Sunday, December 14, 2014

You told them 'bout nowhere, well it sounds like some place I'd like to go

The following is a posthumous review, kinda like Tupac Shakur's seven posthumous records. 
Except I'm not dead, or something... maybe that wasn't a good comparison. I dunno. Just read the words and stuff.

On Friday night I went for a drive that I'd been anticipating for quite some time. I won't say how or why I got my hands on this car but it suffices to say that no laws were broken and no animals were harmed in the acquisition of this luxury sports coupe. When the time finally came and I had the time to put the Batwing* through the paces, I had formed a few goals in my mind. 

First, I wanted to get to know the Batwing intimately. Understand what I could expect when I apply the throttle, know how hard I can corner before the tires yell UNCLE, when the tires are yelling UNCLE are the front tires yelling first or are the rear tires yelling first? Does the transmission understand English, or will I have to swear at it in Japanese? 

Second, don't puke. I am one of those people who will never be a sailor, no matter how long and white my beard or how yellow my overalls. I suffer from motion sickness to the extent that I can make myself sick even when I am at the helm of a motorcar. Several months ago I went for a spirited drive up Glendora Mountain Road with my buddy Esteve* in a Porsche Cayenne. We both got sick, but I felt so fabulous that I actually stopped the car in an attempt to regurgitate my lunch. I was unsuccessful, though I my nausea did lead to me meeting a thoroughly intoxicated young man named Blake in an almost empty mountain tavern. I'll never forget what he told me that night. With a faraway look in his glazed over eyes Blake said "I DON'T GIVE A S*** ABOUT BILL SHAKESPEARE! I GOT A D IN ENGLISH AND I SPEAK ENGLISH!"
Third, don't get a ticket. This is a fast car. It produces 467 HP and 389 lb-ft. It was tested and developed on a number of race circuits, including the Nürburgring and as such can carry a great deal of speed through the corners without feeling the least bit unsafe. The important thing to remember however, is that what I feel is safe doesn't necessarily have any relation to what Beauford T. Justice feels is safe. That lack of consensus has cost me a significant amount of money in the past.
Fourth, don't crash.  Driving these cars is a privilege that can be taken away. A prototype Batwing probably costs more than I'm worth, and losing one would cost the company a great deal more than that in time and delays. I dread the thought of explaining to the Bossman that I slid off a canyon road and down a crevasse and now I'm dead and can't come into work so could you please bury me and tell my family PS sorry about the car!
I'll just start off my review by saying that the night was mostly successful and I achieved most of my goals. I went to pick up my buddy Esteve after work and headed for the Angeles Crest Highway AKA the 2. Angeles Crest is one of those world famous roads that any gearhead who visits Los Angeles must drive. Forget Mulholland Highway and Pacific Crest Highway, the real fun is to be had in the roads of the Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest, but I digress. As we headed up toward the 2, we could see that this car put heads on a swivel. Everywhere we went, dudes were eyeing the Batwing. Most just raised an eyebrow, some gave a knowing smile. As is the norm with sports cars, when most women saw the car they continued texting.

1 hr 5 min... heh.
I'm not sure what constitutes a witch doctor, but I'm pretty sure Esteve is one. Before we got to the twisties he busted out these little bottles of potions. He told me to put a drop of one potion behind ear and to ingest a few drops of the other. The one that I ingested burned my lips, but it was a different burn than that time I got a mouthful of brake fluid, and then had an aftertaste of licorice. When I burped it had the flavor of rye bread. Say what you will about this Voodoo magic, never once did I feel a bit of motion sickness, even when my muscles were saturated with adrenaline and lactic acid from my attempts to strangle the steering wheel.

The first thing you notice about the Batwing when you start it is that it has a very deep tone. When cruising grandpa style through the city, its voice is barely audible, making sounds that elephants and blue whales can hear but people like me can only feel. It truly is on the southern border of audible frequencies for my ears. My second greatest grievance against this car is that it is too quiet. I feel like it errs too far on the side of luxury in this regard. Don't misunderstand, the engine note is sonorous and intoxicationg (particularly the 3-4 upshift while at WOT), but the driver has to work far too hard to gain this aural satisfaction. Much of the engine development was performed by the wizards at Yamaha. Yamaha automotive engines are siren song that I just can't turn away from (especially if it's a 60 degree V8, a la Volvo and Taurus SHO). In this case there is a tube that runs from the intake to the cabin but it only opens above 4000 RPM. Were I the owner of a Batwing, I'd likely disable the valve on this tube and leave it stuck open. I'd also be highly inclined to find new mufflers that would share this sweetly rolling burble with all my neighbors. As we climbed into the mountains of the Angeles Forest, the bellowing thrum of 5 expertly tuned liters rang through the canyon causing my eyes to roll back in my head just a little every time a split second upshift was executed.

