autojaponica

Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Refreshened Mazda Roadster

In Mazda on December 19, 2008 at 6:57 pm

There are few better sights than a banged up old Mk 1 Mazda Roadster complete with worn tyres, sun diminished paintwork, rusted arches, a few dings in the body work and a cheap slightly silly sounding aftermarket exhaust.

These cars represent the essence of non impressive income performance motoring.  Recently you can pick up a 90’s Roadster for about the same price as a set of tyres.  They are simple, robust, wonderfully diminutive, rear wheel drive and beautifully handling machines.

Proof exists in the little Mazda that satisfying sports car ownership doesn’t need to mean huge power, high expense and temperamental mechanicals.

Today at the end of 2008 we still have the Roadster or be it in it’s slightly fatter and more pristine looking Mk 3 version.

Unveiled earlier this month the revamped Mk 3 has hardly changed from the original new generation Roadster released in 2006.

To be honest i liked the Mk 3 as it was but Mazda don’t agree and subsequently have felt the need to a little fettling.

The changes are almost entirely cosmetic.  A new front  five point grille takes the place of the previous oval mesh and now includes fog lights.  Attention has also been focused on the rear bumper to create a more extreme convex shape that Mazda says improves airflow.

Mechanically the car benefits from some acoustic tuning to create a more purposeful soundtrack from the twin tailpipes as well as a revised suspension.  Perhaps more fundamental is that the 2 litre 170 ps engine now achieves a 500 rpm increase.

The 2006 Mk 3 is still a fairly rare sight on the roads when you compare it to its predecessors.  It was criticised by some quarters as a much softer feeling car than before and that it may have pandered to too big a customer base in the drive to bring the car more upmarket.

That may be the case but (new facelift  included) it is an attractive thing and even with the added fat the years have added it manages to look intensely well proportioned.

Historically Mazda’s roadsters are hightly regarded the world over and always seem to achieve a mention in those silly top ten cars ever lists that magazines and Discovery Channel are so fond of.  Usually a Jaguar E Type or Corvette wins outright depending on whether the results were produced in the UK or America.

Although an all new design is expected in 2012, Mazda do seem to attaching a lot of importance to this mid life update, even persuading their top developer Takao Tokushima to stay on a further year before retirement to ensure the new product.

In Japan we get a choice of five or six speed manual or 6 speed automatic.  Cars can also be specified with either a soft top ot retractable hard top.

Prices from 2,330,000 JPY.

 

Refreshened Mazda Roadster

Refreshened Mazda Roadster

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Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback

In Mitsubishi on December 15, 2008 at 5:27 pm

When discussing the Mitsubishi Lancer, a lot of people imagine the Evolution model, that nutty, turbocharged football hooligan of a machine.

Of course that would be wrong because what the lancer line has always represented for the most part is mundane sedans that inoffensively and uncomplicatedly traverse the world’s roads, ferrying people and it has to be said, all done rather prosaically.

The Lancer has a continuous heritage running back to 1973 and has been popular almost everywhere in the world.  In whatever obscure country you find yourself in you will probably see one.  If aliens ever make contact and request to know a thing or two about us, we had better send them a Lancer.

It is a car, very much a car, a car in the classical sense, it looks like a car.  For example it has an engine, doors, controls, seats and that sort of thing.  It is the quintessential car.

Upon receiving a Lancer, aliens would think us competent, composed, benign, responsible.  They might also think us a bit lacking in imagination but certainly nothing to be concerned with and most importantly would not consider Earth desirous enough to warrant launching a hasty attack.

Naturally we would need to check and double check that we weren’t sending them a turbocharged Evolution edition or they might take our communication as an act of aggression.

Since earlier this year Europe has had another variation on the Lancer to complement the Sedan version in steady sales.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback is built on the same platform as the Sedan but is refettled to make a hatchback.

This has now just made it to Japan. 

 Europe gets a few engine options including some lower capacity petrol units as well as the ubiquitous diesel.  We on the other hand get the cream of the crop.  Either a naturally aspirated 2.0 litre producing 154 ps or a very much more exciting 240 ps turbocharged Ralliart edition more in the vein of the current Evolution sedan but alas not quite as powerful.   Both engines are Mitsubishi MIVEC units.

