We up the ante and price range to find Australia’s best $50,000-$100,000 performance car
WE CONTINUE to be astounded by the rate of automotive progress and nowhere is the rapid advancement more evident than Bang For Your Bucks. In 2015, two of our $50K-$100K contenders managed to scrape under the 13-second quarter mile bracket; 12 months later we have six cars in the 12s and our slowest contender is tripping the beam at 13.4sec.
We’re breaking new ground here, as when Bang For Your Bucks first bounded into existence back in 1994, it wasn’t envisaged cars this fast would ever face the BFYB formula.
Remember, this was back when all and sundry were invited, including the likes of the Honda NSX and Porsche 911 Turbo. Three of this year’s premium crop would hose that force-fed Porker to 100km/h and two others would be snapping at its heels.
So what’s lining up this year? Well, having dealt with the cheap ’n’ cheerful brigade last month, this time we have a full Bunnings’ worth of serious hardware. Leading the charge are the current hot hatch kings, Audi’s RS3 and the Mercedes-AMG A45.
The AMG took the honours in our comparison test earlier this year, but that means naught here. Both cars come with optional extras, the A45 housing a limited-slip differential between its front wheels while the RS3 is wearing wider front tyres and magnetic dampers.
Ingolstadt’s second offering is the new TT S. The base model impressed last year, firmly shaking off its ‘hairdresser’s car’ tag, and extra grunt and a sharper chassis are unlikely to hurt it around Winton. But, at $99,900, it’s hard up against the $100K price ceiling.
Joining it in the pricing stratosphere is BMW’s new $89,990 M2, the first proper M-car to appear at BFYB since the 1M, built to a similar recipe but now even cheaper and even faster.
In order to maximise its chances BMW has sent along the six-speed manual, Oz-only Pure edition. Expensive cars rarely have enough Bang to compensate for their Buck, can Munich’s new turbocharged baby be an exception?
No Dredd, but plenty of tread
Staff journalist, young Louis’s penetrating stare has been known to fell trees, melt steel beams and even make goldfi sh
Senior road tester Morley fears no helmet hair, his luscious locks are so dense his carbon helmet actually moulds itself to his mop.
Luff y’s brilliant white smile is so dazzling you could set up solar panels in front of it. Fortunately for him, the man can drive.
The editor’s role is to be a man (or woman) of many hats; unfortunately DC took the dictum rather too literally.
Our associate editor appraises cars with neither fear nor favour, but can occasionally need to be crowbarred out of rear-drivers.
Joining it from the BMW stables is last year’s returning $50K-$100K champion, the brilliant M135i.
Our next contender also uses a turbocharged straight-six to send power to the rear wheels through an automatic gearbox, but that’s where the similarities end between the M135i and Ford’s Falcon XR6 Sprint. At $54,990, if the Barra-powered Bluey can run the numbers it’s supposedly capable of, it should be in with a shout, but based on our experience thus far, that’s a big if.
So, to the V8s. The XR8 Sprint was a late inclusion.
Being no faster, but more expensive than its sixcylinder sibling, it was only ever going to finish behind it, but when we fell agonisingly short of securing a Focus RS (it was almost a matter of hours), it managed to secure a guernsey.
Rounding out the Blue Oval brigade is an imported icon, the Ford Mustang GT. Packing 306kW/530Nm from its 5.0-litre V8 for less than $60K ($57,490 to be precise), it’s a strong proposition on paper. But few of Ford’s legendary pony cars, at least those lacking Shelby badges, have ever felt comfortable in a racetrack environment.
Its closest rival, both on price and performance, is Holden’s SS-V Redline. It’s a critical success and should fare well with the judges, but whether it can post strong enough numbers compared to its more powerful opposition to secure Bang glory is another matter entirely. One thing in its favour is its price tag; at $54,490, it’s the bargain of the group.
Last, but very far from least, is Chrysler’s 300 Core.
The updated American brute finally has the eightspeed auto it’s always deserved, as well as some extra grunt (now 350W/637Nm) from its 6.4-litre Hemi V8.
It’s a dead-set weapon in a straight-line with one of the best engine notes you’ll ever hear and it’s a lot better in the corners that you might imagine. It can also atomise its tyres at will – and all for $65,000.
As ever, the judges won’t be evaluating the contenders on their ability as out-and-out track cars, but Winton does offer a safe environment for them to explore the outer edges of each car’s performance and dynamics. Luffy will be responsible for all lap data, while Morley and yours truly are in charge of straight-line performance figures.
So, in the fastest and most powerful Bang For Your Bucks field ever, which car reigns supreme?
Meet out 10 contenders
All style and no substance, or has this modern-day muscle car got the grunt to match its glamour?
Can’t argue with 370kW/650Nm for $55K, but success will depend on getting it to the tarmac.
Redefi ned hot hatch speed upon its release, but this is the A45’s fi rst time in the BFYB pressure-cooker.
More expensive but slightly more powerful than its turbo six twin, which Sprint is faster?
Plenty of dynamic talent in the new TT, but only scrapes under the $100K by the barest of margins.
The fastest hot hatch we’ve ever tested. If it can achieve similar numbers, it could be in with a shout.
Last year’s champion returns for another bout, but it’s a much tougher fi eld in 2016.
Undoubtedly the best Holden ever, but there’s no sentimentality critera at Bang For Your Bucks.
Proper M-cars at BFYB have been few and far between, making the M2 an unknown quantity.
If there really isn’t any substitute for cubic inches, the 6.4-litre V8 300 should perform extremely well.
IF BY some freak sequence of events you somehow missed last month’s $0-$50,000 contest, here’s a quick recap. Holden’s VF II SS Ute took the win, 304kW/570Nm of 6.2-litre LS3 grunt making it overwhelmingly the fastest car in the field, which more than compensated for its relatively high $44,040 price tag.
