Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Honda Insight Update

In Honda on November 25, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Honda continues to make ready the Insight for its production debut.

A lot is now known about the upcoming hybrid, especially after its Paris Motor Show airing.

Some questions remain over its fuel consumption figure though and recent information seems to suggest that the car will be capable of returning about 32 KM/L in the 10.15 mode.  I have no idea what the 10.15 mode is but i probably should.  It could either indicate driving in a heavy tailwind whilst slipstreaming a large truck or more likely a 10 to 15 year old driving and the car benefitting from the obvious weight reductions.

Of course these figures won’t be as fuel sippingly good as the next generation Toyota Prius which reputedly will be able to achieve 40KM/L. 

In the Insight’s favour will be the selling price however. Honda have been busy and rather worryingly pulling everything expensive out of the car to enable an entry level price of below 2 million yen, so expect a large options catalogue.

The Prius is expected to be priced at 20 to 30 percent more but will be packing more technology.

Insight power will be derived from a 1.3 litre engine producing 95PS plus 20PS from the motor assist system (hybrid part).  Weight is a reported to be a not very heavy 1150kg.

Honda’s stylish new hybrid is now expected to reach the Japanese public in February , a little earlier than originally thought.

I want one, in white please, with the blue headlights.     


2009 Honda Insight

2009 Honda Insight


The Blandest Car in Japan

In opinion on November 24, 2008 at 5:29 pm

To satisfy those who insist that Japanese cars are bland and bereft of expression, i think i have found the car that represents the pinnacle of dullness.

In wanting to be fair the Japan only Toyota Raum is marketed to elderly people, however just because you’re an old git doesn’t mean you should purchase this car.

The Raum comes equipped with a 1.5 litre engine producing 109 ps and seating for five with rear passenger sliding doors for ease of access.

Prices start at a reasonable 1,596,000 JPY

It’s difficult to talk about the style of the car other than to say none exists.  Toyota’s Raum is the sort of car that even after owning one for a number of years, it might be easy to forget what the thing looked like.  So next time you see an old fellow looking a little lost in the car park it’s not because he truly is but rather that he can’t for the life of him remember what his bloody Raum looks like (most likely he’ll be standing right next to it).

On a cold overcast day the car just blends into the sky, especially in silver (that inexplicably favoured colour among those of advanced years). 

This of course bodes terribly for Japan.  The insecurity and second guessing that plagues all owners of this car is adding to this country’s geriatric care epidemic, forcing taxes up and productivity down.

As one of Japan’s pre-eminent industrial group’s, Toyota is really shooting itself in the foot with this automobile.

The least they could do is offer some flashing roof lights or pearl harbor graphics to help owners identify their vehicles.

Elderly Japanese have already been through an atrocious war including defeat and two atomic bombs.  To survive that, be parcel of the following economic revolution and then to finale in a Toyota Raum is frankly an insult.

It is now up to Mitsubishi to resurrect the automotive equivalent of its famous Zero fighter to put the spring back into the geriatric step of Japan.  

Toyota Raum

Toyota Raum

New Nissan Cube

In Nissan on November 19, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Car manufacturers are increasingly talented at designing maximised space in vehicles that are essentially built on small platforms.

A direct result of this is the cubist design revolution that has especially found a foothold here in Japan.  Think Toyota bB, Daihatsu Coo, Subaru Dex and especially Nissan Cube, the second generation of which was unveiled in Tokyo yesterday.

Reputedly based on the same underlying platform as the upcoming March/Micra model, the Cube comes equipped with a 1.5l petrol engine producing an adequate 109 PS and returning a sort of frugal 19.2 km/l. 

It would be easy to say that Nissan has become a little passive with its designs of late, as evidenced by the latest generations of X Trail and Fairlady Z (370Z) appearing to be distincly similar aesthetically to their predecessors although it would be easy to contradict that statement by observing the GT-R.

Cube 2 follows the design theme of its foregoer closely and it’s clear that Nissan believes the basic composition of the Cube still has some way to go before exasperating.  If the previous generation had only been released now it would still garner praise for being contemporary (actually this is now the third generation Cube but the 1998 mark 1 looked more like a turd than a car so it doesn’t warrant mention, apologies to any owners).

The new model does look changed somewhat with the most striking exterior difference at the front where a particularly well resolved headlight and bumper arrangement take precedence.  Attention has also been focused on the rear lights although i can’t work out if they look better or not.  A unique feature of the old car that’s been carried over is the rear wraparound glass on the opposing side to the driver which should be helpful if you’re a crap parker etc.  The perhaps polarising consequence of this is that the single rear D pillar can give the impression of the Nissan looking a bit like Jane from Tarzan.  Front passenger windows are well thought out resulting in a very designed look that emphasise the thick pillars on the car.  A real feature for the observer.

