Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Audi RS6 Avant is coming to America

Photo credit: Audi

Fast wagons are awesome. They retain the handling sensibilities of a sports sedan, but offers up the cargo capabilities of a sports utility vehicle. They are the prototypical ‘one car to do everything’; provided you don’t go off-road.

But there’s a problem: fast wagons don’t sell well in America. In fact, wagons of any speed sell horribly here in the States, especially if it isn’t a Subaru Outback. The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon was a sales failure, and the Jaguar XF Sportbrake S can currently be found on a dealer lot for many tens of thousands off sticker. Car enthusiast professes undying love for the long-roof, but we tend to buy them used. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle where we clamor for wagons, automakers make them available, but then we wait to buy them used, which does the manufacturers no good, so they stop selling.

Which explains why samples of a fast wagon like the CTS-V can fetch decent sums in the used market: there simply weren’t that many of them made.

One manufacturer seems to buck the trend, despite the negative headwinds against wagons: Mercedes Benz. The German automaker have continued to produce the E63 AMG wagon and made it available here in America. Apparently, sales are relatively solid: my local dealership has rows of them on the lot, and those cars wouldn’t be taking up precious floor-plan if they couldn’t sell quickly. The E63 AMG wagon and the Volvo’s excellent V90 wagon are just about the only two fast wagon options on this side of the pond; the latter of which sells in such small number, that it’s special order only.

Audi, arguably the originator of properly fast wagons (see the Porsche-developed RS2), have notoriously resisted bringing their RS-badged long-roof wonders to America. We never got the RS6 or the RS4 in Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) form, and I honestly don’t blame Audi: there’s no business case for such a superbly low-volume segment.

Until now. It seems Audi wants a piece of the fast wagon pie Mercedes is eating, so the forthcoming 2020 Audi RS6 Avant will (finally) be available for the American market. It is great news indeed, and to all you petrol-heads that claimed you’d buy an RS Avant immediately if Audi brought it here: time to put up your money.

At first glance, the new RS6 Avant looks rightfully angry, with crazy aero bits flanking the lower region on all four sides. There’s the prerequisite bulging box fender flares as well. A Q-ship this is not, though I’d contend fast Audis were never the visually understated weapons that Mercedes AMG cars are. It’s not the extroversion of a Lamborghini, but Audi RS cars definitely make their presence felt. If I were buying this RS6, however, I’d opt for the black-out trim just to tone down the exterior a tad.

What was immediately striking to me about the new RS6 Avant is how enormous the wheels are: 22 inches in diameter on the options (as pictured), and 21 inches as standard. Indeed the set looks spectacular, but I’m skeptical of its function in actual use. Super grippy low-profile tires in that sizing are horrendously expensive, and in America’s pothole-ridden streets, potential owners better opt for the wheel and tire insurance. Wheels on modern fast cars have simply grown too huge: I think the 20 inch set on my GT3 is already overkill. I’d rather have a smaller diameter wheel with a cushier sidewall tire.

It’s a good thing then the new RS6 Avant comes standard with air suspension, because those thin tires certainly won’t help ride comfort at all.

No need to look at the stats: surely the RS6 Avant will be more than adequately fast, nimble, and comfortable akin to its competition the Mercedes-Benz E63 wagon. The single most important question that Audi will need answered, is will this fast wagon sell in an appropriate amount here in America. Don’t let us down, rich people.

The cost of doing business

It’s perversely ironic.

I’ve only just returned from Japan, statistically the safest country on the planet, a country where I can roam around anywhere at anytime and not feel a hint of danger; I can leave stuff in a rental car in broad daylight and not have the slightest worry someone would break the window and steal it. Within the span of a week since coming home to the States, there’s already been three major mass shootings: one during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival; another one in El Paso where a dude opened fire inside a Walmart store, and not even 24 hours after that, a gunman shot up a bar in Dayton, Ohio.

All devastatingly tragic, but sadly, merely the price of doing business living in America.

The correlation between the amount of guns and the amount of gun deaths is factually evident. Firearms are heavily outlawed in Japan, and therefore the country suffers from insignificantly few gun-related crimes. After Australia banned guns, the numbers of deaths from firearms decreased exponentially. Yet due to our second amendment and various lobbying forces, there is absolutely no hope of massively decreasing the number of firearms here in the United States (short of a political miracle), even though we know for sure countless precious lives will be saved.

How exceptional is the country that our children get to perform active shooter drills, and to attend any event of significance, we need to go through security akin to checkpoints at an airport. And that every year, like clockwork, there’s bound to be a smattering of mass shootings, and all the victims will ever get for their deaths is ceaseless streams of thoughts and prayers. Someone on twitter said it best a few years ago, that when we as a collective accepted that it’s okay to gun down babies (Sandy Hook), the fight for gun control was already dead and over.

America is a great country, and it’s given me every single opportunity and items material that otherwise not possible had we not emigrated, but it’s a country where gun deaths are a part of the deal. What’s left for us to contemplate is whether or not the deal continues to be worth it.

All I want is just some peace and quiet.

July 4th and cars

Happy 4th!

