Car Review: 2017 Kia Cerato Sport.

Car makers have a habit of badging a vehicle and calling it a Sports model. Holden did it with the SV6 Commodore, Ford’s Falcon XR6, Toyota with the Camry and Aurion…generally it’s cosmetic and that’s it. Kia has jumped on the sports wagon and added one to the Cerato family as the 2017 Kia Cerato Sport. It’s priced at $24790 RRP plus metallic paint (Snow White metallic pearl on the test car) at $520.Mechanically you get Kia’s free spinning two litre petrol four. It’s good for 112 kilowatts (6200 rpm) and 192 torques (4000 rpm). It’s a six speed auto in the test car. The ratios see around 2250 on the tacho for the state limit in Australia of 110 kph. Economy is claimed to be, from a fifty litre tank of standard unleaded, 9.9L/100 km for the city, a more reasonable 5.7 L/100 km for the highway, and a combined figure of 7.3L/100 km. AWT saw a best of 6.2L/100 kilometres on a jaunt to the upper south coast of NSW and back.Externally you get a lithe, slippery, sinuously shaped 4560 mm long body with a solitary Sport badge on the left rear, the addition of a small bootlid spoiler above the 421 litre boot, sweet looking alloys and Nexen rubber of a 215/45/17 profile, with the overall look of a wheel and tyre combination failing to look as if they fit and fill the wheelwells. Perhaps 18s and a 50 series tyre would look more as if they’d fill the hole, but at what cost for ride quality? The Schreyer grille is a touch more upright and adds a visible extra toughness.To add to the Sport, you get a black valance for the rear bumper, globe driving lights in the front (no LED driving lights, they’re reserved for the top of the range SLi) and a number of features shared with the models either side, the S and Si, such as front and rear parking sensors, mirror mounted indicator lights, and folding heated exterior mirrors. The headlights slide deep into the fenders and have a white plastic insert that does nothing for lighting but breaks up the look to provide a bit more visual appeal. However, they’re not as sharped edged and attractive as sister car, Hyundai’s Elantra. The rear lights have also been given a slight makeover, with the look now more akin to a Euro style car.Internally it’s standard Kia; great ergonomics, clean layout and easy to read dash and console controls, cloth seats (shared with the S and covered in a harder wearing weave), a man made leather wrapped driver’s binnacle, 2 twelve volt sockets and USB, plenty of leg room inside the 2700 mm wheelbase and shoulder room in the small mid sized sedan thanks to an overall width of 1780 mm. Airconditioning is controlled by old school dials; old school they may be but there’s nothing simpler than a dial with pictures to tell you how hot/cold, how much blowing speed and where it’s going. Naturally there’s Bluetooth and a reverse camera to complement the six airbags plus there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on board.Audio and satnav are controlled via a seven inch touchscreen and it’s here where technology niggles. From Start, the screen shows a warning message and requires human intervention to agree and move forward. AWT is not a fan of such a program, whereas a timed delay before reverting to the radio screen would be more appropriate. The satnav is brilliant in look and usage, showing a proper geographical perspective for the surrounding lands, and can be zoomed/expanded via the radio tuning knob on the right hand side.The driver faces a simple two dial layount, with speed and engine rev counter taking pride of place and fuel & engine temperature in two small sectioned locations to the bottom. In between the main dials is the info screen, with servicing intervals, speed, economy, trip meters and more available via the steering wheel mounted tabs. Again, typical, user friendly, human oriented Kia. The dash design overall hasn’t changed much, with the ovoid, curved, look and sweeping vertically oriented lines breaking up an otherwise somewhat slabby black plastic presence.The six speed auto in the test car didn’t exhibit anything out of the ordinary nor was it the slickest, smoothest, transmission around. Hesitant and jerky sometimes from low throttle start, sometimes sweet and unfussed, barely noticeable in changes at speed, easily self changing on slight slopes and descents to holding a gear too long on a downhill or uphill run and requiring manual intervention. There’s three dive modes (Sport/Normal/Eco) and only rarely was Sport called upon for it’s quicker shifting. A mixed bag and not one of the best nor worst around and not really deserving of a Sport moniker.

The ride itself though is a delight and shows off the fettling Kia’s engineers have added. It’s well damped in the McPherson strut front/coupled torsion beam rear, with smaller lumps and bumps quickly dialled out, quick rebound from bigger dips and undualtions, however there was a sideways skip occasionally on some unsettled surfaces. The front benefits from uprated springs, adding a poise and nimbleness in turn-in.Tyre pressures were crucial, too, with 36 psi having the Cerato Sport feeling taut, grippy but also a touch skatey in tighter corners. Around 32 psi would provide the ideal balnce for ride and handling. You get a sense of agility, confidence, and tactility though, with a feeling that it’d require some serious issues to lose grip. But the electrically assisted steering is perhaps a little too eager to help, lacking real feedback and communication, with numbness on centre and an artifical weight once wound left and right plus a sense of twitchiness requiring the driver to add in minute corrections as you pedal along.

Acceleration is adequate without much sparkle, meaning a good press of the go pedal to move the 1309 kilo plus cargo is needed. Seat of the pants says around 8 to 9 seconds to 100 kph. The engine is smooth and never feels stresed as it climbs through the numbers but will sound a touch harsh and metallic as it gets over 4500.

The Cerato Sport gets the basics in electronic safety, such as Vehicle Stability Management, Hill Start Assist but being closer to entry level it misses out on Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning and the like. However there’s the embedded seven year warranty and fixed price servicing, with a maximum cost of $487 in the fourth service.At The End Of The Drive.
The cynical part of society would question adding a Sport nomenclature to a vehicle that basically isn’t. One would look for a turbo engine, perhaps a close ratio manual, a sports style front dam and side skirts. But, as mentioned, other makers have a standard car, added a bit of plastic and left the engine and transmission untouched. Kia’s Cerato Sport is pretty much this but slightly less, lacking side skirts and a definable Sport look. The cynical part of AWT would say that the firecracker turbo engine from the lamented Pro Ceed GT and the quad LED driving lights plus a standalone boot lid spoiler would be a look more befitting of a car to wear a Sport badge…
To make up your own mind and book a test drive, here’s the link to the 2017 Kia Cerato sedan

Car Review: 2017 Kia Sportage Si Premium.

