Model cars have been produced for almost as long as real automobiles. Built to scale in great detail out of materials like wood, resin, tin, steel, cast iron, and plastic, collectible model cars run the gamut from the commonplace to the exotic.

Tin model cars, made mostly in Germany, were popular in the early 1900s. Some were just push-toys, but others were powered by tiny clockwork (wind up) systems. They were larger than the model cars we think of today and often built at larger scales. Some of the most notable large models built were the 1/8 and 1/11 promotional models built by the French car company Citroen in the 1920s.

Cast iron model cars became popular before World War I, but gave way to pressed steel models, popularized by the American company Buddy L Toys. These cars consisted of separate pieces fastened together, as die-casting had not yet been perfected (early 1900s die-cast attempts tended to crumble).

After World War II, die-cast companies like Matchbox (originally Matchbox Lesney) made a fortune with their smaller, more-affordable models. In the 1960s, Hot Wheels greatly expanded the collectible model cars market by producing different models every year and special limited-edition runs. Diecast model cars are still hugely popular today, for example NASCAR limited editions. Most diecast model cars are 1/43 scale, although they can be found in both larger and smaller sizes.

The major difference between model cars and toy cars is that model cars are scaled and detailed meticulously, whereas pure toy cars tend to be improperly proportioned and lack attention to detail. Highly detailed models have been made for almost every type of vehicle, including buses, tractors, and trucks.

In the late 1950s and ’60s, plastic models called promotionals were produced, representing cars by General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors. Promotionals were given away with the purchase of a car at a dealership or could be bought individually. Every year of Ford and Chevy was made, and new plastic models were produced as new features were added to the real cars.

Another collectible model car genre is the pedal car, essentially pedal-driven cars large enough for a child to ride in. These were produced in the 1890s but saw a surge in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. They’re still produced today in shapes ranging from classic cars to airplanes.


In November 2011, somewhere in the proximity of Asbury Park, N.J., Billy Bauer found himself in every winter driver’s worst nightmare.

“For seven hours, my girlfriend and I were trapped in a snow bank while I was driving my BMW home from work,” says Bauer, a marketing director for his family’s firm, Royce Leather. Being trapped in a BMW isn’t quite as nice as it sounds. With snow engulfing the car, Bauer turned off the engine to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and desperately tried to make his cell phone work.

“There was absolutely no cell phone reception,” Bauer says. “This was in the middle of nowhere on a country road.”

Bauer and his passenger didn’t exactly bond over the experience. As Bauer recalls, his now ex-girlfriend kept saying, “I told you so, Billy.”

Finally, Bauer ripped open his car’s leather seats and removed the support rods, “which I struck through the window to gain someone’s attention.”

Blinding snow. Sleet-streaked windows. Icy roads. If you live in certain parts of the country, it can feel like you’re putting your own life in your hands when you’re driving in the worst that winter can dish up – probably because your life does depend on those hands, the ones tightly gripping the wheel, not to mention your feet. Brake lightly.

Of course, even if you go through the entire season without risking your life, your car can take a beating.

“Vehicles and related parts can be susceptible to freezing temperatures, just as they are susceptible to very hot, dry temperatures,” says Kristin Brocoff, spokesperson for CarMD.com Corporation, an Irvine, Calif.-based website devoted to car repair. “Anything extreme – even day-to-day driving in stop-and-go traffic – can cause parts to wear more quickly than they may otherwise. In the case of snow, it’s often the road salt that causes car problems that can range from rusting to clogs and buildup.”

So as the calendar creeps closer to winter, now is a good time to take a look at your car and see if there’s anything you can do to prepare it for the cold, ice and snow.

Make sure your car has enough antifreeze. This is a no-brainer if you know cars. But if you are a new driver or just thankful you know how to turn on the ignition, maybe it’s not.

“If you’re running low on coolant during the freezing temperatures, that water [in your radiator] can freeze, which prevents it from being able to flow freely and cool the engine,” says Jim Smyth, CEO of Smyth Automotive Parts Plus, an automotive aftermarket company headquartered in Cincinnati. “As a result, your engine can overheat and lock up despite the low winter temperatures outside.”

