6 months in a BMW M140i

Doesn’t time fly, who can believe it’s been 6 months since first collecting the BMW M140i? I certainly can’t.

Sometimes I sit there and wonder, in a fleeting moment, was it the right choice?

Well 6 months on I thought it was about time to share how the first 6 months of ownership have been.

Steering

My opinion on the steering hasn’t changed from day 1, I still think its too light in comfort and the ‘fake weight’ added in sport is better and offers a more precise turn in but there is still no real feedback from the front end through the steering.

The only thing I would add after spending significantly more time behind the wheel is that comfort makes sense when driving round town, it makes tight manoeuvring easier.

The biggest thing you learn is to trust that the car will turn in very well, when the tyres are warm at least anyway.

Balance/handling/ride

For what is a relatively big and practical car, the balance still impresses me.

Now I’ve had the opportunity to push the car a lot more, I do find it is very snappy when you get up to 8 or 9/10ths. I think a lot of that comes down to the lack of LSD, which can be changed if you’re willing to spend money.

I still find when you do turn in you can feel the car start to rotate around the centre, allowing you to use the accelerator to control your exit.

The tyres. I cannot praise the Michelin Pilot Super Sports enough. It’s a shame they have been superseded with the Pilot Sports 4/4S, however from everything I have read it seems like they are a little bit better in the wet and almost as good in the dry.

The only thing that has become very evident over the first 6 months is the need for a change in damping set up, the ride is very unforgiving and struggles over uneven road surfaces when pushing on. I believe the adaptive dampers help with this and if I were to re-spec I would be ticking the adaptive dampers.

Engine

The engine is still the star of the show in the car.

The B58 is absolutely marvellous.

Performance

The performance of the car in terms of power and torque has never been an issue from day 1.

You can easily ride the available torque in any gear and not change down. Although, where’s the fun in that?

The M140i has been able to keep up (just about) with some pretty big boys this year and when we had the M4 meet, it was voted as the best all round car of the weekend. Which considering there was an M4 and Audi S4 there, it can contend amongst the big boys.

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Noise

Noise is subjective as I actually think the tone of the B58 is nicer than the S55 in the F80/82/83 and the N55.

It may not be anywhere near as loud, which would be my only complaint. However an exhaust upgrade could resolve that.

But the tone of the engine, in my opinion, is better.

If you want to hear what the B58 sounds like head over to my youtube channel – http://www.youtube.com/stsupercars

Gearbox

Having now driven both the manual and owning the auto, my preference would definitely be the manual gearbox.

I thought the manual was initially a little bit notchy but as it warmed up it got slicker and offered a nice positive gear change. But I just found the extra engagement of the manual to be much more fun.

On the other hand, owning a car with the ZF 8 Speed I have really grown to respect BMW’s application of this. Having driven other cars with it in, I find the version in the 140i to be brilliant.

For every day use you really cannot knock the auto. It offers effortless driving in traffic and then full control in manual mode when you want to push on.

Brakes

The only thing to say on the brakes is that I’ve found them brilliant, they have taken repeated abuse up and down mountain passes, with almost no fade.

They offer a good initial bite with nice progressive stopping power.

Pad wear rate is a little higher than usual but that probably has more to do with how the car is driven.

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Interior

No real complaints about the interior, although having had a few without Professional Media, for me I wouldn’t have a car without it.

I think it adds a more premium feel to the cabin.

I find the seats great, offer the right amount of support and are relatively comfortable. Although my partner really struggles on long journeys as she is quite a bit smaller than me and finds the base of the seat too long so finds it digs in to her legs or she has to slide forward which then compromises her back support.

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What issues have we faced

Based on my ownership experience of the car so far, there are a few issues we have faced.

Exhaust rattle

This is the biggest bug bear and a problem that is well documented online.

Our first exhaust backbox changed under warranty, then within 6 days the rattle was back and it was actually worse than the initial rattle.

Here’s a video clip of it – https://youtu.be/HOKOlIb3dqU?t=15m53s

It’s now going back in to BMW, supposedly to get a valveless system. But more on that at a later date.

Door seals rubbing

Only other real issue is that being an F21 the door seals rub, to the point where its quite significantly wearing away the top coat on the paintwork.

Not really good enough on any BMW, entry level or not.

Overall

Overall I think choosing the M140i was the best choice in that market.

It’s not the quickest, it doesn’t have the most power; but I still believe it offer the best value for money and best of all still has a 6 cylinder engine and is rear wheel drive.

Anyone who is undecided; my advice would be get one while you can, before BMW drop the 6 cylinder and rear wheel drive in favour for a 4 pot and four wheel drive.

Then it just becomes basically the same as all the other offers on the market and for me the build quality, particularly the interior, wouldn’t be good enough when you have cars like the Audi S3 available with a very similar drivetrain.

Check out the 6 months of ownership video:

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Porsche Boxster S 986 – driven

For those who keep up with my youtube journey (click here), you will know that I have driven the 986 Porsche Boxster S a fair bit and shared what I think on camera.

But I always enjoy taking some time away after driving a car to really think about the experience and how best to convey that into to words.

