Saturday, 2 July 2016

Porsche Panamera - An Ugly Duckling Story

Porsche has recently unveiled a new Panamera  and this one has addressed the most criticised part of the car - it's humpback rear-end.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo

The first generation Porsche Panamera was a brilliant car in all aspects unfortunately it had a rear-end only it's designer could love.  The Porsche badge usually brings street cred, but the Panamera lacked this.  It was often judged by it's looks and frequently overlooked when on the road.
2014 Porsche Panamera Turbo with that signature "Humpback rear-end"

Dynamically the previous Panamera was sublime for a large sedan.  It oozed superb performance and responsive handling.  It proved this by bettering many so called sports cars' 0-100km/h sprint times and 0-400m times.   

It also lapped the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife as fast and in some cases faster than many supercars offered at the time.  Further cementing it's driving dynamic credentials.  And doing all this while surrounded by comfortable luxurious interior appointments.

All is going swimmingly for the Panamera until it drives past and see that rear-end.  Then admiration and respect, turns to laughter and ridicule.

OK, perhaps I'm over dramatising it a little, but c'mon you have to admit that humpback rear-end could have been done a whole lot better.  The Panamera looks like a bloated and stretched 911, than a svelte sports sedan.  It's like the designer ran out of talent when it came to doing the rear-end.  Designer's block maybe?

On the other hand the Maserati Quattroporte, and Aston Martin Rapide - the Panamera's logical competitors in the market - have both nailed the exterior styling.  Seen in the flesh, both cars have a commanding presence and on the road you can't help but stare at them.  Something totally lacking from the Panamera.

Maserati Quattroporte
Maserati Quattroporte
The Maserati has the typical Italian car style and flair.  Using the same engine found in the Ferrari 458 Italia, it's practically a four door Ferrari.  It has the Ferrari V8 growl and grabs your attention whenever it's near.  The ladies particularly like it's look.  Shame about it's reliability however.

The Rapide is an example of how to turn a gorgeous two door supercar into a four door performance saloon [from the outside at least].  The saloon is equally as beautiful as its two door sibling.  From dead on front or rear view, if unfamiliar with the brand, it is difficult to distinguish the saloon from the coupe.

Aston Martin Rapide S
Aston Martin Rapide S
But that gorgeous exterior comes at the expense of its rear passenger space.  The two rear passenger seats offer the least room out of the three.  Anyone taller than the average height adult (170-180cm) will find the accommodation uncomfortable on longer journeys.  A huge sacrifice by Aston Martin to let design follow function.  As pretty as it looks, the Rapide is not as an ideal sports saloon to transport four full size adults in total comfort as the Panamera or Quattroporte are.  Friends don't let friends ride at the back seat of a Rapide.
Maserati Quattroporte

Aston Martin Rapide S
Porsche's attempt on the first gen Panamera was a mixed bag result.  Either too much Heineken was consumed during it's design phase, or the design team was trying too hard to incorporate the Porsche DNA into the design.  It's a pity as the German nailed the driving dynamics and performance capabilities.  It's certainly superior than its two competitors in this area.  Plus being a Porsche, I'm sure it also surpassed both the Italian and Brit in the build quality and reliability departments.

Now with Porsche having just unveiled the second generation Panamera.  The future is looking good.  The skies are bluer, the flowers more fragrant, and food taste better.

2017 Porsche Panamera 4S
From the outset, it is a hellava lot better looking saloon than the first gen.  Porsche knows how to design a four door 911 after all.

The svelte new rear-end
Reviewing all the launch videos, photos and subsequent articles about it, the new Panamera is a whole new level saloon compared to the previous model. Gone is the humpback rear-end.  This time replaced by an elegant design from nose to tail with just enough hint of its performance potential incorporated throughout.  And the Porsche DNA is strong.  You can't mistake this car from any angle other than a Porsche.

Full LED headlights of the Panamera Turbo
Although the height level of the trailing end of the boot is still a little too low for my liking [why can't they level it off from the glass base], the roofline [which is lower than the previous model] is more integrated and flows more cohesive than before.  And the new tail lights are the usual Porsche signature lights - sharing some design cues to those found in the 911 - a vast improvements from the first gen's lights.  Add all of this, makes for one pretty saloon.

