Monday, June 18, 2012

Toyota RAV4 ACA21R Cruiser 2001-2003

The Toyota product and the RAV4 in particular  are extremely popular, the small SUV offering from Toyota looks to have everything you need, command driving position but not a monster. The first RAV4s were notoriously bad in crashes and the model after the one reviewed was the controversial "de-compacted" RAV4 which took the size to that of an earlier LandCruiser (I still wonder about why they did this!) but the ACA21R model remains popular to this day. 

I think it is the appealing styling as much as anything, the side mouldings and nose cone are rather cute really and if you got the Cruiser pack you had a sunroof and mags to play with but apart from that they are basic, functional and hardwearing inside. The boot has a good capacity and can fit four large suitcases with ease despite the car being on the small side.
The 2.0litre engine was scrapped in favour of a 2.4 for the later versions of this model (the ACA23R) and I think this was a good move. The official figures of 110kw@6000rpm don't illustrate the feling you get from having a lack of power when you need it. she's not a monster but it really does need something a little more gutsy to get it feeling "right". I sometimes don't feel very confident on the road as I know that this engine just doesn't have the guts when I need it. I think the 2.4 would be much better but that is just an assumption actually the figures stack up pretty similar with only 120kw from the 2.4l and apparently identical fuel economy- I am not sure how this can be!
The RAV4 is constant 4X4 but I have never used one off road (I am more of a soft -roader sort of woman!) so I can't speak to it's capabilities in this regards but my feeling is that they are not really ideal for a classic 4X4 off-road situation. Having said that they do have the ease of driving you expect from a Toyota  (like a Corolla on stilts!), fuel economy is good (I only have the urban figures- a respectable 9.5l/100km), they are super reliable and even with half hearted maintenance they would still go forever.

Overall Rating:7/10: good value, reliable car, cute looks, easy to drive but not powerful enough and hardly thrilling.

Value:7/10: Toyotas are good cars but they do seem to value up higher than the equivalents in other makes

Fuel economy:8/10 Around town offically they do 9.5l/100 and better on the highway, they are pretty good for fuel.

Style: 6/10 Cute enough on the outside, rather boring inside (not too ugly at least) but functional, plastic and hard wearing cloth for trim.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mercedes Benz ML320 1998-2003

The Mercedes Benz ML320 sounded good on paper, strong, luxurious, prestigious, "command position" driving due to it's 4wd. It cost a fortune to buy new so picking one up for $8000 as we did, you couldn't go wrong could you?

The ML320 has the dubious honour of being the only car that has made me motion sick when I was driving, the handling was so awful, I couldn't navigate around a small round about and remain on the correct side of the road on exit. The fuel economy was not as good as the official figures of 11.1L/100km mostly due to the amount of energy required to get such a hefty body (2870kg) going once stopped at the traffic lights. The on board computer allowed us to see we were getting a combined average of around 14L/100km. Like most  Mercedes products I have driven it just misses the mark as far as feeling like the luxury it should exude. The wood grain is there, the leather is there, the overly complicated climate control and on board computers are there and yet the seats are stern and unforgiving, the handling in like driving a shopping cart with life preservers for wheels and the styling is pretty ordinary. It is supposed to be a competitor to the BMW X5 (which was released two years after the first ML Benz) but the BMW could not possibly have been so poorly executed (here's hoping, I am searching for one for our next family car- maybe it will be the perfect one?). I have heard tell that the suspension of the M Class ( there are several variations with various motors) is set up for American tastes but the lurching, rolling and wallowing made the car almost unbearable. I have noticed a disturbing number of M Class Benzes at the Wreckers yards showing the classic sign of having rolled onto the passenger side probably due to this dreadful handling.
The ABS light came on and it was diagnosed as needing a new ABS module but the reality was that our car, like many M class Benzes of the same age, had incomplete or dry circuits in the module and merely needed a wee bit of solder, great if you are a bit handy with that sort of thing, a minimum of $1800 for a second hand part if you are not.
Overall Rating:4/10: I can't believe this car cost $74,900 new, I would give you $3000, better yet, you give me $3000 and I might drive one again!

Value:2/10:Cheap on the second hand market but is such a poorly executed car that paying any money for it makes for terrible value.

Fuel economy:4/10We do an even mix of around town and highway work and averaged 14L/100KM which is higher than the official figures- generally I do better than official figures for the same journey.

