2013 Audi RS6 Avant Review

Hitting a cattle grate at 130km/h is no problem for the Audi RS6 Avant. This $225,000 wagon-only may have been engineered as a autobahn-stormer but it is also utterly adept at dealing with Aussie outback bitumen, as our local first drive proved.

Audi Australia imported three RS6 Avants two months before the model�??s official on-sale to coincide with the launch of its first local advertising campaign tagged �??land of quattro�??. It shipped them to Alice Springs, then flew journalists there to drive 470km down to Uluru.

Although the satellite navigation isn�??t very busy on this trip �?" it�??s left turn out of the airport, right turn a few hundred kilometres later, and that�??s it �?" the suspension in the RS6 certainly is. More on that later.

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Two facts encapsulate the enormity of this big bruiser. The Audi RS6 Avant gets nine radiators and 19-inch brakes �?" yep, that�??s brakes, not wheels, which are standard 21-inch cast aluminium units.

Two other numerical standouts are 700Nm and 412kW, the outputs from the 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine in the RS6 Avant. With peak torque on strong from 1750rpm to 5500rpm, then maximum power taking over just 200rpm later and staying in full force until 6600rpm, there is barely a spot on the rev range that isn�??t determined to maximise the car�??s ability to move forward really rather quickly.

Specifically the RS6 Avant will run from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 3.9 seconds and on to a limited top speed of either 250km/h (standard), 280km/h (optional) or 305km/h (optional again, probably not coincidentally mandatory with ceramic brakes).

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Our test cars were fitted with the middle top speed setting (read full specs here) not that it was usable in the Northern Territory�??s now-130km/h-limited roads (though let�??s just say the RS6 Avant probably does have very good stability pushing past 280km/h�?�)

We didn�??t quite come close to matching the 9.8L/100km claimed combined consumption, which is helped by stop-start and cylinder decativation technologies when stopped or on lesser load respectively; considering the cruising speed quite a bit higher than the legal limit in the other states, though, an indicated 15.8L/100km isn�??t too excessive.

Adaptive air suspension is standard in the RS6 Avant, and it quickly demonstrates its efficacy when approached by an oncoming car straddling the middle line sporting a �??wide load ahead�?? banner and with a damn wide truck behind. We move the left side of the big Audi wagon off the wrinkled kerb of the road and onto dirt. The ride remains superbly absorbent in the suspension�??s softest comfort mode.

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It is astonishing that an RS6 Avant on 21s can ride more comfortably than an A4 1.8T on 19s driven the week earlier.

Other modes include auto, dynamic, individual and lift. While the firmest dynamic setting creates a noticeably jiggly ride, individual allows the driver to select comfort, auto or dynamic for specific areas �?" suspension, drivetrain �?" turn the sports exhaust on or off and activate the centre differential.

The Stuart Highway that carves a vertical line almost exactly down the centre of Australia may look straight on a map, but it is punctuated by sweeping turns. Likewise with the adjoining Lasseter Way that leads to The Rock.

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So while the bends weren�??t nearly enough to explore the on limit chassis balance of the RS6 Avant, tipping into sweepers at speed proved no problem for the Audi.

A sports differential pushes torque to the outside rear wheel when exiting corners, while the quattro drive system typically sends 60 per cent of torque back there in the first place, but can shift up to 85 per cent behind.

We only tried the RS6 with the optional dynamic steering, which varies the rack ratio constantly to become quicker and sharper in tight bends and more relaxed at higher speeds. In the latter scenario it provides plenty of on centre feel as the big tyres stream up road imperfections to the tiller.

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So incisive is the steering that a mental note is made to check whether it is a hydraulic steering set-up, which uses a pump off the engine to provide assistance and is more traditionally renowned for delivering road feel to the driver�??s hands, or an electric assistance steering set-up renowned for hiding feel. It feels like the former, but is in fact the latter.

It will be interesting to test the system on a tight mountain pass to see if it retains that feel.

The optional dynamic steering can be purchased as a stand-alone $2730 option or as part of two packages �?" with dynamic package along with RS sports suspension with dynamic ride control and the 280km/h top speed for $4900, or with all of the above plus a 305km/h top speed and the ceramic brakes for $25,840.

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After 200km, and for the final leg to Uluru, we swapped into another RS6 Avant, this time equipped with RS sports suspension and dynamic ride control.

Deceiphering the marketing-led terms is easy �?" the RS suspension replaces the adaptive air suspension with fixed steel springs and a single sports setting, while the dynamic ride control denotes that all four dampers are diagonally linked together with oil flow adjusting mechnically.

The upshot of the single setting ride is somewhere firmer than the air suspension�??s comfort setting but less unsettled than its dynamic setting.

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It�??s in the RS sports suspended RS6 Avant that a sudden cattle grid is brushed off with ease.

Although the 21s throw up a fair bit of coarse chip road noise, the RS6 Avant is otherwise superbly quiet and stable.

