Saturday, 29 August 2009

Switch to RON95 and RON97 status quo petrol in Malaysia: Short changing the motorists!

While most of us will rejoice saving 5 sen per litre switching from RON97 to RON95, it is utterly demoralising and short-changing-the-consumers that the previously 'true' premium grade that the govt will ultimately subject to 'market float' pricing remains at RON 97 octane level. Come Sept 1, this grade will be RM2.00 per litre or higher...AND likely subject to world crude price fluctuation.

I have noted that in MTM online forum that the VW Golf GTI Mk5 (pre-May '09 batches) undeniably requires RON98. Do not forget about the scores of other high performance makes like the Civic Type-R, Evo X, Porsche Boxster/Cayman /911, Subaru Impreza WRX STI (needs RON100 actually!), Mitsubishi Colt Turbo, Toyota Caldina, Mazda RX-8, Merc AMG series, BMW M cars, Audi with TFSI engines, Nissan GT-R etc.

True, the numbers of these 'luxury' imported sport (or sportier) makes may be relatively negligible. My contention is that if the authority were to make these 'rich' owners pay more for high-grade premium petrol, wouldn't it be fairer to make an upgrade to truly premium grade of RON98 or even RON99?

Makes me wonder, is there any way that we can 'influence' and appeal to the policy makers? It may be late now, but perhaps it is possible to make a 2nd round change in the future, this time to the higher octane grade available at our fuel pumps, for which we are made to pay more for? As it is we have already paid through our noses for all the imports tariffs, APs and even excise duty in order to get this higher performance makes, be it official or parallel imports (CBU)!!!

Update: As of Sept.1 2009, RON95 petrol is priced higher than expected at RM1.80 per litre while RON97 suffered a 25 sen hike to RM2.05 per litre.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

First Drive: Nissan R35 GT-R

Nissan has upset the pecking order of supercars since the world debut of its R35 GT-R in 2007, even without factoring in the bang-for-bucks factor. In Malaysia, a 2008 model can be had for as ‘little’ as RM600k – 650k, brand new, unused and unregistered. For the money of a Porsche Cayman S, you can have something quicker than a Porsche 911 Turbo (Tiptronic S). Of course, many will argue that the R35 is still a Nissan at the end of the day. Undeniably, the latter is nothing less than Stuttgart’s finest sportcar, an iconic 911 model at that, wearing that solid Porsche badge, rich with racing heritage et al. Well, think about being able to buy two new GT-Rs for the price of one new 911 Turbo, maybe this will put things in better perspective. But is the GT-R as engaging as a 911? Admittedly, I am not an authority on that, since the last time I drove a 997 Turbo was at the Porsche World Roadshow at Sepang F1 Circuit in 2007. Anyway, here’s my brief driving impression of the R35 GT-R at a local parallel importer recently.

Cranking up the V6 is definitely milder versus Porsche’s boxer-6. Heck! Even a 3.4L Cayman S is more melodramatic! No sense of occasion even as you prodded the gas pedal, rousing the engine from idle. Cool and calm, reminding one of a Nissan Sylphy! On the move – at crawling speed - the twin-clutch tranny was a tad jerky in a latchy kind of way but you can feel the horses underneath the front bonnet waiting to be unleashed. Once after a traffic light, all hell broke loose as it ‘teleported’ into a small spot between two cars in an overtaking manoeuvre. Yes! In a GT-R, set your mind to any small crevice in congested traffic, stoke the throttle and with small inputs at the steering, you are already away and safely tucked ahead. Believe me, it’s that easy and effortless, in that proverbial cliché: blink of an eye.

Approaching a right-hander positive gradient ram, the GT-R hit 140km/h faster than you can say “Nissan GT-R” and I was soon negotiating a sweeping corner, with no time to slow down or think for that matter. It’s amazingly planted and fuss-free around bends, what’s more with the sticky, semi-slick standard issue 20” Bridgestone Potenza RE070R. Naturally, with all that electronics-laden drivetrain and suspension trickery, it makes you want to go faster with ever increasing confidence. In other words, you do not feel the speed in an R35 GT-R. Onto a straight then on, it was blistering quick approaching JDM limiter top speed but I eased off seeing that this ‘tester’ had hardly 30km on its odometer. Still not much sound from the engine up front, with just some huff-puff from the rear mufflers, mimicking a mid-engine rumble, or is it just my clouded perception from all that warp speed? And I was nowhere near flicking switches into the more wicked “R” settings for its sportier suspension and throttle mapping. Seeing that my close associate will likely buy this test unit, we decided to turn back to the showroom and not subject it to further premature abuse.

