Thursday, August 9, 2007

2007 BMW 335i Coupe

When you look at the car from the front, it looks good, a bit like a Lexus IS, but substianally enough to not be confused as one. The front is nice, not aggressive, but nice ... very smooth if you will. From the side, the wheels do a good job of filling out the wheels (if you opt for the 18" sport package). Behind the 18" wheels are some complex looking calipers... you can tell those are not ordinary. There is something there requires additional machinery. I'll talk more about the brake drying, rotor wear indicators and panic brake preparation in a little bit. When you look at the rear of the car, you can visibly see that the car is longer. From the back, the car looks subtle, but again, you can see the added length by the visible rake of the rear window and the rear exhaust tips protrude just a little bit too much from the rear bumper. Somebody is going to sue BMW because they will inadvertently get burnt.

As the big door swings open, it is evident that it has BMW heft to it. The front part of the dash looks just like any other E90 3 series. However, that's about it. The center console now stretches all the way from front to bank eliminating the possiblity of a fifth passenger in the rear ... which is fine, nobody should be back there anyway. The passenger comparement has been completely redesigned for accomodate larger adults in the rear seats. I'm guessing that is where the added length went to.

When you close the door, the car utilizes a little arm if you will to push the seat belt forward from the B pillar to the drivers hand without the need to stretch... nice nifty feature, but I see it getting broken easily. Seats are much more supportive over the E90 3series sedan... Lots of bolster to keep you in place.

Insert key, clutch in ... push button start and the engine fires to life. The first words that come to mind are buttery smooth. Tapping the exhaust pedal yields nothing as again it seems throttle response is lacking from idle. Don't know if this is a function of the turbos or just the way the engine is designed... who knows.

Now we are off... Acceleration from a stop is good, very brisk. If you didn't know anything about this car, you would never know it is turbo charged. Full throttle from idle yields plenty of power, but no where near as fast or as powerful feeling as the E46 M3. E46 M3 felt much more brutal. However, that being said, the car does pull strongly. Suprisingly, it'll hit 110 in 3rd gear with ease. The shifts are crisp, but with BMW smoothness. There is no doubt that you are in a uber saloon as you change gears. Each gear change is precise and crisp. Power is available in all gears at all ranges of the powerband. In 6th gear at 40mph, you can mash the go pedal and the engine will pull you forward ... can't really do that in a E46 M3. The more you downshift, the faster you accelerate... but again, feeling of power is better in the E46 M3.

Brakes are beefy. Remember earlier when I was talking about the brake calipers? Well this car comes standard with some nice new braking features. Panic brake preparation - when you snap your foot off the go pedal, it pre-pressurizes the brake system and brings the calipers withing 1mm of the rotor so when you stab the brake, you get INSTANT stopping power and during that time it will maximize braking power without triggering ABS. If you trigger ABS it'll continue to work. The brake system also supports a Brake Dry feature. When driving in the rain, with the windshield wipers active, the brakes will periodically lightly apply the pads to the rotors to dry the pads and rotors so when you need braking power, you won't have to suffer from rain fade on the brake pad/rotor.

When it comes to handling... the car feels good, feels very tight, However, mid corner bumps can upset the chassis giving it an uneasy feeling, not all bumps, but certain bumps sent the chassis into an see-saw effect where you feel a bit unnerved. Loads of grip are available though which provides for lots of driving excitement. Throttle induced oversteer as power is readily on tap. However, by default, the car will understeer if you approach corners too swiftly. Traction control is switch to step in and act if needed.

Basically, it's a nice car... feels great, but it is no M. When the M comes out, expect a review from yours truly.

2006 Chysler Crossfire Convertible Limited

Testing convertible... oooh fun! Well, lets just say if it wasn't for the convertible, this would be a much worse writeup.

First, with the top up, rearward visibility is almost nil. So, down it went. First attempts to lower the roof were met with frustrations and beeps. The convertible top is far from intuitive. Unlatch the roof... unfold, twist, pop, turn and the roof is detached. Push the button on the console... and BEEP. Nothing. Hold the button down, BEEP... nothing again. After about 15 minutes inside and outside the car and one kick of the tire. The top stayed up for the initial part of the test.

