DriveLife New Zealand's Enthusiast Driven Motoring Publication, Automotive News, New Car Reviews and Used Car Reviews Fri, 14 Dec 2018 23:30:31 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 2018 Honda HR-V RS – Car Review – The grown up Jazz Fri, 14 Dec 2018 23:30:31 +0000 I was curious about this car, it’s a crossover SUV, not quite a car not quite an SUV. And what I have found with manufacturers when they make these cars is that they are either amazingly well thought out or just overpriced rubbish.

The Range

There are 5 variants of the HR-V to choose from in New Zealand. The range begins with the HR-V S ($29,990) then moves to the HR-V Active ($32,990) and then HR-V AWD ($35,990). From there it moves to the HR-V RS ($37,500) which we are testing, and finishing with the top-spec model – the HR-V Sport NT ($39,990)

The entire range uses the same 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 16-valve, i-VTEC engine. There are no changes to power or torque, with this engine offering up 105kW of power and 172Nm of torque. Similar to the engine, they all share the same automatic CVT transmission with G-design shift.

The entire HR-V range has a impressive selection of safety features as standard, offering Honda’s City-Brake Active technology (low speed, autonomous emergency braking), providing audio and visual warnings to the driver. It can then apply braking when the vehicle detects a potential collision may occur.

The AWD models come with with features like LED DRLs, tail and headlights, smart proximity key, with push button start/stop, electric parking brake with electronic brake hold, emergency stop assist, hill start assist and vehicle stability assist

The range comes pretty well spec’d across all models. For a full list of specs please check out Honda New Zealand’s website – LINK

First Impressions

The Honda HR-V I would be testing was in the exclusive RS Phoenix Orange Pearl with RS 18-inch alloy wheels. It’s a pretty sporting looking vehicle, the colour is perfect, really rich and firey. It was a sharp design from all angles, combined with that exclusive colour, I could see the HR-V RS turning some heads.

It was not a very big looking vehicle either, which had me concerned. I was starting to wonder if I would fit in it comfortably for the week of the review.

After leaving the dealership, I found myself parking it in a busy central city street. In the space of time I got out, went to the post office, and came back to the car. I had three different women, across several age groups commented on the car and its styling. I had only had the car for less than 30 minutes, and did not expect it to be such a head turner. This is something that I have not experienced before, even in some of the more expensive cars we review.

Standing back and looking over the Honda HR-V, they were right; it’s a pretty good looking vehicle. How the headlight and the front grill work together was great. I especially like the strong line that goes from the side of the front wheel arch to the rear door handle. It breaks up the big shapes and gives it a good modern flare.

The Inside

To my surprise and I think to the dealer’s too, when I sat in the Honda HR-V R for the first time, I found that it was rather roomy. The front seats are a good size, not narrow like many cars are in this bracket. This was largely thanks to the smart design of the central console. It was thin, with nothing more than you really needed, all in a single line. This meant there was more room for seats either side of it, which was great.

The seats were completely leather in the front and back, with perforated inlays that gave it a sporty feel. The rear seat were not as sculpted as the front two, they had a bit of shape, but I felt they were somewhere in between the front seats and a flat bench. They were not uncomfortable, just not as good as the front two. The space in the back was great, even as a tall guy, my knees didn’t even touch the back of the front seats.

The rear seats were a bit of a feature. For anyone not aware of the magic seat system, it always received great feedback. Much like every other SUV out there, the seats fold down so the boot  space can expand for additional storage. Unlike many other SUV’s the features don’t stop there, the seats can fold up from the base too.

I was impressed with the control panel under the media screen, it was touch sensitive, clean and simple. There was not many buttons on the dash, as they were all here. Seat heating, aircon, front and rear demisters, all the normal buttons, cleverly put together in a nice neat package.

The boot is a good size at 437 litres, similar to any midsize SUV or hatchback on the market. I was taken aback by the choice of material used for the parcel shelf. It was not the typical hard fabric covered card, but a thin fabric mesh that with a hard wire running around it to hold its form. It was not structural in anyway, and even a jacket was too heavy for it. It’s simply there to create a barrier between the outside and the contents of the boot. The plus side of this material was that you could twist it up into a much smaller shape and pack it away. This can be rather handy when out and about and you find you need more space in the boot. Sometimes those hard parcel shelves can be a big pain to try and store somewhere else in the vehicle.

I have avoided this for long enough and highlighted everything else that I thought was really great. Now we move onto the touch screen Infotainment unit. In an effort to rip this plaster off quickly, it’s rubbish. It was not just something that I didn’t like, it was not very good at any of its features. This car will hold for me the record for the longest time to pair my phone. It was mid way during the week behind the wheel when I tried it again and finally, it connected.

I was amazed at the layout, the interactivity and how the functions expected you to operate them. It felt like Honda was trying to be different, while not testing what everyone else has in the market. If only one thing could be changed about the HR-V, it’s the Infotainment system.

The Drive

Lets not build any suspense here, the HR-V is not really a driver’s car. By that I mean, it’s not a hard or skill-based car to drive, nor does it make you sit on the edge of the seat. It’s great to drive, simple, effortless and a bit of fun. I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the HR-V.

The balance of everything in the car was just right; the engine size, the weight and the handling. It’s almost that Goldilocks car, not too fast or too slow, not too firm or soft, not too loud or quiet  and not too much body roll. Everything was just right.

Even the CVT was pretty good, which is a big thing here at DriveLife, ‘cos we dislike them. But this one was good, as I never really noticed it was operating any differently to an automatic. The steering wheel did come with paddles to change up and down gears, which I don’t think was needed. It’s not a sports car, and CVT’s are not ideal for engine braking, so why have them at all?

The steering wheel controls were a bit different, with a selection of buttons towards the bottom of the wheel. On the left you have answer and hang up your phone, on the right you have cruise control settings. I found this an odd place to put them, as they were not within reach of your fingers. Each time I wanted to use the cruise control, I had to take my right hand off the wheel and press the buttons required. Not sure this design was fully thought through.

The upside of not being able to put many of the new safety features to the test is that we didn’t encounter any possible accidents. During my time with the HR-V, I never had any interruptions from the vehicle’s safety systems, trying to take over thinking something was about to go wrong. We have seen this in other cars, but we will have to continue to test Honda’s cars to see how well they fare across multiple reviews.

Apart from the controls on the wheel I couldn’t really fault the drive, it was so easy to live with on the day to day.

The Competition

It’s anyone’s game around $40,000, as a consumer you have what seems like an endless list of vehicles in all shapes and sizes, for different walks of live. Best thing to do is try as many as you can, so you are comparing apples to apples.

Crossover SUV

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km Number of seats Boot Capacity Litres Price Highest to Lowest
Kia Niro EX Hybrid 1.4L Turbo Petrol 104kW/147Nm 3.8 L/100km 401 Litres 10.6m $39,990
Honda HR-V RS 1.8-L 4 cylinder i-VTEC 105 / 172 6.7 5 437 (1032) $37,500
Toyota C-HR FWD 1.2L Turbo Petrol 85kW/185Nm 6.4L/100km 318 Litres 10m $32,990
Holden Trax LS 1.4L Turbo Petrol 110kW/240Nm 5.8L/100km 356 Litres 10.9m $32,990
Mazda CX-3 GLX 2.0L Petrol 109kW/192Nm 6.1L/100km 264 Litres 10.6m $31,395
Honda HR-V S 1.8L Petrol 105kW/172Nm 6.6L/100km 437 Litres 10.6m $29,990
Ford EcoSport Trend 1.0L EcoBoost Petrol 92kW/240Nm 6.7L/100km 743 Litres 10.7m $26,990

Pros Cons
  • Value for money
  • Eye-catching styling
  • Clever rear seat storage system
  • Roomy for tall people, in both front and back seats
  • Peppy engine
  • Good selection of standard options
  • Clunky and small LCD media screen
  • No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
  • Gear shift paddles on the steering wheel

What do we think?

The midsize SUV and midsize Crossover segment is a hard one to stand out in, but it can be done. I think Honda has done just that with the HR-V, its ticks all the boxes, but does it with a bit more style than many of the other options available at that price.

It’s a spritely car with a sports nature which gives it a fun side. Everything Honda is so practical and the HR-V with its thin centre console and magic seats leaves it with an extra feather in its cap. Interior and exterior styling are akin to more expensive European cars, what more can you ask for less than $40,000? Ok, you can ask for a better media screen, Honda, this is the HR-V’s only real flaw.

For a daily runabout or a full-time family car, the Honda HR-V stands out in more ways than one. As a package, the HR-V is not one to be underestimated or overlooked.

Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

2018 Honda HR-V RS

Vehicle Type Crossover SUV
Starting Price $37,500
Price as Tested $37,500
Engine 1.8-litre 4-cylinder i-VTEC
Power, Torque 105kW/172Nm
Transmission Active CVT Transmission with G-Design shift
Spare Wheel Compact Spare Wheel
Kerb Weight, Kg 1863
Length x Width x Height, mm 4360 x 1790 x 1605
Cargo Capacity, litres 437 litres

1032 litres (third row seats down)

Fuel tank capacity, litres 50 litres
Fuel Economy, L/100km Advertised Spec – Combined – 6.7 L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined – 7.9 L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing Capacity

Kg, unbraked/braked

Turning circle, metres 5.5

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 5 year unlimited kilometre factory warranty
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star


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Motoring commentators commend Murph and Holden NZ Wed, 12 Dec 2018 19:00:32 +0000 Instigating a national driver training programme, backed by Holden New Zealand, has put Greg Murphy in the winner’s seat with Kiwi motoring commentators.
The motorsport icon today became the latest recipient of a prestigious prize presented by the New Zealand Motoring Writers Guild.
The Neil Nelson award is presented to the person judged to have made a significant contribution to the motoring industry.
This year the spotlight falls on Holden Street Smart, a road safety initiative designed with young drivers in mind, the goal being to reduce accidents and fatalities among this at-risk group.
Operational since February on 2018, this national programme has already steered hundreds of youngsters toward safer driving practice.
The initiative has a high-profile brand ambassador in Murphy, a four-time Bathurst winner and national motorsport hero.
The Hawke’s Bay champion racer who made a career out of racing V8 supercars after winning the New Zealand Grand Prix and now mainly works as a motorsports’ commentator – though last year he tried rallying at national level – is a long-time passionate advocate for road safety.
A road crash he had at age 19, during the first year of his circuit motor-racing career, was a huge wake-up call.
It triggered realisation that, even though his own skills had been sharpened by competition experience in karts and a Formula Ford single seater, he was still deficient in basic abilities that would have avoided the smash, in which a friend was injured.
“The New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild is proud to name Greg as the 2018 recipient of this very special award,” says Guild president Richard Edwards, Auckland.
“The Neil Nelson Award is not just about achievement. It’s about going that extra mile to help other people.
“To be nominated it’s not enough to just do your job or your calling – it requires passion and commitment above and beyond.
“Greg spent his life pursuing the motor sport dream; but almost right from the start of his illustrious career he has also been a road safety advocate.
“Holden Street Smart, in which young drivers take part in a day-long course covering 10 practical exercises in their own cars, accompanied by a parent or caregiver, represents the ultimate expression of his views.
“Our Guild is impressed by a programme is about experiencing a variety of scenarios and situations, exploring the limitations of themselves and their cars in a controlled environment, alongside experienced instructors.
“We applaud Greg and Holden New Zealand for this programme.”
Murphy says he is honoured to be a recipient of the Neil Nelson Award.
“I am honoured, and pleasantly surprised – having Holden Street Smart recognised by the guild is fantastic. The story has been received and people are aware of what we are trying to achieve.”
Murphy is passionate about the need for broader access to driver training.
“Holden Street Smart is not research being done to find out if training works. It is 100% guaranteed to make a difference.”
He called on the government to change the focus of their road safety efforts.
“I think focus needs to be put on driver training as a whole. Spending money on roads is one thing, but if people continue to do the same things they are now, then we shouldn’t expect the Road Toll Stats to change much.”
Holden New Zealand managing director Marc Ebolo welcomed the recognition of Holden Street Smart.
“This award is testament that what we’re doing is being noticed and is making a tangible difference to the skill levels of those who participate in the course, enhancing not only their likelihood of knowing what to do in a particular situation but hopefully avoiding it altogether,” Ebolo says.
“We worked with Greg and other supporters of the programme for more than two years to ensure we were launching the very best initiative to support development of young drivers and foster their confidence on the roads.”
The award, started in 1998, honours the memory of the late Neil Nelson of Palmerston North, a former president of the Guild.
It was presented yesterday to Murphy and Marc Ebolo, managing director of Holden New Zealand.
Previous recipients include ex Formula One driver Chris Amon and motor retail supremo Colin Giltrap.
The first of the nine preceding winners was another race car driver who followed a similar path to Murphy’s.
Christchurch’s John Osborne dedicated 22 years of his life to developing and running Proactive Drive, keeping teenage kids safe by giving them the skills they need to handle their car.

