The striking 205 GTI!

If last week was all about the technological future of our cars, this week we’ll make a trip back in time and explore less of the thrill of technology, and more of the thrill of driving in its purest sense. We’ll do so by looking a bit closer at an absolute legend among hot hatches: the Peugeot 205 GTI.

A brilliant design that has aged very well!

Back in 1990-1991, when the 205 was still riding high although it had alaredy been on the market for seven years, a good friend of mine had parents kind enough to offer him a brand new 205 1.9 GTI when he got his driver’s license. I remember when he showed it to me the first time, it was black and shiny with those lovely 15″ rims and the half-leather interior, and man was I jealous. Not that there was anything wrong with my parents, but the blue Golf from -75 they got me didn’t really do the trick in comparison. As it turned out though, the Golf lived far longer than the 205. You see, my friend was in love with a beautiful girl, who also had just got her license, and kind as he was (and still is), lent her the car over a weekend. If memory serves me right, she didn’t drive more than a few hundred meters before crashing it so completely that it never came back. Luckily nothing happened to her, but the two of them broke off shortly thereafter, unclear why…

Except teaching us to be careful with whom we lend our beloved cars to, the story also highlights another fact which contributed to the 205’s early demise in the above case, namely that it’s a light car with correspondingly thin and light parts. It weighed in at less than 900 kgs and as I’ve written about previously on this blog, a low weight is the best recipe for good handling and speed – but not a good one if you plan to crash.

Anyway let’s go back to the beginning, which for the 205 means the year 1983 when the GTI started off in parallel to the regular 205, initially with a 1.6 litre engine developing first 105 and later 115 hp. In 1986 the engine size was increased to 1.9 litres with more torque and between 120-130 hp depending on version. The debate still goes on among enthusiasts as to which version was the best, some claiming the 1.6 is more playful whilst others talk of more speed and torque in the 1.9 litre. I’ve only driven the 1.9 and I’ll just note that the extra power means 1.5 seconds less to a 100 (at 7.6 seconds), quite beneficial since the car is still as playful as you would expect an 80’s hot hatch to be.

The 15″ wheels were large at the time and reserved for the 1.9 GTI

The 205 was an instant success in France, and the GTI version was a success pretty much all over Europe. In France its main competitor was the Renault 5 which didn’t have the poise of the 205, and internationally it was the Golf GTI Mk2, which was somewhat roomier and probably the better car, but which design-wise was a step back as compared to both the 205 and the Golf GTI Mk1. The 205 was a stunner in comparison and if you ask me it remains so today. I think it’s still one of the best hot hatch designs ever produced and if you look at the complicated forms hatches tend to come in today, certainly one of the cleanest!

It didn’t hurt the success of the 205 GTI, that lasted for 10 years, that a car by the same name but with few parts in common was very successful both in Group B and the Paris-Dakar rally. The 205 T16 / T16 Evo 2 was a mid-engine super car with up to 500 hp, competing with the Lancia Delta Evo and the Audi Sport Quattro, that I wrote about not long ago (click here if you missed it). The 200 homologation cars have mostly gone the same way as my friend’s car and finding one today is very hard and very expensive.

Looks roughly like a 205 and shoots flames out the back – that’s good marketing!

That the “normal” 205 is a real feather-weight becomes clear as soon as you open the (extremely light) door, sit down and look at the likewise very thin and basic plastic dashboard. Not much here to distinguish the GTI from a regular 205, but the comfy, good-looking seats along with the red carpeting remove any doubts as to which version you’re in, and both look sensational. Visibility is tremendous even by 80’s standards and the car is roomier than you think, both in front and back.

Taking it for a short drive, the first thing you note is how much the body moves and how soft the suspension is compared to modern hot hatches. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t stick to the road – it very much does so, but this was how hatches were built at the time and the longer suspension travel means that it’s actually overall more comfortable than a modern hatch. Naturally a new 206 GTI, Civic Type R or any other modern hot hatch is faster, but the 205 still provides a level of speed and fun which is right up there, especially since speed itself is relative and tends to be rather limited in most places you would use a hatch today. The car is playful, both steering and gearbox are fully ok, and the four pot has just the level and type of sound you wish for. It actually felt exactly as fun as it did 30 years ago, before disaster hit the car I drove at the time in the form of a pretty girl.

The dashboard could be any 205 but the seats and colors make the difference!

Finding a 205 GTI isn’t difficult, finding one in good condition a bit more so. Firstly most cars have really been used, and who wouldn’t? This means that may will have 150.000-200.000 kms on the clock which isn’t the end of the world as long as they have been maintained well. A good car will today cost you at least EUR 15.000, a perfect one with much less kms considerably more. Running costs won’t be much to worry about and the downside risk is very limited, as especially well kept cars get increasingly rare.

So why would you? Well, except for the looks and sweet memories from younger days, which in themselves are great arguments, there are other pretty rational reasons for looking at a 205 if a hot hatch is your thing. Assuming you will use it as most people, meaning on short city drives and spells of country roads rather than for long motorway trips, then things such as sound isolation and lack of top end power become much less important and having a small practical but very cool car with great visibility more so! You don’t need giant, Type R-styled wings in the city and you don’t need park assistance systems to park a 205 as long as you can still turn your neck. And whereas a modern hot hatch costs you three times as much to buy, the pleasure you’ll derive by taking the slightly longer way home along that twisty country road won’t be much different!

3 x Lotus in 1 week!

This week will be all about Colin Chapman’s lovely, lightweight cars from Hethel and his motto “adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”. We are of course talking about Lotus and more precisely about a nice selection of one Elise and two Exiges. You see, writing interesting pieces on this blog every week isn’t always easy, and finding time for great test drives even less. The blessing then comes in the form of other petrol head friends who are kind enough to share their experiences!

This week I’d therefore like to thank my friend Erik, a fellow Swede and car enthusiast who currently studies here in Zurich, and who over the previous two weekends had the pleasure of driving two different Exiges and an Elise. Before going into his very interesting experience though, a few words on the two models for those less familiar with the Lotus line-up.

One happy Swede!

The Lotus Elise saw the light of day in 1995 and has since been built in three series: the S1 until 2000, the S2 until 2010 and the S3 ever since. An untrained eye would be forgiven for not immediately seeing the difference between them, although the S1 is a bit more frog-like than the others. The Elise has always been about a maximum of driving pleasure for a minimum of weight, and things normal in other cars like carpets, A/C etc. are not standard in the Elise world. It’s notably famous for its aluminium chassis, weighing only around 65 kgs! With engines delivering between 136-220 hp (Cup and other special versions being more powerful) and a total car weight of only 800-1000 kgs depending on version, power output has never been an issue, although the engine character can still be, as we’ll see further below.

The Elise S2

The Lotus Exige was developed with the Elise as basis, originally as a race car but unlike the Elise as a hatchback. It was intended to be a more mature car than the Elise and other differences include a sportier body with wider fenders and track, allowing for larger wheels, and larger front and rear spoilers. Launched in 2000, the S1 was only built during two years and the story of the Exige really starts with the S2 in 2004, built with the same 192 hp Toyota engine as the Elise as basis. The S3, where deliveries were delayed a couple of years and only started in 2013 after Lotus had survived yet another financial crisis, was a heavily modified car with a new chassis and importantly, a 3.5 litre, V6 compressor engine developing 350 hp. As with the Elise, the Exige was also built as Lotus’s own “Cup” and other more powerful versions.

The Exige S2

Coming back to my friend Erik’s experience, the first car he got to test was an Exige S2 from 2005 with the 192 hp, 1.8 litre Toyota engine. Being young and agile he got into the car without too much difficulty, something that shouldn’t be underestimated for the somewhat elder among us. Once inside though, there is enough room for both young and old. The unassisted steering is surprisingly light at low speed and the radio is better left turned off, given the sound is nowhere near where it should be – it’s far better to listen to the engine instead! With the soft roof off, my friend took off towards some nice alpine roads, earning some sympathetic looks from cyclists on the way (which I can tell you isn’t always the case!), a good testament to the friendly design of the little car.

