3500 kays in the UK

Posted on January 19th, 2013 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,hyundai by Julian Edgar

I’ve just come back from driving 3500 kilometres around the United Kingdom, done in 3 weeks.

The purpose was a family holiday, where we just happened to see as many engineering marvels as we could in that time and distance – something that was achieved, and will be covered in an upcoming AutoSpeed series.

A lot of the driving time was spent on the excellent freeway (“motorway”) system that exists in Britain. These roads are typically four or six lane highways – here in Australia, they’d all be marked (and enforced) at 110 km/h. And in the UK, the posted motorway limit is in fact 70 mph (113 km/h).

But the kicker is that people actually travel at 80 – 85 mph (about 135 km/h). Despite there being plenty of traffic sped cameras, and an occasional police car, the enforcement is set at a level where these speeds are fine.

And boy, does it ever make a difference to travel time when you can sit on 135 km/h in the right-hand lane!

The drivers are disciplined, courteous and aware – average for average, much better than drivers in Australia. In those 3 weeks, much of it in wet and windy weather conditions, I saw very few accidents and witnessed even fewer driving mistakes.

The Australian politicians who believe that any higher limit in (most of) Australia than 110 km/h would kill swathes of people – I wonder if any of them have driven overseas (as opposed to being chauffeured) while on their international ‘study trips’…

The car we had for the trip was a Hyundai i40 diesel ‘Blue’ wagon.


It was brand new, with only delivery kilometres on the odometer. Well-equipped in the guise we had it, it came with seat warmers, excellent navigation, dual climate control, leather, colour instruments LCD, parking sensors – and so on.

The diesel was coupled to a manual 6-speed box, that was slightly notchy when cold and always had an overly long throw. Not over-endowed with power, the car turned in a fuel economy in the low Fives in litres/100km – really excellent with the car heavily laden and often driven at speed.

Driving mostly on highways disguised one of the shortcomings of the engine – its off-boost performance (say up to 1500 rpm – and a low redline in a diesel, remember) was woeful, and the transition to on-boost torque sudden and lacking progression. In urban conditions, and especially where a sudden spurt of power was needed from a standstill, the car could border on dangerous.

Interior packaging was very good, with one exception – as with many current cars, the window sill line was too high, especially in the back. Even sitting on a booster seat, my 8-year-old son could only just see over the window line – stupid.

Ride and handling were also fine for our purpose. Grip levels weren’t huge (low rolling resistance tyres?) but with good stability control, there were no issues. Ride quality was excellent – but remember, that was with 3 people and lots of luggage. Less heavily laden, the ride would have been harsher.

I thought it a superb car for the purpose to which we put it. In fact, the Hyundai struck me as a very well built car coming from a maker with perhaps 50 years of designing and building cars behind them. Interesting, when even 5 years ago some Hyundais were dubious at best.

I’ve been shooting photos for publication for over 30 years, and I knew the trip would need lots of pics taken. However, I didn’t really want to lug around my digital Nikon SLR – so I bought a new camera. After much consideration and reading of reviews, I got a Canon G15.

What a superb little camera!

Its ability to shoot with high quality in very low light, often without flash, is exemplary. This ability comes from having a fast lens (unusual in pocket cameras), high lens quality at all apertures (again unusual in this class) and having sufficient modes to match the needs of a professional – or the rankest of amateurs. I particularly like having exposure compensation on an instant-access dial – I less like not being able to quickly modify flash output.

Especially in difficult, contrasty or low light conditions, the camera performed very well indeed.

The Prius C is indicative of Toyota having lost its hybrid way

Posted on May 26th, 2012 in diesel,Economy,Global Warming,Hybrid Power,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I think the new Prius C is indicative of Toyota having lost its hybrid way.

I write that with a rather heavy heart: anyone who has read my stuff over a long period will know that I previously embraced and relished hybrid technology.

The first hybrid I ever experienced, around the year 2000, was an NHW10 grey-market Japanese import Prius – it blew me away with its refinement, quality and fuel economy.

Back in 2003 I new-car-tested a hybrid Honda Insight – we did 3,500 kilometres in four days. The fuel economy? Just 3.6 litres/100km. The original Insight is the most fuel-efficient car ever sold in Australia.

In 2004 I tested an NHW20 Prius over 5,400 kilometres in seven days; I then called it one of the most fascinating cars you can buy.

As a magazine tester of new cars (a role I no longer play) I also drove two models of the Honda Civic Hybrid, and the hybrid Lexus GS450H, Lexus RX400h and Lexus 600hL.

I own a first gen Honda Insight, and for years I owned an NHW10 Prius that I first supercharged, and then turbocharged.

But I’m not wedded to hybrid technology.

My current main car is a mildly-modified 2008 Skoda Roomster 1.9 turbo diesel. It gets fuel economy in my use that varies from the high-fours (in litres/100km) to about 6 litres/100km. And that from a relatively old and low-tech diesel design.

I haven’t driven the current model Prius, but I’ve experienced a Camry Hybrid- and wasn’t much impressed. The fuel economy wasn’t outstanding, and the car drove with an uninspiring feel.

