Saturday, November 28, 2015


If the original 2002 Bentley Continental GT coupe was a truly GRAND Touring Car,
JC and GT coupe - Detroit, December 2002
then the 2015 Continental GT Speed convertible is a truly SUBLIME Touring Car!

It doesn’t matter which way you want to interpret that description it covers everything from performance, ride and handling, interior ambience and outright one-upmanship! At AUD$637K it needs to! 

I rumbled out of Bentley Brisbane on a beautifully sunny day, heading west out of the city towards Mount Nebo.

Leaving the ‘burbs well behind, I was punting over the best combination of roads possible, to get yourself acquainted with the drop-top GT Speed.

 Following the gently curving, beautifully undulating Mount Nebo road up and over the hills and valleys of the D’Aguilar Range, and down to Lake Wivenhoe tells you a lot about this car.

As a test driver you’re interested in outright performance, adhesion, steering, suspension capability and (in this car), most importantly, brakes!

So lets look at the package the Bentley delivers. The first thing you notice is a bottomless pit of torque, from the twin turbocharged, 6-Litre W12, pushing out around 470kW (626 bhp).
Road test fuel economy: 17.67 L/100km
This means it will pull out of tight bends effortlessly, and the grip from the Pirelli 275x35 ZR21 tyres keeps you on your line.

Of course the adhesion is aided by fulltime all-wheel-drive, and steering the Speed is pure drivers’ joy.

The steering does suffer from considerable kickback when the road surface changes, but this is a good thing! This highlights how sensitive the steering is to feel, feedback and subtle inputs.

The steering is ZF Servotronic rack and pinion and you need just the most delicate movements to point, control and correct the 2500kg Speed machine.

Yes, this is a big, heavy car, but honestly I have to echo remarks by many other, more professional road testers - this car drives like something about the size of a Porsche 911. Travelling quickly over these tricky roads you are never menaced by the feeling that the car may take control out of your hands.

The eight-speed ZF transmission really helps the W12 deliver seamless power, and the paddles are beautifully located, and even more fun to use thanks to intricate ‘knurling’ on the surface your fingers touch to change gears.

Equally, the suspension delivers possibly the BEST compromise I’ve sampled in a big car designed for serious high-speed performance. The secondary ride is fantastic, given that in a car like this you need carefully-damped, minimal suspension movement, to keep the wheels in touch with the road.

The result is a very well-damped ride, yet it also gives you stiffness at the end of the amplitude curve of the suspension travel.

Now, to the brakes. First up, they are HUGE! The front discs are 405mm, and the rear discs are 335mm. The 8-piston calipers up front haul the big car down with amazing response.

The discs look like carbon ceramic, but according to the press kit they are iron.

Inside the ambience is wonderful, whether the roof is up or down. The beautifully-designed triple covering and folding mechanism designed by Karmann makes for a cosy ride in winter, but wind-in-the-hair (not that much in my case) is really what this car was intended for.

The immaculate white exterior of the test car was complemented by a combination of magnolia and navy blue leather, and the result is both subtle and sophisticated. The instruments are old-school dials, which look perfectly suited to the Bentley’s traditions.

The touchscreen audio-visual is competent and well-featured, but there is almost a complete disconnect when it comes to contemporary technologies like Bluetooth and music streaming.

Multi-function wheel to the right of the Flying B
There is a multi-function 'knurled' wheel on the steering wheel where you ‘pair’ your phone; and the menu (between the speedo and tacho) allows you to scroll through various parameters such as speed, navigation directions and telephone info.

However, this is not intelligently linked to the touch-screen system, and whilst I eventually ‘paired’ my iPhone, I could not continuously stream music. Every time I stopped the car, I had to start the streaming function again, and eventually the system just gave up, so I drove the last third of the journey without music. Very frustrating. I think Bentley and/or VWAG could learn something from Mazda!

JC & Speed - Gold Coast, November  2015
This did nothing however, to dampen my joy at driving the Continental GT Speed convertible. I LOVED every minute of it, and after 320km I was very sorry to hand it over to my good friend and automotive writer Paul Gover – who had a treat in store himself.

Even at the dramatic pricetag, the GTC Speed delivers on every promise. It’s good to look at, performs impeccably, and will make you feel like a million bucks when you’re behind the wheel.

What more could you want from a storied nameplate, with motor sport in its DNA, leading-edge technology delivering the ultimate driving experience, and the Flying B tells the world you have taste and automotive savvy!
* My thanks to Joseph Aranga and the team at Bentley Brisbane

Thursday, November 26, 2015


The mighty Volkswagen Group is under threat from all sides.

First, it’s reeling from the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal and the associated costs of repairs, re-designs, re-works, lawsuits and public relations campaigns that are going to cost an estimated $20 billion – without worrying about the potential impact of class-action verdicts in the USA.

To use a common phrase: "VW is on the nose."

