First Fang

NEW. FAST. FIRST

BY • MATT PRIOR

09 PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

32 AVENTADOR S ROADSTER Lambo’s 544kW sun soaker

34 BMW M5 COMPETITION An extra 17kW and chassis mods

36 TESLA MODEL 3 PERFORMANCE An electric M3 fi ghter?

38 VOLVO S60 POLESTAR Sweden’s hybrid hottie sedan

40 MERC-AMG GT C GT-R bits in a more polite package

42 ALPINE A110 France’s Cayman-fi ghter vs Oz roads

1 RENAULT MEGANE RS 300 TROPHY

More power, poise for new big daddy Megane RS

B Y • MATT PRIOR

IS THIS SOON? It feels soon. The Renault Megane RS only arrived in September and yet here, already, is the Trophy version – generally the go-to variant of RS models for those who like their hot hatches flaming.

New to the Renault Megane RS Trophy is more power, and more stuff’ Output from the 1.8 turbo petrol is 220kW, up 15kW over the regular RS, and if you spec the dual-clutch gearbox, torque is up from 390Nm to 420Nm. Spec the standard six-speed manual and torque is limited to 400Nm because that’ all the gearbox can handle.

Throttle response is quicker either way, owing to the adoption of a ceramic turbo bearing, while there is a freer-breathing exhaust that has an active flap in it, which Renault says offers two tones’ With it shut it’ easy on the ears’ and with it open the full sporty potential can be expressed’ In other words, quiet or loud.

There are 19-inch wheels whose design is inspired by the RS01 concept car (very cool too), shod with Bridgestone Potenza S001 tyres, and there will be the upcoming option of S007s, as soon as they’ re homologated, which are better for dry use and on a circuit. You can spec a lighter wheel too, which mightn’ look as good but saves 2kg a corner. All of this stuff is Trophy-specific.

You get the Cup chassis as standard, which brings a series of nice, round numbers – 25 per cent stiffer dampers, 30 per cent stiffer springs and 10 per cent stiffer anti-roll bars – as well as a Torsen limited-slip diff and bi-material front brake discs, which are 1.8kg a corner lighter than the regular RS’ To denote it’ a Trophy there’ a bit of badging on the outside, but it’ a pretty subtle transformation. Inside, meanwhile, there’ the option of a new seat – an Alcantara-shod Recaro that sits you 20mm lower than normal. The new seat is great, lending the Trophy a good driving position, if ultimately one less adjustable than a Volkswagen Golf GTI’ s. The interior feels solid and the Megane generally feels a large car.

It is also a quick one. Throttle response is good for a heavily blown turbo, and there’ a degree of induction noise, but most of the soundtrack comes from the exhaust’ melodramatic pops and crackles on the overrun. The Trophy we tried was a sixspeed manual, whose shift is notchier than you’ hope, but positive enough.

The Trophy drives the same way, to my feel, as an RS with Cup settings. The balance, then, is good, and engaging but still curious. There was a time when a Megane would be the clear driver’ choice over a Honda or Volkswagen or Hyundai, but that time isn’ now. The Megane is arguably still the most agile of these, and almost certainly the most willing to engage the rear wheels in a corner, because it adopted four-wheel steer to help do it. This electronically controlled assistance to the back wheels steers them in the opposite direction to the fronts at anything below 100km/h, and more markedly if you choose Race on the drive mode selector than if you’ re in the Normal or Sport settings. Renault reckons Race might be a bit bitey, too aggressive, for the road.

There is no doubt that it’ willing to go plenty sideways, plenty quickly, if you turn in to a corner on anything other than throttle. Lift and it will tuck in; trail the brakes and it will tuck in; just turn and it will tuck in. The Megane is as lairy as front-drivers currently get, and if you then get back on the power, it pulls itself straight again. There’ a degree of torque-steer – manageable but evident – and good steering feel, but the balance you experience is usually one of managing understeer or managing oversteer, rather than just playing with a hint of either.

In the old Renaultsport Megane, especially in Trophy specification, you felt you were in charge of the most precise, scything, accurate hot hatch in the world. Now I don’ think that is true. A Golf GTI is more passive, true, but it’ very accurate, and a Hyundai i30 N has a more pleasing and, crucially, more natural chassis balance too, while a Honda Civic Type R feels more precise (if less exciting).

