Monday, 29 January 2007

800 km of E90 325i

N52B25 Engine Bay

Engine performance graph

Last weekend, had some spare time on hand and decided, what the heck let’s take a short trip up north. I have always wanted to see how far I could stretch the 325i’s legs. Woke up at 6am, got ready and headed out. The air was still cool so off we went for a quick bite and headed for the highway.

Before I start with my experience allow me to qualify an important point. I am against speeding and reckless driving. Safe driving is of utmost importance. What I am writing here is something I hardly ever do and was just trying out to see how the car behaved and handled at high speeds.

Took the car up to our highway speed limits (110 km/h) and it felt way too slow. I guess cars coming from the autobahn country have always been designed and engineered for high speed cruising.

After driving for about 10 minutes I decided to push it a little and here is my first observation. The cruising speed of the 325i seems to be about 140 km/h. It was very quiet and the in-line 6 engine was just humming away. The average fuel consumption hovered around 10km/liter on average. Not bad I must say, I guess the 6 speed auto did help out.

However the gearing ratio still seemed a little on the high side as compared to say the Honda Accord 3.0. At 110 km/h, the Accord will be doing 2000 rpm while the 325i was spinning at 2300 – 2400 rpms. Hmmm and the Accord was only a 5 speeder.

After about half an hour or so, there were 2 E60 that came speeding along the fast lane and I just decided, ok I’ll just follow them, it was a 523i and a 520i. I wasn’t tail gating them but the 523 just kept piling on more and more speed until we were about 180kmh/h. At that point the 520 decided to back off, so it was just the 523i and me heading towards 200 km/h. Yeah I know our speedometers are not accurate but here is my second key observation of the 325i’s characteristic. These autobahn stormers (I know, I know, a bit dramatic here calling the E60/E90 stormers but just couldn’t resist) I am very sure can cruise at these speed all day long if we had the road to do it. At speeds above 170 they were in their elements. The stiff ride on the run flat tires of the 325 just felt right. The body control and the brakes were just spot on. Braking at high speeds was very reassuring. These anchors just hauled the car each time you stepped on them. Dips, ruts and what ever imperfection were just soaked up. The car just felt like an iron fist in a velvet glove. All control and comfortable at the same time. In fact the car didn’t feel fast at speeds up to 200 km/h. In comparison, I was in a GS300 going at 160 and it just felt fast.

The 325i had just enough torque and power to play around from 120 – 180 km/h. It’s no force induction engine but you can feel the pull. Anyway the high speed run didn’t last that long and I guess we topped up at 230km/h before we had to back off, too many cars ahead. I then settled back driving at 110 km/h just to cool off a little. (Not the car but I needed it as my adrenalin was off the scale)

After the much needed recovery I then decided to test the kick down feature of the accelerator pedal. The kick down is engaged once you step past a certain point and you will feel a distinct click on the pedal. That’s when the fun starts. The drive by wire just instructs the engine and the gears to rev right up to redline before shifting up and repeating that until you have no more gears to up shift. For a naturally aspirated 2.5 liter engine, this drive train is a gem! It is so smooth, so willing to spin and the best part, it emits a very sporty note all the way to redline, very subtle but you definitely can hear it. 120 – 180 took about 3 to 4 seconds. (Based upon a best guess here, didn’t really clock it) It’s no Porsche turbo but the feeling is just hanging onto the steering while she just rips forward. (I just can’t wait to do this on the E92 335i)

After all this I was only about half way through my journey and I was like woah! Now I know why the 3 series has always been the benchmark for a sports sedan. You just feel it’s in total control and the best part is the car just felt comfortable. How did I judge that? My passenger was a sleep most of the way.

More to share, until the next time watch this space when I write about the DS (sports mode) and the attention to detail these Germans put into their craft.

