First Fang





M2 gets M3 engine. Is a total revelation


IF YOU’VE not been properly excited about an M car since the pugnacious 1M, we don’ entirely blame you – they’ ve all been existing somewhat in the long shadows cast by cars like the atmo V8-powered E92 M3, howling straight-six E46 M3, right back to E39 V8 M5 and beyond. It seemed M Division’ golden era was one in the past. However, time to get excited again – the new M2 Competition is utterly, surprisingly brilliant.

Effectively replacing the base’ M2 in the range – the N55 hasn’ survived the new WLTP fuel economy regulations – the Competition is not a new variant, it is the new M2. There’ an even greater quantity of parts from its bigger brother M3/M4. The single twin-scroll turbo N55, supposedly nearing its limit for output and efficiency (it has been around for nearly 10 years after all) is out, replaced with the twin-turbo 3.0-litre S55 from M3/M4, slightly detuned to 302kW/550Nm (compared to the 317kW/550Nm of the very first F80/F82 M3/M4s). This represents a 30kW/85Nm increase over the outgoing base’ M2; claimed 0-100km/h time improves, in the case of the DCT anyway, by just’ 0.1sec, 4.3 to 4.2.

With its closed-deck block, lightened crankshaft, strengthened pistons and track-optimised oil system, the S55 is very much a step-up for the baby M car, the Competition more of a 1M on paper than the M2. To cope with extra cooling requirements of the waterto-air-intercooled S55 – the DCT M2 Competition has four heat exchangers excluding the air-con condenser – there is a new front bar with bigger kidney grilles and lower openings. Rear bar, incorporating quad exhausts, remains the same. The new engine nestles in the same hoop-shaped carbon-fibre strut brace of M3/M4; there is also extra bracing in the front, said to improve steering response and feel. Solid lateral suspension joints also promise improved driver connection, if at potential cost to refinement.

There is a brand new bi-modal exhaust system and new software for DCT, computer-controlled locking differential and electric steering. Lastly, the Competition scores the M3/M4 seats – with a neat illuminated M2 logo – and the same, classic M double arm’ side vision mirrors. The M2 Competition is available in both six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch auto, for the same price, $104,900 – about $5K more than the base M2 it replaces, although there’ also a simpler-spec Pure model for $99,900. Tyres are Michelin Pilot Super Sports, 245/35 ZR19 front, 265/35 ZR19 rear.

Driving around at low speeds, you’ think the Competition was just an M2 with more grip and more power. Ride from the passive dampers (unlike M240i, the M2 has never been offered with adaptive dampers) is sporting but not unbearable. The interior would feel old if not for the fitment of the latest iDrive6 and 8.8-inch touchscreen. There are M1/M2 buttons on the steering wheel for the first time for the M2.

Much like the M3/M4, you are initially blown away by the giant invisible hand of torque that seems to pick up the car and peg it down the road. The DSC light flickers away as the rear Pilot Super Sports do their best, conjuring up scary memories of the old twin-turbo 1M. The twin-clutch DCT of our test car is satisfyingly responsive up and down the gears, the 3.0-litre straight-six emitting a meaty snarl to its 7600rpm redline. The S55 somehow sounds better in the M2 than it does the bigger cars, replacing a weird flat technical acquired-taste noise with something a bit more conventional.

It’ not until you start really uncorking the M2 Competition that you have your first aha’ moment. The front end of the M2/M3/M4 has always been plentifully direct, and extremely tenacious, however, now in the case of the M2 Competition there’ actually some decent feel. The steering wheel itself remains a little too chunky and large in diameter for my taste, but at last pointing the M2 is a bit of a joy.


Push on again and you wonder if you’ ever find the limits of those wide Michelins, the car leaning harder and harder into its passive dampers, like you’ re both looking at each other and shrugging as to when the tyres are going to give. Lateral grip, and traction, are impressive. As are the brakes – just be sure to grab the optional $3000 jobbies which, on paper, share identical dimensions (400mm six-pot front; 380mm four-pot rear) to that of an M4 GTS, although not carbon ceramic.


ALPINE A110 1.8-litre turbo inline-4, RWD, 185kW/320Nm, 0-100k m/h 4.5sec 1103kg, $106,500

We could have put a Porsche Cayman here but it’ a fair bit pricier. A110 offers similar acceleration to M2 Comp but completely different handling. Both are compared at the imminent PCOTY 2019

On a track, things improve yet again – the M2 Competition’ on-limit handling is utterly magic, inviting you to back it in to every corner on the brakes with clean, predictable oversteer defying the wheelbase. Post-apex, you can then plumb the huge reserves of turbocharged torque within the throttle for seriously easy and smoky power slides on exit. It’ a total hoot.

