Dirty Dozen

12 of the world's hottest new performance cars, 4 furious days, 1 upset. Welcome to the fastest PCOTY ever

by SCOTT NEWMAN pics ELLEN DEWAR/NATHAN JACOBS

PERFORMANCE CAR OF THE YEAR 2017

12 of the world's hottest new performance cars, 4 furious days, 1 upset. Welcome to the fastest PCOTY ever

AS OUR ultimate award, Performance Car of the Year is the highlight of MOTOR’s calendar. How could you not look forward to a week-long thrash on road and track in the finest fast cars of the past 12 months? Rarely is there a bad car present – typically we’re sorting varying degrees of excellence – but as the pieces fell into place it became clear that PCOTY 2017 would be quite a special field.

As such our ‘10 best cars of the year’ blew out to a dozen, which is stretching the limit of what we can logistically accommodate, but to leave any of these 12 at home would have been criminal – as it is, some arguably worthy contenders failed to get a guernsey. Nonetheless, the last time Australia witnessed a team of 12 this good, Warnie, McGrath and Ponting were wearing the baggy green.

Supercars are generally very hard to come by for tests like this. There tends to be only one example of each exotic available for Australian media to use, so lining up the PCOTY dates with their heavily booked schedules is a challenge. Add in the high number of kilometres, the wear-and-tear of racetrack duty as well A as performance testing and we usually only manage to score one or two.

This year, however, no fewer than four bona fide supercars make it to the Driver Education Centre (DECA) at Shepparton for day one of PCOTY 2017, and they don’t come much more super than the Ferrari 488 GTB. Turbocharging is supposed to ruin sports cars by adding weight and dulling response, but Ferrari has added plenty of silver lining to the forcedinduction cloud by screwing 492kW/760Nm out of the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8.

Having sampled the 488 before I know its performance is borderline frightening, but as the only judge to have spent significant time behind the wheel, it’s an unknown quantity for most. And then there’s the as-tested price tag of $625,278, making it by far the most expensive contender.

Next on the list is another rear-drive Italian wedge, the Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2, a car that could’ve been made with MOTOR in mind. By removing the front driveshafts, Sant’Agata has prioritised fun over pure speed, though with a 427kW/540Nm 5.2-litre V10 in the back it still has plenty of the latter.

The deletion of all-wheel drive doesn’t always translate to more entertainment – Morley still wakes in a cold sweat at memories of the Gallardo LP550-2 Balboni that appeared at PCOTY 2010 – but the advantages or otherwise of two driven wheels will be brought into sharp relief by the Huracan’s quattro cousin, Audi’s R8 V10 Plus.

While evolutionary in both design and specification, the latest R8 feels quite different to its two-time PCOTY-winning predecessor to drive. Thankfully, that searing atmo V10 remains, now tweaked to 449kW/560Nm, along with the usual first-class Audi interior and Blade Runner looks.

Our other all-wheel drive German is the Porsche 911 Turbo S, the ultimate version of the most successful

Judge Mental

Those not short of an opinion

TIM ROBSON

Ex-editor Robbo’s return to PCOTY elicited genuine groans of dismay from all present, but budgets are tight these days. Incredibly hard to share a room with, too.

DAVID MORLEY

This is Dave’s 347th PCOTY start, but that wealth of knowledge has unfortunately been lost over years of beating metal things with other metal things. Dodgy dress sense, too.

SCOTT NEWMAN

Even though there are nowhere near enough special stages on PCOTY for his liking, Scotty will cheerfully flog the living bajeesus out of any car placed in front of him.

DYLAN CAMPBELL

A man long known for his dubious helmet head, editor Dylan has managed to wrangle an all-time fleet of automotive stars for him… erm, us to test in 2016.

JOHN BOWE

John has LITERALLY raced more times than Scott or Dylan have had hot dinners.

A wise, hard head on battleworn shoulders often adorned with a sponsor’s shirt.

How could you not look forward to a week-long thrash in the finest fast cars of the past year?

The last time Australia witnessed a team this good, Warnie, McGrath and Ponting were wearing the baggy green

car in PCOTY history. While it may seem outwardly similar to the Turbo that won in 2014 – it’s even the same colour – in revised 991.2 ‘S’ guise we’re talking another 44kW/90Nm, carbon ceramic brakes and clever handling tech like active anti-roll bars.

Restrained and sombre in its Jet Black paintwork, the 911 couldn’t be more of a contrast to the flamboyant orange Lambo – you get the feeling the two wouldn’t get along at a party.

The Turbo S would rather talk to the Nissan GT-R, the two sharing a common interest in tearing up twisty roads at physics-defying speed. The R35 has appeared twice before at PCOTY, winning on both occasions, but with the MY2017 facelift being the most substantial yet, we thought it would be interesting to see where Godzilla ranked among the latest offerings.

Now packing 419kW/632Nm, it undoubtedly still has front-running pace and the suspension and interior upgrades rectify some of the criticisms we’ve had in years past. But can a softer, more rounded GT-R still wow in the same manner as when it last vied for PCOTY honours five years ago?

One car that’s progressed the other way is the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe, the Nissan’s closest rival, on price at least. Traditionally, AMGs have been comfy cruisers with big engines, but over the past decade its cars have shifted markedly to the point where the latest C63 S Coupe is a hardcore, fire-breathing twodoor with a severe hatred of its rear tyres. The C63 S sedan scored a surprise, but very deserved, second place last year, so it would be a brave soul who writes off the sharper, more focused Coupe.

One of the hero cars of 2016 is the BMW M2, rightly hailed as a return to form for M Division.