Kia’s Sportage is one of the brands oldest nameplates for the Australian market. From its somewhat rough and ready, if competent, beginnings in the 1990s, it’s morphed into a handsome, bluff nosed, popular machine in the mid sized SUV market.
Available in 2017 as a four trim level range, covering Si, Si Premium, SLi, and GT-Line (formerly Platinum), there’s three engines, one transmission, and two or part time all wheel drive options. A Wheel Thing takes the entry level but one 2017 Kia Si Premium front wheel drive home for the week. The cost is $31510 with premium paint (a grey hued colour called Mineral Silver) at $520.Sportage comes with a choice of 2.0L petrol, 2.4L petrol, or 2.0L diesel. Power outputs for the diesel and bigger petrol are just a kilowatt apart, at 136 kW and 135 kW respectively. The Si and Si Premium has the 114 kW 2.0L four (plus the diesel is an option for the Si). Torque wise it’s a steady climb, from 192 Nm, 237 Nm (both at 4000 rpm) and a handy 400 Nm (1750 – 2750 rpm) for the oiler. For the Si, Kia says economy is 10.9L/7.9L/6.1L (per 100 kilometres, urban/combined/highway) from the 62 litre tank. A Wheel Thing’s final figure was 8.4L of unleaded per 100 kilometres in a mainly urban environment. Sizewise it’s well situated in the mid sized SUV bracket, with length at 4480 mm, overall width of 1855 mm, a wheelbase of 2670 mm and a ride height of 172 mm. Spare wheel is a full sized alloy.The sole transmission available is a six speed auto. There’s no paddle shifts available in the Si or Si Premium however there’s the now almost mandatory Sports shift or manual selection via the gear lever. For the most part it’s smooth enough but did exhibit occasional jerkiness and indecision. The auto would also downshift, from sixth to fifth and sometimes fourth under light throttle on slight slopes. On bigger slopes such as the Great Western Highway’s climb up from the river plain, it’s expected it would drop back, and did so easily, plus would hold that gear with only the throttle responsible for rev changes. In normal driving upshifts were slick, quiet, however light throttle on a cold engine seemed to have the cold also annoying the transmission’s electronics, with the hesitancy and judder found in older style autos.Give the Si Premium a solid push on the go pedal and it does drop back easily, as mentioned. What you’ll also get is the mechanical keen from the 2.0L as it winds its way rapidly through the rev range. The 114 kilowatts comes in at 6200 rpm and the engine certainly gives no sign it’ll struggle to reach those numbers. Acceleration is decent enough however there’s a sense that more could be on offer but doesn’t reach the front driven 225/55/18 rubber from Nexen. The 1560 kilogram kerb weight may be one reason. Braking is good, with the 305 mm vented fronts and 302 mm solid rears responding quickly and effectively every time the beautifully balancedand communicative brake pedal is pushed.The McPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension tie the Sportage down well. Although it theoretically could do some soft roading, tarmac is its natural friend and the two go well together. There’s a sense of balance in the way the Si Premium handles itself, with the tight corners for the Old Bathurst Road that snakes its way up from Penrith in Sydney’s west despatched as easily as the dips and undulations on the freeway system that rings the western parts of Sydney. Kia’s engineers spend a lot of time refining the spring and damper settings for Australian spec roads and it shows.

The Sportage is rarely fussed about the road surface, is quiet on all but the coarsest chip surfaces, and seat of the pants feedback tells you that even in quick sideways movement that it’s as composed as if it were standing still. The steering is quick at about 3.5 turns lock to lock, light in Normal mode, not much difference noticeably in Eco and feels a bit heavier, with more feedback in Sports, to round out the driving package. It helps move the Sportage from lane to lane quickly and without a sense of mass shifting direction, making for an almost sporting car drive.Apart from the tyre and wheel size between the Si and Si Premium (225/60/17 for Si), there’s also front parking sensors and electro-chromatic rear vision mirror to differentiate. The Premium also picks up LED DRLs, rain sensing wipers, driver AND front passenger Auto up/down window switches, dual zone climate control, Auto defog system, and illuminated vanity mirrors. Seat trim is a black and charcoal grey weave for the cloth with the front pews manually adjusted for height and seat back angle via levers. The rear seats fold down flat via side mounted levers and provide up to 1455 litres of cargo space, up from 460L with the seats up.The black plastics throughout the cabin have a warm texture to them, with a sweep around the bottom of the windscreen not unlike a new Jaguar. The steering wheel hub has the same feel whilst the smoother plastics are that almost suede feel to the matt fiished buttons and suurounds. The seven inch colour touchscreen, which features satnav, another item the Si alone doesn’t get, sits between the central air vents and there’s an alloy look to the surrounds. There’s bottle holders in all doors, cup/bottle holders in the centre console and a small storage locker in the console as well. The driver’s dial binnacle houses a 3.5 inch monochrome screen with information such as trip, fuel economy, service status, accessed via tabs on the steering wheel. There’s plenty of rear seat leg room, even with the front seats pushed back and enough for most front seat passengers when that seat’s pushed forward. All over and around, it’s typically high quality Kia.The touchscreen has a pseudo radio “dial look”, good quality sound, Bluetooth and Auxiliary/USB campatible, but notably no CD slot. In place of that is voice activated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. When in Reverse, the camera provides a clear enough picture but it’s not as clear and sharply defined as others available. There’s also a pair of 12V sockets at the front of the centre console and one at the rear, allowing for extra USB ports if needed. Aircon controls are simple to use, clean to look at, and the Synch button lights up when it’s a mono zone control, meaning temperature adjustment is for both right and left seats.Outside, the Sportage is stubby tailed, long bonneted, with a steeply raked windscreenbehind Kia’s signature Schreyer grille, and rear window, with a thickish C pillar and profile that reminds one of the original Sportage. The update in 2016 lost the angular and sloped headlights, changing them to an insert style that flows from the more upright nose back along the bonnet shut line. The Sportage designers may have taken inspiration from a classic sci-fi film for the design of the inner headlights, with the look not unlike at all the tri-lensed aliens from War Of The Worlds. The front bumper also has inserts for the globe lit daytime driving lights in each corner, matching the height of the rear’s indicator cluster located low in the rear bumper, not higher up inside the rear light cluster, a staple of the Sportage design.Naturally there’s plenty of safety on board in the form of six airbags, traction control, DBC or Downhill Brake Control and HAC (Hill start Assist Control). Only the GT-Line gets Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Forward Collision Warning System, and Lane Departure Warning System. Servicing is yearly or 15000 kilometres plus capped at a cost of around $2756 over the seven years.

