Friend: “Would you buy a Panamera, or a Semi-D?”
First of all, a little bit of caveat. Like many of you, I’m a car enthusiast. And I’d like to give everyone a glimpse into how I, or we car enthusiasts, see things, versus popular consensus.
“Cars depreciate, you shouldn’t waste money on cars.” - Haven’t we heard this advice enough? And you know what, we totally agree they depreciate. And if a certain ‘Detroit’, ‘Spain’, or ‘Greece’ didn’t implode every decade or so, we can concur that properties do indeed appreciate indefinitely.
But hey, at least they depreciate.
Now told me, that RM35,000 you splurged on that Europe trip with your missus, what’s it worth now? Or should I say, how many Likes you get on Facebook for the low-res upload of your otherwise 2.12 gigabytes of lessened hard-disk space being the resulting remnants of your RM35,000 Euro trip? How about that magnificent set of Bang & Olufsen home entertainment system you splurged on a year ago knocking off RM120,000 from your bank balance? And do you know there are people spending RM15,000 for a bamboo fishing rod? For christ sake some people collect Barbie dolls figurines.
How much are they worth now? Do they even, depreciate?
To me, it’s about spending money on your hobby, something you love. That is something that serves as your self-gratification. To us, like many of them with countless interest in all things possible, it just so happen that we tend to like to spend our money on cars. But lucky enough, unlike most hobbies, our value retention happens to be a lot better than say, a fishing rod made from Panda-food.
To paint a better picture, I’ve decided to put my true self into this equation. It’s a bit of a nut job, and wouldn’t serve well as “Car Buying Guide for Dummies 101”.
My first job pays me RM1,700. And instead of getting the then brand new “Asia’s answer to Germany” (Seriously, Proton made bold, BMW-taunting statements with the Waja), I got myself a rather aged Audi A4 B5 1.8T. Thoughts of “T-U-R-B-O dude, Turbo. And for the price of a Waja” kept repeating in my head convincing myself that it is perfectly ok to spend half of my monthly salary for the car. And believing the K03 turbochargers won’t cook itself with sludge, the radiators won’t pop open its plastic side rails, and the notorious ZF 5-speed transmission won’t fail on me, ever.
Well it did. They all did. The gearbox? That kicked the bucket, twice.
The only redemption for that suicidal act of plonking 50% of my monthly income and racking up credit card bills faster than the car can reach 100km/h, is that it remotely resembles the B5 RS4 Avant that I read about in an automotive magazine years ago.
Needless to say, a slew of swiping plastics through magnetic strips and plenty of form filling, left-right pocket fiddling knowledge was needed in ensuring I don’t receive the CCRIS Award from Bank Negara.
I had zero savings. Even my then-girlfriend left me for some ‘richer dude’ who probably makes RM3,500 a month; and perhaps with the newfound financial security, they made babies and got married. - See? I reduced one gold digger for you guys by setting really low standards in the first place. Yes, my love for that Turbo which never quite kicked in above a certain RPM left me broke. But hey, I don’t need Asia’s answer to Germany, I have Ingolstadt’s answer to Munich with me yo.
As much as I was a complete lunatic when it comes to car buying advice for fresh grads, I wasn’t too shabby at work, and soon I was promoted. And with quarterly commission payouts that was close to 5 figures, my monthly credit card bills soon became rather uninteresting numerically. It’s the usual suspects each month. Petrol, movies, coffee, Maxis, Ever Auto Sdn Bhd. But by then, the car’s relatively new parts in the entire engine bay was giving me less financial worries, or perhaps it was my newfound perspective with digits assigned behind the RM, I felt something needed to be done, I felt itchy, like I needed something to kick me in the financial balls it seems.
