Posts Tagged ‘new car reviews’

BMW E61 525 Review

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Well I needed something a bit fit for the weekend and the best on offer was a new BMW 525 with the M sports pack. It’s only the 6, which pales to comparison to its big brother V10. But when it comes to the twisties, it’s all car!

First things first, this car is bloody irritating. It took me about ten minutes to learn how to start it (key chain in hole, press it in, foot on brake, trans in park, hit ‘start’ button), ten minutes to learn how to change from HD TV to normal FM radio. Then another 5 minutes to explain to my girlfriend how to start it and the rest of the day changing my driving style to suit it! Clearly this is not my idea of fun.

Inside the interior is nothing special. There’s a chrome gear level that looks like an eighties Commodore 64 joystick, very firm seats and some of the finest fake wood I’ve ever seen. The irony of which isn’t lost of BMW that have managed to convince themselves that people will pay $100K for fake wood! The firmness of the seats of matched by those run-flat tyres. Which means no longer can you just drive over bumps, you need to actively avoid them unless you’re best mates with your chiropractor.

Of course being a Beamer, it well and truly steers and handles. In a straight line, Joe Commodore will keep up with you. But he will absolutely eat your dust through the twisties. The six speed auto changes super quick and never hesitates. The super sensitive steering really comes alive. Easily the shortest turn to lock of any car I’ve ever driven. Again it’s irritating in town, but very welcome when driving with some spirited aggression.

Despite the lack of straight line grunt, if you don’t love the silky smooth 6 after an hour of corners, there’s something wrong with you. It revs out past seven grand and really, really wails. The exhaust note is just sublime. It’s a very rewarding drive and you don’t miss the extra two (or four) cylinders of the up spec models.

Looks wise, you can take it or leave it. But frankly, I think it’s stunning. Particularly with the 18″ M series rims my rental car had. Sadly I can’t say the same for its grip levels. Better drivers than yours truly will be able to flick it sideways. But I found it just grips and grips with subtle understeer. Who buys a sporty rear wheel drive car for grip? It must be the same guy that came up with the world’s best fake wood. All that energy that usually sends the car sliding, now goes up the driver’s spine. Which is yes very bloody uncomfortable when you’re trying to have some good old greasy fun.

Grip aside, this cat purrs. It’s great to drive, but not so great to live with. It would be like living with a supermodel that thinks you’re gay and won’t do anything with you. Better still a supermodel that looks great until you try and do anything fun or meaningful with her (anyone who’s ever tried to learn iDrive quickly could relate I’m sure).

Sure enough the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And that’s the greatest flaw with this car. There was probably nothing wrong with the previous E39 5 series. But they had to do something better. They had to add more lipstick to the pig; they had to add more safety features otherwise people wouldn’t trade up to the new model. Underneath all that garnish is a brilliant car, but not one I could live with. I’d rather be pushing an Alfa than fiddling with iDrive…

Saab 93x Turbo Convertible Review

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Today was not a day for convertibles. Dry, dusty wind had me lusting for a big German luxo barge like an Audi A6 to thrum down the highways in, totally oblivious to the weather conditions. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be. After meandering through the rental car companies, it was down to either a Facladore or a Magna or the ever more alluring Saab convertible. Yeah sure it’s more Elton John than David Beckham, who cares!

So let’s get straight to the neddies. It might have the most subtle boost gauge I’ve ever seen, but the performance is far from subtle. Saab’s four cylinder feels as bullet proof as the Falcon 4.0 straight six – a real surprise. It just doesn’t feel like a four banger. An automatic I can live with too. Sure an auto and a turbo front driver are never a good combination, but despite subtle auto indecisiveness under duress, the power delivery isn’t too shabby at all. And believe me, it doesn’t mind revving out in first gear.

From a standing start it’s not so impressive thought. But floor the puppy at sixty and there’s a big rush of power. Class leading overtaking power in fact. Like the Seat we drove not long ago, there’s nothing really below two grand (call it the auto transmission with a touch of turbo lag). This thing must be purpose built for power on the autobahns and not the 60kph B-roads.

Handling wise, it takes the bumps fairly smoothly. Easily one of the most comfortable cars (especially for a convertible) I’ve driven. It’s rigid with minimal body roll despite the lack of a tin roof. Sadly though, turn in is wrecked by Saab’s dogged dedication to front wheel drive. It makes the car a bit skittish on turn ins and not as relaxing a ride as it deserves to be. Thankfully it isn’t equipped with run flat tyres, so the ride’s firm and sporty but very comfortable.

If you ever needed more validation that this car was designed for beach roads and autobahns, drive down Melbourne’s tram tracked roads. The steering wheel darts around with the fervor of a Labrador at a Wiggles concert, as it’s limited slip diff jolts for grip on tram tracks. It’s a dog’s breakfast!