At The End Of The Drive.
Kia Sportage range stands up to be counted in a very crowded market. It’s a car that’s full of class and oozes plenty of style. Consider sibling Tucson from Hyundai, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Renault’s brilliant Koleos, VW Tiguan and you get the idea of what it’s up against. With a strong list of standard equipment, a free revving petrol engine (and the diesel’s pretty damned good), a comfortable drive, and that seven year warranty, it acquits itself with dignity and poise. Kia’s 2017 Sportage range deserves to be on your radar when looking out for a new mid sized SUV.
For specifications and more, head over to :Kia Australia’s website and Sportage

Car Review: 2017 Kia Soul

Kia’s Soul is one of those cars that slips under the radar for no really good reason. Who knows if it’s the perception of the brand or of the name or the look, but it’s grossly unfair to disregard this car. Full stop.
Yes, it’s squarish. Yes, it looks somewhat odd, like the two or three other squarish designs. However, it’s roomy, effective, and a surprise. A mostly good surprise. Here’s a look at the 2017 Kia Soul, with the test vehicle fitted with a few extras.The 2017 model has undergone a mild facelift inside and out as of October 2016. It’s recognisably Kia inside, with a look familiar to anyone that has spent time in one of the brand’s cars. Outside, it’s a change to the grille & air intake, front bumper, fog lamps, reflectors, and wheels. The interior gets a five inch screen for the audio system, with RDS (Radio Data Service) not included, the FlexSteer drive system with associated engine mapping and steering changes, a centre dash refresh, and changes to the seat coverings and door trims.It’s smaller outside than the design would have you believe, with an overall length of just 4140 mm and a wheelbase of 2570 mm maximises interior space. Overall width is decent at 1800 mm with shoulder room aplenty for four aboard. There’s one wheel size; 17 inches is the diameter and rubber comes from Nexus at 215/55. The spare is a spacesaver.The test car came clad in Inferno Red on the body and a Cherry Black roof, a $910 option cost over a single colour choice. Any single metallic is now just $620. A Clear White and Red roof combo will also be cost effective at $390. The review car came fitted with carpeted floor mats ($160), dash mat ($93 and superb at reducing windscreen reflection), an embossed and moulded cargo bay liner ($147), weathershields for the windows ($296) and an alloy roof rack set ($552) for a total cost of $1249 over the $24990 base cost and metallic paint. It’s a boxy shape, yes, but curvaceous enough to not be a completely hard edged look either. The window shields also aided in softening the edge plus it sits high enough in looks to almost be taken for a kind of SUV.The engine is a 112 kilowatt petrol four at two litres capacity. Peak torque of 192 Nm is available at 4000 rpm, 2200 below peak power. The sole transmission choice is a six speed auto with a decidedly dual clutch feel in change under way, yet lacks the roll forward found in DCTs. Kia rates the 2.0L engine as consuming a combined figure of 8.0L per 100 kilometres driven, 6.2L/100 km on the highway and a far too thirsty 11.0L/100 km in the suburban jungle. The tank holds just 54 litres and it’s this fuel figure that is one potential reason why the Soul hasn’t had the penetration it otherwise may deserve.Due to a last minute change of circumstances, the Soul became freed up to be taken away to Bega, the cheese capital of Australia and no doubt inspiration for many Monty Python related gags….Over a period of 54 hours, from departure to arrival back at AWT HQ, the Soul faced strong head and cross winds, from south of Sydney on the Hume through to Canberra and the plains south of there, through to the road east from the driver’s delight of Brown Mountain. And return. After a round trip of 1111 kilometres, the final average fuel consumption was 8.4L per 100 kilometres. It wasn’t until returning the Soul that the claimed figure of 8.0L/100 km was seen, and that was on an unusually quiet freeway run.

