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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.


Fun with power



The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) gave a range of 55km and the average person drive 32kn a day in Christchurch, according to Christchurch Mitsubishi Fleet Sales Manager David Boyce. The sunroof was great and the drive was fantastic.

So I was looking forward to moving into the ASX VRX. 2.4L in Sunshine Orange.

No sunroof but a moonroof option – most of the roof is glass! Priced at $34,990 with cool alloy pedals and 18-inch alloy rims, plus 125kW and 226 Nm, it gave me a wee thrill to drive.

It also has some cool little fender side guards, Apple Car Play with six speakers, and elegant leather seating.

Now this is the top model with the lesser versions, the LS and XLS, coming in with a bit less flash and grunt but overall its got a pretty great feel to it…. other than Sunshine Orange. I mean I know it’s a press model, but as someone said, you have to be brave to drive that colour.

There’s also LED lighting and an 8-inch touch screen which, coming in at that price, equates to a lot of bang for your buck.

The piano black and satin grille is nice, and I like the lighting set up. It’s a bit old fashioned with a manual handbrake but then again, I’m a bit old too.

Yes the Outlander 20MY PHEV may have stolen my heart for a fun, well-powered SUV in a hybrid model, but I’m not complaining about the ASX…. just the colour. It’s time to take it for a test drive!


A Dynamic Drive

It is really hard not to be at least a little bit impressed with the new Honda Civic RS Sensing. While the last bit of the name does seem a tad strange at first, it becomes clear the tenth generation of one of Honda’s most cherished models, makes more ‘sense’ than ever before.


The $39,990 RS Sensing is extraordinary value considering what you get. Under the bonnet sits a 1.5 litre Turbo VTEC four-cylinder engine mated to Honda’s seven speed CVT auto with paddle shift.

While not much to look at, you still get 127kW and 220Nm of torque, while returning 6.3L/100km respectively.

Honda has also crammed the RS Sensing into the kit too.

Settle into those leather clad sports seats and you find adaptive cruise control, auto high beam, parking sensors front and rear, reversing camera, lane keep assist, collision mitigation braking, which sends you a visual alert on your instrument cluster if you are approaching the car in front too closely, and a wing-mounted camera which allows you to monitor your blind spot while changing lanes from the infotainment screen.

Thanks to upgrades to the suspension and bushings, the Civic RS Sensing is a much more dynamic drive than before.

Steering is nicely weighted and you can coax the Sensing into the twisty stuff with little effort required.

All in all, the Civic RS Sensing is a solid effort from Honda and represents stunning value for money. This one is definitely worth a look.


As good as it gets

Mitsubishi is renowned for being a solid, sturdy build – especially when it comes to their Outlander range.



It’s increasingly going from a rural vehicle to an urban one; ideal for the family that needs something to tow the boat, caravan, jet ski or bikes. The new PHV has increased handling, power and off-road capabilities; its 2.4L engine delivers to even the most discerning SUV expert.

As a hybrid, its EV range is up to 55km. There is a fast-charge option and it’s ideal if you want a day-to-day vehicle that is electric, but with the peace of mind that you can flick to fuel should you need to.

With a starting price of $52,990 it provides a lot of bang for buck when it comes to an SUV with real off-road capabilities. A fleet vehicle for quite a few companies, it’s an SUV that can be relied on to get the job done, which is why it’s an award-winner.

Style-wise it’s got some fine lines and the interior is as good as it gets. With 130kW and 332Nm of torque there’s nothing I can say that’s bad about it. It handles well and has great hybrid performance in day-to-day running. Mitsubishi, you just keep getting better.



Ferrari California: A serious supercar

Pressing the red starter button, your immediate surroundings are engulfed by a torrent of mechanical symphonic bliss; press the throttle and the revs rise, bringing with them a fiery Italian bellow. You are pinned back in the seat as you unleash the Ferrari California, one of the best value Ferrari supercars on the market today.




The California was first launched in 2009 and was the start of a new era for the Italian marque. With a 4.3-litre V8 mated to a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, the California is the best package of sports car and open road tourer around. With a 2+2 layout, a folding metal hard top, and a big boot, you and your significant other can have a blast on your way to Queenstown.

Whether on wide open motorways or tight switchback mountain passes, the Ferrari California is nothing short of a luxurious cruiser which transforms into a snarling Ferrari with all the adrenalin that comes with 70 years of passion and motorsport pedigree.