Volkswagen’s Polo GTI, updated for MY2016 with standard adaptive dampers, snuck home in second place while rounding out the podium was Peugeot’s 208 GTi 250, killer corner speeds resulting in an excellent lap time.
Mazda’s 2.0-litre MX-5 was the judges’ pick, while the reigning two-time overall winner, the Ford Fiesta ST, fell to fifth place, its bargain price tag not enough to make up for its lack of firepower in such a potent field. – SN
IT’S the same old Winton but with a completely new surface. Winton’s 3.0km liqourice strap is dressed in sticky new tarmac following a recent $1 million injection from the local government to help bring the track up to global standards. The layout is unchanged, however the reprofiling of some corners, along with the smoother surface, should mean lap times will tumble compared to previous years.
Which bargain-bullet took home the choccies?
Aussie V8 set scorching times and put a smile on your dial. A worthy win for the local crew.
The well-endowed hot hatch claimed silver thanks to heaps of grunt and new suspension.
The surprise packet of the bunch. Masses of grip resulted in a very handy lap time for the Pug.
Too many bills, not enough thrills
HIDING under the TTS’s dash is a row of buttons.
Poke the middle one, and out of the Audi’s butt pops a ski-sized flap. Yep, a cool feature, but one we suspect might’ve been wasted on the original TT, as few owners would’ve tested its structural integrity.
It’s much more relevant, however, on the style icon’s latest variant. The model shot dead the hairdresser stigma in 2009 when it slaughtered that year’s Bang For Your Buck’s field on track. And seven years later, its successor’s just as malicious.
Okay, so at our event it couldn’t blitz the drag strip.
Sure, its variable all-paw system secured it a decent 0-100km/h sprint and an average quarter mile pass.
But its relative performance ranged from average to poor as it gobbled up 400m. More embarrassing was it placed last for rolling punch, needing 3.02sec to jump 80-120km/h.
Obviously a turbo 2.0-litre four pot is miniscule compared to the heaving eights and sixes here, so you need to remember those figures are still quick. Its 3.02sec would have beaten 10 of 13 cars at PCOTY ’09, including an E63 AMG, or the entire Bang field that year by five tenths. At this rate, the 2026 Bang For Your Bucks field will be quicker than today’s 911 Turbo.
Never has a TT been so freaking fast, too. The only car that could catch it through turn five here at Winton was BMW’s fat-tyred M2. Then at turn nine it was untouchable, apexing it at 57.28km/h.
Where does its demonic speed come from? Good old discipline. While a Fiesta ST dances into corners and Commodores slide out of them, the Audi remains completely composed. Luffy praises its stability under brakes, and the balance of grip at both ends means it does exactly what you intend.
There’s just so much grip on offer, too, that Judge Morley can’t believe how early you can sink the right foot. This surely plays a big part in how Luffy pulled 1:36.8sec lap from the car, making it faster than even an RS model on which it shares its platform.
But you pay for the pleasure. Its sizeable price just limbos under the cap by $100. And when you consider its RS3 stablemate offers 38 per cent more Bang for 17 per cent less Bucks, it’s easy to see how it wound up on the formula’s lowest rung.
Back in 2009 the TTS overcame its huge premium to perch itself fourth. But things change, and today the competition’s much stronger. Then again, it ain’t all bad. Because its certain pace proves a TT can deserve to boast a fancy spoiler. – LC
“Constantly amazed at how early I could get on the gas mid-turn.”
“Surgically fast and finally the potency to back up its looks.”
“Scything speed and capability, can’t wait for the five-pot RS.”
“Works brilliantly on track, mainly because there are no bumps.”
0-100km/h: 4.67sec (4th) 0-400m: 12.95sec @ 173.12km/h (10th) Lap Time: 1:36.8sec (3rd)
Price: $99,900 Bang Index: 93.0 Bucks Index: 70.8 BFYB Index: 123.9
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“TYPICAL Audi, it just does everything so well and so easy.
There’s no fuss, there’s no sliding the car around mid-corner, it’s just a matter of trusting how much lateral grip it does actually have and being able to find where it is without overstepping the mark.
“It takes a little bit of getting used to but the brakes are what makes this car so good, it probably lacks in the straight line stuff compared to some of the other cars that are here, but braking and up to the apex this thing is rock solid.
“You want it to give a little more excitement, just so you feel you’re actually doing something.”
Standing still while others shoot past
IF YOU ever needed proof that the motor industry is a fast-moving critter, just hold this year’s BFYB results up against last year’s. See the BMW M135i last year?
Top of the pops in its class. This year? Not so much. In fact, the little BMW has gone from rooster to featherduster in the biggest way, slipping all the way back down the charts to ninth.
Is the M135i no longer any good? Has it been messed with and ruined? Nope, not at all. What’s happened is simple: the rest of the BFYB world has caught up with it. It hasn’t all been advancements from the opposition either; BMW’s own M2 re-writes the book on performance-per-dollar and the M135i has kind of been left out in the cold.
What hasn’t changed is the M135i’s level of ability.
It makes us cringe to see it place so lowly because it’s still a great thing with a tonne of grip. That said, it didn’t enjoy the Winton layout as much as you might imagine. The BMW’s slow-corner speeds were there or thereabouts, but the faster sweeper saw the M135i lose a bit of its shine. Its lap times suffered as a direct result rather than any shortfall in snot. See, the BMW is quick. From rest, it’ll clobber 100km/h in under five and it gets across the first 400m in a low-13, so there’s no problem there. Neither is it lacking flexibility, because it’s able to smash from 80-120km/h in less than three ticks. Nope, it just doesn’t seem to get around the bends as swiftly as it probably should have and that’s the story of its ninth place.