Along with addressing the humpback, they also managed to reduce the heaviness look of the "C" Pillar of the first gen car.  Another main source of criticism.

A prettier side profile - gone is the humpback rear end and a thinner 'C' pillar.
Let me geek out a little, and let's talk spoilers.  I think the rear spoiler of the Panamera Turbo is ultra cool. This was also on the previous Panamera Turbo, but with its ugly humpback rear-end, no one ever really noticed.

The Turbo's rear spoiler is slightly larger than the 4S.  But where in the 4S, the spoiler simply pops up, in the Turbo, not only does it pop up, it also split open and slide to either side then a centre wing comes up to fill the gap.  Making the Turbo spoiler wider than the 4S.

The Turbo's pop and slide rear wing
Now I won't bore you with the new car's statistics, there are already many articles written about them elsewhere, but one thing I will point out is that Porsche claims this new Panamera is faster around the Nurburgring Nordschleife, than the [997*] Porsche 911 GT3.  WOW!

Porsche [997] GT3
For the unfamiliar, the GT3 is the sportier version of the Porsche 911 supercar.  And I'd hardly call a standard Porsche 911 a slouch.  Meaning this new Panamera is supercar quick.  And it's a saloon weighing nearly two tonnes.  This truly is a remarkable achievement. 

*The numbers 997 is the code that Porsche use to identify this particular series.  The 997 series was replaced by the 991 in 2012 - the current model. 

Not all good news however, don't plan to get any of these super-saloons, as an investment.  Stick to the limited edition supercars for that [see my previous blog - "Car Flipping"].  In Australia, the price of a new Panamera starts from a little over $300k for the Panamera 4S all the way to a little under $390k for the Turbo [plus on-road cost].

You can pick up a used 2011 Panamera with around 40k-100k kilometers on the odometer for a little over $100k. That's around 66% (or $200k+) depreciation in value over 5yrs [or about $40k per year or $109 per day drop].   Older models and/or cars with higher mileage cost even less.

But if you plan to keep it for a long time, then it's a smart and intelligent choice, and definitely the one I'd pick over the Maserati and Aston Martin.

As all reports suggest, the Panamera will continue to provide trouble-free motoring for years to come.  Something [past and current] owners of the Quattroporte or Rapide could never say.

Panamera Turbo
So just as the ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan from the popular children story, the new Panamera has turned into an elegant and beautiful saloon, and deserving the Porsche badge.

Now if only my Lotto numbers will come in.

The new Panamera's interior - this includes the Chrono* package

Plenty of room for two full size adults

Rear passenger infotainment screen

Friday, 24 June 2016

Car Flipping. Say What?

Car flipping as a career?  Who would have thought.  And I'm not talking about physically flipping a car.
Kids, DO NOT attempt this at home.
Up until 2yrs ago, if I heard the word "Car Flipping" I would have visualised a car actually doing a flip - like in a stunt.  But now it seems it also means something else and many are turning the practice into a profitable career.

For the uninitiated, car flipping [or flipping cars] is the term used on the process of buying a car, then selling it for more than the manufacturers recommended retail price for as quickly as possible.  Sometimes while still waiting to take delivery of the vehicle.  It's similar to ticket-scalping for sought after concerts.

The cars involved are usually the ultra-rare [and expensive] supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and now McLaren.

I'm not talking about the standard run of the mill offerings like the Ferrari 488, Lamborghini Aventador, Porsche 911 or McLaren 570S.  I'm referring to their limited edition models such as 458 Speciale, Aventador SV [SuperVeloce], GT3 RS, and 675LT to name a few.

Ferrari 458 Speciale
Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 SV
These cars usually sell out within days of the order books being opened.  And generally have a waiting list of 18+ months.
McLaren 675LT
Porsche GT3 RS

A recent example is the Ferrari F12tdf [Tour de France].  A total of 799 will be built and all sold out within a week 

While most of the lucky few who were accepted to buy the F12tdf are still waiting for their cars to be delivered, some examples in the used car market are already fetching twice its retail price in the UK/Europe [£339k vs £700k].  And there are no shortage of buyers willing to pay the extra premium to get their hands on these super exclusive supercars.
Ferrari F12tdf [Tour de France]

Ford is also experiencing high demands for their supercars.  Can you imagine a Ford as desirable and highly sought after as a Ferrari?  But it's happening.

