One of the best motoring experience that a person can have is to drive a few thousand kilometers from home. This allows you to experience driving in a slightly different setting as well as driving something different from the norm instead of just driving around the Malaysian Peninsular. The furthest most would do is up to Krabi in Thailand.
Now if you're a motoring journalist this can happen occasionally where manufacturers end up flying a bunch of scruffy blokes from all over the world to an official launch somewhere. Of course, not all of us are that lucky where they can travel, get a off on the free drinks and food and then try out a new car. So I've got a slightly expensive solution for you guys and gals out there. A rent and drive holiday.
I did just that on a recent holiday to the Gold Coast, Australia. But when I mean a different motoring experience I did not mean going there and renting a Mitsubishi Lancer, a Toyota Corolla/Camry-Aurion or a Hyundai Whatever. You go there and rent something truly Australian, like a Holden (not a Cruze but the homegrown Commodore or the Statesmen) or an Australian Ford like the Falcon (not a Focus or a Mondeo).
The reason why I am suggesting either of the brands mentioned above is that you get to try something totally different from what we can drive here in South East Asia. At the moment, while globalization has not really hit the Australian brands (and there are industry rumours that this would eventually happen and make local Holdens and Fords extinct) this could be the closest place to actually try out something truly different.
Australia in the old days was a pretty isolated continent and it was actually more convenient and economical for the Australians to produce their own cars. This allowed the people down under to do things their own way and look what happened. They've ended up with cars that have their own identity and personality. Of course Ford is a global brand, but even then the Australian Fords are different from those in America which are as big as what is offered in Australia.
You also get the 'ute', or a coupe utility car popular in Australia and New Zealand. It basically combines a two-door coupe cabin with an integral cargo bed behind the cabin using a light-duty passenger vehicle-derived platform. Now couple that with a V8 engine and these utes are truly fast. There is no place in the world today where you can see so many of this sort of cars around and they are astounding. Something that looks like a pickup truck but is actually based on a car instead of a truck. The rest of the world wants coupes without a large hole in the rear but not the Australians. I'd say that these are the most practical coupes in the world. At this point of time, only Australia has utes by the thousands (with a smattering produced by Proton (Arena) as well as Fiat and VW in Brazil). I totally loved looking at the Utes pass by, especially those Holden HSVs with their thundering V8s.
Anyway, back to the rent and drive motoring experience. Australia is best experienced this way. By renting a car you get to experience the country at your own pace instead of the hassle of waiting for the tour bus (or the airport transfer). You fly in and then head over to the car rental office and collect you car. In my case, it was a late model (2011) Ford Falcon XR6 with about 9,500km on the clock. It had about 290bhp and 380Nm torque from its 4.0liter straight-6 engine. It also was rear wheel drive which actually made it a lot of fun coming out of junctions and traffic lights. Turn off the traction control and you can do a little show-boating.
Now being a Ford XR model, this meant that the car isn't a lumbering barge. The suspension rides firm, the steering very responsive, the 6 speed automatic eager to kick down and the handling quite resolved for a car that is slightly longer than a Toyota Camry. It would beat the socks off the Camry and our US inspired Honda Accord around a slalom as it actually handles (yet is able to soak up the potholes that it can encounter on the Australian B-roads even on its 17 inch tires and rim combo). I remember taking a string of fast bends and corners at around 80-100km/h and the car tracked true and solid. Turning the traction control off made the handling better as somehow the rear turns in more smoothly than with it on. Cruising at around the local highway speed limit of 110km/h the engine turns at slightly over 2,000rpm making it a totally relaxed cruiser (and great for the economy too). And with that 4.0-litre engine, exiting junctions and overtaking is a clinch. Doing the 80-100km/h dash is remarkably easy and takes mere seconds.
Build quality for the car I rented seems good, nothing fell off and nothing broke throughout the three days I was driving it. The boot is huge too and swallowed up tons of shopping. This fact as well as the overall comfort of a large car was loved by the wife and kid as they bought tons of stuff. I ended up driving to Byron Bay (breathtaking scenery and beaches as well as car watching) and its surrounding areas down in New South Wales and then up to Brisbane (great shopping and car watching) up North from the Gold Coast (great shopping and errr, 'bird watching') clocking about a thousand kilometers throughout the duration of my stay.
The Ford Falcon XR6 was a good drive (and I wish that the rental company could have provided me with the XR6 Turbo which is even faster and was voted 'Best Bang For Buck Car' by [i]Motor[i] (which is Australia's premier motoring mag) back in 2008 when the car first came out). The seats are comfy yet has ample support for the twisties and the view out of the car is good. The only problem I encountered is that I felt that the steering wheel, even at its highest position is slightly low and slightly impairs entry and exit for a chubby boy like me. The other problem which owners of the car would feel is that there is a Ford Falcon everywhere you turn. This same problem would also occur to Holden owners too and something a lot of Malaysians would feel if they bought a Proton. But I actually wouldn't mind a 'Proton' with a 4.0-litre engine actually.
I could go on and on, but this is a blog and not a novel. So in conclusion, the Ford Falcon XR6 is nothing like the Focus or the Mondeo we get to drive over here and nothing like driving any car that we can get over here in this region. So think about it people, if you're Down Under, forget renting a Japanese econobox, go proper Australian.
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