Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Volvo S80 T4

After my surprising episode with the Volvo V60, I should have expected the S80 to be yet another surprising car, but as I took delivery of it at the dealership on Alexandra Road, the classic squarish Volvo lines crippled my enthusiasm, and even with a beige leather interior that made the car feel bigger and more welcoming, I  couldn't shake my eyes off of the dull-looking rectangular air vents
and the unexciting centre console. Gone was the driver oriented, clear and welcoming centre console design that I found so nice on the V60, taking the pleasant aluminum designs that ran along the interior of the doors along with it. The S80 set right away a very different mood, a more classic corporate atmosphere that brings it to the same playground as the Renault Latitude, with the exception that this car offers you a COE category B architecture for a Category A price thanks to its smaller 1.6L turbocharged power plant. With the actual skyrocketing COE prices, that's a whopping $20K in savings.

This being the entry price version of the S80, the car doesn't feature certain elements such as the dual-zone air conditioning (which, in my opinion is no big loss as I always found this option highly overrated), GPS, and the steering does not have any gradual speed assist to make the steering more manageable at high speeds. Luckily, the Volvo is still equipped with auxiliary line in and USB port to have the sound system entertain your ears with your own playlists during the ride. In this case, the S80 is equipped with the same steering-wheel control system as the V60 which makes browsing your songs easy and intuitive. One thing I like about Volvos is the two de-cluttered control handles that sit behind the wheel and fit comfortably in your fingers for easy operation. The S80's steering wheel is quite chunky and quite comfortable as it fits snugly in your hands. For man's hands, that is as I fear it might not be as comfortable for smaller ladies' hands.
Aside from that, the Volvo's interior lives up to the expectations of a vehicle of this class, offering ample leg room in the rear, comfortable seats and a deep boot that can engulf 480 litres of luggage.

I then woke up the small engine with the start/stop button and slowly drove out the big frame of the S80 to the first traffic light in search of something exciting to set my eyes on in the car, but nothing managed to grab my sliding stare, and the S80 was definitely heading to the "dull" corner of my classification. Until the light turned green and I stepped on the gas. And Volvo's magic kicked in: the S80 suddenly came alive and surged forward with a tiny tyre screech, leaving the other cars to shrink in the rear view mirrors, and I wasn't even hitting the metal!

The T4 engine sitting under the hood is kept in the same tune as the V60, with the turbo spooling up slightly after idle, at around 1,500-2,000rpm, unexpectedly kicking the car forward. Thanks to this and the T4's 180hp, the S80 becomes fun to drive and can surge forward easily to get you out of spiky situations. As dull as its looks might be, what saves the S80 is the drive which will make you smirk as you set out in your wolf in sheep's clothing. In addition to the fun engine, the chassis and suspension give a very smooth ride that will confuse you into believing you are driving at 50kph when the speedo shows 90kph. As fun as the kick in the ass the S80 delivers is, it sometimes gets a bit tricky when trying to drive smoothly, making low-speed operation of the car a bit jerky.

High-speed cruising is a game the S80 excels at and only the unassisted steering mentioned earlier will make you lift your foot as the car tends to get twitchy when going fast. As much as the suspension does an amazingly good job at soaking up the road's irregularities, it also satisfies by not giving a soft, sickening handling when hitting the B-roads.

On the twisties, it's the tyres, struggling under the weight of the car, that will limit your pace. Hopefully, both the squealing rubber and the chassis' behavior will warn you before the Volvo suffers from understeer and the electronics have to kick in to save the day.

Although the S80 is more of a cruiser thanks to its capacity to smoothen any road it drives on, the life that inhabits the car is such that, after driving it for a little while, it will lead you to take the fun way home, and if it wasn't for the dull looks, the Volvo would be a winner in most categories. The great work done by the T4 engine propels the heavy frame so well that the more expensive 2.0L turbocharged engine offer becomes less attractive, especially for Singapore roads and the current ridiculously high COE prices; so if you are ready to overlook the unexciting lines, this car will satisfy you. If you are looking for an inconspicuous-looking ride that doesn't make your banker put a reward on your head yet deliver enough performance to stand out of the crowd, the S80 T4 will definitely be your best bet.

