High five: top-selling SUVs

Sports utility vehicles are purpose-made for the quintessential Australian lifestyle.

The blend of flexibility and off-road versatility they offer are a perfect match for a spot of camping, a bit of sport and regular trips to the beach.

And it shows in the sales charts. Sales of compact SUVs are up by 32 per cent this year in a market that is up by only 10 per cent, and the boom is unlikely to end soon, as all-new entrants come in and some of the existing players bring in new versions of popular models.

As 2012 draws to a close, we’ve had a look at the five best-selling compact SUVs in Australia this year, and run the eye over a couple of new versions of once-popular models that could shift the market in 2013.

Nissan’s X-Trail has led sales in the category this year, ahead of Mazda’s CX-5, which is close behind despite giving its competitors a head start in the sales race by not hitting forecourts until February.

Toyota’s RAV4 and Subaru’s Forester are still selling well, despite the fact that new models are just over the horizon.

Nissan also has another hit on its hand with the more city-friendly Dualis, which was spun off the same platform as the chunkier X-Trail.

Here are the top five in order of sales:

Nissan X-Trail

The Nissan X-Trail is on track to be the top-selling compact SUV for this year despite the fact that the current model has been largely unchanged since late 2007.

The key to its success in recent months has been some radical pencil-sharpening. You can buy one for about $27,990 drive-away at the moment. That’s less than the recommended retail price and a saving of roughly $4000.

That’s a tempting incentive, but the X-Trail is showing its age against more polished newcomers.

It is the only top-selling compact SUV to have a four-star ANCAP crash safety score and its fuel economy can’t compete with its closest challenger, the CX-5.

The car received a mild facelift in 2010, but mechanically little has changed, which means its on-road dynamics are off the pace in 2012.

The job of staying on top will get even harder next year, with the Mazda CX-5 on track to overtake it and new versions of the RAV4 and Forester likely to give it a hard time.

Mazda CX-5

Mazda’s CX-5 gave its rivals a head start this year and has rounded up all but one in the sales race.

It has won fans with its combination of above-par road manners, sharp styling and fuel-saving features that helped it to win Drive’s Car of the Year trophy as the Best SUV Under $40,000.

The Mazda’s stop-start system and Skyactiv technology help the diesel version achieve 5.7 litres per 100 kilometre fuel economy, while the base petrol car uses just 6.4L/100km.

One of the few criticisms levelled against the CX-5 was that its 114kW, 200Nm, 2.0 litre, four-cylinder engine lacked grunt. But that engine has been discontinued for 2013, and replaced by a 2.5-litre four with 138kW 250Nm.

The other question mark against the CX-5 is linked to its diesel engine, which has problems relating to its oil levels, but Mazda assures us a fix has been found.

Toyota RAV4

Toyota revealed the look of its new RAV4 at the Los Angeles motor show in November. The new model shares elements of Toyota’s new look with the Corolla and Camry.

It will also have some significant mechanical changes, mainly under the bonnet.

The thirsty 200kW V6 used in the current RAV4 will be swapped for a fuel-efficient 2.2 litre four-cylinder diesel turbo diesel that should give the car sub 6L/100km fuel use figures.

Toyota has not yet revealed power figures for the diesel RAV4, which has never before been offered in Australia. The offer of a diesel option is sure to boost sales.

Front-drive models will also use a Corolla-sourced 102kW 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder, while the Camry will donate its 2.5 litre, 133kW engine for use in all-wheel-drive cars.

The all-wheel-drive versions are expected to offer a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, while the base car will carry the Corolla’s six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission.

Nissan Dualis

Nissan’s Dualis shares much of its underpinnings with the more rugged-looking X-Trail, but looks worlds apart with a hatchback aesthetic that has proved particularly popular with buyers looking for a smaller SUV.

Dualis is the smallest among the top five compact SUVs, but it has versatility that belies its size.

The car is available in two or four-wheel-drive and gives buyers the option of a third row of seats in the form of the Dualis+2.

The Dualis+2 blurs the lines between motoring’s traditional hatchback, people mover and SUV segments.

Despite its relative age, the Dualis beat the Mitsubishi ASX, Suzuki SX4 and Subaru Impreza XV in a small SUV shootout last year and continues to be popular with buyers.

Subaru Forester

Subaru has dumped conventional automatic gearboxes for CVT transmissions in its 2013 Forester range and like Toyota, it will offer a range of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines.

The Forester has been the most successful car in Subaru’s Australian history, and the new model should bring customers back to the brand.

