A week of cars

Posted on March 14th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Our recent editorial trip to Melbourne (well, recent as I am writing this), resulted in Michael Knowling and me driving a huge variety of cars – literally, from a 512TR Ferrari to a Japanese Domestic Market grey-import Toyota Hiace Super Custom Limited. In between there was the incredible APS Stage III (Phase III? whatever…), a Lancer Evo 7 and a current model 4.6-litre factory blown V8 Mustang.

We’ll cover (or have already covered) all these cars in full AutoSpeed stories, but here are some of my thoughts…

The APS car is the most impressive straightline street performer I have ever had the pleasure of steering.

You’ll have already read about the car in AutoSpeed but I gotta reiterate that the APS Stage III Falcon XR6 Turbo is really Something Else. Here is a car that in traffic is literally as docile as any ol’ auto-trans XR6 T, but with the foot down even half-way, can obliterate pretty well every other car on the road.

Push the throttle to the floor and it’s a case of feeling yourself flung towards the horizon. Get on the gas at 100 km/h and the nose perceptibly rises, the boost builds and – whoosh! – you’re gone. From one hundred kilometres an hour to 200 kilometres an hour takes, well, about as long as to read part-way into this sentence.

Figures? We’ve already run them but to remind you, try 327kW at the back treads, a standing quarter in the mid-Elevens, and a predicted kit cost of about AUD$9000.

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I defy anyone to find a current car that drives better (there’s no lumpy idle, in the test car no harsh-shifting from the tricked trans, no huge turbo lag, no pops or crackles or misses or detonation), runs on 98 octane premium fuel, has this level of performance – and adds less than AUD$10,000 to the cost of the original car.

The performance and tractability didn’t come about by accident. From the massive 3½ inch exhaust (with extraordinarily low measured backpressure) to the specifically-sourced cat and custom muffler, from the huge intercooler to the new injectors and sparkplugs, from the tuning of the Unichip interceptor to the design of the new underbonnet plumbing, this is a big-buck R&D effort from APS…. and it shows.

Right now I think that APS clearly leads the XR6 T field – and that’s coming from someone who has in the past found APS’s boss Peter Luxon an, er, very difficult man to deal with, and from someone who doesn’t have a hugely high opinion of the Unichip interceptor.

But the bottom line has always got to be in the driving, and the APS cars – the Stage II as well as the Stage III – are simply stonkingly brilliant on the road.

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On the same trip I also got to drive another wonderful car; actually, when I think about it, two cars. Both were courtesy of the generous Craig Dean of Melbourne’s Sports and Luxury Cars. The first was a near-current (’03) 4.6-litre DOHC V8 Mustang…with a factory positive displacement supercharger boosting to 9.5 psi through a water/air intercooler. Combine the 6-speed manual trans with an engine that develops both incredible low-down torque and a hugely free-revving nature, and you have a recipe for extraordinarily powerful performance.

To be honest, nearly all the Mustangs that I have driven have felt old-school; the ancient 5.7 V8 I’ve never liked and add to that handling that lacks nimbleness and, well, to me “Mustang ” and “truck” have had more than a few things in common.

But the blown 4.6 – especially in throttle-happy manual form – just had so much going for it in the engine department. Simply, this is probably the best supercharged engine I have ever driven, and certainly the best supercharged factory V8. (No, I haven’t driven any of the blown V8 Jaguars; something I’d very much like to do.) Immensely strong everywhere, it is the sort of engine that at four grand you assume just has to be running out of puff…until you reach 5000 rpm… then 6000… and torque is still being developed in awesome proportions. The figures say 291kW at 6000 rpm and 530Nm at 3500 rpm, and if anything, these seem to understate the case.

Our drive of the soft-top was only brief, but the engine left an indelible impression – what an engine!

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Very different – but a car that MK and I found even more fascinating – was the mid-Nineties JDM Toyota Hiace. Yes, really. Equipped with a punchy 3-litre turbo diesel, the Hiace was the top-of-the-line model normally found only in Japan. A lesson in developing a sophisticated and extraordinary luxurious people-mover, the Super Custom Limited had every feature known to humankind – and then some.

But it was no object of derision – there are plenty of reasons why you might need to have a built-in kettle and fridge.


After all, this is a vehicle that would quite happily do an interstate trip, and the passengers would be so relaxed and comfortable that you’d have to prise them out at every stop. If they could serve themselves hot coffee along the way, well, so much the better

The car uses three rows of seats, with the two rear rows able to be moved fore-aft on tracks. Set at their rearmost positions, the legroom is simply enormous – more than you’d find in any conventional car, bar a stretch limo. Rear passengers have their own sunroofs (yes, this car has four separate sunroofs), air-conditioning and heating controls, and huge picture windows. Access through the sliding side door is easy – even for an adult – and the seats are supremely comfortable, helped no doubt by their individual fold-down armrests. Even with the seats positioned towards the back of the car, there is luggage room for a few suitcases standing on their ends; while with the rear seat shuffled forward a little, six suitcases would fit without problems.

From the built-in intercom allowing the driver to address the passengers to the electric curtain controls, this was a car that could easily be dismissed as a gimmicky design indicative of Japanese domestic madness… until you drove and rode in it. Then, you could only admire the long-legged, relaxed gait engendered by the combination of the turbo diesel and soft suspension, and the absolute comfort and relaxation of the passengers.

I’m sure that MK and I would have much preferred to have had the Hiace for the week rather than the Ford Focus ST170 which was our ‘official’ car of the trip. In fact, when I think about that centre seat in the Hiace – which could be spun around to face the rear, so forming a comfortable working space – the Hiace would be almost perfect for a pair of working journalists collecting stories around a big city.

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Finally, there was the Lancer Evo 7. Oddly enough, this was an automatic, and with the drop in engine power and the greater loss through the transmission, she was no ball-tearer performer.

But the handling!

I am just infatuated with Lancer Evo handling; the sophistication of the Active Yaw Control rear end and the way it – and the rest of the electronics – can change the car’s attitude mid-corner is just mind-boggling. Unlike some active handling systems, the control is never a dissonance to the cornering flow. Instead, the Evo just makes every average driver – like me – look like a hero. The way it can power oversteer the rear end on turn-in; the ease with which cornering lines are maintained almost irrespective of speed; the precision of the steering and the brakes. The late-model Evo Lancers are exactly as I like a car to handle: grip, grip, grip and then intelligent lateral movements programmed-in to better get the car around the corner.

The Ferarri? To be honest, after the Lancer I thought it an odd, wide, extravagantly styled, powerful irrelevancy.

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