The recalibrated MDM halfway electronic setting is also slack to a welcome degree, almost leaving you entirely alone in first gear, giving a quarter turn corrective lock in second gear and then sensibly only allowing flashes of excitement beyond that as it deems safe. It lets you enjoy the car.

On the whole, the M2 Competition is so surprisingly good, it has elevated itself to the plane of cars that miss out on perfection by the most annoyingly slim of margins – if only the steering wheel rim was a bit thinner, if only the pedals were better placed for leftfoot brakers in the DCT car, if only it had adaptive dampers and rode a bit better around town... but then you recall it’ offering almost M4 levels of performance for $35K less. In fact, better-than-M4 performance, as the M2 Competition has a character and friendliness to it that has infamously eluded its larger siblings.

We really like this car, don’ we? Yes, indeed – we can’ quite believe just how good an application the S55 is in the 2 Series Coupe body. We wonder if one day it may be included in the same breath as E46 M3, E39 M5, E92 M3. Time will tell, but based on our early, relatively short first experiences with the M2 Competition, it’ certainly being included in the same thoughts. And that gets us properly excited.



Subtle update makes V10 hero even more appealing


IF IT AIN’T BROKE... We all know the saying. Hence revisions to the Audi R8 supercar are minimal. Few mechanical changes have occurred beyond a mild reskin inspired, Audi says, by its GT3 customer racing car, which easily rolls down the very same production line as regular R8 road cars.

Visually, then, for the road car there has been a de-chroming of the grille surround at the front, because “chrome and motorsport don’ go together”, according to Audi designers – and they should know. The front end gets some more angular treatment, including a new splitter whose profile continues onto the car’ sides, where painted black it reduces the visual height of the body.

It extends from there to the rear where it melds into a big old diffuser. That, like the oval tailpipes and a wide rear grille for removing heat from the engine bay, are all reminiscent of the racecar. Which is all very cool.

The R8 continues with the same 5.2-litre V10 engine, rear-biased fourwheel drive system and with a dualclutch automatic gearbox as standard. Not many changes here, though there is a power hike for this facelift, raising peak output by 22kW to 419kW (on the standard R8), or by 7kW to 456kW (for the Performance model, tested here, previously called the Plus version). It should arrive in the second half of 2019 with a modest price hike.

Audi claims dynamic differences too, but they’ re limited. And, on our brief track-only acquaintance, they were as hard to spot as any power increase was. The front anti-roll bar is now a composite/alloy mash-up instead of a steel item, thus reducing unsprung weight. The steering is meant to be more accurate and responsive, too. However, the springs and dampers remain the same and I suspect just as much change comes via the option of sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres as any other mechanical alteration.

And that’ just fine. The V10 retains its position as one of the world’ greatest modern production engines and the chassis is pleasingly controlled, with a great willingness to rotate under a trailed brake, and the ability to steer it on the throttle on the way out of a corner. There are lighter cars in this class, owing to the Audi’ large engine and its AWD system, but thanks to the adjustability it still feels pretty agile. Audi brakes are rarely the strongest and these are a touch tricky to modulate on circuit, too.

The steering is medium-weighted, and pleasingly responsive and accurate. I’ m not convinced it has the last word in feel like, say, a McLaren 570S, nor does the car turn so responsively, but it has more adjustability, and makes a much better noise. It also feels more exotic than a Porsche 911 Turbo S and is less of a hot-rod than the AMG GT R.

It’ hard to say precisely how recommendable the R8 is without a longer test on the road as well. However, one of the things that has made the R8 so appealing over the years is how smooth and rewarding it is as a road car; and it’ hard to conceive too much has changed there, given the relative paucity of the chassis changes.

Its interior is striking and yet, being an Audi, easy to live with. Given there’ much to enjoy about the V10 and the driving experience whether you’ re on a hot lap or not, the R8 should remain as compelling a proposition as ever. It occupies a nice spot in its class, being a satisfyingly easy car to get along with yet with a livewire engine when you ask something of it. It melds usability and glamour into a pleasing compromise better than most.


Impressive driver’ car turns the wick up to 11


SAYING A NEW CAR IS BETTER than its predecessor is about as lazy as you can get because, if it weren’ its maker would have had to have done something very wrong indeed. The Ariel Atom 4 is noteworthy because it’ so much better than the outgoing Atom 3.5. It’ a seismic shift and it feels as rapid as a Ferrari 488 GTB, too.

