it elicits a range of responses, with most of them not entirely positive. That suggests the brand has a lot to do to both be more visible here and to overcome the negativity surrounding that. The company manufactures a number of different vehicles, predominantly of a workhourse utility style. However, there is an SUV in the range, called the XUV500, and until recently available only with a manual transmission, limiting its appeal somewhat.To that end, Mahindra has fitted a six speed auto, sourced from leading Japanese transmission maker, Aisin. Now available as a four level range, with 2WD and AWD for the manual and auto, the Mahindra XUV500 starts at $29900 and tops out at a reasonable $34900, with which Private Fleet spent the week.Tagged the W8, there’s a 2.2L diesel up front, with a rated fuel economy of 7.4L per 100 km on a combined cycle. Powerwise it delivers 103 kilowatts and a healthy 330 torques between 1600 to 2800 revs. The Aisin six speed has a good spread of ratios and is definitely worth the investment. It’s smooth in its shifting, with no discernable hesitation between ratios and also doesn’t hold a gear unneccesarily on descents. However, off the line the ratios also don’t do that torque any justice, as acceleration is not the car’s strong point. The 1915 kilogram kerb weight is no doubt a major contributor and also explains the plus ten litres per hundred consumption for the urban cycle.

The transmission itself has a manual change option and it’s here the list of “umm, why” for this car starts. Rather than offering a paddle shift setup, or a rocker motion for the selector, there’s a small rocker switch fitted to the selector’s knob. Although admittedly it’s not difficult to use, it’s counter intuitive and doesn’t exactly feel comfortable. Does it make the XUV500 any quicker? More on that, later. Another niggle is the shift from Drive back to Park, with the usual slide through the gate (it’s a jagged, not straight gateway here), requiring a momentary pause at Neutral in order to then go through Reverse to Park. Again, not a deal breaker but an ultimately pointless thing in the frustration it brings.On tarmac the XUV500 is reasonably tied down. The rear is softer, though, with more rebound than expected and it certainly doesn’t match the more taut feeling up front. Being a seven seater, perhaps Mahindra have gone a little too soft in the expectation there’ll be seven aboard every time the car goes out. Also, the steering is heavily weighted whilst under way but there’s a noticeable feeling of slackness, a sense of disconnection between the wheel and the mechanism itself. Tyres are from Bridgestone and are 235/65 on nicely styled 17 inch alloys. There’s more than a hint of tyre squeal from this lot, with a blocky, all road/all weather tread pattern and that high sidewall profile working together to create that.Inside, the Mahindra delights with a comfortable set of seats, albeit manual only at the front, and some interesting design cues. Of note, and one that won’t please all, is the decision to use a font not unlike that seen in the banner for the movie “Lethal Weapon” on the tabs. It’s somewhat out of place and frankly the size is too small. Otherwise, it’s cleanly laid out, has double redundancy (controls are duplicated on the touchscreen) and have a soft touch with just a hint of click underneath. The same applies to the audio controls on the steerer; soft with a bit of click. Rear leg room is surprisingly spacious and would be suitable for almost all styles of passengers.The dash plastic has a print style many would be unaccustomed to; again, not unattractive, just different. There’s a pair of gloveboxes in front of the passenger seat, with one looking as if it’s a cooler box. The level of the door was a few millimetres higher than the surrounds, but this was the only apparent misalignment of material inside. Being a seven seater, Mahindra has gone to great pains to simplify what some other makers make difficult: raising and lowering the rear seats. A simple lever action mechanism on the back of the seat is all it takes and is brilliant in its simplicity.Tech wise you get satnav, a seven inch touchscreen (as mentioned, but there’s a picture rather than a blankness as a background), curtain and side airbags, super bright LED interior lighting, door mounted safety lights, plus an AWD system that’s engaged at the push of a button. However, there’s no noticeable difference on tarmac and the only indication you get is a tiny glowing backlight on the tab itself. You do, however, get Hill Descent Control.Externally, the Mahindra design crew have taken inspiration from other companies. There’s hints of Mitsubishi Pajero, a touch of Toyota RAV4 and older Mitsubishi Outlander. There’s oversized wheel arch extensions that head north and intrude into the panels. At the rear the tail lights curl upwards into the rear quarters, meeting the swage line from the front. The headlights have a sinuous S-Curve embedded into the design and mirror the similar look embedded in the driving light structure. They bracket Mahindra’s signature grille design, which will not appeal to all, being a rather toothsome look. Also, you’ll get an unusual look for the door handles. Not unpleasant, just different.Back to that manual switch for changing gears; short answer is yes but it’s a qualified yes. There is a subtle but noticeable change in how the ‘box changes but it’d require a camera and someone with a stopwatch to accurately determine if acceleration is actually any quicker. There’s a seat of the pants feeling that it is, but…At The End Of the Drive.
First up, A Wheel Thing must say thank you to James Halliwell at Mahindra Automotive Australia for the opportunity to review the XUV500.
Looks wise, it’s a standout because of its unusual styling. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste and perhaps it could be seen as a case of trying too hard to look different in order to be seen as different. Personally, a name change would be in order, as it’s a generic and also Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Acme naming.
Where the car works is on road, as it should. This may read as stating the blindingly obvious, Sybil, however as an unknown, people will have certain expectations to be met. There’s little to question in the way the car rides; it’s compliant enough, needs a tightening at the rear to match the front but is predictable in its handling.
A diet wouldn’t be a bad idea, as people have an expectation that a diesel is economical.