Air conditioning control work phenomenally. No confusion there, you can easily get all the cold air you want. The dash, well... it's good, gives you all the information you need, and a little marker down there to tell you what gear you are in. The radio... absolutely ghastly. While the sound is good... as it would have to be with a convertible and it's lack of sound deadening material, the usability of the unit is down right crap. Twist and turns of knobs get the circuitry to do what it is told, but the screen update is horrible slow and I would find myself scanning through stations while not knowing which station I was on because the screen took forever to update. I would often scan from one station to the next and the screen wouldn't update until a second or two passed. Who made this junk... bah. The interior is made of some cheap tacky looking aluminum substitute and causes plenty of glare.

Back to the top... not one to be defeated by any car. I went back to trying to tackle the top. After playing with the unit some, I found that eventually, I got to the top retract, but it required some forceful latching and unlatching to get it to work. I'm guessing a loose contact/sensor somewhere. So, let's try it again.

Fold, Twist, Pop, Fold ... hold the button. Voila... here we go. The top start to retract in a confusion down on mechanical noises and motors. Finally we have unlimited headroof. Visibility is understandable much better, however the glare from the interior is even worse.

Now we are rolling... the car has excellent power. Definitely makes going fast easy and it's easy to go fast with this car. Handling feels decent, but transmission is definitely not up to part ... and the manual selection of gears doesn't even work. Any request to use a wrong gear while in manual mode sends it directly back into automatic mode. BAH. Brakes feel good and are met with good resposne. The massive tires up front no doubt play a good role in stopping ability.

Now, back to the convertible top... now remember earlier that it was broken when I tried to get it to go down? Guess what... same thing happens when I tried to put it up. Clouds rolling in... Thunder grumbling through the sky and flashes of lightning in the distance send me into a panic stop and feverishly attempting to find cover before the skies open up and turn this convertible into a bathtub.

You would think it would be easy easy as following the original steps in reverse... right? WRONG! Hold the button and the mechanical noises start to bring the top out of hiding and return it to it's original position over my head... when half way through the exercise, BEEP and the top feezes in it's tracks.

DAMMIT! The top is half way up... so now I'm stuck. I can't drive anywhere and I can't put an umbrella over my head. I pop the glove box as my 15 minutes I allotted myself in the beginning to figure this problem out were more like 2 minutes now. The manual says, in case of malfunction ... call your dealer. WTF?!

Some forceful manhandling of the roof bring to light that the rear part of the roof is not falling back into place as it should which is not allowing some mechical contraption to grab it and pull it snug there by halting the top closing process. With one hand, I help the top and with the other, I hold down the button and voila... finally the top continues to unfold back into place.

I lock it back into place and then proceed to take this pile of junk back to where I got it. What good is a convertible if the top doesn't work right. I'll tell you, It's as good as driving a car with no soundeadening material with only a windshield to see out of cause the other windows are spray painted black.

2007 Porsche Cayman

What a nice car... just needs more power. Having the engine in the back of the car really gives you a different feeling (more so that just being chased around by a pile of angry bees). The front end feels nimble and connected to the road. The handling is precise and down right surgical. Understeer is present, but extremely extremely faint. Oversteer is easy to come by provided the RPMs are up and you ask for it the right way.

My only disappointment about the car is the lack of HP. The car is the refinded in every manner, but needs some more grunt... going from partial to full throttle at 4000rpms leave you with no added feeling of power other than the increase in engine noise and what you can see on the speedo. The feeling of speed just is not there.

Another downside to the car is the brakes. Now I know Porsche's are known for the shockingly awesome brake systems, so I'm going to chalk up the poor brake feeling to a test car that had just been overly abused. While the brakes did work awesomely and performed flawlessly each and everytime from triple digit speeds, the feedback through the pedal seemed non-existant. In other braking systems, you could feel the magical point jsut before lockup... in the Cayman, not so much. I often found myself going into ABS lockup instead of reaching the threshold braking point.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up with the performance and superb handling of the car, I really didn't pay much attention to the interior of the car as it was pretty much a base model equipped Cayman. The Guards Red seatbelts were a definite bonus tho giving the interior an added stab of color to the otherwise bland black.

Hopefully soon, I'll be able to get my hands on a Cayman S to see if the added power makes it a better drive. I can see what people rant and rave about Porsches though after driving this car. It's handling and suspension are top notch... if it only had more power...

2007 BMW 328i

The E90 328 sedan really suprised me... this car is by no means slow. When I picked up the car... I was expected it to be slow and even slower because it was equipped with an automatic rather than a manual. Talk about pleasantly suprised.

