32 RENAULT MEGANE RS 280 EDC Does a softer suspension tune, non-Cup chassis and a dual-clutch make for a better RS?
34 CHEVROLET CAMARO SS Aussie GM fans finally have a V8 to celebrate thanks to HSV - and it's worthy of praise
38 ALPINA B4 S More than a BMW 4401, but not quite an M4. The twin-turbo Alpina coupe straddles performance and luxury
40 PEUGEOT 208 GTi EDITION DEFINITIVE Little Pug tenaciously tries to remain the life of the baby hot-hatch party
Americaís take on an all-out circuit monster
BY JETHRO BOVINGDON
FIVE-HUNDRED-AND-SIXTY-THREE kilowatts. Thatís the big headlinegrabbing figure that puts clear air between the Corvette ZR1 and other track-focused supercars like the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, McLaren 600LT and even the Ferrari Pista. Itís a hell of a headline. But the figure that blows my mind and gives a hint of what this car actually feels like is the peak torque number. The ZR1ís LT5 6.2-litre supercharged V8 generates 968Nm at 3600rpm. Big cubes plus a 2.65-litre Eaton TVS Roots-type supercharger simply laughs in the face of these highly strung European contenders.
Brands like Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren have proven that circa-520kW can be exploitable, predictable and almost feel entirely natural. But what hope does a front-engined, rear-drive Corvette have of doing the same?
The Corvette guys have thrown more than just grunt at the ZR1. Brakes are monster monobloc Brembos Ė six-pots at the front, four-pots out back Ė biting down on 394mm and 388mm carbon-ceramic discs respectively. Like the Z06 it features magnetic dampers and an e-diff, although the hardware is retuned for the ZR1. To make up for the size and mass of the engine and its 13 heat exchangers, carbon-fibre wings, roof, bonnet and engine cover, rear quarter panels, rear hatch, front splitter and rear wing feature. The front-end flows 41 per cent more air, too.
The final piece of the jigsaw is down to you, the customer. Want the fastest ZR1? Tick the box for the eight-speed automatic. Itís not a dual-clutcher, sadly, but itís still quicker than working the standard seven-speed manual. Either way youíre still looking at 0-100km/h in around 3.0 seconds. Top speed?
That depends. Go for the low-wing car and the ZR1 tops out at 341km/h, but most people are opting for the ZTK Performance Package. It comprises Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, uprated springs, retuned dampers and a radical aerodynamic upgrade including a big rear wing. So configured the ZR1 runs out of juice at 325km/h but produces up to 430kg of downforce.
Letís start in the ZTK-equipped machine becauseÖ well, you would, wouldnít you? It looks deliciously OTT from the outside with the LT5 literally bursting out of the engine bay and carbon flicks, slashes and wings everywhere you look. Itís not exactly elegant, but it sends out a message. As do the 335-section Cup 2s, which appear to have even less tread than usual. Theyíre half-slick, like the barelythere tread pattern has been tattooed onto the rubber rather than carved into it. Part of you wants to run away and hide, yet you find yourself opening the door and dropping down into the driverís seat with a grin and sweaty palms ready for the event. The view over Ė scrap that, beside Ė the carbon-shrouded motor feels immediately restrictive. You want to crane your neck to see up and over the power bulge. However, it takes just a few seconds to adjust and pretty soon you feel at ease. You can never forget or ignore that huge structure, but you learn to enjoy that itís there. Iíd say itís a nice reminder of the power under your right foot, but you donít need one. The noise and response is so extreme that the ZR1 always feels absurdly, wonderfully potent. Itís brilliant.
The engine is simply stunning. It hauls hard from idle, feels vicious through the mid-range and then morphs again as you rip up into the upper reaches. Perhaps it doesnít have the frenzied feel of a McLaren 720S Ė the ZR1 weighs 1615kg, remember Ė but the weight of its punch feels so heavy and the reach is endless. Iím in the eight-speed auto and it adds to the sense that the ZR1 just doesnít ever slow-up. Give me the manual gearbox any day, though. This Ďbox is quick, but it lacks the wonderfully sharp upshifts of a Porsche PDK or any other dual-clutch.
