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Author: Ben Selby

A refreshing highlander


For some, a Highlander is a rugby player from the deep south, to others, an 80s fantasy film starring Sean Connery. To Toyota, a Highlander is a mid-sized SUV, and a big seller.


Sarah Weber


For 2021, the Highlander has been refreshed for the fourth time, with a recent launch in Auckland and Paihia to show what’s new.
The new Highlander is being built at Toyota’s US plant in Indiana, and New Zealand and Australia are the only right-hand-drive markets getting it. Styling wise, with its wide grill and wing-like spindle, it does have a whiff of “the land of the free”.

The range starts at Toyota’s Driveaway Price of $60,990 for the entry level GXL 3.5L V6 Petrol and finishes at $74,990 for the high end 2.5L four-cylinder Limited ZR Hybrid. Two variants of the petrol are on offer, but Toyota is championing the three GXL, Limited and Limited ZR Hybrid options to spearhead its sales.

Longer by 60mm and 5mm wider, it also weighs 75kg less than the previous generation. The interior is well laid out, with all the switchgear for the infotainment system being very intuitive. It comes with a plethora of standard kit including LED headlights, rain sensing wipers, hill start assist, parking sensors all around, reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, keyless entry with push button start, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

Toyota’s safety sense package is standard across the range with pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, emergency steering assist, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert, radar cruise control, curve speed reduction, and road sign assist. The ZR Hybrid has other goodies such as a marvellous panoramic roof, heated and ventilated leather seats, sat nav and an impressive 11-speaker JBL sound system.

Our drive started at Emirates Team New Zealand HQ on Auckland’s Viaduct and we made our way north to Paihia. The Hybrid was certainly frugal on the juice, however it felt distinctly softer in the corners despite the torque delivery of petrol and electric power being linear and responsive. By contrast, both the GXL and Limited petrol models felt sportier in the corners, but you don’t get the same level of straight-line grunt.

Then again, as we made our way from Paihia to the amazing sight of 2000-year-old kauri tree, Tane Mahuta, the Highlander showed it was never about devouring bendy bitumen, but more about being a comfortable and solid performer on a long trip, which it managed quite well.

As far as first impressions go, the latest Highlander, thanks to the levels of kit and the inclusion of Hybrid could very well tip the segment in favour of Toyota. I’m looking forward to testing it out on Canterbury roads soon.



Smooth and sustainable


The Mazda MX-30 has been in the pipeline for some time. Now it is finally here, and set to spearhead Mazda’s goal of a sustainable future.


Mazda MX-30


The MX-30 is available as a Mild-Hybrid and pure EV. My test car was the MX-30 Limited 2.0L Petrol Mild-Hybrid. The 2.0L petrol e-Skyactiv-G four cylinder with Mild-Hybrid technology is a real peach, providing a seamless and smooth delivery of power throughout the rev range.

Looks wise, the MX-30 is a stunning looking bit of kit, thanks to its Ceramic Metallic colour combo, swooping coupe-esque roofline, and the rear doors which give a nod to the iconic RX-8 sports car.


Inside, the MX-30 uses a variety of recycled materials including heritage cork for the centre console tray to recycled fabric and vegan leather for the seats plus recycled plastic bottles for the upper door trim. The MX-30 also sports a minimalist cabin. I loved its floating centre console with touchscreen heater controls. Plus, all the switchgear feels satisfying to use. The MX-30 was also awarded a 5-star ANCAP safety rating in 2020.


Under the Government’s Full Clean Car Programme 2022, the MX-30 Mild-Hybrid featured here falls into the zero-band category, which means no added costs on top of the starting price of $45,990 plus ORC. Also, for every MX-30 sold, Mazda New Zealand will fund five native trees in conjunction with Trees That Count.

I’m really looking forward to trying the EV variant soon.



Storm the Palisade

Big seven-to-eight-seater luxo SUVs are fast becoming the cash cow of many automotive brands. This is the Palisade, Hyundai’s spearhead at this segment.