The Ralliart edition is no doubt a fast car and benefits from 4wd and Mitsubishi’s quick SST transmission.  It also looks a bit special with a couple of vents and a scoop on the bonnet distinguishing the car unmistakeably as having a bit of testosterone as well as real athletic abilities.

The NA versions look a lot tamer and come with an industry average CVT transmission only.

Both cars are not bad looking but you might have imagined that the intention was with the Sportback to make it more of a dynamically appealing designed version of the sedan with a younger target audience in mind.  At least that’s what i thought.

The admitedly handsome front is carried over exactly from the sedan but the rear is of course new.

The execution of the hind quarters seems a little awry.

It might be that the rear was designed on a Friday afternoon before the start of a holiday weekend because it really looks like an afterthought.  It’s easy to imagine the chief designer with his own Lancer’s keys in hand biting at the bit and upon observing one of his staff’s renderings for the arse of the car remarking “That will do”……..”Yeah, keep it simple”……..”It looks alright don’t you think?”………”C’mon the others already in the bar by now”. 

That’s certainly the impression i have.  The rear is just squashed eighth  generation sedan and because of the stock sedan long front the rear looks a little excessively flabby and high arsed in profile but that’s not to say a lot of attractive women don’t look like that too.

What is one mans bowl of rice is another’s plate of fine sushi and Mitsubishi know that but in my almost Godly opinion, a rather thoughtless design never the less.

In offering only high capacity engines in Japan, Mitsubishi have fairly ruled out a large part of the opposition but that doesn’t mean people are going to buy the Sportback in such a hatchback crowded marketplace.

Prices start from 1,921,ooo JPY  for the normally aspirated 154 ps version and rise to a sinful (actually pretty reasonable) 3,013,000 JPY for the 240ps high spec Ralliart edition.

For those whose wives won’t allow them the Ralliart model, Mitsubishi will do you a sportier LOOKING type of the standard 2.0 litre.

It’s possible you might fool 1 in 1000 people. 

 

Ralliart Sportback

Ralliart Sportback

Revised GT-R And Cost Increases

In Nissan on December 11, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Of all of the car bosses in Japan, Carlos Ghosn of Nissan has been the noisiest in calling for a general price increase on all cars and citing increasing raw material costs as the reason. 

He previously stated that he would wait for Toyota to take the lead but seems to have decided to strike out on his own. 

First to receive fiscal scrutiny is the Porsche baiting GT-R. 

Nissan’s flagship model has gone up by an average eleven percent on the original price. 

Meaning revised costs as follows.

Standard GT-R   8,610,00 JPY

Premium GT-R   9,240,000 JPY

Black Edition GT-R 8,820,000 JPY

Of course to justify the price increase, Ghosn has got his hands dirty and fettled with the car a little.  He’s managed to increase power by 5 ps to 485 ps and at the same time improve fuel efficiency to 8.3 km/l from 8.2 km/l.

Both fairly negligible so Nissan has also thrown in a reworked suspension set up that is said to upgrade handling.

Buyers of the Black Edition only will also have their car shod with the famous Nurburgring smashing Dunlop Sport 600 tyres.  Purchasers of the standard and premium GT-R will have to make do with the current Bridgestone shoes.

All this farting around has caused a bit of a stir with potential customers who walked into a Nissan dealership in November (when orders were not being taken due to the ongoing pricing decisions) hoping to secure a prime slice of high technology Nissan beef at the previously stated 7.7 million yen.

Upon trying to pass over a suitcase full of cash to the knowing salesmen they were told that no orders were currently being accepted for at the time  mysterious reasons. 

Apparently Nissan’s sales people were also less than impressed at the sudden controversy and being forced to pass on the bad tidings to expectant punters.  Basically they were as much in the dark as their customers as to what was occurring.

Simply put the fast Nissan was too cheap to begin with and Nissan soon realised this especially when combined with real production cost increases.

It’s actually worth a lot of money and probably even more than the revised price suggests.  If  Porsche produced a car this capable they’d sell it for double but they have that privilege and Nissan still do not.

To pass on the bad news as nicely as possible and to disguise it as a developmental improvement cost the Japanese firm has had a fiddle with the car.

All said and done, it’s still an exceptional value supercar.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that if you complain loud enough Nissan will offer you a night of splendour at a fancy restaurant in your area accompanied by one of their Many magnificent Super GT race queen’s followed by a bit of slap and tickle at a love hotel of your choice, discretion assured.

