Thursday, February 28, 2019


Driving down a steep hill into territory more suited to a recognised off-roader like a Land Rover, or its swish sibling, the Range Rover, I feel no apprehension, nor trepidation, as the tiny Suzuki Jimny creeps down the near vertical slope in what avid off-roaders call Low-Low ratio.

The secret, as I discovered many years ago driving Range Rovers with my good mates Russell Turnham and Geof Stubbs, is ‘don’t touch any pedals’ – at all! 

These two guys know more about off-roading than most people I know, who imagine braving unknown landscapes. 

Sitting in the driver’s seat, allowing the vehicle to determine the terrain, angle and speed was initially a pretty scary deal, but as Russell and Geof both said: “Trust me, you don’t have to do anything.”

The fact that the Jimny offers a Low-Low ratio, immediately brands it as a serious off-roader. And, a visit to my secret off-roading location confirms it.

In this photo (at right) you'll see the A/T lever, then immediately behind it the 4WD options. You can shift from 2WD into 4WD, and then for really difficult terrain, you push down on the lever to engage Low-Low.

Back in 1970 Suzuki introduced the LJ10 (Light Jeep), with a 359cc, air-cooled, two-stroke, in-line two cylinder engine (below).
1970 Suzuki LJ-10

Don’t laugh, it was an immediate hit. Interestingly, the originally-targetted export market was Australia, as a toe-dipping exercise for Suzuki.

Successive versions offered three cylinder, then four cylinder engines, but it was the vehicle’s spectacular ability to traverse tough terrain which earned it a reputation as a competent off-road, any-surface, 4WD.

The launch of the 2019 Jimny has been much anticipated. So much so, that of the 1100 vehicles destined for Australia in 2019, Suzuki Australia is holding 320 forward orders.

That’s because the potential buyers know that this baby off-roader delivers in every way possible to confirm its credentials.

Design-wise you may consider it a bit of a dinosaur, because it has a separate ladder chassis, with a boxy body bolted on top – however, this actually helps both rigidity and torsional stiffness. And yes, it has the drag co-efficiency of a housebrick.

After bashing around in my bush territory for an hour or so, I was totally convinced about the Jimny’s off-road ability. It will go ANYWHERE you point it. Never mind deep holes, straddling creeks, grinding up virgin hills with no established tracks, the Jimny is unstoppable.

If you read DRIVING AND LIFE regularly, you will know I am a big supporter of this tiny Japanese company. Its engineering integrity, commitment to delivering performance and reliability, is unsurpassed in the auto industry.
No surprise, that it’s an engineering-led company, because sometimes you get the impression that styling/design is probably the last thing they think about.

However, the 2019 Jimny is well thought-out, with a variety of useful features like a wide, but shallow hidey-hole just behind the rear seats. Fit and finish all-round is excellent.

Some automotive writers will no doubt complain about the feel and appearance of some of the composite/plastic materials, but this is a workhorse, and Suzuki has left visible bolts, and a lack of ‘covering up’ attachment points and trim limits, to underscore its workhorse intentions. But, that’s okay.

The only model available in Australia this year is the GLX version, with a four-speed automatic mated to a 1.5L engine, and costs AUD$25,990 before on-road charges.

However, I’m told there could be a trayback, and a four-door version available down the road – that’s if the volume potential in Australia is worth engineering those models for this market.

Okay, then. As a really practical, serious, and competent off-road vehicle I really liked the new Jimny.

Its short wheelbase means there’s a bit of fore’n’aft pitching on suburban roads, and its knobbly tyres make a bit of noise, but it comes with a reasonably decent sound system, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so Jimny could even end up as a ‘cool’ city car. That would be a waste of its real abilities in virtually trackless terrain.

What about the Jimny as a shopping trolley; or a weekend camper? Yep, it could be both of those, but only for two people. Sure there’s four seats, but in purely practical terms you’d use this car with the rear seats folded flat, to make best use of the available 377L. If you leave the rear seats up, there’s a tiny 85L available, barely enough for two 62cm suitcases, standing vertically.

Why am I blathering on about this tiny off-roader?

Because it’s honest, delivers on its promise, and it’s rugged and reliable. It’s also good value-for-money if you REALLY want to go off-road in a completely competent vehicle.

In addition there’s Suzuki’s reputation for building vehicles with an almost unlimited lifespan. I know Suzuki Swift owners with more than 250,000km on the clock, and farmers who have three or four of the original  LJ10 and LJ50 models – because they are just so competent and long-lasting.

