Wednesday, 11 July 2012

2012 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport VGT

Mention the name "Pajero" and Mitsubishi's Paris-Dakar Rally involvement in the yesteryears comes to mind. Tagged with "Sport" suffix one would expect this full-sized SUV to live up to tarmac-scorching likes of the V6 or V8s 4WD of modern times.

Truth be told, this isn't the real deal Pajero. As you would have known, this is actually a hatchback-bodied 7-seater SUV based on the Triton's ladder-frame chassis. Nothing wrong with this actually, since in Thailand this variant just command a slight premium in pricing over the truck sibling. Here in Malaysia, the truth is telling and baffling - with the SUV-cum-7-seater docket prices plus its associated taxes and tariffs.

Mitsubishi has actually done very well with the body-on-ladder-frame bolt-on and suspension tuning on the Pajero Sport. The 3 days spent with the tester had me impressed how little "rippling" motions the Pajero Sport exhibited over a variety of road surfaces, bumps, braking-and-acceleration, as well as lateral forces while on-the-go. 

Ride comfort is a little stiff but not uncomfortable, so is the stiff handling around corners. The truck-bedded version tracks around bends a bit more neutrally. Perhaps it's the curb weight of over 2-tonne bogging down the Pajero Sport's agility a few notches.

Cabin comfort is up to the mark - with leather seats, lighter beige-grey two tones  and the chromed-rimmed meter-clusters looks better and that little bit more upmarket. The Kenwood-Garmin GPS though is dim-witted with latent satellite tracking and frequent errors or dropped out in routing. This SUV truck passed with flying colours lugging seven and some luggage on our road-trip up to Penang. However, the powertrain does not like to be rushed. More often than not, there is still that laggard feeling upon initial take-off and overtaking-after-a-slowdown, despite the rather promising Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT) boosted output of 178 ps  and 350 Nm. Should you want that little bit more rush or quicker dash up a gradient, you just have to downshift a gear or two with those magnesium-alloy flappy paddles!

Brakes are just adequate mostly but should you want to drive quicker or if you carry full load, you might wanna plan your braking point earlier. NVH is mostly good for this truck based SUV - at highway speed it makes for a quiet cruise despite those huge semi off-road tyres.

All in all, the Pajero Sport makes a good case for those looking for a "budget" full-sized turbodiesel SUV, despite its few little flaws here and there. It looks handsome enough just like its truck sibling, though a tad narrowly-thin profiled with a rather tip-toed stance when viewed straight-on from behind. As an urban-SUV it makes a compelling highlights for space, comfort and practicality while it can go for that occassional off-roading should you need or want to take your family along.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Proton Exora Bold (Turbo) tested

There is this often heard saying of old wine in a new bottle. Also, such old wine may have been aged longer to perfection to blend in better with the new storage vessel.

Such may be the case of the long-serving Campro 1.6L petrol engine from Proton - powering the Gen-2, Satria and Persona. Now BOLD-ened with a low-pressure turbocharger and mated to a CVT transmission, plonked into this latest Exora variant.

Although no longer new in the market, the Exora Turbo (as it is known in Thailand) still serves up quite a few tricks up its sleeve. One being more cavernous/versatile than the ubiquitous Perodua Alza. Second, it is now packed with a more grunty 205 Nm of twist to things.

In this age of downsizing with turbocharging, Proton seems to have done the right thing by going the way of CFE (Charged Fuel Efficiency) along with a more efficient CVT tranny. However, direct fuel injection is discreetly absent although the 4-pot sounded clattery, much like a DFI unit on idling. Also mysteriously absent in its upgrade is the timing chain for the cam-shaft drive and the omission of CPS, variable valve timing.

Interestingly, this petrol lump behaves much like a turbodiesel. It's coarse on initial take-off with good low-end pull from 1,700rpm onwards. Then, it runs out of breath by 4,500rpm or so. In the course of accelerating, the engine note changes from being buzzy to a growl -which will be more-at-home in a Satria Neo - to a boomy hoarseness circa 5,000 rpm. The redeeming factor though is there is adequate power for a sprightly drive, overtaking and maintaining momentum even up gradients.

