Tuesday, 26 January 2010

'New' Naza (KIA) Picanto: only for the fairer sex?

With an unorthodox tagline like "Guys love cars, girls love Picanto" I found myself warming up to the new Picanto facelift model a little warm and fuzzy inside, perhaps even a tad blushy....or have I even gotten myself in touch with my feminine side? I know, I shudder at that thought too.

But truth be told, this Naza reabged Kia is pretty (no pun intended) decent. Though having to make do with just a tiny 1.1 litre 4-pot with old-tech port fuel injection, common distributor coil-to-spark-plug-cables spark ignition system and regular throttle cable for fuel metering, this little hatch feels quite peppy on the move from the word go (till about 100km/h). Decent enough for town driving. The chassis also felt surprisingly solid, while the liquid-filled dampers gives very pliant ride around the city and suburbs, where it intended range of commuting are mostly destined for. Of course, like its i1o cousin, uphill task can be a bit of a chore, after slowing down to pick up pace again.

I can't give you the fuel consumption figure since I had hardly burned off past the fuel tank's half way mark. Sorry about that. But I reckon it would be as economical as the Hyundai i10 since both are 'blood' cousins in more ways than one. Supermini these days also feels more well screwed/bolted together. Such a feeling of solidity on the road can be appreciated by way of nicer planted agility (granted, the suspension setting is still on the soft side) and somewhat tighter body control. Even the steering feels okay with a nice weighting to it. Inside, you don't even feel cramped like you do in an old Perodua Kancil anymore. Shoulder room and elbow room are acceptable here in the Picanto and I am no horse-riding jockey.

The Koreans have indeed come a long way. This 'new' Picanto is a potentially viable alternative to the rather pricey (relatively speaking, of course) 'local' Perodua Viva. For a fact, that was mainly why the Hyundai i10 walked away with NST-Maybank Car of the Year 2009 Award in the entry-level car category.

Interestingly, my wife initially liked this car for its affordability, being a brand new car with manufacturer's warranty, less worry about costly unscheduled maintenance et al. For those with no hang-ups about Korean automotive brand or badge snobbery issues, imagine paying off for this car in four, maybe five years instead of seven. And for whatever the residual's worth after that hire-purchase period, the average damage in depreciation is say, a more manageable RM5k per year? Kinda makes great food-for-thought, financially speaking, yes?

Back to my better half again, she subsequently complained of lack of power after the few days of joint sampling of this tester, and also of bumpier ride than her Mitsu Colt Ralliart. Hmmm....so "Girls love Picanto"? Probably not all girls, especially women...

Related posts:
Perodua Viva Elite
Driven: Hyundai i10

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Mercedes-Benz E200 CGI in Malaysian showrooms now!

Barely a couple of months after the E300 debut representing the saloon form of the all-new E-Class in Malaysia, the bread-&-butter E200 CGI has quietly crept into M-B showrooms locally.

Priced at a more realistic - but no less lofty - RM366,888 this is the E-Class that's set to push the bulk of the W212s to be sold officially (and not-so-officially a few years down the road). Not some fancy looking coupe that's more cramped internally - based on the W204 chassis - yet ridiculously overpriced, with a set of more Nissan Slyphy-ish rear lights.

The basic block of its 1.8l engine is carried over from the W211, displacing a remarkably similar 1796cc, reworked with a new top cam, pistons and con-rods to take up the higher stresses of direct gasoline injection plus turbocharging. Hence the acronym Charged Gasoline Injection (CGI).

Rated at astonishingly similar output of the last E200K's 184hp but with a higher maximum torque of 270Nm (+10Nm), initial drive has revealed a more punchier powerplant with perhaps the old school 5 A/T somewhat gagging the true potential of Daimler's reincarnated 4-pot modernised for the new decade.

With this in mind, perhaps the E250 CGI coming soon may not be the 'killer' E-Class that will snub out the real 2.5 V6 powered E230 W211 in drivetrain finesse seeing that the latter had 7G-Tronic, while the E250 CGI will make do with Merc's low cost (likely armortised, production cost-wise) 5 A/T. Once again, I am not referring to the silly E250 CGI Coupe. I'd be foolish not to consider the latest facelift Porsche Cayman 2.9 with PDK at that price segment.

Related posts:
New E-Class E200 CGI & E250 CGI
W212 E-Class launched in Malaysia
Mercedes E200K vs E200K!