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2017 Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo: Private Fleet Car Review.

Take Hyundai’s 1.6 litre turbo four and wedge it under the slinky bonnet of the sweet looking Elantra, then allow the engineers to “play” with the suspension and you have the Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo. There’s a manual at $28990 and the auto at $31290, with both plus ORCs.2017-hyundai-elantra-sr-turbo-front-quarterA recent facelift has the Elantra looking lower and sportier than before, complete with longer looking rectangular styled HID Bi-xenon headlights backed up by a coupe style rear that hides a bigger than expected boot at 458 litres (seats up). There’s 17 inch wheels which look oddly too small for the Elantra even though the wheel wells are filled. 2017-hyundai-elantra-sr-turbo-wheelThe tail lights have the inserts now familiar to buyers of the brand and its sibling, Kia. There’s subtly integrated side skirts, extra chrome in the front bumper and handsome ten spoke alloys with 225/45 rubber to complete the picture. All up, it’s possibly the prettiest car in the Hyundai fleet.2017-hyundai-elantra-sr-turbo-app-screenInside, it’s a mix of “do like” and “badly needs an update”. Hyundai persists with the quaint and outdated notion that radio listeners don’t need extra information and, as a result, there’s no RDS or Radio Data Service available. Neither is DAB, nor has the seven inch screen been updated to a more modern look when on the radio screen, and now looks woefully outdated compared to the opposition. There’s also no satnav, to compound the situation further and just the driver’s window, instead of all four, is one touch up and down. The rest of the dash and console design are familiarly Hyundai and here an extra splash of colour or black chrome would not have gone astray. Nor does the grey coloured faux carbon fibre sit entirely comfortably in the cabin.2017-hyundai-elantra-sr-turbo-dash-with-optional-red-leather-seatsHowever, Hyundai have added a sports style tiller with a flat botton, well integrated audio and information controls, a subtle red stripe at the bottom of the wheel, paddle shifters and red stitching in the leather, with red leather available as a $295 option and sunroof. Ancilliary controls such as those for the climate control are clearly laid out, easy to use and to read. To offset the perceived lack of what might be seen as basics in a chart topping car, such as adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, there’s front and rear sensors, blind spot detection with visual and audible warnings, cross traffic alert and lane change assist plus a knee airbag along with the other six.2017-hyundai-elantra-sr-turbo-steering-wheelAlthough the screen looks bland and there’s no DAB, there are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to be had. The seats are electric, supple and comfortable, supportive and gripping the body well, a necessity due to the European handling prowess of the Elantra SR Turbo sedan. The rear seats are less so, to a point, but there’s no shortage of rear leg room, thanks to the 2700 mm wheelbase. There’s 906 mm on offer, backing up the more than handy 1073 mm at the front.2017-hyundai-elantra-sr-turbo-engineThe Gamma 1.6L engine has a twin scroll turbo, outputting 150 kilowatts at 6000 rpm but the strength of the engine is the 265 Nm available between 1500 – 4500 rpm. The test car was fitted with a seven speed DCT or Dual Clutch Transmission, and a manual is also available. The auto exhibits many of the traits that mark a DCT, being creep just off idle, a slight hesitation from standstill before engagement and an exhilarating bang/bang/bang through the gears when the engine’s ability is exploited. Exploit, if you will, but consider around town Hyundai says 9.5L per 100 kilometres from the fifty litre tank for consumption.

Under light throttle, the seven speed auto sometimes dithers, with characteristic DCT prevaricating; press a little harder and the changes sharpen up, with a quicker response. Harder still and changes are slick, more urgent, virtally unnoticed to those inside apart from a flick of the tacho and a crisp “phut, phut” from the twin tip exhaust. There’s an instant answer to any question the right foot asks when underway and that 3000 rpm rev range of torque makes magic on the road.

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Why we buy the cars we do

So why do we drive the cars we drive?  There’s always a reason behind our purchase.  Even an impulse buy evolves from some previous conception in our mind as to why we should buy it.  Maybe the car just looks incredible or maybe the sale price is just too good to miss.  Perhaps we have a budget or our old car just “gave up the ghost”.  There are so many wonderful cars on the market to choose from, so what is the reason we own the car we do?