“Wouldn’t matter how good it was, I can’t cop the look of it.”
“I like this car a lot. Grunt and rear-drive – my kind of hot hatch.”
“Hot-hatch mutant all class and properly enjoyable to fang.”
“Ninth a harsh result for what remains a brilliant hot hatch.”
0-100km/h: 4.92sec (8th) 0-400m: 13.18sec @ 173.92km/h (9th) Lap Time: 1:39.2sec (9th)
Price: $62,900 Bang Index: 62.8 Bucks Index: 112.4 BFYB Index: 129.0
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“YOU can feel there’s a great chassis there, but the engine probably doesn’t live up to what its probably capable of.
“I think lap times could have been faster [if the stability turned off completely] but it’s everything you expect from BMW – it has good brakes, it’s got a good engine in terms of torque and driveability, top-end power. If anything it’s probably just a little bit too refined, “But in terms of giving you the confidence to go faster, it’s got huge amounts of grip – it’s just a matter of finding where that grip is.”
Was this pony fast enough? Neigh
IT’S A tough crowd when a V8 Mustang is the slowest car in the field. Granted, 0-100km/h in 5.35sec and 13.4sec for the quarter mile are a shade slower than the best times we’ve managed in Ford’s new muscle car, but, nonetheless, they left the Mustang stone motherless last on the $50K-$100K drag strip.
Thankfully, this 21st century Pony Car has many more tricks up its sculpted sleeves than just straightline pace. The new Mustang delivers a swift uppercut to anyone harbouring preconceptions about American cars by having a seriously good chassis under it. So, while it may have trailed the pack in a straight line, it more than made up for it around Winton with a cracking 1:37.1 lap which placed it fourth outright and the fastest V8.
It may be down on outright kilowattage compared to the likes of the XR8 Sprint and 300 Core, but the Mustang makes good use of every single one of its 306kW/530Nm. The 5.0-litre V8 is an absolute sweetheart, revving freely, making a great noise and perfectly matched to the six-speed manual ’box. If only Aussie ’Stangs had the 3.73:1 diff that’s optional in the States, it would be even keener again.
The brakes are brilliant, firm underfoot and fadefree, but it’s the ease and confidence with which the Mustang can be driven on the limit that makes it so enjoyable. There were some complaints about the steering and there’s no doubt it could offer a more direct line of communication with the front end, but the V8 turns in more eagerly and resists understeer better than its four-cylinder sibling.
From the apex on a smooth throttle application will have you bolting towards the next corner, while a quick stab will have the rear end swaying like a field of corn in an Iowa breeze. This combination of talents had the mighty Mustang second for Editor Campbell, third for Morley, Luffy and myself, and king of the hill for Cordony. Sure, we’re speaking relatively here – it’s no Lotus Elise – but for a big two-door muscle car, the Mustang is a very entertaining partner.
Unfortunately for Ford, subjective assessment only makes up 20 per cent of the Bang For Your Bucks formula, and while the Mustang was laying down solid numbers, its competitors were generating exceptional ones. In a less competitive year the Mustang might’ve been a podium contender, but against the finest and fittest of 2016, it just wasnt fast enough. – SN
“Better than any stock Falcon we’ve ever track-tested.”
“Drive it on track and you’ll fall for it like a sack of cement, too.”
“Ford’s fused genuine sportscar fun into its muscle icon’s genes.”
“If this is representative of the modern muscle car, sign me up!”
0-100km/h: 5.35sec (10th) 0-400m: 13.4sec @ 177.63km/h (10th) Lap Time: 1:37.1sec (4th)
Price: $57,490 Bang Index: 75.6 Bucks Index: 123.0 BFYB Index: 146.6
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“A MUSCLE car is meant to have a V8. You notice the extra weight up the nose of the car, through the sweeper you notice more understeer and the overall nature is quite soft in the way it is sprung.
“The steering is just too light and doesn’t give you that feedback. It’s surprising how much mid-corner grip it’s got for such a big car, but it just doesn’t give you the confidence to push it.
“They could definitely take a lesson from the Europeans in how to give good steering feel and provide the driver more in terms of when they’re behind the wheel.”
Ultimate Turbo out of its depth
SOME OF us had Ford’s XR6 Sprint pegged as this event’s dark horse. Here was Australia’s greatest ever engine laid in the Falcon’s greatest ever chassis. And, to boot, it’s almost 10 per cent cheaper than its eightcylinder twin.
Fusing its engine with the best bits from the F6’s meant the drag strip was always going to be a hoot, and the ZF six-speed’s launch-control meant getting off the line was considerably easier than with the XR8.
Stomping the throttle in first gear saw the new, but thinner, rear Pirelli boots throw the XR6 across the quarter mile in 12.89sec at 184.11km/h. A relatively average result, backed up by its 4.89sec scramble to 100km/h. But it’s the turbo Sprint’s crushing in-gear acceleration that spoke loudest.
Sure, during their clandestine ‘overboost’ period the XR6’s 30kW down on the XR8’s 400kW. But the XR6 matches it for twist, dialling up 650Nm from 2500rpm and holding that all the way to the 6250rpm cut-out, which resets the overboost’s 10-second timer.
As a result it evaporated 80km/h-120km/h in 2.52 seconds (quicker than anything else on test), to underscore Ford Oz’s Sprints are the Falcon in its final, and most potent, form.
The sound made during the runs is new too. Sucking through a bigger carbon fibre intake and blowing gases out a new exhaust, it spools loudly, burps angrily on upshifts, and viscously expels boost off-throttle.