Stab the gas pedal from a stop and the car accelerate quite quickly... it may be the smallest of engines available from BMW in the US, but it is quite powerful... enough to earn a mighty mouse title in my book. Accelerating from a stop to highway speeds happens effortlessly as quick and smooth shifts are done with the six speed automatic transmission. Granted, the mighty mouse motor starts to run out of breathe as you enter the triple digit arena, but think of what you are asking for this motor.

Move the shifter over into the sport mode and shifts become that much more crisp and gear changes happen at a much higher RPM. Stab the throttle ever so briefly before entering a corner and the transmission downshifts to a low gear as your proceed to then put the car through the corner.

Disable the first level of traction control and even tho the car does not have a limited slip differential, the brains behind the DSC try to simulate one as you attempt to power yourself out of a corner. With the DSC turned down a bit, power induced oversteer is available at slower speed and if you ask for too much throttle prompting the car to get out of wack, the car steps in to push you back in line. Physics are still very present, but with the DSC on a looser leash, it makes driving this car quite a bit of fun. Disable all of the traction control features and you'll find that the lack of limited slip differential is ever prevalent as the inside tires starts to smoke as you try to power out of corners prompting so quite flagrent tail wagging scenarios... while fun, not fast or comforting.

Even when equipped with the smallest tires available which sport some high profile tires, handling is quite nimble and communication to the drive is still present through the seats and steering wheel. The handling is excellent given this is a base model sedan which is supposed to just be basic transportation for those in the BMW family. The bumps are soaked up with ease, but grip is ever prevalent and with better tires could rival that of some other sport sedans in the class.

The brakes were readily available each and every time they were called upon, however fade did become an issue after a few attempts to drop anchor from highway speed. Feedback was excellent and ABS was extremely effective when needed.

I won't go into the interior details as ... well, most of us have already seen and experienced the interior.

As for options... the 328 is stripped down base model car, no frills... but as transportation, it gets the job done easily. Some options could easily push it up to the price of a 335, so you may want to take a look at what options you are putting on the car as some of them come standard on 335 cars.

Next time around that I am looking for transportation... the 328 will definitely be on the list of cars to get info about. Excellent car!

2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV

This was an abbreviated test but... the first thing that comes to mind is PLUSH. For a astronomical price tag of about $65k, you can have one of the largest, most plus vehicle on the road. The test vehicle came equipped with the optional 22" rim/tire package and even still managed to soak up bumps with ease. The seats were soft, the ride was smooth and comfy and the steering, feel oddly almost like a steer-by-wire system with no road feel what so ever.

Power was supplied by a massive 6.2L V8 engine which was plenty good enough to accelerate from a stop to freeway speed. Stopping however felt as if it was lacking. I found the brakes in the '06 Suburban Z71 to be better. Handling... well, was none existant, however... turning radius was extremely tight and welcomed. Unfortunately, this test route did not leave the option open for an off-road test, but in reality, how many people are going to off-road a $65k school bus anyway. My comments on the 4wheel drive system would normally go here, but no off-road testing was available. The exhaust system on this vehicle was superb. It is almost as if half the money of the SUV went into designing and developing the exhaust note. It's PERFECT.

The interior is covered in look-a-like woods and leather almost everywhere. A large touchscreen control panel for radio and navigation was installed in this vehicle and I found it's use to be functional, but screen updates could have happened a little faster. Using the touch screen to operate the control of the radio is you best bet as the little button under the screen were complicated. When you toss it into reverse, a rearview camera is switch on which helps navigate the huge behemoth into a parking space. Oh, speaking of parking... at a length of over 9 feet... it will not fit into your standard parking space. It will stick out or crunch some expensive running gear in the rear.

My largest complaint is the want-a-be waterford crystal looking clock on the dash. It was a poor attempt and only a man on a galloping horse would confuse this with a quality piece of art. First, the clock is at an angle, so any sunlight what so ever renders it unreadable. Second, the thing looks like cheap plastic and setting it, well... lets not even tackle functionality.

The beast... is large, but comfy. Would I own one? Perhaps if I was a rap star or basketball player... however, I couldn't justify spending $65k on something this large that I would be scared to drive on anything more severe than pavement or small grass.

Now you may be asking... how was the gas mileage? Suprisingly... this logged an impressive 12-14mpg in the city while the Suburban logged a dismal 10-11mpg on the highway.

2007 Chevy Malibu LT V6

Seeing as how 8 speed transmissions are on the horizon ... who the hell still uses a 4 speed transmission in a car?! I'll tell you who... Chevy and GM in the Malibu. One of the biggest let downs ... the 4 speed auto transmission.

