Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 BMW M5

After 600 miles, the M5 is still just as much fun as the first mile. However, some of the appeal has been lost due to multiple trips to the gas station. That V10 is thirsty ... but you tend to forget about that when you are winding it out past 7000rpm. It gathers speed unbelievably fast and sheds it off equally as fast considering how large it is.

Let's go over the car from the beginning.

The sticker price on this car is just shy of $100k ... is it worth it? If you are looking for an autobahn crushing family cruiser, then the answer is unquestionably without a doubt. The looks of the car have been claimed by many to be less than perfect, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I behold greatness here. The interior while new and modern not typical of BMW's of the past has won me over and finding things is easy and intuitive.

The iDrive system, that many hate... does not phase me one bit. I'm able to use the voice commands and the control knob easily. Maybe this is because I am a computer person, maybe it's just because I spent more than two minutes reading the manual and playing with it ... who knows.

Now the stuff you are really looking for ... the performance. How does this thing drive? It drive good. Thanks for coming reading. Just kidding. The car drives really nice and not too firm. Even in the hardest of suspension settings (there are three -- soft, normal and hard) it is quite tolerable. The power is intoxicating. Getting it moving takes a moment because well, it is heavy and mass requires power to move, but once moving... any sort of acceleration is only a flick of the wrist away. The seven speed SMG unit executes down shifts with lighting speed and up shifts equally as fast. The faster you want to go, the faster it shifts gears. At speed well in excess of common, the car continues to gather speed.

Does anybody need a car this fast ... no. Is it nice to have, you bet! There is nothing like having a car that can haul a family with luggage around and still be able to blitz a mountain pass when you want to.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Introduction / Update

Well ... you'll probably notice that I am now using a blog to manage all the automotive reviews. As such, all the dates for the reviews are currently out of order. I'm hoping to fix that soon.

Also, we are going to be expanding this section to handing automotive, as well as motorcycle reviews and if it is promising, I may even branch out into personal watercraft as well (but that is in the future).

Enjoy the reading, I hope it helps you make a decision on what to buy/drive next.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

2006 Honda Pilot

Well... it's not every day that you get a full size SUV as a test vehicle for evaluation (well, there was that time I got the Cadalliac Escalade ESV, but that's another story). The Honda Pilot gets a subtle face lift for 2006 which includes a new headlight configuration using projector beams and a clear rear tail light assembly.

Performance is decent for a cheap SUV. Good power is available from all RPM bands and Honda's engine technology is easily noticeable by the high engine redline for an SUV. Downside to having all this power is that it is mated to an open differential up front which means that one skinny tire has the duty of lugging around a rather large vehicle which could lead to wheel spin if you ask too much too soon with an overly aggressive right foot. The problem is three-fold if you do it while going around a corner from a stop. Any sign of wheel spin and Honda's traction management system steps in and kills all power to reduce the wheel slippage. Once rolling though, there is adequate power available to move you to highway speed and passing speed if necessary.

Handling... well, that's something that should just be ignored because we are talking about a full-size top heavy SUV here. That being said... it has better road manners than some of the sedans I've driven. That doesn't mean it is an auto-x champ, it just means that some sedans have a piss poor suspension setup. The suspension is smooth and will soak up bumps with ease. It also has enough suspension travel to accomodate a full loaded cargo area (which is quite large when all the seats are folded down).

Brakes... that is where there is definitely room for improvement. Asking the brakes to slow this monster requires plenty of braking area and when you start to apply them, the nose starts to dive. Ask for excessive braking and ABS is trigger and the nose dives to the point where forward visibility is reduced to the nothing as you stare directly at the pavement ahead. You better make your first stop a good one, because ask you can imagine, they get progressively worse the more time you try to stop.

As for comfort... well, that is where this baby excels. With plenty of interior cabin room, cupholders for all and a center console that has enough room to take a large woman's purse plus an extra purse as a spare... there is no lack of storage space for the driver and passenger. Plus, with 12V outlets, there is enough room for a cellphone charger, radar detector and iPod provided you have the 12V adapter.

The controls up front are all very fitting and the AC/Heating system is by far the easiest of any vehicle I have been in. Set the desired temperature and push auto... and that's it. The inside of your vehicle becomes your own private climate controlled oasis which is always where you want it to be. No hot spots, and no cold spots ... just right. Honda also got all the controls right... except for the radio. Oddly enough, the radio comes with three large knobs... and you would figure (like every other radio) the one closest to the driver is the volume button... nope, wrong, it's the center knob. Oh well, can't get it all right. The steering wheel has controls for basic radio functions and cruise control functions which get you where you need to go if you do not want to take your hands off the steering wheel.

The added benefit of this Honda Pilot is the cylinder deactivation technology. Provided you are at a steady cruise and less than a specific speed (which I have found to be 82mph ... but could vary based on your location and altitude) the engine will deactivate three cylinders to help save on fuel usage. It is a nifty feature which helps reduce gas consumption of this thirst SUV.