But with the release of the Prius C, I thought that things might be very different.

The lightest (1120kg) and cheapest (AUD$23,990) hybrid Toyota sold in Australia, the Prius C has an official fuel economy rating of 3.9 litres/100km. That’s the same as its big brother Prius – but surely that must be a quirk of the testing system… with the C’s smaller size and mass, and lower total power, surely there’d be a benefit to real-world fuel economy?

And boasting a host of advanced technologies – including a new inverter, motor and battery – you’d expect that this to be as good in fuel economy as a hybrid Toyota gets.

Well that might be the case – but unfortunately, these days, it just isn’t good enough.

Today I visited a Toyota dealership. It wasn’t with just prurient intent: if the car did what it was supposed to, I was quite prepared to buy one.

The presented i-Tech model (a higher trim level that costs $26,990) was OK inside, although definitely nothing outstanding. The interior room was alright (a tall adult could sit [j-u-s-t] behind a tall driver); the digital instruments were clear; the seats comfortable; the load area pretty small (and the rear seats fold to give a pronounced step in the floor); and the double-DIN upgrade nav looks like it should cost only about $400 through eBay.

But hey, it’s a small car that isn’t priced at luxury levels.

On the road, with three adults and a seven-year-old in the car, the transmission refinement was good, the steering welcomingly much heavier in feel than previous Toyota (and Lexus) hybrids, and the power was – well, a bit disappointing. The last Prius I drove, now an old-model NHW20, could on green lights wheelspin its way across intersections – the current Prius C had not remotely enough low-down torque to do that. But, again, it was OK – but definitely not scintillating.

But the fuel economy? Oh dear.

In a gentle drive, about a third through urban conditions and the rest on 80 and 100 km/h freeways, the car massively disappointed. It started off at about 6 – 7 litres/100 (not a problem; it was a cold start) and then gradually dropped to about the mid-Fives. With the ultra-economy mode then engaged, it continued to drop – reaching a low of 4.6 litres/100 and then rising finally for a trip average of 4.7 litres/100 for the 20-odd kilometres.

Well, isn’t 4.7 litres/100 really good?

Only if you have no better comparisons…

My 1999 (read that again – 1999, that’s 13-year-old technology!) Honda Insight in similar conditions would, I’d guess, be in the mid-Threes – but that’s in a car that is much smaller (only two seats) and is also much lighter. So in many respects it’s not a fair comparison.

But what about my Skoda Roomster? It weighs about 200kg more than the Prius C, has much better performance, vastly more interior space – and like the Prius C, has 5-star crash test safety.

Since we’d taken the Roomster to the dealer, I immediately drove exactly the same road loop just undertaken in the Prius C. We didn’t have the salesman aboard, but apart from that, the conditions were as identical as it was possible to make them – same speeds, same roads, same traffic.

And the fuel economy of the Roomster? It came in at 4.9 litres/100km.

Seeing those figures: 4.7 for the cutting edge, small, 2012-model hybrid Prius C, and 4.9 for the much larger, old fashioned 2008-model diesel Roomster, suggests to me that in the real world, plenty of current small diesels will match the fuel economy of the Prius C.

For me, the Prius C could not be justified in any way as a replacement for my existing car – the Roomster.

And so then you wonder – for whom would the Prius C be justifiable over other fuel-efficient cars? After all, why buy a car that is demonstrably far more complex, and has a battery pack that will one day fail, when the raison d’etre of the hybrid – fuel economy – is no longer stunningly better than the others?

The above statement really indicates that Toyota has lost its way: that the hugely innovative and technologically incredibly brave step that occurred with the release of the NHW10 Prius at the end of 1997, the move that saw car makers the world-over stare in disbelief and then turn towards hybrids – well, that technology is now more about selling cars on a gimmick rather than through demonstrable real-world advantage.

What a bloody shame.

The Best DIY Tools and Techniques

Posted on March 31st, 2009 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Mufflers,Opinion,pedal power,testing by Julian Edgar

This week in AutoSpeed we start a new series that I’ve immodestly called the ‘Ultimate DIY Automotive Modification Kit’.

It’s not the sort of material that you’d find anywhere else but at AutoSpeed – and, perhaps for that reason, longstanding readers will have seen much of the content before.

What the series does is integrate the testing and modification techniques that over the years I’ve discovered  to work for all cars.

Yes, all cars.

Future car engines

Posted on July 21st, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,electric by Julian Edgar

Hybrid car drivelines can be characterised as being of series or parallel designs.

In a parallel hybrid, either of the two power sources can drive the wheels. In a petrol/electric parallel hybrid, that means either the petrol engine, or the electric motor, can propel the car.

In a series hybrid, one power source drives the other that in turn propels the car. For example, in a diesel electric series hybrid, the diesel motor might drive a generator that charges batteries. These batteries in turn power the electric motor that pushes the car along.

The best known of all hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius, uses a series/parallel design; most of the time the electric motor and the petrol engine drive the wheels directly, although the petrol engine can be used to drive a generator that in turn charges the battery pack.

