Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Car of the Week: Holden Astra Convertible

Sometimes chopping the roof of a car to make a convertible can have a horrible end result. The proportions get messed up and if the maker decides to fit a folding hard top said car is usually left with a massive derrière, take the Renault Megane CC for example. However, at other times a manufacturer nails it and my long overdue car of the week is my case in point, the Holden Astra Convertible.
The Holden Astra Convertible, unfortunately only Europe got the Coupe
The Holden Astra Convertible, unfortunately only Europe got the Coupe

The Mk4 Astra was a strong seller for GM the world over, taking the fight to the Ford Focus and VW Golf in the hatch back grudge match of the late 90's. But despite strong sales the Astra always looked a little plain Jane. Thankfully in 2001 GM fixed this by turning to Italian styling house Bertone and asking them to turn the bland Astra into a Coupe. What resulted was a handsomely proportioned, elegant two door Coupe and fabric roofed convertible variant. And between 2001 and 2006 Holden got a hold of that convertible. Now almost 10 years after production ceased Holden's Mk4 Astra cab makes a tempting proposition. Let me explain.

A thing of beauty, really...

A thing of beauty, something I never thought I'd say about an Astra but after a day staring at them in for sale ads I really do think this car is a looker. That long tail adds a real elegance to the Astra's form and by electing for a fabric roof rather than a metal folding one the Astra's lines aren't ruined, roof up or down. On the right set of wheels the car sits really nicely too and I was always a fan of the Astra's front splitter for some reason.
The Holden Astra Convertible

The Holden Astra Convertible

Easy to fix

Being based on the hum drum Astra also has it's benefits, like the availability of cheap parts. There are literally thousands of Mk4 Holden Astra's out there so should something go wrong a part shouldn't be hard to come by nor expensive. In saying that though the big selling Holden proved to be pretty reliable in the first place so provided you buy right a well maintained cabriolet shouldn't need too much tinkering. Also the benefit of being a cab means original buyers might not have used them as hard as they would have a normal hatchback, more of a weekend cruiser than a daily commuter tool. So km's might be fewer and wear and tear less.
The Holden Astra Convertible

Turbo makes up for cheap interior

Two engines powered the Astra Convertible, a 2.2 litre four cylinder and a more powerful 2 litre turbo. The Turbo cars are rarer due to a smaller production run but worth looking for if you want something with a bit more overtaking potential. Naturally though, chopping the roof of a car doesn't do wonders for it's structural rigidity so although the Astra might be fine in a straight line round corners expect scuttle shake and more than a fair bit of flex. A cheap interior lets the Astra down too, a boring layout and hard plastics painted silver are the order of the day, while the option of red leather seats might not be to everyone's taste. My advice, get the roof off, look around, stick to a leisurely cruise and just enjoy the sensations of top down motoring.
The Holden Astra Convertible

Go get yourself one   

I have found a Turbo Astra, quite hard given there are only 9 listed on Carsales! This one comes from a dealer and has very low km's give it's age. Not a great description and it does have the polarising red leather interior, however for the price it might be worth a look if you want a cheap reliable convertible for summer.

2003 Holden Astra Convertible, $5990  

Monday, 2 November 2015

New Project: Peugeot 405 Mi16

Hello everyone, after a bit of an absence I'm back with an 80's tastic sedan that would be worthy of my car of the week trophy any day and to prove it I've actually bought this one; the Peugeot 405 Mi16. Let me explain the reasons why this car ended up in my shed and what my plans are for this legendary bit of French tin.
Peugeot 405 Mi16

Why a 405?

You may recall a while ago I blogged about my love hate relationship with the Volkswagen Golf a car which at the time I was fixing up. The clutch had just decided to disintegrate though and to say I was peeved would have been an understatement, however that was months ago and the Golf is now fixed and with a new owner. Freed up for a new project my criteria was simple. If it was rare, a bit niche or just slightly random I was keen; oh and as long as it wasn't a Volkswagen! This led me to Peugeot's performance hero of the late 80's and early 90's, the 405 Mi16.
Peugeot 405 Mi16

Strong bloodline

From the same engineers that brought us the iconic 205 GTI the sporty 405 was it's slightly rarer older brother. Originally powered by a 1.9 litre 16v but later upped to a full 2 litres (the car I have) it produced 160bhp, that's around 115Kw of high revving naturally aspirated goodness. A car I'd first seen in magazines and spotted only once on the road back in the UK it certainly ticked the rare box and with fewer than 20 still registered back home when the chance came up to own one down under I couldn't say no. Personally I also think 405's brought the sexy back to boxy designs. Yes square design was the in thing in the 80's and while many manufacturers just turned out hideous slab sided depression inducers, (here's looking at you Hyundai Excel) by enlisting Pininfarina Peugeot nailed it. Throw on the Mi16's equally edgy body kit and wing and this car just optimises what was good about car design at the time. My car in particular was also rather good value, came with a full service record, had pretty straight body work and despite being laid up in a garage for 9 months started first time. With all this going for it, the car just needed me to own it, even if I didn't know that much about classic Peugeot's! But that's what projects are about right? Learning...
Peugeot 405 Mi16

Peugeot 405 Mi16

What need's fixed?