The engine dominates the experience, but it’s not all Ford Oz has improved. Understeer’s claimed to have been banished from its CV. And that’s true, to an extent, as the XR6 tore around the turn nine faster than everything except the Audi TTS – a 358kg lighter all-paw sportscar.
So why, then, was the XR6 the only car in this category to lap in the 1:40s? Simple, the brakes suffered from dull feedback and the gearbox’s reluctant downshifts would over slow the car, making it hard to carry speed into corners.
As for what the judges thought, the XR6 Sprint’s package just couldn’t make lapping, or cornering, anywhere near as enjoyable as the dragstrip. The steering rack was vaguer than a politician’s speech, and many of us missed a manual gearbox.
Ford Oz should feel vindicated its tuning of the Sprints bore genuine results here at Bang. But even with that cracking price, the improvement just wasn’t comprehensive enough to help it ascend the ranks.
So while the old girl bows out as one of the best within its bloodlines, it’s seventh among its peers. – LC
“Stonking turbocharged engine seeks new home.”
“More fun, and works better, on the road than track.”
“Addictive turbo rush, but unrefined brakes and ’box spoil it.”
“Unresponsive engine and chassis severely limits the fun factor.”
0-100km/h: 4.89sec (6th) 0-400m: 12.89sec @ 184.11km/h (5th) Lap Time: 1:40.7sec (10th)
Price: $54,990 Bang Index: 79.7 Bucks Index: 128.6 BFYB Index: 153.8
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“HONESTLY this car feels more like it should be at a Hot Tuner Challenge than at Bang. It feels like it’s the same thing underneath, but with some more power and a few more little add-on bits and pieces.
“There’s no confidence to want to try and push fast in the car. The engine is great but everything else lets it down. The gearbox doesn’t get a rev on the downshift, so it’s very slow to want to go back down to second gear. You end up over slowing the car and then the brakes aren’t that strong, so you’re struggling to pull the thing up.
“It’s still a bit of fun and it has good power, but that’s about it.”
Blown eight just pips boosted six
THERE WERE such high hopes for this car. Not just because plainly it has 400kW and costs $60K, but because the ‘base’ FGX XR8 finished second in class at Bang 2015, and for 2016, we nabbed the cheapest and supposedly fastest Sprint around – the manual XR8.
And yet here it is, sixth. With some explaining to do.
The short of it is, the XR8 Sprint just converts too many neddies to smoke, heat and noise, than it does forward momentum. Yeah, yeah, a likely story, but truly, we thought things would be different this time around.
At Bang last year, the 335kW XR8 – in auto, a few kays on the clock and feeling very healthy – snotted 100km/h in 4.87sec and recorded a 12.86sec quarter at 182.98km/h.
So for 2016, up rolled the XR8 Sprint on what appeared to be brand new rubber and in conditions in which other cars were knocking out PBs. Yet our man Scott Newman, with seven runs (twice what we gave every other car) could only manage 5.03sec and 13.05sec at 185.48km/h. So what gives?
If you thought the auto was difficult to launch, try the manual. With relatively little feel through the clutch and throttle, it’s neurosurgery with numb extremeties. And with 19 cars to get through, we couldn’t do 20 runs. We gave the XR8 Sprint everything we gave every other car, and then some, to get the job done, and for whatever reason, it couldn’t.
That’s not to say it isn’t fast. Once it was out of the barrel, the XR8 Sprint clocked the quickest trap speed and lap v-max of the entire event, showing off seriously potent top-end urge. The best value autobahn missile on the planet? Maybe if Bang was held at Avalon airport.
Sadly for the XR8 Sprint, though, it’s held at Winton, and this is where it really fell down relative to its rivals.
The revised suspension and stickier Pirelli rubber have improved the Sprint over the normal XR8, not just in comparing apex speeds to last year’s XR8, but subjectively, too. But still the chassis is letting the team down against very stiff competition, the benteight Sprint dead last in class for apex speed in Turn 5.
What the data doesn’t show is that, interestingly, we all preferred the XR8 Sprint over the XR6, that delightful V8 burble and blower whine better scratching the itch. We’d take the manual over the auto, too, simply for giving you more to do. And you’d have to be doing something seriously wrong to not have fun in an XR8 Sprint on a track – and not just in terms of going sideways (though it’s very good at that).
Sixth in class is not to say the XR8 Sprint isn’t top value. It’s incredible value. But while 400kW for $60K sounds great in theory, the XR8 Sprint further shows it’s never how much you have, but how you use it. – DC
“Memo Ford Oz: Improvement requires development.”
“I’m grateful it exists, and I love it, but the game has moved on.”
“Great muscle car, but struggles as a true sports sedan.”
“Stronger traction and brakes make it enjoyable. To a point.”
0-100km/h: 5.03sec (9th) 0-400m: 13.05sec @ 185.48km/h (7th) Lap Time: 1:38.4sec (8th)
Price: $59,990 Bang Index: 89.3 Bucks Index: 117.9 BFYB Index: 153.9
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“IT’S like the big muscle guy at the gym that can bench press 300kg, but take him outside and get him to run for 100m and he can’t do it.
“It’s a great engine but it would be nice if they spent some more development money on every other part of the car.
“At least with this car being a manual you’ve got better control over the gears because the automatic gearbox is definitely showing its age, especially at this sort of circuit.
“A lot of fun, lots of torque, very usable, great low-down power, it revs right out, but it shows the inadequacies of the rest of the car.”
Yankee power doesn’t offset lack of track smarts
WE’VE SAID it elsewhere, but it remains a fact that when local car-making finally falls over, it’ll be cars like the Chrysler 300 Core that will be the logical voidfillers.