It can be quite easy to get lost when you are filming in a car, particularly if it’s your only 15 minutes in the car and you also have to produce something watchable… anyway I digress.

So yes it’s been a while now since I drove the Boxster but last night I was sat there thinking how great that car is, the driving experience it offers and the feeling you get when driving it.

Even to date I still don’t think there is anything I have driven that is quite as much of an experience. With prices basically bottomed out, meaning you can pick one up for £5k upwards. They really have become an absolute bargain.

What’s it like to drive?

Honestly, if you like driving and haven’t driven one yet please go and do it.

Steering

In a world of ePAS and numb steering, it is a revelation to drive and steer the Boxster. With its well weighted hydraulic steering, it constantly communicates with you what is happening over the front axle.

You know exactly where you stand, at all times. It is a joy to steer.

It is very direct and really allows you to place the car, exactly where you want.

Turn in is fantastic, I think a combination of a relatively short wheel base and a very light car means it will turn in beautifully.

Balance/handling/ride

This is where a mid-engined car really comes in to its own.

For those who don’t know the Boxster and the later introduced Cayman are both mid engined, meaning the engine sits in the middle of the car, AKA right behind your seat. Whereas, for example, a 911 is rear engined and has its engine over the rear axle.

By putting the engine in the centre, it means the car is wonderfully balanced and very, very controllable.

Our car doesn’t have ESP or ABS or in fact any real kind of safety net, but you know what it makes it all the more fun to drive. You know the car is only doing what it’s doing, because of the inputs your giving. If you want to make the back end step out, you can do so, or alternatively if you just want to be neat, tidy and fast you can also easily do that.

The Boxster S is a light car which also helps with its handling, allowing it to easily make direction changes without upsetting the balance of the car.

The actual ride is stiff, as to be expected. But how else would you feel everything through your bum to know exactly what is going on.

Engine

Upon launch the Boxster was give a 2.5 litre flat six which had 205PS.

In 1999 Porsche introduced two new engines a 2.7 litre with 216bhp and the Boxster S variant with a 3.2 litre lump pushing out 252bhp.

This lineup was revised in 2002 with the 3.2 raising its output to 260bhp with 229lb ft torque and the 2.7 raising its output to 228bhp with 192 lb ft torque.

Our car has the facelifted 3.2 with 260bhp. The engine feels torquey almost anywhere in the rev range, even lower down, which is a bonus over the 2.7. It means it’s quick enough without have to rev it out, which helps if you plan to use daily.

The real power delivery however, is all at the top end. Meaning when you really want to shift you need to keep the car above 4500rpm and be utilising the 7000rpm redline. There is a real step shit in performance with a shove back in your seat at around 4500/5000rpm.

Performance

Well as you can see from above, the power figures aren’t massive in this day and age when we have hot hatches producing 400PS…

However in a car that weighs so little, there is more than enough power in the S. To be honest on the road, the 2.7 probably allows you to have a little more fun as the top end of 2nd in the Boxster S leaves you at around 65/70mph.

The performance this car offers for the money is truly brilliant. It’s not about chasing 0-62mph times in this car, It’s about the driving experience and the performance this car has on tap is a essential part of that winning formula.

Noise

A naturally aspirated flat 6.

Need I say any more? (to hear It In action – click here)

Gearbox

We have a manual version, although you can also get it in a Tip Auto.

However for me, it would have to be a manual, the added involvement of changing gears yourself and being able to nail a heel and toe downshift, is there a better feeling?

The manual box itself can be a little stiff when cold, making it a pain to get in to reverse, 1st or 2nd. But once it’s warm it is a joy to use. The close pedals makes heel and toeing a real joy.

Brakes

The brakes on the Boxster 986 are bloody excellent, although I will say, if you haven’t driven a Porsche before you may find they take a bit of getting used to.

They are not as heavily servo assisted as those used by most car manufacturers, meaning you have to actually use the brake pedal as it was designed. They come in to their own once they have some heat through them.

If you have any doubts about how well the brakes respond, head somewhere quiet  and try an emergency stop – honestly you will be surprised by just how effective they are once you really stamp the pedal.

Convertible

The added element of being able to put the roof down, just adds to the experience of the car.

On a summers day, attacking some lovely B roads with the roof down is bloody brilliant.

What issues should you look out for

This is just based on my ownership experience of the car, there are going to be more out there and are plenty of buying guides about. Just have a read of one before you go to buy.

General running costs

I would typically recommend budgeting around £1000 per year for maintenance. Some years it may be less, some more.

Servicing costs vary up and down the country but typically range from £300-600 + VAT depending on whether it is a major or minor service. Other serviceable items like brake fluid, spark plugs etc will also need to be budgeted for.

On a manual a typical clutch replacement is going to cost around £1k.

Another one to consider is an air conditioning rebuild (the condensers are in the front bumper and have a life of around 6-8 years) will cost around £1.2k.

Brake wear depends on driving style, but typically you should get 20-25k miles out of pads and disks. To replace the front discs, pads and pad wear sensors is going to cost around £600 with a similar amount for the rear axle.

