The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: May 2016



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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2016 VW Golf R - A Closer Look




This picture is a little misleading. Unfortunately, this isn't a post about a race on a frozen lake or a snow covered rally stage involving the three hottest AWD hot hatches (the WRX STI only a hatch in spirit). This is about the highly anticipated test recently posted by Car & Driver.

First things first, I wish C&D would stop testing 30-50 mph and 50-70 mph in top gear for manual performance cars. They are hugely (almost exclusively) influenced by gearing and are completely irrelevant. I could see them being relevant in a more mainstream class (say, comparing a base Focus manual to a base Cruze manual) because an average buyer may not want to shift. But there is no way the buyer of any of these cars is going to wait over 7 seconds to go from 30-50 or approximately 6 seconds to go from 50-70? Worse yet, why would anyone floor a small 4 cyl turbo in an overdrive gear and lug the engine outside of boost? Now with the rant out of the way, let’s look at numbers.


2016 +Ford Ford Focus RS 2016 +VW Golf R 2016 Subaru WRX STI
0-60 mph 4.6 s 5.1 s 4.7 s
0-100 mph 12.2 s 11.8 s 12.0 s
0-110 mph 14.4 s 15.3 s 16.0 s
1/4 mile 13.4 s @ 105 mph 13.6 s @ 105 mph 13.4 s @ 104 mph
5-60 mph (street start) 5.7 s 6.1 s 6.7 s


The acceleration numbers, at first, might make it seem like the RS is overrated or the other two are underrated. However, a closer look shows all is good in the 350 hp Focus. For one, I think the torque vectoring AWD system of the RS is probably working against it in that regard. If I remember correctly, there are three clutch packs that the other two don't have; one to proportion the power to the rear axle and one for each rear wheel. These probably result in higher drivetrain losses than the other two.

As far as the STI goes, the RS and the STI have almost the exact same weight. The RS gets to 110 mph 1.6 seconds sooner and a 5-60 mph street start is a full second faster. So, despite the two being tied in the ¼ mile, I highly doubt the two make the same amount of hp. The STI appears to have a huge launch advantage that's skewing the numbers. It beats the R to 60 mph, for example, yet the R not only catches up, but beats it to 110 mph and the R is quicker in the 5-60 mph street start.

As far as the R goes, two numbers are curious – the 0-100 mph run and 1/4 mile trap speed. The quicker 0-100 mph time in the Golf and the identical 1/4 mile trap speed are very likely due to gearing in my opinion. The top of 3rd gear in the RS is 93 mph whereas the R is 81 mph so both cars are in 4th gear but most of the 90-100 mph run happens in the RS at the bottom of 4th gear – some 800 rpm short of peak power - where in the R, it happens in the middle, right in the meat of boost and power. The 100-110 mph runs confirm that. The R takes 3.5 seconds to do this 10 mph whereas the RS takes 2.2 seconds, less than two thirds the time. I think the RS loses in 90-100 mph due to shifting but quickly makes up for it and builds an almost 1 second lead by 110 mph.



2016 Ford Focus RS 2016 VW Golf R 2016 Subaru WRX STI
Braking 70-0 mph 158 ft 156 ft 159 ft
200-ft skidpad lat. g 0.98 g 0.95 g 0.90 g
610 ft slalom 43.6 mph 43.5 mph 42.4 mph


As far as handling goes, the STI is clearly behind. It's basically a three-way tie in braking between the three but the STI falls behind in ultimate grip (skidpad) and transitional handling (slalom). Moreover, Car & Driver found it to fall far behind in ride and comfort so it seems to beat up its occupants for no gain on the track. Meanwhile the R and RS are basically tied in slalom/transition but, based on the review and as expected due to the more capable AWD system, the RS takes a clear lead in handling balance (under power) with its ability to rotate and its lead in ultimate grip (skidpad). The reviewers even went as far as saying: “Dynamically, the RS is in a different league than the others, maybe even playing a different sport. It’s far more exciting than the staid Golf and much more polished than the brutish STI.” Car & Driver unfortunately doesn’t have a test to demonstrate the advantage of the better AWD system. Motor Trend’s figure eight does to an extent but a steady state 300 ft skidpad doesn’t.