While the big 300 seems to do the job on the road, how does it stack up against the BFYB formula?
Well, it’s fast, no doubt about that. It comfortably out-powers and out-twists the SS Commodore and those extra numbers play out on the strip despite the monster 1965kg weighbridge ticket. End of the day, you can’t really argue with a sub-five 0-100 and a sub- 13 400m on the drag strip.
But you’re thinking that surely all those kilograms must play against it on the track, right? Well, not so much. In fact, it was just as fleet around Winton as the SS-V Redline (well, within a tenth anyway) even if its slow-corner speeds were much further up the ladder than its fast-corner peaks. You get the impression Luffy was trying pretty damn hard to get a good time in the bank, but that’s exactly what he did and you can’t argue with that for a second.
So what’s the secret? Simply that the 300 Core is much less of a boat than its outward appearance or your preconceived notions might suggest. Yes, it’s American. Yes, it’s big and heavy. Yes, it looks like a rapper’s wet-dream and, yes, it kind of makes you think of blunt instruments. Then you go and throw it into a corner, expecting the worst and the worst doesn’t happen. In fact, not too much at all happens, unless you count the front end pointing more or less where you had in mind and the rest of the plot following the same line pretty faithfully.
Along the way you discover a great soundtrack and the fact that the 300’s big numbers add up to a big heart. It’s not just bulk bottom-end torque either, there’s also a ripping old top-end surge up its sleeve to keep your interest.
Naturally, it’s not perfect and that comes through as a lack of driver involvement and an unwillingness to do exactly as it’s told when you really get serious with it. The front end, for instance, will eventually run out of grip. This doesn’t have the effect of spiralling you into a terminal understeer situation, but it does put a cap on the fun you can extract from that point on.
The eight-speed gearbox, which is such a treat on the road, is also found wanting on the racetrack.
For reasons known only to itself, the ’box often seemed to be in a gear too high, sometimes ignoring your paddle-down commands. That was especially noticeable when exiting corners, which is, of course, the precise point at which you need it to be following your commands exactly.
Throw that lot together, and you can see why the judges scored the Chrysler pretty low, while its bald numbers and price-tag dragged it back up the order, though it only scraped ahead of the Sprint twins by the barest of margins. – DM
“Worked better on track than it had any right to.”
“Makes a rude noise and goes sideways easily. What’s not to like?”
“Feels like a V8-powered lounge room. Fast and comfortable. ”
“Like a hammer. Blunt, effective and surprisingly fun to wield.”
0-100km/h: 4.68sec (5th) 0-400m: 12.76sec @ 183.44km/h (3rd) Lap Time: 1:37.9sec (7th)
Price: $65,000 Bang Index: 97.6 Bucks Index: 108.8 BFYB Index: 154.3
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“IT was very surprising how fast the 300 Core was out there, but you can feel on the limit it’s a big car.
“More than anything it struggles with mid-corner to exit understeer, It turns in really good but it can’t keep maintaining that level of grip.
Brakes are okay, if anything the ABS is a little sensitive on the limit.
“Probably one of the biggest let downs would be the gearbox. When trying to downshift for a corner you have to over-slow it for it to accept the gear. Engine is great, loads of torque – as you’d expect.
Probably not a car I’d want to do an endurance race in, but it certainly opened a few eyes.”
A judges’ favourite, but a formula victim
STEPPING into the BMW M2 and heading out onto the Winton hotmix is like strapping on Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. Suddenly you’re able to do things you weren’t able to do when you were your regular self, like take corners at what seem like ludicrous speeds.
In any other Bang participant, the result would be messy as you disappeared backwards off the track, but the M2’s swollen arches house Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber measuring 245/35 front and 265/35 rear and the resultant grip levels are eye-poppingly strong.
Its minimum speed through the Turn Five sweeper was an immense 118.27km/h, almost three km/h higher than the next best – that’s a lot.
When you’re at a track that’s constantly twisting and turning like Winton, carrying big speed through the corners is going to result in a pretty sharp lap time and the M2 belted all comers with a stunning 1:34.8 – 1.9sec clear of the second-ranked A45. To put that in perspective, at PCOTY 2014, the BMW M4 managed a 1:36.1; yes, the track is a little faster now, but the M2 Pure is also $60K cheaper than its bigger brother.
Of course, it wasn’t all corner speed, as the 272kW/465Nm 3.0-litre turbo six under the bonnet is a pretty handy gadget. The latest M-cars aren’t the easiest to performance test, particularly in manual guise, but some soft-shoe shuffling from Morley had the M2 more or less matching its claims with 4.55sec to 100km/h and a 12.82sec quarter at 175.82km/h.
Despite the nomenclature change, the new M2 is essentially the successor to the limited-edition 1M, a car that wasn’t popular around these parts (though I loved it). The M2 is definitely a little easier to tame, though still requires a decent level of respect.
The combination of turbo torque, sticky tyres and a short wheelbase requires sharp reflexes and quick corrections when you do overstep the limit.
The challenge didn’t put any of the judges off, however, the M2 topping four of the five lists and sitting second on the other. About our only grumble regards the brakes, which were doing plenty of grumbling themselves by day’s end. When the likes of the A45, Redline and Mustang can stand a full day’s track abuse, any car wearing an M badge should be able to do likewise.
So, it’s fast and the judges loved it, but sadly, while $89,900 might make the M2 Pure a bargain in a wider context, it’s very pricey as BFYB competitors go. That it managed to get within a hair’s breadth of the podium shows just how potent it really is. Roll on PCOTY 2017. – SN
“I have a new favourite BMW, and it’s this one.”
“Made every other car at Bang For Your Bucks feel like a toy.”
“Sharp chassis, vicious engine, tough looks.”
