Wednesday, 28 February 2007

SLK55 AMG - A Merc to die for

I couldn’t believe my eyes. What luck, standing in front of me, a roadster and not just any roadster. It was a Mercedes SLK. You may still say, so what, seen loads of them around. (Well loads maybe exaggerating a little here) I took a closer look at the badge and I immediately ask the owner, can I have a spin in it.

You’re right, your eyes are not deceiving you and the badge has the engine in the bonnet to back it up.

Here is my quick take/experience of piloting a Mercedes SLK55 AMG!

I was holidaying down under and was visiting a friend when I chanced upon his spanking new SLK55. Ok where do I start, right let’s get to the specs first. What makes this so special is the gem of the V8. It has 5439 cubic capacity delivering 360 Hp and wait for this, 510 Nm of torque. Just imagine that amount of torque in a 2 seater roadster. 0-100km/h arrives at a shade below 5 seconds. I didn’t have a GTech with me but the manufacturer’s claim is believable. To top it all off, it came with the ultra smooth shifting 7-Gtronic automatic with AMG speedshift.

Now time for the drive. I got into the driver’s seat, did the necessary adjustments all this while my heart was pounding. The biggest engine I have ever driven is a 4 liter car in US, so I was really anxious and was very careful with the throttle. So I started off really slow. (My friend was frowning wondering if I knew how to drive) The throttle pedal felt very Merc like i.e. C, E class. Once I got a little use to the steering, I looked at my friend and grin. He read me grin spot on, he gave me the thumbs up and said floor it. (We took the car onto the M4 motorway) Words can’t express the feeling. Now I know what they meant by being shot out of a cannon. Being pinned to your seats and just feeling the G force. The throbbing and blurbs from the V8 and the four large pipes at the rear was too intoxicating. You could just die for, each time you planted your foot on the go-pedal.

In comparison, I had recently driven a SLK320 (older model) which to me didn’t really handle that well for a “sports” car but this newer model is another beast all together. Steering feel of the old model felt vague and too light for my taste. The newer model has rectified this bane and played the genre of a sports roadster smack on. The car tracked perfectly and you knew where and what the front wheels were doing each time you twirled the steering. We easily hit 100 km/h without even trying and since speed limits are strictly adhered I was very weary all the while. The car felt like a rottweiler tugging at its leash raring to go.

The interior is really sporty. I just love the AMG aluminum trims. It really livens up the cabin and puts a touch of classiness. The size and feel of the AMG steering wheel was just right, in terms of size, grip and looks. Bravo! The car did feel a little tight, space wise. Maybe I am just not use to it as some may call it a snug fit.

To sum it all up, during my brief drive, I just love this car, from the way the hard top retracts into the boot to the way it screams down the road each time you command it. To some extend, I felt the engine was too powerful for such a small car. Last but not least, the best part of it all, the base price for this car is about AUS$ 160,000. (I kept asking my friend how much he paid for it, but he was just too modest and didn’t want to share). Yup you read correctly, base price of only 160K. When you convert that to MYR, it is around 448K. With that you can’t even buy a SLK 200! (base price of MYR 468K)

Now how can I apply to work down under?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Spied: Mercedes-Benz W212 E-Class

By Dr Long

The successor to the current W211 E-Class isn't expected to make its official public appearance until the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. Codenamed unsurprisingly - in an ascending numerical tag - as W212, right hand drive units are predicted to roll off production line only by early 2010. Yet, DaimlerChrysler AG has been caught busy with its development work of late.

In trend with current developments seen in the new C-Class (W204) and the facelifted E-Class (W211), Mercedes is expected to standard-fit a more conventional braking system (Adaptive Brake), as the electro-hydraulic SBC set-up has proved expensive to make and maintain (costly recalls and upgrade). Electronic driver aids - ala the W221 S-Class – like advanced stability control, night vision assist and lane departure warnings will be standard in the higher end line up.

Styling is expected to take leads from the latest S-Class plus the just-premiered C-Class, with more sculpted bumpers, bulging wheel arches and more sharp-edge lines. Design cues like decked-on bonnet (as seen in the B, C and R-Class), chromed window frames and distinct rising flank lines are probably omnipresent too.

Engine range is expected to be topped by the same V8 found in the E63 AMG, being normally aspirated. However, it is still too early to predict whether the supercharged M271 all-aluminium engine will soldier on for the ‘entry-level’ models come 2010. Predictions are abound that Mercedes-Benz will likely introduce direct injection - for its petrol engines – with turbocharging as well for the smaller capacity blocks. For the European market mainly, diesel CDI variants will carry over Merc’s greener BLUETEC technology.