Comfort and suspension-pliancy wise, there is no complaint whatsoever, seeing that Lotus Engineering has sprinkled its suspension-tuning wizardry here nonetheless. It's firm yet pliant, with a manageable roll into corners, but that's fine since this a family-oriented, entry-level MPV. No excessive pitching or dips on hard-braking, no nasty surprises. Similarly, braking power is sufficiently assuring, unlike the old Gen-2' items. Like before with the 'old' Exora, I haven't discovered the fame "Handling by Lotus" DNA in this MPV - as expected.

What is glaring though is the creaks, rattle and squeks abound in the cabin of this tester. For the record, this Exora Bold CFE has only done some 5000kms. Also annoying is the - possibly - front right lower suspension arm grunting/groan at certain steering position and going over some road humps. Perhaps this particular test unit has been abused much and prematurely in its service life.

The Exora is quite a big vehicle actually, longer from bumper-to-bumper than a Toyota Innova. Its interior is also airy and capacious. With the last row of seats folded down, luggage lugging capacity is usefully flat and wide. Once again better than Innova and of course, the Alza which don't offer split folding of its 3rd row at all.

These practical factors alone scored good points for the Bold CFE, along with turbocharged zippiness still makes it a relatively good buy as a budget 2nd car (MPV) in a family. Pity there's still some doubt about its build and fit quality though.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Toyota Prius c driven

Fuel consumption figures don't mean much to me usually since I often just top-up when the low-fuel light comes on. More so when I am using my UK-spec sports coupe that calculate insane figures like 16.2 mpg!

However, imagine the contrasting shock I got when I hopped into my missus' Golf 6 GTI which displayed an average fuel consumption figure like 4.5 km/l - for a short distance (about 3km) crazily traffic-lighted "stroll" from my residence to the clinic. A same distance in the eco-hydrid Toyota Prius c will return some 10.2 km/l. Admittedly, both worst fuel efficiency figures for two cars from opposite ends of compact hatchbacks spectrum.

This of course makes me a believer of the "full" hybrid concept that Toyota embraces which encompasses Atkinson-cycle combustion with series-parallel application of a more "powerful"-electric-motor-plus-petrol engine combo. For the record, the best fuel consumption figure obtained for the Prius c is some 22 km/l.

I'm a converted half-believer though. That's because such petrol-hybrid - being a halfway house to full EV mobility in the next decade - are best in urban and suburban slow and/or congested traffic conditions. In any situations where you can cruise past 50 km/h the electric motor won't be able to assist most of the time (unless you happen to be coasting downhill). At speeds above 80 km/h the petrol burning 4-pot lump goes out of its most fuel-efficient zone. This is what I've gathered and inferred from the excellently displayed drive data on the dash of the Prius c.

Needless to say, the hybrid a/c compressor works like a gem when start/stop kicks in at traffic junctions or bumper-to-bumper crawl. Something that might gets you hot-and-sticky under the collar in say, an Insight.

It is interesting to note that Toyota has mixed-and-matched something like six different texture of plastics on the dashboard, all of them of the hard-surfaced varieties. A bit of an overkill really, judging by the fact that the dash design is actually quite neo-futristic, ergonomic and different from the boring Vios and especially, Altis varieties.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that there are actually 7-airbags in total for a sub-RM100k hatch in Malaysia. No doubt there is that usual-whine of "only drum brakes" adorning the rear axle but there is an array of acronyms related to braking and stability (hence safety) like the obligatory ABS, EBD, traction control (TCS) and even VSC. Heck! there is even cruise control feature as standard. Some of the other things missing which I can think of is the electrochromatic rear-view mirror and leather-wrapped grip on the steering wheel, which incidentally cannot be used on another Toyota with regular behind-the-sterring instrument clusters/dials. Hmmm...

The Prius c had to be one of the lightest footed torsion-beam axle equipped vehicle I have driven thus far. It hops on (and off) road surface irregularities very easily and the tyres are screaming for grip should you flog the little hatch more spiritedly around bends. Perhaps it's the low rolling resistance green Bridgestone rubbers. You also get the slippery ice-skating feeling when the road gets wet while the electric power-steering don't help much to the overall road-holding feedback or the lack thereof. But in all, I have gotten used to it just after a couple of days and you will know how and when to tread carefully.