The potential damage cost of not having enough coolant and seeing that engine overheat, Smyth adds, can run into the thousands of dollars.

Stay fueled up. For starters, you don’t want to run out of gas on a snowy day (or any other day), but there’s another reason. “I never let my tank go below half full in the winter,” says Jeff Walker, a New York City-based insurance specialist with Chubb Insurance. Walker says if your tank goes below half full during a cold winter, it can result in condensation forming, which, he says, makes the engine run poorly.

Check those brakes. If you’ve been thinking of getting new brakes or pads, don’t wait any longer. Joe Youngblood, a digital marketing consultant in Plano, Texas, can attest to that. When he was a kid growing up in Kansas, he lived at the bottom of a steep hill and frequently pulled people’s cars out of snow banks with his father and brother. He remembers fishing out a truck when one car slid past them, toward his house. At the last second, it got some traction: “The car spun, wiped out our mailbox and continued driving down the street,” he says.

Walker points out that drivers in larger cars with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive might feel safer and indestructible, but if you’re on ice, your vehicle won’t stop any faster. “Often these vehicles are heavier than a normal car and will lose traction more easily in slick conditions when the brakes are applied,” Walker says.

Rotate your tires and have the alignment checked. It isn’t cheap, but the reasoning behind this practice is that it keeps all four tires from wearing down in the same spot over time. In other words, mixing up the tires keeps the tread depth and pattern “continually changing and fresh,” Smyth says, adding that if the tires are never changed or aligned, they develop uneven tread, which “hampers your vehicle’s ability to grip the road and maintain control.”

Change your windshield wiper fluid. “There are ‘summer blends’ and ‘winter blends’ that each have different compositions,” Smyth says. The summer blend is mostly made up of water; alcohol is added to the winter blend, making your washer fluid “less likely to freeze as it hits your windshield,” he says.

Even better, Smyth adds, buy a winter blend solvent that contains de-icing properties.

Pack your car. If you know you’ll be driving in snow or ice, it’s a good idea to load the car with items you may need if the worst happens.

Particularly if you live in a remote area, Walker suggests you pack your car with tire chains, warm boots, a jacket, blanket and gloves. If you’re really concerned, he suggests including a shovel, flares, a cell phone charger and extra cash. He also recommends a fire starter and a ration of food.

And, of course, if you don’t already have jumper cables in your trunk, you might as well add those to your list.

“Water and food certainly would have been helpful,” concedes Bauer of his experience. “As would have been a tool kit to break through the windows. And perhaps a passenger who wasn’t such a backseat driver.”

You might also consider keeping some cat litter in your trunk – a suggestion offered up by LeeAnn Shattuck, a race car driver and the owner of Women’s Automotive Solutions, a car buying service for women based in Fort Mill, S.C.

Shattuck, who grew up in Ohio and Wisconsin, “where winter lasts about half the year,” says she always carried a 25-pound bag of cat litter in the back of her car – regular litter, not the scoopable kind.

“If you get stuck on some ice or snow, put a cup or two of cat litter under your drive wheels. It gives you traction to get unstuck,” Shattuck says. “It’s much more effective and safer than sand.”


The family line that has led to this Citroën C4 dates back to the ZX in 1991. It provided spirited performance and quite exceptionally lively handling, even in the unsporting versions.

This good work was undone in 1997 by the terminally dull Xsara, which soldiered on with the support of a series of pricing initiatives until it was replaced by the first C4 in 2006. The fact that Citroën replaced it only four years later shows the pace of change in this most competitive class of the market.

However, Citroën is a company that, of late, appears to have rediscovered its mojo. So hopes are riding high for the new C4. And good it will need to be, facing not only the Volkswagen Golf, but also the Ford Focus which is as formidable a competitor as it is possible to imagine.

This is also the car from which the DS4 has been spun, and while the DS3 could hardly have given the sub-brand a better start in life, its performance needs to be built upon if the series is not to be perceived as a one-trick pony.

The C4 range comprises three diesel and three petrol engines, arranged over three different trim levels. The mainstay of the range will be one of the 1.6-litre diesels, which are available in 91 or 110bhp versions.

