Thursday, December 27, 2007

Some Fun to Drive Front wheel drive cars at RM300K, RM200K and RM100K

Recently I had the opportunity to try various new and old cars. A lot of them were the normal Front Wheel Drive Cars, to some All Wheel Drive ones but none of them were rear drive ones. This goes to show that we have got a big hole when it comes to rear wheel drive vehicles. You read in the magazines, you watch on TV that truly sporting cars have their rear wheels driven and their front wheels for steering. Purity of steering and drive I suppose but the general population isn’t going to experience such a feel as none of the bread and butter cars have rear wheel drive or for that matter all wheel drive. I think as a person who enjoys driving I can consider myself pretty lucky as I have the opportunity to try cars other than the norm and that I am not a motoring journalist per se.

Those who have been reading my ramblings so far will note that I am in my opinion one of those who does not like a lot of cars, including the VW GTI and the Suzy Swift Sport. Why you may ask? Well, the GTI is too big for its own good compared to the 1st and 2nd gen GTI and that is all the reason you need. It may be fast and all but it’s a van in hot hatch clothing. Why buy a van if you don’t need to? The Suzy Sport has a rubbery electrically powered steering which I don’t like and those motor journalists are all wrong. It 100% does not feel like a hot hatch of the ol’ skool. It has a driving position akin to a mini MPV i.e. tall and no low slung like those ol’ skool Honda civics from the late 80s and early 90s. I mean, what memories did it bring those journalists? Did they spend their teens driving around in 1st generation Renault Espaces and Toyota Estimas? There is nothing ol’ skool about the Swift Sport in my opinion. It is a current variation of the hot hatch theme so prevalent nowadays; i.e mini MPV looks (Golf GTI again) and mini MPV seating position. I am sorry, but I drove around in a 1981 Honda Civic when I was 18 and it didn’t feel like a VW Combi Bus.

Now back to driving front wheel drive cars that actually make me feel good. I drove the new Audi TT2.0 recently and it is a very well put together car. I’d buy a car just by looking at the dash and feeling the tactile feel of the switch gear and steering. It’s an Audi, therefore very well put together. The DSG gearbox is a marvel of technology and was so much smarter than I was when it came to changing gears to match the corners and engine speed on my first attempt. It’s like you waking up in the morning and the maid and butler has everything prepared for you in advance. It’ s that good. The engine is typical VW-Audi Group FSI in that is sounds like a diesel on idle. It pulls good with very little lag from the turbo and coupled with that gearbox’s sweet gearing and the chassis’ low weight make the car one of the nicer front wheel drive cars that I have driven. If you have RM368,000 to blow on a car that has 200bhp, Porsche like looks this is the car to get. If you have RM200,000 to blow on a car and want the DSG gearbox, there is a van called the VW GTI. So don’t. Buy the stripped out Civic Type R instead. There is purity of design in that car which the golf does not have. Unless you’re already feeling old at the age of 30 and would still like the van which would mean your next car could be a boring MPV.

One other thing good about buying a 200bhp front wheel drive car is that it is safe to most Malaysian drivers. I mean, imagine this, if you were a guy who is around 30, it could safely mean that your first few cars were 1990s Protons and Hondas. These are front wheel drive cars and the only problem about them is that they will understeer. Which means you will see the roundabout you are crashing into and if you are slow enough, a little lift off will pull you back into line. Most Malaysian drivers are instinctively like that nowadays. They wouldn’t know what to do if suddenly the tail stepped out and it is the tail which happens to be oversteering into the roundabout. So graduating to a 200bhp front wheel driver is actually good sense as it won’t get you killed. But the question you might ask is that is it fun? Yes it is. The TT is a fun car, up to a limit. However this limit is pretty high for most normal people. I mean put a normal Honda Civic driver with only 5 years of front wheel drive experience into a BMW 330i in the wet and see if he can do the same rubbish he did in the Civic and survive. In fact, he may survive and be happy in the TT, which is actually good in terms of road safety. So, buy the TT for a wonderfully built car and a car that’s pretty fun to drive most of the time if you’re looking for a 2 door sports coupe. If you’re looking for all out thrills at RM200,000.00 buy the Civic Type R.

The Civic Type R (right) is something I haven’t tested yet, but urban legends on the car have popped up and according to all of them that I’ve heard the car is nothing short of amazing. At RM200,000, nothing comes close if you’re looking for an out and out front drive rocket that handles.

Am I telling you guys out there that there are no cheap to buy front wheel drive cars out there? No. You can buy some pretty decent handling Protons with wonky build quality and cheap plastics that you’d be satisfied with if you can tolerate it. The so called good cars start at RM100,000. You can buy the Swift Sport for RM100,000.00 for lift off oversteer and trailbrake oversteer but you’d have a seating position of an MPV and a rubbery steering. What you could buy if you didn’t care about resale value is a brand spanking new Alfa 147 2.0 selespeed (see pic above) from the local distributor at a very cheap RM110,000 pre registered. While the Alfa 147 is a little long in the tooth, it is a fun car to drive. I recently drove a manual 1.6litre version and was quite impressed by the engine in terms of power, throttle response and of course by the sound produced by it. It is typical Alfa in that it sounds soulful. I think one of the best sounding in-line fours ever built. This is something you should go for; a sense of occasion which most cars don’t give you. The interior is nice to look at and the only problems I give that car was that its gearshift feels like a Datsun 120y, loose and vague. But being humans, we can adapt to such things over time and furthermore, if you’re buying new, there is no other option but the semi automatic selespeed.. The ride is pretty good, a little floaty but is entertaining nonetheless. The main thing is an Alfa 147 means you’ve got taste and willing to take risks in life. Risks in life? Well yeah, as you firstly don’t care about resale value (which is a good thing since no car actually holds value nowadays) and secondly you don’t mind the pain and suffering of maintaining an Alfa. I suppose with new Alfas the only thing is the selespeed gearbox and suspect electrics here in the tropics. It may or may not last, but there’s warranty which you could claim like crazy from the distributors and there’s the option of driving a Mazda 3 1.6 at RM99,000. And no, Mazda hasn’t paid me off in any way. It’s just that if you want reliability and decent looks as well as the car being not as common as the rest of the cars around this price range there is nothing other than this car if you want a decent sporting front wheel driver. The Lancer GT has risen in price and is going to be a pretty common car going by demand. The Lancer GLS actually is pretty sad looking. So buy an Alfa. Take some risks in life.

I've not mentioned those cars that you can get on the grey import market, but the Toyota Celica (left) get s deserved mention. For around RM120,000 it is entertaining with good steering feel, Toyota quality build standards and very decent power from the 1.8 VVTLi engine (180-190ps).

Does this article tell you that I don’t like to Golf GTI? Yes.




Friday, November 23, 2007

Driven: Automotive Bliss and the 2008 Suzuki Swift Sport


Automotive bliss can mean a lot of things. One of it could be waking up early on a Sunday morning, taking that sports car of yours for a drive to nowhere and feeling great about yourself. It can also mean the satisfaction of fixing something small yet the pleasure, or pain, derived from it is immense. Bliss is a nice word to describe a feeling that someone who feels naively feels satisfied or truly happy when the actual situation isn’t so impressive.

