First Fang

Lovely interior and ride make up for dull dynamics

BYGEORG RACHER

01 BMW M2 COMPETITION

S55 engine elevates baby M-car to legend status

BYGEORG RACHER

THE 302KW/550NM M2 Competition is the real deal. It’s smaller and more chuckable than its in-house rivals and is just as fast when equipped with the optional DCT. Against the array of M-car porn it’s a bit of an understated sleeper. Rumoured to be around $105,000 (final Australian pricing is yet to be confirmed), be in no doubt that the rawest, most pure 2 Series will be a bargain. If ever there was a case for head versus heart, the new Competition version takes the cake.

In usual M Division style, this isn’t merely a new body kit and wheels. The long-serving N55 single turbo is dropped for the S55 3.0-litre twinturbo straight six pinched from the M2’s bigger brothers, the M3 and M4. And while power and torque are up a significant 30kW and 50Nm over the base M2, the Competition doesn’t quite have the figures to match its bigger siblings. There has to be range progression, after all. Combined with the quick-shifting seven-speed dualclutch, the M2 Comp gets to 100km/h from rest in 4.2sec (0.1sec faster than the 272kW/500Nm M2).

Hit the red starter button, and then take a moment to listen to the idle speed, which runs at an elevated 1200rpm while the engine is still cold. Even though the 302kW unit is a melodic piece of kit, it doesn’t sound quite as vocal as its predecessor.

“True,” admits ‘Mr. M’, Frank van Meel, “but we have a sports exhaust in the making which won’t disappoint.” However, the time has come to finally drive away in the hyped baby M-car. And ours is the six-speed manual – its existence a factor the purists will love.

The clutch is light, smooth and talkative. The ’box, too, scores brownie points for a fast action and positive feedback. There’s also full marks for the throttle response, which is fast, but never jerky. Below 2000rpm, the powertrain holds back but as soon as the torque wave rolls in, the M2 Comp seemingly reels in tarmac in almost any gear. Sixth gear is a little too tall and aids economy on highway blasts, first has the 265/35 R19 rear Pirellis scrambling for traction, while third is spot-on for those twisty roads where the red mist descends.

However, on a track, keeping both hands on the wheel with the DCT helps. So does the speedy, almost imperceptible, shift action. Ultimately, if you live in a country area, the DIY option is a real treat. Around town and on playful Sundays, the dual-clutch is the better bet.

Like every modern M-car worth a pinch of salt, this one comes with two M buttons on the steering wheel, which invite you to store your favoured setup. In addition, the shift speed of the DCT can be increased in three steps – from laid back to whack-in-the-back fast. There’s also a separate ESP switch, but everything related to driving dynamics is best grouped under the M1 and M2 mode selectors. And don’t forget to dial in MDM (M Dynamic Mode), which ramps up the entertainment while still maintaining a safety net.

While the S55’s redline sits high for a boosted six at 7600rpm, anything more than 5250rpm – where the power and torque curves intersect – results in rapid responses. It also explains why we’re running on empty after only 290km in rural Spain.

The M2 is shorter and narrower than the M4, but it’s only a token amount lighter. While this seems like a deficiency on paper, the reality is it hardly slows the Comp’s responses. The racier M2 quickly proves that what stiffens up the front axle and the engine department is muscle, not fat. This acceleration is due to the trick active M differential, not just launch control. And that the huge amounts of speed carried through corners is the merit of the recalibrated chassis, not solely wider 245/35 R19 front boots.

Okay, the ride comfort could be better, the cornering grip at the very limit varies with almost every surface and the rear-end feels positively squirmish when pushed. The Comp also isn’t a fan of radical camber changes or cattle grids and is prone to tramlining. But this is an M product. Traditionally, they’ve never been mundane.

Traction and roadholding depends largely on the tyre performance. It pays not to overdrive this M2. On a track, saving the front tyres helps improve cornering speeds once you are deep into double digits on the lap count. Conversely, on the winding secondgear corners that snake up and down the Spanish hills, nursing the rear tyres makes all the difference. A similar wear pattern applies to the sport brakes, which will, after a while, also feel the stress and heat of repeated hard use.

The absolute stopping power does not suffer a huge lot under pressure, it just takes a further stab to summon it and the pedal travel increases incrementally as the ABS remains alert.