This is of course the kind of roads the car is made for, and the description of it as a go-cart on steroids nails it pretty well. The chassis is extremely well balanced, the steering, gradually heavier as the speed increases, is among the most precise in the industry, and the grip, even without any form of electronical helps, is tremendous. The gearbox is less precise than it could be, something that has often been commented on, and although 192 hp for a ton of car sounds plentiful on paper, the engine does require a lot of revs to come into its full right around the 6.000 mark, which is of course a bit limiting in daily usage.

The definition of a minimalistic interior!

In terms of quality, the Toyota-built engine is however the least of your worries. The fact that the car is quite loud and that you hear squeaks an scrambling from various parts is so to say part of the package, as is the limited comfort. The passenger seat can’t be moved at all, the driver seat to a limited extent. The cabin is obviously reduced to a minimum, true to the lightweight philosophy, so if you’re looking for anything but a driver-focused experience, look elsewhere.

Second in line in my friend’s Lotus weekend was the car he would later describe as hands down the most fun car he’s ever driven – an Exige 350 Sport (S3) from 2016. The difference to the 11 years older S2 Exige was in his words striking. As noted above, the S3 was heavily re-worked and is a much more refined car, the scrambling parts are gone, thereby leaving more room for the wonderful engine sound. There is a constant mix of gurgling, pops and bangs going on from the rear part of the car, enough to put a big smile on any petrol head’s face.

An even happier Swede!

The S3 Exige is around 200 kgs heavier than the S2 and also rides on wider tires, both contributing to the (still unassisted) steering being very heavy at low speeds. It’s also very communicative, as motor journalists love to put it. “Feeling” the road is obviously an important feature of any true sports car, but one should be aware that this also means feeling every single imperfection of the road every time you take it out, and also experiencing the occasional sideways jump, as a tire catches a track in the road (I should probably add here that roads are pretty good in Switzerland…).

The 350 hp the compressor engine puts out gives the S3 a phenomenal acceleration. This is combined with very confidence-inspiring breaks, much more so than on the older car. The gearbox is still not the best on the market but it does excel in the way it looks – very similar to a Pagani Huayra or Spyker c8!

Finally a week later when his adrenaline had returned to normal levels, Erik also drove an Elise SC RGB from 2011. RGB stands for Roger Becker, a phenomenal chassis engineer that spent 44 years of his life working for Lotus before retiring in 2010. When he did, Lotus developed special editions of both the Elise and Exige with Roger’s choice of options as a tribute. The RGB Elise has the 1.8 litre engine, however with the S3 front. The car in question had additionally been worked on a bit such as to put out an extra 20 hp, bringing it to a total of 240 hp.

As you may suspect, Erik’s experience of the Elise falls between the two Exiges. The car is much more responsive than the older Exige without compressor, although not as manoeuvreable at lower speeds. The driving experience is very similar to the later Exige, however with a fair amount of squeaks and scrambling, so quality-wise more on the level of the older Exige.

The Elise Roger Becker Edition

If I allow myself to summarize Erik’s experiences with my own an those of other friends, it’s clear that any Lotus (and I would include the Evora in that, although Lotus fans tend to see it as a GT car) is among the purest and best driving experiences you will find, and a great proof that from a driving perspective, low weight is more important than high power. At the same time, the lightweight concept makes it quite a raw experience that only comes fully into its own right on a race track and country or mountain roads, provided you know there are no cameras around. The Exige is more mature than the Elise and arguably the better car, although an Elise with the right engine is of course highly enjoyable and the difference shouldn’t be overstated (again, if you’re looking for comfort, look elsewhere). The 192 hp of the base engine may be enough on paper, but the high revs it requires means the compressor engines are a much better proposition. Finally, quality: it is what it is, and as Lotus owners know, its mostly not a problem free experience. That being said, the list of things that can break is shorter than in most other cars, the engine is usually not one of them, and servicing costs as well as tax treatment in most countries are quite low.

If an Elise or an Exige sounds like the thing for you, as you would suspect the price points of the above cars differ quite a lot. A 10-year old basic, 192 hp S2 Exige is yours for around EUR 30-35.000, whereas the a 10 years younger, S3 350 hp version will set you back from EUR 50.000 and upwards. There are few RGB Elises around, but otherwise a 10-year old basic S2 192 hp one will cost you around EUR 20.000 and you’ll need to add around 10.000 for the more powerful ones. In other words these cars hold their value really well, which combined with low ownership costs make them a more attractive proposition than most other great “driver’s” cars.

For a company that has had more lives than a cat, it’s nice to see that Lotus’s future now looks to be somewhat secured. Next to the bonkers, GBP 1.7m, 2.000 hp electrical Evija, Lotus has an ambitious agenda of new cars in different segments over the coming years, with notably an all new model for 2021. Fingers crossed that they get there, because from a pure driving experience perspective, the world would be a much poorer place without Lotus!

The £1.7m, 2000 hp, all electric Evija

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Alpine A110 – enjoy it while it lasts!

I had the privilege to spend part of my childhood in the late 70’s and early 80’s in Monaco. I had caught the car virus already back then, although the 8-9-year version of myself was mostly interested in counting car antennas (these were the days where cars would regularly have 3-4 antennas, and the really cool guys would have a 2-meter, roof-mounted one, making it look like they were receiving from the moon…).

Monaco is obviously embedded in France, and France is obviously very French, also when it comes to cars. In this period there were two French sports cars that easily (at least according to the French) held up with the competition from both Germany and Italy. The first was the Renault 5 Turbo / Turbo 2 nicknamed “the steel mouse”, basically a Renault 5 with a wider body and the engine moved back to sit where the back seats used to be, and developing anything between 160-300 hp depending on version and year. Few of these are left today and when they change hands, it’s at stratospheric prices.

Très cool! Antenna on the smaller side though…

The other came from the small French manufacturer Alpine, established in 1955 and mostly known for the A110, built during the 60’s to the mid-70’s. Alpine had always had a close relationship with Renault who took over the company in 1973 and after the A110, sold its successor the A310 (later A610) until 1995 when the Alpine name disappeared.

Très – ugly, from the front as well as from most other angles.

In 2017 Renault then re-launched Alpine with the new A110, a small, light sports car clearly reminiscent of the original from the 60’s, and in many ways inspired by Lotus (Lotus Exige bodies were even used during the development process). The A110 received a warm reception especially from the motor press since it was a car that finally went against the logic of ever-increasing power in ever-heavier sports cars. The car magazine Evo (the tagline of which this blog uses as its name) even elected it runner-up in its Evo Car of the Year in 2018. In addition, a small engine with low emissions in a light body made the car cheap to own, which is very important in France but increasingly also in other European countries.

I obviously no longer live in Monaco but our family typically returns to the south of France every year (typically doesn’t include this year by current looks…) and we stay close to a large Renault dealer with a separate Alpine showroom. I visited it last summer, got a personalized demonstration of the car as well as a test drive in the adjacent back country that was really an experience.

Firstly I love the looks, that for me strike the right balance between old and new and are quite unique. Secondly you sit really low with the car wrapped around you. Thirdly, it’s a great drive. The mid-mounted, turbo-charged, 250 hp four-pot (now also available in a 295 hp, “S” version) delivers more than enough power to the rear wheels for the 1.100 kgs it weighs. The engine is in great harmony with the 7-speed DSG box and handling is sharp with a notable absence of body roll. It’s also very well made and doesn’t need to be thrown around a corner to be enjoyable. As Renault has shown previously, all the way from that R5 Turbo to modern incarnations of the Mégane, it knows how to develop great drives, and the A110 is a testament to that. At a starting price of around EUR 55.000, I would also claim that it’s quite competitive, being far cheaper than any new Lotus (and in comfort and finish, only the Evora could compete) or Porsche Cayman (that is however more than 500 kgs heavier), the two most obvious competitors.

The interior doesn’t disappoint either!

Apparently though, not a lot of people agree with me on that last point – because very few Alpines are being sold – and this is even before the whole Covid thing. A total production of around 7.000 so far of what was always going to be a niche car doesn’t sound too bad, but sales in large markets are in free fall and in December, the daily production was cut from 15 cars to 7. As noted in my post on Daniel Ricciardo’s switch to McLaren a few weeks ago (that you can read here), Renault’s finances are also in bad shape, with 15.000 employees currently being cut as part of an EUR 2bn savings plan.

