Monday, January 29, 2018


When I first heard this moniker for VWAG’s junior executive sedan I thought it was a relative of one of Dr. Who’s Daleks – but it turns out there’s a different interpretation – it’s a Tardis.

No, it won’t accommodate a whole cheerleading squad, but there’s plenty of room to spare, both in the cabin and the trunk.

On the whole it’s a nicely-presented member of the VW catalogue of cars – but it’s also a bit of a covert player.

If I’m blunt – it’s an overpriced, over-hyped Skoda Superb. It is built on the same MQB platform as the Czech company’s hugely-successful executive saloon, but it’s way more expensive, and what do you get for the money?

You have to trace the answer back to the German domestic market to pinpoint why it exists at all. In 2003 Volkswagen launched the Phaeton (aka ‘Ferdie’s Folly’) into the upper luxury market. Many asked: ‘Why?’

Dr. Ferdinand Piech was convinced VW could build and sell a car equivalent to the upper luxury Benzes and Bee-Ems, with a pricetag to match.

The problem was (you won’t surprised to hear), no-one accepted Phaeton as a competitor to the established German luxo-barges, especially wearing the badge of the ‘Peoples’ Car Company’.

The Phaeton never took off; never achieved its targets, neither in volume nor profits, and somewhere around 2014 the decision was made to let it wither and die. One of its biggest problems was internal – it competed directly against VWAG’s best luxury sedan – the Audi A8.

Fast forward to 2016 and the VW Board recognizes it needs a car to replace the Passat CC, which will appeal to the German junior executive market, and the limo companies.

Group Designer Tobias Suhlman produced the shape. However, it's his one and only VW, as he has moved on to Bugatti.

So, by sourcing all the needed bits from the VW Group parts bin, we have the Arteon – a roomy hatchback with loads of rear seat room (great for the Chinese market), excellent ride, all-wheel-drive, sophisticated interior and styling guaranteed not to offend.

Quite frankly, it’s just a brand ambassador here in Australia, and I can’t see who would buy it. The A8 is well-established here, as is the excellent Skoda Superb – for much less money down.

One of the design issues I have with Arteon is the clamshell hood. Uncharacteristically, for VW (which prides itself on tight shut lines), it just doesn't work. The gap is huge, is not a cohesive, nor stylish element of the overall design, and in fact, looks clunky.
Arteon performs well, is sold in only one format, with AWD and all the bells and whistles, but it’s north of AUD$80 grand!

And, Australians are known badge snobs, so I don’t think the Arteon is headed for the top of any lists anytime soon.

Except maybe for VW Australia - it could be top of the list of which cars we do not import next year, and save the precious marketing dollars for the Golf, Polo and Tiguan?


Cadillacs finished first and second outright in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend. The result marks the third win in Florida for Cadillac, but this one was 'heart in the mouth' stuff as the leading car battled overheating issues in the final hours.

During the last few laps the team instructed drivers to shut the engine down on the straights to help cooling!

Keep in mind, these long distance races are run like a sprint - for 24 hours, so the pace never lets up. The Cadillac race car uses Cadillac's 5.5L V8, in a Dallara chassis.

Many cars suffered punctures from track debris and about six hours into the race, teams had to second guess the weather as steady rain began falling. You don't realise just how hard it is, unless you stay awake and follow the race for the whole 24 hours - as I have done, both at Le Mans and Daytona.

However, it's the last 15 minutes that are usually the hardest to deal with.

Postscript: The sponsor of the winning Cadillac DPi, Mustang Sampling, is a company which provides highly accurate analysis of gas samples for the natural gas industry. I'm not sure how many of its clients were glued to the TV screen for 24 hours? But the company must figure there's a value-for-money benefit from the exposure. Maybe! I'm not convinced.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


The Cadillac brand will be out in force this weekend for the 24 Hours of Daytona with three strong teams running the Cadillac DPi race car, with a Dallara chassis mated to the latest 5.5L Cadillac V8.

I have a very strong belief in the Cadillac brand, and have a strong desire to see it emerge from the gloom into the sun - even if it's just the podium at Daytona, Florida.

The Cadillacs performed exceptionally well in the four official practice sessions, topping the results in the 4th session.

Here's to keeping everything crossed for a good result. The team at Cadillac under Johan de Nyschen have been working hard to rebuild the brand image, and a big win this weekend would be a great reward for all their blood, sweat and tears.

I spent a couple of weekends at the Daytona 24 in the mid 90s when I was managing media relations for the TWR Jaguar team. Daytona is nowhere near as exciting, colourful and entertaining as 24 hours at Le Mans, but no matter which circuit you're at those last couple of hours can be hell as you near the end in a strong position.

Thursday, January 25, 2018



As I said when I drove the base model, five-speed manual Suzuki Swift, the last time I remember having this much fun in a basic car was the original Mini.

If that’s true then the latest Swift Sport Turbo is the Mini Cooper equivalent.

Also, this is not a badge-polishing, GT-trimmed exercise in ad-speak hyperbole – this little hotbox has excellent sports credentials.

It wears Continental tyres; has a 1.4L turbo four cylinder; Aisin 6-speed auto with paddle shifters, and superbly-shaped sports seats.

But, the really impressive stuff you can’t see. The handling is pin-sharp precise, the grip is excellent, and the body control amazing. 

