Out with the old and in with the new

GF8_MX5 (4)The AGR garage has had a shakeup, with the old MX5 replaced by an old WRX.

It all began back on Australia day (late January for our international friends) when an old high school friend phoned and invited me along on a day of kayaking he had planned. I hadn’t taken my kayak out in years and had been meaning to for a while, so I excitedly made my way to the shed and began removing it from the rafters.

Until I finished dusting the forlorn kayak off, it had somehow escaped my consideration that with my Fiat X1/9 still in a state of restoration disassembly and an NA Mazda MX5 as my daily wheels, I didn’t actually have any method of transporting the vessel. I studied my MX5 and its roll bar carefully, it becoming like one of those team-building problems so favored by corporate learning facilitators on office training excursions. With no apparent way of affixing the kayak to the MX5, and no tea break filled with dull coffee and Scotch Fingers to escape to, I was forced to call up and cancel my attendance at the kayaking trip.

GF8_MX5 (7)In four years of ownership, this was the first time I had ever admitted defeat. That MX5 has carried road bikes, complete sets of wheels, large rolls of plastic sheeting, a Fiat engine block and even a gearbox or two. But the kayak was not to be.

I sat lazily in front of the television that night with my girlfriend Chantelle, and with a bottle of wine cracked we put on a Top Gear special for some mindless entertainment. And it was there, watching Hammond sliding that old world rally blue Bug-Eye WRX hatch through the wilds of Africa, that the mind-cogs began to turn. After Chantelle went to bed I stayed up late that night scouring Carsales in detail. It turned out that old Rexes were actually a lot cheaper than I expected. Uh-oh.

GF8_MX5 (1)The fascination with Rexes wasn’t completely fresh, mind you, as I was a wide-eyed ten-year-old at the height of WRX madness in the late 90’s. I spent hours watching replays of ARC rounds I’d taped from channel 10’s RPM program, where Cody Crocker would slide his Group N GC8 to endless third-places behind the WRC spec weapons of Possum Bourne and Neal Bates. I cheered them in person with excitement at the local Coopers Pale Ale Rally SA. I made my Dad take me to Eblens Subaru to collect sales brochures, and then tried to convince my elderly grandpa to buy a WRX when he was shopping for a new car. I even read about the modifications the Osman Brothers were pioneering in Hot 4’s magazine. At $40,000 the WRX was the ‘performance bargain of the century’ in 1999, but as a penniless kid still six years away from possessing even a drivers license they might as well have been a million dollars. They were out of reach. Continue reading

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Driving the APR supercharged Audi R8

R8 (18)They say you should never meet your heroes, and I think the same goes for the solving of the world’s seemingly great automotive problems. We curse and swear at the time, but unbeknownst to us it is often these problems that define the cars we love. Lamborghini’s, as a rule, have terrible rear vision and the owners of Lotus Exige’s are often far more acquainted with their chiropractors than they’d care to admit.

R8 (1)The obvious solution is just to build a supercar that somehow negates these dramas, right? We live in an age where we can 3D print exotic metals into any shape that our brains can concoct, so surely we can just build something that can be backed out of the shed without raising a sweat?

R8 (15)Audi (or more specifically, Quattro GmbH) should be commended for building the R8, for by any rational measure it is the best baby supercar you can buy. They have approached the R8 in a typical Germanic manner – calmly and efficiently solving the myriad of supercar problems to arrive at the mathematically best solution. It has the rock solid quality of an Audi, found from the carryover switchgear to the way the 4.2 V8 fires instantly, every time. It has good vision, usable ground clearance and a somewhat respectable boot. The navigation system is intuitive and the gated six-speed manual provides just enough of a challenge to reward but not so much as to put off a newcomer. Continue reading

Track Time – Toyota 86 GT

TrackTime_Toyota86 (15)Back in June 2012 Any Given Reason managed to be one of the first motoring outlets to publish a drive story on the just released Toyota 86, a hotly anticipated little sports car that was set to take the world by storm. After a few weeks of badgering via email, and more as a result of the generosity of an old friend who happened to be a Toyota dealer rather than AGR being viewed as a preeminent and worthy publication, I ended up with one of the very first 86’s in Adelaide to drive for a few hours.