IMS bearing

This is one of the most expensive problems you could encounter if you buy a Porsche Boxster 986. The intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing is prone to failure.

This problem is not as widespread as the horror stories on internet forums would have you believe, but that will be of little consolation if you suffer with it and are left with a bill to rebuild the engine that is higher than the value of the car. Trust me, we’ve been there.

RMS failure

The rear main oil seal (RMS) is also prone to failure on 986 Boxsters, which results in oil leaks. Although a new seal costs just a few pounds, the labour charge to replace it is high because the gearbox has to be removed to access it.

Luckily for us we got this done when we had the IMS bearing changed and the gearbox rebuilt.

Gearbox

We suffered with gearbox issues where it really didn’t like 1st or 2nd, sometimes refusing to go in.

So we sent it in for a new clutch, new suspension all round, IMS and RMS seals changed and a gearbox rebuild – yes that was one expensive trip to the garage!

Suspension

As with any car, suspension components will need to be replaced from time to time.

It’s not something that can be avoided, however if you notice anything or there is little or no history of a suspension refresh, I would re-consider your offer as this could quite easily set you back £1-2k.

 

Overall

Overall I think the Porsche Boxster S 986 deserves its status as a second-hand hero in my eyes.

Yes they can be costly to run and maintenance certainly isn’t cheap.

But the combination of noise, feel and involvement, especially when the roof is down is unrivalled.

There are cheaper alternatives, such as the BMW Z4 in 3.0 6 cylinder form or more expensive to purchase but cheaper to run in the form of Honda S2000 ( really want to drive one of these again).

But for me the mid-engined 6 cylinder Porsche, wins.

If you’re in the market, get out there and give one a drive. I wouldn’t even ignore the 2.5/2.7 either as more of the power can be utilised on the road.

Check out our videos with the Boxster  986 below:

Part 1 – https://youtu.be/84AbK_JKzwU

Part 2 – https://youtu.be/SQdhd-DdLC4

The BMW M6 driven

As some of you will know if you been reading my blog for a while, I’ve been very fortunate this summer having the opportunity to drive some really amazing machinery, the last of the three cars that I had planned to drive was the BMW M6.

So currently the 6 series sits at the top of the M car division of BMW. With the M6 Gran Coupe being the most expensive car BMW sells.

Sitting along side the Gran Coupe with a slightly reduced purchase price, is the BMW M6 Coupe.

First off let’s get it out of the way…the car I drove had a list price well north of £110,000, which is a lot of money. With optional extra’s ticked like Carbon Ceramic brakes and the Bang and Olufsen 3D surround sound system, it’s easy to see how this car came in at over £110,000.

So what do you get for your money?

Styling

Exterior

The M6 has real presence, and it certainly attracted lots of attention on the road. Particularly in the Sakhir Orange paint in which the car I drove was painted.

The car has unique styling features over and above the standard 6 series which include a twin-spoke grille design, bigger air intakes quad exhausts, and stylish 20-inch alloys.

You also get more aggressive front and rear bumpers, a carbon fibre roof and LED headlights as standard.

On the whole I really liked the exterior styling of the BMW M6, including the paint colour. I wouldn’t necessarily choose it when there are options like San Marino blue on the table, but nonetheless still looks very good on the road.

Interior

The drivers cockpit features a wraparound dashboard that is covered with soft-touch leather and carbon fibre trim. With the standard-fit electric sports seats, the driving position is excellent and very easily adjustable and the switchgear throughout is familiar from the standard 6 series,.

The latest model gets the updated iDrive infotainment screen, a heads up display and Merino leather as standard, which was previously a £5,000 option!

The Merino leather alone gives the cabin a very premium feel, however combined with standard options such as professional media and head’s up display really makes them cabin feel special.  Our car also had the optional alcantara headlining ticked as an option which, in this brand new car, looked amazing.

It’s very comfortable in the front of the cabin and the seats are great, while a splash of carbon fibre trim perks up the dashboard.

However and my only real disappointment was that as a coupe, it’s a long way from anywhere near as practical as the M5 saloon. I know that is obvious but for a 2 + 2 I really expected to be able to use the rear seats. But we found that with 4 adult males that the rear seats are too tight, I mean they basically just offer you extra storage space.

Handling/Ride

I was genuinely surprised for a car that weighs almost two tonnes, the M6 Coupe handles brilliantly. First off the car feels much smaller on the road than it actually is. For a big car with a lovely V8 out front, the M6 didn’t suffer from masses of body roll and turned in really well.

The car has three driver settings: comfort, sport and sport+, which vary how aggressive the steering, drive train and dampers are. I found that comfort the steering was light, which was good around town but I found it hard to place the car easily on country roads. The throttle response in comfort is seriously reduced and sometimes the gearbox can get caught out. However in Sport/Sport+ the car becomes a real joy to drive. The chassis stiffens, steering has some weight to it and the throttle response is much better.

You can feel the Active M differential shuffling torque across the rear axle to the wheel with the most grip, which helps the car power out of corners using its 552bhp and massive 680Nm of torque.

Even so, in the adverse conditions I drove in, it very easily troubles the traction control, although the system does cut power, it does so relatively smoothly and doesn’t stop the M6 from feeling savagely quick.