Or did i just make that up.

Japanese Market Honda Accord

In Honda on December 10, 2008 at 5:14 pm

The Accord is one of Honda’s world cars.

Its name is known throughout the world and has been on sale in most markets for nearly 30 years.

Now comes the eighth generation that became available in Europe in the middle of this year but surprisingly didn’t reach us in Japan until now.

The new car comes  in either sedan or estate version and whereas Europe gets a host of  diesel and petrol engines, we only get the top of the heap 2.4 litre petrol VTEC unit producing a reasonably healthy 206 ps.

In Europe the sedan Accord is employed as a repmobile clocking up huge mileages  pounding the continent’s motorway network and it also sells as a family car.

It’ll be a tougher sell in Japan, where these sorts of car are largely out of fashion.  Unless you’re over 50 no-one really buys sedans anymore and those of more advanced age that do, only buy them to remind themselves how cars used to look when they were making them.   It is also far too premium to sell as a company car here. The Tourer (estate) model will grab a few more sales though and could break into the huge family market sector.  However some obstacles remain as most young Japanese with children these days tend to get themselves into a large people carrier like a Honda Stepwagon, Nissan Serena etc as soon as possible and with the same urgency that you or I might buy a pushchair upon confirmation of impending birth.

As a new father myself i was witness to this phenomenon.  After regularly pulling up at the maternity hospital car park it struck me the number of gleaming brand new people carriers parked up and i’m not afraid to admit that i felt a bit small and vulnerable in my reasonably priced Honda Fit (Jazz) with leather steering wheel.  Of course a good number of those holding their new key less entry fobs were new fathers themselves and at the most had only one other child but somehow felt the need to have 7 seats at their disposal.  There’s bound to be more than that as well if you take a good poke around in the glove box or under the seat perhaps.  Frankly the whole episode upset me so much that i even had a look at Isuzu’s heavy vehicle line up on the web and to this day still half plot celebrating the birth of our second baby with the purchase of an Isuzu Journey 19 seat bus.  Ohhhh the look on their faces will be a treat.

Back to the Accord.

It’s clear that the new car leans heavily on its predecessor.  In fact it’s the SAME BLOODY CAR!!!!!!.  Well actually it isn’t but you could be forgiven for thinking so with only a cursory look at the lines.

The grille is pure seventh generation inspired although the headlights are more aggressive and thoughtfully designed.  Body lines are complicated but fluid and work well as they caress towards the rear.  The Accord’s arse is very exciting if only for the glorious twin tail pipes that jut magnificently.

Good looks are mostly true for the Tourer version.

It all starts off conservatively and inoffensively Accord at the front and flows liquidly outwards to the rear culminating in an aggressive squat arse with a window line that accentuates the effect.

On the inside and in keeping with the car’s semi premium status, things are very comfortable.  A long low dashboard takes centre stage that pushes the driver fairly far back.  Lots of soft plastics prevail and i’m sure the seats are very comfortable.

Perhaps best of all it seems the new Accord has a very thick steering wheel that might help those who are more in touch with their feminine genes feel more suitable or it could make you feel worse by exasperating small hand syndrome.

Honda’s new Accord is not at all cheap.

Prices for the Tourer start at 2,950,000 JPY and for the old man sedan edition 2,700,000 JPY. 

Honda Accord Tourer

Honda Accord Tourer

Honda Insight Update

In Honda on December 9, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Last week Honda released a picture of  a near production ready Insight.

Rather negatively it doesn’t look as exciting as the concept but that’s sort of what happens to all concept cars when they reach this stage in the process.  Never the less it still maintains that bold exotic grille and the basic form still persists.

A major announcement is expected at the beginning of February regarding firm details, so expect Honda’s president Takeo Fukui to be standing amongst a plethora of Insight’s in all seven confirmed colours somewhere in Tokyo around that time.

For those Japan based buyers who are chewing at the bit to buy, you will be able to register your interest for an early delivery slot sometime in January.  Which is next month.

Some further information is creeping out in respect of the car’s specification and pricing.

As is known the car has been designed to be as light as possible and is reputed to weigh in at only 1,180 kg which is considerably less than the current Prius.  Some of this saving has been achieved by a revolutionary light windscreen developed by Honda.

The battery is to be placed under the rear 400 litres of luggage space and reassuringly won’t need to be replaced until after 15 years.