Unlike many of its rivals, Subaru has stuck to its guns and will continue to sell the all-wheel-drive Forester without offering a two-wheel-drive option.

Next year’s all-new Forester is larger than the current model and will feature improved engines as well as a six-speed manual option on the base 2.0 litre Forester X, though other models are likely to be CVT-only.

The existing Forester’s 108kW, 350Nm diesel uses just 5.3L/100km of fuel, a figure that the new car should be able to better.

Petrol-powered Foresters will feature stop-start systems to help them keep pace in the race to use less fuel and high-spec examples will be loaded with technology including electric assistance for off-road driving, and Subaru’s Eyesight system, which can alert drivers of potentially dangerous objects and brake to avoid them.

We’ve had a pre-production drive of the new Forester and found that it is still capable off the beaten track, though it is more suited to the city life.

Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi’s Outlander was a top-five seller a few years back and is another compact SUV that offers seven-seat versatility as an option.

The brand released a new version of its SUV in November and it could have a serious impact on the Australian SUV market. Run-out sales of the superseded model saw the Outlander soar above the CX-5 and X-Trail to be the best-selling SUV for October 2012, though it couldn’t repeat the feat in November.

Outlander has a new look that has not met with universal acclaim, and it doesn’t offer the driving dynamics of the Mazda CX-5 or the value of Nissan’s X-Trail.

As with many of its rivals, Mitsubishi uses continuously variable automatic transmissions in the Outlander range, but for the top-spec diesel which has a conventional six-speed auto.

The Outlander dropped its flagship V6 model in favour of a turbo diesel V6 with 110kW and 360Nm.

The all-wheel-drive diesel offers 5.8L/100km fuel economy and is the pick of the range, but it costs $12,000 more than the entry-level front-wheel-drive base car and the sticker price can reach beyond $50,000.

Honda CR-V

Honda’s CR-V was also a top-five seller but has slipped with the rest of the brand in the past couple of years.

The Japanese brand has sold more than 5.5 million CRVs since the car’s launch in 1995, including 130,000 in Australia. The Thai-built, fourth-generation CR-V was launched last month and is available for the first time with two-wheel-drive.

A 2.0-litre, 114kW four-cylinder motor puts power to the front wheels in the base CR-V, while a stronger 2.4-litre, 140kW engine gets four-wheel-drive models moving.

The new CR-V is about small changes under the skin rather than a revolutionary new approach to soft-roading.

It’s an approach that should be safe with buyers, who will have to make do without features such as stop-start fuel-saving technology that give competitors a green edge.

The five best-selling compact SUVs for 2012, and the deals manufacturers are offering:

* Drive away pricing for private owners in Sydney.

** Plus on-road and dealer costs

For more car reviews, video and news download the free Drive app. It updates every Friday with seven pages of fresh content from the Drive team.

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How to smile

The festive season brings with it a few inevitabilities – indulgence in delicious food, annoying Christmas carols, and giving or receiving an unwanted present.

And then there’s the Unhappy Snappee.

Every family has one – the person who refuses to smile for the birdie, looks sternly at the lens, or barks at anyone even attempting to include them in a picture.

How to get them involved in a happy snap or two as part of Christmas celebrations?

“The key is to relax,” according to photographer Alex Kennison from Savvy Studios.

“But some people will always be uptight and nervous in front of the camera – generally those people have had bad photos taken by friends and family all their lives and are now a bit paranoid.”

Kennison says that in that case, candid photographs will always look better than forced smiles.

“Try getting the kids to take photographs. Kids are often less threatening than adults … and Nanna will always smile for the grandkids.”

Kennison photographs weddings, parties, anything, and has some helpful hints for both the subject and the photographer.

Tips for the subjectTake fewer “selfies” – ie, self-portraits with your smartphone camera. Kennison says such photos are actually taken at an unflattering angle, because the phones’ wide-angle lenses distort your features. “Everyone’s so used to taking selfies, they’re used to looking like that.” Instead, get someone to use a proper camera from a distance, and zoom in on your face for a more natural, flattering angle.If you can, find a close friend or family member, someone you trust, to take the photo. It will help you feel more relaxed.If you’re worried about a double (or triple!) chin, position your body side on to the camera, then turn your head back towards it, looking slightly upwards. The movement stretches your neck and creates a more defined jawline.Smile with your eyes. This is crucial, according to Kennison, particularly if you worry about your teeth. “You can smile with your mouth closed and it still works, as long as you have smiling eyes.”If you’re really nervous, try having a little drink. “People will be more inclined to smile and enjoy themselves in front of the camera with a little bit of alcohol in their system.” But that is NOT carte blanche as Kennison says things can get ugly fast. “Half the time they’ve got their eyes closed, or they’re falling over. I’ve almost lost equipment.”