* Main photo:

Caption: (from left) Holden New Zealand managing director Marc Ebolo, NZ Motoring Writers’ Guild member Jacqui Madelin, Greg Murphy and NZ Motoring Writers’ Guild president Richard Edwards.
Photographer credit: Peter Meecham
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2018 Hyundai Kona EV Elite – Car Review – Killer Kilowatts Fri, 07 Dec 2018 23:00:07 +0000 When Hyundai first released the specs of the Kona EV, we were all salivating – an EV well under $100K with a ‘real world‘ range of 400km? Bring it on.

And then we got the VW e-Golf to review, with its ‘real world’ range of 220km. That range was worked out by a couple of journalists driving south from Auckland in an e-Golf and they got to Tokoroa before needing to recharge. That drive to Tokoroa is a pretty easy one, maybe one of the gentlest drives in the country. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the e-Golf – but claims of ‘real world’ need to be read very carefully.

So, to the Kona EV. We really like the petrol version of the Kona – looks great, goes well (in the 1.6 turbo version, at least). This seemed like a good starter for an EV.

But the thing is, when you talk to people about driving an EV, more often than not, their first reaction is, “but how long will it take me to get to Auckland from Wellington?” – because that’s something we do lots of (insert Tui slogan here). According to the stats, the average New Zealand driver does 27km a day, not 600km. But yes, there are times when you need to drive that far – I do this trip about six times a year.

So the gauntlet was thrown down – just how many times would we need to recharge the Kona EV driving from Wellington to Auckland and back? And how much extra time would it take, over using a petrol-powered car?

You called for real world, we answered.

The Range

There’s just two EV Konas available in New Zealand; the base version (Kona Electric) and the Kona Electric Elite model (tested). The base version kicks in at $74,900 while the Elite model is priced at $79,900. Is that a lot for a small Korean SUV? Certainly is. You could get an entry level Jaguar E-PACE for that money, or the ever-brilliant Volvo XC40 in top-spec, with $7K left over.

Both Kona EVs are front-wheel drive only, and both have a 150kW electric motor (giving you a meaty 395Nm of torque) and a 64kW battery pack. The battery capacity of 64kW is where all the excitement is at; in comparison the Toyota Prius Prime has an 8kW battery pack, the VW e-Golf, 38.5 kW, and even Hyundai’s own Ioniq EV has a battery capacity of 28kW. 64kW? That’s huge, and not that far off the 75kW capacity of the cheapest Tesla, the Model S P75D at $125,000.

As far as equipment goes, for the base model as standard kit you get 6 airbags, rear park assist, tyre pressure monitoring, leather steering wheel, 6-speaker audio system, 7” central touchscreen display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability, auto dimming rear view mirror, adaptive cruise control, 17” alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, auto headlights, LED tail lights, and Hyundai’s SmartSense pack which includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, forward collision avoidance, and driver attention warning.

The Elite model ups the ante quite a bit, and I expect would be the choice of the two for most buyers. On top of the base model, it then adds high beam assist, lane following assist, front park assist, a leather interior, heads-up display (HUD), Qi wireless phone charging, ventilated and heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, 6-way power adjustable passenger’s seat, the display is increased to 8”, LED headlights, and an upgrade for the sound system to a Krell premium audio system with 7 speakers including a sub woofer.

You’ll notice SatNav isn’t on the list yet, until 2019 when Hyundai NZ gets Australian-spec Kona EVs, SatNav will not work. It is installed in the car, but doesn’t function. So a bit of buyer beware here, if you buy a Kona EV now, Satnav and associated functions will not work, and you can’t get them going later.

First Impressions

After turning up at the dealership to pick up the Kona EV, I spied a metallic red Kona that looked great. My first thoughts were how good it would look in photos in that colour. And then the sales manager brought to me the one we were actually testing – in an insipid, flat grey which is named Galactic Grey.

I know I’ve said this before, but I can’t understand why manufacturers insist on making the EV version of their petrol cars ugly. The Kona is a great looking car – I love it. The front, back, sides – all good. But then when they made it an EV, they took away the grille and put in a big ass piece of plastic.

It doesn’t stop there – they’ve taken the good-looking wheels off the Kona, and put on some ugly ones that come complete with plastic inserts. I’m sure it’s all very much more aerodynamic or something, but it has ruined the look of the car. Thankfully the back remains the same (sans the exhaust), so there’s some saving grace there.

If it were mine and I was able to, I’d switch the ugly plastic at the front for a normal grille, and make it look good again. The trouble is, the charging point is up there so doubtful you could do that.

Please Hyundai, make it look good again.

The Interior

Luckily, they haven’t played with the interior too much, although the Kona EV is a euro-spec model, so there are some differences. The gearshift lever has gone, and in its place are four buttons to control the car; P, D, N, R. I think you can work out what they are for. It all looks very space age, and they work just fine, and certainly better than Toyota’s Prius with its funky gear shifter.

There’s a high centre console that’s split with an upper and lower level, a bit like the Honda HR-V. There’s lots of storage underneath as well as a good-sized cubby at the top-rear. You get two 12-volt sockets underneath, and then an AUX and a single USB on top. There’s also the Qi wireless charging pad right at the front on top, which can be hidden from view with a cover. That’s a nice touch, either for security or to reduce the temptation of reading messages while driving. I’m happy to say the Qi pad is flat – we’ve struck a few lately where they are on an angle, and this can stop the phone from charging, if the car hits a bump and the phone slides down.

The end result is that it’s a nicer interior than the petrol version, although that high centre console can make it seem a bit smaller inside.

The seats and door panels are all black, while the headlining is beige, helping to break it up a little. There’s no sunroof, but the interior doesn’t feel dark.

For more details of the interior, check out the review of the petrol car.

I did notice one more thing that had disappeared; the petrol Kona has a space-saver spare, while the EV has just a tyre pump. Not the end of the world, and something we are seeing lots more of.

The Drive

Even though I had jumped straight out of a Hyundai i30N and into the Kona EV, I put the wipers on after I had left the dealership – I would need to keep reminding myself this was a euro-spec car, and the indicators were on the left side of the wheel.

With 395Nm of torque in something as small as the Kona, performance should be excellent, and it is. This thing rockets away off the mark, even more so than the VW e-Golf we tested a short time ago.

The Kona EV has a HUD like one of the petrol models, and it’s still a ‘poor man’s HUD’, so it’s a piece of clear plastic that lifts up and out of the dash on a motor. Never quite as a good as a ‘proper’ HUD on the windscreen, but still usable. Hyundai does quite well with theirs, as it shows the current speed limit, if adaptive cruise is on, and blind spot monitoring.

Even though our Euro-spec test Kona EV doesn’t have Satnav, it still has the option for it on the touchscreen, and also shows what we miss out on having, like apps for traffic, Live POI (Point of Interest), weather, parking, and locating charging stations. All handy stuff.

Since it was a hot day, I turned on the ventilated seat that the Elite model has. I like how Hyundai have integrated the heating/cooling into the one button – simply flick it one way for heating, or the other for cooling. We’re seeing this a lot more now, and it makes sense to use one button to do both tasks.

Visibility out of the car is excellent, with a nice big rear window taking up most of the rear view mirror.

I did notice at low speeds under say 25km/h, there’s an audible hum on the outside of the car to warn pedestrians of your Kona EV approaching. I’d like to say the sound is like a Tie Fighter from Star Wars, but that’d be a lie. In saying that, it does sound quite cool, and makes the car feel that little but futuristic as you hum along at low speeds. It certainly gets the attention of pedestrians but you can turn it off if you want to.

The fat and chunky leather steering wheel feels great to hold, and this was something I remembered from the petrol versions. I see that Hyundai also have a driver-centric air con option, similar to the one in the Prius Prime we tested recently. This focuses the air con to the driver only, saving on precious kilowatts of power. In fact, if the car is 100% charged and the range shown (450km), the range is also shown if you use air con the whole time, and it’s a mere 9km difference between the two numbers. Over a distance of 450km, 9km for using AC is showing just how efficient it is.

Don’t be fooled by the tailgate button on the remote – it’s not electric

I took the Kona home, and it was down to 79% – time to plug it in for the night. The dash lights up with time left to charge when you plug it in, and told me it’d be 11 hours before completely full. This is a big battery to charge up from a standard 230-volt socket.

The next morning, we loaded up and left home by 730am – Auckland, here we come. I’d be driving the whole way to Auckland in Eco mode, just to be sure we were giving it the maximum shot at this. The boot is not tiny, but we managed to fill it quite well. This is a small SUV, but at least it hasn’t lost any of its 332 litres of space (with the back seat up) over the petrol model.

Not too much space left

There’s four settings to alter your brake recuperation, and this is controlled by steering wheel paddles. It felt quite weird to use these to speed up or slow down, since they normally do a gear change. But it didn’t take long to get the hang of them – more regen as you approach a car to slow you down, then use the other paddle to ease off the regen and get ready to accelerate.

Even if you don’t use the paddles and have regen completely off, there’s an Auto Regeneration function which I guess uses the radar part of the adaptive cruise control, so if you are approaching a vehicle, the auto regen will kick in and turn itself on to slow you down and gain back more charge. With the drive mode set to Eco, you can see just how much charge you are getting back in the driver’s information display (DID). It’s quite interesting, and does become a bit of a challenge to see just how much charge you can get back down a hill, without going too slowly. My better amounts were about 2km, but your ‘average’ hill would see you get back less than a kilometre. Still, it’s free power.

I don’t want to go on and on about the brake regen, but it’s a big part of driving the Kona EV. Sure, you could switch it off and leave it be, but it really packs a punch, especially when you have it on the max setting. Going down even a steep hill with max regen will see it almost stop. It’s the most severe amount of regen of any electric car I’ve driven.

Luckily too, the Kona EV remembers what regen setting you had it on when you get out of the car – get back in, and it still retains the setting. It does this for the drive mode too – leave it on Eco, and it remembers this every time you start the car. In fact, I drove the Kona EV in Eco almost all the time I had it. the performance is that good – yes, even in Eco mode – that it’s the best option.

A detour through the old main street of Mangaweka – well worth it

So while it remembers your brake regen and drive mode settings, the car doesn’t remember to turn on brake auto hold again, which is a shame. I had to keep remembering to turn this on again. One thing that does turn itself on every start of the car is the Lane Keep Assist. It’s a bit aggressive and would beep too many times for my liking – so I’d turn it off. But then when you got back in the car, it would turn itself on again. Not the end of the world, but one of those slightly annoying things.

A quick stop in Foxton for a photo op by the windmill

Anyway, back to the drive. We cruised North, with a plan to get to Taupo and have lunch. Hyundai say the Kona EV has a ‘real world’ range of 400km. Taupo? That’s 363km from my house. We got closer and closer, passing through Waiouru, and hit the Desert Road. The corners and hills took their toll on our range, and while we had 50km left in the ‘tank’ and 60km to Taupo, my wife called it and we stopped in Turangi. I was keen to push the car as far as it would go, but those people who know what I mean know that sometimes it’s easier to just go with it.

We pulled into the Charge Net station behind the Z in Turangi, plugged the car in and I kicked off the charging on the app on my phone. Both the charging station and my app told me exactly how long it would be to the magical 80% charge – 50 minutes on the dot. Why not 100% charge? To get to that would take almost 2 hours, so many EV drivers charge to 80% and call it quits (on a fast charger). Most charging stations are setup for this very number. You can charge to 100% but most will assume you want only 80%.

The station at the Z in Turangi

So Turangi – that’s 330km from home, and we had 50km left in the car – not too far off the promised 400km, and we did go up a lot of hills. While you get some good regen when going down a hill, going up uses a whole lot more – there’s no free lunch with an EV and hills.

We went off and had lunch in Turangi, while I kept an eye on the app. Charge Net generally charges 25cents/kW and 25cents/minute charging time – so yes, it can add up quickly. In saying that, once lunch was over and the car was charged to 80%, I got a text to say I’d been charged $26.70. I’d like to say that means it cost $26.70 to get the 330km to Turangi, but keep in mind that’s a charge to 80%.

We motored out of Turangi with 340km of range, and a 327km drive to our destination in Auckland.

Quick stop in Taupo, not far from the geothermal power station.

I really like the adaptive cruise control in the Kona EV; they seemed to have refined it and developed it for the EV, and it’s one of the smoothest systems I’ve used. It will take you right down to a stop – great for road works – and then get you going again with a touch of the ‘gas’ pedal, or a flick on the adaptive cruise switch. It even gives you a nice little reminder on the dash of how to move off again.

While I was trying to conserve energy (honestly!), I still marvel at the acceleration of the Kona EV. With 395Nm of torque, this thing can really fly. It surprised people when you pass, simply rocketing past anyone with zero noise. Hell, if you have it in Sport mode and floor it at 60km/h, it will spin the front wheels in the dry. As far as performance goes, this is a grin-worthy drive. I expect some people will buy the car after driving it not because it has no engine noise or to save money, but because of the effortless performance.

