26 November 2007

Lewis Hamilton: New Year's Resolution

When Lewis Hamilton stumbled in his last race of the 2007 season and ultimately lost his chance for a debut F1 World Championship, the critics were ready. But what the detractors overlook is the incredible triumph it was just to be there.

The presumption with Formula One drivers is that they are the children of privilege; precocious, pernicious brats born into sporting royalty. Certainly some do all they can to confirm that prejudice. Schumacher, for all his undeniable talent, had a mean streak a mile wide. Mansell, one of the most entertaining drivers you’ll ever see, was a legendary dummy-spitter and double world champion, Fernando Alonso, Hamilton’s teammate and by default his greatest rival, would step over the line in his quest to retain the title.

Yet throughout that tumultuous season, my greatest memory will be the unqualified sportsmanship and dignity shown by the newest kid on the block. Despite some dirty tricks and stinging barbs, he stayed above it all, focused on his ultimate prize.

"I don't know if I particularly believe that 'win at all costs' is the way forward," Hamilton is quoted as saying.

It is no surprises then that some of the largest egos in the world belong to Formula One drivers, and when a young black kid from the wrong side of town to turns up and starts whipping them, there are bound to be sparks.

Perhaps the most obvious example was the furor created during the so-called “trial by YouTube” when a spectator posted amateur footage of the controversial Japanese GP safety car incident that took out Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Webber, with an appalling finishing record and relentlessly dogged by bad luck, blamed Hamilton for erratic driving, but was later cleared after an FIA inquiry.

Author Timothy Collings, who assisted Lewis with the writing of his autobiography ‘My Story’, was straight up with his inquiry.

“So Lewis, why do you think some of the other drivers don’t like you?

Hamilton, as sharp with his wit as he is with the throttle replied;

“Because I’m black, quick and a nice person.”

Asked, in 2006, whether he thought his colour would create a sort of “Tiger Woods” effect, replied "It's more a thing for the media to talk about. Being the first black man doesn't matter much to me personally, but for the sport itself it probably means quite a lot."

But let’s step away from the issue of ethnicity and look dispassionately at Hamilton’s arrival. He came from a broken home in a rough council estate and went to a school where he was picked on.

Collings again;

“Lewis developed his inner steel, belief and determination out of a disciplined response to life's worst setbacks. Hamilton was a British kart champion at 10. Yet at primary school, he was bullied. He was small, lacked confidence and felt immature. But he had great inner determination and, with support from his father, he began karate lessons. By the time he was 12, he had a black belt.

“Yet Lewis lacked confidence and it took him years to find it. The discovery of karts, on a family holiday to Ibiza in 1988, when he was only three, followed at home by remote-control car racing, in which he excelled, revealed a talent and fired an obsession.”

Murray Walker, the almost retired F1 commentator and intensely parochial Pom, almost sheds a tear when asked about Hamilton.

“I have people coming up to me all the time in my local village of Ringwood, in Hampshire, saying: "Murray, is this Lewis Hamilton as good as people say he is?" and I say: "No. He is better."

“You are supposed to be neutral, but in the end you are British. Nigel was one of us, and my mate. So, too, Damon (Hill) and James (Hunt). I make no apology for getting behind them. And now we have Lewis, a boy's own hero come to life.”

After winning that now famous 1995 British karting title at age ten, Hamilton approached McLaren F1 team boss Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards evening that December for an autograph, and boldly proclaimed he intended to drive for him one day.

Taken a little aback, Dennis apparently wrote in his autograph book, "Phone me in nine years, we'll sort something out then." But clearly Dennis, his interest piqued, could not wait and signed the cheeky lad just three years later, making Hamilton (at 13) the youngest driver ever recruited by an F1 team.

"I was amazed by his self-confidence, and thought to myself that this boy can really go places," said Dennis recalling the moment.

Under Dennis’s remote guidance and tutelage, Hamilton went on to dominate very race series he entered prior to 2007.

But now with the tribulations of that defining debut season behind him, his otherwise flawless reputation slightly chipped, but his dignity firmly intact, how does Hamilton intend to approach 2008?

Mark Blundell, former F1 driver and Hilton Racing Ambassador, says, "The next part of the journey will be fascinating. If things pan out as we think now that Alonso has left McLaren, then Hamilton becomes their number one. That is a new dimension again. This year he had the element of surprise. He won't have that in 2008. Expectations are now sky high. He has to deliver in new circumstances. We are all in new territory with him."


Telegraph Media Group Limited (UK)
Timothy Collings

15 October 2007

Saloon Kings

When going for a saloon, the choice now isn’t just whether you go for Australian, Japanese or European. It comes down to value for money, performance and of course practicality. By Roderick Eime.

The maxi saloon is the fundamental accoutrement of the successful businessperson. It transports you in the manner you deserve, acknowledges your hard work and sacrifice and announces your arrival. We survey the luxury saloon market and discover that, although there is no substitute for cubic dollars, there are also some surprisingly well-priced machines with impressive CVs.

20 August 2007

The Cars are Stars

Issue 10

With summer almost upon us, movie goer and car buff, Roderick Eime, looks at the allure of the convertible and its enduring screen presence.

The image of Thelma and Louise and their 1966 Thunderbird convertible plummeting over the precipice in the heart-wrenching finale of the 1991 cult classic is perhaps the scene that will always define the character of the convertible in popular culture. Freedom, hedonism and a touch of rebelliousness will always epitomise the top-down attitude. James Dean and his ultimately tragic Porsche 550 Spyder absolutely cemented the “Rebel Without a Cause” into the romantic psyche.

Thanks to Hollywood, the image of the convertible roadster will always hold the appeal of a car constructed purely for enjoyment and allure. The DHC (Drop Head Coupe) has featured large in movies with style and sensuality as their theme. Dustin Hoffman’s Alfa Spider Duetto in the Graduate, the Chevrolet Corvette in Route 66 or even the tortured Ferrari 250 in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off all invoke the free-spirited, fun-loving pleasure-seeker so often portrayed on the big screen.

Here’s a rolling credit of famous convertibles and their co-stars - and we match them to their latter-day showroom equivalents.


The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California is one of the rarest Ferraris of all time, with only about 100 ever built. And when the lunatic car park attendants thrash it to within an inch of its life in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and it’s later wrecked when launched out of a window, Ferrari fans were in uproar. Relax, the film car was a replica built on an MGB chassis. Nevertheless, Ferrari were so incensed at this, they sued the replica company.

F430 Spider

Released in Australia in mid-2005, the F430 gloriously perpetuates the Ferrari convertible heritage, offering the topless versions as a premium alternative to the coupe. The F430’s Pininfarina styling, both in hardtop and convertible, are derived from the iconic “shark nose” design of the 1961 F1 car that took Phil Hill to world championship status.