Now... taking it into the account that this is a standard passenger sedan and a cheap one at that, we obviously can't expect supreme driving comfort and unsurpassed handling abd braking. However, being that as it is ... the car is not all that bad. The engine has plenty of low end grunt which is required for the long gears in the 4 speed tranny. The engine is more than happy to pull with force from idle through the RPM range. However, being FWD, ask for too much "go" power and you'll find that torque steer becomd a huge problem wanting to change your desired direction of travel to the left or right sharpely depending on where the scenery can do the most damage to your vehicle. All that go power is enough to get you up to just shy of triple digit speeds before starting to run out of passing power.

Handling is ... well, designed to be cheap and comfortable. So... it's not perfect but it gets the job done. Bumps are soaked up with ease but ask this monster to handle an on/off ramp at anything considered remotely fast and it'll have the tires screaming for mercy as your passenger wonder if you are pretending to be a NASCAR driver. Body roll and squat and dive are ever so prevalent and even more prevalent when the car has cargo.

Braking... well, I'm not even going to try to tell you that repeated stops from speed will give you any sort of confidence. The first stop from anything considered fast is decent and will leave you rest assured, but as you try more and more stop from speed, your confidence level drops considerably before you begin to wonder if it would be bail out and abandon car in fear of ending up as part of the scenery rather than asking it to do another stop from speed.

Interior erogonomics take a little while to get used to. The interior is made of cheap plastic, but it functions to get the job done. The high mounted shifter on the drift shaft is awkward and clumsy as shift controls for manual shifting are placed where the normal button for switching from reverse to drive is placed. The radio control do the job are are directly to the point. The buttons the steering wheel also serve their purpose, but there are two buttons mounted on the back of the steering wheel that you'll have to find before you know they are there that control the volume of the radio from the wheel rather than the dash.

Another sore subject for this car ... the horrible seats. They are far from comfortable and you probably would have a better driving exerpence if you took the seats out and replaced them with the plastic crate boxes. The seats are horrible.

Overall... for the price, it's a damn good car to drive, but that being said, you would be better off spending more money to get something a little more suited towards extended travel.

2007 Honda S2000

What a sweet car ... if you can overlook it's numerous annoyances. The car is great when it comes to ragged edge performance. However, if you aren't prepared to drive it like that all the time, you will be sorely disappointed. The engine ... when not flying high at it's astonishing 8000rpm (lowered from 9000rpm when the upped the engine size) is rather docile and buzzy. However, once you get it up past it's 6000rpm sweet spot, it loses it's oversized blender like buzziness and trades it in ... for you guessed it... a higher powered oversized blender. Engine sound and exhaust not are not this cars strong point. I've heard lawnmowers sound better than this thing. That being said, the engine is quite potent above 6000rpm... ask it for anything below that and you'll be left wanting... another engine in the back to help.

Enough about the engine tho, the car is balanced... very well balanced. Steering is sharp, but lacks communication. Suspension is stiff and taught, but supple enough to handle small bumps and road inconsistencies. Understeer is very prevalent if you are not careful and steering it with the throttle requires that the RPM be up around that sweet spot or else you will just induce more and more understeer. The shifter is awesome... Honda has perfected the shifting technology when it comes to smooth short shifts. Now if they could only get the thing to stop shaking around like a hawaiian dancing girl duct taped to the dash, we would be in business. The shifter tho makes the car a joy to drive... downshifts and upshifts are a breeze and just want to make you change gears for the fun of it ... even if not required.

The cabin... is horrendous. Remember that gokart like feeling I spoke of earlier when it comes to handling? Well, it's even more apparent in the car because you feel like you are shoehorned into a go kart. The interior erogonomis are excellent ... if you are going be blasting to and from work and don't care to do anything else. Otherwise, I found that the buttons to the left of the steering wheel were too far to reach easily, the buttons behind the radio cover were too small to get to and damn near impossible if you were in 1st, 3rd or 5th gears. Plus, when the radio cover is open, the cover folds down flat (if the shifter isn't up in the upper gears) which then starts to annoyingly stab you in the leg.

The steering wheel sits down a bit and the cluster is easily seen through the wheel opening, but the cluster is a big difficult to see in direct sunlight. I guess you can deal with that. However, wheel placement and bad erogonomic make finding the ignition extremely difficult... especially in poor lighting.

The car drives great when you are driving it how it's supposed to be driven ... with your hair on fire. However, daily driving and comfort leave you wanting much much more.