Soon, after doing some heavy research and reading in various forums, websites, and Haynes manuals, I bought myself a pedal box, shifter, clutch, drive shafts, and a 5-speed manual transmission flown in all from UK. You know what’s crazy? The cost of all these is about RM3,500, the shipment and tax? Another RM4,500. Needless to say, my credit card statement looks a lot more interesting now. I spent 9 months converting my car to the one and only, Audi A4 B5 1.8T Manual - in the country. I was thrilled. The bank that issued my card was thrilled as well.
You can still find my car's "For Sale" post here. But it is long been sold off now.
Throughout those 9 months, I was driving my family’s abandoned Renault Scenic, a car that’s devoid of love, care, maintenance, air conditioning, but one that refuses to die. I got two things off of this car. First, I learned to arrive 30 minutes earlier in client’s office for meetings - so that the air conditioning will dry off my sweaty arm pits. Secondly, I dated my current wife with this car, yes, a Renault Scenic without air conditioning got me the lady that bore me my child today.
After owning the A4 for 8 years, I bought myself a used, 2003 Subaru Legacy BP5 Spec B. I’ve loved wagons ever since my first encounter with the Audi B5 RS4 in a year 1999 edition of CarPlus Hong Kong Magazine. I remembered the road test editor was actually testing out the then brand new Ferrari 360 Modena, where the story took an unsuspecting turn where during his drive, he was tailgated by an Audi RS4 - one where with all his might and sweaty palms, he just couldn’t shake off the RS4. That few paragraphs of epic story telling firmly planted my fate on high powered wagons and the ensuing futile attempt at the 1.8T A4 - save for my car being a sedan rather than a wagon and down on quite a bit on horsepower and cylindrical count.
So, what made me buy the Legacy? A Youtube video, more specifically, a 2003 video from Japan’s Best Motoring where the highly-skilled presenters always seem to make any Japanese car spank any European pedigree on their track. It’s not a very scientifically convincing test, but entertainingly memorable nevertheless. By then, as the car lover I’ve always been, I’ve had the opportunity of running my own business. What else, a car magazine and a website, titled Live Life Drive, yes, this very one you’re reading from.
Soon, the day was coming where I have to make a decision to either keep the Legacy for the rest of my life, or sell it off. This was due to the fact that that any potential buyer of your 10-year-old car might have a hard time getting banks to approve their loan; what’s more for an unpopular model from what is perceived as an unpopular left-field brand. Ok, Subaru is rather popular now, but back in 2011, they sold like 17 cars for the entire year. Yes, S-E-V-E-N-T-E-E-N. But even if I were to sell, what car can I buy to replace it? Being a motoring journalist, we tend to have this issue of stepping into cars we can in no way afford, but goes “This car sucks.” - Yes, it’s a pain for us motoring scribes when it comes to buying cars, we have too little money for too many choices.
Of course all sorts of logical thinking process comes into play as I tabled out my list of options for a replacement if I were to shop for another car, a wagon - it’s a must. The newly launched Mazda 6 wagon comes into mind immediately. It’s beautiful, handles brilliantly, but I have to forego about 100hp. And that is a no-no. The Volvo V60 wagon is yet another looker, solid, comfortable, with booster seats for my child. And with 245hp on tap, it’s fast as well. But it holds as much luggage as my Legacy’s glovebox would, a far cry from the 740 wagon that was Euro pallet ready. The all new Legacy wagon? It’s just ugly beyond comprehension. No way I would swap my beautiful Legacy for that monstrosity. Lastly, the Peugeot 508 SW GT looked like the best bet. Powerful, fuel efficient, beautiful, huge space inside, and very, very well built. In fact, it feels so German it’s as if Charles De Gaulle actually crossed the English Channel for a four year holiday to have a spot of jam and tea. Speaking of German, I stumbled across a used Audi S4 Avant. The closest thing to my dream wagon RS4. But the price was about double that of the Mazda 6 wagon.
Coincidentally, Jack Baruth (Editor in Chief of The Truth About Cars, and Contributing Editor of Road & Track) was in town for a visit. And perhaps this bloke, who has two VW Phaetons, two Porsche 993s, two Lincoln Town Cars, an Audi S5 V8, a Honda Accord Coupe as well as a Dodge Neon, might be able to give me some sound buying advice on ‘Practical Car Ownership 101’.
