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A Year in The Making; More Car Parading in 2014

A very interesting 12 months which mark the first year of Tokyo Car Parade are now behind us.  2013 had its dose of ups and downs, but regardless of what happened we look forward for the motoring extravaganza of 2014.  As the clock rolls past midnight on January 1st 2014, let's have another look back at 2013 and all the highlights it brought to us.

We begin with the event that led to birth of Tokyo Car Parade, the event which made me realize how much passion I had for cars. The Nissan Skyline Coupe 370GT Type SP was sold about a year ago this day.  The journey to find better ways of enjoying car life in Japan has begun.

For many years I've been visiting numerous auto shows and events, but now I sit here and wonder why it took so long to put two and two together.  Tokyo Auto Salon 2013 was the place where I found a purpose.

The project was in my head and after a few test drives from Mercedes Benz Connection, I knew I had to get started.  But how? what do I do? How do I pick a name?

A walk around local streets helped me with the title as Tokyo became a true car parade on this sunny spring weekend...

A lot more opportunities presented themselves as new cars became available for test drives.  Lexus IS350 F Sport undoubtedly set the standard for sports sedans.

I also got the opportunity to drive some of the absolute dream cars, like this Porsche 911 Carrera S,

As well as this awesome Maserati Gran Turismo Sport.  I never tried to compare the two amazing coupes, and I never will.  The cars serve two completely different purposes, and have no similarities in what the can do and how they feel.

Just because it says Tokyo, doesn't mean I have to stay in one place, so during this little trip I got a taste of California car culture.

People may criticize America all they want, but their passion for motor vehicles is unrivaled.  Everybody I talked to from restaurant waiters to hotel bell staff were into cars, and many were involved in restoration or upgrades.

Back in Japan, there was no sign of slowing down as Mercedes Benz has finally brought the AMG A45 to Japan,

and we head down to Daikoku PA for some RX-7 action.

Following that, something that may be referred to as petrol-head's dream come true:  I got to drive the 2013 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4!

Summer is the peak of all car meets and auto-related events and we head down to Fuji Speedway to look at some HachiRoku's.

Fall months, however were highlighted by unforgettable experience at the SEMA 2013 - a true representation of American car culture.

For such event, I knew I needed to arrive in style; and thanks to Hertz Car rental, I made sure I did.

SEMA show was nothing short of amazing, and coming from Japan it was an incredible experience to see such a great variety of JDM machines making their way all the way to Las Vegas

Shortly after returning to Japan I got the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the BMW 428i M Sport, and while not the most powerful machine of the bunch, it made a lot of sense in city like Tokyo.

On the break of winter I visited the long awaited 2013 Tokyo Motor Show.  The bi-annual event has shrunk a lot since its peak in 2007, but fast-forwarding to 2013 signs of improvement were undeniable. A great spike in attendance from foreign media can only mean positive things for Japanese auto industry.

Nissan pretty much stole the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show and would there be a better way to celebrate it than to unleash entire Nismo Line-up from historic racers to modern production cars at Fuji Speedway for Nismo Festival 2013?  Nissan is indeed enjoying its moment.

As I was returning from the event, the news that shocked the entire automotive world were brought to my attention.  Paul Walker is no longer with us.  Race in paradise, our car friend!

Japan has joined the ranks of car meets dedicated to Paul Walker and the legacy he has left behind.  While we didn't have thousands of cars clogging the streets, we did have some quite impressive rides.  I am sure Paul would have loved to take one of these for a spin!

Wrapping up the year were the 2 super hatch-backs. It was impossible to determine whether Mercedes Benz AMG A45 or BMW M135i was the ultimate ride, but I think they both serve their purpose excellently.

So there we have it; as the clock rolls over midnight and we say good bye to 2013 I hope that 2014 will bring even more car related fun and excitement.  Happy New Year everyone!

