Saturday, 27 March 2010

Kia does an Audi for its 2011 all-new Optima/Magentis

A picture tells a thousand stories as the saying goes...what say you?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tested: Ford Mondeo 2.3L Duratec

Better late than never, they say. How true it is for the Mondeo that you see above. It may be nearly four years ago when we last saw this executive silver screen debut in the 2006 James Bond flick "Casino Royale", this D-segment continental Ford has still got it. In the metal, it has sheer full-size executive sedan presence, albeit from some angle it has started to age a wee bit e.g. its straight frontal visage.

This may probably sound cliche. But the truth is, after having left the realm of a proper D-segment saloon - sold off my W211 last year - I truly appreciate the full sized D-segment comfort and solidly comfy ride.

That said, the Mondeo has got a steering feel unlike Camry's light/lifeless character or Accord's Japanese-feel with its supposedly sporty rack responsiveness. The Mondeo's just naturally good, likely due to stiffer chassis strength and suspension robustness et al - contributing to a better steering feel, feedback and agility. Needless to say, this huge Ford tracks corners like a smaller e.g. C-segment car with so much gusto that it inspires confidence in a way that only a true-blood Continental sedan can, while maintaining a relatively clam composure for the rear passengers over a variety of undulating surfaces. Simply pleasant.

While the 6-speed Tiptronic gearbox cannot be faulted for its fine cog-swapping execution and matching to engine revs, I find it rather baffling why the Mondeo 2.3 Duratec cannot breach 185 km/h on open stretches of private road. Is this fully-imported Ford from Belgium trying to execute JDM-esque diplomacy in Malaysia? On a similar note, the Mondeo's powertrain don't seem at ease cruising consistently above 160km/h. Class-wise, the absence of ESP, electronic stability control program is just as intriguing.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

What's (not) so great about VW Mk6 Golf GTI

A lot of superlative pluses have been showered on the sixth incarnation of Volkswagen's iconic GTI thus far. Name me one absolutely bad test review and I shall buy you a dinner of your choice.

So is this about to change here: the dark & ugly side of the Mk6 GTI be dissected upon and laid bare for all to feast? Forget the bland, allegedly less-sporty styling (I like it) - some say more matured, discreet and understated versus the Mk5 (that's why I dig it) - what you are about to read below may make you cringe like you do towards those MPs who have suddenly gone 'independent'...

First, the price increase: from RM198k to RM211k. It's a new generation you might argue. Well, most Mk5 owners might say it is more of just a re-skin exercise ala Audi A4's B6 to B7 generations. With the RM13,000 increase you'd be getting:

1. Only 17" alloys
2. Lack of sunroof
3. No Tyre Pressure Monitoring system
4. RCD 310 CD-Radio which leaves a lot to be desired (very mediocre audio quality, absence of in-dash CD changer, no USB port and no touch screen interface...) Mk5 all came standard with in-dash 6-CD changing headunit
5. No scuff plates
6. Smallish wing mirrors with quite horrendous lateral blind spots
7. No rear LED lights
8. No daytime running lights (just pushing luck a little further here)
9. No memory function for the one-&-only electric seat i.e. the driver's
10. Drabby colour choices. The tester in Candy White (CW) is so Mark5! (For a fact, CW looks stunning on the Mk5, lesser so on the Mk6)
11. Lack of red-thread stitchings on seats to match parking brake lever, gear-knob and leather steering rim

To make things worse:

1. The Mk6' roof noise is absolutely appalling in our thunderstorm rain pelting the tinny-sounding metal sheet over your head. Absolutely disconcerting! (think: Honda City/Civic, Toyota Vios/Altis/Camry)

2. Some plastic part is of sub-standard quality e.g. the rear luggage cover suspension hook which can be easily fractured Day-2 into ownership (RH) and seemingly even the 5-years warranty doesn't cover it!

3. There IS turbo lag when you drive in 'D' with the compressor wheel seemingly off-boost when you're doing anything below 2,000rpm. Yes, the brochure states that max. torque of 280Nm start twisting from a low 1,700rpm...perhaps the tachometer reading has gone off scale or something.

4. You can almost never drive with the DCC in anything other than 'Auto'. In 'Comfort' your rear occupants will go all dizzy & car-sick on B-roads. In 'Sport' it will rattle your brain so bad that you may leak CSF through your nostrils should you brake too hard on those grabby rotors' calipers!

5.You can't really do mid-sweeping-corner lane-change-overtaking-maneuver (especially to outer arc) as fluidly and confidently like you do in a RWD vehicle. I certainly didn't sense the XDS - VW's electronic-braking pseudo-LSD thingy helping out here.

6. Slow traffic crawl with the DSG gears swapping from 'D2' to 'D1' can be a bit of a judder should you be hesitant in braking to a slowdown/complete stop. Yes, the DSG isn't perfect yet. Surprising indeed.

So, for those of you who'd still like a Mk6 GTI you can call your own, better have an extra RM25k to upgrade that ICE system to RCD510 or RNS510 (with GPS) plus change of speakers, upsized 18" alloys (Scirocco's Interlagos alloys looks yummy), soundproof your roof with extra-extra thick padding, change the wing mirrors to Passat CC's or Eos', APR ECU remap (to be done discreetly of course) in due time - hopefully this will cure the turbo-lag and the perceived drivetrain lethargy. And not forgetting the more aptly-matching Golf-R's rear-LED lights with alien-like 'written' characters akin to the Na'vi tribe's in Avatar.

