Here at AutoSpeed we drive a vast range of cars -
and nothing proves it more than our recent editorial trip to Sydney. Across
seven days we pedalled 22 different vehicles having a total output of around
So what were some of these vehicles like to drive?
Which ones left us cold and which ones blew us away? Well, we’re gonna tell
The standout four-cylinder performers of our seven
day drive-fest were sourced through MRT Performance and, not coincidentally,
each one was tuned using EcuTeK software.
The car that really surprised us was a current
MY06 Subaru WRX equipped with a relatively mild MRT power-up kit. Nothing
particularly groundbreaking in terms of mods but, jeez, the result was
brilliant. Forget typically laggy Subaru turbo engines, this engine had the
punch of a late-model Saab or Audi at low revs and continued to make good power
to around 7000 rpm. It was responsive, wonderfully flexible and damn fast in the
cut-and-thrust of normal driving. A great example of effective turbo matching
and an intelligent engine tune.
We also drove a tarmac-spec STi rally car
that (aside from having a ‘light switch’ clutch that embarrassed us on a couple
of occasions!) had tremendously useable performance. No, it wasn’t as responsive
as the MY06 WRX but we loved the way it just kept pouring on speed and the
assurance that came from the well tuned Whiteline suspension and semi-slick
tyres. It didn’t take much imagination to see this car doing well in tarmac
On the other hand, a day earlier we’d driven the
Whiteline-owned P25 project car and came away a bit disappointed. The suspension
had firmer than usual springs that (even with the dampers set near their
softest) gave an unsettled and harsh ride. And, curiously, the much-hyped
2.5-litre engine also failed to hit the mark. It seems likely the
stop-and-photograph type driving conditions brought out the worst of the
top-mount intercooler (aka heat-sink).
And then there were the Evo Lancers. Ahhh, the
We had the opportunity to drive two Evo 9s - one
completely stock and another example equipped with subtle power-up mods from
MRT. Unfortunately, the stock car had less than 100km on the odometer but it
became apparent that the engine (despite now having MIVEC) is pretty ‘old
school’ in its torque delivery. But there’s nothing old school about the
handling! Even on a wet road, the E9’s electronic AWD system lets you drive
f-a-r beyond normal limits. In MRT-modified guise (with an EcuTeK reprogram and
high-flow exhaust), the second E9 pulled strongly through the top-end and showed
improved flexibility but, still, there wasn’t much happening until the turbo was
awake. This was also our first close-up look at the interesting Vortex
Generators that are available as an option across the trailing edge of the Evo
Breaking up the WRX/STi and Evo Lancer monotony
(gee, life’s tough!) were a ‘grey’ Japanese import Toyota Caldina and a Holden
The Caldina is another one of those Japanese
market cars that you can’t help wonder might’ve sold well in Australia. Based on
a Corolla floopan, the Caldina wagon packs a 3S-GTE turbo engine kicking out
190kW. Combine that with constant AWD and optional stability control and you’ve
got a very practical vehicle that has the potential to run very fast very
safely. The stability control does a great job reducing understeer when pushed
hard through a large roundabout. But the engine? Well, it’s another old school
little-engine-with-big-turbo combo. It goes well when up on boost but,
unfortunately, the bottom-end just isn’t there – in one instance, the Caldina
struggled to keep up with a Magna V6... An interesting beast, nonetheless.
Probably the most newsworthy drive of the week was
at the wheel of Whiteline Suspension’s Holden Astra Turbo which is now equipped
with an adjustable stability control system. This, as far as we’re aware, is a
world first in terms of aftermarket development - nobody else offers an
adjustable stability control module to alter vehicle handling. The result? Well,
it was a mixed bag and you’ll just have to wait to read our full article!
And we mustn’t forget the sweet little E46 BMW
325ti that the owner insisted we drive. Fitted with an Infinitas SK Stage One
centrifugal blower kit (which we’d never heard of, let alone seen before!) the
Beemer took a few revs to start flying but, once there, it went very well.