The turbo diesel engine in my Limited felt very strong and eager to get going. Keep it between 1600 and 4000rpm, and you make brisk progress despite the girth. The Palisade’s eight-speed auto box on hand sending drive to all four wheels via Hyundai’s proven HTRAC AWD system is very smooth. However, the gear selector buttons on the centre console were not terribly responsive.
As far as cabin refinement goes, the Palisade shows just how far Hyundai has come in the last decade. Features like the 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system are easy to use and everything you touch feels akin to some in this segment costing twice the price.
The on-board kit is a Palisade triumph too. Heated and ventilated seats, power sunroof, heated steering wheel, wireless charging, Apple carPlay/Android auto, blind spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision avoidance, which at speeds of up to 80km/h, will put the brakes on quicker than you could yourself. Though I was not tempted to try it! The rear ‘Captains Chairs’ were another treat, able to recline and move forward and back so one could strike the optimum Captain Kirk pose.
The Palisade is probably not the most engaging of drives, but then again it is not meant to be. Off the beaten track, its multi terrain control drive modes sends optimum torque to which ever corner needs it most. It is a great system and a doddle to use.
All in all, there is much to like about the new Palisade. The price is up there, but those after a luxurious yet frugal SUV, should definitely keep the brochure on this one.




Price: $114,990
Engine: 2.2L Four Cylinder Turbo Diesel
Power and Torque: 174kW/440Nm
Transmission: Eight Speed Automatic
Drive System: All-Wheel-Drive
Fuel Consumption: 7.3L/100km
Wheels: 20inch Alloys
Weight: 2057kg
Towing Capacity: 2200kg
Dimensions: 4980mm (L), 1975mm (W), 1750mm (H)


All that Jazz: Honda Cars

It’s not every day Honda gives us a new Jazz. Few cars in this segment are lapped up as much by consumers ever since Honda released the first Jazz almost 20 years ago. For 2021, the Jazz has more tech, a new face, and the addition of electrification.



2021 Honda Jazz Crosstar

Price: $30,000/$30,800 two tone
Engine: 1.5L DOHC VTEC Petrol
Transmission: CVT Auto
Power/Torque: 89kW/145Nm
Fuel Economy: 5.8L/100km
C02 Emissions (g/km): 133
Alloys: 16-inch Cross Design
Warranty: Five Years with Unlimited Ks


The range kicks off at $28,000 for the entry level Life and finished at the electric hybrid e: HEV Luxe at $35,000. My test car was the mid-range $30,000 Jazz Crosstar. This middle child is the first Jazz with an urban crossover stance.

Honda has raised the ride height by 33mm and additions like roof rails, water resistant upholstery, redesigned steering and a nose which distinctly has a whiff of adventure about it. I also loved the optional two-tone colour scheme.

The new interior is spot on. The first things you notice are the two spoke steering wheel, larger windscreen and much thinner a-pillars.

A clear digital instrument cluster stares at you and all the switchgears feel solid and well put together.

The new nine-inch infotainment screen is a peach too.

The 1.5L VTEC petrol engine pulls strongly and despite the raised ride height, you can still carry a decent pace through the bends while remaining relatively planted.

All in all, Honda’s new Jazz is an even more tempting proposition.


This is no old goat

Prior to Subaru New Zealand’s marketing campaign for the new Outback, I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t realised what the acronym GOAT meant. It does of course mean, ‘Greatest of All Time.’ With the new Outback, Subaru claims it is the GOOAT. So, is this the ‘Greatest Outback of All Time’? Let’s see.



The new Outback gets a few styling tweaks front and rear. This is probably the best looking Outback for some time.

Under the bonnet is a 2.5L boxer four-cylinder petrol engine like before, but this one is 90 percent all new. Power has risen to 138kW and 245Nm of torque. The SLT gearbox gains a gear, making it now an eight-speed set up. Subaru also claims a combined fuel figure of 7.3L/100km, and towing capacity increases to two tonnes.