Visually the Competition is anything but subtle. There is barely enough front bumper left to accommodate the multiple air intakes. We quickly stopped counting the numerous flares, spoilers and splitters, too. Among the more subtle bodywork upgrades are a wider grille, cooling slits, a fullwidth diffuser and a neat quad-tailpipe arrangement. Other bespoke items include restyled 19-inch rims and a lowered suspension setting.

Inside, the M2 is an M240i with a twist. You get M2-badged seats, fresh digital instrument graphics and highergrade trim pieces, but the general cockpit design is unchanged – meaning it’ll feel dated soon.

NEMESIS

718 CA YMAN 2.0-litre turbo F4, RWD, 220kW/380Nm, 0-100km/h 5.1sec 1380kg, $115,300

The Porsche 718 Cayman clearly lacks fire power compared to the hot M2 but it is the benchmark when it comes to handling and involvement. Stand-by for a future comparo

At the end of the day, the pumpedup M2 Competition is bound to shine on properly maintained Aussie country roads and will no doubt be a fan favourite through roundabouts and the odd highway on-ramp. And the decision between manual or DCT will largely come down to personal preference. If you care about the stopwatch for pub banter, the selfshifter is two tenths faster than the manual to 100km/h, but it can’t match the tactility of the DIY experience. It all plays back into the inner head-versusheart debate that encapsulates the entire Competition premise.

Your head says you should grab one of the first M2 Comps, run it for a year and then sell it. Worst case, you’ll come out of it with a small loss (or you could wait for the rumoured Pure version for a speculated sub-$100K). After all, it costs about half as much as an M5, yet it’s about 85 per cent as rewarding. However, your heart might say grab an Alpine A110 instead and use the small change for a road trip. Although if the price was right, an even racier, twoseat M2 CSL would rule all. C’mon Mr van Meel, we know you want to…

02 BMW M5 COMPETITION

Munich hones its super sedan’ side step

BY • GEORG KACHER

BMW’S NEW Competition-badged M5 isn’ going to transport you into another dimension of supercardecimating straight line speed. Munich hasn’ overhauled the (admittedly, already ferocious) powertrain like it has in the M2 Competition, meaning the M5 Comp’ key specs are so similar to the base model from which it’ based, we’ re left to ponder what it has to offer over the viscously fast and capable base M5.

MOTOR 4395cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin turbo

POWER 460kW @ 6000rpm

TORQUE 750Nm @ 1800-5800rpm 0-100KM/H 3.3sec (claimed)

WEIGHT 1865kg

• PRICE $229,000

LIKE: Blistering acceleration, more grip; sharper handling; competitive pricing

DISLIKE: It may not be the most desirable Competition variant; replaces base model

Luckily, though, we’ re at the Ascari circuit, Spain, to investigate how it’ justify the extra ask when it arrives in Australia this September. Priced at $229,100, it’ plonk itself $29,100 further upmarket of the base car and right in the middle of Mercedes-AMG E63 and S variants.

On the surface, you’ identify one of these ballistic boardroom missiles by way of its grille, rear diffuser, exhaust tips and boot lid spoiler. They’ re finished in gloss black. You’ also see it sits lower, by about 7mm, and wears bigger 20-inch wheels wrapped in slightly wider 275/35 and 285/35 tyres.

It’ a little heavier, too, by 10kg, which shouldn’ matter considering what hides under its bonnet. There’ an extra 19kW built into its 4.4-litre twinturbo V8, which now peaks at 460kW at 6000rpm. Torque is identical as before, at 750Nm, and delivered from a ridiculously low 1800rpm.

The engine fires to life with a robust, dense noise that suits its high-revving personality. The M5 no longer permits, for CO2 reasons, to rev the engine beyond 3500rpm with the shifter in neutral. And BMW’ come up with the claimed consumption figure of 10.7 litres per 100km. Matching that yourself, however, won’ be so easy.

At full thrust it’ a tenth faster to 100km/h from rest, dispatching the sprint in 3.3sec. It’ double that speed in another 7.5sec, then eventually hit 305km/h if you’ ve also optioned the driver’ pack (up from 250 clicks).

It’ addictive speed that’ accessible thanks to the M5’ switchable allwheel drive system. It’ also this extra accelerative grip that has given the new M5 more high-speed roadholding than ever before. But we knew that already, of course. What’ most noticeable about this special Competition variant are the changes made to the way it handles.

