34 LOTUS ELISE SPRINT 220 A supercharged four-pot matched with a low kerb weight sounds like a recipe for fun... and it is
36 NISSAN JUKE NISMO Famed tuning badge fi nds its way onto an unlikely ‘car’ and adds a bit of spice to the quirk
38 PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO Blistering pace with tangible dynamic ability – is this the ultimate performance SUV?
Bavarian drop-top becomes true Boxster rival
BY • SHANEO’ DONOGHUE
BMW SNIFFS AN OPPORTUNITY for its third-generation Z4 roadster. In its reinvention, specifically in M40i rangetopping guise, it could well plug the gaping hole in six-cylinder roadster enthusiasts’ lives left by the demise of the flat-six Porsche Boxster and Cayman. Yeah, we know there are boosted V6 versions of the Jaguar F-Type and Mercedes SLK, but those cars can’ hold a candle to the latest Porsche 718’ chassis. Can the Z4’ s? BMW certainly thinks so.
The previous Z4 was a soft pudding of a car, but you get the sense that the engineers in the company were given more of a say this time around. The new model is 85 millimetres longer, 74mm wider and 13mm taller; while the front and rear tracks have been increased by 98 and 57mm respectively. So far, nothing too unusual, but then you’ re told that the wheelbase has been shortened, giving the Z4 an all-square stance on the road, with the chassis team’ eyes firmly set on the centre of the target marked agility’ To make the most of the layout, BMW focused on the rigidity of the body, creating the stiffest structure of any open-topped car it has yet produced. On top of that, the lardy, high-mounted folding hardtop of the previous Z4 was binned, in favour of a light new fabric roof. That not only reduces overall weight, it also helps bring the centre of gravity down and, as a side benefit, it neatly folds away (at speeds of up to 50km/h) in front of a much-enlarged boot space (in just 10 seconds).
It’ black as standard or Anthracite Silver as an option. The latter works particularly well on the Z4 M40i, which gets the usual Cerium Grey details found on a BMW M Performance Vehicle – though they’ re admittedly lost when put up against the Frozen Grey paintwork of the test car. Still, your eyes will be too busy digesting the weird new kidney grille mesh up front and the protruding aerodynamic breathers behind the front wheels to worry about trim colours, though we reckon there’ be universal approval for the muscular rear end and high-tech LED lights. The keen-eyed will note there are mixed tyre sizes front and rear, which is the case across the whole Z4 line-up – and again reinforces our sense that the engineers were listened to for this car’ development.
There’ more technical goodness underneath as standard in the M40i, including Adaptive M Sport suspension with electronically controlled dampers, M Sport brakes and, perhaps most importantly of all, an M Sport differential on the rear axle. All Z4s send their power to the back through the latest development of BMW’ excellent eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.
This comes with tactile gearchange paddles behind a high-quality threespoke M-branded steering wheel in the M40i. The rest of the cabin is neatly styled and beautifully put together. You sit down low with plenty of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel.
While the new Z4 is civil with its multi-layer roof in place, you buy a roadster to drive it with the wind in your hair, right? What’ more, you’ want to do that to let your ears have unhindered access to the exhaust note.
It’ a sonorous tune that only a straight-six could sing, even a turbocharged one. There’ 250kW of power from 5000-6500rpm and this engine really does encourage you to go looking for it all with a purposeful, yet cultured snarl, the soft limiter not kicking in until 7000rpm. Not that you need to use that much of the rev counter, as there’ a chunky 500Nm of torque produced from 1600-4500rpm, making the M40i feel rapid regardless of engine speed or gear selected.
That’ especially the case if you choose Sport or Sport Plus driving modes, as everything sharpens up noticeably, banishing memories of the previous Z4 to history. The Sport Plus setting is particularly aggressive in terms of throttle response and gear selection. The best news though, is that the adaptive damping never turns the car into a denture-loosening mess; sure, it ramps up the firmness and body control in the Sport modes, but not at the expense of composure over rougher surfaces. This means you can still use the Z4’ performance to the full, even when not on a smooth road. In Comfort mode it’ relaxed, too, making for a good long-distance cruiser.