The Alpine is a great sports car at a good price, and although the brand may be less-known than Porsche or Lotus, the reputation and tradition should appeal to at least some of the mid-aged sports car enthusiasts that are the target group. The problem is rather to be found on the distribution side. Given Alpine is not in line neither with the rest of Renault’s line-up nor with its clients, the cars are sold over separate dealers that are few and far between (11 in Germany, 2 in Switzerland, 3 in Austria and not more than 20 in the home market France, that has more than 3.700 Renault dealers). Taken together, that 6-month old Cayman that can be serviced around the corner, that is certainly the safer option and that definitely carries the more prestigious brand, all of a sudden sounds quite attractive…

If it wasn’t for those Germans…

A mother company in severe financial straits with the French state as 15% owner does not bode well neither for Renault in F1, nor for niche projects like the Alpine. If sales don’t pick up, which is highly doubtful given what’s happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if for the second time in its life, Alpine is laid to rest. That may be sad for Alpine but not necessarily for A110 owners, who can still enjoy a great car that will never be seen on every corner and that can be expected to hold its value really well!

Driving the E63 – putting things back in order

In a post from a couple of weeks ago, I was quite critical of the latest MB E-class. As mentioned then, I had the opportunity to drive a couple of E-classes lately, including the latest E63 – and luckily, driving it pretty much lets you forget any worries you may have about its looks, materials or luggage space!

Having owned the previous E63 estate for the last three years (non S-version meaning around 560 hp), it’s of course even more interesting to compare it to the new version. And although the new one I drove was the new S-version with 612 hp, the difference in power is barely noticeable, at least on normal roads. There is a difference in sound though, and that’s not to the new car’s advantage. The deep V8 bass has lost some of that depth in the new, 1.5 litre smaller engine, and where the old car made sure no one failed to notice what you were driving at the turn of the key, the new one in comfort mode (and, I should add, without the optional the sports exhaust) is actually quite discreet.

The optional bucket seats – not fitted in the car I tried, and not advisable as an option according to the sales guy, at least not for daily use.

In terms of driving experience, lets just say that what was always a very good package difficult to fault for its precision, has become even better and more precise. This goes for everything. There is surprisingly even less body roll than in the old car, in view of the cars size and weight. The steering is even more precise than before, and the biggest difference is perhaps the gear changes. I never fully understood the complaints around the old speedshift box – sure, it was slower than many double-clutch boxes, but in my view never so that it was disturbing. The new box however reclaims the lost ground, being on another level. The options in terms of individualizing the set-up are plentiful but the pre-programmed modes leave little to be wished for, at least in normal use. The air suspension is impressive in its capability to cope with everything that comes in its way. Most importantly though, the car still feels playful, ready to shake its behind if you’re up – and prepared – for it.

The proper way to enjoy the E63

So trying to combine the general impressions of the E-class with the very complete package in terms of driving the E63 offers, where does this leave us? To my mind, there is still nothing that rivals the E63 Estate in the combination of supercar and family estate (the RS6 may come close, but it offers far less boot space for those of us who depend on it, and it’s also not as playful as the Merc). In its estate version, the E63 still offers all the advantages of what is still the best family estate on the market, which at a movement of your right foot will leave most other cars, including a fair amount of super cars, behind. On the road that is – and basically assuming you live in Germany and have family members enjoying speed as much as you do. For obvious reasons, the E63 will never be a very good track car.

In this resides the E63s ultimate conflict, as I’ve come to realize during three years of ownership, but more on that in a later post. In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a fast family estate, then to my mind nothing beats the E63, but I would await the face lift next year, that will notably bring the new MBUX infotainment system.

TEST DRIVE: BMW M5 – OMG!

I test drove an BMW M5 a long while back (I have a backlog of overdue updates for this blog…).

It started in a very dramatic way. Before handing over the wheel to me, the salesman did a loooong drift on the off-ramp of the motorway. He kept the car sideways for the entire 270 degree turn with the rear tires totally lit up… After these heroics, it was my turn to drive the car.

Engine

There is no other way to start this review, but to comment on the engine. With 560hp it is the most powerful car I have driven. The acceleration is brutal on the motorway and overtaking, on secondary roads, is a breeze. If you are really looking for it, you can feel a little turbo lag at low revs, but it is barely noticeable.

The sound of the engine is fabulous. It has a system that enhances the sound (Active Sound Design, ASD) which is rather controversial among car enthusiasts. But, to my ears, it sounds lovely and much better than the Bentley Continental GT V8 (see my review here, in Swedish).

How is it on the twisty stuff?

The weight, 1945 kg, is rather high, but some of the competing cars weigh more: 1995 kg for the outgoing Panamera GTS, or 2070 kg for the new Panamera Turbo. The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG also weights more. The car masks it weight very well though, and it turns in sharply, which is a trait I have come to like a lot.

Interior

I really like the possibility to customise the different settings for the drivetrain, dampers, etc, separately, something I miss in my Macan. You can save two different sets of settings, which can be selected directly with their respective buttons (M1 and M2) on the steering wheel. It is very convenient to be able to change the character of the car with the press of a button on the steering wheel, instead of down on the centre console. Ferrari does this with the Manettino on the steering wheel; Aston Martin has buttons on the steering wheel as well. This is something I missed in the Porsches, which have not received a similar system until the recently released 991 mk2 (read my review here).

The head-up display is also very useful. In M-mode it shows speed, gear and a graphical representation of the rev counter and a shift light indicator.

Final words

As an everyday car the M5 is an enticing proposition. You could drive it daily as you would drive a 520d, the only drawback being tyre noise (you can read my review of the 520d here, in Swedish).

Would I like to own one? Yes for sure, but I am not sure it is an entirely practical proposition as a family car for us. We need to take the car to the mountains to go skiing, and a massively powerful, turbocharged, rear wheel drive car, might not be the best option. The next M5, which will be based on the new 5-series (that was introduced a couple of weeks ago) will have the option of 4WD, which adds a lot of practicality.

GROUP TEST: Driving the Boxster GTS, Cayman GTS and 911 Carrera back to back!

Last year I was at a Porsche event and had the opportunity to drive the Boxster GTS, Cayman GTS and 911 Carrera back to back.  The cars were evenly matched regarding power en weight. The Boxster GTS has 330 hp, the Cayman GTOS 340hp and the standard Carrera  350bp. The Carrera is slightly (25kg) heavier than the other two, offsetting the small advantage in power.

There were a couple of surprises.

Firstly, the Cayman GTS is much more hardcore than the Boxster GTS. This is partly due to the fact that the Cayman GTS we drove had the optional sports suspension; 20mm lower with no adjustable dampers. The Boxster GTS, on the other hand, was on standard adjustable dampers (PASM) and felt much more rounded and easy to exploit. The Cayman GTS (exactly the same car that I drove for my review here), is better suited for track work, though.

Secondly, the 911 Carrera felt slower than the two GTS cars, but not necessarily because it was slower, but because it was masking its speed. Looking at the speedo you realise that you are going much quicker than you think in the Carrera. On the other hand, with the Boxster and Cayman you feel like you are going faster, which adds to the fun.

Final words

The 911 is the practical proposition; it has back seats and it is very comfortable, in a GT way. The Cayman GTS, with the option of the extra sporty suspension, is probably more suited to track work and felt nervous on the Catalan mountain roads we drove. For me, on this roads, the Boxster GTS was the pick of the day.

IMG_2353

Porsche 911 4s – striving for perfection

I recently had the opportunity of spending a full Sunday morning on Swiss country roads with as only companion a Porsche 911 4S from 2015, and I can definitely remember worse Sunday mornings. The truth is that I struggle more to remember better ones… There are a lot of Porsche aficionados among the readers of this blog with far greater experience of the Zuffenhausen greats than I do (first and foremost obviously my fellow blogger Sven), but to those of you not yet familiar with the latest 911 I’d thought I’d share a few impressions.