On a similar run 12 months ago, AWT achieved sub 5.0L/100 km in a revamped small SUV from a niche Japanese brand. A smaller engine, turbo charged, and diesel…An 11.0L urban figure in a small SUV style vehicle just doesn’t cut it any more.
What did work, for the most part, was the six speed auto. Quiet, smooth, from stopped to go and under way. The only times it felt uncertain was in sixth at around 110 kmh on the slightest of uphill slopes, where you could feel the transmission “drag” against the spin of the engine, feeling as if it wanted to do something but didn’t know exactly what that something was. Otherwise, it’s reasonably geared, with 110 kmh seeing 2400 rpm on the tacho. But overtaking meant a solid press on the go pedal you’ll see the tacho needling zinging around well over 4000 rpm, also contributing to the fuel consumption.It’s typical Kia on the inside, meaning a well laid out dash and console, mostly matt black plastic for the dash, easy to use controls, and superbly comfortable seats (needed after a long country run). The driver sees a dash of red and black, with a centre circle, located inside the speedometer central location, showing information such as overall fuel consumption and trip meters, accessed via the standard steering wheel tabs. The speed and rev counter are analogue still, as are the temperature and fuel gauges to the right side. Cruise control and audio are also located on the tiller as are the bluetooth phone tabs. There’s a semi-circular motif embossed into the doors and some characterful designing for the airvents at each end of the dash. They sit directly underneath the horizontally located speakers and have one thinking something pagoda-like. The ovoid theme is continued with the gear selector and touchscreen both surrounded in a similar motif.As a drive, it’s engaging. The steering ratio is quick, with around 3.5 turns lock to lock and is ideal for shopping centre car parks or roadside tight parking thanks to its electronically assisted lightness. Ride quality is very good, with a slightly tighter rear than the front. The suspension is the tried and true McPherson strut/torsion beam combination and works well enough on the road. It’s nicely tied down as well, with rebound a short travel and that’s it with no pogoing. On the highways south of Canberra it was smooth sailing, even on some of the slightly unsettled and rutted surfaces, and crossing some cattle grids in Bega had plenty of rattatatta into the cabin but no body movement. On the long sweepers on the Monaro Highway it was flat and composed, with no body roll evident.Light braking of the 1375 kilogram mass plus passengers had the Soul easily controlled whilst hard braking via the progressive pedal saw little dive at the front. Hard acceleration saw no torque steer and the barest hint of a list of the nose. Slower speed corners were easily controlled either by a little less throttle in and a touch more out or a brushing of the brakes to settle the nose. The broad footprint aids in stability and the 215/55 tyres provide plenty of grip.With a cargo space (seats up) of 238 litres, there’s enough for a couple of overnight backs, until you lift the cargo space floor and see three compartments located underneath. Seats down, it increases to 878 litres. There’s bottle holders in all doors and a pair of cup holders in the centre console, plus a pair of 12V sockets bracketing a USB port and 3.5 mm socket. Standard equipment such as Auto headlights, speed related locking, rear view camera, sensors front and rear, tyre pressure monitoring and the suite of airbags and driving aids complete the picture.At The End Of The Drive.
At a tick under $27K the Soul is not expensive. Consider the seven year warranty and fixed priced servicing as well. Over seven years your service costs will be $2688.00 or $388 per year. Or, just over a dollar per day…It’s well featured, is comfortable drive and to ride in, and there’s plenty of room inside.
So why doesn’t the Soul have a better perception? You’re not spoiled for choice with just the one trim level available. It’s an unusual look in an environment populated with slick looking SUVs of various sizes and shapes or sleek European sedans. Is it the fuel economy?
Perhaps.
So it could be a combination of suburban thirst and a styling that is perhaps a little too unusual? If you were to ask the junior members of the AWT family, it’s the latter…yet they observed that from inside you couldn’t see the outside. Sage advice for any prospective buyers that would be missing out on a thoroughly competent vehicle.
As a certain Akubra wearing former TV host used to say: “Do yourself a favour” and try the Soul. Here’s where you can go to check it out and book the test drive: 2017 Kia Soul

Van Review: 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 313 Transfer Minibus.

It’s a huge thanks to Blake at Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia as A Wheel Thing goes back to its roots. The first vehicle to be reviewed is the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 313 Transfer Minibus. In a past life, A Wheel Thing’s first vehicle sales role was with a Mercedes-Benz dealership and in a newly established position as a light commercial vehicle salesman. The Sprinter Transfer Minibus is, well, a Minibus variant of the Sprinter van and it is, visually, one big unit. Available with a low (as the review vehicle had) or high roof, at 2524 mm or 2818 mm, it’s lonnnng at 5926 mm. Width? 1993 mm or 2426 mm with the (heated) mirrors included. Seating capacity is twelve, with driver and two up front, and two/three/four mix behind, with all seats fitted with belts and there’s a fire extinguisher and emergency escape panel as well. Even the wheelbase is huge, nearly as long as some small cars are at a total length of 3665 mm. There’s a sense of irony for the uninitiated when M-B state that this is a medium wheelbase model…The heart and soul of the Mercedes-Benz van range is the engine and transmission combination. The Sprinter 313 Transfer is no exception, with a seemingly small Euro 5 compliant 2.2L diesel and seven speed auto driveline. Peak power comes in at 3800 rpm with 120 kW on offer, with peak torque just 360 Nm between 1400 to 2400 rpm. Bear in mind, though, it’s a seven speed auto and at 110 kph, the tacho is sitting on 2200 revs, smack bang in the peak torque figure.

The transmission is a superb unit. Gear changes are physically imperceptible, with only the engine note, a restrained yet noticeable diesel thrum, and the flick of the tacho needle, giving away the ratio has swapped. On the go on the highway and freeway, it’s an effortless cruiser and it was a delight to drive.

Acceleration is reasonable, with entering a highway from a standstill requiring a bit of planning and some driver skill. What this means is having an understanding of the ability and limitations of a vehicle that is good but not great at getting off the line. One simply shouldn’t expect that they can pull into traffic and do so in front of oncoming vehicles.