On the livability front, back seat space and trunk are a little bit bigger in the Golf so R is the most practical. However, I'm very surprised to see the R actually score slightly less than the RS in the engine NVH category. VW has long made one of the smoothest 4 cyl turbo in a compact and the more mature exterior styling would suggest a car much quieter.

Overall, the STI is more and more looking outdated, first by its own little sister - the WRX - and now by the competition. There is no reason to get it, IMO, unless you're a die-hard Subaru fan. I'm surprised, though, that they didn't find the power useful in turns. I know someone at our local track with a new STI and he says he can use the throttle to make it rotate. With that said, it's clearly outclassed by both cars in this test. The last gen STI felt much tauter than the last gen WRX and didn't overheat its brakes but, based on reviews, the current WRX is a huge step forward where the STI is a smaller step forward so it might be less worth it. Add in the fact that both have good AWD systems, albeit less so in the WRX, and the advantage to an STI almost diminishes so it really comes down to RS vs R.

The R's biggest problem, like the STI, is the excellent GTI. The last gen R felt extremely close (on road) to a last gen GTI and I suspect the new ones are equally improved relative to each other. You could never justify to me the extra cost of an R based on a test drive where the car isn't driven too hard. I would love to drive the two back-to-back on a track to see if you have to wait appreciably longer in the GTI vs the R to get back on power mid corner. With that said, if you live in the great white north and especially in a hilly region, AWD can be the difference between being stuck at the bottom (RWD) or top (FWD) of a hill in a bad storm. Ask me how I know..

I think there are only two reasons to get the R over the RS - styling and interior quality. If you look at the RS and think you'd be too embarrassed to be seen in it, get the R. If you sit in it and can't stand the thought of paying that much money for the interior, get the R. Otherwise, the RS very nearly matches the R in livability and offers the most capability and fun. It's a clear winner to me.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

2016 BMW 328i xDrive Automatic at M3 price?




Car and Driver recently tested a 2016 BMW 328i xDrive. It has good performance numbers (posted here earlier in the ATS4 2.0T post). It seems like a good little car.. until you get to the price. I'm more dumbfounded by the proximity of price to the +BMW M3 than I am by the price alone. $59k?? One doesn't have to go far to find a much better deal. An +Audi S4 starts almost $10k under it. I just can't wrap my head around choosing this over an S4. This isn't expensive compared to a mainstream car with comparable performance/options. Both this and the S4 are German, both are AWD, and both are well established luxury brands. I personally put a lot of weight on a RWD-based chassis but this automatic 328i xDrive isn’t exactly a purist’s choice and at 3,700 lbs, it isn’t a featherweight. I would imagine discounts on it would be huge to lure someone away from an S4. That, or you have to be an absolute die-hard BMW fan to buy one.  


2016 Cadillac ATS Sedan 2.0T AWD - A Closer Look




The biggest news I found in this test is a huge improvement in power output. Looking back at one of the very early tests of the +Cadillac  ATS with this engine done by Car & Driver was a comparison test back in 2012, the ATS 2.0T was noticeably lacking in power compared to the 328i. Although the older tested cars were very different (i.e. lighter, manual equipped RWD versions) than this Cadillac, Car & Driver recently also tested a 2016 BMW 328i xDrive so we can have an apples-to-apples comparison of this AWD, 4-cyl turbo ATS and an AWD, 4-cyl turbo 328i. In the early test, the numbers were:


2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T 2012 BMW 328i
0-30 mph 2.0 s 2.0 s
0-60 mph 6.3 s 5.6 s
0-100 mph 16.7 s 14.5 s
0-130 mph 34.7 s 26.4 s
1/4 mile 14.8 s @ 94 mph 14.3 s @ 99 mph
5-60 mph (street start) 7.4 s 6.6 s