Unfortunately, the many good and genuinely new aspects of the Citroen C4’s design are somewhat undermined by the age of the platform that underpins it.

For all the avant-garde features, such as dials that change colours and your choice of polyphonic alert sounds, the basic engineering of the C4 is conventional in the extreme.

Citroën’s ever expanding double-chevron grille splits enormous front headlamps that can be specified with some of the best bi-xenon lights we’ve tried. They offer great light dissipation, but corner lights are already standard on other models.

Over-the-shoulder visibility could be rather better than it is with slimmer C-pillars, although small rear quarterlight windows do help. A blind spot monitor — part of the optional visibility pack — makes use of the parking sensors in the rear bumper to save money. Clever.

Large rear lights are unique to the C4 and work well with the rest of the styling, which has a distinct C5 look to it.

The rear wiper seems ridiculously small and only wipes a small proportion of what is already a hardly generous rear screen.

If you compared the cabin quality of cars like the Citroën C4 to its forebears of 10 years ago, you would have no doubt how prioritised this area of design has become. But Citroën has proven up to the pace of change and created an interior environment somewhat different from that of its rivals, but no less appealing for that.

Touches such as the sweeping, single-piece dashboard and smart centre console smack of an attention to detail we’d not have recognised from Citroën even a few years ago. Not everyone will like the way the dials blend analogue and digital readouts and may regard their chameleon ability to change colour as a needless gimmick.

Standard kit levels are acceptable, with the entry-level VTR model featuring air-con, cruise control, a speed limiter, electric heated mirrors, electric front windows and a CD player with an aux-in connection.

Only the tallest drivers will quibble with the driving position – a shade more legroom and steering reach would be ideal – but the bewildering array of controls mounted on the wheel may prove less popular. Certainly we’ve never found ourselves gazing at a rival interior wishing there was more clutter on the steering wheel, particularly as it doesn’t seem to have materially made space for a cleaner, clearer dashboard.

The rear seat package is carefully configured towards the class norm, as most cars in this sector form part of a range of both bigger and smaller cars, so Focus or Golf owners will find no great surprises here. Headroom will be more than sufficient for almost every occupant, although knee room soon becomes a scarce and sought-after commodity if those in the front are not prepared to compromise their comfort to afford you some of your own.

As Citroën promises, the C4’s boot is admirably large, although with the seats folded down there is a larger than usual (for this class) step in the load bay formed by the tumbled seat backs. You must also choose between either practical underfloor storage or an optional spare wheel.


There are many answers to this question…

A rush, a thrill, a new hobby, a way to feel free and individual, a way to meet like minded people and fly to places only the birds would normally see.

Once a qualified Pilot you could be airbourne within minutes of arriving at a flying site. Just don your flying suit & boots, carry your surprisingly light flying machine, in its own rucksack to where your friends are preparing to fly. After a few minutes inspecting your equipment, clothing and helmet you get yourself ready to fly, you look around, allow the wind to raise the canopy – and launch off into the air. This is paragliding!

As a student your flying experience could be similar to this, but under instruction.

Developed from parachuting canopies, modern paragliders can be soared effortlessly on windward slopes and across country, in suitable weather conditions.

Paragliding allows for the same freedom that hangglider pilots experience, but a paraglider is more portable and relatively easier to learn to fly. They are more hampered by strong winds than hang gliders but are easier to land in small fields.

In the UK paragliding is a thriving sport.

Is Paragliding Safe?

Paragliding, like any other adventurous sport, has its associated risks and dangers.

The most important pre-requisites to learning to fly safely are: pilot attitude, competent instruction and safe equipment. If these conditions are met the slow speeds and inherent stability of paragliders can provide a safe and enjoyable way to fly

Who can fly a paraglider?

You must be over 16 years to obtain a pilot rating, although you can start training from 14 years.

There is no upper age limit although students and pilots need to be reasonably fit and have good vision. If you have any medical problems or are unsure whether you should partake in our sport please seek medical advice prior to booking.

We also provide tandem flights (for all ages) where an instructor flys for you and you can sit back and take it all in.

