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Not the worst Award Toyota's P76 Appreciation Holden V8 Hybrid




The best of all worlds: Building an Aussie hybrid
First Published: The Age
Thursday, July 22, 1999

ALASTAIR DOAK reckons if the best bits from each of our four manufacturers were made into one car, the result would be greater than the sum of the parts.

The debate is as old as the local car industry. Which Aussie-made family car is better than the rest?

The contestants may have changed over the years - we've had Holden with the Kingswood and then the Commodore, Ford and the numerous incarnations of the Falcon, Leyland with the worthy but flawed P76 and who could forget Chrysler's Valiant?

More recently, it's the Japanese companies that have staked a claim for the heartland of our car market, with the front-drive, but six-cylinder-powered Magna and Camry.

And late this year Toyota will mount its most serious challenge to the traditional big Aussie sixes, with the Commodore-sized Avalon-based six-cylinder that goes into production at its Altona base late this year. A launch date around March 2000 is planned.

This large car, which has still not been named, is expected to replace the Camry as Toyota's main sales weapon as it will finally give Toyota an entrant in the family-car market that can match the interior dimensions of the Falcon and Commodore.

It will remain front-wheel-drive, but Toyota is hoping that only a small number of "true rear-drive, big Aussie six believers" will be put off by this mechanical setup. But that's in the future.

Pin us down today on the question of Australia's best family car and we would probably nominate the Holden Commodore as our favourite in the Falcon/Camry/Magna/Commodore contest.

However, there are things that we don't like about the Commodore - its steering is too sensitive just off-centre and its independent rear end is not the most sophisticated setup. Overall, however, it's good but it isn't perfect, despite the huge budget Holden had to develop it.

A car maker spends hundreds of millions on a new model - Ford's AU Falcon cost $750 million to develop - and they take four, five or six years to transform a new model concept from the drawing board to the road. But even with all that time and money, ultimately the car you and I can drive out of the dealership is always a compromise.

Some of the design and engineering constraints may be fixed during the life of the car when it undergoes updates and facelifts. But others will remain and car makers will spend massive amounts on marketing and advertising to ensure they remain hidden from public scrutiny.

This "all cars are compromised" idea got us thinking. What would be the ideal Aussie family car? The answer would have to be a hybrid model that overcame any shortcomings by combining the best parts of the current crop of Aussie family cars.

Styling is down to personal taste but the fairly conservative Australian car buyer finds the lines of Holden's Commodore the most appealing these days. So let's start with the Holden exterior.

The engine is regarded as the heart of any car and our "Facommagry" would be powered by Mitisubishi's 147kW 3.5-litre V6. The choice of powerplant is a close run thing with the Camry's super-smooth 3.0-litre V6 a strong challenger. Both the Japanese engines are more refined and are smoother than the Falcon's in-line 4.0-litre and the Holden's ageing 3.8-litre V6.

The Magna engine impresses as it delivers a fair dollop of torque and its 300Nm is delivered over a useful rev range that suits the Australian family car buyer's love of using few revs and automatic transmission.

In our perfect Aussie car, the 3.5-litre engine would mate to the most sophisticated box on offer in the family car segment - Mitsubishi's fuzzy-logic four-speed unit with tiptronic selection. This transmission, at about $2,700, may be about $700 more than a conventional auto but it delivers the sweetest changes in the segment and with the tiptronic function, simple, fast manual gear changes.

This allows the driver to select gears at will by pushing or pulling on the gear lever and provides a degree of control and freedom those intertested in driving will appreciate.

Judged on paper the Falcon, with its impressive double wishbone front and optional double wishbone suspension system at the back, has by far the most sophistcated suspension on offer in this segment.

But that's on paper. Unfortunately, Ford's engineers have failed to sort out completely the car's rear end with the rear suspension developing excessive amounts of road noise and low-speed impact harshness. It produces too many thumps and bangs from the rear end.

To cure this maybe we would get the engineers from Mitsubishi or Toyota to sort out the Falcon's suspension setup as the Camry and Magna both demonstrate good control and the ability to isolate road noise.

Choosing the best steering is straightforward, with the AU Falcon's system winning hands down. It makes a big impression with its level of feel, feedback and consistent weight. It's the best in the business.

When it came to cutting noise, our Aussie family supercar would head to Toyota or Mitsubishi for development. These companies consistently outpoint the bigger cars on offer from Ford and Holden.

For accommodation, it's the Commodore that impresses most with the rear seat offering the best leg and headroom, while front-seat passengers also fare better than in the Falcon, which is let down by the steeply raked windscreen that encourages you to sit back from the dash.

Seats would also come from the Commodore as they offer good support and power height adjustment on even the most basic model. The infinitely variable seatback adjustment (also part of the Falcon seat package) is another worthwhile feature.

But we would switch back to Ford or perhaps Toyota to get a split/fold rear seat rather than the simple, and much less useful ski port holes offered on the Commodore and Magna.

The boot would also be sourced from the Camry which at more than 500 litres is by far the biggest on offer in this class.

The interior design we would leave up to Holden. The Commodore`s interior is far more inviting than its rivals with its black dash curving around the driver, making you feel part of the car.

The Ford's dash is not very inviting while the Magna's central controls look old-fashioned and the grey Camry dash just looks old and cheap. The sound system would come from Toyota as it generates the best sound, but the head unit would be sourced from Holden as it has the most finger-friendly dials. However, we would also specifiy the Falcon's on-wheel controls for the volume and channel controls, a very handy feature.

For a steering wheel we would go for the leather-wrapped number Ford uses on its Tickford machines. It is nice and chunky and the leather trim feels like leather rather than plastic wrap.

When it comes to cup holders, none of the local manufacturers do a particularly interesting job, so we would probably start from scratch on that.

For safety, dual airbags would be required and all the locals have those, although only Holden has the added benefit of side airbags which protect the head and chest from side impacts with cars, trees and power poles. Anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control and, in an ideal world, the latest-generation anti-skid control system (which is expected to be made available on a local car within five years) would also be part of the package.

When it comes to quality, all of the locally made cars are streets ahead of their predecessors. But if we had to choose, the Camry would get the nod as the best made car of the group, so in an ideal world our family supercar would roll down Toyota's Altona production line.

Of course, all this mixing and matching with Australia's big four is highly hypothetical. Apart from the fact you probably wouldn't see the Australian players joining hands to build a super car, quite often the best bits of each model are good because they result in a compromise with other components on the car.

And anyway, the Camry, Falcon, Commodore and Magna are all better than average cars that will appeal to a variety of Australian tastes. In the end, the competition means buyers are the winners.


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