The series 2 Ford GT released last decade is an appreciating asset today.  And the soon to be released successor - [series 3] GT - have already attracted over 6,000 customer deposits, but only 500 are planned to be built.  Deliveries are not expected until 2017.

Ford GT [Series 3]

Ford GT [Series 2]
As a result, Ford will look at all interested buyers and will give preferences to current owners of GT40s and [series 2] GTs

Followed by, what I can only guess as "who you know".  Like the well-known well-connected, famous, and the influential [ie. business leaders, powerful individuals etc].

The sort of personalities that would bring additional hype and attention to the brand simply by being associated with the car.  Here alone Ford will save millions through free publicity.  
1968 Ford GT40

And if there are any left overs, a "first come first serve" for the rest.  Last on Ford's buyers list, are car flippers, only if there are any left - doubtful.

There lies the problem.  Car flipping has become big business that manufacturers are screening buyers.  They [manufacturers] can afford to be choosy right now as demand is outstripping supply.

Ferrari is notorious at denying certain buyers acquiring their hypercars and limited edition models.  I've even read an article that Ferrari [allegedly] went as far as requesting their authorised dealers to stop selling used special edition Ferraris to individuals on their [Ferrari] black list, and to other used supercar dealers.  It was [allegedly] said that Ferrari threatened to limit or stop allocating future special edition cars to any dealer defying this request.

Whether you are for or against this method, manufacturers will continue this practice so long as there's high demand for their works of art.  And right now, I don't see this appetite for rare supercars abating any-time soon.  Unless we go through another global financial crisis, that is.

Selling these cars are all about timing.  Release it as the financial market takes a dive, manufacturers will end up warehouse full of them collecting dust.  And such bad timing was experienced none more so than both the McLaren F1 and Jaguar XJ220.

McLaren F1
Both were designed & developed during the high excesses of the 80s, but released as the recession hit in the early 90s.  As a result, sales performance was disappointing for both brands.

The McLaren F1 priced from £500,000 [£814k / AU$1.5m in today's money] sold just 71 customer cars against a target of 300.  Production seized in 1997.   

Jaguar had intended to produce up to 350 XJ220s with the road versions priced from £345,000 [£561k / AU$1m in today's money], but production ceased in 1994 with 275 production cars built, not all of which had been sold; some left-hand drive examples were still available in 1997.  

The recession left many of those who placed a deposit unable to complete the purchase.  In the end there were heavy discounting by Jaguar to shift the remaining XJ220.  The last of the unsold XJ220s were sold for £127,550 [£208k / AU$381k in today's money] plus VAT in 1997.

Jaguar XJ220
McLaren's F1 race program eventually turned a small profit thanks to the sale and servicing of the 28 GTR racing variants produced.  In all 106 F1s where built which included 7 prototypes.

Now in today's money, the McLaren F1 has fared far better.  You'd be lucky to get one for less than $14 million [£8m].

While the Jaguar XJ220 is currently selling for around AU$567,000+ [£310k+].  If you got one of the discounted cars in 1997, then you'd be in the black.  But if you paid full price, you're still seeing red.

If only you had a crystal ball, right?

OK, these are older supercars and you don't want to wait 10-20 years to make your cash.  So let's talk about more recent cars.  After all car flippers tend to flip cars within days, weeks or months of buying them to make their profit.

The cars that are currently fetching high resale prices are:

 - 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4

 - 2016 Porsche 911 R
 - 2015 Porsche GT3 RS
 - 2015 Porsche GT3
 - 2016 Ferrari F12tdf

 - 2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale
 - 2016 McLaren 675LT

 - 2015 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
If you were lucky enough to buy any of these cars new, in Europe and North America there are buyers in the wings ready to take them off your hands offering far more than the original sticker price.  In Europe prices offered on top of the original retail starts from £60,000 for the Cayman GT4, the cheapest on the list.  Up to £400,000 for the F12tdf.  Not a bad return for a few weeks/months investment.

