Car Review: 2017 Holden Astra RS.

Holden’s move to bring in its range of vehicles from Europe has already paid off with the fully European sourced Astra. With an all turbocharged engine range, the 2017 Astra family, which starts at $23990 driveaway, offers power, performance, and plenty of tech, as A Wheel Thing drives the 2017 Holden Astra 1.6L RS manual.It’s the 1.6L four here, with an immensely handy 280 torques between 1650 to 3500 revs and rolls off to the 147 kW peak output at 5500. So far it’s a numbers game, including six, six being how many forward ratios in the manual transmission supplied. It’s a delight, this transmission, with a beautifully progressive clutch pedal and a pickup point that feels natural. The gear selector is also well weighted, with no indecision in the close throw and tautly sprung lever. Reverse is across to the left and up, easily selected by a pistol grip trigger on the selecter’s front. It’s a delightfully refined package, one worth investigating, and a prime reason why we should move away from automatics as our primary transmission. Economy? A Wheel Thing finished on a sub 7.0L per 100L of 95 RON from the 48 litre tank.It’s a sweet looking machine too. A sharp yet slimline nose, with striking silver accents, rolls into a steeply raked front window, with good side vision before finishing with a somewhat odd looking C pillar design incorporating a pyramidical motif. There’s a black sheet between this and the roofline and there’s further eyeball catching with the deep scallops in the doors. Beautifully styled tail lights finish off what really is a handsome vehicle.  Inside you’ll find a well sculpted office. There’s piano black highlights that contrast with charcoal grey black plastic and cloth trim on the seats in a checkerboard pattern. The dash design itself is organic, flowing, and evokes the design ethos of higher end luxury cars. The pews front and rear are wonderfully supportive and have just the right amount of give and bolstering. Rear seat passengers get enough leg room for comfort also and there’s no problem with head room for front or rear with 1003 mm and 971 mm respectively. The driver and passenger do not get electric seats, though, however there is DAB for the high quality audio system that’s part of the GM family’s MyLink set. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility along with streaming apps. For those that like to carry kids and shopping, there’s 360L pf cargo space with the seats folded up, cupholders front and rear, USB charger point, seatback pockets, and door pockets as well.The driver and passenger do not get electric seats, though as they’re reserved for the RS-V, however there is DAB for the high quality audio system that’s part of the GM family’s MyLink set. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility along with streaming apps and the leather clad tiller has audio and cruise controls that are pure GM in their ease of use. For those that like to carry kids and shopping, there’s 360L pf cargo space with the seats folded up, cupholders front and rear, USB charger point, seatback pockets, and door pockets as well.It’s its road manners and driveability where the Astra RS really shines. The six speed manual is fluid, smooth, and completely complements the torque delivery of the 1.6L powerplant. What makes the Astra RS a delight to drive is the beautifully balanced suspension. It really is one of the best ride packages you’ll find. Period. The suppleness of the suspension is deft in its ability to change with road surface changes, whilst it firms up to provide a sporting feel when required. Rubber is from France, with lightning bolt 17 inch alloys wrapped in Michelin 225/45 tyres.From smooth freeway surfaces such as those found in western Sydney where some areas have been freshly resurfaced, to gravelled and rutted entrance roads, the Astra RS feels comfortable and poised across these and every surface in between. Thrown into off camber turns the hatch sits flat and under control and rarely does the rear end feel as if it’s not attached to the front. The steering itself is weighted just so, with a fine balance of effort versus connection to the front. There’s a bare hint of understeer being a front wheel drive car and while hint ar torque steer when the go pedal is given a hard push from standstill.Holden will give you a three year or one hundred thousand kilometre warranty, which, given the levels of warranty offered by others is starting to look a little dated. However they do offer Lifetime Capped Price Servicing plus you can take the car for a twenty four hour test drive to make up your own mind. Yes, you’ll find driver aids on board and the RS gets Automatic Emergency Braking in the suite of aids.

At The End Of The Drive.

The RS Astra, priced in the mid twenty thousand dollar range, is perhaps one of the most complete packages you can buy as a driver’s car. A torquey engine, a slick manual transmission, a comfortable office and with enough tech on board for emjoyment and safety, plus a beautifully tuned chassis add up to provide one of the most pleasureable drive experiences available. And that price makes it a competitive package in regards to value as well. Go here to check it out plus look at the new sedan: 2017 Holden Astra hatch range


Car Review: 2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS Manual.