Imagine this, your sister in law’s Proton Wira decides to not start when your wife, kid and sister in law decide to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon. You being all dressed up in your sports Rolex, Italian loafers, nice Audi T shirt and blue jeans ready to hop into your Subaru Impreza decide to help change the battery under the sweltering sun. It’s an automotive moment there folks, getting his hands dirty fixing a run of the mill Proton and enjoying that moment of pain and suffering yet accomplishing something. The car started, everyone was happy and could go wherever they wanted to.

The Proton Matter Continues.....

The latest and greatest news around the local automotive industry is that Proton has decided to not enter into any joint venture arrangement with any larger automobile manufacturer. The rationale given by its main shareholders, mainly the Government of Malaysia, stated that since Proton performing well due to increased sales the need for a collaboration isn’t necessary at this point of time. Analysts were shocked, the stock market was surprised and Proton shares lost a Ringgit in record time. Most analysts still rated Proton shares as underperforming and were dismayed at such an outcome. They were concerned with the fact that although sales and exports were up, long term prospects for Proton did not seem to be strong. I totally agree to this statement as where is Proton going to find more money to develop new vehicles? Do they have the financial strength to spend on R&D for new vehicles?

If it takes them eons to come up with a Wira replacement and also a Saga replacement, what’s going to happen? By the time they finish the development on a Perdana replacement model I could be as old as Yoda at the rate things are going. I think Proton needs to keep abreast with other manufacturers or as close as possible to them. They should ensure that a new replacement model is launched at least every 6 to 7 years if they can’t do a 5 year cycle like Honda or Toyota. 7 years is quite similar to Mitsubishi and Subaru so it isn’t that bad.

I somehow wonder how the people in power think. Do they take into account economics of scale when making such a decision? Do they take a holistic view about the automotive industry? Do they just look at national pride? If it is just pride taken into account, it isn’t enough. Many of us have read articles stating that Proton should be left to market forces and also to be let run by people in the industry instead of politicians asking for favours and so forth. Do the people in power listen? Honestly, 30,000 bookings of Gen2s to China (to be rebadged as some other brand), a few thousand cars to an Arab country that may or may not be invaded by America in their war against terror, 5-6000 units to Indonesia (mostly as taxis), a few thousand to the UK (for pensioners), a few thousand shared between Australia (to some sheep and cattle farmers) and Singapore (people somehow deciding to buy Proton over cheap Japanese cars sold there) and 22,000 Personas that have bookings in Malaysia do not actually show the economics of scale needed to make Proton profitable in the long run.

While the above figures may sound productive, you have to ask whether such a turnaround is sustainable. In theory, a manufacturer will have to manufacture at least 80,000-100,000 units of something in order to become economically feasible. Will there be a production of 80,000 personas yearly? Will the demand for the Persona peak then fall? Will China readily accept the Gen2 and purchase another 30,000 units? Will there be people within Proton that will ensure that quality of the cars is maintained like it has been over the last 1 year or so? Does the popularity of the Persona affect the sales of other Proton cars? Are they now selling 5 Wajas, 10 Savvys, ½ a Perdana every month instead of 50 units of each? Too many questions are left unanswered and too many variables.

Another point is that I do not think VW is going to get burnt or snubbed again. Having been snubbed right after Tengku Mahaleel’s time, then a blooper statement by the PM of Malaysia saying that VW isn’t interested, then interested again, and then, now turned down again; there won’t be a white knight in the form of VW ever again if you ask me. Getting spat in the face isn’t the result they were looking for.

I love the Persona for what it is; it corrected the silly mistakes that the Gen2 and Neo had. But is it enough to turn a muddy slide into a beautifully terraced hillslope with roses and trees? The saga continues…..

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

MPVs and SUVs as well as the beloved Volvo Brick












Recently I have been spreading my belief on the uselessness of MPV ownership to a few friends and acquaintances. I’ve been telling them that those who buy an MPV yet only use its large volume of carry space once every Hari Raya or school holidays are actually people who are killing the environment more than those of us who drive tuned cars. If you have been following my blog for some time, you’d know that I have something against these vehicles. Now another reason for why I don’t like MPVs is that they actually cost more to manufacture in terms of energy. Imagine this; a Toyota Wish has 8 large glass panels and a sunroof, which is a lot of extra glass area that costs more than the energy used to power a lightbulb or three for a few days. 


A normal 4 door car would have less glass panels and basically cost slightly cheaper than a MPV. They are larger than a normal family car which means that the energy expanded to fabricate a MPV chassis is at least 50% more than a normal car. Hence, these vehicles actually take up more of earth’s valuable resources than is needed.They also take up so much more space (up to ½ a car extra) on the roads than a normal car and is not used for anything other than transporting the driver to and from his office in downtown Kuala Lumpur. This has got to stop. Malaysia should ban all MPVs that are large and cumbersome or legislate some sort of laws that allows the JPJ to evaluate the need of an individual to purchase such a form of transport. Basically JPJ should allow those who actually have 1 wife, 4 kids and a maid as well as 2 cats or a dog before they are allowed to buy such a large vehicle. Then upon buying such a vehicle, the MPV has sensors on the passenger seats which will immobilise the engine if there are less than 3 people aside from the driver in the MPV.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cars Recently Launched In Malaysia, The Lancer -Civic Comparo ...And The Winner IS.....


Yes, I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t posted anything here recently yet there have been tons of new cars on the market. Maybe I just don’t really care about those new launchings. Actually I did care, but was too swamped due to work commitments and outside projects. One of these projects was the assistance I provided to help set up an Audi auto dealership located at the Jaya 33 Shopping Centre, Section 13, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. It has started two weeks ago and hopefully all goes well and if any of you readers (the 2 or 3 of you) ever have the cash to go buy Audis, you know where to look for. The First free plug just made over here!

Now, the Kia Optima and Kia Spectra 5, Honda Civic Type R as well as the very much anticipated Mitsubishi Lancer 2.0GT and the Proton Persona was launched within a span of a few days or weeks from each other. The Kia Spectra 5 effectively replaces the older Spectra sedan which was the favourite of most Malaysians who did not want to buy Protons but wanted the same shitty rubbish standard as the Protons at a slightly more expensive price. NAZA was and NAZA with this new car will still be laughing all the way to the bank due to gullible Malaysian consumers. But I must admit that the new Kia would not be a piece of rubbish as most new cars from Korea improves by leaps and bounds. If you looked at the Kia Picanto, their best attempt at a mini with cheery looks and decent build quality you’d know what I am jabbering about.

The Kia Optima is as usual value for money. A large new 2.0liter Accord sized car at a price slightly higher than RM100,000 with traction control, an Infinity Sound system and leather seats. Expect lots of bookings for those who want space and not so much class. The old model sold extremely well despite a really horrid interior. It was a class of its own. It was so cheap for a large 2.0liter car but so large that many Malaysians bought them. It was also ridiculously cheap in the UK where it was called the Magentis and sold at prices on par with the Proton Waja. Imagine a big car at small car prices. However, I have never felt or seen so much cheap grey plastic everywhere inside that previous model in any post 1995 car aside from maybe the Proton Saga which was first built when Tunku Abdul Rahman shouted Merdeka 7 times. But I hear the new one’s so much better. Kia is moving in leaps and bounds with all those new models and concept cars displayed at International motorshows recently. Not that I would buy one in the first place unless I suddenly decide that I like the large executive barge looks of a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry but I like to pay Toyota Corolla Altis prices. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s certainly not a good thing either.

