Monday, November 9, 2009

2009 Dodge Viper Roadster

What's this?! The keys to a Dodge? Looks like it is going to be another boring week. With shoulders sagging and a cloud of gloom looming over my head, I take a gander outside looking for what excuse for a car we will be reviewing this week. As I look down the line of cars all I see is bland, blah, boring, mediocre, and hmmm, something shiny and red. I like shiny!

Hit the alarm key fob and the shiny red blinks and my gloom and doom turns into devilish excitement. The nice shiny red thing is a 2009 Dodge Viper... convertible. Oh boy, the gas bill is going to be high this week. With a hop in my step, I scoot on over to the monster and open the door and slip behind the wheel. Hmmm, kinda tight. Maybe I need to shed a few pounds and shrink a few inches. Negligible and not important.

First things first... the top must go down, this is a convertible after all. Looking around, there is no sign of a power top down switch. Fathering this is a pure sports car, they could not be bothered with heavy electrical motors, so we grab what looks to be the emergency release for the cargo drop from a C130 and pop the top flies off. With a quick toss of the hand, I throw it back and uh... Houston, we have a problem. The top will not sit snug. Open the door and fall out (we will discuss this later) and stand there scratching head for about five minutes trying to reverse engineer what the people at Dodge were thinking. Finally, I give up and look for the manual. Ah Ha! The trunk must be open to put the top down. Twenty seconds later, the top is down and I am grinning once again. Sitting in the car going over the dials and cluster, you can see that this is pure sports car, no frills. Insert key, push (and HOLD) Engine start button and the monster beneath the hood roars to life.

Instantly, you know this is going to be fun. Figure while I wait for the monster to catch its breath and warm up, let's take a look and this snarling monster. Looking around the driver's tunnel, there is no sign of a hood release. Check the glove box, the center console, the driver's door jam... Nothing. Argh! Pull out the manual again... OH the release is up front, go figure. Fiddling with the releases, the hood flies open and 8.4L of shimming engine stands before me breathing deeply and patiently waiting for instructions. I must point out that the design of the engine is simply breath taking. The red engine covers, the silver intake manifolds all connected to a very forward air box which reads in big letters 8.4L V10. I start jumping up and down like a little school girl giddy with excitement.

Jump back into the driver's seat and that takes some work as that exhaust tunnel is now breathing hot exhaust on your shoes and it takes quickness to jump in so you don't smell like exhaust fumes. Snug in the cabin, adjust all the mirrors and hmm, can't find a seating position that allows me to see over the rear trunk area. Pfft, oh well... What is behind me is of no consequence!

First thoughts, ugh... gastly. Why exactly is this car so much money again? The steering is heavy, the clutch is super long, the gear shift is awkwardly placed and the throttle response is down right dismal and I haven't even made it to the exit of the parking lot. Ok, I'll give it points for having a extremely awesome exhaust note that will scare the neighbors, but so far... this thing is looking to be a failure. The people driving this car must love punishment, and what's going on, why is the foot well so hot. Too anxious to figure it out, flip the A/C on even though the top is down to help offset the heat.

Muscling the car out of the parking lot and through traffic filled roads really makes me second guess my decision for taking this car out. It is far from comfortable, clutch travel is long and throttle response is quite poor which I'm guessing is just a function of all the rotational mass under the hood. The monster that I thought was there seems to be a snoring bear instead of a snarling tiger. I'm beginning to think this car was highly over rated and I am going to ask for a refund. Flip the visor down to block some of the sun light beaming through the windshield only to find out the sun visor blocks all forward visibility because it extends right down to the steering wheel. Not waiting to give up, I proceed on squinting in spite of blinding sunlight. And why is my seat hot and my legs roasting?!? Please god, let me find some open road before I get cooked.

Up ahead, I see an opening! Blinker goes on manage to get over and make the turn and on to the express way we go. With second gear firmly engaged, my foot goes to the floor to merge on to the highway. Holy hell! The once sleeping bear that didn't want to move has turned into a snarling 400lb tiger that is now sitting on my chest. The force of acceleration is blinding! As the RPM swings near redline, sink the clutch grab third and continue on. The acceleration knocks you back and you watch the speedo fly north. Everything is a blur. The numbers on the speedo have changed from your typical digits to legal, illegal, jail followed by time travel and spontaneous combustion as the needle flies past. Fearing for my life, I come off the accelerator hoping that the fire breathing monster under the hood decides to spare me. As I coast back to sanity, I think unbelievable thoughts to myself. My eyes are bug eyed open and my heart is trying to slow itself down so it does not burn up. For those brief seconds everything in the world did not matter. My only focus was enjoying the car, all my complaints had become null and void.

When driving, acceleration is a mere moment a way depending on what gear you are in. The lower the gear, the wider the grin from ear to ear. Even in sixth gear when cruising at 70ish mph and the engine turning a piddly 1500rpm, the massive monster under the hood has enough torque to increase speed without hesitation. However, this isn't a car to be driven lightly. You want acceleration, drop from 6th to 3rd and mash the gas. Doing that little gear change turns the sedate sleeping bear into a angry tiger who has been kicked in the private parts. Anything around you turns into a blur of color as reality turns into a 80s version of star wars rendition of light speed.