This brings me to my biggest grievance against the Batwing, namely the transmission. Obviously it's not a manual transmission and that's a bad thing, but lets talk about what's wrong with this as an automatic transmission. First, the overall gearing is too high for fun on the streets. It's set up to be a big track bruiser, hitting 170 on the back straight, but with 8 gears to choose from, you ought to be able to have the right ratios for fun at high and low speeds. Somehow this car lacks the stoplight to stoplight brutality you would expect from a modern five liter V8. Second, the time to execute a shift is inconsistent. Sometimes it is lightning fast, and other times I get that "sitting at the DMV" feeling while waiting for the next gear. Third, and this complaint encompasses more than just the transmission, sport mode is too tame, and normal mode is downright geriatric. If you want to know how to tune a sport mode, take lessons from Porsche. It changes the entire character of the car in a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde kind of way. In the Batwing, it's like grandpa had a RedBull, minus the imminent cardiac arrest. 

As previously stated, The Batwing is a big track bruiser. It feels perfectly at home on the twisty-but-not-hairpin curves of the Angeles Crest Highway. While driving at 7/10 intensity, it decimated the suggested speeds posted for cuves and asked for more. The wide rubber on all four corners (275 front, 315 rear) kept it planted with only ever a hint of slip the whole night. Not having a death wish, I left traction control on through the canyon. This car is heavy and feels it, though not in a bad way. The steering is communicative and actually requires some muscle when in sport mode. The suspension is a conventional spring and hydraulic damper setup that feels firm and due to the heavy nature of this car, never the least bit jittery. With the stability of the suspension and buckets of horsepower available, I'd be surprised if this car was not capable of 200 mph or very close to it. 

By the time I reached the end of my evening drive, I felt like the Batwing and I understood one another but I hadn't quite reached my goal of knowing this car intimately. So in the space of 7 days, I put 880 miles it, burned 52 gallons of sweet dino juice, and drove four of the best canyons in Southern California. Thanks to  the witchdoctor Esteve and his magic potions, I didn't puke or even come close to it. Best of all, I didn't crash. Reaching three out of four goals ain't bad.

So you are probably now thinking "wait, what was the other goal?" Bear with me for a minute and you'll remember shortly. After driving about 200 miles in one evening, I dropped Esteve off at his place and then pulled on to the Pacific Coast Highway and headed north out of Huntington Beach. While stopped at one of the last traffic lights I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to test the standing start acceleration of the Batwing. I switched into sport mode and turned the traction control off. Using both feet, I stood on the brake and squeezed the throttle. When the light went green I lifted my left foot and buried my right foot into the floorboards. To my surprise, immediately the tires cried out おっさん!! and began to spin. Earlier in the evening I had attempted to induce tire spin but was held back by the traction control even though I had switched it off. In this case the tires spun freely and the rear end wagged like the tail of a happy dog. I thought that was a pretty neat feature until I saw the red and blue lights in my rearview. It just so happened that the motorcycle next to me which I had entirely ignored while executing the launch sequence was an officer of the law...  On the bright side, I just might be the first person in America to be ticketed in the Batwing. I had to explain to the officer that this car didn't really have a model year, but we could call it a 2015.

I had a fantastic week driving the Batwing, but to be entirely honest, I was relieved when I finally handed over the car. I was constantly worried that I would lose my license because of my weak self control when it comes to accelerator pedals. In summary I think this car is phenomenal but falls just barely short of it's potential, and that hurts. It could and should be a Porsche fighter, but it isn't. The transmission isn't aggressive enough even in sport mode. The ratios should be higher, sport mode should be normal mode, and the exhaust should announce the presence of this visually stunning sports car. But in the end the chassis is superbly sorted, the brakes are top notch in both power and modulation, the interior is very well laid out with great materials, the engine has power for days and the enthusiasm of a kindergartner and most importantly, when you drive it you feel like Gotham's favorite billionaire playboy, Bruce Friggin' Wayne.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent and otherwise

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