Sunday, October 25, 2020

GENESIS G70 FACELIFT? NOT YOUR GRANDPA'S GRAND SEDAN by John Crawford

Barely has Paul Gover’s drive story on the current Genesis G70 hit DRIVING & LIFE, than we have a new series of shots of a facelift, with slick new design cues and major improvements to equipment.


Most of the changes are to the sheet metal, but big changes inside increase the perception of greater luxury, and more brand-specific driver aids, like a brand new 10.3in. multi-media screen, and Genesis-specific navigation system.



 

LUC’S LAST LINES

 

This new G70 is the last car Belgian designer Luc Donckerwolke drew for the company, before being forced into early retirement due to illness.


As he enjoys a quiet life in his (hopefully) COVID-safe Bavarian bunker, Genesis is aiming to have the new car on sale PDQ, to counter some mild criticism that some of the current interior fittings appeared less than compatible with a luxury car image and pricetag.



Immediately noticeable are the striking new headlamps and taillamps, featuring a twin-rail illumination panel inside brand new apertures, sort of borrowed from the GV80 SUV.



The side vents in the front flanks have been positioned lower down, to give an impression of greater depth to the front fenders. Genesis badging appears to be bolder, and there’s larger, oval tailpipes.


However, other upgrades are focussed on performance, which tends to make us think Hyundai intends G70 to be much more of a 'performance' car, than a stodgy Grandad's Grand LuxoBarge.

 

There’s no doubting Hyundai’s seriousness about breaking into the premium saloon club alongside Lexus and better-known European competitors, and this new direction is driven by Hyundai’s new chairman, 49 year-old Euisun Chung. There’s a palpable energy behind the Genesis experiment, including the selling process, where Genesis has eschewed the traditional dealer network model, for its ‘studio’ settings in major cities.

Euisun Chung has stated that he wants all Hyundai employees to ‘think like pioneers’ and to ‘advance innovative and adventurous ideas’. I think the first expression of this mindset has been the Genesis GV80 SUV. After all, Luc designed the Bentley Bentayga, so he knows how to guide the styling of Genesis' luxury SUV, without simply ‘copying’ Bentley’s design cues.

 

This challenge by Chairman Chung has obviously rubbed off on Genesis first, and I look forward with genuine interest, to Genesis sustaining its confidence and persistence in pursuing a spot on the premium luxury ladder.




As Paul Gover has said, not many people know about this brand, so as someone who has had considerable experience dealing with brand rebuilding, brand positioning and brand marketing, I await Hyundai’s next pioneering moves to establish its luxury credentials.


John Crawford

Friday, October 23, 2020

GENESIS G70 - 'SECRET SLEEPER' by Paul Gover

Roads loaded with pocket battleships like the Mercedes-AMG C63, BMW M3 and Audi RS4 make it hard for the Genesis G70 to shine.

Most people don’t even know that it exists.



But the Korean contender is a car that is far better than you might expect from Hyundai.

It’s a smooth compact in the prestige class, with the same responsive, turbocharged V6 engine that helps the Kia Stinger to shine, and the same sort of driving dynamics as the old-school BMW 3 Series, plus a full suite of luxury gear.

The G70 was the second Genesis model into Australia, following the larger and stodgier G80, which found most of its friends among the country’s hire-car drivers. They enjoyed the space and smoothness, as well as the five-year warranty and service package that was the same as the one for private buyers.

Not many Genesis have been sold over the past year, but that’s not down to the car.

Genesis took a unique launch path without traditional dealers, focussing on an inner-city showroom in Sydney that was more like an art gallery. It looked impressive but it’s not the way Aussies like to find and test their cars, and so the G70 has become a hidden gem.


It’s deliberately pitched into the historic prestige heartland where the BMW 3 Series usually ruled, until Audi went all glam, and Mercedes arrived with its sledgehammer C63 as a headliner and backed it with a brilliant compact Benz CLA.

Genesis executives know the best place to conquest a prestige buyer is at the bottom end, since they are usually welded to a brand by their late forties, and the G70 picks up that theme.

The G70 family starts just below the psychological $60,000 barrier, although my test car is the fully-loaded 3.3-litre turbo that takes it just short of $80,000.