"Enough about the speed already" you say. Well, we will come back to the speed part, but you may be wondering, how does it handle? Can it turn? Yes, it can turn, and turn well. Once moving at a decent speed, the massive 275mm wide tires up front can be turned with minimal effort. Push it through a few corners and you will find that the massive tires up front have tenacious grip but will start to under steer at the limit. Boo, under steer is no fun. Solution? Apply more throttle. That's right, that 8.4L V10 cures under steer with massive amounts of over steer. However, be on your toes as those 345mm tires out back have gravity altering amounts of grip, but when they let go, they let go with a mighty snap and before you know it, you have your hands scrambling for opposite lock over steer correction. Do not ask me how I know this, just take it for what it is.

As you can imagine, with massive front tires, braking ability is down right superb. I recommend often braking as hard as possible from speed because if you are like me always taking advantage of the 600hp for earth rotation altering starts, you have to help contribute to keeping the rotation in check by using the brakes to counter act your fun. That's right, by far, this car has the best braking ability tested from 80mph. Repeated tests from high speeds just were not possible due to the shear capabilities of this car, but I have no doubt reassuring you that if you have to stop more than once from light speed, you should not have a problem. Should you decide to travelling into the spontaneous combustion area of the speedometer though, you are on your own.

What I have learned from having the chance to drive this car though is that it is down right awful. The visibility out of the car is poor, the handling through the city is atrocious, the gas mileage is down right dismal. However, when you are out on your weekend and you have your foot to the floor listening to the angry beast under the hood roar from the exhaust pipes just past the door sill, all of those problems become not important. The only thing you think to yourself is, how far can I go without running out of gas, because I do not want this feeling to end.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BMW Performance -- Upgrade your 335i or just buy an M3

This is not really a review, at least not yet (unless someone wants to supply us with a DINAN 335i S2). DINAN has long been a tuner of BMWs and up until recently was available and numerous BMW dealerships (as they were DINAN authorized). However, with BMW bringing their own performance products to the table, some BMW dealerships are starting to drop their partnership with DINAN in favor of installing their own performance products.

This story comes from an interesting question found on the internet. Given the choice, would you purchase a DINAN 335i S2 or a original BMW M3. Key arguments against the DINAN 335i S2 is that by the time you put all of the items available from DINAN on a 335, you are within 3-5k of the price of an M3 and you don't get some of the trick items available on the M3. Other claim that buying a DINAN 335i S2 makes you different than the crowd, making you more unique and more of a "sleeper" keeping prying eyes at bay and keeping insurance premiums low (compared to the M3).

So what say you... stop by the link and vote. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

2009 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 GT Coupe

The first words out of your mouth... "This is a Hyundai?" Looking at the new Hyundai Genesis Coupe, you wonder how a car company has gone from being something that you would be ashamed to see in let alone drive ten years ago to a marvelous masterpiece that manages to out price its competition. Years ago, I would not dare think of bringing a Hyundai to a car show, if I did, it would be parked around the corner out of clear view. Today, I am sitting in a new Hyundai Genesis Coupe and let me say, it is garnering a whole bunch of attention from passers by. The first words out of their mouth... you guessed it, "This is a Hyundai?"

What I am going to talk about today is the new Genesis 3.8 GT Coupe. Price, as equipped, $29,000. It is OK, you can pick your jaw up off the ground. For that price, you get a 3.8L V6 engine pumping out a whopping 306HP which is tied to the rear wheels making this one of the few cars in this segment for this amount of money. You also get such niceties such stability control, automatic climate control, tire pressure monitoring system, heated seats, a sport tuned suspension, keyless entry, bluetooth connectivity, xenon headlights and the list goes on and on. The list rivals that of a car costing thousands more than what we are sitting in.

Sitting in the car you feel well supported by the seats bolsters and comfortable by the way of nice padding. The steering wheel, while small, is easy to grab with an abundance of controls littered all over the front of the wheel and paddle shifters behind for those who opt for the automatic transmission. The guages are nothing fancy, but communicate what the driver needs to know. Interior space for front passengers is ample and even with a 6'3" front seat passenger there is still enough room for an adult in the back seat. They will not be happy about it, but if their compare it to walking, it will be a welcomed place to park their rump for a an hour or so.

Now, when the rubber meets the road you may think that Hyundai short changed the driving experience in a car that is this cheap. Nope, put your foot down and your are planted in your seat by an abundance of torque off the line. Keep your foot down and the engine swing easily through its power band and quickly accelerates to speeds that would easily land yourself in hot water with your local law enforcement. The sound the engine and exhaust make give you a grin from ear to ear and you wonder why other sports cars can not figure out how make noises like this. Power is ample at engine speeds, but the car designed to be a sports car, is quick to down shift if you ask for power to move forward. It is itching to run. Ask for some passing power and it will skip down a gear or two to make sure you get what you want. Things in the rear view mirror will start disappearing quickly if you are not careful.

