Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Freakin' Awesome Drive: the new Nissan 370Z Coupe!

I totally had automotive nirvana driving this gem of a sportscar that redefines the Nissan brand at 'just' RM370k whereabouts (on-the-road with insurance).

Alright, so what if it doesn't make the right (as opposed to politically correct) sporty soundtrack or have the badge of its Stuttgart arch-nemesis of which it is benchmarked against. In the UK, most auto mags have face-off this latest Z-car with the Cayman 2.9 with PDK. Forget that, in Malaysia, none of that matters since a brand-new Cayman S (3.4 with DFI + PDK) with some of the 'right' options ticked will cost almost double the Nissan 370Z!!!

At one point, I was driving 2.5 hours non-stop in the Z through a set of twisties and highway sweeping corners I got morphed into the car. I was at one-with-the-car. Serious. I thought that the Audi TT coupe was great in the way your buttock could 'feel' the road. This is even better! I was doing faster corners I had never thought I was capable of. Relaxed and composed.

The chassis balance was superb while suspension set-up was just right. Makes daily drive livable and comfy, yet poisely planted. The 370Z tracks corners brilliantly with the rear axle following incisively and faithfully. The way its steering whispers back to you into a bend is a finesse in its own Japo way, which the large "Z" emblem constantly reminds you. Yet in its entirety, it is all more Conti-esque in weighting and feel. The rack may not have the talkativeness of a Porsche's but I would say it's more than adequate. The rear donuts may step out a little bit should you push them near their limits, but it's all natural (even with stability programme on by default at all times), unlike the more robotic and 'synthetic' R35 GT-R.

I liked the way the gear knob vibrates too, as you caress it in your left palm. A sense of connectivity, reminiscent of my dad's Datsun 120Y of the late 70s, but in a different kind of way (that it doesn't oscillates on idling!) On the off side, the few gripes I have with the new 370z is the metallic gnashing sound of the clutch upon initial take -off, the often louder-than-desired noises (of water splashing, pebbles 'denting' sound of metallic knocks and rolling tyres) through the rear wheels arches. Looking quite tacky are fuel & coolant LEDs orange 'blips' and digital multi display info, residing within the left-most instrument cluster pod. Rest assured for all its cons here, the superb Bose sound system more than made up for them, especially the part about annoying decibels seeping through rear wheel arches.

Needless to say, Nissan's pioneering Synchro Rev worked flawlessly, much like a twin clutch 'box (which affords uninterrupted torque transfer upon swapping cogs), only here blipping of revs minimises torque dip as you downshift. Worked great for me since I never got the hang of this heel-and-toe shifting. As a result, you could actually feel more instantaneous traction as you drop a gear or two into corners.

At the end of my test period, I had wanted to 'carjack' the tester and not return it to ETCM. It also made me wanna trade my Cayman 2.7 for the new 370z...any demo unit in red or yellow going for a song? For me at least, I think it badly needs a Nismo muffler with a more 'show-off' soundtrack, or HKS or whatever aftermarket tuners have to offer to dump waste gases at the rear more emphatically!

RON97 and the Subaru Forester

Local Subaru distributor gave me another glimpse into the murky world of turbocharged automobiles and fuel grades compatibility, right after the eye-opening Impreza WRX STI Ver.10 and its RON95 dietary requirement.

This time around their new sales manager gave a hard-hitting statement that all their Subarus are filled with RON 97 and nothing lesser. Hmmm....a nice turn of event, I must say. Of course, I had no chance to witness the actual refill for the Forester, since the nice metallic grey tester was filled with approximately 30% of petrol in tank when I took it.

What I didn't notice were the missing plastic cover at the rear window angle (adjacent to C-pillar) on the inner right side. While the similar cover was cracked on the left (or was it vice versa?). Never mind that, the crux of the matter was the same Sales Manager (the last guy, Paul quitted his job after I last took the WRX tester) interrogated me on this by blurting out: "Are you sure?? (it was missing when you took it?)". The fact that I highlighted this missing item to him only aroused his suspicion that I had flicked it or lost it. Omigosh! C'mon, I can sure as hell pay for that little bit of plastic had I caused it to go missing! After spending thousands on my Porsche Cayman mods and maintenance, and being a privately practising professional would I stoop that low as to lie on this?!?

And returning it the next day at 11:15am was both a hassle and harrassment. I got a distress call from this same fella named Owen, alleging that there were some 10 guys waiting to test this car after 12 noon and they needed the Forester back urgently. Heck! Was I born yesterday (to buy all this load of bull)?

Now, I know why my other esteemed COTY judges don't bother with Subaru test cars. The level of courtesy and professionalism of the front-line folks involved with this brand pales considerably with their counterparts over at Edaran Tan Chong Motors (that handles the Nissan brand in Malaysia), as evident from the new Murano 3.5 V6 and the awesome 370Z loaned to us recently.