According to a J.D Power survey taken last year, the top reason for owning a particular car was the car’s reliability record.  Given that vehicle reliability is cited by half of all new car buyers as one of the most important reasons, perhaps this is why we tend to see more Toyota, Honda and Mazda cars driven on our roads than, perhaps, Fiat, Volkswagen and Peugeot.  I’m really only taking a stab in the dark for the last three models mentioned (I’ve seen plenty of good ones on the roads out there); however, I do know that the Japanese cars mentioned here are usually more reliable.  When you read some of the reliability ratings for new cars, remember that in the last five to ten years, the level of new electronics on-board a new car has increased dramatically.  A malfunctioning touch screen or voice control unit, though frustrating, is less critical than a malfunctioning mechanical component or engine failure!  The tendency for reliability ratings to draw more commonly on fiddly interior-related electronic failures can give a clouded view of a how reliable a car might actually be for getting you from A to B.

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2016 Holden Insignia VXR: Private Fleet Car Review

Holden’s manufacturing will cease in 2017 and to ease into the transition period Holden will increase the number of cars it will import. One of those is a true bahn stormer, the potent and stylish (Opel) Holden Insignia VXR V6 turbo, released in 2015.

It’s an eyecatcher, the Insignia VXR. Lithe, curvy, assertive, bigger than it looks at 4830 mm in length, with flanks that have a distinctive scallop and with the test colour coated in a metallic grey-green, it would reflect light at different angles. There’s huge 20 inch diameter grey painted alloys wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero rubber that provide superglue road holding and an outstanding all wheel drive system that transfers torque on demand to where it’s needed and a sophisticated electronic limited slip diff at the rear. All of these are mated to a sensational twin scroll turbo V6. It’s “just” 2.8L in capacity however delivers 239 kilowatts and an outstanding 435 torques. Both come at 5250 but the engine delivers somewhere around 90 percent of that peak from around 2000. It’s tractable, flexible, unbelievably potent and sees triple digits from a standing start in under six seconds.Adding to the firepower is the three mode drive system. You can choose from Touring, Sports, or VXR. Think a small ham and pineapple pizza, a large Supreme, and a family meal with free drinks and delivery thrown in. Touring has a slightly softer ride quality although you’re not left in any doubts as to the potential underneath. Sports firms up the FlexRide suspension and changes the settings in the gearbox, holding gears a little longer and allowing the driver to further explore the ability of the engine. Even the steering firms up, feeling tighter and requiring more effort to move the wheel.

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Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Holden Commodore SS-V Redline

2016-vf2-holden-commodore-ss-v-redline-front2It’s a quirk of automotive manufacturing that makers leave their best ’til last. Ford recently unveiled their Sprint Falcons, in both turbo six and supercharged V8 guise. In late 2015, Holden released the series 2 update for the VF Commodore range. Not unexpected was the lack of any real change, with minor bodywork and some under the skin electrical modifications.

In the case of the SS-V Redline, the American sourced LS3 6.3L V8 was massaged slightly, with power bumped to 304 kilowatts at 6000 revs, while peak torque of 570 Newton metres arrives at 4400 rpm. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of urge below that number.2016-vf2-holden-commodore-ss-v-redline-engineFuel consumption finished on 12.1L litres per 100 kilometres, with a solid combination of rural, suburban and highway driving undertaken. Driven gently and with no inclination to bury the welly (to hear that glorious V8 soundtrack), sub 12 litre figures were achieved. The bi-modal exhaust isn’t exceptionally tricky either; a light foot on the go pedal has the car gently burbling around, with a hint of what lurks underneath. Hit it hard, and the valves in the rear open up, emitting a thunder almost as if Thor’s hammer had come alive and spotted some evil it wished to vanquish. It’s deep, sonorous, gutteral and thoroughly bloody intoxicating in tunnels.

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What Your Passengers Would Like To Tell You… But Probably Don’t

Nobody likes a backseat driver.  You know it and your passengers know how irritating backseat drivers are, especially if the passengers in question are drivers themselves at times. However, there are times when your passengers would really like to speak up and say something, but they don’t, because they don’t want to be annoying. This means that at times, some things that really need to be said don’t get said.

So what might your passengers secretly be itching to tell you about your driving but swallowing out of desire not to get up your nose? Or (if they have been trying to say something) what have you been ignoring? Perhaps it’s one of the following things…

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Fuel Saving Devices – Are They For Real?


(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

A few years ago, I was approached by a strange man on the street who started chatting and told me all about some stick sort of device he put in his car engine to save him fuel and it was absolutely amazing, blah, blah, blah, and would I like to come to his house and have a look at it?  Needless to say, being a smart woman, I did not go off to the home of a strange guy who said he had a stick that did amazing things he wanted to show me…  I thought no more about this encounter, especially as I discovered later that this guy was the local loony.

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