Long gone are the painstaking procedures of stowing the hood. This stylistic flourish comes courtesy of a soft top system designed to take up a minimum of space. The fully-lined electric hood is completely automatic, and is opened and closed by seven electrohydraulic actuators. The hood folds over twice before disappearing completely into a well just ahead of the engine compartment, leaving the engine in full view at all times.

The F430 has a top speed of 305 km/h thanks to its mid-mounted 360kW, 4.3 litre V8 and the price? A cool, $425,000, but the waiting list is well over 12 months.

For dreamers, there is always the 320 km/h SuperAmerica V12. Just six of these incredible beauties came to Australia last year and despite the $650,000 price tag were sold before they rolled off the ship. Keep an eye out for one.


When James Bond parked his “shaken not stirred” derriere in the sublimely retro-styled aluminium-bodied Z8 in "The World Is Not Enough", everybody wanted one. But BMW were determined to make the Z8 a rare beast and only three of the 5700 production run ever found their way to Australia in mid-2000. Priced at $328,000, they were snapped up by avid collectors despite the fact that the left-hand-drive-only could never be registered for road use. Now out of production, the Z8 shares the identical 294kW, 5.0 litre, high-revving V8 as the M5 and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in a trifling 4.7 secs.

Despite tantalising us with the likes of the Z8, BMW has always maintained a selection of stylish cabriolets for us regular drivers. The 3 Series convertible is best expressed in the just-released, top-of-the-line 335i with its all-aluminium Twin Turbo 225 kW straight-six engine. The 335i is priced at $104,500

Again, the roof is a breeze, excuse the pun, and it takes just 22 seconds for the fully-lined retractable hardtop to unfold itself from behind the rear seats. The three-piece lightweight steel roof provides both superior sound insulation and extremely large windows for excellent visibility.

The venerable Z-Series is retained in the delightful Z4 which starts at $78,000 for the 2.5 litre manual version, or go the whole hog for the Z4 M - $94,000

Alfa Romeo Spider

Despite its diminutive size and “entry level” status, the Alfa Romeo Spider had an inordinate effect on movie goers when it starred alongside Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in the 1967 smash hit, “The Graduate”. Just one year after its official launch at the 36th Geneva Motor Show, the Pininfarina-designed soft-top was an instant success and began a production dynasty that continued until 1993.

Today the Alfa Romeo Spider enjoys a renaissance with two models superseding the last of those built on the original 105 series chassis. The current model, powered by either a 2.2 litre, 136 kW 4 cylinder or the state-of-the-art 191 kW 3.2 litre Quad Cam V6 in AWD is a quantum leap from 1966. Even then, the ground-breaking Duetto, with 4-wheel discs and 5-speed transmissions, was similarly cutting edge.

As with most modern convertibles, the Spider’s hood is fully automatic and tucks away unobtrusively to produce a seamless, streamlined sports car. The 2.2 litre version starts at $76,950 while the more desirable 3.2 V6 kicks off at $100,950


A firm favourite with the Californian glitterati, the sexy SL, CLK and SLK roadsters are always popping up in the glamorous TV series and movies. Spotters will notice the CLK in ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Havoc’ and SLK in The OC, but the CLK gets bare-chested in Mission Impossible 3 when Tom Cruise commandeers one for a heart-stopping dash to rescue his wife.

Celebrity owners include Britney Spears (SLK McLaren), Colleen McLoughlin, Wayne Rooney’s missus (SLK), Lindsay Lohan (SL65 AMG) and Carmen Electra (SL-Series)

The prestige CLK convertible coupe comes in a range of models from mild to wild. Starting at $99,400 for the supercharged 200K right up to the hair-raising AMG 63 V8 with 354kW on tap; just $214,000.

The compact SLK is traditionally the more affordable model. Smaller and strictly a two seater, save the SUV for the supermarket. You’ll look fine on Rodeo Drive in the entry-level SLK 200K (1.8 litre supercharged, 120kW) at $88,374. Max out the AMEX with a 55 AMG (V8, 265kW, 5.4 litre) at $164,474.

Move into the SL-Class statusphere and here you’ll find the real pedigree machines. With a racing and performance heritage back to the great road races of the ‘50s with Stirling Moss at the wheel, SL-Class Roadsters don’t come cheap. Starting at $214,000 will get you the SL 350 V6. Serious shoppers can go kick the tyres on a SL 65 AMG with bi-turbo V12. This 450kW racing car costs $415,900.


Porsche, celebrity, sports car and glamour can be said in the same breath. To list the movies and Hollywood-owners of Porsche 911s would fill this issue, but the defining event in Porsche’s rise to ultra-desirable status occurred when movie bad-boy, James Dean, died behind the wheel of his now legendary 550 RS roadster “Little Bastard” in 1955. The circumstances of the crash have always remained controversial and the recovered wreck and its parts were believed to be cursed as they went on to cause more mayhem until the car mysteriously vanished in transit in 1960, never to be seen again. Jerry Seinfeld owns a flawless 550 and is a regular concours winner.

Other notable Porsche convertible owners include David Beckham, Tom Cruise and Britney Spears.

In the spirit of the 550, Porsche continue to release sports-orientated, pared down roadsters for the general market. The Boxster range was recently revamped with larger engines and the latest Boxster S now totes a mid-engine 3.4 litre flat six of 217kW giving it real cache among its higher priced stablemates like the 911 and 911 Turbo. Starting money is $108,000 for the 2.7 litre (180kW) Boxster, but if money is no object, the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet (3.8 litre, 261kW) will set you back $265,100 with Tiptronic transmission.

For the Rest of Us

Lexus SC430

Although it may not crow legend status yet, the beautifully refined Lexus SC430’s list of movie credits grows too with The OC, Terminator 3, CSI, 24 and Legally Blonde 2. The SC430 is a very driveable car, far removed from the blowy drop-tops of old. The exemplary aerodynamics is one of the standout features of the SC430, painstakingly designed to deliver the sheer thrill of a top-down spring or summer drive without constantly attacking the coiffure. Tyra Banks loves hers.

An all-alloy Quad Cam 4.3 litre VVT-i V8 delivers an inspirational 210kW when the mood takes you. The option-free SC430 is priced at $162,074

Holden Astra

Still waiting for its big break in the movies, the Holden (Opel) Astra nevertheless offers the best of both worlds. In top down mode you have a stylish convertible for summer and a glamorous hard-top coupe for winter. Best referred to as a “retractable hard-top”, the roof cleverly stows itself in the boot in a totally hands-free operation

Mazda MX-5

Who are Tia and Mia? They are the cheeky little cheerleaders in the 2006 animated hit, Cars. In overseas markets, the MX-5 is known as Miata.