Its tarnished image will severely impact its finances, because VWAG will need to fund the billions needed to pay for all the expenses linked to cleaning up the mess, as well as paying off consumers and governments. That could mean fines and other official penalites, as well as buy-backs, in addition to the $100-a-car rebate already given to Golf owners in the USA.

Volkswagen’s sales are already slumping, at a time when it looked likely to overtake Toyota as global showroom leader, and who knows what long term impact this will have in the vital American market.

So, whilst VWAG gets battered, a new Hyundai shown in Los Angeles this week made us think about the huge strides this Korean giant is making in significantly improving both design and engineering.


Everything suggests we may be seeing the emergence of a South Korean group – remembering Hyundai also owns Kia – boasting superior spending power - with technology and product quality which will certainly rival, and maybe run over the global champion, VWAG.

As I read through the press release for the 2017 Hyundai Elantra sedan I could not help being very impressed with the investment Hyundai has made in materials, design, fit-and-finish, as well as performance and fuel economy.

This is one impressive mass-market car and clearly shows that Hyundai is pitching its new models at the benchmark set by the VW Golf.

Hyundai has focused on every single aspect of vehicle manufacture and finish. From the lightweight steel used in the body to the engine design, interior materials and final finishing. Although I haven’t physically seen the car, and I won’t until it lands in Australia in the first half of next year, the press release details every single step in the resolution of the new model. It creates a stunning impression!

I’m sure that when it’s possible to drive the car we will not only be impressed by everything I’ve mentioned, but – like its KIA division – there will have been tweaking of the ride and handling by Australian engineers, which I’m certain will result in not only a well-built car, but also one which rides and handles very competently.

It’s definitely time to stop thinking about Hyundai-Kia cars as cheap Korean imports. Some would say that change is already long overdue, tracking back to the i30 that re-wrote the rules for Hyundai, and the all-new Sorento which has done the same thing this year for Kia.

We’ve already seen the impact of Peter Schreyer’s design work at Kia – which has seen him promoted rapidly to a top job straddling both brands – and lifting its product range to greater global acceptance as high-quality vehicles.

In addition, Hyundai is stepping into the production of commercialized fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) with significant investment, which could come to fruition in just a few years.

Plus, the hiring of Luc Donckerwolke – not surprisingly, from Volkswagen Group – to completely overhaul the design and specifications of its pinnacle model, the Genesis luxury sedan, which tops off a complete product lineup in the same way that Toyota has Lexus, and Nissan has Infiniti.

Collectively, all of this adds up to the confidence and determination to lift the public perception of Hyundai-Kia from bargain basement cheap cars to a much higher perception of their quality, robustness, durability and suitability for purpose.

The South Korean conglomerate attacked, and then overtook, Japanese makers during the Global Financial Crisis, as it spent and developed at a time when brands including Honda, Subaru and Suzuki retreated and went backwards on product development work.

Hyundai Group is a company seriously on the march to greater global prominence and, if we accept that it is serious in its efforts push itself up into Volkswagen Group levels of quality and performance with sales results that make it a global top-three operation, then buying a Hyundai or Kia is looking like a very sound investment.

Where would that leave Volkswagen Group?

* My thanks to Australia's leading automotive writer, and close friend, Paul Gover, for his contributions to this post, and also Alan Gallaher at Hello Branding for his graphic contribution.


That may sound like a ridiculous headline, but I sincerely believe we are witnessing the gradual emergence of a new world power on the global automotive scene.

Hyundai Motor Group (which includes Kia) is spending up big on the technology, and production methods, behind its new cars, to such a grand extent, the Korean company is poised to knock the current global leader, Volkswagen Group, off its perch. Really? I think so!

If you need further proof, I am publishing excerpts from the press kit on the 2017 Hyundai Elantra, which was issued at the car's debut in Los Angeles last week.

I am publishing the paragraphs verbatim, as the press release announces the details of the efforts and resources which have gone into this car in such a plain-speaking manner, it would be foolish of me to rewrite them, just to claim ownership of the writing.

The 2017 Elantra is not only lighter than the outgoing model, but its rigid chassis is now reinforced with 53 percent advanced high-strength steel compared to 21 percent from the previous model, providing improved stiffness at a lower body weight. This increased utilization results in a 29.5 percent stiffer torsional rigidity and 25.3 percent greater bending strength, which bring improvements in vehicle ride and handling, quietness, durability and driving performance.

Furthermore, the new Elantra increased the use of structural adhesive application 40 times at higher stress points on the chassis and to reinforce welding areas. A component often found in aerospace applications, these structural adhesives also contribute to improved NVH and vehicle dynamics due to extra stiffness in the chassis. Hyundai engineers focused on these enhancements to develop a more rigid body structure to improve ride and handling.

The development work to combine high-strength steel, with aerospace quality adhesives is no small thing. It will devour engineering resources, and the end result will be the result of spending huge amounts of money on time and talent. Car companies don't do all of this just for the good of their customers, but also to prove a point about how serious they are, in terms of global competition.