Honda Malaysia's new Freed MPV to be launched soon....pricing expected to be nudging slightly under RM120k!

Although a certain top official from Honda Malaysia was so evasive and tight-lipped about their new Freed mini/compact MPV when enquired upon recently, their dealers' sales representatives are currently busy undergoing product raining at their Melaka plant office.

Details are still sketchy about the actual date of launch (expected sometime April 2010), but prices are expected to be steep with the higher grade to be tagged closed to RM120,000! Imagine a Honda City SW (that's stationwagon in plain speak) with a third row of seats thrown in. Heck, it even carries over the ubiquitous, mass-produced 1.5 i-VTEC lump found in the Jazz/City duo. Sourced from Indonesia - with AFTA/CEPT and whatever tariff breaks bullshit factored in - and yet this one is expected to hover dangerously close to an imported Mitsubishi Lancer 2.0GTS Ralliart (fully CBU from Japan, 2.0L class)!

Suddenly makes the national mini-MPV Perodua Alza 1.5 so much more an excellent buy...no?

Monday, 18 January 2010

All-new Porsche Cayenne coming soon...

With only a few months to launch, the new Porsche Cayenne is creating an excited stir amongst Porsche fans. It is faster and smaller and judging by its specs, it packs a good punch.

It's sporty look and shorter over hangs as well as the very Panamera-esque taillights are some of the visual features that set this new Cayenne apart from the first generation Cayenne.

Another change that will be noticeable only once you have taken this Porsche for a drive is the weight, set to be lighter than the previous model despite the fact that the car will be keeping its petrol V8 engine, with an updated tune of course.

The V6 is going to be the supercharged with an Audi S4 derived direct fuel injection engine.
Porsche is also releasing an improved Diesel V6. It is expected that the 2nd generation Cayenne - and possibly the last since VW's board has axed this model from future Porsche line-up thereafter - will also have a Hybrid and the PDK, with flappy paddle shifters.

Source: Zeinews

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Volkswagen's 1.4 TSI tested: Best of both world (of forced induction) ?

In this age of downsizing, lowering emissions, minimising fuel consumption and a varieties of hybrid plus concept alternative electric/fuel cell powertrains, the engine that you see above is a current production marvel considering its diminutive size but high output, yet delivers decent kilometres to the litre. Being awarded "International Engine of the Year" in 2007, this is a rare powerplant that enjoys both supercharging AND turbocharging, all in one compact package. So does it drive better than a single turbo/supercharger, twin-turbo or a twin-scroll turbo or perhaps a variable geometry turbo? The answer was a resounding yes...for the first 15 minutes or so as you get newly acquainted with the powertrain - undoubtedly, VW's DSG is very much still excellent - but not unlike getting a new girlfriend, the relationship gets a wee bit too revealing (no pun intended) and jaded as you peel the onion by the layers...

Externally, the Jetta is beginning to show its age. It has a very clinical design that apes the big brother Passat (non-CC version mind you) which doesn't look very awe-inspiring when downsized to C-segment dimensions. The all-new replacement model is already on its way, due sometime 2011.

But we're not here to dissect the Jetta's aesthetic exuberance or the lack of it. Though just rated with a maximum output of 140bhp, this Jetta felt noticeably livelier than the Jetta 2.0 FSI that I tested some years ago for TopGear Malaysia mag, if my memory serves me correct. As that 2.0 FSI had a usual torque converter which makes it less superb by default, drivetrain wise at the very least.

Internally, the Mk5 Golf interior could not be faulted, built and ergonomic wise, though a tad too much grey tend to make it a bit of a drab to be in for longer drives. The light shade, off-white headliner and top trim saves the day, thank goodness for that. With the meters in blue, once-glance legibility can still be an issue for at night since our eyes' retina cells aren't very much sensitive to blue being the colour for fine details, which in this case are the speedo & tachometer fonts and gradation scales. A simple white-on-black will do better.

Noise insulation will be top-notch for a car this class and size if not for the drumming road noise/tyre roars on harder tarmac sections of highway. Note to what extent VW chose to line the doors of their 'budget' sedan, it looks like they have no budget constraint even for a global volume seller like this Jetta.

