Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Return of the virtual track test - now with 100% less virtual - Part 2

After using Gran Turismo 4 to track test cars I was considering buying, the time had come to do some real-world test drives. The lowest ranked cars can be found here.

Sixth: Pontiac GTO: I originally hadn't considered one of these cars, but there was one for sale close by, with a low price, and the sun was shining and I was feeling whimsical, so I decided to try it. First impressions are very good: it has a powerful presence, especially this one in black, and the interior was sporty, leathery and bespoke. Seats were positioned low, with the gearshift easily at-hand. We started off around town where it rumbled menacingly, hinting at the demonic Corvette motor under the hood. Then came time to get on the freeway, and I unleashed the full power on the on-ramp. WOW! The Goat is insane! It's like being picked up by a heavyweight UFC fighter and hurled across the ring, terrifying and impressive at the same time. Around corners its weight betrayed it somewhat, but it still felt very sporty and exciting. The two biggest drawbacks are sadly not easy to fix: the Pontiac badge, and the rather plain styling. I need to feel pride in my car when asked what I drive, and I need to be excited when I walk out of my house and see it sitting there. Neither of these things are possible with the GTO. Sounds shallow, yes, I know.

Fifth: Mitsubishi Evo 8: From the very beginning, K warned me that she would hate the Evo. As boy-racer-ish as the STi is, the Evo is worse, much worse in her eyes. I can see her point. The design of the STi is more coherent, whilst the Evo looks like a cheap Japanese econo-box that's been tortured by a bunch of import-tuner drifter-wannabes. A scan of the classifieds revealed that for the most part, Evos have been molested, whilst STi owners were more likely to keep their's stock. It was late in the game when I got into an Evo, this one a nice black colour with a few mods but not too many. Unlike in GT4, power delivery felt higher up the rev range than the STi, perhaps as a result of the grapefruit-shooter exhaust. When it did arrive, the power was massive and the little Lancer took off like a scalded cat. Handling was ridiculous: in one classic moment, after I had handed the reins over to my track-day-addict father, we were on a 360-degree freeway on-ramp doing a ridiculous speed only to find wood-chips all over the road at the bottom. Did the Evo care? Not a bit, it proceeded as though there was nothing there. The poor young owner of the car did - he let out an involuntary yelp, surely a highlight for me of this whole process!

One thing that can't be denied is the sheer shittiness of the interior of the Mitsubishi. It really is an utterly unpleasant place to spend any time. Seats are supportive but ugly and the dash screams cheap Korean shopping car a la Ssang-Yong or Kia. Since a driver spends more time looking at the inside than outside, this alone DQ'ed the Evo. One other quick note - freeway manners were very good, with little of the go-kart stiffness I expected.

Fourth: BMW M3: The M3 was the last car I drove. By the time I got to it, my mind was virtually made up, although I knew the M3 had the potential to forestall my decision if it was special enough. It wasn't.

I expect BMWs to be very, very nice inside. The M5 had been, if a bit too haughty. This car was nice, but not up to the level I would expect and demand, given the going rates for a used one. Where my father's old E36 M3 would close its doors with a nice "whoomph", this one returned more of a mechancal "clank". Inside, switchgear was flimsier than the E36, seats felt no better than any other car I'd been in and the overall effect was of a good car, not a great one. Once out on the road, Dad and I both wondered where the additional 100bhp over the E36 had gone, because it didn't feel any faster. Weight is surely a factor. Adding to the negative impression was the badly-geared 6-speed tranny. Most of the other 6-boxes I'd tried added the sixth as a pseudo-overdrive, decreasing fuel consumption and noise when freeway cruising. The Beemer instead used it to shorten the other 5 gears, making for overly-frequent shifts. Rather than aiding acceleration rates, it disrupted the flow of the drive.

On the plus side, it had that typically buttery power you expect from a BMW straight-six, and its handling is sublime: safe (with traction control engaged), predictable, usable and with potential for massive enjoyment. Is this enough to justify going to the very top of my budget range to buy, maintain and insure? The cost of a clutch job and set of tyres was beginning to scare me to death - the fact it wasn't worth it made my decision a whole lot easier.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

People in Mitsubishi Evo 8's don't spend their time looking at the car interior. They spend their time looking out through the rear side window at the tree they're about to slam into!

Or out through the rear window at the huge spoiler that's obscuring the police car trying to pull them over.