At cruising speed the eight-speed torque converter automatic is ticking over way down in the rev range, yet prodding the throttle quickly prepares it for super-strong performance.

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The twin turbo V8 hurls alright, but it�??s perhaps a bit too quiet, particularly after the old Lambo-derived non-turbo V10�??s high-rev shrill.

There�??s some lovely exhaust crackle to be had if the windows are down �?" or you�??re in the back seat �?" but otherwise the RS6 Avant delivers its storming speed softly.

As ever, the Audi RS6 Avant interior is a masterpiece of the beautiful and high quality. Bits of knurled silver trim interplay with stitched leather armrests and door grab handles, and soft white mood lighting to create a properly premium ambience.

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The fact the 1935kg RS6 �?" 100kg lighter than before �?" also pampers rear passengers and offers a sizeable 565 litre boot with split-fold backrest flexibility only further adds to this car�??s appeal.

Audi could have made a sedan RS6, but it knew the point of difference of this car is its wagon bum, and will supply an RS7 Sportback for those who disagree anyway.

With bulging front and rear wheel arches, a honeycomb grille with vaguely retro quattro applique, and all-LED headlights, the RS6 Avant looks very tough. When our stormtrooper-grey test car had finished its 500km covered in the NT�??s finest anthropods glued to the front bar, it looked weak-at-the-knees great, and good enough to convince any cliched sports coupe fan who may look down on practical wagons.

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Obviously the Audi RS6 Avant is no ordinary wagon, but it�??s also a very enticing sports car.

Its closest competitor right now is probably the recently announced Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake with 430kW and a $265K pricetag, but the RS6 should do well against the BMW M5, the forthcoming Jaguar XFR-S and even the HSV GTS �?" all of which enter the �??400 (kilowatt) club�??.

The only thing left to do now is fly home, round up those rivals and find some properly twisty roads�?�

Audi A1 Competition Pack Review

Shuffling through the Audi A1 Sportback range tests the definition of the term �??hot-hatch�??.

The $29,900 Audi A1 three-door squeezes a Golf�??s 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and six-speed manual into a 3.95-metre, 1100kg body. The upshot of being a light hatchback with a turbo engine is 0-100km/h in a claimed 8.9 seconds, just 5.3L/100km official combined consumption and stacks of cornering agility. An affordable, quasi-hot-hatch, put simply.

Two rear doors are delivered in the Audi A1 Sportback at no extra cost, but in addition to five doors being mandatory on this 250-unit limited-edition Competition Pack, the single transmission option is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, so the price quickly grows.

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With the Competition Pack, Audi claims $8000 worth of extra equipment over the regular A1 Sportback Ambition automatic for a $2500 premium, bringing the total cost to $35,500.

Additional equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, LED tail-lights, front spoiler, rear diffuser, roof spoiler, tailpipe extensions, a black exterior styling package with contrasting roof and roof arch, colour-coded interior air vents and rear parking sensors.

The A1 Sportback itself weighs 100kg more than the three-door, adding a tenth to the 100km/h sprint and raising claimed consumption by 0.1L/100km.

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With all that adding �?" weight, equipment, price �?" it�??s possible that the simple charms of the base Audi A1 may be diluted with the A1 Sportback Competition Pack.

The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic doesn�??t provide the best first impression. It may not concede a drop of fuel or a tick of the timepiece to the standard six-speed manual version, but the A1 automatic is one of the lurchiest, most grumbly VW Group dual-clutchers we�??ve experienced.

While the far less popular manual is slick, effortless and engaging, the dual-clutch is simply frustrating, at least around town. Lift the brake pedal slightly to �??creep�?? in traffic and the transmission either cuts into neutral or wants to surge forward. Switching between �??R�?? and �??D�?? or vice-versa results in a huge delay between throttle press and actual movement. The take-up is then jerky.


Once on the move, the seven-speeder does everything well, including subtly dropping a gear when going downhill to help with engine braking and quickly shuffling forward through gears when the throttle is nailed.

The A1 Sportback, as with the three-door, boasts excellent performance and the 1.4-litre turbo sings even more sweetly in the Audi than it did in the heavier Golf� Mk6.

Its mid-range punch is perhaps even more impressive than its briskness off the line.


Standard on the A1 Ambition, and therefore the Competition Pack, is Sport suspension. Despite the 17-inch rims and lower profile tyres, the ride quality is perfectly acceptable for a small, sporty hatchback.

The A1 Competition thuds over expansion joins, and the short wheelbase means it can get a bit bouncy on really rough roads. Generally, however, the spring and damper rates are nicely judged.

As with all A1 grades, the steering is one of the nicest set-ups in any Audi, regardless of price. Smoothly consistent, nicely mid-weighted, and sharp without being overly reactive, it connects its driver beautifully with the agile chassis.


