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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.

Why do I bother

My main passion is automobiles, and I’ve been ensconced in the car culture for over two decades now. People around me know this, so I sometimes get asked for my advice on purchasing. The problem is, and this is shared with many people who are into cars, my recommendations often get ignored, and the person asking ends up going with a counter option. Not that I’m so high up into my ego that I get hurt when people don’t listen to what I say, mind you. The bottom line is that car buying is highly emotional, so the logical minds of car enthusiasts like me don’t quite fit that mold.

I still continue to give advice, though, because that’s called being nice.

The latest such episode is when my cousin asked me what car he should buy. His criteria is a sedan that’s reliable, and something he can own for at least the next 10 years reliably. He doesn’t care about driving dynamics; just a decent runabout for city driving.

For me, the solution for such criteria is obvious: buy a sedan from either Honda or Toyota, the two Japanese brands famous for utmost reliability and super low cost of ownership. To drill down further, I recommended to my cousin the latest Toyota Corolla Hybrid, a fabulous compact sedan that gets 50 miles to the gallon, all for the going price of low $20,000s. It’s a lot of car for the money, and on sheer reputation alone, the new Corolla will run easily run trouble free for the next decade. Plus, the first two years’ maintenance is free.

Whenever someone is looking to buy a car to keep for a very long time, my suggestion is always to buy new. Not only do you get to fart in the seats before anyone else, but more importantly, you get the peace of mind from knowing the entire history of the car, something you can’t say for certain when buying used.

So what does my cousin do? Of course he ignored my advice, and instead bought a slightly used Mazda 3 sedan, for a savings of $6,000 compared to buying the Corolla Hybrid new. No arguments from me; he’s free to do what makes him happy.

A beautiful dark green-colored Suzuki Jimny; unobtanium here in the States.

I almost bought a car

Last week, that is.

I already have a car, obviously, but the GT3 is used exclusively for weekend fun only. During the work week I take the bus, which has been and continues to be wonderful because I don’t have to stress over San Francisco’s notorious traffic. That said, the changeover to the month of July and its subsequent developments had me looking at cheap lease deals last week.

For the past year I’ve been paying for my brother’s car insurance, because he was still in his last year of undergrad and therefore his income can’t possibly afford to insure a 2018 Golf GTI for his 20 year-old self. I, a maker of decent money, and a proper Asian big brother, stepped in financially for until he graduates and finds a proper job.

Well, those two events happened within the last two weeks, and I suddenly find myself an extra $200 dollars richer per month from now onwards. Coincidently, my own insurance on the Porsche dropped significantly (some $400 less on the six months renewal), so cumulatively I had enough to cheaply lease a second car that will get me to and from work, and also, to and from the GT3 on the weekends. Not caring one bit in how luxurious a car is or whatever amenities it’s got, I zeroed in on a poverty-spec 2019 Honda Fit, leasing for just over $230, with first month’s payment and government fees as down-payment.

I would essentially be swapping an expense for another expense, with zero increase in monthly spending to accommodate the new lease. I was completely ready to execute the plan on Fourth of July (one of the biggest sales days for dealerships), but I made the mistake (?) of thinking it over more deeply, and ultimately decided against getting a second car for commuting.

As mentioned, I have no qualms with taking the bus, so the Honda Fit would’ve been a luxury item, even though I wouldn’t necessary be spending more money per month. Conversely, by not leasing the Honda, I’m pocketing the $250 in savings, and that will first help replenish my emergency fund (see: GT3), and after that, keeping it for some fun experience later on.

Suffice it to say, the early twenties me would’ve bought the Fit, no hesitation. Older and wiser now, allegedly.

Encountered an old-school American hooptie during Sunday lunch.

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.

The early morning drives

Living in a dense city full of cars and traffic, it’s mighty difficult to find space to truly stretch the legs of my beloved sports car. Even the mountain roads gets congested on the weekends; due to hikers, revelers of nature, and people trying to get to the Pacific Ocean. It only takes one not so cooperative driver refusing to pull over for your obviously faster car to ruin what is suppose to be a joyful drive (there always is one). Of course, I can be a dick about it and pass them crossing the double yellow line, but I’m the type to follow rules of the road absolutely, and also I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype of the asshole (junior) supercar owner.

A good strategy to avoid the crowd and traffic is to get up super early and drive the same mountain roads whilst everyone else is still soundly asleep. It’s an especially serene time as well, perfect opportunity for a bit of meditation and reflecting. Driving on city streets and highways with nary another car on the road, backdropped with the subtle haze of glow from the approaching sun dancing with the darkness of the receding night, is something immensely therapeutic. I’d get up before dawn, so that by the time I’m finished with a few hours of driving, I’m greeted with the day’s sunrise (weather permitting, naturally; can’t be sure with San Francisco’s notorious fog).

Well, at least that was what I did with my previous cars. Due to unique circumstances with the 911 GT3, its let’s call it permanent location is not inside the house (we don’t have a garage, sadly). Rather, the GT3 is parked some distance away at a different location, necessitating a 20 minute drive to access. Therefore, to perform an early morning blast on the mountains, I have to add at least 20 minutes on top of the already ungodly hour I’d need to wake up. In my twenties perhaps this would be doable (as if I could afford a Porsche in my twenties), but nowadays with me paying close attention to the quality of sleep, it’s not an enticing proposition.

Just one of the many idiosyncratic realities of owning an expensive car in a crowded urban city.

Grimy nights.

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…