Mazda muscling its way in

One make that has also begun to really ‘market’ its cars is Mazda. I have always had a soft spot for this Japanese firm and have owned a couple of Mazdas (RX 7 and MX 5) as well as racing rotary engined sports sedans. Absolute trouble free motoring. While the sales figures are nothing like Honda or Toyota, under local MD

David Grakul, Mazda has experienced a 40 plus percent increase in sales in 2003 and with the Zoom-Zoom campaign has certainly raised brand awareness to new heights. The RX 8 is getting even more rave reviews throughout the world and the rear hinged ‘suicide’ doors that convert it from a two door sports car to a four door coupe work very well. And don’t the publicity shots with the cars in that bright yellow look great!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which famous Italian marque also produced spark plugs? The answer was Maserati, who also produced air horns!

So to this week. A very rich and titled Englishman, who headed a very large motor corporation wanted to be a doctor. He did not have enough money to go to university as a young man, so started a bicycle repair business, and then went on to building cars to fund his way through medical school. He never got there, but gave huge amounts of money to medical research after he became successful in the auto business. Who was he?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!

Honda S2000 Convertible

For 10,000 baht less than 4 million, you can have the sun on your scalp (we’re all getting older) and unfiltered exhaust gases up your nostrils, driving the Honda S2000. And while it seems crazy to contemplate spending that amount of money for sunburn and smog, there is an appeal in topless motoring that no other forms of transport can give.

Honda S2000

I bought my first sports car in 1963, and have almost always had a ragtop in the stable since then. Our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal also had his first sports car around that time - a Triumph TR2, and he still enjoys the wind in the hair. So here are the Words from Weinthal on Honda’s offering in the open top stakes.

“The first open Honda I drove had an all alloy 600cc, four cylinder engine which ran out of puff at about 11,000 revs. Among its many unusual features was that it was chain driven. That was the early ’60s S600. It was followed by a more conventionally driven Honda S800, using the same ultra-compact convertible body as the S600. Now we have the S2000 which is every bit as impressive a piece of technology today as were the ’60s originals in their time.

“This aggressively styled strict two seater is as true a sports car as they come with most of the comfort features we expect on today’s better quality new cars, certainly those at around its AUD 70,000 price (in Australia just under 2 million baht!).

“About all that’s missing is cruise control, a better than just adequate sound system and a glovebox; no great penalty, apart perhaps from the disappointing noise boxes - radio, six-stack CD and tape. But the system almost makes up for this with the most practical driver’s right hand controls I’ve seen, in addition to the usual control panel behind a centre-dash cover.

“Standard gear includes ABS brakes, two air bags, sturdy roll over bars and an aluminium bonnet. It has perfect 50/50 front and rear weight distribution, limited slip diff, air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, alloy wheels, low profile tyres, and remote locking with an immobiliser.

“While clearly the engineers and sports departments at Honda had the majority say in designing the S2000, it was also driven by real world folk who won’t put up with any inconveniences just because its primary allure is so different from everyday cars.

“The normally aspirated 2 litre engine is the world’s most powerful in terms of kW per litre - a whopping 176kW in a 1260 kg lightweight. The S2000 has a terrific short throw six-speed gearbox, and at the 9000 rpm redline in any gear the exhaust note is quite awesome.

“The car can hit 100 from rest in 6.2 seconds, which I’m sure it did many times during my week in it. Top sped is 240 kph. Even these impressive numbers miss the point. This car handles, stops and steers with great accuracy and driver communication. It never rattles or squeaks, even over some of the most challenging dirt tracks I know in far north eastern NSW. I know no more solid feeling convertible.

“What really makes this the most ownable of convertibles is the hood operation. Two simple clips to unfold, a button to press and you’re fully open or closed in a remarkable six seconds. This makes it a true no-compromise everyday car, with none of the hang-ups of all other dropheads in my experience. It’s simply stunning.

The magazines have raved and for once they are right. What they haven’t said is that it’s probably the one convertible this side of a Porsche which could really stand the punishment of everyday country road driving, including dirt.”