Last, but certainly not least, is that M Sport differential, a fully active unit, the operation of which is mapped to the driving modes. In Comfort mode, this attempts to keep the rear of the car stable at all times, while enhancing traction. It does that to a certain extent, though even so, if you’ re clumsy with the throttle on the exit of a dusty or damp junction, there’ a momentary twitch from the rear, ensuring you know which end the power is being sent. On the move it’ never nervous, however, and it takes a little provocation to push beyond that initial movement, especially on dry tarmac. The differential allows for a more ‘dynamic’ stance on the exit of corners if you’ re in one of the Sport modes, as you’ hope, and this reveals a delicious balance to the whole car.
You can really lean on the outside tyres and get on the power incredibly early, letting the differential do its thing. What’ more, on the approach to a corner and on initial turn-in, it can also help make the Z4 feel ‘pointy’ adding to the overall sense of agility.
No doubt the variable sport steering adds to that, as it’ a variable assistance and ratio system. Feedback isn’ bad, though would be better with a thinner steering wheel rim. The brake pedal is reassuringly firm, even after a spirited drive, allowing you confidently mete out as much braking force as you need.
And confidence is a word we’ use to summarise the new BMW Z4 M40i. This is an incredibly polished product from the Germans, mixing quality with the latest interior technology and the usual desirability of a drop-top roadster with rear-wheel drive. BMW has managed to incorporate all of that while giving its new Z4 a chassis that is clearly developed with the enthusiast in mind. Especially so in the M40i.
Still want that Boxster?
2.0-litre turbo flat-4, RWD, 220kW/380Nm, 0-100k m/h 4.7sec 1335kg, $119,960
Down on power compared to the Z4 M40i (and its more expensive S sibling), the Boxster brings razor sharp handling to the topless battle and it’ every bit a driver’ car.
Supercharged lightweight Brit shreds for summer
IN LOTUS LAND, the use of the word Sprint signifies something a bit special. In Australia, we understand this, the Sprint badge adorning the final fast Falcons, though it has been in use since the early 1960s. Lotus first applied it to the Elan in 1970, which set the template for increased power and/or reduced weight that continues to this day.
Now applied to the Elise, the Sprint treatment sheds 26kg courtesy of a lithium-ion battery, lightweight wheels, polycarbonate rear screen and the use of carbon for the seats, access panel, roll hoop and engine cover and sill covers. In the UK it’ possible to apply this diet to the standard Elise 1.6, but here in Oz the entry-level Lotus is the supercharged Elise 220, powered by a force-fed 1.8-litre four producing 162kW/250Nm. Propelling just 878kg, it’ little wonder that the sprint’ to 100km/h is claimed to take just 4.5sec.
Many modern performance cars have a knack for making high speeds undramatic, a trait that’ not conducive to the current regulatory environment. The Elise Sprint 220 is not like this. It’ fast, very fast, but what’ even better is that it feels even faster than it is. The lack of mass helps, as does the supercharged power delivery, acceleration and noise increasing in intensity as revs build. Lotus claims the Sprint is “the best sounding four-cylinder car on the market” and it’ difficult to disagree, the Toyotasourced four-pot having the aural attitude of something much angrier and more powerful.
It’ a cracking engine, perfectly tractable with instant throttle response (once you’ ve pushed the Sport button) and a 7000rpm rev ceiling. The Elise’ six-speed manual now uses the opengate mechanism from the Exige and while the shift isn’ perfect, there’ a pleasing lack of mechanical slack with heel-toe downshifts completed with a quick blip on the accelerator.
What really puts your senses on high alert, though, is the interaction with the Elise’ mechanicals. The unassisted steering and lack of traditional creature comforts allows your palms and backside to read the road surface while your ears are fed information from the engine and tyres. The steering is heavy, for while the front tyres are just 175/55 R16s (225/45 R17s at the rear) the Yokohama Advan Neova AD07’ semicompetition tread pattern sticks to the tarmac like glue.
