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Author: Ben Selby

The taste of Italy drives to town


It’s a well-known fact that some of the greatest and most beautiful cars ever produced hail from Italy. Brands like Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, Lamborghini and Iso are synonymous with the Italian’s penchant for art, design, engineering, and above all passion.

 

 

On February 20, fans of Italian cars will descend on Christchurch’s Art Centre Carpark off Worcester Boulevard for the biennial Belle Italiane Italian Car Festival.

Hosted by the Canterbury Fiat and Lancia Club, Belle Italiane has always been a must-see event for those with a deep love for Italian cars.

“The original idea came as a result of club members envisaging Italian cars and their owners getting together for an informal picnic in a relaxed environment,” says club president John Hayman.

“The plan was to get cars that we never really see out of garages and on display,” he says.

Lovers of Latin machinery would not want to miss this.


 

Marvellous, comfy ute


Mazda’s new BT50 is finally here. Available in 2WD and 4WD, the range starts with the double cab GSX and ends with my test car, the flagship 4WD double cab limited.

 

 

At $47,490 and $60,990, respectively, the price is up there yes, but this is somewhat justified when you step inside.

The minimalist cues of Mazda’s Kodo-design philosophy is riddled throughout the cabin.

Switchgear feels solid, and the level of tech on-board is very generous. The infotainment system is first rate and the leather seats are some of the most comfortable I have experienced in any ute.

All models come with a 3L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine with 140kW and 450Nm of torque mated to a six-speed auto box.

While it does require a firm boot to get going, it settles down to a quiet hum while on the move.

The steering is almost perfect, allowing you to coax it freely into each corner.

The BT50 doesn’t try to blind you with off road gizmos, but its simple 2H, 4H and 4L drive modes do their job well.

However, I would be somewhat wary of taking that svelte nose through a muddy riverbed every weekend.

The new Mazda BT50 is unlikely to appeal to the blood, toil and sweat of the farmyard or worksite.

Its unparalleled levels of comfort, refinement, and handsome lines will most likely appeal to someone wanting something which will tow and occasionally rough it if need be.

Either way, the BT50 is still a marvellous ute.


 

A sporting update


Lexus definitely thinks the saloon segment is not dead. I attended the exclusive launch of their new IS Saloon in Palmerston North, Taupo, and Hampton Downs. Here is the lowdown.

 

 

The new IS consists of seven different variants. The base IS300 and IS300h, moving to the higher spec IS300 and IS300H Limited, and on to the performance-charged IS00, IS300h and IS350F Sport.

Prices start at $70,900 for the entry level IS300 and finish with the IS350F Sport at $101,800.

In typical Lexus fashion, petrol and hybrid powertrains return, with the IS300 getting a 2L turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine mated to an eight-speed automatic box with 180kW/350Nm.

The IS300 Hybrid gets a 2.5L four cylinder with 164kW and combined torque figures of 521Nm. Fuel figures? Try 5.1L/100km. The IS350F Sport naturally gets the most grunt, with a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 with 232kW and 380Nm.

Looks wise, the new IS Sports has an entirely new spindle grill, redesigned head and taillight cluster, and a more swooping coupe-like roofline.

For what is essentially a heavy facelift, the new IS certainly looks good, especially with the blacked-out accents and 19-inch BBS matt black alloys of the F-Sport.

Inside, you get a new 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

The leather seats are just as sublime, and all the switchgear feels so well put together.

Leaving Lexus New Zealand HQ in Palmerston North, we made our way to Taupo for our overnight stop at The Hilton.

First was the IS300 Limited Petrol, which performed well, but you did need to give it stick to make some brisk progress.

Steering was well weighted, and it felt very planted on the move.

Also, the 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system gets a big thumbs up. Next up was the IS300 Hybrid.

This is a much more engaging drive. The combination of petrol and electric power working in harmony resulted in a car which was livelier, and more fun to drive.

Leaving Taupo the next day, it was time for the IS350F Sport. However, the IS300H feels just as sporty on twisty roads heading for the Waikato. But, despite the larger alloys, improvements in ride comfort over the previous generation F-Sport was a nice surprise.

We then made our way to Hampton Downs Raceway, which this writer enjoyed at the wheel of the sublime LC500 Convertible.

What amazed me the most is the new IS can still thrill on track, then again, the new IS was the first Lexus to be developed on their new, Nurburgring inspired, Shimoyama Test Track.

Based on this taster, the IS300H just edges ahead of the F-Sport as being my top pick of the range.

