Our Garage

VOLVO XC60 T8

ALEX INWOOD

Date acquired: January 2018

Price as tested: $105,340

This month: 1104km @ 7.4L/100km

Overall: 10,453km @ 7.1L/100km

Tuning up those zeros and ones

Finding myself north of the border when the odo ticked past 15,000km meant DQC55W served its first minor service with just over 16,000km on the clock. Not that it complained, with the only sign it was due for a tune up found in the development of a slight delay when shifting from drive to reverse, or vice versa. At times it felt like a stumble as the box loitered in neutral. Volvoí technicians diagnosed a software problem as the likely cause and with the service now complete, it hasní occurred since.

Balancing act

Burbling brute from Affalterbach has Inwood questioning lifeís fundamentals

IT STRIKES me that performance, like money and holidays, falls into that category of things you can never really have too much of. Itís true that life is all about balance, and I donít discount the benefits of fuel efficiency or creature comforts, but nothing tickles my adrenal glands quite like an accelerator pedal that feels as though itís connected to some kind of military-grade explosive.

Imagine my surprise then when, with the keys to a Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S clutched in my hand, I began to question just how much performance a mid-size SUV actually needs. With my XC60 relinquished to Volvo for its 15,000km service, and the GLC in the Wheels garage after last monthís feature drive in Tassie, I approached Affalterbachís brutish SUV full of anticipation.

TWIST SISTER Time in the slighty nuts Merc-AMG GLC 63 S was useful for putting the Volvoís balanced blend of power and civility into perspective

Two days later, having experienced the animalism of its 375kW/700Nm 4.0-litre V8, the firm intent of its chassis, and its willingness to perform small powerslides on demand, I began to wonder if, as a mode of regular family transport, it was a little too focused.

My ponderings were thrown into sharper relief by Volvo itself, which in the same week, announced performance upgrades for models with T8 powertrains. Fettled by Polestar, the optimised version of the XC60 jumps to 314kW/670Nm (up 14kW/30Nm), adds swankier Ohlins shocks, beefier Brembos, lighter wheels and a revised gearbox calibration that shifts cogs faster and holds onto gears longer if it detects enthusiastic driving.

The thing is, not once in our six months together have I lusted for my XC60 to feel sportier. Itís fast enough to be exciting, collected enough to accurately carve corners, and crucially, as slipping back into its freshly serviced form solidified, comfortable and quiet enough to feel genuinely luxurious. Remember that Ďbalanceí thing I mentioned earlier? The regular T8 XC60 feels like the sweet spot.

Our time apart did, however, shine a harsher light on a few XC60 weaknesses Iíd perhaps grown too familiar with to be bothered by. The four-up ride, for example, wasnít quite as supple as I recalled, with sharper bumps telegraphed clearly into the cabin. And the steering, which has always been light, suddenly felt numb and detached. Thereís no questioning its accuracy, but in an SUV with a performance bent such as this, a greater sense of connection would go a long way. Perhaps someone should tell Polestar.

ALEX INWOOD

SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT

Date acquired: April 2018 Price as tested: $25,600

This month: 2577km @ 8.0L/100km

Overall: 4364km @ 6.4L/100km

Blitzing on modesty boots

Howí the Suzi fare at Winton? Well, with a fastest lap of 1:46.35, it was the fastest B-segment hot hatch on the day. Speed peaked at 156km/h on the front straight, while Wintoní challenging turn-five sweeper saw the Suzuki sustain an average of 120km/h and 1.0G in cornering force. The latter appeared to be the practical limit of its chassis, but considering the Sportí Continentals are only a mid-grade performance tyre, weí salivating at how ití handle if fitted with some stickier rubber.

A little circle work

Wide open at Winton brings no wiltiní

WANT to know what the most impressive aspect about the Swift Sport is? Itís not its ability to devour corners, nor its pleasingly direct steering, nor its boosty 1.4 litre four. Itís the way it sheds speed when you stand on the middle pedal.

