Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Dugong and the Tadpole

I have to be honest here. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as some people find the current Honda City a good looking, futuristic car. Usually people who like looking at this car are the owners of this car and that’s all there is to it. In my earlier blog you have heard me moan and complain about how much it resembles a tadpole on stilts. I have come to the conclusion that Honda City owners are people who think in this sort of manner:

1. All Hondas are good cars. Period.

2. All Hondas hold good resale value.

3. All Hondas are powered by F1 related engines.

4. All Hondas are prestigious.

5. All Hondas can be converted into a Type R Honda with the placement of a small badge at the boot stating so.

Well Honda City owners, I got news for you. Your Honda City is a tadpole on stilts and there are no excuses that you can give to make me say otherwise. It is also the ugliest new car in the world bar none.

Let me put you guys into perspective here.

1. All Hondas are good cars. Except the City. The gearbox is a stupid CVT box that feels like any CVT box, i.e having that rubber band feel when driving. The only decent CVT box I’ve driven aren’t made by Honda. It also does not look good. It sits too high from the ground, the body sits on tires too small. The rear track is so much smaller than the front making it look so unbalanced when viewing it at a three quarter rear angle. The nose is too big for the rear. The rear too tacked on as it’s based on the Jazz then a boot glued on and so forth. You may say that it’s a practical car and it has a large boot, funky ultra rear seats. So? It’s ugly. Enough said.

2. Hondas have good resale value. Anyone who buys a car with the intention of getting good resale value is not a car enthusiast per se. Do not come to me saying that you like the City because you are a car enthusiast. No real enthusiast would be caught seen driving in one unless necessary (like if he had to steal a car and it was between a 1985 Proton Saga and the City). You may also think “at least I don’t have to look at it when I drive” it but why bother in the first place as deep down in your heart you know that the outside is hideous.

3. Honda engines are F1 related therefore very powerful. How powerful can your 1.5litre engine be for goodness sakes? Even if you bought the VTEC version of it you are saddled with a chassis that’s too tall to be sporty. Furthermore, that engine is an economy tuned VTEC, it sips, not gulps petrol.

4. Hondas are prestigious. That’s Kah Motor marketing getting to your brains. Luckily Kah Motor is not the official anymore. It’s as simple as that. How prestigious is your Honda if it’s a tadpole? You’re just buying that lame dumpy looking City because you want to be called a Honda owner but you can’t afford the Honda Civic or Accord in the first place. You’re just telling me you can't afford one of its bigger siblings but you still want the badge. That badge won't do you no good as it also tells me you got bad taste in styling and you choose practicality over style. Sometimes when you buy a car you are making an investment that you'll run around in for about 5 years. Do you honestly want to run around in an ugly car for that long a period?

5. Any Honda can be a Type R. True. As your Honda City is Type 'Rubbish' if you end up putting a ‘MUGEN’ type bodykit. Whatever you do to the car it will still be too narrow at the rear, too short in the nose, too long a boot, too unbalanced a look and basically too ugly. 17in Wheels? It does not help. Buy a Honda Jazz instead. At least with the Jazz you get a nice looking practical hatchback that MUGEN has actually played around with as there recently has been a Mugen Jazz/ Fit with around 150bhp and is actually sporty. Furthermore, if you are willing to spend RM90K for an ugly car, you could buy a Jazz for only RM10K more and you won't look like a dork driving a tadpole on stilts.

If you ask whether I have actually had the guts to tell a City owner that he bought the wrong car I actually once did just that. There was this chap who recently bought a City who was a friend on a friend. I asked him why he bought a tadpole. He was speechless. I went on telling him that the tadpole isn't a car for him, or anyone trying to look cool. The worse thing was after that short chat, he somewhat agreed with me. I must meet more City owners to tell them what I feel. At least I feel better if not them.

What about its direct competitor? The newly launched Toyota Vios (left). Yes. It may look like a dugong. But at least that dugong is prettier than a tadpole. Also note that the City is old in its life cycle and a replacement is forthcomming (and will hopefully balance practicality/ function and looks). BUT for now: PLEASE buy the Dugong. You won’t regret it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I Test Drove a People Carrier! The Nissan Grand Livina! Wheeeeeeee.....Not.

