I am happy to be biased

Posted on October 30th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Opinion,Reviews by Julian Edgar

Many articles that I write are subjected to accusations of bias. For example, whenever a new car test appears, I will always see in our referrer’s list a discussion where someone calls me biased.

One dictionary defines bias as:

a particular tendency or inclination, esp. one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question

which, in the manner of dictionaries, takes us to a definition of ‘prejudice’, that includes:

any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable

Now as academic Grant Banfield makes beautifully clear in this piece, the only unbiased person is one who is fundamentally ignorant of the subject: if you know nothing about the subject, how can you be biased regarding it?

But, probably because it is so politically incorrect to say so, the corollary of that idea is not made by Mr Banfield: the more that one knows about a subject, the more one is likely to be biased.

And in my opinion, the more one can justify that bias.

Making an interesting mistake

Posted on October 28th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

I made an interesting mistake the other day.

My Honda Insight has a ride quality and seats that are nothing fantastic. The Honda’s rear suspension is poor indeed and in general, the car rides like a badly developed, very lightweight car.

The seats are thin and not well shaped.

Over a long distance, the upshot is that the car is a bit uncomfortable.

So I thought I’d improve the ride and the seat comfort by installing new seats. But that’s easier said than done.

The main problem is that the car is unusual in that both lower anchor points of the seatbelt attach to the seat. That is, the seat belt loads are borne by the seat, and then by the seat attachments to the floor. Therefore, any replacement seats need to be of the same design – and this is very unusual.

Honda S2000 seats are apparently of much the same design – and some Insight owners have fitted these seats. But S200 seats are typically very expensive.

So one day I spent a full two hours browsing the local wrecking yard, looking at the seats in literally every one of perhaps 300 cars. And I found only two models that had similar seat and seatbelt designs – the Holden (Opel) Astra and Vectra.

Avoiding New Car Dealer Tricks

Posted on October 23rd, 2008 in Automotive News,Opinion by Julian Edgar


Top 5 car dealer tricks

Buying a new car can be a big decision and sometimes a stressful one. Going from dealer to dealer, getting the best price, working out trade-in value and arranging finance is not always a straightforward task and there are those who may prey on this confusion.

PrivateFleet.com.au, Australia’s biggest online car buying service, can help to make car buying easy, offering independent advice on vehicle selection, a high standard of service and can save you approximately 15 percent off the dealer price.

“We do all the hard work for our customers,” said Private Fleet director David Lye. “We know all the tricks of the trade and like most industries there are dealers out there that don’t have customer’s best interests at heart.”

Private Fleet can help you to avoid the tricks some car dealers play on unwitting customers, however if you plan to go out there alone, here are the top five dealer tricks to be aware of.

1) The sacrificial lamb

This is where you see an advertisement for a car that seems to be priced very low, well below the competition. You then call up and are invited to go in and have a look, however when you get to the dealership, the car has strangely and coincidently been sold! Although the dealer is quick to assure you that they have other similar cars in stock, though not with the same low price tag.

Tip: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

What we’ve got coming up!

Posted on October 21st, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I’d like to tell you about some of the AutoSpeed content we have coming up over the next three or so months. (But as always, plans may change – the following is not set in concrete!)

Firstly, we have plenty of new car tests – amongst others, the Honda Jazz, Holden Epica diesel, Holden Captiva diesel, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and no less than three hybrid Lexus cars.

In special features we look at some very interesting cars, including the forgotten 1960s Mitsubishi Colt Fastback; the cars that GM regards as their best of the last 100 years; and the amazing Messerschmitt KR200.

Science not a social panacea

Posted on October 16th, 2008 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I have listened on and off the ABC Radio’s Science Show for many years.

My father – a retired research scientist – listens to it weekly, and while staying with my parents I’ve often heard bits and pieces of the show. Since podcasts have become popular, I download it to my iPod and, on the rare times I am on public transport, listen to it there as well.

The presenter, Robyn Williams, is erudite and accomplished.

The show is not averse to asking hard questions, but perhaps like any vehicle dedicated to the one audience, it can at times become lost in itself.

This struck me forcefully the other day.

Williams was interviewing Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor, School of Earth Space Exploration at Arizona State University. The discussion was wide-ranging: the CERN Large Hadron Collider, sending people to Mars – and the US presidential campaign.

It was in commentary on the latter that Krauss said something that I thought extraordinary, especially since it seemed to be completely swallowed by Williams. After talking about the positions on science articulated by presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama, Professor Krauss said this:

But the main thing is to realise that sound public policy depends upon sound science, and as long as both candidates recognise that then from the point of view of addressing these important issues it really doesn’t matter who’s elected.

I think this statement is rubbish, premised on a falsehood. For starters, what exactly is ‘sound science’ in terms of a resulting ‘sound public policy’?

Books to read…

Posted on October 14th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Opinion,Reviews by Julian Edgar

I’ve done a bit of reading in the last few weeks – most of the books were bought secondhand.

Jet – the story of pioneer Sir Frank Whittle is penned by the man himself.

It’s always fascinated me how a relatively lowly officer in the Royal Air Force could, in the 1930s, invent the concept of the jet engine. After all, where were all the government scientists and private company researchers? 

Well, to cut the story short, and to paraphrase Whittle, they were largely just getting in the way of the engine’s development. I knew that Whittle had had some differences with the private company Rover, but that’s only a tiny part of the story. This book is submerged in the detail of gaining finance, fighting government backstabbers, overcoming ignorance – and trying to stop Rover inventing “improvements” (that never were) to the design.

And all in a time of world war, the country fighting for its life.

It’s an interesting story, told well.

The disappointing Lancer Evo X

Posted on October 8th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Look, I am sorry to say so, but I just don’t think the Lancer Evo X lives up to its hype.

In fact, as a driver’s car, I don’t think it even lives up to the (immense) promise that drives of previous Evos would lead you to expect.

There are four separate problems.

Firstly, the engine drives like an old-fashioned turbo. That is, despite the hoopla about variable valve timing, super lightweight turbo assembly and all the rest, the engine is slow to come on boost.

In fact, the engine really only gets going at just under 3000 rpm – say, 2800. Redline is 7000 rpm so that gives you just over 4000 rpm of powerband. Not terrible, but certainly nothing special.

How can some get it so wrong?

Posted on October 6th, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

Whenever I have nearly finished writing a new car test, I have a quick look at what other testers have had to say about the car.


Sometimes I find points that I have overlooked – and I am not too proud to re-examine the car and see if I agree with that other perspective. Other times, I find comments that I completely disagree with – and I never change the test to match what a majority might be saying.


I always wait until my test is near-complete before looking at other tests; it’s the same logic that means I usually drive a car and decide what I think it is worth before looking up its exact price.


So when I’d just about finished writing the test on the Toyota Aurion AT-X, I did a quick web browse.

An engineering breakthrough

Posted on October 2nd, 2008 in Opinion,Technologies by Julian Edgar

In this time of very large companies investing tens of millions – sometimes billions – of dollars in research and development, it seems almost inconceivable that a relatively tiny company could make a groundbreaking invention. Especially in a field with well over 100 years of constant innovation.


But the other day I was able to witness what can only be described as an engineering breakthrough.


The engineering field is nothing to do with cars: instead we’re talking bulk handling. Bulk handling is where materials like grains, pellets and sand need to be moved in large quantities. Typical equipment includes bucket elevators, pneumatic systems and screw elevators.


The breakthrough innovation is the development of a type of screw elevator that, rather than rotating the screw, rotates the casing that surrounds the screw.