The architecture succeeds in looking squat (not to be confused with sporty) and funky.

Inside is where Nissan really got their crayons and paper out and it looks frankly fabulous. 

A steering mounted CVT transmission enables bench seating and liberates lots of space.  The sofa like seats appear very soft and springy and suit the character of the Cube exceptionally, creating a proper lounge atmosphere.  Attractive interior fittings abound, particularly the metal door handles but most of all the wave effect dashboard and console.

The Cube will be looking for the younger market again for sales but it is a fairly universal car with a much softer stance than some of its domestic competitors.

Prices start at 1,449,000 JPY.

Nissan Cube

Nissan Cube

Subaru Dex

In Subaru on November 17, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Late last week Subaru introduced a new model to their domestic range.

The Subaru Dex is based on the same platform as both the Toyota bB and the Daihatsu Coo with Subaru clearly benefitting from Toyota’s 25% stake in them.

All three versions of the car look about 10% different from each other with only the front grille and other smaller aesthetic changes apparent but these alterations do succeed in changing the character of each model some what.

Mechanically they are identical although interestingly Subaru has decided to offer only the smaller 92ps 1300cc engine while  Toyota and Daihatsu both offer two engine choices including a slightly more powerful 1500cc unit.

Frankly the Toyota bB is very urban cool and fits the intended young 20 something driver bill perfectly with its mean face, prevalent sound system and blue lit interior.  Problems start to become evident if you’re over 40 and male you might look like a sex predator driving one, trying to ensnare a few young lovely lovelys in your pimp mobile, young at heart transport. 

Daihatsu’s Coo with its inexplicable gaping mouth front grille is the softer version of the above designed for girls, gay blokes and people who are scared of the bB’s demeanour.  Still an interesting choice though.

Subaru’s contribution is the most conservative and least confident design of the three and can be bought by anyone including the over 40’s man.  The pitfalls are that if you’re young and take this over the Toyota or Daihatsu, others will think you boring and crap but at least you’re honest and that will serve you well later when you’re over 40 (when you should have bought the car) and you meet a divorcee who will appreciate being with a dull but stable man.   For the older buyer the consequences are less severe but know that no-one will ever understand why you didn’t get the bB to avoid looking like a sex pest although if you had bought the Toyota that is exactly what they would have thought.

Pricing for the subaru Dex starts at 1,438,500 JPY. 

Toyota bB

Toyota bB


Daihatsu Coo

Daihatsu Coo


Subaru Dex

Subaru Dex

Nissan GTR LM Race and Road Car

In Nissan on November 10, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Japanese media speculation suggests That Nissan may be planning a bit of an international racing assault and have their sights on Le Mans.

Unsurprisingly the Japanese firm will base their efforts on the R35 GTR to compete in the GT1 class at the historic French circuit.

If the rumours are true then we might see a few GTR’s pounding the Mulsanne against  some of the world’s finest racing hardware next year or in 2010.

In the GT1 class, Nissan will find itself amongst a ferocious pack of European and American sports cars including, Corvette, Aston Martin and Saleen.

To Compete against such distinguished rivals the GTR will require some heavy modification for the track and an increase in power to at least 600ps which is about what the competition weigh in at.  Nissan will have to rely on some of the R35’s natural talents if they are to spill blood at the legendary race.

It is likely that Nissan will use the services of its well known tuning arm Nismo to handle the design and preparation of the cars.

As would be sensible in these lean times, Nismo will try to make the project self financing by producing a handful of race ready R35’s and selling them onto professional race teams as well as preparing their own full or semi works entry.  Presently Nismo already produce a racing version of its current generation Fairlady Z that produces 400ps, costs 30 million yen and is most certainly not road legal.  This car is available to purchase as a race ready contender for a number of championships but is ostensibly raced in the Japanese Super Taikyu series.

Now, rather excitingly due to homologation rules Nissan will be obliged to make a small number of road cars based on the Le Mans Platform.  It is thought that this car will be known as the GTR LM and that Nissan plan to produce 300 examples.  The LM series will be the most expensive R35 road car and by all accounts should be faster than the upcoming V Spec edition.

The R35 already has experience racing and winning in the very competitive Japanese Super GT Championship this season but because of that race series notoriously loose rules regarding tuning, changing parts etc it is expected that the heavily aerodynamically modified GTR’s seen charging the circuits of Japan will not be eligible for the Le Mans GT1 class.  So it’s back to the drawing board.

It would be hard to think of a good reason for Nissan not to undertake a Le Mans assault.  Of course it won’t be cheap and anything as frivolous as motorsport is unlikely to be viewed too positively in todays cash strapped car making world but if Nismo can make a business case for it then it may happen.