The Honda Type R for slightly below RM200K is another good buy. 225bhp in a Civic chassis is all you actually need. You get space and handling to match. Coupled with the anonymity of blending in with another ten thousand Civics will give you the ultimate Q car, Malaysian wise. Why? I’d imagine lots of normal 1.8 and 2.0 Civic owners painting their Civics white and slapping those Type R stickers left right and centre creating a hundred thousand replica TypeR without actually buying one. No that it’s a bad thing, but if you want looks, find it elsewhere but if you’re actually buying one for its performance and handling, go ahead. Actually, that futuristic and really advanced looking 4 door family sedan body is pretty huge but Honda has made it out handle and out drive the 2 door Honda Integra DC5 at Tsukuba is an achievement. Amazing what Honda can do nowadays. Amazing that you will notice that Honda has no 2 door all out sports cars on sale at any market at this very moment. They’re like Toyota, with no Supra replacement, Celica replacement or an MR2 replacement model. The UK Civic Type R hatchback aside and the dumpy Accord coupe in the States don’t count. They’re not pure sports coupes. This is what’s lacking in the Honda current lineup. A replacement for the CRX or the NSX is long overdue. So the Civic Type R is around. Things are certainly improving in the Malaysian car industry.

The Proton Persona. When I first saw it and then heard that there were 16,000 people who put money down for the car I was happy for Proton. They finally realised that people were looking for large cars from Proton and not hatchbacks. Why did they launch the Gen2, Savvy and the Satria Neo before this car I’d fail to fathom. The problem with Proton is now that the Persona is a refined car with all the stupid problems of the Gen2 sorted out that’s affordable to the general public; who will buy the Waja? It has the same wheelbase, interior space and only slightly better plastics. Proton somehow likes to steal from its own cake first, which is the problem with Proton in the first place. I hope they come out with a Perdana replacement soon and think on how to improve the Waja too (the last facelift wasn’t anything special, more needs to be done).

The new shark nosed aggressive looking Mitsubishi Lancer is another new car that’s selling like hotcakes here in Malaysia. This is because it looks good; exactly like an Evolution X with the exception of wider arches and a larger rear spoiler and light years away from the previous model. Its also outrageously low price of around RM118,000 amazes me and a whole lot of other motor journalists from what I can read in the local publications. How Mitsubishi priced it that low is a feat on its own. But all the better to the ones who wish to purchase it.

I’ve actually driven this car recently some after its official launch which I had the pleasure of attending (It had nice food, nice lady usherettes in dresses which Mitsubishi Malaysia will not ask them to go out with for free even if you bought a Lancer that day). I have to say that as a car with the GT badge stuck on its rear end it needs more grunt. It has a wheelbase as long as the Galant Eterna based Proton Perdana (2635mm) and heavier by 60kgs. It is larger than an Audi A4. It is a huge car that somehow has a small family sedan name stuck on it. Maybe that is why Mitsubishi is selling it as the Galant Fortis in Japan. It also got me thinking whether Mitsubishi pulled out the plans of the Eterna, strengthened the chassis with new manufacturing techniques, added the latest suspension geometry (utilising McPherson struts instead of a costly double wishbone style front suspension) and soundproofing to create this new car. Cars nowadays are confirmed to be getting larger and maybe in some cases too large for their own good. This Lancer is proof if this.

Back to driving this Lancer then. It handles marvellously. When I drove it in the wet around Glenmarie there was no sign on any understeer even when braking last minute and being aggressive on the steering (which had a nice feel to it). It could be down to the car being a little heavy (1395kg) and the 215/45/18 ADVAN tires that it was running on (this is another really expensive tire and size which would kill unsuspecting buyers who are cheap). The power was not as exciting as you’d expect from a 2.0liter 150bhp engine. The low end pull was lacking for 150bhp. I suppose it was bogged down by the weight of the car (which is a bane to all new models of cars as they seem to be getting heavier – I have to add again) and buy the CVT transmission power drain. The CVT may shift sportily (and feels like an ordinary auto box with its preset ratios especially when you downshift), but like most CVTs it may attribute some drivetrain power loss. But I think it needs at least about 25 more horses to actually deserve using that GT badge. These are small details actually as its mid-range pull is pretty good, it cruises well and it handles excellently overall.

I don’t like the interior though; they may have used nappa leather for the seats, steering and side door panels, but the plastics used are still too second grade for my liking with too much hard plastics. The rear seats are alright, but there’s a plastic squab on the floor which is the covering for the front seat mounts that I will always step on if I sat behind the driver’s side which irritates me a little. The older Lancer seat mounting is totally different from this newer design and somehow works better. Space wise, it somehow is large on the outside, but cozy on the inside. I also have the notion that the previous Lancer (been in a few EVO VII and the basic 1.6 Lancer) feels it has more legroom and is roomier. It must be down to the extra usage of padding in this new car. Boot space is helped by using gas struts to hold up the boot, but this is offset by the large multi-link rear suspension
This is a nice car, but I think if you’re not into driving really sportily and want a total package, buy the Honda Civic, it actually does everything well overall with better build quality, futuristic looking body, decent ride and handling as well as interior space. If you can’t afford the 2.0 at RM128,000, there’s always the 1.8 which does the same with some little exceptions. In short, compared to the Civic which would score an average rating of 7.5/10 for ride, handling, design, equipment, performance and brakes, the Lancer would score a 9/10 for handling, a 7.5/10 for design (I’d rate the Civic higher here due to its forward thinking design) but a disappointing 4/10 for interior due to cheap feeling plastics in the door handle and the usage of a lot of hard plastic in the design as well as lacking the airy feel of the Honda and a 5/10 for the MIVEC engine that’s surprisingly lacking in low down torque. There’s a certain maturity that Honda has while building the Civic which Mitsubishi haven’t yet reached. This is the most obvious difference.

As a complete small family sedan that does everything decently, competently and without fuss, buy the Civic even if it is slightly soulless (due to doing things too competently maybe) and even if there are a million of the on the road, but if you’re solely into handling (which I like) and aggressive looks as well as having slightly more soul (only the Type R Civic would have tons of soul), buy the Lancer then. This then is the actual problem faced by individuals when purchasing something. Do they go with their head or their heart? In comparing the Civic and the Lancer, I’ve decided that the Civic is the better all rounder, but the Lancer is the more engaging car thus better to own. Therefore, the Lancer wins! However, I’ve decided yet again! Go buy a Mazda 3 2.0 hatchback in white. I seem to like that even more.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Of Harry Potter and Of Classic Cars....

I recently went to the Borders bookstore at the Curve and I picked up the latest and final Harry Potter instalment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. In this context, ‘picked up’ meant that I picked up the book, flicked to the final 15 or so pages and read the ending there and then, and later put the book back to where it belonged. Which was on the shelf of some bookstore or some 13 year old girl or boy’s bookshelf. It was as expected, Harry lives, Voldemort dies, the kids (now at least 18 years old) end up back at the point where they part ways and move on with their lives.

The plot twist for the ending was something like ‘the wand of power will be passed on to its rightful heir if the following occurs:
1. in the case whereby my current owner decides to die, he is entitled prior to his death name a heir which will in all realms be my rightful heir. Or
2. if in the case where my current owner decides to die without him naming such an heir, I, the magical all powerful wand capable of destroying the one who in so many Harry Potter books whose name cannot be mentioned will choose my rightful heir.