Tips for the photographerEngage the subject in banter. Try to find out things about them, or ask them to share memories or stories. Recalling details will ease their nerves, and provoke emotion, which then comes through their expression.Make jokes. Kennison suggests Borat impressions, or asking everybody to say “knickers!” instead of “cheese”. “Bad dad jokes like that really work well.”Focus on the image as a whole – foreground, background, the emotion of the subject, relationships between the subjects if there are more than one – it will help the subject realise you are not focusing on their perceived physical flaws.It’s the person who takes the photo, not the camera. If you invest in a good quality dSLR camera, put in some time learning how to use its settings. “The appreciation of the art of photography has been lost in this digital age,” says Kennison.

Toothy grins

If you don’t smile because you’re worried about exposing your teeth, Andrew Wong from the Australian Dental Association Queensland says it may be time to visit a dentist.

“The vast majority of dental problems are preventable,” says the Ipswich-based dentist, recommending brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, getting six-monthly check-ups and maintaining a healthy diet with limited sugar and acid.

“Keeping the levels of bacteria in the mouth low can prevent periodontal or gum disease, which reduces the body’s ability to fight infection,” says Dr Wong.

Smoking not only stains your teeth yellow, but can cause oral cancers. It’s another good reason to quit.

Tooth-whitening is an option to improve colour, but it’s recommended to do it through a dentist to ensure the right application of chemical lighteners.

Composite fillings can be used for minor chips and cracks; composite or porcelain veneers for more severe fractures or discolourations.

“Crowns can be put over teeth to strengthen them and change their shape, but we only do that if the tooth is badly broken down,” says Dr Wong.

Orthodontics is another way of improving your smile, with the old-school metal mashers replaced with clear brackets, or even braces that attach to the inside of your teeth. Sequential aligners are a series of clear moulds that the wearer changes frequently to slowly move their teeth into a more desired position.

Dr Wong says while many remain scared of the dentist, a large number of procedures these days are relatively painless.

“It’s important for you to establish what you want with your smile, and to make sure the dentist understands and can deliver that,” he says.

“And always try the most conservative treatment first.”

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Synthetic drugs warning

Queenslanders have been warned of the increasing risk posed by synthetic drugs, particularly cannabis and amphetamine varieties.

In a new report on the illicit drug market by the Crime and Misconduct Commission, methylamphetamines (in some forms known as “gooey” or “ice”) and MDMA (known as ecstasy) are re-emerging as the major problems in Queensland.

Most methylamphetamine in Queensland is produced domestically in illegal drug labs, using “precursor chemicals” imported from China, Thailand, Cambodia and India.

Queensland has Australia’s major problem with illicit drug labs – with 50 per cent of Australia’s drug labs exposed in Queensland.

While traditional cannabis and heroin are losing their appeal, cocaine has increased as a drug threat for the first time since 2004.

Queensland still has an established heroin market, with the most concentrated activity occurring in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

The supply of heroin in Queensland relies heavily on links to Sydney and Melbourne.

But the study warns the emerging trend is for “synthetic” drugs, which mimic the effect of ecstasy and amphetamines.

“Tablets marketed as ‘ecstasy’ may contain a range of harmful substances other than MDMA including piperazines and drug analogues,” the report says.

“One of the most harmful substances found in ‘ecstasy’ tablets has been the highly toxic PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine), which has been linked to deaths.”

The trends are revealed in the CMC’s latest research, released on Friday, on the eve of one of the biggest user periods of recreational drugs, the Christmas-New Year period.

The CMC’s assistant commissioner, crime, Kathleen Florian, said they believed organised crime was targeting “niche” markets to improve profits.

“The most pervasive form of organised crime activity in Queensland is the sale and distribution of illicit drugs,” Ms Florian said.

She said organised crime groups were identifying “niche markets” and then targeting vulnerable user groups or regions.

“They rarely focus on one commodity and will seek alternative suppliers to meet demand, often mixing drugs with a range of highly toxic or untested substances, which means taking any of them can be like playing Russian roulette.”

It warns that synthetic drugs that mimic the effect of ecstasy and amphetamines are now being detected by police.

The study, Illicit Drug Markets 2012, shows:Methylamphetamine type stimulants are now rated a “very high” risk.Pharmaceuticals have jumped from a “low” risk to almost a “high” risk in three years.Synthetic cannabis and synthetic stimulants have jumped from “low” to “high” risk in three years.Performance and “image-enhancing” drugs have appeared as a “medium” threat.Traditional cannabis and heroin are still rated as “high” threats, but are declining.Cocaine is increasing for the first time since 2004 from a “medium” to a “high” threat.