Munich has bolstered the Competition’ responsiveness, control, and feedback at its grip limits. More front-end camber improves turn-in, while revised rear trailing arms and a thicker anti-roll bar give the rear end more stability. A good idea, since two-wheel drive mode automatically disables the ESP.

The whole package equals silly pace from flat-out second-gear corners and encourages a level of confidence that invites you to use, rather than manage, its hefty weight to assist cornering.

But while its mass shrinks around you, feeling almost agile as an M3, there’ still plenty to gain in being smooth and precise. It’ only that the M5 rewards this method with more speed.

Everything else feels dialled in to help you get on with it. The eightspeed automatic always offers the right gear, and obeys manual shifting, while the brakes offer sturdy deceleration.

The steering’ more accurate and talkative, while it’ only traded a touch of comfort and ride for the gains in communication and poise.

So, is the new M5 Competition worth the extra splurge? Considering an M5 will do more cruising, commuting and touring than any other M car, we don’ yet think the improvements made to its on-limit behaviour will get as much use as they would in, say, an M4.

ITS MASS SHRINKS AROUND YOU, FEELING ALMOST AS AGILE AS AN M3. YET THERE’ STILL PLENTY TO GAIN IN BEING SMOOTH AND PRECISE

It doesn’ matter, though. BMW Australia will import the Competition exclusively when it lands in Oz. Mooted to be here in September, it’ sit directly in the middle between the E63 and its S spin-off on price. And there’ plenty here to suggest that BMW’ already involving M5 now has the extra agility and grip to emerge as the best driver’ car in its small niche.

We can’ help but fantasise that our ultimate $230K garage would house an M2 Competition for weekends and a more mundane 5 Series from Monday to Friday. But for one car that can do it all, this Competition is getting bloody close.

03 APR STAGE 1 AUDI RS3

Audi’ hot hatch rocketship goes supersonic

BY SCOTT NEWMAN + PICS ALASTAIR BROOK

ENGINE 2480cc inline-5, DOHC, 20v, turbo

POWER 404kW @ 6300rpm (claimed)

TORQUE 678Nm @ 4100rpm (claimed) 0-100KM/H 3.28sec (tested)

WEIGHT 1510kg

• PRICE $1678 (remap)

LIKE: Insane pace; driveability retained; multi-map flexibility; remap inexpensive

DISLIKE: Risks over-powering the chassis; E85 thirst; reliability over time is unknown

IMAGINE IF all it took to go from average Joe or Jane to superhumanly athletic was one decent gym session. Wouldn’ that be nice? In effect, that’ what APR’ Stage 1 kit does to the Audi RS3. To be fair, a standard RS3 isn’ exactly average in the acceleration department. At our recent Bang For Your Bucks event the facelifted RS3 recorded 0-100km/h in 4.01sec and a 12.18sec quarter mile at 186.57km/h, figures which make it the dux of the hot hatch class.

Enter APR. Its Stage 1 kit consists merely of an ECU tune, though our test car from Melbourne workshop VW Park Autowerks also sported an Eventuri carbon air intake. It charges $1675 for a single map, with each extra map costing $275; a total of four can be loaded to handle different octane fuels. On 98RON, outputs increase from the standard 294kW/480Nm to 355kW/637Nm, but using E85 liberates a whopping 404kW/678Nm, which equates to 332kW at all four wheels.

There’ no hint of the extra grunt at start-up. The engine fires easily, idles smoothly and its low-speed behaviour feels no different to standard. Likewise, the launch control procedure is identical: left foot on the brake and floor the throttle. It’ when the brakes are released that the changes become immediately apparent.

Whereas a standard RS3 squats into the tarmac with a minimum of fuss, the APR car explodes into wheelspin, the engine hammering into the rev limiter like an over-enthusiastic Jehovah’ Witness hammering at your front door. Second gear quickly engages and there’ nothing to do but hang on as Winton’ makeshift drag strip disappears under the wheels at a tremendous rate.

In the bends it’s important for the car to be pointing straight before applying too much throttle, as too much too early will drag the nose wide. That said, on the road, where you’re not as close to the absolute limit, this is less likely to be an issue. The other thing to consider if you’re planning on using E85 is that if you use the power the juice disappears at an incredible rate. During performance testing the fuel gauge dropped almost as quickly as the car accelerated, however, it only takes around a minute to swap between the E85 and the 98RON maps.