Of course, in the case of the book, Voldemort didn’t read the fine print, and basically gets killed to death because of it. Somehow, you’d be surprised that in the real world, rich, corrupt businessmen on the same level of evil as Voldemort wouldn’t have a battery of lawyers that could decipher fine print. In this case, fine print as stated on the ownership of an all powerful and magical wand. The ending was too easy; it wasn’t like an ‘Elvis has left the building’ kind of grandeur, but more like a Proton Saga being crushed as it has outlived its usefulness. No one would remember that ol’ Proton Saga unlike if you crushed one Ferrari Enzo. In other words, the ending of the saga of ol’ young Harry Potter didn’t rock my boat.

Somehow, the reason Harry Potter sold was because I’d buy it if I were a teenager. I’d relate to it. I grew up reading Enid Blyton and her books gave the same same pleasure as reading Harry Potter. Kids would actually believe that they would be heroes, even besting grown wizards and warlords. But notice in the real world, a 13 year old kid may end up dead due to various crimes made by adult bad people. It is just fantasy, and in real life or in adult novels, 99% of the time it’s an adult who will solve a crime or a storyline. This is also another thing about Harry Potter novels that fail to rock my boat. It reads like a mystery novel. I rather get my hands on a thriller or horror and not a whodunit. I suppose it’s all about what you fancy in the end. But if I wrote Harry Potter, it’d have death matches instead of funny broomstick chasing a ball type of matches or flying Ford Anglias.

In my version Harry would zap to death his opponents, gets to bonk Hermoine all the time and other girls on a daily basis like James Bond as well as have more of a ‘rock star’ attitude. I mean, he’s Harry Potter, the guy who survived an encounter with some evil dude that no one else has. He SHOULD have some attitude as he’s still a teenager and popular and famous teens should be all cranky and worked up. Voldemort would be like the Emperor or a cross between a Balrog and Mum-RA, Dumbledoer would be more energetic like Gandalf and all the adult wizards would have more brains that they have now. I mean, Harry is young, na├»ve, while skilful as well as being protected by some scar on his forehead. But these older wizards have experience, which should account to something actually. Maybe that’s why I prefer classic fantasy by Tolkein and even Stephen King; they’re either classically written or morbidly written or with a better plot twist at the very end. However there is bound to be those who think I am just plain spoilsport but think about it. It's absolutely true what I am writing about the Harry Potter series.

Now this brings us to old classic cars. Don’t buy them. They’re useless aside from making you remember your childhood. Unless you are young and your childhood was filled with Honda Civics from the 1980s and 1990s. If you intend to buy a classic MGB GT or something of that sort, make sure you got the money and a lot of time to pamper it. I’ve driven an MGB GT, it drove superbly, steering has more feel that most modern cars and pretty ample handling for its 1.8l engine. But expect more from it like a daily commute in Kuala Lumpur or asking it to stop letting it’s petrol fumes from entering the passenger cabin is a hard thing to do. The parts you will have to order from England and they’re not cheap and I hate anyone who’d plonk in a Japanese engine in this car.

Even more recently, I helped reverse a 1957 Austin Healey 2600cc from its garage and I tell you it was hell. The door was small, the steering large, the seats unadjustable, the controls rock hard, the clutch high and the gear vague as doctor’s handwriting. To enter was agony as I had to be slim as a broomstick. To reach the clutch I had to actually reach it with my toes as the seat cannot be adjusted. I’m average in height mind you and I had to reach in. The only thing I enjoyed about that car is its looks and the power. Aside from that, it was sheer hell.

Now maybe that Jaguar Etype would be a different story altogether. Now if only I was ever given the chance of driving one of the most beautiful classic coupes of all time my mind may change on classic cars.

By the way, I have read a Harry Potter novel in full its just I don’t remember which one while I’m writing this and I couldn’t be bothered to look for the title.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Audi TT Coupe at a glance...and some 'smart' People.









I was recently at the Malaysian launch of the new Audi TT coupe and enjoyed it very much. Yes, yes the car was good looking, but I enjoyed the food served there especially. They had those small oderves served by waiters and waitresses, they have music, colourful lights, usherettes and I repeat again, food that was pretty tasty to eat. It was also a rainy night but that didn’t seem to hamper the overall atmosphere. There were lots of people there, rich towkays, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, accountants, maybe some crooks and petty thieves as well as the towkay’s girlfriends, mistresses, wifes etc. I suppose an Audi TT is a good car for a rich chap to give to their girlfriends, mistresses and more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Golf: The Game and The Car

Golf. I tried taking up golfing lessons but I never managed to finish it due to a total lack of interest in trying to hit a very small ball very far away from where I am. The aim of this game I’m told is to use a set of clubs, try to hit the ball into a hole slightly larger than the small ball which is usually at the very least is three to four hundred meters away. There are sand bunkers and water traps as well as areas out of bounds before you can consider trying to clear each hole or round with as little shots as possible. The game is tedious in that 18 holes may take you half a day. Add the 9 hole break for drinks and winner pays for lunch or dinner, it’s a whole day affair. The trade-off for this is supposedly health. But you may either die of sun stroke or skin cancer if you’re not careful from all that tanning or you may suffer from backache trying to follow exactly what your golf pro told you to do while taking that swing. You got at least 3 different angles in the swing and a funny kink in the knee before you're supposedly in the correct position to take a swing at that small ball. It's a method of torture I tell you.

Another reason why this game does not interest me is that you need so many clubs to hit a ball in one direction. You have a driver to ensure the ball can be hit the farthest, you have some irons for closer shots, a wedge for bunkers, a putter for even closer shots. You either have a golf buggy to drive around the course (which is good exercise for the buggy and not you). You have a caddy for lugging your golf cart filled with clubs you don’t use most of the time (which is good exercise for the caddy since he has to carry all the clubs). All the exercise you really get is by swinging that totally awkward 3 stage swing that will eventually cause severe back injury and walking back to the golf buggy and to the club house for a dose of high calorie steak and sandwiches (and beer for some). You don’t actually get any proper exercise. You actually play the game for the thrill of occasionally getting it right, showing off each other’s new set of clubs and getting high on a little side bets here and there.

Golf sets are also bulky and heavy items. You may have 10 clubs at any one time and lugging them around is a chore. Why don’t they invent a multi-purpose handle for them? You carry 2 shafts carried like samurai swords on your back like the ninjas do (how cool is that), one for the driver and one for the normal irons, have screw in heads carried around your waist on a waist-belt. The outfit includes a cool looking load bearing vest to attach that belt with the club heads as well as other golfing equipment. I think golfers will look cool looking like something from an American Ninja movie rather than looking like Government servants on a day off.

Furthermore, why can’t they have invented golf that only uses one club for every type of hole? Its so much easier to play by carrying one club instead of a whole bag. It’s like this, you are a French Foreign Legionnaire and your fort is being invaded by some crazy Bedouins. You have a .22 pistol to shoot at the shortest invader, a .38 for the next in size, a .45 for the bigger man, a .303 rifle for anyone larger than that and you keep changing guns just to suit the target. This is insane; you’d be dead before you know it. I’d like a nice big fat machine gun with unlimited ammunition if thousands of Bedouins came charging at me. Golf should be played like this. One club for all 18 holes. It takes up so much time, space and weight just to hit a small ball. If you want to hit a small ball, try taking up squash. The ball is almost the same size and travels fast in a small confined area.

However, I have to state that with cars going multi-purpose (or one club for all holes) is not necessary. That is why I don’t like MPVs. Too many of them drive MPVs alone and without any purpose for the other 6 empty seats. With cars, I would prefer them focused to doing a few things well rather than everything but not good at any one thing.