Of course, that a 563kW car is fast is not news. Can the C7 chassis handle it? Mostly, it can. The ZR1 has fantastic turn-in and carries huge mid- corner speed, the brakes are nothing short of fantastic and the car also communicates nicely through its quick, well-weighted steering. It also puts its power down pretty well on the road.
So much so that soon your confidence grows and then, suddenly, the ZR1 starts to unravel: big bumps catch it out and the carís body control loses its consistency. Try to get on the power early and the electronics have to step in smartly. The PTM (Performance Traction Management) actually works with real subtlety in Sport and Race modes, but even so the ZR1 does seem to be fighting the road rather than flowing over it.
4.0-litre twinturbo V8, RWD, 430kW/700Nm, 0-100k m/h 3.6sec 1555kg, $351,130
AMGís bruiser might lose out on cubes, but it sounds as angry as the Corvette and is undoubtedly as capable on a racetrack (maybe even more so). Itís also packed with tech and more readily available to buy in Oz
If youíre really brave and push through these signals the ZR1 is a pretty sharp-edged device. Understeer is simply not an issue on the road, but the onset of oversteer is sudden and extremely intimidating. On track things improve and thereís no question the aero kit provides real high-speed stability, but in slower and medium-speed turns the ZR1 still feels uncomfortable beyond the limit of the tyresí grip. It never settles down and requires a lot of work at the wheel to extract a quick time.
In the end the Corvette ZR1 is a source of frustration. I adore the engine, love the brakes and appreciate how much speed it can carry through a corner. Yet I canít help thinking that a front-engined/rear drive car should be friendlier and more playful at the limit. And that a car aiming to offer an extreme driving experience along the lines of a GT3 RS, but with way more performance, should be more composed on challenging roads. Funnily enough the low-wing car with less aggressive suspension settings and more conventional Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres is the much sweeter road car. Still slightly rough around the edges, but more poised, less edgy. In the end you can only conclude that the ultimate ZR1 is the one that doesnít try to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of the GT2 RS and Pista. In the context of those cars the ultimate Corvette lacks polish and feels heavy and clumsy. The low-wing car puts those comparisons out of your mind though, and frees you up to focus on and enjoy the incredible LT5 engine. The ZR1 really is all about those headline numbers and when the V8 is a full cry Iím pretty sure youíll be fine with that.
More talented than ever before
BY ē LOUS CORDONY
RENAULT SPORT models have always felt like they were built with more input from its F1 drivers than its sales department. Thatís a good thing.
Take the Clio. For a while, in the early noughties, it built one with a mid-mounted V6. Then there was its Spider, a roadster with no windscreen, so you not only felt the wind in your hair but the local wildlife too.
So you can understand our curiosity for the brandís 2018 all-new Megane RS 280. It hasnít doubled down on a reputation for uncompromising thrills in the face of growing rivals. Itís instead grown two doors and an Ďautomaticí.
Gone is the seductive and unique three-door hatch, replaced by a more grown-up five-door shell. The body is longer than before, houses significantly wider tracks, and stretches its wheelbase by 23mm to 2669mm.
Things have downsized in the engine department, the turbocharged 1.8-litre four shared with the Alpine A110. With 205kW and 390Nm, itís more powerful than its donor, has shorter bore and stroke measurements than the Megane RS 250ís likeable F4RT and adopts a higher 9.2:1 compression ratio with direct-injection fuelling.
The Cup chassis is available as a $1490 option on the base $44,990 manual RS 280, but isnít offered on the automatic
Renault claims the Megane RS 280 is a downforce car. That rear diffuser is functional and reaches far underneath
It might not be more exciting, but its delivery is certainly more refined. Thrust builds from down low and blends into a strong mid-range. And if you keep your foot planted the engine will spin to 7000rpm, thanks to some trick cylinder head work. However, you can sense the show is over about 500rpm earlier than that.
During this you can hear a discernible rort with some of the sound being played through the speakers. The exhaust, too, pops on the overrun, while the real treat is the endearing crack squeezed from the exhaust on upshifts if youíve optioned the six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The new íbox doesnít improve the six-speed manualís 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds and its open differential canít tame 390Nm, even with launch control. It also adds 23kg, but perhaps the real dynamic cost comes at the expense of the Cup chassis option, which is restricted to manual cars until the Trophy variant arrives in 2019.
