Automania

Motoring wedding at BITEC

With the Bangkok International Motor Show held at BITEC each year, it was perhaps fitting that the auto industry’s wedding reception of the year should be held there too. Especially when the groom is Anothai Eamlumnow, eldest son of Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow, the visionary figure behind the motor show for the past 25 years.

Anothai married Miss Preaw Thanadbhochanamat in a Royally sponsored wedding, presided over by HRH The Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn Mahidol. The reception catered for friends and family of the couple and culminated with the lucky draw to win a Toyota Vios! Unfortunately mine was not the lucky ticket!


Jenson Button, the idol with clay feet!

British race driver Jenson Button has been the darling of the UK F1 set, with stirring drives in his BAR Honda and sitting third in the World Championship line-up as we went to press. He had a team that had swung behind the youngster, and the future looked as if it were strewn with rose petals. However, if there ever was someone who has just crapped in their own nest, it is Jenson Button.

Jenson Button

Without telling the BAR management that he wanted to go to BMW Williams next year, he drops it on them last week as a fait accompli. A minor technicality in the option renewal of his contract was used as the excuse, and Jenson thought he was home free!

However, BAR management were less than thrilled by all this, and the legal people have been called in, plus the contract review board and there is now considerable doubt about where he will be in 2005. And no matter which team he drives for, he will now always have that stigma as a driver who stabbed his team sponsors, management, and their mechanics in the back. A silly and sorry state of affairs, and decidedly ‘un-British’. Compare that to Mark Webber’s leaving of Jaguar to join Williams next year. All done openly and with good will going with him from Jaguar.

Bira TGTC this weekend

The Thailand Grand Touring Car round will be held at Bira Circuit this weekend. Hopefully they will have the Tiger Challenge again. This was a sort of two at a time drag race down the main straight, with a U-turn at the end and drag race back again.

It attracted a huge field, and I am sure many taxi motorcycle vests were discarded before each run! Some of the riders slowed down for the U-turn with both feet on the ground at the same time. Rear brakes? Perhaps Valentino Rossi should study this.

There was also the Nano-bike event, using those scaled down GP racer creations, with electric motors. These were ridden by the most determined bunch of scaled down racers I have ever seen. Little kids with big helmets!


Honda Jazz. Is it the ideal shopping trolley?

A few months ago I published the road test of the Honda Jazz from our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal. John was enthusiastic about the Jazz (also known as the Fit in Japan, and there are a couple of these Japanese imports floating around, though the only obvious difference is just the name badge on the rear).

Honda Jazz rear

After some research I found that the Australian Jazz is not exactly the same as the Thai Jazz, with different engines being the major difference. The Australian versions have 1.3 and 1.5 litre VtiS engines, while the local counterpart has the i-DSI designated 1.5 litre engines. The Aussies get around 105 BHP from their top engine, while we get 88 BHP from ours (currently - there is a more powerful one coming, I believe). So it was with interest that I took a Honda Jazz, complete with the 7 speed CVT (constantly variable transmission) with sequential manual over-ride, for a two day test.

There is a tendency for all testers to look at any test vehicle and give it the critical analysis from all points of view. Did it go fast? Does it have acceleration like an FA 18 Tomcat? Does it stick to the road like dog poo to your sandals? Will it carry 13 golf bags and a baby grand piano? Can you drive it across the Sahara Desert and will it look good in the executive car park? For my money this is the wrong way of looking at any car. A Honda Jazz will never win a Grand Prix, nor will it win the Paris-Dakar rally! And forget the baby grand. What this vehicle really represents is an inexpensive family shopping trolley, with the asking price ranging from 542,000 baht up to 679,000 baht for the fully loaded version with all the bells and whistles. So that is how I looked at testing this car. Is it a good shopping trolley?

There is no getting away from the fact that this funky little car has eye appeal. Everyone seems to like the chunky ‘verticality’ of it, and its ‘cheeky’ look reminds me, in some silly way, of the response we all had to the first Morris Mini’s 40 years ago.

It is a true five door, with decent sized openings to even get farang-sized folk in and out of the front or rear seats easily. For Thais it is a breeze! The rear hatch is also large and gives good access to the loading space in the rear, and it lifts high enough up that you are not continually giving yourself concussion every time you go to the supermarket.