At $169,995, this 2011 example has to be one of the best Californias on sale anywhere in New Zealand. With 35,000km and that gorgeous black with cream leather and carbon trim combo, this beast is nothing short of stunning. Oh, and it drives even better than it looks.

Get in touch with Christchurch European before this prancing horse leaves its stable. The team also have a red and blue example coming real soon, so be sure not to miss out on an Italian icon.




The future of design

Kia Motors has revealed its new Futuron Concept, an illuminating all-wheel drive SUV coupe which proposes new designs for future electric vehicles.


The Futuron Concept represents the modern and confident image of a progressive electric SUV coupe envisioned by Kia. The Futuron name itself is a portmanteau of ‘future’ and ‘on’, hinting at the switched-on, electric nature of future SUV designs from the brand.

Electric vehicles are the future, yes, but the way we use the technology and how that will interface with individuals will be the key. The Futuron’s design leads us one step further towards science-future becoming science-fact. Autonomous driving is coming and with New Zealand bringing 5G soon, it’s closer than we think.

The Kia Futuron is very much a reality that all large companies currently have in development as they look forward to the autonomous platform. Hardware and software in vehicles is constantly adapting, resulting in a tsunami of innovation. It’s not only that one step closer to the future of design, it would be fantastic to drive and looks hot, don’t you think?

With a design based around the notion of dynamic purity, the Futuron concept merges elegant proportions with pure shapes and surfaces. Its lightweight SUV coupe body incorporates a fully electric all-wheel drive powertrain, wrapped in bold yet modern exterior surfaces, and with a flexible, high-tech interior. It’s the perfect base for an autonomous future and one that I would personally love to own.




A rare gem

The sight of a Honda S660 might seem a relatively everyday occurrence in the back streets of Tokyo or Kyoto, but in New Zealand, it’s on par with the most exclusive sports cars. In other words, it’s rare.



The S660 is the spiritual successor to Honda’s Beat Kei Car from the nineties. Plus, it also nods to the original tiny Honda sports cars of the sixties. The S660 was built for Japanese motorists to take advantage of Japanese tax and insurance benefits, providing the engine is no bigger than 660cc.

Kei Cars are seldom imported into New Zealand officially, but this S660 was imported by Honda New Zealand. Time to get stuck in.

At 3395mm long, 1475mm wide and 1180mm high, the S660 makes Honda’s old CRZ look like a new NSX by comparison. Pop the bonnet and you’ll find a mid-mounted, turbocharged, 660cc three-cylinder engine with – wait for it – 47kW/104Nm. Mated to a seven-speed CVT auto, you can also spec a manual, which is nice.

You really have to fold yourself into the S660 and once you are snug inside, you quickly realise taller and more rotund drivers may struggle getting in or out. The S660 weighs in at 830kg. Zero to 100km/h takes 11 seconds and the top speed? 140km/h. Yes, you read that right.



The S660 comes with a removable fabric targa-style roof. Simply undo the clips on either side and you just roll it up and stow it away in a small compartment in the boot. Oh, and that small compartment is the full extent of the S660’s cargo carrying capabilities.

Inside you have airbags, keyless entry, air-con, cruise control, electric windows, a FM/AM Radio, USB ports and that’s it. The S660 is just the essence of a car, and we loved it.

Press start and the S660 sounds mechanical, and after each individual rev at idle, you can hear each of those three plucky tiny cylinders firing. Dive right down a side street and the S660 changes direction like a fly. The steering responsiveness is almost psychic, almost as if the car knows where you want to go before you do.

Leave town and the S660 really isn’t suited to copious amounts of motorway miles. A strong side wind means you are constantly fighting to keep it straight, due to the lack of weight. There is plenty of buffeting at speed too. However, things change when the going gets twisty.

Selecting sport mode only heightens the revs but it means you can carry maximum power through every bend. Just keep it planted, use all of those mighty 47kW, and you corner like a cat on shag pile carpet, grinning from ear to ear.

Despite no plans for Honda New Zealand to introduce the S660 Kei Car to the New Zealand market, it’s great to know that cars like this exist. Plus, driving the Honda S660 will, at some point, leave you in stitches.




Higher than the rest

With the new Mazda6 Takami, which in Japanese translates roughly as ‘Higher than the Rest’, it really is a case of the best made better. Available as saloon for $56,995 and now a wagon at $58,695, the Mazda6 Takami is the company’s flagship, and a very handsome one at that. From the outside, the flagship Takami is easily the best looking 6 in the range, especially with those tasty 19-inch alloys.




