S5: 3800 miles and a fling with a Carrera S

With almost four months and 3800 miles clocked on my S5, I am getting better at working the clutch and the acceleration pedals and no gremlins have appeared… yet. The one thing that I still struggle with it, is if I am focused on trying to shift smoothly and not upset the car, I get worse at changing gears; whereas, if I don’t really think about shifting smoothly, I can pull off gear changes a lot smoother.

It seems that while I am overly focused at trying to change gears smoothly, I get slower at moving the gear selector and manipulating the clutch and acceleration pedals; which, in turn leads to more a very jerky experience and cranks up the stress levels. The less aware that I am about driving a manual, the less I worry about making every shift butter smooth and it becomes less stressful.

On Friday, I stopped by the parts department of the local Audi dealer and picked up a cargo net for the S5 (which means that I can finally return the net that I borrowed from my A4) and asked about the possibility of getting the grocery bag hooks ordered and installed. While the regular price for the cargo net is still too expensive for what it is, there was a special going on and was able to get the net at a $30 discount. While the net from the A4 can be used in the S5, the net itself is a bit too large and is not taut enough to prevent items from sliding around. I will be installing the new cargo net tonight and see if it works out better or not. The lack of grocery bag hooks in the trunk has been a bit frustrating when the contents of the bags end up thrown around in the trunk after a “brisk” drive.

Now on to the other part of this post’s title, the fling with a Porsche 911 Carrera S (and a Porsche Cayenne) on Saturday. Earlier last week, I was offered an invitation to test drive one or more Porsche vehicles at a local dealer (that dealer also happens to be an Audi dealer where I bought both my A4 and my S5) during a Porsche test drive event. I was given a choice between several models, including a CaymanBoxster, 911 Carrera S, Cayenne or Panamera. I could not let the opportunity to test drive a 911 pass me by, so I signed up.

Saturday morning, I signed in and waiting for the next test drive session and found out that someone else had booked the 911 and the only vehicle available was a standard Porsche Cayenne. I decided to take the Cayenne just to be able to drive one. Upon getting in to the Cayenne and getting ready to follow the other guys out of the parking lot, the first thing I did was to grab the shifter and plant my left foot on to thin air. That’s what happens when it has been almost four months since I’ve driven a car with an automatic transmission. The other thing that kept doing was to let up on the accelerator each time I went to grab the shift paddles. While I liked the roominess of the Cayenne and forward view, it was still an SUV and I do not have a use for an SUV. I would rather spend the money on an A4 Avant or 3-series Touring (the latter with a manual transmission); primarily, due to the lower cost and it would provide enough utility without a huge hit on fuel economy.

After driving the pre-determine 13 minute loop, I put my name back on the 911 test drive list and was told that it would be about 20 minutes. While waiting, I was looking over the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet911 GT3 RS and the Panamera Turbo that were on display. Sure, each vehicle had their own merits, but none made me really want to own one. I’m not a huge fan of most convertibles/cabriolets (the Mercedes SL and the Audi R8 Spyder are the only ones that tug at my heart strings), did not like the garish decals or contrasting colors of the GT3 RS, nor do I want or need a large four-door Panamera. Right now, the only Porsche vehicles that make me excited are the Cayman SCayman R and the 911 Carrera 4S.

Speaking of the 911 Carrera, time had come for me to take the 911 Carrera S for the test drive. At first, I initially wanted to drive one with Porsche’s implementation of a dual-clutch transmission (PDK), but soon realized that the 911 had a manual transmission. First, I started to get a little nervous (thoughts of a stall fest and/or fried clutch were racing through my mind) but that subsided when I started the car and crept out of the driveway. The Porsche representative that was riding with me was showing the various controls and tweaks that were available (including suspension and throttle response controls) while I was sitting at a stop sign. When it was time for me to turn, I stalled out. The reason was that the clutch travel in the 911 was pretty short compared to my S5, though it did have a really good feel and feedback and worked very well with the shorter throws. The representative was forgiving about it and continued on with giving me tips on making use of the torque band and handling of a rear-engined rear-wheel drive setup. I only stalled one other time when I tried to creep up a slight incline (again, was not completely used to the engagement point). Otherwise, I had a pretty good time and the loop was definitely too short :)

At the end of the day, I did like driving the 911 Carrera S, but there were several factors that might not make it a good daily driver for me. The first and most important thing was that I felt like a pig in a blanket; in which, I was the pig in a metal blanket. The seating position was fine, but more cramped in it than in the S5 (which in turn, feels smaller than the A4) and I whacked my elbow on the door panel once.

Now, if I had the money to buy a track car that can also be an occassional daily driver, the Carrera S (or its cousin, the Carrera 4S) would rank towards the top with the Cayman R taking the top position. If I wanted a rear-wheel drive vehicle that so happens to be my daily driver and occassional track car, I probably would consider the Cayman S and the BMW 135i. At the end of the day, I think I have the best combination available in the United States, the S5. While the S5 is not perfect in terms of handling, it does have a rear-biased all-wheel drive setup, is more than fast enough for a daily driver and a weekend toy, and can be tracked on occassion. Not to mention, the S5 is about $35,000-40,000 less than a modestly equipped Carrera S and can haul around computer equipment in the trunk (and my large trunk, that is my rear-end).

N.B.: Even with the recent announcement of the BMW 1 Series M, I would still take the current 135i over the upcoming M model. While the M model is the best looking and most powerful 1 Series model, there isn’t enough of a performance jump to justify the estimated base price of $45,000. The same can be said about the Z4 sDrive35is over the more pedestrian Z4 sDrive35i (which so happens to also have an approximate price delta of $9,000).