For the Japanese market, Honda will offer the Insight in three guises.

The cheap, rubbish one will be the G model.  Apart from the car’s probable dynamics it will be shit unless you  option a few bits and pieces as the car will be an austere affair with most likely very little except an engine of  some description and a crap plastic steering wheel. 

Now, i know the benefits of a leather handle.  I have a cheap car but for some reason it came with a leather steering wheel.    the hided function was not something i specified and i fairly dismissed it when i picked up the car but little did i know the enormous sense of well being it would enamour me with.  It feels so nice under the fingertips and somehow makes driving a reasonable car more pleasant and what’s artistic about is that outside observers have no idea what a state of ecstacy i’m in everytime i drive to the supermarket.  Winter has arrived and its about this time that i like to don my leather jacket and shoes and go for a drive with my steering wheel.  It gives a me a little rush and i’m not ashamed to say that it can feel like someone has begun erecting a little campsite in my trouser pocket.  A primeaval sense of mans power over the beast prevails inside of me.  I like to imagine i’m hauling a whole prize calf from time to time.

That whole leather fetish paragraph was a joke people, before i get nasty feedback.

Anyway back to the car in question.  Apart from the G, the L and LS models will feature a farm derived steering wheel.  The LS model will also have a nifty paddle shifter for those moments when you want to disengage the auto and imagine yourself as a bit of a Takuma Sato.  Lets face it though, all that Formula One style gear changing trickery is likely to stay in your own trousers  as other drivers pass you by and wonder what the tit with the Honda Racing baseball cap is doing fiddling with the indicator stalks.

Well that’s a bit harsh but at somewhere around 90 ps + IMA (hybrid bit), the Insight is unlikely to set anyone’s pubes on fire.

I still want one.  The design looks cool, the dynamics seem very sound but most of all i want to save petrol money and not look like a twat doing it.  I think the Insight might be the answer to this not small dilemma.  A large part of the optimistic  buying logic of course is in my case that all money i save on petrol will well errrr…..maybe….perhaps……help….oh dear…..finance something used, powerful, manual, CHEAP and a bit exciting as a second car. 

Will have to check in with the war office on that one.

Less importantly.  Fuel consumption is still expected at around 30km/l and pricing from 1,950,000 JPY to 2,400,000 JPY.

 

Honda Insight Production Ready

Honda Insight Production Ready

Mitsuoka Himiko

In Mitsuoka on December 8, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Mitsuoka is certainly Japan’s most eccentric car builder.

A company founded some years ago to produce low volume cars that emulate British design of the fifties and sixties but using modern underpinnings and parts from Japan’s mainstream makers.

Last week heralded the arrival of the Toyama based coachbuilder’s latest model.

The Himiko is based on a Mazda roadster and uses the same 2.0 litre engine producing a fairly subdued 120 ps.

Pricing starts at 4,950,000 JPY and it will enter hand finished production next year.

Unsurprisingly due to the rather niche nature of the car Mitsuoka don’t  intend on producing many Himiko’s and state that only 35 a year will be built.

The wheelbase has been extended and a custom front and rear has been added complete with old fashioned fenders resulting in a car that looks very much like a Morgan.

Mitsuoka’s major market is without a doubt its home with only a sprinkling of overseas outlets spread across Asia and the Middle East.  It’s common to see one of their many creations on the roads of Japan although it will be interesting to see how they survive the current gloom and doom of the marketplace. 

The Himiko is probably one of the more universally appealing designs of the successful styling house and taken in isolation is an attractive product.  The front is particularly well resolved but well…..er….no…..i like it.

 

Mitsuoka Himiko

Mitsuoka Himiko

2009 New Toyota Prius Update

In Toyota on December 3, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Toyota’s Prius is set for release next April and an awful lot of information has leaked including images of the forthcoming model.

What do we know so far?

Well, Toyota have ditched the old 1.5 litre engine in favour of a new 1.8 litre unit producing a more powerful 100ps over 77ps in the current generation.

Strangely with a power and capacity increase comes a fuel economy jump to a very impressive 40km/l although it’s not clear how this has been achieved.

On top of this, from the autumn Toyota plan on introducing a plug in system but at least initially it will only be leased to noted organizations and individuals.  A full production version is expected about 2 years later.