Here was his advice:
Jack: “A 4 year old Audi S4 wagon, or the Peugeot 508 SW GT?”
Bobby: “Yeah, but then the Peugeot would be a new car though.”
Jack: “Bobby, look at it this way, a 4-cylinder turbo diesel? You will have plenty of those down the road in the future. As for a supercharged 6 cylinder? Those motors might go extinct in the near future. Get the Audi S4.”
And I’ve never looked back since. Yes, it’s less reliable than the Subaru, yes it doesn’t handle as well as the Subaru, it is less spacious and less practical than the 508 SW GT. But engines are an integral part of what makes up a car and its character. It’s the mechanicals working in harmony, in complex connections of chains, bearings, shafts that give an engine its very character. Although a modern 4 cylinder can make 360hp, it wouldn’t be making it as elegant as a V6 while at it. And I made a promise to myself once that my next car’s got to be a V8, and then a V10, and hopefully, a V12 if I’m lucky enough to achieve that. After which I would probably then scale back to fooling around in some fuel-sipping Prius - perhaps.
And maybe that’s why when Porsche wanted me to test out the Panamera 4S and GTS, I was both thrilled and a bit jaded. I love the Porsche Panamera all along. To me, they’re impossible objects of engineering. Like the Cayennes, they’re able to do things their physical size weren’t supposed to. Given the way they handled their heft, the manner with which they catered their intended habitats and counter their unintended environments, it shows that it takes way more science, effort, engineering and physics defying efforts to build a Panamera than say a Lotus Elise. And I’ve always wanted to own a Panamera since I first drove one. But having driven every single variant available since they debuted years ago, from the hybrid to the turbo, I’ve since got a bit jaded going about in another Panamera that I can’t yet afford to buy. So what’s the part that got me thrilled? Well, I get to do a real world comparison of a forced inducted V6 against a highly strung V8. The end-result of the whole downsizing trend that’s happening right now.
The 4S has a twin turbocharged 3-litre V6 making 420hp, the GTS on the other hand has a naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 making 440hp, and both utilises all four wheels to put down 520Nm of torque onto the road. Not far from what I got used to as my supercharged S4 Avant that makes 333hp and 440Nm stock, and was later chipped to produce 416hp and 520Nm. However, the twin turbochargers in the 4S spools so quickly that it completely voids the argument of superchargers being able to develop more immediate punch than turbochargers. Not only so, the distinct characteristics of turbochargers not leeching to the power train as revs climb is very much evident here. Couple this to the best dual clutch transmission in the business, and the 4S, whose performance is very similar to my car’s on paper, made my smaller and lighter S4 Avant feel a lot slower.
While the sensational of straight line performance is definitely more memorable and undiscerning for both the 4S and the GTS, it’s the reaction the Panameras gives from every input from the driver that makes them worthwhile the crest from Zuffenhausen. Porsches, as much as pundits would want to hammer on their 190,000 annual volume, which makes them far from being an exotic car maker, is just too damn good in making cars that react to driver’s inputs, regardless of size or form factor, and jumping into the GTS dials this engagement level up north, what with the immediate throttle input and exhaust note output.
Now in the grand scheme, amongst the plethoras of Porsche Panameras, the place where the GTS sits is akin to how the 911 Turbo is the performance flagship, while the GT3 is the king of driver engagement. And key to this is a high revving, naturally aspirated engine that not only sounds glorious, but punchy and eager to be ill-treated. It is the sensation of driving these feel-machines that is almost as though your legs are bolted to a series of interconnected mechanicals reaching all the way to the con-rods that connect the pistons. The way the engine rumbles at idle, shrieks at the slightest provocation of the pedal gives you an uncanny anticipation and expectation of great things to come. It works with you in a physical, logical, and almost whimsical harmony. Unlike forced induction engines that has that slight delay as the boosts build up along with that tiny bit of unpredictability, which is essentially unavoidable, this 4.8-litre V8 lump that produces a staggering 520Nm, is by all measures a masterpiece.
