Twelve Cylinder Test

Twelve Cylinder Test

by | Jan 8, 1988

BMW has a twelve cylinder motor on the road, and has allowed the press a few laps around the track in it. We were not invited. So our twelve cylinder test used three cars, and sought to answer the question : What do you drive when the 750i has a flat tire?

Our test started as a comparison. We wanted to drive an M3, so that was in . But what do you compare an M3 to? The 190-16 Mercedes is too expensive and will no longer be imported . The 9000 turbo too big and heavy. Besides, we take an all-or-nothing approach to life. So the second entry was a car which can be bought for what the taxes on an M3 run , the Yugo . And the third car was that Korean wunderkind , the Hyundai, a car which costs about twice what the Yugo costs.

Looking at the Cars

Yugo. The Yugo is  a Yugoslavian Fiat , imported by Malcolm Bricklin . (Yes, that Bricklin) Like a Fiat , it is fun to drive , its 1.1 liter engine pulling the heavy mouse (1800 lbs, although a salesman tried to tell us it was 2500 lbs, which is its gross weight) as fast as other cars in the class, if there are any other cars in this class. Also like a Fiat , it is cheap. The first thing that strikes you is how cheap it is . The door panels are cardboard; there is perfectly good flocking sprayed on that cardboard, true , but cardboard is cardboard . The felt “carpeting”, rubber floor mats, seats with non-adjustable backs, headliner and instrumentation (speedo and gas gauge) reinforce that first impression. Also impressive is how well the car is glued together. Al most nothing was spared – glue on the headliner, the dashboard, the doors -glue everywhere. The Yugo may precipitate a horse shortage in Eastern Europe.

The Yugo comes only with a four speed gearbox, one of the worst we have ever shifted . More on this later. The rear tires (Tagar brand, l 45x 13) camber in quite a bit, like an ancient VW bus. Also like the VW bus is the Yugo’s steering, with a near-horizontal wheel. In fact, the Yugo is marketed as the Beetle of the ’80’s,  which  in  our  opinion  is  more image than substance. The car was also badly prepped. For example, a battery cap was missing from one cell. With so little objectively going for it , why even look at one?

In one word , price. This Yugo listed for $4419 , and as we left the salesman of­fered it for $3990. We had the feeling we could have bought it for even less -there were five on the Pierre Hyundai lot and another 19 at Pierre Ford (see sidebar) . Yugo is competing with used cars, although one salesman (meaninglessly) pointed out t hat Yugo is $1200 less than the  “average”  used  car  is ,  the Yugo is not an “average” new car.

Hyundai . The Hyundai is twice the car for twice the price. It is basically a Mitsubishi built in Korea, but is far better than the Mirage TBN drove a few years ago. It is a heavy car at 2300 lbs, with a gutless 1.4 liter motor. Standards of fit and finish are high for a car in  this price range, bu t plastic, plastic, every­ where. The seats are a pretty good weave of polyester, but the plastic wheel covers are below Tonka Toy quality. There’s nothing visible which is not a petroleum byprod uct. A nd again, poor prep – one of the head­ lights was not d oing its job. This is a basic J apanese car for $3000 less.

Where they get ya is the option list. A stripper (unavailable at the time of test due to strikes by exploited Korean labor) lists for $6200, but if you want a five speed and real tires the car will list for over $8000 , and you get stuff like tinted glass and a right side “automatic mirror” (salesman talk for a mirror which can be manually adjusted from inside the car) whether you want it or not. The options are a package, and you spend a lot for that fifth cog. Even more exorbitant  is the “coupe” package, which retains the GL’s drivetrain and is as visually excit­ing as a well polished brick. The one on the  showroom floor  was  stickered at $9300 . Some option.

M3. The M3 is a stock 325 except for the engine, bodywork and suspension. The 2.3 liter 16V engine is derived from the F2 motor of the early eighties , pumping out a smooth 192 bhp and 170 ft/lbs . The blistered body evokes the 944, and has a good looking and effective air dam in front and wing in back . The sheet metal from the C pillar back has been changed along with the rear windscreen , smoothing airflow and shrinking trunk accessibility .

The car is fairly heavy at about 2700 lbs, but is about a hundred less than a 325. Part of that weight is electric windows, electric sunroof, unnecessary chips (trip computer, service computer, hypersonic stereo , etc.), stuff that traditionally breaks at great expense. At least the antenna isn’t electric!

Pirelli P600 ‘s shod the one-piece BBS wheels, with a carefully selected spring/ shock combo tying the wheels to the car. No blue interior was available (the M3, like all test cars, was white, to keep the field level), but what you get is a first­ rate chair, albeit a bit narrow, and the now-usual furnishings of quality and au­ sterity . We checked out the air condition­ ing – it seems to work – and left the Ten Speaker Digital Display Anti-Theft Stereo Radio Cassette With Dolby And Expansion Slots in the off mode , since it could not be ordered out. The music started about two feet north of it.

Driving the Cars

Yugo. Making the claim (which we don’t believe for a minute) that an insurer requires a salesman to drive the car out of the lot and tag along for the test drive of this valuable car, we were chauffeured out of the Pierre Hyundai lot. With two adults and a salesman on board the car approached its max gross weight and per­ formance certainly  suffered.

About two things there was no disagreement. First, this car has the worst gearbox in the industry. Ambiguity has its place, and it should not be between the front seats of a Yugo. We both missed gears, lots of them. And the seats are just awful. They were probably designed by orthopedists in need of business,  your money back if you don’t have cramps in ten miles and backache in twenty.

