Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Motor plus small car = SLK55 AMG

It's a time honored tradition is the automotive industry to shove a big motor in to a small car. It's like a performance prerequisite. Imagine the mental checklist. Sporty car, check. Bigger brakes, check. Stiff chassis with different damping, check. Motor that is from a big sedan, check. It's the same story in some of the more successful European cars, see the V8 S4, the V8 M3, and of course American muscle like Mustangs, Camaros, and the original big motor small car, the Shelby Cobra.

Enter the SLK55 AMG. The SLK started life as your girlfriends cute convertible with a little bit of street cred for the all metal folding roof. Then they shoved a supercharged V6 in the engine bay for the SLK32 AMG. After the new body style came out though, the Daimler boys knew they needed to step up their game. They had a Kompressor version of every sporty car out there, all with over 400 ponies. This meant that they couldn't sissy out on their least manly car in their arsenal. They knew that the SLK had the chassis and ability to become a real weapon, but it needed a heart transplant. Enter the new heart. A 355hp normally aspirated version of the 5.5L in the original E and S55 AMG and the engine in the current C55 AMG.

It's a rocket. An absolute rocket. It's the stuff dreams are made of. The stuff that teenage boys fantasize about when they aren't thinking of that girl in math class that they'll never get. All this from a "girl car". I think that's one thing I really like about this car is that it is unassuming. The guy in the Mustang thinks you borrowed your girlfriends car, until you smash to Go pedal and that exhaust emits an eruption that begs to be heard. It's like a kid crying for attention saying "hey look at me", except by the time you hear it, it's in front of you and you are left thinking, "did that girl car just lay in to me like my wife after I've drank too much?"

The SLK was tested against it's big brother, the SL55 AMG by EVO magazine and it turned a one second faster lap time. Not bad for a car with almost 100hp less on tap. Is it as nice as the SL55, no. It also didn't cost over 100grand new either. This is a bang for your buck car. A wicked fast track missile that can be driven daily. Mercedes Benz is a company that has mastered the performance automobile. They have made it tame and usable, while allowing a monster to live in the same space. They balance Jekyll and Hyde like none other. Each AMG engine is hand built and I've yet to see a major engine concern on an AMG, even ones that were driven as intended.

A big shout out to the Freeman Motor Co. Service Dept. and Captain Savage for the sweet decals. Thanks guys. I'm always happy to entertain.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Audi S4 V8 - the perfect mix

I'm a fan of cars with power. When I say power, I don't mean dragsters or Nascar cars, I mean usable real world power. The ability to merge on to the freeway in any fashion, no matter how reckless. The ability to overtake lesser and slower vehicles in short distances. The ability to move swiftly through canyons and backroads with limitless speed. The ability to express what your mind says the car should do. Not just straight line horsepower but the power to make things happen. To find a car that has this power is not as easy as one may think. It takes a delicate balance of sophistication, competence, traction, and of course a powerplant that pulls this sophisticated jack-of-all-trades rocket around.

Enter the Audi S4 V8. The previous generation used a 2.7L V6 engine with 2 turbos force feeding air in to the cylinders for power delivery. This was a decent combination and one that tuners used to great success as well as Quattro GMbH in the original RS4 Avant with 380hp. After a while though, it seems that these engines start needing affection. Affection many didn't want to pay for, given the design was so tight in the engine bay that it necessitates major work to change a turbo. Audi saw the need and answered with the V8 from the S8 horseshoed in the small engine bay of the A4, a car built to house a 4 cylinder or V6.

Combine the engine with the Quattro all wheel drive system and all of a sudden you have a car that goes anywhere and does anything. Kinda like a Subaru, except this car was made when Subaru was just starting to import the WRX and let's face it. Just because they are all wheel drive and sporty doesn't mean they are comparable. One's an economy car with a quick motor, the other an entry level mid-luxury sedan with competence and a pedigree established long before Subaru was earning WRC trophies.