Golf. I had a small discussion about the Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk.5 with a friend the other day and he likes the car, its aggression and the design a lot. I on the other hand didn’t. It may be a fantastic car to drive and all that but I told him that the car looked like a mini MPV. I mean, park it beside to its cousins the Audi A3 or the Skoda Octavia or even the larger sized A4, you’d notice that the Golf is at least 2-3 inches taller and looks bigger. I suppose this is because Volkswagen found out from surveys that Hatchback owners like the space and utility of it. But the A3 is also a hatchback on the same chassis design and is still so much lower and looks so much daintier. This is maybe Audi A3 owners don’t go to IKEA as much as their younger Golf owners do. Those with the money to afford an A3 would pay IKEA to deliver the cupboard they bought right to their doorsteps.

The purpose of my argument is that do you need as much headroom if your sitting position is fine? The A3 still had tons of headroom and so does the other cousin, the Skoda Octavia. I love the A3’s driving position as I can bring myself low down and the steering nicely in front of me yet I still have lots of roof. Maybe being around 5ft 8in and not 6ft 3in does help.

But does the purpose of the high roofline actually help other than making the Golf as versatile as a van? Do you need a van in the first place? If you bought a GTi wouldn’t driving pleasure be up there on the list of stuff instead of roof height? I suppose there’s nothing the GTi enthusiast can do since Volkswagen designed the car like that. How unlucky for the GTi enthusiast. Maybe he should have saved up for an Audi instead. Then again, why bother with the brand Volkswagen in the first place since you're in Malaysia and there's nothing really special about owning a Volkswagen here.

The Lancer Evolution VIII MR is a good example of what I am stating here. The aluminium roof in the MR and RS series lowers the Center of Gravity of the Lancer Evolution by about 3mm or about 2.75inches of roof height. Imagine if you had to prepare a race car based on the Golf R32 and the Audi S3. You have the same equipment and specs, but somehow I would think that it would be easier to dial in the Audi to have better handling from this fact of reduced center of gravity. From this point alone, I’d state that the Golf is too big and bulky looking for its own good. It is a good looking car all by its own. But put it beside another 1.6 or 2.0 liter hatchback you will notice it’s actually huge. The Toyota Estima of all hatchbacks. Of course compared to the earlier one this is an improvement, but there is still room for more improvement. I want the next generation Golf to be actually lower in height and have a light and dainty look overall. I think that’s not much to ask.

Now, if I had a choice between the game of golf and a Volkswagen Golf, I’d take the car anytime even though it looks like a mini MPV.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Vauxhall Viva....or the Perodua Viva ?

Many, many moons ago I had just learnt how to take a dump in my little potty instead of taking a dump in my diapers. It was a small step for a toddler and a relief to my mum as she didn't have to wash diapers anymore. I had also learnt that Malaysian Television had only 2 channels in black and white and I managed to survive these dark ages with barely a scratch. This was sometime in the mid 1970s and my father had just taken delivery of a new car named the Viva. Now this Viva was made by Vauxhall and was General Motors’ small family sized sedan that supposedly competed with the Fiat 124, Ford Escort and other European small family sedans. It was a dull looking sedan. If you were six years old and drew a car, you’d draw this kind of car, a typical three box shape with four wheels sticking out of it. (see pic)

Now the thing is the word ‘Viva’ basically means “Long Live” or “Hooray!” and this car had nothing to be praised at all. It was a crap car with crap build quality and handling. I remember my father telling me that he ended up with tons of cooling problems as well as some electrical problems also. It was also a car that my father used for the shortest period of time and not worth mentioning at all. The fact is, I believe that one of the reasons that my father chose a Vauxhall Viva was that I happened to come along into his life by being born, and he needed a ‘decent’ family car (This was after he owned an MGB GT which he sold off due to the reason stated above and another major incident involving that car). In those days, most respectable Government servants wouldn’t be caught dead in anything Japanese. That means something British or Italian, something that wasn’t named Sunny or Cedric or something that wasn’t made out of Milo tin. However, this meant suffering rust, electrical and cooling problems. Build quality wasn’t so much of an issue as buying British or Italian meant you have very little of it and not much difference from the Japanese cars of the same era. German cars were pricey then and only senior officers tended to buy them. Actually, there was nothing much to shout ‘Viva’ during those days in buying a normal family sedan in Malaysia. Basically the Vauxhall Viva was a dull and problematic car to own throughout the known universe. I doubt that any Vauxhall owner would scream “hooray!” after owning this car for a few months. Needless to say, the next car my dad bought was a second hand Mini Minor 850 which didn’t give him or my mum any major problems until he bought another car sometime later.

Notice that after the 1970s and in the 1980s GM basically had no market presence in Malaysia worth mentioning (other than Suzuki which it owns a major portion of shares). In the 1990s, it tried again with the Opel brand, and that too faltered. Hooray for us car purchasers, as Opels/ Vauxhalls in the 1990s were dull looking cars. Even the Lotus Carlton didn’t make me wet my pants. It was too Q car for my liking.

Back to the Viva, the Perodua Viva; instead of the original Viva from the days of terrible British engineering. This is the replacement for the Kelisa, which was first launched in 2000 and also the Kancil, which was first launched when Perodua was still in its diapers, sometime in 1995. From what I gather, it is a car with pretty good build quality and has a lot of space compared to its predecessor, the Kancil. In fact, the materials used by Perodua is so much better than even a Proton Gen-2 or Satria Neo which are cars from a grade higher than the market segment which the Viva is targeting. This is a feel good factor and is actually what Malaysians want; space and quality at a very reasonable price. I have to repeat that Malaysians do not really care if their car has handling like Lotus but just want to load things that they buy from Ikea into their cars. This is the reason cars like this new Viva and the earlier Perodua Myvi will succeed in selling by the thousands. I have sat in the 1000cc Viva full option and the seating position is nice (no silly Satria Neo screwups), the steering is light, the switches and controls very tactile and the quality in fittings is purely Daihatsu. These are good things. Looking at the size, it is as long as a Myvi as even with me pulling the seat to my desired driving position, there is still lots of space for the rear passenger. The boot also is an improvement over both the Kelisa and the Kancil although not by much but the seats fold down to make lots of space. Imagine a Myvi that is slightly lower and 10cm narrower and you have the Viva. I think, it may not be as nippy as the Kelisa due to its size, but at this price, space and comfort takes priority. And if you’re into tuning cars, you’d know that you can make any car handle pretty decent if you have some money to throw into the car.

