Thursday, 29 May 2008

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz W204 C230 V6 Avantgarde

The W204 C200K has been dissected by the motoring community thus far with mixed reviews. I found it a little light footed – with a feathery steering rack and a somewhat nervous chassis on those high speed run and during overtaking manouvres. Interestingly or rather baffling, waiting period for this junior exec from Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) has stretched to 8 months for the C200K Elegance while the Avantgarde version is back logged to 10 months now!

So it is with abated breath that I drove a new demo C230 V6 out of a Cycle & Carriage Bintang (CCB) showroom today, only to be a little disappointed. One, wait list for this soft-launched variant has ballooned to 6 months now and people paying RM300K for a compact sedan shouldn’t be made to wait half a year! Two, the Dynamic Handling mumbo-jumbo didn’t live up to its extreme expectation. Three, the 7G-Tronic seem to have a mind of its own should you want to rush things up a few notches.

Other than that, it’s a fine piece of all-new MB vehicle that oozes prestige, heritage, badge snobbery, solidity in motion and as always, creature comfort. The 6-pot is fine – apart from being a little thirsty – with mostly mid and upper range punch as you’d expect from a ‘small’ V6. The 7G-Tronic isn't helping much with the 6th and 7th cogs mainly overdrive ratios while the 5th felt much like semi-overdrive. This made quick overtaking quite labourious with manual shifting of gears necessary into 4th or even 3rd gear - to ride on the M272 E25's normally-aspirated powerband. Also, I found it a little weird that manual shifting works better and faster via the gear lever than with the steering paddles! The C230 does however takes sweeping corners in stride and will take you from A to B in good shape with the least of drive and ride fatigue.

Problem is there will be more than a handful of enthusiasts who will contrast this to the BMW 325i Sports. That’s where the line of distinction between a good and a better drive starts to appear, not a bad versus an excellent one, mind you. I don’t intend make this article shootout themed so let’s not get into that. After all, I did not test the 325i or 325i Sports back to back.

On motorway, I’d say the new C230 have enough power for that cool, serene and laid-back drive. However, you have to be much more aggressive with that throttle and throw out the notions of driving a C200K, an A4 (B7) 2.0 TFSI or that wicked little Golf GTI. Work with that V6 quickly up the 3500rpm rev range, keep it there or higher and things do get spiced up. The 7G-Tronic is best left to its own devices and never turn the ‘SPORT’ button off unless your mother-in-law is in your new C230! This little button determines the gear shifting response time, throttle response, firmer damping rate and steering agility too. So, don’t mess with that little switch (you don’t want to be in ‘C’ drive mode) if you want to beat the supercharged C200K or that over-confident guy in his E90 325i.

Around bends, the C230 is pretty progressive in nature. You can attack corners at fairly good speed until you sense that rear end starting to veer out just that wee bit. More than that, you get that ESP in -dash exclamation mark blinking away. That said, I still find the rear axle a little twitchy (read: less planted), more so during quick lane change or sudden veering input at the rack. While it is definitely more composed than the C200K, I dare say I have had more fun in the old W203 C230 V6 Avantgarde Sports. Strange. (Or perhaps I need more than 90 minutes in a new C230?) The W204 C230 feels just that bit light-footed still, with the steering yet somewhat EPS-ish. Mind you it’s accurate and sharp but it just not weighty or talkative enough.

Rumbling over bad roads is definitely the new C230’s forte, no junior exec from Munich or Ingolstadt will ever match. Seats are comfy, well sized and supportive. Even hitting uneven patches mid corner does not ruffle its chassis composure. Well, perhaps just that ocassional single rear wheel trampling for footing over that split second. Otherwise, it’s fine. NVH refinements at triple digit speed are very good while straight line cruising stability cannot be faulted. However, I found the tester not very willing to climb higher after crossing mid-point of my quest towards the 2nd rung of triple digits velocity. Then again most engines need to be run-in, more so the European ones.

So there you have it the new C230 Avantgarde with Advanced Agility aka Dynamic Handling package. I have no major complaints with its ride, handling (you can definitely get accustomed to the chassis balance) and agility overall. But Mercedes-Benz, can we have a Kompressor in the C230 V6 for better low end torque? And if possible, a dual clutch 7-speed automated manual gearbox as say 7G-Tronic II? A little less hydraulic assistance for the power steering would be appreciated too. Thank you.