I really wasnít prepared for that. The latest Swift Sport might be the fastest in Suzuki history, but itís still far from what youíd describe as Ďrapidí. Hustling it quickly on a mountain road is an exercise in preserving momentum, and you aim to avoid hitting the brakes as much as possible for fear of washing off all that hard-earned forward motion. I hadnít really had a pressing need to push the Swiftís brakes Ė until I took it to its first proper circuit outing.

Rocking up to Winton Raceway for a club track day, the Sport felt just a smidge out of place. Bone-stock and factory-fresh, rolling through in the bright-yellow Suzuki gave me flashbacks to being a meek year 7 student entering a high school locker room for the first time, only to find it full of intimidating year 12s.

But on the circuit, the Sport proved to be a genuine athlete. The engine is probably the only part that doesnít seem quite so suited to track work, given its low redline and topend breathlessness. The best is wrung from it by short-shifting, leveraging its feisty slug of mid-range torque, but that hardly feels Ė or sounds Ė all that fun. Itís not difficult to tell the Sportís engine was borrowed from an SUV.

Shifting the powerband further up the rev range would also perhaps tame the Sportís front-end traction issue. With a surfeit of available Newton metres and an open differential between the front axles, itíll easily spin up the inside wheel when loaded up in a corner. Fitting tauter springs or swaybars would help reduce that by containing some of the Swiftís extraneous body roll, but would come at the expense of ride comfort. A proper limited-slip differential would be the ideal solution.

TRACK DACKS

Light weight and great brakes are what make Swift Sport shine on track. Higher revving engine and an LSD would seal the deal

Everything else, though, is peachy. The direct, fast-acting steering is a delight, the Continentals surprisingly grippy and the chassis remarkably resistant to understeer and eager to rotate for a front-driver. The body-hugging bucket seats are also perfect for this kind of hard driving, while remaining comfy enough for the two-hour drive to and from the circuit.

And that brings me back to the brakes. Those pint-sized rotors and calipers are nothing special, but with less than a tonne to halt theyíre eyewideningly effective. So much so that my first stab of the brakes at the end of Wintonís front straight came 50 metres too early Ė braking points that made sense for virtually every other car Iíve driven there were meaningless to the tiny Swift.

And, like the rest of the car, the brakes were unbelievably durable. An entire day of hard lapping didnít see them fade to any great degree, while there was still plenty of meat on the pads when it came time to head home. No warped rotors, no overheating engine, no warning lights, no problem.

TONY OíKANE

Natural selection

Are drivers destined to revert to pond scum?

CARS are becoming smarter, automatically doing more of the things we once regarded as being part of basic driving competency. So I canít but wonder: will we, via some sort of devolution, lose the ability to do those simple things at all?

HOLDEN EQUINOX LTZ-V

Date acquired: March 2018

Price as tested: $46,290

This month: 2013km @ 12.7L/100km

Overall: 4099km @ 12.3L/100km

Warranty wars: the new battleground

Holdení recent move to extend its warranty from three years and 100,000km to five years and unlimited kays for private and ABN buyers is good news for new Equinox customers who may have missed out on the earlier seven-year deal, which was offered only temporarily. The new permanent warranty puts Holden on a par with the likes of Mitsubishi, Jeep and Hyundai, but also includes five-years of roadside assistance and capped price servicing.

It was English naturalist Charles Darwin who advanced the theory of biological evolution, declaring that species develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that are essential to survival. So surely it can go the other way?

Take the stretch, grip and pull manoeuvre long required to close an SUV tailgate. On a growing number of models this has been replaced by the press of a button and the near silent, but far less dramatic whir of an electric motor, gently closing that which we once slammed with gusto.

BIN THERE

Gargantuan centre console could do with a small shelf or removable insert; itís so deep you can lose an arm in there fishing for loose change

In the case of the Equinox, this feat can also be performed with a wave of your plateof-meat beneath the rear bumper to activate a sometimes elusive sensor, or with a press on the key fob.