Written by Dan  

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Lexus GS300: An Alternate Review

By Dr Long

Handsome, albeit a little late to arrive in Malaysia, the GS300 might be one of the best luxury mid-size execs available. This rear-drive Lexus model may have an overall silhouette – and size - like the newly-launched Camry (or is it the other way around?), but it certainly didn’t drive like one. Aesthetically, the rear is definitely more athletic and muscular even, to a certain extent. It also wears a sportier face with sharper looking headlamps. The comparison may be unfair; but there was a fair share of opiniated Toyota owners who drove to Lexus Centre in their ‘bootlegged’ “Lexus”.

Well equipped for a sedan of such up-market stature, the GS300 is a cozy place to be in with all the bells and whistles of a higher priced automobile.

What’s missing, though, is the engaging drive. Not wanting to be misunderstood, it must be said that the 3.0 V6 engine is smooth and willing, while the 6-speed ‘box is plain superb. The GS is a little light on its feet though – not floaty but a tad less-weighty at the rear. Tracking stability at high speed sweeping corners is still good (especially in manual gears) but you can feel that there is just maybe a little more buoyancy of its suspension. Not wallowy but just that tinge of extra firmness missing. Therefore, if you do a miniature slalom in it, the rebound pliancy seemed a little busy (slow to regain composure) for taut body control. High speed comfort for passengers – especially at the rear – is therefore compromised. More often than not, our ears’ vestibular apparatus was unnecessary ruffled, more so during spirited drives.

The test car was surprisingly eager in telling of higher speeds than the speedometer indicated. Your wife or mother-in-law would definitely protest more often on outstation trips! Perhaps the Japanese engineers have packaged a softer suspension set-up for our market and these Lexus Japan guys have over-reacted to our poor Malaysian road surfaces. This is where the GS300 pales in comparison with the likes of the E-Class and 5-series. Maybe the European market GS dampers set-up would make a difference.

On the highway though, ride comfort is top-notch but Lexus Malaysia has got to do something about those rumbling and droning Yokohamas. Braking power, pedal feel and modulation are spot-on in its class.

The steering could use a little more weight and feel but nothing that a wider section tyre can’t usually fix. In fact, 18" alloys would be nicely fitting for this 3.0L saloon. Rear seats could be comfier with a little more thigh support – at the fore. Also, the spare wheel cover in the boot has got to shed its paper-cardboard thin ‘quality’. It isn’t meant to be space or weight-saving, is it?

Teutonic sedan owners who are looking to switch over to Lexus’ Japanese efficiency, reliability and durability will love the GS300 for its gadgets, detailing and quality. Likely industry-leading sales and after-sales service too. But for those who enjoy a more involving drive, they may have to wait a little longer…well, maybe not that much longer.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Lexus Center Experience

Ok most of the time when it comes to review, we tend to focus only on the car itself, well this time I would like to rant a little about the showroom experience itself. So who am I going to talk about, it’s no other than the spanking new Lexus Center at Mutiara Damansara in Malaysia.

So what is there to talk about, well we Malaysians have always been given the standard treatment (read as: we only sell expensive cars to people who can afford it) when it comes to being greeted and then attended to at the showrooms. Let me put my hand to my heart and state a personal claim, I have not been received/treated this well, at a car showroom in Malaysia, period. When I compare to the other luxury marques, they don’t come close. (I am sure you know who I am referring to, right?)

The minute you walk in you notice the appearance, layout, finishing, the way the staff is dressed, even the toilets are on par (or even above) with some 5 star hotels here.

Part of the Lexus philosophy is giving the Lexus experience to its owners (and potential owners) and from what I have seen; they are living up to it. (compared to the Lexus experience I once had when I was visiting US sometime back) Apart from just buying a car, buying a Lexus is also buying into the service that they provide.

Please allow me to walk you through what we encountered. We made an appointment to test the GS300, so upon our arrival we asked for the product consultant. (that’s what they call their sales personnel and by right they should, I'll tell you why later on) The Customer Relations Manager and Product Consultant greeted us and asked us to have a seat at their cozy and comfortable lounge while waiting to prep the car. While waiting we were offered drinks of our choice and snacks which was good, then off we went for our test drive, which lasted about an hour.