This means its dual-axis front struts and rear torsion beam suspension miss out on a Torsen LSD, stiffer springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars. Luckily, though, it gets the same attractive 19-inch wheels and Brembo calipers, along with hydraulic bump stops and rear-wheel steering.
On a brief stint across Queensland roads we initially found it lacks the same turn-in and power down as the Cup, instead breathing with undulations better and giving its ride surprising and refreshing compliance.
The new Meganeís steering system is accurate, but it also feels slightly elastic in assistance and weight where the old rack felt lighter and more tactile under load. The rear-steering helps point the car into corners with no penalty to stability, but the system might feel strange to those who prefer slow and progressive inputs.
You can change the drive modes through a vertical 8.7-inch touchscreen inside, or simply use a button in the centre stack. The interiorís fairly nice, with only a few ergonomic quirks, and oozes refinement with well-bolstered bucket seats. The paddles, while placed high to clear that notorious stalk Renaults have to control its infotainment, donít feel cheap or clicky like in the Clio RS, either.
The smooth and usable dual-clutch means the RS 280 can take the fight to more hot hatches than before. Its ride quality is welcome, but we suspect, in the environments where Renault Sport products have traditionally shone, it could have been even better if it added the Cup carís agility to its road manners. Still, itís a welcome addition to the hot hatch war.
A bi-modal exhaust features as core spec on our Argentinian market donor vehicles, so we get it
American customers can option six-piston front Brembos in red trim. We get four pots all around
After conversion HSV installs the panels to GMís own margins and puts each car through close inspection
The Generalí weapon is ready for battle
BY ē LOUS CORDONY
THE CHEVROLET Camaro is a fast, pukka rear-drive V8 performance car that looks good, is easy to drive and feels solidly built. It might struggle to rein in a Ford Mustang GT when compared dollar for dollar, but if youí re after a sharp handling muscle car with presence, then youí re in the right place.
It invades Australia from The States in MY18 2SS form. The ĎSSí refers to the 6.2-litre V8 hiding under its bonnet while the Ď2í means ití fitted with premium interior equipment.
General Motorí Alpha rear-drive platform underpins the lighter, stiffer chassis and everything comes wrapped in a retro-inspired design. It all costs a pretty penny, though, as Holden Special Vehicles converts each car to right-hand drive in Clayton. The resource needed to import, convert, and comply one helps explain why it is priced at $85,990 before on roads. Thatí $20K more than the Mustang.
Despite this, more than 400 people have told HSV they want one sight unseen. In showrooms, theyí see custom-made parts on everything above the centre stackí HVAC buttons. HSV also widens the original passenger footwell for the driver, swaps the sole electric power seat to the right side, lays new wiring looms, and modifies the firewall.
But you wouldní suspect all this when you sit in one. The interior feels and looks factory built. The dash panels fit snug. The air-conditioning and heating obey commands, with the gurgles in our pilot vehicles due to be eliminated for production, and all screens function properly.
Ití cosy inside. The sixth-generation Camaro is smaller than the fifthgeneration in every way and skinnier than a Mustang or VF Commodore (just). The back seats almost press against the front seats and it is easy to touch elbows with a passenger.
Sound ergonomics persist, though. The driverí seat lowers far enough and the steering wheel pulls out and lifts high. The pedal stagger is set perfectly and thereí enough room down there for a footrest.
Prod the starter button and its LT1 V8 rouses with a vicious bark that gurgles like a small-block ought to. The bi-modal exhaustí noise is more seductive outside than it is inside, but the bark comes close to matching the carí bite.
In Europe the 2SS is claimed to hit 100km/h in just 4.4 seconds; a believable number when you flex your right ankle. The Camaro squats gently and blasts forward with purpose. Its V8 pulls through its mid-range smoothly, hitting its torque peak at 4400rpm fast before delivering all its power at 6000rpm.
Once you reach 6400rpm the GM 8L45 eight-speed transmission will grab the next gear. The changes are quick, but the urgency vanishes when you pluck a paddle early, as upshifts are much tardier in manual mode. Thereí more to this engine than impressive figures, however. While it shares its basic architecture with an LS3, it debuts new cylinder heads and an overhauled rotating assembly. Direct injection also allowed engineers to ratchet up its compression ratio.
