Monday, 23 February 2015

Bruce's Car of the Week: Renault Megane 225 Sport

"I see you baby, shakin that ass". That's the song I remember from the advert when this weeks car was launched. And you know what Renault were right to point out their own rump because let's face it, the second generation Megane was all about that ass. However I'm here to focus in on one Megane in particular, one that represents blooming good value for money right now, the hotted up Megane 225 Sport.
Renault Megane 225 Sport driving rear angle

What an ass

Let me start with the looks, they are divisive, there is no escaping that. You will either love or hate that bulbous butt, I for one though are in the love camp, it's just so French. Being distinctive, daring and ultimately stylish is the way French cars should be and the Megane epitomises this. To be honest I think the Megane that replaced this one is conservative and dull in comparison, Renault hit a sweet spot with this car that they haven't quite managed to recreate. Giving it the Sport treatment only adds to the visual delight, with the lowered ride height, big wheels, wider grills and aggressive bumpers the 225 looks superb. There was also a neat set of centre exit twin exhausts that set of that bum nicely. Colour choice, although very much down to personal tastes, was another thing which set the 225 apart. Bright reds, yellows and blues could be optioned, something which other hot hatches of the time failed to offer. I mean if you buy a hot hatch back you want the right to be lairy and shout about it!      
Renault Megane 225 Sport driving

The oily bits   

It wasn't all show and no go for the 225 Sport either, that 225 in the name denotes how many horse powers the car produces. In Australian that's 165kw, enough to easily take it to 100km/h in 6.5 and onto a 236km/h top end from a 2 litre turbo charged four, the engine is renowned for being a bit thirsty though so bear this in mind if the Megane's to be a daily driver. Handling is another one of the Megane's strong suits, the FWD chassis was tuned by the team at Renault Sport and features altered geometry and stiffer, lower springs. Match this to those big grippy 18 inch wheels and fat Brembo brakes and you have the makings of an excellent back road warrior. Although I should point out that some road tests at the time noted that it takes a while for the 225mm section tyres to get to temperature, so don't go flat out from the moment you turn the key or you might understeer into a ditch.
Renault Megane 225 Sport 5 door

Renault Megane 225 Sport driving rear angle

Safety over quality

Top Gear crashing the Megane in 2003
Thankfully though if the latter were to happen you would at least be safe, the Megane was the first car of its size to get a 5 star Euro NCAP safety rating. Richard Hammond asked a man to deliberately crash one on TopGear back in 2003 to prove this point. A criticism of this generation Megane though was it's interior, filled with airbags it might have been but the inside was finished in cheap plastics with a tendency to rattle compared to the offerings from VW, these problems will most likely have got worse with age and the state of Aussie roads.

So there we have it, the second Renault I've featured in COTW and the second to also wear a Sport badge. The Megane 225 might have looks that not everyone agrees on but it has a wicked set up and power train that's hard to ignore. And with production ending in 2008 you can get yourself a car that's not terribly old yet with low km's for very little cash. See what I've picked as an example.

Go get one

Renault Megane 225 sport for saleNow despite my saying the Megane came in fun colours I have ultimately plucked a black one from the classifieds. The reasons being, this car has recently been and always has been regularly serviced, has some new engine mounts, an uprated clutch and ultimately has come from a loving owner. My only quibble is that this car has clearly been for sale before given that the rego sticker is now out of date and doesn't match the description of rego until May 2015. I'm sure it's all good though and is rather good value for a Euro hot hatch.
2005 Renault Megane 225 Sport, $7,600

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Updated Volkswagen Jetta proves that European quality need not be expensive

It's almost as if Volkswagen have set out to help me prove the point that European motors need not be expensive down under. Since moving to Australia all the German mega brand seem to have done is advertise how affordable their cars are, mostly through the means of clever advertising. And now for 2015 they have refreshed the Jetta and until March the 30th you can drive one away for a ridiculously cheap $21,990. It's a lot of very good car for very little money, let me explain.
Volkswagen Jetta Highline driving


Many quite similar bits, that's what I heard Volkswagen's MQB platform referred to as recently and I think it explains almost perfectly the ethos behind the anagram. VW group is aiming for all it's cars from the Polo and Audi TT all the way up to bigger crossover like the Tiguan to share basic chassis dimensions, mounting points and parts in the near future. This ingeniously simple idea means that engines can slot into multiple cars easily, suspension components, hubs, electrical systems and almost every other component essential when building a car can be swapped between models easily. The benefits of this are many, tooling costs are reduced, quality is improved and ultimately final sale prices can be lowered.
Volkswagen Jetta Trendline driving

It's just a big Golf

So with MQB explained you'll be pleased to hear that the new Jetta, which is essentially a MkVII Golf with a boot, already sits on an MQB platform. The Golf has won numerous awards since its release, most recently Wheels magazines Car of The Year in 2013 and is regarded as the benchmark car to beat in the hatchback category, it's built well, drives well is utterly dependable, it also manages to cross social divides, anyone can drive a Golf. With the Jetta you simply get all that with a bigger boot thrown in for good measure.  