There you have it, my first drive in a new Nissan GT-R. It’s very rapid, highly responsive, tenaciously grippy and absolutely awesome on the road. While the overall feedback was relatively muted somewhat, it gets an extreme boy racer’s job done, ruthlessly cold and calculated. I can’t help but feel that the GT-R is exceptionally capable to the extent of being a tad too clinical in its execution of speed, handling and tactile feedbacks. A smidgen too synthetic, you might say, a little akin to virtual driving in video games, I reckoned. However, things may be different should I get to drive this GT-R again a few months down the road, with its twin turbocharged VR38DETT lump (480 bhp/588 Nm) more run-in, going for perhaps more distant interstate jaunts and/or uphill to Bukit Tinggi or Ulu Yam. I just gotta make sure I have a stiff cup of coffee beforehand…in black preferably!

NST-Maybank Car of The Year 2009 Nominees

As we edge towards the end of the year, the list of NST-Maybank COTY 2009 nominees grows longer.

This list is not final though. As the judges sit down for their meetings, the list can either grow longer or shorter.

Judges will debate on the nominees, and according to the last meeting held on July 28 2009, it has been decided that all minor facelift models should not be enlisted again.

As for model variants, the judges have agreed that all variants should be included, and the judges will judge them individually. This is a good move as some of the model variants offer very good value for money, an area deemed very important in our domestic market as our cars are rarely cheap.

For cars that are not tested (no test car for example), they will still be in the final list but with a note to explain that the cars were not tested.

Below is the list, last updated on July 31, 2009:

A- Entry Level Car
Chana Era CV6
Perodua Viva Elite
Hyundai i10

B- Premium Small Car
Fiat 500
Honda City 1.5L Grade S
Honda City 1.5L Grade E
Toyota Vios 1.5 TRD Sportivo (with TRD suspension)
Alfa Romeo Mito

C- Family Car
Chery A520 2.0
Ford Focus 2.0L Sport
Ford Focus 2.0L Ghia
Fiat Bravo Duologic
Nissan Sylphy Impul 2.0L
Hyundai i30 1.6L
Hyundai i30 2.0L
Mazda3 Sport 1.6L
Mazda3 Sport 2.0L
Peugeot 308 Turbo
Peugeot 308 VTi

D- Executive Car (below RM200,000)
Alfa 159 2.2
Honda Accord 2.0 VTi-L

E- Premium Executive Car (above RM200,000)
BMW 325i Sports (Facelift)
Lexus Is 250 (Facelift)

F- Limousine
BMW 740Li
Maserati Quattroporte

G- Performance Car (below RM300,000)
Alfa GT 2.0
Mazda RX-8
Subaru Impreza S-GT 2.0 Turbo
Subaru Impreza STI 2.5 Turbo

H- Performance Car (above RM300,000)
Alfa Brera 2.2
Alfa Spider 2.2
BMW Z4 sDrive23i
BMW Z4 sDrive35i
Porsche Boxster
Porsche Boxster S
Porsche Cayman
Porsche Cayman S

I- Midi MPV
Chana CM8
Nissan Grand Livina Impul
Honda Stream RSZ
Proton Exora CPS (A & M)

J- Large MPV
Weststar Maxus LDV
Mitsubishi Grandis

K- SUV (RM150,000 - RM250,000)
Chery Tiggo 1.6 (M)
Chery Tiggo 2.0 (A)
Ford Escape 2.3L
Mitsubishi Pajero Sports 2.5L
Subaru Forester 2.5XT Turbo

L- SUV (RM250,000 - RM350,000)
Land Rover Freelander 2
Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0
Audi Q5 2.0T
Volvo XC60 SE

M- SUV (RM350,000 and above)
Range Rover 3.6 V8
Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8
Range Rover Sport 2.7 V6
Land Rover Discovery 3
Lexus RX350
Mercedes Benz ML350 Facelift
Volvo XC90 D5 Diesel
Volvo XC60 LE

N- Twin Cab Pickup Truck
Ford Ranger 2.5TDCi
Nissan Navara 2.5 LE

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

NST Maybank Car of The Year 2009: May the Best Cars Win!

From left: Cars, Bikes and Trucks (New Sunday Times) editor and chairman of the COTY 2009 judging panel Yamin Vong, New Straits Times group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, Maybank executive vice president and head of automobile financing (consumer banking) Hamirullah Boorhan, Maybank head of retail business (automobile financial services) Yeoh Cheang Teik and Bermaz Motor Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Ben Yeoh launching COTY 2009.

The media launch of the New Straits Times/Maybank “Car of the Year Awards 2009” (COTY) was held at the Senja Restaurant, Saujana Hotel Subang was held last week.

Now in its eighth year, COTY is the country’s first motoring award started in 2002 by Cars, Bikes and Trucks, the motoring section of the New Sunday Times, as a means to acknowledge achievements within the motoring industry.

A panel of 10 judges*, comprising motoring editors, an automotive blogger and other distinguished personalities will carry the challenging task of selecting winners from 14 categories.