Perhaps this shouldn’ be surprising given that the Atom 4 represents the biggest change to the Atom since the car was first launched in 2000.

Ariel’ designers and engineers decided that bigger chassis tubes were the way to go, not just from a strength perspective, but also a visual one. Changes extend to the wheel diameters being an inch bigger front and rear, new geometry and updated bodywork.

It’ a bit longer than before, although still only 3520mm, but no wider, fortunately, because at 1880mm, it’ quite wide for a lightweight car. The wheelbase is up slightly, to 2390mm, with 1600mm and 1615mm tracks front and rear. And the increased size means it’ a bit less lightweight than an Atom 3.5. At 595kg, it’ around 20kg heavier than the old car, which seems a bit of a shame, but still some way from heavy.

The hardware is all upgraded. The engine is now the turbocharged 2.0litre from the latest Honda Civic Type R, replacing the old naturally aspirated Civic unit. There is now, officially, no need for any further forced induction than it already has: the new engine makes 239kW/420Nm. That’ at 18.8psi of boost pressure, although modes two and one on an adjustable dial take it down to 216kW (8.7psi) and 164kW (4.4psi) respectively.

It drives the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential and six-speed manual gearbox. There are double wishbones with inboard coil-overs and new aluminium uprights. Three wheel options (standard, forged and carbon fibre) are all the same size and all wear Avon ZZ tyres of 195/50 R16 at the front and 255/40 R17 at the rear.

The engine fires to a fizzy idle, although with less vibration through the seat back than in older Atoms, and that improved refinement is the first, and most noticeable, thing about driving the Atom 4. I’ ve often been hesitant about a move from naturally aspirated engines to turbos, but there’ little doubt it makes for easier cruising. The lazier throttle response makes for less jerky progress, and the torque of this new engine is such that, as long as you’ re rolling, you can forget first gear.

Pedal weights and responses are nicely judged, and although the steering is still heavyish at manoeuvring speeds, a larger-rimmed steering wheel than you’ find on a Caterham or BAC Mono means it’ actually fine. And with a marginally slower rack (and tighter turning circle) than previously, it’ less nervy than it was before.

That’ also down to the revised geometry, says Ariel, which contributes to impressive ride control. Ariels have always felt alive in your hands, in the way that all lightweight cars do because of their latent responsiveness. But with varying levels of maturity. At a stroke, the Atom has become a car that rides and steers in a more sophisticated way. There’ still immediacy and intimacy there, still feedback and engagement, but the bad messages are filtered. There’ a bit more Lotus Elise/2-Eleven fluidity to it, as you mooch, part throttle, turbo spooling and sucking in air like somebody is doing the vacuuming just behind your left shoulder, and shushing on the overrun like a PA announcer gently quietening a rowdy awards crowd.


The Atom 4 is ludicrously fast. It’ quick enough in position one on the turbo map, but flick it through to three and the urgency and response is astonishing. There’ a touch of lag, but you always feel in control of the delivery. The effect is like flooring a McLaren 720S or Porsche 911 Turbo: it really is that insistent.

Braking is brilliantly modulated and powerful. In corners, there’ tremendous capability, little sense of dive, squat or roll, and great body flatness and security – with no sense that the car’ leaning into roll oversteer.

Described in one word? Phew.’ It’ incredibly impressive. Downsides? Still a bit wide for a lightweight car and you’ d still want a helmet most of the time. But that’ about it: it’ a heck of a leap, and a great driver’ car.


Family-sized fun with an angry V8 soundtrack


IF YOU’RE IN THE MARKET for a Porsche Panamera, you now have more options than ever. From boosted V6s and eights to fuel-sipping, yet potent hybrids, the range has it all covered – there’ even a wagon’ thanks to the Sport Turismo. However, now there’ a new, $364,100 way to get around with the V8-powered GTS. It’ essentially one rung below the ballistic Turbo, but angrier than the 2.9-litre 4S. Got it?

The difference between the 4S and the GTS is more than just 14kW, 70Nm and a few cylinders. It’ also about how the 338kW/620Nm 4.0-litre bent eight behaves and performs compared to the V6. The eight is a heavier engine, and it uses more fuel, but at the same time it’ a much more emotional powerplant with a broader range of talents. It has a stonking torque curve, while in Sport Plus, the bellowing exhaust is unquestionably aggro and the eightspeed PDK hammers through the gears. It can also reach 100km/h from rest in 4.1 seconds with the standard Sport Chrono. Everything about the GTS is firmer, tighter, noisier, less compromising and more focused.