On another note, I am looking forward to test driving the smallest Viva of them all, the 660cc manual. Why you might ask? The reason is pretty simple. It REVS TO 8,000 RPM! The 850cc and 1000cc models may have more power but they only redline at 6500rpm. This is pretty normal and what we motorheads would like is to occasionally drive a car with redlines closer to motorcycle redlines. Imagine driving this silly small car all the way to 8,000rpm and trying to keep the revs high, maintain momentum and just trying a windy mountain road in a small compact car. It would be like having a diluted experience of driving a small Italian Fiat 500, 600 Abarth through a mountain road. Imagine a mini Viva race series limited to the 660cc Vivas. It would be like a dozen angry mosquitos tearing down Sepang. It would be a race series that would be cheap to run yet pretty technical. It would be glorious, just Glorious. This Viva could be really live up to its namesake this time around.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Expensive Gym Memberships, Mazda 3, NAZA Sportivo version cars and memories of driving a van

How about enrolling yourself in a gym like Fitness First or Celebrity Fitness? It costs a bomb in fees every month and you get to rub shoulders with other pretentious people who usually go to these places to be seen instead of really working out. The people waste money on enrolling themselves in expensive gyms yet only use the shower, changing room and the juice bar instead of pummelling their bodies on the funny exercise contraptions. Some of them even live in apartments with gym facilities yet choose to be seen with other sweaty people. They already pay for the facilities in their apartment, yet pay more for facilities elsewhere. Some of them are not fat, but choose these places as excuses to meet people or to feel good about themselves but flaunting their skinny bodies to those who just enrolled and are really fat. Imagine how the fat newbie feels? I on the other hand refuse to pay any sort of money to keep in shape. Maybe that is the reason I am a fat pudgy man. But I do know the real secret of losing weight; and the secret is don’t eat anything for weeks, or months. For example, look at the starving Ethiopians, with skin and bones and flesh all wasting away. Their secret to looking absolutely fabulously thin is basically not eating and has nothing to do with going to any gym. So if you intend to be slim, just do what the Ethiopians do, don’t eat. However, I think I prefer bread, eggs and cheese instead of swallowing sand.

Joining an upscale gym isn’t the way to be healthy or not fat. It is just a way of showing other people that you have a healthy lifestyle or telling people that you can afford paying ridiculous amounts of money for a lifestyle that one does not actually practice. It’s like those people who are smart, or in this case stupid enough to buy huge 4x4 vehicles yet never spend a minute offroad. These are those who will buy Ford Rangers and never carry anything with it. These are those people who buy Toyota Hilux and bolt on 22inch rims and tires and make the nice purpose built 4x4 have no actual purpose at all except look ‘bling’. Why buy a 4x4 like a CRV when it can never go off road or even go on picnics, mountain biking, white water rafting or hiking like what the advertisements on these kinds of vehicles suggest? What is the point of buying something if you do not use it for the purpose it was built for? You might as well as buy a Ferrari 430 and let your 89 year old grandmother drive it for her weekly trip to play Bingo somewhere. It’s like asking Jean Luc Picard to use the U.S.S. Enterprise’s phasers to carve a block of wood into a cube instead of using them to knock out a Borg cube that’s attacking Earth. Then again, resistance is futile, people who think they’re all about a certain lifestyle would be conned over and over again into buying large 4x4s and use it to drive into their reserved parking lots somewhere in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

A practical car for Kuala Lumpur would be something comfortable yet reasonably sized for city traffic. So the other day I went to the NAZA showroom to help a few family members pick up a reasonably priced car for them. I chose to go to NAZA because they were Mazda dealers and had the Mazda 3 (pic on the right) on display. Currently, the Mazda 3 1.6 auto Sedan is on offer at RM99,500.00 or thereabouts. At this price, it is the best car under RM100,000.00 to own in Malaysia based on the criteria of price, looks, quality and rarity.

For the price of slightly lower than RM100k, you get a very sporty looking car, great Japanese build quality and technology as well as the rarity factor due to all straightlaced, normal individuals conforming and buying Toyota Vios’, Honda Civics and Citys, various Kia vehicles and those crude Toyota Avanzas. The Mazda has a great driving position of which everything falls into easy reach and place; with tactile knobs and turn signals. The tactile feel of the knobs and switches was actually better than the tactile feel of its bigger brother the Mazda 6, which is actually one reason why anyone should buy a newer designed car compared to a bigger, but slightly older car. It feels so much sportier than its competitor, the Honda Civic. It is of course not as huge as the Civic but I think the Civic is too huge to be actually called a Civic. It should be called the Accord. Compared to the 4th Generation Civic, it’s a Honda Legend. The size is actually why owning a Mazda 3 is actually more viable than owning a Civic in Kuala Lumpur. All the Mazda 3 needs in its standard 1.6 litre form are larger rims. The stock 15in are too small for the car and it looks dumpy. It needs rims from the 2.0, which are 17inches in diameter. The materials used in the Mazda 3 are of better quality than your average Korean or Malaysian car. In fact, I’d rate it close to its European cousin, the Ford Focus in build quality as well as its handling. But being Japanese, I would suppose the cost of maintaining it won’t be as high as owning a Ford. I also have to mention that the Mazda is a CBU or fully imported unit from Japan as a plus point. This is currently my favourite small sized family saloon (circa 1.6-2.0 category) made available locally because of the points stated above.

While we are on NAZA, do not buy any NAZA Sportivo version of the 206 Bestari. Its carbon fibre look panelling interior looks like it came from the world’s worst plastic manufacturer. The carbon look plastic feels cheap and its carbon weave pattern is absolutely horrendous. Even a person with a spray can would be able to paint carbon weave better than the plastic manufacturer who did that panelling. Even a baboon at the local zoo if given a paintbrush and the colour black and grey will be able to get the carbon look right. This was so wrong I cringed. The 206 is French, meaning that while the carbon panelling was like duck food, the plastics in the whole car also felt like brittle plastic containers sold in the 1970s. the 206 looks good, but after the interior of the Mazda 3, its doorhandles felt like wafer biscuits instead of sturdy plastics. It felt like the cream cracker that you hold in your hand and if you use a bit more force would flake and crumble in your hands.

Do not also buy the NAZA Sutera Sportivo just because it has the same el-cheapo plastic panelling and MOMO equipped steering, gear knob and pedals. The driving position is awful. It you were ever the owner or either a Catering firm or a Nasi Ayam stall owner who once owned a Nissan C20 Vanette and wanted to relive the ‘good ol’ days’ where you had toiled hard, please go ahead and buy this car. It has a driving position which is exactly like a Van, a commercial one at that. That says it all.

So if you want to buy a car and feel good about it and be different from the other regular people. Buy a Mazda 3, don’t waste your money on stupid 4X4s or expensive gyms.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Sad Looking Ant Eater, the Perodua Kelisa, Engineering feats that never will be performed due to monetary concerns and the new Impreza


The Bugatti Veyron is a 250mph monster that has an engine that sounds like Victorian plumbing and biblical tire roar. You’d think that Clakrson had rubbished the said car, if you ignore the very next line that he wrote on it, in which he said that the car is a magnificent piece of engineering. Now taking mis-quotes into context, we see our Members of Parliaments doing the same thing by looking at part of a Clarkson special on the Perodua Kelisa and noting that the Kelisa was the worst car in the world.

It isn’t the worst car in the world but to actually put what Clarkson said into perspective, is that Perodua and on a similar extent Proton do make soulless cars devoid of any sort of character. Numbers and volume are more important than soul is what makes Clarkson a little bit pissed off when it comes to cars made in Malaysia and Korea. Most Malaysians would actually relate to this as most have at any one time owned a Proton or a Perodua.

Back to the car that has a soundtrack from the 1900s. It is a monumental piece of engineering work that supersedes all known automotive engineering feats including the funny seating position but supremely engineered McLaren F1. It is the fastest and most expensive production car in the world. But I am betting that VW won’t make money out of it but still lose from each unit built. It is amazing that in this day and age of cost cutting, realistically budgeted and environmental friendly companies a monster like this is built. Ugly, like a sad looking doe eyed anteater with a 2 tone coat of paint but as politically correct as daily open air burning staring in the face of global warming. I think this is actually the only engineering feat worth mentioning in the last decade or so. And I estimate that after the Veyron, nothing fantastic will be built by any car manufacturer in the next 10 years including Ferrari, who is actually building race cars that resemble roadcars. These don’t move the goalposts, these cars are still within the usual tolerances of car manufacturing as if you read the specifications of a Veyron you’d notice that everything has to be over engineered to a grand scale to handle 1000 horses.