(Thank you John, it is good to see that you have not forgotten how much fun driving a soft-top can be - or even how much fun you can have, in a soft-top. Dr. Iain)

Honda playing Jazz

On the local front in Thailand, Honda had a target of 70,000 units for 2003 and is expecting this to go to 80,000 this year. They are pinning much of their hopes on the market acceptance of the Honda Jazz 1.5 litre five door hatchback. This is built on the same platform as the Honda City and slots into the 542,000-664,000 bracket. Honda do not feel that the new jazzy little Jazz will take sales from their own City or the Stream, but will be aiming for the Toyota Vios customers with an alternative to the City.

Honda Jazz

John Weinthal had a week with a Jazz in Australia during 2003 and here are further Words from Weinthal on the Honda Jazz Auto - though he does begin by saying “I’d opt for the manual”.

“The Honda Jazz is one of at least four highly competitive and distinctive new smaller cars which have been launched over the past few months. The Jazz finds itself up against (in Australia) the likes of the Citroen C3, the Mazda2 and the more conventional but extremely competitively priced Hyundai Getz.

“For Honda, the Jazz - or Honda Fit as it is know in its homeland - was Japan’s top-selling car last year with more than 250,000 sales - some 25,000 more than the larger and more powerful Toyota Corolla. Its Japanese and subsequent international success has made the Jazz the most popular new model Honda ever.

“In Australia, the Jazz is offered here in three specification levels. The base 1.3 litre 73kW GLi Jazz costs from AUD 17,000. The VTi starts at AUD 19,990 and the range-topping VTi-S is yours for AUD 22,490 (630,000 baht). Continuously variable auto transmission adds AUD 2000 to the GLi which has ABS anti-lock brakes. The VTi and VTi-S have slightly larger 1.5 litre engines which produce an adequate 81kW.

“While performance is barely sporting, economy for the auto, top of the range VTi-S test car was amazingly good. It returned 600 km from its 45 litre tank without effort in a range of city driving, a run up Mt Tamborine with five people aboard and touring through the Tweed Valley and Gold Coast. In truth performance is OK most of the time but using the air-con in hilly country certainly drags the Jazz back a bit.

“Beyond the novelty of the seven speed CVT auto, the Jazz is pretty much line-ball with other modern Japanese small cars in its presentation. It is another of the short and tall variety, which means good head and leg room with much more luggage space than a glance at the five door hatch would suggest. This layout can result in rather strange looks but it more than works in terms of everyday comfort and practicality.

“Frankly the main point of interest of the Honda Jazz is the continuously variable auto with its selectable seven speed sequential function which is optional on the two upper models. The sequential mode is entered by pressing a button on the right side of the steering wheel. From there on virtually instant and ultra-smooth up and down changes are made by pressing plus and minus buttons on the left or right hand side of the steering wheel. It is effective and occasionally it might be more useful than just novel, although after a few practice plays I rarely bothered to exercise the sequential function. That leaves us with a relatively normal auto with a useful and simply activated hold on the mid-range for extra braking or to overcome the auto’s natural urge to up and down change rather too willingly. At times I even found myself slipping the auto into neutral because it was too keen to hold a lower ratio for longer than I felt was comfortable or necessary.

“Overall it is easy to understand the Jazz’s popularity - although prices are hardly bargain basement (in Australia). Honda, like the upper-class Germans, tends to trade somewhat on its carefully nurtured, and mostly deserved, reputation for innovative engineering and build quality.

“The test car ran out at AUD 24,790 (694,000 baht) before the unavoidable government and delivery charges or insurance. For this you get a car nicely kitted out with power windows, mirrors and remote locking, air-con, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, alloy wheels, halogen headlamps and fog lamps, two air bags, lots of useful storage spaces, split folding rear seat, driver’s seat height adjustment and a rather tarty body dress-up kit. There’s a vehicle immobiliser system and five three-point lap-sash seat-belts. Hondas in Australia are covered by an industry standard three-year 100,000 km warranty.

“The Jazz is already a runaway sales success and multi-award winner. I’d try the five-speed manual gearbox before buying and I suspect I would then opt to save AUD 2300. The manual gear change would deliver more useful performance and possibly even better than the auto’s outstanding fuel economy.”

(Thank you John, Jazz is appearing in larger numbers every day, and its effect on the local market will certainly be monitored by Toyota. Dr. Iain.)