jueves, 4 de febrero de 2010

Audi 90 Quattro 20 V

No question, The Audi 90 Quattro 20V, with its hunkered-down sassy stance , meaty Goodyears and bold 5-spoke Speedline wheels, looks the part of a serious competitor. And if this evokes an image of Michele Mouton expertly drifting a short-wheelbase Quattro to a new class record at Pikes Peak or one of Hurley Haywood winning the Trans-Am championship the first year out in a 200 Quattro, well, it's more than simple coincidence.

The competition breeding shines through when the Audi is pushed hard. The only car in the group with all-wheel drive, the 90's chassis is unflappably stable and never seems to put a wheel wrong. But it doesn't communicate with its driver the way the Alfa does.

The high-set steering wheel has a skinny (though leather-wrapped) rim, and there's some looseness around the center position. As the corner tightens up and more steering is cranked in, effort increases in a nice, linear fashion, but there's no intimate sense of what the front tires are doing. The brakes show no nasty habits, but the pedal feel is slightly rubbery.

For a fairly small car (having the shortest wheelbase and second-shortest overall length), the Audi is rather heavy (at 3195 lb., only the Alfa outweighs it). This taxes the limits of the dohc 2.3-liter 20-valve inline -5 that puts out a respectable 164 bhp at 6000 rpm - the Audi feels very reluctant to move away from the rest, even with moderate clutch slippage in 1st gear. There's a real sense of trying to accelerate all that mass in the drivetrain (and, of course, in the rest of the car).

Once moving, however, the engine has a strong surge of mid- and upper- range torque and is reasonably smooth as it growls its 5-cylinder song on the way to a 7200-rpm redline. Shifts have a very direct, mechanical feel about them but require a healthy tug on the polished wood shift knob, and ratios are well spaced.

Inside, the Audi is a little claustrophobic or just cozy, depending on your tolerance for this things. The high waisted design with its consequent smaller glass area makes seeing out a mite more difficult here than in the others and gives the cabin the impression or narrowness. But there's not a finer interior in the group, in terms of nicely textured plastic, beautifully finished wood and excellent assembly fit. Gauges are superb, with all in the main cluster easily visible through the steering wheel, but dials for voltage, oil pressure and oil temperature, while appreciated, are mounted frustratingly low on the center console.

Seating up front is quite good, with body-hugging bolsters and electric seat controls that are nearly second nature to use. Rear accommodations are a little tighter than in most of the others, with virtually no "toe room" underneath the front seats and cramped head room taller sorts. A ski pass-through increases utility and seems a natural offering on an awd car.

Some nuisances are the smallest trunk of the lot at 8.1 cu. ft. and lots of road noise and thumpiness from the Goodyears, which, at size 205/50R-15, are the lowest profile, most aggressive tires of any of the eight cars. But these are sacrifices in the interest of awd packaging and performance, and those not wanting the extra edge of stability and power can always save some money and still get the 90's muscular good looks in a front-drive, 130-bhp version.
Vancouver B.C. Car Info
Wpg Auto Dealer

lunes, 1 de febrero de 2010

Alfa Romeo 164L

To DIE-HARD Alfisti, the news that the 164 was to be a front-drive car was absolutely earth-shattering. Unlike the Milano that preceded it, you can't pitch the 164 into a turn and then exit in your finest power-on, opposite-lock imitation of Tazio Nuvolari.  But the chassis 164 chassis is incredibly rewarding to drive. Starting with the basic platform shared with the Saab 9000, Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema, Alfa went its own way with different suspension design, chassis tuning and styling, while retaining  the very best thing of the Milano, its 3.0-liter sohc V-6.

And what an engine it is. Though a little soft on torque at low rpm, the Alfa's 183-bhp V-6 climbs to its 6500-rpm redline with a vengeance, peaking at 185 lb-ft. at 4400 rpm, making truly satisfying mechanical sounds all the way up. And the gearbox, despite its recalcitrant engagement of reverse, is a joy, with a rod-actuated gearshift linkage that manages to feel mechanically direct yet operates with a light touch.

Though at 3325 lb. the Alfa is the heaviest car of the pack, it's one of the most stiffly sprung and feels as if it has the least body roll. But don't equate this firmness with a lack of suspension compliance; the 164 exhibited leechlike roadholding when negotiating the twisty parts, with near-neutral handling (no doubt helped by shifting some weight rearward with a trunk-mounted battery) and impressive grip. Nor is it so stiff that a cross-country trip would be uncomfortable. Aiding and abetting the suspension are steering and braking systems with the same enjoyable mechanical honesty that the engine and transmission exhibit.

If a sore spot exists, it's the interior or, more precisely, the driving position. One needs an extra-long set of arms and a correspondingly stubby set of legs to deal comfortably with the steering wheel and pedal locations, seemingly a trademark of Italian cars. The steering wheel, which telescopes but doesn't tilt for adjustment, obscures a large portion of the tachometer for anyone who stands more than 6ft. tall. But the seats are comfortable and properly bolstered, and the rear-seat passengers, in addition to enjoying  a decent amount of space, have the niceties of pull-up sunshades and a storage box built into the shelf behind the seats.

And then there's the 164 subtle wedge shape, handsome from any angle, and looking like nothing else from the front with its distinctive triangular grille dipping into the bumper. Many of us were taken by the styling and handling, but turned off by little flaws in the interior - a sunroof that rattled in the vent position, the shoddy trap door that swings up when the console-mounted parking brake is set, the wobbly feel of the look-alike rows of buttons for the ventilation system on the dash, the electric seat-height adjustment that refused to work. But Alfa owners have always put up with the little eccentricities to enjoy the sporting attributes of their cars, and so the tradition continues.
Vancouver B.C. Car Info
Wpg Auto Dealer