2016 Porsche Cayman GT4

Perhaps you're now thinking, "I can do that.  I'd like to flip cars for a living".  Before you start, there are some things you should know:

1.   Money - obviously you will need to have money to begin with - these limited edition supercars are not cheap.  Be prepared to spend anywhere from half a million to over a million dollars per car new.  And hypercars are nearly $2 million & over each!

2.   Who you know - Increase your personal profile within the automotive industry.  You will need to socialise and build connections with dealers, manufacturers, and automotive clubs & media.  Placing an order for a limited release car only once you've read/heard about it from mainstream media, usually means you're too late [ie. sold out].

3.   What you know - Have a pulse in the industry.  You'll need to know cars and an understanding of the market sentiment for each cars.  Which car will be highly desirable
, during and after its release, and which one will appreciate in value quickest and/or highest.  Rareness is usually a key indicator - but not guaranteed [ie. XJ220].

4.   Know your local laws - in some states here in Australia [the US & Europe] car flipping can be illegal.  There is a legal way to do it, but you'll need to know the "ins & outs" to navigate the sea of rules & regulations unscathed.

There are more points to consider before even contemplating becoming a car flipper.  I've only highlighted the most important ones.

As for me, [let's just say for a moment, I had the means to buy these cars] I am too much of a car guy to be a car flipper.  As anything I buy I'll almost certain to end up keeping.  What can I say?... I just love GREAT cars - even some quirky ones.

Koenigsegg One:1
NOTE:  I didn't include hypercar royalty on this list such as the Bugatti Veyron & Chiron, Pagani Zonda & Huayra, Koenigsegg One:1 & Agera RS, Lamborghini Veneno, & Centenario, Ferrari LaFerrari, Porsche Carrera RS & 918 Spyder, and the McLaren P1 [and all its variants], as these are almost guaranteed to be collectables.
Bugatti Chiron
And since they already start for serious money to begin with [even for supercar buyers], to make serious returns will require time.  Turn over is what car flippers want.  A quick ROI.  And these hypercars are not a short term investment.  Best gains are made long term for these models.

Plus I doubt professional car flippers will even get on the waiting list, let alone order books.  Not while the manufacturers are keeping an eagle eye on the buyer's list.

Pagani Huayra
McLaren P1
Pagani Zonda Cinque
2007 Porsche Carrera GT
2013 Lamborghini Veneno
Porsche 918 Spyder
Ferrari LaFerrari
Lamborghini Centenario LP-770-4

Friday, 17 June 2016

Challenges of an Automotive Icon - Mazda MX-5

Could it be that Fiat has released a better MX-5?
Four Generations of MX-5s

Let me be clear, I'm a huge fan of the MX-5.  In fact I own two of them - 1994 NA8 Clubman2002 NB8B SP.  And to put things in perspective, here's a summary of the models I have…

My MX-5s

1994 MX-5 Clubman [NA8]
The NA8 Clubman has a standard 1.8 litre DOHC engine but fitted with larger diameter anti-roll bars, Bilstein suspension, and a Mazda limited slip differential.  It can be differentiated on the outside from regular NA8 MX-5s by the Bilstein decals on both rear flanks of the front wheel arch, and the Clubman badge at the boot lid rear deck. 

The Clubman name was only used in Australia.  The same spec model was named differently in various overseas markets.  The production of this model was not limited.  It was part of the regular MX-5 line-up in Australia [between 1993-1995, then an order only model until the end of the NA8 production, in 1997]

Mazda MX-5 Clubman
Mazda released this in Australia for racers who wanted an excellent base car on which to build on for club level motorsport.  That's why the Clubman didn't come with power-steering, and air conditioning was a factory fitted [extra cost] option.

My MX-5 Clubman in race mode
I bought mine second hand in 2008 with the purpose of participating in the MX-5 Club track days, competing in Class A [1.6lt - 1.8lt factory standard road legal cars - NO modifications allowed].  My car had only travelled a little under 60,000 kms when I got her.  It spent most of its days parked in the garage, so I'm told.