The Megane feels like it is artificially helping you out, noticing you turning the wheel and deciding you want to turn loads, right now. I wonder if active rear-steer is the automotive equivalent of 3D cinema: an unnecessary addenda, put on to increase the perceived drama and enthusiasm to something that didn’ really need it in the first place.

THE TROPHY IS A FINE HATCHBACK BUT FEELS LIKE IT’ TRYING TOO HARD TO PLEASE THESE DAYS

I think the Trophy is good on the road, mind. Body control is tight, but ride comfort is relatively pliant despite the increase in stiffness over the regular chassis, because there are hydraulic bump stops to round off the worst of things. Its cornering stance feels more natural on the road too, with the drive mode and therefore rear- steer’ aggressiveness knocked back, although it’ still towards the upper end of the agility scale. Unusually, though, on the customisable drive modes I found myself doing the opposite to usual and upping the steering weight and lowering the engine (and therefore exhaust) shoutiness.

The Trophy is a fine hot hatchback, with a character and agility that in previous years would have been rewarding enough to make it the best car in the class. But with a feel of artificiality to the way it shifts its corner balance that, most notably, a Hyundai i30 N feels entirely natural doing, the Megane feels like it’ trying too hard to please these days.

The Trophy will come in at around $50,000, a $5000 increase over the standard car. That’ pretty good value if you work out the cost of the optional kit like 19-inch wheels, the Cup chassis and bi-material brakes, making the Trophy financially quite appealing, especially given it will be the easier version to resell later. I like it. I like driving it a lot, and some people will like it more than all the rivals. But to me it feels like a good and competitive hot hatch among many and not, as it once was, the obvious boss of them all.

CIVIC TYPE R 2.0-litre turbo four, 228kW/400Nm, 0-100k m/h 5.7ec, 1380kg, $51,990

THE HONDA now reigns over the hot-hatch kingdom. Its title as the greatest front-drive car is no exaggeration and that, with its price, puts it in the Trophy’ crosshairs

HANG ON Optional Recaro seats are a new design that lower the driver’s position by up to 20mm. Singlepiece hard-shell backrests have openings for racing harnesses

TOUGH TORQUE Six-speed manual may be the choice for many drivers, but it comes at a cost of 20Nm because the gearbox can only handle a maximum of 400Nm

DATA DISPLAY The RS Monitor displays all sorts of fun information gathered from about 40 sensors, such as acceleration, braking, steering angle and how the 4WS is working

02 LAMBO AVENTADOR S ROADSTER

Engine, looks – and now it can go around corners

BY • DYLAN CAMPBELL + PICS • ALASTAIR BROOK

IF YOUR CAR was feathered, on fire, with a dinosaur riding on the roof and AC/DC blasting through the world’ loudest speakers, it would likely still turn fewer heads than a fluoro green Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster.

And in the early days of the Aventador – a car launched eight years ago now – that’ why you bought one. It was a sculpture with a whopping great V12 in the back, a car that felt as if built to do nothing but between 200 and 300km/h, one that found tight and twisty corners a bit of a chore.

All that’ changed somewhat with the introduction of the S variants, which promise an Aventador with more poise. There’ now four-wheel steering, adaptive dampers and a revised allwheel-drive system that can send up to 90 per cent torque rearward for, says Lamborghini, more power oversteer.

Meanwhile, that riotous 6.5-litre atmo V12 has also had a tickle, power up 30kW to 544kW at 8400rpm, 150rpm higher than the previous droptop Aventador. Lambo also says the much-maligned roboticised manual is smoother and quicker.

Compared to the Aventador S coupe, the Roadster cops a fairly modest 50kg weight penalty, is 0.1sec slower to 100km/h (now three seconds dead – what a slouch) and the top speed is the same, a hair-thinning 349km/h.

With the two targa-style roof panels manually removed and stored compactly in the ‘frunk’ (at which point there is basically no luggage space other than the passenger footwell), the Aventador S Roadster is one car that takes your breath away just parked in front of you. Can you buy a more extroverted-looking car than an Aventador? I don’ think so.

I would struggle to name one higher on drama, too. Lifting the scissor door and slinking inside, the V12 whirrs loudly to life via the red starter button on the centre console – a crisp, exotic sound unfiltered with the roof off.