I’m looking forward to putting the new Lexus IS through its paces on Canterbury roads over the coming months.


 

Lost in the Forester


The Subaru Forester is a great SUV, and of the few soft roaders to actually do well on the rough stuff. Now, along with the XV, the Forester has gone Hybrid: Let’s see how it stacks up.

 

 

 

The range consists of the E Boxer Sport, and the flagship E Boxer Premium featured here. The Sport kicks it off at $47,990, while the premium is $54,990. Both get the same 2L Boxer four-cylinder engine with 110kW and 196Nm of torque. This is mated to Subaru’s SLT transmission and of course, all-wheel drive.

Levels of kit are generous with heated door mirrors, steering responsive headlights, dual zone aircon, hill start assist, Rear Autonomous Braking, blind spot monitoring, keyless entry, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

You also get Subaru’s latest gen Eyesight safety technology. This contains autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, high beam assist, and lane change assist.

The Premium also gets additional niceties like power boot, swish looking 18-inch alloys, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, premium Harmon/Kardon sound system, heated electric seats with leather trim and Subaru’s Driver Monitoring System.

You do sit quite high and everything is within easy reach. The interior itself is one of the Foresters biggest assets, as there is a tonne of space for driver and passengers. The same can be said of boot space, which at 345L is nothing to be sniffed at.

While there is no shortage of power when getting up to speed, it’s the Hybrid system which falls short. At 6.7L/100km, it is thirstier than we were first expecting when compared to its rivals. Also, Electric drive only really comes into play when you are stationary or easing off.

When you get going from a standstill, rather than a conventional hybrid system which stays in EV mode until it reaches a certain cruising speed, the petrol engine takes over instantly.

You can be as soft as you like on the gas, but the petrol engine starts pretty much from the get go, which is kind of annoying in a Hybrid.

On the plus side, ride comfort is very supple and comfortable. When electric and petrol power are working together, performance is decent, and like its petrol counterpart, you can still have plenty of joyous off-road frivolity thanks to Subaru’s X-Mode. With X-Mode in Snow/Dirt or Snow/Mud, not that there was any snow to devour, the Forester can still take it all in its stride with relative ease.

While the Subaru Forester E Boxer Hybrid is very competent off the beaten track, the price premium isn’t worth the minimal gains in economy.

Don’t get me wrong, the Forester in its regular petrol-powered guise is still a great car and well worth your time, but if you are after a Hybrid, there are better options out there.


 

Supra speedy, supra slick


The Toyota GR Supra has been the subject of plenty of gushing reviews by the motoring press since its launch in 2019. There is a good reason for this mind you, it is a properly fantastic sports car and continuation of the Supra name which laid dormant within Toyota’s family for far too long. Now, within a year of being on sale, Toyota have powered up the GR Supra even more for 2021. We went to Hampton Downs Raceway to have a play.

 

 

The GR Supra has been the spearhead of Toyota and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s efforts to reinvigorate the performance arm of the brand.

Power from the GR Supra’s 3.0L twin scroll turbo straight six has been increased by 35kW, bringing the power figures up to 285kW.

This is the result of manifold redesign and relocation of those meaty twin turbos.

Torque figures stay the same at 500Nm, but a piston redesign means you get it all from idle right up to the north side of 5000rpm.

Add this together, along with the eight speed ZF automatic gearbox and kerb wight of 1570kg, and the GR Supra will reach the New Zealand speed limit in 4.1 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than before.

Little else has changed over the outgoing car, the GR Supra still comes with Active Differential, Variable Ratio Steering, Active Sound Control, Performance brakes package with red callipers and Toyota’s Safety Sense Package.

However, a GR Supra Limited edition is available in a rather tasty looking Horizon Blue paint scheme.

The standard car is now $98,990, whereas the Limited Edition is the same $99,990 as the outgoing car.

So, out onto a rain-soaked Hampton Downs we went, first in the outgoing model, then in the new car, and boy can you tell the difference between the two.

That extra 35kW becomes apparent once you give it what for. From a low 1650rpm right to the redline, the next corner arrives much sooner than first expected.

Up shifts from the ZF auto box are still very slick, and that turbo six pot gives you a sweet-sounding bellow when shifting down.

Despite the wet weather, we were able to see the far side of 180km/h before standing on those performance brakes and turning in.

The steering is still so communicative and when the back comes out to play, which it often did during our wet laps, you can catch it again with relative ease.

The new GR Supra is not a hard car to drive fast, and very easy to handle when you get near the limit.

So, has extra grunt made the Toyota GR Supra better? You bet. Can’t wait to test it off track on Canterbury roads in the new year.