HSV is working on a Head Up Display. A manual gearbox is currently being investigated as well
Desperate to sip less fuel and avoid demise at the hand of emissions, it shuts four cylinders off during cruising. You wonít feel them switch, but you will notice the throttle pedal soften at cruising speeds.
BMW M2 PURE 3.0-litre turbo I6, RWD, 272kW/450Nm, 0-100k m/h 4.5sec 1495kg, $89,900
The Pure might feature a manual and turbocharging, but its punchy speed, price, and two-door looks relate the pair more than youíd think. Basically itís Germanyís mini muscle car
AFM, which stands for Active Fuel Management, endures in all Tour, Sport, Track or Snow/Ice drive modes that change the stability, throttle and transmission maps. The exhaust and steering can be altered separately.
The suspension would change with the modes as well if Aussies scored the magnetic dampers that are optional in America. But they havenít been fitted to the Argentinian core vehicle HSV starts with on the production line. Why Argentina? It offers the most Australian compliant parts and is why each car here has an automatic and sunroof.
We instead score Chevroletís FE3 passive dampers to match front MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear. Ride comfort sits somewhere between a Holden Commodore SS-V Redline and HSV GTSR W1 on firmness. Itís bearable, but adaptive damping would help inject more compliance into the mix. The suspension lets small vibrations creep into the cabin over gnarled surfaces and its 20-inch wheels bounce over potholes.
Our planned test route was short with only a few challenging corners, but it was enough to demonstrate the Camaroís sharp and friendly handling. It feels wieldier than any Commodore while sitting flat and stable. You have a great sense of grip at each axle and the front-end responds keenly without upsetting the carís poise.
While the original steering rack mechanism is cased in a new housing, the wheel is a good size and lines up straight with the column and driverís seat. The front wheels track true off centre and with good accuracy. Itís only when you reach a quarter turn of lock that the ratio quickens too fast. At least the heavy weighting feels appropriate once youíre hooking in. The brakes comprise four-piston Brembo calipers that clamp front 345mm and 339mm rear discs, so theyíre strong, but weíd prefer more finesse and feedback. They sit within 20-inch Goodyear Asymmetric 3s that measure 245mm wide up front and 275mm wide out back. Weíre salivating to explore their limits more and you can bet a more aggressive road test is on the cards with full acceleration testing.
HSV has given it the best possible chance when that time comes, as the local conversion takes nothing from its original package Ė though it does add some cost. Thereís plenty of standard equipment, including Apple CarPlay on the awkwardly tilted centre screen and wireless phone charging. The relatively quiet exhaust and one-dimensional ride on passive suspension leave it vulnerable against the Mustang, but comparing them is a bit apples to oranges stuff, even if the two are direct rivals back home.
If the measure of a muscle car is how it makes you feel, then it has some great ingredients. The handling promises to be special and that engine is refined, yet powerful. It might be a while before HSV rolls up its sleeves to do its own special edition, however, thereís nothing here to turn starved GM fans off. This is a V8 rear driver with an LSD for under $100K. That calls for celebration.
HSVís venture at least is a small victory for local manufacturing. It keeps supplier chains open, production Ďlinesí running, and injects excitement back into select Holden dealers.
And something about that feels better than anything youíll find on a spec sheet.
Performance and luxury need not be mutually exclusive
B Y TRENTGUNCO
WE ALL HAVE THAT ONE FRIEND who likes things just because theyíre different. That friend probably likes Alpina, a BMW offshoot that has been adding a unique touch to Bavariaís best for years. So the Bi-turbo B4 S isnít an M4, but itís also not a 440i. No, it fills a niche middle ground, one that lends itself to those who revel in something that goes against the mainstream.
The $149,990 B4 S is a heady mix of performance and luxury. It is also the last bastion of the N55 straight six, albeit with twin huffers. Alpina-specific turbos and a new piston crown cooling system bumps power up to 324kW and torque to an earth-moving 660Nm (thatís 60Nm more than the M4 CS).
Itís enough to propel the eight-speed ZF-auto-equipped coupe to 100km/h in 4.2sec before topping out at 306km/h. So far, itís all sounding very M4-esque.