The Aventador continues to be initially terrifying in traffic owing to its great width, price and blind spots, and the fact everyone is looking straight at you. Old Audi switchgear remains all over the centre console, fortunately contrasted against the awesome TFT instrument display. It’ quite an impractical car, with some low-speed refinement quirks such as clutch judder on engagement and the laboured, slow upshifts. Fortunately the ride is much better thanks to the adaptive dampers.

Boot the big S Roadster and you are summoning one of the wildest and most distinctive engine notes in the business. It’ how-is-this-legal loud, the big V12 wailing crisply like an old F1 car. The overrun crackles and booms to the point of bordering on insanity – you can feel it through your heels on the floor.

IT SOUNDS LIKE AN EVIL SPIRIT WHOOSHING THROUGH THE FOREST LOOKING FOR LOST SOULS

Full throttle in the Aventador S Roadster remains its number one party trick. Acceleration is obviously outrageous and the shifts, particularly in max-attack Corsa mode, brutally fast. Although, it has to be said, with cars like the 488, 720S and GT2 RS, another league of acceleration now exists beyond that of the Aventador.

Hammering along a twisty road, the Aventador sounds like an evil spirit whooshing through the forest looking for lost souls to take to its lair. And thanks to the S treatment, the Roadster is now an Aventador you will want to take beyond the usual urban habitat.

It’ still a big, wide car with a huge footprint, often tricky to place, but dig in and it sits flat with huge grip. The front end is still somewhat forgettable, with not much steering feel, but the S Roadster is fun to belt up a twisty road – if still not the most precise tool in the supercar shed, and always a tad difficult to trust. This is not really a car whose rear end you tweak with the brakes into corners; nor one you freely deactivate ESP and explore power oversteer. But it wants to be driven harder and deeper into corners – which couldn’ be said of early Aventadors that got upset if you tried as much.

For all its new handling enthusiasm, the Aventador S Roadster still feels made for the highly populated urban strip, attracting unbelievable attention – certainly more than any other car. Feathered or otherwise.

03 BMW M5 COMPETITION

More focused M5 just a little bit addictive

BY• DYLAN CAMPBELL

WHEN YOU’VE GOT all the money in the world, you don’t have to think much about ensuring your car can cater to any of your moods. You buy an Aston Martin Valkyrie for when you want to be scared witless, and then a Rolls-Royce Phantom for when the desire for almost-silent, luxury motoring takes hold. But here’s a fun game – what if your Monaco penthouse came with only a one-car garage?

Yes, we know you can pay a man to swap cars between the garage and the aircraft hangar in the countryside, but forgetting that, there aren’t many cars that could beat a new BMW M5 Competition when it came to, err, competition for that singular spot.

The Competition is ostensibly the new M5, replacing the base model. Sitting on the new seventh-generation G30 5 Series platform, the F90 M5, in Competition guise, sees its twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 power up to a whopping 460kW/750Nm. That translates to 0-100km/h in an eye-popping 3.3sec thanks to the new-for-M5 all-wheeldrive system. The previous ‘base’ M5 had 441kW and did triple figures in 3.4sec; torque was the same.

BMW’s M Division has gone to town under the skin to make for a more focused, agile M5. There are stiffer engine mounts; firmer and 7mm-lower springs; larger anti-roll bars front and rear; solid rather than rubber-bushed toe links; and new damping to suit. Meanwhile, there’s an M Sport bi-modal exhaust and unique 20-inch forged wheels, wrapped in slightly wider 275/35 front and 285/35 rear Pirelli P-Zero rubber. Weight is up about 10kg. And at $229,900, the Competition commands a $29K premium over the outgoing ‘base’ M5.

If it’s sounding like you might get into the incredibly well-appointed, well-built and luxurious M5 interior only to find, 100 metres down the road, BMW has introduced a whole lot of motorsport-esque harshness, you’d be wrong. The M5 continues to be a very comfortable car with a serious list of standard equipment and technology. You’ll want to drive it daily, easily.

And you’ll want to drive it out to far-flung roads in the countryside too, because, well, the M5 Competition is seriously good.

First, there’s the power. Now, we drive a lot of cars at MOTOR and all the fastest ones, from 720Ss to 911 GT2 RSs and so forth, and the M5 Competition is in the same league. It is utterly, addictively powerful, with expletivegenerating acceleration.

Traction, of course, is impressive. BMW says to think about the new all-wheel-drive system as being rear-drive but with enhanced traction. Our experience confirms this. It’ a very entertaining system, yet the extra effectiveness is also appreciated.

