Eunos really grips runway
By MIKE BURNE
MOST Hong Kong car distributors are extremely reluctant to allow their test cars out in the rain.
The measure is meant to preserve the test fleet as long as possible by preventing over-zealous journalists and potential customers losing control in slippery conditions and running the latest model into the scenery.
With this in mind, I assumed that the rain and high winds that apparently took a Boeing 747 airliner to a watery grave off the end of the Kai Tak runway would also cancel my test drive of the new flagship Eunos, the 800.
But that wasn't the case at all.
A phone call to Eunos PR department confirmed the test drive was still on and it was anxious that the car should be tested in the worst possible conditions.
The 800 is fitted with the brains and gadgets that are supposed to make this sort of driving safer and a rain storm was considered a lucky happening.
It was an especially brave attitude considering the dual airbags of a Eunos 800 demonstrator have already been put to the test in the territory (they worked perfectly).
The catch phrase for the 800 is tri-synchronisation, referring to the computer-monitored and adjusted four-wheel steering, traction control and anti-lock braking.
The linking of these systems is claimed to give the 800 a level of control superior to other ''intelligent'' vehicles.
In theory, the car should be able to think for itself and keep itself on the road when faced with the most treacherous conditions and the most inept drivers.
In practice, the car has an assurance and sure-footed feel in wet conditions that is remarkable and confidence inspiring.
Nothing will save a driver who makes no allowance for poor road conditions, but the Eunos 800 is smart enough to give a cushion of safety where other cars might become uncontrollable.
The technology is not intrusive. It is not possible to feel the mechanisms coming into play and correcting a slide.
The 800 simply tracks faithfully around the corners without a trace of slip or drama.
The steering is unusually light even at high speeds, but four-wheel steering gives the car a crisp response to the wheel and makes the 800 a sharp handling saloon.
Anti-lock braking and the traction control took the worry out of driving in very slippery conditions and I found the 800 could be driven at reasonably high speed in perfect calm.
This restraint fits perfectly with a car that is clearly meant to be a quiet and subtle driving companion.
The engine is a high-tech multi-valve V-6 which is engineered for smoothness and economy rather than blistering performance.
The claimed 170 brake horsepower output of the engine is reasonably strong for its 2.5-litre capacity but the refined way in which it develops its power disguises its potency.
Even under hard driving it is unwilling to show a hard edge, preferring to go about its business quietly.
Smooth and quiet running is the hallmark of the car and the Eunos pampers its occupants with a superbly well-insulated cabin and fuss-free performance.
At a glance, the Eunos 800 could be mistaken for the 500, the rounded shape is similar and some of the detailing is almost identical.
In fact, the 800 is a bigger car, both in its outside dimensions and its engine capacity.
The qualities of the 500 are carried over to the larger sister and this is one of the most neatly packaged cars available.
The interior is simple and as comfortable as a tailored jacket.
Everything the driver touches - the steering wheel, seat, gear shift lever, and parking brake - is trimmed with high quality leather and both the front and rear seats are very comfortable.
There are no frills or gimmicks (apart from a cruise control that is superfluous for Hong Kong) and the controls work with measured precision.
Even the steering wheel airbag is well hidden with a triangular moulding that resembles the Eunos badge rather than the usual bulbous wart that mars most modern cabins.
The classy finish extends to the exterior, which displays a very high paint quality.
The bumpers, doorhandles and mirror stems are colour-coded and the only chrome, apart, from some thin strips around the windows, is the subtle Eunos grille at the front.
As a concept, the 800 stands apart from the competition.
Eunos offers a car that moves away from the outright performance race and aims to win sales with high quality and technology that makes a significant contribution to safety.
If urgent acceleration and a sporty exhaust note are important to you, this is not the car for you.
Its charms are more subtle but no less impressive.
An afternoon driving in the pouring rain convinced me that the 800 is a worthy flagship for the Eunos range.
At $368,000, many car buyers are sure to agree with me.