24th May 2007, 15:32

I've had my Activa, a 2.0 turbo from 2000 with leather interior, for nearly two years now, and have covered 50 000 km in that time. It is now just past 180 000 km, and I absolutely love it.

It was a bit sorry-looking when I found it, with lots of stone chips and flat hydraulics, at a ridiculously low asking price.

I replaced all 10 hydraulic spheres, ran cleaning fluid through the system, and refilled with fresh LHM oil. That helped quite a bit, but it also needed replacement of the bushings in the anti-roll system itself.

A partial respray, new wheels and tyres, and a fair amount of elbow grease helped the looks.

Adding high-output bulbs and relays to the headlights helped the night-time view from inside the car.

Chip-tuning it to around 190 hp helped it move along, and a new stereo system sweetens the deal when stuck in traffic.

The Activa drives like nothing else on the road. On a motorway on-ramp, very few cars can keep up with it. Those select few are things like Honda NSXs and 911 Carreras, which have the same level of grip, but also more power. On a slalom course, it just settles down and sweeps through completely unfazed. Twisty roads are dispatched at high speed with very little drama. Lift off slightly, and it tightens its line, floor it, and it drifts wide. Once out of the twisties, the suspension goes supple and just soaks up bumps. It is unreal how well it sticks to the road, how agile it turns in, and how it still manages to be very comfortable on a six-hour journey.

Overall, the car has been quite reliable. There is no rust (galvanized body), and the engine uses no oil whatsoever. The engine seems likely to last another 200 000 km or so. The only major incident was when it threw its ancillary drive belt, cutting off the drive for the alternator and the hydraulic pump. Tow truck time, but nothing really serious.

There are, on the other hand, any number of little electrical gremlins and the occasional hydraulical one. Gauges going haywire, lights inside and out working to their own schedules, and so forth. The hydraulics are reliable, but far from maintenance free. When something wears out, it will manifest itself in ways unknown to other cars, such as gently rocking from side to side when idling. The hydraulics have been leak free so far, except for an occasional cold weather seepage at the rear Activa ram.

Is it cost effective? Certainly not, if you compare to sensible Japanese family sedans of the same age. Its thirst for fuel and need for maintenance makes that very clear. On the other hand, it is far cheaper than any of the cars than can outrun it on a twisty road, and far more practical, too. The resale value dropped like a rock once it left the dealership the first time, so there is really not much depreciation left in a used one.

The Activa is a rare bird. Only some 10 000 were built, making it rarer than a Citro├źn SM and much rarer than machinery like BMW M5s and Porsche 911s. If you manage to find one, just remember that it is an exotic that happens to look like a smallish family sedan, and that it needs specialized, competent care and feeding to work its considerable best. Once it does, it is magic.

9th Dec 2007, 10:45

Anyone having any idea on safe mods for '98 Activa, please let me know at: itsgeorge@hotmail.com.