The Chinese New Year was a time where Kuala Lumpur suddenly becomes somewhat of a ghost town (or city). Where almost all its Chinese population leaves for their hometowns and almost all business activity stops to a standstill. This is due to the fact that most of the retail businesses in KL are run by the Chinese. This coupled to the fact that nowadays, everyone goes back to their hometown during any long holiday. The Malays and the Indians join the exodus out of KL creating mega traffic jams usually unseen and not experienced by those living outside KL. However as time goes by, we notice that there are also more and more people celebrating the Chinese Newy Year in KL as these are those that have been born and raised in and around the Klang Valley since around independence and have children and grand children around KL. It is because of this, Kuala Lumpur isn't as empty as it used to be. This is the same during the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri celebrations, where the city is still packed with people but there are no traffic jams but still heavy traffic here and there. While this is a good sign, it does not make any difference on the highways which are still jam-packed with people going here and there.

My friend and his family took forever to reach KL from Karak highway due to slow moving traffic on the hilly sections of that stretch. A one and a half hour trip via highway to Kuantan takes at least 4 hours. I think we Malaysians should just stay home during other people's festivals in order to keep the roads clear for those celebrating. This however is easier said than done as the reason for most people who are not celebrating the festivities is that that is the only time they have to 1. Get Married 2. Go on a family holiday. So it is impossible to cut down on traffic during the festivities. So what are your other options?

1. You buy a smaller car so that your carbon footprint is smaller. That's stupid. Would you want to be sitting in a Perodua Kelisa on the highway doing 110km/h and feel all that NVH get to you after a few hours sitting in a small cramped cabin? Or would you want to be sitting in a traffic crawl for 4 hours in a small cramped cabin? The problem is the Kelisa or a Kancil or a Viva is that these are city cars that are actually comfortable for short trips but hell for larger sized drivers and those going on long trips. If you are driving alone, it would be quite tolerable but if you were travelling with 3 other people, it is a pain. Trust me.

2. You buy a people carrier. So that you can travel in relative comfort if you have 5 or 6 of you to bring along. However, owning a people carrier basically tells the world you are a married man, hence uncool to the rest of the world. But think about it, your carbon footprint may be larger than the Kelisa, but you have space and comfort for all to enjoy sitting together in that God forsaken crawl back to Kuala Lumpur. The 6 of you can sing songs, play games, watch DVDs, hit each other, listen to each other curse and swear, play ping pong (if your van is large enough), make babies (if it has a separate bedroom) and so forth. So instead of having 2 cars to carry your family, i.e your wife has to drive the other car. The MPV throws you, your wife, 3 kids and the maid all into one purportedly useful vehicle, the MPV. Quite good for reducing traffic on those back to KL highway crawls you think? Unfortunately, these same vehicles cause extra congestion on work days where one individual is driving that huge bulk carrier alone without any passengers or containers in the back. Maybe the other option would be owning a different car for a different occasion. As such, the Government should again ensure that MPV owners have at least a small town car for daily commutes whether their owners like it or not.

Speaking of people carriers, I got to test drive one during the last holidays. The Nissan Grand Livina. Is it good you might ask? It's cheap I may say. RM82,000+ for the 1.6 version is a lot of car/van for the money especially when it's the same price Nissan is asking for their Latio sedan and around the same price Toyota is asking for the basic Vios. You get a 1.6liter 109bhp 4 speed automatic, 7 seater MPV with power everything and decent build quality. For RM82k, it is amazing. It looks pretty decent unlike a Toyota Avanza which looks like a toad with a fatter that usual rear end. It looks like a slightly taller station wagon which is somewhat like what the Toyota Wish and Honda Streams look like. This is a good thing, as those stupidly bungalow looking Toyota Alphard and Nissan Elgrands aren't the way to go when it comes to vehicle ownership. The question that came to my mind is that; What is heck's name is a Grand Livina? I know what 'grand' means, but Livina? I did some looking up, the only thing I thought of was that LIVINA is short for 'LIVing IN A'. Grand Living in a what? Box? I suppose so. But in order to assist me I used Wikipedia and this is what i got from the word Livina.