In Oz-only Pure guise it’s a back-to-basics recipe with tasty ingredients: 3.0-litre twin-turbo six in the front, six-speed manual in the middle and limited-slip differential at the rear, all offered at a price that makes a Cayman or TT – not to mention its M4 big brother – look a bit expensive.

Expensive isn’t an accusation you could level at the VW Golf GTI 40 Years. Granted, $48,990 for the sixspeed dual-clutch version we have here isn’t exactly church change, but it does make the limited-edition Golf the cheapest car in the field. The $2500 premium over the Golf GTI Performance appears good value,

The Challengers

Behold, the greatest PCOTY fi eld ever

Audi R8 V10 plus

449kW/560Nm, 1555kg,$389,616 Two-time PCOTY winner is faster, fitter and more high-tech than ever.

Ferrari 488 GTB

492kW/760Nm, 1475kg, $469,988 The fastest, most powerful and most expensive car in the field.

HSV Clubsport R8 LSA

400kW/671Nm, 1907kg, $80,990 Supercharged Aussie brute the people’s champion.

Nissan GT-R

419kW/680Nm, 1765kg, $189,000 Now an elder statesman, Godzilla’s had its biggest makeover yet.

Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe

375kW/700Nm, 1725kg, $162,400 Forget the Merc badge, this is the quintessential German muscle car.

Ford Focus RS

257kW/470Nm, 1575kg, $50,990 Blue Oval’s blue-collar hero has redefined what a hot hatch is capable of.

Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2

427kW/540Nm, 1503kg, $378,900 Italian exotic ditches the front driveshafts for added fun factor.

Porsche 911 Turbo S

427kW/750Nm, 1600kg, $456,200 Granddaddy of the 911 range wants to tear your head off.

BMW M2 Pure

272kW/465Nm, 1495kg, $89,000 We thought BMW had forgotten how to make cars like this – it hasn’t.

Ford Mustang GT

306kW/530Nm, 1739kg, $57,490 First global Mustang also happens to be the best. Handy, that.

Lexus GS F

351kW/530Nm, 1825kg, $151,490 A refreshingly old-school V8 sedan from an unlikely source.

VW Golf GTI 40 Years

195kW/350Nm, 1357kg, $48,990 This year’s hottest front-driver takes the Golf concept and turns it up to 11.

too, given the 40 Years scores bespoke 19s, an aero kit, Alcantara interior bits and, most importantly, an extra 26kW, with a further 18kW/30Nm available in 10-second bursts on overboost.

If you want value, though, look no further than the Ford Focus RS. The previous front-drive RS (which was brilliant) cost $59,990, yet this latest Blue Oval hot hatch, with segment-leading power and torque and all-wheel drive, asks for a mere $50,990. Although actually buying one for that price is a different matter given the current levels of demand.

Regardless, Ford’s fantastic five-door rewrites the hot hatch rule book and has its sights set on upsetting the apple cart for a few of the big-dollar exotica. The same could be said of Ford’s other PCOTY 2017 entrant, the Mustang GT. We tried to limit each manufacturer to just one car, but knew there would be howls of protest if either the Focus or Mustang was left at home.

But Ford’s latest pony car doesn’t make the list on popularity grounds alone. It’s a properly sorted coupe and offers an unrivalled combination of style and sex appeal for less than $60K.

Like the Mustang, the Lexus GS F has a bruising 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 under the bonnet, but the similarities end there. The quirky Japanese sports sedan is one of the surprises of 2016. On the face of it, the GS F merely packages the RC F’s mechanicals in a more practical four-door body, but somehow the result is much more cohesive and, as a result, a hell of a lot more entertaining to drive.

Speaking of entertaining, last but certainly not least is the HSV Clubsport R8 LSA. If it feels like the supercharged Clubbie has been out for ages, that’s because it has – about 12 months, in fact. HSV’s Gen- F2 range launched just weeks after last year’s PCOTY but was a guaranteed call up thanks to 400kW/671Nm of blown V8, finely honed dynamics and a sharp (in this company, at least) $80,990 price tag.

This year’s testing schedule closely follows that of 2015: a day at DECA to test the contenders’ performance in a closed environment, flat-out laps at Winton and two days of on-road assessment to make sure everything works as it should in the real world.

What has changed markedly is the judging procedure. You can read the nitty-gritty details in the accompanying breakout, but essentially we’ve gone back to the future, re-introducing a scoring system in an attempt to make it a little clearer how each judge came to their verdict on each car and why.

With fuel tanks brimmed, memory cards loaded and keys in ignitions, all that’s left is to discover which contender will reign as the performance car king for the next 12 months. M

All that’s left is to discover who will reign as the performance car king for the next 12 months

Criteria Comeback

We've changed the scoring. Here's how

IN AN effort to inject more tranparency into the PCOTY judging process, we've re-introduced a scoring system for 2016. Each judge scored each car out of 10 on six criteria, outlined below, for a total out of 60. With five judges, each car gets a score out of 300.

In previous years judges have simply ranked the cars from first to last so hopefully this process gives you, the readers, a greater insight into how and why each car ended up in the position it did.

Unlike your traditional comparison test, each car is assessed and scored in the context of its peers rather than against the other contenders. For example, the VW Golf GTI doesn't automatically score a 10 for value simply because it's the cheapest car in the field. Rather, its value is judged in terms of what it offers as a hot hatch.

THE SIX PCOTY CRITERIA:

1. Performance – Outright speed, engine response, gearbox feel and smoothness. 2. Dynamics – Grip, chassis balance, braking performance, steering. 3. Accessibility – How easy or difficult is the car's performance to extract? 4. Liveability – Road noise, ride comfort, ergonomics, visibility, interior quality. 5. Value – Purchase price, cost of key options, standard equipment and performance offered. 6. 'X Factor' – Styling, exhaust note, how badly we want one.