Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recent developments

Been a while since i last updated bout the '36. Reason being the '36 had been sitting in the workshop for slightly over 4 months undergoing some rejuvenation. Glad to report now that she's altogether even more lovely and the engine response is just sweet perfection. Oh yes, little red riding hood has just been joined by a new big grey friend. Say "hello!" to the '34!

I couldn't resist putting on a Studie sticker.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

Wishing everyone here a Merry Christmas and a happy new year... This little blog is almost a year old now... Thanks to everyone and anyone for coming by... Been too caught up with some new personal automotive developments (as well as lots of Gran Turismo-ing) :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Triple 5 Soul: BMW X5 xDrive35i driven

BMW's current generation X5 has been with us for a number of years already since the tail-end of 2006. Early this year, BMW revised the X5 with some very subtle aesthetic enhancements, some less subtle tweaks under the skin and a new branding scheme.

What used to be the BMW X5 3.0 is now the BMW X5 xDrive35i. Visually you'd be hard pressed to spot the difference. Some of these minute changes include a revised front bumper and airdam and a more pronounced front grille and bonnet treatment. Over to the back, the rear lamps, now come with two banks of LEDs.

To be honest, it's really hard to tell the difference. The X6-alike front grille does give it a more masculine stance but overall, the X5 still retains its restrained look. Next to the slightly off-beat X6, the X5 cuts a more mature profile. It is this profile that allows the X5 to be a much more usable vehicle, interior room is fantastic, visibility is great and the double tail-gated rear hatch is a fantastic addition for those trips to Ikea or even for your puppy.

Under the bonnet though is where the biggest change happens, nail the throttle and hear 306 horses come to life from its 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder heart. With over 2 tonnes to shove about, you'd need some torque, 400Nm's of the good stuff is readily available just above idle (1200rpm), able to propel this luxury SUV from 0-100 in a scant 6.8 seconds. That's proper quick. A Porsche Cayenne in similar price range does the sprint in 8.5 seconds, or 7.5 if you prefer to do the shifting.

If you style of driving is slightly less enthusiastic, the X5's 8-speed autobox allows for relaxed comfortable cruising down the expressways in top gear. Overtaking maneuvers are as easy as spotting a gap in traffic, applying more throttle and next thing you know, your ahead of everyone else. It really is effortless but if you require really really rapid progress, hit "Sport" mode, drop a couple of cogs and engage warp.

As mentioned interior space is vast and airy with great all round visibility, a massive glass roof for those Sun worshippers and an optional third rows of seats are available for those needing to ferry their extended family around, those seated in the back get their own array of climate control knobs and buttons allowing them to enjoy in cool comfort the mightily impressive sound system.

How does this massive 2tonnes of engineering handle around the tight and twisties? I've had my time with the X6 and the way that SAV carved corners was almost out of this world. The X5 does almost just as well but without that trick Torque-Vectoring system on the X6, just falls short slightly. But unless you are really pushing it, you wouldn't notice. With the added visibility over the X6, you'd adapt to the wide stance of the X5 much quicker and allows you to place the car on the road with more confidence.

This SAV is still heavy though, and the weight of the X5 as it goes from left to right can be felt, but body control is tight and allows you to keep the car well within limits through feedback from the steering, seat and various blinky lights from the dashboard. Like the X6 before, the X5 drives almost like a sportscar. You just sit in a much higher position.

I've had the pleasure of driving a diesel powered version of the X5 down some rural roads in Bali and it was a truly enjoyable experience. I had wrongly expected the X5 to be a handful around Bali's tight backlanes but it turned out to be a really easy drive. Active steering helps alot to shift a 2tonne monster around the small roads.

Overall, the X5 xDrive35i brings together a very very good package, it looks good, handles brilliantly, has considerable firepower under the bonnet and at the same time, is comfortable, really spacious and so very very usable (Something which cannot really be said of the more niche X6). A new one might be coming out in the not so distant future bearing BMW's new design language, but the current X5 should not be overlooked.

Monday, November 29, 2010

X5 xDrive35i meets Gran Turismo 5

What i've been up to the past few days? Running about in an X5 xDrive35i (with a 555 registration plate) and collecting my Region 1 Collector's Edition of Gran Turismo 5. Lots of 5s, very very little sleep.