Of course, there is rear-drive mode, which turns the ESP all the way off and you can do smoky powerslides in gears way higher than should be possible. But that’ not the M5 Competition’ only handling trick.

THE M5 COMPETITION’ ACCELERATION IS IN THE SAME LEAGUE AS 720S AND 911 GT2 RS

Always obviously a large, heavy car on track, working its brakes and tyres hard, it is unbelievably rapid – and capable. And this is a fun car, easier to place in corners than its size should allow, with an accurate and tenacious front end, even if the steering is a bit lifeless.

Possibly the biggest criticism you can level at this otherwise epic car is the sound. If only it sounded like a Mercedes-AMG E63 S... Alas, the M5 Competition bellows a somewhat artificial, unsatisfying note, a sadly missed opportunity for a 4.4-litre V8, particularly as we stare down the next era of total, silent electrification.

Given the way it drives, it’ forgiveable, to the point that you’ wonder if you need any other car, no matter how much money you have.

04 TESLA MODEL 3 PERFORMANCE

Entry-level Tesla gets a performance-oriented overhaul

BY• MIKE DUFF

THIS CAR IS PROOF that the more traditional parts of the motor industry still have some serious catching up to do if they want their new EVs to be able to match Tesla.

The Performance is the ultimate version of the Model 3, for now at least, based on the existing Dual Motor model and sharing the same 500km battery pack. The significant difference is a punchier rear motor, which increases the total system output to 340kW. Tesla claims that is good enough for about a 3.5sec 0-100km/h time, making it nearly as quick as the fastest version of the bigger Model S.

Our test car, driven in the US, was also fitted with the Performance Upgrade pack (normally USD$5000 but now fitted standard), bringing 20-inch wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, lowered suspension and a 17km/h-higher top speed of 250km/h. The car now costs $65,200 in the US, compared with $49,000 for the standard Model 3.

This car is startling. I drove the Model 3 Performance just after experiencing the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye for the first time and can honestly report that the acceleration of the Tesla is only fractionally less impressive than that of a supercharged 800-horsepower muscle car. But while the Dodge does its thing to a furious soundtrack, the 3 delivers its organsloshing longitudinal G-forces without drama or apparent effort. The chassis can digest even stamped throttle starts without squeaking or slithering, and with no more noise than the whine of the electric motors.

Full-bore starts are huge fun – it is impossible to experience one for the first time without uttering expletives – but they are far from the Model 3 Performance’ only trick. As with the regular car, the quality of engineering in the 3’ powertrain and chassis runs much deeper than the brand’ detractors would have you believe. The Performance is as impressive being driven gently as it is giving it all.

The speed of response is outstanding, illustrating the biggest difference between a brawny EV and an internal-combustion performance car. The Model 3’ throttle response is effectively instantaneous, and the lack of a gearbox means there is no delay in the drivetrain; every throttle input is translated into immediate effect, acceleration arriving as quickly as your toe can move. Even a conventional car capable of matching the Performance’ 0-100km/h time would never keep up on real-world acceleration.

On Michigan backroads, the Model 3 stayed impressively flat under hard cornering, although tighter sequences make its considerable mass feel obvious. Yet it always feels a measure more agile than the staid Model S when asked to change direction quickly, with some active torque management helping it to turn and hold a line effectively, if with little sense of driver involvement. The only thing that unsettled it was the combination of a big bump and a loaded-up bend, with a brief moment of indiscipline as the wheels unloaded – the first time I’ ve encountered power oversteer in a Tesla.

The rest of the Model 3 remains true to the brand’ established values. Arrive in the cabin straight from a similarly sized upmarket model and the interior will feel minimalistic to the point of being empty. It certainly takes a while to get used to the delegation of almost all functions to the vast central touchscreen; you even use it to open the glovebox. The more traditionally minded would probably appreciate a few more conventional buttons, not least for the heating and ventilation. But this is Tesla’ way and – in the manner of the deliberate distinction that used to be made between Apple and Windows operating systems – customers seem to like it.

THE 3 DELIVERS ITS ORGANSLOSHING G-FORCES WITHOUT DRAMA OR APPARENT EFFORT

The Model 3 has yet to deliver on Elon Musk’ promise of genuine affordability and a USD$35,000 leadin price. And, as the most expensive variant of what was meant to be the brand’ cheapest car, the Performance might seem to be heading in the wrong direction. But it’ also a timely reminder that, as long-established OEMs ready pure electric models, the world currently contains only one upmarket EV maker with a proven track record of selling a significant number of cars.