The product consultant was very knowledgeable about the car. One thing which I think Lexus has done differently and to some extent correct from my perspective is that they have gone out to recruit people who were not from the car industry. WHAT!? You might be asking, have I gone nuts claiming that’s a good thing? For one they are hiring people who are car enthusiasts which say a lot more than just getting people who used to sell cars but may not have any passion about cars. The Lexus guy was good in explaining not just about their cars but also gave a pretty unbiased view of their competitors. He was ready to admit the cars strengths and weaknesses when comparing. Thumbs up! Frankly speaking hats off to Lexus for taking this approach.

When we got back, we sat, had more drinks and food (Perrier water, cappuccinos and carrot cakes) and talk more about cars. What more can I say, Malaysians and food is always the right way to go. They really knew how to make us feel very comfortable and at home, to the extent I felt the urge to want to deal more with these folks.

Yes, you may say that they are new and all that, but it’s this type of service and approach which will slowly but surely chip away the sales of the other luxury brands. To date they have sold 12 LS460L and 16 GS300 since their opening in early January 2007. Dare I add that these are not your “cheap” luxury alternatives. They are priced at RM 777,448 and RM 403,000 respectively sans insurance. Right smack into the 7 series/S class and 5 series/E class territory. All I can say is if these established brands don’t buck up their showroom, service and training their personnel better, they might just be in trouble.

Now if only Lexus GS300 drove, handled and rode as well as their competitors (they are not far off the mark though) the Germans had better be worried. Only time will tell, but don’t hold your breath.

Written by: Dan
19 Jan 2007

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Lexus GS300: An Uncle's Review.

Last week, I had the opportunity to test drive the Lexus GS300, courtesy of Tariq of Lexus Malaysia.

Before I continue to relate my experience of driving this mid-size luxury sedan, I must clarify a few principles I believe in when writing my personal comments on a car.
Firstly, I will answer the question: "Is this a good car to drive?"
Comments will include engine performance, comfort, handling and confidence in driving fast.
Then I will try to answer the most important question: "Is this a good car to own?"

Nobody can answer this question reliably unless he is the owner of the car for more than a year. Any cursory drive in a test car will unlikely give you complete answers.
Somewhat like when you were dating your girlfriend, you thought of her as the most special girl in the world...that is until you marry her...then all the weaknesses and temperaments starts to show.
It is the same for a car, a short test drive and you come home ready to sign the cheque for its down payment. After you have had the opportunity to drive for a year or more then the truth is revealed.

OK! Let’s start with the question "Is the GS300 a good drive?"

In isolation, the answer is yes. The V6 is creamy smooth. Build quality is excellent.
Handling and ride comfort were decent. Acceleration is ‘moving’ enough.
However, there are some serious irritations that needs ironing out - to me at least .
Why in the world did Lexus Malaysia’s GS300 come with ‘skimpy’ 225/50 R17 tyres?
Mind you, this is a powerful car with 300Nm of torque.
Because of these rather thin tyres, traction on corners was just not up to mark compared with the competition. Furthermore, I just did not have the confidence to drive fast as I was afraid I would have compromised stopping power… and that’s not that the brakes were poor.

Worst still, road noise or tyre rumble was quite annoying and intrusive. This seemed to be the same problem I had on my last Harrier 2.4. Yes, you could blame it on the tyres but when you spend $400k on a car, it would be crazy to have to change tyres immediately after you take it brand new from the showroom.

I am a keen user of tiptronic - manual shift or whatever you call it. In a Mercedes-Benz or BMW, when you are in 'tiptronic' mode and you hit 6,000rpm, the computer will automatically upshift for you. In the Lexus you have to swap it yourself....there is no buzzer or light telling you that you are going to hit 6000rpm soon. You know you have to upshift when you find the engine jerking due to engine power cut off. This is very dangerous as I found out unnervingly when I was trying to do a high speed lane change. I had suddenly lost power during this maneuver!