For a tiny company, by global standards, it’s impossible to dismiss Suzuki. It’s a highly credible, high integrity car company, with outstanding engineering credentials and witness to that is the number of other car companies, which have entered joint ventures to use Suzuki’s models with their own badging.

However, nothing is perfect and there are some downsides. The Bridgestone Dueller tyres are just great when it’s rutted and rough, but they are noisy on sealed roads, and they are not the most stable tyre at any speed above 100 km/h.

In fact driving at a legal 110 km/h in the rain, they tend to wander, and if you hit the brakes hard at that speed the sidewall distortion tends to throw the tiny 4x4 offline. If you retain the original tyres, then the Jimny is best suited to the bush.

Also, the 70 km drive to Brisbane unfortunately confirmed a Suzuki reality. The engineers might be great at what they do, but seat comfort is not one of the brand's strong points, and I had a sore bum by the time I relinquished the keys.

The 1.5L engine, whilst lusty, gets noisy as you open the throttle, because there's very little sound insulation, so despite Apple CarPlay you'll have difficulty hearing subtle jazz riffs either on the road, or out in the backblocks.

Thursday, February 21, 2019


Whilst TESLA proudly advertises its ‘LUDICROUS MODE’ the same could be said for the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS, because anytime you floor the throttle hang on for a wild ride.

Even in ‘Comfort’ setting the GT3 ducks and dives across uneven surfaces as it accelerates, so you must ensure you keep a good grip on the tiller, eyes on the road, and increase the sensitivity levels in your bum, for what’s happening between the rubber and the road.

A road car? You can’t be serious? Sure it’s wearing registration plates, offers air conditioning and a decent audio system – but after you’ve ticked off those items, check out the roll cage, the massive fire extinguisher in the passenger footwell and the six-point racing harness.

The track is this car’s intended milieu, but even then, with all this racing hardware, this car is not a serious racer.

Sure, if you go to Track Days you’ll enjoy throwing it around the circuit, but don’t be surprised if some of your competitors have cars that weigh less than the 1430kg weight package of the car in these photos – having removed the comfort items – and are putting in faster lap times.

However, if you simply want a road-registered Porsche with a great performance package for the occasional foray into competition, then this car will suit you perfectly.

But, if you just drive it in the burbs, with an occasional trip to the country, this car will drive you crazy. The exhaust both booms and burbles, the differential makes its own quaint sounds, the brakes squeal, and the 7-speed PDK has a mind of its own.

Also, after you’ve blasted off down the road, you’ll then have to explain yourself to the Highway Patrol – especially if your car is wearing the ‘Lizard Green and Black’ colour scheme of the test car.

Ludicrous? Yes, but ridiculous too, unless you’re brave enough to buy it and parade this racy Porsche in front of your social circle.

You can tell them that it’s the most powerful GT 3 Porsche yet released, with a naturally-aspirated flat-six which develops 383kW (514hp) at the 9000 redline.

The 7-speed dual clutch (the only transmission offered) is slick and competent, but when you’re attempting an overtaking move, it will suddenly shift down three ratios and the next thing you know it’s blasting past the car in front at warp speed.

Keep your eyes open for the speed cameras, or, rather, your heart sinks if you pass one at a ludicrous speed.

Sitting in the cabin, you could almost believe it’s just a regular road-going Porsche 911, but once you’ve powered-up, it’s obvious this is a serious performance car from one of the world’s most respected sports car marques.

Check out the pricing sheet for the options, and after you’ve applied a tissue to your crying eyes, remember if you want track day performance in a Porsche Package, this is what it costs.

I’m grateful for the chance to drive it, but unless you intend to use it for Track Days, who else would spend – wait for it – AUD$489,350 on just a car for commuting? 

Ludicrous? Maybe for some people.

However, after my fabulous drive in the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, it puts the price of that car in perspective - and, personally, I'd much rather spend AUD$299,950 on the Brit, than almost AUD$500,000 on the Porsche racer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Back in 2005 I had the good fortune to meet one of America’s legendary documentary filmmakers, Ken Burns. He was attending a lunch hosted by the Automotive Press Association of Detroit, to promote his latest documentary, about the first man to drive an automobile across America.

Not only is Ken an outstanding and dedicated writer, director and film maker, but he is a man of the highest integrity when it comes to research and accuracy.

The film is called “Horatio’s Drive” and you can watch it on YouTube.

