Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category

An Auto by any Other Name.

March 5th, 2012 1 comment

When is a manual car not a manual car? Simple answer, when there is no clutch. What about clutch-less manuals, simple answer they are a farce. Readers the sad reality is this, the only true manual has a gear stick and a clutch and no matter what a car owner says anything else is an automatic. You see automatic has two meanings depending on perspective, it either means relaxation and comfort, or it means lazy and lack of driving skill. Now the former meaning is why people buy automatic cars, and hence why many cars are auto only. Most people buy an auto cause it is easier and in city driving, no gear changes makes life very easy. And the reality is most people see driving as a chore.

But the latter meaning bothers many sporty car owners and car makers. You see if you have just sprung 50,000 for you new Golf GTi you don’t want someone laughing at you for buying an auto sports car. So car makers have tried and tried to improve autos so they are manual-like. And let’s be honest they are better. But they aren’t a manual and I for one won’t accept the illusion any more. One day I was chatting to a guy about his Golf GTi, “Did you buy the manual or auto?” I asked, “I bought the DSG.” He responds like he has some special transmission that somehow is better than an auto. It is still a frigging auto. No clutch and changes itself… that is an auto. It doesn’t matter how it does it, it is still an auto. “You see they have the wheel paddles so you can… blah, blah, blah”. It doesn’t matter that you can change it manually it is still an auto. No clutch means it is an auto.

I had a friend with an Alfa 147 which wasn’t an auto, no it was a Selespeed. This is Alfa speak for: “we feel dirty that we have to make auto cars cause we make drivers cars but this tries to replicate the manual experience”. Sadly the way it did it was when you changed it dropped revs and then changed then picked up again, so harshly I might add you move in your seat noticeably. I mean it was contrived and embarrassing, it was an auto pretending to be a manual because sadly Alfa knows no auto option in Australia means very few sales.

So to all out there, I will bear it no longer. If you tell me you car has [insert marketing hype name/acronym for auto] transmission I will now say, “Oh the auto”. An auto by any other name is still an auto. No matter how much you cover it up with techno jargon your sports car really is just an auto. Which means you aren’t really into driving.

Categories: Cars, Rant Tags: , , ,

Commodore falls, how sweet it is.

January 14th, 2012 No comments

Sweet indeed Comrades to see Australia’s own Holden (do people still believe that crap) lose the best selling car crown to the Mazda 3. According to motoring journalist Pedr Davis you probably have to go back to WW1 to a time when a fully imported car was the best seller, before Australian’s fell under Holden’s spell the Austin A40 was the best selling car post WW2 but it was made (read assembled) in Australia.

It is nice to see the Mazda 3 score this win, but the invective that it launched on the Drive website in comments to the article was interesting. Australians are a parochial lot and when poor old Holden lost that top spot well it was like we had lost the Ashes for a century for some. They predicted the death of Holden and pointed out how great the Commodore was.

The reality is the Australian car industry survives on Govt. handouts and has since successive governments removed tariff protection for the industry. The problem is product development cycles take years to get into place but the market can change rapidly. Cars like the Mazda 3 and the Toyota Corolla (yawn) are now much larger than they were years ago. They offer enough space for many people and now oiffer excellent and economical performance. As such the need for big sixes like the Commodore and the Falcon is on the decline.and while people worry about their carbon footprint these big cars look indulgent, whether they are or not perceptions count.

Holden will ride this out, fleet sales will carry the Commodore forward, but Holden know where the future lie, hence why they are now assembling the Daewoo Cruze here and badging it as a Holden. The Cruze, Corolla and 3 will count for a huge chunk of the market.

But what I couldn’t help notice was the almost racist vitriol for Mazda in some of the comments. The latent racism that lurks in some Australians is indeed disturbing. The fear of the others and the latent dislike for other races comes forward when a sacred cow is challenged. When the Nissan GTR beat the Ford of Dick Johnson at Bathurst the bogans booed and the officials penalised the GTR out in future races. And when the Mazda 3 beat the Commodore that sacred Australian car (spare me bogans) well there was more than enough nasty comments about Mazda, tinged with words that belie a darker view of cars from elsewhere.