Lastly I had my close friend of 20 years, Max, sitting at the rear…monitoring ride comfort during my drive. He commented that he felt ruffled and a little nauseated …likely caused by a little too much lurching and choppy movement from the rear suspension. This he did not feel in the Brabus CLS B7 or even my Brabus K4 (even during highly-engaging drives).

So is this a good car to own?
Lexus is still too ‘young’ in Malaysia’s market for me to make any valid comments. Factors like reliability, ease of service, costs of service, resale value, fuel consumption, and the snob factor are yet to be determined.

In summary, Lexus has to work harder in order to compete with the Germans.

Written by: Peter Lee aka Uncle.
18th Jan 2007

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Coming soon: Mazda CX-7

Hot on the heels of Mazda3 and facelift Mazda6 launches by Cycle & Carriage Bintang Bhd (CCB) would be the introduction of the CX-7. Last showcased at the KL International Motor Show in 2006, this new SUV is expected sometime in July/August 2007, to be fully imported from Japan.

Sporting Mazda’s Zoom Zoom design philosophy, the frontal visage reminisce the sporty RX-8 especially at the headlights and flanks. Hints of the Mazda5 can be seen at the grille section but all of course, presented in a higher stance. Bold shoulder lines lend solidity to its shape while a neat rump nicely sums up the whole package. The rear lights may split opinions though with Mazda’s signature ‘bleached’ colourless covers. From the display left-hand drive unit at CCB Mazda showroom in PJ, the interior looks equally inviting, spacious and comfy. Dashboard and switches layout are clean and uncluttered.

However, the steering looked a little anaemic and el-cheapo for a sporty crossover of such upmarket stature. In contrast, its elder sibling, a stretched version called the CX-9, carries a steering that’s chunkier and more convincing. Boot is capacious as with most full-size SUV.

Lift up the hood you’d likely find the absence of gas-struts support disappointing. Likewise, the engine cover doesn’t look impressive too. But as the saying goes “Looks can be deceiving”. More so when what lurks beneath this flat and boring piece of glossy black plastic is Mazda6 MPS’ turbocharged 4-pot lump capable of churning out 235bhp at 5,000rpm. More importantly - in order haul this 1.8tonne SUV convincingly - we have 350Nm of torque available at a low 2,500rpm!

Therefore, the claimed figures of 8.6secs to the century mark seemed believable.

350 Nm from a 2.3 litre, now thats something

The CX-7 is expected to be priced in the region of RM280k come Q3 2007. Pricey no doubt but considering that its performance would easily beat the likes of Toyota Harrier 2.4 and Nissan Murano 2.5, I’d say it’s a very credible option for those who are shopping for a luxury SUV. Apart from CX-7’s superior power output figures, the standard 6-speed automatic would ace the competition in the drivetrain department.

On another note, a reliable source at CCB have hinted to For-Wheels that a CCB used car division would be up and running by Q2 2007. Somewhat like TopMark by UMWT, its establishment should make it easier for would-be new car buyers to do trade-ins and likely get more realistic resale values too.

Written by: Dr S.P. Long
18th Jan 2007. 

Monday, 15 January 2007

First Drive Impression: Flagship Lexus LS460L

The spanking new Lexus showroom is indeed a 5-star hotel parading as a car showroom.

Customer service is impeccable with fine mannerism, courtesy and attentive service ruling the day.

Here is my brief impression with the LS460L because there was a long wait-list for the GS300 tester.

This luxury limousine is full of sheer presence, measuring at 5.15m in length, with an extended 3,090mm wheelbase. Powering it is a 32V DOHC V8 with Dual-VVTi displacing 4,608 cc. Power output is rated at 380bhp @ 6,400rpm and torque is a bolt-wrenching 493Nm at 4,100rpm! All this glory is neatly nestled under super-clean engine covers. I dare challenge anyone to find a single wire dangling upon popping up the hood.