It’ clear that, despite the proportions and weight at play here, driving pleasure is high on the list. In this domain, the GTS scores myriad brownie points. So despite being able to lug vast amounts of luggage and seat five (if they can tolerate motion sickness), this Panamera is first and foremost a driver’ car. Involvement and interaction clearly haven’ been forgotten.

If money is no object, Porsche will equip your GTS with carbon-ceramic brakes, rear-wheel steering, a 48V system complete with electro-hydraulic anti-roll bars and torque vectoring.


All of which is nice to have, but adds weight to the already portly 1995kg Panamera. The dynamic improvements are too incremental to justify.

No, the charm of the GTS variant is its ability to unite the best of both worlds – performance and comfort. It can be a hardcore, high-speed master of the Autobahn or a long-distance cruiser.

Reassuringly, it also has oodles of all-wheel drive grip with pleasing roadholding talent thanks to adaptive dampers and 4D chassis control (the GTS also rides 10mm lower to the ground). Turning it all up to 11 from Normal mode is as simple as selecting Sport Plus (before hitting the Sport Response button, which remains active for twenty seconds). Yet, thanks to the three-chamber air suspension, it won’ shake the marrow out of your bones, even when the going gets really tough.

The steering attempts to make the Panamera feel less of a beast – essentially, it’ trying to channel a lighter, shorter and narrower car. It succeeds to an extent, but brisk turn-in puts about a tonne of front axle weight into your palms and the straight ahead is mainly determined by two substantial 20-inch wheels.

To explore the handling characteristics unique to the GTS, switch ESP off, find a second-gear corner and wait for rain. Thanks to AWD and advanced electronics, the change in attitude from neutral to tail-happy is progressive, balanced and subtle by Porsche standards. The brakes don’ show off, but they aren’ a weak point. Effort is unremarkable, pedal feel is progressive, deceleration is mindboggling and fading is never an issue.

So, which Panamera is the one to buy? The eco-friendly hybrid six lacks performance-car undertones, while the manic S E-Hybrid is as heavy as a beached whale. The Turbo is a beast, but it comes at a price far greater than the 4S. Ultimately, the GTS fills a Goldilocks gap (it is less GT and more S or Turbo) which affords it menacing grunt without having to forgo the addictive V8 acoustics.


The ultimate luxury SUV takes effortless to the next (off-road) level


THE ‘ROLLS-ROYCE OF SUVS’ is unsurprisingly the most luxurious, most refined, quietest and comfiest fourby-four of them all. And at $685,000 before customisation, the new Cullinan is, by some margin, also the priciest.

Surprisingly, Rolls-Royce reckons many will get used off-road. Superrich buyers are expected to use their Cullinans to go places where no modern Roller has tread before.

The Cullinan uses the new ‘Architecture of Luxury’ platform that first saw service in the latest Phantom, and will underpin every upcoming Rolls-Royce. It’s a highly configurable box-section frame made from aluminium castings and extrusions that allows more variability than high volume press-steeled platforms.

The body is shorter, stumpier, higher, a bit heavier and far less elegant than the Phantom. It’s no beauty, at least to my eyes, and clearly prioritises engineering and marketing functionality over styling.

There’s no doubting the superb standard of finish, though. From the lustrous stainless steel exterior brightwork including the temple-like grille to the superb detailing (those lower body ‘spears’, the laser lights), the Cullinan is beautifully crafted.

The cabin quality is also superb. It’s not just the look and feel of the leather, wood and metal controls; it’s the lovely fluent movement of those controls, including the column-mounted transmission wand and the organ-stop real-metal vent controls. The in-house developed sound system is also superb.

There’s the option of a folding bench seat – a Rolls first – or fixed rear chairs. Choose the latter option and you can also get a fixed glass partition between back seats and boot further to quell cabin noise.

Choose the regular folding seat option and the rear is a conventional hatch. The hatch tailgate is two-piece, so you can sit on the lower section when doing outdoorsy things – all part of the adventurous ethos. It’s the firstever Rolls-Royce hatchback.

The clamshell-style doors wrap around the sills, so no dirty trousers on entry or exit. It also means a flat floor, with no sill to climb over. The rear coach-style doors also provide for a supremely elegant exit and look fantastic. Both front and rear doors can be shut, when seated, electronically by pushing a button.