In many ways, the pint-sized MX-5 has become the modern epitome of an affordable sports car. In a genre once dominated by the likes of MGB and Triumph, the purpose-built, superbly engineered little rocket has created a cult status for itself since introduction way back (can you believe it) in 1989.

Cleverly designed to a “timeless” classic line resembling the early Lotus Elan, the MX-5 is everything a fun little roadster should be and with sales of 750 thousand worldwide, it will be with us for a long time yet. True, sales are at their lowest since introduction, but the all-new 2.0 litre third generation MX-5 is just starting to make its presence felt. Grab one for $42,870 upwards.


Audi TT Roadster

Starring Roles: Mission Impossible 2, Legally Blonde 2

Relaunched in June this year, both the award-winning 2.0 TFSI and potent 3.2 V6 engine, with S tronic transmission, are available for Australian buyers, priced at $77,500 and $92,900 respectively.


Spider or Spyder? What does it mean? The term so often applied to convertible cars, particularly those of Italian origin, has nothing to do with the common eight-legged, web-weaving arachnid. Ask an Italian to pronounce “spider” and you have “speeder”. True.

A cabriolet, like so many car terms, was derived from its horse-drawn equivalent; namely a light, two-wheeled cart with a folding top. Convertible is the interchangeable term more favoured in the American market.

A ‘roadster’ is a more basic form of convertible, traditionally a 2-seater without roll-up windows or even a proper roof. A barchetta is an Italian roadster.

16 August 2007

Best of Both Worlds

OUTthere 40 – All Torque

The latest line-up of convertibles features fully retractable hard-tops.

Summer will be here before you know it – and what better way to spend it than cruising the boulevard in you new convertible? The traditional thinking is that cool drop-tops are the domain of the well-heeled Rodeo Drive set, but OUTthere has surveyed the market and found a handful of affordable convertible coupes for the rest of us.

German Design Comes Down Under

Holden Astra Twin Top (Convertible Coupe)
2.2 litre Direct Injection ECOTEC. DOHC 16 valves 110kW
6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions
RRP $ $45,490 manual $47,490 auto
3 year / 100,000 km warranty

The Twin-Top is so called thanks to its truly convertible nature. It can be transformed from smart hard-top coupe to topless in just 30 seconds thanks to an one-touch, electrically retractable hardtop. Just keep your eyes on the skies and don’t get caught in any sudden downpours.

A convertible has been offered in the Astra range since 2001, but this latest version adopts the increasingly popular trend towards retractable hardtops (CCs) now vogue on many higher priced European models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The trade-off between higher security and comfort is that, when retracted, the roof consumes virtually all of the boot space.

Driving the new German-designed Astra is a delightful exercise. Out test car, the 6-speed manual, provided satisfying zest from the larger four-cylinder engine which hums along sweetly, powering through the front wheels thanks to twin overhead camshafts and sixteen valves. Holden have chosen the more reliable chain-driven timing gear, but this doesn’t create undue engine noise despite higher revs.

Trim isn’t lavish, but it is neat and clean with the now familiar centre control console containing all the adjustments for climate control and CD player with a uppermost display panel for system status.

Although the rear seats are small, they are still useable, making this a full 5-seater.

Cannes Coupe

Peugeot 207CC
1.6 litre DOHC 16 valve 88kW
5-speed manual or 4-speed auto
RRP $34,990 1.6 Manual ($39,990 Turbo)
3 year / 100,000 kilometre warranty

This new pint-sized Pug follows on from the success of its convertible forebear, the 206CC, providing a compact, fun runabout ideal for the Cote d’Azure.

The economical Peugeot/Citroen/BMW 1.6 litre engine is a modest powerplant, but drives smoothly and economically through the front wheels. The automatic version, while a useful inclusion in the range, negates much of the driving experience and transforms the car into a relatively docile shopping trolley. The manual-only turbo is like driving another car altogether. It has a decidedly racy feel and restores the fundamental rush of driving a true sports coupe. The body is taut and rigid with positive, confident sports handling.

The interior is minimalist but entirely functional and all controls are with easy reach and intuitively laid out. All functions could be deciphered without recourse to the manual, which is very handy for men who resist instructions.

The rear seats, although fitted, are not suitable for fully-formed adults but do provide space for a several shopping bags and are smartly finished with twin rollover hoops reminiscent of racing coupes.

Peugeot’s bold exterior styling and lurid colours ensure you won’t be overlooked.

Miata Goes Hard

Mazda MX-5
2.0 litre 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT 118kW
6-speed auto or manual
Price Range: $42,870 (Manual Soft Top) - $49,835 (Auto Coupe)
3 year / Unlimited kilometre warranty

In many ways, the purpose-designed MX-5 has become the modern epitome of an affordable sports car. In a genre once dominated by the likes of MGB and Triumph, the superbly engineered little rocket has created a cult status for itself since introduction way back (can you believe it) in 1989.

Cleverly designed to a “timeless” classic line resembling the early Lotus Elan, the MX-5 is everything a fun little roadster should be and with sales of 750 thousand worldwide, it will be with us for a long time yet. The all-new 2.0 litre, third generation MX-5 is just starting to make its presence felt in the market and now adds roadster coupe to the range with a retractable hard-top that it calls “Rigid Convertible”. It too is the fastest in the class with a lightning 12-second deployment.

The choice of either a 6-speed manual or Activematic provides another genuine point of difference for this rear-wheel-drive roadster.

13 July 2007

New Things in Smaller Packages

OUTthere 39 – All Torque

The motoring industry is witnessing the birth of a new genre of motor vehicle: the Premium Compact SUV.

The emergence of this new type of vehicle is not such a surprise and several prevailing factors are driving, excuse the pun, this development. Buyers are arriving at dealers with more money and higher expectations, but they are also sensitive to grandiose expressions of carbon-belching transport. Consequently, manufacturers are finding ways of packing high end accoutrements into smaller vehicles, in particular the SUV.

BMW are credited with leading this reverse charge with the 2004 introduction of their X3, offered as a kind of mini X5 for 3 Series buyers looking for a garage mate for their 325 or 330. But the exercise began awkwardly with critics identifying compromises like brash plastic interior trim and space-saver wheel coupled to a $65k (base) price tag. They were, however, unanimous in their praise for the X-drive 4WD system, which the little X3 shares with the full-size X5.

