Wednesday, 26th of May, 2004
Tuesday, 25th of May, 2004
Sunday, 23rd of May, 2004
Saturday, 22nd of May, 2004
Pictures from the St. Louis SCCA Rallycross today:
Went to BMW's The Ultimate Drive event today, and drove some cars around to help raise money for the Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. I started out driving the Z4 2.5 SMG. The SMG's shifting was a disappointment. It is a true computerized clutch and shifting system, so the car slipped back on hills and what-not, and there was no slipping of engine revs at low speeds like a torque converter does. However, shifts took forever to execute - in the time it takes to go from 1st to 2nd gear, I could have double-clutched in my car and done it in less time. And it wasn't smooth either - it seems the transmission waited until the clutch was totally engaged before giving you your full throttle back again (since it has to electronically controlled throttle) - so driving around while it upshifts causes your entire head to lurch forward every time you shift. I can definitely operate a manual transmission much more smoothly than BMW's SMG system.
I found the Z4's lateral grip around turns to be a disappointment too. It probably has to do with the weight - almost 3000 pounds. Coming around a turn, the tires start to howl and break loose at the same speeds as my 3000-pound Subaru. Being a small car, though, the car reacts very well to steering inputs, so that's kinda fun. The low driving position, and driving with the top down, was definitely weird at first - I didn't feel like I was driving any car at all, it was like driving some different machine. The 2.5L I6 provided decent and smooth power. Sometimes I'd downshift once, or even twice, anticipating a more rapid rate of acceleration, but at some speeds the car seemed to accelerate the same, whether you left it in 3rd or 5th gear.
I also drove the 330Ci. The Steptronic automatic transmission shifted more smoothly, and just as quickly as the SMG. Hmmm. However, the SMG left it whatever gear you were in, whereas the Steptronic will downshift for you if you mash the throttle, and you're in the wrong gear. It will hold onto that gear in Steptronic mode, until you hit the rev limiter anyway. In that sense, I almost liked the Steptronic better, especially because it has the ability to automatically downshift directly from 5th gear to 2nd gear if you're on the highway and you mash the throttle. With SMG, you have to hit that button a few times, and usually it misinterprets what you want it to do and you end up in 4th or something.
The 330Ci's handling was awful - I expected better out of BMW. Since I just drove the Mercedes C-class a few days ago, I can do a comparison. The 330Ci's 3285 pounds should make it compare to the Mercedes C230 Kompressor, but it had significantly worse handling - almost as bad as the C320. Overall lateral grip was disappointing, especially since this car came equipped with 17" wheels and summer peformance tires. The Mercedes were all on all-seasons. Handling-wise, it was difficult for me to find a situation where the 330Ci could out-handle my Subaru Legacy, currently sitting on 16" wheels and all-seasons. It did exhibit nice neutral behaviour when it lost grip though, which is more desirable than my understeering Legacy.
I ended up liking the 325Ci convertible that I drove a lot better than the 330Ci. I don't understand it at all, because it weighs a gross 3627 pounds and was sitting on 16" wheels and all-seasons. Somehow, though, the car reacted a lot quicker to steering inputs, and on the very same turns I took, it would go faster without the tires starting to make any noises. It didn't feel underpowered, either - no supercar, but definitely adequate, even when I turned the air conditioning on.
The new 3-series interior is very nice - a whole lot better than the junk that was sitting in the 2002 3-series. Some of the 3-series interiors lately have looked really plasticky - not what I'd expect on a German car. The 3-series has recovered from that problem, and now the interior matches that of Mercedes and, again, almost gets to the VW/Audi level. At least I can't say that the new Acura TL has a better interior than BMW anymore - now it's about the same. Other aspects of the 3-series driving experience was pretty normal and natural - felt pretty at-home with everything. I do have a complaint about the center rear-view mirror, though - it's positioned way too low. Every time I look to the right to do a right turn I end up staring at a nice view of the back window. While we're complaining, the ABS on the 3-series is also pretty aggresive. I went over a small pothole with my foot gently on the brakes and got a nice foot massage. Hmmm...
Course, I thought my car was riding stiff with the 16" wheels and tires inflated to 44 psi - but the 3-series was even rougher! The Z4 was one more step rougher - it was bouncing all over on uneven spots of the highway. Wow. But stiff is good if it translates to better handling.
Monday, 17th of May, 2004
Sunday, 16th of May, 2004
As for driving the cars, the C230 Kompressor Sports Sedan had the best handling of all the cars there, which is no surprise due to its 3280-pound weight. There was not a lot of understeer, and transitions through the slalom felt about right for a car of that weight. Acceleration wasn't awful either, once I learned how to use the Touch Shift control to keep the car in 2nd gear throughout the course. It's still no manual transmission, though, as downshifts seemed to take forever.
The course started with a nice wet spot so you can see what kind of traction the car gets in the rain. All the 2WD cars were pretty awful at laying power to the ground, since there is no mechanical limited slip. I drove the C240 Sedan with the 4MATIC AWD system, and it was much better at launching, but it only had a mechanical center differential. It still didn't launch nearly as well in wet pavement as my Subaru with a center limited-slip. The 4MATIC didn't seem to mess up the handling as far as I could tell, though - it behaved just like the RWD C320 Sport Coupe. They demonstrated the 4MATIC's ability to divert power to one wheel if three other wheels were in zero-traction situations, which was pretty cool. It looks great for getting a car un-stuck from snow or mud, but probably a great way to ruin the brakes in a rally race, since it uses braking power to do it.
The C320 Sport Coupe didn't feel as "sporty" as the 230, though, because it weighs 3415 pounds, even in the 3-door hatchback form. The car took forever to react to steering inputs in the slalom.
The C-class does get the shaft in interior comfort, compared to the other Mercedes. After driving the C-class around for a while, I hopped in my Subaru and instantly felt much more comfortable. There is no lumbar support adjustment in the C-class, and so what's fixed into the seat is much more than I care for. Having the power telescoping and tilting steering wheel was nice, though.
They pretty much had a car from every class (even the G-Class!) for us to sit in. There were some very comfortable cars there. The S600 even had a power rear seat - it's the only rear seat I've ever sat in that is actually more comfortable than many cars' driver's seats! The audio systems in all the cars there were also impressive, very few flaws - definitely no need for an aftermarket system in that car. THe interiors were all pretty high quality - almost to VW-Audi standards.
Overall, the Mercedes event was impressive. The event was held at the Family Arena, but they set up a nice air-conditioned tent, and had free catered food, and even gave free hand massages. There were some "listening stations" where one could recline and get a machine massage.
Friday, 14th of May, 2004
ROME (Reuters) "...Italian police took possession Friday of a sleek, 500 horsepower, two-seater Lamborghini Gallardo, which can hit a top speed of 185 miles per hour.
The sports car, painted in the police's distinctive blue and white colors, comes complete with a flashing blue light on the roof and will initially patrol the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway - a road notorious in Italy for wild driving.
The Lamborghini will also be used to transport human organs for emergency operations."
Thursday, 6th of May, 2004
Sunday, 2nd of May, 2004
As for the text, the ended was thought-provoking - I haven't thought about life as "seasons" in a while - not since I read Seven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror, by Patrick Morley (which is an excellent book, by the way). It's really interesting - it's getting me thinking about which seasons of life I'm in. Some time around summer? Still trying to decide if I'm in the beginning or the middle of summer.