The drive went on, after about 7 hours of driving, I could feel the seats were up to the task. While you only get 2-way electric lumbar adjust for the driver, the seat cushion is not too bad for the long haul. The side support too is very good, especially handy since you can pretty much throw the Kona EV at corners. I found it hard to make the tyres squeal, or lose grip – and remember this small SUV does weigh in at 1,700kg and is only front-wheel drive. All that low-down weight really helps in the handling department, and it sits quite flat on the corners.

Even in the wet there’s quite a bit of grip.

I note that the Nexen N’Fera SU1 215/55/R17 tyres fitted to the Kona EV are not hard-compound, super fuel efficient tyres – they are just run of the mill tyres. That’s the first time I’ve seen a eco car without such a tyre.

As we got closer to Auckland, my wife chickened out again, and we pulled into Hampton Downs race track to get a free charge at the fast charger supplied by WEL Networks. I found this charge station on the Plug Share app, and couldn’t believe it was free! We went to grab a coffee at the cafe at the race track, but were too late. Bummer. This charge took 20 minutes to get to 80%, and we hit the road again for Auckland.

Another power-station photo op – in Huntly this time

So – how long did it take? With our two stops for charging, 13 hours. Yes, that’s longer than if we had driven a petrol or diesel-engined car, but honestly, it wasn’t bad. Did I hate wandering around Hampton Downs having a nosy at everything? No way. A 50-minute lunch in Turangi? There’s worse things than that.

Free charging at Hampton Downs

There’s the other benefits too; we’ve tested electric cars before, but mainly around town. While it was strange having no engine noise on the open road for 600km, it was a pretty pleasant way to travel. You do hear a lot more tyre noise – the Kona EV does not like coarse-chip seal at all – but conversations and general travel is that much easier. That’s not to say petrol or diesel cars are noisy – most modern petrol or diesel cars are almost inaudible at motorway speeds, but it was the constant silence that was the difference.

We arrived in Auckland, the car telling me that driving in Eco Mode so far we had achieved 6.6km/kilowatt-hour. We did what we needed to do in Auckland the next day – driving around, and charging up a little at friend’s house overnight, then it was time to hit the road again. This time, I was going to drive in Normal mode all the way home.

We didn’t charge the car up completely, so choose to stop at Hampton Downs again and wop it up to 80%. This time, the café would be open. The Go Karts would be open too, but there wasn’t enough time for that – this trip.

Another free charge at Hampton Downs

Then we decided we’d stop in Taupo for lunch – and see some friends there – and charge up again, this time at another Charge Net station that was owned by electric company, Unison. The charge for this one would be a flat 40cents/kilowatt – so no charge for the time it would take.

With our battery on 30%, I pulled in – nose first of course – and then plugged the cable in to charge, got my phone out and kicked off the charging. And then the charge stopped. I did this four times, then rang up Unison (who answered very quickly), and they suggested I call Charge Net. I did that – they too answered in a few seconds. After hearing what was happening, they kicked the charge off at their end, and the amps flowed. After talking to the tech guy there, it sounds like I had selected the wrong cable type – more on that soon – so likely it was my fault.

We duly went off for lunch, and one and half hours later (yes, I know) we went back to the car to hit the road, only to see that the charging had stopped for some reason at 64%, at a cost of $8.32

We didn’t want to wait to try again, so left Taupo and headed straight to Turangi – we knew if we charged up to 80% there, we’d make it home. It took 20 minutes to get the charge from 55% to 80% (at $11.08) and we left again. We had 345km of range leaving Turangi, and a 330km drive home. It was going to be close, so I switched the car to Eco mode, to be safe.

The ride home from there was uneventful, although I kept a close eye on the battery range. We made it with 13km left in the battery (4%), so that was a relief.  The return trip with our extended lunch was another 13 hours, but it actually made it less stressful – having breaks more often was quite nice, and I’d do it again. There’s no real need to be in Auckland in 8 hours, or else…or else nothing. It was good to take our time, and for some reason we even managed to do a few side trips for the hell of it, like going into Foxton township, and then a tour of the back streets of Mangaweka –  it was worth it for Mangaweka, especially. Lots of old-school character in that little town.

So we did it, without too much stress, Wellington to Auckland and back. Range Anxiety? Not really. With some good apps on your phone and a bit of planning, it was a more enjoyable trip than driving a petrol or diesel car – and I’d do it again tomorrow. Yes, it took longer. But I don’t care – it’s hard to be annoyed with a car with such great performance.

Over my week and 1500km of driving in the Kona EV, I managed 6.7km/kW.

The Competition

Brand/Model Power/Torque Est. Range, km kWh/100km Battery capacity, kWh Seats Boot space, litres (3rd row down where fitted) Price – High to Low
BMW i3 125kW/250Nm 200 33.0 5 260 $77,200
Hyundai Kona EV Elite 150kW/395Nm 400 14.3 64.0 5 332 $74,900
Renault Zoe 68Kw/220NM 400 41.0 5 338 $68,990
VW e-Golf 100kW/290Nm 220 35.8 5 341 $62,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Performance
  • Adaptive cruise control functionality
  • Seat comfort
  • Range for an EV
  • Handling/ride
  • It’s a fun drive
  • Great frontal design has gone
  • Cost for a small Korean SUV
  • Tyre noise on coarse chip seal

What do we think of it?

Let’s get it out there – the top-spec 1.6-turbo petrol Kona Elite is $41,990 – the Kona Elite EV is $79,990. You aren’t going to buy a Kona EV over the petrol version to save money. But if you are an early adopter and want the range without the cost of a Tesla, the Kona EV is a great option – potentially the only option if you really need that 400km range.

Keep in mind too, Hyundai’s own Ioniq Elite EV is near on $66,000 with its 28.5kw battery pack.

If you travel long distance regularly and can’t afford to take your time to charge up here and there, and can’t afford a Tesla with its longer range – then stick to a petrol or diesel SUV or car for now.

But we do need to keep in mind the average driving distance for a New Zealand car per day; 27km. That’s it, 27km. The Kona EV will do most of what most of us need, comfortably and very quickly – not to mention quietly.

Initially I balked at the cost of the Kona EV when the pricing was released. Since then, Hyundai have been claiming that this will be New Zealand’s top-selling EV.

After driving it long distance, I think they might be right.

drivelife car review chevrons four and half




2018 Hyundai Kona EV Elite

4.5 Chevrons

Vehicle Type 5-door electric small Crossover SUV
Starting Price $74,990
Price as Tested $79,990
Engine Electric, driving front wheels only
Power, Torque 150kW/395Nm
0-100km/h, seconds 7.1
Spare Wheel Pump
Kerb Weight, Kg 1685-1743
Length x Width x Height, mm 4180x1800x1570
Cargo Capacity, litres – seats up, seats down 332/1,114
Battery capacity, kWh 64.0
Towing Capacity

Kg, unbraked/braked

Turning circle, metres n/a

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 3 years, 100,000km warranty

3 years, 100,000km Roadside Assist

10 year/unlimited km battery warranty

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star

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Family favourite takes New Zealand Car of the Year Wed, 05 Dec 2018 06:37:31 +0000 A family-friendly SUV has beaten tough competitors to win the 2018 New Zealand Car of the Year.
The Forester is the first Subaru to take the New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild’s accolade and also only the second sports utility to take the prize, the first being the 2017 holder, Skoda’s Kodiaq.
Ten finalists competed for the Peter Greenslade Trophy, which is in its 31st year and stands as the country’s only independent motoring award, with guild president Richard Edwards noting that voting was very close.
The Guild represents professional motoring commentators from as far north as Kerikeri and as far south as Dunedin.
Edwards, of Auckland, says Forester is the kind of vehicle Kiwi buyers now want.  “It offers the durability and functionality Kiwi families desire, also now implementing next generation safety technology. And in starting at $39,990 it is truly affordable for new car buyers.”
New Zealand Car of the Year convener David Thomson, Dunedin, noted Subaru has kept the Forester true to its go-anywhere roots. “On gravel or even unpaved roads, the new Forester is – by lifestyle SUV standards – exceptionally accomplished and surefooted.”
Guild vice president Richard Bosselman, Palmerston North, said the latest model’s cutting-edge safety technology deserves attention.  “Traditional toughness and real-deal ability keeps Forester sweet with loyalists, genuine cutting-edge safety and assists deserve attention from a whole new audience.”
Subaru of New Zealand managing director Wallis Dumper commented that if New Zealand motoring journalists considered the car the best then “who are we to argue?”
“We … knew when the fifth-generation Subaru Forester arrived that we had a pretty special vehicle on our hands.”
The model is Subaru’s strongest seller globally and he envisaged this prestigious award would further elevate its status
“Thank you to the New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild for taking the time to evaluate the Subaru Forester and recognise how incredible it is.”
 Other finalists this year were the BMW X3, Holden Commodore, Hyundai Kona, Kia Stinger, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Skoda Karoq, Toyota Camry and a pair of Volvos, the XC40 and XC60.
You can read Drivelife’s extensive review of the Forester here.
The award was presented on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp current affairs programme tonight.
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2018 Mercedes Benz A200 – Car Review – A better class of hatchback? Wed, 21 Nov 2018 23:00:50 +0000 The original A Class Mercedes was a bit of an ugly duckling, and the second gen wasn’t much better. Then for the third generation, Mercedes re-invented the car, and suddenly it was a much more desirable proposition.

Now there’s an all-new fourth generation car, designated W177, which has already made the shortlist for New Zealand car of the year. We drove one for a week to see if it was really worthy.

The Range

This should be pretty straightforward, as so far there’s only one model available in New Zealand – the A200, featuring a 1.3-litre 4-cylinder turbo engine driving the front wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Standard features include 225W sound system with 9 speakers and a sub, ambient lighting, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, climate control, satnav, wireless phone charging, directional indicators, keyless start, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, auto wipers, 18-inch alloys, Active Parking Assist, cruise control, heated electric mirrors, LED headlamps auto lights, parking sensors (front and rear), Active Brake Assist with semi-autonomous braking function, adaptive highbeam assist, brake drying function and Hill Start Assist, 9 airbags, ABS, Blind Spot Assist, Brake Assist System, Cross wind Assist, ESP with ASR, Lane Keep Assist (active), and Traffic Sign Assist.

Our review car had the $1290 Seat Comfort Package which adds heated, electric, memory front seats and passenger mirror with reverse parking position. Also fitted was the $1990 AMG Line package, which adds 18” AMG wheels, AMG mats and body trims, various external AMG trims and badges, lowered comfort suspension, Sports Direct Steer system, with AMG steering wheel, sports seats, and sports pedals.

There are seven colours available; one red, two blacks, two whites and two silvers. Very sensible, and a missed opportunity in my opinion as this car would look great in some brighter shades.

First Impressions

I think the A200 is a great looking car. The AMG Line kit definitely helps, with those two-tone 5-spoke wheels, and lowered suspension. The overall look is smart, but classy. Again I think the AMG kit helps here as it adds some extra trims, and deletes some of the chrome, which can look a bit too fussy. The angled lights look just aggressive enough, and fat twin exhausts complete the look at the back.

The Inside

The outside looks good, but inside is where the A200 really wows you. And it’s those twin 10.25” screens that are the dominating feature of the dash. They look fantastic, merged together into one super-wide gloss-black strip. They’re clear, hi-res, with great contrast, and update smoothly enough that they’re as easy to use as traditional analogue instruments. Multiple displays and configurations are available, all configured using either the trackpad in the centre console or two mini thumb trackpads on the steering wheel. It’s intuitive to use, and easy to find what you want.

Because so much is done via the screens, the dash has a simple and clean layout, with three large circular vents dominating the centre section. These vents are particularly solid-feeling and give a real impression of quality when you adjust them. Under the vents are the aircon controls – single-zone in the A200, with dual-zone being an option as part of add-on packs.

Our review car came with piano black trims on the dash and centre console, which look great but are susceptible to dust. The doors had more practical brushed aluminium trims, with the main part of the door trimmed in suede. They’re actual pieces of metal too, not aluminium-look plastic like most cars. I also liked the contrasting red stitching on the doors, seats and other trims.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel is clad in leather and has a nice thick, chunky feel to it. There are quite a few thumb controls on the wheel – all made of metal, with a nice solid feel. They quickly become easy to use without needing to glance down, and both screens and their functions are easily controlled using the little trackpads.

The AMG-Line sports seats are leather-trimmed with suede centres, and have good side bolsters to hold you in place when cornering. The suede is also pretty grippy and adds to the feeling of stability when cornering. The seats look excellent, with integrated headrests and red stitching picking out details. The rear seats match well, with a similar look, and matching integrated headrests. This is a bit unusual and makes them a bit harder to fold flat, as that headrest can hit the front seat.

The rear seats are split 40/20/40, enabling you to fold just the centre section to get your long items in the car without having to leave one of the kids behind. There’s a good-sized 370 litre boot, with some hooks at the side and a power socket for your accessories. Lift up the boot floor and there’s a slim storage area and a subwoofer integrated into the floor. The boot lid has reassuringly chunky handles, at both sides, with little hooks on them to hang, er, things from.

