Text By James Wong, Photos By Amrit Changaroth
I find it a bit of a struggle to wake up at 715am every day. However, like all petrolheads out there, I tend to make an exception when it comes to driving. I have woken up like clockwork at 4am at Switzerland to catch the first sunlight for mountain roads, 5am in Singapore to hit the B-roads just when the sun rises, and I’ve never really complained. Neither has my body. I find it incredulous, none more so than my alarm clock which has had more than its fair share of snooze snubs.
Along a fabulous piece of B-road one faithful morning, there lies an even more terrific thing – an empty area of tarmac that, according to banners put up by possibly nobody, is used for drifting events. I’ve never seen any drifting event held there, and I am happy for it. It’s a place where it’s safe to put a car through its paces, where there are cones and tyres already in place for you to set up your own course. In short, there cannot be a better place to drive to within 2 hours of Singapore…
So, three cars assembled for the short blast, incidentally all with a real fetish for the letter ‘S’. Suzuki and Subaru are the brands, and Suzuki Ignis Sport (SIS), Suzuki Swift Sport (SSS) and Subaru S204 are the models. Call them the Triple S.
Every road trip seems to have its eventful twist, and each of the Triple S had their fair share of white-knuckled moments. Along the B-road, the SSS was traveling ahead of the S204 and a truck, and disappeared left on a blind corner. Moments after, I (in the S204) saw the truck braking and as the road became visible, the SSS was nowhere to be found!
Before panic set in, I saw it scurrying back onto the road, slipping nonchalantly in front of the truck as if nothing happened. Over the intercom we had to ask incredulously, “What the heck happened?!”
As it turned out, rear tyres as bald as a monk gave way mid-corner, possibly due to a sandy surface and water seeping through the grass. The car oversteered, and went into the hedge! Thank God the casualty was only a frayed bumper and a missing number plate, but we did go retrieve the number plate later.
The next moment happened when an innocent squirrel stood firmly on its paws on the road, having what must be the best nuts in the world as it didn’t want to move when the S204 approached it… Quickly deciding that I didn’t want any squishy bits to bring home with my car, I swerved, got onto a dirt patch along the side of the road and oversteered a little before the sterling AWD brought me back to the road with little sweat.
The SIS was spared any incidents when we reached the tarmac area. Given the experience of two drivers on the trip of driving the wheels off their cars, they quickly devised a track layout and we started time trials. I had a go in all 3 cars, and it was pretty clear that power is of little importance here. The SIS, with its short wheelbase, gave an agility that likened it to a sniffing dog onto a treat trail. Its gearing was perfect for the conditions, giving short bursts of acceleration that, while wasn’t fast, was enough to thrill the driver and reward clean shifts. At some points, going into gear 1 and then pulling the handbrake was necessary, which is where the SIS excelled again as it yawed on its front axis like a natural. Cocking up the inside rear wheel was, of course, something the SIS did everywhere it went. It sounded the business too.
Dropping into the SSS, it was startling how similar some things were, like the upright seating position (giving great visibility) and the ease of controls. However, the SSS felt more mature and better built, adding a slight heft to its handling that deprives it the razor sharp responses of the SIS. It however had a more confidence-inspiring steering feel, and definitely felt like a proper hot hatch, again cocking up its inner rear wheel as it resolutely held its line rather than understeering severely. It’s no doubt the SIS felt more natural in the narrow confines of this circuit though.
As I drove the S204 on this circuit I gathered that, like many enthusiasts think of Subarus, there is a inherent understeer bias. What surprised me was how difficult it is to quell it to get a clean lap; with the DCCD left in Auto the car simply preferred to understeer into the hedge rather than move power around to fix it. As such I felt backing off the throttle was necessary, although I much preferred to power through and let the car ‘sort itself out’. I tried the same lap again on different settings on the DCCD, this time heading down the progressive chart and finding out the difference. Although with each lap the difference was hardly noticeable, by the time I reached the opposite end of the scale from Auto, the car was much cleaner on its lap and power was being distributed more efficiently to neutralise the handling. By then however, my front tyre sidewalls were already melting, and mechanical sympathy stopped me from going further!
Although the S204 clinched the fastest eventual lap time, the clear winner from behind the driver’s seat is the SIS. From ground up, it was built for situations like this and it was completely at home. Pity this specific model is going to be scrapped in two weeks…
Anyway, we left off where the SIS has no incidents, but before it got back to Singapore it unfortunately wasn’t spared. On the B-road back, a serious off-camber corner nearly drove the car into the oil palm plantations, and upon reaching Gelang Patah the car started leaking coolant fluid. A stone struck the radiator, just a small wound, but enough to give the car the thirst of a parched athlete. It limped back to Singapore and stopped periodically to get its coolant topped up!
All in, it was an incredible Saturday morning that showed thrills are never too far away from our island. We just need to know where to look.