The Sportback gives nothing away to the three door in terms of dynamics. Darty through back streets and delicate when pressed, this Audi is good fun; sharp at the front end, with keen turn-in to a corner and plenty of grip from the tyres.

Its pint size makes plenty of sense in the city, where it demonstrates superb manoeuvrability with a tight turning circle and easy-squeezy parking.

Yet, inside, the Audi A1 is a real class act. The interior helps to in some ways to justify its high-grade small-car price tag alone. The soft-touch dash surfacing, knurled silver audio control button, slick-to-rotate air vents and even rubberised door grab handles give it a truly premium feel.


Although short on rear legroom and bench width, the boot�??s 270 litres expands to 920L with the backrest folded, so there�??s decent practicality too.

The single downside concerns the equipment level. Even for mid-thirty-thousand dollars climate control is optional (for $720) as is satellite navigation ($3600) despite the nav button actually featuring on the Audi MMI control unit.

The Audi MMI itself, with a cute manual pop-up colour screen, is easy to use and offers the same high-line graphics as in other Audi models.

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In the same way as a tiny tablet can cost as much as a larger laptop, the Audi A1 Sportback punches well above its size within the $30,000-$40,000 price bracket.

With benchmark interior quality in a city-friendly size, plus terrific steering and handling, all it needs is a better auto and more equipment to be a complete package.

Although the Competition Pack looks the goods, and improves the value equation slightly, the pick of the range remains the entry Audi A1 three-door manual.

Mini Countryman JCW Review

The Mini Countryman JCW marks the first time the John Cooper Works badge has adorned an all-wheel drive vehicle.

Combining JCW performance enhancement with the practicality of five doors, and the promise of some light off-roading capability, the most athletic Countryman has now officially joined its spirited siblings in the local seven-car range.

At $56,800 the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works appears to be the bargain of the JCW line-up. While third most expensive behind its flagship two-door variant �?" the Paceman JCW �?" and the lidless Cabrio, the Countryman gets more doors, more seats and keeps the same turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder.

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Producing 160kW at 6000rpm and 280Nm between 1900-5000rpm, the petrol engine also gets an overboost function that can increase torque to 300Nm between 2100-4500rpm. Sourced from England, rather than Austria where the car is built, the engine has been uprated with reinforced pistons, a balanced crankshaft, an aluminium cylinder block and sodium-filled exhaust valves.

Teamed with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the $3055-optional paddle-shifted six-speed automatic, the JCW unit will hustle the 1405kg (1430kg auto) Countryman from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 7.0 seconds. That puts it 0.1sec behind both its 5kg lighter/9mm shorter Paceman sibling and its $56,000 2.0-litre turbocharged Audi Q3 rival.

In manual guise the Mini Countryman will net claimed fuel and CO2 figures of 8.0 litres per 100km and 186 grams per kilometre respectively. The auto, meanwhile, rates slightly higher at 8.3L/100km and 193g/km. Over the car�??s local launch, which encompassed some of Tasmania�??s famous Targa bends, our manual example averaged 10.5L/100km, according to the trip computer.

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Driven sedately through town, at or below 60km/h, the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works is comfortable and easy to drive. The clutch is light but provides reasonable feedback and the notchy gearbox moves through its ratios cleanly.

While tame and soft south of 2000rpm, the engine becomes both more gruff and responsive by 3000rpm �?" even when the Countryman�??s throttle-sharpening, exhaust-opening Sport mode isn�??t selected. Once the road clears and trees replace buildings, allowing the revs rise to 4000rpm and beyond results in solid acceleration and induction noise all the way to the 6500rpm redline.

Despite riding on 10mm-lower sports suspension, firmer springs and dampers and being fitted with strengthened anti-roll bars, the Countryman JCW handles most road imperfections and potholes with confidence and composure. This is particularly impressive given our test car was wearing optional ($2340) 19-inch light-alloy wheels with Pirelli P Zero rubber rather than the standard Bridgestone-wrapped 18-inch items.

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Big mid-corner bumps and large undulations can challenge the car�??s otherwise planted feel, while crests taken at higher speeds test the confidence of the driver, too.

Sadly, the Countryman�??s more tolerant ride, which is far more liveable compared with the aggressively sprung Mini hatch, Coupe and Roadster, somewhat sacrifices the point-and-shoot go-kart-like handling its stablemates are renowned for.

While the steering is consistently light lock-to-lock and provides sufficient communication of what the front wheels are doing �?" with things only getting heavier not more accurate in Sport mode �?" direction changes are blunted.

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Doing a terrific job of helping to get out of one corner and into the next is the permanent all-wheel-drive system unique to both Countryman and Paceman John Cooper Works models.

Dubbed ALL4 by Mini, the system distributes power between the front and rear axles via an electromagnetic centre differential with assistance from the car�??s electronic differential lock �?" essentially the computer auto-brakes a spinning inside wheel �?" and stability control. Even in wet, and occasionally icy, conditions in Tasmania, the ALL4 system accurately runs its logarithms resulting in harder and faster corner exits.