Solar panels will be offered as an option and are expected to assist fuel economy still further and should have the ability to entirely power such fuel sapping mechanisms as the air conditioning ( i think).  The panels are thought to have been subtly incorporated into a panorama roof which will be an integral part of the solar option.

Toyota arrived at the optimum aerodynamic shape for this type of car with the previous generation Prius and so as a result the new car doesn’t look significantly contrary although it does appear at the least freshened from the photos available on the net. 

 Honda have further endorsed the basic Prius outline with its upcoming Insight.

Honda’s challenger is of course going to present the biggest challenge to the Prius domestically.  Although Toyota’s new hybrid is going to be significantly more fuel efficient and technologically supreme it may lose out on price and perhaps stylistically.

The Prius is likely to retail from 2.4 million JPY but expect to add a lot more to that with options.  It is thought that Honda’s Insight will go on sale at below 2 million yen.

Let battle commence.

Picture below is of the current generation car.

 

Current Generation Prius

Current Generation Prius

New Nissan Fairlady 370 Z

In Nissan on December 1, 2008 at 6:31 pm

 

Yesterday marked the day that Nissan’s all new Fairlady Z hits the market.  From now, Japan’s credit crunched public will have their chance to acquire the latest evolution of Nissans 39 year Z car heritage.

In today’s financially fearful climate sales are unlikely to reach epic proportions at least initially but the Z is competitively priced from 3.6 million JPY.

The old  Z was a fine looking machine that sold well globally.  A lot of the reason it prospered is because unusually for a Japanese design it didn’t polarise buyers with either eccentricity or a perceived immaturity which can bedevil Japanese sports cars outside of Asia.  It was a grown up sort of vehicle that was seemingly bought in equal numbers by Japanese car aficionados as well as migratory buyers from prestigious marques.

The 350Z was an old school GT sports car with its naturally aspirated large capacity engine, 2 seats, classic layout and conservative Europeanesque lines.  All this came at a very reasonable price, especially when you stood the car next to a Porsche Cayman for example. 

Of course many are disappointed that the new car has not much departed from the formers aesthetic design but to say that the new Z is not significantly altered both cosmetically and mechanically would be mistaken.

Naturally the new designation of 370 Z is indicative of the new power plant that finds itself in the front engined RWD platform.  with capacity increased to 3700 cc comes an average power increase to 336 PS.  Nissan have developed a unique synchronized rev control that regulates the engine speed to the drivers manual gear changes negating the need for double de-clutching (some operators may find that intrusive to driving pleasure).  A newly developed 7 speed automatic transmission is also available.  The car has also been lightened through the extensive use of aluminium and carbon fibre.

All very exciting but best of all the car is even more beautiful than its predecessor. 

The new rendering comes in with a shorter wheelbase that along with the flared arches really accentuates the rear wheels.  Sculpted lines flow through the athletic body giving off a flame surfaced look that succeeds in appearing complicated but functional and exceedingly attractive.  Massive attention has been focused on the front and rear lights with an aggressive stance that sinks into the bodywork wonderfully.  Showing indication of the cars intent is a prominent front air intake and twin tail pipes adding to the general muscular, energetic but elegant pose of the Z.

It is a very, very pretty car that is easy to get emotional about and as you can see i have, it’s just a crying shame that i recently purchased a new vacumn cleaner and subsequently can’t afford to buy the Nissan now.

Whether the car will offer enough difference to persuade current Z owners to trade in is a question that will be answered in time or maybe Nissan hope for new buyers to emigrate from some of the German marques as they have successfully achieved with the GTR.

At some point comparison must be made with Nissans supercar.

Who would buy a 370 Z over a GTR ?

It’s doubtful it’s a question Nissan are asking themselves or indeed anybody else but it’s an interesting one none the less.

  I find myself in the unenviable position of not being able to afford either so i feel i’m qualified to give thought to this dilemma.

The 370 Z is the car i want.

Why?

The GTR try as you like is not beautiful except from the rear.  Owning one also means that Porsche drivers will hate you and may try to chase you off a cliff, so as you can see it’s a dangerous proposition considering the number of 911’s on the worlds roads.

The 370 Z on the other hand is beautiful (achingly so), powerful (admittedly Not GTR powerful) and it will also come in pale blue if you like.

In my opinion this car is the vegetable bits hanging off the underside of a large Japanese Tosa dog.

New Fairlady Z