At the time, the car made 272 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft @ 1,700. Meanwhile, the 328i is rated at 240 hp @ 5,000 and 255 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm. The BMW is largely unchanged with hp rating staying the same as well as rpms at which peak hp and torque, while the torque number inches up a few points to 258 lb-ft. The ATS, on the other hand, saw its torque output increase by 35 lb-ft from 260 to 295 lb-ft but the peak occurs 1,300 rpm later so the engine is now rated to make 272 hp @ 5,500 and 295 lb-ft @ 3,000. At first, it seems like the power moved later in the curve due to the late torque peak but I suspect that the updated engine makes well over the previous 260 lb-ft rating at the lower rpms and simply makes more as rpms climb.

The result? Nothing short of impressive. Before, the Cadillac trailed the BMW by almost 1 second (0.7 s) to 60, over two seconds (2.2 s) to 100 mph, and a whopping 8.3 seconds to 130 mph. Now, the Cadillac loses by only one tenth to the BMW to 60 mph but beats it to 100 mph by 0.3 s and to 130 mph by almost 1 second (0.8 s).


2016 Cadillac ATS4 2.0T (AWD) 2016 BMW 328i XDrive (AWD)
0-60 mph 5.4 s 5.3 s
0-100 mph 14.5 s 14.8 s
0-130 mph 28.2 s 29.0 s
1/4 mile 14.1 s @ 99 mph 14.0 s @ 97 mph
5-60 mph (street start) 6.3 s 6.4 s


Unfortunately, it’s hard to figure out exactly how close the two would be if tested in the same place and on the same day, beyond “bench racing” those (albeit, weather corrected) test numbers. With that said, the ATS 2.0T was always noticeably slower than the 328i in acceleration tests, regardless of testing outlet or weather. In other words, if these numbers show it to be that much closer, it’s probably pretty darn close.

What I found even more impressive, though, is the fact that the ATS tied the 328i in lateral grip, both posting 0.86 g, and was able to out-break it from 70 mph by 7 ft (167 ft vs 174 ft for the 328i), all while rolling on Grand Touring All-Season Michelin Primacy MXM4 ZP tires while the 328i had Max Performance Summer Continental ContiSportContact 5 SSR tires.

Now, the Caddy isn’t without its shortcomings. It’s noticeably smaller in the back and has a smaller trunk. I think Cadillac actually hit the nail on the head with sizing, but that’s because my all-time favourite small RWD sedan of all time is the E46 BMW 3-series and the ATS is very close in size to it, except in length that is exaggerated by the styling. In fact, the ATS is closer in wheelbase to the E46 3-series while the new F10 3-series is closer to the E39 5-series. Unfortunately for Cadillac, most people are looking for bigger cars now, as evident in the SUV and crossover surge in sales, so perhaps BMW’s move to a larger 3-series is more of what the market wants.

Its other problem right now, and perhaps the biggest, is the badge, or lack thereof of a desirable one. Now, I know a lot of people would say that deciding against buying a car because of a badge is badge snobbery and that may be true as far as decision making but the fault ultimately falls on the manufacturer. The value of a badge isn’t built out of thin air and “badge snobs” buy the badge that has a good image. It’s built on years of offering an appealing product. The BMW badge has been found on great sports cars for years. Cadillac is still trying to establish itself in the segment.

With that said, I think that Cadillac has clearly demonstrated it can build a better sports car than BMW, and that’s not just my opinion. Most auto journalists place the ATS near or at the top of the class in terms of driving joy and the same stands true of the CTS. The CT6 hasn’t had a comprehensive review yet but it seems to also be focusing on the “sport” part of sport sedan, without compromising ride or comfort. Will that pay off, despite a small disadvantage in size compared to the competition? Only time will tell, but I think Cadillac is on the right path.

Ideal seating position, courtesy of Porsche

Great short video on ideal seating position, courtesy of +Porsche . One of the first things I had to learn when I started high performance driving was adjusting the seating position to allow better control. It took some adjusting at first but after getting used to, I could never go back.