Braking is a delight, with a feel that wouldn’t be out of place in a family sedan and betters many of the passenger oriented cars a driver can buy. There’s real, genuine, feedback at the slightest pressure and a beautifully weighted feel from start to finish, enabling you to haul up the 2.5 tonne plus cargo easily and faultlessly.The sheer size of the Sprinter is also something a driver needs to consider in the handling aspect. It’s beautifully car like and the driver sits behind the front wheels but turning the steering wheel has the feeling of sitting directly above them, such is the agility of the Sprinter. For someone not accustomed to driving something of both the wheelbase and length, turns and corners need to be taken just that little bit wider and that little bit slower.Overall though, the Sprinter 313 Transfer delights in its ability to make a driver feel as if they are actually driving something smaller, lighter, more wrapped around them. This translates into a tight 13.6 metre turning circle, barely larger than passengers cars can deliver. Even the wheels are passenger car in size, with 16 inch diameter steelies wrapped in 235/65 rubber. However, there’s exterior safety lights fitted in the flanks which reminds you that you’re driving a Minibus, not a car.Access to the interior is via the front doors, with a step up and handle at the top of the door that’s integrated into a carry shelf; barn style rear doors, and a sliding door on the left flank with a step that comes out and retreats automatically when opening and closing the door. The sliding door requires a little extra effort to ensure it closes properly however, but opens up to over 1500 mm to ensure totally easy access for anyone. The rear doors also open lightly, and there’s a step fitted at the rear. Interior height maxes out at 1820 mm so there’s plenty of headroom for just about any person.The driver’s position is close to a metre above the tarmac, with the aforementioned step and handle easing access. Once seated in the tartan style cloth covered seat, there’s plenty of forward and side vision, with the wing mirrors giving a wide angle of view. In contrast, the interior rear view mirror is almost useless with such a narrow field of view. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no rear view camera nor rear (or front) parking sensors. What there is a dash that’s clean, mostly uncluttered, designed for commercial use with cup holders up near the window, a storage locker in upper centre that’s almost large enough to fit an LP record, deepset pockets in the doors and removable panels underneath for extra storage. The sunshades have a clip that ensures they sit fastened tightly and are part of the same structure that provides some upper area shelf space.The centre section of the dash houses both the aircon controls and the audio system which is linked to controls on the smooth looking tiller. There’s Bluetooth compatibility, an easy to read 5.6 inch non touchscreen and a most clean layout. On the right hand side is a keypad, exactly the same as found on a telephone and this is the only section that makes it look somewhat untidy. The tiller also is home to tabs for information on a display screen between the speedo and tacho, presenting a range of information including what ultimately proved to be a final fuel consumption figure of 9.4L/100 km. What was interesting during the drive was watching the range figure change in an upwards trajectory in cruise mode. A starting range of 520 kilometres on pickup had, after an 80 km drive to base camp, over 900 km available.The aircon itself is reasonably easy to use, with the dial for air direction being quirky by not being as easily understandable as the rest. Airflow was powerful when the dial was wound up, plus there’s a aircon unit on the roof that feeds into a set of vents in the rear of the 9.0 cubic metre capacity cabin. Safety, when underway, is taken care of by a suite of car-like electronic aids, such as traction control, brake assist, brake force distribution, electronic stability control and a pair of airbags up front. Finally, there’s the standard three year or two hundred thousand kilometre warranty, 24/7 roadside assist and a specialised service plan including a 12 month or thirty thousand kilometre service interval.At The End Of the Drive.
Aside from the much vaunted passenger car range that Mercedes-Benz has built its well deserved reputation upon, their light commercial range also has much respect. With this particular people mover sitting at around $66K driveaway, it’s much cheaper than expected and cheaper than quite a few SUVs. Yes, it’s not the answer to everyone’s people mover question but with car like handling, plenty of room, an engine and transmission combination that works just so well, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 313 Transfer makes for a tempting alternative when it comes to looking for something to ship the family (and kids for weekend sports) around.This link will take you to more information about the Minibus and from there you can navigate to the rest of the range: 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 313 Transfer Minibus
Once again, a big thanks to Blake at Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia.