Mankind has gone backward. In the 1970s to the 90s we had supersonic airliners ferrying people across the Atlantic and we went to the moon in the 1960s. Now, the furthest we’ve gone is up to the International Space Station and the fastest we can fly across the Atlantic is by a Jumbo jet at mach 0.78. Even fighter aircraft development has slowed down. In the 1960s and 1970s America had its F15 and F14 followed by the F18s and F16s. But now, it only has the money to built one Joint Strike Fighter or whatever it’s called. Money and inflation to be blamed for this lack of development.

In those days, governments weren’t so obsessed in counting every single penny. If an inventor came up with a hair brained scheme, most probably some Government in the world will cough up with a hundred million dollars or so. But now, after listening to all those people who wants to save the whales, trees, homeless people, ozone layers, water, bees, locusts and what not, the Governments of the world has no choice but to limit spending on mind blowing projects. I suppose mind blowing projects must now be funded by groups like Volkswagen Audi Group or crazy Russian billionaires. If it were a Government from a developed nation like Germany or even France, a project will be shot before anything can even happen.

“ve haf come up with a solution build an elevator to a stationary point 200km from earth.”

“vat vould be de use?”

“So that it vould be easier and cheaper to dock de ISS instead of vesting precious fuel sending space shuttles to it. Plus its something never been done before. We would be in the annals of history!”

“Vat vould be de cost?”

“Ve estimate it to cost 4 Trillion Euros”

“Mein Gott! Ve can feed a billion African people with that money. Ve can plant trees. Ve can build portable airconditioning units for Antartica so dat de icebergs von’t be affected by global warming. I am afraid ve cannot approve your budget. Let’s go for lunch, I heard dat der hotel across de street has an all de wiener schnitzel you can eat for 5 euros.”

There, and nothing momentous or magnificent gets built anymore. I blame inflation, Governments too concerned with spending money on statues and planting trees and Non Governmental Organisations for pressing for aid and curbing everything in sight. The question of “because we can” will be limited to small measly projects instead of wonders of the world due to this.

Heck, look at the latest version of the Impreza (see the pic to the left). It’s conservative. It’s dull as all character has been squeezed out of it. Look at the bonnet scoop. It’s been severely blunted by rising awareness for car manufacturers to provide for pedestrian crash safety. Pedestrians should look left, right and then try not to get hit. But now they're suggesting that pedestrians will be smiling with comfort when they fly over the bonnet of your car. Look at its boot, specs for the sedan say that it can carry 3 golf bags in it. Do I want to know information like that if I bought an Impreza? I suppose Subaru has to sell more cars and golfers are a demographic that they would like to cover. It is no longer a monumental piece of affordable fast machinery, but it is a compromise to cater for all markets. I suppose it’ll handle well as it has a better rear suspension and lower center of gravity, but sometimes, that’s not what matters to most (maybe having space to put 3 golf bags is what matters). Sometimes, making a profit or trying to make a profit kills a car. Making money isn’t everything.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Who would you want? Flat Chested Plain Jane in a Gucci Dress or Eva Longoria in Jeans and a Cheap T-shirt?

Recently I met two old friends of mine somewhere in Desa Sri Hartamas for a late night mug of teh tarik. One of them was an owner of a Toyota Celica VVTL-i Auto, the other a Proton Satria Neo 1.6. The guy who owned the Satria was a motoring journalist and had only owned the car for about a month. We basically talked about his car quite a bit as it was about to be transformed by Subi of the Promote bodykits fame. The car already had a suede alcantra dashboard as well as a suede alcantra wrapped steering wheel, 17inch rims and BMW-like angel eye projectors. It looked pretty good one might say, but none of the flaws inherited from the basic Satria Neo had been ironed out. Like my previous posting on this car, it had seats perched too high and a rubbish steering wheel and driving position.

Now this friend got some ridicule from me due to the fact that he was an automotive journalist and bought such a flawed car. His argument was that at the price range the Satria Neo was (circa RM55,000.00) nothing could touch its handling. I suppose he is right on that point as journalists don’t actually make much even though they get to try out (or in his case, trash out) new cars but yet would still want to own a reasonable handling car. But the next remark he made was that he is already looking at the latest range of seats OMP have brought into Malaysia to alleviate the seating issue that the Satria Neo has. Could you compromise on such an issue? I compromised when I bought the Proton Wira in 1998. However, even the Wira at the time didn’t have such glaring flaws.

But, the main issue that I shall bring today is on something I noticed just as the two of them were driving off from the parking lot and out to the main street along Desa Sri Hartamas. The all important point that the Toyota Celica, even in its stock 16inch rims and tires looks a whole lot better than the Proton Satria Neo which was complete with the larger 17inch rims and tires; and angel eye projector headlights. It’s not like the Satria is a bad looker, but it was totally outclassed by a car that was rarer in Malaysia and sportier looking. Now it’s not about price difference, as you could put a RM120,000.00 Honda Civic 2.0 beside the Celica and the Celica would still catch my attention over the Civic which costs the same as the Civic here in Malaysia due to most of them being re-conditioned imports. I suppose its all about exclusivity. As no matter what you do, a Satria Neo or a Honda Civic are 2 cars mass market made cars and bought by the thousands every year; whereas the Celica, only a couple of hundred have been imported over the last few years.

I suppose it’s also about design. The Celica is a low slung sports coupe, and that alone helps. The Satria Neo my other friend drives will have the full treatment of big rims and tires, a stonking body kit and lots of upscale trimming. But all in all, spending RM20,000.00 on a Satria Neo still makes it a Satria Neo, which is the actual problem that cannot be addressed. Yes you will be unique, but think of the Satria Neo as your flat chested, plain Jane friend dressed in Gucci and the Celica as Eva Longoria in a pair of Jeans and a cheap t-shirt and you’ll get my point.

Yes, yes those who own Satria Neos or Honda Civics will say I am biased or so forth. But that’s the fact, and that is why when it came to me having a choice to do up my trusty 1.6 Wira when it came to the looks factor I left it totally stock except for the 16inch rims and tires for better handling as no matter what you do to it, it’ll look like a Wira which is a copy of a Mitsubishi Lancer which in turn is modded by the thousands into Mitsubishi EVO look-alikes. Is that a waste of hard earned money? Would it be better for someone to save the money and just buy a more expensive car? Would it be better just to sort out the performance aspect of the car like I did? The answer is subjective. But what does my journalist friend think? He’s the exception to the norm, as being an automotive journalist means that he got friends in the right places to pimp up his ride for a ridiculously small sum of money, unlike other Satria Neo owners that is who would have to spend tons of money just to get where my friend’s Satria Neo would be at.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The 3 Grouses For The Beautiful Month of February

The other day I was reading the latest issue of HYPERTUNE and the reader’s help section caught my eye. A guy who owned a Toyota Unser was asking for help from a performance tuning magazine concerning his Unser. Why? These van owners must get it through their heads that they are driving a van that is trying to be a ‘lifestyle’ vehicle that can do everything. A swiss army knife kinda thingy. However, a large 7 seater object isn’t a small and dainty pocket knife. A Toyota Unser is as dainty as a hippo wearing a tutu and trying to dance the Nutcracker suite. It’s as pointless as asking the current government to start and finish projects on time. It’s as pointless in asking a nun to lift up and show you her knickers. It’s as pointless as trying to ask Proton to stop producing the Saga. What the owner should do is stop wasting his money on performance CAR magazines and publish a magazine for Van owners like him. Maybe I should capitalize on this in the first place. I’d call my magazine – Lifestyle MPV – with the motto – For the discerning MPV owners with Taste. I’d be rich. But as I do not like these vehicles at all, I shall not bother. But others who have read, feel free to capitalize on this idea. These people are like eager beavers. The second option for guys like the Unser owner is stop buying HYPERTUNE and save up and buy an Estima, which at least looks sleek.

