Subaru Impreza still impresses

Have you noticed the number of Subaru Impreza WRX’s that are around town? And every one of them seems to be blue. These cars are fairly expensive here, costing just short of 2.2 million baht, but when you look at what else is available with over 200 horses under the hood, then the price does not seem so outrageous after all. For example, a 330 BeeEmm is 3.5 million, a Porsche Boxster is 5.5 million or an SL 350 Benz is 9.9 million.

Subaru Impreza

Imprezas have been a great favourite with the sportycar crowd Down-under, and despite the overweight Mk II Impreza which did not impress, the Subaru company quickly realized its mistakes and the MY 2003 has again become a ‘cult’ vehicle. With 218 bhp up front from the flat four, performance figures according to Subaru are outstanding, the 0-100 kph time being 5.69 seconds while the quarter-mile sprint takes 13.92 seconds.

The 2 litre engine features Subaru’s version of variable valve timing, called Active Valve Control System (AVCS), which electronically adjusts the intake valve timing through a range of 35 crankshaft degrees to boost power and torque while minimizing fuel consumption and emissions. The proven turbocharged boxer engine also benefits from sodium-filled exhaust valves and a rise in the compression ratio from 8.0:1 to 9.0:1.

According to current reports, the forward thrust in first and second gears, as the turbo comes on boost, feels very strong but the variable valve timing gives a greater level of tractability and driveability than ever, with throttle inputs delivering a familiar turbo rush with very little lag.

With 4WD coming as standard, the Subaru WRX is one car that enthusiasts should definitely cast their eyes over. For me, the shape doesn’t do much, but the performance certainly does.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that Tatra was well known pre-war with their rear engine cars, and influenced Mercedes Benz to produce some rear engine variants as well. One of these was the 130 H of 1934. This car also featured a different type of chassis, and I asked what was it? It was a backbone chassis, used later by designers such as Colin Chapman for the Lotus Elan.

So to this week. Again in an attempt to beat the www webcrawlers, I ask you to look at this photograph. What is it? Clue - it is not a Cord.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!

Volvo S60R - will we get it?

Volvo are certainly trying to throw off the car for the elderly tag that it inherited from years of “safe, solid” (and dull) promotions. A toe in the water exercise in the British Touring Car Championship helped lift the marque, and the new body shapes continued the trend.

A couple of years ago I tested the new Volvos and I did enjoy the spirited turbocharged performance engines, but the suspension was a problem, and getting the available power to the ground was even more of one. Torque steer was very evident with any decent application of the right welly, so much so that one was in danger of taking out the motorcycles on both sides of the car at the traffic light grand prix.

Volvo s60R

The answer to all this is apparently the new Volvo S60 R, which has just been released in Australia. According to the auto scribblers down-under it is the most worked over road going Volvo sedan ever - a car that Volvo would like you to think of in the same group as the BMW M3, Audi S4 or Mercedes C32 AMG.

The problems of getting power to the ground have been addressed in the Volvo S60 R, with this car no longer being FWD, but now 4WD. With all road wheels delivering the horses, torque steer has been cured.

However, there are still complaints about the suspension, according to the Aussie writers. Despite its high-tech “Four-C Technology” - developed in collaboration with shock absorber developer Ohlins Racing AB and shock absorber manufacturer Monroe - and what seems a perfectly competent suspension design (multi-link at the rear, struts at the front), the Volvo still lags behind most of the prestige field.

The switchable, three-mode Four-C electronics certainly introduce more assertive shock absorber characteristics when the Sport mode is selected, giving the impression of an eager, responsive chassis, but the Volvo never feels as lively as the best of its competition.

The S60 R is probably best described as secure and predictable. Helped by the Pirelli P-Zero Rosso 235/40 tyres, it will rush around a given corner at decent speed, to be sure, but much of this is down to the 4WD, rather than suspension dynamics it seems.

But it certainly has the horsepower. 285 bhp (220 kW) from the 2.5 litre twin camshaft, 20 valve engine with variable valve timing, dual intercoolers and a 1.05 bar turbocharger. The downside is a reported turbo lag still present, and an inclination to stall at the traffic lights if you take your mind off the jack-rabbit start.

Concentrate hard, and the S60 R will blast away with Subaru WRX-style acceleration (in fact, the claimed 0-100 kph of 5.7 seconds is exactly the same as the Subaru). Assisting this kind of rush is a six-speed transmission is accessed via a quite positive, slick gearshift (Volvo’s neat-looking “Spaceball”) and the ratios are closely spaced for an even surge of power.

Part of the S60 R package is a proper high performance ABS braking system incorporating all the usual brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, underpinned by a set of oversized, ventilated discs front and rear, complete with four piston Brembo calipers.