The optional £7,395 ceramic brakes, which this car had fitted offer amazing stopping power and a very nice pedal feel.

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Steering

Like most modern cars I drive, the steering is probably the weakest link. It’s too light in comfort and then for have weight in Sport/Sport+ but it never feels natural, you can tell its ‘fake weight’.

In sport/sport+ the steering is direct and does allow you to place the car in to a corner and it really does turn in well, however it doesn’t really have any ‘feel’ to it but with its rear wheel drive and LSD, you can use the throttle to rotate the car in a corner.

Performance

Effortless.

That is the best word that describes the way the M6 builds speed.

The real problem is, the M6 is so fast that it’s hard to give it free rein on the road without breaking the speed limit.

The 0-62mph sprint takes just 4.2 seconds but if you want to go even faster there’s the Competition Pack upgrade which now boost engine power to 592bhp while torque is up to a cool 700NM. Dropping the 0-62mph to just 3.8 seconds.

The M6 builds speed in a way I’ve not experienced before, it is insanely fast. Particularly for the size of it.

Noise

The 4.4 V8 that features in the M6 and M5 sounds fantastic.

I think one thing that impressed me is its real dual personality. It offer a quiet drive around town in comfort mode and then if you knock it in to Sport/Sport+ mode it unleashes the beast.

The V8 has that low end rumble but then as the revs builds and it careers to the 7200rpm redline, it sounds insane.

If you want a lot of cabin noise though, you will probably need to add something aftermarket.

Gearbox

The 7-Speed DCT that we get in the UK is quite frankly brilliant.

Almost all of the time, it knows exactly what you want. It’s super smooth in its most relaxed setting, making driving in auto around town is easy. Only time I seemed to upset it was approaching a roundabout in comfort and I saw a little gap so tried to floor it and there was just a slight hesitation and then it flew.

I think if you drove the car for more than 15 minutes you would learn to workaround this and to be honest sport mode seemed to eliminate.

Conclusion

So after a good little drive in an M6 I was left with two questions; is it really worth the six figure price tag and what else would I choose.

So, yes I do think it is worth the price tag considering the performance on offer.

However would I be spending my money on it?

Probably not, but then I don’t need a car that big.

I would also prefer something a little more dynamically handling, even if it meant a compromise on ride comfort. I think a 911 or even a second hand R8 V10+ would be my choice.

But let’s not take anything away from this car, its an amazing feat of engineering and a bloody fast machine.

To see our videos:

Driving in the M6 – https://youtu.be/LoR7I94xT9A

Spec walk around of the M6 – https://youtu.be/Pwl7JCYUHGc

Youtube channel – http://www.youtube.com/stsupercars

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/stsupercars

Instagram – http://www.instagram.com/stsupercars

Collecting a BMW 335d xDrive M Sport

One of my best friends, who most recently owned a B8.5 S4 (which can be seen here – https://stsupercarsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/audi-s4-b8-5-an-account-of-one-powerful-but-subdued-monster/).

Due to work requirements needed to change his car and he needed something that was more economical but still offered a decent turn of pace.

Now between you and me, we have been having this conversation between our group of friends for, what, 4/5 months now. Regularly getting sent various cars, having many many conversations around what the replacement should be.

Given the S4 was SO quick, it was always going to be hard to find a replacement that wasn’t underwhelming. I suggested numerous times to go to a S3 or Golf R. But because of just having an Audi, it was felt that the S3 would be a step backwards from the S4 and essentially a hatchback isn’t ‘grown’ up enough.

So the next choice was the 3 and 4 series. This led to various debates, around 3 vs 4 and do you save some money and go for a 30d RWD or sod it and go all out and get a 35d xDrive. Ultimately we all knew if it was going to be a BMW it would be the 35d xDrive.

After weeks of searching Autotrader, eBay and Pistonheads it was narrowed down to two cars (due to the spec that was a minimum requirement) a black car with Oyster leather and a Tanzanite Blue car with black leather, both almost fully specced.

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After much back and forth it was settled the preference was the Tanzanite Blue car, so we went to take a final look at it and ended up doing the deal there and then.

So what’s the car like?

Styling – interior and exterior

This particular car stands out above the rest in my opinion. The paintwork is finished in an individual BMW colour called Tanzanite Blue. Simply stunning.

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As a standard car the 3 series isn’t a bad looking car. The large blue callipered M Performance brakes on this car add to the exterior looks of the car.

Coming to the interior, it is a really place to be, with soft touch plastics and leathers, the Professional media as standard offers the stunning 10-inch display, navigation, online services, 20gb internal storage etc.

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The only real downside is that it features the slightly older iDrive systems in this car as it is a pre-LCI. But I mean, I really am nit-picking.

All in all the interior is a lovely place to sit and a noticeable step up over the M140i (as you would expect).

Engine

Having recently drive the X5, which features the same engine, I knew what to expect. This doesn’t mean it felt any less relentless in its delivery of power and torque.

The N57 in the 335d pushes out the same 313bhp and 630 N·m of torque (465 lb·ft ) as the X5 40d, which given the 3 series weight advantage makes it that slight bit quicker.