Standard kit is generous with Subaru’s fourth generation EyeSight safety system combining lane centring function, speed sign recognition and lane departure warning. There are also directional LED headlights, rear cross traffic alerts, blind spot monitoring, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and reverse automatic braking.

While the interior itself is very similar to before, the first thing you notice when inside is the large tablet-style 11.6 touchscreen infotainment system. This is by far the highlight of the new Outback’s cockpit, as it was very clear and intuitive.

My test car was the flagship Outback Touring which boasts niceties such as heated Napa leather, electric sunroof, heated steering wheel, and a rather good Harman Kardon sound system which gives one the closest experience to hearing Pink Floyd live.

The driving position is more natural this time around and the level of quality materials used for the switchgear and trim is much improved too. This is easily the most refined Outback yet.

On the road, that refinement translates well into the drive itself. Honestly, the new Outback feels a completely different animal to the previous generation.

The nearly all new boxer four-pot is quieter and peak torque comes in low down in the rev range, leaving you seldom exceeding 2500rpm. Tweaks to the suspension and dampers have resulted in less body roll. Ride comfort has been improved too.

Heading on to the gravel trails and dusty inclines behind McLeans Island, it was time to play with X-Mode.

Subaru’s off-road modes deal with all manner of terrain well, with X-Mode sending power and torque to where it is needed most. You also gain the addition of deep snow/mud settings to the mix.

The entry level Outback kicks things off at $49,990, the mid-range Outback X is $54,990, and my flagship Touring tops out the range at $57,990. In summary, the new Outback exceeds all expectations. Honestly, I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. The GOOAT? Absolutely.


Top down, revved up

The Lexus LC500 Coupe caused quite a stir when it was launched. Now Lexus have chopped the roof, resulting in the LC500 Convertible. However, is it any better topless? After being on display at Lexus Urban Polo, Lexus New Zealand gave me the keys for 28 hours to find out.



The LC500 Convertible’s 5L V8 is shared with the RC F coupe and GS F saloon. It is also naturally aspirated with power rated at 351kW/540Nm.

A 10-speed automatic box with paddles sends drive to the rear wheels. All in all, Lexus have kept it brilliantly simple. No turbos, no AWD, just a tonne of power and V8 thunder.

Inside it is probably one of the most attractive places to sit of any car I’ve seen on sale. Lately, all the toys found in a car of this type can be found, even the epic 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, though the mousepad control is a bit vague at times.

You quickly forget that the second you lower the roof, and press that starter button. The sweet sound of a naturally aspirated V8 engulfs your surroundings before settling to a soft burble at idle.

Pointing the LC500’s nose to Akaroa, it shows itself to be a sublime tourer. In Comfort or Eco mode, you can devour kilometre after kilometre in almost electric quiet, and despite being so low to the ground, ride comfort is pretty much perfect.

Every bump is soaked up and you sit low and far back, resulting in the perfect driving position. Rear visibility is so-so with the roof up, but most of the time you want that roof down, especially as you can raise and lower it at speeds of up to 50km/h.

Zero to 100km/h in five seconds isn’t rapid fire by today’s standards, but the LC500 Convertible isn’t about acceleration and top speed that can re-arrange your fillings. It’s more about big power under control.

Many have made the mistake of regarding the LC500 as an out and out sports car. It isn’t, it’s a sporting tourer, but when you want to have some fun, the LC500 Convertible will still give shots of adrenaline the moment you give it stick. Plant boot and a butterfly valve in the exhaust opens up.

Weighing in at a snip over two-tonnes, the LC500 is no lightweight, but it can still dance the sports car dance really well.

Downshifts at high RPM are accompanied by a crackle and boom from the exhaust like a far-off battlefield and despite not being super sharp, it isn’t long before you are giggling as you blast out of another corner with that V8 on full song.