The Australian automotive industry is important for manufacturing skills but let us never forget it isn’t ours, those plants are owned by three multi-national companies, two American and one Japanese. They aren’t Australia’s plants. And one day the bean counters at those companies will decide they have had enough and move manufacture to some cheap country. Then what will Australians do when they can no longer cling to Holden like some security blanket?

So the anger directed at Mazda isn’t fair they don’t pretend to be Australian, they are Japanese made and proud of it. We have less to worry about from them than the damage Holden, Ford and Toyota will reap when they pull up stumps and leave. And it won’t be Mazda’s fault cause they made a car people liked. It is the “Australian” trio for not really caring about Australian manufacturing.

To declare bias in this rant, yes I happily contributed to Mazda 3’s sales victory in 2011, twice.

Categories: Cars Tags: , , ,

Then there were two Mazdas

January 7th, 2012 No comments

Well with great delight the family is now GM free. Yes in moves initiated a while back we now no longer own our Holden (read Opel) Barina, and instead own a second Mazda 3 Diesel. Yes I can hear you question the logic behind buying a second one but many things lead to a decision, some like a good deal can’t be predicted. But the thing that can be predicted is that if a car is damn good, owning a second one isn’t that hard to justify.

Our Mazda 3 Diesel twins

The Mazda 3 is the best selling car in Australia. If you take any fleet sales out, so that means people parting with their own money the Mazda 3 clears the Holden Commodore and the Toyota Corolla by a clear margin. It is easy to see why, they are not an unattractive car, they have plenty of room for a car their size, they have nimble handling and are fun to drive, they are Japanese so immediately more reliable than anything comparable care out of Europe, and once again the Japanese heritage means repairs tend to be cheaper than rival Euro brands.

Previously the family owned a Holden Astra and a Holden Barina, and after over 10 years of ownership it is hard to recommend anything from the Opel (let’s be honest the only thing Holden on these were the badges) stable, in fact I think the reliability matches what I expect of anything from the GM stable. While both cars performed well with spirited engines and good handling, they were maintenance hogs, so much so that I often suspected Alfa Romeo was responsible for parts of their design. Little faults cost a lot to repair but in the Barina’s case major flaws occurred that cost big money. Stuff like that shatters your faith in a car and then you want it gone. So my experience says anything Holden is bad news, they might not have made it themselves but they sourced it, promoted it and then maintained it, so to them I say your cars are crap.

And let me be clear Ford is no better, like Holden they have dished up average cars here in Australia for years and equally have imported cars from Europe that are underwhelming in terms of reliability. My mother owned a Ford Mondeo and after her experiences no thinking person could buy a Euro Ford and not expect a tale of woe.

So why diesel I hear you ask. Both cars use less fuel than the Barina did yet they go like the clappers. The days of diesels being slow is long gone. The Mazda can do 0-100 km/h in around 8-8.5 seconds which isn’t too bad, but while doing that they use very little fuel compared to a comparable performer. But it is in rolling acceleration they excel, doing 70 km/h in third gear the car is pulling around 2400 rpm, see a gap in the traffic, floor it and in a flash you are pulling 100 km/h and braking to avoid a ticket. Going up the Mt Ousley out of Wollongong the diesel motor easily propels it past the speed limit on the climb and under the bridge in 5th gear you are pulling speeds that would see your licence suspended, and it can comfortably keep accelerating.

The reason for this massive performance is torque and a prodigious amount of it. Peak torque is 360 Nm delivered from 1800-2600 rpm. To put that in perspective that is 10 Nm more than a 3.6 L Commodore, it is also 23 Nm than the V6 Toyota Kluger. Now both these cars eclipse the Mazda’s power figure of only 110 kW but as many have said, “Power is for show, torque is for go”. That massive torque that the Mazda diesel has means massive surging performance at the usable part of the rev range. There is no need to rev it’s head off it is flying before then. All this performance in the bottom end leads to lots of fun and it is fun that still sips very little fuel.

So now owning and driving two Mazda 3s it is easy to see how the Mazda 3 is the first imported car since WWI to become the best selling car in Australia. Doubly nice to see a GM product lose the top spot.