Big, boofy, simple. Kinda like Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” or the Warner Bros. cartoon equivalent. That’s an easy way to think of Mitsubishi‘s revamped Triton range, especially with a manual in the GLS.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual profile
This is not damning with faint praise, however. Steinbeck’s classic novel has Lenny as one of the twentieth century’s iconic characters so to draw the parallel between the two is fair. Triton has been around for some time; the name plate goes back as far as 1978. In current guise it’s big (over five metres in length and one point seven in height), reasonably roomy but not without quirks.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual vs older

It’s boofy, in that you CAN take it off road (with an advanced electronic four wheel drive system) with barely an issue (one team took the Exceed to the Simpson desert) and simple, in that you get exactly what you see and there’s no pretentiousness about it.

A Wheel Thing once sold Tritons (in a former life) and welcomed the second Triton in three weeks to the driveway after a break of a few years. Again, it came in blue, much like the aforementioned Exceed, sans hard top canopy, luggage rack on the roof and chrome nudge bar. The height and length are physically imposing, as is the fact that it weighs 1950 kilograms, dry. There’s a humungous three metre wheelbase, one of the longest you’ll find, yet a nimble track of 1520 and 1515 mm, front and rear, respectively.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual front

When loaded up to the brim, Mitsubishi says the Triton dual cab spec will weigh 2900 kg’s; as a result, Mitsubishi has thrown in its grunty 2.4L diesel to move the best around. At 2500 revs, the donk twists out 430 metres of Mr Newton’s torques. 2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual engineBelow that point there’s still plenty of pull; around town the Triton (with a six speed manual fitted, in this case) will happily do 60 kmh in fourth with just 1500 revs and do so without struggling. At 120 kmh the GLS lopes along, with a mere 2000 rpm on the tacho with sixth engaged.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual rear

It’s economical too; drinking from a 75 litre tank, Mitsubishi quotes 7.2L used for every 100 kilometres covered. That’s a combined cycle usage, too. As a result, one could comfortably drive from Sydney to Melbourne (around 880 km) on a single tank and have diesel to spare.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual front seats

Driven normally, the GLS is left in two wheel drive (as displayed by a simple icon in the dash between speed and tachometer). There’s a sense of wave like oomph up to 3000 revs before running out of said oomph as maximum power of 133 kilowatts is delivered at 3500 revs. Redline starts at 4000. The six speed manual is surprisingly in its untruck-like smoothness. There’s a good weight to the mechanism, a true sense of refinement in its movement but doesn’t always slot home correctly and does not like being hurried. The clutch is also similarly well weighted, with a pickup point that is natural in the progression of the pedal.

Externally, the Triton retains a design issue that hasn’t changed since the current look was unveiled in 2007. Yes, it’s tall. Yes, it has big doors that open wide. Yes, you still have to duck your head when you get in. If you want metallic paint, you’ll need to shell out another $550 as well.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual rear profile

The main changes to the 2016 range are cosmetic yet do add a sense of modernity; chrome now adorns the front grille, LED driving lights inside the restyled head light cluster, a crease in the front and rear flanks to join the two together visually and a restyled bumper set (front and rear) finish off the behemoth.The test car also came with a fabric tonneau cover, tub liner and chrome bar behind the cabin.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual grille

Internally it’s been refreshed with an updated dash layout, simple in its presentation yet exceedingly readable as a result, a centre console mounted four wheel drive selector knob (high and low range with diff lock) that lights up the aforementioned icon in the main dash display and sitting atop a monochrome multi information screen, a simple to read and use aircon control set and a 6.1 inch touchscreen for audio and settings usage.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual dash
There’s also a digital tuner, one that is not as sensitive, unfortunately, as those supplied to other brands tested. The cabin also gets Bluetooth, steering wheel mounted phone controls, USB and Auxiliary inputs.

Trim wise there’s a pretty serious problem: there’s way too much reflection from the upper dash into the windscreen, causing a blurred view forward thanks to that reflection and providing a potential safety issue. Either a non reflective coating for the inside of the ‘screen or, more effectively, a proper matt finish for the dash is needed. There’s a couple of nice touches, with a leather bound gear lever knob, chromed interior door handles, whilst safety comes with curtain airbags and a kneebag for the driver. 2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual light switchOddly, the headlight switch doesn’t offer an “Auto” option. Not a glaring oversight but it does detract, somewhat, from the safety aspect of driving.