So with learning in mind there are a few jobs to be done, the biggest actually being getting the thing road legal. For this to happen it needs a new CV boot and a rear engine mount. Once this is done a squeaky engine pulley needs some attention, sway bars will need replacing, some trim pieces require fixing and there's a rather large crack in the dash which needs filling. To top things off a machine polish probably wont go a miss before I'll be good to launch a frantic FWD attack on the epic roads I'm blessed with in the Northern Rivers.
Peugeot 405 Mi16

Project Mi16

The whole project will be documented right here and also on my shiny new YouTube channel, should you be interested in hearing me prattle on. So as well as keeping the blog a little more updated with regular content, check back for project Mi16 updates.        

Monday, 12 October 2015

Review: Mazda CX-5 Maxx

Happy Monday everyone, it has been quite some time since I last put fingers to keys. However with life getting back to some sort of normality I thought a proper car review would be a good way to kick off summer and not just any car but one of Australia's best selling. I have been driving Mazda's CX-5, and with 2321 new ones finding homes last month let's see what all the fuss is about.
The Mazda CX-5 is one of Australia's best selling cars

It looks so darn good

Part of the CX-5's appeal is the way it looks. As of late Mazda design has been really on point with a mix of neat lines, sharp angles and good proportions doing there bit to create some really handsome cars. The CX-5 follows this recipe, with chunky wheel arches and a high ride height it looks every bit the safe SUV buyers crave while still sporting  a low car like roof and waist height crease to disguise any slab sidedness. A nice set of alloys really finish the CX-5 off but unfortunately the car I drove rode on steels.
Handsome lines of the Mazda CX-5 slightly disguised by dark blue colour choice

High ride height and chunky wheel arches leaves no doubt this is an SUV

Mazda CX-5 looks especially good from the back

Rising waistline of the CX-5 disguises any slab sidedness
Love the rear lights

How does it drive?

One thing those steelies are good for though is a supple ride, the car soaking up Melbourne's bumps and tram tracks admirably. And once out of the city you quickly learn of another reason why the CX-5 is so popular, the way it drives. The chassis, steering and suspension turn from compliant in the city to rewarding and informative on a back road, the CX-5 communicates with it's driver, never feeling vague. It felt reassuring behind the wheel, almost egging me on to explore the limits off the tires adhesion.
Review: Mazda CX-5

2 litre 114kw naturally aspirated engine

The only dynamic let down I had with this CX-5 Maxx was it's power train. A 114kw 2 litre engine resides upfront and honestly it felt underpowered and when mated to the 6 speed auto was a little rev happy under hard acceleration and uphill sections. Being a petrol head of course I am bias towards a nice manual but in this case I really felt that if I was fully in charge of those meagre 114kw I might have had even more fun driving it. And while it revved its little head off I couldn't help think that riding a wave of boost would make it an even more pleasurable experience, I understand Mazda's idea behind Skyactiv technology but does a little SUV like the CX-5 really need to be naturally aspirated? Personally I think the lack of power and subsequent engine noise detracts from an otherwise superb driving experience. Volkswagen's Tiguan for comparison is a good example of the turbo way of thinking at this sub $30,000 price point. It's also worth pointing out though that if you have your heart set on a manual this 2 litre Maxx trim level is the only CX-5 Mazda will sell you with a gear stick and clutch pedal. Economy wise after a day in city traffic, on the highway and in the country side I'd averaged 9.6l/100km a little off Mazda's quoted 6.4l/100km, although given more time with the car I'm sure I could have got closer to that figure.
Skyactiv tech

What's it like inside?

Logical and neat is the best way to describe the inside with weighty switchgear providing a premium feel in what otherwise is quite a sparse cabin. The 3 spoke steering wheel is a particular highlight, nice to hold and featuring control for the audio and phone you look through it to big clear dials. There's a touch screen radio, phone interface too which worked well, although it took some time to pair with my ageing smart phone. The rear view camera's a nice addition too, making manoeuvring much easier. Other positives when your inside is a lack of road noise, in the city at least, and a non intrusive stop/start system. Seating wise however, despite adjustment, I found myself sitting a bit too high, more on the car rather than in it, this also meant the arm rest was just a bit low to rest on comfortably. It's also worth noting that after an hour at the wheel I was getting a slightly numb left buttock! A very specific issue but an issue none the less. Overall though the CX-5 is a pleasant place to sit with enough room in the back for 3 adults and a boot big enough for all their luggage.
Nice simple interior in the Mazda CX-5

Infotainment system is good in the CX-5

CX-5 interior is spacious

CX-5 interior is spacious

The boot is suitably big

Rear view camera is a nice touch at this price point

Why has everyone bought one?