Categories: Cars Tags: , , ,

Saab’s Demise – GM has blood on its hands

December 24th, 2011 No comments

Sometimes an event occurs that just really bothers you. I mean they happen all the time from the mundane, like the whole Noël debacle, to the truly awful like the massive vote rigging in the Russian elections. But sometimes one event that isn’t earth shaking just really infuriates me and at the moment the demise of Saab has really managed to grind at me like a harsh grit abrasive. As you saw from my previous post I liked Saab, but I truly liked the pre GM Saab, when they truly were Saabs. But now that hatred and anger is squarely aimed at GM. Which clearly is an acronym for gross mismanagement or grotesque morons. This pack of moronic twits took a small niche manufacturer and tried to turn them into a Swedish clone of BMW. They progressively moved Saab mainstream and made them dependent a crap GM designs to achieve this. Their final act was to not guarantee access to GM parts, upon which the cars are now dependent.

When Saab aircraft offloaded the car division to unthinking owners like GM they effectively signed the death warrant of Saab. Immediately GM forced them to adopt GM technology instead of funding Saab to develop their own things. The post GM 900 was built on the Vectra platform and this alone is enough to raise the ire of Saab aficionados. This is the reason why the pre GM 900 is desired while the post GM one isn’t.

They also chose to turn their back on Saabs iconic hatchback designs because in GM’s eyes these weren’t what luxury cars had. BMW and Mercedes back in the 1990’s didn’t make hatchbacks so Saab should have sedans and wagons. What bloody idiots. The most desirable Saab 900s, the Aeros were always 3 door hatches, the nicest 9000 was the hatch. But in GM’s eyes the hatch had to go, forget other individual companies like Citroën that could make luxury hatches like the CX or the XM. So for the 93 and the 95 hatches had to go. Mainstream thinking.

Then there was the curse of badge engineering, this was a term coined by BMC in the 1950s where you designed one car and badged it as an Austin, a Morris, an MG etc. Well GM inflicted this ignominy on Saab too; in the US one could but the Saab 92X which was a rebadged Subaru Imprezza and then there was the truly gauche Saab 97X which was some hideous GM SUV. What the hell was Saab about these designs I ask you? Nothing is the response.

And then the final act of GM bastardry is that after making Saab wholly dependent on them for drive trains, they wouldn’t allow any new company that bought Saab to use any of these components, even in a transitional phase. This effectively gave any new owners incomplete models which had missing key components like engines.

So let me say this publicly and unambiguously: GM, I hate you, once I thought your vehicles were average to crap, but now I know it is worse than that, you as a company are rotten moronic arseholes who managed to ruin a small Swedish outfit that dared to be different. And for that I will never forgive you. Thankfully I no longer own any GM products and I never will again. And I will make it my life mission to point out what absolute dross your products are and ensure everyone knows that you dish up sh*t in just about every market you walk into. You GM are an example of everything bad about automobile companies. And a showcase car like the Chevrolet Volt doesn’t exonerate you from all the other garbage you’ve done.

Categories: Cars Tags: ,

Sad about Saab

December 21st, 2011 No comments

Years ago a Saab was a car I indeed lusted over. The family had owned Volvos (a 142S and a 244GL), but since I had an innate love for all things front-wheel drive , caused by my infatutaion with the Austin 1800, another Swedish car: Saab was my preferred choice. Thje Saab 900 was simply a dream for a boy that loved cars, front wheel drive and also planes. Here was  car made by  a plane company. With its cool wrap-around windscreen and aero inspired ergonomics it seemed like the ultimate car. It echoed the Saab 99 in styling and everything I read in the car magazines said cool things. Dammit they even had the keys at the gear stick, quirky coolness I tell you. The 9000 wasn’t as aero inspired, but it still was desireable.

Sadly though GM became the owner and well… just like most things GM, well Saab went from great to mundane. Oh there were flashes of great but the quirky invidual car company was gone for a more mainstream effort. The BBC mentions a word called snaabery, i.e. Saab snobbery, people who thing the orginal Saab models were great while the post GM Sabbs were a little ho-hum. Well I ham happy to be a “snaab” in that case, cause the 900 and its preceeding models were cars of desire and delight. What GM produced was a slow death march to the sad bankruptcy point we are at now.

For a nice montage of Saab check out this BBC slideshow.

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