Check out the engine bay!

Before we drove off, our sales consultant, Tareq demonstrated the 16-speakers Mark Levinson DVD-CD-Radio system. It was mind-blowing for an in-car entertainment system to reproduce such clean, uncluttered and balanced sound! Capable of dts and Dolby-Digital 5.1 in all its glory!

Most striking impression of this flagship Lexus must be its baffling silence. The LS460L is so refined you don’t even hear its engine idle. Outside noises are practically filtered out while rolling tyre noises are almost absent. The V8 is simply marvelous with a linearity of power that attests to the cliché saying: “No replacement for displacement.”

Prod the throttle and you get creamy smooth acceleration and pick-up capable of hauling this 2 tonne beast in 5.7 secs to the century sprint.

Tackling those rough speed strips on the highway was as if they were non-existent. In similar fashion, all lumps and bumps plus nasty road irregularities are effectively dampened. Steering felt light and lifeless at high speed but what the heck…I guess such a limo was meant more for the chauffeur! Ride comfort is carpet-like even though air suspension was not part of the deal here.

Pushing the car into high three digits speed was a breeze. Due credit to Lexus for the superb 8-speed auto ‘box which is very smooth, with truly imperceptible upshifts and downshifts - even in manual mode. However, care must be taken for a LWB car like this because it oversteers easily and the rear end felt floaty and twitchy at times. Tracking stability in those fast sweeping corners is a little lacking – a dark blot marring its otherwise pleasant chassis dynamics. Braking power is excellent and pedal feel is good.

So how does this super-limousine bred from ‘The Pursuit of Perfection’ rate in the company of the new W221 S-Class and the current 7-series?

Towards this, I can only say: “The backseat is the best place to be in”.

Written by: Dr S.P. Long
15th January 2007. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Porsche World Roadshow - part 2

All in all, the Boxster, Boxster S, Cayman, Cayman S, Carrera, Carrera S, Carrera 4S, Cayenne, Cayenne S, Cayenne Turbo, 911 Targa 4S and new 911 Turbo were tested during PWRS 2007.


New 911 Turbo (997)
Engine: Flat-6 cylinders, rear-mounted, 3,600cc
Max power: 480bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Max torque: 620Nm
Transmission: 5-speed Tiptronic S, 4WD
0 – 100km/h: 3.7 secs
Top speed: 310 km/h

911 Carrera 4S
Engine: 8-cylinders boxer, rear-mounted, 3,824cc
Max power: 355bhp @ 6,600 rpm
Max torque: 400Nm
Transmission: 5-speed Tiptronic S, 4WD
0 – 100 km/h: 5.3 secs
Top speed: 280 km/h

Cayman S
Engine: 6-cylinders horizontally opposed, mid-engined 3,387cc
Max power: 295bhp @ 6,250 rpm
Max torque: 340Nm
Transmission: 5-speed Tipronic S
0 -100 km/h: 6.1 secs
Top speed: 267 km/h

Boxster S (as featured)
Engine: 6-cylinders boxer, mid-engined 3,387cc
Max power: 295bhp @ 6,250 rpm
Max torque: 340Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100 km/h: 5.4 secs
Top speed: 272 km/h

Cayenne Turbo with Powerkit (as featured)
Engine: 8-cylinders boxer, front-engined, 4511cc
Max power: 500bhp @ 5,500 rpm
Max torque: 700Nm
Transmission: 6-speed Tiptronic S, 4WD
0 – 100 km/h: 5.3 secs
Top speed: 270 km/h 

Fasten Your Seat Belts, It's the Porsche World Roadshow 2007 - part 1

PORSCHE…A seven-letter word synonymous with high performance sports cars. From the iconic 911 to its latest Cayman S, this German automotive company has inspired – as well as fulfilled - many dreams and aspirations since 1948, all around the globe.