The handling of the car is nice and smooth. The steering, while a little delayed (one might thing because of the tall tires), points the front of the car where you want to go easily. Push the car and you are greeted with a little bit of understeer which can be countered by less throttle application to bring the front end back, or if you are a daredevil, feeding more power in to rotate the rear of the car with a nice tail out slide if desired. Lift throttle oversteer car also be accomplished easily on demand should you want. The beautiful part about it, is the car is so easy to control in all situations. Almost nothing comes as a surprise and countersteering or balancing is easy to accomplish (if you know what you are doing -- don't try this at home kids). The suspension manages to communicate to the driver what is going on... the harsh conditions are soaked up while the feedback the driver is looking for remains in tact. One downside, which we were unable to figure out was a strange vibration noise apparent at 70-90 mph. As you cross past the 75mph mark this weird vibration would become quite annoying. The noise would slowly go away as the speeds dropped below 65. We are hoping that this noise had something to do with the tires on the car and was not a design flaw. Another car will have to be tested to figure that out.

Braking... now you must be thinking, this has to be where the car falls on its face. No way can a sub $30k car do everything well. You would be wrong. From 70mph, the braking of the car was rock solid. It actually out brakes many cars twice the price. Braking from highway speeds was predictable and balanced. There was no sway from side to side, and the ABS worked as it should stopping the car in a quite respectable distance without any crazy nose dive found in other cars. The tires did squeal as if they were being tortured, but that is expected from an all season tire. Repeated braking I would imagine would be just fine as the pedal showed no signs of fade or sink after a few hard braking attempts. Again, quite a surprise when compared to other cars.

Now, It would not be fair to tell you all the good things about this car and leave out the bad things. You want to know what we think, not being a complete sales pitch to go out and buy one. The downsides are few, but there are some. The throttle on the car is very twitchy. Ask for just a hint of throttle from a stop and you get a bag full. Do not be surprised when you first drive the car that the rear tires chirp on smooth surfaces from over application of throttle. With practice, you can smooth that out, but the throttle is twitchy from a get go. The interior trim items are a little flimsy to the touch. Some of them feel as if they are going to break off in your hands, but we were unable to break them during our testing period. So they are attached well, they just feel flimsy. The door line of the car feels rather high. To accommodate viewing, one may want to raise the seat up so you don't feel as if you are sitting in a bath tub... this is mostly due to the design cues of the car though. Another thing is rearward visibility over your shoulder and through the back glass. The design makes for a rather large C pillar area making sometimes turning into traffic a mission. Plus, with such a raked rear window and high trunk, rearward visibility is a bit interesting. Using you rear mirrors will be key here. Plus, from our chief in charge of design explains that with such a raked rear window combined with no rear wiper, seeing backwards in the rain will be downright impossible as the rain will just sit on the back window. Final complaint, the trunk, while copious, suffers from a high lift over and an extreme small opening. The trunk is large enough to suck up many suitcases, but you would be hard pressed to get them up and over the trunk lift over plus, having them fit through the small opening would be a mission. You are better off carrying the suitcases in the back seat and just sticking all your clothes in the trunk. You can pack the when you get where you are going.

All in all, for the money you are spending. You are going to be hard pressed to find a better car. The value is definitely there, the performance is definitely there and the warranty without a doubt is there. With Hyundai offering a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty (on certain items), it is very likely this car will last for a very long time. These days, Hyundai is really giving the other manufacturers something to think about. Driving a Hyundai these days is no longer something to be ashamed about. I would be happy to stand next to this car and call it my own. Not only does it scream performance, it also screams value... showing others I know what I like and I don not need to spend twice as much to get it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2009 Porsche Cayman S

Our loyal readers may know that we already reviewed the Porsche Cayman so they may be asking, why are we reviewing it again? Well, the answer is simple... it is a Porsche Cayman... and to top it off, it is an S versus the non-S we drove earlier. What is even better, our Cayman S came equipped with the Porsche flappy paddle gearbox, known as Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK).

From the outside, the Cayman is slightly face lifted over the previous version that we drove. New headlights and front fascia liven up the appearance some. We are not sure if the new looks make the car look any better, but it definitely looks different than it's predecessor so those that know, will know you are driving the newer hotness. The rear also gets revised tail lamps which are bigger and more bulbous. Again, not sure if it enhances the appearance, but it is definitely different. Otherwise, the exterior is little changed from the previous year. It still looks gorgeous in white and almost could double as a piece of art rather than a car. When looking at it, you pray for good weather as driving it in inclement weather would only make a little bit of you die on the inside.

The Cayman S features a 3.4L direct injection flat six cylinder engine producing 320hp (as opposed to the 2.9-litre engine in the standard Cayman delivering 265 hp). One of the complaints with the previous car was that the while the handling was everything you would expect from a Porsche, the power was not up to par. Well, the Cayman S fixes that in the right way. Where you had to really push the Cayman to get it moving, the Cayman S moves with grace and efficiency. Push the go pedal and you are off. Engine response is snappy and it pulling power is greatly improved. It is not too much power, but it is the added power the car needed. However, with the added power, there is a noise penalty associated with the car. Driving sedately with yield no difference in noise, but bury your foot and you are pleased with a nice engine growl which unfortunately gets taken over by an annoying engine noise after 5000 rpm. Winding through the RPM is a emotional rollercoaster. As you plant your foot, and the RPM swings up, you start to smile more and more as the growl warms the soul, but as the RPMs get near redline your happiness is and hearing are swallowed up by the engine noise which is located right behind you. We suppose that it side effect of having a mid-engine car, if Porsche is listening, some more sound padding back there would not be a bad thing.