Style:5/10 point for using wood and leather, deduct points for such a bland body and such uncomfortable seats.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Toyota CamrySXV20R Station wagon 1998-2002

Toyota promotional shot

Ah Toyotas, so very reliable and I don't know what else you can say about them really! The Camry is NOT loaded with luxury, it is not renowned for it's excellent handling around corners, it is not exciting but is is very suitable for a budget conscious family who require a good boot space.
 The engine has adequate power for the car size (95kw @ 5200rpm but the gears would change up before you reached 5200rpm) but I would have expected more for a 2.2L engine but then what do I know? The official figures put fuel at combined urban and extra urban average of 8.3/100l, respectable but doesn't compare to the BMW I reviewed earlier. I found handling a little clumsy and I couldn't park it for nuts- my parking can be a bit here and there at the best of times but I found I had no control over where this car wanted to go especially for the dreaded reverse park. 
 Toyotas have a reputation for reliability which in some ways is well deserved but no car is without it's Achilles heel (errm well OK I don't think cars have heels) and the auto transmission can fail once the mileage starts creeping up we had one car that had well in excess of 200,000kms and the transmission was fine (the whole car was a little tired, but the gears were fine!) and two others with lower KMs where the gear box was either losing it or just plain finished.
Overall: It is a car with room for a family, cheap, reasonably economical to run, parts are OK to source. Not at all exciting.
Value:7/10:Cheap to get these days, I would probably get something stranger and just as cheap like an old SAAB or Volvo but then I like to be weird for the sake of it and a Camry is just not at all weird.
Fuel economy:7/10 The BMW has spoiled me completely for economy and if something is going to be as free of personality as the Camry it better be cheap to run!
Style:6/10:Mleh. If you like grey you will be happy. Even the Vienta which is the fancy version (with bigger engine) came with a fancier grey interior.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

BMW E46 318i Exceutive Sedan (Auto)

When you hop into a BMW and start driving all this epic revelationary classical music starts in your head. A choir of Angels sing you on your journey. It is like driving in heaven. A BMW feels right, looks amazing especially with options such as leather and wood grain and a sunroof) and smell good. It is true, all BMW's with leather smell fabulous. But it is the amazing handling which won me over, Ooh I am get little shiver just thinking about driving my old BMW 318i.
They have a little 1.9l engine which has as much power as you need (87Kw@5500RPM feels more in this car) and has official figures of  7.0l/100km. That is exceptional for anything, let alone something so great to drive. 
Unfortunately it was hard to know what our fuel economy was like as the car had a nasty habit of not really reading the fuel when it dropped below half so you could be driving a long merrily with aforementioned heavenly chorus and 1/3 tank showing on the gauge and then bang. dead stop. No fuel. This happened several times and luckily we were still in civilisation as it would be nasty to have happen on a long drive. There were also a variety of intermittent warning lights and a funny thing where the car wouldn't let you have your key back out of the ignition. It only happened a couple of times as well but apparently it can result in having to replace your whole ignition whatsit at a cost of several thousand dollars. These happenings, combined with the fact that it is a pretty low car (with great handling!) which made getting bubbies into and out of seats awkward meant that the lovely BMW was moved on from our family to a very fat young man of 18 who was going to put massive chrome wheels on it and try to get laid. If you want my opinion, it was going to take an awful lot more than a pimped up BMW to get that guy some action.
Overall:Beautiful, a dream to drive. Rather low to the ground.
Value:8/10:You can get a lot of car for the money but make sure you buy a low mileage example or some odd trademark teutonic repair costs will be yours.
Fuel economy:9/10 Very very good- a small engine but power feels fine for a family car.
Style:9/10:Lovely lovely. Probably my favourite era of BMW. Make sure you get leather and woodgrain trim options

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mercedes Benz A160- A Post Script...

As a follow up to the above review it is fairly amusing that I find myself back in an A160 for our family...we bought a 1998 Manual Auto Clutch from the local car wreckers for $2500 (about £1000)... the clutch 'slips" in 2nd gear (It has a brand new clutch from the local Benz dealer) has had a replacement gear box and the hydraulic auto clutch unit has been replaced. BAS and ESP lights appear intermittently.. the rear wiper likes to have a go when the car is started and ignition is turned off.. all in all it has had around $5000 of work done and still has these quirks.. no-one from Mercedes Benz can help! Oh and the power steering didn't work as the circuit board regulating the pump was fried from being wet... the bottom of the pump where the circuitry is is a few inches above the ground in a none too waterproof box...My darling husband bypassed the circuitry and wired the power through the ignition rather than the alternator so the pump would run full bore when the ignition is on, but not all the time- the Benz specs have it running off the alternator which would seriously endanger your (expensive and brand new in our car!) battery. A new pump would have been another $500 at least.
Unless you are prepared to put up with some "personality" and trawling through the site (thanks Bert!)so you can do your own odd repairs (as in strange repairs.. not odd as in infrequent!)I would leave these little cars alone but I have to say the interior room, high seating position, safety and fuel economy are keeping us happy with it for now... especially as we got it so cheap!Oh and I am finding the "fun shift" more fun now so my driving must be improving!
WE were in a an accident the other day when an old guy turned sharp right across three lanes of traffic to try to enter the exit of a carpark. We were in the third lane and unable to stop. His Toyota Yaris' rear drivers side wheel was caught by the passenger side of our front bumper. The A160 bumper needs a bit of repair, the support needs pulling out but that is all, unfortunately the other guy's Yaris was undriveable. These Baby Benzes are super strong in a crash!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mercedes-Benz A160 W168 Classic Auto and Manual auto-clutch.