We provide training for people with more severe disabilities, with the help of the charity ‘Flyability’.

What can you do with a Paraglider?

Many paraglider pilots strive to perfect their skills in cross-country flying. A summer sky filled with fluffy cumulus clouds provides abundant – but invisible – lifting currents which pilots then use to gain altitude. Setting off on such a day, either towards a pre-selected destination or just drifting where the wind takes you, is one of the most breathtaking experiences available.

Most pilots will talk of the sense of privilege that they feel when drifting from cloud to cloud, in almost total silence, watching the landscape unfold beneath them as they navigate across the sky.

Non stop flights of over 200km have been made by paraglider pilots in this country. Overseas, specifically the Alpine regions, the potential is infinitely greater, and many British pilots take advantage of the paraglider’s portability to visit Europe, even more exotic locations

For those of a competitive ilk, local, national and international competitions offer challenges to novice and experienced pilots alike.

Is there a need for a hill to fly?

Paragliding is not limited to upland environments. Tow launch Paragliding is another technique taught at Green dragons. Tow Launch is the technique used in the flatlands using an engine-driven winch or land-rover to pull pilots aloft.

What should I expect when learning to fly a paraglider?

Training is usually conducted on a gentle slope in a small group of students of similar experience.

A one day fun day is the first step to gaining a feel for the sport and also can be used as Day 1 to gaining your Elementary Pilot Licence.

Whilst progress can vary, from Day 1 through to reaching Club Pilot status you should expect around ten days of flyable weather.

The course will start with explanation on how the canopy is laid out, inflated and controlled. Students will then alternately have their first short training ‘hops’ and ground handling.

When you’ve become adept at ground handling, controlling airspeed and making gentle turns, you’ll probably move to a higher hill for longer flights.

As part of progression students then learn to soar (remain airborne in favourable winds).

There will be tuition in the classroom covering flight theory, meteorology and basic air law

At the end of each stage of pilot licencing there will be a relatively simple exam.

Upon completion of the two preliminary pilot courses you will be awarded the BHPA Club Pilot rating, enabling you to fly in the club environment.

You’ll find that household chores and DIY take a back seat when you’ve discovered the unlimited freedom of the sky!

Tow launch paragliding can be used to progress faster through the levels and exams. Students then partake in a conversion course to learn hill flying, if required.

How much does the equipment cost?

Paragliders are one of the least expensive ways to get into the air and travel.

A new paraglider, suitable for a recently qualified pilot, will cost up to around £2,000. Secondhand canopies can be obtained for less than £2000.

Training courses to Club Pilot status will cost around £1100 – £1500; introductory courses cost around half that.

Apart from the glider you will need a harness, helmet, flight suit and suitable boots.

There are many instruments and other useful accessories that can be bought to increase your flying pleasure.

The paragliding environment is a great community where you will often find championship-winning pilots comparing notes with novices

If you want to enjoy the above experience, that only being at one with the elements can provide, book a training course today!

What about the weather?

Paragliding is a sport that is highly dependant on the weather, as flying is only possible in certain conditions. Should the conditions dictate otherwise your training will be rescheduled for another time.

Our overseas courses offer you a way to get a block of training days together, and are a fun and great holiday too.


Question: On buying a car, they say that you’ll lose money on depreciation when you buy a brand-new car while others say maintenance for a second-hand unit is more expensive. All things being equal, should I buy a brand-new car or a second-hand one?

Answer: At first glance, it will seem that buying a pre-owned unit is more financially wise. Cars depreciate because they are used a lot and that can be a disadvantage to you, financially speaking.

But things are not always what they seem, so let’s use real numbers so that we can come up with a more logical conclusion.

Let’s say that you are looking at a Toyota Innova. A brand-new Toyota Innova E Diesel currently costs P992,000 and according to listings of the same variant on the Internet, pre-owned ones cost between P720,000 and P770,000.

Let’s use the median of P745,000 as our price for a pre-owned unit.

From this perspective, it does make sense to go for a three-year-old unit because it will save you P247,000. But there are many other issues to be considered.