“My” car was911 4S a silver-coloured coupé with black interior, a panoramic roof and the PDK gearbox. The power output was the usual 420 hp, bringing the car to 100 km/h in around 4 seconds. Obviously nowadays the boxer-six is turbo-charged even in the version without “turbo” in the name, and sure, the character of the engine is different to a naturally-aspirated six. If you look for it you will feel when the turbo(s) kick in, however power delivery remains very smooth and given the clear advantages in torque, now up to a max of 500 Nm, at least I fail to see any disadvantages with the new engine generation. That also has to do with the three buttons on the center console.

In Comfort mode, the 911 is the perfect long-haul companion, transporting two people and their luggage in utter comfort an sounding so civilized that you could trick quite a few people as to what it is really capable of. That all changes in Sport mode as the tone becomes much rawer, the suspension firms up and the fantastic gearbox hangs on to each gear longer. Had this been my car, this is probably the mode I would leave it in for everyday use. The last option is Sport Plus which, if Porsche had been slightly less serious and a bit more Tesla-like, could have been renamed something like AHBL, All Hell Breaks Loose. The mode certainly works best on track but let’s just say the sound is tremendous, the suspension is….firm and the gearbox hangs to each gear that together with the sound seem to tell you “come on, is that all you have”? Given the car was still on winter tires and the outside temperature was five degrees on a humid country road, it felt safest to answer that question by “yes, today it actually is”, but there is no doubt in my mind that with a set of sport or track tires and an appropriate piece of tarmac, this is a very potent car. So even sound-wise the new engine delivers a very convincing case.

Do I want one? Oh yes. Would this be my choice? Not certain. Although the four-wheel drive version is obviously more versatile, I remember a very inspiring drive a couple of years ago in a two-wheel drive car, so I would clearly want to try that out before deciding as it least as I remember it, it felt even more playful. In terms of power it would also be interesting to try the more potent turbo version (which would then again be four-wheel drive) – that is, if money was no issue. But sure, if someone threw a 911 4S on me, I would not mind. Actually not at all…

 

A morning in AMG heaven

For various reasons I had to go and see the Mercedes dealership yesterday where  a year and a half ago I bought our family car, an MB GL 350. The dealer is also what is called an AMG Performance Center, meaning you see more AMG of all kinds than regular MB models. This time he had something up the sleeve for me. There were a couple of cars he felt I should try out. I follow his advice, and boy was I happy that I did!

I was first handed the keys to the slightly surreal creature called GL (as from this year GLS) 63 AMG. The boys from Affalterbach never put their hands on the first generation GL, but they did so with the second, starting in 2013. The GL 63 has the same 5.5 litre, double turbo V8 engine as other 63 models, which in the GL develops 557 hp. Now as a reminder, the GL is 5.12 metres long and weighs 2.6 tons, so to make this work in any practical way they have worked quite heavily on (most) other parts as well. Notably the AMG version as standard features MB’s Active Curve System, basically aiming to remove the laws of physics.

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Put your foot on the break and press the button and you will be greeted with a somewhat subdued but still gorgeous V8 sound of the type we don’t get to hear that often anymore. And when you put the AMG Speedshift in Drive, all hell breaks lose. The beast does 0-100 in 4.5 seconds whilst at the same time, to borrow an expression from Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “corners like it’s on rails”. It is completely surreal how AMG have succeeded in masking the weight and the size of this machine and transform it to a completely different car. 760 Nm of torque seem to be available at whatever speed and in whatever gear, and acceleration is endless.

Coming back after a test drive including both mountain roads and motorway, I suspect my face featured more of a surprised than a smiling expression, but that was about to change. The dealer now handed me the keys to a sparkling, diamond-white E 63 AMG S Estate featuring lots of goodies, including the AMG Driver’s Package meaning the 250 km/h limitation goes out the window. The S version also means a boost of another 30 hp, so the same V8 engine now produces 585 hp and 800 Nm of torque (and tests conducted on these cars typically indicate a higher power output than that). Without being small, the car still weights more than half a ton less than the GL.

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Where the GL exhaust sound at start-up was somewhat subdued, this is nothing but spectacular. The engine blubbers and blows in a way that will put a giant smile on anyone but the heartless and the Greens, and from that point on, that smile will never leave your face. Again, it’s what AMG succeeds at doing in masking the weight that is most impressive. I used to have the same car with a 292 hp V6 and an AMG chassis. That was a great car but it was never a sports car, rather at all times feeling extremely solid – and heavy. This is like driving a completely different car. It feels light, the steering is precise, the breaks have a solid bite and you can literally throw it around corners in a way I would maybe not have done had the dealer been sitting next to me. And then the engine… The reduced weight means a 0-100 time of around 3.5 seconds and an acceleration and torque quite simply blow your mind away, in any gear, at any speed, on any road.

Conclusion? AMG are great guys, but that we already knew. Still, the GL 63 to me is a flawed proposition. At the same time as it is amazing how you can move this thing around, its sheer size means it is not made for it. As I told the dealer, if I could choose between my car with all the AMG goodies and a diesel engine that produces maybe 100 hp more than the current one, that to me would be a better suited engine to this car than the petrol version.

The E 63 S is a completely different story. I know a new E class is on the way, that the AMG Speedshift is not as quick as for example BMW’s double clutch, and that Comand is not the best GPS system on the market. Thing is, I couldn’t care less – and neither will you, because the moment you press that button and floor the pedal, all that goes far, far away. If there was ever one, perfect car, this quite objectively has to be it. Driving pleasure like a track car combined with space for all the family and four-wheel drive to take you to the mountains on the weekends – what could you possibly want more?!? I feel negotiations are about to start….

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Roadster; (BR 197); Paris 2012

If ever there was a God, he is sitting right below here!

TEST DRIVE: The new 911 Carrera S – ruined by the turbo engine?

On Christmas Eve (!), during a couple of hours, I test drove the brand new turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera S, i.e. the 2nd iteration of the current 991 generation.

The main change, compared to the 1st generation 991, is the all new 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine. Adding turbos to the standard Carrera and Carrera S models is the biggest change in the history of the 911, since the controversial (at the time) introduction of water cooling in the late 90s.

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How is the new turbocharged engine?

Let’s get straight to the point, does the turbocharged engine transform the car? If so, how? Does it ruin the character of the car? How does it sound? Continue reading “TEST DRIVE: The new 911 Carrera S – ruined by the turbo engine?”

Mercedes-Benz GL 350 – the thrill of…..riding

Those of you who read my last post during the Christmas break know I decided to change family cars just before the holiday season (if anyone against all odds had better things to do and missed this historical piece of literature, you can find it here). The decision not to upgrade my old w212 E-Class to the new, face-lifted E400 was primarily driven by a feeling that it would be same same but not too different, which for the money involved didn’t feel very rewarding. Another slight concern was the character of the new engine, which with its double-turbo setup invites to a slightly too racy driving style for a family car (well, depending on the driver I guess….). Finally, the need for space in a family with two children and two dogs who regularly travel through Europe haven’t changed. So what to do?

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A revolution looks different…

Given my by now ten years satisfaction with various cars of the Stuttgart brand, the most natural was to first think of alternatives within the MB range. And actually the search never went much further. When you build a house, you rather build a room too much than one too little. Using the same waterproof logic, I opted for the top of the range in size terms that they build in Stuttg, sorry, Alabama – the Mercedes Benz GL 350.

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It should be said right away that the GL 350 doesn’t really fit on this blog given it is obviously quite far from the notion of thrill of driving. But it is very close to perfection in another thrill – that of riding. The comfort of everything in this 5.12-metre car, from the chairs and noise level to the chassis and air suspension is simply fabulous, especially considering the 2.4 ton weight and the amount of people and luggage the giant luggage compartment will swallow. The 3-litre diesel engine producing 258 bhp but more importantly 620 Nm from very low revs fits the car perfectly, as does the 7G automatic that has been criticized in other models for being slow (no need for more speedy gear changes in the GL). When tested by a Swedish car magazine, the conclusion was that a ride in the GL never becomes stressful, which is actually a good way of summing it up. It does however become an enjoyable travel experience very quickly!