As one of our main reasons for selling the Lexus RX330 (*sob*) was the fuel economy it seemed right that our next car was the teeny tiny oh so clever Mercedes Benz A160 (1998 model)
This car is famous for falling on it's head during a press test drive in it's early days. Luckily Mercedes recovered from that, redesigned the car for safer handling and re-released it. That's what we bought. 
We bought an A160 as it was a) economical with fuel and b) insanely safe. These little cars perform very well in crashes and can take on a bigger car in a chicken race with impunity (disclaimer-I do NOT endorse driving headlong into oncoming traffic or other objects in an A160 or any other car!). There was a serious amount of German (over) engineering in the development of these cars including tucking a large portion of the engine under the floor which means you get more cabin space than you would think possible (the car must have a bit of TARDIS DNA methinks) and a nice high driving position which we Mother types love-the visibility is great and the car ends abruptly at the rear screen meaning reversing is easy. Cabin size is reasonable and the roof is high, not that I care as I barely hit 5'4" in the morning (you are taller in the morning you know!) but those who are more regularly sized tell me the internal roof height is fine. The interior is boring and dark grey-some cars have some colourful sort of speckles or grey blotches on the trim in a sort of German attempt to make the interior "fun and cheerful" which, well, fails miserably.
If reconfiguring your car is your thing you can move all the seats in and out so it is a sort of small van and you can carry whitegoods about if you choose.  Boot space is OK but if you have a monster pram it doesn't really work (having said that I think I was expecting too much from such a small car).The ride feel is rather ordinary, very 'neutral' and I wouldn't rave about how it corners, it feels like a tall skinny car on small wheels.. probably because that is what it is.The power of 75kw@5250rpm is predictably adequate but not really zippy.
Fuel economy is good 7.2l/100km for the Manual (with auto clutch) and  7.6L/100km for the full auto.
The A160 didn't seem to come in a manual for Australians, just a Manual with auto clutch or the dubiously named "Fun Shift". we had a "Fun Shift" in a lovely Girly Magenta colour but we set out to find an auto soon after we bought the car as we just didn't enjoy it... I may remember driving in the wet to the panel beaters one day around many roundabouts, hopping out rather wound up and yelling at the car "Whose idea of  f******g fun is that you German t**ts?" (I am working on the swearing but to be honest the children are making me worse than I ever was BC- Before Children). My irrational shouty behaviour was bought on by what I view as the flaw with the Mercedes-Benz idea, you need to take your foot off the accelerator to change gears but like all the Benzes I have driven once you do that the car goes immediately "off the boil" and slows dramatically resulting in a far from smooth transition which was frustrating to me as a novice driver and must have driven drivers around me mad! A proper manual car doesn't suffer from this problem.It seems to me that whether you are an auto or manual driver you will need to abandon everything you thought you knew, successful driving of the *ahem* "Fun shift" means a totally new technique and approach...
 So we bought an auto which was in a metallic burgundy sort of red (not as nice as the Magenta IMHO). Unfortunately the change of transmission and colour also bought a plague of problems such as the car unexpectedly dropping in to 'F' gear which is a sort of limp home mode for when the gearbox fails... I can only guess what F stands for! The airconditioner also packed it in so she was sent off to the airconditioner repair shop where she came back exactly the same  (for free)  so was sent to the local dealership where she stayed for 5 days and was sent home exactly the same but with an AU$800 bill which we beat them down to AU$400 on the basis that they hadn't fixed anything and had no idea what was actually wrong with any of the malfunctioning systems. There was some talk of replacing the auto transmission piece by piece or the whole unit for a price of upwards of AU$5000.
Unfortunately the Mercedes Benz Folk seem to have out-smarted themselves and in making their smallest offering so very very clever they have opened it up to an extraordinary array of bizarre and expensive problems. Some of these have apparently been fixed in later models but the curse of the Mercedes Benz seems to be to fix a problem by creating a totally new concept for the flawed system which is promptly plagued by a totally new set of problems.
Second hand Benzes are temptingly cheap but this is for a very good reason, not even buying a very low mileage example protects you from the fine selection of problems you could find popping up at any time.
Having said that they do have good fuel economy and are safe...
Overall:Roomy and safe for a small car but it could go breathtakingly wrong at any moment for a variety of reasons. Boring and a bit frustrating to drive (auto clutch)
Value:7/10:They are temptingly cheap now but God help you if you need to do repairs.
Fuel economy:9/10 Very good, but what you save in fuel you will probably spend much more in strange repairs.
Style: 7/10:Weird and functional-kind of appeals to me but not to everyone's tastes. The Classic is very ordinary inside.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