Boiling the Frog*

Posted on June 26th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Opinion,Peugeot by Julian Edgar

One of the difficulties in assessing change in vehicles over a procession of models is getting past the obfuscation that normally accompanies car publicity. Both in advertising and PR material, every model is always billed as being vastly better than the preceding model.

Of course, in many ways newer models or versions often are better – but in other ways sometimes they are not.

One example of this is the weight of cars: as we all know, cars of today are much heavier than the cars of yesterday. However that’s a process that has been largely unremarked upon as it has been occurring. The upshot is we only now say: “Hell! Look at how heavy new cars have become!”

But this insidious change occurs in other design aspects as well.

Which workshop will be the first?

Posted on June 9th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Engine Management,hyundai,Opinion,Power,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Here in Australia, major car modification workshops are generally well established. That’s said in the light of full knowledge that workshops come and go; but equally, others build a strong reputation and live on for decades. Some even span two or three generations of the one family.


I know that you can always find customers to denigrate any workshop, but places like Turbo Tune in Adelaide, Nizpro and Beninca Motors in Melbourne, MRT in Sydney, ChipTorque on the Gold Coast, and Romano Motors in Brisbane are longstanding workshops with good reputations.


And I wonder which Australian business – either these or others – will be first: the first to realise that there’s money to be made in specialising in a new-age of car modification.

The giants finally stir

Posted on May 21st, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Ford,Holden,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

In August last year I wrote:


Read it again.

Less than a year later:

–  Mitsubishi manufacturing in Australia has gone broke

– Holden has said that within 2 years it will release diesel, hybrid and possibly four cylinder turbo versions of the Commodore. The company may also build smaller cars in Australia.

– Ford has released a ‘going on as the same’ FG Falcon, and then – oops, gosh, the world has changed! – announced a diesel engine version within 2 years.

– Toyota has said that they’re eager to build a Camry hybrid in Australia.

I wrote then :

The local manufacturers – especially Holden and Ford – need to show with locally developed product in the showroom that they can produce cars that appeal to more than Ford/Holden performance car enthusiasts, that they not only understand but also actively embrace the significant social change that is now occurring. Otherwise the Australian car will continue down the road to anachronistic irrelevance – it’s already on that path and accelerating as fast as its powerful and thirsty engine can take it….

At last, at last, Holden and Ford are stirring. Hopefully it won’t be too late.

Internal engine cleaning

Posted on May 12th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Peugeot by Julian Edgar

In recent articles in AutoSpeed we’ve covered the major benefits of water injection. Without recapitulating those articles in full, water injection can improve power, lower fuel consumption and reduce exhaust emissions.

As recounted in one of those articles, the high pressure water injection system that I developed was tested on both my Honda Insight and Peugeot 405 diesel.

However, I haven’t left the water injection system installed on either of these cars – the Honda’s would have needed too large a water tank (the water injection was being used continuously in cruise) and in the Peugeot, the water injection system did not reduce post-turbo intake air temps as effectively as squirting the spray straight onto the intercooler core.

I Hate Car Maintenance

Posted on May 5th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Peugeot by Julian Edgar

I love modifying cars but I hate doing car maintenance. Even something as simple as an oil change I despise: I sure wouldn’t last long working as a mechanic.

But every now and again I need to do what I hate: maintenance.

In the most recent case it was a noise that developed in the engine bay of my Peugeot 405 diesel. It started, I thought, after I repaired a leak in the plastic power steering fluid reservoir. The fluid level had been dropping and then I noticed a crack near the outlet pipe. I took a punt and used a soldering iron and filler rod (cable ties!) to plastic weld the crack closed – the repair worked perfectly.

With new fluid in the reservoir, everything seemed fine.

But then a whine started up in the engine bay. Initially it was just audible, but it got louder and louder. It varied with engine revs, being just able to be heard at idle but being very loud indeed at 3-4000 rpm.

Shooting for goals that have gone…

Posted on April 17th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Regular readers will know of my admiration for the Toyota Prius.

That’s not just because I own a first series NHW10 model (currently off the road with a worn-out high voltage battery) but primarily because of the commercial success the Prius has had.

Simply put, in terms of actual impact on the market, the Prius stands head and shoulders above any ‘alternative’ car that has been sold in perhaps the last 75 years.

prius1.bmpIt therefore behoves anyone enthusing an alternative automotive technology – whether that’s biodiesel, LPG, pure electric cars or anything else – to know the Prius inside-out. To know its equipment level, its warranty, its real-world fuel economy, its emissions performance, its new and used prices, and its technology.

Like it or not, the Prius sets the current benchmark.

Nope, not necessarily in any one specific area – emissions, fuel economy, driveline technology, control electronics or even high voltage battery technology – but in a total package that has been successfully sold to the public for a decade.

And, because of that timescale, it is a car that is now available very cheaply second-hand.

That might all seem obvious – but it is certainly not to some.

I recently had long phone discussions with a man very enthusiastic about DIY biodiesel. He runs seminars on the topic, played an instrumental part in developing a home biodiesel plant, and is highly educated. But his knowledge of the Prius (and other hybrids) is poor indeed.

With regard to hybrids, his website contains errors of fact and makes some statements that could only be described as wild scaremongering.