Livina is a village and municipality in Partizánske District in the Trenčín Region of western Slovakia. (see Map)

In historical records the village was first mentioned in 1340.

The municipality lies at an altitude of 196 metres and covers an area of 3.223 km². It has a population of about 120 people.

I suppose the Nissan is a car that celebrates the grand place of LIVINA that has a population smaller than Tanjung Malim. I wonder how grand is that compared to Vienna? Prague? or even Zurich? They may as well called it Grand Woolongong and it could even be a larger place than Livina. Note in the press photo above, Nissan feels the need to associate the Grandness of the Grand Livina by putting it in a picture with a grand piano visible inside the supposedly grand entrance of a grand house.

Anyway, I sat in the 2nd row of seats when I first rode in that MPV (2 up front, me and a 10 yr old kid in the 2nd row - pretty family like I must add). After a few minutes I noticed that it was decently quiet and the road noise was decently filtered out. The ride was slightly on the firm side from where I was sitting. I suppose Nissan's engineers must have done quite an outstanding job making a budget MPV pretty quiet. The only drawback I could find was that the body wasn't as rigid as I would have liked, You could feel some shudder on certain bigger bumps which you know comes from lack of body control or rigidity. Oh yeah, the 3rd row of seats are like other budget MPVs, there for the sake of having the extra 6th and 7th seats but isn't all that comfortable most of the time. The seats eat into luggage space here also and you have as much luggage space as a small hatchback, which is one major problem most MPVs don't have a solution for.

Driving the Livina is pretty straightforward. Electric Power Steering, 4 Speed Autobox, Seats perched high up to give a commanding view but 100% unsporty. I'd prefer a lower car like driving position anytime over this. The steering is light, but not overservoed like most electric powersteerings I've tried but it still has that over centering feel to it like most electric steering wheels do. The automatic gearbox is pretty quick on kickdown and the 1.6liter engine doesn't feel like its underpowered hauling an MPV body. I suppose it's because the Livina only weighs 1250kgs which isn't a porkysort of weight for its 109hp and 150nm of torque. It does pretty fine I suppose.

Taking corners is pretty okay provided you drive like a father with 4 children in the vehicle. While the ride is slightly firm, it still bounces a little and understeers a fair bit. A fair bit here means that as a typical family van understeer sets in pretty early and you can feel it comming in even at some low speed corners. It also feels that it is rolling even with that slightly firm-like ride. However, it has a pretty decent turning circle and

All this facts are basically what you'd expect when you own one of these. There is nothing pleasurable from driving the Livina, but at least you don't suffer like the people who have to drive an Avanza EVERYDAY. The chap I borrowed the Livina from once owned an Avanza, he said that the Avanza was only useful for carrying his family around, and it was uncomfortable (and ugly) and at least now he can carry his family around him in some dignity and comfort. Which is miles better than his previous Van. I suppose it's better than nothing. As for me, I'd still stay away from this vehicle. It is unsporty and Nissan family car dull, therefore unbecoming of me to own one (or anyone who aspires to own a GTR etc. etc.).

That said, the guy (my wife's cousin) I tested it with said that it is real good value for money, He'd buy it and slap on some 17in wheels on it. Why? I added as it'll totally spoil the comfy and sloshy ride and even with 17in wheels and tires & springs, it's not going to make you corner like a 350z or a GTR. It would be pretty worthless doing so as the main point is that it would still look like an MPV, hence you look married and unavailable and therefore, uncool. There is nothing else to debate here! Leave it as it is if you buy one, you'd be better off saving that money for a weekend car. Or just upgrade the stereo system with better speakers and more monitors, and that's the best mods for these sort of vehicles. Aside from that....the best mod is buy yourself a decent family sedan.