Blog

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.

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.

Going backwards on technology

It’s interesting how we get used to certain new features in cars, and when that gets taken away, it’s a bit jarring and uncomfortable. Case in point, plenty of new cars have this feature called ‘keyless go’, in which the key remains forever in the driver’s pocket, and utilizing sensors and buttons, doors can be locked and unlocked, and the engine can be turned on with the push of a button. It’s all very clever in allowing freedom from fumbling with keys, and you get super used to simply opening the door and pushing the engine start button.

My first exposure to the keyless go technology was rather reluctantly. It was a few years back during my search for a Mazda MX-5, and due to less fortunate financial capabilities compared to the present, I was cornered into finding the most striped-out, poverty-spec example possible. The new ND generation of the Miata have only just been released, so not many cars were actually yet on dealership lots. After some searching, I was able locate a base sample that was actually en route to the dealer, but there was a problem: the car had the keyless go option fitted, for the princely price of $150 dollars.

Which is to say it was cheap enough for me to overlook it. I’m sure the likes of Porsche charges many times more for that same feature in their cars. So my Miata ended up with keyless go, and indeed it was pleasant and convenient to not have to ever take out the key to operate the car. The only way it could’ve been better would be if the car also locked itself once it detects I’m a certain distance away from it; seems like a natural extension of that particular feature set.

Anyways, fast-forward to this January when I bought the 911 GT3, a six-figure car of 2015 vintage that doesn’t have keyless go; I’m not sure it was even an option available on the GT3 trim. You can imagine the confusion of my muscle memory the first few times driving it: I’d approach the car with the key still in my pocket, expecting to able to simply press a button on the door handle to open, only to be jolted out of rhythm with the realization that I do in fact need the physical key. It’s like returning to using paper maps after years of benefiting from the convenience of Google Maps.

Complicating things further is the fact other cars in our family all have keyless go, so often times operating the GT3 feels like a throwback to an arcane era. Of course, I’d forget about that as soon as I turn the engine over and that atmospheric flat-six starts making its melodious noise.

Physical key.

I met the first owner of my GT3!

A bit of a surprise treat this past weekend: I met the very first owner of my 911 GT3.  

It was a surprise because the chance meeting was completely unsolicited, and the car meet I attended on Saturday wasn’t even a Porsche-specific event. While cars costing into the six-figures aren’t exactly common, a plain GT3 is not in the realm of limited-edition Ferraris, where a car’s provenance is immensely important and therefore previous owners are well documented. Porsches produces thousands of 911s each year, so I held zero expectations of being able to meet the first owner of my particular GT3.

It’s a small world indeed.

I knew something was strange when I saw a dude taking a keen look at my GT3 when there was more interesting metal parked in the same lot (a GT3 of the RS variety, for instance). After ascertaining that it was me who owns the car, the guy followed up with a few questions pertaining to the GT3’s origins, and it matched up with what he had speculated: this was the very car he used to own. He had bought it from a Colorado dealership back in April of 2015, and after 8,000 or so miles the GT3 was then sold to a local dealership, putting that money towards a McLaren 570S

There’s a second owner of my GT3 sandwiched between me and the guy I met on Saturday, and after this serendipity I have some hopes of meeting that person as well. It turns out the Porsche enthusiast community in Northern California is rather small.

A normal person reading this may think it ridiculous that there’s people like me who gets excited about meeting the previous owners of our cars; I get it, but a 911 GT3 is not an ordinary car. It was quite informative and special to chat with the first owner on why he configured the car as he did: picking Sapphire Blue Metallic to stand out in a sea of white and silver colored 911s, and forgoing the option for lightweight buckets because it would’ve delayed delivery for six months (one sympathizes). Super geeky details made interesting because the ordering process for a GT3 - or any 911 for that matter - is intricate and specialized. As the third owner, I never got to experience that process, so it was fun to hear the original owner tell his story.

I received some constructive information, too: the GT3 upon delivery was flat-bedded to a shop for paint protection film, so the paint underneath ought to be absolutely pristine. After the film application, the entire car – including the wheels – received ceramic coating; great news for me because I can stop waxing the car during my wash routine. Lastly, the first owner confirmed he took the car to the track regularly, which doesn’t bother me at all because first that’s what the GT3 is developed for, and secondly these cars are paradoxically more prone to break when it doesn’t get driven hard.

911 GT3s are driver’s car in the truest sense, and I’m glad my car have received the proper amounts of exercise since it’s left Zuffenhausen. Meeting the original owner and learning about his chapter with car gave me more confidence and admiration for my GT3, and I’m grateful for this happy coincidence.

The green lizard was a popular attraction.

718 Cayman GT4: atmospheric 4.0-litre!

Photo credit: Porsche

It would appear that natural-aspiration is not quite dead just yet.

Porsche a few days ago announced a new generation of the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder, the top, most sporting models of their respective range. The biggest revelation from the news is the return of the atmospheric motor to the 718 chassis. Not only that, it’s also a return of the flat-six engine to the Cayman/Boxster twin, with this generation of cars having switched entirely to the much-maligned turbocharged flat-four.

Too bad it’ll cost you six figures to get back the good stuff.

Nevertheless, in this day and age of turbocharged this and electrified that, any new sports car that’s still got an atmospheric beating heart is worth celebrating. The day may arrive when the Porsche GT product line will only feature turbocharged engines and or hybrid drivetrain, but for the time being the unencumbered sounds of natural-aspiration remains ever so sweet. Porsche flat-sixes that revs to the sky is precisely why I bought a 911 GT3.  