So much for the Mk6 Golf GTI's "No enhancements needed" tagline from VW Group Malaysia, eh?

To be absolutely fair, the Mk6 handles tighter than how most wives keep tab on their husband's whereabouts and/or finances. The level of grip is phenomenal with tightness into and out of corner that defies belief. Body control isn't just taut, it's damn bloody tied down! Solid. Rock steady. Enabling a tracking of corners that will awe most of us, if not all those with a keen sporty driving instinct. The steering though a bit artificial (with DCC et al) in feedback and feel, is quick, weighs just about-okay and sharply accurate. Well, the steering wheel itself with red stitching, aluminium bits, micro-pocked leather sections and flat-bottom passes off like an expensive Sport option from the boys at AMG, M-division or Dr Ing HcF Porsche.

The brakes though snatchy and quite hard to modulate initially - like the Audi A4 TFSI (B7) - are very clinical in scrubbing off speed, hence reassuring for late braking into corners. While those lovely bucket seats will keep you snugly planted whatever your lateral, accelerating and decelerating antics are.

Though lower-end power delivery can be a tad lumpy in regular 'D' drive mode with an equally woolly throttle response below 2000rpm. Snap the DSG lever into 'S' and with a relentless assault on the rubber- studded-aluminium-plated gas pedal, the GTI will slingshot towards the horizon with a mettle, not unlike a junior version of a BMW 335i coupe. With much plantedness and feel the need-for-more-speed since not much can be felt anyway. Yes, in a Mk6 GTI high velocity is deceptive. Very much so and you get accustomed to it very quickly. That's the very reason why the aftermarket tuners are having a field day remapping/reflashing the new EA888's ECU as we speak.

For the record, Vmax of the Mk6 GTI is an indicative 248km/h, tried and tested on a private stretch of road, and this is stock standard performance. Average fuel consumption that ranges from 8.2l/100km for cool, sedate, long-distance driving to a high of 13.5l/100km for those speed demon blasts! For that, it takes a very well engineered car to stay calm & composed, plus that fuel efficient. With that, I guess I'd still not have to buy anyone their preferred meal off a restaurant's evening menu.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Driven: Toyota Passo Sette! (Perodua Alza EZi)

A little imagination can do wonders. You could be having a bite at McDonald's right in downtown Kuala Lumpur's Golden Triangle (corner of Bukit Bintang and Sultan Ismail) and yet think you're in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. Pardon me for the inaccuracy in the title of this blogpost but it's deliberate.

"Why?" you may ask. Well, Perodua has got it so right in their product mix that their latest Alza, so much feels like a Toyota, looks like a Toyota, drives likes Toyota; but not a Toyota. (Hmmm...sounded like one famous lawyer's testimony on court recently) And in Bolehland context - pricing it cheaper than even the base model Toyota Vios J-spec - that can be a good thing, a very good thing. Though frankly, I am of the opinion that the Passo Sette clone should not have crossed the RM60k mark, even for this Ezi spec version - to make it a truly value-for-money buy for the rakyat. But we are not here to to debate about social service, are we?

Admittedly, my initial enthusiasm was lacking upon picking up this COTY tester from Perodua. However, that soon changed as I got bitten by the travel bug soon thereafter. Loaded with 3 adults, one almost-adult teenager and three kids, we soon headed up to Cameron Highlands. On the following day, back through to Ipoh and returning to KL. The 3SZ-VE doesn't disappoint, being adequately responsive with an eloquently paired 4A/T, which resulted in decent tractability and driveability. On the downside, the naturally aspirated 4-pot 1.5L lump were often caught thrumming a little too loud - somewhat hoarse - as you venture near 6000rpm for that little extra top-end grunt. The other pleasant little surprise was that its average fuel consumption worked out to about 12km/l over some 863 km travelled. (That's roughly 15- 16 sen per km, running on RON95 @ current retail price of RM1.80/litre) Win some, lose some.

In all, there isn't much to complain about the Alza, expect for maybe absence of 2nd row a/c vents. A passenger in the 2nd row was complaining of getting hot and bothered even with the a/c blower set to fan speed #"3" during an afternoon drive. A full blast to #"4" did cure things but it was a hurricane for both occupants up front! I was getting a bit flustered and bogged down with so much of TURBULENT cold air enveloping my cheeks and temple, even with the vents angled upwards and away.

Could Perodua please add a 2nd ceiling mounted blower for the 2nd row? While at it, can the 3rd row of seat backrest be spilt into a 50:50 fold down to enable 2+3+1 seating with a little more luggage hoarding capability?

Back to the climatic indices of thermal comfort, I am sure there is enough cold air-conditioner gasses for a small 2nd auxiliary cooler coil. Seeing that, no imagination will be able to execute cooling comfort for 2nd and especially 3rd row passengers. Not even Toyota, which at this very moment happens to be a goliath of an automotive company busy with its tagline "Moving Forward...Non Stop!".