1991. Phoenix, Arizona. The United States Grand Prix. It would be the first and last time I would personally see Ayrton Senna blaze by in the McLaren-Honda livery that started my fascination with Formula 1. Taking the pole and the win, it seemed business as usual for the Brazilian driver.
Exactly 15 years ago at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Senna would go straight on at Tamburello and eventually die from his injuries later that day. Racing fans around the world were shocked and mourned the loss of probably the greatest racing driver of all time. Three F1 driver’s titles, numerous records for poles, wins and fastest laps. Any car, any where… he made it go faster. His 2 second gap over Alain Prost during qualifying at the 1988 Monaco GP is just one example of the sheer speed and brilliance this man possessed.
Pontiac, the 83 year-old General Motors brand once dubbed as the “excitement division” of the Detroit OE manufacturer, will be eliminated Monday, April 27.
According to The Detroit News, the demise of the Pontiac brand is part of the government-supervised restructuring plan of the automotive industry. GM is also set to close additional production plants and cut jobs to further reduce its $28 billion in unsecured debt.
Sure, Pontiac may have been an “exciting” brand in the past with the venerable old school GTO introduced in the 60s. But there have been nothing exciting about the forgettable Aztek, the front wheel drive Grand Am (’85 and up), the crappy G5 (rebadged Chevy Colbat), and the G6, which is just an updated & rebadged Grand Am. What about the latest GTO / G8? Both are made by Holden, GM’s subsidiary in Australia, and Holden is no General Motors (in a good way). What about the Pontiac Solstice? You can buy the same car as a Saturn or Opel (Germany), all sharing the same underpinnings. Hell, the Solstice’s roots can be traced back to the Opel Speedster / Vauxhall VX220. There’s nothing original about any of their cars.
Rather than being an exciting brand, Pontiac – much like GM’s other brands – have incited an endless chain of yawns. And having no small car strategy has for sure hurt this brand. Personally speaking, I have never considered a Pontiac vehicle when shopping for a new car. Needless to say, I won’t miss it one bit.
With this feature, we launch a new category of editorial on RevdCars.com: “Cheap Thrills.” These aren’t the kind of thrills that will likely get you arrested and thrown in the slammer. Rather, these are small, affordable upgrades you can perform on your car to achieve better performance, realiability and / or driving experience.
Reportedly invented by Edmond Berger in 1839, spark plugs are the often-overlooked component of an engine. Most people don’t give a second thought to replacing them, relegating this rather simple maintenance item to their dealer or local mechanic during a “tune up” (newer vehicles really don’t need “tune ups” per se). But checking and replacing your vehicle’s spark plugs at regular intervals can pay dividends.
Our in-house Mitsubishi Evolution IX MR came equipped with NGK Iridium spark plugs from the factory. Compared to spark plugs with a conventional copper center electrode, iridium spark plugs – due to the high temperature nature of iridium – allow the use of a smaller center electrode, which will not melt or corrode away. When you combine this increased level of durability and the more efficient spark afforded by iridium, these spark plugs will provide more efficient combustion translating into performance and economy gains. Indeed, the advantages iridium spark plugs permit are ideal for high performance applications like the turbocharged 4G63 engine in the Evo IX.
At 15,000 miles on the odometer, the NGK’s were swapped for Denso Iridium spark plugs. Although the Mitsubishi service manual advises a longer change interval, we were pleased by the results. Immediately, idle smoothed out and engine response was improved. Now with 30,000 miles on the odometer, we checked out the Denso Iridium plugs previously installed. The plugs looked almost new, the center electrode showing no signs of any corrosion or melting. And idle and engine response is still excellent.
While we can certainly continue to use the plugs, we figured as long as they were out, we’d install a fresh set. Sure, iridium plugs do cost more than standard copper or platinum plugs, but the performance and efficiency advantages they offer more than justify the extra cost in our opinion. Even if your pocketbook does not permit spending upward of $25 per plug, regularly checking and replacing your vehicle’s spark plugs will enhance the vehicle ownership and driving experience.
Finally, the FIA has put the final rubber stamp of approval on the disputed “illegal” diffusers in use by Formula 1 teams Brawn, Williams and Toyota. The FIA’s International Court of Appeal rejected claims made by Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Red Bull, stipulating that the diffusers being used by the aforementioned squads were in breach of the technical regulations for 2009. Furthermore, they backed the decisions of the FIA stewards at the recent races in Australia and Malaysia, where they deemed the diffusers in line with regulations as well.
It all boils down to Brawn, Williams and Toyota being smart and ahead of the curve, whereas the contesting teams were left holding the bag. Now, the “race” for the losers will boil down to retrofitting their existing chassis with look-alikes of these disputed diffusers. But considering how aerodynamics is such a black art, and with no testing allowed, how they will manage to make it work is a mystery. With this decision, it’s not a long shot for Brawn to potentially take the F1 Constructor’s title and perhaps Jenson Button taking the Driver’s title for 2009.