Being that this is a Porsche, handling was superb. Think of where you want to go, let you hands deliver those instructions to the steering wheel and the car answers with extreme scalpel like precision. Those with fists made of ham need not apply. This machine requires a person who knows where they want to go, not one that will be flailing around behind the wheel. The suspension is setup to be smooth yet firm. The perfect balance of yin and yang. Being that it is a Porsche, we darned not push the limits of adhesion due to our lack of available facilities to really see what it could do... but we have no doubt it would excel just as a Porsche should. Smooth yet have the ability to tear up tenacious amount of tarmac if required with its available grip.

As one would expect, the Porsche Cayman S came with some impressive anchors on all four corners. Colorful red calipers behind typical Porsche wheels definitely will make your car buddies jealous. We would expect that this car with such nice looking brakes would stop just as quickly as its older cousin. We however where slightly disenchanted to find that braking distance for this car were longer than the previous car. We believe however this was due to worn equipment on the car. Every other Porsche that has been tested have had brakes equivalent to hitting a brick wall on demand. So we will overlook this one's slightly poor performance.

We will skip the interior because... well, it is the same as the previous Cayman. Small, low to the ground and extremely purposeful with leather and carbon fiber adorning nearly every visual eye piece. It's beyond nice, that's all your really need to know.

Now, revisting the Porsche PDK. Some of you may remember we were graced with a 911 equipped with the PDK and while fun, it still had some downsides that we were less than thrilled with. Well, the Porsche engineers read our feedback and they heard and tried to address our concerns best they could. One of the biggest complaints with the previous iteration was that the low speed crawling assistant was far too peppy and far to fast to be considered a low speed assistant. Parking lot maneuvers would often lead you to riding the brake to keep it from rolling too fast. It would creep too fast for comfort. Thanks to some enhanced software, the crawling speed has been greatly reduced and now crawling through parking lots or really slow traffic are accomplished with ease and without having to ride the brakes.

The PDK is also more advanced when it comes to on/off throttle response. The jumpiness attributed to the harsh clutch activation is all gone at all speeds and especially starting from a stop. Transition to throttle is now nearly perfect provided the car has the fraction of a second to be in the right gear. From the outside and from the inside you can give people the impression you are an accomplished drivers without lunging and head bobbing.

Unfortunately however, there are some mistakes with the latest iteration as well. With this version, we noticed that gear changes at full throttle and redline have been slowed down some. So full throttle shifts while smooth leaves some power on the table that can not be extracted. Full throttle redline shifts are effortless, but no chirp of tires can be accomplished. We also noticed that the Cayman S did not come with a launch control feature. So massive acceleration can only be achieved by smashing the gas pedal through the floor board. There is a momentary pause in acceleration though as the RPMs skyrocket and then the clutch engaged... then it is bye bye birdie.

The Cayman S is a great car... it does everything well and we believe it is a great addition to the Porsche lineup. It gives you that perfect roadster feeling with the security of a roof over your head. Price starts at $60,000... but after equipping it with options you can easily surpass $100,000. When you are flipping through that Porsche Exclusive option book... make sure you check those addition boxes sparingly.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

2009 BMW 335d - Revisted

Was lucky enough to have a BMW 335d available this weekend. I know we already spoke about this car, but it was worthy of a supplement write up because we love diesel so much. The car was unchanged, so everything in the previous article still stands. However, having more time behind the wheel reminds us why we love this car so much. It is still a 3 series and drives as it should.

The diesel power plant is still as wonderful as ever and acceleration between 60-80mph is just intoxicating when you have 425ft-lbs of torque on tap. Most of the time spent driving the car was just spent pushing the go pedal down to feel the wave of torque plant you in the seat. With all of the shenanigans that took place during our revisit to this car, it was still able to achieve a whopping 26 miles per gallon. I have no doubt that with civilized driving, reaching the claimed 36 miles per gallon would be possible.

Now that is the best compromise... give up a little bit of throttle response to turn a thirsty car into a long hauler and it still drives and handles like a BMW should.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

2010 Aston Martin DB9 Volante

Beautiful ... it is the first thing that comes to mind when you look at the Aston Martin. The lines are to die for. Ever angle that you approach the car, you find yourself just giggling like a little school girl knowing that you are one of the few people to know what it is and if you are lucky enough (like today) even fewer to be able to drive one.

Yes folks, that's right... I currently hold in my hands, the key fob to an Aston Martin DB9 Volante. Before even getting in the car, I just want to say again, this car is beautiful. Every angle, ever piece of body work... every assembly of the car just fits and fits perfectly. Even the key fob seems to have elegance written all over it due to the large chunk of crystal that is attached to the end of it. Don't lose it though as the key fob alone will set you back a hefty $1000. When you are driving a DB9 though, what is a few thousand dollars between friends?