Cannabis or old-fashioned marijuana is still the major drug problem in Queensland by volume, and is a major problem in some north Queensland indigenous communities. It is widely viewed as a “background” drug, used with many other pills, amphetamines or “harder” drugs.

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Merry Hoffmas from Supanova

Actor and singer David Hasselhoff is coming to SupaNova Gold Coast in April.Dust off your red speedos, fire up your talking car – David Hasselhoff is coming to town.

The star of Baywatch, Knight Rider and that infamous drunken cheeseburger YouTube video has been announced as special guest for the 2013 Supanova event on the Gold Coast in April.

The Hoff was a TV institution in the 80s as Michael Knight, crime-fighting partner of K.I.T.T the talking Trans Am in Knight Rider.

He hit mega-stardom in the early ’90s as Mitch Buchannon on Baywatch, the chief lifeguard at a Los Angeles beach that featured pneumatically-enhanced lady lifeguards who ran in slow motion and delivered CPR on an alarmingly frequent basis.

More recently, the 60-year-old’s appeared as himself in a number of movies and TV shows, showing a good sense of humour about his own celebrity status.

He’s been a judge on Dancing With the Stars, America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent, and has appeared in a number of stage musicals, including Chicago in London’s West End and Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway.

The Hoff was particularly popular as a singer in Germany, and even sang his single Looking for Freedom on the partly-demolished Berlin Wall on New Year’s Eve 1989, while wearing a flashing jacket, which was the style at the time.

That same song will feature on the soundtrack of the upcoming movie adaptation of the epic Cloud Atlas, which indicates if nothing else that the Wachowskis have a great sense of humour.

If you don’t think The Hoff has enough geek cred for Supanova, may we draw your attention to a 1998 telemovie called Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

That’s right, The Hoff was Nick Fury BEFORE Samuel L. Jackson.

Coincidentally, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. starred Garry Chalk, who will also be coming out as a Supanova Supastar. His cartoon cred extends to voicing Optimus Prime in the Transformers series of the 1990s.

Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Natalie Tena (Tonks in Harry Potter and Osha in Game of Thrones) are also heading our way for the pop culture festival, which runs April 20 and 21 at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.

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Businesses are very much appreciated

Ian Saunders is quick topoint out that sponsorship by local businesses is very much appreciated and needsto be made public and acknowledged at every opportunity. Last week it wasTransfield Services with the donation of two new boards and this week GerryMaguire from GJ Gardner Homes came up with a hefty donation of $2500.

GJ Gardner Homes were keen toget involved in a community based organisation and since Gerry has history withEsperance Goldfields SLSC it was a logical choice. His children Jake and Elliewere members from 2000 to 2006 and Gerry helped run juniors during those years.Last year Gerry organised $500 to help out to repair skis. This year histhoughts were to donate a percentage of houses sold during the months of Maythrough to December. Thus he was keen to present the monies to Ian Saunders asthe President of Esperance Goldfields SLSC, last Sunday and the sum of $2500.

The AJ Read Marathon was runon Sunday under magnificent conditions. Ian Saunders stepped in the starter’sbox this week explaining the rules and the course. This was a 500 metre swim,200 metre wade followed by a 1000 metre run by individuals or teams. In theindividuals, the gazelle Lucy Oorschot, showing true grit and determinationtook out first place with Sharon Henning second. The old man of triathlonsGraham Donovan led the men’s brigade first home. The team’s results saw thecombination of Sean Hazeldean and Cameron Saunders in first place. Specialmention goes to the team of Jack Oorschot, Angus Barter and Lachlan “TheRocket” Kerr for finishing a well deserved third place. We look forward to nextweek’s Ian Saunders Memorial Swim ?

The young rowers had achallenging experience at the Navy Series at Port Bouvard last weekend. But;but with Oversby and Brien as sharing the “chief de mission” duties one wouldhave considered that a pre requisite when towing a trailer would be to bringthe spare tyre? Imagine this. 10 pm Sunday night, 8 km out of Ravensthorpe,tyre blows, rubber peels off rim, sparks fly. Ask the “chief de missions” thisSunday what happened next?

This Sunday sees Santadropping in for a lightening visit, the Chrismas Cake Regatta and the IntraPatrol Challenge. We’ll all need to Monday off to recover!

this week Gerry Maguire from GJ Gardner Homes came up with a hefty donation of $2500.

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