The Porsche World Roadshow was last held at Sepang in 2003 and now 4 years later, I had booked a ‘privilege’ seat to sample the variety of Porsches up for testing and also understand a little more of the chassis dynamics unique to this well-known brand. Some advance driving techniques incorporated into the day’s programme proved valuable as we get to take the cars to the limits in a couple of simulated emergencies.

The day started off early at 8.30am with us checking in at Sepang F1 circuit. With the sun just dawning up the horizon, it was really a sight to behold, seeing the many variants of Boxsters, Caymans, 911s and Cayennes all lined up at the pit entrance to greet us.
After registration and breakfast, the welcome address was helmed by Auto Eurokars’ CEO, Allan Pillai. We were introduced to the five instructors namely Arnd Stollman (Chief Instructor), Sebastian, Matthias, Tommy Lee and Tengku Djan. Thereafter, we were split into 5 groups: Red, Yellow, Blue, White and Green - with similarly shaded collar bands to match!

All groups were briefed on the correct seating/driving position by Matthias with concurrent in-car demonstration by Sebastian.
Some of the notable pointers here include:
1) NEVER hold the steering with both arms fully stretched out. Placement of both forearms should reach the top rim of the steering wheel at the wrist flexures. As such, the elbows should be bent and arms relaxed when you hold at 9 and 3 o’clock positions. These would enable better steering control.
2) The knees must remain slightly bent with the brake pedal fully depressed. Such limbs positioning enables a more forceful ‘kick’ of the pedal in emergency braking. It also reduces the risk of crushing orthopedic injuries to the lower limbs and joints should there be an intrusive crash into the foot well.
3) The driver’s seat should be as vertically comfortable as can be. So as to enable good support – both at shoulders and flanks – into corners as well as to provide proper backrest support should an accident occurs.
4) Last but definitely not the least - the most basic but important safety aspect of all: Buckle up before you drive!

That taken care off, my Red group headed by Mr. Stollman headed for…no, not the track…but off-road. Thank goodness I skipped the heavy nasi lemak of the buffet spread! After a briefing on low gearings (Gear Reduction in Porsche speak) and highest suspension setting, we took off in 2 Cayenne Turbos, 2 Cayenne V8s, and 2 Cayenne V6s to the Sepang Off-road ‘track’. Never dreaming that we’d be able to do things like steep hill ascent and descent, lateral 30degrees slopes tilt and SUPER-sized multiple potholes in a luxury SUV like the Cayenne – all in reasonable comfort - we came away suitably impressed! This exercise demonstrated the Cayenne’s impressive 4-wheel drive capabilities on rough terrain.

Next up was the much anticipated Slalom event. With a quick briefing on how to tackle the many confusing cones, we have a Cayman S to snake around in this ‘converted’ parking lot. I found myself somewhat like in an episode of ‘Fear Factor’ because our runs will be timed. Hence, I had waited for many others in my group to go first just to familiarize better. After a demo lap with Arnd in the car, we were allowed two laps each, in the wonderfully agile and well-balanced Cayman S. The trick to doing these is nice, smooth and slow around those little cones… not nailing them or licking them – for there would be a time penalty for such errors. Our group was second quickest for the day, losing just by 1/10th of a second. Darn!
Collectively, we had wished for more attempts to improve our skills and timings…if only there was one more Cayman S with the help of another supporting instructor!