Car Review: Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS

It’s a hearty welcome back to Mitsubishi for A Wheel Thing and it was straight into the top level. The Pajero Sport, formerly known as Challenger, comes in a three trim level range. You can choose from the GLX, GLS, and Exceed. A Wheel Thing goes one on one with the 2017 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS.Mitsubishi have loaded the Pajero Sport with a grunty 2.4L diesel and eight speed auto. Off road driving is catered for with the Super Select 2 four wheel drive system and the GLS cops a rear differential lock. Up front, that diesel delivers a handy 133 kilowatts at 3500 revs, backing up the more than decent 430 torques one thousand revs lower. Mitsubishi quote a combined fuel efficiency for the two tonne plus behemoth of 8.0L/100 km from the 68 litre tank, a figure A Wheel Thing more or less matched.It’s a super smooth combo, the eight speeder and diesel. It’s slick, smooth to a fault, with barely perceptible changes at almost any throttle setting. Manual gear changes are available via the gear selector or metal paddles on the steering column. The diesel is a old school chatterer, however, with plenty of ratta-tatta under any form of load. It’s noisy, yes, but lends the Pajero Sport a sense of extra character.Some would say the exterior design of the Pajero Sport has character and you’d have to study their face to see if they’re serious. The front is what Mitsubishi calls its “shield” design and it’s handsome enough. Chrome plates blend with the angular headlights and it flows nicely. In profile, there’s a sense of a hunch in the windowline at the rear, combined with a deep set crease over the rear wheel arches. It’s from the rear that the Pajero Sport’s design has raised the most eyebrows since it was launched, with tail lights that look as if heat has been applied and they’ve melted from top to bottom. Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that…There’s some big numbers for the Pajero Sport; length is 4785 mm long and it stands 1815 mm tall, taller than most. Front leg room is good at 1087 mm whilst the rear seats may seem a little tight for taller people, with 880 mm leg room on display. Towing capacity tips the three tonne mark, at 3100 kilograms, meaning caravanners will be delighted. There’s plenty of grip to do so from the Bridgestone Dueller 265/60 rubber on 18 inch 12 spoked alloys.Inside it’s typical Mitsubishi, with spot on ergonomics, leather seats in the GLS (sans heating and cooling), auto headlights, rear diff lock and towing braking package as well. Front and centre for the driver is Mitsubishi’s Eco messenger display in colour, with a five leaf clover indicating the economic efficiency (or lack there-of) of your driving skills. The display is a typical Mitsubishi highlight, with little to no eye strain and beautifully clean in layout making it easy to read at a glance.The six speaker sound system in the GLS (eight in the Exceed) comes with DAB and the digital sound is superb in the Pajero Sport. The seven inch touchscreen also allows access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adding some up to date technology to the field of play. The dash is a mix of glossy piano black, charcoal matt textured black and aluminuim look highlights that run down into the console and splashes on the doors As expected in a family oriented SUV there’s storage pockets aplenty and the underfloor storage provides some extra security. Although the seats aren’t heated and cooled, they’re comfortable and supportive enough, with quicker turns on road having minimal human body movement. You arrive at a distant destination feeling refreshed enough and being set high, you’ve got both great all round vision and easy entry and exiting. You need to be refreshed as the dynamics of the Pajero Sport aren’t exactly razor sharp. Although it’s got a big footprint, with a 2800 mm long wheelbase, front track of 1520 mm and rear at 1515 mm, it’s unwieldy on the road thanks largely to the perhaps too soft suspension, a mix of double wishbone & coil springs up front and 3 link coil spring & stabiliser bar rear. If you’ve never driven a vehicle such as this you feel as if you’d need to slow to a crawl to turn corners, such is the sensation of body roll.It’s not a point and shoot style car, for sure, however by sitting up high as one does in such a vehicle, anything other than a straight and flat road transmits a feeling of slight uneasiness as to whether the Pajero Sport will go where you tell it. It’ll understeer easily even at moderate speeds but that’s a handling setup issue as the tyres give no indication at all of losing grip. Eventually, and quickly, it must be pointed out, you adapt quickly to the handling and roll foibles, and start exploiting the ability, not agility, of the thing.Being fitted with a proper transfer case for high and low range driving, plus the aforementioned diff lock, is an example of that ability. Low range 4WD has the Pajero Sport head down and bum up as it crawls over rocks, through mud, over gravel and brings back the ability to instill confidence in its ability. There’s a 45 degree climb angle, approach and departure angles of 30 and 24.5 degrees, and will swim through water safely at up to 700 mm in depth. Throttle control is en pointe, with bare flexes of the ankle seeing and feeling response straight away. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the brakes. For such a large vehicle and with the mass it has, the brakes simply aren’t good enough. There’s absolutely no feel with an initial press and a lacklustre feel when the pads start to bite from far too much pressure being required on the pedal. Too often it felt like the Pajero Sport wouldn’t pull up in time and an emergency brake press was needed in order for an appropriate bite to work.

Should something go awry, you can rely on the front/side/curtain/driver’s knee airbags to come to play, along with Active Stability and Traction Control, Emergency Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist and Smart Brake. The seatbelts have pretensioning and of course there’s Mitsubishi’s RISE (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) body. Going backwards is covered by a reverse camera, standard across the range.

The range starts at $47500 driveaway (at the time of writing, check with your dealer for pricing) for the GLX five seater and metallic paint is a cheapish $590 option. Mitsubishi also offer an extensive range of options to help you personalise the Pajero Sport just the way you like.

At The End Of The Drive.
The Triton based Challenger/Pajero Sport has always been a solid, if not sparkling, performer on road and certainly works well enough off. It’s dynamically not as sharp as some of its competition, retains the charm of an old school oiler with the chatter, but backs up with modern tech, a great transmission, and the bulletproof reliability that Mitsubishi’s off road heritage brings to the Pajero nameplate. For now, it’s also the best five or seven seater off road capable vehicle Mitsubishi has. Head here for more information and a look at the options list as well: 2017 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport range

Car Review: 2017 Suzuki Swift GL Navigator

When a car company has a car that becomes an icon, any update or redesign has the company at risk of stuffing that up. Suzuki is such a company; the Swift has etched itself into history and for the model update released in 2017, the exterior redesign has raised a few eyebrows. However, it’s what’s under the skin that counts and A Wheel Thing finds, after well over 1200 kilometres of driving, including a forty eight hour trip to the heart of astronomy in Australia, that the Suzuki Swift GL Navigator, at least, should be welcomed with open arms.The range opens with the GL, then the GL Navigator. The next steps are the GL Navigator with Safety Pack and the top of the range GLX Turbo. AWT briefly sampled the GLX Turbo and found its main attraction is the lusty turbocharged three cylinder engine. A downside is the overly hard ride. There was also a lot more road noise than expected.
The GL Navigator comes with a CVT and 1.25 litre DualJet four. Peak power is just 66 kilowatts at 6000 revs, with peak torque of 120 Nm coming in at 4400. The auto has a Sports mode which proved to be an ideal addition on the longer country straight roads.The 2017 Swift is as compact a small car as you can get; overall length is just 3840 mm, with height topping out at 1495 mm. Breadth is a total of 1735 mm including mirrors and in the back there’s just 242 litres of cargo space with the rear seats up. Wheels are 16 inch alloys, with 185/55 Ecopia rubber. In between the front and rear is a wheelbase of 2450 mm, meaning overhang is minimal. Crammed inside is a fueltank, some would say a fuel thimble, of 37 litres. Suzuki Australia’s website only quotes consumption for the six speed manual as found in the GL, however AWT finished on 5.7L/100 with a best of 5.5L/100 km seen. Bear in mind this was with two adults, two children between seven and eleven, and with a couple of good sized overnight bags.