Singapore: Sales of Infiniti range to start 4th quarter of 2011

Wearnes Automotive, Infiniti’s Singapore dealer, will commence sales of the initial Infiniti range which includes the luxury performance sedan M37, the stylish G37 sports convertible and the highly distinctive FX37 & 50 sport crossover in Q4 2011. Wearnes Automotive will start taking pre-launch bookings from 1 July 2011.

As the newest premium automotive brand in Singapore, Infiniti offers a stunning range of truly dynamic vehicles. In a matured automotive market with a strong demand for premium cars, Infiniti will deliver a unique proposition of vehicles with distinctive design, high performance drivability and progressive luxury.

Toru Saito, Corporate Vice President and Leader of Infiniti Business Unit said, “Infiniti has appointed Wearnes Automotive as the official dealer in Singapore. Leveraging on their rich expertise in managing premium automotive brands, we are confident that Infiniti will be well represented in Singapore. This is an important step to underline Infiniti’s growing focus on South East Asia. We are confident that Infiniti will bring a fresh, new luxury alternative to satisfy the high expectations of Singaporean customers, offering inspired performance and attentive customer quality care and hospitality. Infiniti is not about doing what everyone else is doing. It is not about copying traditional, conservative notions of luxury. We will not try to be all things to all people but everything to some people. “ Andre Roy, Group Managing Director, Wearnes Automotive, adds, “Infiniti was established in North America more than 20 years ago. We are pleased that right-hand drive Infiniti cars are now available. We look forward to launch the new model line-up which offers consumers stylish choices befitting their needs and lifestyles. Combining strong design cues and the highly regarded VQ37 engine, Infiniti vehicles will provide customers with excellent handling and an exhilarating driving experience.”

Works are underway to create the Singapore Infiniti Centre, which will feature a unique 11-metre tall illuminated exterior façade that will become the beacon of Singapore’s premier automotive belt. Located at 45 Leng Kee Road, alongside other premium marques established by Wearnes Automotive, the Singapore Infiniti Centre will be a one-stop destination, fully integrating the sales, service and parts departments. The interior of the Singapore Infiniti Centre will be reminiscent of a boutique hotel, with avant-garde art pieces, bespoke furnishing and a fresh and inviting ambience. The centre is expected to be officially opened in last quarter 2011.

The recent appointment of Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel as Infiniti’s first ever Global Brand Ambassador further reinforces the team’s passion and dedication for performance. The first customers to book an Infiniti will be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime Red Bull Racing Team Paddock experience at the 2011 Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix. Customers will get to feel the pulse of the race with an exclusive VIP tour of the Red Bull Racing Team garage, as well as get to meet the Red Bull Racing team while indulging in an evening of first-class cuisine.

All interested parties can register their interest at www.infiniti-singapore.com to receive priority updates and pricing information. Alternately, they can call our Infiniti Brand Ambassadors at +65 6378 2623 or email infiniti.sales@wearnes.com to find out more.

Friday, 24 June 2011

It Runs in the Family - Eugene and Edmund's Golf Mk IV & V

What defines family? In my opinion, you don't have to be blood-related to somebody for that person to be part of your family. What really defines this term is, I believe, the heart, and it's with this definition that Eugene and Edmund consider themselves as family, as father and son, even when they are not blood-related.

Get to know these two men, and you will see just how alike they are, especially in their tastes for cars: Edmund's four-wheeled love is a Golf Mk IV while Eugene's heart beats for his Golf Mk V.

Edmund's story started 11 years ago, when he saw this rare (for Singapore roads) manual transmission Mk IV, and after asking Eugene and his friends whether he should get it, he was greatly encouraged to do so, especially since the Golf was in pristine condition.