The local Genesis team needs to get much more foot traffic in its glamourous upscale 'studio' in the heart of Sydney, but then, as my friend and branding expert John Crawford, (who has done this very successfully for both Jaguar and Bentley in the USA) says: "Genesis needs to arrange a lot of dynamic drive days in a tightly-controlled environment, like Sydney Motorsport Park, so that the car's real driver appeal shows through."

Apart from the well-focussed driving package, the Ultimate Sport model gets a sunroof and great leather, along with all the other luxury stuff, as well as sports suspension, big brakes and alloys, with Michelin tyres.

I have driven the G70 a few times, starting with a surprising – for me – sprint through the northern Californian foothills during the Monterey Speed Week. The car is better than I expected, almost as good as I had hoped.

Back home in Australia, and with the Stinger as a benchmark, the G70 impresses as a sharply-focussed driver’s car with the value I expect from Korean carmakers. The difference from the Stinger is that the Kia is more of a family cruiser car with a sporty strike, while the G70 is a taut four-door for driving.


So, when the opportunity opens for a revision drive in the G70, from the Queensland border to the harbour city in Sydney, it provides plenty of fresh perspective.

Lots of cars seem good when they are close to home, but hit the highway and the seats get grumpy, the lights go dim, and there are shortcomings and frustrations you never notice in the ‘burbs.

These are the conditions when ordinary cars become very ordinary, but good cars prove their value.

The G70 is parked on the positive side of that fence.

It’s a lovely companion for a long-distance run, with everything from supportive seats to that twin-turbo V6 with the punch to knock out any overtaking challenge. The fuel economy is good too, for its position, at 8.4 litres/100km.


The lane-keeping assistance is annoying and intrusive, but there is also an excellent ‘coasting’ feature which saves fuel – and money – on long downhill stretches. I’m not convinced about the driver-fatigue reminder, which keeps telling me to stop and take a break. Have the Genesis engineers missed the creation of Red Bull?



It’s a complete package that is well engineered and well finished, and although Genesis is the upscale spin-off from Hyundai – did I forget to mention that? – there is not a single Hyundai badge on the car and it feels nothing like the i30 or impressive new Venue city-focused SUV.

It’s a car which can get up and go on any road, with particularly taut responses in twisty country conditions, and is a relaxing long-distance tourer.

I have the proof, from my interstate run and just on that experience, without all the other good news, I’d be happy to recommend the car to my best friends.

The resale is unproven, and it faces some of the toughest opposition in Australian showrooms, but the Genesis G70 is a car that definately deserves a closer look.

Paul Gover

This story first appeared in www.race.news



Wednesday, October 21, 2020

TOURING - THE STELVIO PASS by John Crawford


Yes, the famous Stelvio Pass, probably best immortalized these days by the crew from Top Gear, who have driven it several times, and once named it THE best drivers’ road.

The Passo dello Stelvio is between Italy’s two ‘Bs’ – Bolzano and Bormio. Look for those two towns on Google Maps and that will give you a good idea what’s involved in getting to this well-known pass. Probably the best known of all Europe’s passes.



At an elevation of 2757m it’s Europe’s highest navigable pass, and the highest paved road in the eastern alps.



The original road was built between 1820-25 to connect the former Austrian province of Lombardy with the rest of Austria. It has 75 hairpin bends, 48 of them on the northern side marked just by numbered stones, no guardrail!

The Stelvio Pass remains a challenge for those expending lungful’s of air too, as it is closed for one day every year in August when more than 8000 cyclists and over 30 runners ascend to the highest point – in the name of sport.

Despite its altitude, it is marginally easier to drive than the Furka Pass, however these days traffic is the big problem, especially in the summer. Try and plan your drive for the end, or beginning, of the snow season.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio in situ

There are a lot of great ski resorts in the region, but the road is completely closed in the winter. So, it’s public transport if you’re going skiing.

There is a commercial solution for those who would love to drive the Stelvio. The ‘Great European Rally’ takes place in September, where you can sign up to enter in your own car, and the route includes the Passo dello Stelvio. It's run by The Great Rally Company.


One interesting historical note is that the Pass is just 200m from the Swiss border, and during the Second World War, whilst artillery was being fired between Nazi and Allied forces, shells passed ‘over’ Switzerland. Due to Switzerland’s neutrality, the opposing forces had to agree to stop any fire which ‘passed over Swiss Territory’ – which just highlights that there are tragedies of war which can be avoided.