The seats are comfortable, cloth wrapped and manual in adjustment, with enough finger room to easily slot home the seatbelt. A minor point but there are some big cars around that make this a somewhat difficult operation. With 860 mm of rear leg room, back seat passengers shouldn’t feel cramped either, along with 970 mm of head room (once you’ve ducked your head to get in…).2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual rear seats

On the road, the big ute handles pretty well, archaic leaf sprung rear suspension not withstanding. On some road surfaces it skipped about at the rear but, to be fair, it’s been driven unladen. The steering is on target enough to have a driver pretty well connected with the direction the GLS is going, with no noticeable rack shake either. Its offroad prowess is nothing to sneeze at either; with a proper and dedicated transfer case, it’s readily eats up gravel and mud surfaces as easily as it does tarmac. The rubber is from Toyo, in a 245/55 size, wrapping a stylish set of 17 inch diameter alloys.2016 Mitsubishi Triton GLS manual wheel

The final ratio gearing and that effortless delivery of torque make it an ideal highway cruiser, but being aimed mainly at suburban usage, the torque also offers right foot controlled flexibility in the mid gear range as well.

The Wrap.
Quite simply, the Mitsubishi Triton is a car/truck/oversized ute I’d more than happily own. A grunty diesel, a decently appointed cabin which is roomy enough for the family, a very good manual gearbox (the auto is five speed only…) and liveable ride quality combine to give it enough to win the heart. The range starts from the high $30’s (figure around $38K driveaway for the four door cab ute). The vehicle tested was: $40990 plus tub liner, tonneau, metallic paint and HaymanReese towing kit, taking the GLS to just over $45K.

There’s also Mitsubishi’s warranty, (five years or one hundred thousand kilometres), roadside assist and capped price servicing for four years or sixty thousand kilometres (whichever comes first) to consider as well. For all details, go here: Mitsubishi Triton range.

It’s big, boofy and simple. That isn’t a bad thing. Neither was Lenny.

Car Review: 2015 Toyota 86 GTS

86 profileIt’s not uncommon for car makers to model share but it is less common for companies to actively seek cooperation on developing a new car. Toyota and Subaru, the Goliath and David of Japanese car makers, sat down one day over a cup of sake and walked out together as proud parents of twins, the 86 and BRZ. A Wheel Thing recently sampled the Subaru BRZ in manual form and was able to compare that to the Toyota 86 GTS with the auto.

A two litre, petrol powered, flat four lurks under the bonnet, bolted to a six speed auto. Peak power (147kW) and torque are spun out from 6000 revs, making it a very peaky delivery.
The 86 engineauto, however, is geared to take advantage of that and is surprisingly linear in delivery, belying the high revs (6600 rpm) required for the 205Nm of peak torque. Light throttle pressure has the ‘box gently slurring through whilst a good stab of the go pedal has the 86 rattling through to 100 kmh decently quickly.

The Suit.
86 rearLong, low, slinky and in pearlescent white, 86 frontit almost glows in the dark.

The GTS comes with a noticeable yet almost unobtrusive rear deck lid spoiler, such is the integration of the design. It’s well proportioned in the manner of all good looking sports oriented cars, with the Jaguar E-Type an obvious inspiration. LED tail lights and driving lights at the front add some further visual sparkle.

On the Inside.
It’s a real retro look, with plastic toggle switches, a dark interior and a mix of plastics including a faux carbon fibre weave on the dash. The tiller has no controls for a phone, audio, cruise control and is there simply to steer.86 dash

It’s a low entry into the snug and body hugging seats but, like most cars of its ilk, the rear seats are more suitable for cargo holding than 86 consolepassenger keeping. As is the wont of Toyota, there’s little that isn’t ergonomic in layout, with buttons and dials all where a fall of a hand would find them.

A niggle is the reverse mentality of the climate control’s zone button, with a light coming on when you’d expect it to indicate it is in dual zone mode but it isn’t. The vents themselves are a mix of classically simple push and rotate dials at either end of the dash and arch like on the centre top.
The touchscreen audio and navigation system is well integrated but, like so many vehicles that come to Australia, has the controls on the passenger side, necessitating a reach across for the driver.

On The Road.
An immediately noticeable difference between the 86 GTS and its BRZ sibling is how much more planted on the road it feels. The BRZ felt skatey at the rear, almost as if it would break into a 86 wheeldrift at a moments notice, whilst the 86 gave an impression of a somewhat locked diff, with a crunch of tyre on tarmac during a turn.
There’s a good heft to the steering wheel as well, with weight throughout the turn, providing a good sense of which way the car is pointed.

86 interiorAs noted oft and well elsewhere, the sports ride is hard, perhaps too much so in some eyes but to soften it a touch (or more) has the risk run of making it a Grand Tourer.
The auto is sweet, slick and rarely in the wrong gear required; with the high revving engine you’d expect a lack of low down performance but it really does feel as it there a batch of torque for every ratio. The lever itself is close to the feel of the manual, with a short throw and stubby lever.

The Wrap.
Having the opportunity to sample both brands, both transmissions and two trim levels so close in time has provided an almost unique opportunity to see two similar approaches from two distinctively different makers with different philosophies. Toyota has needed a sports style vehicle since the axing of the Celica and Subaru breaks with its all wheel drive basis.