2003 Lexus RX330 Sports Luxury MCU38R

The next car we tried was the Lexus RX330 Sports Luxury. This is the Japanese  answer to the luxury SUV/4wd designed to take on the BMW X5, Mercedes M class(see my later review) the Volvo XC90 and the Audi whatever it is(sorry don't know my Audis at all ).The Japanese do it better than the Germans I must say.
The outside of the car is subtle and doesn't scream "expensive car- be impressed" the same way the spinning propellor badge of a BMW or the Three Point Merc. Benz star does  but thats because the manufacturers have saved the luxury for the inside, after all it's where we, the drivers and passengers are going to be spending our time.
 The list of standard equipment in the Sports Luxury is amazing, leather seats, wood grain, sat nav, sunroof, reversing camera (sooo handy) remote boot hatch release that lifts the boot hatch, not just releasing the catch. The interior is so soothing and comfortable the first night we had it at home I went and sat in the car as it was more comfortable than the Italian leather lounge in our sitting room!(Sad? Maybe, True? definitely).The leather in the RX350 is so soft and yielding and the carpet was so thick and fluffy I took off my shoes every time I got into the car so I could squish my toes into the lush pile.. mmmm...
The Lexus drives like a particularly comfortable recliner chair would. This means there is hardly any "road feel", you are protected from all the bumps in the road and you do feel a bit disconnected from the driving but it is so comfortable and easy to drive with so many mod cons that I can forgive it. If the Lexus RX 330 was a man I would never dream of going out to dinner with him without shaving my legs and I wouldn't dare choose the wine in case I made a fool of myself. It is a very sophisticated and tastefully stylish car and you can buy Lexus brand golfing accessories and bland coloured polo shirts to go with your car if you wish! This was one of the reasons we ended up selling, after scratching the bumper a bit hauling a dishwasher into the boot (we found the dishwasher on the side of the road and do that sort of thing frequently!) and realising just how much mess our baby son (and his mother!) could make with little effort we decided to sell before we totally ruined the lovely car and lost all our money!
The other reason we sold was the fuel economy, all those safety and luxury gizmos must affect the fuel consumption- official figures are 13.2L/100km but we were rarely getting better than 14.5L/100km with careful driving. The RX 350 has official figures of 11.2L/100km with more power so that seems much more respectable and acceptable to me.
 The RX 330 has a good amount of power at 172kW @ 5600rpm but the RX  350 has 203kW @ 6200rpm so in an ideal world, on paper at least I would say that he 350 is the one to go for- it is just the same but has a DVD player evidently, thus making it even more parent friendly.
 There are many many airbags, ABS, reversing cameras and everything else you can think of to make the car safe. Having driven so many other family cars since the RX 330 I can honestly say the fuel economy is not as bad as many on the market and so much nicer to drive as well as being more stylish, comfortable, better built and more reliable than any car I can think of off the top of my head. We are going to buy another, less immaculate, more "worn in" example as soon as we have the funds. The parts are made by Toyota so easily available and reliable, (get your parts from Toyota for the Toyota equivalent, not the Lexus ones and you will do well) the tyres aren't bizarre sizes and it just feels right! Ours was nearly four years old when we bought it and still under factory warranty but nothing went wrong with it so I guess that is why they offer such great warranties (why Hyundai and Mitsubishi do is beyond me!).
Overall: Just lovely to transport the family around in, perfect for longer trips and sitting in when you are hiding from the children.
Value:8/10 They aren't cheap but don't depreciate like a German car does. 
Fuel economy:6/10 we thought it bad but there are many worse. The RX 350 is better economy wise.
Style: 8/10 Subtle on the ouside, sumptuous and tasteful on the inside.