The Drive

I walked up to the A200 and pulled the handle. Nothing happened. Surely I didn’t have to use the remote to unlock the car? Yep, I did. This should be a standard convenience feature on a car like this, not a $990 option. A little bit of a disappointing first impression. But that was forgotten as soon as I sat inside and those beautiful screens animated into life. The next few minutes were spent playing with the settings, paging through all of the dash themes, gauges, map screens etc. There are a lot of options here and you can see what a few of them look like in the photos. Pairing my phone was painless, with an option to play music via Bluetooth or WiFi. It also re-connected to my phone quickly and returned to my music every time the car was re-started.

The stereo is excellent, with very good clarity and plenty of bass from that boot-mounted sub. The standard system is 225W with 9 speakers. Splash out for the $2490 Communications Pack and you can get a 12-speaker surround sound system with a total output of 590W, which must sound amazing. This pack also includes a heads-up display.

It has been a while since I’ve driven a Mercedes, so I pushed the start button, reached down to find the gear shifter, then got slightly confused until I remembered that in Mercs the right-hand stalk is the gear shifter. The left-hand stalk is a clever combination of indicators, lights and wiper controls. I only put the car in neutral once when I actually meant to indicate!

First driving impressions? The A200 feels really tight, the steering is quick and accurate, and the AMG-Line suspension is firm but not uncomfortable at all. The performance is really impressive for such a small engine. The 1.3-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder produces 120kW of power and 250Nm of torque, with a quoted 0-100 time of 8 seconds. It feels quicker than that, especially in that 0-50 range that you use around town. I was surprised when I looked at the specs as I thought it was a bigger capacity. It has the sort of satisfying performance that you want in a small city car, that so many don’t seem to have.

Out of town on faster roads, the main thing I kept thinking was “It’s so smooth”. Sound and vibrations are beautifully damped, and there’s barely a sound from the engine at 100kph. Shifts from the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission are so smooth that you hardly notice them in normal driving. Take the A200 onto twisty back roads and it won’t disappoint. There’s enough power to enjoy the car, with that little four-cylinder growling away as you accelerate, with a slight hint of turbo whistle. The excellent steering, suspension and brakes give you the confidence to take corners with some enthusiasm. It’s all very well tuned and balanced.

One thing that surprised me is that Mercedes haven’t included radar cruise control. It doesn’t appear to be on the options list either. There is cruise control included, and it’s easy to set and adjust using the buttons on the steering wheel. It shows the set speed on the main display, and is better than most others I’ve tested, as it maintains the set speed down steep hills.

There’s a lot of clever technology in this car – it reads speed signs more accurately than any other car I’ve tested, displaying the current limit at all times, and flashing the number if you exceed the limit. There’s voice recognition – just say “Hey Mercedes” and it will turn the music down and say “How can I help?”. This worked very well, although there were a couple of issues – getting the satnav to recognise spoken street names proved a challenge, and it turns out that as a car reviewer, you tend to say the name of the car a lot when talking about it to passengers. And every single time I said the word “Mercedes” it piped up and tried to help.

The A200 has engine stop/start, which works smoothly and is hardly noticeable in action. There’s blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert which are two of my favourite safety features. The active lane keep assist isn’t intrusive, and I didn’t think about turning it off like I do in most cars. The auto parking function works well and is quick and easy to use. Generally everything is very well implemented. This is where some of your extra money goes when you buy a Mercedes.

There is one feature that I found rather unusual – Seat Kinetics – set the journey length (short, medium, long), choose a front seat, and the car will periodically adjust the seat position as you drive, moving the seat back, height and angle seemingly at random. It’s really strange, but I’m sure would help stop you getting a numb bum if you’re on a long journey.

The Competition

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque 0-100km/h, seconds Boot Space, Litres Fuel, L/100km Price Highest to Lowest
Mercedes-Benz A200 1.3-litre 4-cylinder turbo 120kW/250Nm 8.0 370 5.7 $60,900
Audi A3 TFSI 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo 110kW/250Nm 8.2 380 5.0 50,900
BMW 118i 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo 100kW/220Nm 8.7 360 4.8 $47,200
VW Golf TSI R-Line 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo 110kW/250Nm 8.2 340 5.2 $44,990

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Great interior
  • Smooth
  • Tight handling
  • Performance from small engine
  • Safety
  • No keyless entry
  • No radar cruise
  • Voice recognition can be a bit keen

What we think

The A200 is a really good warm hatchback. Its engine has enough go to be fun, but is small enough to be efficient. Handling and ride are excellent, there’s loads of safety technology. In fact ANCAP have commended Mercedes for an exceptionally high safety score.

It is pricey compared to some of its competition, but you get that back in refinement and quality. It is a shame there are a couple of features that aren’t included as standard, but it’s definitely a car of the year contender and deserves that nomination.

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

Rating – Chevron rating (4.5 out of 5)

Mercedes Benz A200


Vehicle Type Medium Hatchback


Starting Price $60,900 plus on-road costs
Tested Price $64,180 plus on-road costs
Seat Comfort Package $1290
AMG Line $1990
Engine 1,332cc, 4-cylinder, Direct-injection, turbocharged


Power kW / Torque Nm 120/250
Transmission DCT 7-speed automatic
0 – 100 kph, seconds 8.0
Spare Wheel Space saver
Kerb Weight, Kg 1255
Length x Width x Height, mm 4419 x 1992 x 1440
Cargo Capacity, litres 370 seats up

1210 seats folded

Fuel Tank, litres 43
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined –  5.7L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  7.3L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing Not quoted
Turning circle Not quoted

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty Three-year unlimited kilometres warranty.
ANCAP Rating Five stars
The new A-Class received a particularly high 96% score for adult occupant protection, as well as the equal highest scores to date for pedestrian/cyclist protection (92%) and child occupant protection (91%).

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2018 Mazda6 Takami – Car Review – Executive Spec Sun, 18 Nov 2018 23:00:38 +0000 When I tested the top-spec Mazda6 Limited last year, I really enjoyed it, but it did have a couple of minor issues. Now in the 2018 facelifted car there’s a new top top spec, the Takami. According to Google, it means “higher”. Mazda have refined the design, added features, and replaced the already peppy 2.5-litre engine with a new 2.5-litre turbo.

Would this make the perfect Mazda6? We drove one for a week to find out.

The Range

There are six variants of Mazda6 – the GSX, available as a petrol Sedan at $45,995, petrol wagon at $46,995 or diesel wagon at $49,295. There’s Limited spec at $51,195 for the petrol sedan or $54,495 for the diesel wagon. Finally there’s the Limited Takami at $56,995.

The GSX and Limited have either a 4-cylinder 2.5-litre petrol engine which makes 140kW/252Nm, or a 4-cylinder 2.2-litre turbodiesel which makes 140kW/450Nm. The Takami has the new 2.5-litre turbo petrol, which makes 170kW/420Nm. All have the same 6-speed Skyactiv Drive transmission.

The GSX may be the entry model but it’s not short on features, including 17-inch alloys, auto LED headlamps, heated power mirrors, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, heads-up display, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, 8-inch touch screen, 6 speaker audio, electric parking brake, leather wrapped gear knob and steering wheel, paddle shifters, satnav, keyless entry, push-button start, reversing camera, front & rear parking sensors, Advanced Smart City Brake Support, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, High Beam Control, Smart Brake Support, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane-keep Assist, Driver Attention Alert, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Intelligent Speed Assistance.

The Limited adds the following extra features: 19-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lamps, Power sunroof, privacy glass, Black or Pure White leather seats, power adjusted front seats with memory for driver, front and rear heated seats, Bose 231 watt amplifier and 11 speakers with subwoofer, and Adaptive LED Headlamps.

As well as the new engine, the Takami adds the following over the Limited: ventilated front seats, Oriental Brown or Pure White Nappa leather seats, 7-inch multi-information display, Ambient LED lighting, black cabin headliner, frameless rear-view mirror with auto-dimming function, ‘Sen’ wood door and dashboard trim inserts, Ultrasuede door and dashboard trim inserts, and a 360° View Monitor.

There are eight colours available: Snowflake White Pearl Mica, Sonic Silver Metallic Blue Reflex Mica, Soul Red Crystal Metallic, Machine Grey Metallic, Titanium Flash Mica, Deep Crystal Blue Mica  and Jet Black Mica.

Mostly pretty muted shades, but Soul Red is the one to have in my opinion. It costs a few hundred dollars extra, but it’s a gorgeous deep, glossy red.

First Impressions

The Mazda6 was already a great looking car, and this facelift hasn’t messed with the formula too much. The 19” wheels and sweeping lines somehow make it look smaller than its 4.8m length. I love the frowny headlights and angled rears. To me, the sweeping lines and creases of the front have almost Jaguar-like looks. The twin exhausts finish the rear off nicely, and bucking recent trends in car design , they are real, not just fancy trims.

The overall package is classy and handsome.

The Inside

The interior of the Takami is what really lifts it above the other cars in the Mazda6 range. I have to admit that my first reaction was to dislike the brown leather, as it’s not normally my thing. Once I sat inside the Takami, closing the door with a reassuring thunk, it all started to make sense. There’s a mix of materials, with soft-touch plastic at the top of the dash and doors, separated from a brown suede section by an aluminium trim, then brown leather below. There’s also a small real wood panel in the doors.

It all fits together very well, and looks really classy. I remember thinking that Mazda must have been taking note of current BMW interiors, as the Takami has a similar feel to a 3-Series. There’s padded leather trim on the centre console, and exposed stitching on the suede part of the dash. Dash buttons are kept to a minimum, with a narrow strip of controls for the climate control and demisters. The 8” central touch screen has a familiar interface if you’ve driven recent Mazdas, with its clear and simple look, and easy control using either the touch function or the click/jog wheel near the gear shifter.

The screen isn’t as big as the ones in some cars, but it’s clear, and provides a great image for the 360-degree camera system. There are parking sensors all-round too, making the Mazda6 easy to park.

The steering wheel is leather-trimmed and has thumb controls for the stereo, cruise control and phone functions. They’re all laid out logically enough and are easy to get used to. The wheel is comfortable to hold, and fits in with the executive feel of this car rather than being sporty.

Mazda have gone for a three-dial dash cluster with rev counter on the left, fuel and temperature on the right, and a large digital central speedo designed to look like an analogue gauge. The centre section of the speedo can be changed to various displays including cruise control, music, satnav etc. There’s also a digital fuel gauge just next to the analogue one for some reason. Mazda have used the digital speedo to show some information graphically. As well as being shown in the corner, the current speed limit is marked in red on the outside of the speedo. If you go over it fills in the border in red too as a visual indicator, as well as flashing the speed sign in the HUD and display. Not only that, if you’re approaching a camera it announces “Approaching speed camera” over the speakers and follows with “reduce your speed”. Cruise control set speed is also highlighted on the outside of the speedo.

The Mazda6 has a colour HUD as standard across the range, which is a great feature, and Mazda’s system is one of the better ones, showing speed, current speed limit, satnav directions, and swooshes either side if someone is in your blind spot. It’s laid out clearly and soon becomes second-nature to read, to the point where you really miss it when you go back to a car that doesn’t have one.

Talking of the satnav directions, they can be excellently complex – for example one direction I got was “after two hundred metres, turn left onto xxx street, then turn right to reach your destination” Really clear, natural sounding, and helpful. I was impressed.

The seats look really good, and are very comfortable. There’s 10-way electric adjustment and memory on the driver’s side, and 6-way electric adjustment on the passenger side. The wheel adjusts in four directions, making the perfect driving position easy to achieve. I like the aluminium trim strip in the seat back, it’s a bit different and not noticeable when sitting in the seat. It’s repeated in the rear seats, which are also comfortable, with good amounts of leg room. All seats front and rear are heated, with ventilation available as well on the fronts.

The rear seats are 60/40 split and fold almost flat to enable you to carry longer loads. As it’s a sedan, the gap from the boot to the rear seats isn’t huge, but it’s pretty good. The boot itself is large and deep, giving you 474 litres of storage. There are a couple of little trays at the sides, but not much in the way of bag hooks or useful storage features.

The Drive

Test number one – Bluetooth pairing – was completed without hassle, and the Mazda returns to Bluetooth when you get re-start the car, which is always appreciated. The 11-speaker Bose system is very good, with good clarity and a subwoofer to provide excellent bass.

Once that essential step was performed, it was out into the usual rush-hour traffic. Time to test the smart cruise control. In the last model this turned off under 30kph, but the new improved system can come to a complete stop, starting again with a tap of the throttle or the resume button. It works really well, anticipating well and braking smoothly most of the time. Some of these systems can feel a bit jerky, but Mazda’s is less jerky than many others.

There’s also steering assist, which will provide steering input if it thinks you’re about to drift out of your lane, or if you aren’t turning a corner. I found it to be a bit intrusive on the Mazda6 and ended up fighting it when it tried to make a correction. A lot of these systems struggle to see the lanes properly around Wellington and maybe this was the issue, but a couple of times it steered me over the line to the left, then beeped a lane departure warning at me. The system can be turned off if required.