BMW revamped the X3, addressing some of the issues, with a new model in late 2006 offering three upgraded engine variants; a petrol 2.5 litre six, a sizzling 200kW 3.0 six and a very competent 3.0 turbo diesel. For the enviro-conscious, this economical and powerful (160kW) straight six is gaining lots of attention despite the $75k price tag.

In a much anticipated counter attack, iconic 4WD brand, Land Rover, recently launched their completely reworked Freelander, dubbed unsurprisingly, Freelander 2. The evocative TV campaign features a shiny 4WD transporting the young Gen Y male into a world of fantasy and adventure after an appointment with a stunning Asian clairvoyant. Despite this predictable marketing attempt, the new Freelander 2 reveals itself as an honestly impressive vehicle.

Land Rover endured years of biting criticism for their original Freelander which was victim to build quality issues and engine and transmission failures that had the warranty department working overtime. Their response was to start with a completely clean slate for Freelander 2, right down to the redesigned grille badge.

OUTthere was able to test this compact SUV much harder than any of its competitors under the scutinising eye of Land Rover executives. We can report it is a genuine off-road 4WD with much more capacity than 95 per cent of owners will ever ask of it. Our only reservation was the occasional underbody scuff due to a ride height not ideal for the heavy off-road work we subjected our test vehicles to.

Benchmarked against the leading vehicle in this class, the X3, Land Rover pitched the UK-built baby 4WD into the category at just under $50k. Even the high spec HSE 2.2 litre diesel tops out at $58k. Despite dismissive scoffs from the German marque, if the new little Land Rover can live up to claims of improved reliability and build quality, it is a genuine competitor in this new category of vehicle.

So who else is training their sights on this new arena?

Volvo signaled its intentions to compete with the XC60, a scale model of the well-received XC90 full-size 4WD. Currently in concept, the XC60 is slated for production in 2009, putting the Ford-owned Swedish marque off the radar for now.

Audi, again acknowledging what appears initially to be a European trend, have heralded the Q5 as a miniaturised version of their acclaimed Q7. Due to begin production in Germany next year, the Q5 will meet the X3 head-on, but Audi are also planning the Q3 to slot in one layer down.

Mercedes-Benz, predicably enough, are not about to be left out. Journalists were taunted recently in Austria with a cloaked prototype that stayed cloaked and instead were treated to display of strictly embargoed concept images. To be marketed under the label MLK, Mercedes-Benz promise to remove the covers at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. MLK is likely to be powered by the 3.0 and 3.5 litre V6s and spy shots indicate it will appear in a 4-door version.

Honda, who can claim some credit for launching the compact SUV category ten years ago with CR-V, upped the spec for their new model to knock on the door of the premium segment at almost $42k for the fully tricked model. CR-V, however, falls considerably short in the off-road stakes when compared to X3 or Freelander 2. But for those who live on the tarmac, it’s worth a test.

Jeep upset purists of this stalwart 4x4 marque with their release of Compass. It has many critics scratching their heads with this new, pint-sized Jeep. Looking for all the world like the baby brother of the big boy family, Compass brings everyday driveability and comfort to a brand known for rugged, outdoorsy looks - and commensurate ride and feel. Sure, it’s a softy, but it may be a Jeep that Mrs He-Man won’t mind jumping into. Fully sauced, the little Jeep just tips the $40k price point and boasts leather seats, CD-stacker, electronic stability control, airbags and intelligent 4WD.

06 June 2007

Quattro on Q

Test Car

Audi Q7 quattro permanent four-wheel drive
6-speed tiptronic automatic transmission
4.2-litre V8 with FSI petrol direct injection (257 kW)
RRP $116,800
ABC* rating: 683 points (3rd place)

With Audi’s quattro permanent four wheel drive system dating back to 1980, it’s surprising the company waited so long to introduce their first SUV. Either way, here it is: Audi’s superb Q7.

Originally launched with three engine configurations: a V6 and V8 petrol and a 3.0 turbo diesel, the range now includes the world’s most powerful diesel passenger, the truly awesome 375kW V12 TDI. With the diesel engine patented by a German over 100 years ago, it has taken a long time to reach this level of sophistication and now, especially with critical eyes looking at the fuel consumption of large SUVs, diesel power is a popular and sensible option. Claimed economy of the V8 is 13.6l/100km.

Out test vehicle was the powerful 257kW 7-seat variant and we spent much of our touring with six people aboard. In most seven seat models, the two rearmost seats are usually only suitable for children or undersize adults and in this respect the configuration was perfect. The two collapsible seats were still beautifully upholstered in leather and very comfortable. Across the range, up to 28 seating configurations are possible.

Although we didn’t test the extreme end of its 4WD ability, I’m assured the Q7 is up for a Simpson Desert crossing anytime you feel the urge. The V8 model features adaptive air suspension as standard that allows the driver to vary the ride height of the vehicle according to the terrain.

Bitumen touring is how you’d expect: smooth, quiet and effortless. The mighty V8 is almost silent at normal running speeds and still barely growls when urged. With full load, the acceleration is understandably subdued, but for a bit more excitement, flick over the tiptronic transmission to manual and drive through the six gears to your heart’s content.

Many of the truly high-end enhancements like sun roof, and radar-controlled vehicle distance monitoring are optional, but essentials like air conditioning, ABS, stability control and eight airbags are standard as is Audi’s signature build-quality and fully galvanized bodywork.

* The combined automotive authorities (NRMA, RACV etc) rated these vehicles recently in their famously impartial, annual Australia’s Best Cars (ABC) report.

07 April 2007

CR-V: Compact, Reliable, Versatile

From MotorWeb - Mo...
Report: Roderick Eime.
Photos: Honda Motor Company

CR-V is back with its sights set on regaining top-selling status in Compact SUVs.

Test Car:

* Honda CR-V Luxury
* 5-speed automatic with Grade Logic Control
* 2.4 litre 4 cylinder DOHC i-VTEC with VTC (125kW)
* RRP $41,990 as tested

Honda’s experience with All Wheel Drive and 4WD SUV vehicles in Australia has been mixed to say the least.

Buoyed by the overwhelming initial success of the CR-V in 1997, Honda introduced the smaller HR-V in 1999 and then the larger MDX in 2003. Both have since disappeared from the scene, leaving CR-V the only Honda soft-roader on the market.

Whether you take the “Compact Recreational Vehicle” or “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle” definition, it seems CR-V was the right sized package for Honda buyers all along. The little HR-V was only slightly cheaper, and the MD-X about double, with neither really catching buyers’ imagination. Now in its third generation, Honda is pinning its hopes on CR-V regaining top spot in the compact SUV segment currently owned by Toyota’s now grown-up RAV4. If the critics are right, it may just happen, with the new CR-V selling almost 1000 units in its first month, a very encouraging start.