Any electric rival wanting to beat the Tesla Model 3 is going to have to be very good indeed. The Model 3 is due in Australia second half of 2019.

IT IS BROAD-SHOULDERED AND, FRANKLY, RATHER THUGGISH, YET THERE’ A SUBTLE ELEGANCE

5 VOLVO S60 T8 POLESTAR

Curious blend of Swedish style and performance

BY • RCHARD LANE

VOLVO NEEDS THIS CAR to be good. More than good, in fact, because it doesn’ matter how many SUVs you can flog, if you choose to operate at the premium end of the mass market without a fighting-fit mid-size sedan, you’ re headlining without a front man.

The third-generation S60 – the first American-built Volvo – is fresh, exciting and instantly desirable to behold, but nevertheless feels familiar, being built on the same platform as the S90 and the XC60 and XC90 SUVs.

Missing is diesel power. In line with plans to electrify every new car it launches from 2019, the brand’ Scandi-pure aura is increasingly built on its ecological conscientiousness, so the S60 is the first modern Volvo offered exclusively with petrol engines. None displaces more than two litres via anything other than four cylinders, and if that sounds a bit dry, perhaps that’ because it is.

T4 and T5 models are turbocharged alone, with no less than about 140kW on offer, while the Twin Engine’ T6 and T8 models will have that first level of forced induction respectively supplemented by an Eaton-built supercharger and that same supercharger plus an electric motor.

The tasty T8 makes 287kW and hits 100km/h in under five seconds, so nipping at the heels of BMW’ M3. The S60 is broad-shouldered and, frankly, rather thuggish, yet there’ a subtle elegance. It is probably the prettiest sedan money can buy, and prettier still if you go for the T8 Polestar Engineered driven here.

The flagship is distinguished from the standard T8 by gold brake calipers, a 12mm ride-height squat and a set of dazzling 20-inch Y-spoke alloys shod with 245-section Pirelli P Zero tyres. Power increases to 302kW, with roughly 67kW of that delivered by the rear-mounted electric motor.

And it genuinely impresses, so long as you don’ pigeon-hole it as an M3 rival, tempting as that may be. With two distinct methods of propulsion and a 200kg battery pack, it weighs the thick end of two tonnes, so it never leaps forward with quite the urgency you’ like. Or the aural pleasure. The eight-speed automatic can also feel lazy by comparison to the BMW’ DCT, and it delivers most of its power to the front axle.

And yet there are things this Polestar-tickled S60 does superbly well. The manner in which the beefy body remains cushioned and controlled over almost any kind of undulation, resisting significant float but absorbing road ripples and the like, is conspicuously good. Breathtakingly so, in fact – as well it might be with Ohlins DFV dampers at each corner, which lend the S60 a composure unmatched in any car this refined.

Rarely will you push the T8 Polestar hard enough to call on the full force of the standard-fit six-piston Brembos and big discs, but do so and they’ re effective to the extent you’ instantly forgive their low-speed grabbiness.

But to drive the T8 everywhere in Power mode – with the EPAS steering weighted up, the throttle response sharpened, the gearshifts quickened and the electric motor permanently engaged – would be to tell only half this car’ story. The other half begins with a car that steps off the mark in crisp silence thanks to 45km of pure electric range and then cruises with luxurious detachment. It’ that Ohlins witchcraft at work again, this time supplemented by minimal wind or tyre roar and the high-sided comfort, elegance and security of Volvo’ interior design.

The S60 T8 Polestar Engineered won’ arrive here until at least late 2019, and when it does it’ cost over $100,000. Depending on how you look at it, that’ rather a lot for an overweight, under-engined performance sedan, or absolutely fair cop for a broad-batted plug-in hybrid that’ enviably refined, satisfying to drive and distinctive.

Were the powertrain as inspiring to exercise as the bodywork is to behold and the handling more expressive, this car would be knocking on the door of five stars. As it is, the T8 Polestar Engineered sits comfortably among the ranks of its German peers and deserves to be regarded as more than a curio.

In fact Audi, BMW and Mercedes could all learn a thing or two from Volvo about fusing comfort with control. Design, too. Not a bad mix of talents, is it?