 

Powering up the Mazda: Blackwells Motors Ltd


Mazda’s Skyactiv-X powertrain has been making headlines all over the motoring world. There is a good reason for this, as it has boldly gone where no internal combustion engine has gone before. We had a play with the new Mazda CX-30 Takami thanks to Blackwells Mazda.

 

The CX-30 is one of two models in Mazda’s range to benefit from Skyactiv-X, the other being the Mazda3 hatch.

So Skyactiv-X, what exactly is it? Well, the 2L four-cylinder petrol engine is world-first in commercial engine design, combining petrol power with all the benefits of a compression ignition you would find in a diesel. So you get high-end power, and all the low-down torque, resulting in the best of both petrol and diesel engines in one petrol unit.

Let’s break it down a bit further.

Mazda’s new Spark Plug Controlled Compression Injection, or SPCCI, allows the 2L Skyactiv-X petrol engine to get the right amount of fuel and air mixture into the combustion chamber during the intake stroke of each cylinder.

Petrol is then injected directly around the spark plug, creating a bigger bang.

This results in a richer and more immediate surge of power when the spark fires after combining the air and petrol, instead of the gradual build up you would get with a conventional petrol engine.

Skyactiv-X models like the CX-30 are also a mild hybrid thanks to Mazda’s new M Hybrid system.

This works by storing up electricity from the starter motor generator when you lift off the throttle. It then sends the electric drive to wherever it works best, meaning less stress on the petrol engine.

Put these two ground-breaking systems together, and you get a petrol car which produces less carbon emissions, 135g/km, and greater open road efficiency.

There is more power under the bonnet too, with the CX-30 Takami Skyactiv-X producing 132kW of grunt, 18kW more than the regular petrol CX-30.

Fuel consumption is less too, at a claimed 6L/100km.

While that is a bit to take in, one can safely say you notice the fruits of Mazda’s labour when one is at the helm. Moving off and you quickly notice the more immediate delivery of 224Nm of torque.

From idle to high in the rev range, the Skyactiv-X works its magic, providing you with crisp throttle response and top end power.

At cruising speed, there is no droning to speak of and if you keep it in the sweet spot of around 1800rpm around town, it’s almost electric quiet.

Plus, with Mazda’s G-Vectoring steering on hand, you can slice and dice through traffic too.

Also, being the range topping Takami, the CX-30 gets all the niceties like heated leather seats, premium Bose stereo, 360-degrees reversing camera, heated steering wheel, and power tailgate.

Also, everything you touch and operate has a very satisfying click to it.

The CX-30 Takami Skyactiv-X can be yours for $54,990 plus ORC, making it $4000 more than the regular petrol CX-30 Limited.

However, once you get a chance to experience just how clever this revolutionary new engine is, you would be hard pressed to go back to a regular petrol engine.

If this is the future evolution of internal combustion, then count us in.


 

Looks, power and performance: Christchurch European


The Porsche Boxster needs no introduction to the sports car faithful. Since the original was launched in 1996, so many in the premium sports car market have been playing catch up to this mid-engine German soft top adrenaline pump.

 

This 718 Boxster, on loan from the team at Christchurch European, is probably the most underrated Boxster in recent years.

The 718 namesake harks back to the iconic Porsche 718 RSK which competed at Le Mans and the Targa Florio.

The 718 Boxster is a looker, especially when viewed from the rear.

The 2L turbocharged 220kW flat four found in the 718 provides more than enough oomph. Also, the fact this example comes with Porsche’s delightful six-speed manual gearbox is icing on the cake.

Turn the key and the 718 growls into life. Lower the roof, aim that svelte nose at the nearest piece of bendy bitumen, and the summer fun begins.

In Sport mode, you can push the 718 as hard as you like while never being out of control.

Heel and toe gearchanges are a joy and with an even weight distribution, the 718 can be easily coaxed into every corner, with that turbo flat four beautifully on song.

Whether cruising to your local, or wringing its neck on your favourite coastal pass, the 718 Boxster provides you with a driving experience few premium sports cars can match.

For more information on this Porsche 718 Boxster and other European exotica, check out Christchurch European.


 

Conquering the road: Jeep Gladiator review


For 70 plus years, Jeep have known a thing or two about off-road adventure. Oh, and believe it or not, pickup trucks. The first of these was the 1947 Jeep 4X4, and the last offering was the Cherokee based Comanche, which was discontinued in 1992. Now, the pick-up Jeep is back, and available in New Zealand.