The pre-owned unit is assumed to be in good working condition and that it should not have been submerged in any of the floods we have experienced since 2011, otherwise you will be buying a car that will be a headache and very costly to maintain. Access to a good mechanic and maintenance records can help you determine the roadworthiness of the unit.

If you are paying in cash and assuming that the pre-owned unit is in a very good condition, the savings of P247,000 is a good enough reason to buy a pre-owned unit.

What if you plan to purchase the unit via an auto-loan facility, will the recommendations change?

I was able to check with a leading bank the prevailing interest rates for brand-new cars and then a car dealer for rates on pre-owned units.

According to the bank, the add-on rate for a brand-new unit is 14.59 percent (for bank clients) and the dealer’s offer for pre-owned vehicles was 35 percent.

Rates for brand-new units are much better than those for pre-owned units.

With a 30-percent down payment and a term of 36 months (three years), the monthly amortization for the brand-new unit will be P22,103.14.

On the other hand, the monthly amortization for a pre-owned variant will be P19,556.25, or a P2,546.89 difference per month.

Under this scenario, I would think twice about getting a pre-owned unit because of the small difference in the monthly amortization.

Undoubtedly, a brand-new unit will be less of a potential headache over time. A three-year-old car may require a new set of tires, which can cost you an additional P12,000 to P16,000; a new battery which is about P5,000, on top of other parts that need to be replaced.

Still, the P2,546.89 monthly difference can still be sizeable in three years.

So what are my recommendations?

If you are buying the unit in cash, then a pre-owned unit makes more financial sense.

If you are buying it through an auto-loan facility, you can go for either one, but I will personally go with a brand-new one since I don’t want to risk the problems associated with a pre-owned unit unless I get substantially big savings … but that’s just me.

I would like to advise, however, that not all decisions can be based on a cost-benefit analysis.

If buying a car is an important need and the car is a tool of the trade that will make your daily life more convenient, or even allow you to earn more income, then go buy a new car.

The bigger issue is whether you have the budget for one. If by buying the car, you will not be able to finance other needs, be forced to cut down on basic necessities or be prevented from achieving more important goals, then I would strongly suggest that you defer your decision until you have enough funds.


Collectors of antique and classic vehicles must not only insure their vehicles in case of an accident, but they must ensure they can get the full value for their vehicle if destroyed. Just like you wouldn’t take a 1938 Phantom Corsair to just any mechanic, owners of antique cars don’t get collector car insurance at just any agency. Several specialized insurance agencies offer policies to collectors that take into account the special nature of the vehicle being insured. Not all cars qualify for collectors insurance, however, and owners who want a collector’s policy also have a few qualifications they too must meet.

Does your vehicle qualify?

While each company has its own requirements, most companies require the classic vehicle being insured is not used for daily transportation. The vehicle must also be stored in an enclosed, secure building, and each driver in the insured household must have a vehicle they use for daily transportation. Drivers in the insured household must also have two or fewer minor traffic violations or accidents in order to qualify. A vehicle needs to be at least 20 to 25 years old to qualify for collectable status. However, due to the increase in automobile production during the 70s and 80s, not all vehicles from that time period may qualify. Some new, limited production or exotic and special interests cars may also qualify for coverage. Consult with the collectors’ insurance company of your choice to see if your vehicle qualifies.

Benefits of collectors’ car insurance

Collectors’ car insurance offers owners several benefits not available with normal insurance policies. Because your antique car only comes out of the garage on special occasions, premiums are much lower than for a car you drive everyday. The value of an antique or collectors’ vehicle can also vary, as owners must consider the difficulty of finding a replacement for their vehicle if destroyed when calculating the car’s worth. Most specialty auto insurance companies will work with you to establish an agreed upon value for your car. If your car is destroyed in an accident, you receive the agreed upon amount with no hassle or negotiation. Because they only insure antique and collectible cars, you can expect the insurance agents working for these specialty companies to be knowledgeable and experienced when dealing with unique automobiles. This experience will allow them to recommend the right insurance policy for you and your car. Hagerty Insurance and Grundy Insurance are two of the many companies that specialize in collectable and antique cars.


