Sunday, July 15, 2007

Livin' the fantasy...

So as part of my new job, I get to drive some serious metal. Since I started I've been handed the keys to a GTI, a Subaru STI, a Legacy Spec.B, and over the past week a brand new Audi TT, a Lotus Elise and a BMW M6. Let the envy commence. On top of that, they have some serious roads here that beg to be carved. But with great power comes great responsibility, so I feel the obligation to provide a few impressions of some of these cars. All of the pictures I've included are color correct for the cars I drove.

The GTI was a blast on the twisty mountain roads here. It's balance is superior to that of my MkIV VR6, and its limits are higher. But the engine is not as sweet, especially at the low revs. The fact is, this car is clearly more fun in high performance situations, but I would still prefer my car overall, since the day to day satisfaction of my car in around-town driving is higher.

The WRX STI Limited was an absolute joy. In contrast to the GTI's more damped steering, the STI is purely telepathic. Going from one car to another, it takes a few minutes to get used to the fact that once you even think about being somewhere in the Subaru, the car is already there.

Like the GTI, there is the inevitable turbo lag. Sure, the manufacturers and buff books talk a lot about the new generation of turbos having no lag, but I'm here to say IT'S NOT TRUE. The lag may be reduced, but at the end of the day, it's still a 4-cylinder, and the full power is not there until the revs go up. I actually drove an '08 Porsche Cayenne Turbo a few months ago, and it even had substantial lag. Turbos are great technology, but the saying about there being no replacement for displacement is 100% true. If you have any doubt about this, try rolling through a stop sign in 2nd gear with a turbo four, or creeping along in traffic using only the clutch.

Quite honestly, there's not much I can say about the M6 that hasn't already been said by all the buff books. It's powerful and refined, with a great exhaust note. Our car procurer was able to get this car with a stick, and loaded to the gills. When you sit inside, literally every surface you touch is leather, alcantara or carbon fiber. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick one up. Everything about the Elise is absurd, from the experience of unlocking and getting into the car, to the experience of driving it. First of all, it should be noted that the only engineering Lotus is willing to do involves chassis dynamics. Everything else is outsourced, from the engine (it's a Toyota Celica mill) to the alarm system to the stereo. It's got one of those alarm fobs on which the same button locks and unlocks the doors. This is confusing, and stupid. It also has a separate locking system...even stupider. Getting in is a truly acrobatic act. I can't really fathom how people who are old enough to afford this car--it's a second car, never a primary driver--can possibly be young enough to actually get into it. Once you manage to insert yourself into this contraption, starting it can be a bit confusing. Quite honestly I don't know why it took me so long to start it up, but it clearly has something to do with that damn alarm system. Lean across the cockpit to open the passenger window--there's no switch for that on the driver's's not needed since the car's so damn small.

Once it was cranked, getting it out of the parking spot was slightly more challenging than usual, due to the lack of power steering. In Santa Barbara, the parking lot exits have big dips, which can be a challenge for a car about 4" from the ground. They must be taken on an angle. Hit a manhole cover and you KNOW it. I can imagine events like that in the Elise feel similar to the way they did in a Model T, but with less rebound. Once you're up in the hills, the car is absolutely delicious. At speed, the lack of power steering isn't an issue, and the response is even more telepathic than the STI's...of course. Okay, well, maybe the power steering thing makes it a bit more interesting. In fact, when I was taking some quick hairpins, it was pure armstrength that kept me on line. I could feel the road trying to straighten the wheel, yanking it through my fingers. It was the most direct connection to a road I've ever experienced.

One of the best parts of driving the Elise is the gawks...especially in a bright yellow one. Clearly I'm the kind of person who craves attention, so this is perfect. The Lotus is just the type of car I need to validate my self worth.

Note: We have an Exige S in the parking lot as well. I'm assuming I'll get a chance to drive it this week, so I can give you my impressions when I do.

Last, but not least, is the Audi TT 3.2 quattro. As those of you who regularly read my blog know, I love my engine, and would love to own the 3.2L version. The only car available with this engine and a 6-speed manual is the TT. I've been tossing around the idea of stretching my budget to pick one up, so I relished this opportunity to toss this car around a bit. The only problem was that this model was the DSG version, which is an automated manual with paddle shifters. This transmission is truly better than the other autosticks I've driven, but the fact is that a true manual is still more fun.

Okay, so aside from the letdown with the tranny, what did I think? Well, the handling is fantastic. It's limits aren't as high as cars like the STI or M6, but the handling is neutral, and with the suspension in sport mode, there's basically no roll. The engine is sweetness defined...everything I love about my 2.8L multiplied by 1.14.

Unfortunately the cockpit is a bit cramped. Okay, well "a bit" is an understatement. I don't know how tall people can fit in there, cause I'm pretty short and I didn't have more than a few inches of roof clearance. The seat was also a bit fatiguing. I found myself noticing some discomfort around the same time each time I drove the car. Some other nits to pick include the lack of a center armrest (except for a small pad mounted on top of the parking brake) and cup holders which are strangely small.

Will I buy one? Well, probably not. As you may have noticed, I place a lot of value on the little things, and there are a bit too many negatives that add up in this car, especially one that costs an arm and a leg. But you never know. The ogle factor is pretty strong in this car, obviously in large part because of its newness. But I loved the feeling of seeing four young guys turn in unison and watch me drive by with longing looks in their eyes. It made me feel so much cooler than I actually am.


kevin said...

Umm... where do you work? You seem to be living my fantasy life. Does your employer need any Saab fanatic electrical engineers to work for them?

Kenna said...

Well written article.