One thing I noticed when cruising in traffic was that the system that reads speed limit signs wasn’t always 100% accurate. Most of the time it was, but it seemed to struggle with the overhead gantry signs and would revert back to the road speed from its maps.

Driving at motorway speeds was a pleasant experience, with road and wind noise very well damped, and barely a noticeable sound or vibration from the engine. The Takami definitely has that premium feel, a car that you could go take long trips and arrive feeling fresh. The suspension is set up to be comfortable, not too firm but not soft either. Mazda have found a good balance here.

You might think in a car that rides this comfortably, that if you decide to sneak off for some driving fun on a twisty back road you’d be disappointed. But this is not the case with the Mazda6 – Mazda have a clever system called G-Vectoring Control which controls engine torque based on steering and accelerator positions to improve handling. And it works beautifully, providing great handling and less body roll.

The Takami has a good amount of power, with 170kW, but more importantly adding a turbo has upped the torque from 252 to 420Nm over the 2.5-litre. This makes a massive difference to driveability and the way the car pulls out of corners. It’s tuned more for progressive acceleration than outright speed – remember this is a smooth executive express rather than a performance model. And it works really well, providing a very satisfying drive.

There’s more clever technology in the Takami too, such as the i-ELOOP energy regeneration system, which harvests braking energy to a capacitor and uses it to power electrical systems. There’s auto high beams which detect oncoming and preceding vehicles and bends the beam to avoid dazzling other road users.

The Competition

There aren’t than many larger family cars around these days, so competition in a similar price bracket is scarce.

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque Fuel, L/100km Seats Boot Space, Litres Price Highest to Lowest
Kia Stinger GT Line Fastback 2.0-litre 4 cylinder turbo 182kW/353Nm 8.8 5 660 $59,990
Mazda6 Takami 2.5-litre 4 cylinder turbo 170kW/420Nm 7.6 5 474 $56,995
Skoda Octavia RS245 Liftback 2.0-litre 4 cylinder turbo 180kW/370Nm 6.5 5 660 $55,990
Kia Optima Turbo GT 2.0-litre 4 cylinder turbo 180kW/350Nm 8.5 5 510 $53,990
Ford Mondeo Titanium Hatchback 2.0-litre 4 cylinder turbo 177k&/345Nm 8.5 5 525 $53,690
Holden Commodore RS Liftback 2.0-litre 4 cylinder turbo 191kW/350Nm 7.6 5 490 $49,990

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Looks great
  • Quiet and comfortable
  • Quick but efficient
  • Classy interior
  • Great stereo
  • Steering assist intrusive
  • Speed limit reading not always accurate

What we think

I really liked the Mazda6 Takami. It looks great, is luxurious inside, it’s quick and it’s fun to drive. It has lots of equipment and technology, though there are a couple of quirks.

I said above that Mazda seem to have taken note of, and emulated, what BMW are doing, and I meant that as a compliment. This car really is a step up in interior quality and style. This car definitely has a premium feel in all aspects.

When most manufacturers seem to be are moving to all SUVs, I’m glad Mazda have continued to develop a big family sedan.

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

Rating – Chevron rating (4.5 out of 5)

2018 Mazda6 Takami

Vehicle Type Medium 5-Door Sedan


Starting Price $56,995 plus on-road costs
Tested Price $56,995 plus on-road costs
Engine 2.5-litre turbo in-line 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT petrol engine with i-stop
Power Kw / Torque Nm 170/420
Transmission 6-speed (SKYACTIV-Drive) automatic
0 – 100 kph, seconds Not quoted
Spare Wheel Space saver
Kerb Weight, Kg 1620
Length x Width x Height, mm 4865 x 1840 x 1450
Cargo Capacity, litres 474 seats up
Fuel Tank, litres 62
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined –  7.6L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  9.4L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing 750kg unbraked

1600kg braked

Turning circle 11.2m

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 5 years unlimited kilometres
ANCAP Rating 5 stars

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2018 Mazda CX-5 GSX 2.5 – Car Review – still the medium-SUV King Wed, 14 Nov 2018 23:00:03 +0000 Last year, I tested the CX-5 Limited – finished in Soul Red, Mazda’s best colour by far. For 2018, Mazda have made some changes to all its CX-5 engines – the 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol units, and the 2.2-litre diesel engine.

We’ve always liked the CX-5 – it’s a great choice for anyone in the market for a mid-sized SUV.

But the competition is catching up; there are some other mid-sized SUVs improving in design and features, and the all-important benchmark of driveability – always a CX-5 strong suit.

Can the latest mechanical and feature upgrades fend off the CX-5’s opposition?

The Range

If you want to read about the CX-5 range, check out our 2017 review – it hasn’t really changed.

In saying that, for 2018 the GSX models pick up Active Driving Display (Heads-Up display, or HUD to you and me) which is projected onto the windscreen. Other i-ACTIVSENSE technologies include Mazda’s proprietary Autonomous Emergency Braking – Advanced Smart City Brake Support – Forward (which is now standard across the range), Blind Spot Monitoring and Traffic Sign Recognition on GSX and Limited grades.

Other changes include the Limited model now featuring Lane Departure Warning and Driver Attention Alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go functionality, and Adaptive LED Headlamps (ALH) which now features a 20-split LED array with individual control of several LEDs providing precise adjustment of the lighting pattern. The ALH feature automatically controls your front head lamps in high beam. It broadens visibility at low speeds, shapes the high beam to help avoid dazzling other drivers and raises beam height at highway speeds to extend vision area.

  • FWD GLX 2.0 petrol $39,995
  • FWD GSX 2.0 petrol $42,995
  • AWD GSX 2.5 petrol $46,245; 2.2 diesel $48,495
  • AWD Limited 2.5 petrol $55,745; 2.2 diesel $57,995

You can read more about the CX-5 range on Mazda New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

As always, the CX-5 looks great. That frontal design – so much like the CX-3 and CX-9, and yet different too – is a stand-out look. I actually found a person who didn’t like the front of the car, but he was the first person ever. The sides and rear too are well balanced – those rear lights, looking very Jaguar F-Typish, and are totally awesome.

Our test car was finished in Eternal Blue, which set it off nicely.

The Inside

While our previous test car was finished in white leather, the GSX test car this time around had black leatherette seats with suede inserts, and black trim on the door panels. It still looked good, and the suede added a touch of class for a mid-spec car. The leatherette looks like real leather, and feels like it too.

The beige headlining lightened up the interior nicely, and the finish is as good as you would hope it to be. There does seem to be more hard plastics inside than in the Limited model, but there are different textures used around the cabin so you don’t really notice it.

The interior does feel quite wide too, with a strip of silver plastic going right across the front of the dash, broken up by the air vents.

A welcome feature is the wide-opening rear doors – they almost open out parallel to the car, and it makes for a far easier entry into the rear seat. After a few cars lately where the doors seem quite restrictive, it was a great reminder on how well the CX-5 does it.

There’s two USB ports in the rear, but they are under the centre armrest. I haven’t found this too practical in the past, if you have the car five-up, but hey if there’s only two in the rear seat then it works well, and probably better than having them at the rear of the centre console. You do get two air vents for the rear passengers on the centre console, and that’s always welcome on hot days.

Rear legroom is average, if a little above average for the class.  The boot is plenty big enough for most people, with 455 litres seats up, or 1355 litres with the rear seats down.

Lifting up the false floor will find you a space-saver spare, so that’s one up on only getting a tyre pump, which we are seeing more and more of lately.

The Drive

It’s interesting when you read a review you wrote a year ago after you drive the same car again for a week. Okay, it was Limited vs GSX, but it’s a pretty close comparison. Most things I commented on a year ago still stand today – the good, and the not-exactly good.

The thing is with the CX-5, it’s mostly good. This is a great looking, great driving SUV. G-Vectoring control is in place, and it still does an excellent job of giving the CX-5 car-like handling, and the weird ability for you to chuck it around some beds without your passengers getting thrown around. It is one of those times when technology isn’t all just talk – it works.

Wind noise? Still very well subdued, and a change in tyres has meant that tyre noise is now reduced as well. It wasn’t bad before, but it is better now. There’s been some small changes in NVH as well, and this was noticed too. It’s still not a CX-9 for complete silence, but it’s darn good anyway.

The suede inserts on the seats look good and the seats are comfy too. I think I’d class them as ‘Goldilocks Seats’ – not too firm, not too soft…just right. Side support too is spot on; it doesn’t need to be overboard on an SUV but you can feel the side support there in the right amount.

Traffic Sign Recognition has also had some tweaks, and I’m so happy Mazda have fitted their excellent Heads-Up Display to the GSX models as well – and so that means all speed signs are shown right there in front of the driver, on the road ahead. It’s a great system, and even picks up stop signs too. There seem to be a lot of drivers out there who completely forget they are at a stop sign, and treat it like a give way sign, so hopefully this will be a good reminder.

Speaking of the HUD, well there’s not much to say – it’s one of the better ones. I do like how they’ve integrated the blind spot monitoring system into it, so if you are on the motorway and there’s a car to your left in your blind spot, you get a warning on the mirror and also in the HUD. It turns from white to amber as they get closer, which is even better.

That BSM system in the HUD, along with all the glass means that visibility is top-notch. In fact, the rear window takes up almost the entire rear-view mirror. Too many cars now have the rear window a lot smaller, which may look sexy but also makes it harder for visibility. It’s easy to see all around the car, and while no CX-5 models have a 360-degree camera system, it’s easy to drive in the city and on the motorway.

Such a shame that while Mazda have included a HUD on the GSX model, there’s no adaptive cruise control – you have to move to the Limited model to get that. Maybe on the next update we’ll see adaptive cruise as standard.

I’m glad Mazda have stuck with their MZD infotainment system – it works so simply, it’s an example to others. Right down there on the centre console is the jog dial to control it (there’s no touch screen) and next to the jog dial is the volume knob. The volume knob can almost look out of place there, but it’s the best place for it. Your hand simply falls to it, to either adjust the volume of mute the audio (by pushing it down). It makes a mockery of those cars that have a volume knob up on the centre of the dash, where you have to reach for it. We’ve got to applaud manufacturers for returning to having an actual volume knob (although there are some that resist), but having it there in the CX-5 (and all other Mazdas) is great. I often used the knob instead of the steering wheel controls.

Speaking of the infotainment system, I see there’s been a few tweaks in here too. One of the better ones I found was to adjust the sensitivity of the automatic headlights. I love auto headlights – set and forget – but I have noticed that some cars take too long for them to come on, at dusk or when it’s heavily overcast. With the CX-5, you can tweak the sensitivity right up.  On the downside, there’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay in the CX-5.

Being a CX-5, there’s an electric park brake and brake auto-hold across the range. I love auto hold, and use it all the time. A shame though that it doesn’t stay on when you return to the car – that would be nice, or at least nice to have as an option.

Still sitting in the driver’s seat, the leather wheel feels as good as ever, with easy to use controls. Mazda always does this well, and the latest CX-5 has seen no playing with the wheel’s buttons, thankfully. There’s buttons on the driver’s door for all the windows – as you’d expect – and I’m happy to say they are all auto up/down. I wish every car had this.

In front of the driver are the simple and clear instruments; rev counter on the left, 260km/h speedo in the middle, and then an economy and fuel gauge on the right. There’s not much you can do here to tweak anything, but there’s no need to – it all works well.

One thing I did notice while taking my photos is the weight of the bonnet – it really needs gas struts. It’s to the point where some slightly-built members of the public would struggle to lift it. Not that there’s much need to lift the bonnet these days, but something to keep in mind.

Okay, I’ve gone on enough about everything but the engine – what’s the ‘new’ motor like? First up, the changes. For the 2-litre petrol engine, there’s been some enhancements in the intake ports and piston design, as well as a coolant control valve to help warm-up.

These changes are carried over to the 2.5-litre petrol engine, which also now has cylinder deactivation. The outside two cylinders can shut down when the vehicle is operated at steady speeds between 40 and 80 km/h, but all four cylinders work instantaneously when needed for maximum performance. A centrifugal pendulum has been adopted in the torque converter of the six-speed SKYACTIV-DRIVE automatic transmission, counterbalancing any vibration that might otherwise be felt when running on two cylinders. The switch over between two and four cylinder modes is imperceptible, and yet, Mazda says, ‘with very tangible real-world efficiency benefits’.

I must admit, I couldn’t feel any change to running on two cylinders during my week with the CX-5. At least half the cars we test with cylinder deactivation have a small ‘thrum’ when any of the cylinders are turned off. With the CX-5, I had no idea anything was happening. Again, tech that works. I must say though, last year I had the CX-5 with the ‘old’ 2.5-litre motor without this feature, and yet my fuel consumption for the CX-5 GSX was exactly the same over my 400km or so – 8.8L/100km.

Does that mean anything? Your mileage may vary with the answer, but still – the tech is there, and it works. For some drivers and some driving conditions, no doubt it makes a difference. Actual power between both 2.5-litre motors is the same (140kW), but torque is up by 1Nm to 252.