This car was a 2007 model, but it doesn’t have the updated Priscilla Queen of the Desert headlight treatment going on. And to be honest, it looks quite long in the tooth for it. Albeit sit in it for 10 seconds, and you’ll see where half of the finer Commodore points came from. They’ve taken heaps of styling queues from Saab – namely the hand brake and the cup holders. But the Fishermans Bend boys still haven’t come close to what Trallhatan have achieved here.

Fit and finish is where the Saab truly excels. No fiddly interior features, no unnecessary bells and whistles, but a cohesive place to be. Heaps of leg room, excellent seats, great plastics and leather, all put together very nicely. Everything looks bespoke to the car. No afterthoughts or after market switches. Everything is seamless like good Danish furniture. These touches mean the car could really grow on you.

All in all i’m not a Saab convert. The power isn’t usable enough and the front wheel drive isn’t for me. But if you want to know what the inside of your Holden will look like in 10 years, love overtaking and want to see how much like a big six a little four can be, get yourself a 93 turbo now.

Seat Ibiza Review

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

For the past 1500 kilometres, ive been schlepping a Seat Ibiza from Central Croatia (Split) to the Istrian coast in the north. It’s been a heady mix of hair pins and B roads to autobahn style freeways with very liberal speed limits. Cut a long story short, it really is a bit meat and three veg.

What you can definitely say about the Seat it is a well built car. The panel fit is superb. Inside the quality of fabrics and plastics never fails to impress. For those long journeys, the roof is high and seating position near perfect. So there is some quality and purposeful design at work here. Frankly miles more comfortable on the highway to drive than the old BA Falcon I had.

seat ibiza in Split CroatiaAs lame as it may sound, the mirror placement in the car is perfect. And that’s important at some of the speeds we’ve been doing to keep up with well heeled Croats on the highways. A trivial accolate, but what the hey!

When it comes to safety and features though, the car is sadly lacking. No traction control (though it really doesn’t need it) or stability control. While it doesn’t have many buttons and knobs, there are no filled in holes in the dash where the buttons on more luxurious models would go. It makes you wonder whether they even thought of those little luxuries, even more than one cup holder, at all. Clearly not.

To drive, the Volkswagen sourced 1.4 four has a lot of poke in the middle to upper range. Down low, you cant hear it rev below 2000 revs. Which for me is really hard to get used to. Overtaking becomes quite irritating as just when you reach peak power, the rev limiter kicks in like the fun police at a brothel. And you find yourself desperately trying to maintain revs, shifting to a higher gear.

Given the engine size, no surprises here. But it beckons for some Honda VTEC style wizardry to wring out some extra power when you really want it. Not surprisingly with all that revving, I only got about 350 kilometres per tank.

Basically, it’s geared for driving around town and the occasional back road belt. It’s willing enough to perform on a challenging road, but it’s not luxurious or sporty in its tune, firm but not quite boring.

Its on the autobahns that the cars shortcomings become transparent. While it’s fun to biff about in around town, its engine becomes quite noisy at speed and it desperately needs a sixth gear. Because it maintains cruising speeds at very high revs. Sadly this could be very comfortable car on the highway, but for the sake of cost isn’t.

In essence this car doesn’t rival the Japanese (Honda Jazz or Civic Coupe) or the Germans (A Golf – although im told the Ibiza is based on a VW Golf) for class leading performance. But is it a bad car? No. Is it boring to drive? Absolutely not? Is it interesting? Well i doesn’t possess the loveable quirkiness of an old school Citroen but it’s definitely not Korean.

What the Ibiza really is, is the mild sauce in a peri peri chili restaurant. It’s for the shy, but definitely not the meek and ungainly. Given the choice i’d probably drive something Japanese or Italian. Will it be a forgettable experience though? Never.

The XR6 Turbo Goes back

Monday, May 28th, 2007

It truly is the end of an era. This Friday, i’m afraid the XR suffers a fate worse than death. No, not the knackers yard, the auction house. She’ll go under the hammer to her next owner like a lamb to the slaughter. Bugger. The two year lease has ended and I will be carless.

To be completely honest, except for some initial troubles (because I believed a salesman when he told me ‘don’t worry about the 5000K service! It’s nothing!’) not a bloody thing has gone wrong. The power? Well do you really have to ask, it’s never dissapointed. The handling, for a standard family car near perfect. It’s chuckability… well lets just say it can always put a smile on your face. Torque? More than you could ever believe. Try taking off in fifth gear in your laser. Just a word of advice, that cloud of black smoke behind you is the clutch! Comfort? We’ll it wasn’t made for luxury, but the ride is sporty and it’s very well equipped without being soppy.

Well was it all perfect? The best love stories never are. New owner I give you one piece of advice. Don’t look in the driver’s side rear view mirror. Because you’ll see that none of the door panels line up. So instead of this great long, perfectly machined stripe of metal, you get a rough cut outline of panels crudely thrown together. This is not the panel fit of skilled craftsmen. IPod connector for the stereo? Dear sir, you must be joking! How’s the traction control? Well crude to say the least. It shuts down cylinders all the time and sounds terrible. God only knows what damage it does to the engine. Also, you can get pretty sideways before it kicks in.