According to the original owner (a doctor), bought this car for his wife as a present in 1994.  But the wife found the unassisted steering difficult to manage and the stiff / harsh ride [from the stiffer Bilstein suspension] too uncomfortable.  Thus it was hardly driven in its previous 14 years of its life.  It was in really great condition.  And I'm glad to say it still is.
Hats off to the salesperson for a sterling effort selling this model to the original owner.  As no one in their right mind would get the Clubman - a track focus version - as a daily driven convertible for the wife.  Unless you hate her. :)

Good 'ol #7 in another MX-5 Club track day

2002 MX-5 SP [NB8B]
The NB8B SP was a different story.  The SP was a Mazda Australia only [developed and produced] limited edition model of which only 100 were built.  The development of the car was led by Allan Horsley - whom at the time managed Mazda's defacto racing team - SP Motorsport - in Australia.  Hence the SP name.
My [NB8B] MX-5 SP
What is so special about the MX-5 SP?  The heart of the SP is a 1.8 litre turbocharged engine with a full 2 inch stainless steel exhaust.  This boosted the power by 44kw (113 vs 157) and torque by 108 Nm (181 vs 289), while only increasing weight by 29kg (1090 vs 1119).

MX-5 SP engine bay
This improved the power to weight ratio (W/kg) from 103.7 to 140.3.  Resulting in an impressive 0-100km/h times of 6 seconds (vs 8.5 secs).  And in 2002 put it squarely in the performance territory of the legendary tarmac scorchers, AWD turbocharged duo: Subaru WRX Impreza and Mitsubishi Evolution VII.  And it was faster than the turbocharged RWD Nissan 240SX [or Silvia as it's known in Japan] available at the time.

2" stainless steel exhaust
Apart from a turbocharger (Garrett T25) and stainless steel exhaust, other addition/changes were:
•  SP front mounted intercooler
•  SP custom made carbon fibre air filter box
•  Mazda front suspension strut brace
•  Mazda brushed aluminium interior trims (air vents, and gear lever surround)

•  Mazda aluminium gear shift lever
•  Mazda chrome fuel cover
•  SP badge decal (located at the rear)
Front mounted intercooler

But no other mechanical changes were made.  The brakes, gearbox, engine internals, suspension and wheel/tyre combo. were all stock MX-5 affair.  It didn't even come with a limited slip differential or body kit [basically from the outside (other than the SP Badge) it looked like any other MX-5, a real sleeper].  Proving what many already knew...that the standard MX-5 chassis can easily handle more power.

The SP Badge

I got my SP brand new in 2002.  But prior to deciding on the SP, I was also looking at the Honda S2000.  But with better "seat off the pants" feel, faster acceleration, model reputation and the camaraderie of MX-5 Club community [along with many motoring journalist praising the SP above the S2000], I bought the SP. 

And I've loved it ever since.  And it continues to brings an ear to ear smile each time I drive it.

2004 MX-5 SE
Unfortunately since the SP, Mazda haven't released an MX-5 model that remotely comes close to it, in terms of performance.  They did a half-bake effort between 2004-2005 with [this time] a global release of a turbocharged model called MX-5 SE (MX-5 Mazdaspeed everywhere else in the world), but its performance [121kw, 206Nm, 7.8 sec for 0-100km/h] was no match to the SP. There's no substitute for higher power-to-weight ratio [SE=110.7 vs SP=140.3].

New MX-5 [ND]
When the new 4th generation MX-5 was released, I liked what I saw.  The improvements made, particularly in the interior was impressive - it elevated the quality of the MX-5 to the next level.  And when I took a test drive on the 2.0 litre GT model, I liked what I heard.  Such a sweet exhaust note.

Fourth Generation [ND] Mazda MX-5

BUT.  There is always a "but".
The exterior design, while not ugly, didn't make me instantly fall in love with it.  It's more a pretty "girl next door" than a supermodel.

Cockpit of the fourth generation MX-5

And the power?... Well, having stepped out of my SP and into the ND 2.0 litre, I found the performance a little underwhelming. No doubt, regular MX-5 drivers and/or new to the brand looking for a great handling roadster will love it.  But for me, it needed more oomph.
But could the winds be changing?
Japanese Roadster with European Style
With the collaboration of Mazda and Fiat [with the next generation Fiat 124 Spider based on the underpinnings of the MX-5 but with Fiat engines], could the MX-5 truly have a genuine competitor on its hands?
On paper this collaboration seems like a match made in heaven - Japanese [Mazda] engineering, reliability and built quality, with Italian design and flair.  It sounded terrific.  Maybe this is the MX-5 to get?