Outside it looks small with its droopy snoot, but inside it is amazingly roomy. Even three up across the rear is not too squeezy, and the front chairs are large, adjustable and comfy. You can also get a sensible seating position for the driver where you are aligned well with the pedals and the steering wheel is within reach. At the bargain basement prices, don’t expect seats with electronic memory built in, but the seat position can be changed manually with little hassle.

So far so good, but very quickly some dislikes became apparent. First off, the A pillar is enormous. Undoubtedly you can probably bounce down the road on your lid and be perfectly safe, but I really did find that too much on-coming traffic could hide behind the very thick pillar. If nothing else it makes you look twice, I suppose.

The next gripe came from the co-pilot. No vanity mirror! Here we were in one of the top of the line models and the passenger could not attend to her lipstick without attacking the driver’s rear view mirror. And yet the driver’s sun visor had one!

After a few kays in the CVT auto I found another omission. A driver’s left foot rest. Another small thing, but definitely one for creature comforts. Remember that this is no stripped race car; this is a family shopping trolley.

The compulsory visit to the supermarket showed that the little Honda Jazz has a good tight turning circle, and it was possible to wriggle into even the smallest parking spots. Shopping trolley definitely got a tick there. However, when it came to loading the rear, there is no flat floor access, but a lip for everything to be lifted over first. A black mark for that one, but minimal. Otherwise loading was a breeze, and if needed, the split rear seats could be folded down to increase the load capacity. There are also lots of small cubby holes in the front to put items such as mobile phones and other paraphernalia.

Mention must be made of the simple user-friendly controls. How sick I am of electronic finger stabbing at some piece of plastic fascia to get volumes up and down, change ‘modes’ and air-conditioning temperatures and the like. The Jazz has simple rotary dials that are easier, quicker and less likely to malfunction. Another tick in the report card for the shopping trolley.

John Weinthal, in his report on the Aussie CVT auto version Jazz, had felt that the power was marginal and had written “I’d try the five-speed manual gearbox before buying. The manual gear change would deliver more useful performance and possibly even better than the auto’s outstanding fuel economy.” By comparison, my Thai test vehicle also had the 7 speed CVT auto, and (on paper) smaller horses than the Australian variant. To be honest, from the shopping trolley point of view, the power was perfectly adequate, and the auto delightfully smooth. I did have a play with the 7 speed sequential over-ride and quickly gave it up. Interestingly, so did tester John Weinthal, who wrote, “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.” Agreed. The fully automatic mode was much better. In fact I would go so far as to say that I wouldn’t even contemplate the manual gearbox. In our traffic, why would you want to?

I did give the Jazz a quick blast to Bangkok and it would sit happily at 130 kph on the motorways and even a quick sprint to 160 clicks was easy (sorry Mr. Policeman, that’s a misprint, I meant to write 120 kph!). Brakes and road-holding were fine and the fuel economy was good and the Jazz drinks the cheaper 91 octane only.

Jazz was the top selling car in Japan last year, and I believe it is probably now doing the same here. It is a very good shopping trolley cum family runabout. I could own one, but it would be the auto version, and in fact Mr. Honda can keep the 7 speed sequential mode and give me back the difference in price!

As I mentioned at the top, this is no race car, but it was never designed to be one. In the horses for courses stakes, however, the Honda Jazz is a definite winner!


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned a very famous French racing driver raced under a pseudonym, which he took in memory of his pioneering driver uncle. He was a world class tennis player and ice hockey specialist. He raced in F1, but only six times, retiring in three and scoring no points. I wanted to know what was this driver’s real name? The pseudonym he chose was Pierre Levegh, but his real name was Pierre Bouillon. He was killed in 1955, at the Le Mans 24 hour race, when his Mercedes went out of control and went into the crowd killing 83 and injuring many more. Mercedes withdrew from racing at that point and did not return until many years later.

So to this week. Another manufacturer was deeply troubled with the Le Mans tragedy, and despite winning their class comfortably also withdrew from racing, scrapping all their race cars, other than one example to be kept as a museum piece. What was the name of this manufacturer?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania @chiangmai-mail.com

Good luck!