And the size of the vehicle you ask? Well it’s just plain stupidly big. Not the big that you can fit handy stuff in. You know like drum kits, [presumably] prams, beds and stuff. Because the back door access is just plain stupid. It’s a very poor design. And for a car of its size, bloody useless. So you lug around this huge car, that’s actually bloody difficult to fit anything useful in. The economy. Just don’t ask. If it wasn’t leased, I would’ve been a bum with a big smile on my face begging for pennies for Optimax.

All in all however, it’s often the shortcomings that make something truly magical. This will no doubt be one of the best cars i’ve ever owned. For a car that you can thrash around like a real rock and roller in all weekend, then give to your girlfriend to drive to the shops, chances are she’s not going sizeways into a telephone pole. Try that in an old school muscle car of this ilk. It’s comfy on long drives, it puts importt cars back in their place and you can easily lease it and get it fixed. Most importantly, it has effortless power where you need it. In the middle of the rev range! So it could still sort a VE Commodore out if driven properly. And it doesn’t look overdone either.

I won’t miss parking it, but god I will miss this car. Long live the king. The mity XR6 Turbo.

Z4 A simply awesome ride

Tuesday, January 4th, 2005


Last time I rented a BMW the world seemed to change. All of a sudden I was driving around Toorak with a Swedish blond named Elin, searching for the Swedish Church, and that was just the 3 Series. But the 3 went back to Hertz and Elin went back to Stockholm. This time around, it’s the brand new Z4 convertible.

Unfortunately the companion this time is a Shanghaiese accountant named Ian, but at least the weather’s good. And this time there’s a Melbccr unofficial cruise to Sugarloaf Dam. So we take off, this time with the mirrors firmly adjusted to the road. Mental note: next time line up girl in advance of getting new convertible.

bmw What really gets you straight away about the Z4 is how damned quickly the roof goes down. Sure you do have to be in neutral with your foot on the brake (with the sun shining over Stuttgart, facing strictly north, north east while . . . you get the idea) but if the suns up, the roof’s down in about 30 seconds with the press of a button.

If only getting in was easier. It’s clearly obvious this car was designed for the steering wheel on the left hand side. The legroom cavity on the left side is noticeably wider than the right side. Which makes the SMG auto a good choice because it would be bloody difficult to clutch. Also you are sitting low. Really low. This is great except when you’re getting petrol (filler cap is on the drivers side. Bad idea), shopping or got any kind of er, hamstring injury. Maybe that’s the real reason the Dukes of Hazzard County jumped in. BMW

One thing I should say though is these are all moot points. This is a sports car. And if you wanted to drive bolt upright, you’d get a Camry.  So I can accept these realities, man there are some high points to talk about. Firstly, those there are those beautiful BMW brakes. They don’t whine, smoke, fade and they never, ever give up. Which certainly comes in handy through the twisties of Warrandyte.

But Beamers have more acronyms that a government specification, DSC, DTC, TLA, FLA and all of them decide how you ride. That is unless you switch them off. The first acronym that you want to switch off is the Driver Stability Control (DSC). Because no matter what situation you get the Z into, the wheels will NOT spin. At speed when you really don’t want to fright Asian accountants though, so I guess every acronym has its place…

The downside to all that assistance is that at speed, the steering feels over assisted. Turn off the DSC and the Bavarian stunner isn’t exactly sideways happy. She still takes a lot of convincing to get her sexy behind out. So if you really want to chew the treads, this might not be for you (this one had a single spinner diff anyway).  No doubt it was never designed for the dorifto squad anyway.

Maybe it’s because this car is still new, but shrinking violets won’t love driving with the top down. This car gets more attention than Shane Warne’s phone bill. It does take a bit of getting used to. The lack of wheel spin is in now way because the beamer is soft up front. She has a delicious burble, almost V8-like at the back, and is very rev happy past 5000 revs. The only problem is getting there in this lumpen 2.5 litre model.

Having said that, a force fed version would be fantastic, but it would probably spoil an otherwise sensational package. Especially given that you don’t want to cover those beautifully crafted panels in rice boy stickers and ‘bling bling’ rims. Well at least everyone who pressed their face against the window on the number 96 tram would seem to think so.

Those wondering how it stacks up against the Z3 (the 2.2 litre model reviewed earlier), they’re chalk and cheese. The 4 feels a lot more involving on the road. Aesthetically, the brushed aluminum dash and console is where any Z3 driver will immediately notice a change for the better. To drive the suspension is on the harder side of firm, where as the predecessor was a little softer. It’s the really perfect blend of agility and looks. Kind of like if Elin was a gymnast – which she wasn’t sadly.

This cars bold, but simple lines are plainly sublime (well except for the pugly front nose), where her rivals are just plain gaudy. And while most Z4s will be scraping Richmond speed bumps, this car can will rise to the occasion quicker than a Viagra in the Playboy mansion. For once the accountant agrees with me, this car truly is sheer driving pleasure.