Reversing cameras are another innovation that surely save lives and a great many bumpers, but which we have quickly become dependent on. Could it be that over the millennia this may lead drivers to develop a frog-like inability to turn our necks? Ribbit!

Iím ancient enough to have been schooled in the near-forgotten art of reversing using the carís mirrors; today I can simply select reverse and look to the Equinoxís excellent 8.0-inch colour touchscreen for guidance.

On the subject, I cycle through a regular array of test vehicles other than the Equinox and have recently been reminded of the surprisingly poor clarity in anything other than optimal light from reversing cameras in some premium German marques.

Not so the Equinox, which is exemplary in this regard, its camera and screen combo providing crystal-clear reversing vision of my tricky, dog-leg driveway at any time of the day or night. Itís so good I can spot a southern banjo frog at 50 paces, and swerve in time to avoid the little fellah.

Whatís not so optimal, however, is the Holdenís turning circle, which at 12.7m is one of the worst in its class, and a good 1.7m bigger than Mazdaís rival CX-5. Quite why itís so much larger when the basic configuration of front struts, A-arms and anti-roll bars is similar remains an engineering mystery.

Fortunately, we can say it ainít so in most other conditions, where the LTZís tactile leather-trimmed wheel and consistently weighted electrically-assisted rack-andpinion steering endow it with above average steering qualities for a mid-size SUV.

Which only goes to show that while drivers and their driving skills may be headed back to the primordial swamp, even something as oft-maligned as the SUV can evolve to a higher place.

GED BULMER

The share portfolio

Stinger becomes the office loan shark; opinions flood in for free

KIA STINGER GT Date acquired: April 2018 Price as tested: $60,685

This month: 2042km @ 12.2L/100km

Overall: 5445km @ 11.3L/100km

Sting operation

Queenslanders, keep a look out for stickered-up Stingers in your rear-view. After a period of evaluation, the Road Policing Command is looking to put 50 Stingers on its fleet by Christmas. ďIt was not a big step at all once we had begun the investigation process,Ē said Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan. ďItí about providing the best equipment for those at the coal face.Ē And Queensland may just be the first; Kia claims other Aussie law enforcement agencies are set to follow suit.

GENEROSITY, it has to be said, isnít one of my virtues. Give me a Ďshare bagí of chips and my aim is to demolish the lot before anyone sniffs that heady tang of barbecue, wheat gluten and maltodextrin. This month, however, I have been sharing the Stinger love, spreading the good word of the gospel according to Peter Schreyer. Of course, the more cynical amongst you will probably think itís because Iíve had a better offer, something a bit sleeker and shapelier than the Kiaís coke-bottle curves, but I drove an Infiniti QX80, which blows a blimp-hangar-sized hole in that theory.

Keen to hear the opinion of others on the GT, I was slightly crestfallen when the guys at Street Machine thought that the exhaust, which has caused me no end of consternation, sounded great. On that note, I had the opportunity to listen to a Stinger V6 with an aftermarket Tubi system fitted to it. Although exorbitant at $9K, it did sound way more characterful at idle and its four-mode control unit could also be set to produce AMG-like pops and crackles on overrun.

David Bonnici got hold of the Stinger keys during this monthís five-car SUV test and loved the GTís poke but also enjoyed the fact that, like the best Aussie-built Falcons and Commodores, it could cool its heels when necessary. I did feel some slight guilt at handing him the keys on a Monday morning after Iíd driven the car on a massive high country dirt-road jaunt the day before; the Kiaís bodywork looking filthier than Charlie Sheenís browser history. It was a great drive, though, the GTís notoriously relaxed stability control system allowing a few lazy low-speed slides on the loose surface before common sense (and the realisation that this was somebody elseís 60 grand vehicle) intervened.

There are still some small details that irk me, though. I dislike the fact that the drive mode selector defaults back to Comfort Ė a setting I never use Ė if you switch the car off in Sport mode. The adaptive cruise control also has odd moments where it gets on the picks alarmingly late when youíre approaching stationary traffic, even when the radarís switched to its longest range setting. Thereís a host of minor imperfections that could all be cleaned up come facelift time if Kia had the foresight to consult owners.

