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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