It describes the time that a 31 year-old doctor from Burlington, Vermont, Horatio Nelson Jackson, made a $50 bet that he could drive an automobile across America, from coast to coast in less than three months.

By choosing a northern route, he avoided some of the high mountain ranges, but crossing deserts was a real problem for the 20hp car.

His companion was Sewall Crocker, but somewhere in Idaho, Ken bought a Pit Bull for $15. The dog, named ‘Bud’, became almost as famous as the humans.

Especially when Ken had to make up a pair of goggles for Bud, to keep the sand and grit out of his eyes, because their two-cylinder, Winton ‘horseless carriage’, had no windscreen, and no roof!

I won’t spoil the viewing by telling you more, but it’s a great story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Florence is an unforgettable Italian city, and anyone who has visited Firenze will agree. The key to its famous status is informed by two things – wealth and luxury.

What better place to launch a new luxury car than the ‘Athens of the Middle Ages’, Italy's centre of trade and finance, the birthplace of The Renaissance, and home to the fabulously wealthy and powerful Medici dynasty.

Even more reasons to reveal the most important Bentley model since the marque was acquired by VWAG in September 1998, because the Arnage Red Label was the beginning of Bentley’s renaissance too.

I was fortunate to be appointed as Director of Public Relations for Bentley Motors North America in October 1998, but it took until early 1999 before my USA work visa was granted, so I commuted regularly between Sydney and Crewe from October to Spring of 1999.

My Crewe-based PR boss, Richard Charlesworth informed me that almost immediately after the deal was sealed in 1998, VW’s Dr. Ferdinand Piech had made a momentous decision to fund, and restore originality to the Bentley Arnage saloon, by agreeing to re-engineer and re-install Bentley’s famous 6.75L V8 into the flagship Arnage sedan.

From the original launch of the Arnage, Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors had come to an agreement with BMW AG to use the BMW 4.4L V8. I'm guessing that fact alone was anaethema to Dr. Piech.

Fitting the BMW V8 was a decision which ultimately frustrated both Bentley engineers and Bentley owners, as it simply did not produce sufficient power, torque and performance, consistent with Bentley’s reputation as ‘A Fast Car, A Good Car, The Best in its Class’.

As WO Bentley had proclaimed his aspiration.

Because North America was a vital market for the car, I was invited to bring a small group of American automotive writers to the launch of the Bentley Arnage Red Label.

I was delighted to learn we would not only travel to Florence for the event, but we would enjoy our first night at the Renaissance city's historic Villa La Massa.

The hotel is now part of the Villa d'Este Group.
This is a 16thcentury Medici villa, on 22 acres filled with the scent of lemon trees and olive groves. It was converted to a private hotel in 1948, and is situated on the Arno Rover, just eight kilometres from the centre of Firenze.

It was here I met and established my longstanding friendship with one of Italy’s most celebrated automotive PR specialists and event organisers, Emanuele Bedetti – the man who conceived this event.

The setting at La Massa is quite simply beautiful, extravagant and peaceful. There are only 41 rooms, most of which are suites, and it’s one of Italy’s finest luxury hotels.

Florence became an informal seat of power, as influential and wealthy Romans invaded the city to build fabulous villas and palaces, where they could enjoy the Italian summer, away from Rome’s suffocating heat and humidity.

After a rousing dinner at La Massa, we gathered next morning for a test drive, visiting the fortified, hilltop city of Orvieto. Orvieto is one town which you should include on your bucket list – it’s traditional, unspoiled and has a great choice of small, excellent family restaurants.

A coffee stop  in Montereggioni, then on to lunch at the excellent Ristorante Dietro le Quinte, in Colle Val d’elsa.

The menu at this ristorante is quintessentially Tuscan, and we dined on the terrace, taking in splendid views of the undulating countryside and vineyards.

Tuscany (or Toscana in Italian) is not only famous for its beautiful countryside vistas, but also its wonderful roads that wind between the estates, which produce the fabulous Tuscan wines.

In Orvieto, I was busy photographing an older resident (below, right), when his eyes teared up and he told Emanuele, that when he was a boy, he lived near Brescia, and remembers Bentley’s competing in the Mille Miglia.

With that emotional endorsement of Bentley’s Italian sporting credentials we negotiated the narrow lanes of Orvieto, before heading for a leisurely lunch.

After lunch we were able to stretch the Arnage’s new-found power and torque as we headed back to Firenze on the A1 autostrada.