The Jetta comes in diesel or petrol flavour, auto or manual and is available as a basic get the job done automobile or fully loaded surprisingly quick little saloon. Everything you could possible want is available however if you just want to keep it a strictly budget VW best opt for the 118TSI Trendline manual for $21,990 until the 30th March. Trendline Jetta's may be the base model but they do still offer some impressive standard features. Extended electronic differential lock comes as standard, reducing nasty understeer and a driver fatigue detection system also comes as standard. The 1.4 litre TSI is also good if you don't like spending lots of time at the petrol station. With 118kw it isn't the fastest Jetta but the 6 speed manual manages 6.5l/100km (DSG auto does 6.2). The 103TDI will better that figure though, managing to sip just 5.5l/100km although at $36,990 the TDI Highline is a little bit pricier.

Volkswagen Jetta Highline stationary

If you do pay more for one of the Jetta Highlines though, the level of standard kit is long. Vienna leather sports seats, sat nav, rear view camera, parking sensors, duel zone climate control, auto headlights, keyless entry and much more. However, personally I'd stick with the basic Trendline, I cant think of another new European saloon car in Australia that offers such value for money.
Volkswagen Jetta Trendline stationary
Jetta Trendline above represents the best value

Monday, 16 February 2015

Bruce's Car of the Week: Saab 900 Turbo

A rare and alternative Swedish beastie this week, the Saab 900 Turbo, also referred to as the 900 Aero. These cars appear to be disappearing fast from Australia's roads meaning that now might be the best time to buy one before they completely vanish into collectors hands and the prices sky rocket.
Saab 900 Turbo

Saab 900 Turbo

What you need to know 

Unless you've been living under a rock you should know that Saab no longer exist. GM ditched Saab during the financial crisis and after a succession of failed takeover bids the company shut up shop in 2013. At the time fingers were pointed and ultimately GM was blamed for the death of the once iconic car company however this isn't strictly all true. For years Saab had lacked the money to develop interesting and truly new cars. Their model range in 2013 was pitifully small and the cars themselves severely dated and outclassed by almost all of their rivals, the writing had been on the wall for some time.
Saab 900 convertible
A convertible was also available


There was a time though when Saab had some capital and dared to be different, the 900 Turbo comes from this era, the 1980's. A decade where Swedish stablemates Volvo were playing it safe with conservative boxes, a trend they hadn't given up on until fairly recently to be honest, Saab went down a more radical approach to designing and engineering. Taking ques from its predecessor the 99 the 900 shape with its long bonnet upright "A" pillars and sloping coupe-like rear end is unique and instantly recognisable, even to those who don't have petrol running through their veins. It's safe to say that if you drive a 900 your sure to get some admiring glances. Cars say a lot about their owners too and arrogance and obnoxiousness are not befitting of a Saab owner, they have traditionally been the go to car if one wanted to appear understated and calm. So as well as standing out in a queue of traffic the 900 might be right up your street if you want to come across as a level headed, academic, cross word extraordinaire sort of chap.
Saab 900 design evolution

Engineered differently

So we've established that Saab designed cars differently and that driving one says a lot about the owner. But Saab also went about engineering it's car differently, the 900's engine for example is installed backwards and its argued that this is for many complicated space saving and weight distribution reasons. Although for everyone else all it means is that all those belts and pullys usually easily accessible at the front of engine bay are squashed up by the firewall at the back. 900's also had double wishbone front suspension that made the 900 ride and handle much sweeter than its MacPherson strut equipped counterparts. You can probably guess by now that the addition of a turbo to the 900 just makes the Saab experience more enjoyable, albeit maybe slightly irritating until you get used to the 80's turbo lag. How much power you get varies on what year your 900 is from, but suffice to say any 900's 2 litre turbo motor in either 8 or 16 valve will be more than enough, although with the 16 valve making 130kw and can cracking 100km/h in 8.5 seconds I know which one I'd hold out for.
Saab 900 cutaway

The Saab 900 Turbo, a unique, understated, sophisticated and rare beast. And a car that I think is just going to rise in value despite the demise of its maker. A fact which shouldn't put potential buyers off. Groups like the Saab car club of Australia make it easy to keep these cars on the road and with most spare parts available online from Europe with minimal postage, the 900 has all the makings of a reliable classic.
An early Saab 900 Turbo
A gorgeous early 900 turbo

Go get one

1989 900 Turbo for saleThis weeks find comes courtesy of Gumtree and for a change it isn't perfect. The seller admits that the car pops out of second gear, however don't let this put you off as a lot of money has been spent elsewhere by an owner who appears to have looked after the old girl. I especially like the colour of this 900 and those 3 spoke alloys are just superb. For $5000 this car is an absolute bargain.