If you’re after a daily-driven hot hatch that is potent enough to frighten 911 Turbos, the APR RS3 is well worth a look. The outlay is relatively small, driveability seems largely unaffected and the multiple-map capability gives peace of mind if you can’t find super high-octane fuel. Reliability is always an unknown, but Audi has said the EA855 has plenty of headroom!

EVEN WITH MAJOR TRACTION ISSUES IN FIRST GEAR, THE FIGURES ARE RIDICULOUS – 0-100KM/H TAKES JUST 3.28SEC

The figures are ridiculous. Even with major traction issues in first gear, 0-100m/h takes just 3.28sec, 200km/h is devoured in 10.14sec and the quarter mile dispensed with in 11.09sec at 208.14km/h. For context, our performance numbers for the 449kW Audi R8 V10 Plus read: 0-100km/h 3.18sec, 0-400m 10.93sec at 209.58km/h. With its launch control system calibrated for the extra power, there’ no doubt APR’ super-RS3 would match, or best, those numbers. And this is only Stage 1?

Do an extra 100-odd kilowatts make the RS3 better? They certainly make it more exciting. Even on Winton’ wide expanses it feels ludicrously rapid; on a city street or narrow winding road it must be berserk. It does make Audi’ hot hatch a little one-dimensional, however. The standard RS3 brakes work well at 294kW, but the APR’s added poke is such that uprated items would be sensible. Our test car had aftermarket carbon-ceramic items, but sadly ordinary road pads were fitted by mistake and the pedal sank to the floor on the first major application.

04 MERCEDES CLS 450

Lovely interior and ride make up for dull dynamics

ENGINE 2982cc twin-turbo inline-6, DOHC, 24v

POWER 270kW @ 5500-6100rpm

TORQUE 500Nm @ 1600-4000rpm 0-100KM/H 4.8sec (claimed)

WEIGHT 1940kg

• PRICE $155,529

LIKE: Strong acceleration; luxurious interior; ride; gadgets; nice and quiet; able handler

DISLIKE: Handling tune not for the enthusiast; same can be said of noise and transmission

THE INLINE-SIX IS back, baby. Forget BMW – as the automotive world pinches its nose and prepares to plunge feet-first into full electrification, Mercedes-Benz has built a brandnew straight-six powered by petrol and ready to replace the forgettable V6s currently in service across its range. Today we’re sampling this new modular 3.0-litre beauty, the ‘M256’, in Mercedes-Benz’s new CLS 450. While not an AMG, it still does 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, claims Merc, thanks to that sizzling new six-pot twin-turbo belting out a V8-matching 270kW/500Nm.

The electric motor supplying a further 16kW/250Nm of electric boost over short periods.

This is our first taste of Merc’s new third-gen CLS on Aussie soil, a car based on the E-Class, and one that’s copped the new ‘predator’ corporate face treatment which we’ll leave up to you. In CLS 450 guise, the grunty petrol engine works with a clever 48-volt mild hybrid system. While there’s a 12v battery under the bonnet, there’s also a 48v battery centrally mounted under the boot floor, scavenging power from a clever combined starter/alternator/generator/ motor unit and then sending it back when needed. As well as the previously mentioned brisk, fuss-free acceleration, it helps the big, nigh-on two-tonne Merc achieve an impressive claimed combined 7.8L/100km.

The new straight-six is a great engine. Smooth, quiet and powerful, we are curious to hear it in AMG guise. Even with a standard “Sports exhaust” it’s quite sensible in CLS 450 trim, letting rip a polite bark that steps up an octave with the powertrain in Sport Plus, presumably assisted by some realistic, yet fake engine noise coming through the interior speakers.

Sensible could describe the handling as well. This is a car calibrated for the mass market, choosing to err on the side of refinement and comfort over precision and agility, absolutely appropriate for this car and its intended customers. There is not much satisfaction or enjoyment to be had from driving the CLS 450 harder and harder, where you’ll find increasing amounts of understeer and ESP intervention. Yet it still bolts along backroads quicker than the performance cars of yesteryear and is always sure-footed. Traction is clean and plentiful thanks to the 45/55 frontrear split all-wheel drive system.

Really, you purchase a CLS 450 for the luxurious, high-tech interior, plush Air Suspension and the striking styling. If you love driving fast and hard, you’re better off waiting for the more focused, 320kW/520Nm AMG CLS 53, arriving in November priced from $179,529.