IF LOOKS could kill, you’d pick BMW’s unassuming M140i last from a line-up.
Maybe it’s the lack of wings, or badges, but when bets were placed on how this overall order would wash out, most went to our RS-, AMG-, and GTIbadged entries. Yet, when the starting gun fired, the BMW tore off like a rabid fox in a hen’s shed, ripping apart just about every other contestant on the drag strip and circuit tests with ease.
BMW has form in this speed-versus-cents thing.
The M135i claimed last year’s $50K-$100K category win. And years ago, in 1996, BMW’s 328i pocketed the overall gong. Consider all that and suddenly our M140i rises to an odds-on favourite.
Punching the numbers into the formula, though, was puzzling. Despite maximum points in four tests, the boxy M-car languished in third place. Not even its effort in the event’s highest-weighted test, the circuit lap time, could help it clinch a higher result.
Our curiosity then turned to Mercedes-AMG’s A45, which stole first in both the 0-100km/h and 400m tests. Would its absence hypothetically bump the M140i to second? Nope. Even if it topped six disciplines, the M140i would still wind back up here, with a bronze medal on its nose.
Knocking a couple thousand off its price wouldn’t lift it up the charts, either – the competition’s just too stiff. Higher-placed rivals proved more dominant or put in strong performances for their prices.
Mathematics aside, the M140i is still cracking performance car value. By mixing a discreet fivedoor body shell with serious straight-line speed and pasting it on a decent rear-drive chassis, it quietly ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people. Even if it’s a little more expensive than a Volkswagen Golf R.
It’s also enjoyable to drive when you’re not trying for a front-row qualifier, that supple chassis and solid interior gifting it excellent road manners. And making it a much more obvious pick when scrambling for the keys at the end of the day. – LC
“THERE it goes,” a commentator would scream.
“Rounding onto the Bang For Your Bucks home stretch the Mercedes-AMG A45 has elbowed its way into second overall, jumping two spots from a category fourth place”.
This comeback won’t make any clickbait-y top-10 lists, but we haven’t seen such a leap since we split the event on price. It’s more perplexing when you consider the relatively pricey AMG rubs shoulders with the cheap stuff in the overall formula.
A couple things contribute to this. Here the Holden Commodore SS-V Redline Ute and BMW M140i, its category rivals, no longer represent such good value.
Their prices, like the A45’s, look stratospheric next to the $0-$50K cars. And can’t use them to nose in front.
Let’s not forget, either, Australian A45s are chocka with equipment that’s optional overseas. And none of it – like the standard sunroof, climate control, leather – makes it faster, only more expensive.
Now, that should mean the A45 is penalised more and sent tumbling down the order. But here in lies the beauty of Bang For Your Bucks. Opening the gates to the lower-priced cars not only drops the average price, but the average performance index.
And suddenly the A45’s soaring Bang score pulls a gap on twice as many cars. Which reveals how much that launch-control system, all-wheel drivetrain, and firespitting four-banger are worth in the performanceper- dollar stakes.
Subjectively, there are more involving cars. But the A45’s biggest appeal for some might be that you could drive it hard all day and concentrate on refining your line or time around a track, rather than worry about the brakes crumbling or engine popping into bits.
In its two years this bargain bullet keeps our engraving tool busy. But it’s yet to claim top-gong.
That could change, as we hear AMG’s readying a new engine with more than 295kW for the next generation A-Class, bolstering the Bang even further. Until then, however, it’s silver for the A45. – LC
We give you the best value performance car under $100K
HE JAPANESE have been seriously left behind by the game they invented. By cars like the Ford Focus RS.
Not to take away from Ford Performance’s track day masterpiece, but cars like the Focus RS – and Mercedes-AMG A45 – are at the level the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution would be, if only Subaru and Mitsubishi hadn’t turned the development taps to a trickle or, in the sad case of the Evo, off altogether.
In its press kit for the Focus RS, Ford talks at length about its innovative all-wheel drive system.
A computer, via multiple sensors, detects available grip and adjusts the torque split front-to-rear and left-to-right, 100 times per second, for an eerie agility behind the wheel. And then there’s also the ability to almost stamp the throttle with your arms crossed over in lock, in a tight turn, for the car to not only not get upset, but to nod at your request, pivot and catapult itself out in ways reminiscent of Mitsubishi’s gamechanging, when first introduced, Active Yaw Control.
Of course, in 2017, the Focus RS takes things a step further with modern brake torque vectoring working in parallel with the mechanical systems; and an allwheel drive system that overspeeds the rear axle by 2 per cent for even more eagerness to turn.