Fun as it is, driving this way does require a firmer grasp of the red-stitched three-spoke JCW multi-function leather sports steering wheel as the optional ($2548) leather seats struggle to grip bums.

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Sliding around is particularly prominent when perched on the impressively spacious back seat�??s three-seat bench �?" while other markets offer the option of two individual seats, Australia does not. Its flat layout lacks much side support with only the seatbelt and handgrips keeping passengers in place when cornering hard.

Mildly Tardis-like given the Countryman�??s 4133mm exterior length �?" 252mm shorter than an Audi Q3 and 344mm less than the BMW X1 �?" even six-footers are afforded plenty of head and legroom.

This is another more family-friendly step away from the usual cramped, or non-existent, Mini rear.

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As is the 350-litre luggage capacity, expandable to 1170L with the seats down. Although that�??s 90L more than the Paceman�??s 1080L maximum, it is no larger than a small hatchback�??s figure, and is 195L shy of the Q3�??s.

The Mini Countryman JCW is treated to piano black interior trim strips, black air vent surrounds, an anthracite-coloured headliner and a dark-coloured rev counter and 260km/h speedometer.

Red-stitched sports seats, floor mats and manual gear lever are all also standard, with our test car also having the added highlight of Chilli Red trim inserts (a $195 option).

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While the add-ons do change the look of the cabin compared with the lower specced, and priced, non-JCW Countryman models, the lift in ambience is marginal and the quality level is well behind the likes of Audi.

The same Mini-standard air-vents, chrome toggle switches and oversized central speedo �?" often ignored in favour of the rev counter-mounted digital display �?" are again joined by a black egg carton-like dash and basic-looking stereo controls.

Marking the top Countryman�??s flagship status, apart from the black roof rails, JCW aero kit and JCW logos, are front and rear fog lights, clear side indicators and a rear spoiler.

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Cruise control, electric mirrors and rain sensing wipers with automatic headlights are included as standard.

The Countryman JCW otherwise mirrors its Paceman equivalent with a Chilli Package coming as standard adding bi-xenon headlights, cloth/leather upholstery and a 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system with Bluetooth connectivity. Also fitted to our test car were satellite navigation ($1495), a glass sunroof ($2587), heated front seats ($637) and adaptive headlights ($520).

Presenting as a family-focused John Cooper Works performance model, the Mini Countryman JCW is far more practical and liveable than any other bodystyles in the range. It makes more sense than the two-door Paceman, and though it can�??t match its smaller, feistier brethren for outright thrills, it does retain much of the racing spirit that the brand is so well known for.

Land Rover Defender Electric Review

The concept of an electric off-roader might conjure images of a 4WD that�??s all hat and no cattle, but the Land Rover Defender Electric is a surprisingly capable all-terrain vehicle.

While most EVs (electric vehicles) are built with emissions reduction in mind, the Land Rover Electric Defender was created on a very different remit, when a South African game park commissioned Land Rover to build a quiet vehicle for game watching.

That first-generation vehicle could hit 64km/h in forward or reverse (handy, if you�??re being charged by an angry bull elephant), but more importantly it could approach park animals without disturbing them.

Land Rover Unveils New Electric Defender Research Vehicle At Geneva Motor Show

It was a relatively simple build that Land Rover wanted to embellish �?" and so what we get in the latest 110-wheelbase Electric Defenders is something considerably more sophisticated.

There�??s a 300v, 27kWh lithium-ion battery pack sitting where the diesel engine would usually be, with the 70kW electric motor positioned under the front seats where the gearbox would usually go.

The power plant can deliver an impressive 330Nm of torque (the current 2.2-litre diesel has 360Nm) with a top speed limited to 113km/h.

Land Rover Unveils New Electric Defender Research Vehicle At Geneva Motor Show

The electric Defender also weighs just 100kg more than its regular diesel sibling; not that much when you consider the front-mounted battery pack alone weighs 410kg.

This relatively lean design means the electric motor can do what it does best �?" delivering maximum torque right from the get-go with no need for the standard six-speed manual transmission, which has been replaced by a single reduction gear.

However, the electric Defender retains its low-ratio transfer and locking differentials that require pulling-up and muscling a small lever before heading off-road.

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Other key changes from the traditional diesel model include the introduction of air-cooling for the powertrain (replacing liquid-cooling), and regenerative braking, which uses the vehicle�??s Hill Decent Control to generate another 30kW of electricity.

Importantly, the motor, battery, converter and all major components are fully watertight, providing for an increased wade depth of 800mm �?" up from 500mm on the standard vehicle.

Inside, it looks pretty much identical to a regular Land Rover Defender 110, which means the same atrocious ergonomics but a kilowatt gauge where the rev counter would usually be.

Land Rover Unveils New Electric Defender Research Vehicle At Geneva Motor Show

Its most significant Achilles heel is noise. Turn the key and you might not get diesel clatter, but you will get an appalling fingernails-on-blackboard whine.

