Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 Audi A6 3.2 FWD CVT Review

While I was at the 2011 BMW 5-Series Ultimate Driving Event, I also drove the 2010 Audi A6 3.2 FWD CVT which they had on hand for comparison. They should have brought along the A6 3.0T Quattro for a fair comparison. Anyway, this event was paid for by BMW, so they could do whatever they want. I’d gladly take the A6 3.2 FWD, or any car for that matter, out for a spin.

The exterior styling is elegant, but a bit dated in my eyes. The trendy LED daytime-running-lights and taillights look cool, but they couldn’t hide the car’s aging design. The interior also shows its age quite gracefully. Fit-and-finish is top notch, a VW/Audi tread mark. The soft plastic is high quality, but there is just too much of it. The leather is pretty hard though. All the controls operate with precision and are placed logically. The MMI is so much better than the original iDrive from BMW that it seems to me that BMW has used Audi’s MMI as a benchmark in developing its latest generation iDrive.

The A6, in this configuration, is just a bad car in terms of driving, and I said that with the lack of power, when compared with BMW 550i, taken out of the equation. The engine is okay with adequate power and is pretty smooth. The CVT is extremely sluggish and slow to react. Mashing the throttle at a standing still, it takes a while for things to get moving. This was my first encounter with CVT in a car other than the Toyota Prius, and I absolutely hated it! As far as I’m concerned, CVT should not be used on any car other than hybrids where the engine switches from on and off frequently while in motion. Another major problem surfaces once the car starts going eventually, the A6 FWD had so much torque steer that I was constantly fighting with the steering wheel just to keep the car in a straight line. Worse yet, the steering was too light and had very little feedback that I had no idea what the front tires were doing other than it was fighting me. Close to 70% of A6's weight is at the front of the car, and even worse, most of it are ahead of the front axle. The physics takes its toll in the big way. Brakes were not bad except there is a lot of front-end squading and rear-end lifting under hard braking. Again, physics wins another one here. The word “balance”, in term of handling, never came to mind during the entire drive. The ride is pretty good though. It’s just a bit more floaty than the BMW 5-Series, but the body motion is still well controlled.

I’m not sure how much AWD would have helped its driving dynamic, but I don’t understand why anyone would buy this car, at least in this configuration, and not ANY of its competitors. Heck, I’d buy the VW Passat or CC (with 2.0T and DSG) which do everything almost as well as, if not better than, this car if I were in the market for a FWD Germen sedan at half the price.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2011 BMW 550i Review

I drove the 2011 BMW F10 550i w/ sports and dynamic handling packages at the Ultimate Driving Event (the 535i, which I’d rather drive, at the event didn’t have either package so I passed). The E60 5-Series was, in my opinion, easily the best car in its class in term of driving dynamics but fell short on pretty much everything else. Though quite aggressive, its looks never grew on me after all those years. Other than the front-end being a bit plain, I love the exterior styling of the F10. Elegant yet aggressive (even more so with sports package wheels). The E350, one of the comparison cars on hand, is cheap-looking with busy lines on the side. Audi A6, another comparison car on hand, is elegant but dated and didn’t look “hunkered down”. The F10 5er’s interior is 1000 times better than the E60 5er. Fit-and-finish is top notch. The multi-contour front seats are super comfortable and are perhaps the best in the business, a must-have option on this car. The 10+” LCD is clear, vibrant, and can do split-screen. The Napa leather (a $1,000 option on top of Dakota leather ) is much softer and finer than the Dakota leather which I personally don’t care for. The trunk is enormous with 18+ cubic feet of well laid out space. The E’s interior, by comparison, just looks down right cheap. The A6’s is appropriate for the class, but looks and feels dated.

Getting into the 550i, it took very little time for me to adjust the seats/steering to my liking. Did I mention that I love those multi-contour seats? The steering wheel feels just right. The steering-wheel-mounted shift pedals are finally placed correctly with right-up/left-down instead of pull-up/push-down. The latest generation of iDrive is so much better than its predecessor that I can actually make peace with it now as opposed to I’d rather pay to not have it. All the controls are oriented toward the driver, are logically located and are within easy reach. One thing I don’t like about this car in the driver interface is its electronic shifter. Instead of the conventional P-R-N-D, it had R-N-D with a button on top of the shifter for Park. To shift to reverse, you hold a button on the left side of the shifter and actually push the shifter forward instead of pulling it backward like we are so accustom to. Worse, once you push it forward to reverse, the shifter returns back to the N position. I had to rely on the indicator in the instrument panel to determine what gear position I was in. I can see the confusion or danger this could potentially cause for people who drive this car infrequently.

On the road, the F10 rides very quietly and comfortably. The Adaptive Drive, which is part of the dynamic handling package, allows the driver to change the response of the engine, transmission, steering and suspension with a toggle switch, positioned to the left of the shifter, from one of the four settings: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. Most of my drive was done in Sport Plus mode. The body motion is well controlled. The active anti-roll bar, also part of the dynamic handling package, keeps the body roll to the minimum when cornering. The steering is nicely weighted with a lot of precision and feedback. Because the drive was not conducted on a autocross course, I couldn’t report on near-the-limit handling, but it is very balanced and composed at least on the public roads. The 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8, making 400hp, is very powerful, smooth and linear. Turbo lag is almost non-exist. There is power everywhere in the RPM range. Huge burnouts can be performed rather easily. All F10’s come equipped standard with 8-speed automatic transmission (the 6-speed manual is offered on 550i and 535i as a no-cost option), and what an awesome transmission it is. Shifts happen very fast and smooth, and it seems to be in the right gear at all time. Speed builds so effortlessly in this car, and there’s no perception of speed other than what is being indicated by the optional heads up display suggesting that I could potentially get a ride to downtown if I get pulled over. With this kind of power and speed, it’s good to know that its brakes are very powerful with firm pedal feel. I did two 0-100mph-0 runs with less than 30 seconds in between, and the car stopped quickly with great stability in both runs without a hint of fade.

The 2011 BMW 5-Series is essentially a shorten version of the F01 7-series, and it shows. It is a big improvement over its predecessor in terms of styling, quality and refinement. Perhaps too refined and composed. I don’t know if I would call it “a very refined BMW 5-series” or, dare I say, “a Lexus GS done right”? Either way, it is the best car in its market segment in my opinion, and I would not hesitate to recomment it to my families and friends. I predict that this car will be a big hit for BMW.