Spy shot of the Fiat 124 Spider
Then camouflaged spy photos of the Fiat 124 Spider started coming out.  From the first photos I thought it looked hideous.  With what seemed like bulging headlights and a more squarer look.  I thought, maybe Mazda got the design of the MX-5 right after all.

When official photos of the production Fiat 124 were released, while it proved to be aesthetically better than the spy photos, there was not much in it as far as which was a better looking car between the two.  MX-5 or 124? 
It really boiled down to your personal preference in style.  And from people I've spoken to, it was a 60/40 split in favour of the Mazda.

2016 Fiat 124 Spider
As for me, if I had to choose from the two, I would have gone with the MX-5, the original, over the standard Fiat 124 Spider.

Mazda MX-5 vs Fiat 124 Spider

Noticed I wrote "Standard"?  That's because a few months after the 124 Spider launch, Fiat showed official photos of the Abarth 124 Spider.  And that changed the dynamics.  Oh, and in-case you didn't know, the "Abarth" name is synonymous with sportier Fiat models. 

2107 Abarth 124 Spider
Abarth 124 Spider
With the Abarth 124 Spider's more aggressive front and rear bumper treatments, and paint scheme [playing homage to the 70's model], it improved what I didn't particularly like about the Fiat 124 Spider.  The Abarth model even made white paint look good.  I thought it balanced the contemporary aggressive and elegant look very well.
Loving the rear bumper treatment and side skirts

I haven't sat-in or driven the Abarth 124 Spider yet as it hasn't been released in this country.  But from what I've read and watched from overseas reviews, the performance isn't that much better than the standard 124 Spider (119kw vs 126kw) or the MX-5 (118kw), but the sound of the exhaust… it's music to car enthusiasts everywhere.

Abarth 124 Spider Heritage

I see the Abarth 124 Spider as an MX-5 with a very stylish Italian suit.  An MX-5 with an Italian Flair.

Mini John Cooper Works [JCW]
I can understand Mazda's dilemma about the MX-5.   After all the MX-5 is an automotive icon.  And you don't want to be known as the person who screwed up an icon.  Nor do anyone want to change a winning formula. 
But icons that do not innovate, or move with the times, or provide what their fans/buyers are asking, can become irrelevant in the marketplace.  Look at the original Mini or VW Beetle. 
BMW had to re-invent the Mini to suit the modern world and appeal to today's buyers' tastes.  And it worked.  The Mini had a resurgent in popularity.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  And it's global sales success is proof.

In addition, MX-5 enthusiasts from every corner of the globe have been asking, even begging, for Mazda to release a performance version of the car.  What we enthusiast are asking for is not to redesign the entire car, but simply to release a version with higher levels of performance.  A sportier version in addition to the standard models. 

Keep the standard model for the purist or to have an affordable entry price point, but release a super sports version to those wanting more performance.  Mini has the Cooper S / JCW editions.  Why can't the MX-5 have an MPS or Mazdaspeed version?

2015 Porsche GT3 RS
Speaking of automotive icons, nothing is more iconic than the Porsche 911.  The undisputed most iconic sports car ever. PERIOD!
Yet, even Porsche regularly releases hyper-sports versions of their 911 [eg. GT3 & GT3 RS].  And you'd hardly call a base 911 lacking in performance would you now?  But there is a market for higher performing Porsches.

The same goes for Ferraris with their "Speciale" and Lamborghinis with their "SV or SuperVeloce" editions.  As for a super MX-5...I feel there is a ready market waiting to paunch if made available.  As Kevin Costner found out in the movie "Field of Dreams", "Build it and they will come".  In the MX-5's case, "Build it and they will sell".  If only Mazda has the nerve to build it.

Ferrari 458 Speciale & Lamborghini Aventador SuperVeloce

So this brings me to the question of... Would the impending release of the Abarth 124 Spider finally motivate Mazda to up the ante and endow the MX-5 with a more powerful engine and aggressive sportier styling?  I really hope so.

Abarth 124 Spider or Mazda MX-5?

'Coz if you ask me now, on which model I would buy today, [and my decision was a surprise even to me] I will be heading towards the Fiat dealership and placing a deposit on the Abarth 124 Spider.  And sadly I'm not the only one.

Sorry Mazda.