A not insignificant amount of enthusiasts was hoping Porsche would simply transplant the 4.0-litre unit serving duty in the GT3 and GT3RS into the new GT4 and Spyder, though it was always a bit of a fool’s wish. It’s difficult to see how Porsche could’ve done it without hugely inflating the already hefty purchase price, and more importantly, not encroach on the GT3’s performance capabilities. It seems the Cayman will forever be neutered in service of the 911 big brother.

Indeed, this new 4.0-litre flat-six engine is not of the vaunted 4.0-liter badged 911s of prior: it’s a heavily reworked motor based on the turbocharged 3.0-litre currently serving duty in the 911. The enlarged engine, sans turbochargers, makes 420 horsepower and will spin to an 8,000 rpm redline; all very exciting stats in a vacuum, but compared to the supremely characterful, motorsport-derived 4.0-litre in the 911 GT3, an engine that goes to 9,000rpm, it’s honestly a bit pedestrian.

Relativity is a funny thing.

So I’m sure there’s some disappointment going around, though we should really detach and look at the overall picture: the atmospheric flat-six is back in the 718 chassis – arguably the purest sports car platform Porsche produces. Yes, it’s a great shame one must spend top money to avoid the charmless turbo four; though for a company that will charge you hundreds just to get the seatbelts in a different color, it’s fairly on brand, isn’t it?

An even more delicious prospect: placing this new 4.0-litre engine of the GT4 in a variant of the 992, perhaps a 911 T. That would give me something to ponder about in relation to my GT3…

Bad luck for car enthusiast

As a car enthusiast, sometimes luck simply isn’t on your side. I’m not talking about the big sorrowful events like horrible accidents, but rather mundane annoyances that strikes at random (like a scraped bumper), and should you be so unlucky, a cluster of them seems to hit you all at once.

Mind you I am not talking about me, thank heavens, though back in April just about the biggest rock chip I’ve ever seen was thrown into the upper portion of the GT3’s bonnet. Actually, there was also that rear tire puncture as well, which turned out to be quite the chore to fix. But no, compared to my brother’s year with his mark 7 Golf GTI, I’d consider myself fortunate.

Indeed, said brother have only had the car for one year, and within that time-span the following misfortune occurred to his precious little hot hatch. First was the time during his move back to university for the Fall semester, and my clumsy dad absentmindedly scraped the rear quarter panel when he attempted to stuff the mini fridge into the rear passenger compartment (it didn’t fit through the aperture, obviously). Shortly after that, the GTI got broken into whilst parked in the lot of a restaurant, necessitating a replacement of the rear passenger window, plus that annoying tiny triangular glass at the corner that doesn’t really do anything.

California saw its wettest rain season in many years, so road conditions this winter was not very good. My brother drove over a set of light-rail tracks thinking nothing of it, but lurking adjacent to far rail was an enormous pothole. It obliterated the front left tire, requiring an emergency trip to the nearest tire shop. Now my brother did take this opportunity to swap the crappy stock all-season tires with a solid set of summer performance boots, which I have to say utterly transformed the GTI’s character. However, I’m sure his wallet holds a different opinion.

Lastly, a month ago an errant stone chip to the windshield proved a bit on the too large side, causing two parallel cracks to form at lower left quadrant, directly in the sight-line of the driver. My brother is still in the process of getting that replaced, which is another chunk of change that with better luck could’ve been avoided.

That’s all part of owning a car, isn’t it? To keep a car pristine, stuff in a garage forever; otherwise, it’s simply things a driver has to deal with. A person could go for years without a puncture, then suffer multiples of them within a short time. I jokingly told my brother that he doesn’t have to deal with any of this if he’d only take the bus instead.

Like I do. Sort of.

A veritable jungle on campus.

The lone problem with the GR Supra

I’ve already written previously on how the new Toyota GR Supra is an important entrant to the sports car segment due to how rarely we see brand new, relatively affordable sports cars in an overall market heavily biased towards sport utility vehicles. It’s an achievement worth celebrating, even if Toyota had to partner up with BMW to turn the dream into fruition.

By all accounts the new Supra is a brilliant car to drive, and us car enthusiasts should buy one in support of their efforts. Only by showing up with our wallets at the dealerships will manufacturers continue to put in development money on such delightful cars, a segment so small it might as well be a niche (unless you’re Porsche).  

But there’s a problem: I don’t think this iteration of the GR Supra is the one to buy.

As is the wont of Japan-made sports cars, each subsequent model year will have increment improvements, leading up to significant mid-model refreshes after a few years. Just look at the R35 generation Nissan GT-R: the 2012 model year got such an update it rendered the 2008 to 2011 cars to second-class citizenry. I’ve no doubts the GR Supra will follow the same production trajectory, therefore if I were buying one, I’d wait for the forthcoming refresh or special edition models.

There’s already points of improvement easily apparent in the new Supra. First there’s the power level: The same B58 inline-six has a higher level of tune in the BMW Z4 sister car, so it’d be no effort at all for Toyota to bump horsepower to that level, if not further. Second is the gearbox: the GR Supra simply begs for a manual transmission, and Toyota have heard all the clamoring for it. The BMW parts-bin do have a manual gearbox available – the unit currently providing service in the M2 and M3 – and I’d put money that a do-it-yourself stick version of the Supra will happen.

Those two key components, coupled with various upgrades to the suspension and body panels, and avoiding first model-year gremlins, makes it worth the patience to wait for the refresh.  

Of course, if you’re so infused with cash you can buy the 2020 GR Supra now and trade that in when invariably a hotter version comes out in a few years. Good for you indeed if you are able to do that.

Bright lights in the morning.