Well it's really down to a combination of everything, the CX-5 is handsome, spacious, fun to drive and in this specification, combined with a cheeky dealer offer really good value. If its mainly city work you do the 2 litre will suffice and I'll understand that an auto might be more practical. However for highway work and back road blasts the 2.5 litre petrol of torquey 2.2 litre turbo diesel might be more up your street, albeit these cars are auto only the extra power and as a result less noise they make propelling you along would be welcomed. There doesn't seem to be any sign of our current SUV love affair slowing, so if your in the market you might as well get one of the best you can and the Mazda CX-5 is that car.
Mazda CX-5 review

Mazda CX-5 review

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Car of The Week: BMW 3 Series

Last week BMW built the 10 millionth 3 Series, so to celebrate the abundance of mid size Beemer's out there I felt this weeks car had to be the one of those 10 million. And thankfully with so many out there BMW ownership no longer means breaking the bank either, here's my very brief run down on why you should buy one.
BMW workers celebrate the 10 millionth 3 series

Choices, choices 

Previously, in the very early days of this blog I did actually feature the M3, BMW's all conquering sports variant of the 3, however today in the spirit of budget motoring it's the lesser powered but equally engaging smaller engined models I've been looking at. Available in 4 door sedan, wagon, coupe, convertible and even chopped hatch back flavour there should be a 3 to suit any need. And with a lineage stretching back to 1975 over 6 generations picking a budget 3 Series can cater for someone who wants a classic as well as a reliable daily. Personally the Coupe and rarer wagon's of the E30/E36 generations are the cars that get my vote as being that little bit more unique amongst the millions, they stand out more.
Classic boxy BMW design for the 90's E36 3 series

2002 saw Australia get the E46 3 series wagon

E36 coupe, a personal favourite of mine

More choices 

Engine sizes vary in the 3, from a 316i (a 1.6 litre in case you hadn't figured) that would struggle to pull the skin of a bowl of custard to torque rich 3 litre straight sixes, again the 3 really does offer many options. In the sub $5000 price mark though the most abundant 3 is the 318i. Not the quickest engine BMW have ever built but certainly the most popular, meaning parts are relatively abundant for what is on the whole a pretty strong engine. I've driven a well maintained E36 318i that was pushing 245,000kms and it felt strong, but more on that in a later blog.

E46 Compact was another slightly quirky 3 series variant, one which is getting increasingly cheaper

Go get yourself one

Second hand 3 Series BMW's are in such abundance picking one out this week is almost an impossibility, my best advice would be to just get online, bash in your criteria and see for yourself! Sounds like a cop out but seriously the 3 is a supremely engineered bit of rear wheel drive kit so just look for one with good history and a spec you like.

However if I had to choose one and I was anywhere remotely near Padbury in WA, the car opposite tickles my fancy. For starters it's a manual coupe, it looks respectable in the pictures has had a recent service and overall the seller sounds honest. Barter the price down a bit and you've got yourself a lovely (almost) classic BMW.

1998 BMW 318is Coupe, $4500

Normal service will resume

Full, detailed, car of the week service will be resumed in a couple of weeks, but with the parents visiting from "Bonny" Scotland for the first time at the moment scouring the interwed for Australia's hidden second hand gems has taken a back seat.              

Photo Credit: australiancar.reviews

Monday, 7 September 2015

Car of the Week: Chrysler 300C

Last week I changed my blogs theme a little, deciding I would feature cars that I found worthy or interesting even if they weren't European. So this week see's my first break from tradition, the impossibly "boss" Chrysler 300C.
The Chrysler 300C is an imposing car

Not all American

Built in Austria from Mercedes bits you can tell with the 300C that I'm easing into this non Euro thing! However styling wise, there is no denying the 300 is all American; low roof, narrow windows and pumped wheel arches, painted black the 300C looks like it drove straight out the pages of a comic book. Pure gangster, there is no question this Chrysler has presence on the road.