The joint venture has paid off and both companies sell as many as they can bring in to the country. Toyota’s two tier 86 range starts at $32790 plus on roads with the GTS a full seven thousand more. For full specs and prices go here:

For A Wheel Thing TV:

private_fleet_logoBid My Car

Powering Into History: HSV’s ClubSport R8 Enhanced.

A certain car magazine recently bemoaned what drivers will miss out on in coming years, with the change to more technological features in our chosen chariots. Ripping up a handbrake lever to drop a skid on the tarmac or dirt, for example, or fiddling around with cassettes whilst hanging onto the steering wheel with one hand and a ciggie perched between the lips. But there’s more that we’ll miss out on. I’ll explain later as A Wheel Thing looks at the last of a breed: Holden Special Vehicle’s ClubSport R8 Enhanced. (

ClubSport SMP

The Driven Heart
ClubSport engineRecipe: take six litres of already grunty alloy block Chevrolet V8, massage and prod until it becomes 6.2, add a freer flowing exhaust and add the ingredients R8. Then massage even more, find a few extra ponies and torques then screw them up to a smooth shifting six speed manual, big 20 inch diameter black coated alloys, black highlights and that awesome bi-modal exhaust. That is what you’ll get when 340 killer Watts and 570 metres of Mr Newton’s torques appear after HSV waves their magic wand over the marvel that is a freebreathing V8 engine and uprated wheels; it adds the Enhanced part to the standard R8. It’s an engine that appeals instantly to a driver than can not merely understand, but ClubSport at Skylineappreciate, what these terms and numbers mean. It’s immensely flexible, with torque on tap from almost zero rpm which allows even fifth and sixth gears to be utilised at low revs, being able to pull away from 40 km/h in sixth is a party piece. With peak torque at 4400rpm but what feels like 99 percent of it available before then, it requires only a sneeze on the foot for the ClubSport to sprint away in lower gears. As it does so another party piece is put on show, this time an aural one. Inside the cabin, right where the window switches used to be in a VE Commodore, is a dial for the traction control and three suspension settings: Touring, Sport and Performance. The latter two engage an exhaust mode called Bi-modal, taking the already subterranean note to the earth’s core.
The gear shift is surprisingly (bad grammar alert) untight, meaning there’s not a hell of a lot of effort required to move the short throw gear lever…it slides from gear to gear with a hint of a notch as it does. the new Tremec T6060 transmission also throws up a softer, less pressure required clutch. I have a slightly arthritic left knee, courtesy of a prang as a passenger over twenty years ago and it’s come away unscathed. What this also means is that for those that whinge about manuals in Sydney’s utterly pathetic excuse for a road system that you can leave it in third or fourth in traffic and just clutch and accelerate without changing gear. The AP racing brakes are sensational, with a well modulated pressure, no fade and virtually no ABS intrusion when the anchors are thrown out from high speed.
The Office
HSVs of days gone by were sometimes a case of too much red was never enough. In the VF based ClubSport it’s more of a visually muted environment, with red highlights restricted to the headrests and squab on the seat cushion plus a tasteful alignment of fuel and temperature gauge needles with the red piping in the two main dash dials. Otherwise it’s a tasteful mix of charcoal fabric and leather accentuating black plastic. There’s also a relocation of the battery and oil pressure gauges to the empty space ahead of the gear lever, rather than on the upper dash. It’s comfortable to look at, comfortable to be in bar one thing…I’m of average height, call it 177cm. The placing of the pedals, steering column (adjustable for height and reach) and playing with the many ways adjustable electric seating still left me with my clutch leg’s thigh (the leading edge of the seat squab was pressing up and just behind the knee joint) just not feeling comfortable enough to push the pedal in all the way without feeling as if my arms were too close to my body. The support from the wings of the seat is admirable and into hard corners holds the body in tight and that’s a plus. Seats wise, I’d like to see the crocodile skin style replaced with a more suave looking suede style plastic.
Holden’s spend on new architecture has paid off; a relocation of the window switches and central locking to the ClubSport dashdriver’s door, a new touch screen setup plus HSV’s addition of the EDI (Electronic Driver Interface) which provides a ClubSport extra dialstreasure trove of info such as G forces side to side or front to rear, race track info and stopwatch information, actual kilowatts and torque figures thanks to the fly by wire interface; it’s intuitive, user friendly and supplies the kind of info a driver likes to have. There’s also the HUD, Head Up Display, providing an eye level (and height adjustable) information source including the aforementioned G forces, revs, and speed. It’s handy and well placed. Other fun stuff comes in the form of the Forward Collision Alert (FCA) and Side Blind Zone Alert (SBZA), which uss side facing sensors to warn of vehicles at the rear and side of the car that may not be clearly seen in the rear vision mirrors. There’s a reverse park camera as standard, the parking assist system (uses the sensors to measure and read a parking space) plus the hidden Hill Start Assist and Hill Hold Control (HSA/HHC) which applies a touch of brake to hold the car before moving off. Music wise there’s a Bose audio system powered and accessed via the eight inch touchscreen, with satnav and internet radio apps Pandora and Stitcher plus there’s a voice interactive setup alongside Bluetooth music streaming.