Driving an Elise really is like nothing else (except, perhaps, an Exige); it takes the overt rawness of a Caterham and dials it down with a dash of modern civility – things like ABS, ESP and just enough NVH insulation to prevent your teeth being buzzed out of your skull. The level of grip and go makes driving quickly relatively easy, but approaching the limit is initially done with trepidation.
Lots of grip, no power steering and a mid-engine layout is a take-noprisoners recipe, but it’ actually quite forgiving. Those skinny front tyres make that the end to give up first, but there’ enough steering feedback to always have a read on what they’ re up to. Even then, low speed power oversteer is corrected with a roll of the wrists, though higher-speed antics would call for a nice, wide racetrack. The Sprint’ biggest shortcomings are a soft brake pedal and steering that could be quicker to give greater confidence on corner entry.
Lotus has traditionally understood that compliance is the key to handling and though this Elise is no doubt stiffer than those of years past, the Sprint 220 is not an uncomfortable car. With the roof off there’ a certain exposure to the elements that would require commitment for long journeys, but it could easily be daily driven. And I would, because the Elise has a genuine mini-supercar vibe, except its size makes it far more palatable in traffic than the usual Italian suspects. The cost of complying these low-volume British sports cars often makes them questionable value, but for around $100K the Elise Sprint 220 is quick, characterful and offers a unique and involving driving experience. In other words, something a bit special.
Quirky performance crossover misses the mark
IF A FASTER Nissan Juke strikes you as the answer to a question no one asked, then you’re mistaken. Nissan Oz says there is pent-up demand for a quicker version of its quirky crossover and has secured 240 units of the Juke Nismo RS as it nears the end of production.
It’s part of an updated Juke range and offers a more attainable Nismo entry point, joining the 370Z and GT-R in the performance section of Nissan’s showrooms. Two variants are available, an all-wheel drive CVT and the frontdrive six-speed manual we’re driving here. At $37,790, the manual costs an extra $7650 over the Ti-S on which it’s based, while the CVT adds $3700.
Visually, you’ll pick a Nismo by its bodykit, red mirrors, body-coloured wheel arches and 18-inch 10-spoke alloys, while inside there is Alcantara galore, a carbon-look centre console, red stitching and a pair of ace sports seats. Sadly, there’s also acres of hard, scratchy plastic and a roof lining that old parcel shelves. Overseas, all this addenda is available as a Juke Nismo R, but as Nissan Australia has committed to only offering Nismo models with performance upgrades, it’s importing only the hotter RS.
A new exhaust and remapped ECU liberates extra power from the 1.6-litre turbo four, 157kW/250Nm in the case of the CVT and 160kW/280Nm for the manual, which also benefits from a stronger clutch, limited-slip front diff and shorter final drive. Performance is punchy, with plenty of turbocharged torque to shove the Juke’s svelte 1281kg along. Unfortunately, the engine sounds truly awful, emitting a baleful, buzzy whine under load like it’s in pain and the revs hang so long on the over-run it’s like the flywheel is made of lead.
Throttle response is good, but all the power feels to arrive in the first 50 per cent of pedal travel, making smooth applications tricky.The limited-slip diff gets most of the power to the ground, but there is fairly severe torque steer under hard acceleration and the front wheels scrabble on uneven surfaces, awakening the traction control.
Outright grip is quite strong, particularly in longer corners, and the steering is a highlight with only a slight dead zone around the straight-ahead. Drive within its limits and the Juke flows well, but any attempt to bully it further results in scrubby understeer. The ride is decent, if a little fidgety on rough surfaces, but hit a mid-corner bump and the dampers quickly run out of travel.
For Juke fans who want more go the Nismo is probably exactly what they’re after and its combination of bold design and crossover versatility has merit. Unfortunately, at this price point the more traditional hot-hatch set offer more performance, greater space, nicer interiors and a far more rewarding driving experience. If you really want a Juke that stands out, buy a 140kW/240Nm Ti-S and invest in the new $800 personalisation pack.