The negatives return when attempting tight, parking-pace manoeuvres. The turning circle is not quite of the Queen Mary proportions, but is still an appalling 13 metres, caused by the car’s 18 inch wheels. U-Turns become 3 point turns in all but the widest suburban streets.

The S60 R’s presentation is a combination of bold and brassy and nicely restrained. Restrained on the outside that is, with an almost invisible strip spoiler on the bootlid, a revised front with larger air intakes and a black grille with matte silver surrounds, all framed by bi-Xenon headlights.

The instrument panel dials are blue-faced and there’s a leather-clad, three spoke steering wheel with a “slightly elliptical” section that is supposed to provide a firmer grip. Matching the instruments, the leather piping on the seats is in blue.

The flagship S60 gets most of the equipment you’d expect, from climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, 11 speaker sound system with, four disc CD player and four 75 watt amplifiers, and a self dimming rear vision mirror. However, not included in the basic package is satellite navigation, laminated side windows, power glass sunroof - or even metallic paint.

The S60 in basic form is an appealing car to look at and the R version takes that a step further with its bigger wheels and subtly revised bodywork. Again according to the pundits down-under, unfortunately the R also inherits the Volvo suspension so it doesn’t really rate among other top shelf Europeans in terms of ride or handling - although it has heaps of road grip.

It does inherit Volvo’s unquestioned skill at clever packaging with its nicely conceived, comfortable and relatively spacious interior, and a load-through boot that makes it a useful cargo carrier.

It is also outstandingly safe - dynamically and passively - and beautifully built, with great attention to detail. Pity we probably won’t see one here, as it would be another performance package that should come in at an ‘affordable’ price. If you have big pockets!

Something totally different for Songkran

My old friend Capt. Sitthichoke and the Eastern Offroaders Club are organizing an overland caravan trip to Mandalay (the old capital of Myanmar) and Pagan (the Land Of Thousand Pagodas) in the month of April during the Songkran (Thai New Year) holidays.

It is a long trip and the schedule is:

Day 1 Chiang Kong (Chiang Rai province) to Laos/China border - Xishuang Banna (230 Km)

Day 2 Xishuang Banna - Lincang (430 Km)

Day 3 Lincang - Yuxi (China/Myanmar border 120 Km)

Day 4 Yuxi - Muse (Myanmar border) - Mandalay (288 miles)

Day 5 Mandalay - Pagan (200 miles)

Day 6 Pagan (site seeing)

Day 7 Pagan - Mandalay (200 miles)

Day 8 Mandalay - Lashio (175 miles of mountainous road and beautiful scenery)

Day 9 Lashio - Muse (Myanmar/China border) - Yuxi (120 Km)

Day 10 Yuxi - Lincang (480 Km)

Day 11 Licang - Menghai (410 Km)

Day 12 Menghhai - Mongla (China/Myanmar border 70 Km) - Tachilek/Mae Sai (Myanmar/Thai border 180 Km)

You will need the following for entry to Laos, China and Myanmar

1. Copy of passport

2. Copy of car registration (If car is under finance need letter of authority)

3. International drivers license

4. Medical report

5. Copy of insurance

6. Eight two inch passport size photos

Important note. It takes about 60 days to process all formalities and permits for China. Interested participants should send in their applications for the trip not later than February 15. Due to road conditions, they are only accepting 4 x 4 Offroad/SUV’s with 2.5 litre engines minimum. And only 20 vehicles will be allowed in the caravan.

Prices - Adults US$ 1,220, Children 4-12 years US$ 798, Vehicles US$ 549 (includes vehicle entry permit fees Laos, China and Myanmar).

The price includes permits at borders, toll fees, insurance, police escort, entrance fees to places of interest (Mandalay and Pagan), lunch, dinner, English speaking or Thai speaking guide, 3-4 star hotel accommodation (twin share) with breakfast, and Myanmar entry permit.

All participants must have their own life insurance, car insurance, pay for own fuel and shopping and any additional food or drinks other than provided by organizer. Cars to be fully equipped with recovery gear, carry necessary spare parts, carry own medical kit, carry extra fuel cans, if car fitted with CB radio or hand held walkie talkie must inform organizer about model number, etc. All participating vehicles to be inspected and checked by the organizer one week before departure. It is suggested that all cars are fitted with All Terrain (AT) tyres.

Contact Capt. Sitthichoke on Mobile 01 8642270, or 038 432 226, fax 038 431 672, email [email protected] or [email protected]

If you are interested, I would strongly suggest you ring the good Captain immediately. He is a very knowledgeable chap and knows the routes, and speaks fluent English.