Moreover, given that the Cayenne GTS has now been updated with a 3.6-litre V6 Twin-Turbo engine, it wouldn’t be too long before the Panamera GTS succumbs to the same logical fate of being downsized along with two cylinders lopped off. As Jack Baruth mused, such big-displacement, multi-cylinder configuration might be long gone within 5 years, especially in view of stricter CAFE ratings in North America, and tighter emission taxes in Europe.
Oh, and did I mention how well built their interiors are? For every Tom, Dick, and Harry auto journalist that hark on about Audi’s superiority in the area of interior build quality, the interior of Porsche’s are a couple of notches up their proverbial cliche writing. The seats are beautiful, the dash is set low, functional, gloriously finished, and appointed with a great mixture of materials that almost makes you wonder if they actually outsourced their interior craftsmen to Hermes.
So, both Panameras here come with an impossibly beautiful interior, and more so if you can spend half a week sitting down in their office picking which leather you would like to finish its air-conditioning vent with, and which tone of orange you’d like the steering wheel to be trimmed in. Their customisation program borders on obsessive and is downright mad. Both cars make 520Nm on tap, both are four wheel driven, and both are absolutely rapid. Albeit the 4S uses less fuel, road tax is only about RM2,000, while the GTS demands about five times that road tax at RM10,000. In the most logical of senses, everyone would’ve picked the 4S over the GTS. It’s makes the same power, it uses so much less fuel, it costs RM100,000 less, and across 5 years of ownership, the GTS owner would’ve paid RM50,000 in road tax whereas the 4S would’ve only paid about RM10,000.
However, that being all said.
I would still buy the Porsche GTS over the 4S. Putting aside the fact that I’m only a car enthusiast wanting an awesome machine but not exactly buying into the whole hoyty-toyty lifestyle and perceived image of a Panamera driving, women pimping, auction bidding, golf putting individual. I’m just not a logical person in car buying sense and sensibility. I’m an enthusiast, an idiot who:
- Spent half of his monthly income on a car that sort of had the same headlights as an RS4
- Bought a Legacy because of a DailyMotion video showing it slaughtering an Audi RS6
- Bought an S4 because a supercharged V6 might not be around for any longer
I don’t make sense. But then so does those who pay Ferrari loads of money to get their hands on that FXXK machine, which they can’t take home.
I prefer the GTS for its naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 engine that howls and grumbles. And I prefer the moment when you imagine you’re in the 4S and I’m in the GTS, and we’re both doing about 120km/h and the spoiler pops up at the same time as yours. And just when yours is fully deployed vertically, my GTS’s extends horizontally soon after - like how the Panamera Turbo does.
You get me? It’s like you’re in an F15 Eagle going Mach 1.5 and then there’s the F14 alongside. But soon after, it retracts its wings into Delta form. Even if you’re travelling at the same speeds, you know for well that bugger looks like it has more tricks up its sleeves.
That alone, is worth RM100,000 over the 4S. As for my choice on the GTS. I really want to buy it, but I can’t exactly afford it now without pissing off my wife, and this woman, unlike those of yore, is a keeper. But I know for sure one day I will, just like I was dreaming of the 2.7-litre twin turbo RS4 that made 380hp 16 years ago, never did I knew I’d be in an S4 making 416hp and 520Nm soon after. Now that I’ve got my V8 in sight, time to look around making sure I can upgrade to some V10 as my next, next car.
And in revenge for us car enthusiasts, we are in the pursuit of great cars, while to us many great cars comes with great social responsibilities, all we really wanted is just to drive, live life, and drive. Preferably in cars that are brilliant of course.
And no, I can’t afford the down payment for another house, but I can afford carbon ceramic disc brakes.
It’s just our hobby, got it?