All this comes down to Teflon seats for the stabilizer bar mountings; Tenneco-made front struts; new trailing arm rear suspension, Tenneco rear shocks and a newly-designed torsion bar – all specifically for the Sport Turbo. A lot of attention to details.
The new suspension package achieves a significant reduction in body roll and greater torsional rigidity, which delivers more precise handling.

In fact there were times when the obvious degree of body stiffness led me to think the body was seam-welded – à la the top rallycars.

However, this impressive rigidity is delivered by the all-new modular platform engineered for Swift and Baleno. It is one helluva little sports sedan.

Much of this comes from the excellent power-to-weight ratio (it tips the scales just over 970kg!), and in the power department, the intercooled turbo 1.4L uses direct injection, producing 103kW, and 220Nm between 2500-3500rpm!

This is a truly fun car to drive, and at AUD$27,490 for the auto, it’s well-priced. The interior features a lot of subtle touches, like the tasteful red accents throughout the cabin.

Lest, I appear to damn with faint praise, this may not be a big volume seller, but it achieves two things. It’s an excellent brand ambassador, halo-model for the Swift range; and if you were about my vintage and previously owned a Mini Cooper, you’d have a lot of fun for not much money reliving your youthfully-exuberant driving.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


My friend Roger Putnam, whom I worked with during my time with Jaguar Cars is a regular reader of DRIVING & LIFE, and has contributed a lot of great stories and photos to entertain us. After I posted a story on the Subaru WRX STi, I received this wonderfully-colorful story from his own personal archive of experiences:

Your piece on Subaru mentioning Colin McRae reminded me of an exciting day I spent up in the very north west of England around 17 years ago, when I was Chairman of Ford of Britain.

I flew up from London to Newcastle, and was picked up by helicopter and flown across to Cockermouth to inspect Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport operation which ran the European Ford Focus rally programme for us.

The highlight of the morning was joining Colin in the Focus rallycar for a 4km forest stage above the Scottish border.

The car was LHD and I was jammed in the navigator’s seat, which was bolted directly onto the floor.

I could hardly see over the dash - but I could see enough!

Colin shot off, and my abiding memory was taking off towards a sheer drop in front of the un-metalled track with all wheels off the ground.

I remember thinking ‘How do you turn 90 degrees left when you’re not on the ground?’

As the car got  re-acquainted with terra firma Colin yanked on the massive titanium hand brake lever, swung the wheel and the car turned on the spot about 5 metres from the drop. Bearing in mind that at that point I had been driven by Clark, Hill, McLaren, Andretti, and several other GP drivers, and also Eric Carlsson in a Lotus Elan, I should have known what was coming but I think that experience capped the lot.

When we rolled to a stop I said to Colin ‘I would hope that in deference to my position as Chairman of Ford of Britain, that you were driving at 6/10’s?’ ‘Oh nooo, said the Scotsman, ‘I have to drive at 10/10’s otherwise it doesn't bloody handle!’

I thought that would be the end of excitement for the day. However the mist had come down over the mountains - which we had to cross in the helicopter to get back to Newcastle on the other coast. I had the final choice, as the pilot was happy to fly. We flew at 10 feet above the ground lifting only to miss trees and high hedges. I’m not sure which trip was more scary.

Roger Putnam

NOTE: Sadly, Colin McRae died at 39, in a helicopter crash which also killed his young son, and two family friends.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


I asked my good friend Nick Senior about the birth and growth of Subaru’s STi division.

Like many car companies, Subaru innocently bred an enthusiastic, innovative team of people who wanted to take the brand into motorsport – for several reasons, but probably the most important was to prove the credentials and integrity of the company’s cars.

In a way, Nick Senior has done the same thing. He joined Subaru Australia in 1991, fresh out of jobs as motoring editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror. In a very short time, he was appointed head of marketing, then general manager and before too much longer became Managing Director.

Yes, it was a stellar launch path to the executive suite.

But, along the way, Nick brought the enthusiasm of a motoring writer, the broader view of a motoring editor, and developed the maturity of vision which has served him well as a suit.

I really admire Nick Senior and his achievements. Within a couple of years of his evolving executive jobs, I was convinced he had found his métier. He is now Managing Director of Inchcape Australia.

Its parent company is one of the biggest automotive retailing companies in the world, and I am certain they are very glad they elevated Nick Senior to such a lofty position in the company.

But, back to Subaru. As its Australian head of operations Nick took some really key decisions very early. He weighed in on the model and specification choices, and also the decision to only sell AWD variants, encouraging the use of the ad tagline “All 4 the Driver” – which among enthusiasts is a winner.

It’s a matter of record that Subaru sales have grown impressively here in Australia, and quite frankly I put it down to his tireless drive to succeed.

He is a quiet, innovative thinker, and a man who truly understands both the market he is selling into, and the products he has available to sell – and thus, their place in the market.

Subaru is a significant brand in Australia, and much of that success is due to Nick Senior, his drive, determination and resolve – plus the team he surrounded himself with.

Of course, when I was writing my recent post about the Impreza WRX STi, I flashed off an email to Nick about the ‘Fathers of STi’ and back came an instant reply that the enthusiastic development of sporting variants was down to two loyal, company engineers - Noriyuki Koseki and Ryuichiro Kuze.

Both men have sadly passed away, but their legacy lives on in the current model, a truly superb effort to create a sporting car, with strong genes of integrity and performance delivery. Everyone connected with Subaru should take pride in that achievement.