“Feels much more serious than anything else here. Weapon.”
0-100km/h: 4.55sec (3rd) 0-400m: 12.82sec @ 175.82km/h (4th) Lap Time: 1:34.8sec (1st)
Price: $89,900 Bang Index: 134.0 Bucks Index: 78.7 BFYB Index: 162.2
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“THERE are a few cars that come along to these events you really look forward to driving. For me, the M2 is certainly one of those cars.
“You can feel the heritage of the little M1. That was a very nervous little car to drive on the limit and this has a lot of the good things the M1 had, but they’ve refined it and made it a much more usable and forgiving package to drive. It’s got great brakes, good turning, really good ergonomics, great driver feedback, the engine is fantastic – it just does everything you want.
“It might not be the overall winner here at Bang, but certainly come toward the end of the year and PCOTY, this thing will show some of the more fancy rivals a clean pair of heels.”
BEHIND THE SCENES BFYB 2016
ANG FOR Your Bucks always throws up new metal and new technology to keep us on our toes, but in other ways, it’s a bit of a Groundhog Day. Well, it is for me, anyway, a couple of decades on. As I often do, I took the opportunity to fire up one of my old bangers for the drive up to Winton. Yes, I could have taken a test car, but the run up to Benalla is just far enough to give a car a good gallop but not too far that the old bomb is certain to break or fall apart. And if it does stop, there’s enough passing traffic that you shouldn’t have to spend the night sleeping in a wombat hole.
As we pulled in to our overnight digs at Benalla, another groundhog popped its platinum-tipped head up. This time it was Luffy, recalling that many years ago as a little tacker, his dad had brought him to the same motel in the name of (his dad) hooning something around the Winton track. And now here was allegedly-grown-up Luffy; same motel, same track, same agenda. Clearly, any genes relating to evolution have been bred out of the Luff tribe.
But one thing has changed in just a couple of years. The staff of this magazine, who, just two BFYBs ago, I described as looking like crèche escapees, are now firmly in control. Cordony has been promoted to judging duties, Newman is as-Tasmanian-as-ever but the go-to guy for many things and Campbell is not only running the magazine successfully, but has also developed a keen eye for an angle. And the little buggers CAN drive. Newman’s always been fairly quick, but now Cordony is getting his eye in and Campbell and I had a great little session in the TTS and M135i where we traded apexes and ran hard together. I wouldn’t do that with a bloke I didn’t trust behind the wheel, but duking it out with Campbell posed no fears over flesh or metal.
But going home, it was back to how it had ever been: The road was closed for half an hour as an SUV parked by the side of the highway (not a speed camera, sadly) burnt to the ground and then, just as night fell and the temperature plummeted, the heater fan on my old dunger failed. And yes, it’s a convertible. – DM B
Raw performance enough for a podium position
“I wanted more from it on the track.
Awesome road-car, though.”
“More of a hot-rod personality than surgical track weapon. Suits me.”
“Supercar-aping noise and friendly chassis make it hot-hatch manna. ”
“Group B warble compensates for its minor dynamic shortcomings.”
0-100km/h: 4.23sec (2nd) 0-400m: 12.42sec @ 183.76km/h (2nd) Lap Time: 1:37.6sec (=4th)
Price: $82,580 Bang Index: 129.5 Bucks Index: 85.6 BFYB Index: 163.5
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“THIS thing is a little pocket rocket, but one of the limiting factors is you struggle through the tight stuff. You roll through in third and then when you’re getting ready to jump on the throttle it kicks back to second on corner exit. In terms of overall laptime, I think it costs a fair bit of time and doesn’t help with the balance of the car going into the corner.
“The overall dynamics are quite impressive, it has very good initial turn-in, but it’s glued to the ground and so well-balanced that it takes away some of the enjoyment from what you could potentially get out of the car.”
BANG For Your Bucks’s price ceiling was meant to fence off the event from super-expensive, super-fast cars. The thinking was this would leave Performance Car of the Year, with its jaw-dropping vehicles, as this magazine’s ‘blue ribbon’ event.
However, Audi’s RS3 was looking to tear that blue ribbon in half. When it faced off against Mercedes-AMG’s A45 earlier this year, it tore a chunk out of Affalterbach’s hatch with a 3.95sec sprint to 100km/h. That would’ve been faster than 80 per cent of last year’s PCOTY field.
Little surprise, too. When Audi slaps an RS badge on its A3, there’s an angry turbocharger filling five cylinders up front, seven quick-fire gears behind it and a centredifferential in the middle. While the first RS3 was never sold in Australia, the second-generation debuts the badge here with an extra 20kW/15Nm.
Unfortunately, though, this formula wasn’t so alchemic come game day. Even with its seven-speed dual-clutcher’s launch control, it just couldn’t extract that magic three-second sprint. Firing from a standstill on a cold Benalla morning it tagged 100km/h in 4.23sec on its way to 12.42sec quarter.
That’s certainly not snoozing. It was enough to clinch second in both disciplines against a troop of big-boost sixes and V8s. But perhaps more importantly, it trailed the A45 by 0.05sec.
However, power isn’t meant to be the only trick in the RS3’s repertoire. Based on the S3, its ‘R’ badge adds widened tracks, aluminium-rich suspension and lowered ride height. Optional carbon front brakes are available, but our test car instead opted for fatter 255mm front treads and magnetically-controlled adaptive dampers.
How does this fare out on track? Well, not quite as you’d expect. Audi boasts the RS3’s all-wheel drive system can shoot all of its 465Nm rearwards for ‘drifts’, but only when its front boots slip first.
Don’t think that makes the RS3 a boring steed. You just have to tip-in with some lift-off to involve the rear-end.