Pictures from

Friday, 16 February 2007

Saab 9-3 SportCombi 2.0 LPT Sport+

By Dr Long

SportCombi is Saab’s lingo for stationwagon or estate version. Launched in 2006 by Auto Eurokars in Malaysia, the 9-3 SportCombi is an athletic and sporty looking wagon.

Somehow, this bootless version appeared sleeker than its sedan brethren, looking much like an extended hatchback, rather than a utilitarian estate.
Notable features include an all aluminium hatch, passive rear-wheel steering and frosted rear lamps cover. Another creative innovation is the flat cargo bed which can be folded to form a partition. Great for packing stuffs in the rear and not have them flung about! At the centre of this same floor board, an aeroplane-shaped handle - made of brushed aluminium alloy - really catches the eye. Lift this and pull up the hard board completely, a space saving subwoofer is mounted just underneath. In IKEA fashion, this 10” speaker with its housing fits nicely into the spare wheel. Overall audio performance is however just adequate.

Suprisingly too, this estate drove nicer than the sedan, despite sharing the same floorpan (wheelbase et al), engine and transmission. It was very pleasant to go around corners albeit with that little FWD tendency to understeer. Interestingly, this 9-3 variant felt well put together with that stronger ‘cocoon’ bodyshell. As such, it is reckoned that suspension damping - and thus ride comfort - is improved too, as a result of a stiffer body structure. There is just that appreciable bit more of ride pliancy than the 9-3 sedan. Or could it be that the dampers or suspension load ratings is different for this wagon (seeing that it is heavier than the saloon)?

The turbo spools pretty quickly to give a maximum output of 195bhp @ 5,620rpm. Hardly any lag and you could feel an addictive ‘charged’ power band stretching from 2500rpm onwards. Nicely responsive and torquey in response to a heavier right foot. Torque peaks at 310Nm from a low 2000rpm, and stays constant all the way 5000rpm! Braking performance cannot be faulted, for this is a car capable of 230km/h and a century sprint figures of 8.8 seconds. Despite all these petrol-head’s indulgence, in-cabin serenity, comfort and general NVH refinements are not an issue. Saab’s 5-speed Sentronic auto tranny is fuss-free. Well, the gearbox maybe just a little slow in engaging (manual mode) upshifts during hard acceleration but still no jerks or drama here.

High speed stability though is a little lacking. Doing upper-range triple digits on a deserted expressway, the test car felt ‘floaty’ and even a little jittery at the rear axle. Conversely though, tackling bends with Saab's ReAxs passive rear-wheel steering, this 2.0T Sport+ wagon is quite well behaved, provided throttle input is metered nice and smooth.

In conclusion, the 9-3 SportsCombi is a viable alternative to mainstream uber-wagons from the other famed Swedish automaker and even that few Teutonic Touring models. A pleasant all-round family wagon, this Saab truly deserves a second look for those looking for practicality, space, comfort and perhaps, a different kind of exclusivity.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Nissan Livina Geniss in Malaysia

By Dr Long

Tan Chong Motor Holdings Bhd. has briefed business/market analysts recently that it will introduce an MPV called Livina Geniss (apart from the Tiida hatch/sedan and the long overdue Cefiro-replacement) in 2007. Based on the first variant of its global platform, this mass-market people carrier has debuted at the Guangzhou International Motor Show in July 2006.

The Livina Geniss is a seven-passenger MPV with a frontal visage like Nissan Note/Tone while the rear end somewhat reminisce the VW Polo! Interior pictures are not available at this moment but it should be well designed judging by Nissan’s clinical, functional and ergonomic interior designs in the – now very much ageing - Sentra, Serena and Cefiro.

Developed at the Nissan's Atsugi Technical Centre in Japan, the Livina Geniss will be built on a Nissan-Renault Alliance common platform. Based on the concept of a luxurious, yet practical vehicle, the model seats up to seven people and will likely cater to a wide spectrum of motorists’ needs. The exterior features a bold, modern design and is complemented by a highly flexible interior that provides multiple seating arrangements. It is powered by a 1.8-litre engine codenamed MR18DE. This up-to-date powerplant has C-VTC (Continuous Valve Timing Control) for improved power and torque. Output figures are 127bhp @ 5,200rpm while maximum torque is 174Nm @ 4,800rpm. This all-aluminium engine is also 10% more fuel efficient than its older generation equivalent.