It was this crushingly effective all-wheel drive system, an incredible price of $50,990, and scoring first-place rankings amongst most judges of all 16 cars, that cemented first place outright for the Ford Focus RS at Bang For Your Bucks 2017. Or pinching the prized trophy off Volkswagen – which won last T year with the Polo GTI – and putting it back in the cabinet before the dust could even fill in the spot where it used to sit, given Ford’s two dominant wins of this event with the Fiesta ST in 2014 and 2015.
Not only has the Focus RS now won the event at MOTOR – the one that’s 80 per cent based on hard performance and pricing data – but it comes after it finished an incredible third at the strongestever Performance Car of the Year last year, wedged between a Ferrari 488 GTB and BMW M2, and beating cars like the beguiling Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2 and Audi R8 V10 Plus.
From an outright perspective, the Focus RS wasn’t especially fast in a straight line at Bang For Your Bucks 2017. That’s to speak in relative terms, of course, the Focus RS coming in fifth overall for the 0-100km/h sprint, behind the AMG A45, the M140i, S4 and SS-V Redline Ute. And it slipped to sixth across 400m, the long-legged base SS Ute – last month’s $0-$50K winner – reeling the rorty little Focus in. It didn’t do particularly amazing in any of the other straight-line tests, but still, with a 5.06sec 0-100km/h and 13.31sec quarter, you couldn’t accuse it of lacking snot.
Instead, the numbers testified to the brilliance of that drivetrain with the fastest apex speeds of all 16 cars. Well, if you disregard the somewhat anomalous Abarth 124 Spider, which tore through Turn 4 at an inexplicably fast 97.9km/h – the fastest car, through this corner, of the entire event.
Now, you might be reading all this and thinking, fair dinkum, the Focus RS sounds like a proper thing. But buckle up for a reality check, because this is one car
Tricks of the Focus RS
The sculpted Recaro seats are standard in Australia, but actually offered as an option overseas, in place of more plush sports seats. Some Focus RS owners have reported their cars being “transformed” by custom-lowering the seat.
The RS feels just as built for the track as it does the street – and think about how comfortable a track car generally is. Ford doesn’t shy away from this, though.
One of the recognised satnav voice commands is “find a racetrack”. And it will – the nearest.
If you’re going to do track days, bolt on some sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s for which the car was partly made. Many cars fall to bits at the masses of extra grip, but not the RS – it feels utterly magic.
Enough to distract you from the tyre bill.
The 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder is appreciably torquey from low-down, with solid mid-range and doesn’t run out of puff towards its 6800rpm redline.
Normally 440Nm, 470Nm available for 15 seconds on overboost, but resets back to zero with just a lift.
Despite the full whack 257kW being available at 6000rpm, 440/470Nm from 2000-4500rpm, and a 6800rpm redline, Ford actually says the optimum shifting-up point in the Focus RS is 5900rpm. A ‘Performance Shift Light’ illuminates just before.
you take the good with the bad.
First, it’s a track superstar that borders on being too much of a toy for the weekday grind.
It’s fairly firm on road, so much so, if it’s your only car, you’ll do well to keep an inflatable doughnut pillow in the glovebox if there’s any possibility of an emergency interstate trip. Oh, and some cash.
For your significant other’s plane ticket. Unless you were thinking of breaking up anyway.
Meanwhile, many will find the seating position too high and the gear-throw too long. The engine noise can be a little too PlayStation, although it redeems itself with the WRC-esque pops and bangs on upshifts. The handling, too, at times can feel a little artificial, but only really when you’re trying to do your best Keiichi Tsuchiya impersonation.
But these are all things that are very easy to live with to get a slice of one of the best performance cars Ford has ever made. It wins Bang For Your Bucks on that spectacular price, its speed, but also the fun factor. Ford says the Focus RS is one of 20 new performance models to be made available to a global market by 2020. And if that’s the case, the competition, at least in the value space, better lift its game – and fast. M
1 Ford Focus RS 180.4 2 Mercedes-AMG A45 170.6 3 BMW M140i 165.7 4 SS-V Redline Ute 164.8 5 Holden SS Ute 162.3 6 Audi S4 150.3 7 VW Polo GTI 139.4 8 Holden Astra RS 131.7 9 Hyundai i30 SR 130.9 10 Toyota 86 124.5 11 Subaru BRZ 115.3 12 Skoda Ocatvia RS230 115.1 13 Alfa Giulia Veloce 108.1 14 Abarth 124 Spider 106.8 15 Mini JCW Clubman 93.3 16 Caterham Seven 275 55.8