1989 Saab 900 Aero Turbo 16S, $5000

Friday, 13 February 2015

Production of Euro sourced Holden's start in Germany

The wait for European sourced Holden's is almost over with the announcement that the first Insignia VXR has rolled of the production line in Germany. For many this will be the first definitive nail in the coffin signalling the end of Holden production in Australia. Despite the potential for reservation among buyers though, Holden are confident the new cars will be exciting enough to win them over and have released details of just how many new cars they plan to bring to market.
Insignia VXR badge closeup

Holden Insignia VXR on the production line

All change

Last year I wrote about the impending Insignia, Astra and Cascada. I pointed out that if you couldn't wait for a new one, the short lived Opel foray into the Aussie market meant you could pick up one of these "new" Holden's merely badged as an Opel. This is still very much the case, however Holden have confirmed that these 3 former Opel's which in the case of the Astra and Insignia are a bit long in the tooth will just be the start of a product offensive. Over the next 5 years Holden will launch 24 new vehicles and 36 new powertrain combinations with one third of Holden's portfolio being euro sourced. This indicates that cheaper Asian sourced cars like the current Cruze will still feature in the companies future while more expensive Opel's will take the brand upmarket.
Holden Insignia VXR on the production line
Holden Insignia VXR on the production line

What can Australia expect? 

Corsa VXR spied testing Speculation as to what some of the 24 new cars will be is rife, one guess is that the Opel/Vauxhall spotted testing in Melbourne earlier this year. Another guess is that the Zafira people carrier will make a return to Holden's range, again this car was briefly available in Aus as an Opel but could make a welcome return, as for a people shifter it's rather good looking.
Corsa will make its way down under to take on the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20 and Honda Jazz. A new and previous generation Corsa VXR were

Time to get excited

Anyway time will tell as to whats coming Australia's way. The Insignia, Astra and Cascada are all expected in the second quarter of this year and I for one am pretty excited about Holden's European sourced future. Check out the reviews below for an idea of what the 3 new cars could be like.
First Holden Insignia rolls of the line, workers pose with it
Holden Insignia #1

Astra VXR

Insignia VXR


Photo credit:

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bruce's Car of the Week: Citroen Xsara VTR

For the past couple of weeks the cars in this feature have been big, luxurious and although exceptional value, were perhaps a little on the expensive side. So in a bid to fix this, today I'll be showing you a characterful, sharp handling French hatch back for under $5000, the Citroen Xsara VTR.
Citroen Xsara VTR Coupe

Hot Hatchery

Available in Australia from 2001 the Xsara Coupe VTR was the closest thing to a hot hatch that Citroen offered Australians in the early 00's. This was vastly different to the situation in Europe though, where Citroen offered a proper old school hot hatch based on the smaller Saxo model. The recipe was simple, small hatchback, pokey 1.6 litre engine and a capable chassis. This combined with an offer of free insurance made sure the Saxo VTR was a massive sales success and the larger Xsara didn't really get a look in, which is a bit of a shame as the Xsara despite being a bit bigger than a Saxo follows exactly the same recipe.
Citroen Xsara VTR Coupe

Simple but effective

Thankfully though with Saxo out of the equation down under the Xsara is readily available and for even less money than a similarly aged Honda Civic. So the details, well firstly the Xsara is pretty, especially in 3 door coupe body style. It takes styling ques from classic wedge shape Citroen's and curves them up a little. Secondly the Xsara VTR's chassis was fettled by the very same French bods who perfected the smaller Saxo, meaning that should the road get twisty the Frenchie will handle it with aplomb. And lastly there's the engine, a simple 1.6 litre 16 valve naturally aspirated double overhead camshaft unit. It won't set the world alight making do with 83kw and a 0-100km/h time of 10.9 seconds, but it is mated to a short shifting 5 speed gearbox and that chassis. All things considered the Xsara has all the makings of a wonderfully engaging car. I should also say that a more powerful 2 litre VTS Xsara was also offered in Australia, but I couldn't find any for sale at this moment in time.
Citroen Xsara VTR Coupe

Try one on for size

Short and sweet this week, but there you have it, the Xsara VTR. Hopefully I've made you consider a hot hatch ( ok, maybe warm hatch is a better description) that never crossed your mind before. It might be worth giving one a go, as for the price you really don't have much to lose.  