Hardly the kind of quiet serenity we�??ve come to expect from near-silent EVs these days.

The test route for our off-road excursion was Land Rover�??s own mud-laden, water-logged proving ground (known as the �??Jungle Trail�??) near its Solihull factory in England.

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Simply push the drive selector forward and off you go. There�??s more of that irritating groan as the vehicle moves off, but once underway it�??s relatively silent running.

At low speeds, throttle response is nice and linear and any fears we might have had about the electric Defender�??s 4�?4 capability are soon dismissed.

If anything, it�??s easier to manage than the standard model Defender in an off-road environment because you don�??t have to work the clutch �?" particularly useful when climbing muddy inclines out of a river crossing.

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The full complement of torque from standstill is also massively useful for negotiating those steeper assents, with the electric Defender showing no signs of struggle.

Land Rover has also fitted the Defender with its proprietary Terrain Response system, which has been adapted to the electric drive for improved traction on sand and over loose surfaces.

It all works just as well as it does on the regular diesel Defender, though the throttle needs more of a shove and there�??s less of that linearity that you get at crawling pace.

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While the off-road course only required an hour out of the Defender�??s battery life, its 27kW capacity is good for up to eight hours in these conditions.

On road, the electric Defender�??s range can extend to about 80km, with an additional 20km in reserve.

Recharge time is 10 hours, or four with a fast charge.

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While there are currently no plans to produce a production model of the Land Rover Defender Electric (Land Rover has so far only built seven of them), the technology and it�??s application is indeed impressive and should prove useful in the company�??s on-going hybrid development.

Land Rover is expected to reveal hybridised Range Rover models at September�??s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Fringe benefits tax changes likely to get through before election

The federal government�??s proposed changes to the fringe benefits tax might pass through the senate before the election, if Kevin Rudd has his way.

Mr Rudd has been in contact with numerous world leaders in regards to the G20 summit and is rumoured to be making preparations to attend the event before an election is called.� This would likely delay the federal election until October.

The net result of this means there will be another sitting of parliament before the election, giving the Rudd government the opportunity to pass the amendment to the fringe benefits tax regardless of the election outcome.

Industry sources have told CarAdvice that the Greens and independents will all vote in favour of the amendments, allowing Labor to make the changes pre-election.

Although the Coalition has already stated that it does not support the changes, it�??s unlikely to scrap the amendments if they get through the senate prior to its potential victory at the election.

A source inside a large novated leasing company informed CarAdvice that over 10,000 leasing orders have been cancelled since the proposed changes to the tax were announced.

The situation is likely to lead to lower than average new car sales figures for July and August with figures for September and future months still too early to predict.

Consequently, it will also cause considerable headache for manufacturers that have pre-ordered vehicles for months in advance, potentially leading to big discounts to move new cars.


Car companies are expected to make a united stand against the changes once the lower than average figures for July are released in early August. CarAdvice believes that new car sales figures in July will not only be affected by the cancelled novated leases and weakening confidence but also potentially by manufacturers not pre-registering cars to further bring sales figure even lower.

The changes to the tax will not only affect individuals that lease their vehicles, but also companies that offer a work car as part of a salary package. The Rudd government estimates that this will help the budget by $1.8 billion.

The impact is perhaps hardest felt on Australia�??s biggest salary packaging company, McMillan Shakespeare, which went into a trading halt last week following the proposed changes to the tax. However, following today�??s decision by the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) to deny the company�??s request to remain in trading halt until the election, shares in McMillan Shakespeare fell by more than 50 per cent.

Holden redundancies: 400 Elizabeth workers depart as Melbourne staff dig in their heels

Four-hundred Holden employees in South Australia will clock off for the last time today as the voluntary redundancies announced by the local car maker in April take effect.

The workers at Holden�??s vehicle assembly plant in Elizabeth represent 80 per cent of the employees planned to leave the company as part of the April job cuts, with a further 100 engineering staff from Holden�??s product development operations in Port Melbourne due to join them on the way out.

While the 400 Adelaide staff accepted the terms of the voluntary redundancy packages, Fairfax Media reports less than half the required number of Victorian employees has agreed to accept the voluntary package put before them.

Australian Manufacturing Workers�?? Union South Australia secretary John Camillo told Fairfax Holden might be required to look at forced redundancies if the target could not be reached purely through voluntary agreements.


Holden corporate affairs manager for South Australia Sean Poppitt said discussions were ongoing between Holden, its Victorian employees and relevant unions, but said the company was not in a position to comment on the details of those discussions or whether Holden was considering forced redundancies.

Poppitt said Holden was continuing to hold �??productive discussions�?� with unions on the issue of the employee pay cuts announced last month that are intended to save the company $15 million.

Camillo told numerous sources that as many as 90 per cent of workers rejected Holden�??s current request and would not agree to the proposal as it stood.