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2008 Hyundai Starex MPV

A Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) can be a tricky little acquisition for most of us with a growing family - children with a maid in tow plus extended families (in-laws, out-laws and what not!). More often than not, you would probably have gotten remarks like "It's a bloody van!" when you suddenly drive up in one of those tall-ish people carrier like the Toyota Avanza, Innova and Nissan Serena, Hyundai Trajet et al. Strangely though, when you pay over hundreds of thousands of ringgit for a Toyota Estima (ACR50), Nissan Elgrand, Honda Stepwgn (via USF) and even the bulky and chunky wardrobe-on-wheels grey-import Alphard, such demeaning comments seem to have suddenly faded away into oblivion. On the flipside, try choosing a low-riding, car-like MPV like Honda Odyssey, you may get a comment like "It's much like a funeral hearse". And then there's the occassion that should you mention Naza Citra, Toyota Wish, Honda Stream, Mazda5 and Nissan Grand Livina, many will complain that their 3rd rows are useless for adults (especially the rebadged Kia). Oh dear! What a predicament.

So, how do we balance space, size, flexibility, packaging and practicality with aesthetics? (Forget enthusiast's definition of driveability) And some would even throw in the all-important badge/brand and the ever-sensitive price factors in the works! Towards this I have this to say: "Make up your mind! There is no such thing as a car-like MPV with fuel economy of a sedan, handles like a sports hatch/sedan, looks sleek like a sports wagon (think: Mercedes R-Class?), boot like a sedan even with 3rd row up and blah! blah! blah!...."

Now wait a minute...maybe there is a solution to this complex mix bag of demands after all! Enter the 'van' of a people mover in the form of the new Hyundai Starex! I must say I'm not much moved by the spate of recent launches like the confused SUV-MPV 'hybrid' Toyota Rush, 7-seater SUV Chevrolet Captiva, Inokom Santa Fe and the likes. But this is different, even at first sight and contact at its launch in One Utama shopping centre recently. Though it's Korean (you know how nasty and stubborn some old mindsets are) and it has been christened "A Van!" by my close accountant friend, I think it has some pretty nice credentials commesurating with its asking price of RM138,888 for an 11-seater Alphard-sized people mover. Take out the 4th row permanently and you'd have luggage space the size of say a Naza-Kia Sorento with 8 seating capacities still intact (9 if you wanna push your luck with 3 abreast - centre seat belt is standard - up front 1st row). Unbelievable? Believe it!

For a start it has a 2.5L diesel common-rail direct injection (CRDi) with Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT) good for numbers like 170hp and 392Nm, mated to a 5-speed auto box for that leisurely and non-commercial panel-van drive...get it?
Apart from that it has a monocoque chassis, all-round disc brakes with ABS +EBD, McPherson struts up front and multilink at the back with coil springs. Internally it's A/C blowers for occupants in all 4 rows (12 vents in all if you wanna count). Bye-bye humid, stuffy and hot interiors in our scorching hot climate even when fully loaded with passengers!

Leather seats and a DVD player with LCD screen plus reverse camera is standard for the 11-seater variant (it can actually seat 12!). I have yet to see the standard 7-seater maodel asking for RM135,533 but there is a customised 7-seater (luxury) with meeting table of mahogany, a rear centre console, premium audio system, additional rear LCD screen for DVD video and luxurious Ottoman leather captain chairs. All these for 'only' RM172,888.

In all of singing praises for the new Hyundai Starex there are two things left undone:
1) After-market installation of electric powered door (minimum one side for the left rear door) should the writer get one for his ever-expanding family.
2) A road-test which For Wheels hope to be doing soon.