For 2017, the new Elantra receives two all-new powertrains designed for improved fuel efficiency and everyday drivability performance. The standard engine available on the base SE and Limited trim is a 2.0-liter Nu MPI Atkinson four-cylinder engine producing a peak 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb. ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm (estimated). This Atkinson cycle-type engine reduces pumping loss by delaying the close timing of the intake valve in the compression stroke, therefore maximizing the expansion ratio – it is the only Atkinson cycle engine to be combined with multi-port injection in the compact class. This greater expansion ratio is made more efficient by allowing additional energy to be produced. Furthermore, this engine features a high compression ratio of 12.5.

Other enhancements include intermediate valve cam phasing that increases the operational range of the intake valves and helps to reduce pumping loss. High energy ignition coils are also adopted to increase combustion efficiency through increasing spark intensity. A new electronically controlled thermostat decreases pumping energy and allows the thermostat to open at a higher temperature. Finally, piston cooling jets are added to cool down the piston by spraying oil at the lower position of the piston resulting in knock stability and fuel economy improvements. All of this results in up to a 2.2 percent increase in efficiency for optimized fuel economy, and an anticipated 29 city / 38 highway / 33 combined mpg (internal estimate for 6-A/T).

This 2.0-liter Nu four-cylinder engine is paired with either a standard six-speed manual transmission (available only on the SE trim) or Elantra’s next generation six-speed automatic transmission. The new automatic transmission helps deliver dynamic performance with an overall 3.3 percent increase in efficiency for optimized fuel economy. A new valve body improves gear shift responsiveness and control, while an optimization in oil pump size aids in improving operating efficiency. A multi-clutch torque converter is also a new addition that allows more control over lock-up. Finally, rolling resistance and friction are minimized by adopting double angular ball bearings.

The second powertrain is an all-new 1.4-liter Kappa turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine equipped on the Elantra Eco trim, available in Spring 2016. This engine produces 128 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and a robust 156 lb-ft. of torque at a low 1,400 ~ 3,700 rpm and will be mated to an EcoShift seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Eco trim is projected to achieve an unsurpassed estimated 35 mpg combined rating based on internal testing.

Other features of the 1.4L turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine include an integrated cylinder head and exhaust manifold that improves fuel economy 5~7% at higher engine speeds. An optimized straight intake port increases tumble flow for fast combustion, suppressing knock tendency and improving fuel economy. The turbocharger is a single scroll design with an electric wastegate actuator. The optimized turbine and compressor employs a sophisticated scavenging strategy that improves low-end torque and response, while the electric wastegate actuator improves low-end torque and part-load fuel economy by reducing back pressure. Finally, the high pressure fuel injectors have six individually sized laser drilled holes to optimize the fuel spray pattern.

The details included here mean that these engines are virtually re-invented and changed so dramatically that they represent the closest thing to a brand new design, especially the 2-litre Nu engine. Again, this represents a huge financial investment.

The early Hyundai engines were agricultural at best, and primitive at worst, but you have to start somewhere and the Hyundai Group's technology and quality improvements are strong evidence of a committment to match the world's best, and exceed those standards.

I'm also impressed with the advancement in 'clean and green' technology in the 2017 Elantra, just take the seats for example:

All of Elantra’s seats, covered in either cloth or available leather, are made of SoyFoam™, an environmentally friendly seating foam that substitutes petroleum based polyol with hydroxyl-functionalized soybean oil and optimizes the formulation/process to maximize mechanical performance and deliver environmental benefits.

As I said up front, I've reproduced the press kit because of the lack of spin and hyperbole in listing the changes. I very much look forward to driving this car when it arrives in Australia.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Two sexy new Italians are set to debut at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles when the LA Auto Show opens its doors on November 20.

Alfa Romeo will show the Giulia Quadrifoglio sedan, with its Ferrari-massaged 500hp V6 biturbo, and six-speed manual transmission with rear wheel drive.

The new Giulia range will be built in Frosinone, Italy, but few details of the lower range versions are available at the moment, except that the base model will come with a 2.0 litre turbocharged four cylinder, with either rear wheel drive, or optional all-wheel-drive.

Fiat will unwrap its 124 Spider sports car with a 1.4 MultiAir turbocharged four cylinder, and offered with either a six-speed manual, or six-speed automatic.

This is the car that is built entireley by Mazda, and is based on the latest Mazda MX 5. The two cars are built on the same line in Japan, with the 124 Spider getting a FIAT-derived engine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Ah, the mighty Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst, 160km west of Sydney, and home to many fabulous and historic moments in Australia motor racing.

Back in 1964 I was present for the fifth running of the Armstrong 500, and just have a look at the road condition at the bottom of Con Rod straight!

Contrast the shot above, with Con Rod straight today, from behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 159.

How things have changed!