ROAD PERFORMANCE Car of the Year
SNAKING ITS way up a hill beside the picturesque Lake Eildon in Victoria, and rising 224m in 3.4km, Fraser Park Road is brief but unforgettable. Afterwards, it's worth exploring the roads around the area including the incredible Eildon-Jamieson Road.
HEREíS the thing: PCOTY is not just Bang For Your Bucks with no price ceiling. Nope, the pure mathematics of BFYB are replaced with a much broader set of criteria which, as well as allowing for a little subjectivity, also means we have to test the contenders for a similarly broader skillset.
Which, in turn, means we need to take to the Queenís Highways and see how they fare in the real world. As in, as transport as well as mere trackside trinkets.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the real track monsters out there can also be right pigs when it comes to the more mundane stuff like getting in and out of them as well as making your ears bleed on any journey farther than the next suburb. And what about ride quality and seat comfort and the view to the rear? Exactly, what about those things? Well, thatís why half of PCOTY was spent on the open roads, both straight and twisty, and itís a major part of why stuff finished where it did. So listen up.
Letís start with a pair of hatchbacks. Now, the VW Golf GTI has, since its re-emergence in Mark V form in the mid-2000s, stamped itself as the hottest of the hot. But the trick the GTI in Mark V, VI and now VII forms, has also pulled off is to convince us that itís probably the most refined of these little freaks.
The new 40 Years version does nothing to alter that perception, to be honest. Yes, the ride is firm, but itís beautifully controlled and driven to its strengths, the GTI is one hell of a road car. Most of all, itís accessible performance, 95 per cent of which you will be able to use 95 per cent of the time.
By direct comparison, the Ford Focus RS is roughly the same money, but adds a fair whack more power and the ticky-tacky of all-wheel drive. It is arguably a more focused (sorry) machine but not as liveable as the VW in an overall sense. However, point it up a winding track and it suddenly comes alive again. And practicality? Well, it is still a five-door hatch, right?
Okay, so you canít have it without the third pedal, but I cannot force myself to complain about that. Point to point on the right road, the Focus RS would be all but unbeatable by almost anything else here (with one notable exception that Iíll get to later).
Remember that bit about track-focused cars being pigs on the road? Yeah, well the BMW M2 Pure proves that such is not always the case. Because as well as scoring well on the track, the M2 also emerged as a
truly magnificent road weapon. Thereís a degree of suppleness in everything from the suspension to the steering feedback, even the gearshift feel, that makes you want to hug the little Bimmer. More than that, it makes you want to absolutely drive the wheels off the thing and itís happy for you to do just that. I wasnít the only bloke in 2016 to decide I had a new favourite BMW, just seconds after my first drive in the M2 Pure.
Now, if the year 2016 was a champagne year for supercars, it was also a pretty handy 12 months for big, V8, rear-drive passenger cars, too. The Ford Mustang GT is the one everybody wanted to know about (well, in the towns we travelled through, anyway) and it remains a stunning looking car that could only ever be a Mustang. And while it can seem a bit overwhelmed on the track (not forgetting the fact that itís still streets ahead of any Falcon-based car weíve tried at Winton) it was absolutely at its best on the road. The 5.0-litre V8 honestly feels like a 6.0-litre unit and the Stang rides and steers with a degree of accuracy and can-do that weíve simply never seen from anything with a Mustang badge before.
The existence of the Mustang also ensures the old rivalry between Holden and Ford continues and, for now, the red corner is still populated by an Australianmade car. The Clubbie doesnít really feel like a 400kW car (or, at least, how we expected one to feel) but it still hauls butt when you floor the gas on that blown 6.2. And the body roll that you feel on the track means that it actually rides pretty well on the road and that, combined with the no-surprises steering and loping gearing makes it a fairly complete road car. In fact,
THE QUIET town of Shepparton, Victoria, is abuzz with reports of a crop of supercars parked up outside bakeries and pie shops, as the PCOTY 2017 crew assembles for its first sortie around the test loop at the Driver Education Centre of Australia, or DECA.