Picking up the GL just before the Christmas break, our virgin ride took us from Zurich to Sweden’s west coast, a drive of 1600 km that we did in 15 hours and in ultimate comfort and with a diesel consumption that rarely exceeded 10 l / 100 kms. In the many we have done this exercise, never has a drive been more comfortable! And should you need to transport your friends, cousins or step parents somewhere, having those third row seats that by pushing a button flip out of the floor is really quite handy.

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A very comfortable space to spend many hours!

So all well in the end? Well yes, so far I am more than happy with my decision. The thrill of driving will in future be fulfilled by my TR4, a job it does very well, the thrill of riding will be perfectly satisfied by the GL. There was though that small thing the salesman mentioned to me when picking up the car: that there is a very good tuning solution from Brabus that ups the performance and especially the torque to over 700 Nm. It is not very expensive and if you talk nicely to your MB garage, they will also look between their fingers in terms of not letting it affect the guarantee (tuning the engine otherwise typically means you lose your guarantee coverage). Not that you strictly need it, but as we all know (and especially those of us who have taken a test drive in a Tesla), torque is kind of addictive… Should I go down that route, the experiences of it will of course be posted on the blog. In the meantime, if you need (a lot!) of luggage space and look for a highly practical and sublimely comfortable travel companion, look no further!

Test drive MB E400 4Matic Station Wagon

In 2010 I bought my current E350 Break (W212) from an MB dealership in Lucerne, Switzerland, specialized in importing so called “Direktionsfahreuge” (i.e. cars used to ship around more or less important VIP’s on German Autobahns), directly from the MB factory in Stuttgart, and then selling them for very competitive prices in Switzerland. My car, an E350 4-matic Station Wagon, was basically as fully equipped as a car can get and I bought it six months old with around 20.000 kms on the meter, in mint condition and fully guaranteed at almost half the price. That’s the kind of car deals I like and the MB has well deserved the star on its bonnet, taking us around Europe for four years and 90.000 kms without a single problem – by far the best car I have ever owned. As the clock recently passed 110.000 kms however, the thought that it was perhaps time for a change has haunted me since the beginning of December – and as you probably know as a reader of this blog, once that feeling sets in, you won’t get rid of it until something new stands in your garage…

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You were, and you still are, a really great car!

As a strong believer in the saying that you should not change a winning team, and given neither an Audi A6 nor a BMW 5-series are real-life options when you regularly ship around two children, two dogs and a wife who, given her small size, carries around amazing amounts of luggage, the first choice was obviously to have a look at the “new” E-class, i.e. the face-lifted model presented last year with minor visible cosmetic changes but more than 1100 parts updated on the inside. The corresponding petrol version is now called the E400 and like in many other cases, says absolutely nothing about the engine, in this case a 3-litre V6 double-turbo petrol engine (if the boring number combinations have no meaning anyway, why not get rid of them completely?).

“My” test car came in a very trendy pearl white, a colour that looks spectacular on this car as long as you opt for the glass panorama roof (which is black) and the 19-inch AMG wheels. If you don’t, you buy yourself a very expensive station wagon looking like a delivery car. Obviously, having driven the old model for the last four years, most things on the inside fell familiar, although MB has made another step forward in build quality – the car feels very premium indeed in everything from the (optional) Arctico-trimmed dashboard, the analogue watch, the (optional) Nappa leather and the (optional) alcantara inner roof. And as that tells you, there is no change in the policy around the (very long) options’ list…

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If you go for white, then big wheels and a panoramic roof should be high on the list!

Much has been said about especially BMW’s advances in infotainment systems, and it is true that MB is not up to the standard set by especially BMW and to a lesser extent Audi in terms of the size of the screen or the number of functions on offer. I would however argue that you should be clear on what is important to you. If it’s the size o the screen, then definitely go for Munich or Ingolstadt. If you need to call someone whilst in Germany to ask where the nearest movie theatre is, then BMW’s (optional, subscription-based) concierge service is the one to go for. If on the other hand you order a built-in navigation system for the sake of navigating, being able to store your music on a +/- 20 GB large hard disk and connecting your phone and stream music via bluetooth, then be aware that all systems nowadays have web-based navigation and are quite comparable.

Replacing a 3.5 litre six-cylinder engine producing 272 bhp without turbo with a 3-litre, six-cylinder engine producing 61 bhp more thanks to a double turbo system obviously changes the driving experience quite a bit. The turbo trend that has caught most manufacturers is driven on one hand by emission rules, as it allows cars to meet the absurd EU emission criteria better than a large engine would, on the other hand by tax rules in many European countries that tend to penalize engine size rather than power output, something that with today’s technology doesn’t make much sense either. The E400 thus feels much more lively than the old car with typical turbo torque available from low revs but without any delay in power delivery. Considering it is a 5-metre family station wagon weighing close to 2 tons, its sub-7 seconds time to 100 km/h is very respectable, as does the torque available over a much larger span than a diesel engine.

The multiple changes to the chassis on the updated model have also done small wonders to the car’s perceived agility. My old car was always stable, always reliable and always safe. Throwing it around corners on alpine roads as Switzerland invites you to was clearly doable and the car played along, but doing so it didn’t feel very enthusiastic or responsive. Here, the new E-class is completely different. It feels about half a ton lighter (it isn’t) and is much more dynamic in the way it handles and responds. The engine’s torque makes it feel like a perfect fit, and the 7G gearbox, whilst not able to compete with double-clutch systems, is still clearly up to the job as you hardly notice it working.The steering feels more agile too, without the exaggeration produced by some of today’s electronic systems.

In sum the E-class remains a very, very capable family station wagon and the facelift has done a lot of good to an already very good car. If you don’t insist on buying brand new, around 90.000 CHF (or a similar amount in most European countries) will get you a well equipped, six-month old demo car, that provided you get the right options can be warmly recommended. Should you wish to order new, you will end up somewhere between 110.000-120.000 CHF. A brand new model is due for late 2016, but that is still a long time and many miles away… Should you get the diesel instead? Not really. The torque the E400 provides feels every bit as good as in the E350 (diesel), is more accessible and still achieves 8-9 litres per 100 kms. It also makes the car much more fun to drive.

So did I buy one? Actually… no. Having driven the old model for four years, in spite of all the changes, it still felt a bit too much to the same car for a lot of money in between. In the end I went for a completely different concept, more on that later…

TEST DRIVE: Two days with the Porsche Cayman GTS

The Cayman GTS is beautiful!! During the two days I had the car, plenty of people on the street complimented me on the looks of the car.

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How does it drive?

Ok, it looks great, but more importantly, how does it drive? The car I borrowed was equipped with the optional sports chassis that lowers the car 20mm and removes adaptive dampers (PASM). You can clearly see in the pictures that the car is looow. This optional sports chassis is very firm for road use. If you are not planning to track the car, I would recommend going for the standard adjustable PASM chassis.

Having said that, the car drives absolutely on rails. It is an old cliché but it has never been so true. I can’t remember any car I have driven, that is more keyed to the road. It is at the same level as the two 911 GT3:s (996/997) I had a couple of years ago. Turn-in is excellent, the balance is neutral and fluent. The steering is very good and well weighted, in spite of having electric power steering. Brake feel is excellent. I am running out of superlatives…

Drivetrain

Driving the Cayman GTS, I initially felt a lack of power, until I realised I have to rev it much higher. I was upshifting at 4500 rpm… I have been driving diesels for too long. The V8 in my California was very torquey, in spite of being an atmospheric engine.

The sound from the engine and the Sports exhaust (standard on the GTS) is very good, although I have to admit that I had it in “silent” mode most of the time.

The dubble-clutch PDK gearbox is excellent, as always. The only problem is that the gearing is very long. If you rev the engine, as you should, in 3rd or even in 2nd gear,  you are suddenly carrying very high speeds. With shorter gearing you would be able to rev the engine more often.