“We will be introducing the inaugural Fuel Efficiency Awards, where a winner will be selected from the popular categories such as entry level, small car and small family sedan,” said Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, Group Editor, New Straits Times Sdn Bhd.

“The inclusion of this award is a direct response to efforts made by respective car manufacturers to address the environmental and financial issues faced by today’s consumers. One of the judges, Azmi Abdullah, who is also ex-head of Petronas Powertrain, will be acting as the custodian for this award,” said Datuk Syed Nadzri.

From left: Cars, Bikes and Trucks (New Sunday Times) news editor Hezeri Samsuri, COTY 2009 judge Azmi Abdullah and Bermaz Motor marketing manager Shahidin Sahamid.

Maybank Berhad, Malaysia’s premier banking group and a leading player in automobile financing is the official title sponsor for the third consecutive year. “Maybank is happy to sponsor COTY for the third year running as it sets the benchmark of excellence in cars each year. The awards also recognise achievers and outstanding performance in the automotive industry that will provide an example to others to upgrade their entrepreneurial and leadership qualities to benefit the sector in particular and the nation in general,” said Hamirullah Boorhan, Executive Vice President, Head, Automobile Financing, Maybank.

”As one of the leading automobile financiers in the country, we believe that we have a role to play in encouraging further development of this industry, as it will not only benefit the manufacturers, but also the consumers, financiers, vendors and associated enterprises. We have seen double digit growth in automobile financing over the last three years, reflecting the continued growth of this sector. In the coming months, Maybank will be launching new products to meet the needs of the automotive sector,” added Hamirullah.

In testing the nominated cars in the various categories for COTY, the judges will be taking into account criteria such as exterior and interior design, comfort and ergonomics, performance, safety, emotional appeal, and after sales service including the comprehensiveness of its warranty. Points are awarded to the cars as the the judges think fit and the cars with the most points will win the COTY title in its category. The most coveted award is of course, The Overall Car of ther Year 2009.

Nomination is automatic – new cars launched between November 2008 and October 2009 qualify for COTY. This year, new terms and conditions have been set to ensure smooth testing for the judges. Cars launched with only minor facelifts will not be eligible for entry, while cars launched with multiple variants will be eligible to offer all the model variants for nomination. Lastly, only cars that have been tested (i.e. cars provided by the automakers) will make it to the final list.

The date for the COTY Gala Dinner to announce the winners, is set for December 4, and more than 150 top automotive industry figures are expected to grace the ceremony. The organisers will also be holding a Charity Golf tournament on the morning of the COTY awards day.

The annual award is endorsed and supported by the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA).

COTY 2009 co-ordinator Yani Fadzil (left) and judge Susan Lankaster.

The panel of 10 judges for NST-Maybank COTY 2009 are:

1 Yamin Vong (Chairman)

(Editor NST Cars, Bikes & Trucks)

2 Hezeri Samsuri

(News Editor – NST Cars, Bikes & Trucks and BH Auto)

3 Thomas Huong

(Assistant News Editor – NST Cars, Bikes & Trucks)

4 Chew Wooi Foo

(Shanghai Business Monthly)

5 Dato Dr Teoh Siang Chin

(Car enthusiast/Safety activist)

6 Professor Sulik Sulaiman

(University Darul Iman Malaysia, Faculty of Design,

Innovation and Technology)

7 Dr Max Long

(Private Medical Practitioner, Dr Long Skin Clinic, KL.

8 Azmi Abdullah

(ex Head of Petronas Powertrain Department)

9 Razlan Razali

(CEO Sepang International Circuit)

10 Susan Lankaster


Hyundai Grand Starex undergoes Royale treatment

Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors Sdn Bhd (HSDM) recently launched the new look Grand Starex MPV after having undergone the Royale full bodykit treatment, in Malaysia.

The Grand Starex Royale sports a more in-your-face grille at the front as well as added skirting throughout the MPV’s 5.1-metre body. The side wing mirrors now have integrated L.E.D indicators. Apart from that, the remarkable crystal headlamps also lights up automatically in dim surroundings.

Reversing the Grand Starex Royale has never been easier with its rearview camera that shows you precisely how much space you have to reverse. Parking problems will be solved with the camera and existing 4 reverse sensors neatly tucked into the rear bumper. A rear windshield wiper is also added onto the rear windscreen for better visibility when it rains.

The in-car entertainment is also upgraded with a brand new Pioneer LCD touch screen DVD player linked to a 7” LCD screen located in the middle top of the MPV for rear passengers. This DVD Player streams wide and crisp clear movies with one touch for maximum enjoyment. The 2.5 litre CRDi diesel engine that comes with a Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT) and a turbo intercooler remains unchanged. This power plant unleashes a maximum power output of 125 kW (170 ps) at 3,800 rpm and maximum torque of 392 Nm (40 kg-m) at 2,000 to 2,500 rpm for high-speed performance. This second generation CRDi diesel engine system from BOSCH is an improved engine with computerized system to adjust to the condition appropriately when necessary.

