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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.


 

Mega motorcycles, mega service


For Dennis Charlett, motorcycles are a way of life, whether on a Saturday ride, or competing in the New Zealand Superbike Championship, of which he has multiple national titles under his belt.

 

 

Dennis knows the bike industry inside and out, which led to him purchasing Budget Motorcycles Spares Ltd, and transforming it into Mega Motorcycles Centre.

“I have been in the industry for a number of years, but I have always wanted to own my own motorcycle business,” he says.

“The opportunity came to buy Budget Motorcycle Spares, from there it evolved into Mega Motorcycle Centre.”

What started as a shop specialising in tyres, parts and riding accessories, is now a fully fledged motorcycle one stop shop.

“We still retain all the services of Budget Motorcycle Spares, like tyres, parts, helmets, riding gear and accessories. However, we are now a one stop shop with tuning, dyno testing, and other mechanical work.”

Dennis’ competitive nature on the track is also evident when it comes to giving his loyal customers the best experience and service possible, regardless of what they ride.

“My team and I always ensure our customers leave with what they want. It doesn’t matter what they are into, Harleys or Japanese Sports Bikes, we welcome any brand or style.”

 

 


 

New take on a sporty classic


It’s not the typical jump-in-and-go-get-Fish’n’chips, but you will soon spot Maserati’s new range like the Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante around the place with a more unified look.

 

 

Maserati started producing cars in Bologna in 1914 with the iconic trident as its bonnet’s standard.

It’s a luxury car brand making 75,000 globally yearly. Now, the brand has confirmed substantial changes in styling to their entire range are in store.

First, we’ll see a new front grill and light cluster on the two sedans and SUV. Inside, there is a new generation Maserati Intelligent Assistant – I wonder if it will give you the best pick on Italian restaurants?

Based on Android and not the almighty Apple, the big question is how far will the enhanced driver assist technology go?

The Ghibli sports sedan is also coming in a hybrid, Maserati’s first go at electric.

But don’t fret – with a complete range including V6 and V8 petrol, four-cylinder hybrid and V6 diesel powerplants, with rear-wheel and four-wheel drive, there’s pretty much something for everyone.

Then there is the MC20, named China Performance Car of the Year 2021. The highly anticipated awards were officially announced recently in Guangzhou.

Closely followed by both industry insiders and consumers, the awards aim to promote the continuous improvement of China’s automotive industry and market.

A jury comprised of 41 authoritative judges from the automotive media measure each vehicle against overall and market performance, as well as other key factors.

The MC20 is a very sexy beast though and, like you, I would love to get behind the wheel to get the full experience.

Developed by the Maserati Innovation Lab and produced at the historic plant in Modena, MC20 is 100 percent made in Italy.

Its superb looks conceal an uncompromisingly sporty soul, with the new 630 horsepower V6 Nettuno engine that delivers 0 to 100km/h acceleration in under 2.9 seconds.

Let’s say that again, 2.9 seconds!

With a top speed over 325km/h, that’s Christchurch to Ashburton in 16 minutes. “Sorry officer, was I speeding?”

The patented engine has been developed, designed, and built entirely in-house. With the new super sports car MC20, the trident brand officially started a new era.

The more I look at the images, the more I think I have a Maserati sporty soul.

 


 

The perfect fit


The name Kamiq originates from the language of the Inuit people, native to Northern Canada and Greenland. It means, “something that fits perfectly”. And I think that says it all.

 

 

I live a pretty busy life, which means I need a car that is easy-to-use and equipped to deal with all my requirements for passengers and cargo.

When I went through the briefing of the Skoda Kamiq with the team at Miles Continental, the word “compact” kept getting used.

Now, compact means small but that’s not what the Kamiq felt like at all.

Comfortable and easy to drive, Skoda really do nail simplicity with style and at a very competitive price.

There are three variations in the range, starting with the Ambition at $30,990 with 85kW up to the Monte Carlo, at $42,990 with 110kW, which is what I
got to play with. It is a turbo petrol and has 250Nm of torque and a five-star safety rating – which is always a good thing.

My love started with my 2018 car of the year being the Superb, so adding another good car to the Skoda range makes sense.

What’s left to say if you’re hunting for a fun, compact SUV? This fits perfectly.


 

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.


 

Stress less, shine more: RO Jones Panelbeaters


A vehicle is often someone’s prized possession and it can be very distressing when it is damaged. Helping to take the stress out of dealing with this kind of situation are the panelbeating experts at RO Jones Panelbeaters.

 

“It is really important for customers’ peace of mind for them to have confidence in their panelbeater’s workmanship,” says Karl Stohr of RO Jones.

“It’s their vehicle and their choice of repairer. We have a long history of producing quality repairs from minor rust issues to major smash repairs. Exemplary customer service is also paramount for us.”

RO Jones does indeed go the extra mile. The company has thirteen loan cars available free of charge to keep customers on the road while repairs are being carried out.

There is even a loan van which is very handy for tradies and couriers. Before being returned to its owner each impeccably- repaired vehicle is washed and fully groomed, including a shining of its tyres. All the products used are eco-friendly, from the water-based paints to the cleaning products and polishes.

RO Jones workshop has been a landmark in the central city for some 30 years and has capacity to handle a large number of vehicles.

“We are conveniently located on St Asaph Street near Montreal, just pull into our driveway and we can assess your vehicle straightaway.”


 

Style personified


When it comes to style, BMW have been pulling my heart strings for years. It was my second car and there is just something special about every new design model that comes out. This year is seeing a plethora of change, a shift personified in the 2 Series Gran Coupé.

It is bold in character, stylish and refined all at the same time. I picked up the M 235i xDrive from Christchurch BMW and straight away noticed its agility, even in inner city driving.

M Performance means this car has a bit of bling: M sport brakes work stunningly, M sport seating in Dakota leather adds fit and comfort, and M sport steering handles with ease.

It really is the finer things. Not to mention, 0 to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds on an 8-speed automatic, four-cylinder engine. And a running torque at 45Nm.

I called it my little rocket ship, because that’s what it felt like driving up to Mount Somers for the weekend. The open road was sublime in sport mode.

You feel like you’re in a race car and that can be a problem as you look at the heads-up display and realise you should perhaps be going a bit slower.

“But you get lost in it; the smooth, effortless drive of an amazing performance vehicle.

After being couped up with Covid-19, getting on the road with the Coupé is the ultimate driving experience. With a cost of $91,400 its performance felt closer to $150,000.

I had it in the Seaside Blue hue, which was not everyone’s cup of tea but when we photographed it, you realise that that colour really does pop. But there are also nine other colours to choose from, just in case.

A phone app allows the car to automatically unlock when you exit or enter a prescribed unlocking zone.

Which may sound a bit silly, but this was one of my top features.

Did I lock the car? Who cares?! I never have to worry about that again!

Lastly, the panoramic sunroof makes it feel wide and open in the cabin. A stunning option to test drive.


 

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.