Interior

The interior is very sporty with a lot of alcantara and carbon fibre parts. The spec on this car closely resembles the interior of the 997 GT3 Mk1, that I used to have. This car has the interior GTS package that adds more alcantara as well as contrasting stitching (I apologise for the poor quality of the photo). The leather dashboard is standard on the GTS, and contributes to the car feeling special.

Cayman GTS interior

Final words

Summarising, I believe that this is the best sports car in the market, with the possible exception of the Ferrari 458. My wife drove the car as well and was not keen at all on giving the wheel back to me…

Thanks to Porsche Center Ibercarrera in Barcelona for generously lending me this car.

TEST DRIVE: Porsche Carrera S Cabriolet

I spent a couple of days with a Porsche 991 Carrera S Cabriolet rental car last summer. In this report I will mainly compare the Porsche with my Ferrari California, which I sold a couple of months before this test drive.

Looks

The 991 generation Cabriolet has very good looks. With the roof up it looks much better than the previous generation 997 Cabriolet and almost as good as the 991 Coupé. With the roof down it is less beautiful than with the roof up, but still better looking than the 996/997. Possibly, the 4WD version which has a wider rear, would look better than this 2WD version.

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How does it drive?

The 991 feels more planted to the road than my California. Despite the power deficit the Porsche is probably faster point to point; albeit with less passion and drama…

In spite of the car being a Cabriolet i couldn’t fell any chassis flexing. I guess you have to drive a Coupé back to back in order to feel the difference.

Feeling that body roll was virtually inexistent, I presumed that the car was fitted with active anti-roll bars, i.e. PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control). In order to be sure, I drove to Porsche Center Stockholm Segeltorp and they confirmed that this particular car indeed had the PDCC option. There has been some debate about whether the PDCC options is any good or not. The argument against it, is that PDCC removes feedback to the driver. In the end I guess it is a question of personal preference; whether you prefer that the car feels “planted and on rails” or “more alive”. From a performance and technological point of view, PDCC is a tour de force. Maybe you can guess which camp I am in…

Although the 991 S has less power than my California, it feels plenty enough. The sound, even without sport exhaust, is very good; in particular the intake sound. The 991 has a Sound Symposer  (http://articles.sae.org/10374/) that channels exhaust and intake sounds into the cabin (without creating artificial sound through the speakers!). The Porsche sounds great, but you can’t compare it with the glorious and symphonic sound of the Ferrari V8 in the California…

Open top

It is nice to be able to open and close the top at speed, which was not possible in my California. The cabin noise is low, even with the roof down. With the roof open there is much less turbulence than in the California and the foldable wind protector is very good. It can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button.

Final words

Summarising, the 991 Carrera S is an excellent allround open top sports car. My son and daughter love it… Would I buy it? Well, historically I buy an open top car every ten years; a Porsche Boxster S in 2001 and the Ferrari California in 2011. In both cases I would rather have bought the same car with a fixed roof had it been available (the Porsche Cayman didn’t exist in 2001). Having said that, it is good fun to have an open-top car and the kids love it, but all things considered I would rather go for the Coupé.

Update: See my review of the facelifted turbocharged second generation 991 Carrera S.

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Tesla Model S – still running at full power?

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Regular readers of this blog may remember my very positive report from January after having driven the Tesla Model S the first time (click here). 9 months have passed and I was today invited to a test event Tesla had organized in the Swiss alpine resort Arosa, giving me the opportunity to drive the car again and confirm impressions and obviously also get an update on Tesla’s progress.

September is normally still summer in Switzerland and having enjoyed temperatures around 20-25 degrees the last weeks, little did I think of some rain in the weather report. But climbing to Arosa at 1800 metres, at 5 degrees the rain was close to turning into snow, and the surrounding mountains were all white. Bringing 427 bhp and 600 Nm onto the ground in a rear wheel drive car running on 21-inch 265′ summer tyres under such circumstances and on alpine roads would be… interesting. Would the car’s low center of gravity compensate for the dreadful outside conditions, or in other words, compensate for the absence of four-wheel drive?

Firstly a few lines on the car itself. Nothing much has changed in nine months other than the order books running at full steam, not only in Switzerland. Tesla is well ahead of sales predictions all over Europe and have in this country sold 800 cars of which 500 have been delivered (delivery times are currently at around 4-5 months). As the car is still basically new no face lift is planned yet, but some improvements to the interior have been made. We are here talking about small things such as a partly-covered alcantara dashboard, improved material quality especially in the boot (one of my critical points from the first report) and some new functions and buttons. Overall, the car feels exactly as premium and solid as it did when I first saw it and is clearly on par with the Mercs, BMW’s and Audis of this world.

The test car was the top version of the Model S called P85 Performance +. Besides plenty of torque and bhp it also features an improved chassis, suspension and brakes and a sportier setting of the air suspension. Too stiff for alpine roads of bad quality? Taking the wheel the first impression is that of a very tight car that in spite of its size and weight is very precise and easy to handle. Weight repartition (48/52) feels well balanced, the suspension does a brilliant job and whilst the steering may not appeal to those wishing for a mechanical feel, the three adjustments (sport-normal-comfort) bring a real added value, with the sport setting being perfect for these roads and fast driving, whilst it would be too burdensome for the city, for which the comfort setting is ideal.

Challenging the car a bit it responds really well and again, it does not feel heavier than a traditional car (even though it is!). However, the fact that the torque is plentiful and available at each moment takes some getting used to, especially on mountain roads. Things are also slightly complicated by the fact that you cannot let yourself be guided by the engine noise. Attacking a corner slightly too aggressively I suddenly felt the rear break out a little surprisingly, but it is brought in very effectively and surprisingly smoothly by the (standard) ESP half a second later. Clearly not a car for drifting – unless you turn off the ESP, that is. Doing that and given enough space, you could probably do wonder with this car, especially when you learn to handle the power! My very competent Tesla co-driver mentioned Tesla is working on 4-wheel drive as an option but also said that for normal “ski weekend” use, the low center of gravity basically means 4-wheel drive is not required. And frankly, driving a 4WD myself, I do think it would ruin the car a bit and would personally not hesitate to buy the standard version.

The company Tesla is doing really well and importantly, keeping its promises. The supercharging stations are being deployed across Europe according to plan and will until the end of this year allow you to travel from Zurich to Norway using only superchargers (which are by the way free during the car’s lifetime). Tesla’s SUV Model X pictured below will probably be available towards the end of 2015, and plans are then to introduce a small car as a competitor to BMW’s i3 by 2017. It does indeed seem Tesla is here to stay, and the Model S has lost nothing of its attractiveness as an exciting, fun and competitively-priced alternative to traditional (German) competitors!

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Tesla Model X prototype, available from 2015

TEST DRIVE: Porsche Macan – sports car or SUV?

I was fortunate to drive the new Macan at a Porsche event close to Barcelona a couple of weeks ago.

For the purpose of this review, I will mainly compare the Macan with my BMW X3 xDrive35d (MY 2012).

The most important bit first; the Macan feels more agile than my X3, or rather, more agile than any SUV I have driven. Don’t be fooled, the Macan is no sports car, it’s no 911 with four doors, but it is as sporty as a SUV gets.

Before driving the car I had a passanger ride in the back seat of a Macan S Diesel. It felt properly quick, not the least since the driver was driving the car like a complete lunatic… In spite of his efforts, the Macan Turbo in front of us pulled away from us on the straights. The diesel engine had a pretty OK soundtrack, considering it is basically a reworked Audi diesel…

After the scary back seat ride, I drove the Macan Turbo on some mountain roads. Boy is it fast! The engine produces 400 hp with a somewhat muted soundtrack, but it makes nice exhaust noises on upshifts…

The steering is light, which is something I like. On my X3 it feels more weighty, specially in Sport mode, but in a bad, artificial way.

Now to the practical stuff. The interior feels very “premium”; much more luxurious than my X3. The Macans on show had full leather interiors, which added to the premium feeling.

Interior space in the back seat is limited and luggage space is markedly smaller than in the X3. Headroom in the back seat is not plentiful; tall people will hit the roof.

