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things I don't understand I: cars

brescd01

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I am posting here because while I am sure people have good taste by and large you are not gear heads.

I own a Subaru WRX STI 2008, the first year of the new model. Maybe I am weak but I constantly hear the siren song of "the big three" (Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes) with their enormous marketing efforts and I wonder maybe I should, blah blah blah.

I am not the sort of person who buys a car and then defends it to the death, as most people who post on the web appear to be. My car has its virtues and flaws. By far the best thing about my car and something that is not really open to discussion is its "format", high-speed sport wagon, of which there are very few in the USA. That was why I bought it and that is still its best feature.

I have driven it for two years and I am not a particularly skilled driver nor do I push it to its limits. But one thing I can say is that since last year when I got fed up with its original equipment performance summer tires and replaced them with Continental "DWS" all-seasons, it is a completely different car, for the better. I am sure I lost something on dry surfaces but as I said, I do not drive it to the limit nor do I test it on tracks.

So my question: I needed two years to learn the intricacies of my car and I probably have not really appreciated all its flaws and virtues. How does ANYONE comment on a car that they have not owned for several years? More importantly, how do I understand what a car will be like to live with? How do the elite cars handle in bad weather, which is extremely important to me because I can never stay home due to the weather and I need absolute security. So for example, the famous Porsche Caymen, how would that perform in bad weather? Consumer Reports has wonderful reviews but they never comment on the car's bad weather handling, nor do they change the cars' tires so that all the cars are tested objectively. What are the differences between the various drive systems for example?

I find myself turning back to my car not because it is the best but because it is the only thing I know. I leased a Jeep Grand Cherokee and despite its terrible reputation it was fine but nothing could alter the basic physics of a heavy car with a high center of gravity.

If I go to the dealer and ask for a test drive they would eschew bad roads and bad weather, but these are the conditions one needs to appreciate how living with a car would be like.

Okay, rant over.
 

akatsuki

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Most reviews are fluff pieces written over the course of a day or two. And, of course, it depends on how you drive and your subjective preferences. If we listened to car reviewers everyone would either drive a 3-series or a Porsche of some sort.

Cayman is tolerable in bad weather with snow tires (not all-seasons, but snow tires). Meaning you have to drive carefully.

We bought a C300 because we liked the ride, the general character of the car, etc. This was coming from a Boxster which had its moments of brilliance and idiocy in equal measure. Of course the test drive did not reveal how inept Mercedes is at telematics since their Nav system is a joke - but from what I understand they are all that bad. But whatever.

Realistically you have just discovered why people just buy a new Camry every time they want to buy a car, they are comfortable with it and they are used to it.
 

A Y

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My impression is that people regurgitate what they read in reviews and what they've read on the web.

Your question on bad weather handling and the effects of tires is interesting, and somewhat contentious in the car world. First, tires. These are the single biggest determinant of your car's performance. Nothing else in a car, be it horsepower, suspension, or drivetrain matter as much. They matter, but tires rule.

For testing, some people advocate using the OEM tires that come with the car, because that's how most people will drive it, but others say you should use the same brand and model of tires in car comparisons for an apples-apples comparison. However, some tires are designed with certain cars and suspensions in mind, especially the high performance summer tires, so you may think you're eliminating extraneous variables in a comparison when you're really not.

In the end, it doesn't matter, because people who need this kind of info will be doing their own testing already instead of relying on reviews, and it really doesn't matter for people who don't care about this stuff. Just about every modern car made today has performance capabilities well beyond 99 percent of the population's driving skills.

Second, bad weather handling. It depends on what you mean by bad weather. If it's rain, and temperatures aren't too low (say above 40F), then any modern tire that has sufficient tread depth, and isn't too old and hard will be fine. Driving in rain is all about evacuating enough water in front and under the tire so that the tire doesn't hydroplane, and that is determined by the tread depth, all else being equal. Of course, the faster you drive and the wider your tires, the more easily you will hydroplane because the volume of water seen by your tires is proportionally higher. Some tread designs offer marginally better water evacuation, but they all mostly perform in the same ballpark.

If it's in cold temperatures with snow and ice, then you need snow tires. All-seasons are generally not good enough except in a pinch. It doesn't matter if you have 4WD or AWD or FWD or RWD. All that a drivetrain does is determine what happens when you run out of traction on one or more tires under acceleration. Tires determine how well you can not only accelerate, but also turn and brake. If you don't have enough traction, you cannot brake or turn, and there is nothing a drivetrain system can do to mitigate this. It is a common misconception that AWD or 4WD systems are all you need in snowy conditions.