The Big Drive.
A last minute change of circumstances had A Wheel Thing free for the weekend. In need of a destination, Australia’s dark sky capital, Coonabarabran, was selected, with a visit to Siding Spring, Australia’s home of astronomy, scheduled. The route? West to Lithgow, then north to Mudgee, Dunedoo and a more direct route north from there rather than the tourist drive to Gilgandra. What became immediately noticeable about the Swift was how well sorted the CVT is. Compared to the average CVT in the Ignis, this car had almost immediate response, if lacking in outright acceleration.Sports mode is selected via a toggle switch on the transmission lever and works when the revs are above 3000. On long stretches, this aided immensely in overtaking slower and bigger vehicles such as caravanners or B-Doubles. Because of the relative lack of oomph, careful planning is required. Having the easy to read satnav on board (hence the GL Navigator name) provided plenty of forewarning of the straights needed. The CVT itself is well and truly one of the best of its kind available, with quicker response to the throttle and a distinct lack of lag compared to the CVT in sister car, Ignis.By no means is it a neck snapper, however. Even with one aboard, acceleration is…leisurely. It takes time to do almost everything from a standing start, however once the three and three zeroes on the tacho are reached the little engine that can becomes a different beast. Even without the electronic kick given by Sports mode, it’s zippy, peppy, and reacts even more to the right foot. Between Lithgow and Dunedoo, on the flatter and straight roads, this shows the ability of the 1.2L.What was a standout was the ride quality. For such a small car, it told the roads to “suck it up, buttercup”. It was only on the joins between tarmac and the concrete for bridge surfaces where the suspension would crash to the bump stops, otherwise it simply bounced through the travel once and settled back to flat and taut. On undulating roads it was unflustered, coposed, and again would setlle to a flat ride as soon as it could. Even on a rutted and ripped gravel road (yes, a gravel road) it was relatively chop free and surprisingly noise free.The razor sharp steering rack backs up the chassis perfectly. It reacts to the softest touch and is ratioed so at speed it won’t go beserk, it’ll move gently, but will also tighten up quickly at slow speeds for easy car parking and manouvreability.It’s the long drive that shows what a well sorted chassis can do but that’d come to naught if the interior of the car also doesn’t play ball. The cloth covered seats were near nigh spot on, with support where needed, and resulted in stepping out of the pocket car with no sense of weariness. Bearing in mind, too, that the Swift was driven in a cold environment and the seats aren’t heated. Speaking of heating, the interior of the Swift GL Navigator features old school style dials and slide for fresh/recirculate. It warms up the interior quickly but did seem to not push air through to the feet efficiently enough when that mode was dialled up. This is vital when you exit a hotel room to see ice, not frost, on a Swift roof.Around “Coona”, as it’s called locally, the Swift works well as a city car….well, a town car. Coonabarabran has a population of under 4000, and takes just a few minutes to travel through. There’s life in the place yet, however signs of decay, such as a collapsing car wash, are tell tale signs of a town teetering on the edge.Want scenery? It’s this, and Siding Spring Observatory, overlooking the volcanic remains that form the Warrambungles Range, that bring people to the region. The climb up to the observatory is a four kilometre hike on some fairly steep and narrow roads, with the added attraction of passing some planetary markers. By using the observatory as the centre of the solar system, you’re able to gauge just how far apart planets are once you pass the asteroid belt and how close they are inside. The CVT is so well sorted that it never struggles to haul the car and four aboard upwards.A tour of the venue is a must, as it climaxes with a visit to the uppermost point of the mountain the observatory complex (there’s over fifty separate telescopes) sits upon and gives a breathtaking vista in a full 360 degrees, including the picturesque Warrumbungles themselves. On the way down the transmission exhibits yet another welcome quirk; there’s a selectable Low gear that helps brake the Swift without always aiming for the stop pedal. The brakes themselves, disc up front and drum rear in all but the GLX, are a mixed bag. There’s too much initial pressure required to get bite but once they do they’re measured, positive, confident in the retardation. You can judge to an nth the amount of pressure required to haul up the Swift time and time again.The exterior design of the Swift has also changed and, for A Wheel Thing, it’s not a change that sits well. Taking a few moments to look at it at various stops highlight the now blunter front end, the somewhat out of place headlight design, the protuberant tail light cluster aka Baleno, and the now embedded in the C pillar door handle. From A Wheel Thing’s point of view, it’s no longer the sleek and attractively well rounded machine it was, it’s now looking visually heavier and not as aerodynamically attractive.Inside is a different story. It’s comfortable, as stated, plus has a real look of being updated and modern. There’s the familiar four quarter touchscreen (with no DAB available at this level) with the typically clean interface Suzuki has endowed its screens with of recent times. Ergonomically, it’s a treat with everything cleanly laid out, easy to use and read with the added virtue of the main air vents being as basic yet efficient as they get. Where the Swift falls down, and sadly its not alone with this, is the lack of truly useable sunshades. They’re too short, lacking extending inserts, and not deep enough, as when moved to block sunlight throught the windows, simply don’t come down far enough to be of any real use.
What was useful was the overall driveability of the Swift Navigator. The aforementioned climb up to the Siding Spring Observatory, complete with breathtaking views but few opportunities to stop in true safety, tested the ability of the little hatch for both driving and handling. Tick the box for “Pass with Flying Colours”. Pootle around town? Too easy. Stretch the legs on the highway? Natch.The voyage home (to pinch a Star Trek title) was via the barely hanging on hamlet of Binnaway (yes, true name), with a stop at the site of the Black Stump, then east to Merriwa, before heading south east for lunch in Denman. All through here, with varying road surfaces, bends, straights, dips and hollows, hill climbs and descents, the Swift simply blinked and carried on. The final part of the return trip was via the sublime Putty Road, complete with turns and curves that work so well for lovers of the two wheeled transport variety. Even though ostensibly not a sport chassis, the Swift acted as if it had one, with the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam coil sprung rear providing tenacious grip. Again, there’s plenty of point & squirt driveability when the revs were around 3000 rpm. Being one of the more user friendly CVTs revs were between 1700 to 2000 when in cruise mode, easily flicking up to 4500 when needed and so responsive even the lightest pressure on the accelerator would see corresponding movement on the tacho.One thing that really stood out over the two days or so was the sheer amount of dead kangaroos and foxes roadside. One red devil had a luck escape, dashing out in front with barely inches between he and the front wheels as we passed but the visual carnage suggests that far too many were just that little bit too slow. With the size of some of the grey bodies, it was cause to be thankful for the six airbags on board, as no variants have a driver’s kneebag.
At the End Of The Drive.