Typical of most Toyota automobiles, the Prius c does not escape from the punity of smallish/short/shallow unsupportive seats which you would curse upon should you decide to do interstate jaunts. I guess we must pay premium Ringgit for a Lexus if you want better chairs which are more Conti-like in support and comfiness. Having said that, the rear legroom somehow feels better (more generous) than the premium Lexus CT200h!

In summary, I couldn't complain if had bought the Pruis c as a city/urban runabout. Its revised 2nd gen Prius 1.5L petrol-and-electric-motors are still relevant and ably serving for econo-hybrid motoring. I have even nudged the 175 km/h mark with a little power reserve to spare. Returning the tester to UMWT, the little  bright metallic orange (yes it isn't solid paint) partial-EV had clocked some 400 km with about 277km worth of dinosaur-fossil juice left in its small 36 litres fuel tank.

So the press kit mentioning of the 'c' suffix to the latest Prius family meaning Compact, Clean, Clever and City isn't all bull. Especially the first and most accurately, final word.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

All-new 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S unveiled

Sepang - The lifestyle, the driving pleasure, the Porsche experience – it was all uncovered at the launch of the new Porsche 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S - codenamed s991 - that took place on 17th February 2012 at the Sepang International Circuit. This new iconic sports car was unveiled by Sime Darby Auto Performance (SDAP), the official Porsche importer in Malaysia. The momentous occasion marked the arrival of the seventh generation of the 911 was witnessed by Porsche customers, friends and media alike.

Guests were also entertained with a myriad of showcases on previous generations of the classic sports car, other models and highlights of recent events such as the Porsche Circuit Training Session 2012. Arnt Bayer, Chief Executive Officer of SDAP, greeted the crowd and gave an enthusiastic speech to start the event stating that 911 is the icon of Porsche, this is the heart and soul of our brand, this is an indication that we will continue to focus on our sports cars, with more upcoming motorsports events here at Sepang that will showcase our sports cars’ performance. The event was further accentuated with the extravagant arrival of the new 911 Carrera S, driven out by Christer Ekberg, Managing Director of Porsche Asia Pacific.

One of the highlights of the launch was the lucky draw that picked 50 lucky winners for the chance to ride in the new 911. The Taxi Ride, as it was called, gave chances for guests to experience exhilarating joyrides in the 911 Carrera S. Another exciting highlight was the specially arranged 911 GT3 Cup Car, where 20 lucky guests were chosen to ride a lap each around the circuit with Melvin Moh, one of the young and upcoming drivers in the Malaysian motorsports. He raced successfully in numerous Formula series as well as the Famous Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race.

The atmosphere of the event was one of pure excitement and prestige, in concurrence with the launch of one of the most sophisticated and technologically-advanced sports car in its age – the new 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S.

The new 991 - C2 and C2S - offers up to 16 percent lower fuel consumption and emissions combined with greater everyday practicality, courtesy of its all-new lightweight body, further drive-train efficiencies and new suspension systems. Due to premiere on Malaysian grounds on the 17th February 2012, the new 911 raises the driving dynamics bar yet another notch with completely revamped suspension featuring numerous redeveloped components.

The wheelbase is now longer, and combined with wider track width at the front, it gives way to a more sure-footed tracking and roll stability at high longitudinal and cornering speeds. The innovative aluminium steel lightweight body, combined with a raft of new components and functions, benefits efficiency and driving dynamics in equal measure. With an overall length of just 4.5 metres and an unchanged maximum width of approximately 1.8 metres, the new 911 remains as the most compact sports car in its class.

The stylistic evolution of the 911’s design is distinct from every angle. Viewed from the side, new styling, larger alloy wheels and the more protuberant windscreen endows the 911 with an even jauntier, more coupe-like character. To augment the new exterior, Porsche designers created an interior architecture which takes its cue from the Porsche Carrera GT. The driver is integrated more closely with the cockpit, made possible by the centre console that rises up to the front with the high-mounted gear lever or gear selector located close to the steering wheel in typical motorsport fashion. The classic and established Porsche touches, such as the five round instruments with the centrally located rev counter and the ignition lock to the left of the steering wheel are also found in the new model.

All Coup├ęs get by with significantly less than 10 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. Fuel consumption and emissions are up to 16 percent lower compared with its predecessor. The Carrera with the new 350 hp, 3.4-litre boxer engine and optional Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) consume a mere 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres based on the NEDC – 1.6 l/100 km less than its predecessor. Also, at 194 g/km CO2, it is the first Porsche sports car to make it below the 200 g/km mark.