Unfortunately, the gearing was too tall for our liking and, despite adaptation
of M3 paddle gearlevers for the auto transmission, it took a conscious effort to
get the engine into its rpm sweet-spot. Big Porsche brakes were a suitable
finishing touch to this classy little number.
Other four-cylinders driven during the seven days
of madness include a Hyundai Getz 1.4 press car, a GC-series
STi with plenty of APS bits and a GD-series STi with plenty of MRT bits. Oh, and
we also managed to squeeze in a test drive of a Saab 9-5 which we were potentially
interested in buying – a bit dull after driving some of these beasts!
Not surprisingly, the Ford XR6 Turbo dominates the
The lengthiest drive we scored was in the
Silverwater Automotive Services (SAS) XR6T ute which has received a direct ECU
reprogram. With an air intake, injectors, valve springs and a shorter diff
ratio, the SAS ute is an absolute weapon that was constantly on the verge of
losing traction. A real speed machine. But pull up at the lights and it idled
beautifully with no extra noise or vibration – an incredible achievement
considering where Ford six-cylinder performance was only a few years ago...
MRT has also branched out into XR6 Turbo
modification and, again, we had the opportunity to drive a couple of examples
they’d had a hand in. The boosted 4-litre six showed great performance
along with terrific refinement (even though induction noise was slightly more
than we like).
There are also a couple of interesting Nissan six
cylinders worthy of mention. The first was a Japanese import Stagea powered by a
RB25DET and with constant AWD. This machine floored us with its cornering
prowess – it simply flew through corners at death-defying speed. A rival for the
handling of the Evo 9? Almost. Although not up to same level of performance, we
also admired a 1987 Nissan 200ZR. The 200ZR is essentially
a Z31 300ZX except with a RB20DET straight six under the bonnet. In its era,
this would’ve been a stunning car. The RB-series engine gave remarkable
smoothness but with very low boost pressure (perhaps due to a problem) it was
hardly a fireball. The IRS also danced around alarmingly thanks to its worn
Also driven were MRT’s Ford Territory with upgrade
springs and swaybars (which cornered much flatter than factory) and a standard
Now we’re torquin’!
On the final day of our seven day trip (just when
we though we’d driven everything we were going to) the opportunity arose to slip
behind the wheel of a Bentley Turbo R and Dodge Viper RT/10. Ohhh, boy!
The Bentley was real an eye opener. Forget any
notion that this is a truly high-performance luxury saloon – in reality, it’s an
old fashioned interpretation of a luxury car that, due to its mammoth weight,
needs a huge amount of grunt to get moving. Thankfully there is a pretty
healthy serve of grunt on tap from the turbocharged 6.75-litre V8 – almost 300kW
and an eye-watering 750Nm of torque! Initial research reveals the blown Bentley
should be able to hit 100 km/h in around six seconds – but we can only imagine
that’s down a very steep hill. Oh, and the steering... we thought
quarter-of-a-turn slop was abolished decades ago.
And the Viper?
Well, this is a car that lives up to its
reputation - it’s brutal, outlandish and makes no apologies. With eight litres
of V10 muscle in its nose, the Viper knows nothing of flat-spots or turbo lag –
you just stick your foot into it at any revs and tense your neck muscles! The
long bonnet lifts heavenward, the exhaust bellows and before you know it, it's
time to haul the hefty shift lever into another gear. The engine – despite its
humble origins – is revy and a real delight.
Sure, it has flaws – like the windscreen header
rail is directly in your line of sight and the side-exit exhaust blows hot gas
on your feet when stepping in/out - but at least it does everything it’s
supposed to. A top-line Porsche will show it the meaning of the word “finesse”
but that doesn’t take anything away from the Viper. This is truly an exciting
modern muscle car – and it now has its fangs in us!
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