Back in ’97, with little real competition, the CR-V quickly defined the compact SUV segment despite very limited credentials as a 4WD. Perhaps it was the intelligent interior layout, ease of driving and Honda build quality that set it apart and has since made it the one to catch. And catch it they did.

But let’s be up-front: the CRV is not really an off-road vehicle. It’s a smooth, pleasant and polite handling SUV that will behave well in difficult conditions like wet, slippery roads and unsealed surfaces, but is not so happy in bumpy, rough terrain. Honda, by its own admission, has retained the “Real-Time” 4WD system, but tuned suspension and handling for a more sedan-like quality.

Honda’s “Real Time” 4WD system is a “reactionary” one, similar to many, so-called soft-roaders. Front wheel drive almost all the time, it will activate the rear wheel drive on demand only, like slippery road conditions and dirt.

Honda has instead succeeded in making the new 2.4 litre CR-V a more capable road car, which is where the vast majority of CR-Vs will spend their lives. A 20mm lower ride height and repositioned spare wheel has effectively lowered the centre of gravity almost 35mm. This seems just a small amount, but will be noticeable to anyone who has driven earlier models. Factor in the new Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), advanced ABS and multiple airbags and you have the safest CR-V ever.

Styling wise, CR-V is still in the game, with its distinctive double layer grille and a hidden spare wheel, now relocated under the rear floor. This also allows for a vertically opening tailgate, instead of the barn-door of the old model. The makeover includes an arched window treatment that looks good from outside, but does reduce rear passenger outlook slightly. The overall impression though is one of new sophistication and chic that alone may induce some owners to trade up.

Survey the CR-Vs you see on the street and you’ll notice the popularity of the car with women drivers, especially those with young families. OUTthere tested our CR-V Luxury with the females and the verdict was encouraging. Typically they liked the delightful road manners, good visibility, easy parking, comfort, appointments and smart styling.

Going back to my earliest recollections of Japanese cars in the early ‘70s (I learned to drive in a 1973 Civic) I recall the all-but-flawless build quality that became the hallmark of the fully imported product. 35 years later, the world is a different place and Hondas are built all over the world. Most recently, we’re getting Civics, Accords and now the CR-Vs from Thailand and they, like the rest of the world, can’t match the Japanese for absolute build quality. Our test car’s tailgate wasn’t fitted perfectly and took a bit of effort to shut. A quick test on several other identical cars showed they all worked just fine. But we’d never get this quality car in Australia for under $40k, so this is the trade-off.

In summary, the new generation CR-V is a logical and intelligent revitalization to one of Honda’s most popular cars ever. Enjoyable and as easy to drive as ever, CR-V is back!

We Liked:

* Excellent road manners and handling
* Superior interior appointments for class
* High safety levels
* Good visibilty

If we had to be picky

* Test car had poor fitting rear tailgate
* Modest performance
* Noticeable road noise
* No manual override on auto trans

Australia's Best Cars

Australia's Best Cars
Australia's Best Cars is the nation's most comprehensive and reliable consumer focused vehicle testing and award program. It was established as a joint initiative in 2000 by Australia's auto clubs, which represent almost 7 million members across the country. The 2006 Australia's Best Cars winners were announced in Sydney, December 6.

16 March 2007


Industry News:


Toyota will unveil a new brand, a concept vehicle and four new production models at next month's Melbourne International Motor Show.

Taking centre stage on the Toyota stand will be the new TRD brand and its first two performance-enhanced vehicles - a near-to-production TRD Aurion and a concept TRD HiLux.

Toyota will also display the new Euro-styled Corolla hatch, the sophisticated new Corolla sedan and the next-generation Kluger medium SUV, all to be seen in Australia for the first time.

Toyota Australia's senior executive director sales and marketing David Buttner said Toyota is aiming to consolidate its market leadership with these significant new models to be introduced in 2007.

"The performance-enhanced TRD vehicles, the new Corollas with their European-influenced design and the next-generation Kluger with the added flexibility of 2WD will provide a great boost to our line-up," Mr Buttner said.

"We will also have other surprises when the show opens on 2 March," he said.

Mr Buttner said the advent of TRD is an important development that will increase the desirability of the Toyota brand.

"It is the first time in the world TRD has been established as a separate brand under Toyota," Mr Buttner said.

"We are drawing on Toyota's 50 years of motorsport heritage to engineer and market a range of vehicles under the TRD banner.

"They will add a new dimension to the Toyota brand in Australia."

The TRD Aurion is expected to go on sale during the third quarter of this year.

Based on the Toyota Aurion large car introduced late last year, it features a supercharged 3.5-litre V6 engine with a development target of at least 235kW.

It will come with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual override and locally developed upgraded brakes and suspension.

The TRD Hilux Concept is based on a 4WD Double Cab with luminescent red paintwork embedded with gold flecks.

A production model is expected to go on sale before the end of the year, equipped with a supercharged 4.0-litre V6 engine.

Local engineering development and design have been carried out entirely by Toyota Australia, with final assembly carried out by our supplier Prodrive.

The new Corolla will be a feature of the Toyota stand - with a distinctive, sporty hatch and a sleek and sophisticated sedan.

The stylish and sophisticated Corolla will feature a more powerful 1.8-litre four-cylinder dual VVT-i petrol engine.

New Corolla is longer and wider than the current model, providing even more interior space for passengers and luggage.

Corolla is Australia's most popular small car and last month was the top-selling vehicle in the country - a feat it achieved twice last year.

Toyota is also providing a preview of the next-generation Kluger, fresh from its world debut earlier this month at the Chicago Auto Show.

For the first time, Kluger will be available in 2WD as well as all-wheel drive when it goes on sale during the third quarter of this year.

It will feature the dual VVT-i 3.5-litre V6 engine already seen in the Aurion large car and Tarago V6 people mover.

It is expected to develop around 200kW - the most power of any non-turbo soft medium SUV.

Available with five or seven seats, next-generation Kluger is longer, wider and taller than the current model.

It will offer more space for passengers - especially in the second and third rows.

04 March 2007

Pajero Gets the Last Laugh

Critics of Mitsubishi’s popular Pajero find the joke is on them.

Test Car: Mitsubishi Pajero NS GLX LWB five-door 4WD
  • 6G75 V6 3800 SOHC 24 valve MIVEC (184kW)
  • NVECS-II Sport Mode 5-Speed Full Automatic
  • RRP $52,490 (as tested)
  • 5 year / 130,000 km warranty
Venerable Japanese manufacturer, Mitsubishi, had an admirable plan when they launched their high specification 4WD at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show.