A Wheel Thing has to admit to reservations about the capability of the Swift to deal with such a drive prior to departure. Now, the Swift can be highly recommended as a long distance tourer for a family of four for a couple of days away. Luggage space curtails anything longer but would be ideal for a couple as the rear seats folded offer up the extra space needed for more luggage.
What one will get for the well spent money ( Pricing is sharp: the GL will kick off at $15990, the Navigators will be $17990 and $18990, and the top of the range GLX is $22990) is a car that’s thoroughly capable of a long drive to the country, a car with the goods needed to provide a wonderful drive experience and the economy required to not break the bank whilst away. Here’s the link for more info: 2017 Suzuki Swift Range information
A huge thanks to Suzuki Cars Australia.

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS Car Review.

Isuzu seem to be the quiet achievers in Australia. With no sedan or hatch passenger cars, they rely on a five seater four door ute with off road capacity, or an SUV version of said ute. But don’t think for a moment this means a lack of presence. The 2017 D-Max has received a make over and has more than enough presence to make up for a two model passenger car oriented range. Want choice? There’s 14 variants available, covering two and four wheel drive, high and low ride, space cab or crew cab, manual or auto. A Wheel Thing piloted the D-Max LS 4×4 Crew Cab.The exterior has been given a subtle and successful facelift. The headlights have been tweaked along with the grille and bumper, as have the taillights. The result is a more streamlined look, with no loss of the assertive attitude. The review car was fitted with tonneau cover, snorkel, tow bar, and ‘roo bar. Sidesteps and a rear roof bar were also fitted. They’re the kind of options you’d expect to see on an off road capable vehicle in semi-rural and rural areas. It adds to the visual heft of the D-Max, emphasising its no nonsense bluffness.Adding to the take no prisoners stance is the overall dimensions. It’s a big unit at over five metres in length and varies in height to be either nearly 1.7 to 1.85 m tall. The wheelbase is 3095 mm and this means you’ve plenty of head/shoulder/leg room for front and rear seat passengers. Leg room is 915 mm for the four door version with head and shoulder space 1040 mm and 1430 mm respectively.Passengers don’t lack for comfort, with leather and carbon fibre look material wrapping the pews. It’s here that the D-Max could do with what may be seen as a luxury. Heating for the seats would be a great addition, as the air-conditioning took just that little too long to warm up for comfort during a week of Sydney’s coldest weather. Given that this kind of vehicle gets down and dirty in areas that experienced temperatures far lower than the NSW capital, a warm seat on a minus ten day would be very appreciated.The heart of the big ute is a thumping 3.0 litre diesel, churning out a reasonable 130 kilowatts and an impressive 430 torques, on tap between 2000-2200. It’s matched with a superb six speed automatic, with ratios designed to provide excellent driving and economy. On the freeway it would be barely off idle at the speed limit, with the engine ticking over quietly. However it’s old school diesel when pushed, getting thrashy and noisy. It’s quick enough off the line considering its heft (it’s just shy of 1900 kilos dry) but the ratios that give the D-Max such driveability under way hamper acceleration. There’s no need to worry about stopping either, with 300 mm discs and 295 mm drums more than up to the task.But it’s not intended to be a sports car. It’s a load lugger with three point five tonne towing capacity. It’s off road capable, with switchable two and four wheel drive and with high and low range, along with Hill Descent Control. There’s the huge ute tray as well which, when loaded, helps settle the otherwise bouncy rear. It’s also astoundingly economical, with the drive starting with an estimated range of close to one thousand kilometres. It’s not an idle boast, with the highway cycle somewhere around 6.5L/100 km from the 76 litre tank.Inside, Isuzu have also waved the wand. There’s still the almost cartoonish look to the seven touchscreen, and a take it or leave look to the information screen in the dash binnacle. But the plastics are better, the colour scheme is more integrated and the overall look is of a higher quality. Smartly, Isuzu have kept the circle based air-con control design, with a dial for the temperature (up to 32 degrees, thank you kindly) in the centre and mode and fan buttons located around it. The sound system was a delight; although lacking DAB the FM was clear and well balanced in the soundstage, with the bass delivering a good thump and the treble crisp and clear. This trim level also includes Bluetooth streaming, and, unusually, DVD playback.The headlights are manual, in that the LS doesn’t have auto on. From a safety point it’s something A Wheel Thing believes should be standard in the industry. What is standard is the full suite of safety aids, both passive and active. The big tyres, 255/60/19 from Toyo, on the D-Max could be coaxed into slippage on damp, tight, corners, and you’d immediately feel the traction and stability control programs making their presence felt. The 4WD system is engaged via a centre console mounted dial and, as you’d expect, it’s easy to use and deal with. Isuzu offer a standard five year warranty, five year capped price service, and five year roadside assist. That’s if your Hill Start Assist, Emergency Brake Assistance, Reversing Camera, and six airbags all conspire to rub their hands and cackle evilly.At The End Of The Drive.
The revamp of the 2017 Isuzu D-Max is a welcome one. Quality is high, it looks better inside and out, and it represents better value. At around $55K for this model it competes fairly with the likes of the Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, and Mazda BR50. For details on the very comprehensive range, go here: 2017 Isuzu D-Max range