Finally, the most important question: do I want one? The answer is yes, but I wouldn’t sell a kidney to buy it… Let me clarify: if I didn’t own a family car and needed a small, sporty SUV, I would definitely buy a Macan. But is it worth upgrading from my BMW X3 xDrive35d? That’s a tough question. The Macan looks a little better, it feels a little more expensive inside, it is much more agile, but quite less practical than the X3.

If I had a sports car along the X3, as I used to have, I would keep the X3 as a family car. But without a sports car on the side, the family car needs to be sportier. In that context, the Macan would be an excellent all-rounder; it would make everyday driving a little bit more exciting. On the other hand, I am really fond of the new Maserati Ghibli (test drive report coming soon…). Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Test drive of the Tesla Model S – the true meaning of torque!

After visiting the Tesla store in Zurich earlier this fall, I wrote quite an enthusiastic review based on first impressions of Tesla’s family sedan, the Model S (found here). Finding time for a test drive took longer than expected, but earlier this week it became reality – and boy what a life-changer it was!

Given I described the first impression of the car quite extensively in my first review I’ll pass on the details but what strikes you every time you step into the Model S is how spacious it is. The absence of an engine in the front has left space for quite a sizeable, second luggage compartment of 150 litres, easily fitting two larger bags, which together with the hatchback solution in the rear means around 900(!) litres of luggage space with five seats (and over 1600 litres if you fold the back seats). This means the Tesla is a true family car option, as long as your children are not oversized (the limited headroom on the back seats means people over 180 cms will hit the roof).

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With the Tesla salesman (a converted banker, mind you…) next to me, I took possession of a pearl white Model S with black interior, to me the best colour combination. It had the stronger of the two offered engines (85 KwH, 414 bhp, range around 400 kms) with the so called performance package, meaning a better handling chassis and a torque of 600 Nm, rather than 440 Nm in the standard 85 KwH version. It also featured the panoramic roof that opens larger than the sun roof of any other current production car.

Driving a Tesla in the city is quite undramatic. Obviously there is no engine noise but to be fair, I don’t hear the engine in my MB either, and the Tesla is still exposed to surrounding noise. Fascinating at first, but easy to get used to, is the strong engine breaking sensation developing as you take your foot off the pedal. This is the engine regenerating electrical power and once you learn to manage it (which takes roughly 5 minutes), it means you can actually drive the car without breaking in 9 cases out of 10. It also means that driving down an alpine road for example, when regeneration will be particularly high, your range will develop positively. What also strikes you immediately is obviously the 17 inch info screen that occupies the center of the car and from which basically everything is handled. This system always has an internet connection, over Wifi or 3G, financed by Tesla all through Europe. That’s right, no roaming charges if you take the car on a trip abroad!

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With this in mind, the remaining driving experience in the city is completely undramatic. The car handles well, together with the suspension clearly on the sporty side, quite reminiscent of a 5-series BMW. Seats are comfortable (although they could do with some more lateral support) and the cabin, lacking a transmission tunnel, is very roomy.

And then at some point you come onto the motorway, and this is when all you thought you knew of motoring (or indeed electrical cars!) changes – forever. The nature of an electrical car means that torque is constant irrespective of the speed, and power delivery is instant, as there is no transmission, turbo or other to delay it. So when you floor it at 60, 80 or 100 km/h, you immediately have 600 Nm of torque hitting you in the blink of an eye. This means the Tesla does 0-100 km/h in around 4.5 seconds but even more impressive, it does 80-120 km/h in less than three seconds, roughly on par with a Panamera Turbo, but beating an Aston Martin Rapide (that money-wise will both set you back considerably more). The feeling when it does so is quite simply unlike anything you have ever experienced. It is also very, very addictive, and something every motor enthusiast should try out.

On smaller roads the impression of a well-handling, rather sporty car is confirmed. Given the 600 kgs of battery power sit in the floor, the center of gravity is low, and weight repartition at 48/52 is excellent. Sure, it doesn’t behave like a 911, but again this is a large, family sedan. It may feel slightly heavy (after all it weighs 2.1 tonnes…) but there is no roll to talk about, steering is precise and the (air) suspension is well-behaved.

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Not a recommended way of driving considering the range…

No negative points? Sure, there are a few. As mentioned the seats could be more supportive, the fact that a high-tech car like the Tesla lacks modern functions such as a lane assist or an intelligent cruise control is disappointing, and some parts of the interior, especially in the boot, lack premium feel. But when you floor that pedal, you will forgot all of the above very quickly…

Since my first visit at Tesla, the company has cut delivery times to 4-5 months, and the Model S has become the most sold car in Norway, a country with high car taxes but strong subsidies on alternative fuel cars. And looking at the financial side even if you live outside of Norway is quite interesting (at least in Switzerland but surely in other countries as well): buying a properly equipped 85 KwH Model S sets you back around 105.000-120.000 CHF, i.e. roughly the same as a large German sedan with similar equipment (but without an engine that in any way can match the experience). But after that, it’s only good news. Comparing costs to my current MB E350, this is what it looks like: no road tax for electrical cars in Zurich (+700 CHF), service included for the first four years (around +1000 CHF on 20.000 kms/year), cheaper insurance (+700 CHF) and “fuel” costs on 20.000 kms of around 600 CHF rather than around 3700 CHF (+3100 CHF) in my case means a net saving of around 5500 CHF – per year. From that perspective, the price is more than fair. There is also a 4 year warranty on the car and 8 years on the batteries, and a resell level that will probably by far exceed conventional cars.

Tesla is also becoming a serious pain in the butt for larger (German) carmakers. How can a company with no car manufacturing tradition and a couple of thousand employees come up with a car that in some aspects is lightyears ahead of competition? How can they sell it at 100.000 CHF, when a small BMW i3 with some basic equipment but less than half the range (not to talk about the power or the size) costs more than 50.000 CHF? How can Tesla offer an infotainment solution that is constantly online over 3G all over Europe? The Germans had better find an answer to these questions sooner rather than later.

Likewise, it is high time for Europe’s politicians to wake up. This is a car that at zero emissions could seriously change Europe’s automotive landscape, especially if Tesla as promised comes out with a cheaper model in the coming years, Still, in most cases, it is Tesla that needs to finance the power charging stations built over Europe out of their own pocket. Where are the initiatives in this direction from the various types of green parties that like to talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk?

While these questions are answered, go and test drive a Tesla. You won’t regret it…

PROVKÖRNING: Nya Porsche Boxster S – briljant och suverän!

Jag provkörde nya Porsche Boxster S (981) för en tid sedan och jag blev mäkta imponerad. Till att börja med är bilen väldigt snygg; den påminner lite om såväl Carrera GT som 918 Spyder.

Det är varit en hel del debatt om Porsches elektriska servostyrning i nya 991 och Boxster. I Boxstern tycker jag dock att den fungerar mycket bra, t.o.m. bättre än i 991. Styrningen är direkt och kommunikativ, om än inte lika direktstyrd som i min California.

Chassit är följsamt både i standard- och sportläge. En bra sak är att man kan ställa in stötdämpare separat från övriga inställningar. Detta saknar jag i Californian, men det finns t.ex. på Ferrari 458.

Efter en tid i Californian är det kul att höra att motorljudet kommer bakifrån! Det går inte att komma ifrån att en bil med mittmotor (eller svansmotor) känns sportigare än en bil med motorn fram. Ljudet från motorn är fint om än lite svagare än 991 med sportavgssystem avstängt. Det beror nog på att 991 har en “Sound symposer”, vilket är ett rör som leder avgasljud in i coupén.

Prestanda känns endast marginellt sämre än i 991. Bilen har 315 hästar och accelererar från 0-100 km/h på 4,8 sekunder med dubbelkopplingslåda (PDK) och Sport Chrono. Dubbelkopplingslådan växlar väldigt mjukt utom i Sport Plus-läge, då Porsches ingenjörer tillåter att uppväxlingarna känns lite mer…

Bilen har en bra ratt med utmärkta växlingspaddlar (med SportDesign-ratten). Det finns indikatorer i ratten som lyser om Sport eller Sport Plus-lägena är inställda. En sak jag saknar är ett reglage på själva ratten för att ställa in Sport och Sport Plus-lägena, så att man kan ändra läge utan att behöva flytta handen från ratten och titta ned. Min California har en “Manettino”, M5:an har M1 och M2-knappar på ratten och Aston Martin Vanquish har knappar för såväl inställning av sportläge som stötdämpare, direkt på ratten.