I have also never seen such big door pockets for a sedan of this size. Mercedes-Benz, you've got a thing or two to learn from VW here. Porsche too - maybe this is more ammendable in the near future since Porsche is part of the ever expanding VW-Audi group now. The seats are also one of the best in business for snug bolstering and support, even though I found myself craving for a harder back-board on many occasions, for a more insulated ride from hyperactive kids knees-nudging into your seat from the back. That's just as irritating as hormones-raged adolescents kicking your chairs in a crowded cineplex.

With a humongous boot that both deep and wide, the Jetta has no luggage issues for all 5 occupants driving off to some secluded resort for a long weekend getaway. Makes for a great family sedan, without a doubt. Towards this goal, the suspension setting is more comfort-biased (read: soft) as well. Undeniably, the MK5 Golf chassis has excellent tracking around corners with the rear axle geometry very faithful to where the front wheels are turning.

Driving the 1.4 TSI can be a chore during the initial take-off since the compressor wheel of its supercharger very much taps off the crank. Much like taking one-step-back-before-two-steps-forward, the Jetta is eerily like a Mercedes E200K in low-end drive response. There's a little lack of grunt below 2,000 rpm. However the force-fed punch gets very real and palpable - along with quick succession of upshifts by the intelligent and responsive DSG 'box - as you climb quickly beyond 2000rpm.

Strangely too, the was a flat spot circa 120km/h where you'd find the power tapering off only to recover with a second tsunami wave by 150km/h or so, with nicely welcomed 'whoosh' of a punch, enabling cruising on a stretch of open, private roads a true joy. Perhaps the ECU mapping for this 140hp does not unleash the full, manic potential of this 1.4 TSI lump, which is 170bhp in the Golf GT. Fuel consumed for the Jetta 1.4 TSI over a 3-day period was RM100 or 48.78l for 425km, which worked out to be about 8.7km/l. I found myself pushing hard more than 50% of the times, working the engine mostly to its redline limit. I have also used RON 97 petrol in the hope of maximising forced-induced output even though VW claimed that a minimum RON95 is sufficient dietary requirements, even for their high-tech, more complex twincharged engine.

Looking very much like Golf R32 (or Golf GT?) in the mid-section of VW's typical goateed grille, the Jetta 1.4 TSI does command a little respect on the road should you decide to hurry things up with intentions to pass traffic ahead of you. Sadly, the mid range flexibility form say 110 km/h -140km/h was sorely lacking in this TSI lump. It makes me curious if a simple twin scroll turbocharger would be better and perhaps, more cost-effective in execution. Keep the excellent duo of direct injection and DSG. In the meantime, I'd take the 2.0 TSI in Golf GTI Mk6 anytime over this for better mid-range flexibility and higher top-end whack. Even my wife's single turboed Colt Ralliart has more linear punch and powertrain flexibility. That's my take for this 140bhp TSI twincharged marvel from Volkswagen. Sorry, this doesn't get my vote for green, lean and mean choice of purchase.

Hyundai Blue-Will (HND-4) Concept with Plug-in Hybrid technology

Following Hyundai’s successful ascent to the top of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) report in November 2009, the Blue-Will Plug-in Hybrid concept makes its U.S. debut at the 2010 North American International Auto.

Chief highlights include:

· Blue-Will foreshadows coming plug-in hybrid technology from Hyundai
· Four-seat sedan concept explores future design direction of compact cars
· Features panoramic glass roof with solar cells for recharging batteries
· Thermal generator converts hot exhaust gases into electricity

The Blue-Will also serves as a test bed of new ideas that range from roof-mounted solar cells to drive-by-wire steering, lithium polymer batteries and touch-screen controls, and previews future focused hybrid production vehicles from Hyundai. The concept car from Hyundai also promises an electric-only driving distance of up to 40 miles on a single charge and a fuel economy rating of more than 100 miles per gallon. Codenamed HND-4, the Blue-Will is the fourth in a series of innovative concept vehicles to come out of the Namyang Design Center.

“Blue-Will’s bold character lines and fluidic sculpture design language give the perfect expression to the advanced eco-friendly technologies found beneath the skin,” said Oh Suk-Geun, executive vice president of design, Hyundai Motor Company. “At a time of rising concern about the environment and our energy future, Blue-Will demonstrates to eco-conscious car buyers everywhere that Hyundai has practical hybrid solutions that will appear on the next generation of vehicles.” he added.