He then fell deep in love with the Volkswagen and, after respraying the beauty in a BMW silver gown, asked help from Eugene and his performance garage, RS Tuning, to make it even better. This is how the spiral of modifications that any car enthusiast out there knows about started for the Mk IV.

Braking power was upgraded with a 4 pot Rotora kit for the front while the rear wheels were equipped with Audi TT rear brakes. To complete the handling performance, the Golf saw Bilstein PSS9 coilovers replace the stock suspension, which greatly improved the car's nimbleness while making it stick to the road like a leech.

With the upgraded control, RS Tuning had more room to play with to get more power out of the four cylinder engine and the larger intake manifold and Pipercross Air Induction system now make sure the powerplant breathes properly. In addition to this, a high-pressure fuel pump came to complement the updated injectors to make sure the engine doesn't starve on fuel.
Singapore's hot weather around the year makes it very unfriendly to engines' heat management, especially turbocharged ones, so the Golf was upgraded with a Nishimoto radiator and Mocal oil cooler to make sure overheating is not to be feared. Finally, a Milltek exhaust system was fitted to let the Mk IV expel the exhaust gases more freely and sing her sweet melody.

For the sound-off, Eugene has complemented Edmund's Golf's build with a Custom Code Phase 3 ECU tune which makes all the upgrade components work together as one.

The love Edmund has for his Mk IV is even more obvious when sitting inside, where the 11 year-old interior doesn't even give a hint of its age with very well maintained leather upholstery. A Golf Mk VI steering wheel has been retro-fitted along with a Momo gear knob for a greater driving comfort. What lies under the hood is hinted by the three Defi gauges that help Edmund keep the water and oil temperatures and turbo boost in check when he lets the playful Golf express herself on the road.

The Mk IV is a car that not only looks good, but also drives amazingly well, even better with the upgrades done to it and after taking it for a quick spin, I totally understand why Edmund cherishes it so much: the steering is firm and responsive and the car is just waiting for you to tickle the right pedal to jump forward and dance nimbly through traffic on a rhythm given by the involving manual gear shifting.

Edmund works as a parallel importer of continental cars, specialised in Mercedes, BMW and Audi, and thus has the opportunity to drive and own quite a wide range of cars, but out of all his choice, his heart only beats for one car and his hands always reach for the Mk IV's keys.
Eugene, on his side, has owned his Mk V GTI for 5 years, and after he bought it new, he proceeded to apply RS Tuning's magic on it. RS Tuning is specialised in German cars, with a particular affinity for Audi and Volkswagen, and Eugene's Golf now breathes through a DBilas Dynamic air intake system and features brand new engine internals such as a new set of con rods and pistons, a high-pressure fuel pump and a more performant Owen Development Hybrid K04 turbo.

Eugene's black Mk V looks almost stock, with only minor cosmetic changes on the outside, and other than the Milltek exhaust, the 4 pot AP Racing brakes fitted behind the front rims and the lowered ride height thanks to APX coilovers, nothing really hints the performance hidden under the hood, making this Golf a sleeper as we like it.

The interior of this Golf is as unsuspecting as the outside, with the only a Defi gauge neatly inserted in the driver's side air-vent giving out that this car is not all stock under the hood. The expert eye will also spot a retro-fitted OEM Edition 30 gear knob and brake lever and an aftermarket head unit. Nothing else tells you that Eugene has done all these mods to the Mk V, let alone that he reflashed the ECU with a Custom Code Phase 3 tune to produce more power and the DSG gearbox with yet another Custom Code tune for smarter shifts, handled by the carbon fiber gear shift-plate.

"Father" and "son" regularly roam the streets of Singapore in their mother and sister Mk IV and V, cruising through traffic with the grace and nimbleness of a couple of sharks, ready to feast on any prey ignorant enough to underestimate these two monsters.