Maybe Michael Bay's "Transformers" has changed the writer's perception of bulky and chunky metal form presence on wheels after all ;)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

2009 Ferrari California: Prancing Horse's new baby GT with a V8!

Due to go on sale in 2009, Ferrari California is an all-new Prancing Horse (earlier codenamed F149) sporting a roadster body with a folding hard top. Both chassis and bodywork are all-aluminium, in line with other current Ferrari models. The California will be powered by a new 4.3L V8 engine, mounted for the first time in the marque's history in the mid-front position. In traditional Ferrari transaxle layout, the V8 is coupled to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that optimises the car's performance and yet reduces fuel consumption and emissions (c.310 g/km CO2). The new V8 engine features direct fuel injection and a "flat crankshaft”. It generates 460ps at 7,500 rpm with a flat torque curve that enables the Ferrari California to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 4.0 seconds.

In line with Ferrari tradition, the new model also features several innovations. Apart from its folding hard top, these include the original 2+ concept which guarantees exceptional versatility of use in the rear of the car. Drive comfort is further enhanced by a new multilink rear suspension system. The Ferrari California is also equipped with the exclusive F1-Trac traction control system which made its debut on the 599 GTB Fiorano and has been further honed to suit the typical driving conditions expected for this new GT. Brembo brakes featuring carbon-ceramic material discs as standard guarantee consistently powerful braking.

The new sports car will be officially unveiled to the public at the Paris International Motor Show 2008. There is currently no plan to make a coupe version of the gorgeous California…but who knows?

New Mitsubishi Triton variants coming soon to Malaysia

Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia, the exclusive distributor of Mitsubishi Motors passenger cars and commercial vehicles in Malaysia will launch two new variants of the popular Triton pick-up truck this June.

Backed by rally-proven heritage, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia Sdn Bhd is confident of increasing its pick-up truck market share with the new 3.2-litre 4x4 automatic and 2.5-litre 4x2 manual variants.

The pick-up truck sales volume saw a remarkable growth with 3,480 units sold in 2007, up 59.6 per cent from 2006, making Mitsubishi Motors' pick-up truck the second most popular pick-up truck in the country with a 15.7 per cent share in the segment. "The two new variants of the Triton are expected to appeal to a wider market – the 3.2-litre 4x4 automatic is the most powerful pick-up truck in its class while 2.5-litre 4x2 manual variant is light on fuel and affordable. Meeting the needs of high-performance enjoyment and off-road ruggedness, Malaysians can choose the best variant to suit their needs – be it for daily use or weekend drive," said Mr Keizo Ono, Chief Executive Officer of Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia.

Prior to the official launch of the new variants, the Triton 3.2-litre 4x4 is estimated at RM100, 000 and the 2.5-litre 4x2 at RM60, 000. The current available model - Triton 4x4 automatic and manual which are equipped with 2.5-litre direct-injection common-rail intercooled turbodiesel engine are priced at RM91,782.00 and RM86,782.00 respectively (on the road with insurance).

The Triton pick-up truck has garnered immense response since its launch in November 2006. It has earned praises for its exceptional handling, best in its class engine performance, futuristic exterior styling and comfort of a luxury sedan. It was awarded the Pick-up Truck of the Year award at the New Straits Times/ Maybank Car of the Year Awards 2007. For the second year in succession, the Triton also claimed the top honours in the Pick-up of the Year category of the Autocar ASEAN Car of the Year Awards 2007.

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Thursday, 15 May 2008

New Naza 2S Centre in Shah Alam for Naza Forza and Sutera

Naza Forza and Sutera owners can now rejoice with the opening of the new Naza Corporation Service Centre which caters specifically to the Forza and Sutera.

The new Naza Corporation Service Centre which is based at 43, Jalan Pentadbir U1/30, HICOM Glenmarie Industrial Park, 40150 Shah Alam, Selangor will officially be accepting the Naza Forza and Sutera models from Monday, 12 May onwards.

The new facility is fully equipped with spare parts, special tools and diagnostic equipment. It will also be handling all warranty jobs with regards to the Forza and Sutera. The new facility is staffed with eight fully trained personnel who are able to keep the Forza and Sutera properly maintained. Eight service bays are also available to ensure that all Forza and Sutera owners receive prompt and efficient service at all times.