The short (1.4km and eight corners) but tricky road loop within the licence testing facility is a great way to blow out the cobwebs and get a first taste of the field before heading out into the wilds of Victoria, and this year itís an awesome collection.
A long Ė 600m Ė very fast straight combines with bumpy corner apexes and a tricky sequence of off-camber elevations that dares you to push a little harder to give an insight of the characters of our 12 contenders. Itís also key not to damage, mark, spin or otherwise sully the 12-strong field of top-grade machines. Ahem. Yes.
ďHey! Why is the Merc so muddy?Ē asks dep ed Scott Newman. ďDid someone bin it?Ē
Well, hmm. Yes, maybe I know someone who dropped it off the hairpin at the top of the course, into the very, very soft undergrowth. They may have had to give the twin-turbo V8 a bit of gas to get it out of the undergrowth, spraying the side of the car with mud. Dunno, though. Shouldnít go around naming names.
That so-called incident (Iíve had worse loses in the Coles supermarket) actually shows DECAís hidden side as a short loop that gives the judges a quick hint of whatís to come, as well as a chance to get into, start and engage drive in the damn things.
If ever the industry got together and joined forces on a common way to start a car, Iíd be there with a placard urging them on.
Missing in the early action are the big guns, as corporate red tape requirements kept Editor Dylan on the phone for most of the day chasing the Ferrari's and Lamboís paperwork. The Nissan GT-R was, well, just missing, but it eventually joined the fray.
Most entertaining around the short loop?
Not the Lamborghini or the Fezza; too broad, too unfamiliar and too rear-drive for this little duck right off the bat. No, itís the midfielders like the Ford Focus RS and the BMW M2 Pure that stick their heads above the parapet and raise a few eyebrows.
Engaging, entertaining and plenty quick right out of the box, itís the more affordable end of town that leaves the DECA in convoy (and gets lost in two kilometres flat) at top of most judgeís minds. Ė TR
At track speeds, you could argue that the GS F lacks that last little blob of involvement, but road velocities never really see that surface to any degree.
The paddles work brilliantly and the automatic tranny obeys them like it should Ė hereís the Q-ship youíve been waiting for.
AMGís embiggened C-Class cars have always been great companions on a road trip, provided you could handle the sharp-ish ride. In that regard the C63 S Coupe is no different and it remains that the ride quality can seem at odds with the three-pointed starís more traditional attributes. But look beyond that and you soon find a car that is utterly brilliant at covering kays.
The engine Ė now a twin-turbocharged V8 Ė might not swell up and explode like the old atmo 6.2, but to criticise it for having bulk torque everywhere instead is to sound churlish to us. And the even better news is that the active exhaust on the C63 S can still be activated whenever the driver likes, leading to some distinctly anti-social blurts and bangs. And thatís just in the motel car-park warming it up for the off. Everybody in Wangaratta must have heard the C63 S idling... Interesting, because we were staying in Benalla.
Meanwhile, trundling around to the shops for breakfast, negotiating servo driveways and parking in typically mean little motel car-spaces is where a lot of supercars have come unstuck over the years at PCOTY.
Itís these seemingly little chores that will sometimes see a big-hitter unravel as it leaves half its chin spoiler on the ground or knocks over a pot-plant because you canít see out of half-a-million-bucks-worth of exotica.
Of course, there is one supercar that has never had that sort of criticism levelled at it, and thatís the Porsche 911 and all its derivatives. Including this one. The Turbo S is the supercar that makes you question why you canít change lanes safely in some other supercars. Itís the one that forces you to wonder
aloud just why some competitors are so difficult to enter and leave. And why you canít judge where the nose is. And why on Earth the damn thing canít idle along in stop-start traffic. That said, the Turbo S ain't perfect: the cup-holders are in another suburb from the driverís chair and thereís pretty much nowhere to stash modern-day millstones like mobile phones and such. A big bottle of water? Forget it.
Of course, the fact is youíll be first to the pub anyway, because the 911 Turbo eats kilometres like The Donald goes through ex-girlfriends. I mentioned earlier that the Focus would be a chance to be home first on a winding track, but itís the 911 that would give even that WRC refugee a blood nose in any chase scenario.