My sleep deprivation setup.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Random Shots: Picked up from Bangkok

Took a short holiday to the Thai capital of Bangkok and picked up some magazines and side emblems for the ol'36.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Driving the Alps - BMW 335is European Delivery Trip

Watch this guy's journey through some magnificent roads in his brand-spanking-just-delivered-new 335is.

Driving the Alps - BMW 335is European Delivery Trip from Janitha on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

'4' Fun in the Sun. Driving the BMW 320i Cabriolet.

A car that needs no introduction, the BMW 3 Series cabriolet. This time, with 2 fewer cylinders which means over 30 grand saved from the next model up the range. We've all seen the car plying our roads and with many grey-imported 4 cylinder Coupes and Cabriolets, Performance Motors has now seen fit to include this model in the showrooms.

Hard to believe the basic design of the car is already 4years on and still going strong. The sleek lines are still there, but touched up and given a useful makeover to compete with new contenders in the segment. Crease lines on the bonnet, a new front bumper and LED rear lights are the most noticeable of these changes. Neat touches but the basic shape still remains largely intact. A giveaway to others that this car has the “less powerful” engine is the tiny single exhaust pipe peeping out from the rear.

The first time I took an E93 (geek speak for 3 Series cabriolet) out, it had a heart blessed with 3 litres of grunt and twin-charged for some extra spunk. It was also my first time driving the now famed N54 engine, and it just went and went and went. So it was quite an interesting experience getting back behind the wheel of a 3 Series Cabriolet, only now, with less toys (no iDrive), and a driving attitude that's a lot more “laid back”.

If you enjoy looking at and comparing spec sheets on the internet, look away because there's nothing here to set your loins on fire. But let's be honest with ourselves, those looking to buy this car are not going to drive it like a bat out of hell. There's not point about me going on about how well this car handles, how when the engine starts it actually has a nice burble and how fast it gets to 100km/h. Not like it's legal... Right? Besides, big brother 335i will take care of those aspects without even flexing a muscle.

This car, with it's roof stored out in the back is meant for those looking for a cruise. Hit the little switch that brings the origami 3-piece roof down, turn up the music and waft down Orchard Road whilst moving as far away from any smoke spewing buses as possible. Those out there who scoff at people driving around humid and warm Singapore will never understand it until they've driven topless themselves. There's always the option of leaving the side-windows up and the air-con blowing at full-blast.

With numerous 3 Cabriolets always plying our roads does this car still pull in glances from the opposite sex? I never really got to find this out as my significant other was guarding the passenger seat, I suspect most ladies who do look in my direction would probably prefer taking over the drivers seat though. Probably imagining they are driving down to Tiffany's like Audrey Hepburn. Of course we all know, that is not possible because you can't park outside Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn drove a Mercedes Pagoda, and there's only 1 Audrey Hepburn in the World, chances are, she's not residing in Singapore. But you get the picture. You might not be Audrey, but when you are behind the wheel, you might think you are. (If you're a girl that is, i'm a guy, so instead, I think of lovely ladies all squeezed into the back seats all ready for a day of Beach Volleyball in Sentosa)

There is one small problem with the car though, those tiny wheels. If you do buy this car, please bin those rollerskate wheels and fit a proper set of shoes. The BMW 320i Cabriolet then, an easy, comfortable and so very stylish car to drive, for very stylish people... As long as you put bigger rims...

Monday, October 18, 2010

BMW Eco Drive 2010. Destination, Bali.

Following up on my drive of the X1 on local roads, we now head off to a nearby island called Bali for a special ECO Drive event focusing on the “Efficiency and Dynamism” of the current and latest fleet of BMWs.
On hand were a number of BMWs with petrol and diesel variants for us to pick from. X1s, F10s, X5s and even a 5-Series GT. We were all paired up and my ride for the morning (thanks to my co-driver) was the X1 sDrive18i. I wasn’t complaining as having just driven it a couple of days ago, a new driving environment might give me additional insight into the car. Oh, we were all supposed to be driving efficiently too.