BLARE WITCH PROJECT

Street Machine approved of it, yet MOTOR staffers were unimpressed by the aural appeal of the Kiaís optional exhaust

That channel of communication would benefit the development of the Stinger. Itís hugely endearing but still feels like a work in progress, something that needs a little more polish to really shine. Even with its flaws, it earns an easy recommendation, though. You donít need to be too generous to afford it that.

ANDY ENRIGHT

Youíve got a lot of front

Why the lack of all-wheel drive is no bad thing

OWNING a 3008 is fun, Iíve come to realise. Why has it taken almost three months to work that out? I blame the traffic. Most of the time I spend in DVI-87Q takes place during Melbourneís peak hours. I usually have loose bags on the back seat, things in the boot, and no real opportunity or inclination to get stuck into it.

PEUGEOT 3008 GT-LINE

Date acquired: April 2018 Price as tested: $49,680

This month: 1079km @ 9.1/100km

Overall: 2108km @ 9.7L/100km

Weí be back after an infotainment break

Ií still a fan of this Pugí slick infotainment interface, but system weaknesses, including blank screens, unresponsive buttons and complete resets, have occurred. The on-screen keyboardí alphabetical layout, rather than QWERTY, is another, painfully unintuitive bugbear. Weirder still are the false alarms; intermittent service requests that switch the main screen into navigation mode with highlighted routes to nearby service centres, then vanish a short time later.

But a few nights ago I had to run an errand when the rest of the family were asleep. The car was empty, the roads were quiet, and I was in the mood to make short work of things. Lucky for me, the Peugeot was up for it too.

A mixture of attributes can make an SUV capable of putting a smile on your face.

For some itís raw power, others unerring grip, but in the 3008ís case itís all about the responsiveness of its front end. Quickwitted steering means a slight twist of the forearms is all it takes to get crisp direction changes out of it. And thereís just enough stickiness from the tyres to make it work, even though the ContiCrossContact LXs are fitted primarily for their aptitude in slippery conditions, as part of the Grip Control system thatís standard fare for the GT-Line.

All-wheel drive isnít available anywhere in the 3008 range, but Peugeot has gone after some off-road credibility with this variant (and the less expensive 3008 Allure) by adding electronic aids that make it perform better on loose surfaces. Now would be the perfect juncture to talk about how good it is, or otherwise, on sand or snow, but Iím yet to take it anywhere near either, which is probably representative of mid-size SUV ownership in the majority.

FAUX-WD

GT-Line variant comes standard with all-weather tyres and electronic aids for light off-road use

Itís nice to know the functionality is there, but for now its talents remain theoretical. And if urban dwelling is the plight of most 3008s, does having Grip Control make sense on the off-chance thereís a trip to the ski slopes during its time in the family?

Ultimately the likelihood of that is for individual buyers to decide. Some minor off-road testing at Car of the Year suggests the system has merit, but the trade-off is a louder cabin from the roar of the heavy-duty rubber (though without driving a quieter rival back-to-back itís not terribly invasive), as well as slightly higher fuel consumption, which is claimed at 7.3L/100km rather than 7.0L achieved by the base Active.

Personally, I find the chunky tread pattern and squarer sidewalls of the 225/55R18s to be aesthetically pleasing. And the economy penalty bothers me less than it would if I had paid extra for AWD hardware in a different mid-size SUV, then lugged it around as dead weight for 99 percent of driving, using even more fuel in the process.

So I think it makes some sense, and along with the 3008ís amusing dynamics Iím finding smug satisfaction in driving a car that others consider to be slightly left of centre. Thatís an ongoing battle for Peugeot to fight in Australia. For what itís worth, my Magnetic Blue companion has been holding up its end of the bargain without drama, and its virtues are still being understood well after the initial acquaintance phase has ended. Letís hope there are yet more layers to peel back.

RYAN LEWIS