The Bodywork
Body mods on the ClubSport aren’t as “in yer face” as the VE based models; a restyled front bumper locates the LED running lights closer to the top of the corner mounted vents, which themselves are more of a functional look and feel. The hawkeye look headlights have the internal blackout colouring and the side vent insert is a matt black, rather than the chrome on a Commodore. At the rear it’s subtle, with a smaller rear wing (a bigger one is an option), LED taillights and restyled rear apron. It’s still a matter of taste regards the look as the quad exhaust tips poke through the matt ClubSport taillightClubSport start lineblack plastic but are separated by a colour coordinated (test car was Heron white) V strip. It’s a better look than before but a subjective one. Of note is the shark’s fin radio aerial which, ClubSport frontat speed and on a rainy day, funnels a stream of water directly ClubSport bumperdown the middle of the rear window, making the rear vision mirror useless in seeing vehicles behind and there’s also no airflow to clear the side mirrors of precipitation either. The bonnet is now aluminuim and with that comes a small yet vital change; there’s only one gas strut required to keep it up. There’s a subtle restyling to the grille as well.
On The Road
The combination of a lightish clutch, a smoothish gear lever movement and more torque than a chat show means the ClubSport is a doddle to get off the line. Acceleration is pushed back in your seat rapid, with the first couple of gears snatched quicker than a wallet by a pickpocket as the ClubSport reels in the horizon. Whilst you’re peeling your eyeballs off the back of your skull, your ears are reverberating with the bass notes produced by that superb exhaust. Freeway speeds come up with indecent haste (HSV quotes 5.0 seconds to 100 km/h) but it’s the seamless delivery of torque that excites; at Bathurst’s Mt Panorama it was almost possible to climb up through the Esses in no lower than fourth. Around town in sixth it’s barely off idle and will pull away with a touch of drivetrain vibration quite comfortably with nary a hint of road noise via the Continental tyres at 255 and 275/35/20s front and rear. The ride is superb; the ClubSport comes with HSV’s MRC (Magnetic Ride Control, see here: with three settings: Touring, Sport and Performance. Touring turns off the bi-modal exhaust and gives a smooth, firm and flat ride. Sport and Performance up the ante, sharpening the response of the ClubSport badgesteering, ClubSport rearfirming the ride yet without crashing through potholes or speedbumps and opens up the exhaust. One would expect the hardest setting to provide the hardest ride yet it simply ignores road imperfections. Steering is three fingers light, with the electrically assisted steering wonderfully weighted; it’s full of feedback, telling the driver exactly where they’re going whilst the grip levels from the European Continental tyres pair up with the traction control to allow a measure of spin before the fun police step in. All of this can be monitored via the EDI, it is not recommended doing so in traffic even with the front collision alarm engaged…Thankfully, at Bathurst, although a full lap wasn’t permissible due to track work, the ClubSport could be given some room to stretch its considerable legs and was not found wanting.
The Wrap
Just a few days before I picked up the V8 powered HSV ClubSport R8 Enhanced, it was announced that the new Commodore model, in a couple of years (think 2016), would more than likely not have a V8 engine in the range. It’s also been rumoured that the V8 Supercars will have a named change of sorts as they investigate other engine alternatives. Could it be that future generations will only know of and hear the thunderous soundtrack that is a bare chested, muscle flexing V8 via whatever audio and video means will be available in ten, twenty, fifty or more years? George Lucas was quoted as saying, about watching a movie, that sound was half of the experience. A well balanced surround sound system has clear highs, a defined middle range and bass that kicks you in the guts while subsonically curling hairs. The ClubSport with the bi-modal exhaust, that source of so much aural pleasure, is what we stand to lose alongside its brethren such as the GTS. That spine tingling sensation of sound along with the neck bending acceleration that a ball tearing V8 offers is in true and real danger of being a museum piece. Priced at $76285 + on roads, the R8 Enhanced delivers an almost surreal, brain altering experience; it’ll pull Superman’s cape off while being almost gentle enough for Nan to wander off to Bingo at a price that leaves Euro rivals gasping. But at well over twenty grand more than the Holden SS V Redline edition, with 517Nm and 260kW I have to ask, is it worth it? If only for that sound, then the answer is yes.