So how good is the new Forester? To sum it up: it's a comfy soft roader with lots of torque, making it nicely responsive to drive. Safe and decent handling too with full-time, symmetrical AWD. However, the confusion remains regarding RON95 versus RON97 for these boxer powered cars. Pity.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Porsche Panamera goes for a cool RM1 million and up...only in Malaysia.

If you have ever owned a Porsche 2-door coupe/cabriolet be it the 986/987 Boxster/Cayman or the iconic 911, you must have felt frustrated at some point in time that you cannot share your Porsche experience beyond your other-half, better-half or whatever, best friend/pal/associate and at best, plus two midgets at the back ‘seats’ of a 911.

Porsche AG seems to have an answer to this dilemma of generosity, for those who do not want a cumbersome and not-so-handsome vehicle of an SUV like the Cayenne. Enter: Porsche's four-seater Gran Tourismo, the Panamera, which made a grand entrance to Malaysia at its official launch at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, last Saturday evening.

The event was graced by His Excellency the German Ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Gunter Gruber and the cars were launched by Dato' Mokhzani Mahathir, chairman of Jaseri Automotive Group, the official importer of Porsche in Malaysia.

As its first four-door sports sedan/coupe, the Panamera is Porsche's answer to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8. Three variants are available, the Panamera S, 4S and Turbo - the first two are powered by a 400hp/ 500Nm capable 4.8-litre naturally aspirated V8 with the difference being RWD and AWD. As with the 911 sports car, the top of the range is the Panamera Turbo sporting a twin-turbo charged V8, 4.8-litre engine that produces 500hp/700Nm combo!

According to Mokhzani, the best thing about the Panamera is its impressive lo fuel consumption, with claim figures of 10.8L per 100km for the S, 11.1L per 100km for the 4S and 12.1L per 100km for the Turbo. "This is achieved through technology and lightweight construction of the body such as the axles, bonnet, wings, doors and tailgate that are made of aluminium, the window frames and cylinder head cover from magnesium, among others. This saves on weight, and therefore fuel," he said.

The Panamera as with other Porsches, is highly customable: available in eight interior decor styles, six interior colours and four two-tone finishes in several leather variants.
The Panamera S retails from RM998, 000 (manual transmission), while the 4S is from RM1,118,000. The top-of-the-range Panamera Turbo will start from RM1,398,000. For more information, visit www.porsche.com, or visit your nearest Porsche Centre (Glenmarie in Shah Alam, KL City Centre or Penang).

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Which would you rather drive on the Federal Highway in Kuala Lumpur at 6pm on weekdays?

Hmmm...another Toyota Prius (3rd gen) versus Honda Civic Hybrid IMA shootout?

Look closer...the Civic unit above is a plain vanilla Civic 1.8 i-VTEC, a perennial top seller in its segment for these couple of years in Malaysia. The comparo is unintentional but makes for delectable food-for-thought that for RM115k versus RM175k (no prize for guessing which is which), many of us 'smart' consumers and motorists alike would be better off saving the RM60,000. More than enough for petrol costs for over say, the 5 - 7 years of motoring/hire-purchasing? I think someone has this base covered with the Civic hybrid versus Civic 1.8 sometime back and he's with a popular online news portal now. Anyway, keep your little calculator stashed away, you can never compute the RM60,000 in savings unless you drive the Prius to Mars and back over 10 years.

I would have totally agreed to the above had it not for the massively unpredictable (or is it unpredictably massive?) traffic jams on our Federal Highway during rush hours. Or after a traffic accident on either side of the highway capable of causing both sides to just choked up! Ironically, sometimes for no noticeable reason at all.

Looking at the rather feminine Prius outlook (especially in pearl white, as above), I was totally taken a back when I found it cool to be caught in traffic jams. Yes totally cool...figuratively and literally. The DC motorised airconditioner compressor totally rocks with its whisper cooling, even when the combustion engine is not running.

Furthermore, if you have tried a DC inverter airconditioner at home you'd realised that there's no off-cycle to the cooling. Say, even if you set at 26 deg Celcius, the air vents will still blow cool air on a cold morning albeit at a lower 'concentration'. No more sticky, stale (occasionally moldy/smelly) or that transient warmer air blowing when the regular crank-belt-driven A/C compressor of an automobile (or regular home alternating current A/C compressor) cuts off. Lovely.

The 3rd gen Prius is mighty impressive at start up. After the Ni-Mh battery pack has warmed up, the vehicle is totally silent as you reverse out of your car porch. Zero emissions for the part of (cold-start) driving that's most polluting. Of course, the Civic Hybrid (2nd gen) has a part-time electric A/C compressor that works in stationary condition - at traffic lights - but once you get moving again, the engine has to restart. That's what termed as soft-hybrid i.e. with a small electric motor. Not for the latest Prius when you do say 10 km/h - and most of the period in a bumper-to-bumper crawl - dependent on load and state of battery charge of course. It's a great feeling to see the onboard computer reading 0l/100km/h of fuel consumption in a traffic snarl!