There is so much torque available in any gear you never really NEED to drop it down but of course the option is there is you so wish.

Performance

Performance in the 335d is pretty relentless, it picks up quickly and in Sport mode the throttle response is noticeably sharper and the steering has added weight to it. In terms of steering ‘feel’ there really isn’t any, although it wasn’t any worse than the rear-wheel drive 1 series – which actually surprised me as I expected the xDrive to have an impact.

The gearbox, was like other 8 speed ZF gearboxes. Silky smooth in auto but relatively responsive in manual.

This car has the adaptive dampers specced as an option and they do make a noticeable difference once you hit some more twisty roads, the ride stiffens, you feel more through your bum and there is noticeably less body roll.

The M Performance brakes were brilliant, a nice progressive pedal and would very quickly and effectively knock off speed. As I’ve mentioned before I do think BMW offer the best brakes as standard across Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Handling/Ride

With the car and Dampers in Sport/Sport+ there is a lot less body roll, turn in is ok although there is no real feedback you just have to trust the car will go where you point the wheel.

There isn’t as little body roll as the 140i, but the 335d did feel a lot more composed over uneven surfaces.

The xDrive systems means traction is never really an issue, even on wet greasy British roads. So using all of that power and torque is possible in almost any situation.

Running costs 

Now I wasn’t going to include this as my little stint in the car I didn’t even look at the average MPG on the trip but my friend who bought the car has since sent me some pics and we have talked around the economy of the car.

For the performance on offer, it is easily capable of averaging over 40 MPG.

After I handed the car back it took a journey across motorway and some well known country roads where it averaged well in to the 40’s and given the way I know it will have been driven, that is impressive!

Final thoughts

Overall the 335d is a seriously impressive car and I don’t know what else for the money you could get.

Given what this car is designed for, which is munching miles in comfort but at pace but also offers a bit more for the country lanes, it does both extremely well.

The ride is much more comfortable and grown up than the 1 series.

Would I swap to one next? Great car, but its just missing a 6cyl petrol engine for me. Maybe I need to drive a 340i . Hmmm.

 

BMW X5 40d M Sport – a car that took me by surprise

I am going to open this blog by stating I’ve never been a fan of the ‘premium SUV’ segment, it didn’t make sense to me. Anyone who knows me will testify to this.

Externally you have these massive vehicles with no real space advantage inside over most estates.

So what is the point?

They’re expensive and you sit high up – some people love that last bit but personally I like to be as low to the ground as possible. As you can probably tell I have never been a fan of SUV’s generally.

The only exception where I would sit up high is in a Defender.

However since the X5 was introduced in 2000, it has sold over 1 million vehicles. Which means there are clearly a lot of people who don’t agree with how I feel.

With the launch of the F15 X5 in 2013, the xDrive40d replaced the existing xDrive35d. This utilised the N57 twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel, pushing out 313bhp and 630 N·m of torque (465 lb·ft ), which is is actually very impressive figures, but I wanted to know would it live up to it on the road. The engine is matted to a ZF 8 Speed gearbox.

Now given the popularity of the X5, I thought it was time I gave one a try to see just what the 1 million+ people love about the X5.

The car I drove was a well specced X5 xDrive40d M Sport. This model has an OTR price (without options) of £60,000, with the car I actually drove having a list price north of £70,000.

Styling – interior and exterior

The F15 received cosmetic updates on the exterior, such a colour coded bumpers and LED lights front and rear. It is definitely more of a progressive design move but why change, what clearly is, a winning formula. The new F15 does look significantly better than the previous X5 models, which now to me, look very dated.

Inside you get Dakota leather as standard, with the option to pay £1500 to upgrade to the softer, comfier Merino leather. The standard brushed aluminium added to the premium feel of the cabin.

Being completely honest the interior really is a nice place to be, with soft touch plastics and leathers, the Professional media as standard offers the stunning 10-inch display, navigation, online services, 20gb internal storage etc.

All in all the interior is a lovely place to sit and a noticeable step up over the M140i (as you would expect being double the price almost).

Engine

Now this was the star for me.

As I have already mentioned this engine pushes out a claimed 313bhp and 630 N·m of torque (465 lb·ft ). Which even on paper is impressive.

Just wait until you are behind the wheel and press the accelerator pedal for the first time. I was quite frankly astonished that a car of this size was able to basically ascend in to light speed and rocket you down the road.

There is so much torque available in any gear you never really NEED to drop it down or rev it out, but boy its fun!

Performance

Performance for the size of the car was quite frankly astonishing. This thing moved.

I mainly drove the car in sport as I felt the ride on comfort was compromised.

In Sport, the throttle response was noticeably sharper. With all of that torque ready to push you back in to your seat at a prod of the throttle.

The gearbox, was like other 8 speed ZF gearboxes. Silky smooth in auto but relatively responsive in manual. Now it wasn’t quite as crisp as the ZF8 in the M140i, but it was responsive enough to enjoy changing through the gears if you so choose.

I found though, in Sport there really wasn’t any need. You could control the gearbox through the inputs of your right foot.