I would also like to use this opportunity to express my best wishes and hopes for speedy recovery to Michael Schumacher who suffered serious head injury on December 29th.
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Super-hatch Showdown Part 2: BMW M135i

Competition is what automotive industry is all about and thus it is obvious that nobody is going to let Mercedes Benz roll around with the only super hatch on the market.  BMW have been making their 1 series for over 10 years, and unlike their rivals from Stuttgart, they stuck to the same formula:  boxy design, rear wheel drive hatchback.

In the past they have already placed the 3 litter inline-six in this car, but now, they have added a turbo to it.  The same engine that is under the hood of every other model in the BMW line-up has now made its way into a compact hatch back.  Love it or hate it, nobody does component sharing as well as the Bavarian engineers do

But while they were busy beefing this car up with performance parts, they forgot about one little thing - the design.

There are many adjectives that you can throw at it, such as fast, nimble, sporty, comfortable, but pretty is not one of them.

While they tried to keep all the trends of the modern BMW's, such as large kidney grille, typical halo lights, and added sporty front bumper, it still looks dated and lacking that finesse that is present in every other BMW model.

BMW loves their long wheelbase and have brought the same concept to the 1 series.  As a result, the car feel exceptionally spacious and is very balanced since most of the engine is behind the front axle.  This gave the car unusually long hood, which just makes it un-proportional.

From the rear, the car also looks dated and rather boring, not even the dual exhaust can save it.  The lights have been converted to LED, but their shape hasn't changed to follow the modern trends.

The most positive components of this car are the numerous M parts such as this beautifully designed 5 dual spoke M wheels wrapped in Michelin PS2 tires measuring 225/40R18 in the front and 245/35R18 in the rear.

On the inside, however things were significantly better.  While I wouldn't call the trim particularly luxury, even though leather heated seats are an option, it felt very similar to the 3 series.  In terms of ergonomics, seating position and functionality everything was up to BMW's finest standards.  Cabin layout should be familiar to any BMW user with iDrive screen in the middle measuring 8.8 inches, which, as i mentioned before was the largest of its class in the 3 series, making  the 135 the king of screens in its class.

Steering wheel is wrapped in soft and grippy leather with huge side bolsters, the dials are clear and beautifully laid out with all related information displayed on a  small LCD screen at the bottom.

The functionality of this vehicle is evident with the large trunk and respectable back seat space.  It is undeniable that this car is built as a family hatch first, and performance vehicle - second.

Or is it? Because under the bonnet lies the turbocharged 3.0 inline-six engine producing 320 horse power and 450 Nm of torque.

This engine is more than just numbers, the motor has absolutely instant response as a blip of a throttle can send the needle to 7000 RPM within seconds.

Combined with optional M Performance exhaust this car makes absolutely mesmerizing sound track.  The scream of high revving motor with deep and raspy exhaust note can send chills down your spine, and when accompanied with cracks and burbles on lift-off and gear changes, the sensation is like no other.

Around town the car feels absolutely right for the job.  Large displacement and instant response eliminate any signs of turbo lag.  Steering is as expected very quick and predictable.  I felt confidently in control of this car as I understood exactly what it could do at any moment.

BMW M135i also did well as a grand tourer with the 6 cylinder engine rumbling calmly at low RPM.  Comfort level of this car was exception for its class as it cruised calmly through Tokyo streets.  The car didn't make a big deal out of any imperfections on the road as suspension did a great job of keeping the occupants calm and happy.

So there we have it, having driven the phenomenal Mercedes Benz A45 AMG and the BMW M135i, how can we compare the two super-hatches?  Both were designed for city driving, and car enthusiasts in mind.

Both have a handful of sporty features and are genuinely track ready cars.  However, what separates these cars the most is the appeal.  There is definitely a sense of driving purity in the M135i, while AMG feels more technical.  It's almost like comparing the Nissan GTR to a Porsche 911 Turbo. 

Both are packed with technology, but only one feels mechanical.  In this case BMW gave something special to the driving purists, who just want a big engine up front, all power sent to rear and hopefully an open road with lots of corners to drift around. These cars are absolutely neck in neck when it comes to features and numbers, but while the A45 will likely be parked outside by valets he M135i will be too busy rocking the canyon road.