Here’s the statement from the FIA:
“The FIA International Court of Appeal has decided to deny the appeals submitted against decisions numbered 16 to 24 taken by the Panel of the Stewards on 26 March at the 2009 Grand Prix of Australia and counting towards the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Based on the arguments heard and evidence before it, the Court has concluded that the Stewards were correct to find that the cars in question comply with the applicable regulations.
Full reasons for this decision will be provided in due course.”
Now that this particular saga is over, LET’S GET BACK TO THE BUSINESS OF RACING!
While we are evaluating the 2009 Nissan 370Z with Sport Package…
The 350Z was hugely popular with the aftermarket crowd and we foresee the same level of popularity and aftermarket support for the 370Z. It is a new platform so it will take a bit of time for manufacturers to develop parts for the car. We will update this list as often as necessary to provide you with as comprehensive a list as possible.
Some of the parts listed below have been introduced / launched in Japan, but not in the States. Please verify compatibility and availability with each brand’s respective distributor in the US.
**Brake pads listed below are designated for the optional sport brake package (4-piston front / 2-piston rear) ONLY**
Brake Pads (OE Replacement; F/R) – Street
Endless SS-Y Sport / Part #EP461 front / EP462 rear (universal for all Endless pads for 370Z)/ $155 front or rear
“The Strip.” Slot machines. Blackjack tables. Buffets. Bright lights. What happens there supposedly stays there. Yes, I’m talking about Las Vegas. And it’s where we discovered the true magic of the new 2009 Audi TT-S Roadster.
Designated as the top-of-the-line model in the TT offering (until the TT-RS is released to the public, at least), the Ingolstadt make has pumped up the base TT’s 2.0L turbocharged to produce 265hp and 258lb-ft of torque. And as we were about to discover once behind the wheel, the TT-S offers fresh competition against the likes of the BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster.
Even at first glance, the TT-S is a looker. The addition of a revised front fascia, with a deep chin spoiler and splitter, gives the roadster a much more aggressive, masculine feel over its non “S” brethren. The optional 19-inch five-parallel-spoke star design wheels on our tester elevated the ante even further – if you are considering purchasing the TT-S, definitely opt for the 19-inch wheel option. Even in a city as jaded as Las Vegas, the TT-S garnered more than its share of looks, from fellow drivers and pedestrians alike.
Step into the TT-S’s cabin and a sheer truth becomes very apparent – there are few manufacturers that can construct a vehicle interior as well as Audi. Whether it be materials, construction quality or sheer design, Audi does it better than just about anyone out there.
The seats are firmly bolstered, without being constrictive or cumbersome, with plenty adjustment and room to comfortably fit 6’+ drivers; the same cannot be said for Japanese cars or even other German roadsters
The flat-bottom steering wheel is solid and comfortable to hold, with a simplified set of buttons and controls for the radio and Bluetooth mobile phone interface
Speaking of Bluetooth, it automatically downloads the mobile phone’s phonebook so that you can search and dial directly from the dashboard-based interface
The dashboard is comprehensive, offering every bit of pertinent information to the driver
Climate control is easy to use, without referring to the manual, and dials look and feel upscale
The navigation system, unfortunately, is a little more difficult to use; there is no touch-screen functionality and you must manually rotate the control knob and select destination information letter-by-letter
Overalll, the Bose sound system is excellent, offering solid bass and clean mids and highs
The trunk features a surprising amount of space, big enough to hold two fully packed carry-on bags and two briefcases
The soft-top requiring about 17 seconds for operation, opening and closing with ease; whether the top is up or down, the cabin is surprisingly quiet and does not require yelling at the top of your lungs in order to have a conversation
Turn the key and the engine starts with a solid feel that you’d expect from a premium German car. But unlike the previous top model in the TT line up – the TT 3.2 with a naturally aspirated V6 – the TT-S takes the 2.0L turbo from the base TT and fuses it with a bigger turbo, intercooler, more boost and fortified internals to handle that extra boost. A full bar (14.7 psi) of boost, as a matter of fact. That extra boost is more than noticeable once on the throttle. Acceleration from a standing start is smooth, getting the roadster up to freeways speeds and beyond without much fuss.
We tried out the launch control system standard on the TT-S to see if we could achieve a more thrilling experience under WOT, but came away completed unfazed. Following the directions in the owner’s manual, we anticipated instant forward motion. What we got was an initial bog, followed by the usual acceleration levels we were experiencing. We tried again. And again. The results were the same. There wasn’t any smell of burning rubber. Rather, the smell of a burning clutch was all we were left with.