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One can’t argue about this – Halloween is one of the greatest holidays during the year. We all love the time when we can pretend to be someone else, even for just a day. What’s truly exciting about this holiday is that we can dress up in all types of clothes and play roles, which we’ve only dreamt of.

But it doesn’t have to be Halloween for you to dress up in a cute fancy dress. There are many occasions on which costumes and peculiar attire are not only allowed but expected. Don’t you love dressing up in sweet Christmas costumes? We adore the time, when it’s cold and white outside and we are at home, having fun in jolly festive outfit. There are also the theme parties, hen and stag parties, birthdays and so on, when guests are invited to join in a noisy masquerade. If you search for ideas of your fancy dress for the next party, then you’ve probably found the right place. Here are our favourite ideas for ladies’ fancy dresses.

Animals
The animalistic theme is practically infinite. You can choose from hundreds of popular animal images such as a ladybird, a sweet bunny, a honeybee, or if your sense of humour expands to arcade games – indeed an Angry Bird. Want to get the looks at that party? Try a fatal catwoman costume or a bashful Minnie Mouse attire. Either of them works perfectly. The animal fancy dress world is endless, so just unleash your imagination.

Pop & Rock Stars
Well, this type of costumes are great fun, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for popular music and if your friends adore your singing. Goldies-oldies outfit, a good old ABBA, Elvis or Madonna costume is just for you if you plan a wild karaoke night out or a your best friend’s hen party. With it you’ll become a legend, girl.

The Nurse
Now, this is simply classic. It’s also one of our favourite of the bunch, if not for anything else but for the fact that the nurse fancy dress is simple and cute at the same time. If you want to achieve an awesome image, go ahead and pick up either a braver or a more modest nurse uniform.

Historical and period fancy dress
We can’t hide it – we simply adore the 20s. You will look adorable in a tiered flapper dress or a sleeveless crewneck shift dress with lace overlay. You can be a jazz singer or a gangsta. All that glitters is not gold, but the more glittering and glossy, the deeper into the 20s theme you are. Put on that Gatsby Girl look and drive to the sunset.

Do you feel excited about the next theme party? Now you are perfectly attired for a wild night out. Enjoy it.


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The Astra is back. But don’t go looking at your Holden dealer for the long-time small-car favourite. This time around, everything but the name has changed as the Astra spearheads a downunder drive by Opel of Germany.

Opel always did the Astra, but now it’s reclaimed its prize child and is using an impressive new GTC coupe – and a reasonable $23,990 starting price for a five-door hatch – to headline for a three-model lineup that is intended to grow rapidly in a planned challenge to Volkswagen for European bragging rights in Australia.

The Astra is joined by the baby Corsa – once the Holden Barina – and the family-sized Insignia, previewed already by Carsguide and available as both a sedan and a wagon called the Sports Tourer.

So this is not a just a showroom launch for the Astra, even though it’s the key, but a brand launch for Opel. To put the new Opels into focus, they are not pitched back against Holden but up against Volkswagen and Peugeot and some of the upscale Japanese brands. At least, that’s the thinking by the Opel planners who have set up 17 dealers around Australia for the start of sales on September 1.

The key message from Opel is that the brand is German, led by design, and has similar strengths to Volkswagen. How buyers will react, especially as there are more than 50 different brands in Australia in 2012, is a very big question, but Opel Australia’s boss, Bill Mott, is – as you’d expect – confident.

“The countdown is over. “Customer choices are changing. We believe we have a product and a brand suited to this changing market,” says Mott. He promises a growing range and an expanding dealer network, but says Astra is the key. “We’re entering in segments which are … headed for further growth. I think it would be considerably tougher without Astra,” he says.

“This Astra is both a real help to us but, as a new brand, an issue that we’ve got to address. We have to tell the truth and tell the truth well. The truth is that Astra was here and it was always an Opel.”

VALUE

Holden dumped the Astra because it could get cheaper baby cars from Daewoo in Korea, but Opel is doing all it can to build good value into its cars. “I’m confident we have done our homework,” says Mott. It’s been helped massively by the strength of the Australia dollar, which means the bottom line for an Astra is reasonable but not outstanding.

