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17. Lover of tiny cars, especially Kei cars and original Minis. Subject to the free world's worst nanny state laws & restrictions.
10th May 2015
As the day I head off for my Central Australia trip draws nearer, so does the day I can start putting my money towards a Leyland Mini. The day I get some $1000-$3000 together and find that gem of a Mini to buy will then be the day to count down to. This will be a dream come true to me and the start of an adventure, as I plan to drag the sorry old rust-bucket cross-continent London-Mongolia in a least-modified-as-possible state on the 2018 Mongol Rally (as last I checked, this will cost about the same as buying a Mini there and doing it, then getting it shipped back here, although considering Brexit I might have to review that) before dragging it back here for a proper fix-up.
If you have anything to say or any questions about this mad caper, feel free to speak your mind!
The satisfaction when the fuel pump primes and that wheezy EJ251 rumble engulfs your ears is immense when up until this point your entire life has been a failure
My genius master plan is to grab a cheapo Leyland Mini (Australian-built)next year and enter it in the Mongol Rally the year after. Having done the maths, it’s a feasible as getting a Mini in the UK and cheaper to get back here to Australia, cheap enough, in fact, that I could pay for most of the re-import from the UK with the £1000 refundable deposit…
Any thoughts from other Mini fans out there?
And it’s absolutely fine. Seriously, quit complaining, our favourite comedy car trio still have their show, we just get something a bit different. I dunno, maybe it’s the constant changing of Doctor Who that I’ve adapted to, but this new show is fine.
Think about it; those of us who like driving won’t have to deal with the people who don’t, ie. bad, dangerous drivers. There will also be no traffic to deal with, therefore more open roads & higher speed limits and therefore more fun! It’s a win-win as long as they allow it, eh?
My mate’s on the hunt for an S2000, which he will keep as well as his Holden Barina SRi (Opel Corsa with 1.8 Astra engine) if he gets one, while I further planned towards going abroad in 2018 and devised a genius plan for my Subie wagon which would make it truly one-of-a-kind. I’ll explain it here:
The Subaru Owners community is missing. Whether this is intended or not, bring it back please. I own neither a 1st or 2nd Gen Impreza or BRZ, I own a 3rd Gen Legacy. I’m not alone in this, these aren’t the only 3 Subarus that exist and I preferred bein…
There are two for specifically the Impreza, but not one for Subarus in general like there was last week. I thought all the missing communities had re-appeared!
So, we thought the spark plugs were going on the Subie, then today dad goes “I put 98 Octane in it this time, we’ll see what happens”. Car runs like a dream, no flat spots in the torque like there were with the 91, the symptom that led us to believe it was the spark plugs. In short, 98 Octane is well worth it people, buy that stuff
Disclaimer:I can’t guarantee an unbiased review here, I grew up with a same-gen Subaru Outback as the family car and I love the thing to death, then it got sold and now I’ve got the Liberty, which I also love, plus it’s a manual, so yeah.
So, here’s a review on what will most likely be the first car that I will officially own and be able to drive on my own. My purple, going-on-17-year-old Subaru Liberty RX2.5 Manual Wagon. It cost a grand total of $3000AUD to purchase + a roadworthy certificate and rego costs, which is cheap for this specific model, specification and age. I do plan on keeping this car for practical reasons, as well as emotional (I know, I shouldn’t get so attached to a car, but I just can’t help it!), even if it goes unregistered for a while. Just about every other car I ever want to/plan to own is old, unreliable or will be built-not-bought, so having a reliable, relatively modern (LOL) backup car would be handy. So, let’s get on with it and end all this preamble, shall we?