After the invigorating slalom, we took out a mix of Cayman, Carreras, Boxsters on the road to Sepang, Nilai and Dengkil. With traffic police escort in a white Proton Waja patrol car, we were made to feel like royalty or VVIP for an hour, where we just drove almost unhindered while we broke speed limits – and no speeding tickets! I took a yellow Boxster S fitted with Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB - in matching yellow brake calipers) and I have got to admit the braking performance and pedal feel is truly magical. My driving partner Mr. Peter Lee and I were initially taken aback by its 6-speed MANUAL gearbox but…Alas! It was actually great to shift through the gears to truly savour the 295bhp and 340Nm of the 3.4litre boxer engine. Even in 5th gear and with the mid-engined motor spinning above 4000rpm, this lovely roadster was ever willing to overtake the Carrera 4S in front! But sadly, it was something banned during the Road Tour convoy but for the right safety reason. Tracking stability of this Porsche is superb, while the ride and handling composure were unruffled by the undulating road surfaces. The wind-in-the-hair feeling in a Boxster was really nice seeing that there was hardly any turbulence – nor excessive wind noise - even at 145km/h! Strange but pleasantly true even in topless mode. Hmmm…Must be all the hard work done by Porsche AG in the wind tunnel.

Lunch break was a sumptuous spread of Italian, Chinese and Western delicacies with the usual fruits and ice-cream desserts thrown in. We had a 45 minutes break before we were taken to the track (finally!) and this where I was shaken…by the menacing black 911 Turbo. Thinking I would ace this exercise since I had previously done it elsewhere in Audi A8L 6.0 W12 Quattro…I was shockingly WRONG! When Arnd took me for a demo lap, I was pinned to my seat when he suddenly rocketed from 40km/h onwards - the moment the twin-scroll turbo kicked in. It felt like I was riding a roller-coaster…on a down slope!
My heart percertibly dropped for that one second, not unlike the feeling of Space-Shot ride at Genting outdoor theme park. A fellow partner-in-crime attested to feeling his eyeballs pushed deeper into their sockets when the 997 Turbo blasted away. Gosh! Imagine a sports car capable of 3.7secs to 100km/h and an equally arresting (literally)…100-0 km/h in 2secs!!! Man, those PCCBs are really awesome.
The emergency braking manoeuvre demonstrated the beauty, logic and necessity of ABS, in avoiding an obstacle during hard braking and maintaining the ability to steer at the same time. Following this, we found ourselves inducing an oversteer i.e. the tail of the 997 Turbo going wide – upon sudden lift off of the accelerator after a brief but lightning quick period of hard acceleration into a right hand corner. Needless to say, with the guidance and instruction of our superb instructor, I was able to execute a counter-steering manoeuvre on my second attempt. We were told that Porsche Stability Management (ESP equivalent) intervenes later in this 911 Turbo because of the Sports Chrono Package Plus fitted. Tasted some drifting here and it was nice, cool and fun…no wonder it is something of a cult among the rear-engined 911 owners.

Following this was the Handling exercise. We hit the track soon after a brief lecture on cornering lines i.e. tips on entry and exiting an apex of a corner. Once again we were given a demo lap each by Arnd in another Cayman S. Thereafter we took two laps each in a Carrera S and Carrera 4S consecutively - where we found ourselves more confident around the bends with each subsequent lap - around this magnificent F1 track. Our understanding of a vehicle’s weight transfer upon throttle input, braking and steering input were revised and improved upon after this ‘racing’ exercise.

It was then time for the final on-track programme where we were herded together again. Each participant could choose on a demo lap by any one of the instructor. This was where it got a little out of hand but more on this later. The outstanding vehicle here (apart from the later-included 911 Turbo) must be the Powerkit boosted Cayenne Turbo with 500bhp! Sounding like a growling beast, it had no sweat keeping up with the rest of the pack of Carreras, Targa and Cayman S. I had my ride with our Malaysian famed drifter Djan at the helm of a manual C4S…man, drifted like an insane person at the wheel he did!
One thing that marred this first day of this Malaysian leg of PWRS 2007 at Sepang must be the shameful ‘kiasu’ attitude of my fellow delegates. Some of them can be seen jostling for Demo laps over and over again…up to 3-4times even - in succession - thereby displacing others who had not even got their well-deserved one-ride to each person. Imagine this happening at a premium event where everyone is paying the tune of RM2,200 each. C’mon, grow up guys and gals!