The car is quick, very quick. The engine sings a great tune when you want it to as well. Drive it like Granny, and it's happy as a fly on a turd but use the pedal on the right and it's as eager to please as your new puppy. You know, the one that pees on the floor in excitement. It's more composed at speed than the Queen Mother herself, but the feedback almost speaks to you.

What's amazing is how easy this car is to drive fast. It inspires confidence like few cars on the road. It begs you to brake late and slam the gas pedal. Forget the old adage from Jackie Stewart that "smooth is fast". That was for guys with low power and no grip. No Jackie, Quattro with a V8 is fast.

Is this the fastest car I've driven, no. Not by a long shot. Is it the best track car. Nope. Is this the car that I would choose to drive everyday knowing that it can handle every weather condition and any task I ask it to do. Yep. There is a small list of cars I would drive every day and this is on there.

A special thanks to my brother. This is his car and it needs a brake job so I swapped him with a loaner car from my work and drove this. I promise, I didn't brake any speed limits. In Germany......

Friday, April 22, 2011

Land Rover LR3 conquers all

As you may know, I am a Land Rover fan. Was I always this way. No. I hated the wretched British piles of junk. At least that's what I thought but after some time behind the wheel of all the new models, I get it. I get the reason the wealthy buy these cars. They are silent on the road. It's like driving a Mercedes E or S class but with a lot of ground clearance.

The newer generation of Rovers are far more reliable than the earlier models. We can thank Ford for their involvement and the foresight to use Jaguar powertrains in these beasts. Did I just say using a Jag engine and trans was a good thing? I did. They are very reliable. I have not had a Jaguar or Rover with the 4.4L or 4.2L Supercharged in my shop for any type of repair that wasn't human induced.

My Wife and I are considering the LR3 for our next vehicle to replace our Mercedes ML430. One reason is the optional third row seating that allows me to space my 3 girls out in the car a little more.

If you've seen my Seattle road trip video, you can see the potential of the LR4 off road. The LR4 and LR3 are pretty much the same, with the LR4 using a new 5.0L engine.

Thanks for tuning in.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2008 M3 V8 meets up with Dennis. Results at 11.....

The M3 is a staple in the performance car genre. Whether it be coupe, sedan, or convertible the M3 has provided great balance and enjoyment in every generation. Having the pleasure of driving each generation, I still am a purist believing that the original M3 with it's 2.3L was a lightweight razor blade on the track. It's handling was very neutral and it was a car more focused on the ability to drive smoothly than most newer cars that have the WRC philosophy of "jam on the gas and slam on the brakes". But like they say, there's no replacement for displacement and with 4.0 liters on tap under the pedal on the right, this car overcomes the some of the finesse needed with power. Get too crazy with that power though, and this car will sidestep out quicker than you can wink. The traction control is not intrusive though and will allow for input from the gas pedal, up to a limit of course.

The M3 is well equipped with bluetooth, navigation, and ipod interface along with the rest of the normal goodies one gets in a 3 series. As capable as the car is, it's not a burden to drive whatsoever. This particular car has the standard 6 speed transmission. Yes, I know that the SMG is faster in a drag race but if you are drag racing this car, you are wasting it's potential. The 6 speed really gives a great feel and allows you to have a more traditional experience. Couple that with the non-traditional experience of a V8 that revs to 8500 rpm and you have a fun little monster. It wails when you want it to but around town, you can drive it like Granny's Buick with no problems. The clutch is smooth and the steering is just as normal as any other 3 series. It feels like second nature to drive this car.

All this is fine and good, until you push the "M Dynamic Mode" button on the right part of the steering wheel controls. Immediately, the throttle becomes more sensitive to inputs of your right foot adding the need for precision. It also forces the car in to the maximum potential power mode.

There is no replacement for displacement, unless it's forced induction and I am glad that we are able to enjoy an 8 cylinder M3 before the gas prices and company regulations force their hands into producing smaller displacement turbo engines.

All in all, it's a fun car. It's easy to drive and easy to drive quickly. I'm curious to see how this car stacks up against the C63 AMG that has more off the line snort and much more displacement.