The name ‘Pajero’ was applied to the new vehicle, drawn from a small South American feline (Leopardus pajeros) that darts spritely amongst the high pampas of the Andes. Attracted by the allure of the svelte little predator, the marketing team unfortunately didn’t look at every popular use of the word and very soon the Spanish-speaking markets were rolling on the floor at the Japanese ineptitude.

American and Spanish markets now refer to the Pajero as Montero (mountain lion) and the UK market as Shogun.

Now in its fourth generation, the new NS Series introduces enhancements that maintain the vehicle’s market respect despite continued unkind references to that famous nomenclature faux pas 25 years ago.

Australian 4x4 Magazine recently awarded the new diesel Pajero '4X4 OF THE YEAR' when stacked up against finalists that included Touareg, Prado, Mercedes-Benz and Jeep.

With so many ‘almost’ 4WDs and SUVs on the market, it’s hard for buyers to tell when they’re getting a real off road machine. For the press launch, Mitsubishi took the notoriously hard-nosed Australian journalists to the Flinders Ranges where they tore around in typical style in the ruts, potholes and bulldust of the true outback.

Our test vehicle came with the new 3.8 litre 24-valve V6 MIVEC (Mitsubishi's variable valve timing) petrol engine which produces 184kW at 6,000 rpm (a substantial 23.5% increase on the previous engine), and maximum torque of 329Nm at a very low 2,750 rpm (up 6% from 310Nm at 3250 rpm on the superseded NP Pajero). Buyers should definitely test the new 3.2 litre common-rail diesel too.

The excellent 5-speed automatic with sequential shift will be the most popular option with buyers, but traditionalists can still opt for the fully synchronised 5-speed manual.

Pajero's 4WD system can be engaged and disengaged whilst driving at speeds of up to 100km/h. It includes 2WD high range, 4WD high range, 4WD low range, and 4WD high and low ranges with locked transfer. Safety systems include ABS with EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), Active Stability Control, and six airbags - all available on the base model.

Also of note is Mitsubishi’s decision to reintroduce the once popular 3-door, short wheelbase variant to the range.

In summary, the new NS Pajero is a totally creditable development of the already respected Pajero model. Buy it for genuine off road ability, as it presents one of the best value packages on the market.

As for the elite SUV poseurs, you may just have to eat those words.

We Liked:
  • Excellent drivability on all surfaces
  • Light, nimble road manners despite size
  • Responsive engine with excellent power
  • Very capable package for the money
If we had to be picky
  • More engine noise than tarmac SUVs
  • Low tech dash and display

25 February 2007

Maserati GranSport Spyder

Maserati GranSport Spyder

Certainly one of the most anticipated Maseratis of all time, Australia was one of the first markets to preview the alluring roadster at last year's Melbourne Motor Show. “The Maserati GranSport has provided a fresh re-interpretation of the Maserati legend and the Spyder adds to this the visceral pleasure of open top motoring,’ says Edward Butler, General Manager for Maserati in Australia and New Zealand. “It shares with the GranSport Coupe the breath taking performance from the racetrack-bred 295 kW V8 engine, the remarkable handling, roadholding and ride comfort offered by the Maserati Skyhook Suspension and the exclusive customisation possibilities of the Officine Alfieri Maserati programme with Maserati’s unique styling and adds open top motoring. What more could be wanted from performance motoring?” The Maserati GranSport Spyder is an open-top version of the GranSport Coupe, the car that has been widely praised for providing the Maserati Coupe with an aggressive new temperament with improved performance, looks and a sharper, more responsive edge. The GranSport Spyder loses nothing with its conversion to soft top motoring, from its 4.2 litre V8 boosted for its application in the GranSport to 400 bhp/294 kW and its emotive howl that can be enhanced at the press of a button, to reworked suspension, wheels and tyres. Roof up or down, the GranSport Spyder dispatched the dash to 100 kmh in just 4.9 seconds and goes on, where the law permits, to a top speed of 285 kmh. As with the GranSport Coupe, there are also visual changes. A pronounced spoiler hugs the bottom of the front bumper and on the sides under-door skirting harmonises the look of the car. This is completed by the 19" wheels inspired by the race cars that compete in the Trofeo Maserati. The interior is a blend of carbon, leather and BrighTex® fabric and endow the cabin with the look and feel of a racing car. This ultra-exclusive Spyder will only be for the patient purist as numbers will always be limited. Expect to wait at least three months if one is available.


ENGINE 32-valve quad-cam 4.2 litre V8

POWER 295 kW @ 7000 rpm.

TORQUE 451 Nm @ 4500 rpm

0-100 KM/H 4.9 secs

TOP SPEED 285 km/h

PRICE $260,000

Preview: Audi RS 4 Cabriolet

Audi RS 4 Cabriolet

New dimensions in driving dynamics combined with innovative ideas - plus exciting styling and a level of equipment that lives up to even luxury-class standards: the new Audi RS 4 combines the latest high-performance product from the highly-specialised sports subsidiary, quattro GmbH in a thoroughbred sports saloon with supreme everyday driving qualities in the premium segment.

The RS 4 features racing technology in plain clothes. While many of its features look similar to the new Audi A4, the RS 4 is far more than just a fast derivative of Audi’s successful mid-size saloon. The car is an almost entirely brand-new development tailored to the highest performance requirements.

The RS 4 Cabriolet puts the brand at the forefront of the four-seater convertible segment. Audi has never before built such a powerful open-top car. The high performance and above all high-torque V8 FSI engine makes the open-top RS 4 ideal for relaxed cruising. As well as sporty performance, the RS 4 Cabriolet treats its passengers to an acoustic experience of the finest caliber. The unmistakable V8 sound is enough to set the pulse of any car enthusiast racing - particularly with the roof open.

The latest generation of Audi’s permanent four-wheel drive is featured for the first time on the RS 4 and offers a 40 (front) to 60 (rear) asymmetric/dynamic torque distribution ratio. Another new feature is the self-locking Torsen centre differential.

Inside, the RS 4 combines the functionality of a sports car with the luxurious ambience typical of all Audi models. Leather, aluminium, and carbon are the predominant materials. The RS 4 also comes with all the additional qualities typical of a genuine sports car.

The RS bucket seats, with high side sections, offer firm hold. By pressing buttons on the seat the side sections can be inflated to mould perfectly to the driver's anatomy. The flat-bottomed RS sports steering wheel and the engine start button on the centre console are clearly reminiscent of motorsport.

