03-19-09 - Test Drives

So I went test driving with Ryan yesterday. Here's what we saw :

Nissan GT-R : it looks way bigger in person than it does in images, it's really a hulking beast. The cockpit is very tight, you really feel like you're wedged in, which I guess is good if you're gonna push it. Unfortunately this salesman was a complete dickwad retard and wouldn't let me drive it. WTF I'm not gonna buy it if I can't drive it. If I had felt how it moves and loved it I might have considered it, but it is rather impractical. The douche kept telling me about how rare it was and the premium on the price. Look dickwad, there are *tons* of GTR's for sale on Ebay right now, in fact it's easier to find than an Audi RS4 or a new M3 or a BMW 135.

Infiniti G37 : this is the "luxury" version of the Nissan 370, it's the same engine and chassis, just different body and nicer interior. I use quotes on luxury because there is not much luxury to be had here. Everything feels like a cheap Japanese car; actually it's worse than that, the interior is *way* worse than the interior of my Prelude, because the Infinity is all cheap plastic, but it tries to look fancy, so it's got this retarded plastic analog clock in the dash (LOL?) and these shiny fake-metal plastic pieces everywhere. The whole thing kind of reminds me of like a strip mall with roman columns in front of it. Anyway, the interior isn't that important to me, how does it drive? Meh. They only make the 4WD in auto so I tried the RWD manual. The shifter is okay (though we smoked the clutch up pretty good). It's definitely got speed, but you don't really feel it. The power delivery is weak at low revs, and the torque just isn't there when you want it. There is a huge excess of Infinitis right now so they can be had very cheap (perhaps below invoice).

Audi S5 : this thing really looks beautiful in person. The styling is sporty but subtle. It actually really reminds of the BMW styling, but just smoother and better. The interior is also (mostly) nicer than BMW, nicer feeling leather and better arm rests and just nicer trim all around. The only exception is the center console control stuff which is oddly bangled and blingy looking with all kinds of shiny metal and studded pieces that look like they belong on a rapper's necklace. Unfortunately the drive quality just sucks. It feels like a boat. It feels really huge and heavy, it's got a big powerful engine but it doesn't really feel fast. The steering was way too loose, by far the loosest of any car we drove that day. Throttle response was laggy. Visibility is very poor - the rear view mirror is tiny and the blind spots on the side are big. I really hate this trend in car styling where they make the body taper to the front so that the butt is really big, but they also make the roof taper down in the back, so that the rear window is just microscopic (the 370Z has the same problem, in fact a lot of these cars do). In the Audi you get a rear view camera to help you back up despite the bad window and the huge beastliness of this road-boat. Yuck. The sales guy told me there's a selective sport option that tightens up the feel but I don't believe him, and it would still be huge and heavy. It's a fucking V8 with 350 horsepower and it just felt slow. Plus it's a fucking Audi which is just one of the worst made cars around right now.

BMW : the dealer guy was nice and we drove a ton of cars and they were all quite pleasing. In all of them the interior is pretty nice and solid feeling. The steering controls are direct and responsive. Personally I'm not a big fan of the iDrive computer stuff, however it is better than the ghetto-iDrive-knockoffs that were in the Audi and Infiniti. It seems hard to find a car now without all kinds of unecessary gadgetry, and if you are going to have them the BMW gadgets seem to be the best. The non-iDrive interfaces to the stereo and such are awfully minimal, like it just looks like it's only partially finished, with buttons not even labelled and such.

335xi : this is the 4WD twin-turbo 3L V6 that doe 300 hp and 300 torque. This one was a little disappointing. Steering felt good, but throttle response was very laggy. I would jam on the gas and it would take a good "one missisipi" before the power kicked in. Not sure what the deal was, maybe the AWD was slowing it down? The RWD 135 we tried later had the same engine and didn't seem to suffer from the safe sluggishness. Also it was an automatic, even though I put it in sport mode it was hard to coax aggressive gearing out of it. It does feel a little on the big & heavy side to me, but suspension and steering were still very crisp. I'd like to try a manual but they didn't have any.