For those interested (who's not these days?) in fuel efficiency facts, the Prius' on-board computer displayed an average figure of 5.6l/100km. With some hard driving, mostly calm cruising, the tripmeter was reading 514.7km + another 136km to go before empty. Isn't this so darn cool too?

Now you can't chill out so much in a regular Civic 1.8, can you? :)

Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric: The first 5,000 kilometres

Click on images to enlarge

The ultra high-performance (UHP) tyres segment are dominated by established names like Michelin Pilot Sport 2, Continental ContiSportContact 3, Bridgestone Potenza RE050A being the default choices for those who have no issues with the equally ultra-premium cost of these rubber donuts. The latest entrant into the fray of UHP realm - since 2008 in Malaysia - is the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric which replaces the unidirectional GSD3 for sizes 17" and upwards.

The front tyre that you see above is 225/40 R18 'Made in Germany' items fitted to my Boxster 2.7 (986) for 5,000kms now. As it got scrubbed-in beyond 1000km, I found the grip and rear squat to be more balanced. Though not Porsche's N-spec endorsed, I have no problem clipping apex of corners at triple digit velocity though some technical SC people would say that N-0, N-1 and so on spec tyres have softer sidewalls which accommodate better to Porsche's suspension tuning. I can't comment on that until I swap to the other set of Michelin PS2 I have in my garage. However, I can say this though: the Eagle F1 Asymmetric definitely gives better steering response and road feel than the PS2 on my close associate's Cayman S (987). Even he concurred to this after swapping his Porsche with mine on a road trip. For the record, scores of Porsches down south across the causeway are happily swapping to these latest Eagle F1s when their standard issued rubbers got worn out. The story with Porsche Club Malaysia (PCM) members' tyre choice may be a different tale but that's another story for another day.

So far, I am very happy with my Eagle F1 Asymmetrics. It has totally changed my perception of the Goodyear brand with old memories of the mediocre OEM NCT5's on my previous Honda Accord and Mercedes-Benz E200 Kompressor. Perhaps it's time to break to monotony of either Michelin, Conti, Bridgestone or that occassional Pirelli on the mindset of UHP tyres users when a replacement set is due? And in the process saving more than a few bucks for the now premium-than-ever RON 97 fuel...yes?

RON 95 and Subaru Impreza WRX STI Ver.10

There has been a lot of buzz regarding Malaysia's latest fuel: RON 95 gasoline which has taken over as the de facto standard petrol for most Malaysian motorists (previously RON 97). Never mind that it is now Euro2-M, being cleaner to the environment and the cost-effective alternative being promoted et al. Subaru has really opened a new horizon for the application of this lower 'grade' fuel to high performance cars.

Imagine my enlightening experience when I picked up a test unit of the latest WRX STI from Motor Image Sdn Bhd and it was fueled to approximate 1/3rd tank with Shell RON95! Apparently, this is a matter of company policy which states that no more than RM20 for fuel for any top-up at one time and no RON 97 for a car that actually runs optimally on RON 98 or even RON 100 in Japan!

Needless to say, over the 24hr loan period, the 2.5L boxer with high pressure (I was told it was an LPT) turbocharging (300bhp and 400Nm) guzzled up all the 40% tankful of fuel in no time! Doing what a rational driver would do, I used BHP Infiniti 97 and also refilled with Caltex 97 with Techron on two separate occassions later. And oh! what a difference it made! The hot-hatch became more responsive and willing, smoothly climbing up the rev range upon slight prodding. I had 90 percent my drives in S.I. Sport-Sharp mode. It's like having a Sprint Booster (of my ex-Mercedes E200K fame) which you can turn on at the twist of the dial (pic below). Ooooh...wicked!

Noticed that I didn't mentioned redline because the test unit was programmed for cut-off at 5,700rpm where you can actually feel the turbo boost losing its puff. Pity. To protect the engine it seemed, I was told. By the way, I was getting constantly above 18L/100km with absolutely wallet-busting level of 20L/100km of fuel 'economy'.

The new WRX STI is a lovely car despite its odd hatchback looks. The spaciousness inside belies the pregnant wheel arches bolted a rather smallish body. Its tenacity around bends defies all gung-ho bravado that you can muster and throw at it. The rack is sharp and quick with good feedback to it, better than its Mitsu arch-rival's item which goes limp (and listless) above 180km/h. The latest Scooby also rides pliant enough to be a daily car while the power burst i.e. turbo kick seem a lot more livelier than the Evolution X. But getting caught in a jam in PJ immediately after pick-up has sored up my left calf muscle considerably.

Makes you appreciate and yearn for that twin-clutch robotic assistant or that friendlier clutch pedal in the FD2 Civic Type-R. Perhaps that why the Evo X is more popular in Malaysia? (even though marginally so since both aren't meant to be volume sellers).