Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Desire has a New Name: The Terengganu EXCO Members desire some luxury in their lives

Terengganu decides to opt for the Mercedes Benz E200K over the Proton Perdana V6. The newspapers decide to comment on this which led to a supposedly outcry of misuse of government funds. The reason, according to the person in charge was that it costs a ridiculous amount of money to maintain a 4 year old Perdana. I somehow admit that the figure of RM174,000.00+ for a single over a 4 year period is ridiculous but unsurprisingly as I believe that the government is being short-changed by their contractors yet again. I know Perdanas are slightly expensive to maintain as company cars, but an average figure of RM43,750.00 per year over 4 years is astounding.

Nevertheless, it could happen as if we factor in the contractors billing the government for using ‘brand new’ spare parts such a thing could happen. I have in the last decade inquired a brand new automatic gearbox from Proton for a friend’s 3 speed automatic and the figure that came back to me was an incredible RM20,000.00. RM20,000.00 for an outdated piece of gear changing device. Needless to say, my friend opted for a second hand item that only cost him RM1,200.00 inclusive of labour at that point of time. Imagine what Proton or the government contractors would want to charge for a ‘brand new’ Perdana gearbox then?

Now imagine the Terengganu State Government Perdanas having a slightly strenuous work load. These cars are driven by drivers who basically have no care in the world about avoiding potholes on the road, keeping the engines running for long hours while being stationary, hardly any warmup period for the gearbox and engine before starting and driving off and other abusive driving styles that most staff drivers and company/government pool car users utilise.

You then have to know that the Perdana V6 has always had gearbox problems ever since it first came out. It was only during the latest round of facelifts that the car was given its own dedicated transmission fluid cooler for the gearbox and even then, we have still heard the gearbox dying. I have an acquaintance or two which are car enthusiasts who drive the Perdana V6 and both have had at least 2 gearbox changes on their ride to date. Both, after their second autobox decided to convert to the Mitsubishi 5 speed manual and have been happy campers ever since. Some are lucky, but their cars are hardly abused or neglected and they keep to their rigid maintenance schedule when it comes to servicing the car. But do you think that the State Government cars are maintained as religiously as they are supposed to be? I doubt so.

So the Terengganu Government bought some Mercedes Benzes to replace the Perdana V6s. I suppose some patriotic people are arguing that this is wrong and we should support our national product. These group of people should realise that even being patriotic or nationalistic should be up to a point of being realistic and not just being full of blind pride. The Perdana is a bloody OLD car, get it? It has been around since 1995 and has only been facelifted more times than Joan Collins has been under the scalpel. It is one of those cars that should have been put to sleep at the very least 3 years ago. This supposedly middle executive car is no longer refined as what a middle executive car should have been. You take a look at the current benchmark of a small family sedan, the Honda Civic and you can tell that refinement, performance and everything has moved a notch higher than the Perdana which is supposedly a Honda Accord competitor. I won’t even compare the Perdana with the Accord as it’s that pathetic. Proton should have a replacement for this model soon and this is an order from me, not a statement.

There is another group who is arguing that Terengganu shoudn’t be spending so much of their money in times of political and economic turmoil. If they wanted to replace the Perdanas they should not buy luxury cars. The problem with the State Secretary’s explaination is that he is saying that the State is not using the funds that are from the oil revenue that the State receives but from its normal allocation / collection. Look, is he saying that if the State were to utilise the oil revenue they would be buying Rolls Royce Phantoms for each of the State’s EXCO members and legal advisors and so forth? Somehow, in times where the ruling coalition, i.e. Barisan Nasional is getting hit left, right and centre on everything that they do, they should be buying sensible cars. This isn’t the time for them to be rewarding themselves. This is the time to prove their worth till the next general elections. Spending money like this is another dumb move.

The move which they should have done is buy the Toyota Camry. This car is assembled locally and everyone knows that this decent unclemobile is a good, sensible car to buy and maintain and it only costs RM150,000.00 with taxes. The price could be a sensible RM100,000.00 or below without tax. Toyotas almost never break down. But noooooooo, they are thinking with their egos and desires. Desire has a new name and it ain’t the Satria Neo. It’s the Terengganu State Government EXCO members!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The New Audi A4 1.8 TFSi and Where You Can Get Free Food on Sunday