The goal is not to lose traction from any tire for as long as possible. That means snow tires whose rubber compounds are formulated to stay compliant in freezing temperatures and whose surface tread is designed to get through the particular snow or ice condition you're in --- that may be sipes (little grooves that can cut through snow) or spikes.

It's hard to generalize on bad weather handling. A RWD, mid-engined car like the Cayman whose low polar moment of inertia can make it easy to spin could drive circles around an SUV with all-seasons in the snow if the Cayman had snow tires on. One could argue that in the right hands, a communicative car like the Cayman is easier to handle in low-traction conditions than a boaty Toyota. In unskilled hands, a barge-like Toyota is probably safer, because it will go to a stable default condition (ie. understeer) that won't scare most people. There are many factors involved, and I'm not sure a review could meaningfully test them.

Perhaps the most general thing one could say is that safe handling in bad weather is largely a function of your common sense and the condition of your tires. You don't want situations to get to the point where you are discovering the behavior of your car at its traction limits. It's great and great fun in driving schools, but not on the streets.

I'm not sure if that answered your question, but there it is.

--Andre
 

brescd01

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Actually both your answers really made me feel better, thanks. I wish everyone wrote this way.The experience of going from a Boxter to a C300 is interesting. Would you be willing to write more?

By the way, by bad weather, I meant snow and ice. And I hope you are to some degree wrong about the snow tires because I opted for all-seasons because in Philadelphia, the number of days with snow on the ground are so few. Plus, I have a garage but having to stow four extra tires would make it tight. Then you have to pick when you are going to change the tires...I guess a Cayman is small enough one would have room for the extra tires.

I have to drive to work tomorrow. I have the best all-seasons (the Conti DWS's) and a 4 wheel drive STI, hopefully this will be a good test and not too frightening.
 

A Y

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Snow tires aren't just for driving on snow: the rubber is formulated for lower temperatures so it won't harden up when the temperature drops. Lots of people swap in a set of snows for the winter, and drive them all winter, even if it doesn't snow that much.

Tire Rack is a great resource for finding out about any tire. You probably want one of the milder M+S rated snow tires that's meant for lighter snow duty. The problem with the really serious snow tires is that you can destroy them quickly driving on clear roads at high speeds and they're really noisy.

--Andre
 

JayJay

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Originally Posted by A Y
Snow tires aren't just for driving on snow: the rubber is formulated for lower temperatures so it won't harden up when the temperature drops. Lots of people swap in a set of snows for the winter, and drive them all winter, even if it doesn't snow that much.

Tire Rack is a great resource for finding out about any tire. You probably want one of the milder M+S rated snow tires that's meant for lighter snow duty. The problem with the really serious snow tires is that you can destroy them quickly driving on clear roads at high speeds and they're really noisy.

--Andre

+1. I'm a strong proponent of snow tires for cold climates. IMO, for safety and handling they go way beyond the capabilities of all season tires.
 

turboman808

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Glad you started talking about tires. Really thats what it comes down to with handling and performance.

I am probably generalizing here but most porsche owners have several cars and put the porsche in storage for the winter. Cheaper and seems to make more sense to get a beater for the winter instead of punishing a nice car thru the winter and having to buy extra tires. Lets face it, an extra set of tires for a cayman can run 3-6k.
 

MrGoodBytes

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Originally Posted by brescd01
If I go to the dealer and ask for a test drive they would eschew bad roads and bad weather, but these are the conditions one needs to appreciate how living with a car would be like.

really? I've never had any problems test driving in piss poor weather or taking "the road less traveled". Went Porsche shopping for my father last winter with more than a foot of fresh snow on the ground... gotta say they handle significantly better than I expected (I'm sure having a limited slip dif was a good part of the reasoning).

you are 100% correct that tires make the largest difference in a car. You might find it worth your while to pick up a 2nd set of rims rather than having to have tires remounted twice a year.
 

Althis

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i always thought of the big 3 as BMW, Mercedes, Audi
 

brown eyes

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I'm kinda surprised that you would choose the WRX STi, that car is a select market car.

If you really want to learn the intricacies of a car, I suggest you head on over to the car-specific forums and read what people have to say about that car. It shouldn't have taken you two years to figure out your car, if you spent half a day reading the threads from NASIOC, you'd have a much better understanding of your car.
 

EMY

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A lot of the people who buy Porsches have another car. The Cayman is designed to be a sports car, not an inclement weather, water fording, rock crawling people hauler. It performs its intended purpose well. (the car manufacturer's intended purpose, not yours) I know people with 2 door sport cars as their only car and then complain that they can't carry stuff. lol

btw, California received a lot of rain last week and the Subaru dealer wouldn't let me test drive a WRX during a down pour.
 

acecow

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I owned a 335xi for 3 years now. Bought it brand new. That beast handles amazingly well in snow. I was able to drive where rear-wheel drive SUVs got stuck. Of course, I'm not going comment on the joy I still feel every day while driving it. Best, most rewarding 50+K I've ever spent in my whole life.
 