Its chassis is so friendly you can throw it around all day, ready to catch it with a clear, crisp steering rack.
While it pulls out of corners like it’s winched, the hard numbers aren’t enough to pull it from the mid-field on dynamic merit. Traction’s hardly an issue, but the absence of Audi’s trick sports rear differential means the RS3 can be a bit pushy and fails to make its 1520kg feel truly agile.
That’s probably why its lighter cousin, the TT S, managed to carve a second out of its lap time and trump its apex speeds. Even still, the RS3’s demonic pace helped it wind up third in the $50K-$100K Bang rankings, its score 31.6 points clear of the SS-V Redline.
Better yet, that margin proved so big that even a lowly ninth for its Bucks rating didn’t drag down its overall place – even with $3680 of options making the car more expensive than all but the M2 and TT S.
So Audi’s RS3 is friendly, fun and fast enough, but a better side-step and a drop in dollars will squeeze a better result from the formula next time. For now, it’s third place for the RS3 – and an intact blue ribbon for us. – LC
BEHOLD: the first track-capable factory SS Commodore. Yep, it might be the last of the lion line, but this here SS-V Redline is really the first time a stock-standard Commodore has been specced to cope with a track day. In the old days, you’d probably have to put bigger brakes on your SS and maybe even tweak the engine for a bit more breathing, but in the case of the SS-V Redline, you’d probably be wasting your time.
Yep, the standard car is that good.
We’re pretty well versed with the Series 2 SS Commodore; the 6.2-litre, 304kW upgrade has made a huge difference to the way the car goes and feels, not to mention how it sounds. If you go for the Redline package, you also get those whopping great six-piston Brembos up front. Funny thing is, the actual changes have added up to an even bigger transformation of the SS-V Redline package. The Commodore now has lots of power-down and although it’s still a supple-riding thing on the Queen’s Highway, that same flexibility translates to great mechanical grip on the track.
That’s not the end of the good news. The steering is now accurate and seems sharper than ever before – the whole gadget feels neutral and balanced. That’s no doubt a function of that long Zeta-platform wheelbase, but there’s still an immense feeling of poise and chuckability built into the Holden. If fun was the only criteria at work here, the SS-V Redline
Going out on a high, albeit as the bridesmaid
might have done even better.
Against the rest of the $50K-and-up crowd, the Redline isn’t the quickest by any means. In fact, it’s nought to 100 time was anything but near the top of the crop (although we did manage to match Holden’s claim of 4.9 seconds). To 400m, the relatively heavy kerb mass, combined with two-wheel drive and lots of torque amount to a car that’s reasonably tricky to launch hard. Even when you do get it near enough to right, it’s still on the wrong side of 13 seconds. Okay, it’s a low, low 13, but against this crew that doesn’t count for a whole lot.
Once it is up and rolling, things improve. In fact, the SS-V becomes a steamroller at that point and everything from its laptime to its lap V-max speaks of a car with plenty of snot and the stiction to paste it down. But rather than rely on caution and making sure you don’t overstep the mark, the Redline absolutely thrives on (as a South Australian Supreme Court judge infamously remarked back in 1993) rougher than usual treatment. There’s plenty of ‘whoa’ to match the go and hauling down this much car from 100km/h in 35-and-a-bit metres proves the Brembos are well worth the admission.
And here’s something else to think about: where previous Commodore SSs have thrown their BFYB chances away at the racetrack, not a single judge this year (and a motley but speed-loving bunch they were) placed the SS-V Redline any further south than fourth place in this price category. But while it’s full marks to Holden for putting in the time, effort, and bucks to turn the SS Commodore around, it happened just in time to pull the plug on production. Bittersweet barely covers it. – DM
“Going out with a bang: Gotta love that.”
“304kW world-class muscle car for $55K. Man, we’ve got it good. For now.”
“Holden’s finest Commodore given the grunt, and growl, it deserves.”
“I love this car. For what it’s meant to do, it’s just about perfect.”
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (7th) 0-400m: 13.08sec @ 178.11km/h (8th) Lap Time: 1:37.6sec (=4th)
Price: $54,490 Bang Index: 97.9 Bucks Index: 129.8 BFYB Index: 169.2
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“WHILE the lights are about to go out on the Aussie car industry over the next 18 months, some people are prepared to burn brightly while they still can. This is a really fun good car on the track and it does everything that you would expect of the more fancy European rivals.
“It has that great exhaust note and crackling roar that goes through the car. Honestly, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and gives you something to be excited about. While the car industry is not going to be with us for much longer, the guys at Holden have done something to make us all proud that we can make cars that are comparable with some of the world’s best car manufacturers.”
BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS 2016
A hell-of-a-lot-of bang enough to bring glory
WHEN THE Mercedes-AMG A45 touched down in 2013 it promised serious speed – but at a serious price. $75K? For a hatchback? That’s more than most HSVs! (Some might say, anyway.)
But there was a small catch: no HSV would keep up with a well-driven A45. Even a poorly-driven A45, thanks to its foolproof and then-gamechangingfor- the-price launch control system that meant any numbskull was to be taken very seriously at the lights.
A 2.0-litre turbo-four with a better specific power output than a 911 Turbo didn’t hurt, either.
But for whatever reason, this Goliath-toppling budget brawler has never taken on our Bang For Your Bucks. Yep, 2016 is its first outing. In updated form, packing an extra 15kW (now 280kW) and 25Nm (now 475Nm) and only a few grand extra, the A45 came, saw and wiped the floor of the most competitive $50K-$100K class we’ve ever had.