TrackTime_Toyota86 (4)That drive was exciting but it came with added stressors – the car was Adelaide Hills Toyota’s only demo, there was a figurative queue of customers with actual money in their pockets waiting for a legitimate test drive and there was at least a seven month wait before the dealership would see another one. I really didn’t want to be the first guy in Adelaide to crash an 86 and I was being so careful that I didn’t learn a whole lot about how it truly carved up the corners. What I needed was a racetrack.

TrackTime_Toyota86 (17)It’s now been almost two years since the 86 joined the market and AGR was recently invited to Mallala Motorsport Park to have a faster drive, once again courtesy of Adelaide Hills Toyota.

TrackTime_Toyota86 (14)As a general rule stock street cars aren’t usually very good on the track, however I had high hopes for the 86 because it was designed from scratch as a sports car for purists. In a world where cars are increasing in complexity, mass and cost, it was a gutsy move for Toyota to buck the trend and give one man complete autonomy over the project to build something light, cheap and fun that would shape the future direction of one of the worlds biggest auto makers. There were no committees or focus groups on the 86 project; just one engineer dictating the creation of the sports car the world needed. The car had to be engaging on the road, but the 86 had to be competent on the track as well. During its development the engineering team consulted grassroots racers; they made sure it could be easily drifted; they ensured the boot was big enough to carry a full set of spare wheels and they designed the headrests so that they could be flipped around to accommodate a helmet. Continue reading

Driven – AMG G63

Sebs_G63 752Somewhere in AMG’s headquarters deep in Affalterbach, there’s a team of engineers responsible for the recently updated AMG G63. A team of engineers who looked at the old model, the supercharged V8 G55, and thought ‘that needs more power’.

Sebs_G63 744Let’s just put this into context for a moment. The G-Wagon is Mercedes-Benz’s entry to the military off-roader market and was released way back in 1979. It’s still used by armies all over the world, by the likes of NATO and the UN, and it even saw duty for many years as the official Popemobile. It was transformed into a civilian off-roader at the request of a group of cashed up Arab sheiks and since the early eighties has gained a reputation as the most unbreakable, hard core off-roader there is.

Sebs_G63 743The world cracked a wry grin when AMG announced their intention to cram a 370kw supercharged V8 into it, at which point the new G55 simultaneously became the most awesome and pointless vehicle on the planet. Any Given Reason came to this conclusion when tarmac rallying the G55 a few years back, which is why the notion of an even faster G-Wagon seems even more hilarious right now. Continue reading

Driven – Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7

LausanneFerrari 709Imagine the board meeting when the idea of the hot hatch was first mooted. ‘Sir, we’ve done some in-depth market analysis and determined that not everyone has the ability to own both a practical hatchback and a sports car. Let’s build a hatchback that looks tough and is also a hoot to drive’. ‘Jones, well done. Gents – to the production line!’

LausanneFerrari 720It’s an idea so plainly obvious today, but back in the day it was a revelation. For decades before there had been practical cars that were fun to drive, such as the original Mini and the Alfasud, but their brio was an almost incidental byproduct. It wasn’t until the 1975 launch of the Volkswagen Golf GTI that a hatchback was specifically engineered and marketed to also be a sports car. The hot hatch category is oversaturated today, but when the GTI was launched the term didn’t even exist. The GTI is one of a very small group of cars that actually created its own market segment.

LausanneFerrari 724The white Mk1 you see here is an immaculate example of the first true hot hatch, owned by a local Adelaide enthusiast who campaigns it regularly both in the hills and in club motorsport events. Its 1600cc, Bosch K-Jetronic injected four makes 80kw which is respectable for the day, even more enticing considering it has just 810kg to pull gleefully around. The black fender flares make it look that little bit tougher, and the GTI hallmarks of a red grille surround, tartan seat trim and a golf ball shifter knob are there for the first time.