There was disagreement about driving qualities. The motor was free-revving and surprisingly free of surges and stumbles . It pulled briskly, given its output (55 hp, we think) and was well mated to the gear ratios , but it will be quite busy if the NMSL ever gets raised to something reasonable . The clutch was very light, but it doesn’t do much work. Acceleration with three adults on board is bog­ slow off the line , with 60 mph coming in about two leap years . The car will not live up to its speedometer ‘s 110 mph promise .

One of us liked the handling and one did not. It was a hell-for-leather, skate-it­ around-the-comer kind of suspension. Very reminiscent of ’60’s Fiats . Perfectly safe, given the fwd understeer, but skittish until you get used to it. The brakes seemed up to the small demands imposed on them.

Tearing around comers made it clear why we wouldn’t own this car: Safety . This is not the car to be in an accident in, your chances don’t appear much better than on a motorcycle. There is not enough sheet metal, padding or engineering   to  assure   survivability.   We question whether this car could get past the DoT in a Democratic administration . You  get  what  you  pay  for, and  you don’t pay very much for a Yugo. Given a similar costing alternative, such as a used 320i , we know which we’d choose .

Hyundai. Same dealership,  same rules , and to be honest we did not get to wring this car out as much as we’d like. The car we drove was represented as a repo, and had about 5000 miles on the clock . It was a $7200 car when we got there and a $6000 car as we left -considerable depreciation considering we didn’t hit anything with it.

The Hyundai had a good gearbox (five speed on ours) mated to an engine which buzzed more than it sang. Between the carb and the EGR, the engine is not particularly smooth , surges a great deal and does not propel the car’s bulk with any vigor. This despite keeping the revs up and stirring the shifter quite a bit; it really lacks low end torque , and even with the revs up could not be described as brisk . “Adequate” is the word.

Handling was right up there with Chrysler America.  Severe  understeer and lack of tire adhesion are specific complaints ; “undistinguished “puts it politely; and “boring” puts it most succinctly. Like the Subaru, it is a car for people who don’t like to drive cars.

At-a-Glance Comparison

Yugo Hyundai M3
Price, approx. $4,000 $7,000 $35,000
Layout  Transverse
front engine
front drive
front engine
front drive
front engine
rear drive
Displacement 1.1 liters 1.4 liters 2.3 liters
Hoursepower 55 68 192
Transmission 4 sp. manual 5 sp. manual 5 sp. manual
0-60 13.9 secs. 14.0 secs. 7.6 secs.
Standing 1/4 mi. 19.5 secs. 19.4 secs. 15.7 secs.
Subjective eval. Awful Adequate Heaven

M3. There is no such thing as a perfect car, but the M3 comes as close as any­ thing we have driven.

The engine is substantial but not over­ whelming. It needs to spin a little before it generates serious power, and that power is well matched to the chassis. It is not anemic like the 318, but if you want a Shelby Mustang, don ‘t get an M3.

What a chassis! This is the essence of the M3. To get handling this good , you would expect to need a standing ap­pointment with a dentist. but the M3 does not knock out fillings. Somehow it manages to absorb poor road surfaces without much body roll or sacrifice of di­rectional stability. The deep chin spoiler was unscratched at the end of our drive, a drive which would have shredded the spoilers on our own cars.

The brakes were up to the suspension . Maximum braking was straight and con­ trolled. Flat-out braking on a dry surface did not activate the abs system, yet yielded the shortest stopping distance we have ever experienced .

There was a surprising amount of un­dersteer built into the suspension. The tail could be brought out, but you really had to work at it. We suspect this is deliberately designed in, to keep purchasers with more money than training from kil­ ling themselves .

Two complaints. The seatbelt web­ bing should be wider, for better comfort if not for withstanding higher loads. And axle tramp could be induced under sharp acceleration from a standing  start, though this is as much a testament to the strength of the clutch as to deficiencies in the rear suspension design.

At $35K the M3 is an expensive spare tire for your 750i , and we could not recommend it, for the M3 might rise up and smite its larger brother. And what will you do then, if your spare goes on strike?

Conclusion. The Yugo phenomenon continues to awe us. Here is a car, capable (we presume) of transcontinental voyages (assuming the optional chiropractor is ordered), the price of which is about the tax bill on the M3, or cost of the optional hardtop for the Cabriolet. For your money , you essentially get a slop­pily built, out-of-date car which may or may not be supported when Mr. Bricklin decides to start  importing  Malaysian cars. The Yugo will make an excellent spare tire for your 750i, but it is no substitute  for  an  automobile.

If we had only seven thousand dollars to spend and listened to our mothers’ ad­ vice to buy a new car, the Hyundai would be a serious choice. As a teenager’s first car it would be excellent, as first cars tend to get wrecked (as well as ticketed) and the Hy undai is not a car to lead you into temptation. It is not a driver’s car, it is an appliance, a commodity . It should be sold by the pound. Viewed as such, it is a bit expensive to be a spare tire, but may be a reasonable alternative to a clapped-out 320i

Ah, the M3. Too good to be the spare tire for a car twice its considerable price, this is the baddest of rides. For us , the question is a financial one. Will it depreciate quickly so it’s merely expensive (low 20’s) or will  it maintain its value like a tii? The cost of entry is a bit pro­hibitive, particularly if depreciation is steep. And with a new generation of 3- series  BMW’s  in  the  works  (using  the new modular engines), the M3 could quickly become obsolete, the best of a bygone era. But this era is now, and the only way to improve on an M3 would be to put it on a diet.

This article was originally published in the January 1988 edition of Zundfolge