At $234,000, the LC500 Convertible is considerably less than its nearest rival, the new Aston Martin Vantage Roadster. All in all, the LC500 Convertible gets the blend of long-distance cruiser and back road blaster just right. This one is very good indeed.


As intoxicating as ever

There is an old saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. And this perfectly sums up the Honda Civic Type R.



The current generation has been with us since 2017 and was the first Type R to be sold new in New Zealand. It also quickly set the standard which all would-be hot hatches were judged against.

For 2021, there have been subtle changes, but all of them welcome. A bigger front grille increases cooling for the 228kW/400Nm 2L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which happens to be a real peach. There are also redesigned front and rear carbon splitters to aid with downforce at speed.

Underneath, you get remapped engine software, improved dampers and tweaked suspension bushes, making for a more comfortable ride around town. You can also have your Type R in the new Boost Blue paint scheme, which looks simply epic from all angles.

The driving position is still nigh on perfect and those Recaro sports seats provide racing-car-like support while still being very comfortable.

Also, the interior is awash with added Type R-ness, including red seat belts, a new alcantara wrapped steering wheel, and a new gear lever for the six-speed manual box which harks back to the classic EK9 Civic Type R and DC2 Integra.

In Comfort mode, the Type R actually rides a bit better than before.

Also new is Active Noise Control which increases the turbo four pot engine note through the stereo speakers. In Sport, you can still have serious fun, but where the Type R really shines is in R Plus mode.

Each throw of the six-speed box is like loading a bolt action rifle. Every down change is accompanied with a blip of the throttle to simulate a heel and toe shift.

Honestly, with so many hot hatches deferring to an auto box these days, it’s so refreshing, and so satisfying swapping cogs around yourself.

Build the boost up to around 4500rpm and hang on. While not violent by any means, it still surges forward with enough power to give you the giggles.

The Brembo brakes have also been improved, allowing you to pull up quicker and smoother than before.

While you can devour the twisty stuff at a considerable rate in Comfort mode, naturally Sport and R Plus are best.

The Type R constantly coaxes you to push harder and turn in sharper. Keep it in the sweet spot between 2500 and 5000rpm, work that delightful manual box, and this road going adrenaline pump just flies.

The Type R also comes with a new performance datalogger system. Called LogR, it allows you to monitor your driving in terms of performance, both on track and off, via the LogR App on your smartphone.

The $62,990 Civic Type R is still capable of getting under your skin. Make no bones about this one, it’s just as intoxicating as ever.


Civic Type R at a glance

• 5 door hatch
• 2L VTEC turbo
• 6 speed manual
• 20-inch black alloys
• From $62,990 +ORC


Crossing the Yaris

The trend of turning small hatchbacks into small SUVs just keeps growing. It was only a matter of time before Toyota did the same thing to the Yaris. This brings us to the Yaris Cross, a Yaris hatch with a difference.



While sharing the same TNGA-B platform, the Cross is 240mm longer and 90mm taller than the Yaris Hatch. You also get 30mm more ground clearance too.

My test car was the range topping Limited Hybrid. Under the bonnet sits a 1.5-litre three pot petrol engine with 88kW mated to a hybrid electric system with 85kW.

Toyota claim combined fuel consumption figures of 3.8L/100km, although the best I managed to average was around 4.7L/100km.

The interior is pretty much identical to the hatch, and you get a tonne of kit as standard, like a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, lane tracing assist, radar cruise control, emergency steering assist and crosswind assist.

With the Limited, you also get additional goodies like electric heated front seats, leather steering wheel and extra USB charging ports.

On the move, the Cross is not quite as entertaining as the hatch, but it’s still very comfortable and happiest when cruising. The range starts at $29,990 for the entry level GX petrol, whereas my Limited Hybrid retails for $38,990.

The Yaris Cross is a Yaris SUV we never thought we needed but glad exists.


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.