The best and worst elements in new car design…

Posted on September 30th, 2008 in Handling,Honda,Opinion by Julian Edgar

It never rains but it pours.

After not testing any new cars for a while, this week is the fourth in a row in which I have had new Honda vehicles. The Hondas – Accord, Jazz and two Accord Euros of different specs – have all been interesting cars.

They’ve been interesting because each of the designs has had some major positives – and some major negatives.

The 3.5 litre V6 in the Accord is simply a magic engine – powerful, free-revving, fuel-efficient with its cylinder shut-down technology, and with a glorious sound as it heads for high revs.

But the steering of the car is amongst the worse I have ever experienced in a new car, and the dry road grip is simply terrible.

A future for those travelling grey nomads

Posted on September 25th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I am writing this sitting in the Maryborough (Queensland) caravan park’s camp kitchen. My wife, Georgina, and our little boy and I are camping here, having driven up from the Gold Coast, a distance of about 350 kilometres.

I have stayed on and off in caravan parks since about the age of 16; camping in tents or staying in cabins or on-site vans.

Over that time, the biggest change has been in the nature of typical caravan park guests. Once, the people staying in caravan parks comprised almost entirely families with young children. But now, especially in non-holiday periods, caravan parks are dominated by ‘grey nomads’, older, retired people who have hit the road.

Literally feeling the aerodynamic drag of vehicles

Posted on September 23rd, 2008 in Aerodynamics,Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles,pedal power by Julian Edgar

As we covered in Analysing Road Car Drag, most aerodynamic drag of current vehicles is created by separation pressure drag. Put simply, this is reflected in the size of the wake – the cross-sectional area of the disturbed air dragged along behind the car.

The most slippery vehicles in the world – the solar race cars – have reduced separation pressure drag to the extent that the other types of drag (eg viscous drag, induced drag and interference drag) become more important.

But in all conventional cars, it’s separation drag that remains the big one.

Now this gives rise to a rather interesting idea. Imagine you’re standing alongside an empty road. The day is a still one – there’s not much wind blowing. A car is rocketing towards you along the road, travelling at perhaps 100 km/h. It will pass close by to you. It grows in size and then roars past.

Now – what do you feel?

Clearly, you will be able to feel the wake – the eddies and turbulent air indicative of the aerodynamic disturbance of the car. This disturbance will take into account the separation pressure drag and the frontal area of the car – the two when multiplied form the vast majority of the actual aero drag that’s experienced by the car.

And, equally clearly, the smaller the air disturbance that you can feel, the greater the slipperiness of the vehicle.

Why on earth do people object to making cars easier to drive?

Posted on September 18th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Handling by Julian Edgar

I’ll let you into a secret.

I think it quite bizarre, but some people actually believe that the greater the driver skill needed to operate a car, the better the car must be.

The corollary of this is that is if a modification makes it easier to get more out of a car, the modification must be bad.

Now put this way you can see why I called the notion bizarre. But in the time I’ve been writing about car modifications, I’ve come across it quite a few times.

Here are just two examples.

Monitoring Factory-Fitted Oxygen Sensors

Posted on September 16th, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Economy,Engine Management,Hybrid Power,testing,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

This week we have the first in a two-part series, one that I am very pleased with.

The series is on how to use cheap and simple electronic kits to monitor the output of the oxygen sensor.

The first story I did on this, way back in the mid 1990s, resulted in the development of the ‘Mixture Meter’ kit – thousands have since been sold.

Now we both re-introduce the narrow band sensor display, updating the story to additionally discuss what many people want from such a display (and that’s improving fuel economy) and also, in Part 2, look at how a similarly cheap and easy-to-build display can be used with wideband sensors.

The latter is especially significant: while there are plenty of aftermarket air/fuel ratio meters that use wideband sensors, we’ve never seen a description of how to tap into the standard wideband sensor fitted to many of today’s cars.

For the Greater Good?

Posted on September 11th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,pedal power by Julian Edgar

Here in Queensland the State Government has issued a discussion paper entitled Improving Sustainable Housing in Queensland.

The paper canvases a range of requirements the government is considering implementing for the construction of new houses and units.

I think it astonishing how little government regulation has been applied to the energy efficiency of housing. Especially in the context of the media attention given to fuel-efficient cars, there seems to have been a deathly silence on what is surely the far more important area of housing.

After all, a typical house is going to be consuming energy for something in the order of five to ten times as long as a car, and will be doing so most hours of the day and night.

Why Does AutoSpeed Run Some Recycled Content?

Posted on September 9th, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Opinion by Julian Edgar

One of the most strongly expressed negative comments in the new Feedback facility is a dislike of repeated material. As you’d expect, it’s a comment made primarily by longstanding readers.


Each week in AutoSpeed we run three repeat articles, highlighting those that were first published between 4 and 10 years ago. These are usually technical articles and are picked on the basis that their content still has a lot to offer current readers – that is, their age is of little hindrance to their worth.


Here is a comment typical of those that express dislike of repeated material:


Recycled articles are unwanted in the extreme. Your time would be better spent on an article teaching readers how to use the search function so that they can read any number of previously published articles. Recycled articles have reduced your credibility for me.


So why do we do it?

Family values and technological change

Posted on September 4th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,Hybrid Power by Julian Edgar

I’ve always been a little scornful of those parents who proudly proclaim their children’s knowledge and interests, knowledge and interest that are only a reflection of their parents’ particular knowledge and interests.


You know: “Benjamin can name all the players in the Adelaide Football Club”, proudly says the football fan – and stuff like that.


But now in having a child of my own, I can see that it happens rather naturally – the child is interested in what the parents are interested in, and that knowledge is transferred without effort.


So the fact that my four year old, Alexander, when looking over my shoulder at a book on cars that I am reading, can identify the old Citroens, Jaguar E-Types and Porsches, is perhaps not much of a surprise.


But this familial socialisation becomes interesting when you consider change, and the future.

AutoSpeed Changes

Posted on September 2nd, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion by Julian Edgar

We’ve recently made a few changes to AutoSpeed. Most are in response to comments that we’ve been receiving in the new feedback facility, but others have been in the pipeline for a while.

Here are the changes:

Articles will henceforth be released in a different way. Now when you receive the newsletter, you can immediately view all the articles in the weekly edition, rather than only being able to see them as they are released day-by-day.

The tag line that appears when you put your cursor over ‘AutoSpeed’ in the browser tab has been changed to ‘Technology, Efficiency, Performance’ – something that much better matches our current direction.