‘Effortless everywhere’ is the Cullinan’s mantra, and it sums up the car well. On the tarmac, it purrs along almost as fluently and as quietly as a Phantom.

The engine is the new twin-turbo 6.75-litre V12. It’s remapped to deliver a little more low-end torque and is every bit as wonderfully smooth and responsive as in Rolls’ flagship. The V12 is near-silent, the ZF eight-speed auto magnificently smooth, road noise and wind noise barely noticeable. By some margin, it’ the world’ most refined and comfortable SUV on the blacktop.

But it’ not the sportiest. Near 2.7 tonnes of mass, in fact. It disguises its heft amazingly well, and can be hustled along quickly with confidence. But when the roads gets twisty, a Bentayga or a Cayenne are more agile. The active roll bars and damping, satellite controlled gear shifting, and four-wheel steering all do their jobs manfully, but they just can’ compensate for so much bulk (including 100kg of sound deadening wrapping the cabin).


The Cullinan’ other great strength is its ability to glide elegantly, and quietly, over rough tracks. When venturing off-road, simply push the dainty off-road’ button on the centre console, and the car’ suite of electro controls will do the rest. Ride height is elevated by 40mm. In such a mode, the drive-bywire throttle is recalibrated, demanding more pedal travel to spur the Cullinan into action. Off-road performance can occasionally feel strangled. The upside though is a very linear and progressive power delivery, helped by that enormously torquey twin-turbo V12.

The looks may be challenging, and the price daunting, but the Cullinan sets new overall standards in the luxury SUV class. Its on-road comfort and refinement is a notch or two above anything from Bentley or Range Rover, and so is cabin quality and comfort. It’ almost as good as a Phantom on the tarmac – and that’ high praise indeed. And if it’ less agile than some lighter rivals, then that’ a trade-off most customers will probably happily accept.

More surprising is the off-road prowess. If ultimate go-anywhere capability is the priority, stick with a Range Rover. But if all-terrain comfort and composure is the goal, then the Cullinan sets a new benchmark: it really will do effortless (almost) anywhere.


What’ the diff? Liftback variant Czechs into the real world

SOMETIMES, TO achieve your best, you have to be given the right conditions to excel. That’ something MOTOR hasn’ really afforded the Skoda Octavia RS245. The reality is, even though it’ more an evolution rather than revolution of its predecessor, we’ ve only sampled the new car on a racetrack in Oz. Not exactly a place you’ expect to find a $45,490 family-sized liftback.

However, that’ the beauty of this performance-orientated Octavia. It’ a sleeper, with few design cues pertaining to what lies beneath. And that would be the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo found in the VW Golf GTI.

The figures come in at 180kW and 370Nm, sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed wet-clutch DSG (the sixspeed manual has been dropped). A recent update sees all RS Octavias now gain this tune and the tricky diff. The RS245 keeps its place atop the food chain with adaptive dampers and extra kit as standard.

While the passive dampers deliver comfortable and engaging dynamics with aplomb, the adaptive dampers (and resulting drive modes) allow for a newfound duality. In Comfort, there’ enough control and absorption of bumps to press on without fuss, the only drawback being slight body roll.

The way the 1366kg MQB chassis handles opening-radius, third- and fourth-gear corners is impressive. The renowned boosted four feels stronger than the numbers suggest given the rate of knots that can be achieved.

The 225/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero rubber also offers substantial lateral grip, both in wet and dry conditions.

Yet, for all its competence, there’ one elephant still in the room. The traction issues we felt on track have translated onto the road. To clarify, it isn’ down to a lack of front-end nous on turn-in – the RS245 fervently dispatches understeer into a corner. However, once through the apex, the Octavia can torque steer wide due to its inability to fully harness all the power with lock. The electronically controlled limited slip differential isn’ aggressive enough to offer the grip and go (axle tramp also remains) needed out of firstand second-gear bends.

Ultimately, this isn’ an issue most of the time and if you use guiding inputs, rather than abrupt manoeuvres, the Octavia shines. The truth is the RS245 is a Golf GTI in family-friendly clothes. It’ the hot hatch for adults.

The pricing restructure, addition of the full-fat EA888 engine and LSD to the entire range has slightly muddied the RS245’ waters. It’ now not the clear-cut go-to. But if you want all the goodies and the adaptive dampers, it still makes a lot of sense.

An extended stint on real roads in daily conditions renders the hotted-up Octavia a car you can genuinely use every day, yet also has the ability to excite when the mood takes you. Given the right conditions, the Octavia RS245 certainly excels.