Well, this model has the 2.5 litre, EJ25(1) boxer motor under the bonnet, however it is naturally aspirated and it revs a lot. Now, N/A is not something I can say Subaru had really mastered by the time this vehicle was produced, and it is lacking in torque for an engine of this size. (That said, it does need a spark plug change…) The open-deck head design caused head gasket issues and you can’t increase power without disassembling the engine & modifying the block to be able to handle any more pressure within the cylinders. Despite this issue, it really needs at least 1 turbo, but that would blow up the engine, so too bad, you’re stuck with what you’ve got. This being said, once you punch the engine in the guts, it does do what you ask it to and throttle response is direct (if a bit jumpy), instant and sensitive (although maybe a bit too sensitive at times…). The clutch has some weight to it without being too heavy for anyone to operate, but it does have a rather low biting point and less overall grab than I would really like. The engine connected to this clutch also loves to rev, leading me to believe it’s not near geared high enough for cruising speeds, at which it’ll sit just under 3,000 rpm… in fifth gear, which brings me onto the gearbox. The gearbox has short ratios, a soft, tight-enough-but-not-so-tight-you-take-off-in-3rd selector configuration. (On this specific example, the synchro between 2nd & 3rd can be dodgy and the gate into 5th has been worn down, leading to occasional accidental grinding when shifting up) For some reason, this model is also fitted with a low-ratio gearbox, despite its low ground clearance and long wheelbase that combine to make it unsuitable for off-roading…
The steering is responsive, heavy enough, but not too heavy to move thanks to a thing the manufacturers of today have forgotten called hydraulic power steering, which gives the driver an accurate feel of the road, but lightens up the steering enough to make the car comfortable to drive for someone with no biceps. The suspension is firm enough to add to the driver’s feel of the road beneath them, but is soft enough to be entirely comfortable on most road surfaces and copes remarkably well in corners, giving you confidence to go through the turn at that extra 5-10km/h. The all-round disc brakes also give the driver confidence, as they do work well and can stop the car very quickly (due to the car’s weight, which I’ll get into later on) if needed or just gradually under normal driving conditions thanks to the amount of travel you get in the pedal. The brakes are firm, but somehow aren’t twitchy at all despite the nature of the vehicle. (again, I’ll get into it later)
The interior of the car is luxurious for a car of its class and price range, with a whopping 3 cup holders (1 reverse bear trap at the front, 2 that fold out from the same slot in the back above the prop housing), standard heating & cooling, a modern (for 1999) radio with CD player and plenty of slots in the centre console for said CDs, adjustable fabric seats and quality materials used where it matters. The fabric seats are seriously nearly 17 years old and showing no signs of wear, although the same can’t be said for the leather on the gear stick and steering wheel, which should be replaced or refurbished at some stage soon. The seats are comfortable and supportive without feeling as though they could eat you at any moment, but the driver’s seat has only just enough adjustment for 6’1” me to operate the pedals properly. There’s plenty of room in the back for 2 more people to comfortably sit, with just enough room for one more to squeeze in without pushing people out of the frameless windows. The boot is large enough to store anything a normal human being would sensibly want to store in their boot, with some space even occupied by the full-sized spare wheel in its compartment and the two hidey-holes for things like toolkits, jump leads, umbrellas, whatever will fit that doesn’t need to take up cabin space or be accessed in too much of a hurry. With the rear seats folded down, you can apparently even fit a mattress in the back and sleep comfortably in it without being in the fetal position all night! Now, some may say that certain elements of the interior are ‘tacky’ or whatever. Yes, the elephant in the room I’m referring to is the plastic wood-grain around the centre console and behind the steering wheel, however I think it gives the car a bit of character, especially with the dark grey interior that surrounds it. It’s a styling risk, which I like when executed correctly (which you may know already if you read that Kia Cerato review) and I think that this was executed in such a way that’s so typically Subaru that even if you didn’t like it, you couldn’t be mad at them for it.
This car was redeveloped from the ground up after the 2nd-gen Liberty was slated to end production, which meant that Subaru had a chance to review everything as it went into the new car’s design, allowing them to delete unnecessary bits and shave off some weight here and there, resulting in an all-new, modern-, but uniquely Subaru-looking machine. It also resulted in a very light car, which meant that although each slight movement of the throttle makes the car jolt a bit, added to its handling characteristics and braking, resulting in an inherently safer car. This came at a time when its main Australian competitors were such truly amazing vehicles as the Mitsubishi Magna with its front-wheel-drive and poor reputation, the Ford AU Falcon with its highly polarising styling and the… um… well, actually rather good Holden VX Commodore. This meant that despite only being available for about 3 model years, many were sold in Australia as Subaru built up its reputation for quality and reliability, bringing the Liberty close to the then-very-popular VX Commodore. The styling has caught right on with me, I think it’s one of the few actually good-looking cars developed in the ‘90s, as most others looked like weird metal blobs, where the Subaru went for more bold, slightly squared and well-composed styling.