Citroen Xsara VTR Coupe for saleThe car I've chosen is this 2003 example, well cared for with full service history, lots of rego and a set of alloy wheels. The latter you will either love or hate but they show that this car definitely belongs to someone who took a lot of pride in it.
2003 Citroen Xsara VTR, $4000

Monday, 2 February 2015

Bruce's Car of The Week: Land Rover Range Rover L322

$155,900, that's the price my car of the week would have set you back 13 years ago when it was brand spanking new. Now though you can get one for under $20,000 and I think that's an absolute bargain. This is the Land Rover Range Rover L322, the ultimate luxury off roader.
Land Rover Range Rover L322


First things first, the L322 series Range isn't that old a car, it hasn't actually been out of production that long, its successor only went on sale in 2013. Despite this though, prices for the last gen Range have done that thing which mainly afflicks big cars with lots of leather; they've gone south, fast. This is bad for buyers who forked out that whopping great sum I mentioned at the start but great news for people who want some luxury on a budget. So what do you get for the money? Well firstly you get a sort of style and class which can only come from a British built car, the L322 is a masterpiece. It took the boxy appearance of the classic Range Rover and brought it into the 21st century with the use of aluminium accents, lots of glass and an upright stature. It's contemporary and still looks good today, in fact I think this model of Range looks better than the one which replaced it. The newest Range is too much of a footballers car and I'm not talking about, built like a brick shit house American Footballer either. I'm talking about "don't mess with hair" English premier league footballer. The new car has been bejazzled with LED diamonds and although yes, it is a nice piece of design, it is a bit too manicured and not as rugged as a Range Rover should be. The L322 on the other hand, hit the nail on the head with its design and I've not even got to the interior yet.
Land Rover Range Rover L322

Land Rover Range Rover L322


Land Rover Range Rover L322 interior The contemporary flair continues inside, leather, wood and aluminium all feature to create a feel of real quality. There are gadgets galore too, duel zone climate control, sat nav, electric heated seats, heated steering wheel, bi-xenon headlights, auto wipers, 12 speaker stereo and a whole lot more came on the top spec Vouge model (the one I've picked).

Off Road Prowess 

Off road though the Range Rover really comes into its own. The car calls upon numerous systems which allow it to pretty much get out of any tough situation all while you sit in the plushest of arm chairs. Naturally the car features permanent 4WD, with a centre differential capable of sending power to whichever end of the car needs it most. There's also a low range gearbox so you can crawl over obstacles and hill decent control to stop the car rolling away too fast downhill. Air suspension takes care of the ride, allowing for axle articulation so all the wheels can be kept on the ground for maximum traction, this system also means the on road ride of the Range is as smooth and relaxed as its opulent cabin would have you believe. Search Range Rover L322 on Youtube and there are plenty of videos showcasing what the Range can do, I just picked this one to give you an idea.

Land Rover Range Rover L322


That air suspension is built for cushioning rather than hunkering down though. Even equipped with the BMW sourced 4.4 litre V8 the almost 2.5 tonne Range Rover is no sports car. Producing 210kw and a massive 440Nm of torque the V8 gets the Range to 100km/h in 9.2 seconds, impressive for its size but not frighteningly quick. Not that this matters though; a Range Rover is for cruising on the road, not ripping it to shreds. While off road it's built to conquer anything it's driver points it at and with that torque figure it'll do that all day long. Fuel consumption for the lazy V8 isn't great of course, if that sort of thing concerns you Range Rover also did a 2.9 litre V6 turbo diesel. For more technical details click here.

Ok, I want one

There we have it, The Range Rover, essentially a palace that can go off road all for under $20k. The running cost might be a little more but maybe you should treat yourself to one instead of that Toyota Land Cruiser you'd always thought of getting. There is after all only one great plush mud pluger and I certainly know which of those two I'd rather show off to my mates.

Land Rover Range Rover L322 for saleMy pick of the classifieds is this 2002 Vouge, featuring the lovely 4.4 litre V8 and very few km's given its age. Appears well looked after with just a couple of scuffs on the exterior and some marks on the interior. Nothing too major and I suspect this car hasn't seen much off road action. Being a Vouge it comes loaded with kit and as a bonus has NSW rego until September.

2002 Range Rover Vouge, £19,000