UNDERSTANDING CARS

Economy and Environment

Most of us would like to spend as little as possible on fuel and if possible, reduce our carbon footprint as well. Discover the technologies which make cars cleaner and more fuel-efficient.

Smart engine technologies

Most manufacturers have engine management systems designed to make them more efficient. Toyota Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (Dual VVT-i) adjusts engine timing while the car is on the move, making the engine more fuel-efficient and reducing CO2 emissions.

The best way to judge the efficiency of the engine is to check the fuel consumption and emission figures. If it's a new car, these will be displayed on the windscreen, and can also be found on the manufacturer's website.

Hybrid technology

This combines an electric motor and a petrol engine, or other fuel type engine, reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions[G1].

Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive® is generally recognised as a world leader in this technology. It delivers performance on a par with similar-sized petrol-powered sedans. Yet, in certain situations, such as stopped at lights or in slow stop start traffic, these cars effectively use no fuel and generate zero CO2 emissions[G1].

So while Hybrids may cost a little more to buy, they can end up saving you a lot of money over time.

Performance

Car manufacturers and dealers often talk about car performance in glowing but confusingly obscure terms.

For instance, they'll tell you how many litres the engine is, how many kilowatts it generates, how much torque you can expect from it and the number of gears there are in the transmission.

It all sounds impressive, but unless you are a technician, or have a great understanding of the technical makeup of automotive vehicles, it's hard to know what's actually important to understand.

The first thing is to be clear about what the term 'performance' actually covers when it comes to cars.

Generally, it refers to how powerful the car is, how well it handles and how responsive it is to drive.

Kilowatts and Torque

Engine power is measured in kilowatts. But a really important factor that many people overlook is the importance of torque. Torque measures the amount of turning force the engine generates - the more torque, the better the acceleration and the better towing capacity you'll have.

The size of a car's engine is usually measured in litres. As a loose rule of thumb, the bigger the engine, the more power it can generate. However, with advanced engine technologies such as Toyota's Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (Dual VVT-i), clever design and the addition of turbo chargers or super chargers, many smaller, high revving engines can produce a lot of power very efficiently.

Hybrids

Hybrids such as the Camry Hybrid, which combines an electric motor and a petrol engine, can also offer high performance with extremely low CO2 emissions[G1].

Diesels

Small diesel engines produce relatively low power in terms of kilowatts, but can generate large amounts of Torque, which makes them economical on fuel and highly efficient workhorses.

Compare The Torque

There's no need to understand the science of torque unless you're interested, but if you are comparing cars and you want to see which one is likely to deliver the most powerful performance, it's worth comparing the torque they generate. You should find the maximum torque (measured in Nm Newton-metres) on the car manufacturer's website.

Restrictions for P-Plate drivers

In some states, if you are a P-Plate driver your licence won't qualify you to drive high performance cars or cars with modified engines. So it's best to check what restrictions apply before you think about buying. You can find out all you need to know by visiting the website of the relevant roads and traffic authority in your state or territory, such as the RMS, VicRoads or Transport SA.

If you're tempted to go for high performance, remember that while bigger engines may generate more kilowatts and torque, this can man they use more fuel and produce more CO2 emissions[G1]. So before you decide which model to buy, check fuel and emissions. Even a small difference in fuel usage can add up to a large expense over time.

Automatic v Manual

In some states, if you passed your test in an automatic, you'll only be qualified to drive cars with automatic transmission. Again, it's worth checking this on the website of the roads and traffic authority in your state or territory, before you start thinking about buying.

Some people prefer to drive a manual for the hands-on driving experience this kind of transmission offers, while others prefer the convenience of an automatic. Some automatics are fitted with paddle shift technology, which offers the driver the option of manual-like gear changes via paddle switches on the steering wheel when they feel like a sportier driving experience.

In performance terms, whether you drive an automatic or a manual, the number of gears is important. A 6 or 7-speed gearbox will give you a smoother, more responsive ride than a 4-speed gearbox as the available gear ratios match a wider range of driving situations. Also, having a high ratio top gear is excellent for fuel economy.

Handling and Responsiveness

How well a car handles and responds, depends on several factors - suspension, steering, aerodynamics, weight and balance to name but a few. Technologies such as Traction Control (TRC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) help ensure a smooth take off and reliable cornering in wet and slippery conditions. While advanced braking systems such as ABS (Anti Skid Braking System) with Brake Assist (BA) for emergencies and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) help you stop without skidding or wheel lock ups in the shortest distance possible. Car review sites will give you a pretty good idea of which cars handle best. But the surest way to find out how well a car handles is to test drive it, making sure you give it a thorough workout in a variety of situations - testing braking response, acceleration (from a standing start and through the gears) and seeing how it corners on a twisty road.

Comfort and convenience

Cars today are more than a means of getting from A to B. They are mobile personal environments.

These days they are laid out with cleverly positioned storage spaces for everything from maps and iPods®[G8], to keys, sunglasses and handily placed cup holders for your morning takeaway coffee.

In some models, ingenious use of space and flexible seat folding configurations mean you can carry surprisingly large amounts of gear (including large, awkward shaped cargo) and still have room for passengers - even in really compact cars.

Comfort features vary from car to car so it's worth comparing these carefully.

Features to look out for include:

  • High quality entertainment systems that play music and digital video from a variety of devices
  • Digital DAB[B3] radio giving you high definition sound and a wider choice of radio stations
  • Bluetooth®[B5] connectivity for music streaming and hand-free mobile calls.
  • Satellite navigation[N1] and traffic avoidance systems to help you find your way, without getting held up en-route.
  • Parking sensors/park assist[B4] which alert you when you are getting close to an obstacle - handy when manoeuvering near low or hard to see hazards
  • Reversing camera[B4] to help make backing into tight spaces easier and safer.
  • Blind Spot Monitor[B4], which alerts you when there is a car detected in your blind spot.
  • Cruise control, which keeps you at a steady speed, taking some of the work out of long motorway drives. Some Cruise Control systems also include radar which as well as helping control your speed, helps you keep a safe distance from the car in front.
  • Auto high beam, which automatically dips your highbeams to avoid inconveniencing vehicles in front of you
  • Rain sensing wipers, which automatically switch on when they sense moisture on the windscreen and adjust their speed according to the intensity of the rain.
  • Smart Entry/Smart Start systems, allowing you enter and start the car without ever taking the keys out of your pocket - very handy if you have your hands full with shopping, gear or small children.
  • Air Conditioning. In some states, air-conditioning isn't really a comfort feature, it's an essential. Many modern cars are fitted with sophisticated systems. In some cars the air conditioning features multi-zone Climate Control to maintain different areas of the car at different temperatures.
  • Some cars such as the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Sahara even have ventilated seats to help keep you cool
  • Central Locking to lock and unlock all doors with a press of the key fob
  • Steering wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth®[B5] mobile phone calls.
  • Heated, multi-adjustable electric seats that remember preferred seat position and, in some cases, even side mirror positions.
  • Voice Control, which allows you to control mobile phone, calls and audio, with voice commands.

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