Luckily with all the performance on tap and it being well over two tonne, it had the brakes to match. You stamp on them and they swiftly knock speed off. It’s one thing I do think BMW does better than others in its segment and that is brakes. Audi always seem to lack in this area and Mercedes are always just ok. BMW seem to have great stopping power, a progressive pedal and offer a nice bit of feedback through the pedal.

Handling/Ride

First off I’d like to start with the steering, well more importantly what steering?

No seriously, it was as if the steering wheel wasn’t connected to the wheels. If you are willing to look past that and learn to trust the car will go where the wheel was roughly pointed you soon realise that for such a big and heavy car it handles surprisingly well.

You can chuck it into corners and use the massive torque of the engine to get you out of the other side.

Body roll wasn’t horrendous either.

The car I drove was fitted with the adaptive dampers and the one major thing I did find, which surprised me. Was that in comfort the amount of pogo’ing the car did was terrible. It felt very nervous. However flick it into Sport or Sport+ and it rides the way you expect, it was compliant and on British roads, which we all know are utter crap, it took the bumps, potholes and anything else in it’s stride.

I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised by the way it handled. Which left me wondering how good a Porsche Cayenne must be to drive….I digress.

Costs

Well this isn’t a cheap was with a £60,000 starting price.

One bonus if you do opt for the 40d version is that it make the options cheaper than on the 30d.

However with a relatively high standard specification, it might be that you can get away with spending very little on options.

Being honest I wouldn’t buy this car if you are looking for a 50mpg car. Given its weight and performance available I think its realistic to expect 30mpg average, pushed up to 35mpg on a motorway run.

Final thoughts

Overall I was very impressed by the X5. The performance and handling were very impressive for it size, with it’s only real downside being the steering.

The interior felt very premium and it would be easy to munch motorway miles in with the whole family.

However whilst driving the X5 has changed my opinion on SUV’s, for me personally I wouldn’t be spending £60,000 on it. I would still rather an estate if I needed the space.

Luckily for me I don’t need the space and for £60,000 I would be looking at something a little more dynamically interesting to drive.

Now I just need to get behind the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne…

 

 

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio – what’s it really like?

As some of you may know, I have been very lucky recently, having the opportunity to drive some pretty amazing cars. Probably my favourite over the last few months has to be the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

This is a car that ever since it was announced I knew I wanted to drive. The first rear wheel drive Alfa for over 20 years.

What an exciting time to be alive, when Alfa decide to take a Ferrari Cali engine chop two cylinders off and shove it in a family saloon, that produces over 500bhp and is rear wheel drive.

What more could you want?

My favourite bit – a prod of the red starter button mounted on the chunky three-spoke steering wheel, and the V6 engine bursts urgently into life.

If you would like to watch my video with the Alfa, check out the below:

Now let’s take a look at the all new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio in more detail.

Styling

 

Exterior

The standard Giulia’s is a good looking car with its flowing lines and neat proportions, but the Quadrifoglio gets a muscular makeover. This comes in the form of larger air intakes up front, below the trademark heart-shaped grille, a subtle carbon fibre rear spoiler and a diffuser that houses a quartet of tailpipes. Other visual enhancements include small vents set into the front wings.

The car I drove was finished in white metallic paint, which was nice but not the colour I would choose, mainly because I don’t like white cars. I’ve seen a couple of Alfa red cars and one Vulcano black on the road. I think for me it would be Competizione red or Vesuvio grey. The carbon ceramic brakes also help increase exterior styling by filling the wheel.

One thing I noted walking round the car was the staggering 285 section rear tyres, now they are wide!

Interior

The interior quality, I must admit, really did impress me. The green and white contrast stitching runs throughout the cabin, which is covered in leather and soft-touch plastics that definitely give the car a premium look and feel.

This particular car didn’t feature the optional Harmon Kardon stereo, but being honest I didn’t switch the entertainment system on once. You get lovely big aluminium paddles, that are attached to the steering column, which provide a nice positive feel and click upon use. Being honest on the inside, in this particular model most stuff comes as standard, like sat nav, front a rear parking sensors, folding mirrors etc.. However one thing this car didn’t have, which would really step the interior quality up, is the optional £2,500 carbon fibre seats. I would love to try a car with these in (Alfa – hint hint ;-))

I will say some of the switchgear wasn’t as robust as others, like Audi’s for example. But for a first attempt within the segment, it is actually a very nice place to be.

My only real gripe about the interior, which is a real first world problem, was that the steering wheel buttons don’t light up at night. I’d imagine over time you would just know what’s what, but to begin with you might find yourself fumbling around or pressing the wrong buttons as I did.

Engine

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In a word it’s a masterpiece. This new ‘supersaloon’ is powered by a 503bhp twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 that has been ‘worked on’ by engineers at Ferrari

Now I’d just like to expand on this point a little further. So we have Ferrari; which is controlled by the Agnelli family behind Fiat, who also, coincidentally own Alfa. However Ferrari is adamant that it’s not the same unit it fits to the California, with two cylinders chopped off. The fact that the two engines have the same bore, stroke and V angle is a coincidence, it says. As is the fact that in both the twin-scroll turbo is in the V of the engine, providing instant punch whenever the driver so much as twitches his little toe.