M3 : for the fuck of it I tried the new M3 with 4.0L V8 414 HP ; this one had the dual-clutch automatic / paddle shifter setup. The transmission was very quick and smooth. I'm sure I could drive much faster with this semi-automatic kind of setup than with a true manual, but I did miss the feeling of the manual a bit. I dunno if I'd get used to the semi-automatic over time. I think the steering wheel paddle shifts are a bit of a gimmick and not very practical. It's nearly impossible to keep your hands on them through a hard turn, which means you get stuck in a bad gear. Maybe on the track they would be useful. The engine sound in this thing is glorious, it's deep and rumbly and loud, it sounds like the beast it is, and it's got tons of power. It definitely does feel big and heavy, you have to muscle it around. The "M" button is indeed exciting. There's just something pleasing about flicking a switch to turn on the better mode (like the computer "turbo" buttons of old). It is kind of just a gimmick for me though since I think I would just drive it in sporty mode all the time. (with the "M" turned off it feels like a big heavy luxury sedan). While it was good, I didn't really love it. If you want the feel of an American muscle car but in a German luxury sedan, and some tight road feel - this is for you. But that's not really what I want. I want the feel of a go-kart, but with low end grunt, and some decent build quality and comfort. I do like the controls to turn traction control on and off and all that stuff.

135i : this is the same engine as the 335xi, but in a slightly smaller, lighter RWD package. Whoah, this was a revelation and probably our favorite car of the day. The rear seats are pretty tiny, there's no AWD. Again we were stuck with an automatic, but the semi-auto sport shift control thingy was pretty good. The front cabin is plenty spatious, you can sit up straight and spread out. It's got twin turbos like the 335, but you can't feel them kick in at all, there's no real power gap, it feels very smooth and always available.

While the 135 is a bit lighter, it's by no means light. It weighs 3,373 lbs , (vs 3,571 lbs for the 335i and 3,759 lbs for the 335xi). But it felt really nimble and stiff and peppy. It's got a slightly shorter wheelbase than the 3 series, which I think makes it feel tighter. On the down side, it is a new line which means it is somewhat rare and it doesn't look like prices are too great (I'm seeing it go for MSRP - close to $40k; I'd like to see it go for Invoice - close to $32k). Also because it's a new line there seem to be some 1 series reliability problems . Hrrumph.

The steering feel and response on all the BMWs was excellent. The double clutch automatic was superb, super quick and smooth, and the manual up-down control was okay.

Overall there wasn't anything I fell in love with. It was fun - my god, all these cars have tons of power, and many of them have great screaming engine sounds, but they just feel heavy and laggy. The 135 was the most pleasing and I think I could be happy buying that right now, but it's not totally ideal.

At the end of the day we got in Ryan's WRX and it reminded me what a nice car that is. Very light snappy feel, good control. If only it had a little more low end grunt and slightly more comfortable interior it would be pretty perfect. Eh, I also feel like you sit a bit too high and upright in the WRX, I prefer to be slung down in a cockpit a bit more. Fuck maybe I should just get one anyway.

As usual I was just shocked at how shitty the salesmen were. The BMW guy was nice, but only in a relative sense in that he didn't actively deter us from buying his cars. At every dealership we'd ask basic questions about the cars - what's the engine in this one, what transmission are available, what's the different between the sport package and the base, etc. and time after time we'd get "I don't know" or even worse - just completely wrong answers. We asked the Infiniti guy how much the G37 weighs. After a bit of hmm , err, he wanders around to read the labels on the car and announces 2400 pounds. I'm like, "umm , no, that's not right" , so he umms and errs around a while and announces "4600 pounds". Umm, no, I don't think so. (the real answer is 3,590 lb). I literally had to prompt the salesmen to give me brochures and business cards. You owe me 10% of your comission.

