OK, it was another idle Sunday not knowing what to do, so we decided to go poke around more showrooms after lunch at Old Town White Coffee along Chun Tin Road (Bukit Timah).

First stop, Volkswagen

We test drove the new VW Passat 1.8T (not the Passat CC) which was launched just 2 months ago. I was pleasantly surprised by the car – powerful, quiet, comfortable and feature packed.

Assisted by a light pressure turbo, the engine’s torque can be felt as early as 1,500 rpm. By 2,000 rpm there was sufficient torque to haul the heavy 1.5 tonne car around. The 7 speed DSG was such a marvel – you wouldn’t notice it shifting. Moving off from a traffic junction, it shifts from 1 to 2 in about a second… before you know it, you’re at gear 7!

Sound insulation was excellent given the 18″ alloys and low profile tyre – it’s about as good as it gets.

I like the hold assist feature – it keeps the car stationary once you bring it to a complete stop; to get it going again simply just tap the accelerator. This is particularly useful at traffic junctions but when you are stuck in a traffic jam or are parking your vehicle, Hold Assist can get annoying. It can be turned off by flicking a switch beside your gearstick.

On top of that, the Passat comes with a built-in GPS navigation (beautiful maps and touch screen, BTW) and a reverse camera with direction guide, i.e. it draws a line of your intended direction of travel based on the angle of your steering. This is nothing like the bolt-on 3rd party reverse cameras in JDM/KDM rides.

For the price of $15x,xxx (after discount), this is easily the most value-for-money buy in the luxury sedan category. Not to mention the boot is HUGE!

Comfort: 9/10 – Quiet, spacious and smooth ride. Great workmanship. Floor mounted gas pedals reduce fatigue on long distance drives.
Features: 9.5/10 – Everything in, except for bluetooth. Love the navigation.
Engagement: 9/10 – Very forgiving on the inputs but still precise. Engine torque kicks in quickly.
Design: 7.5/10 – A little squarish for my personal taste, but still looks reasonably modern.
Value: 9.5/10 – Certainly value-for-money for a car this size.

Second stop, Audi

So we went next door to the big brother, Audi, and tested the A4 1.8T. Vorsprung Durch Technikkkk… *boop boop* *boop boop*.

The first impression of the A4 was so-so. Although the interior bore some resemblance to VW, it was actually lacking in features probably because the A4 is already a 3 year old model (launched in 2008).

In normal (“Auto” Drive Select) mode, the engine felt slightly more responsive than the Passat and is perfectly suited for day-to-day city driving. Switching Drive Select to Dynamic mode made the steering heavier and improved throttle response. However, the gearbox downshifts a little too eagerly for my liking though it may be just my personal preference.

What I did not quite get used to was the brakes – it was overly sensitive. For those who drive their car like they stole it, this aggressive braking behavior is fine. But for older folks, maybe not – they might unintentionally execute an emergency brake at a traffic junction. So now you know folks, don’t tailgate an Audi driven by an uncle.

Oddly the sound insulation was a fair bit poorer than the VW (older car?) and the sportier drive actually made wife sitting at the back a little uncomfortable.

No GPS navigation, a lower resolution display than it’s sister VW and rivals BMW and Volvo (more on that later), plus a not-so-intuitive joystick on the front panel instead of having it beside the gearstick (like the BMW) takes a lot of points off the A4. For a premium brand, from Premium Automobiles, I’d expect more. It does however feature bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone – the Passat didn’t.

For the price of $18x,xxx (after overtrade) for the “Ambition” model, it’s not a very good buy. They have a cheaper “Limited Edition” model at $15x,xxx (after overtrade) but it lacks lots of features, including LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) which are probably the only other reason why you’ll buy an Audi!

Also, just like VWs, Audis are FWD. For an additional $10k, you’ll get a Quattro 4WD; the rivals (BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class) are RWD in comparison at similar price ranges.

Comfort: 8.5/10 – Gear downshifts a little too quickly when accelerating in dynamic mode, brakes a little too sensitive for uncles. No floor mounted gas pedals!
Features: 8/10 – No GPS, low resolution screen. Response of the MMI is a little laggy also.
Engagement: 9/10 – Engine is powerful and responsive, 8 speed gearbox shifts seamlessly, unfortunately it is a FWD.
Design: 8.5/10 – No DRL for “Limited Edition”, interior looks cluttered and confusing.
Value: 7/10 – You can get a fully packed version of a VW for much lesser, or a fully-packed BMW with all the bells and whistles for an extra 10k.

Third stop, Kia

I hopped by Kia to take a look at the new Kia Optima K5. At $119,xxx it was indeed the cheapest of all the luxury sedans.

The K5 had a fair bit of bells and whistles, although nowhere near the VW Passat. Factory fitted bluetooth, rear air-conditioning, electric memory seats, auto headlights, rain sensors, paddle shifters, cruise control, and the start-stop button made it stand out from the other KDM/JDM rides.

According to the sales guy, the new units of the K5 arriving in Q3 2011 will also feature 6 airbags (instead of 2), a panoramic sunroof and a in-dashboard LCD display which is a huge step in closing the Continental vs KDM gap.

Unfortunately I cannot rate the car yet – the sales guy was extremely talkative and that actually prevented me from asking for a test drive as it was getting late. I will try to get a test drive soon!

Fourth stop, Volvo

Since Volvo was just next door, I drove by and took a quick glimpse at the new Volvo S60. The built-in LCD was beautiful and in my opinion better than VW’s and Audi. The screen was of a very high resolution, similar to that of the new BMW iDrive (CIC). The controls were intuitive and lag-free and I loved the simplicity of the interior.

One thing I didn’t like though was the type of leather Volvo uses – they are prone to cracking after 3 years. I’m surprised they have not changed the leather material.

I didn’t have much time to look further into detail or ask for a test drive, but at first glance the S60 looks very promising. I will try to find out more soon!