There’s also been changes to the diesel engine, which now features Rapid Multi-Stage Combustion, which has improved peak torque by 30Nm (now 450Nm) and peak power by 11kw (now 140kW). Apparently, fuel consumption and emissions have also improved, and Mazda says the result is a quieter engine yet with more performance. We tested the CX-8 with this engine recently, and enjoyed it. I drove the CX-5 with the 2.2 diesel at Hampton Downs at the CX-8 launch, and it was superb; remember that’s the same engine the CX-8 has, in the smaller and lighter CX-5. Win/win, right there.

Performance-wise, this car with the petrol 2.5 can still move. It can’t hold a light to the excellent 2.2-litre diesel CX-5, but it will do just fine on the daily drive. One thing you notice when driving a CX-5 – the whole car feel so tight and well made. I wrote in my notes, ‘this is a poor man’s Volvo XC60’. I don’t mean that in a negative way to Mazda, but the XC60 was simply brilliant – and the CX-5 feels like a Japanese version of that car, to me anyway.

The GSX with the 2.5 petrol or 2.2 diesel motor has AWD as standard. There’s no adjustments here – it’s permanent AWD, you don’t get any diff lock buttons or anything like that – it just does its job as it should. We had a lot of rain in my time with the CX-5, and it did very well, as you’d hope with something AWD. This seemed an improvement from the previous CX-5 review, where I commented that the car struggled for grip in the wet. This could be down to the tyre change.

Like the XC60, I can’t say there’s too much I didn’t like about the CX-5 – it deserves the accolades it receives. But – and this is a small but – the motor can be quite noisy, especially when it’s cold. This isn’t a jab at the CX-5 though, as we find lots of cars with direct injection engines to be noisy. Once you are moving, and certainly on the motorway it quietens down, but it can feel noisy at certain times.

The Competition

Mid-spec, mid-sized SUV anyone? Plenty of choices here.

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque Fuel L/100km Price – High to Low
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Limited AWD 3.2-litre, six-cylinder petrol 200kW/315NM 9.8 $59,990
Volkswagen Tiguan TSi Highline AWD 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol 132kW/320NM 7.4 $59,990
Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol 141kW/280NM 6.8 $56,900
Hyundai Tucson Elite AWD 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol 130kW/265NM 7.7 $52,990
Holden Equinox LTZ AWD 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol 188kW/353Nm 8.2 $52,990
Renault Koleos Intens AWD 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol 126kW/226NM 8.3 $49,990
Nissan X-Trail ST-L AWD 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol 126kW/226NM 8.3 $47,490
Mazda CX-5 GSX AWD 2.5-litre, four-cylinder SkyActiv petrol 140kW/252Nm 7.4 $46,245
Subaru Forester Sport Plus AWD 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol 136kW/239NM 7.4 $44,490
Ford Escape Trend EcoBoost AWD 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol 178kW/345NM 8.6 $44,490
Kia Sportage EX  AWD 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol 135kW/237NM 8.5 $42,990
Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol 132kW/233NM 8.5 $41,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Seat comfort
  • Fit and finish
  • NVH
  • Sheer driveability
  • G-Vectoring control
  • HUD
  • Design
  • Motor can be noisy when cold
  • No Android Auto or Apple CarPlay

What do we think of it?

There’s no doubt – the CX-5 is still a great drive. It’s good to see Mazda not sitting back and waiting for the rest, as they continue to enhance engines, improve NVH and add functionality at no extra cost.

But – the others catching up. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in this space – will Mazda do something unexpected, and continue to blow away the competition in this space?

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I can’t see a single CX-5 owner being unhappy.

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

2018 Mazda CX-5 GSX 2.5

4.5 Chevrons

Vehicle Type Medium-size, 5-door SUV
Starting Price $39,995
Price as Tested $46,245
Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder DOHC SkyActiv petrol
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Power, Torque 140kW/252Nm
0-100km/h, seconds N/A
Spare Wheel Space saver
Kerb Weight, Kg 1,598
Length x Width x Height, mm 4550mm x 1840mm x 1675mm
Cargo Capacity, litres 455/1355L
Fuel Economy, L/100km Advertised Spec – combined –  7.4

Real World Test – combined – 8.8

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Fuel tank capacity, litres 56
Towing Capacity

Kg, unbraked/braked

Turning circle, metres 11.0

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 5 years, unlimited kilometres

5 years Roadside Assist

3 years free servicing (max 100,000km)

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star


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2018 Aston Martin DB11 Volante – Car Review – The Sportiest Grand Tourer Fri, 09 Nov 2018 04:00:49 +0000 I was wrong, oh so very wrong. When I first heard Aston Martin was going to start putting AMG’s rather lovely but brash twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 into their cars I was worried. I thought the raucous character of the AMG engines wouldn’t suit the more elegant Aston vehicles, but I’m glad to have been proved wrong.


While we all mourn the naturally aspirated Aston V12 (an engine I consider will go down in history as one of the best sounding and smoothest in history), the current times dictate for engines to downsize and incorporate some sort of assistance be it forced induction or electricity. The DB11 is the first Aston to be powered by Aston and Daimler’s recent technical partnership and as engines go, the AMG 4-litre is a great place to start.



The Range

You can also get the DB11 with a 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 but that’s only reserved for the coupe. That engine gives the DB11 a proper old-school GT feel. But if you want your GT with a bit of sportiness the AMG V8 is a perfect fit. You can have the V8 in the coupe too or in the Volante. There’s no V12 drop top yet.


Prices for the DB11 starts at $295,000 for the V8 coupe and topping out at $365,000 for the V12 Coupe. The Volante fits nicely in between at $315,000. My test car painted in Skyfall Silver comes in at an estimated total of $337,000. Though Aston didn’t disclose the spec sheet, it did without carbon fibre trim and didn’t have the uber-cool but uber-pricey Bang & Olufsen sound system. It did have the brogue leather option which looked and felt amazing. But it goes to show even the smallest bit of personalisation can bump up the price.


First Impressions

I’m a sucker for a convertible, even more so for a convertible Aston Martin. The DB11 coupe is a fine looking car but I’m not a massive fan of some of the details such as the ‘floating’ C-pillar. With the Volante that’s not much of an issue. Roof up or roof down it just looks so much more dramatic. It’s a rare thing for a convertible to look good with the roof up but the DB11 pulls it off. Of course, top down is much better. Just don’t look too closely at that beautiful body though, the inconsistent panel gaps remind you this is a handbuilt product from the U.K. A mass produced German sports car this is not.  


Even though it’s a bit of a flash car it doesn’t attract too much unwanted attention. Most people who look recognise the Aston badge and that film franchise associated with it. Others are just admiring the beautiful design but it’s all positives. There’s something about an Aston Martin that makes people react differently to a Ferrari, Porsche, or even McLaren. It’s literally in a class on its own.


The Inside

As beautiful as the exterior is, the interior is just as special. The best thing was getting in and everything felt quality and tactile. In the old Vanquish, which had a beautiful jewellery-like interior, it felt fragile – like touching the wrong thing might cause it to break. This felt more robust and well put together. The materials in an Aston Martin are as good as you’d expect and some.


Whoever chose the spec on this test car deserves a round of applause. The full blue leather interior matched the Skyfall Silver exterior perfectly. The dark wood finish adds a touch of old school class as well. There are several trim finishes available such as various woods, piano black, and crushed carbon. In a car like this wood is the way to go.

There’s also a plethora of colours for the leather. Basically, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the interior finish. In the DB11, being the first car from Aston Martin’s ‘Second Century Plan’, everything is nice and modern. Compared to the old Vanquish – a car I still truly adore despite all its flaws – the DB11’s interior is noticeably from this century.


You now get a full digital dash that changes depending on the drive mode you’re in. The big news is the new infotainment from Mercedes. As part of the deal Aston Martin gets the generation behind the current Mercedes infotainment but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The current Mercedes infotainment is unnecessarily complicated whereas the system in the DB11 is much more intuitive to use. The sat-nav, bluetooth connectivity, and parking cameras are notable highlights. All three a massive step forward from the ancient system used in Astons of old.

It’s not all perfect though; some of the Mercedes switchgear looks out of place in a $300,000 car. That stuck-on central screen could’ve been better integrated. Personally I would’ve preferred if it retracted away into the dash. The plastic stalks could’ve been hidden better or at least wrapped in an appropriate material. The interior of the DB11 has so much leather you’ll notice three plastic stalks quite easily. There’s also no option to have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. A minor niggle but a niggle nevertheless.


The rear seats are also laughable. Okay, you can fit people in the back but only if the roof is off and if the front seats are uncomfortably forward. Otherwise it’s best left for as additional storage space as the boot is quite small. Funnily enough it does have ISOFIX should you need to take your DB11 Volante on a school run.

The Drive

There’s no other car on the market that makes people feel as special as an Aston Martin. There’s something intangible about the experience one gets just from sitting in one. The feeling alone makes it worth the asking price. Other cars in the price range just don’t feel as special as an Aston.


Push the glass starter button (it’s all keyless now so there’s no need to slot they key into the dash) and listen to the V8 roar into life. Starting it up, you can hear the AMG connection. Because this is an Aston Martin there’s no ‘eco’ or ‘normal’ mode, nothing about an Aston is normal. Instead you get something called ‘GT Mode’ which just makes you feel like you’re about to set off on a cross continental trip every time you start a journey.

GT Mode does exactly what it says; this is cruising mode. You can change the suspension and powertrain via buttons on the steering wheel. There’s also Sport and Sport+ modes. On the motorway it’s best to just leave the brilliant 8-speed ZF auto in D and everything in GT Mode. The suspension is supple enough to take care of bumps on the road while the engine is torquey enough to overtake should you need to.


It’s such a brilliant cruiser. Put the 8-layer fabric roof up and it’ll isolates you from the rest of the world as if it was a coupe. It doesn’t encourage you to drive like a lunatic like an AMG or other supercar would. But even in 8th gear you can still hear enough of the engine to remind you that you’re in something special.

Sport mode holds gears longer and changes the instrument cluster to red. I found myself using Sport powertrain and GT suspension in town more often, just because Sport brings more noise. Sport+ opens up the valves for even more obnoxious noise. This engine gives the DB11 a true dual characteristic. At a touch of a button it can go from mature cruiser to a popcorn machine. I was surprised by how much this car pops and bangs. Aston Martin have tuned the exhaust to their specification, and it’s worked. This engine sounds more svelte than in an AMG GT. That said, in Sport+ lift off from 2000rpm and it makes a true Aston Martin burble.


The engine pulls and pulls. It’s a bloody good engine this. 380kW of power and 675NM of torque is more than plenty, while not class leading. I can’t believe I’m saying this but it was also relatively economical, especially compared to the last time I drove an Aston Martin. The 78 litre full tank lasted around 450 kilometres and that included driving in the city, motorway, and an afternoon on a mountain road.

This is the sort of car you could comfortably drive across continents, which is sort of the point of it. But don’t think for a second you can’t have fun on twisty roads either. Because of the smaller V8 up front, the steering was surprisingly sweet. The balance of the chassis is impressive, there was little flex from the chassis. It’s definitely up there with the sportiest in this segment.


The weight distribution is 47:53 which helps give it a much tighter turn in. Granted, most buyers aren’t going to care about that but I wasn’t expecting to be able to throw the DB11 around so much on a mountain road, let alone actually enjoy it. Far too often these big GT cars are one-trick ponies. They’re fast in a straight line on the motorway but take them on to a road with twists and they start showing chinks in their armour. Not the DB11. It’s a true sports GT.


It also has lots of features to help make it easy to live with everyday. For an exotic, the front isn’t stupidly low so you don’t need to worry about scraping its pretty nose. In fact, the DB11 had the best ground clearance of any exotic car I’ve driven. There’s no lift system available because it doesn’t need one. What it does need is blind spot assist, which it luckily does have because with the roof up rearwards visibility is atrocious. Driving with a blindfold would be more effective at seeing out the back. That said, with the top down visibility is great so it’s just best to drive with the roof down as often as possible.


The Competition

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque Fuel, L/100km 0-100 kph, seconds Price – High to Low
Ferrari Portofino 3.9-litre V8 twin-turbo, petrol 441kW/760NM 10.7 3.5 >$400,000 (est.)
Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet 3.8-litre flat six twin-turbo petrol 397kW/710NM 9.3 3.1 $367,000
Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol 450kW/900NM 9.9 4.0 $330,100
Bentley Continental GTC 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol 373kW/660NM 10.9 4.7 $320,000
Aston Martin DB11 Volante 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol 380kW/675NM 9.9 4.0 $315,000
Maserati GranCabrio 4.7-litre V8 petrol 338kW/520NM 18.3 4.9 $279,990


The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
One of the best handling GTs around

Proper everyday usability

Feel good factor

Mercedes infotainment a huge improvement

Felt more durable than older Astons

Stunning design

Could’ve hidden the Mercedes bits better

Still has proper ‘handmade’ quirks

What do we think of it?

