I made a decision on what to do with the payout on the Commodore: I’ve gone the dual use DD/trackrat route. I picked up a Toyobaru with low miles and one older lady owner for a decent price, and the Golf’s on the market. Now I just need to keep the 86 out of the tirewall till I can afford to fix it!
After a 3 hour drive home, over a mix of boring and fun roads (no, I didn’t take the shortest route) here are my initial thoughts. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who’s owned one, I’m sure, nor to anyone who’s been near the internet in the last 4 years. Most of it’s not even a surprise to me; just confirmation of expectations.
Power: It’s not as bad as its rep. Yes, I’ll get my butt kicked by most things at the traffic light GP if I’m silly enough to compete. But ultimately; so what? There’s no torque, but that just means changing down a cog or two further. Get it screaming and it’s enough for passing and for phasing in, which are the only places acceleration actually matters in the real world. The 4k “hole” is pretty noticeable if you go looking for it, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem in practice, it’s just not a rev range you use. If you’re just giving it a blip in your cruising gear you’re below it, if you’re in a hurry you’re above it.
Transmission: It’s a really nice shift (particularly compared to the box of marbles that was the Commodore’s modified T10). Bit balky into 2nd, but apart from that it’s rifle-bolt stuff. I’d forgotten that it’s been 10+ years since I DD’d a manual though - I’m going to need to relearn how to do it smoothly rather than banging it through in race mode. It’s also clear that I’m going to get pretty practiced at the 6-3 change: 3rd’s spot on for an overtaking gear, and as mentioned above, I’m gonna need to use it. This is the first 6MT I’ve driven and I hadn’t realised one of the benefits was how much more natural a shift top-3rd is than in a 5MT. Particularly in an RHD car where you’re basically just pushing the stick away from you. Bonus!
Ride: Is bumpy. Much worse than the GTI. Not something I really noticed when I was test driving it - it felt stiff but not uncomfortable. But it gets to you after a while on a boring but not too smooth road. High frequency stuff is well ironed out once you get some speed on, but you get pretty knocked about by bumps and ridges: long hauls are going to be hard on the neck. Admittedly it’s only 2 years since I got rid of the Jag, so my idea of what constitutes an acceptable ride may still need some percussive realignment. It’ll be perfectly fine for commuter use though.
Steering: Is the most disappointing part of the whole thing, actually. Nice and direct, no mush, the weighting’s right, and the wheel’s good to hold. But there’s not a lot of road feel. This is maybe emphasised by how “mechanical” everything else feels; gearbox, suspension, throttle, the lot; it’s all tight, tactile, unbuffered, and all combines to really give the feeling you’re driving a well-oiled, old-school, driving machine. I dunno, maybe my expectations were led astray by memories of cars with unassisted steering, but I was hoping for more.
Interior: Even after several hours, the seats are great and the driving position is good, though an armrest would have been nice. The interior doesn’t feel as low-rent as I thought it might on first exposure; it could use a lighter headliner, but apart from that it’s a nice place to be. But the designers seem to have gone out of their way to disrespect features which are everyday useful but not fun-focussed. For example the speedo’s totally useless, and if I had a low-spec car without the digital repeater in the tach, I’d say it was actively dangerous. The real world speed range is shown so small and so low down in the dash that you have to take your eyes off the road for ages to refocus on it. And who was the moron who thought putting the cruise control stalk as far from your hands as you could possibly get it (and attached to the wheel so you have to go looking for it every time) was a good idea? Never mind the unuseable afterthought that are the cupholders, or the fact that the seatback doesn’t remember its angle when you flip it forward. Honestly, I think they were actively TRYING to discourage daily use.
Sound: Jesus, that’s a lot of road noise. And the stereo’s crap. Spectacularly crap, actually. (Also: how come the cheapest aftermarket heap of shit has a better user interface than 50% of all factory stereos? I don’t think I could design a UI that bad if I tried). Funnily enough, the induction noise, which I initially thought was going to drive me nuts, is fine. You don’t notice it at cruising throttle, and while it’s a bit try-hard to have the engine howling away every time you prod the throttle, it’s worth it for the maximum-attack sound effects: me likey boxer noises! I initially thought I’d be plugging the cockpit sound tube except on track: now the jury’s back out. I’m seriously considering sacrificing some weight to Dynamat though.
Tailiness: it’s disconcertingly easy to get the back end to step out in a tight corner, and the stability control (even in conservative mode) lets it go surprisingly far, before stepping in hard. A loose tail is going to be a good thing when playing, damn straight! But my commute involves a fast dart from a side street into busy 4-lane traffic, which could get interesting in the rain.
Handling: Yes, it does. Oh baby, does it ever. Forget all the whining above, this is going to be fun...