The electro-hydraulic hood can be opened entirely automatically in 21 seconds and can be operated at up to speeds of 30 km/h. This makes it possible to open or close the roof when out and about in town, for instance, or before parking the car.


ENGINE 32-valve 4.2 litre V8

POWER 309 kW @ 7800 rpm.

TORQUE 430 Nm @ 5500 rpm

0-100 KM/H 4.8 secs

TOP SPEED 250 km/h (limited)

PRICE $187,500

Jaguar XK Convertible

When released to a salivating public last year, both the Jaguar XK Coupe and Convertible immediately garnered accolades from the fussiest critics. BBC’s Top Gear awarded it “Best Car of 2006”, Which Car voted it “Most Exciting Car of 2007”, MotorWeek dubbed it “Best Dream Car” and. surprisingly, Germany’s Auto Zeitung readers rated Jaguar “First in Quality”.

The XK was designed and engineered above and beyond the high expectations customers rightly have for a Jaguar sports car, a fact made possible because everything from its advanced aluminium chassis to its sophisticated transmission and exquisite interior has been designed in pursuit of a luxurious, advanced and stunning new Jaguar.

"The XK is exactly the sort of sports car that only Jaguar could produce - beautiful to look at and incredible to drive. The XK represents pure automotive desire on four wheels. Everyone who sees it wants to drive it and be seen in it," said Bibiana Boerio, Managing Director, Jaguar Cars at the 2006 launch. "It appeals to customers who do not make compromises in life because like them we have made no compromises in designing it. Whether you go for the drive of a lifetime through the Alps or cruise top-down across America, you will discover these are breathtakingly modern cars that share the heart and soul of every great Jaguar of the past.

The compact, lightweight all-aluminium V8 engine is based on that fitted to the latest generation XJ saloon and has undergone significant development compared with the engine used in the previous XK, including new fuel-injection technology

For the first time in a Jaguar, drivers use steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear with the new Sequential Shift transmission. In either Drive or Sport Manual modes, very fast gear shifts - as quick as 600 milliseconds - are achieved by combining the use of one-touch paddles with an automatic blip of the throttle from the drive-by-wire engine management system during downshifts.

The interior is very clean and driver-focussed, with simple architectural forms and minimalist detailing. What's in front of the driver essentially defines the feel of the car, which is sporty and functional. The dashboard lines flow from the A pillars to the centre console, whose advanced touch-screen carries the controls for many of the car's features - allowing the number of switches on the instrument panel to be kept to a minimum.

A supercharged version (XKR) is due in May this year.


ENGINE Quad-cam naturally aspirated 4.2 litre AJ-V8
POWER 224 kW @ 6000 rpm. (306 kW supercharged)
TORQUE 420 Nm @ 4100 rpm (560 Nm supercharged)
0-100 KM/H 6.3 secs
TOP SPEED 250 km/h (limited)
PRICE $221,900 (XK) $249,500 (XKR)

Preview: Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

V8 Vantage Roadster

The most recent Los Angeles Auto Show was abuzz with much anticipated unveiling of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster.

Aston Martin Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Dr Ulrich Bez said: “The V8 Vantage Roadster is a pure sports car, a car that heightens the senses and provides a dynamically thrilling driving experience.

“The Vantage Roadster adds to the unbeatable thrill of open air motoring and by combining engineering excellence, technological innovation and physical perfection, will ensure every journey is one to remember.”

Perfectly proportioned, with a low purposeful stance, the Vantage Roadster is uncompromisingly modern yet also incorporates classic Aston Martin design cues. The elegant lines are fused with traditional craftsmanship and striking 21st century style, with an interior hand-trimmed and finished in the finest quality genuine materials.

From the beautifully hand stitched leather seats to the hand-finished bodies, to the ultra-modern Aston Martin V8 engine, hand-assembled at a dedicated, high-technology facility in Cologne, Germany, the Vantage Roadster is an exclusive, advanced and uniquely desirable sports car.

Engine is the Aston Martin all-alloy quad overhead camshaft 32 valve, 4.3 litre V8 with variable inlet camshaft timing and dry sump lubrication system. It’s front mid-mounted and rear-wheel drive.

The new Sportshift automated manual transmission is optional. This ultra-quick system provides the driver with heightened precision via fingertip control of gear changes using paddles to progress smoothly and swiftly through the ratios.

Place a deposit today and your new roadster will be amongst the first deliveries around the middle of this year.


ENGINE All-alloy quad overhead camshaft 32 valve, 4.3 litre V8

POWER 283kW (380 bhp) @ 7000 rpm.

TORQUE 410 Nm (302 lb.ft) @ 5000 rpm

0-100 KM/H 5.0 secs

TOP SPEED 280 km/h

PRICE $269,000 (manual) $277,250 (Sportshift)

30 January 2007

The Cars Outback

Slick city sales pitches don’t travel far in the country. Rural businesses and private buyers alike are driven by common sense and practicality, not glossy brochures or schmick advertising. Country BIZ examines four straight-up vehicles that should be on your next test drive list. 

 Roderick Eime 

U. B. Ute. E!

 Ford BF RTV Ute
  • 4.0 litre DOHC Six 190kW 
  • 5-speed manual with 4 speed auto option 
  • $31,950 plus options
  • 3 year / 100,000km warranty  
Ford utes have been in the shed for as long as there have been sheds. It is so inseparable from the country that it even features on a postage stamp. Ask any cocky, builder or tradesman why they drive a Ford ute and they’ll tell you it’s as much about the cultural icon as it is about reliability, toughness and practicality. Heck, there’s even an annual muster at Deniliquin for the workers’ best mate and V8 ute racing on TV!

The current RTV is the rural version of the Ford ute, continuing a trend begun with the formidable Outback ute some ten years back. High, 1-tonne suspension, heavy-duty underbody protection and now with ABS and switchable diff-lock, every bloke wants one wrapped up under the Chrissy tree – if he can wait that long!

Following tradition, power is still derived from a muscular 4.0 litre straight six, although the current donk is a far cry from the trusty carby-fed 250ci ones of old. The newie has double overhead cams, multipoint fuel injection and comes with a dedicated LPG engine as an option. The option list doesn’t stop there and Ford allows an almost complete control over possible fitments and enhancements including tow packs, a V8, manual or auto transmissions, cab chassis or tray-backs.