Manufacturing base for the Livina Geniss in ASEAN will be at Nissan’s Indonesian plant in Kota Bukit Indah, located away and south-east of Jakarta. CKD packs will be exported from here and assembly will begin at Tan Chong Motor's new RM191 million automotive plant at Serendah, Selangor, possibly as early as Q2 2007. Tan Chong Motor was reported to be planning to position this all new model higher than the Toyota Avanza, and likely head-on with the Innova. No pricing indications are available, as usual a well kept secret with Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) right up to the final moments just before launch, which is expected sometime Q3 2007. Could this be the answer to reviving Nissan’s declining sales and brand desirability in Malaysia?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Brabus CLS B7 Test Drive

By Dr Long

Mention the word coupe, a two-door sedan comes to mind. That is…until 2004 when DaimlerChrysler threw a spanner in the works by introducing a 4-door coupe in the form of Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Come to think of it, they had actually done this before – blurring the lines of distinction of a body form – when they tagged their C-Class hatchback a coupe!

Well, so much for nomenclature. Imagine the enthusiasm when Naza-Brabus invited me to review their tuned and kitted version: the CLS B7. Brabus is after all a respectable tuning house with a good 29 years of expertise re-working on numerous 3-pointed stars and counting...

This stunning Mercedes-Benz C219 shares the same 2854mm E-Class’ wheelbase, albeit with longer overhangs - especially at the front – making it longer by about 105mm. The CLS is also wider, for both tracks and body making it visually larger than the W211.
Looking sleek and menacing in black, the B7’s flared front wheel arches runs backwards into a distinctive band just below the beltline, culminating in a very shapely arc to the rear. Within the wheel arches lurks massive Brabus Monoblock VI dual-spoke design alloys: 8.5J x 19”. Chromed window surrounds – making a comeback in most new MB models – lends a highlight of classy elegance to the roof-window arch and beltline. Interiorly, the dashboard looks more British than Teutonic, with a big chunk of ‘wood’ splashed across it. Instruments panel looks like they come right off the E-Class production line save for the bulging pods layout with distinctive chrome rings. Similarly, parts like the Thermotronic A/C controls, power windows’ switches, column stalks, dash buttons, radio-CD, door handles and ashtrays are very familiar looking too. Conversely, the new-design four spoke steering wheel goes into the E-Class facelift.

Window sills are higher than the ‘normal’ Mercedes saloons, but it’s nowhere claustrophobic inside, even with the lower ceiling. Seating position is low, snug and comfortable. My burly frame also fitted in the rear rather well, despite being less spacious than the E-Class. Ingress and egress to the rear – which sits only two – may be hindered by the sloping door aperture. Boot is also less capacious than the W211 Brabus K4 (500 vs. 530litres); obviously style dictating form over function.

Popping up the shapely bonnet revealed a very neat engine cover, highlighted by a racing-red V-shape border with a central ‘B’ insignia and Brabus B7 inscriptions bilaterally. Nestled underneath is Mercedes’ M272 engine in V6 configuration with a displacement of 3498cc, churning out 287bhp and 360Nm (as opposed to the standard 272bhp/350Nm). The same motor can be found in the SLK350, S350, R350 as well as the new ML350. One notable ‘relic’ in this new generation Merc is the SBC brake module plus its paraphernalia. Surprisingly still standard equipment here, despite some patchy reliability issues associated with this electro-hydraulic brake system in the W211s.

Firing up the ignition button on the gear knob, the normally aspirated quad-cam 24-valves motor comes alive with a purr. Run this V6 along with the superbly smooth 7-G Tronic auto ‘box, the engine’s sporty note – almost guttural but somewhat muted – is simply lovely as it stretches past the 6000 rpm mark. The Brabus Sports exhaust sounded quite Porsche-like with its deep-bassy growls. But after a long drive, it’s decidedly better NOT to have this ‘show-off’ quad exhaust ports in place of the OE bi-ovals, as these mufflers can boomingly tired out your eardrums!

The engine is responsive and willing. It pushes meaningfully from 2000rpm onwards, not due any inherent lag from the powerplant but likely due to the inertia of this 1.75 tonne beast. Gun it past 2500rpm (and that’s no sweat) you get dollops of big V6 torque, resulting in a broad band of effortless acceleration. Power delivery is delightfully smooth with the ever affable RWD dynamics a plus point. I call this power-refinement-comfort combo. As such, speed just creeps up on you – before you know it, the speedometer is about the only thing that tells you’re doing high three digits speed.

Despite its misleading size, the car handles well in quick lane-changes, not as nimble as say a C-Class but still quite agile. It is well planted tackling sweeping bends and also very composed doing high speed highway exits. The ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ settings of the Airmatic DC semi-active air suspension works beautifully. In ‘C’ mode there are more suspension travel, hence the ride is suppler and better damped. Switching over to ‘S’ mode, I could feel the steering weigh-up as well as a lowering of ride height plus the dampers becoming tauter.
In whichever drive mode, the CLS’ steering always feedback as noticeably more precise and sharper than the E-Class’ rack. Could this be the ‘Direct Control’ steering in the facelift W211? Braking performance is of course no issue here - as the SBC has always been – with this 4-door coupe always stable, even under hard braking.