If you are driving in Italy, plan to drive the Stelvio – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

John Crawford

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

LAND ROVER - A BRAND DEFINED BY PERFORMANCE, NOT PR by John Crawford

Ignore Range Rover’s glamourous image with the jet set; and the acceptance by hip millennials of the Evoque; the same for the price/practicality qualities of the Discovery.



Land Rover is defined by the Defender – or more precisely the utilitarian 4x4s which created and sustained the Land Rover legend from 1949 to this very day.

 


This makes the appearance of the 2020 Defender a very crucial step in the continuing legend of a tough, practical, never-say-die off-road vehicle which can go where no other 4x4s dare.

 

The original Land Rover was the brainchild of the Wilks brothers, Spencer and Maurice, who joined the Rover company in 1929, from Hillman Motor Cars, where they felt their ideas were not appreciated.

 

Among other concepts, the Wilks brothers worked on the development of the jet aircraft engine designed by Frank Whittle, but eventually turned their work over to Rolls-Royce owing to disagreements with Whittle about the commercialisation of the engine.

 

At the end of World War 2, Maurice was using a wartime Willys Jeep on his farm, but felt there were many improvements which could be made to widen its appeal to British farmers. In 1947, Maurice and Spencer began the development, and then the creation of the first prototype Land Rover.




The production version debuted at the Geneva Salon in 1949, and, as they say, ‘the rest is history’.


Maurice Wilks with the 'first ever' Land Rover

Land Rover’s impact on the global automotive market was impressive, and dominant. It appeared in the most unlikely places (unlikely at first), but was soon recognised as the prime solution for a vehicle which needed to cross hostile terrain, was easy to repair, easy to maintain, and still enjoyed much-envied longevity. The Land Rover was tough, rugged, incredibly reliable, and thoroughly well-designed-for-purpose. It was the gold standard.

 

Land Rovers have excelled in many theatres - farming, wars, exploration, surveying hostile terrain, and simply being the go-to vehicle for tough challenges. Whilst Jeep maintains it boasts many of the same qualities, it fails to offer the historical evidence of Land Rovers’ flexibility, and service in the field.

 

Many companies have tried to copy elements of Land Rover’s successful design, but most have failed, because they attempted to compromise Land Rover’s tough credentials in a failed endeavour to appeal to a wider audience. Land Rovers are fit-for-purpose, are not compromised, and don’t pretend to be anything else.

 

I am proud to say that not only have I enjoyed a close relationship with Land Rovers since 1977; but I have been privileged to drive Land Rovers alongside the nephew of its creators, Charles Spencer (Spen) King (right).


We have together dived into the ‘Jungle Track’ at Land Rover’s works at Solihull; we have traversed rocky trails in the Scottish Highlands, and the scary hill courses on the Eastnor Castle estate.




All of which endorsed Land Rovers’ credentials for the challenges it was asked to conquer.

 

The fact that Defender continued to sit happily alongside its more contemporary and stylish siblings: Range Rover, Evoque and Discovery, has never diminished the image of the rough’n’tough, basic 4x4 which could traverse any difficult terrain, and still deliver a level of basic comfort to the occupants.

 

In the next couple of months I will have the opportunity to sample a new 110 Defender which attempts to answer the questions from Land Rover fans and tragics, as to whether or not the 2020-badged Defender is really, the ‘real thing’.



Given that the challenge of hostile terrain, and virgin discovery expeditions are perhaps less of a consideration today, then maybe it’s tolerable that the basic design should change to reflect today’s market demands.

 


I am certain the 2020 Defender will perform well, despite the fact that I will not be able to dive into Land Rover’s ‘Jungle Track’ at Solihull; nor roam around the muddy tracks on Mount Seaview (in NSW), where we introduced a bunch of novice  off-road automotive journalists to ‘real’ off-roading (below).


Will today’s Defender perform as expected? I’m sure it will, but would I use the garden hose to clean out the interior of mud’n’dirt? I'll let you know.


John Crawford

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

DEFENDER OF THE FAITH by Damien Reid and John Crawford

In the 12 months since we first saw the new Land Rover Defender the reviews appear to be confirming that the latest ‘glammed-up’ Defender is the bee’s knees, and more than achieves favourable comparisons with its mighty predecessors, the 90 and the 110.