So it runs from $23,990 for the five-door 1.4-litre petrol turbo. That’s not great when you can get a similarly-sized Toyota Corolla for less than $20,000, but it’s right in the heartland for European small cars and looks good enough against the cheapest Golf at $21,990 with less power and – Opel says – less standard equipment. The mainstream bodies are the five-door hatch and Sports Tourer wagon, while the run up the range goes to the 2-litre turbo diesel from $27,990 and the 1.6-litre turbo petrol from $28,990.

An automatic gearbox is a predictable $2000 extra and there are a variety of trim levels and option packs. But the headliner is the GTC coupe, priced from $28,990 with a 1.4 turbo or $34,90 with the punchier GTC. “We really believe the Astra GTC is a unique animal. It’s an attainable dream car.”

TECHNOLOGY

Opel has always done great engineering work, getting the basics right on the chassis and moving up from there. There is nothing revolutionary about the Astra package, but the various engines make solid power and torque, there are six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes – auto only in the Sports Tourer – Watts-link rear suspension and things like bi-Xenon lamps, alloys wheels and even an electric boot release and a system that flips the back seat flat in the wagon.

Extra equipment includes a premium centre console and even special ergonomic sports seats, as well as an adaptive lighting system with cornering lights and auto dipping. And the GTC?

The chassis is tweaked with the usual sports settings, but there is also a HiPerStrut front suspension for better grip and feedback, optional magnetically-controlled Flexride dampers – similar to those used on some HSV Commodores – and 18-inch alloys, electric power steering and more. All Astras come with Bluetooth connectivity.

DESIGN

This is a key for Opel, which wants its cars to stand out in traffic. Australian-born Nils Loeb, who heads exterior design at Opel, is special guest at the press preview of the cars and talks passionately about the company’s philosophy. “We are the emotional German brand,” he says. The cars definitely look good, and the GTC really stands out even against good lookers like the Renault Megane, but it’s the attention to detail that is most impressive.

The dashboards are more than just flat plastic panels, the switches look and feel good, and Loeb admits Opel chooses bigger wheels for its cars “Because they look good”.

SAFETY

Six airbags in all models. All cars have five-star EuroNCAP scores. Enough said.

DRIVING

Good, but not great. That’s the bottom line. Starting at the bottom, the basic Astra hatch feels rock-solid and responsive. The 1.4-litre engine is nothing special but the 1.6 has more than enough go for the job and promises fuel economy better than 8 litres/100km.

Looking around, both the hatch and Sports Tourer have impressive design and finishing – way better than the Corsa, which is like an old-generation Korean in the cabin – from the dash layout to the seat comfort. Thankfully, Opel is staying old-school with push-button switches, not a fancy iDrive-style controller, and everything you need is included from solid aircon to the Bluetooth connectivity.

The wagon is slightly more impressive than the hatch, thanks to good space in both the back seat and luggage area, and gives nothing away for driving enjoyment. But … there is wind noise, the tyres rumble a lot on nasty surfaces in regional NSW, and the general feel of the car is not as plush or refined as a Golf. It’s nice, for sure, but not any sort of a breakthrough.

Which brings us to the GTC. The headliner coupe is seriously cool, and a real looker, yet somehow there seems to have more space in the back seat than in the hatch. The basic car gets along reasonably, not that it will matter to fashion-conscious buyers, but it’s the 1.6 with FlexRide suspension that’s the one to love.

The switchable FlexRide also adjusts the steering and throttle response, taking the car from OK to keen and sharp in milliseconds. It has great grip and can easily cope with more power – as we’ll eventually confirm once Opel Australia gets a go-ahead for the hotrod OPC model. The first impression of the Astra is much as expected, particularly after so many years on the books at Holden.

The major change is more flair in the design, and a promise that fixed-price servicing will give buyers the confidence they need to commit to the cars.

VERDICT

So good, and good enough, but we’ll know more once we line the Astra up against the Golf and our current small-car favourite, the Toyota Corolla.


It may come as a surprise to most but I’ve only really been commuting by bike for the last 2 and a half years, or about the same amount of time that I’ve been logging rides. I made a conscious decision to do a few things right after moving to Seattle and having a fresh start in a new job: to do something that I loved every day, and to move towards a sustainable way of living. Sustainable not in the sense of being green or reducing emissions, but sustainable in the way that I lived every day in a way that allowed me to get out of bed the next day, and the next, and the next.