Owing to that mercilessly-effective launch control and Haldex all-wheel drive system, the A45 was Bang 2016’s drag racing star. It pipped its direct rival the Audi RS3 to 100km/h in 4.16sec, quickest of the entire event. To 400m, it left cars like the 400kW XR8 Sprint dazed and confused as it laid down the law – a 12.37sec quarter at 181.65km/h. Fastest of the event.
It’s also got more anti-grunt than any car here, its big, 350mm, four-pot front brakes helping pull the 1480kg A45 up in just 34.51 metres. Another best in class – and best of Bang 2016.
And it was its impressive stopping power and punch off apexes that saved the A45’s laptime bacon. If you looked only at its top end (5th for lap v-max) and mid-corner grip (3rd in the sweeper; 4th in the slower Turn 9) you’d guess the A45 finished up around fourth in class. But in fact it toppled a pair of giants, clawing back a 1:36.7sec to post the second-fastest lap behind only the M2 (by 1.9sec).
Our test car came fitted with the $1990 Dynamic Plus package, the main attraction being a new limitedslip front diff. Although mere mortals would never complain about traction in an A45, Luffy still found it wanting: “It suffers from a bit of wheelspin on midcorner to exit on the tighter stuff when in second gear.
But when you’re trying to put that much power through the front wheels you’re obviously going to get that.”
That aside, on track the A45 generally gets out there and does the job. If the Nissan GT-R is Godzilla, the Mercedes-AMG A45 is the Terminator, efficiently converting every kilowatt to forward momentum with no small thanks to its slick seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. With a keen front end it’ll lock on to apexes as if laser-guided, washing into predictable understeer
“Launch control makes a 13-second car a 12-second one.”
“Not much of a sense of humour.
But boy, it’s not to be messed with.”
“Slurps up tarmac fast as Matt Preston does an entrée.”
“Not sure it’s that much actual fun, but man is it effective!”
0-100km/h: 4.16sec (1st) 0-400m: 12.37sec @ 181.65km/h (1st) Lap Time: 1:36.7sec (2nd)
Price: $79,890 Bang Index: 140.6 Bucks Index: 88.5 BFYB Index: 174.4
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“I THINK this circuit suits the A45 more than the RS3, but overall this car is a lot of fun. It moves around; through the sweeper you can start to slide the back a little bit and help point it to the second apex.
“It has a little more of a lively character and on a tighter circuit like this it works. It has really good front end grip, really good brakes, the gearbox does what you want it to.
“Certainly for the speed it’s got, it’s a really good fun car out there. It’s one of those cars you want to keep driving it because you know there’s more to come out of it.”
THE RESURFACE of the Winton circuit brought great expectations that we’d nail some tremendous laptimes.
And we did. But why?
What is the scientific reason that makes a resurfaced track better? So we asked Luffy who, let’s face it, ought to know.
“Like anything else a race-track surface will deteriorate over time,” says the orange one. “Often, on old style coarse surfaces, that means it polishes up and gets slippery. But now, when you add a nice new layer of modern racing surface, the actual surface is much closer grained.
Closer grain means less gaps. Less gaps means more tyre contact. And more tyre contact equals more grip. Simples.”
Fair enough, but the one car that didn’t improve on last year’s lap time was the Fiesta ST. What’s going on there Luffy?
“I don’t really know. It just felt greasy and because the Fiesta was the first car I drove, I thought it might be a dirty track. So I did another handful of cars and then went back out in the Fiesta to see if its times would improve. But they didn’t. This year’s tyre just didn’t work on the day.”
if you get greedy. The rear end will even unhinge, but only if aggressively, properly poked. The serious-face A45 is fundamentally more interested in lap times than fooling around. And a little corner-exit tail-wag on the throttle alone? Unfortunately not, the A45’s allwheel drive system far from rear-biased.
You’d never fit semi-slicks to this car for fear of never being able to go back to normal road tyres – the A45 feels like its outgrown its 235-wide stock rubber.
For all its giant-slaying speed in a straight line and around the track, perhaps it’s more incredible to consider that, in Australia, the A45 is loaded with standard equipment otherwise optional overseas.
Things like metallic paint, climate control, sunroof, keyless entry-and-go, Recaro seats, leather and shift paddles. We can only imagine how a basic, $65K A45 might have done against our bang-for-buck formula.
For now though, even at nigh-on $80K, the A45 is a potent enough weapon to clean up our $50K-$100K class, backing up its bucks with armfuls of bang. It was worth the wait – and long may it reign. – DC
1. Merc-AMG A45 140.6 88.5 174.4 2. Holden SS Redline 97.9 129.8 169.2 3. Audi RS3 129.5 85.6 163.5 4. BMW M2 Pure 134.0 78.7 162.2 5. Chrysler 300 Core 97.6 108.8 154.3 6. Falcon XR8 Sprint 89.3 117.9 153.9 7. Falcon XR6 Sprint 79.7 128.6 153.8 8. Ford Mustang GT 75.6 123.0 146.6 9. BMW M135i 62.8 112.4 129.0 10. Audi TT S 93.0 70.8 123.9
OF THE 10 cars in our $50K-$100K class, subjectively we, the judges, would take the BMW M2.
It’s a proper weapon – and easily the most serious car at Bang For Your Bucks 2016.
Maybe it was its surefootedness at the limit – a very high limit, at that – or maybe it was the noise its straight-six made rowing up through that sweet sixspeed manual gearbox. Or maybe it was the sensation of unfiltered connection to the bitumen that made us all fawn over the baby Bimmer. Whatever it was, we all loved it, it represents a true return to form for BMW’s M Divison.
Don’t think it was easy.
It was nigh-impossible for most of us to pick a secondplaced car, mostly ties between the please-canwe- keep-it SS-V Redline and the surprisingly sweet Mustang GT. – DC