While thereís no doubting the fact it is fast, the reality is it never feels as quick as all the numbers suggest. Still, torque monster and the N55 does its best work in the swelling mid-range. The specifically tuned auto is happy to oblige and allow you to ride the torque wave between 3000-4500rpm in higher gears. It sounds good, too, with a meaty overrun filled with purposeful burbles. However, thatís from the outside only. A chirp from the blow-off valve is about the only acoustic excitement you hear from within the cabin. Dynamically thereís a more mature persona at play here. The M4 is a hungry grizzly, while the Alpina is the (somewhat) cuddly bear. Fitted with adaptive dampers (and scrapping runflat tyres), thereís a deftness to the B4 Sís ride quality at speed Ė especially in Comfort mode. It only becomes fussy in CBD driving thanks to the 30-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S boots wrapping 20-inch Ďclassicí wheels.
The Michelin rubber offers ample grip in all conditions and the standard-fit LSD aids getting all that torque to the ground Ė thereís definitely no single peggers at play here.
The wheels, pin striping, dashmounted production plaque and the blue and green stitching binding the leather-wrapped steering wheel are all traditional styling cues of the BMW tuner. Although sadly the tiller isnít an M Sport item and Alpina has added vexing shift buttons for manual mode.
Buttery soft, cream cow hide covers just about every surface Ė as does love-it-or-hate-it woodgrain Ė and the overall ambience is considerably plush and upmarket. The B4 S also utilises some of the LCI updates for the iDrive infotainment from the 4 Series.
Ultimately the Alpina B4 S offers a luxe experience, entertaining dynamics and a ride quality its M counterpart could only dream of. The trouble is, for $10K less you can buy an M4 Pure, which is a more competent and exciting performance coupe Ė if not a little more mainstream.
Feisty final edition is this baby hot hatchís final party trick
A SEND-OFF IS always a bittersweet moment. It can be a time to pause and reflect Ė or, in the case of some, itís an excuse for a party, a final fling. Peugeot went with the latter to send the current-gen GTi off with a bang.
The limited-run (just 20 units) Edition Definitive by Peugeot Sport is the result. Itís essentially the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary Edition with different clothes, Autonomous Emergency Braking (a first for any GTi model) and a $33,990 price tag. And while thatís a $2000 saving over its forebear, the French baby hot hatch isnít cheap. Itís hard to argue against the muscular, nugget-esque design. Matteblack accents and the 18-inch wheels add muscle to the diminutive silhouette. You can have it in any colour you like, too Ė as long as itís Pearl White. On the inside there are heavily bolstered Peugeot Sport seats, red stitching and red floor mats Ė tres 205 GTI, indeed. The venerable 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo (Prince engine co-developed with BMW) has 153kW and 300Nm. It lugs 1185kg, resulting in a 0-100km/h time of 6.5 seconds. Kept in its sweet spot, the four-pot is a strong, tractable unit.
Getting that grunt down is made easier by the addition of a mechanical, Torsen LSD and grippy Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber. Traction is rarely an issue and the front end vehemently holds its line on pristine tarmac with lock and throttle applied. On the run the 208 is deceptively quick and the muted soundtrack only adds to that sensation. More aural muscle, please.
The six-speed manual is long in throw, but itís decent to use. And while the clutch take-up point is high, the brake pedal is soft. Yet, with 323mm front discs and Brembo calipers, the stopping power is never in question.
The small steering wheel is deceptive. It fools you into thinking the rack is quick. Itís not. And largely lacking feel.
Velvety smooth winding roads bring out the best in the Pug. With wider tracks (22mm front, 16mm back) and a bespoke suspension tune (10mm lower), the final-edition 208 really gets stuck in. But be aware of the rear-end, it can quickly go from nice to naughty.
Ultimately, ride quality and damper control is where the GTi ED falls down on really craggy surfaces. Thereís not enough compliance to quell movements over rutted roads, meaning the 208 hops and skips over bumps. Hit a significant pothole mid corner and it will chuck the already playful rear sideways Ė and in dramatic fashion. Has the limited edition 208 GTi outstayed its welcome? Kind of, but then, in the right conditions, it remains a bit of a party trick Ė especially in Edition Definitive guise. So until next time, bon voyage, little Pug.