Some lessons for efficient driving, gradual acceleration good, foot to the floor, bad. Less weight good, more weight, bad. Always look ahead of you and plan your approach, anticipate the traffic ahead and adjust your driving style accordingly. If you really want to save more fuel, turn off your air-conditioning. (It’ll smell bad though, no points from me if you do it)
For those of you who have been to Bali, you’d know that the roads aren’t exactly marble-top smooth nor wide. Roads here are bumpy, narrow and thanks to an earlier downpour, rather wet. Not the best place for a big car you’d imagine, the X1 then, is probably the pick of the bunch to navigate across this island. It’s smaller footprint allowing you to plot a nice line though the local roads and the locals avoid getting drenched when the little X1 drives by without plowing through muddy puddles.
The “sporty” ride (read: slightly stiff), although a tad hard, never borders on uncomfortable and the X1 remains composed throughout. On these small roads, the engine never really gets to stretch and in that sense, the modest power output from the smaller 4 cylinder didn’t really bother me. Through the small narrow bends leading up to our rendezvous point, the X1 showcased it’s car-like tractability and handling. To be truthful, by now, I’d thrown away all notion of driving frugally. So, more “Dynamics”, less “Efficient” all the way (sorry) to our rest stop, The Peak.
I’d have to give a mention to the spot chosen for freshening up, set by a cliff side overlooking the Uluwatu Surf Beach, it was Oh My God beautiful. A magnificent view of the ocean straight ahead and clear blue waters down below. It is stunning to behold.
Watermelon juice in hand, I snapped off a few shots before my co-driver took over the wheel for the return leg of our morning excursion.

What did I learn from the morning session? Well, I learnt that driving in Bali wasn’t as daunting as I’d imagined and that the X1’s small size was a great help in transversing all the narrow roads in and around Bali (Especially when we got lost on the way back and ended up in some plantation area). If it can do Bali with such ease, the narrowest carparks in Singapore won’t stand a chance against the X1.

Brimming with confidence after successfully negotiating the narrow roads, I opted for the X5 for our afternoon session. Just for comparisons sake really. Oh yes, I chose a diesel too. Strangely, even after driving so many new BMWs, I’ve never gone behind the wheel of the X5 before. On Singapore roads, the X5’s positively big, in Bali, It was ridiculous. It sure had presence, locals oogled, kids waved, and security officials saluted. They all seemed to love the X5. Baller-status achieved then, all I needed was some rap music and gold chains.
For reasons unknown, my co-pilot and I chose to drive as “efficiently” as we could. No issues for me as the interior of the X5 was a great place to be, you’d never imagine you were in a diesel powered vehicle, no chatter from the engine and with the foot down, the exhaust bellows like a proper petrol-engine. From the outside though, different story.

Sunroof drawn, climate controls set to a manageable level. The X5 cruised down Bali effortlessly. It is strange how easy this big car drove, even easier then the X1 to be honest. I’ve always had a slight issue with the adaptive steering systems in modern cars but here, on these roads, at these speeds (slow), It was the best aspect of the X5. Allowing for a relaxing cruise down lanes flanked by rice fields and the occasional cow. When power was called up to do some overtaking, the turbo diesel served up a whallop of torque to slingshot us up the road. Torque is good and delicious.

End of the day, we headed back for a regroup and had our Eyum-Pee-Geees tallied up. The pair of drivers who manage to put the biggest gap between those in the morning were the winners. I didn’t win sadly. (The winners drove without aircon under the Bali sun.)
A presentation on future BMW Efficient Dynamics technologies followed and through it all, what did interest me was the implementation of Thermoelectric power. Converting wasted heat energy into electrical energy. About 2/3s of energy from engines are actually wasted through heat. With Thermoelectric power, this heat energy can be converted back into electrical energy to power parts of the car or to help out with the drivetrain.