A very nice car to drive, easy enough to drive daily, but a bit of fun with its revvy flat-four and floppy, close-ratio 5-speed going through all four wheels when you feel like it. Despite this being a slightly conservative effort on the part of Subaru, it does quite obviously have elements of Subaru’s quirkiness flowing through its veins and it is an interesting enough thing to want to keep around. After nearly 240,000k’s, the thing’s still going strong and mechanical parts are relatively cheap, so you can forgive the lack of much of an aftermarket for these vehicles simply due to their longevity and robust reliability that Subaru is so renowned for here in Australia.
I went for my first driving lesson, but the driving instructor told me I had a sufficient understanding of everything and that I should save the rest of my lessons until nearer the time I’ll be going for my license, just to make sure I’ve got everything right and hone my skills. I also made a submission to The Nanny Parliament of Victoria’s current inquiry into lowering the driving age to 17 in this state, as every other state and a lot of other countries have it at 17 anyway and not having a license is boring and a pain in the arse (probably caused by those damn train seats)
So, today I had my first driving lesson (although the instructor told me afterwards I didn’t need a lesson) and drove the newest car I’ve ever driven; a recent-model Kia Cerato manual. I’m not sure of the exact specs of the model I drove, however it sounded like a diesel. So, let’s get onto what I thought of it, shall we?
Well, it was as diesel as far as I can tell and was somehow smoother than any car I’ve driven before, yet this was a newer car than anything I’ve driven before (gee, imagine how smooth petrol-powered new cars are!) The engine had poke higher up, but it was quite uninspiring down low in the range for some reason. The throttle, being electric, was smoother, but less responsive than what I’m used to. Apart from that, it was nothing really special I suppose, after all, it’s only a little Korean four-pot designed for economy over performance. As for the gearbox, I found it to be smooth and firm and actually sort of liked it, although the stiffness of the shifter in neutral sort of put me off and caused for me to accidentally take off in 3rd at one stage. The clutch is very light and rather floppy, but it operates precisely and smoothly, despite the odd-noise-making, flimsy pedal…
Well, from what I’ve heard of new cars from other reviews, steering wheel feedback tends to be an issue with newer electric systems, so I’m not sure what the deal is with the Cerato. Although feedback was minimal, it wasn’t entirely absent and you can get some feel of the road through it, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a little bit scary going into a corner at speed though and it’s probably a bit lighter than it could be. The suspension was actually quite nice, it was quite firm, but still soft enough that it didn’t break you every time you hit a bump. The brakes were actually fairly decent, if a bit stiff and sensitive, and like most of the rest of the car, were rather smooth and precise.
Well, as I’ve mentioned, the suspension was firm, but smooth, as was the engine, but the interior is a different story. The seating position was at a suitable height and the seat had enough adjustment for 6’1” me to drive comfortably. The entire dashboard and infotainment system was quite conservative with no risks taken in the styling department apart from the oh-so-daring, slightly-funky-shaped steering wheel, but I have no complaints about it. The seats were comfortable and actually had very good lateral support as well as back support, which normally tends to be an issue for me when driving. On the downside, the top of the centre console got slightly in the way of my arm whilst operating the handbrake and the size of the car didn’t exactly translate to the space in the interior. Although there was room enough I wasn’t knocking against anything, I felt slightly cramped with everything so close to me, it felt a bit like a grey, plastic cocoon trying to shelter me from anything actually mechanical.
Although it was a nice car to drive and rather comfortable, it was rather conservative and the people in charge of design & development were obviously not looking to risk anything or try to make the car special in any way and although it had some amount of feeling in the way it drives, everything that could be exciting was lightened and softened to appeal to a mass market rather than the niche demographic (such as ourselves) who go for performance and driving enjoyment. This is why new cars are quite far down on my priority list of cars to some day own and/or drive and why I’ll stick with the old Subie long into the future, with its heavier steering, clutch, grumbly engine and spacious, funky mash-up interior.
Let me know how I’ve done with this first little review of mine, I know I’m no professional, but this was a 45-minute session driving the thing through the back streets of Dromana, so I didn’t exactly get a chance to do any sort of exhaustive testing. Also, let me know if you want a review of the RX as well