Although it costs but a fraction of the Porscheís sticker, the Nissan GT-R wouldnít be too far behind
either. As a getaway car, the GT-Rís sheer pace would serve it well and its mid-range poke, top-end and sheer bloody-mindedness ensure thatís itís a dead-set weapon on the tar. But itís a little less friendly to use than some and although Nissan has softened both the suspension and the trannyís shift-shock, thereís still no mistaking it for a Godzilla. Itís noisy, a bit rattly through the clutch packs and to us old blokes, it still feels about equal parts supercar and arcade game.
And you can only wonder how many nose-to-tails that configurable info screen has caused.
Audiís R8 had always seemed like the thinking personís supercar with better than average liveability.
That, so the story goes, is what happens when you take a Lamborghiniís spirit and combine it with Audiís traditionally brilliant ergonomics. Thatís still more or less how it pans out, too, although itís still a moderately noisy car on coarse-chip surfaces. But it is still a relatively accessible car and one thatís not too daunting when youíre having a bit of a go. The elephant in the room? Why oh why does an otherwise sensible car like this have fixed-back seats. Race seats are fine, but without a recline function, they just seem a bit try-hard.
Two-wheel drive Lamborghinis have not always been the stuff of happily ever after. But the Huracan LP580-2 is a much more benign character than the old Gallardo Balboni ever was. On the road, it retains the pointiness that defines it as a great track car and that engine never quits. At track velocities you might miss the extra driven axle, but on the road, itís a moot point.
But, again, itís noisy at speed and the ergonomics are a bit of a shambles. But hey, it has a nose-lifter for driveways and such; the very thing both the Audi and
Ferrari could use themselves.
Which brings us to the Ferrari Ė the car that should be the orneriest to live with. I mean, if itís going to follow decades of Ferrari tradition, it should be difficult to enter or leave, uncomfortable once youíre in and a bit tricky to drive. Fact is, once youíve got your head around the steering wheel workstation, the 488 is none of those things. I got used to the indicators on either side of the tiller, but the dip-switch was like the TV remote at Chez Morley: never seemed to be in the same place twice.
But the seats are lovely and supportive and defy Italian fashion by being wide enough across the shoulders to accommodate those of us who used to chop firewood after school. You sit low and forward, too, as if your feet might be brushing the back of the front bumper and youíre actually part of the car rather than just trying to stay on top of its brutal pace. Of which there is, of course, plenty. The 488ís turbomotor lacks the last little daub of drama of the old atmo screamer, but it doesnít actually feel boosty at all; it feels more like a big capacity, old-school donk, if you want to know the truth.
And hereís how you know the Fezza works as transport: even old Cockburn Ė the slowest adaptor to new technology the world has ever seen Ė put his analogue phone away, stowed his shooting stick in his Gladstone bag, jumped in the Ferrari and drove it like he meant it. And the old bugger loved it. No further questions, Your Worship. M
VEHICLE CLAIMED MEASURED DIFFERENCE Audi R8 V10 Plus 12.3L/100km 14.6L/100km +2.3L
BMW M2 Pure 8.5L/100km 11.8L/100km +3.3L
Ferrari 488 GTB 11.4L/100km 21.1L/100km +9.7L
Ford Focus RS 8.1L/100km 13.7L/100km +5.6L
Ford Mustang GT 13.1L/100km 16.1L/100km +3.0L
HSV Clubsport R8 LSA 15.0L/100km 19.6L/100km +4.6L
Lamborghini Huracan 11.9L/100km 17.0L/100km +5.1L
Lexus GS F 11.3L/100km 18.6L/100km +7.3L
Merc-AMG C63 S Coupe 8.7L/100km 16.6L/100km +8.7L
Nissan GT-R 11.7L/100km 19.3L/100km +7.6L
Porsche 911 Turbo S 9.1L/100km 17.2L/100km +8.1L
VW Golf GTI 40 Years 6.6L/100km 12.0L/100km +5.4L