Poppitt said Holden would put a revised agreement before the workforce next week ahead of the vote on August 9.

�??Holden is doing everything in its power to secure the future of our manufacturing plant and lay the long-term foundations necessary to achieve the next-generation program,�?� he said.

�??Our plan remains to introduce two new global platforms into our Elizabeth facility.

�??To execute this next-generation program there are several milestones we must achieve �?" the most crucial being reducing structural costs and improving productivity in our factory, along with the implementation of clear, consistent and globally competitive industry policy.�?�


The latest round of job cuts sees the size of the workforce in Elizabeth fall to approximately 1700, while vehicle production falls from 400 cars per day to 335.

Poppitt described the mood at the plant today as �??bittersweet�?�, confirming Holden put on a free barbecue for all employees and distributed framed photos of the production teams and cars and other mementos as keepsakes for those leaving.

Holden manufacturing executive director Richard Phillips paid tribute to the departing workers in a statement today.

�??I�??d like to thank each and every departing employee for their hard work over the years and wish them the very best in the future,�?� Phillips said.

�??Changes like voluntary redundancies are never easy but this program is a critical part of our efforts to secure the future of our factory and our industry.�?�

Jaguar XF 2.2D Review

It isn�??t quite a wolf in sheep�??s clothing, the Jaguar XF 2.2D, but it definitely is a four-cylinder diesel with big alloys and sports trimmings.

Make of that combination what you will, but our optioned-up Jaguar XF 2.2D test car is a surprisingly alluring package.

Surprising, first, because even when the $76,500 XF 2.2D Premium Luxury is optioned with 35-aspect 20-inch gloss black alloys ($3570), an exterior �??black pack�?? ($1500), interior black veneer ($1530) and a split-fold rear seat ($1000 �?" stingy!) the total barely exceeds that of an unoptioned BMW 520d ($81,300) or Mercedes-Benz E200 CDI ($82,400).

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Looks are subjective, sure, but the Jaguar XF looks as fabulous today as when it first made us all forget about the dowdy S-Type back in 2007. Even better, if anything, thanks to last year�??s facelift that also brought a far more intuitive colour touchscreen display. Plus a �??carnelian�?? red-with-black-bits Jaguar XF rolling on 20s does pull more looks per traffic light than a 520d on 17s�?�

Pedestrians probably won�??t miss the diesel clatter, though. The 2.2-litre diesel gets two turbochargers to help hike outputs to 140kW of power at 3500rpm and 450Nm of torque at just 2000rpm. Those numbers are stronger than both the (135kW/380Nm) 520d and (125kW/400Nm) E220 CDI, though at 5.2L/100km claimed combined, the XF 2.2D can�??t quite duck into the �??4s�?? like that duo can.

A claimed 8.5-second 0-100km/h feels about right, though even then it fails to convey the stronger push through the mid-range as the two turbos start thrusting.

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Where the 2.2-litre Jaguar engine feels less than premium, however, is in terms of its refinement and response.

From the outside, in particular, there�??s plenty of traditional compression-injection clatter. It�??s decently subdued inside, but the engine doesn�??t idle silently, nor is the cabin completely vibration free. The Benz diesel, in particular, is less intrusive.

The power delivery of the engine is also far from linear. It feels very soft at the bottom end of the tacho, before giving way to that surging mid-range, but tapering off quite quickly. There is no point pushing past 4500rpm, though the automatic transmission upshifts at 4700rpm anyway.

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The eight-speed gearbox, sourced from German company ZF and similar to the one used in the 520d, is a highlight. But even it can�??t completely disguise the lag from the engine, which is most noticeable when attempting to pull out of a lane jammed with traffic and into the next lane that seemed free, but suddenly has a fourteen-wheeler looming large in the rear-view mirror.

Beyond the pricing and specifications, the other surprising thing about this particular Jaguar XF 2.2D is that it is one of the very few vehicles that feels to genuinely benefit from having larger, wider tyres.

Experience with many XF grades on smaller rubber revealed the chassis �?" which dates back to the 1999 S-Type �?" lacks both the sharp front end of a 5 Series and the supremely balanced feel of an E-Class. It is very good dynamically, but it frays at the edges.

Jaguar XF - 26

The XF 2.2D on big wheels maintains the lush composure that is a classic trait of this particular Jaguar. It is simply unfazed by big bumps, big undulations and big divots in the road. When teamed with wonderfully light and quick steering �?" only vague when trying to pin a consistent line �?" the Jaguar XF 2.2D can be threaded down a mountain pass �?" fast �?" with fingers dancing lightly behind the leather-trimmed wheel.

In fact, I can�??t remember the last time I drove a car spiritedly while leaving the (excellent) audio system on, such is the Jag�??s effortless and light-on-its-feet nature.