What a coincidence eh?

Well regardless of the engines origin, it really is sublime. Because the turbocharges are buried deep within the V, it means turbolag is kept to a minimum and throttle response is fantastic.

The engine does feel slightly lethargic lower down in the rev range, probably below 3-3.5k, but this must mainly be due to mapping to give it a more naturally aspirated feel building to a top end crescendo of noise and power.

Performance

What I really liked about this Alfa was its ability to have a real split personality, this mainly comes down to Alfa’s DNA Pro system, which allows you to switch between Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency and Race driving modes. Each setting alters not only shift times for the gearbox, but also the weight of the steering, plus throttle, diff response and the adaptive suspension.

The headline figures on this car are massive, 503bhp, 443lb/ft torque and a 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds. But what really amazed me was the way it built speed.

The engine happily revs all the way to the 7000rpm redline where it develops it’s peak power. It’s bloody quick getting up there as well.

Little do you know you’re quickly at 60mph.

Unlike the M3/4 the Alfa builds to speeds in a way that you don’t really realise, until you look down at the speedo, just how quickly you’re going and that you need to swiftly hit the anchors.

Handling/Ride

Going in to this I had in the back of my mind that the kind gent who helped develop the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio chassis, had not long before worked on the sublime 458 Speciale. So my expectations were high and I must admit, it delivered.

The adaptive dampers are standard, and in Dynamic and Race settings they deliver strong body control without being too firm on the UK road, which as we all know are bloody terrible.

If you then switch the suspension into Natural, the Giulia feels remarkably supple on the UK’s broken and bumpy roads. It thuds through deeper potholes, but overall it’s more comfortable than the BMW M4 I drove.

What I really liked about the Alfa over the M4 was that you can choose to have the suspension in “bumpy road” mode independently of the driving mode selected. “Bumpy road” mode makes the ride incredibly smooth and gives the Alfa the ability to take most pot holes in its stride.

The steering is quick and direct, with only 2 full turns lock to lock. It’s well weighted and on turn in points the Giulia’s nose exactly where you want it, whether an apex or just a nice tight corner on the roads..

Front end grip seems never ending on the road, with very little understeer evident even when entering a corner slightly too fast. But most importantly what helps you get out quickly and in a controlled manner is the LSD – it may not be as technically advanced as the latest M version but on the road it allows you to exit tight hair pins very effectively.

Race mode, which is where I spend most of my time in the car, relaxes the stability and traction control, allowing you to indulge in the car’s stunning rear-wheel-drive balance, as we discovered even with the aids switched on, the Alfa’s line can be altered using the steering and throttle, giving it a more natural feel than an M3.

I think the most noticeable thing for me handling-wise was just how light on it’s feet it felt. For what is essentially a very big car, the nimble handling of the Alfa really did impress. This is down to a curb weight of 1500kg, thanks to lots of carbon fibre, such as the drive shafts and bonnet.

Noise

Noise is where the Alfa obliterates the M4. I know I  have mentioned it before but the S55 featured in the latest M3/4, really doesn’t do it for me. This Alfa, on the other hand, is a thing a pure beauty.

Despite being a twin-turbo V6, it delivers a soundtrack that you could listen to all day, turning from a growl at low revs to a howl as the revs climb towards the 7,000rpm redline.

In race mode, you really get to unleash the beast. This is where the exhaust valve opens and all hell breaks loose from the exhaust. You get pop, bangs, cracks, farts, the lot. I know it’s all engineered in but it just adds to the experience of driving the car. The best thing is you don’t have to be going fast to get it to produce some outrageous noises. If you want to create a riot in town at low speed, you can, just expect a lot of funny looks and death stares. But hey, who cares right? As long as you’re having fun.

If you’re interested in hearing the Alfa, check out this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqv3JT6JHS0

Gearbox

Now in the U.K. we are only going to see the ZF 8 speed auto, which having watched a couple of reviews on the manual is probably a good thing.

However, considering I drive a car fitted with a variation of the ZF 8 Speed, the box in the Alfa left me a little, well, underwhelmed. Even in race mode, which is supposed to be it’s most aggressive mode, I found it slow in response.

In auto mode the box is nice a smooth. Not really feeling changes up or down.

However when using it in manual mode, on the way up through the box it was easy to hit the limiter if you tried to change up anything after 6800rpm, just due to the delay in the box. On upshifts I found myself having to press the paddle around 500 rpm before you wanted the change. It was a little crisper on downshifts, but again compared to the box in the M140i it seemed lethargic.

It’s funny how quickly you adjust your driving style around quirks of cars. After 10 minutes behind the wheel I didn’t need to consciously think about changing slightly earlier to avoid the limiter but just did it.

Dreaded reliability…or lack of

Finally, something that seems to impact almost every test car and potentially something a prospective owner needs to consider (yes I know you get warranty but that doesn’t cover your time), is reliability.