Open the doors to the car and you will see that the Aston Martin retains its upwards swinging doors to make sure the elegant doors do not come close to brushing the curb should you part on a roadway with an evil tilt. Climb into the plush interior and the seats swallow you up like a cleverly crafted glove designed just for you. The leather is like no other leader found in an automobile to date. The stitching is flawless and the smoothness of the leather feels much akin to the backside of a newborn.

After you are done oooohing over the seat, you take that wonderful key fob and insert it into the dash center console... the emotional control unit as they call it. Conviniently, you push the key fob into this key hole and the crystal on the end of the key fob replaces the crystal that was in the dash covering the key hole. Wow, they thought of it all! Push the key fob all the way in and the electronics come to life. Push the key fob further in and the engine starts to spin. This is when you realize, they really did not think of it all because it is not a simple push button start like many newer cars. You have to push the key in and hold it for the engine to fire to life. A simple push only turns it over once and not enough to fire the mighty motor. Hold the key in and the starter spins bringing the massive V-12 to life.

That's right ... a 6.0L V12 throwing out numbers that would make almost any car envious. At idle, the silky smooth V12 sits there barely muttering a whisper as if not to wake the angry neighbors. Drive away from a stop at mild throttle any a quiet wave of torque ushers you out and away from trouble. People's heads all turn and gawk as you drive by quietly and smoothly. They can't take their eyes off the amazing lines of the car. Plant your foot though and anything subtle about this car is thrown out the window. The quiet V12 starts to rumble and as the tach swing around it passes a magic number an exhaust muffler flap open. That's when the innocent V12 turns into a snarly monster. The volume of the exhaust double and hte sound goes from subtle to snarling. As the RPM climbs, the sound turns into a symphony of mechanical noise and cars and people around you start to move out of your way for fear of being eaten alive.

The speed this work of art gathers is amazing. The gear changes happen quickly and smoothly by the torque from the engine makes acceleartion in any gear almost a piece of cake. Watching the mirror faced guages swing around is almost as if watching the smooth motions of a precise clock being adjusted. While this is not a sports car, but more of a grand touring car, it does a great impression of being just that, a sports car. The acceleration is phenomenal, the nimbleness of the cassis in comparison to it's weight is astounding and the brakes are big enough to serve a small pizza on if you really wanted to.

Cruising in this car is what it is all about. With the top down, the wind noise is there, but not annoying. However, the non-stop vibration of the rear view mirror makes seeing what is behind you well, impossible. It is almost required to have a passenger to help hold the mirror in place so you can make out if that is a car full of beautiful women following you are an angry police officer trying to pull you over. I will be honest, the radio, entertainment and navigation features of this car were not amazing. At least, they were not $200,000 amazing. So we left them off. If we want to sample how they work, we can find another car with a similar setup... probably a Volvo to play with them. That's right, this is all about the drive, not the gadgets, or lack their off.

On the subject... the Aston Martin lacks the latest gadgets found in many other $200,000 cars. I guess because of their limited production they are more focused on the car rather than the gadgets that you would be busy figuring out how to turn off anyway so you could just drive. The only real buttons you are concerned about on the dash -- oh sorry, the emotional control unit are the starter button and the drive button. That's right, button. This car has no gear shift lever or automatic transmission knob. It has button on the dash. P for park, R for reverse, N for neutral and D for drive. You push the button you want and that is the direction you go in. Optional gear changes can be handled by paddles on teh steering wheel. Oh and that's the way you want it to be.

Now... this has to be easily one of the nicest cars in the fleet. Comfortable, fast, quite the looker and extremely unique. It is something that you can buy and drive and don't have to worry about somebody else having one at the local Starbucks. Aston Martin makes a very limited number of cars per year so exclusivity is something that rolls hand in hand with them. Unfortunately though, Jaguar is not. Jaguar is mass produced and the designer for the Aston Martin is also the designer for the Jaguar. That design team has an eye for beauty but unfortunately, to maximize their dollar, has to use a very similar design for the Jaguar cars. One of the biggest turn offs for this car is the fact that everywhere you go, please are going to ask you... "Is that the new Jaguar?" After you have managed to simmer your boiling blood you explain to them it is an Aston Martin and even what an Aston Martin is. Next on the negative list is the fact that the rear view mirror is about as useful as sunglasses in the middle of the night. Then there is the fact that the purchase of Aston Martin by GM has muddled with the cars pristine heritage. To save money, parts from various other automobiles have been added to the DB9. For example... as to my understanding, the key fob for the DB9 is actually nothing more than a repackaged Volvo XC90 key fob with a nice slab of crystal on the end. The wing mirror have a Volvo part number and logo stamped under them and as mentioned earlier, the navigation and radio units look to be the same as those equipped most premium american cars ... all items you wouldn't expect in a $200,000 super car.

If you can overlook the small oddities, this car is definitely a super car to be had becuase of it's exclusivity and awesome design. The attention this car brings is awe inspiring and the smile from ear to ear is almost worth the price of admission. As a whole package, it is wonderful. Plus, the sound it makes blasting around town with the RPMs up is intoxicating.

Ok, I'm off to go check my couches for spare change...