What marks the car as more than a bit special, though, is that the 255mm-wide Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres have the grip to offset the chassis�?? lack of outright sharpness. Where an XF on lesser rubber will understeer when pressed, the XF 2.2D on 20-inch wheels just sticks determinedly. Yet when the understeer comes, lifting the throttle pivots the rear around beautifully. The stability control, thankfully, stays silent.

Jaguar XF - 14

The thin sidewalls of the big tyres do have an effect on urban ride quality, but not to a great extent. There�??s a mild restlessness over seemingly smooth roads, and a bit of jolting over pockmarks around town, but the ride smoothens out considerably as speeds rise, and the XF never crashes when punting along.

Along with the light steering and superb composure, quietness also marks the Jaguar XF as an easy drive.

The large tyres do throw up some coarse chip road noise, but it�??s still impressively hushed, and no noisier than the recently facelifted Benz E250 tested a fortnight ago on the same roads.

Jaguar XF - 16

While the interior of the Jaguar XF is mostly unchanged since its 2007 launch, as with the exterior it remains a beautiful design.

The rising circular transmission selector and acrobatic air vents add a bit of theatre to the lashings of leather on the dashboard, the cool glow of cocktail-bar blue lighting on the door trims and the stylish gloss inserts.

The colour touchscreen is now easy to use, and the standard satellite navigation on freeways even shows the anticipated times to the next three exits.

Jaguar XF - 19

In an age of cheapening cow hides, the Jaguar leather trim feels quality, and wraps over supportive seats at the front.

The rear bench, however, is clearly designed to snuggle the outer two occupants more than welcomely embrace three people. There�??s among the least legroom in the large car class and the transmission tunnel is intrusive, further restricting centre passenger comfort. That sloping, coupe-like roofline likewise hinders headroom for all three, though in the style stakes the XF could be compared with the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, not the E-Class; and the CLS 250 CDI with 150kW and 500Nm starts at a hefty $119,900.

At 540 litres boot space matches that of the E-Class and eclipses the 5 Series (by a scant 10L) though placing a split fold backrest on the options list is a bit rude.

Jaguar XF - 20

With the grip to match the suspension composure and steering, and exterior styling that belies the relatively cheap price tag, the tested Jaguar XF 2.2D Premium Luxury is a very cohesive and convincing package.

The only reservation concerns the generation-behind diesel engine, but that�??s a problem solved by choosing the quiet and super sweet 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that�??s $1K-cheaper again.

That car, when optioned with the good-looking styling bits and sticky rubber, could be the Jaguar XF to bypass a German for�?�

Tata Xenon ute headed for Australia in November

Tata Motors has confirmed its entry into the Australian market, with new independent distributor Fusion Automotive set to introduce a range of light-commercial vehicles in the final quarter of this year.

Fusion will launch the Tata Xenon across Australia in November, offering 4�?2 and 4�?4 versions of the Toyota HiLux-sized ute in single- and crew-cab body styles.

The Indian-made Xenon will compete at the budget end of the market against similar offerings from China�??s Great Wall and fellow Indian brand Mahindra, with Fusion Automotive marketing and communications manager Sara Smith confirming the range would be priced from roughly $20,000 to $30,000.


While today�??s announcement confirms a national rollout for the Tata brand, the Xenon has actually been available through another independent Queensland distributor since 2010, with prices ranging from $19,995 for the 4�?2 single cab to $29,995 for the high-grade 4�?4 crew cab.

This pricing structure is expected to largely carry over when the Xenon reaches Tata�??s upcoming dealer network, which is set to include 13 dealerships by the end of the year and planned to expand to 25 within 12 months.

Fusion and Tata have confirmed the Xenon will be powered by a Euro 5-compliant turbo-diesel engine, and will reveal all other major specification details closer to the vehicle�??s November launch.


The Xenon currently sold in Australia pairs a 103kW/320Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine with a five-speed manual transmission, and consumes 8.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Rear-wheel-drive and 4�?4 models share a 2500kg braked towing capacity.

Standard features include air conditioning, power windows, and a two-speaker audio system with CD player, auxiliary input and Bluetooth connectivity, while the flagship Xenon Premium adds 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers and mirror caps, fog lamps, and a leather-bound steering wheel, among other features.


Fusion Automotive managing director Darren Bowler said Tata vehicles would offer a greater level of value than what was currently available in Australia.

�??There is no tougher place on earth to test vehicles than on the tough and demanding roads of India, and we believe this will give the Tata Motors products a competitive advantage within the Australian market,�?� Bowler said.

�??The light commercial segment is now the third-largest segment of the Australian new-car market, with 13 major brands in the 4�?2 and 4�?4 categories.

�??We believe there is demand in Australia for a utility range of vehicles with the toughness and value for money equation that Tata Motors products deliver.�?�

Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon Review

On paper the Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon looks like an ideal blend of performance and practicality.

Up front there�??s a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 162kW of power and 340Nm of torque. Out back there�??s 524 litres of boot space, or 1600L with the rear backrest and front passenger seat folded.