Mated to a 5-speed shiftronic transmission, the Grand Starex Royale delivers sports-mode exhilaration for dynamic driving, while improved front and rear suspension supported by MacPherson strut type and multi-link layout respectively, affirms long distance comfort. Despite having a length of more than five meters, the turning radius of the Grand Starex Royale is no more than 5.6 metres, making tight spaces in any setting easily negotiable.

The Grand Starex Royale is the winner of the large MPV Category at the Autocar ASEAN Awards 2008. It has also won the BOSCH 1st Asian Auto Fuel Efficiency Award 2008 for luxury MPV.

Available in 4 varying colours – Crystal White, Stone Black, Sleek Silver and Carbon Grey, this full-size MPV is available for viewing and test drive at all Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors Showrooms nationwide. The Grand Starex Royale 2.5GLS Diesel (A) VGT is priced at RM 148,888 (OTR) in West Malaysia and RM 153,997.50 (OTR) in East Malaysia.

Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors offers its customers a 5 years or 300,000km extended warranty that assures all customers of any unexpected repair or cost due to manufacturing defect. This is the longest warranty offered by any automaker in Malaysia.

Malaysian motorists can place their bookings at the nearest sales outlet or call its Customer Careline at 1-300-13-2000 for more information.

Related post:
Grand Starex Road Test

Monday, 10 August 2009

2010 Porsche 911 Turbo gets power hike and twin clutch 'box!

Click on images to enlarge

Porsche has revised the last variant its 997 series, to give us the new 911 Turbo for model year 2010, complete with PDK and DFI (direct fuel injection). The new flagship 911 Turbo will be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show by September 2009, in both Coupe and Cabriolet guises.

For the first time in Porsche history (996 Turbo and earlier 997 Turbo are all 3.6L boxer-6s), the 911 Turbo will have a 3.8L flat-six boxer.Nicked from the facelifted 997 Carrera S/4S, this rear engine is blown and tweaked to deliver 500 hp, a hike of 20 hp from the previous model. Direct Fuel Injection (DFI), a new expansion intake manifold which debuted in the GT2 and Porsche’s twin turbocharger with variable turbine geometry (VTG) lead the long list of ‘wicked’ technical upgrades. Maximum torque has increased by 15 lb-ft to 516 lb-ft., a figure obtained with the optional Sport Chrono Package Turbo.

The Sport Chrono Package Turbo also enables acceleration from 0 - 96 km/h in 3.2 seconds through the gears of Porsche Doppelkupplung Getriebe (PDK) aka robotised 7–speed dual-clutch tranny. Top speed is 312 km/h for both the Turbo Coupe and Cabriolet. Also included in the Sport Chrono Package Turbo is Porsche’s innovative dynamic engine mounts. Introduced earlier this year on the 2010 GT3, the new mounts works with magnetic fluid that automatically adjusts for comfort or sport, depending on the driving conditions.

A new (optional) three-spoke steering wheel with conventional left-right shift paddles (finally!) is also available for PDK-equipped 911 Turbo. Mounted directly on the steering wheel, the right paddle is for shifting up, the left paddle for shifting down.

Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) available with the new 911 Turbo works in synergy with the standard Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive and Porsche Stability Management (PSM). This new optional system includes a mechanical limited slip differential and actively distributes power between the rear wheels, giving the sportscar even more agility and stability in corners, for an even higher level of sporty driving.

The 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo Coupe and 911 Turbo Cabriolet go on sale in January 2010. Pricing is the U.S. will be $132,800 and $143,800 respectively.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Tested and awed: BMW 740Li (F02)

This has to be one of the most complete - nicest to drive, yet adequately comfy - car I have tested thus far as part of my NST Maybank COTY 2009 judging. It's unbelievable how nimble this car can be despite its long wheelbase presentation (F02) and that twin turbo N54B30 was just so sweet and punchy, more like a 4.0 V8, what's with 326ps and 450Nm combo propelling the rear of the new 740Li. In the process, the force-fed in-line 6 runs very hot as you almost find it impossible to unlatch the hinge latch of the hood, after having release it halfway from the inside. Ouch! it almost scalded my right index finger's pulp had it not for the extra-keratinised skin.

Watch this space for my experience with this utterly brilliant BMW, this coming from someone known as the Merc-man in the motoring circle! For a limousine that does 6.0 secs for the century sprint, quicker than a Porsche Cayman S (pre-facelift model) with Tiptronic S, it's hard not to be convinced...or is there more to this luxury saloon segment than outright grunt?