Turbo redefines the term ‘performance car’
BY • TRENT GIUNCO
THE BADGE on the steering wheel suggests that navigating the familiar right-hander ahead shouldn’ be a problem. A heavy dab of the brake pedal shifts the weight forward while the trick suspension sorts out the midcorner bump. Once settled, steering lock is released and the throttle percentage increases, but the nose doesn’ lift. The front stays planted and the back-end undergoes a gentle, manageable yaw movement, subtly stepping out before hunkering down as the 315-section rear boots bite into the tarmac for ultimate traction.
It’ moments like these, caught in slow motion when reality is in fast forward, that mean you have to constantly remind yourself you’ re in an SUV – the all-new, $239,400 third-gen Porsche Cayenne Turbo, to be exact. Just how this 2175kg behemoth has as much sporting talent as it does is mind boggling. A 404kW/770Nm twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (shared with the Panamera Turbo) somewhat explains how the Cayenne nullifies its overt obstacles, while the MLB Evo modular platform’ hybrid mix of alloy and steel makes it lighter than before. Three-chamber air suspension, a new electromechanical 48-volt roll stabilisation system, all-wheel drive and huge brakes further affirm the performance brief.
The Turbo befits its status as ‘the really fast one’ With Sport Chrono optioned, a 0-100km/h time of 3.9sec is achievable. And it feels every bit as fast as that. With both twin-scroll turbos located in the valley to create a ‘hot vee’ V8, the unit produces a relentless amount of lag-free grunt throughout the rev range and ties in well with the torque-converter eight speed automatic. The only caveat is that the orchestral act doesn’ quite match the linear, torque-filled theatre of the powertain. The quad tailpipes are slightly muted; the thunderous baritones of the old 4.8 are gone.
While overall length has grown 63mm, the wheelbase has remained at 2895mm. Hence, even without the optional rear-wheel steering fitted, the way in which the Turbo can stop, clip the apex, rotate and fire out the other side of a hairpin is addictive. That’ also thanks to the torque vectoring AWD system and road-biased P Zero rubber. As a result of the stabilisation technology, the body stays remarkably flat. And, given the air suspension doesn’ have to be super stiff to control body movements, the ride quality, on 21-inch wheels, is exemplary. Even with the suspension lowered in Sport Plus and the dampers firmed, it has an incredible level of comfort and control with confidence-inspiring stability.
The point-to-point pace is incredible. You could frighten many hot hatches through twisty terrain. There’ something naughty and thrilling about driving the portly, rear-biased Cayenne this quickly. It’ as if you’ ve snuck out of bed late at night as a youngster to watch SBS while the household is asleep. The Turbo seems to embrace its heft like a politically correct plussize model and runs with it.
However, despite the Cayenne’ brilliance and hot-hatch-esque persona, it can, on certain roads, feel like the Titanic in a bathtub. Although direct and easy to place, the steering, too, can freeze you out from feel, meaning you’ re not always privy to what’ occurring beneath you. It’ not in any way a sinking ship, but the physicsdefying tech can’ mask the icebergs all of the time.
Although, like the infamous ocean liner, the Turbo’ interior is lavishly appointed and undoubtedly a first-class cabin. Supple materials abound, NVH levels are top notch, the infotainment system is ergonomically sound, the technology is up to date and the seating position is just right for an SUV. There’ even a 745-litre boot, five off-road modes, diff locks and up to 245mm of ground clearance (525mm fording depth). As a car’ that can do just about everything, the Cayenne Turbo is a hell of a proposition.