Owners and fans would be thrilled and it would go some way in cementing the GTR brand in Europe where it still suffers from a very skeptical and high capability Japanese sports car wary public, most of whom are largely unaware of the many previous generation GTR’s long motorsport heritage.  Amusingly it would also serve as a further affront and up yours to some of the legacy sports car makers on the continent.  Especially if Nissan win and they might.

New Honda Life

In Honda on November 6, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Honda’s new Life arrived in showrooms across the country today as the fifth generation of the popular Kei car went on sale.

The life comes in three guises each trying to represent a different personality.  Starting with the the sort of cheap looking G-type, the slightly more feminine looking Pastel and the supposedly sportier looking Diva.

Differences between the three models are only aesthetic.

Being a Kei car, engines are limited to 660cc but as is normal a turbo edition is also offered increasing power to 64PS over the standard naturally aspirated 52PS.  Performance is likely to be less than startling but shouldn’t be an issue in the market this car competes in.

Safety conscious will be pleased to know that Honda have fitted their new driver side SRS airbag system with continuously staged inflation.  This alone could be a critical factor in parents releasing their hard earned into their daughters first buggy.

Good news too if you’re a bit of a crap parker as the Life features a back-up camera as well as automatic steering assistance to help with those tricky manoeuvres.

Lets face it, if you really need both of those on a car this size and glassy then it might be worth thinking about a bicycle.

The previous generation life was bought almost  overwhelmingly by female buyers and with the new models definite sense of feminimity it’s clear that statistic should continue.  Some but not necessarily all men might be uneasy driving the car, especially the Diva named edition (which interestingly is the most unisex looking of the three).

I love the Kei segment of cars in Japan, there are son many of them and some of them look great and it’s difficult not to admire the engineering that goes into such small cars to make them practical but i find myself dissappointed at Honda’s latest effort.

It’s just such a predictable design, so much so that i feel i could have envisaged this car myself and could have foretold the design a long time ago.  Of course it would be silly for Honda to be too revolutionary with the new car as it is expected to again be the biggest seller amongst the company’s domestic portfolio.  The new inoffensive design at least shouldn’t alienate potential buyers but it certainly doesn’t move Japanese automotive art on and is instead a very commercially minded creation.  Honda can’t be blamed for that. 

Honda like every other manufacturer is being squeezed by the global crisis and sales in Japan have been depressed for many years.  The new life starts from 947,500 JPY and the standard engine returns a competitive 21KM/L so if anything is going to fly off the shelf then this could be the ticket.  









Nissan GTR V-Spec

In Nissan on November 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm

A few weeks back Nismo shocked the car enthusiast world with word that it had created an upgrade package for its newly released GTR.  It turned out that people weren’t unbalanced by the option of making a very fast car faster but instead were feeling a little queasy at the horrendous cost.

5,460,000 JPY.

For that princely sum you get some new lightweight wheels, Bilstein suspension, carbon seats, titanium exhaust system and a carbon rear diffuser.

All rather delicious sounding but surely not worth the price of 5.4 Nissan March/Micra’s.  The price is so large that most people still think they must have read it wrong but you haven’t.

It doesn’t take a Sherlock or even a bloody Watson to deduce that these modifications are closely related to or even identically to the upcoming V-Spec edition of the GTR.

Nissan are going to release more official information regarding the car before the end of the year but it is becoming clearer that the V-Spec will carry all the previously mentioned upgrades as well as (we hope) an increase in power.

The V-Spec is going to be a spartan affair with no air con, sat nav or frilly bits and bobs in order to set it out as a very focused machine.  It will also be lightened, noisy and generally scary.  Target market types are likley to be lunatics and trackday regulars.

No doubt the new GTR will represent the quickest production car in Japanese automotive history and will likely take its place amongst the fastest in the world.

A word about pricing.  The current standard GTR sells for 7,770,000 JPY and mumblings indicate that the V-Spec should be under 1.3 million yen when it goes on sale in 2009/2010.

Nissan only plan to build about 400 V-Spec GTR’s a year to maintain exclusivity and also no doubt indicative that this very focused edition is unlikely to be everyones cup of tea but this time around the GTR is very much a world market car so demand should be strong.

Back to Nismo’s horribly priced upgrade package for the standard GTR.

Non V-Spec GTR owners who feel short changed at the difference in performance will be able to bring their cars performance closer to the V-Spec but without compromising the relative luxury and everyday livability of the standard R35, effectively creating a sort of soft V-Spec.

All will have to wait a little longer before fully knowing what kind of witchcraft is lurking inside the ultimate GTR. 

Alternatively just take your car to one of the many respected Japanese or American tuning houses and let them have a play.

Nismo GTR