 

My first reaction was: “No, sorry, it’s not the real thing.” You wouldn’t use the garden hose to flush the mud and dirt out of interior, and the luxurious fabrics and electronics will fail the ‘practicality test’, but I seem to be in the minority.

 

According to my good friend Damien Reid, who’s now based in Dubai, the chance to run the new Defender through its paces in the sand dunes near Mleiha was almost proof enough that Jaguar Land Rover has produced a vehicle which can ably defend its predecessor’s mighty reputation for practicality and competence in the hard slog off road and along barely-formed tracks.

 

However, according to Damien, a session behind the wheel and afterwards with the product specialists informed the extent to which the product planners and designers were really cognizant of the challenge ahead of them. I’ll let him take over here:



Land Rover has taken a different approach to the renewal of its landmark off-roader, making it more suitable for the modern world with updated styling, a more-welcoming cabin and a major change from an old-school body-on-frame package to a car-style monocoque. It is also crammed full of modern electronics and safety equipment so it will do the school run while still being a highly capable off-roader.



Normally, the only cars you see in the sand outside Dubai are camouflaged prototypes undergoing hot weather testing, so it’s fitting that we should now throw the 4×4 with the toughest reputation in the business into the fire.

Desert driving requires high revs and low speeds which is why this region is a prototype testing hotspot. It punishes the cooling system with the heat and lack of airflow from the slow-speed running, as well as the constant fear of sand blocking the radiators.

Riding on 20-inch alloys, tyre pressures are dropped to save rolling a tyre off the wheel, which can happen with a bit of dune surfing, and it’s time to go.

Straight away, the new Defender is, without question, better than the original in these conditions.

We started out at the Jumeriah Creekside Hotel, just behind the Al Maktoum airport, and then drove East-South-East into the Emirate of Sharjah, on the road through Al Awir, on the outskirts of Dubai, and towards Al LIsali.

 

Then headed towards the Al Madam area and skirted the Omani border up to Shawka. We played in the dunes and rock escarpments around Mleiha archaeological site, and Fossil Rock, but it was too hot in July to go any further, because temperatures were already in the mid-50C's, so after lunch we headed back to civilisation.



Slipping the familiar Terrain Response system into sand mode, 85 ECUs go to work to almost guarantee you won’t get stuck.




Given where we are, I cannot vouch for its claimed 900-millimetre wading depth in water, which is 400 more than the old Defender. Nor can I confirm that the electrical system can be submerged for up to an hour.

While it’s obvious there will be comparisons made to the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator for their utilitarian capabilities, the Ford Bronco - for who does retro best, and even the copycat Grenadier, it’s clear the new Defender is not trying to be the old one.


 TheDefender performs faultlessly in the sand, and across some very large boulders.


Just like its quirky and boxy exterior, there are more references to the old Defender inside including exposed screw heads on the door trim, and aluminium kick panels.


Of course it wouldn't be 'British' without a few slashes of woodgrain trim, as you'll spot, encircling the door panel (below). However, one still gets the impression it's 'too glam' to be real.



The 21st century Defender is now impressive on the road in a way that the original could never have been, and yet it retains all the off-road ability you could possibly need.




Damien Reid

(Photos by JLR Middle East)

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

BMW DESIGN? DISAPPOINTING? YES! by John Crawford

Here are BMW's two latest photo releases, of the 2021 BMW M3 and M4.



I'm not sure what you think of them, but I think they are ghastly, ugly, poorly-proportioned, and any other terms of denigration you can dream up.

I clearly remember seeing Chris Bangle's original 'flame surfaced' designs and thinking they were pretty 'out-there', but compared to these abominations, they were just a mild re-imagining of the BMW design DNA.

I'm joined in this opinion by no less than my good friend of over 30 years, Ian Callum, who has designed some of the most beautiful cars on the roads.

I've admired Ian not only for his design sense, but also his discipline. This is a quality you must have by the shedload when you're designing production cars, and dealing with Boards of Directors who always want to inject their own opinions.

Getting it right, and at the right cost is a bloody difficult job, and Ian has proved time and again what a great overall designer he is.