Naza Forza and Sutera owners who would like to make appointments for service at the new Naza Corporation Service centre are advised to call 03-5569 0886 / 887 / 889. Opening hours for the new facility are as follows:

Monday – Friday : 9:00am – 5:30pm
Saturday : 9:00am – 1:00pm
Sunday : Closed

SM Nasarudin Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Utama SM Nasimuddin, Director of Naza Corporation Sdn Bhd said that the company is firmly behind the Forza and Sutera and the opening of this new service centre exemplifies the company’s full backing and commitment for the Forza and Sutera. Owners of the two models can be assured of competitive pricing as well as professional and prompt services when servicing their cars at the new service centre at Shah Alam. He adds that this is not the only new Naza Corporation Service Centre and that there are plans to open at least another four such centres in Johor, Penang, Kelantan and Terengganu. He mentioned that the other new centres will be opened before the end of 2008.

At present, the Naza Forza is also exported to countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and Singapore. Exports to Thailand and Singapore which only began earlier this year are also said to be very encouraging with strong acceptance for supermini cars from Malaysia. Export sales amount to about 30% of total Naza Forza sales. Orders for the Naza Forza from the Thailand distributor have reached almost 600 units. Naza Corporation is also in talks to export the Forza to countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Mauritius.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Perodua Nautica 4WD: Kembara's successor at RM89,800

Most of you would have reacted 'accordingly' by now to the relatively whopping sticker price of almost-RM90k for a compact SUV - rebadged as a Perodua - which is a short wheelbase version of the Toyota Rush, albeit with permanent 4WD.

The new Nautica 4WD is powered by a 1.5L DVVT engine (3SZ-VE) with a max output of 109bhp at 6,000rpm and 141Nm of torque at 4,400rpm. The same engine is likewise longitudinally mounted in the Toyota Rush 2WD and Toyota Avanza 1.5 budget MPV. As with both other cousins from Toyota stable, tranny of choice is 4-speed automatic. However, being a full-time 4WD with a centre differential lock differentiates it from its 'lesser' siblings.

Perodua doesn't pretend that the Nautica 4WD is an "affordable" (read: value-for-money) SUV for the masses like the Kembara before this, with the 2nd national car company setting a sales target of just 150 -200 units per month.

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Monday, 5 May 2008

2009 Opel Insignia

Opel has announced that it will showcase its new Insignia at the 2008 London Motor Show this coming July. The Insignia will replace Opel’s current Vectra sedan. Developed at GM Europe’s International Technical Development Centre in Rüsselsheim, Germany, the new Insignia will be sold in the U.S. as the next-generation Saturn Aura.

The Opel Insignia is a 4.83m sedan with a coupe-like profile featuring a distinctive radiator grille with a newly-designed Opel emblem, a sweeping front and rear light “wing” signature and a “blade” side contour that begins directly behind the front wheel arch and glides through the entire body flanks.

This successor to Opel Vectra will have 7 engine variants mated to either manual or automatic tranny, both 6-speed boxes. All powerplants meet stricter Euro 5 emissions standards. Four of them are petrol engines ranging from a 4-cylinder 115 hp unit to a V6 with 260 hp. Mostly for European market, the other three are direct-injection diesels of 2.0L capacity in different state of tunes, producing 110 hp to 160 hp. Driveline options are either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD) with Adaptive Stability Technology – what Opel called FlexRide - which has ride and handling settings adjustable by the driver.

The all-new Opel Insignia will go on sale in Europe by Q4 2008.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Naza Group founder dies of cancer

Founder, chairman and CEO of the Naza Group Tan Sri S.M. Nasimuddin S.M. Amin passed away today (Thursday in the U.S) at 1.15am Malaysian time in Los Angeles, California. He was 53 and had received treatment for lung cancer.

The Naza Group, formed in 1974, has diverse interests which encompasses motor trading, motorbikes, manufacturing, transport services, machine tools and parts, engineering, plantation, cigarette distribution, credit and leasing, water crafts, properties, hotel operation and insurance. Naza Group is the franchise holder for Kia, Peugeot, Brabus, Hamann and Ducati bikes in Malaysia. It was recently appointed sole distributor and importer of Ferrari in Malaysia via establishment of Naza Italia. It also holds the import permits (A.P.) for Mercedes-Benz and Mazda automobiles.

My heartfelt condolence to the family members of Tan Sri, in the trying times of their bereavement.