Aside from the case of the missing launch control system (at least for us), the DSG gearbox works wonderfully well and we did not miss not having a third pedal to deal with – left foot braking is so much fun! Whether left in automatic D mode or switched over to manual shifting mode, DSG simply works. Shifts were crisp, instantaneous and even under heavy flicks of the left paddle under deceleration, the system never downshifted in a violent manner as exhibited in other vehicles (3rd to 2nd and 2nd to 1st gear shifts in the Lexus IS-F are absolutely terrifying). One thing left us scratching our collective heads, however…
As wonderful as the DSG system is, we’re perplexed by the shifter. Once pulled into the manual shifting slot to the left, the shifter presents the driver with a secondary shifting option. And shifting in this manner produces the same, quick gear shifts as found via the steering wheel paddles. Upshifts are literally “up,” as you push the shifter forward / away from you, where as downshifts are literally “down,” as you pull the shifter down towards you. For all intended purposes, however, this action for up and downshifts is counterintuitive. Perhaps it’s a literal translation for the novice driver who has never encountered or completely unfamiliar with a true sequential gearbox. Perhaps Audi is “dumbing down” the TT-S for the lowest common denominator. Whatever the reason may be, even simple physics suggest that upshifts should match the momentum of the body during acceleration (pull the shifter towards you) and during deceleration (push the shifter forward, away from you). Granted, other car makers make the same mistake, but Audi, the company that produces the multi-24 Hours of Le Mans winning P1 RACECARS, shouldn’t follow suit.
Rounding out the outstanding performance of the TT-S is the Audi magnetic ride system. In line with what is quickly becoming the norm in higher price point vehicles, Audi’s system permits the driver to select a “normal” or “sport” mode, which changes damping characteristics on the fly. For the most part, we discovered that “sport” mode is more than capable of handling the roughest of roads with ease. Only when dealing with Interstate 15’s rough patches on the way to Vegas did we switch over to “normal” mode. We did wish, however, that this magnetic ride system would offer another level of damping adjustment on the stiffer end of things. Considering that the “S” is positioned as a more spirited and performance-oriented TT, a third damping level would be very much in line with this logic. The current BMW M3’s electronically controlled suspension system would be a good benchmark to emulate.
Finally, Audi’s ubiquitous Quattro all wheel drive system ensures optimum power delivery and dependable footwork. The return trip from Vegas to Los Angeles presented us with thundershowers and high headwinds, both of which may unsettle many vehicles. The assurance of Quattro inspired confident driving in wet conditions and the TT-S never lost its poise no matter the prevailing weather conditions.
Against its German roadster brethren, the TT-S offers the advantage of all wheel drive. Although you would suspect the added weight of the AWD system may hamper its efficiency, the Audi offers the highest mileage rating out of the foursome. The real question will come down to whether you favor the stability of an all wheel drive system or the joys of a rear wheel drive system that will let you hang out the rear with throttle oversteer.
If you have any desire to take one of these roadsters to the track, the Porsche Boxster and the BMW Z4 seem much more appropriate for track use. The TT-S tips the scale at up to 400lbs+ over the Boxster and Z4, and this is sure to pay penalties in terms of braking performance, brake fade and transitional stability. But is the TT-S really a roadster you would take to the track?
Much like the Mercedes SLK, the TT-S seems much more appropriate for gran turismo – long-distance, high speed trip done in both comfort and style. This is where the Audi’s greatest strength exists and sets itself apart from the Porsche and the BMW. As for the SLK350, surely the Mercedes brand means something, but we have to question whether it’s worth the $7,000+ premium. And with the new visual accoutrements added to the TT-S, the Audi is a much more masculine, aggressive form in which to drive all those miles.
Buy the SLK350 for your girlfriend / wife. Save the TT-S for yourself.
Simply put, we like the 2009 Audi TT-S. No, we actually love the 2009 Audi TT-S. Small complaints aside, this roadster does everything well. And in style. It makes the base 2.0L turbo and 3.2L TTs rather obsolete. All things considered, we can’t fathom why anyone would choose to buy anything but the TT-S.
Although it’s certainly capable, we don’t believe pitting the TT-S against the likes of a Boxster or Cayman on the track is a fair contest. We’ll wait for the TT-RS for that purpose. But the TT-S fulfills its duty as a GT incredibly well. And although the $56K price tag may scare away some potential buyers, it’s actually quite reasonable in the bigger scheme of things when compared to other German-made roadsters. Frankly, we wouldn’t mind having one as a daily driver regardless of it higher price tag.
Progress is indeed beautiful.
We achieved a fuel economy of 22 mpg in 70% highway / 30% city driving; although this is far below the claimed highway mpg of 29, there were considerable headwinds during the Vegas roadtrip and we tended to mash the throttle quite a bit
Although our test TT-S did have a 6 CD changer, we quite don’t see the point of those anymore; perhaps they have some appeal to the geriatric set
We would have liked to see the addition of a boost gauge