The business of selling luxury cars has hit a new high (or low). The reason I am saying this is that I was at the Audi hanger recently to have a look at the new Audi A4 1.8 TFSi and there were chicken drummets & wings, fried bihun, 2 types of sandwiches and some chicken balls. The food was fantastic even though I had lunch about an hour back. Well, sometimes you have to sacrifice a little to eat a little more.
Anyway, in walked a guy in his mid-forties with his family in tow. He Was greeted by a sales person who knew him and ushered him to the refreshments while he waited for his test drive of the new Audi. He was overheard saying to the sales man “Wah, only this ah?” He exclaimed as he sauntered to get a plate to get his fill of the smallish buffet spread I mentioned above. The sales person waited for his comment which was “Lexus got mini Lamb Chops you know?”
Now this had got me thinking. I can actually beat recession! Why I said this was that I also knew that Auto Bavaria serves up food on certain Sunday for test drive sessions and now I know that Lamb Chops were being served at Lexus I shall have one stop every Sunday at a luxury car sales centre with my family in tow for a “Test drive” of their finest cars. This coming weekend I shall be served with ‘luxury’ at Lexus in Mutiara Damansara, the next weekend I shall ‘test drive’ the ‘ultimate driving machine at Auto Bavaria and then I shall test drive a Mercedes and hope I get at least a cup of Latte and some sandwiches there. I plan on bringing the family so that we can ‘Test drive’ the finest cars as well as sample ‘luxury’ according to Lexus. I plan to rotate this list every few months as BMW, Mercedes has around 4 showrooms around Klang Valley for this (IF they all serve food that is!) Or to put it bluntly, I wanna go eat some free lamb chops at some luxo-barge showroom. Marketing has its benefits for the layman if you know what I mean.
The Audi A4 1.8 TFSi? It is so much better than the previous Audi A4 which I tested awhile back. This 1.8 version comes with an 8speed CVT gearbox that has hardly any CVT like lag and ample power to activate the ESP on a slightly damp road. The handling of this car is just right for most drivers. i.e. pointy and the tail is obedient, even in the wet. Now you may say that it is a little dull, but it isn’t. This is the first Audi in a long time that behaves differently from most Audis. There is no, or very little sign of it being nose heavy like its predecessors. It is a sporty car.
It took Audi 12 million years to finally agree with everyone alive that having a tall 4,6,8 cylinder engine set up high in front of the front axle does not do wonders to the handling. They have finally decided to reengineer the gearbox to have a more forward front axle placement and better steering feel. The car does not drive like you were sitting just slightly behind an arrow’s head in flight. You actually have a car in which does not fight the laws of physics like the old one does all the time. You see, the older A4 feels nose heavy and feels it, this one does not. It feels like you’re driving a new Front Wheel Drive car with a normally adapted transverse engine instead of a longitudely placed one.
The ride and handling is sorted. Unlike previous Audis I have driven or been in this one has dynamic and comfort damping. I prefer dynamic (the slightly firmer setup) over comfort as this is just totally fun compared to comfort, which will please a lot of older (and duller) drivers out there. The damping on both settings are so much better than the earlier ones which seems to be undamped (or oversprung) depending on what schools of thought you believe in. The older B7 Audis have a choppy ride due to the over aggressive rebound over bumps which I didn’t actually like.
The 8 Speed CVT gearbox is a charm to use as I noted as I sat beside my friend who tested it at the Kiara stretch was nicely geared for sprinting. It actually was geared high enough to feel punchy and was never at any time out of breath. The 160ps that the engine pumped out was more than adequate to take on and win against an older 2.0 liter Alfa 156 in a mid-range dash at that stretch of road. This new tech works!
Yes the car is larger than the previous model and has better rear legroom also. Materials used is up to par and if you were to compare between the 3 series, the C-class and the Audi, you’d choose between the Audi and the C-Class and throw the 3 Series cabin material quality taxi like compared to the two. On the exterior of the car I'd have to say that it is a successful abeit slightly fussy interpretation of the Audi school of design. However, the stance of the car, i.e how the car sits is amazing. From the front with the driving lights lighted up it looks like an R8 and from the rear three quarter, it looks fantastically swoopy. However, it has lost some of the clean lines of the previous B7 model and from the A6. But this look will attract people and that's what Audi wants I suppose.
The Audi is priced at RM235,000.00+, the Mercedes C200 Kompressor at RM248,000.00+ and the BMW320i Sport at RM245,000.00+. Would I buy the Audi over the BMW? Yes I would as the 3Series is an ugly over-designed car with bad material quality and stupidly expensive run flat tires that hurt the ride comfort coupled with a so-so engine and drivetrain (but great steering and handling). Would I buy it over the Mercedes? I would since it costs RM10,000.00+ cheaper and comes with more goodies like the MMI Multi Media Interface screen and controls, dynamic drive controls (ONLY in a C230 model at RM300K) and a lag free CVT box with 8 gears instead of 5 in the C 200K (But if they ever used the 7speed g-tronic then the outcome here may change). However I would not second rate it for interior quality (even though its assembled locally over the imported Audi) and its RWD chassis for that extra RWD thrills. I do not rate or care about that extra 5-10% in steering feel and handling that the BMW or Mercedes has as heck, most normal drivers won’t even notice the difference which wheels are been driven by the engine. If they do they’re just being anal about things.
But I think the best is, go get free food or coffee from these people. Your stomach won’t regret it and neither will your wallet.