As we gathered in the Alitalia Premier Lounge at the airport there was complete agreement that the decision to refit the Arnage with the 6.75L V8, married to Bentley's bespoke interiors, would be warmly welcomed by Bentley enthusiasts the world over.

I have returned to Florence many times, but I will never forget my initial visit in 1999, enjoying the luxury and peace at Villa La Massa.


The WALL STREET JOURNAL has reported a previously unknown element in Nissan’s desperate bid to stop a fully-fledged merger with Renault.

Months BEFORE the clumsy arrest and prosecution of Carlos Ghosn, Nissan executives asked the Japanese Government to step in and help avoid the merger.

Instead, the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) proposed that it would draft an agreement to oversee the merger talks. That was definitely not what Nissan wanted, and considered METI inserting itself into the talks as aggressive. Nissan subsequently telling METI it would handle the matters by itself.

Nissan has two huge problems with a merger. First, by volume, Nissan has become the bigger of the partners; but, more importantly it has a huge cash pile, which it does not want Renault to be able to access – to help lift its falling sales in France and Europe.

When its subversive moves to get its government to help stop the merger failed, Nissan moved on to Plan B – which was to get rid of the main driver of the merger – Carlos Ghosn. We all know how that worked out.

You may wonder why Ghosn is still in jail? The issue is that Nissan’s lawyers apparently recognize that the charges on which he is being held are flimsy, and in some cases not substantiated by any hard evidence, and they and Nissan’s Board are hoping Renault will blink first.

Keeping Ghosn locked up frustrates Renault’s ongoing business activities, causes a chasm in relations between the two parties, which hopefully (from Nissan’s viewpoint) will eventually lead Renault to stop its merger talks.

The sad part about this whole affair from a technical stance, is that Nissan also desperately needs the fruits of the Alliance, such as projects like the Renault-developed Common Family Module (CFM), on which many new models in the Renault-Nissan lineup are supposed to built on.

It also needs the future plans Ghosn was working on to bring Mitsubishi into the Alliance in such a way as to clearly divide responsibilities for vehicle types (Cars/SUVs/Trucks), and efficiently combine skills, abilities and engineering, to ensure profitable synergies.

Nissan may be the stronger of the two partners and may have a huge cash pile, but its Board and senior management are totally devoid of the skills of someone like Ghosn, to lead them from committing another potential act of corporate suicide by going it alone – which is where Ghosn came in, in the first place, to save Nissan from itself.

Nissan likes to see itself to be as important to Japan as its rival Toyota, but Eiji Toyoda’s company is strong in things that matter, like stable, transparent corporate governance, sound model planning and progression, and the general conduct of the company in all of its many global markets.

By comparison, Toyota’s passenger cars remain top sellers in most of their global markets, backed up by a strong presence in the SUV and truck market, along with advanced technological developments in Hybrid, Electric and Fuel cell powertrains.

On the other hand, Nissan’s passenger car sales have taken a dive; it has a sprawling un-connected range of trucks and SUVs (some on platforms which should have been retired years ago); and very poor plans to cope with advancing technology, and autonomous vehicles.

It was Ghosn who drove the joint venture with Daimler AG, which saw the introduction of the Infiniti Q30 and Q30X; and the Mercedes-Benz X-range of trucks, based on the Nissan Navara.

The contrast between Ghosn’s vision and energy to execute projects, and Nissan’s rear-view mirror management style could not be greater.

The phrase, “Cutting off your nose to spite your face” springs to mind. For the millennial’s reading this, here’s an explanation of this phrase from Wikipedia:

"Cutting off the nose to spite the face" is an expression to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem: "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face" is a warning against acting out of pique, or against pursuing revenge in a way that would damage oneself more than the object of one's anger.

I think that sums of the current state of Nissan’s thinking. And, whilst the Nissan Board is fart-assing around pursuing its fate, it’s NOT planning for its future, or maybe I should say, waiting until it drops over the edge of the cliff to start thinking about any possibilities of a last-minute rescue.

For the record, it's worth noting Nissan's numbers from its July 2018 Board Meeting. This data shows Nissan's status in real time, and its not happy reading for shareholders....

Saturday, February 16, 2019


With all this hoo-haa about Holden's future - whether with GM or Inchcape, spare a thought for Australian and New Zealand's Holden dealers.

All these dealer principals have invested big time, with money and loyalty, to Holden, and sure, over the years - beginning with Holden's original market dominance to its fading from the Top Five, the dealers have made good money.