Inside, it’s difficult not to notice Mazda’s intentions to move the brand upmarket. Fully loaded with all the fruit, buyers get Mazda’s slick MZD Connect Infotainment System, heated and ventilated leather seats and steering wheel, 360° reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert to name a few. Head and legroom, both front and rear, are also very generous.

Under the bonnet, the Takami makes use of the CX9’s peachy 2.5-litre turbo four pot petrol engine. This means 170kW/420Nm are at your disposal via a six-speed automatic transmission. While this does make the Takami brisk off the mark, it has the ability to cruise all day at the legal limit with an amazing level of comfort and refinement.

Despite being a lengthy 4865mm, the Takami is very live and supple in the twisty stuff. Mazda’s knack of making an entertaining drive is clearly evident here.

All in all, the new levels of refinement, oodles of toys and brilliant driveability and chassis dynamics make for a stunning package. Basically, the Mazda 6 Takami is the new segment yardstick.




Packed with power

‘Muscle car’ may not be something you would expect to hear in a review of a Mercedes Benz, but that was the first thing that sprung to mind while testing the Mercedes C63 S Estate.




The C63 model range is a bestseller, with the Estate teamed with a Saloon, a Coupé and a Cabriolet.

The Estate, which I got to turn my hand to trialling, is packed to the gunwales with power from an 8-cylinder 3982cc 375kW machine featuring 700Nm of torque and wheel drive. It’s a drift lover’s dream, but on the other hand, it could also be the ultimate family car.

The 19-inch cross spoke forged wheel rims and the LCD accent lighting on the interior are welcome touches, while the AMG performance exhaust mode makes the sound of those 8 cylinders just roar. That’s if you can hear it over the Burmester surround sound with 13 speakers.

There’s also a nappa leather AMG seat add-on package available – good leather seating is something I’ve come to really appreciate when trying out a new vehicle. The base price before ORC comes in at $170,800; with the seating package thrown in, it’s still only $174,500, so why not go all out?

The Mercedes C63 S Estate is the whole package – power with good looks to boot.




Audi Q3’s Makeover

The new Audi Q3 has been a long time coming. With the first gen debuting in 2011, it was a big success for the Ingolstadt company, with loyal customers lapping it up en masse. So, after eight years, one of Audi’s most popular models has finally received a makeover, but is this automotive nip and tuck more than skin deep?



What exactly is it? 
The range kicks off with the 35 TFSI Advanced for $60,900 before moving up to the 45 TFSI Advanced and 45 TFSI S Line for $74,900 and $84,900 respectively. With the hot SQ3 and spicier RSQ3 well on the way, you certainly won’t be spoilt for choice.

Under the bonnet
Our test car was the entry level 35 TFSI. This means a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 110kW and 250Nm of torque. Throw in a six speed S-Tronic gearbox and you sip away the fuel at a mere 6.0-litres per 100km.

We love how Audi’s clean-cut design philosophy is transcending throughout the whole range and the Q3 is no exception. It’s 97mm longer than before and 25mm wider, it also sits 5mm lower, making for a hunkered-down stance. All in all, there is no sign of automotive middle age spread here.

Audi really knows how to produce a refined and sublime interior. Every button and toggle switch are just better defined and put together than many of their competitors. Our test car came with the Technology and Comfort Package which contains Audi’s slick Virtual Cockpit, Adaptive Cruise Control, 360 Degree Rear View Camera and a host of other goodies. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto also makes an appearance. Boot space has been increased, allowing you to lug 530L of whatever around easily.

On the road
Getting up to speed, it becomes obvious the 1.5 litre turbo is no rocket ship, but it does work beautifully with the dual clutch auto box, allowing you to make brisk and efficient progress. Audi Drive Select is on hand with multiple drive modes which can be tailored to suit your mood.

The steering is direct but feedback was somewhat lacking. On the flipside, Audi has really nailed drowning out the outside world when you are on the move. The noise deadening is nigh on perfect, leaving you cocooned in chapel-like quiet as you drive along. Ride comfort also deserves a mention; Audi has really wowed us in recent years with some comfortable rides and the Q3 is up there with the best.

Despite the odd niggle, the Q3 has moved forward in leaps and bounds over its predecessor. With willing engines, clean-cut styling, and the unequalled levels of refinement, it has certainly been worth waiting for this member of Audi’s ever-growing Q family.