Cost of Ownership:
The car itself is not cheap, but ownership should be fairly balanced due to its simplicity and BMW's experience with this engine.  Efficient Dynamics does wonders to fuel economy, but I would imagine rear tires will need frequent replacement.

The car has sacrificed its looks for practicality and hatches do not get more spacious than this.  On top of that it has very functional and comfortable interior worthy of a tourer.

Cabin Comfort
As with any BMW, everything in this car is where you want it to be.  Ride is smooth and comfortable.  There are no vibrations that can be witnessed with a four cylinder engine.

This is where the car is lagging behind.  I call it the Subaru of Munich.  Owning a car like this is nothing short of awesome, but it's best to be kept in dark garage so you won't have to look at it as you approach it.

Fun Factor
This is what this car is all about: pure and simple fun.  When you drive this car, not its looks, not the luxuries, not even your destination matters, it's only about pure joy and excitement, and that's where BMW have once again proven that when it comes to delivering pure driving machines, they set the benchmark.

I would like to thank Abe Motors for letting me drive and photograph their cars.
BMW M135i is available from BMW Japan starting from 5500000 Yen.

Thank you for reading, everyone! Please click here to see part 1 featuring A45 AMG, and as always, thank you for reading, sharing and following! Happy holidays, everyone!

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Super-hatch Showdown Part 1: Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

Living in a city does have its advantages: there is a grocery store 5 minute away, a coffee shop downstairs, and you don't have to worry about driving home after a visit to a pub. Yet there are limitations in terms of what kind of car you can own, and that's where super hatch-backs from premium brands come in.

Back in July we have already looked at the brilliant new Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, which was displayed from the day it was announced in Japan at Mercedes Benz Connection in Roppongi

In the beauty of a showroom floor we went over various details of Edition One Model that was available in limited numbers and had additional visual and performance upgrades, such as AMG sports seats, aerodynamics and carbon fiber package, sports suspension and 19 inch black rims.

Today, we finally get to drive the A45 AMG, and not just the Edition One, but the standard version as well

In this review, we will go over some of the features of both standard and Edition One models, as I will try to depict some of the highlights of how it actually feels to drive that beast on the streets of Tokyo

We start with the design though.  When compared to the Edition One, the standard A45 looses the mad spoilers and stripes and becomes more similar to the standard A Class

The long wheelbase of the car is very noticeable from the side.  You cannot  disregard its practicality, as designers at Mercedes Benz did their absolute best to maximize interior space and at the same time, maintain such sleek lines that make this car stand out.

And speaking of sleek lines, entire lineup from A180 to A45 Edition One looks absolutely fantastic from any angle.  Considering the substandard looks of previous generations this car is a true leap forward in terms of design and innovation.

Of course, as with any recent models, designers at Mercedes had to place some identifying marks on the AMG version, such as the vents in rear bumpers and quad exhaust that produces absolutely astounding note accompanied by massive cracks and pops on up-shifts and lift offs, but more about that later.

AMG model comes standard with 5 dual spoke light alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40 R 18 Continental Sport tires...

...with massive 350 x 32 millimeters at the front and 330 x 22 millimeters at the rear ventilated brakes disks clearly visible behind.

The beautiful black 235/35 R 19 equipped on the Edition One are optional, but make the car look a lot more aggressive.

The headlights are also a distinct feature of the new A class, which are equipped with HID as standard as well as LED DRL's, position, and turn indicator.  Future revisions will most likely include optional LED headlights as the feature is rapidly growing in popularity.

The A45 AMG lets everyone know about its features through badges indicating all the bells and whistles, from turbo...

to drivetrain, to AMG brand, to model name and number - it's all there, just read it and weep!

All conveniently positioned on the back, as that's the part that most other drivers will be seeing.  Before I get to that part, however...

... let's have a look at the interior.  The moment you open the door, you are indeed treated to something special.  Inside of A45 AMG it is only available in black with red and aluminum accents. 