Standardstolarna är väldigt bra och bekväma, med bra sidostöd. Hittade rätt körställning direkt. Pedalerna sitter också väldigt bra. Kvalitet i inredning är väsentligt bättre än förr. Den känns inte enklare än 991. Bilen var utrustad med stereo från BOSE, men den tyckte jag lät sådär.

Taket fälls ned på 9 sekunder i farten (upp till 50 km/h)! Att kunna fälla upp och ned taket i farten är något jag saknar i Californian, kanske skulle jag köra mer nedcabbad i så fall.

Leendet infinner sig verkligen när man kör Boxstern. Vad är då slutsatsen? Boxstern kostar hälften så mycket som en 911 Cabriolet. Prisvärt är ordet! Min California är tre gånger dyrare men definitivt inte tre gånger bättre. Nya Boxstern bådar gott för nya Cayman som precis visats. Om BMW 520d är världens bästa bil, måste Porsche Boxster S, med alla rimliga mått mätt, vara världens bästa sportbil. Aldrig har det gått att köpa en så komplett sportbil för så (i relativa termer) lite pengar!

Se även några av mina tidigare inlägg om nya Boxstern:

PROVKÖRNING: Bentley Continental GT V8 – mer jakt än sport

Jag provkörde en Bentley Continental GT med V8:an på 507 hästar. Bilen är imponerande; den är bekväm, tyst och komfortabel.

Tack vare effekten och vridet i dubbelturbo-V8:an så är bilen hyggligt snabb, men farten känns inte. Jag förstod inte hur fort det gick innan jag tittade på hastighetsmätaren. Ljudet är dämpat men ändå gurglande kraftfullt; vid acceleration så låter det som att dra på för fullt i en yacht (därav “jakt”i rubriken till inlägget…).

Pressar man bilen med små slalomrörelser så styr den in hyggligt bra. I lite tvärare kurvor så understyr den dock när den pressas; det går inte att maskera 2,3 (!) tons vikt, även om Bentleyn gör det så bra som det nu går. Att kliva tillbaka från Continental GT till min California är en stor kontrast; det kändes nästan som att kliva från en Porsche Cayenne Turbo till en 911 GT3:a…

Leendet infinner sig inte riktigt, såsom det gör i sportbilar som Californian eller Porsche 911/Boxster S.  Men Bentleyn är förstås en annan typ av bil. Dessvärre är det ingen bil som passar mig. Har inte analyserat exakt vilka konkurrenterna är men jag skulle mycket hellre ha en Maserati GranTurismo Sport, som är väsentligt billigare eller en Aston Martin Rapide som är både sportigare och snyggare. Eller varför inte en annan, fantastisk bil som också har en dubbel-turbo-V8 och som jag provkörde i veckan! Rapport kommer snart, men ni kan säkert gissa vilken bil det är.

Bentleyn har dock en fin inredening. Det är några Audi-detaljer, men mycket färre än i den ursprungliga versionen av Continental. Jag provade att sitta “bakom mig själv” i baksätet och det var bra med utrymme. Däremot är bagageutrymmet (358 l) inget vidare.

Continental GT känns lite som en Audi S8 med två dörrar, vilket den också är… Köper man en S8 i stället, så spar man en dryg halvmiljon, får en bil som är 0,6 sekunder snabbare till hundra (4,2 vs, 4,8) och som har mycket bättre utrymmen. Audin har dessutom faktiskt en inredning som håller Bentley-klass. Då blir det svårt att motivera priset på Bentleyn, om man inte tycker väldigt mycket om känslan/varumärket.

Så till det slutliga lackmus-testet; vill jag ta med mig bilen hem? Dessvärre är svaret på den frågan: nej.

PROVKÖRNING: BMW 520d – världens bästa bil?

Under ett par veckor i Spanien körde jag en BMW 520d som hyrbil och lärde känna den väl.

Detta är en väldigt bra bil. Jag blev uppgraderad till en bil med automatlåda som hade samma utmärkta åttaväxlade låda som i vår X3:a. Den mångväxlade lådan funkar i synnerhet bra tillsammans med en diesel-motor, som har ett ganska smalt “power band”.

I 160 km/h på trafikfria Spanska motorvägar ligger motorn på avslappnande 2 500 varv/min och med en indikerad förbrukning på 6 l/100 km, vilket ger en räckvidd på över 100 mil. Detta gör den till en riktig långfärdsvagn för glest trafikerade motorvägar. För snabb körning på tyska autobahn, med mer trafik, saknas dock acceleration i hög fart, men det är ett ganska litet aber för de flesta. Och på de kurviga vägarna till och från Cadaqués gjorde den definitivt inte bort sig.

Bilen utstrålar kvalitet in- och utvändigt och även en snålt utrustad hyrbil känns riktigt fin.

För att svara på frågan i rubriken: är detta världens bästa bil? Jag brukar tycka att det är en svara som är irrelevant och omöjlig att svara på. Vilken bil som är bäst beror på vilka egenskaper varje person värdesätter och prioriterar. Men, BMW 520d är komfortabel, rymlig, praktisk, har tillräckliga prestanda för de allra flesta och bjuder på en hel del körglädje för biltypen. Dessutom tycker jag att den är väldigt snygg. Jämfört med många bilar som förekommer på den här bloggen är den också relativt överkomlig, inte minst begagnad, och 5-serien har faktiskt varit bland de 10 (!) mest sålda bilarna i Sverige, inte minst tack vare att det går att få in en 520d som tjänstebil.

Längre än så här kommer vi inte; detta är världens bästa bil, i den mån det går att svara på frågan i allmänna termer.

Jag gissar att det innebär att BMW M5 och M550d är världens bästa familjesportbilar. Får återkomma om det…

Provkörning: Mini Cooper – less is more!

Jag körde en Mini Cooper (utan S) som hyrbil i två dagar i Barcelona. Riktigt trevligt! Som att köra go-kart!

Bensinmotorn på 122 hästar kändes seg till en början, tills jag insåg att den måste varvas lite mer. Jag har väl kört för många turbodieslar och mångcylindriga sportbilar och blivit bortskämd med mycket vrid på låga varv. Motorn är inte jättevarvvillig, men den går och låter lite bättre på högre varv. Några kommentarer kring hur motorn låter:

  • På tomgång låter motorn inte alls; är den verkligen på? eller är jag bara betingad av att jag kört dieselar och sportbilar som låter mer?
  • Först tyckte jag att motorn lät lite rå, nästan som en diesel, men det blir bättre när motorn blivit varm

Bilen är som gjort för att köras runt i Barcelona. Rapp, direktstyrd och lätt att parkera. Det verkar jag inte vara ensam om att tycka; uptown i Barcelona så fullständigt kryllar det av Minis.

Provade att göra lite slalomövningar. Riktigt kul! Den är väldigt direktstyrd, precis som Californian, men den känns lättare, vilket inte är så konstigt. Den kränger mer än den Mini John Cooper Works som jag provkörde tidigare, men inte på ett dåligt sätt. Provade också några högfartskurvor och av- och påfarter på motorväg och bilen är klippstabil. Det går att göra korrigeringar i spårvalet och man får hela tiden bra feedback genom ratten.

Hyrbilen var röd och vit (inte hade jag kameran med mig den här gången heller). Färgkombinationen är väldigt fin och jag blev glad varje gång jag såg bilen!

Trots blygsamma 122 hästar och en accelerationstid från 0-100 km/h på modesta 9,1 sekunder var bilen riktig körglad och skapar rejält habegär. Skönt att jag inte blivit blassé av att köra snabba sportbilar…

Jag har letat efter en vintersportbil, att köra när jag ställer av sportbilen, och Minin känns helt rätt. Alternativet är en 1-serie, helst nya M135 eller “gamla” 1M. Med 1-serien får jag bakhjulsdrift, men är det tillräckligt mycket roligare för att motivera merkostnaden?