Thumbs Up: • Powerful, high torque engine • Rugged, well protected • Good cabin comfort • Extensive option list Mmmm. • Maximum three adult capacity. • I miss the long range tank • No diesel option

  Like a Trooper

Toyota LandCruiser Troop Carrier LC78 • 4.2 litre diesel with turbo option • 5-speed manual • $48,900 plus options • 3 year / 100,000km warranty 

 The Toyota LandCruiser, despite its Japanese heritage, is the stuff of Aussie outback legend. It’s the 4WD all others are measured by and continues to draw the greatest track cred and biggest boasts in any caravan park. Its status is a result of numerous factors, not the least of them being Toyota’s much envied reliability and build quality. Contenders like Nissan’s Patrol, Jeep and even Land Rover have come close but the mighty LandCruiser has always kept at least its head in front of the pack.

Boiled down to the basics of LandCruiser usefulness and practicality is the Troop Carrier. It’s a bare-bones, austere bodied version of the plush urban variety and built with the land in mind. Forget petrol and automatic transmission options, this wagon means business and is built accordingly. You’ll need more than a big stick or an old axe handle to kill one of these – try an RPG!

Available in six smart colours. Go and ask for French Vanilla, I dare you!

Thumbs Up: • Economical, sturdy diesel engine • ‘Military’ build spec • Nine model range • Extensive option list Mmmm. • Spartan interior at basic end • No petrol option • No auto transmission 

  You’ll Want One Outback 

Subaru Outback

• 2.5 litre four-cylinder or 3.0 six • Permanent four-wheel drive (AWD) • $36,990 plus options (2.5) • 3 year/unlimited km warranty There was a time when you’d point and giggle at anyone who turned up in a Subaru Leone. But the little petal has grown up and is now a respectable member of the rural fleet. The most impressive thing about the Symmetrical AWD system now perfected by Subaru and standard on every car they sell, is its ability to cope with a wide variety of road surfaces with confidence. There are times when you want a comfortable sedan and there are times you want the 4WD. Subaru’s clever Outback comes close to delivering both. The intelligent transmission system talks to each wheel and brake, delivering power to wheel most in need. If a wheel begins losing traction, for example, its power is reduced and the surplus transferred to the wheel with the most grip. The principle is not exclusive to Subaru, but hard to find on cars in this price range. Although it won’t take on a LandCruiser, its useful cross-trainer ability is perfect for commuters who face a daily dirt drive. Thumbs Up • Superb build quality • versatile performer • great road holding in varied conditions Mmmm. • Needs a bit of pedal, especially 2.5 • Automatic transmission not best feature 

  Never Mind the Kingswood 

Holden Commodore Omega VE

• 3.6 litre Alloytec V6 180kW • 4–speed automatic • $34,490 • 3 year / 100,000km warranty Like a favourite sweater or golf bag, a Holden Commodore is a comforting, confidence-inspiring vehicle that can take you pretty much anywhere a 2WD can go. Like its long-time sparring partner, the Falcon, Commodore makes sense. You can get in at sun-up, drive all blinkin’ day and half the night and still get out in decent shape. It’s comfortable, reasonably economical, powerful enough and looks good on the road. And hey, the ladies don’t mind it either. With more choice than ever in the new car market these days, it’s easy to get carried away with fanciful notions and hybrid machines, but in the end it needs to be the right decision. Ease of service, availability of parts, versatility and peace of mind have to count for something. The 21st Century Holden sedan still uses a GM V6, although the new Alloytec variants bear little resemblance to the old push-rod Buick 3.8 litre ones first seen in 1988 in the VN. However, some critics have been quick to point out that the old 125kW VNs were actually quicker to 100 km/h than the new 180kW VEs. Go figure. All new Holdens set the motoring media abuzz and the new 2006 VEs were no different. Generally, praise was heaped on the new Commodore with particular mention made of the quality trim of the entry-level Omega. Whatever happened to the Belmont? Thumbs Up: • Comfortable, all-day cruiser • Lively road manners • Enhanced stability and safety features Mmmm. • 4 speed auto feels dated • Wot! No full-sized spare tyre?

14 January 2007

Subi Doo. Where were you?

Subaru finally launches the SUV we were all waiting for.

Test Vehicle:

Subaru Tribeca 3.0R Premium 7 Seat AWD
3.0 litre DOHC flat six 180kW
5 speed automatic transmission
Satellite Navigation/DVD System
$60,990 as tested
3 year/unlimited km warranty

OUTthere spent some time with the Subaru executives recently and they’re feeling pretty satisfied. They’re not about to take over the world, but the clever niche for AWD vehicles they occupy is all theirs.

Liberty, Impreza, Outback and Forester have all gained enviable acceptance in the market. Subaru, as a brand, continues to make steady forward sales progress in a volatile environment. In a dignified and restrained brag, Subaru Managing Director Nick Senior said: “The engineering, safety and retained value of our vehicles continues to drive customer interest in Subaru.”

Customer interest is certainly one of the factors Subaru can count on, because when their Tribeca B9 SUV was unveiled at Australian motor shows in 2005, it created a minor tsunami amongst the press and Subaru aficionados. Was it the radical styling? Or just simply that Subaru had made the predicable move into the SUV market that had so beckoned it? Several hundred Tribecas are now on Australia roads since the November 2006 launch.

With their symmetrical AWD system down pat, it was a simple enough philosophical move to create the big daddy of the Subaru family. Just apply the many years of development, take the big 3.0 litre DOHC flat six, add a seven seat option and away you go. The forthcoming Subaru boxer turbo diesel, a very poorly kept secret, should be an interesting fitment to Tribeca.

The question OUTthere wanted answered was whether the Tribeca really could do the dirty stuff, so we went looking for it. The road holding, handling and safety of Subaru vehicles is a “gimme” for the sealed and even unsealed surfaces. The Tribeca doesn’t handle with quite the finesse of the smaller sedans and wagons, but is certainly acceptable for the class within which it competes. The big 3.0 engine is capable enough, although not awe-inspiring. It does take a bit of pedal to get all 2 tonnes (with driver) up and mobile.

Our offroad excursion did find the limits of the vehicle. Picking our way carefully through mogulled bush tracks did take some care. Our main concern was the 215mm ground clearance and a couple of times we had to build little stone ramps to clear some sharp edges. There are no diff-locks or low range switches for the 5-speed auto, but the Traction Control at least assures that the wheel that needs the power gets it. This limiting factor considered, we were able to negotiate some pretty hairy trails, although not with the supreme confidence you’d get with a fully equipped, high clearance 4WD.

In summary, the Tribeca is no big kick-butt 4WD, but then it isn’t pretending to be. It’s a refined, comfortable, supremely safe AWD SUV that will find a place in the heart of Subaru owners and likely bring some new fans to the fold.
We liked:

• Road manners
• Safety features top class
• cabin comfort and trim

If we were picky

• Engine needs a little more kick
• AWD system not suited to really heavy duty work
• radical styling not for all

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