Gone are the old days of howling naturally aspirated V12s, and in are turbos. It’s something we have to accept and Aston have done a good job easing us into the world of forced induction by taking one of the most charismatic turbo V8s in the business and giving a proper Aston twist. As much as I wanted to criticise an Aston with an AMG engine, it’s just a very good package.

The DB11, in Volante form, is right up there with one of the best grand tourers around. It can do long distance driving and urban commute without breaking a sweat while at the same time take it on a mountain road and it’ll surely provide lots of smiles. It might not have the headline grabbing numbers its rivals have but at the same time it’s not as pricey as them either. It’s hard to knock the DB11.


Sure, the old Mercedes switchgear does stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise gorgeous interior and there’s very obvious signs it’s a hand-built British sports car, but it’s oozing with character you could just about forgive it. But that’s what makes the DB11 so likeable, it feels unlike any other car on the market. It makes you feel truly special.

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

2018 Aston Martin DB11 Volante

Vehicle Type Supercar
Starting Price $315,000
Tested Price $340,000 (est)
Engine 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo, petrol engine
Transmission 8-speed auto ZF Touchtronic III with manual mode
0 – 100 kph, seconds 4.0
Spare Wheel None
Kerb Weight, Kg 1,870
Length x Width x Height, mm 4750 x 1950 x 1300 mm
Cargo Capacity, litres 224
Fuel Tank, litres 78
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined –  9.9L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  14L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Turning circle 12m

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

ANCAP Safety Ratings N/A
Warranty 3 year, 100,000km

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2018 Mercedes-Benz 560 S Class Coupe – Car Review – Driving in first class Wed, 07 Nov 2018 23:30:38 +0000 The S Class is the flagship luxury product from the German manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz. It has been the benchmark for excellence, technology development and safety for decades.

I was lucky enough to spend a week behind the wheel to experience what it’s like to live life with an S-Class Coupe.

The Range

The S-Class Coupe is available in four different variants in New Zealand; The S 560 Coupe which retails at $257,600, the S 560 Cabriolet which retails at $276,100, the AMG S 63 Coupe which retails at $303,300 and the AMG S 63 Cabriolet which retails at $330,100.

All S-Class variants are rear-wheel drive and all have the same 4.0-litre V8 Bi-turbo and 9G-Tronic transmission. The 560 Coupe and Cabriolet engine spec produce 345kW of power and 700Nm of torque. The AMG S 63 variants produce 450kW of power and 900Nm of torque.

The range of options available on the S560 is so big that I decided that instead of filling up three-quarters of this review with brochure specs, I will just link you over to the New Zealand S-Class specification brochure instead. Link can be found HERE

The S560 Coupe key features are 20-inch AMG 10-spoke alloy wheels, active multicontour seat package, AMG Line, designo exclusive nappa leather upholstery, driver assistance package, glass panoramic roof, and KEYLESS-GO drive authorisation system.

The AMG S 63 Coupe key features include 20-inch AMG 10-spoke forged wheels, AMG high performance braking system, AMG performance steering wheel, AMG sports exhaust system, and AMG sports suspension based on AIRMATIC.

Both cabriolets are similar to the coupe with the additional features, AIRSCARF Neck-level heating, AIRCAP electronic wind deflector, Multi-layer ‘acoustic’ soft top, heated front armrests & front centre console and heated steering wheel.

First Impressions

That is a pretty big beautiful coupe, such strong lines that are emphasised by the chrome window trims. It doesn’t seem to be a coupe, as it is as big as any other large 4-door sedan. The front grill states luxury, sophistication and money, while the rear feels more like a C-Class than something special like an S-Class. The AMG wheels are perfect, giving it a bit of a sporty feel while not being too mad like a full-on AMG model. Our review car was black, I think silver would have looked a bit dull and white wouldn’t feel classy enough. Classic black was the right choice.

Looking inside, the seats were like no other, they looked like they were a large percentage of the purchase price. They oozed luxury comfort and I couldn’t wait to sit in them.

The Inside

Sitting inside the S-Class Coupe was more like sitting in a fighter jet than a car. The entire dash curves from one door all the way around to the other, enveloping the driver and passenger. The main focus point was the two 12-inch widescreen LCD screens, both crystal clear and full of colour. The one directly in front of the driver displayed the driver’s standard dials and instrument clusters. This could be changed from classic dials to a more modern central gauge which I prefer. This setting allows you to see additional information on both sides of the central gauge. On the left, you can display different information like range or fuel consumption. On the right, the default was the day and date, which changed to the map when using direction.

The seats are on another level of luxury that I have never really experienced. Just looking at them, you can tell that they will be comfortable – but your body is not really ready for just how comfortable they are. You know that feeling when you sit in an expensive lounge chair in a furniture store and you have that Goldilocks feeling. It’s when you you let a big relaxing breath out like you’re deflating. It feels good, and that’s pretty much what it’s like to sit in the S class each and every time you get in. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the seats have to offer.

I have never seen seat settings as I did in the S-Class. There are so many options that it’s no longer viable to have the complete range of buttons on the door or side of the seat itself. Once you started adjustment you are shown an adjustment menu in the central display screen. Here you are able to adjust all the different motors in the seat to refine its position to your liking. You also have access to the range of massage settings, different lumbar controls and the Dynamic seat settings. The Dynamic seat settings engage automatically during cornering, which adjusts the side bolsters in real time as you corner. This gives your body more support as the G-forces increase when cornering.

The rear seating setup was a bit disappointing; if you were more than 5.5 feet tall, then you are not going to find you have much room back there. That is unless the driver is the same size. I did not see the point to having two more seats back there, two very nice seats I might add. The rear space was so unlike the front it was like being in another car. It was cramped and felt more like an afterthought then how it felt being in the front two seats.

The steering wheel offered up a typical array of buttons, plus two touch/swipe buttons. This new touch and swipe buttons were used to control the central display screen and the driver additional info screen. I like many things about this S-Class, these buttons were not one of them. They were not ideal to use, as you would on a phone, as your thumb never seemed to be in the right orientation to use it. It felt more clumsy and gimmicky them a scroll wheel or directional pads. I never got the hang of them and found I had to swipe of touch them several times to get to where I wanted too. Nice try Mercedes-Benz, but let’s focus on what can be improved instead of changes for the sake of it.

Most vehicles these days have climate control, many have a dual zone, some even have a quad zone. For an S-Class that’s just not enough to push the boundaries of driver and passenger comfort. This 560 S-Class offers you Energizing Comfort settings, which are more like enveloping environments. For example, if I selected warmth, a multitude of functions engage to comfort me. The seat heaters are switched on, the air-con will switch to heat the cabin, the massaging seats start a hot stone massage session and finally, there will be a selection of relaxing music played during your Energizing Comfort session.

There are several settings; Refresh, Warmth, Vitality, Joy, Comfort and Training. Apart from training, each of these has a range of different settings, massages and music to accompany them. I have to admit I found it a bit of a gimmick when I first came across this feature, however as the review carried on, I found myself using them much more than I expected.

The Training setting was split into 3 sections;  muscle relaxation, muscle activation and balance. This is where it got a bit different, as the muscle relaxation and muscle activation were a bit more akin to gym work then driving. And the third section balance was targeting your brain and your peace of mind. I know what I just wrote, it was weird when I used it too, having the car tell you to clean your mind and take slow and long breaths to relax your body and mind. It’s as odd as it sounds.

The Drive

The Drive modes in the 560 S-Class are similar to most Mercedes-Models. The default mode is Comfort and you can also select Sport, Sport+, Individual and the new Curve mode.

Comfort is very comfortable, more so than your average Mercedes-Benz. This is thanks to their Magic Body Control system, which is able to scan the road surface ahead through the stereo cameras mounted in the top of the windscreen. This scan is calculated in real time, and this information is send to the dynamic suspension system. This means that the suspension knows what undulation is on the road ahead, and can adapt to make the driver and passenger experience smoother. It was amazing to watch in action, following vehicles that would hit an uneven surface of the road, shaking the car as it went over it, and then following over the same area in the 560, almost without feeling anything at all. If I had not been watching for how the road affected the car ahead, I would probably not have noticed anything at all. Very impressive system and I suspect it will be something that will trickle down the Mercedes-Benz range soon enough.

While driving out of a large parking structure I had to drive over some speed bumps. I am used to these bumps as I have driven over them many times. However, this time was different. When I approached the car seem to elevate itself, so that it could adjust for the bump, making it have less of an impact on the vehicle at slow speeds. I was not sure if this was a direct result of the Magic Body Control system or another feature that helped to raise and lower the vehicle when travelling over a larger obstacle. I thought this as there was a button on the central console that allowed the driver to manually raise the vehicle when required.

When driving the 560 S-Class you can’t but notice how quiet it is. It’s so quiet that you can barely hear the road noise from the tyres. When you enter and exit the vehicle it becomes apparent why it’s so quiet, as the glass in the doors are double glazed. When driving you only need to lower the window by a inch to test the difference between how much noise it outside, and how quiet it is inside with all the windows closed. Hats off to the engineers who helped to make this car as quiet as it is for the occupants, it would not have been an easy job.

Curve is a new selection that is only currently available with the S-Class. Curve mode changes how the car handles when cornering at any speed. When cornering in any large car at 60km/h a cars weight pushes against the corner making the body roll in the opposite direction. The driver is also affected in the same way by the g-forces that pulls the driver’s body in the opposite direction. Curve mode works to reduce these forces as much as possible, by leaning info the corners like a motorbike would. For example, when I drove into a left hand sweeping corner at 60km/h the left front corner of the car dipped down into it and the right side of the car was elevated to simulate the lean into the corner. I was amazed at how much of a difference this made, not only to the forces on the car but to the g-forces on my body too.

It also made the driving experience very satisfying, as each corner felt like you nailed the apex and sailed through it perfectly, regardless of the line the vehicle took. The overall effect of this feature made the massive luxury coupe feel more like a small sports coupe that was able to change direction on a dime. It’s noticeable from the driver’s position from low speeds, and for the passengers from higher speeds. The mode’s name does not do it any justice at all, and will hopefully be changed to something more fitting in the future.

The power from that 4.0-litre V8 was impressive. During the day to day it was able to waft the car along effortlessly, almost silently due to the level of soundproofing installed. 700Nm is a lot of torque, it never came on like a raging garden faucet; it was more like a high-end kitchen tap. The power flowed efficiently and at the level required with little or no fuss. Even when you wanted power, it was still a bit understated. The world moved past at an accelerated rate, while the calm, serene cabin remained at ease. Sport and Sport+ mode changed the car to a more edgy version of comfort. It was not a garish as some of the AMG models, it livened up the throttle pedal and transmission settings making it feel more exciting. While in sports mode you can select to display in real time the changes that are happening to the car. In the central display screen, you are shown the car in motion, the suspension system and wheel turning angle. All of this changes and displays in real time depending on how you adjust the car, or the ground it travels over. You can also choose to display the performance gauges, which show the kW and Nm the engine is producing on demand. It’s kind of pointless, but it’s fun to see.

Normally I like using the sports modes of most coupes, so much so that I can sometimes leave it in sports mode for most of the review. But the 560 didn’t feel right in sports mode, some of my calm had left the cabin, and I wanted to go back to its more comfortable modes, back to Curve mode I went.

The headlights and tail lights were both LEDs, the rear went one further and were actually OLED petal, that fanned across the taillight. This was pretty cool, even more so when they light up in sequence when you started the car. The front headlights are amazing, the active light system and adaptive highbeam assist PLUS keep the Mercedes system head of the game. They have always had the best adaptive light system, right from the very start. I will never get tired of watching the lights the headlight beams dance around other cars in the dark night sky.

The list of safety systems on board the 560 S-Class almost melt the mind. It features anti-lock braking system, anti-theft protection package, active blind spot assist, active bonnet, active brake assist with cross traffic function, active distance assist DISTRONIC, active lane change assist, active steering assist, adaptive brake with hold function, Hill Start Assist and brake drying function in the wet, acceleration skid control, attention assist drowsiness detection, crosswind assist, electronic stability programme, curve dynamic assist, evasive steering assist, PRE-SAFE brake and PRE-SAFE accident anticipatory protection system with pedestrian recognition. Its great to have all this safety tech, however I was starting to wonder if the driver was going to be of any help at all during an emergency situation.

The Competition

Is there competition for the S-Class coupe? Bentley or Aston Martin perhaps. Both very high-end luxury brands, but they don’t offer the same cutting-edge technology found in the S Class. This fact alone may leave the S-Class in a league of its own.