2009 Audi S8

Audi's flagship ... their greatest attempt at a big car the A8 stands to be a car that is probably the most bland looking flagship car out there. Looking at it and it doesn't specifically call out or shout lavishness at you. It looks sedate, calm and well ... uninspiring for that kind of money. What is even more boring is that Audi's high performance version of the same car, the Audi S8 is no better. More money... same bland look. You walk around the car and it looks like your typical Audi... nothing fantastic, it looks nice... but not shouty. The front looking simple and elegant, the side looks long as it should and the back looks well, like a German car. The only thing that gives away a bit of this car's character is the quad exhaust which is exposed under the bumper and a little badge denoting it is the S8 trim.

Get in and fire it up... and hmmm, it sounds different. Pulling out the sheet from the glove box and you will see that this car is powered by 5.2L V10 engine. Interesting... The paperwork claims that it boasts 450hp at 7000rpm and a monsterous 398ft-lbs of torque at 3500rpm. You sit there thinking to yourself... are they sure? The engine sitting beneath the bonnet is calm and quiet with a rock steady idle. You would start to think an engine with these types of numbers may have a erratic idle or may make noise akin to a performance engine... but nothing. It is calm, almost as if there was a sleeping bear under the hood snoring his hiberating period away.

I figure, let's set off and go for a drive and see what the S8 badge on the back of this car is all about. First, it is comfortable and smooth. The car soaks up bumps as a uber-large sedan should. Steering response as slow speeds seems to be right on par with the competition, throttle response while a little twitchy is acceptable and brake feedback at slow speeds is to be expected. However, we all know we don't by an S8 to lounge around parking lots and creep up on old ladies in the dark. Let's give this thing the beans and see what happens.

Foot to the floor and away we go. Remember that sleeping bear I mentioned earlier? Well, put the pedal to the floor and it is as if a child with no care for his life walked up to the hibernating bear and kicked him square in the face. The monster jumps to life making snarling noises and roaring right up to redline with a viceral snarl. Propulsion is sent to all four wheels and you are glad that it is to keep those tires gripping the pavement. The sound the 5.2L V10 makes sounds simlar to it's bretheren located in the Lamborghini Gallardo (that's right, it's that 5.2L motor). The speedometer climbs and climbs and climbs with no sign of stopping. Gear changes are ticked off with ease and smoothness and I have no doubt that given proper testing facilities, this one sedate pussy cat would turn into a lion at higher speeds. The motor just wants to go. A motor with this type of power, you would expect to see in a sports car and as you are gathering speed, you begin to think to yourself. The car that was huge just a few moments ago seems to have shrunk. Well it would have to shrink to be able to gather speed that fast, maybe it wasn't as big as originally though... maybe it was an optical illusion?

Through this monster into a corner or two and the Audi all wheel drive does what it does best. it moves the power around to keep you going forward and it keeps putting that power to the ground almost as if it is bending the laws of physics given a car of this size. Granted, tight corners do not do it justice due to the shear size of the car, but the bigger the corner, the better the car handles it. I'm sure if enough time in the car were available, finding the way to navigate those tight corners in a fast fashion would have become apparent, but in reality, how often are you going to throw a big uber sedan into a tight hairpin corner and slide out of it. It is a performance car, but nothing like what it does in the movies. If you push it thought and have confidence in the all wheel drive system, the laws that govern the traction of such a beast will be bent and you will find yourself wondering how you have managed to not just slide off the road and end up backwards... upside down... in a ditch... on fire.

Braking for a large sedan of this kind is good. It is nothing awe inpsiring like that of say an M5, but those brakes will get the job done. Not really much can be said about this because well, I was too busy enjoying the go to really feel out the stop part of the car. They do the job, they do the job pretty well, but let's face it. I spent majority of my time mashing the gas to listen to that harmonious 5.2L sing from beneath the hood.

To sum it up... while it may be sedate and a little bland to look at from the outside, the S8 is truely a awesome car to drive. I think many people over look it because it doesn't have the flying marks of the Mercedes Benz or the BMW or even the Jaguar, but it is a really good car. It does everything well and I think if more people gave them a chance, you would see them on the road more often. Well, that is if they managed to up the image to be more on par with the people who like to walk around bragging how they drive a Mercedes or BMW.

--- Side note, The S8 comes equipped with the Bang & Olufsen audio system. If you get this car, you must get this option. It is pricey for an upgrade at $7000, but if you are already spending $100,000 for an S8, what is another $7000 between friends? The audio that this upgrade puts out is absolutely astonishing. I could not find a piece of music that the system tripped over or sounded less that perfect trying to reproduce. At all volumes, the system was able to put out the lowest of lows and highs that almost sounded as if they could shatter glass.

Get this upgrade... you will love it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

2009 Porsche Carerra 911 S Cabriolet

For 2009 ... Porsche has one upped themselves yet again. Upgraded, yet again... the 911 that we all loved from the past has come with a few tweaks and enhancements to make it even more of a superb car. The new car maintains its level of practicality while still flirting with the performance edge ... but for $102,000, you would expect nothing less. The 911 Carerra S Cabriolet was equipped with the Chrono Package, the Navigation Package and the new Porsche Double Clutch Transmission (DKG) and I must say, even with these few options, the price tag was still busting the six figure mark. Flipping through the 60 page Porsche option book may tag on another 20-30,000 if you are not careful.