Now the second grouse for the month are on car clubs. The problem with people who own cars these days is that they like joining car clubs or inventing car clubs specific to their vehicle. It is getting ridiculous as every other day there is a new model being launched and if every one of these vehicles have their own club, there’ll be a million by 2010. For example, if you buy a Proton Satria Neo, you decide to start a new club called the Satria Neo Club. Then lots of others who want to exchange ideas join the club. Soon, there’ll be about 500 members with the same car joining the club. Things will be fine and dandy for the next 5 years, where new members join and old members sell off their cars and leave. But then, a newer Satria comes out, and therefore makes the old one out of date. What happens? Another bloke decides to start a new car club called the Satria MK3 club or whatever the latest Satria might be called. In the end, there will be 200 clubs for Satrias alone, the Satria GTI club, Satria Special Edition Club, Satria original club, Satria Pencen Club, Satria 1.6 owner’s club, Stupid Satria Owners Club, Dumbass Satria Owner’s Club, Balding Specky Pot Bellied 30 something Satria Owner’s Club and so forth. What needs to be done by these enthusiasts is make one club like the Proton Satria club, then have divisions in the club, like the Satria Gti Register, Satria 1.3 register and so forth. It’s as systematic, and logical as you won’t see membership turnover slowing down just because the car has been out of production for 10 years. Members will help other members of the same brand and because there are so many interchangeable parts, there can be inter-registry meets and these clubs will flourish. Of course its easier said than done, as every one of these car owners think that their car is great and deserves a group of their own. But then again, how unique can your car be if you see 100 others of the same type gathered in one spot? Imagine 100 Satria GTIs in one place at the same time? What’s unique about that? I believe a club with diversity will last a long time rather than a one make club.

The third grouse for the month is Proton, Hyundai and Kia owners who think that their respective Waja (see pic and check out the front grill), Wira, Accent and Spectra are Imprezas. What is wrong with you people? Why aren’t you proud of the type of car you drive? (Although I wouldn’t be proud driving a Accent RXS in the first place) Why do you think your car has a semblance of an Impreza when its either too boxy or too small or what not? Have you been getting high on ganja? Did you have too much Jack Daniel or Budweiser on that day? If you own a Proton Wira, it is excusable if you want to mimic a Lancer EvoIII. But a Subaru? Waja owners, kindly refer to my earlier article on this stuff sometime end of last year. Accent owners, why did you even buy this small crappy looking car in the first place? Why stick on the Subaru sticker? How do any of these people who drive these cars feel when the real deal passes by or stops right beside them? Does it make them proud?

If you have any friends who are one of these car owners mentioned above or think that they should modify their Van or join a ‘special’ car club, please advise them to stop what they are doing. Either that or take some C4 and shove it into their nether regions and do an Altantuya. It’ll make me a very happy chap indeed. Now if you’ll excuse me its time for a cuppa tea.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Electronics, Why they will be a burden in the long run to car owners.

It’s been awhile since the last posting. In fact, it’s already mid-end January 2007 and Mitsubishi’s getting ready to launch the new Evolution X. I was actually quite worried when I read that it was going to come with a 6 speed DSG-like gearbox and no manual shifter. However, upon reading up on the production ready versions, I’ve found out that there will be a 5speed manual shifter option and because of this I am relieved. The reason for my worry is that it seems that every new sports sedan/coupe etc has more and more electronics thrown into its guts than the previous generation of sports cars. The actual impact of these additions is that while these cars will corner like its on rails, blast off into the horizon like nothing you’ve ever seen before or change gears faster than a speeding bullet, these cars have too much dependency on electronics.

Electronics are good, according to all car manufacturers. They aid the driver in driving bla bla. Enabling extremely high cornering speeds in an otherwise family sedan based automobile. However what worries me the most is that all these gizmos are somewhat burdensome in the long run. Most cars with all these gadgets, gizmos and ting-tongs may only have a shelf life of 15 years max before their electronics give way and no spares can be found. Basic stuff like ECUs may be abundant, but stuff like the Active Yaw Control for the Evo IV from 1996 may be impossible to get hold of by 2010 and a relatively good car from 1996 isn’t that usable anymore (to an extent as you could get the later AYC controllers to fit). Of course such a scenario may not even be applicable as there are lots of chop shops out there. But it would be a hassle to find parts that get obsolete so fast. Owners of current Evo IX may be enjoying their cars now, but I would assume that 10 years down the line, after they have disposed of their EVO IX, the next owners would find huge bills trying to find and buy electronic parts for their newly purchased old Evo. I am of the opinion that all these new additions, while they do make cars go faster, stop better and are more comfortable, they are going to be harder to maintain than the classics of yore. Imagine sourcing an electric motor for your new 2011 Mercedes S-class rear air-cond blower.

“Hello, my rear air cond blower is not working”

“Which side”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, the left rear passenger blower has a different mounting bracket built into the motor, while the right side has a built in speed controller module that controls both left and right blower”

“I see”

“But you may need to buy something else as it may not be the blower, these model W510 S-classes have another electronic sensor that is located under the rear seats to tell the Air Cond ECU how heavy the passenger is and how much air needs to be blown. Also, it may not be that, but it could be the main override switch from the secondary systems ECU that controls the Air Cond system overall. That is also reported to give flaws after approximately 100,000km of mileage. But, that’s a no option fix that Mercedes is giving its customers.”

“I don’t see clearly anymore, what would be the damage?”

“It could be a Thousand Ringgit if it’s just the motor or 3 million ringgit if it’s the Air Cond ECU. It depends.”

I see that in the end, consumers will be forced to change their cars every 10years or so whether they like it or not due to tons of electronics been put into their cars. The curse of mass production. Where change is good no matter what the costs are to the consumers. This actually highlights the second main problem that consumers are faced with, too much gizmos and gadgets.

The first problem is the fact that cars are becoming larger. Look at the current Honda Civic, it’s so large that an Accord from 1990 looks small compared to it. Before 1995, Honda didn’t have a need to have a Honda City, look what’s happened now? In the year 2025, the Honda City will be Accord sized and the Accord will be slightly smaller than your average terrace house. The Mercedes S class will be slightly smaller than a small bungalow and would need a ladder for you to reach the door, occupy 2 lanes on a highway and because of the miracle of lightweight materials, electronics and engine development, make 125mpg. We are obviously screwed when it comes to a desire for space. Years ago, before men invented MPVs, we all went round in 4 door Mazda 323s, Volvo 244s and so forth. I think those days were simple. So simple that we won’t go back there again because cars those days have their own set of issues. We were screwed then as well as in the future.

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