Fast Blasts

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN SNACK-SIZE BITES

01 MERCEDES A200

Preview of the new A35/A45

ENTRY-LEVEL premium hatches don’ tend to move the MOTOR meter much. The new Mercedes-Benz A200 uses a torquey 1.3-litre turbo four to produce a useful 120kW/250Nm, but with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 8.0sec it’ no performance car. However, option the $3190 AMG Exclusive Package and your A200 not only scores two-tone leather, dual-zone climate, ambient lighting and ventilated front seats, but the dampers become adaptive and the standard torsion-beam rear suspension is replaced by a multi-link setup. This configuration will underpin the forthcoming A35 and A45, so this is our first opportunity to sample the chassis of two very hotly anticipated future models. The news is promising. Forget the handling side of the equation, the fancier suspension so transforms the standard A200’ fidgety, reactive ride that it’ a must-tick option (or could be made standard). So equipped, the A200 becomes a calming, refined premium hatch that’ succesfully righted its predecessor’ wrongs –bigger boot, easier access, more space – while introducing a flash interior and next-gen technology. It’ a talented handler, too, with crisp steering, plenty of grip yet a pleasing amount of adjustability at the limit. Now it just needs, say, double the power... – Scott Newman SPECS: 1.3 I4T; 120kW @ 5500rpm; 250Nm @ 1620rpm; FWD; 1300kg; $47,200

02 FORD MUSTANG

Drop-top V8 cruiser

IT MAKES SENSE that one of the most attention-grabbing cars on the road would be available as a drop-top. The Mustang has always had a strong image as a convertible, and Australia’ weather is mostly sunshine and warm air, but the Mustang’ trick new exhaust demands full attention. Because of this, if the weather’ good, you’ want the roof down. Something the Coupe doesn’ allow you is the full brunt of the new four-mode exhaust fitted to the Mustang GT. The distinctive roar of the Coyote is amplified by it, especially in Track mode. Almost racecar-like cracks and burbles occupy the downshifts and overrun, and the idle rumble will remind some of the classic Americans. For those returning home at 11pm, there’ Quiet mode. You might also hear more creaking when angling the Convertible over steep dips or bumps in the road than in a hard-top. The dynamic differences are mostly down to added weight. Obviously, you’ not get to use it as intended all the time because rain exists. Even with the roof up it’ an aggro muscle car with a cracking engine and brutal exhaust, but so is the GT Coupe, which costs almost $10K less. Plus, it’ even cheaper if you opt for the six-speed manual, something the Convertible prevents you from doing. – Chris Thompson SPECS: 5.0 V8; 339kW @ 7000rpm; 556Nm @ 4600rpm; RWD; 1818kg; $65,916

03 MINI COOPER

Less can be more

THIS IS meant to be a review of the 2018 Cooper S, but a booking mix-up landed us with a base Cooper automatic by mistake. No bad thing, as it turns out. The standard Cooper arguably gets closest to capturing the character of the original. Its thrummy 1.5-litre turbo three-pot sounds suspiciously like an old 911, but ridiculously tall gearing makes the standard manual too slow. Thankfully, the new seven-speed dual-clutch offers much closer ratios to give the Cooper a bit of verve, yet its lack of outright pace means its entire performance envelope is accessible in almost every situation. Speed is fun, but lack of speed also has its appeal. Current Minis aren’ as sharp as their predecessors, but accurate steering and light weight ensure you won’ be bored behind the wheel. Stick with the smallest possible wheels and replace the run-flat tyres at the first opportunity and you’ even enjoy respectable ride quality. At $29,990 (plus $2500 for the dual-clutch) the Mini is an expensive small car, but it has the swagger to pull it off, with neat touches like the puddle lights and new Union Jack tail-lights, with an interior that’ much classier than more mainstream offerings. If you were sensible you’ buy a Golf, but a Mini is much more fun. – Scott Newman SPECS: 1.5 I3T; 100kW @ 6000rpm; 220Nm @ 1250rpm; FWD; 1115kg; $29,990