First things first. The outside of the car looks well, the same. The most critical and discerning eyes will bark at that statement, but lets face it, to the average Joe... the outward appearance is little changed outside of the cometic upgrades to the lighting jewelry both front and rear. One really nice update is the front bumper is adorned with some nice LED lighting for turn signals and daytime running lights. The rear of the car still holds the engine and a picture window through which to view it to make sure it is still there and nobody has absconded with it. If you want to impress your friends, you pop the bonnet and show them what is in there... but don't dare try and explain what you see or how to work on what's back there without going under the car.

Interior, little has changed as well because let's face it... Porsche has the receipe for perfect already well figured out. One trick feature is the Chrono Package which adorns the dash board with a stop watch. However, this is no typical stopwatch... this stop watch is only something a Porsche badge could be associated with. The detail and precision with which is glows in the dark makes mere mortals drool with envy or question why you need a stop watch on your dash. The latter type of people do not concern us... Controls for the stop watch are available at the flick of a stalk behind the steering wheel or via touch controls in the navigation.

Another so nice feature of this car was Porsche's new DKG (double clutch transmission). Lets just say, it is not perfect. For their first iteration, it could use a little work, so we will get the negative out of the way first. First and foremost, it feels as if it has a gear specifically for idle crawling speed... booo. As much as it is dubbed as a manual, when you take your foot of the brake, you roll forward just like an automatic. What is even worse, it feels like an automatic which the idle RPM set at about 1500 RPM. So when you take your foot off the brake... you're rolling and you are rolling fast. Second, slow speed control is not quite right. Transitions on and off throttle need some help. Now the good stuff... the gear changes are Porsche perfect. Ask for a gear change and it is almost as if the car can read your mind and begin the execution of the shift before your hand touches the steering wheel mounted buttons or the console mounted shift lever. Downshifts are accompanied by a wonderful throttle blip which sends shivers down your spine with that exotic Porsche boxer engine note. Upshifts are quick and time off throttle is almost inperceivable. If you want more gusto, you engage the sport mode. The sport mode sharpens everything. The shifts are crisper, the throttle responser is faster and well, you will be happy if you have a canyon near by to drive on. Now, for the unfaint of heart, there is a "sport plus" button. Now, I must warn everyone who happens to come across this car and this button. Activation of this button will induce a smile that may be permanent or too wide for your face causing unknown consequences. The "sport plus" button maximizes everything. Shifts are now so fast, your brain will be smashed up against the back of your skull. Throttle response has tuned up to the utmost sensitivity and gear changes are now only executed at optimal performance times... meaning, you are going to shift at redline and when you do the shock to the brain will pull your brain back so far it will drag the corners of your mouth with it. It is the instant fun smile factor and it will make anyone look good. Downshifts happen quickly and with utmost perfection and if the car deems that the RPMs are falling too low, it will go down to the lower gear to keep the engine speed at close to maximum output as possible. Don't be suprised if you find yourself at 6000rpm as the car downshifts into first for a slow speed corner.

Now speaking of corners... let's touch on the handling aspect of this car. Given it's super light curb weight and wonderful balance it is an absolute joy to drive. Sicne you have the engine at the back of the car and not hanging over the wrong wheels, the steering and front tires have less work to do. The suspension no longer has to worry about holding up this massive engine as it tries to maximize grip out of the front tires. This means, the front suspension and tires are all business. Turn the wheel, and the front end goes. When driving this car around corners, the terms surgical precision comes to mind. Find yourself going around a bend and need to adjust your line... no worries. Adjust your steering angle, and the front of the car will follow. It is almost as if you have rubbed a magic lamp and the genie is more than happy to do as you please. Push the car harder and harder, and it is happy to ask for more and more. Finding the limits of this car are going to be dangerous. It has so much capability that when you find the razor's edge, you are going to be going VERY fast and while I have no doubt controlling the car at that speed will be easy as pie, it will probably be the fast pie you will ever eat.

Now let's talk about acceleration. With almost 350 horsepower and a curb weight of about 3300lbs, motivating this chassis forward is simple. Ask for it and you go it. Punch the gas, and you are gone. Acceleration from a stop leaves nice black marks on the road as the systems maximize forward momentum. Ask for more when you are on the highway and the torque from the motor is happy to usher you forward even in the tallest of gears. Want some fun though, downshift to the lowest gear possible and introduce the go pedal to the carpetting and you can almost see the shock and awe and jealousy of the people in your review mirror as you are passing them and disappearing into the distance. It is almost as if, this car was born to run.