Okay, romanticising the dynamic capabilities of an expensive, heavy SUV seems facetious. Let’ be clear, this isn’ a 911. However, the Cayenne is still a Porsche, so expectations are automatically placed on its ability. Luckily the moments of true performance aren’ ephemeral. The Turbo is much more than a culmination of impressive figures and weightevading tech wrapped in a luxurious off-roading body. It’ the fact the SUV platform is so easily forgotten in the Cayenne Turbo narrative that makes it such a master stroke.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN SNACK-SIZE BITES
Diesel Autobiography brisk, very luxurious
THE SMELL of expensive leather greets you as you climb into the Range Rover Autobiography SDV8, an airy, light and spacious cabin with seemingly more screens than your typical 21st century living room. Technology, to an almost excessive degree, and luxury – of which too much is not enough – combine to form the main attraction of this car, its beautiful interior. And it’ the interior that will keep your attention as you waft along on the air suspension, well insulated from noises, and riff-raff, outside. That’ because the RR SDV8 can be fun to drive, in a smooth, softly-sprung, 2.5-tonne exaggerated bodyroll kind of way. Beyond that, it prefers a very relaxed canter, thank you. Though it does a good job managing its not inconsiderable mass in the corners, this is plainly a lumbering luxury beast of a thing. As for the turbo-diesel V8, it’ very smooth, offering strong, if not frantic acceleration (0-100km/h 7.0sec) and even sounds good under full pelt. So, would we buy one? The standard of luxury offered by Range Rover is hard to match, but there are faster SUVs with very nice ride quality, and interiors, asking much less. If you must have a Rangie, don’ be half pregnant, skip the diesel and shell out for the blown petrol V8. – SPECS: 4.4-litre V8 TD; 250kW @ 3500rpm; 740Nm @ 1750rpm; 2505kg; $256,000
Not the brawler we expected
IF YOU thought the ‘E’ Jaguar E-Pace stood for electric power or some relation to the XE sedan, you’ wrong. The E-Pace, rather, comes from the Range Rover Evoque. And while that means its steel rich platform uses only turbo four cylinders and offers front-wheel drive, we thought the all-wheel drive P300 might be the jacked up hot hatch of the range. It channels a healthy 221kW and 400Nm through a nine-speed automatic to four wide tyres, but in reality the high-spec Ingenium four lacks fizz and drama. Acceleration from rest to 100km/h feels slower than the 6.4 second claim, while the handling is similarly adrift of initial aspirations. It might be close in length and width to a Mercedes-AMG GLA45, but struggles to control its weight perched some 150mm higher. It has useful approach angles and can tow a tonne, but its classy styling suggests it will live an easier life than that. Our narcissistic side enjoyed the attention paid to its exterior and in top HSE spec our car bore 20 inchers, a sports body kit, 18-way power front seats and ebony leather. Inside felt high-tech until we realised it included $12K worth of options. We’ put our money towards an $89K GLA45 for proper performance. – SPECS: 2.0-litre I4T; 221kW @ 5500rpm; 400Nm @ 1500rpm; AWD; $83,733
Flag-laden hatch lives up to fun vibes
THE NEW COOPER S has landed with a revised (but not more powerful) engine and a more ‘patriotic’ Union Jack motif. That engine still makes 141kW, but 300Nm arrives just above idle, used well by its new sevenspeed dual-clutch. Quick, smooth (and non-argumentative) shifts are almost enough to lure a proper enthusiast away from the manual, as it feels more like a very fast torque-converter than a DCT. Underneath is a chassis that’ fun to toy with on a twisty road, especially with a dab of mid-corner braking for some playful rotation. The Mini remains relatively light given the pudginess of some of its rivals, and it feels it in almost every way aside from the steering. Even out of Sport Mode, something you’ want on in the twisties, the steering is too heavy, becoming worse in the more aggressive setting. Each element of the car deserves individual adjustability, as can be done in the JCW. But for $42,700 ($39,900 with a manual ‘box), the Mini feels like a pretty good deal. Its interior is quite sleek if specced well (as black as possible is a good choice), and the amount of fun you can have with the car is more accessible than something like the more mature and pricier Golf GTI. If you can look past the ‘cute’ image, you’ find fun galore. – SPECS: 2.0 I4T; 141kW @ 5000rpm; 300Nm @ 1250rpm; FWD; 1195kg; $42,700