I also did not see any of the desperation that I hoped for. Despite constantly reading about how bad things are in the news, I have yet to see it. I found these nice graphs on the auto industry downturn that show just plummeting sales this year, and there are tons of photos around the net like this or this of huge lots of unsold cars. But I have yet to see big deals or much eagerness from dealers. Wouldn't you rather sell the cars for a tiny profit than just have them sit? It makes no sense to me. I have money and want to spend it, give me a bargain!

BTW fucking foot-pound vs. newton-meter for torque is a disaster. Part of the problem is the conversion is only a 1.35 multiplier so if someone says "300 torque" you can't just guess the units. That's probably 300 Nm = 222 Ft-lb. Of course there's also the horsepower fuckup; there's an "english" or "mechanical" horsepower and a metric horsepower which are off by a factor of 1.01, so at least that's not a huge difference but you have no idea what anyone is talking about. And then of course the standard horsepower that's quoted is "brake" horsepower (bhp) which is really sort of retarded, because it just measures the engine in isolation; what's really more useful is the effective or "wheel" horespower, but car makers never tell you that.

Some other things I might have a look at : previous gen (E46) M3's , they were a bit smaller and lighter, though I find the styling very generic and unexciting. Audi RS4 is very fast with good AWD, but it is an Audi, and very expensive, and awfully heavy and a huge gas guzzler. Lexus IS - the specs are good, but Lexus tends to make cars feel really mushy and boring, plus the manual is only in the 250. The advantage is that Lexus actually makes cars that don't fall apart.


Wouter said...

I bought a car recently, and did a lot of test driving as a result.. I drove some of the same ones you did and some others.

Extrapolating from your comments as to what you want, it sounds like your eyes want an S5, but your hands and feet want a miata.

Does it HAVE to be AWD? If yes, I am going to run out of ideas fast.

If it can be RWD, I would seriously consider the 370Z if I were you. It is way more agile than any of the cars you mention (in fact, it came dangerously close to the cayman S I ended up getting), I used to own a 350Z and the 370 is a remarkable step up. Of course, it has plenty of grunt, it launches aggressively compared to the cars you tried.

The 135i, though better than than most, still felt a bit dampened to me, especially the steering is not as good as older BMWs (I had several before my Z).

If you want go-kart, you want, in this order: boxter/cayman, miata, S2000, 370z, z4, rx8. I put the rx8 last, because its anemic sounding engine robs you of all driving fun. I wanted go-kart, so I made quite an extensive study of steering feel and such for my last purchase :)

I personally don't care for "luxury" anymore, so I can't help there...

cbloom said...

I'm definitely looking at RWD now. There are some decent AWD sporty cars out there (WRX, Evo, Audis) but they all seem to have one problem or other.

I wouldn't say I really want "luxury" the way most people define it. I don't want any fancy features or heated butt wipes or anything, I just don't want plastic junk that falls apart and rattles and feels flimsy. I also want adjustable seats. The cheapness of the interiors of $30,000 cars is somewhat mind boggling to me.

Z4 coupe seems really similar to the 135 , is there a difference? The roadsters can be found cheap but the coupe is hard to find.

Miata and S2000 are fun but too weak. (and also I'm too big to fit in them well)

I should check out a 370; I've heard they're death traps in the wet, but WTF I don't want to live forever.

Wouter said...

If you find the S2000 too weak, you'll find the Z4 too weak too. The Z4 does feel a lot more raw and immediate than the 135i though.

If you want a car that is easy in the rain, yeah, I can say I have bad experiences with the 350Z, not sure if the 370Z is any better.

If you want an RWD that is "forgiving" in the rain, I would say that the boxster and rx8 have about the most progressive handling out there (easiest to control in a slide). The 135i felt pretty progressive to me in the dry, but its heavyness/torqueyness may screw that up in the rain.

cbloom said...

The S2000 is great above 4000 RPM ;)

Unfortunately a lot of the driving up here is in the rain.

Thanks for the tips!

old rants