High-end Luxury Coupe

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h in seconds Boot Capacity, litres Price, Highest to Lowest
Bentley Continental GT 6.0L W12 twin-turbo 467kW / 790Nm 23.2 3.7 370 $355,000
Aston Martin DB11 5.2L V12 biturbo 447kW / 700Nm 11.4 4.3 270 $340,000
Mercedes-Benz 560 S Class Coupe 4.0L V8 biturbo 345kW / 700Nm 8.5 4.6 470 $257,600
Maserati Gran Turismo 4.7L V8 Turbo 338kW / 520Nm 11.4 4.3 261 $224,990
Lexus LC 500 5.0L V8 351kw / 540Nm 11.6 4.7 197 $215,000

Pros Cons
  • Travelling in pure luxury
  • Smooth endless power
  • Nice refined engine sound
  • So quiet to drive
  • First class interior
  • Energising comfort experience
  • The latest in technology
  • LED Headlight are amazing
  • Decent boot size
  • Top shelf sound system
  • Class-leading safety features
  • Relaxing driving experience
  • Swipe button on steering wheel
  • Price tag
  • 2 + 2 seating, only useful for small people
  • Uninteresting rear end

What do we think?

How I felt once I returned this car was unexpected. This is not your average car by any stretch of the imagination. There are features in it that I didn’t even know cars had or needed, all of which that changed the driving experience dramatically. It felt special, much like treating yourself to a day spa.

Looking forward to getting back into to its relaxing environment that almost cuts you off from the stresses of everyday life. It’s the flagship product from Mercedes-Benz that sets the benchmark for technology and safety advancements around the globe. Comfort is second to none, with every feature combining to create the most stress-free and enjoyable driving experience.

For those who can afford it, the S class is a driving experience like no other, and for those who can’t, you will just have to live vicariously through my brief moment behind the wheel.

It’s hard to really convey what it was like to drive an S Class, much like flying first class, you just have to experience it to understand.

Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

2018 Mercedes-Benz 560 S Class Coupe

Vehicle Type Large Luxury Coupe
Starting Price $257,600
Price as Tested $259,300
Engine 4.0-litre Bi-Turbo V8, direct-injection
Power, Torque 345kW/700Nm
Transmission 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission
Spare Wheel Space saver
Kerb Weight, Kg 1815
Length x Width x Height, mm 4656 x 1890 x 1644
Cargo Capacity, litres 550

1600 litres (rear seats down)

Fuel tank capacity, litres 66
Fuel Economy, L/100km Advertised Spec – Combined – 8.5

Real World Test – Combined – 10

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing Capacity

Kg, unbraked/braked

Turning circle, metres 11.9

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 3 years warranty
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star
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2018 Subaru Forester 2.5 Premium – Car Review – Urban Forester? Wed, 31 Oct 2018 23:00:02 +0000 The Forester has been with us for over 20 years, and is now in its fourth generation. Would this new facelifted 2019 model year Forester live up to the high standards that its sister cars have set recently? Subaru gave us one for a couple of weeks to find out.

The Range

There are three models in the Forester range, and they all feature the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine mated to an SLT continuously variable transmission (CVT).

First in the range is the Sport, priced at $39,990. Its features include ESC, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, reverse camera, blind-spot detection, lane change assist, seven airbags, auto stop/start, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking system, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane keep assist, 17” alloys, auto lights, LED cornering headlights, dual-zone climate, tyre pressure monitor, auto wipers, keyless entry and start, cloth seats, reclining rear seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 6.5” touch screen, 6 speaker audio. An impressive list at that price.

Next up is the Sport+, at $44,990. This adds side front and side view cameras, auto high beams, SI-drive and driver monitoring technology, heated mirrors, 18” alloys, satnav, power tailgate, leather steering wheel trim, power front seats with premium cloth upholstery, 8” touch screen.

Finally there’s the Premium tested here, priced at $47,490. Over the Sport+ this adds leather seats, 9 speaker Harman Kardon audio system, rear cross traffic alert, and an electric sunroof.

As you’d expect with a biggish SUV the available colours are mostly shades of grey, plus a muted blue, bronze and green, and the one brighter colour – the Crimson Red Pearl you see here on our review car.

First Impressions

Whilst it is recognisably part of the current Subaru, family, and the rest of the range look pretty good, I’m not sure the Forester really pulls it off. To me there’s something about the lines that make it look a little ungainly. The rear looks good, the front okay but I’m not a fan of any other views. It does have a presence though, and Subaru haven’t overdone it with the amounts of plastic and chrome dotted about the car. I think the wheels are a bit fussy too.

I do like the red of our review car, which had a great metallic gloss to it in the bright sunshine.

The Inside

Once you’re inside the Forester, the uninspiring outside can quickly be forgotten Recent Subaru interiors have been rather good, and this one is no exception. The dash has sharp, modern lines, and the materials and finish are very good. The perforated leather seats look great and are comfortable. A little surprisingly for a top-spec model they’re not heated.

Most of the interior parts are grey, but Subaru have added contrasting stitching to brighten things up a bit, plus the pillars and roof are lined in beige. Combined with the large glass sunroof, this makes the interior feel very light and spacious. The sunroof has a blind which can be pulled across, to close it off and I was surprised to find that it’s manual, despite the sunroof itself being electrically opened. It’s not something I would normally have noticed but it’s a bit of a reach back from the front seats to be able to close it.

There are three display screens – the main 8” central touch screen which controls the entertainment system and main camera views, a 6.3” top display, set further back above this, which can show a multitude of vehicle information, and finally the centre screen in between the two main analogue dials in the dash cluster. All screens are clear, with good resolution, and are easy to read.

The steering wheel is leather trimmed and a good shape and size, and has all of the buttons you need to control the stereo, cruise control and phone functions. There are an extra set of buttons at about 7 o’clock which allow you to cycle the top display functions, plus another set on the dash behind the wheel to control the instrument cluster screen.

There are lots of options, and lots of information is available such as road speed, music info, satnav directions, wheel and vehicle angles for off-roading, front and side camera views on the top screen, but I found that once I’d got a set of screens I liked, I left it alone after that. Subaru have chosen to go for more physical buttons rather than burying all of the functions in the main screen options menu. I do like that, but it can make the dash a little bit busy.

There’s dual-zone climate control, operated by nice simple physical knobs, and under that there’s a cubby with power, aux and two USB sockets.

Moving to the back you get plenty of leg room, and reclinable seat backs, meaning it’s easy to get comfortable, and it’s nice to have that flexibility for long trips. The seats fold almost flat using levers in the boot, or on the seats themselves. A feature you don’t get that often is that Subaru have made a space under the boot floor which fits the load cover. Often you have to leave them in the boot, or at home if you don’t want them in the way. The boot is a pretty generous 498 litres, or a very practical 1768 litres with the seats folded. This is despite there being a full-sized spare under the boot floor.

There are hooks to tie luggage down, and a few bag hooks dotted around the sides of the boot. There’s also a fold-down hook in the tailgate itself, which could be useful for hanging things when sorting out your boot contents. The tailgate is electrically activated, which is a great convenience feature, but I did have a problem with it on one occasion where whatever button I pressed, I just got three beeps and it refused to open. Holding down the button for five seconds put it into manual mode and I was able to open it. From that point on it performed faultlessly.

The Premium spec includes a nine-speaker Harman Kardon stereo with a subwoofer integrated into the side of the boot. It sounds really good, with great bass and clear sound. It also switches back to Bluetooth quickly on starting the car.

The Drive

One of the first things the Forester does when you push the start button is scan your face. Yep, this car has facial recognition and can identify up to five stored drivers! Once it’s set up, which is a quick and simple process, it sees you and welcomes you with the name you entered. It will then adjust the seats, mirrors, displays and climate settings to your preferred settings. Its other function is driver attention monitor. If you look away from the windscreen too long, look at your lap, or even pick your nose, it will beep and flash up “Eyes on the road” on the driver display. Clever stuff.

The Forester has Subaru’s 2.5-litre boxer engine, and it can hustle the car along pretty rapidly. It can sound a bit dieselly when cold, and generally has a bit of a lacklustre sound to it. Most of the time you barely notice the engine noise as it’s so well sound proofed. When it comes to noise, the Forester has a pretty refined cabin, definitely one of the better cars in its class. There’s some wind and road noise but it’s well-damped. Being a 2.5-litre I was expecting the Forester to use more fuel than the quoted 7.4 litres per 100km, but I was pleasantly surprised, managing 8.6 over a week of mixed driving.

One of the things we at DriveLife often complain about is CVTs. They’re a clever technology and in theory are very efficient transmissions, but they tend to be a bit soulless and suffer from flaring when accelerating, causing a constant and uninspiring rev sound. Well I’m happy to report that the Lineartronic unit in the Forester is really good. It simulates a 7-speed transmission, and it feels, well, like an auto. You have steering wheel paddles that can be used to simulate gear shifts if you feel the need, but I found it was fine just in auto mode. I had to double check that it was actually a CVT. Nice job, Subaru!

The ride in the Forester is tuned to be comfortable, as you’d expect in a family SUV, which translates to a bit of body roll if you push it too much into corners. It does handle well despite this, with the four-wheel drive system giving you confidence in the bends.

All specs of Forester include Subaru’s Eye-Sight system which gives you several safety and collision avoidance features, as well as smart cruise control. The smart cruise is excellent and really takes the stress out of a busy commute. It anticipates better than a lot of similar systems, and brakes smoothly when it needs to. Some manufacturers’ systems tend to be a bit on-and-off, but this one is not. There’s steering assist too, which will actively try to keep you in the centre of the lane. This wasn’t as successful as it struggled to see the lanes properly around Wellington, but many other cars also struggle here, so I won’t hold it against Subaru. When it could see the lanes, it worked well and wasn’t too intrusive. The one thing I’m not a fan of with Subaru cruise control is the beeps – every time it detects or loses a car ahead, it beeps. It seems quieter than in other Subarus but it’s still annoying and unnecessary.

There’s a row of LED lights behind the dash cluster which shine onto the windscreen as a kind of basic heads-up display. You get a green light when cruise is active, amber lights to indicate if a car is on your blind spot (as well as the ones in the mirrors), and all flash red if the car thinks a there’s a risk of a collision. I’d rather have a HUD though.

The driver’s display in the instrument cluster can be configured to show the current speed limit at all times, which I think is a great feature. The Forester doesn’t read road signs, but gets it from the satnav database so it’s not always 100% accurate but it’s very useful. If you go over the limit by 5kph it flashes at you as a warning. This is particularly useful as the Forester’s high driving position and great sound damping mean it’s easy to let your speed drift up without realising.

Other useful features include automatic braking when in reverse, to hopefully stop you being able to back into anything. Subaru have also added reversing sensors as well as the rear camera, which is a welcome addition as a lot of other Subarus have just cameras.

The Competition

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque Fuel, L/100km Seats Boot Space, Litres Towing Capacity, Kg Price Highest to Lowest
Mazda CX-5 Limited 2.5-litre 4-cylinder 140kW/252Nm 7.4 5 455 2100 $55,745
Hyundai Tucson Elite 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo 130kW/265nm 7.7 5 488 1600 $52,990
Seat Ateca FR 4Drive 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo 140kW/320Nm 7.0 5 485 2000 $50,900
Jeep Compass Limited 2.4-litre 4-cylinder 129kW/229Nm 9.7 5 771 907 $49,990
Honda CR-V Sport Sensing 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo 140kW/240Nm 7.4 5 522 1700 $48,990
Skoda Karoq TDI Style 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel 110kW/250Nm 5.2 5 521 1500 $48,490
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo 112kW/254Nm 7.3 5 374 2000 $47,590
VW Tiguan TSI Comfortline 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo 110kW/250Nm 6.4 5 615 1800 $47,990
Subaru Forester Premium 2.5-litre 4-cylinder 136kW/239Nm 7.4 5 498 1500 $47,490
Nissan X-Trail ST-L 2.5-litre 4-cylinder 126kW/226Nm 8.3 5 565 2000 $47,490
Ford Escape Trend Ecoboost 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo 178kW/345Nm 8.8 5 406 1585 $44,990

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Comfortable
  • Clever technology
  • Great list of features
  • Good stereo
  • CVT is very good for a CVT
  • Personal preference, but I’m not keen on the looks
  • Cruise control beeping!

What we think

I think Subaru have done a really good job with the Forester. There’s some very clever technology for safety and convenience, it’s spacious and comfortable, and decent value for the features you get.

I’m not sold on the looks, but the interior is very good, and the levels of noise and refinement are impressive.

It’s certainly a good option for your family SUV.

Rating – Chevron rating (4 out of 5)

Subaru Forester 2.5 Premium

Vehicle Type Medium SUV
Starting Price $47,490 plus on-road costs
Tested Price $47,490 plus on-road costs
Engine 2.5-litre Direct injection Horizontally-opposed Boxer 4-cylinder, petrol engine.
Power Kw / Torque Nm 136/239
Transmission Lineartronic SLT 7-speed auto with manual mode
0 – 100 kph, seconds 9.5
Spare Wheel Full size
Kerb Weight, Kg 1608-1617
Length x Width x Height, mm 4625 x 1815 x 1730
Cargo Capacity, litres 498 seats up

1768 seats folded

Fuel Tank, litres 63
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined –  7.4L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  8.6L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing 750kg unbraked

1500kg braked

Turning circle 10.8

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 3 year unlimited kilometres
ANCAP Rating 5 stars

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