Late-Night Driving Unearths Surprises

By James Wong

It has been a while since I felt any love for my car. It has absolutely no sense of humour when it comes to modifications – each time I install something new in it, it will retaliate by giving me problems. Being a meticulous person that I am, I notice every single one of the problems immediately (its almost as if the car knows that too) and it is driving me up the wall. I have also given my friends more than their fair share of drivel about my modifications and how my decisions have gone astray ever since I lost focus of my purpose of modifying. For that, I owe them my greatest apology and also my gratefulness that they are also willing to put up with it (I’ll stop, I promise).

The modifications in question are chiefly two items that have not been really compatible with my car since day 1 – the Bilstein PSS10 coilovers and the BSH Rear Sway Bars (RSB). I drive a GTI, a car that is absolutely wonderful to drive on a daily basis. But if you want that extra tenths of a sharpness that only a focused sports car can give, then you will need to get some things done to the car. Changing the suspension and the sway bars is a good start. Or so I thought. The bars weren’t that much of a compromise – grease them regularly (at an uncomfortably short interval of only about a month) and they will perform flawlessly, so well in fact that it nearly rendered my coilovers useless when I put them on next.

While on the road the benefits may not be that obvious, the combination of the PSS10 and the RSB makes a big difference on the track – with the PSS10, the car dives just that little less on hard braking, jumps that little less on hard acceleration and gives that last bit of stability in the corners that would otherwise upset the RSB. It pleased on the track. But on the road, it just did not work for me.

You see, I spend almost 90% of my time now in the city. And in the city, you’ve got poorly paved roads, traffic jams, potholes, drainhole covers and just a whole lot of undesirable driving conditions that make your life that much more difficult. A comfortable car neutralises some of that undesirable effects by dampening the harshness of the road and giving you an overall experience that is more pleasant – and I miss that. With the upgrades, the car just crashes on bumps and gives a jiggly ride on the freeway. I’ve taken some of the GTI character away. It’s no longer something I want to drive to work.

So I’ve come to this realisation one day when I drove home late at night. Suddenly, like how a puzzle starts to make sense when the pieces fall together, I found out what I’ve been doing. In modifying the car, you’re narrowing the situations where you can really enjoy the car. The car used to be great on the road, where I spend most of my time in. Now it feels like crud all of the time because I’m a predominantly road driver. Now bring it to the track and it performs brilliantly. It’s like a justification for your upgrades. The open road late at night, with little traffic and allowing the car to stretch its legs, gives me the surprise that it works just fine as well this way – as long as the road faintly resembles a race track with the low traffic density.

I fall in love all over again – but only during these rare moments where everything falls in place and starts to make sense.

Fickle? You bet, because the very next day I was feeling resentful again, slogging through heavy traffic. And, just like the unhappy person in many relationships, if I’m being honest, I have to say to my GTI, “It’s not you, it’s me”.

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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