America is indeed the greatest country on the planet, despite its warts - perceived or otherwise. No matter if you agree with the sitting President or not, the United States remains a beacon of freedom and a land of opportunity. It’s the reason my family emigrated here way back in 1996, when I was only eight years old. Growing up in what was a foreign country wasn’t without its challenges, but overall it’s been a huge net positive. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like now had we stayed in China.

One big thing I wouldn’t have had in China, a thing that America does so well to foster and encourage, is vehicle ownership, and car enthusiasm. In the home of open roads, endless interstates, cheap gasoline, and (relatively) low vehicle cost, I was able to grow into a love of cars, and as an adult, lucky to have the means to fully explore and immerse into the Californian car culture. I dare say no other country offers such easy access to a variety of cars and the immense road networks to enjoy them on.

Contrast that to China, where human density tops the charts, and car ownership is severely limited (and you thought your American city has terrible parking). Speed cameras are absolutely everywhere, so you can’t have any fun, period (authoritarian single-party government, remember). More crucially, the typical wage in relation to how much cars cost in China, made even worse punitive tariffs, means there would be no possible way I’d be able to own a Porsche 911 GT3 as I do here in the States. The only cars I’d be capable to buy (if allowed to, anyways) are the Chinese brands, which I have to say are quite cheap, costing around $6,000 equivalent.

So on this particular July 4th, I’m extremely grateful to live in a country where I can truly cultivate my passion for automobiles. There’s really no better place that this.

Views from the central valley.

460 horsepower for $35K is insane

Is anybody else alarmed by this? For about the average transaction price of a new car, a person can buy a Ford Mustang with 460 horsepower. God bless America and all but that much power in a rear-wheel drive platform, in the hands of America's desperately under-trained drivers, doesn't sound like a solid recipe to me. I guess it explains the Mustang's not so sterling reputation at your local Cars and Coffee event.

Dangers of oversteer and colliding with humans aside, it's a wonderful time to be alive for car enthusiasts if all you want is pure horsepower, and kudos to the American brands for taking the flag. For mid 30 to low 40 thousand dollars, one can buy a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, or Dodge Challenger with horsepower in the 400s. Pony up to the 60 thousands and a Corvette Stingray with nearly 500 horsepower or a Challenger Hellcat with over 700 becomes available

A decade ago those levels of thrust cost well into the six figures. 

Japan sadly have not kept pace in the performance-per-dollar arms race (a Nissan GTR is much too expensive). The Subaru WRX STI have had the same 300 or so horsepower engine for over a decade. while the Nissan Z have languished for nearly as long a period. Toyota abstinently refuses to give its 86 coupe more power; it'll be embarrassing indeed if the forthcoming return of the Supra doesn't have at least 400 horsepower in the car. 

So why don't I simply buy an American sports car? Well, because I care about more than just horsepower (it's really nice, don't get me wrong). The trio of sports coupes from the United States are each critically flawed: the 'Alpha' chassis underpinning the Camaro is universally acclaimed but outward visibility from the cabin remains atrocious; the Challenger shares a platform with old European Mercedes Benz taxis so it's not a proper sports car; and the Mustang GT's MT-82 manual gearbox is an Achilles' heel. 

The only way I'd own one of those cars is if I win one from those car sweepstakes they have at the mall.

A Corvette or a Shelby GT350 is a different story; these two cars tick every box on my list of wants: high-revving naturally-aspirated motor, manual gearbox (proper Tremec units), a track-ready real-wheel drive chassis, and a limited-slip differential. For around 60 grand it's a heck of a bargain, but there's one glaring flaw with both cars:

It's not a 911. 

"Summer" in San Francisco is as advertised. 

"Summer" in San Francisco is as advertised. 

Fear and sadness in Las Vegas

Another day, another mass shooting here in America. 

My heart breaks for the dead, the wounded, the first responders, and their respective families and friends. People were simply enjoying a great Sunday evening in Las Vegas, rocking out to a country music concert. To then suddenly get massacred like fish in a barrel by a gunman perched high up in a Mandalay Bay room; disheartening. 

it's unconscionable, yet constant gun violence is a resigned reality in America because a majority of our political class lack the moral decency to do the right thing. Proper gun control/restrictions should've already be enacted after the Sandy Hook elementary tragedy, but it didn't, and if literal babies getting shot up didn't move the needle one bit, adult concert goers isn't likely to, either. 

Obama once warned us to not fall trap to despair and hopelessness, and to keep fighting for what's right. Some days are for sure more difficult than others. 

I was vacationing in South Korea earlier this summer, and it's a stark contrast to go from the most gun-happy first-world country to one of the most strict. In Seoul I travelled around with a subconscious sense of security that was incredibly comforting. It's so liberating to be able to walk in any parts of of the city at the wee hours of the night without the fear of getting robbed at gunpoint. Partly due to the utter lack of guns, in South Korea there are no metal detectors or security checkpoints to go through when boarding cross-country trains, or heading into a baseball stadium. It's amazing.

I can only hope that someday us Americans can enjoy the same sort of peace and tranquillity. It starts with gun control.