Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Did the German beauty sweep me off my feet??

Usually, the charm of the luxurious German saloons does not work on me. Before I get the critics howling at me, let me point out that I firmly agree that there is nothing that beats the Germans in precision engineering, attention to detail and even creating new stuff and automotive technology which the Japs can ape in a year's time and improvise sometime later.

I have the highest regard for the BMW engines, the S-Class from Mercedes that defines new standards in safety and gadgetry for production cars. The names of Porsche, Bayerische Moteren Werke (a.k.a. the snazzy bimmers), VW will never fade away from the pages of history. Their excellence in engineering led the proud nation to rely on them during the wars too- with BMW into aircrafts and VW & Porsche making ground assault units: including tanks. During the Nazi era, they were also supposed to be iconic to the world and assert German supremacy in the industry. Hitler's backing led to the birth of many masterpieces including the bug- VW beetle. He also gave Daimler Benz the ultimatum to be the # 1 in racing- which it eventually did and has held on to it ever since. The effects of that push, the commitment to excellence can be seen even today with the Mercedes engine powered F1 cars propelling the champions (McLaren included) to glory.


That said, I still do not very much drool over the German beauties. The reason?? Well, its the price!! I still believe that whatever money I may have any fine day, I will go for the Japanese performers. I know I will be assured of more stuff for my money. I just don't need that much detail and that many buttons to adjust my seat. I'm happy with a modest cabin, a robust engine- which I can open up and put some stuff to get a few more horses out of it.

So now that you have a rough idea about my thought process, you can understand that I wasn't exactly biting my nails when I first saw the latest addition to Vaibhav's fleet- the Mercedes E-280. It looks grand- agreed; but a Nissan 350Z would have had a better effect on me. So I get in, Vaibhav puts the vehicle in 'D' mode and pulls down the handbrake. The handbrake is definitely weird and without directions, I would not have managed to deploy it. I have driven a couple of automatics- mostly various generations of Civics. I was expecting a tiny jerk when you change from 'P' to 'D' or to 'R'. However, no matter how hard I tried and how hard I focused whenever Vaibhav shifted between modes, the jerk never came. Well, the jerk I talk about is what I saw in the 2000's Corollas and Civics. Obviously in a Merc, I knew it was silly to expect that jerk when shifting between modes or changing gears. However, I was looking hard for the tiniest vibration, a faint rumble when the gears mesh, at least something. None was to be found. Vaibhav even switched to the semi-auto shift and drove near 6000rpm before he shifted up. Yet again nothing was amiss. The shift was buttery and happened so swiftly that the higher gear was already engaged before the tacho needle could register the change. There was no lag and the car retained it's initial momentum and accelerated seamlessly with the same gregarious magnitude. The acceleration in this sedan though commendable in magnitude is not as thrilling as it would be in something half its size. Yet the thrill of propelling such a weight is a pleasure of a different kind itself. The engine noise is limited to a gentle purr even in the red line.

After ensuring I was visibly impressed, Vaibhav stopped the vehicle and spoke out the two magic words- "U drive". The initial inhibitions of laying my hands on a 40 lakh beauty wore away as I took the driver's seat. The first thing that hit me was the simplicity and grandiose (yes, at the same time!!) of the dashboard and the cabin. I knew that I could do all the wizardry and cool stuff from this seat. Yet the controls presented a very graceful look. Had this been a Japanese or a Korean, the buttons would have been screaming out- 'Look I can do this, look I can display this data, look I can light up your cabin like a dance floor'. In fact I do like the way Civic lights up and displays its instrument cluster with shades of blue, purple and red. But this one wanted to be classy rather than snazzy. I got to know later that this happened to be the new 'Special Edition' with the beige dash and upholstry. I played with the buttons till I got the seat right for myself. In this process, I did not use all the dimensions. There were many other adjustment directions left unexplored, but you may understand you don’t have the patience to play with it when you have that wonderful motor idling and raring to go.


I eased the car into 'D' and drove off smoothly. The car does not let you know when it shifts gears and adapts to your driving style to optimize the shifts. Only the tachometer and the LCD gear diplay reveal when a shift happens. Since I was driving with utmost care, I asked Vaibhav to help me engage the transmission override. Now this turned out to be a very complex procedure. I thought the single stick at the center (on your left hand) working as the mode select (P, D, R) and the shifter was quite a multi tasking object. Now I found out that I'm supposed to select the transmission mode using this too! You hold it in 'D', flick it left and keep it there for two seconds. And Eureka!! I'm in manual transmission. I did not have the patience to probe for the partial override- and whatever other modes you engage by carrying out the same procedure on the left side. After flicking the Drive lever and analyzing the torque delivery at different engine speeds, I shut down all drive assists (At least whatever I could find- the traction control and brake assist). Somewhere in between, I also managed to change from manual to partial overdrive. God!! They should have a separate paddle for gear shifting!! Like Civic- the Paddle at the steering- where shifting while steering is the ultimate driving experience. And a lot less complicated..

After engaging to manual again and without the assists, I floored the pedal. The bulky thing shoots forward quite gracefully. The 230 bhp V6 engine seems a bit underpowered for this mass but we know that this is one of the best engineered machine. You don’t exactly want to do burn-outs or drifts on this. You should have bought the Ford Mondeo or something for that. The other things have been taken into consideration with great detail. For instance the precision of the steering was heavenly. The term called body roll seems to have vanished altogether. Turning some medium sized sedans (including the Accord) at higher speeds does freak you out for a fraction of a second. Not this one- it feels deeply rooted to the ground, no matter what the surface. You can also feel this difference when you drive over some troughs and ridges (such as passing the top of a flyover) at high speeds.

Finally I got it back to the parking lot and eased it to its usual place. I searched for the keyhole and switched the engine off. With this I managed to do what I had been trying for a very long time. The car jerked as the engine shut down! Even with my limited experience with automatics, it did not take much time to figure out that I had conveniently forgotten to switch to 'P' mode and had shut it down in 'D'!!

So all that said, did it manage to impress me? Honestly, it did- I’ll give you that.. But still, there’s no way I’m going to put my hypothetical money on a luxury sedan ;)

The day you see money with me, you can bet you’ll find me in a Mitsubishi, Honda or a Nissan speedster the next day..

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