 

 

Called the Gladiator, it steps into the arena of our ever popular mid-sized ute segment.

Styling wise, the Gladiator is certainly not subtle, carrying the rough and ready fascia of all lifestyle Jeeps.

From the B-pillar forward is carried over from the Wrangler, the rear deck is bespoke, and means the Gladiator is 780mm longer than its sibling.

The deck itself can haul around 620kg of whatever with ease and get this, you can even drive with the doors removed, and the windscreen folded down.

The Gladiator is available in two spec levels, the Overland at $89,990 and the Rubicon at $92,990.

Under the bonnet sits Chrysler’s 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine producing 206kW and 327Nm married to an eight-speed ZF automatic.

The Rubicon also manages 12.4L/100km, and Overland 11.2L, which is adequate for a big truck like this, and so is its 2.7 tonnes towing capacity.

My Gladiator was the Rubicon, which came with Jeep’s Rock-Trac Active On-Demand 4X4 system with four stage low and high range set up with Tru-Lok locking differentials, and Off Road Plus, which allows the driver to select from multiple options to suit whatever terrain they are devouring.

Inside, Jeep’s fourth generation Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto makes a welcome appearance.

The Gladiator also gets a tonne of safety gizmos – like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, electronic roll mitigation, and speed collision warning plus.

On the move, the Gladiator is surprisingly supple on the smooth tarmac of inner-city Christchurch, though it’s not a slick as some of its more conventional ute rivals. However, off road is another story.

With those diffs locked in place, the Gladiator Rubicon is a revelation off the beaten track. Despite its girth, it doesn’t muck around about mucking in.

The Pentastar V6 provides plenty of low-down torque and thanks to 286mm of ground clearance, its ability to crawl along rocks and other large obstacles is staggering.

Despite being a tad pricey, the Jeep Gladiator takes the ute segment and gives it extra bad-ass cred. Adrenaline fuelled adventure junkies take note, this one is a good‘un.


 

Upping the game


After nine years, we have a new Toyota Yaris. The first of Toyota’s new TNGA “B” Platform, and it happens to be rather nice.

 

As far as looks go, the Yaris is more rakish and aggressive than its predecessor, with a gaping whale shark-esque grill and frowning headlights, it certainly looks like this urban supermini wants to be a sports car. It also sits 10mm lower and the wheelbase is longer by 40mm.

My test car was the base GX petrol priced at $25,990. Under the bonnet sits an all-new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine producing 88kW of grunt and 145Nm of torque.

Transmission comes in the form of a rather slick CVT. Fuel consumption is also rated at a decent 4.9L/100km.

The new Yaris gets a fair amount of kit as is standard, such as dynamic radar cruise control, active lane keep assist, eight air bags, and a new Pre-Collision System.

The latter works by alerting the driver of crossing pedestrians or cyclists at hard-to-see intersections.

The cockpit itself is a mixture of durable plastics and funky design touches.

The driving position is low and comfortable, while visibility is decent all round.

My only gripe was slightly intrusive A-pillars.

On the move, the three-pot engine is incredibly refined throughout the rev range, and when you select PWR mode, a firm foot can bring the horizon closer at a brisker rate than first expected.

The Yaris GX has certainly raised its game and proved the old warrior has plenty of life left in it.


 

A model makeover: Honda Cars


The Honda CRV has been with us for many a moon, and for many SUV owners, it remains a crowd favourite. The CRV has been given an automotive nip and tuck for 2021, so what exactly has changed?

 

Well the outside benefits from a few styling tweaks, such as a redesigned front and rear lip, European style exhausts and new look 18-inch alloys.

Grunt for all models comes from a 1.5L turbocharged VTEC four-cylinder engine with 140kW/240Nm mated to Honda’s CVT transmission.

It is quite a refined power unit, and pulls strongly above 2,000rpm.

The range starts at $39,990 for the CRV Touring and tops out at the $51,790 CRV AWD Sport Premium. However, the level of kit you get as standard is quite impressive.

Hands Free Electric Tailgate, intelligent dual zone climate control, advanced display audio with 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Garmin Sat Nav, LED daytime running lights, parking sensors front and rear, reversing camera and lane watch camera.

Honda’s sensing safety gizmos also come as standard across the range. The Sport Premium, my test car, gets AWD, leather trim, and 19-inch sports alloys.

The Sport and Sport Premium also get wireless charging for the first time, too.

The CRV manages to still drive very nicely, although it is most at home commuting or motorway cruising.

All in all, these little tweaks have transformed the CRV from a decent SUV, into a very desirable package.