Porsche will have a hard time making a better car than this... oh wait, they did. The turbo cabriolet. I can't wait until that one become available to drive. If this car was so good, I can only imagine what another 150 hp would do. Oh, I think I started drooling on myself again...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

2009 BMW 750Li - First Look

BMW redesigns the 7 ... and it looks impressive and it is packed with technology goodies that will blow the mind. Starting with the nose, it very forward and very flat. It gives an impressive stance. I'm sure lots of that nose adjustment had to due with safety regulations, but they still pulled it off quite nicely. Looking at the headlights, they are trimmed and noted with a new "BMW Dynamic Xenon" logo. Moving around the side, you will see mini camera located in the front bumper. These camera allow you to look right or left as you peak around the corner of possible a tight alley (not that you could really drive this in a tight alley anyway). Stepping further away from the car, you can start to really appreciate it's length. It's long... really long. The doors swing open with heft and one of those wonderful 7er features is that when you swing them open, they don't bounce back or bounce to a preset position. You open it... it stays where you leave it. Slide around to the trunk area and the rear is completely redesigned... some say with a hint of Lexus in mind. Taillights are very similar to the large Lexus sedan and so far the exhaust oval trimmings in the rear bumper. One interesting note is that the exhaust mufflers are not really connected to the exhaust trim and actually site a few inches behind the bumper. You can clearly see them and you can clearly see the exhaust flap that is used to adjust backpressure as needed.

In silver, it is about as bland and bland car be... but it's presence is still hard to miss. I'm not sure if that's because of its size or if that's because of it's shape. Only time will tell. More will come when a vehicle becomes available to drive. Who knows, it has become so technologically advanced, it may drive itself.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 Saab 9-3 Aero Sports Sedan XWD

Oh boy... another Saab, the car from a company that used to build jets. With that tag line, I try to not be jaded from previous Saab cars, but so far, they have yet to make me feel like I am driving a jet or even a car inspired by one. Outwards appearances though do suggest that the aggressive nature of jet building is not completely gone. The exterior of the Saab is just wonderful. The only real complain from the exterior of the car is the small wheels the car is equipped with which no doubt is at attempt to keep rolling mass down or using lots of air in the tires to absorb road imperfections. The exterior has the perfect lines from the rear side and most importantly front. The headlight assemble and lighting configuration is almost a dream come true when it comes to aesthetics. It is one of those cars that looks great… but let us talk about how it drives.

Inside the car, the ergonomics are well… different. I get the feeling that the Saab engineers felt they wanted to tweak something to say they changed it but not move it too much so they would not feel like they were changing the arrangement of the keys on a keyboard. All the switch gear is slightly out of place and while still intuitive, just slightly annoying to constantly be fumbling to try and find something which you know is there, but slightly moved. It is much like looking for the light switch in a dark house. You know one is there, but you want to try and figure out where that wacky designer moved it too. The seats are comfortable and worthy of the price tag of the car, but unfortunately, the rest of the interior is not. The dash layout is different that your typical car with an eerie glow to it, but again not quite right. I’ve been in some of the most modern jets on the planet, but not once have I seen a cockpit this type of design… maybe it is based off an older Vietnam jet… who knows.

Reach for the steering console to find the key, fumble around a bit and then remember that Saab moved it to the center console. Turn key fire it up and everything comes to life and away we go. Being this is not the first Saab I have driven, I mashed the go pedal and expected to wait for the turbo to do its thing. Much to my surprise, the turbo lag was severely reduced (Editorial Note – At this time, I did not know the power plant was the upgraded turbocharged V6 motor… I still thought it was the anemic four cylinder turbo). Pleasantly surprised, I thought… maybe Saab is starting to make a turn for the better. So I wiped my slate full of previous Saab criticisms aside to give this a fair shot.

Motoring down the road way, the car felt good. Power was adequate to pass cars on the motorway, acceleration was much improved from a stop… stopping power was marginal I thought, but that was mostly due to the lack of feedback from the brakes. Without knowing how much more was available, it was hard to really ask too much from them without wondering what would happen if you asked for too much. Cruising in the car was nice and smooth. I would not say it was reminding me of a premium car, but it definitely was much more than utilitarian transportation much like the Volvo. Throw it into a corner and the small wheels and super tall tires unfortunately take their toll communicated to the driver through body roll. However, once settled in the corner, the car grips the road with little drama. So quick transitions will more than likely scare the driver, but once settled in, it is pretty smooth and tranquil. It reminds me of a new born being thrown in a pool. They scream and thrash about violently until they realize that swimming is not that hard and is quite fun.

I attribute most of this handling prowess to the car being equipped with the Saab XWD. No, it’s not AWD, Saab calls is XWD (cross wheel drive). The XWD system is actually the fourth generation revision of the Haldex electronic AWD system. It transfers almost 90% of the power from the engine to the front wheels during normal conditions. It only starts to move power around when you ask for more than the front tires can handle. One almost dares to ask if it would make more sense to be the other way around, but I’m no Saab engineer. The XWD system also shifts power around should you try to bend the laws of physics. It will help you by shifting power to maintain grip, but in the event of you trying to shatter the laws of physics, you are on your own.

As an overall package, the Saab is not a bad car. It is quirky and slightly different than its counterparts. Equipped with the turbo six cylinder 280hp/295ft-lbs of torque engine, one would think it would have more oomph, but sadly no such luck. The XWD system is one of the latest and greatest, but unfortunately, mated to some small wheels and tires can make for some less than performance enthused driving. Maybe Saab should change their slogan from “Engineered by guys who build jets” to “Engineers by guys who build commercial airliners”. It is not fast, not razor sharp and by all means, can’t launch rockets from the headlights … even though they look like they could. However, looking at the car for what it is, it is a car that most people would be happy to drive around in. Smooth, quiet and safe… oh and did I mention quirky?