Under the bonnet

Some of the engine choice was suitably American too, with a 250kw 5.7 litre HEMI V8 offered from launch this engine spawned a 317kw 6.1 litre unit in the 2006 SRT-8 variant, just in case you wanted more power. For people who wear sensible pants though there was also a 3.5 V6 petrol available or a Mercedes sourced 3 litre V6 turbo diesel. All the engines have a more than adequate power output of course, with the diesel still making 160kw and 510Nm of torque.
5.7 litres of HEMI baby

Comfort is another thing the 300C does very well, for long distance cruising and sweeping back roads the big Chrysler makes for excellent company however that American stereotype of bad handling rings true if the road gets even remotely technical. Road tests reported that the 300C got easily flustered when the going just got slightly tough and that the light steering didn't do much to in still confidence behind the wheel.
Sweeping roads, where the 300C feels at home

Sweeping roads, where the 300C feels at home

See that rain cloud? That's as a direct result of a 5.7 litre HEMI

What's it like inside?

Inside things are plush and the car was generously kitted from standard with electric memory heated seats, xenon lights, cruise control, duel zone climate control, parking sensors and a decent sound system. Despite the leather surrounds though don't expect quality as once again it is a product of mid noughties throwaway America, plastics will be cheap and scratchy and switchgear flimsy and light. But never mind, you'll be spending too much time intimidating people with its looks rather than fussing over interior quality.
Inside things are plush but likely cheap in feel

A very comfy place to sit

Chrysler 300C came with a lot of standard kit

The Chrysler 300C, affordable American muscle

Chrysler's 300C; big, bold and ever so slightly in your face. The interior might be a what's what in cheap plastic and there's a good chance it will get scared by a tight right hander but you you'll struggle to get modern American muscle for less.

Go get yourself one

2006 Chrysler 300C for sale My first American meant I had to go big for this weeks pick of the classifieds didn't I? So while sensible diesels can be had for under $15,000 today I felt only a full phat 5.7 litre HEMI 300C would do. For a little over $16k this blacked out beauty sitting on 22's could be yours, with rego until Feb and relatively low 183,000km's this car looks like it's been someone's pride and joy and now it could be yours!

2006 Chrysler 300C 5.7 HEMI, $16450


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Feature: Cars and Coffee Byron Bay

Cars and coffee, two things Australians appear to like. So imagine an event that encouraged the gawking of one and the drinking of the other? Well for four increasingly successful months an event in the beautiful Byron Bay has been doing exactly that, enticing all manner of interesting vehicles out of their garages and sheds all over the region. I've had a chat to organiser of the aptly named Cars and Coffee Byron Bay, Chris, to find out exactly what it is all about.
Cars and Coffee Byron Bay Sunday 14th September

Where did the idea for Cars and Coffee come from?
Events such as this have been running for many years in the United States. Australia has recently started the same concept, however the events are limited to most capital cities.   Living in Byron Bay has the one disadvantage of distance from these already operating events. So, I decided to spread the word and get as many enthusiasts together to meet, share the passion, take drives through the hinterland and generally spend time together.

What sort of cars have come along to date/ who's welcome?
So far we have had cars, motorcycles, kombis - even a caravan. The main “criteria” is for the car or bike to be interesting. My definition of  “interesting” for the benefit of my 6 year old son is “a car which makes you look at it again while walking away”. We’ve had a strong selection of Porsches, from the early long hoods right up to modern 911's. BMW, Mercedes, VW Kombis have all featured too as have Aston Martins, Alfa Romeos and Japanese brands such as Mazda, Datsun and Honda. Not forgetting the homegrown muscle cars from Ford, Holden and Chrysler have made a showing.

Everything is welcome, Bentlays, Mazda's, BMW's, Skyline GTR's, Beetles and Kombi's

What's been your favourite car to show up to date?
One is too hard to choose. From the last event, my favourite was easily the 6 Austin Healys. All from the local area. Another was the genuine Porsche 356 Speedster in immaculate condition. But, hey, can't go far past the 1972 Porsche 911.

6 fine Austin Healy's

What's next for cars and coffee Byron?
Cars and Coffee Byron Bay Road Trips are coming soon. Spend a few hours, a whole day or a weekend with other enthusiasts as we travel the roads of Northern NSW and Queensland. Stopping at great cafes, fine dining and luxurious accommodation where needed.

Mazda RX3 Coupe

How can somebody get involved? Where, when etc
Its pretty simple to join in. All you need is something interesting. Then just come along to The Farm at Byron Bay from 8.30 until 10.30 on the second Sunday of each month. Entry is free and by just coming you might win one of two vouchers from The Three Blue Ducks and O-Sushi.
Classic's from Japan and a Ford Cortina
Classic's from Japan and a Ford Cortina
Classic's from Japan and a Ford Cortina

And lastly what would be your dream car?
Just one? Would have to be a 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS.
Motorbikes, minis and Aston Martins, everything's welcome
Motorbikes, minis and Aston Martins, everything's welcome

So there we go, all you need to know about Cars and Coffee Byron Bay from the organiser himself. Come along for a fun family morning with a bite to eat and a cup of coffee, of course. The next event is Sunday 14th September at The Farm on Ewingsdale Road.

Photo credit: Facebook