The carpet-ride and quiet comfort is typically Benz – with maybe just a tad more firmness than the E-Class. Even running on sizeable 255/40 ZR19 Continentals at all corners, the ride is still unmistakably Mercedes – good for smooth and supple wafting over road surface irregularities, even over some nasty lumps and bumps.

To sum it up, the Brabus CLS B7 is a glamourised E350 in wolf’s clothing. It is pretty exclusive, looks dynamic and very sporty. For those who yearns for something different - mixing the sleek silhouette of the CL or a CLK coupe plus the practicality of four doors - look no further…only if you have closed to a million ringgit! Then again, any potential buyer may be looking at the new S-Class at this level. One definite thing that would likely tip the balance in CLS’ favour would be that often heard owner’s statement: “People always thought that I am the chauffeur whenever I drive my S-Class…”
Now, that wouldn’t happen if you were piloting the Brabus CLS B7, would it?

A sincere word of thanks is due to Mr.Danny Dato Nordin of Naza-Brabus Prai. He has since moved on to Porsche Centre Penang, Malaysia.

W204 C-Class vs E90 3-series - Internal Views

Take your pick, post your comments here. Thanks

Photos courtesy of Auto Bild

W204 C-Class vs E90 3-series - External Views

Take your pick...and post your comments here! :)

Photos courtesy of Auto Bild

Monday, 5 February 2007

Mercedes-Benz All-New C-Class (W204) in Malaysia

By Dr Long

Having just had its world premiere recently, it would be now commonly asked among the many Mercedes-Benz owners and fans alike: When will this new replacement model come to our shores?

Sources close to DaimlerChrysler Malaysia (DCM) and Cycle & Carriage Bintang (CCB) have hinted towards a Q4 local launch, possibly as early as October 2007. Sales and deliveries are likely to begin in CKD form too – for obvious competitive pricing advantage.

This fourth generation baby-Mercedes sedan (if the 190-series is to be considered 1st gen) is wider and longer – with a useful increase of 45mm in wheelbase dimension to 2760mm. Interior space and legroom, especially for the rear passengers, are likely more generous in tandem.

Petrol engines are largely carried over from the W203, somewhat a surprise (disappointing even! - for some Merc enthusiasts) considering that DC AG and its AMG division have expressed in a media statement of their plans to abandon the trusty Kompressor (supercharger) for a more-advanced turbocharger. It isn’t that the supercharged M271 is coarse or rough, a lot of W203 and W211 (even a BMW E90 325i owner) owners agree that it’s pretty smooth for a 4-pot. Well, maybe just a bit hoarse (vocally) at higher revs/high speed cruising compared to the 2.5 and 3.0V6, found respectively in the C230 and E280 - and that's to be expected.
What’s desired for this complete makeover are probably crispier/quicker throttle response and lower end-flatter-higher torque afforded by the new generation low-inertia turbocharger (read: quick spooling, lag-free). An added bonus if coupled with direct gasoline injection! Never mind the camless electronic valve gears so much boasted-about and rumoured before to be found in this new W204 C-Class. DC AG better gets serious about turbocharging in the wake of BMW-Peugeot tie up (an engineering extension from the new New Mini - R56 - project) in direct injection-turbocharged small capacity four-cylinders, with high output. Unconfirmed reports are that these 1.8 and 2.0L engines will find their way into the BMW 1 and 3 series facelifts in the near future. The new Audi A4 (B8) due in 2008 will surely continue its ‘tradition’ of forced-feeding by TFSI.

Having said that, DCM will likely introduce the ‘entry-level’ C180K first with 156bhp and 230Nm. Likely available too will be a higher-trim C200K capable of pushing out 184bhp and 250Nm. The top-of-the-line W204 in Malaysia will probably be the C230 V6. Similar to its predecessor, its 2.5L (M272) normally aspirated motor churns out 204bhp and 245Nm driving the rear wheels, through Merc’s superb 7G-Tronic ‘box.

CDI variants of the all new C-Class have improved engine specs too – mirroring the output figures found in the facelifted E-Class. But these oil burners are unlikely to see the light of day locally, unless and until public perception of diesel Mercs and/or the Euro-1 diesel grade at pumps gets up rated.

Pricing indications are at best sketchy at time of writing. Barring any sudden changes in automotive policy (tariff structures), starting price is expected circa RM260k but it may be slightly 'cheaper' if DCM gets it CKD pricing-trim combo right. Thereafter, it would be a nice showdown in this much-watched and keenly fought junior-executive segment.