Cloaked with a sports bodykit and black 18-inch alloys wheels, and equipped with dual-zone climate control, cruise control and heavily bolstered seats, the $36,990 Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon �?" of which only 220 are coming here �?" also has few rivals. Only the $39,990 Skoda Octavia RS or $40,190 Holden Commodore SV6 Sportwagon comes close.


In terms of its body, the Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon is pure Megane wagon. The plastics quality is quite good, there�??s a medium-sized amount of rear legroom and the body hugging sports seats are superb.

Tick the optional ($5000) Premium pack and the pews are wrapped in leather, the fronts are heated, the roof is covered in glass and front parking sensors join with a rear camera. The downmarket-looking black-and-white central screen is replaced by colour satellite navigation, but the Renault Monitor 2.0 that displays lateral G among other functions is lost. The sat-nav also looks aftermarket.

The longer wheelbase compared with the hatch makes for impressive rear legroom. Further rearward, the low loading lip makes picking up and putting in large items a cinch.


In terms of mechanicals, Renault has essentially taken the Megane RS hot hatch then made it less hardcore �?" the suspension is softer, the engine has been detuned, the steering isn�??t as sharp and there�??s no front limited-slip differential to assist with power down out of corners.

Although we�??ve already driven the Megane GT 220 in an overseas first drive, this is our first local steer of the car that has since been re-named for this market from its native �??Estate�?? to �??Sport Wagon�??.

In that overseas first drive, the Megane GT 220 presented less like a perfect balance between hot hatch heroics and wagon sensibilities and more like a slight compromise.

Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon

Despite being detuned by 33kW and 20Nm compared with the RS, there is still spirited performance from the turbo engine in the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon.

The six-speed manual is slick and tight, and the clutch and brakes feel natural. The 1499kg wagon is 125kg heavier than the RS, however, and a claimed 7.6 second 0-100km/h is fully 1.5 seconds slower. It also feels less brisk than an Octavia RS or Commodore SV6 Sportwagon.

Stop-start technology is standard, though, helping the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon score a 7.3L/100km official combined consumption figure.

Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon 2

Although the performance is slightly reduced, and economy enhanced, the engine remains a noisy companion; the thrashy, slightly grainy soundtrack is arguably more appropriate in a hot hatch than a family chariot.

Likewise the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon isn�??t a quiet companion on coarse chip roads, with plenty of roar thrown up from the 225mm-wide tyres �?" much more than in the Megane GT-Line wagon driven before it, which wears 205mm-wide tyres.

Particularly for a car stretching towards $40,000 the refinement level in the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon is lower than might be expected.


Although the Megane GT220 Sport Wagon gets a �??Sport�?? chassis straight from the Megane RS265 that isn�??t sold here �?" we only get the harder �??Cup�?? chassis tune �?" it remains way too hard to be considered comfortable.

The constant restlessness, banging and thudding over rough country roads is more obvious on local bitumen than it was on smoother French roads, and along with the cabin noise can make the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon a tiring companion.

Much of the noise and control-focussed ride can be forgiven in the Megane RS 265 because it offers superb steering and delivers enthralling handling. It�??s here, however, that the Megane GT 220 also feels compromised.


Without the limited-slip differential that allows effortless power down out of corners in the Megane RS 265, and contributes much to its dynamic repertoire, the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon is left hamstrung.

The stability control light now works overtime trying to restrict torque to the front wheels out of bends, and the GT 220 doesn�??t feel as though it has even an electronic differential �?" which essentially brake a spinning inside wheel �?" found in the Golf GTI and Focus ST to name two.

Without the clever steering system found in the Megane RS 265, which separates the hub from the front strut, the Megane GT 220 also suffers torque steer in a straight line. Yet the steering itself is also slower �?" 2.8 turns lock-to-lock compared with 2.6 �?" and far less incisive. Indeed, the steering in an Octavia RS and Commodore SV6 �?" not to mention Golf GTI and Focus ST �?" also feels superior.


When bends turn from tight and narrow to wide and flowing the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon lifts its side skirts, offering the dynamics to match the straight line speed.

Simply, it grips, points and goes, in a way that more mundane mid-sized wagons competing in that price bracket, such as the Mazda 6, cant.

Curiously, however, the lesser grip found in the Megane GT-Line wagon makes it feel more throttle adjustable and balanced on the limit than the more planted, stolid Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon.


Arguably, too, the Mazda 6 offers a broader skill set; likewise with the more expensive Octavia RS and Commodore SV6 that are also just as speedy.

Being a more practical, less hardcore version of the Megane RS, the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon could have retained the superb steering and limited-slip differential from its hot hatch sibling, but offer softer suspension and more noise insulation to make it more liveable.

Instead, the steering has been changed and the front LSD ditched, yet the suspension remains hard and the cabin noisy. It�??s still a fast and desirable performance wagon, the Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon, but it is also flawed in key areas.