Overall, it is a great SUV if you need the cargo space, but think twice because it's rare that anybody requires this much cargo on a daily basis to justify such a large vehicle.

2007 Mazda 6 V6

Wow... the Mazda 6 has come a long way since its introduction. Jumping right in, it's isntantly noticeable that they fixed some of the problem areas in the dash from earlier. The center console that used to house the radio/tape/CD area has been redesigned so it doesn't start peeling on the first hot day. The seats feel changed, but not for the better. Of course, that could be because the car was new and needed some more seat time to get more plyable. Be foreward, the first couple of hundred of miles will make you stop frequently to stretch and relax your muscle as the seats initially are not very forgiving. Overall, the rest of the interior felt unchanged which is fine because why change what works.

The suspension of the car felt quite soft and made for a comfortable ride through the city and while on the highway. It soaked up smal and large bumps alike without upsetting the passengers too much. Through agressive turning and stopping though, you paid the price with quite a bit of body roll combined with excessive nose dive and tail squat. After all, it is a sedan... but I think they need to put a little more performance into the suspension.

The engine ... now that's a joy. The engine was very smooth and powerful at all engine speeds and travelling velocities short of supersonic speeds past the century mark. My only real complaint would be that the engine transition from off-throttle at idle was rather jumpy. No matter how gently you applied the throttle from a stop, the car would jump forward making every departure from a stop light look as if you are trying to drag race the guy next to you. That gandered a few strange looks from other drivers as the nose raised up into the air like a scared horse.

The transmission in the car has six gears which make for great fuel economy. An attempt to make any sort of pass on the highway though will drop down two gears from sixth to fourth which would send the RPMs skyhigh and passengers wondering if they crossed the starting line at the Indy500. However, when not in passing mode, the car is capable of crusing at anywhere from 70-90 with ease. Anything below 70 and the car wants to gallop faster while anything north of 90 made it communicate to you that it was unhappy that it was working that hard. It would do it if you asked, but it was not happy about it. You could feel the fight back from the gas pedal as the resistance was much higher.

One other large complaint ... the lack of brakes. Braking from speeds required much longer than you would think from a performance sedan. The brakes felt soggy and not very progressive. They need to do something about installing a larger brake booster, larger calipers or better pads or SOMETHING to help inspire a little more confidence under braking. For that very reason... high speed cruising often required much more stopping distance than normal due to the simply fact that the comforte level just was not there.

All that being said, the car is an excellent car and definitely would be a great car to drive around in on a daily basis to and from work and for long road trips.

2006 BMW M Roadster

HOOO RAHHHH! Damn... this is a fun car. Granted, this car is not a test mule and is my own personal car, it's hard to give a full writeup as I'm not as likely to beat on my own car without having it properly broken in.

I can say this much so far ... this is going to be a fun car and it's also going to be a handful to drive hard. First of all... give up every notion you have about it being like an M3. It's nothing like an M3. The engine, brake and suspension may be similar, but when it comes to actually making them work in harmony... nothing like the M3.

The biggest thing you notice when you drive this car compared to any other car is the seating position. When you are in this car, you are not in the middle or in the center of all the activity. You are basically following the engine around as you sit in the trunk. Try it, go into your car and sit in the trunk and try driving it around... feels strange yes? It's not a bad thing... just different.

That being said, the interior of the car is purpose built... to drive. No frills, no extra storage space ... no nothing. I think it is one of the few cars where the glovebox is designed to hold just that, gloves ... nothing else. The only storage space you have it behind your right elbow (on US models) where you can store a few nick nacks but nothing large and definitely nothing odd shaped. The rest of the car is assembled, just for you and your briefcase ... or if somebody is lucky (or had paid you a healthy amount of money) a passenger.

Being that the car is new, the engine feels tight, but power output is definitely up there. Way more power feeling than that of say a Porsche Cayman (see the review). Punching the throttle at any part of the RPM band leaves you and your neck fighting the forces of physics trying to push you into the seat. The engine makes harmonious noises... nothing like that of an M3. No chainsaw like rasp, just a nice growl as it surges ahead. With the top down, you can also hear that hint of that marveloous engine growl out of the exhaust as you quickly depart from your current location.

Handling wise... there is definitely understeer preset. However, a stab of the throttle quickly turns that understeer into oversteer. If you are not paying attention, the traction control will jump in and reel you in with extreme vilagence... however, that's no fun, so traction control is off for really playing around (in a safe controlled environment). Be forwarned tho, that tail is very happy when at speed and will twitch and break free quite easily if provoked. Yes there is understeer, but there is also plenty of oversteer that will send you spinning into the scenery if you are not careful. The suspension, while tight is also very comforatle allowing it to soak up most bumps without having to adjust your spinal column. However, toss it into a corner and the suspension sets and the go-kart handling commences.

The brakes are quite potent but are typical BMW brake pads, dust like there is no tomorrow. No high speed braking tests were done because ... in all honesty, I didn't want to have to spend hours cleaning off my wheels from the baked on brake dust that would accumulate. More braking tests will be done after the pads are changed for something more dust friendly.