An award ceremony was held to present certificates and trophies to the winners. After this, we bade farewell to the Sepang F1 circuit…secretly hoping that one day we’d be able to rent, borrow or steal one of these magnificent machines.

The next leg of PWRS 2007 would be in Thailand in end January 2007, followed by in Singapore by end February 2007. The screeching and screaming tyres were sponsored by Michelin.

Written by: Dr. S.P. Long
9th January 2007.

Note - This article was featured in NST-CBT on 14th January 2007

Friday, 5 January 2007

Civic Duty

Had the opportunity to test both cars back-to-back recently, courtesy of a major English daily.

Anyway, it was a mixed experience. Because beauty may be just skin deep for both these 8th gen Civics...

Having tested just the 1.8iVTEC during launch, I was naturally gunning for the 2.0S drive out of town. Well, it did drive very well. The K20A performed as expected of a Honda N/A modern engine with its famed i-VTEC, DOHC et all. The paddle shifters were pretty slick to execute, fun as well as functional to use in the twisties. Only gripe is its slightly teeny size (length-wise) and made of a tad softie of mildly malleable PLASTIC!

I started off with the entry-level 1.8S SOHC i-VTEC. Being a car that has chalked up considerable mileage - after having just completed its second scheduled service - I experienced it to be a little more refined and willing on the go. While it isn't underpowered, I found myself trailing the other 2.0S when we hit the trunk roads. As expected, the 1.8L powerplant was drumming quite a bit when I stretched it beyond 5000rpm. It just felt out-of-ooomph beyond this, like it hit a plateau of maximum output. Riding in the rear exposed a glaring NVH deficiency in the form of road/tyre roar.

I was gleefully smiling when I got the keys to the BIG brother next. True enough, the difference in initial drive was felt the moment I prod on the gas pedal. Throttle response was quicker and sweeter. Sweeping frequently all the way to redline was a joy and breeze through the gears.

The EPS steering may have felt a little light but I somehow felt it was sharper and more incisive. The 1.8 rack seemed a bit vague and wooden even tough its hydraulic weighting felt a bit nicer.

Ride and damping of both models are well sorted out. (But I don't think we should place them on par with one of the new BMWs!) Honda Motor Co. has actually got them quite right this time around for these mid-segment sedans. Handling and grip around the bends are good enough for the most of us but it's the paddles-enabled manual shifting that tips the 2.0S towards a higher level of road-holding forte over the 1.8S. All said, I still think the new Focus has a more coherent performance in the HANDLING department.

Now, why is that all this beauty - in the form of aesthetics and an overall good drive - may be just skin deep?

One word: QUALITY.

In this age of cost-cutting, out-sourcing and foreign-country manufacturing base et all, Honda Motor Co. has actually neglected certain build and quality aspects of these Civics...

Some steel sheets are glaringly thin, especially in the doors. Tugging the rear outer door handle caused a 'ripple' vibration on this door’s outer metal sheath. As such, a resultant tinny closing sound can also be heard. The windows' outer lower horizontal frame seemed to flex very easily with the window wound-down. I was also shocked to find that the rear speaker shelf is of hard (but grain-textured) plastic. Whatever happened to good old soft-carpeted or veneered parcel board?

I have a gut feeling that the roof maybe quite noisy in the rain as well since it was quite tinny on percussion as well.

Door sill plates were 'mysteriously' absent too, even on the premium 2.0S! To a certain extent - quality-wise - both Civics reminded me much of my wife's 'budget' Honda City...

Whatever said, the waiting list of the Civics are getting longer by the day, more so for the 2.0S after the NAP 'discounts' and HM 'superb' production planning in Pegoh, Melaka.

Overall, it's a good car and likely a benchmark "all-rounder" in its segment, until the next all-new Corolla in 2007 challenges it all over again...

Written by: Dr SP Long
5 Jan 2007