Nissan’s Reborn Pulsar: A Different Beat.

Falcon. Kingswood. Corolla. Pulsar. Nameplates stay with people, they’re recognisable, they become part of the family and become part of legend. Nissan’s Pulsar is in this group, thanks largely to longevity and the almost mythical SSS hatchback. After an extended and ill-fated flirtation with the dingo that was Tiida, Nissan has (sensibly??) revived the Pulsar nameplate. Like any reborn legend though, there’s pressure: pressure to match up to what was, pressure to deliver.

The 2013 Pulsar comes with the Nissan family exterior, with triangular headlights, a svelte profile and cokebottle curves leading to a truncated aero boot and almost trapezoidal tail lights. It’s not unattractive yet…lacks impact; there’s no cut through, no swivelling eyeballs tracking A Wheel Thing’s test car (ST spec) clad in a fine metallic red called Cayenne. The headlights in the ST lack the LED driving lights found in the mid and upper level ST-L and Ti plus the normal globe style lights; one or the other would not go astray in Nissan’s effort to differentiate between levels.

Pulsar frontThe ST rides on 16 inch alloys, shod with 195/60 rubber attached to Pulsar rearMcPherson struts and a torsion beam front/rear suspension. It’s firm, not choppy, but does get upset by directional changes and bumps which conspire to throw the Pulsar off its rhythm. It rides flat, not a lot of float over repeating undulations and hangs on well enough into tightening radius turns and feels fairly confident, almost like an experienced L plater driver in mum’s soccer taxi. Over yumps and bumps the Pulsar is composed, isolating the driver from the sharpness of sudden vertical movement, thanks partly to the 16 inch wheels and 60 profile rubber. The steering though, an electronic speed sensitive system, is a bit lifeless; vague off centre and feeling as it it needs more lock to lock work at low speeds yet loads up nicely at a good clip. More’s the pity because the gear change is surprisingly sporty. A long lever meets a short shift movement, slotting into the gate nicely, if a touch (not unpleasantly) notchily; it’ s akin to watching a V8 Supercar driver like the one of the Kelly brothers banging through the gears and it’s actually very user friendly, combining with a reasonably pressured clutch pedal. There’s enough grunt for the 1.8L to keep the ST percolating; 96kW at 6000rpm and 174 torques at 4800 doesn’t sound a lot however there is just 1226kg to pull around. It’s quiet on the road, with the engine mostly muted but does intrude when above 4000rpm. Being a six speed means, thankfully, that doesn’t happen a lot with the climb from the plains in western Sydney to the mountains necessitating a drop back through the gears.Pulsar dashGetting inside the the Pulsar is a trip back in time; a bland, uninspiring look, with chintzy plastic silver highlights/buttons on the steering wheel (itself a throwback to the chunky vinyl days) and a dull monochromatic look to the dash, door trim and console. The driver’s view is also old school, with a simplistic black and white design in the ST providing basic information as does the dot matrix display for the audio system, which dips out on modern day MP3 player connection via USB however Pulsar cabindoes have an Auxiliary port. Even the aircon controls look as if they’ve travelled from the 1980s. At Pulsar profileleast the seats have a modern feel, being comfortable and supportive, although the cloth print is a bit old to look at, with plenty of cabin room and also has one of the largest boots in its class, at 510 litres, but is hamstrung by the old style bootlid hinges, potentially crunching items in a full boot.

Priced a blueback under twenty thousand dollars, Nissan’s reborn Pulsar is a mixed bag of ’80s chic and 21st century engineering. Against competitors such as Mazda3, Ford Focus, Holden Cruze or Hyundai’s i30 it really only has price on its side. Dynamically its fine however the retro feel interior is a damp squib. More on the Pulsar can be found here:

HatchBack to Back: Cruze SRiV vs CD

Cruze SRiV profileWith the release of Holden’s VF Commodore imminent, it’s been easy to forget that Holden’s other investment, the Cruze, has also had a bit of an upgrade. Although exterior and interior remains virtually unchanged, it’s the addition of a new engine and some tech that has the Cruze in the news.
A Wheel Thing had the the SRiV, with the new 1.6L turbo against the standard CD with 1.8L naturally aspirated; there’s a significant Cruze CD profiledifference to the drive, as one can anticipate, yet the CD hangs on….
There’s little doubt that the Cruze is due for a tidy up, both outside and inside; with the Commodore and the forthcoming Malibu sharing a family look it would make sense for the Cruze to cop a redesign to align it with its bigger siblings. It’s not unattractive however the sharp and edgy look, especially the hawklike headlight cluster now clashes with the softer, more rounded Holden range. The rear on the sedan does have a resemblance to the new Commodore and Malibu whilst the hatch and wagon rears just don’t seem to fit.
The interior in both the CD and SRiV is comfortable enough, with different shades to the plastic trim to help differentiate plus the dash is subtly different. The display offers info such as aircon settings, outside temperature, plusCruze CD seats personalisationCruze SRiV dash settings. There’s heated seats in the SRiV and somewhat oddly, with this car being a manual (the CD was an auto), I sat closer to the console and my left knee would contact the fan speed for the aircon and all of a sudden there’d b a blast of air…Both cars have Holden’s new MyLink integrated entertainment system, however tCruze CD dashhe screen is set an inch or so deep in the plastic which makes the touchscreen experience somewhat lacklustre. It does offer new internet apps and Bluetooth music streaming from most Bluetooth enabled handsets. Cruze SRiV seatsIt should really be a flush mount design, for better ergonomics, as the finger tip needs to cross over hard plastic and the interface has the stations buttons at the bottom of the screen… Cruze CD bootPlastics are of a good build quality but there’s not a lot of softness or padding whilst switchgear on the tiller is generic General Motors. In the rear, there’s plenty of cargo space, with the split fold Cruze SRiV hatchseats opening up to a considerable amount of room. There’s cloth seats on the CD with the SRiV getting leather.
Both cars have a great ride quality, with the suspension being rejigged to give a slightly more sporty ride in the SRiV and a touch more comfort in the CD, thanks to massaging of the struts and dampers plus a stiffer rear torsion beam setup. Both hang on through corners and with the change to more Australian spec tyres from Bridgestone, there’s a little less road noise but more grip.
The 1.6L turbo engine replaces the 1.4iTi powerplant, with the latter still available as an option; there’s more usable torque across the engine’s powerband, with 230Nm available to play with. A Wheel Thing’s test cars were the hatches, with the SRiV delivering a six speed manual experience; naturally, it’s got a light clutch whilst the actual shift itself is a little unrefined, with the spring pressure not as tight as it could be (more confidence in the feel of the throw) and the shift from second to third seems as if the slot for third gear is half an inch too far to the right, as more than once the lever seemed to hit a wall, rather than slotting home. The CD has the 1.8L engine and was mated to the six speed auto. It’s a slug by comparison and nowhere near as economical either, with a good combination of short and long runs Cruze CD fuelCruze SRiV frontseeing 3/4 of a tank used and just 400kms on the trip meter. The gear changes in the auto don’t “slur” into each other, with a small gap, almost like a manual change instead, between each gear. It’s not bad but it’s disconcerting when a smoother change is expected.
Helping the Cruze cause has also been a price drop, up to $3500 plus the extra equipment weighs in with a value of around $1200 to $1600.
There’s no doubt at all that the Cruze is a vital component of Holden’s armoury; it’s up against vehicles like the Mazda3, Kia’s Cerato, the Focus or i30. It matches well but does, in A Wheel Thing’s opinion, need an overhaul of the interior and exterior.
For more info:

The Focus is on Evolution: Ford vs Mitsubishi.

Focus profileEvo profileHot hatch versus hot sedan. Front wheel drive versus all wheel drive. Two litre turboed engine versus tw litre turboed engine. Wrap around seats versus wrap around seats. Euro style versus hard edged Japanese heritage. This was the situation presented to A Wheel Thing unexpectedly with the Ford Focus ST up against the Mitsubishi Evolution X. Unexpectedly as the booking sheet said Focus but not which one….an electric blue and alloy wheeled beauty sat quietly in the drive, awaiting its new, temporary master. Keyless entry offered me access to the inner domain; supple, snug, black leather and cloth seats with blue inserts to match the exterior with brushed alloy highlights on the doors and steering wheel; a clearly laid out but busy looking console and aircon control section with sports dials high atop the centre stack with a Power Start/Stop button just to the right of the satnav screen. The steering wheel? Two dials on either arm with an OK in the middle with no indication as toFocus dash Focus interiorwhat they’re linked to and overactive buttons for Bluetooth and cruise just underneath….busy, very unneccesarily busy. Soft red lights glowing in places such as the central drink holder console complemented by the LED interior roof lights look the goods. There’s two small LCD screens, one for the driver and one just above the over buttoned yet clearly readable console. It provides reverse camera, radio and sat nav info and is surprisingly easy to use and read. There’s a splash of alloy with the pedals (a three pedal set for the six speed manual) and gear lever getting a touch of dressage. The exterior is understated, drawing no visual eyeballing, with just a ST badge and quietly spoken rear airfoil to say a sports car lives here.