BankerBoi

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Some magazines do yearlong tests with over 30,000 miles and get more than a first impression.
Many car writers are advertorial scribes or professional writes who stumbled upon the automotive beat.
But some are car people first and writes second.

How does ANYONE comment on a car that they have not owned for several years?
How can a dentist comment on you teeth after a 3 minute look ? He has not lived with them for years, talked through them or eaten with them.

Why did you choose the STi over the WRX or base Impreza ? It is a narrowly focussed almost cult car, and people who love it, really love it.
Likewise for Evos, ///M3 and like like. Other cars are softer, quieter, but not nearly as capable or responsive.

In any case, all season tires for mild winters or snow tires for actual snow, slush, ice, and actual cold (under 20 F) make a world of difference.

We test drove am midsize Mazda a few years ago and the dealer asked us to take it home and see how it looked in our garage.
Test drives are more limited for hoon-prone cars, but on the other hand, M-B and Porsche have special events with driving on a closed course that's much
more challenging than a simple around the block.

And for Porsche owners, search youtube for winder driving classes in Finland.
 

brescd01

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Shouldn't have taken me two years? Because I have all this time to study my car and the internet while I am building my practice? Oy vey.

I got the STI because that year it was significantly better than the WRX according to journalists. In subsequent years the WRX was supposedly improved. But in any event I wanted a 300 hp engine and so long as it did not come with that horrendous spoiler of the previous model, I was happy.
 

akatsuki

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As requested, going from the Boxster to the C300...

First, I don't care about what people think of as a chick car - people who talk like that are pretty much douchebags of the highest order. I'd fucking drive a pink Hello Kitty Beetle if it met my needs.

So the Boxster is an absolutely brilliant car for what it is. You are low to the ground, the sills aren't excessively high, and it feels like a blast going at 35 mph with the top down on a sunny day. It isn't particularly fast in a straight line, but frankly that is a metric I don't give one crap about. It is far more fun than a current gen M3 for example, even though that is a brilliant car.

The mid-engined nature makes it feel particularly agile and balanced, the brakes modulate well without excessive grab or fade, and the steering is very direct. The seats are superior to anything else with tons of bolster so long as you are not fat. The clutch is intolerant of any slop so it is not a great car to learn to drive stick on. It also has a ton of storage for stuff and was our only car for 5 years.

That being said, it has only two seats, it sucks for city or long drives since it is loud inside and the suspension is far too stiff for crappy US city streets. It also has a lingering problem with the intermediate shaft that can kill your engine and Porsche has totally dodged the issue meaning you are driving a ticking time bomb. The 987 is better in this regard, but I have heard that it is not fully resolved - this also means I will never buy another Porsche ever since the company behaved like total shit about the issue.

So when we went shopping for a car, we liked the smallness and German feel of the Porsche (I hate large cars for the most part) but we wanted to address some of the issues. We quickly narrowed it down to BMW, Lexus, Infiniti and the Mercedes. Infiniti fell because the G is slightly too big and the throttle is not very direct feeling. The IS was filled with every single gadget imaginable, but drove like an ES and felt subjectively large. The BMW 3-series was a strong contender, but the styling is still pretty terrible and the interior just didn't do it for us; the 1-series was far more interesting, but we really wanted the 5-door hatch and not a 2 door coupe. Audi was out because of their shit reliability.

Mercedes was, on balance, the one that met our needs. The engine is a bit underpowered but, like I said, I don't care about 0-60 times much. The interior could have a bit more wood in it (the door pins in particular look like total shit, but the 2012 refresh apparently is much nicer). Otherwise it had a nice feel and most of the things we wanted. Apparently in about 2008 with the new models Mercedes reliability has improved quite a bit...

After driving for a while, the one thing I detest is the COMAND system, which is a sick joke of 90s technology and the navigation voice is absolutely horrible. My wife and I are thinking about scoring some C63 seats to stick in it.

We almost bought an STI actually because I really wanted a sport wagon, but my wife really didn't want another stick.

If I was to buy a second car, I wouldn't buy a Porsche again because of the way they handled the IMS issue. I'd consider a 1-series convertible or even a Miata (which is the best deal in a sporty convertible ever), but lately I have to admit I have been eyeing a Wrangler Rubicon or maybe a G500.
 

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