At first it was hard. I started bike commuting in winter. I’m not very bright in that sense. It was cold, rainy, nasty weather, and I would go for miles without seeing another person. There’s so much snow and ice on the ground that I can’t change gears because they’re all covered in ice and my brakes didn’t work properly because they froze in to the closed position. I persevered doing it, because it was something I was happy doing and something I was proud of. Each day was a challenge, and every day I got to see something new. Then the weather got nicer. I didn’t get home wet every day. The days got longer. I started to leave after sunrise and get home before sunset. The hills never got easier though. I just stopped feeling like I’d blow a gasket at the top of every hill.

Commuting by bike was one of the things I started to do towards my goal of doing something I loved every day and something that would keep me moving, but there were a few things I never could have predicted I would ever learn:
I can change my commute from just being a part of my day to being the best part of my day. Commuting in Perth on a motorcycle was a lot of fun – lane splitting is heaps of fun if you know what you’re doing, so you never get stuck in traffic jams. Much to my dismay, lane splitting in Washington will earn you a performance award from the boys in blue so I’m stuck in traffic just like everyone else. On a bicycle it doesn’t matter how bad the traffic is, I get to see eagles, otters, deer, squirrels and other woodland creatures that wouldn’t stand a chance against Australian wildlife, and I’m barely ever stuck in one place for too long – unless I get a flat tire, of course.

Dating a chef and commuting by bike meant I could have my cake and eat it too. Ok, maybe not cake, she’s not a pastry chef, but I still eat anything and everything that looks like food without having to buy bigger clothes every couple of months. Burning extra calories each day does have its benefits – I used to weigh 100kg/220 lbs., “used to” being the important part.

Putting co-workers in the pain cave is a good, good thing. It’s awesome to ride with people you work with, because you get to hear points of view you would never otherwise hear. It’s even better when they are people you normally wouldn’t get any 1 on 1 one time with for career and life guidance. But when I’m riding along reminding them of why they shouldn’t have grabbed that extra muffin, it’s priceless. They remember who I am, which comes in handy if I ever need to work with them again as an instant ice breaker.


Commuting by bike could earn money – for me and for charity. I’ll admit that I’m quite fortunate here: My workplace offers incentives to bike commute – 2 free tune ups a year, a steady stream of incentives and competitions, a shuttle with a 12 bike trailer to get cyclists through the most difficult part, and 2 bike shops at my workplace. Bribe the mechanics with beer and/or “Shut up legs” shirts and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet deal. Our gift matching program allows donating a certain amount to charity for every hour that I’m on the bike riding too.

I get to ride through beer and wine land every day. There is a brewery and a winery on the trail I take home. Actually, in reality, there’s something like 4 breweries, but I’m only counting the ones right next to where I ride through. When a bunch of us ride home for some event, we can all swing in and go to the pub for a little socializing and having fun. In summer, there are more bikes than cars out the front of the pub. It’s awesome. I don’t even drink beer or wine.
Online mapping has come a long way since 2008. In 2008 there was just one option for finding your way around if you used online software: Google Maps, and only in car mode. Nowadays, there’s a walk, bike and car mode on Google Maps, as well as various other mapping resources like Bikely, MapMyRide, Ride the city, Bike Route Toaster, Ride with GPS… as well as resources like BikeWise that allow me to check my prospective route for any hazard spots that I should keep an eye out for.

It may seem like a strange thing to say, but I don’t think I would have done nearly as well at work or home without bike commuting. I received advice, guidance and have discussions where I otherwise would never have these opportunities. When it’s a good day, it’s the icing on the cake. When it’s been a bad day, I just mash the pedals faster and harder, and I get home feeling better. I sleep better, feel better, I’m less cranky, and my morale is generally higher.

I am where I am right now because one day I decided to try riding my bike to work instead of taking the bus, motorcycle or car, and said hello to people along the way. Hopefully one day you’ll be able to say the same thing too.



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