All in all, it really was quite an interesting look into what goes into each and every modern BMW to make them drive as efficiently as possible, most of these systems run without us even noticing. So, can Efficiency and Dynamism co exist together? BMW seems to think so and for us, that can only be a good thing.
Big thanks to the kind folks at BMW Asia and Performance Motors for letting me participate in this event and eating all that great Balinese food.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First teaser featuring the production BMW "Vision Efficient Dynamics"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Roads less travelled, the BMW X1

The baby of the BMW X-Series has had a pretty tough time ever since it was launched. With many crying foul over the aesthetics. I can't really agree with them though. I like the look of it. I like the look of most of the latest BMWs in fact. Many like to point to cars from the past and bemoan how the older generations look more "elegant" or more "BMW-ish". The truth is, i suspect, most people are just opposed to the ideas of change. A small change in mindset is somehow, what this little X1 brings to the table. When most soft-roaders still try to emphasize their off road capabilities with all sorts of tech to tackle the muddy roads, the X1 comes with rear wheel drive and performs best on tarmac.

With a raised shell and black plastics guarding the wheel arches, it looks chunky like an off-roader, but parked next to an average MPV, isn't that much taller. It's part of the X-series which might make you belive it like to do some "X-treme" stuff. Not quite, with a rear-wheel-drive chassis, this baby X'er much prefers to stay on the road. (To be honest, i'd bet 95% of the X5/X6 drivers won't be pottering into any muddy tracks at all)

As far as appearances are concerned, i'd leave it to you to give a final judgement. If you asked me, all the X1 needs is a slight drop in ride height(Yes yes... i know it's silly), and some larger wheels to fill in the wheel wells. Otherwise, the X1 looks pretty good and especially well sized for our local roads and even on smaller rural roads too!

Getting into the X1, all the controls fall into place and the dash is somewhat a mashup between the current 1 series and the newer F-series cars, bringing back the much welcomed driver-angled center consoles from Bimmers of the past. On the X1, you get climate control and electric seats, features absent from the majority of the 1-series fleet on sale. As with all BMWs, all controls fall into place and with those massive side mirrors, little adjustments are needed. With a big glass roof giving the interior a nice airy feel, i kept it open and basked under the warm Singapore sun. I wish there was an i-drive screen instead of a storage box.

Moving off, the steering does feel quite weighty and at carpark speeds, needs a bit more effort to shuffle about. Getting onto the roads though, the slightly heavy steering has a nice positive feel to it and gives good feedback from the road, giving you more confidence as you push into the bends. After the tech-laden F-series of cars, getting back into a more conventional steering setup is a welcomed change indeed.

With the X1 built on the platform of the 3 series Touring, the little SAV handles fantastically, you'll know where the limits are and the car allows for almost brisk progress through small twisty roads. The word "almost" chosen because with a 150bhp 2litre engine under the long snout, you won't be lighting up any tyres soon. But drive this car with vigour while keeping the well-matched 6 speed automatic permanently engaged in "sport" mode, what you will get is a little smile on your face. The smaller compact dimensions of the X1 allows for more leeway in tighter roads and corners while the sporting nature of the suspension setup gives you the confidence to enter corners with increasing pace. The handling of the X1 is spot-on for a car in this segment.

Some have said the engine could do with more power and is a little harsh when pushed and this is true, the engine does get vocal higher up in the rev range. Intrusive? Not to me. Keep the stereo at an average level and you'll drown out most engine noises.

So what does the X1 have going for it? It drives well, it handles really well, the interior is a pleasant place to be in and for me, the most important factor here is the price. With a list price of 158k, the only other alternative in our local market is a VW Tiguan Sport for pretty much the same amount of money.

So what does the X1 have going against it? Well, for starters the Tiguan has more power with a charged powerplant, but, in reality, the X1 isn't lacking. It could do with more oomph, but on our local roads it isn't exactly lacking. A 3-litre 6 cylinder powerplant might be the sweet spot but that will be raising costs above what i believe to be the target market. (Young-ish people like me)

Built onto the same platform, what you are getting is in my opinion, a "lite" soft roader version of the 3-series touring, just ignore the "1" denomination of the badge. Considering it comes with climate control, HID lights and that propeller badge, it actually does seem to be pretty good value for a BMW. Would i plonk my own money down for one? If i was in the market for a car in this class, i will seriously consider it. Make mine red though.

Want to discuss the X1? Head over to BMW-SG's forums »