Driving Emotion

Posted on October 29th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Those of you who bother consulting the ‘About Us’ section on the menu to the left of this column will have realised that over the last four or so months there has been a number of changes in the roles of the editorial staffers.

After working as Editor for the last four years, I stepped down from that role to take over the editing of a proposed new Web Publications on-line technology magazine, The TechJournal. However, for a variety of reasons those staffing changes didn’t work out, so for the last month or so I have been back editing AutoSpeed full-time.

But things don’t stand still.

There are now going to be further changes, including an alteration in the publishing frequency of AutoSpeed. The proposal that AutoSpeed become a daily publication (an idea first mooted over 12 months ago) will now become a reality – in fact the change will occur within the next 6 weeks. Yes, that’s right – AutoSpeed will release a new article each day! Of course, if you’re happy looking at our new material on a weekly basis, you’ll be able to continue to do just that. Or, if you’d like a fill-up every day of the week – that’ll now be an option. Or anything in between.

That change in publishing frequency – and the resulting alteration in the way in which internal article production and organisation can be carried out – has meant that both Michael Knowling and I have moved to the roles of Major Contributors. Michael has also added to his list of responsibilities the task of answering your emails.

Driving Emotion

Posted on October 8th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

The Reality and the Rest

AutoSpeed is now just on four years old.

Given that we devote nearly all of each issue to modified feature cars, technical stories – both OE and modification – and columns about car tweaking, it’s ironic that over those four years in many ways our greatest difficulties have been the result of our new car tests.

New car tests; they seem simple enough. Manufacturers have available fleets of press cars. These are loaned – one at a time – to motoring journalists who drive them for a week. Following that test, they write about the cars, highlighting the cars’ strengths and weaknesses, comparing them to their competition, and expressing these thoughts in clear and unambiguous prose. Depending on their current line-up, the car companies may get mostly good reviews, mostly bad reviews – or any mixture in between. But they cop it sweet, knowing that a journalist’s role is to represent their readers’ interests – the public good – and not to simply propagate the car company spin.

Believe all that? Well in that case you must also believe in fairies and the Loch Ness Monster… For nearly all motoring journalists – and so motoring publications as well – that above paragraph is absolute crap.

Driving Emotion

Posted on September 24th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Why We Hate [insert manufacturer of your choice here]

Again and again we see in on-line discussion groups how AutoSpeed “hates Fords”, or “hates Holdens”, or hates some other car manufacturer – you can just about list almost all of them and we’ve had that suggested of us.

Even some manufacturers themselves seem to believe that we have a bias against them (we never hear from manufactures who believe we have a bias for them – funny, that.) One manufacturer recently said when they organised to loan us a press car for a test that “they hope Julian Edgar has grown up since the last review he did on our cars”. In fact, listen to some people and you could believe that we’re arbitrarily negative about certain car makers – y’know, it’s just a whim or we got out of bed the wrong side on the morning we wrote the road tests.

So let’s have a look at the evidence. We’ll try to take most of the comments from the concluding paragraphs of road tests, so that they’re from summaries rather than out of context. Covering every road test we have ever run would become very boring, so let’s just pick those stories where we’ve been strongest in our perspective.

The Alfa 166 certainly attracted our criticism. “With Alfa’s history of poor retained values in its larger cars, you can be sure that a few years down the track the 166 will be available very cheaply indeed. But, even at $50,000, we’d still not be much interested,” we concluded in the test.

Driving Emotion

Posted on September 17th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

The Return of Four-Wheel Drive

It has defied the soothsayers the way that the four-wheel drive car revolution (as opposed to the four-wheel drive, off-roader, half-century-old, technology continuation) has continued to occur.

A decade or so ago, high performance (and invariably turbo) four-wheel drive cars were being adopted in significant numbers here in Australia – and in most other markets around the world. While many of the cars were also available in two-wheel drive configurations, it was the all-wheel drive cars which were stealing the limelight.

In addition to the cars from Audi – the company that really started it all (and yes, I know about the Jensen FF and even the Miller Indy car) – the Japanese and other Europeans joined the race and really made it haul. There were cars like the Mitsubishi Galant VR4, the Laser (Mazda 323) turbo, the Subaru Liberty (Legacy in most places) RS, and the Opel Calibra 4X4. And of course the wave of cars wasn’t limited to just four-cylinders: the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mitsubishi 3000GT, the Subaru SVX and the Porsche Carrera 4 all showed that high performance all-wheel drive sixes could work very well, thanks very much..

Unlike previous four-wheel drive cars, these machines were – to a greater or lesser degree in the case of the GT-R and some Porsche models – constant four-wheel drive. There was no need for the driver to do anything when greater traction was required; instead the electronics or mechanicals looked after what was going on. All-wheel drive was used to give greater grip when engine torque would otherwise have overwhelmed the traction of just a pair of wheels – the results were overwhelmingly good.

Where’s the next 240Z, RX7 or Miata?

Posted on August 20th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Where’s the next 240Z, RX7 or Miata?

It’s a long time since here in Australia we’ve seen a breakthrough Japanese car. And, since along with the US, Australia is one of the largest markets for Japanese manufactured (and, more confusingly, cars manufactured in overseas but Japanese-owned factories), the breakthrough cars we see here are pretty well what others also see.

Once, in the dim distant past, Japanese cars were regarded as a joke: despite having a domestic manufacturing industry that pre-dated WWII, Japanese cars were pedestrian right through the 1950s and early 1960s, often being modelled on UK products – which in turn were nothing fantastic. Datsun may have been founded in 1931, but thirty years later their cars were uninspiring. Toyota started making cars in 1935, but not products with any marketing, styling or engineering excellence. Of course, being part of the losing side in WWII certainly didn’t help things…

When technology doesn’t always makes things better.

Posted on July 30th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I am not a fan of oversteer. In any typical real world, real road, real driver situation, it’s more dangerous and harder to control than understeer. And obviously the vast majority of car companies agree with me because with very few exceptions, all cars that are sold today lean towards understeer as their final handling trait.

But perhaps that statement should be analysed a little – good things need to occur in moderation.

Rear wheel drive cars that handle well can almost always be power-oversteered, so a car like a Mazda MX5 has slight turn-in understeer and slight power oversteer. Good front-wheel drive cars have power understeer and slight lift-off oversteer – something like a Peugeot 206 GTi or 307 for example. Four-wheel drive cars typically have turn-in and power understeer, although really brilliant examples like the Evo 7 Lancer can alter this to turn-in understeer with little exit power oversteer.

So, while the situation is a bit more complex and subtle than covered by this blanket statement, it’s a fact that most standard cars – when pushed past the limit – understeer. If the designers have the choice between neutral, understeer or oversteer (and of course they do have that choice!), then they have nearly always gone for neutral-followed-by-understeer. It makes cars safer and much more user-friendly. And that’s a good thing – it saves lives.

But some important aspects of that situation are changing. How? Well, with each of the (very good handling) cars that I’ve nominated above, the driver has an input into the handling characteristics – he or she can use the throttle to edge the car into the handling trait that’s desired. (Like the throttle lift in a front-wheel drive to get the tail happening, or less throttle in a constant four wheel drive to diminish the understeer on a corner exit and so make it more neutral.) So it’s understeer that can be tweaked, if you like.