However, like all carmakers, GM insists that they keep investing in their dealerships, and naturally, every time the corporate identity changes, dealers have to stump up more money to retain their franchise.

Especially think about dynamic Gold Coast father and son dealers, Warren and Wade von Bibra. The duo recently took over Surfers City Holden, closing down the Southport showroom, and moving it to their 'Auto Village' in the Gold Coast suburb of Robina.

How do you reckon they feel, having just taken over representing Holden?

If the international machinations between GM, Inchcape and Groupe PSA result in the decimation of the Holden brand, it will cost General Motors big money to settle with a lot of highly professional, but very disgruntled business men.


With UK car industry behemoth Inchcape now becoming the ‘spoiler’ in the ongoing discussion about the survival of Holden in Australia – and GM’s clear intention to retreat to Fortress America, it’s time for some crystal-balling.

After GM Chair Mary Barra unloaded Adam Opel AG (Opel and Vauxhall) to Groupe PSA, PSA struck a deal with GM to provide German Opel-built Holden Commodores for six years. Okay, what was supposed to happen then?

PSA said that all future Opel and Vauxhall products would then be built on shared PSA architectures, and once that news broke I was told very emphatically by a top GM executive from the USA, that no new Holden Commodores would be built on PSA platforms.

That left me wondering if future Commodores might come from some shared US marque platform, say Chevrolet or Buick.

However, a severe disruption in the car market puts this plan into the area of doomed futures.

Passenger cars are ‘on the nose’ and that could mean that by 2023 there may be not enough demand for Commodores and Astras – regardless of the platform source, or where they are built. Any ROI would be shaky accounting.

At the moment former Toyota head honcho Dave Buttner, and his team at Holden are desperately trying to rebuild satisfactory sales throughput for Holden’s dealers, by concentrating on the flavours of the decade – SUVs and trucks (of which Holden has a good range, of high quality, competent models).

The trouble is, that as good as Holden’s offerings are, there is very, very intense competition in the marketplace for the same types of vehicles – everybody else has got them!

I know I often refer to the high number of brands (currently 62) fighting for oxygen and visibility in the tiny Australian marketplace (1.3 million vehicles last year), but in reality that means lots of dollars being spent trying to seduce consumers away from their trusted brand, to something new and different.

Can Holden muster enough resources and imagination to notch up a win in one segment or another? I’m afraid I don’t think so. Keep in mind, funding marketing comes from lots of sales and the profit margins. Low sales, less margin, and funding is very difficult.

The reason is, not only was GM-Holden slow to register the rapid change in consumer ‘s choice of vehicle; but thanks to Holden’s arrogance and state of denial, it kept on investing in Commodore in a shrinking market for that sized car.

Remember at the time Holden Commodore sales began stuttering to a halt, the most popular passenger car was two segments down the scale – the Toyota Corolla hatchback!

If Inchcape was to absorb the Holden operation I suggest that Holden’s ‘brand value’ may encourage the British company to retain the name, and battle on with whatever it can source, from wherever.

Or, does that mean passenger cars built on PSA platforms after all, and branded Holden? No, I think Inchcape will actually import Insignias and Astras from PSA, built on PSA architecture, and most importantly, branded Opel!

Sneak peak at Peugeot's forthcoming 508

GM’s only choice, if it rebuffs Inchcape, is to drop the pretence that the all-Australian brand will continue, and change the company name to Chevrolet and bring in cars with a bowtie badge.

However, I think the speed of change in the marketplace will nix all these options. Inchcape's intervention would change the whole paradigm.

I reckon, and this is really gazing into the murky view of the crystal ball, is that if GM does a deal with Inchcape its car products will come from France (badged as Opels after all).

Holdens would be SUVs and trucks that would come from American, Mexican and Thai factories.

If that does happen, where in heaven’s name will Inchcape find the necessary marketing resources to do battle in a volatile market? Again, funding marketing comes from sales and margins.

The same question could be asked of Inchcape, about how it can possibly fund a sales boost for those pesky French brands – Peugeot and Citroen? 

Sales of those two marques are virtually flatlining, and I have always held the view that they actually don’t deserve a place in Australia’s vehicle market, for the paltry few Francophiles who fancy a bit of Bordeaux and Camembert in their garages.

Inchcape? I think you’re lining up to throw good money after bad. I may be wrong, but the market has a louder voice than me.