Now this is something that impacted this particular car, putting it in LIMP mode and lighting the dash up like a christmas tree. For anyone that doesn’t know LIMP mode limits power, meaning you now have to go everywhere really slowly.

Alfa did a code read and it turned out there was a fuel pump error, there was also a few ‘invalid ECU’ codes which suggests something went wrong. Having a read online there seems to be a real variety of errors which can cause the car to go into LIMP mode.

Conclusion / wrap up

Overall the fast throttle response, the fast steering, the outrageous exhaust noises and the preposterous rate at which the speedometer climbs combine to make this car feel extremely special. More special than any M3 or M4 (particularly with that not so great sounding S55 engine).

It may be more expensive than the M3, but in reality, it’s a 500bhp rear-wheel drive Alfa Romeo. It’s an absolute riot to drive. If you’re in the market for a stupendously fast saloon, I highly recommend you give the Alfa a go.

Check out some of my videos with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

 

 

 

 

Audi A3 Ultra driven

So just last week I was fortunate enough to be handed the keys to a 2016 model Audi A3 S Line 1.6tdi Ultra.

Now, normally I would see the 1.6tdi and automatically not be interested. If I was looking for a diesel it would be the 2.0tdi and if funds permitted it would be the slightly higher powered 2.0tdi quattro. I mean whats the point in an Audi without quattro?

Well, last week, I found out.

So lets begin with a little bit of background. The third generation A3 was launched back in 2012 and was the first car to use the latest Volkswagen Group’s lighter, stiffer ‘MQB’ platform. This can also be found underneath the Mk7 Golf, the SEAT Leon and Skoda’s Octavia etc.

From the outside the looks could be described as progressive over the previous model but a welcome upgrade nonetheless.

However the biggest changed compared to its predecessor, is that it’s now around 50kg lighter even with increased levels of equipment and safety, a platform that Audi felt it perfect for the creation of this super-frugal ultra variant, based on the 1.6-litre TDI diesel model.

So on paper this entry-level 1.6-litre TDI diesel version of Audi’s A3 now gets an ‘ultra’ badge with engineering that delivers under 90g/km of CO2 and well over 80mpg.

That seems mightily impressive so I was intrigued to find out how it performed in the real world.

The ‘Ultra’ badges bring some additional changes over a standard A3 which include lowered sports suspension, low rolling resistance tyres, a longer final drive ration in the six-speed manual gearbox (no Stronic is available on the ultra) and 16-inch alloys.

Handling, ride and steering

Let me start with how the car drove in terms of handling, ride and steering.

Most people will agree, you don’t buy an Audi to have the most involving driving experience. However I was mightily impressed with the drive of this car. I was expecting a noisy engine, vibrating through everything I touched, a very stiff ride and pretty dead steering.

However, the car handled very well. The steering was well weighted, tight and direct. Yes it was numb in terms of feedback but so is our BMW M140i, so that was to be expected.

You could barely feel that the 1.6tdi was even running, the cabin is very quiet and when at a stop you could feel very little vibration coming through the gear stick, steering wheel and pedals.

The economy-boosting lowered suspension is a touch stiffer than the standard A3, though, meaning the ride can be a little bumpy. The low resistance tyres definitely add more road noise to the cabin but thats only if you are looking out for it or drive around with no music on.

All in all,  the surprisingly heavy and direct steering and a very nice slick gear change make for an enjoyable drive, considering it is an ‘eco’ model.

Performance

So coming in to this, I really didn’t expect much from the little 1.6 ‘eco’ engine. On paper it develops 110bhp and 250Nm, which in this day and age is not a lot.

However get it out on the road and it feels surprisingly nippy. With the torque being readily available in almost every gear, makes it for an enjoyable drive. Yes, it’s not going to blow your mind. But considering where the car sits, it’s performance really did impress.

In terms of times, the three-door gets from 0-62mph in 10.5sec, while the Sportback takes 10.7sec. Both have an official top speed of 124mph.

Not ground braking but considering its ability to also return 60+MPG realistically (even when driving rather aggressively) is very impressive.

Interior

Now we come to the interior, this is really the A3’s party piece. It is where it stands above other cars in it’s call. The use of dense, soft materials, beautifully damped switches and cold-to-the-touch metallic surfaces give it real class-above appeal.

The cabin is well thought out and everything is easy to reach and in a logical place. The standard sound system is not far off our HK system in the M140i, which just shows how poor the 1/2 series setup is.

The navigation you get as standard has a relatively small screen, but given its standard I would be happy with it. The MMI isn’t as easy to use as the latest BMW iDrive system, it’s good enough don’t get me wrong but it just feels more clunky

Overall, the interior is a very nice place to be even with the standard spec. Choose a couple of options and you can have an even more premium feeling cabin.

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Final Thoughts

All in all, this car actually took me by surprise as an overall package.

If you are looking for something that offers reasonable pace, a nice place to sit and a drive that is surprisingly enjoyable, whilst still returning 60+ MPG then look no further.

Personally I still think I would prefer a 2.0tdi lump for the extra torque it offers, but the trade off in economy and CO2 figures mean that it may not be a cost effective viable solution and in that case, the ultra really is a cracking little car.