The cabin is ergonomic and is beautifully laid out.  The design is unique, but most Mercedes Benz owners will find themselves right at home with all switches and knobs at their usual places.  Edition One also features alcantara coated steering wheel, AMG sports seats and Edition One badge in the center.  A45 Base model comes with standard leather seats, which, to be honest felt very similar, but lacked the flair and the aluminum inlay and badging.

The sporty feel of the A45 cabin is undeniable with everything being driver orientated, but despite an odd plastic here and there there is plenty of luxury feel as well, with dash beautifully wrapped in leather accompanied with carbon-looking plastic trim. All the knobs and switches felt solid, and the car had all the features you can think of from parking and distance assists, to heated and powered seats, as well as HDD satellite navigation system, and optional premium stereo with 9 speakers.

A45 Maintains the practicality of a hatchback with plenty of space in the back...

...and a fairly substantial luggage space

That shopping day out is guaranteed to be fun and comfortable with soft leather seats underneath, mean sounding exhaust in the back and alcantara wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters controlling the twin clutch gear box in font.

Especially if that gearbox is mated with this monster of a four-banger producing 360 Horse Power and 450 N·m of torque, which can propel the 1480kg super hatch from 0 to 100 kph in 4.6 seconds!

Heat resistance and cooling are vital parts of this engine as extracting 180 horses out of 1L of displacement is a challenging task.  Extremely powerful turbos achieve that via race-car like 26 psi of boost.  Engineers had to manufacture special pistons and bearings that are similar to components found in diesel engines to ensure durability under so much pressure.

All of that combine for one of a kind driving experience.  Even though there is plenty of lag and not much happening at lower RPM, the remarkably quick 7 speed Speed Shift DCT gear box will be happy to find the right gear to shoot the car forward.  Hard acceleration will push you into comfortable AMG seats and they will hold your torso well positioned should you try throwing the car around some corners.

Having tried the car on wet as well as dry tarmac, there is virtually no difference as there is no sign of car loosing grip.  Car is certainly doing a lot of things as you test the laws of physics as it provides plenty of audible feedback through quite impressive concerto of automotive sound effects.  Burble of the exhaust, revs of engine, hissing of the blow-off valve, whistle of the turbo, and whining of 4matic system are heard at any given time depending on what car is doing and that just adds to the sensational feeling of driving this car.

With so many automobiles made with only comfort and usability in mind it is an absolute delight to get behind the wheel of one of these monsters and tear down the streets of Tokyo on Sunday morning.  I drove this car a few times around the same set of streets, but it never gets boring!

So there you have it, Mercedes Benz have created a true masterpiece of a hatch-back. 

It truly did borrow some of the best features from each Mercedes Benz model in terms of design and innovation,

as it created a true class of its own: The luxury sport super-hatch.

Cost of Ownership:
While the car itself is priced at premium level (think Lexus IS350 F-Sport), it does deliver plenty of bang for the buck.  Ownership should be fairly balanced with good fuel economy and small engine should be good on road taxes.  High pressure motor like this, however, would require frequent oil changes and I wouldn't expect those tires to last.

It's a hatch-back, which makes it synonymous with practicality. While it doesn't have the versatility of previous model, it can still be very useful.

Cabin Comfort
The Exhaust is only noisy during acceleration and gear changes so it would not bother passengers during long cruise.  Ride is firm, but not punishing.  If comfort is a priority I would recommend stock model with 18 inch wheels.

This is one of the best looking hatch backs out there.  The design has been carefully worked through to make it truly remarkable.  Despite its small body it has the true appeal of a Mercedes Benz.

Fun Factor
The car is an absolute blast to drive, but it does feel a bit on rails due to its very high grip.  Another-words, I don't even know how to drive it close to its limit, as it feels very technological and almost pre-programmed.  Nonetheless it accelerates like a bat from hell, goes through corners as it's glued to the road and makes absolutely astonishing noise, and if that's not fun, I don't know what is.

I would like to thank Mercedes Benz Connection Tokyo for letting me drive and photograph their cars.
Mercedes Benz A45 AMG is available from Mercedes Benz Japan starting from 6400000 Yen.

Thank you for reading everyone, please check part two featuring the BMW M135i!
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