Stay tuned for more episodes, follow me on twitter @the_dennis_king and please follow this blog. Thanks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Better than a Corvette? 911 C4S drive.

Since the late 80's, the comparison has been Porsche vs. Corvette. They are both similar in weight and similar in purpose. Both are thinly disguised weekend warrior track cars that inspire confidence and give power to the masses. Both are economical and both have relatively low maintenance costs. The 911 uses variable valve timing, variable intake geometry, and dual overhead camshafts to make power. The Corvette uses big displacement to make it's power. As similar as these cars are, they are so very very different.

Today I drove home a 2002 Porsche 911 C4S. This particular car had 108,000 miles on it and even though I believe that there are few cars that offer the bang for the buck that the Corvette does, I have yet to see a 9 year old Vette with 108k miles that is this solid with this little wear. The Germans build things better. Period.

With that said, the interior is a little plain jane with the requisite tape player that German makers insisted stay in cars until 2003 or so. There is no tilt wheel, no adjustable suspension, no air conditioned massaging seats. Just a great driving car.

The car is noisy, very noisy. Enough road noise that it's distracting. It doesn't matter though because when the rubber hits the road, this thing inspires confidence like none other. I attribute that to the all wheel drive, not that I ever push it hard in these cars as they are not mine and I have a very unique privilege I intend on not losing.

Check out the vid, notice at the end some Jeep Cherokee comes flying up to pass me going over 100MPH at least. He slows for a second but takes off again. This is the kind of attention this car attracts, which means it probably attracts attention from law enforcement as well.

All in all, I can see the attraction to the 911. Fun to drive, decent economy, and relatively reliable, especially when you consider the amount of technology the powertrain employs.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What happens when 3 car guys go on a road trip

The General Manager (Marshall), the Sales Manager (Bill), and myself all went to Seattle for a Management Training Seminar. What happens when you send 3 car guys out of town on a trip. Well, they search out other cool dealerships to get ideas and sometimes convince the salespeople to screw around a little.

Our first stop was Seattle Auto Auction to pick up a few cars for the dealership. First of all, I have to thank my owner Eric for the fun opportunity to do this. I got a real appreciation for the effort Eric puts forth as our auction buyer. We only bought 4 cars at a smaller auction. Eric usually buys 3-4 times that amount at much larger auctions. Bill strapped on his big boy boots and bought his first two cars at auction and did a great job. Marshall and I seemed to try to buy every single car that they wanted too much money for and in the end, we would walk away. Cars at auction were selling for what we sell them for at our dealership. Bottom line: cars are getting more expensive, not less.

After the auction we were hungry so we drove to Bellevue as it was our next destination on the schedule. Once in Bellevue we hit Google Places on the Droid and the name "Dixie's BBQ" pulled up. Marshall and I immediately knew where we were going to go. Bill on the other hand, was wasting away in the back seat and wanted to go anywhere he could. As Bill was kicking and screaming all the way there, we followed the navigation in Marshall's phone. When it said we were close, Marshall pointed to an old auto shop and said "there it is" in his joking manner. We kept driving. Turns out, that's where it was.

It was our maiden voyage to Dixie's so we were commanded by the owner to meet "The Man". The man is an evil concoction of hot sauce wrought from the blood of Satan himself, and a pinch of salt. The owner dipped 3 toothpicks in the sauce and gave us each a taste. This put Marshall in to a tailspin of ramblings about some Huskies football game and Bill collapsed in pain.

Then it was off to Park Place Motors in Bellevue. They have a large online presence and quite a collection of collector cars. The cars were pretty cool, especially the 59 300SL Roadster and 59 300SL Gullwing and the Spyker C8 Laviolette. It was cool to see a Spyker up close and their collection is very cool.

After that we went across the street to the Land Rover / Jaguar dealership where we convinced a salesperson to take a new LR4 on the test track. Land Rover is the brand that you NEED to own when the zombie apocolypse happens. It's science. We also convinced him to take our Range Rover HSE that we drove to the seminar on the test track.

All in all, it was a great time for learning about other stores and what we can do to stay ahead of the curve.