LausanneFerrari 710The Mk7 GTI next to it has just been launched to critical acclaim, and this particular example is the closest in specification we could organize – it’s the same shade of white, a traditional three-pedal manual, and it has the trademark GTI hallmarks of a red grille surround, tartan seat trim and a golf ball shifter knob. Continue reading

Driven – Mercedes-Benz AMG A45

DSC_0012The official tuning arm of Mercedes-Benz, AMG, has a reputation for building slightly bonkers cars. It began back in the early 70’s with the 6.9 V8 500SEL built for the European Touring Car Championship and continues today as the company stuffs gruff V8’s, usually with a supercharger or twin turbochargers added for good luck, into whatever Mercedes-Benz product they can lay their hands on. So what exactly is the AMG badge now doing on the side of a medium sized four cylinder hatchback? It may be turbocharged and have four wheel drive, but still…

DSC_0037Rest assured, this is still a proper AMG and one look at the numbers reinforces that. The turbocharged 2.0 engine produces 360hp (265kw) and an astounding 450nm of torque, making it the most powerful four cylinder production engine, ever. 100hp/litre used to be the old benchmark – the A45 smashes that out of the ballpark with 180hp/litre and it races to 100km/h in just 4.6sec. The Haldex 4WD drives the front wheels around town for fuel economy, but can divert up to 50% to the rear when the pace picks up.

DSC_0093Hmm… a fast, turbocharged, four cylinder, all wheel drive small car – haven’t we seen this before? Well, yes. The concept isn’t exactly new, but the A45 brings a lot more to the table than the others. It offers style, build quality and levels of refinement that makes an Evo X or STI look and feel quite crummy in comparison, and the AMG brand brings benefits you don’t get with a Golf R or BMW 1M. It may be keenly priced (on the AMG scale), but make no mistake – the A45 is a legitimate AMG. That means your hand crafted engine bears the name and signature of its builder. You also have access to the same program of customer benefits, like drive days and product launches, that SLS buyers get which is possibly one of the greatest marketing ploys ever. The A45 will attract new buyers to the brand and when it comes time for them to upgrade, of course they’ll buy another, more expensive AMG. Who’d give up the lairy track days you now look forward to? Continue reading

Driving the Nurburgring Nordschleiffe

DSC_0261Regardless of what sort of cars you’re into, if you’re even the slightest bit interested in driving there’s a good chance that lapping the Nurburgring Nordschleiffe is up there on your bucket list. It was right up there on mine, and I simply couldn’t travel to Germany without driving the most dangerous, challenging and famous racing circuit in the world.

DSC_0163I’ve already discussed in a previous post how crazy/insane/incredible it is that anyone can turn up and drive the Nordschleiffe in a Touristenfahrten session, and in this post I will attempt to describe my experiences of both driving it myself in a modified Suzuki Swift Sport and going for a few significantly quicker taxi laps with a pair of vastly experienced ‘Ring Masters’.

DSC_0198You can drive your own car on the Nordschleiffe, but if you’re travelling from overseas you’ll need to rent a set of wheels. Unsurprisingly regular rental companies prohibit their vehicles from going on the Ring and are rumored to send spotters out to check, so luckily there are several companies located at the circuit offering cars specifically for track use. Your budget (and age, if you’re under 25) is the only limit when it comes to what you can rent, with the choice starting at cars like the Swift and RenaultSport Clio, rising through the Volkswagen Scirocco, Renault Megane R26.R, Toyota 86/BRZ, through to BMW M3’s and all the way up to cars like the Porsche GT3RS, Ferrari 458 and McLaren MP4-12C.

DSC_0162In the end my decision was a relatively easy one, and whilst I was seriously tempted by the Subaru BRZ, I ended up driving a Stage 2 Swift Sport from Rent 4 Ring. I’ve known for some time that the current generation Swift is a pretty good tool out of the box, and the Rent 4 Ring Swift’s have been further improved with a full roll cage, Recaro Pole Position seats with OMP 4 point harnesses, adjustable Ohlins suspension, free flowing exhaust system, Endless brake pads and Toyo R888 Semi Slicks. What’s more, the cheaper hire price compared to the BRZ (or M3!), meant that for my budget I could afford to do more laps, which for me was more important than driving a faster car.  Continue reading