With the Carrera S as well, with its 3.8-litre boxer engine and what is now 400 hp, fuel consumption when paired with the optional PDK is reduced by 14 percent or 1.5 l/100 km to 8.7 l/100 km despite 15 hp (11 kW) more power. That equates to CO2 emissions of 205 g/km.

Direct injection in the engine is now provided by multi-hole injectors, which accomplishes smooth running and matchless power by improving mixture formation. Through new aluminium camshaft positioners, the weight of each engine has been reduced by about one kilogram and the possible maximum engine speed was raised to 7,800 rpm. All in all, the new 911 engine is up to 16 percent more economical and up to 15 hp more powerful than that of its predecessor.

The prices of the new models will be communicated shortly. They will include a 4-year free maintenance and warranty program with market-specific equipment. 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

All-new Porsche 911 (991) retails from RM430k* in Malaysia!

Unbelievable right? I know. At RM430,000 for the base Carrera 3.4 it is quite a steal - but this figure is actually *before all tariffs (import, excise and sales taxes) applicable in Malaysia. Sime-Darby Auto Performance (SDAP), the official distributor of Porsche locally will communicate on the final pricing later to all Porschephiles. My guess is that the Carrera and Carrera S will be to be in the region of RM800k to RM900k.

In the meantime, we were taken on a demo lap at Sepang International Circuit (SIC) last night and it was awesome the way Porsche's new PDCC - Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control - took care of fast corners around the Malaysian F1 circuit. Debuting for the first time in a 911 series, it is actually active anti-roll bars working on both axles in conjuction with Torque Vectoring Plus working on the rear - resulting in the new 911 tracking corners proverbally like it was rails! Cool.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bloomberg names the 2012 Hyundai Veloster as "Best Economy Car"

The all-new 2012 Hyundai Veloster earned the title of “Best Economy Car” in Bloomberg’s recent “Best Drives of 2011.” The Veloster is an innovative compact coupe that features ground-breaking design, with a unique third door for easy rear-seat access, Hyundai’s Blue Link® telematics system, Pandora® internet radio with seven-inch touch-screen display and a new 1.6-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine that can be mated to either Hyundai’s first EcoShift™ dual-clutch transmission or a six-speed manual transmission. The Veloster is also one of four Hyundai vehicles that achieve 40 mpg on the highway, along with the Accent, Elantra and Sonata Hybrid.

In the third annual roundup of the year’s best vehicles compiled by Bloomberg, Veloster drew praise from the editors for “amenities like touch-screen navigation, automatic everything, Bluetooth and a rear-view camera.”

“Hyundai has four models which hit the 40 mpg mark, only one a hybrid. That’s progress for the people,” said Jason Harper, Bloomberg’s auto critic. “Most of us want a nice-driving, good-looking automobile that won’t sledgehammer us into debt.”

Joining the Veloster as “Best Drives of 2011” are the Range Rover Evoque, the Lamborghini Aventador, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe and the Overall 2011 Winner, the Audi A7.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

2012 Porsche 911 (series 991)

Here are some initial, undisguised pictures of the all-new Porsche 911, codenamed 991 for model year 2012.

Indications are that the base-model Carrera will be powered by a marginally downsized 3.4L boxer-6 (from current 3.6L) pushing about 350hp, while the Carrera S will sport a 3.8L lump good for some 400hp. To be carried over will be the 7-speed PDK dual-clutch auto tranny, while the manual will get an uprated, extra-cogged 7-speeder.

The most distinctive change from the outgoing 997 series - noticeable from these initial pics - is the rear clam shell engine cover (hood), altering this iconic sports coupe' butt perspective quite a fair bit, along with more-squinting LED rear lights cluster. Meanwhile, the almost 100mm increase in wheelbase doesn't seem to make a lumbering dolphin of the 2012 Porsche 911 - which is reported to enable a hybrid drivetrain and battery pack to be accommodated in this new 991 series of Porsche's most identifiable, iconic shape for the last five decades and still counting...

Expect the right-hand drive version of the all-new Porsche 911 Carrera and Carrera S to be in Malaysia by perhaps Q3 2012.