So, I've just watched an excellent interview with Ian Callum, on a show called 'The Late Brake Show' hosted by self-described enthusiast and car perv, Jonny Smith.

Jonny asked Ian what designs available today he thought were crap?

Ian, although now operating his own design studio, paused, and despite his forthright Scottish upbringing said, carefully: "I think the new BMW designs are (pause), disappointing".

There, it's out there, from a designer thoroughly respected by his peers. I wonder what the BMW tragics think? 

John Crawford

Check out this excellent video blog: www.thelatebrakeshow.com

Monday, September 28, 2020

HEROES & HORRORS ON THE 18TH HOLE by John Crawford

When I attended my favourite events during Monterey Week, my camera was always at the ready to photograph either an iconic car; a rare car; something that looks to be garnering attention (but something I don’t recognise); or something that is really revolting.

 

One year at Pebble Beach a display of concepts which Ghia had produced for Chrysler’s various badges were gathered on the 18th fairway, and I thought they were so truly gross, I had to capture them, to remind that Ghia was not always the producer of beautiful, svelte Italian concepts.



There are some truly beautiful and iconic cars, that have taken top prize at Pebble Beach on the Sunday afternoon.


Like this 1956 Ferrari by Zagato.


Then there are the unusual, and in 2010 I snapped a car called ‘The Beast III’ which I had never heard of, but was clearly well-known among knowledgeable American enthusiasts. So, thanks to my great mate Ken Gross, I did some digging into its background, revealing a fantastic story of vision, skill and sheer determination.




In 1952, ‘The Beast III’ was the latest creation of engineer Chet Herbert, who had previously designed high speed dragsters and motorbikes. Having pushed these various vehicles to their top speed limits, Herbert had his eye on the Land Speed Record. In 1952 there was growing interest in what would be called ‘Streamliners’ and Herbert wanted to develop his own Bonneville Streamliner to take on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

 

Herbert wanted to harness aerodynamics for his car, and he happened upon Rod Shapel, who was working as a consultant for CalTech’s wind tunnel. Schapel was a mechanical engineer assigned to study the behavior of airplanes under various stresses and loads.

 

Herbert and Schapel hit it off instantly and set about to design and build a streamliner like no other, based on aerodynamic computations. The plan was to build the car and have it ready to race at Bonneville in August of ’52. With only months to build the streamliner the team set to work quickly.



Amid various challenges, given the nascent status of aerodynamically-efficient cars at the time, the ‘Beast III’ was completed on time and was powered by the most potent conventional engine available, the Chrysler Hemi V8.

 

Beast III’s equipment included a Halibrand quick-change tube axle unit with an aircraft type spot brake, 18-inch smooth cast Halibrand magnesium wheels riding on Firestone Bonneville racing tires, hand-operated brake and shift levers, and foot-operated clutch and accelerator pedals. Gear shifts were by a Ford V-8 side-shift unit with a Cook adapter.

Everyone in Bonneville in August 1952 was amazed and thrilled by the sleek aerodynamic shape. Designer Rod Shapel had never even been to a car race, but as all he had to do was create the needed aerodynamics, he did not hesitate to get right behind Chet Herbert’s concept.

The first runs achieved a top speed of 211mph, driven by George Bentley, but it was Art Crisman – a man who was a Hot Rod legend – who finally cracked 238.095mph and gained entry to Bonneville’s ‘200 Club’.


Now, the most amazing part of this story is that the man behind the Streamliner, Chet Herbert, had suffered polio at 20, and was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. 

As a trained engineer however, he did a great deal of the prep work on all his dragsters, bikes, and the Streamliner, from his wheelchair – but never turned a single wheel in any of his creations.

Chet Herbert (seen here in 2005), died in 2009.

There were a couple more variations on the Beast theme over the next few years, but Land Speed Record attempts began moving away from the USA.


Just 12 years later, the Land Speed Record was achieved in Australia, by Sir Donald Campbell at Lake Eyre, South Australia, with his Bluebird CN7 clocking 403.1mph! Bluebird was the last motor & wheel-driven streamliner, because the FIA, which regulated the ‘sport’ allowed pure jet-driven cars to compete, with Craig Breedlove’s ‘Spirit of America’ reaching 526mph in September of 1964.


John Crawford