After that we went back in to Seattle to search for dinner. Bill threw the idea out of taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island. We obliged and off we went in search of dinner. We hopped the ferry for a quick trip to across the water from Seattle. We landed at a pub that served some really great fish and chips. We hung out a little while and went to the store on our way back to the ferry. Upon leaving, we were informed that the ferry left in 2 minutes. All I can say is that Marshall drove and the Cop didn't follow us on to the ferry.

Monday, April 11, 2011

BMW got it right, just don't tell them that.

Everyone says the 3 series is one of the most consistently good cars out in todays market. It has something for everyone and you can use it for a grocery getter or a weekend track weapon. Well, I'm here to say that I too am part of the sheep that follow the mantra that the 3 series can do no wrong. 

Today I drove home an 07 335i sedan. This particular car stands out a little due to the lowered stance and larger wheels that the previous owner put on there. 

I was impressed with the linear power delivery of the twin turbo straight six engine and I was also impressed with the fuel economy. After my 40 mile trip home, I averaged 27 mpg, and that was with a slight amount of free spiritedness .... 

I will include 3 videos below. Now, this is my first time posting videos online so bear with me. I am using a cell phone video camera, the lighting is horrible due to the giant orange flaming ball in the sky butting in with its "natural light", and I've never done this before. 

Without further adieu, I give you the 335 vids. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Introduction to the author, and a little bit of this and that.

This is my first blog, ever, so bear with me as this progresses and changes over time.

First of all, allow me to let you in to my world a little bit.

My name is Dennis King and I have a Wife and 3 little girls. I work at Freeman Motor Co. as the Service Manager. I am responsible for reconditioning of all the vehicles we purchase and prepare for sale in our showroom. I am also responsible for working with outside customers to meet their service needs. Most of my clients are also people who have purchased vehicles from us.

I have been with Freeman Motor Co. for a year now. Prior to that I have been in the automotive industry in some form or another. I started in the mid 90's as a stereo installer for a local stereo shop in my hometown of Coos Bay, OR. but after 4 years of working in a town with no future, I took a chance and moved to Medford, OR. where I worked in the same field for another 4 years. After realizing that my future was bleak, I left to sell cars. I sold cars for a few years and moved in to the Service Dept. of a large local Ford store where I ended up becoming the Asst. Service Manager. This was a big move and a far cry from where I started. I was there for 2 years before the economy decided to go in to the toilet and I was forced to move.

So I packed up the family and moved to Salem, OR. It wasn't where I wanted to move but it was where I could find a job.

After 9 months of working at a local Nissan store, I was offered a position in Portland at Freeman as the Service Advisor. Now, a year later, things are growing and changing.

So what's the point of all this? The point is, if you are dense, is that I've been around cars for a while. A long while. I grew up helping my Dad work on the car. My Dad had plenty of car buddies and always had a copy of Car and Driver on the coffee table. Cars have played a major part in my life at almost every turn. That brings me to the reason for this blog. As part of my compensation, I am allowed to drive a car home. Not just any cars either. Fine European motorcars. The cars that, when you were a kid, your Dad would say, "You see that there. The only reason they drive that is because they want to look better than you." The truth is, they aren't better than you, they just like better cars than your Dad and his Oldsmobile. One day I will drive an E63 AMG, the next day I'll drive an M3, and then an RS6 may find its way to my shop. Now, it's not all obscure or sought after performance machines. There's plenty of regular European cars to drive home as well, like Volvos, Saabs, and the German staples, BMW and Mercedes Benz.

I also started enjoying cigars about 10 years ago and it has been a hobby that has grown over time. Part of this growth is from trying to find simple things that make life more enjoyable and part of it is based on budget. I used to own a car for myself and that was my project, my hobby, my stress reliever, and just an overall way to wind down. Now, I don't own a car for my own use so I don't have that project. Sure, my Wife has a car but it's more of a family hauler.

So there's a little info about the author. I look forward to your feedback and your subscription to my posts. I hope to post video reviews of cars that I drive, but for today, this is as far as it goes.