Focus seatsThe seats were firm and wraparound Recaro branded rippers, a combination of leather and a suede like material grips the body but they’re certainly not for people of a bigger build…The Focus is nominally a five seater but, like most mid size hatches, really suits four. There’s a good size luggage area under the hatch, which increases with folded seats, although rear leg room is somewhat compromised with front seats fully retracted.

In comparison the Evo X looks….bland on the inside, with just about nothing to differentiate it against its lesser Evo dashbrethren. In the centre console is a button for three kinds of traction, Snow/Gravel/Tarmac and an intercooler switch for water spray plus a black leather globe on the gear lever. The seats are also Recaro, with a kind of faux carbon fibre wrap at the top and a little less snug than the Focus but still comfortable enough, highlighted Evo interiorwith a white stitching to contrast the black. Keyless entry also features, with the tiny touchpad nubbin on the doorhandles easier to use than the Focus’ blackspot style. However, still having to twist the knob where a key would normally go makes zero sense. There’s a Lancer dash, Mitsubishi’s always easy to use aircon, the now ubiquitous touch screen (minus satnav….. but available in the MR) and a left hand console mounted handbrake. There’s a compromised bootspace, with battery and wiper washer bottle moved to the boot for better weight distribution (which an average driver wouldn’t pick) and hidden by a plastic shroud.Evo boot

Underneath the Focus rides on Eagle 1 tyres wrapped around Ford’s five and ten spoke 18 inch alloys, which blackened rapidly from the brake dust. The ride is sublime; the Control Blade suspension at the rear complements the well sorted strut nose and the torque vectoring system combines with tight steering to offer a superb, all rounded package. On the yumps and bumps, it simply rides over them, with no float or rebound. On all but the roughest surfaces it holds on, points, corners and feeds back every inch of the road through the delightfully well padded leather wrapped tiller. Under acceleration there’s a delightfully horny little growl that feeds back to the cabin from around 2500rpm, adding consciously and subliminally to the experience. The gear throw is natural, with reverse a lift up lockout to the left and up, whilst the clutch was light, with pickup around half travel and not requiring full depression of the pedal.

The Evo X was in the metallic white, a subtle shade which emphasised the squat stance and black highlights front and rear with a vented insert in each fender just behind the wheel arch complementing the bonnet vents while the rear copped an Airbus sized rear wing. Eighteen inch alloys cover red Brembo brakes whilst wrapped in semi slick tyres, with the all Evo noseEvo tailwheel drive system combining with the sticky rubber to hold onto the road like a six month baby to a bottle. The taut suspension, with Eibach springs riding with MacPherson struts and a multilink rear, isn’t ideal for anyone with loose fillings, a sore back or recently depiled bum. It’s a jiggly ride, feeling almost like the princess and the pea with every grain of sand being transmitted through the suspension to the cabin, with the 245 tyres covering some acreage. The Evo was also a three pedaller, this time via a five speed manual….this counted gravely in the economy stakes and made no sense with the torque available to twist a overdriven sixth. The shift is short, positive, with a ratchety snick into gear being felt. The clutch was surprisingly light but matching the pickup point with the throttle did prove to be somewhat a juggling act. Acceleration, unsurprisingly, is blistering, leaving your eyeballs at the starting point as it rips to 100 kmh in around five seconds.

Evo badgeThere’s some serious mumbo from both engines; 184kW/360 Nm (5500rpm/2000-4500rpm) for the blue oval and 217kW/366 Nm (6500rpm/3500rpm) for the tri-diamond which will either sip or drain the tanks (62L vs 55L) depending on how often you sip the welly. With fuel becoming more expensive by the second, it’s somewhat Focus bootworrying that the Evo ‘s economy, isn’t with the Ford easily sitting around the 8L/100km and the Evo getting nowhere the the ADR mandated 10L/100km. The range to empty counter also seemes more flexible than the Ford, with numbers fluctuating by up to sixty kilometres. With a difference of just seven litres capacity potentially offering an extra 90 kilometres for the Focus, the Evo’s range to empty seemed to diminish a whole lot quicker than what it should.

Although not quite an apples for apples comparison, it’s near enough to say that, for A Wheel Thing, the better ride of the Ford, the extra boot space, the economy, the slightly more sensible starting system overcomes the busy buttons on the dash and steering wheel. The Evolution stays true to its origins, which is not a bad thing, with a reputation of being hard edged and dramatically styled being only slightly diluted in the X. The relative lack of economy plus a massive price differential ($42400 d/a vs $66300 as tested), a five speed versus the Ford’s six speed, the undramatic interior lower the excitement factor just a little too much. There’s a car for every buyer and a buyer for every car; in this case the heart turns blue, with an imprint of three diamonds.