06 MERCEDES-AMG GT C

A mystery filed between R and S

BY• SCOTT NEWMAN + PICS • ALASTAR BROOK

ENIGMA: A PERSON OR THING that is mysterious or difficult to understand. Example: the Mercedes-AMG GT.

The three-pointed star on the front suggests a luxurious grand tourer, but thanks to Tobias Moers and his merry men, the GT is rawer than a sashimi sandwich. Its price, positioning and nationality suggest a natural rival to the Porsche 911, but the two are so vastly different to drive it’ difficult to see a buyer seriously cross-shopping them.

The newest member of AMG’ sports car family nestles neatly between the GT S and GT R, but given Mercedes forgot to leave itself a letter in between, it’ called the GT C. Outputs from the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 rise to 410kW/680Nm, 26kW/10Nm up on the S but 20kW/20Nm down on the R – like I said, neatly in the middle.

It’ a fearsome engine. AMG’ M178 might be increasingly ubiquitous, but each application has its own character. The GT’ is dry-sumped and mounted entirely aft of the front axle to aid handling, but it also makes a more organic noise. Make that noises, because depending on where you are in the rev range the GT C will bark, snarl, gurgle or roar, all at a very antisocial volume. It’ epic.

It may produce less power than the E63, but it also has 300 fewer kilograms to haul and as a result the GT C is loony fast. Any gear, any speed, it charges forward with virtually instant punch.

The seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle is excellent in cut-and-thrust driving, with seamless upshifts and crisp downshifts, but it stumbles, literally, in more restrained use. It’ possible to drive around the problem to a certain degree, but stop-start driving tends to be a series of unedifying jerks.

The GT C feels bored by such a mundane task. Even in Comfort the ride is restless; Sport doesn’ feel appreciably stiffer and has the added benefit of sharper throttle response. Personally I find it tiresome, but those who like a firmer ride may appreciate the closer connection with the road.

Day-to-day use also exposes the inferiority of the GT’ infotainment, which is a generation behind the updated system in the E63 et al, let alone that in the new A-Class.

But this is a sports car; it’ not built to cosset. A quick fiddle with the Dynamic Select programs has the powertrain at maximum attack, the dampers locked in Sport and the combination saved to the Individual mode. So configured, the GT C displays incredible grip and traction. The steering is still light but without the nervousness of the original GT S, and it provides reasonable feedback, jiggling in response to bumps and cambers.

In addition to the rear-wheel steering and active airflow management systems from the GT R, the GT C scores an extra 57mm of rear track, inch-wider rear wheels and 305mm rear tyres (up 10mm).

It takes a while to get used to a GT, as you sit directly over the rear axle and a long way from the front one, but it’ progressive at the limit and the rear-steer certainly helps rotate the car in tighter corners. A GT C in full flight is an involving and intoxicating experience.

A couple of issues remain, however. Our test car is fitted with optional carbon-ceramic brakes that lack progression, a top-of-pedal dead spot giving way to sudden response. This is unusual, as it’ not an issue we’ ve had with any other carbon-equipped AMG. Nonetheless, it exacerbates the second issue: mid-corner brake pressure elicits a sharp reaction from the rear, quickly recovered with no input from the driver, but a slight chink in the GT’ dynamic armour.

To say it’ not as polished as a 911 might be accurate but also misses the point. If a Carrera GTS plays for the Socceroos, with its deft, agile manoeuvres, the GT C is a member of the Wallabies, huge athleticism with a hefty helping of brute force.

A C63 Coupe has a similar skill set, but the GT is an event for both driver and onlooker. Perhaps the real mystery is, when the price gap is relatively small, why not just order the GT R?

A GT C IN FULL FLIGHT OFFERS AN INVOLVING AND INTOXICATING DRIVING EXPERIENCE

06 ALPINE A110 PREMIERE

Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

BY • LOUS CORDONY

FIVE MINUTES is all the Alpine A110 needs to convince you that, yes, this is worth the dollar sum it’s asking.

Renault’s mid-engine coupe is small, but its $106,500 ask is larger than an Alfa Romeo 4C’s and Lotus Elise’s prices, each set at around $90K.

But this car is about more than numbers. It’s trying to revive a brand. Alpine used to be much like what HSV is to Holden. It built race and road cars, and won things, but then ran out of money before being absorbed by Renault (which hasn’t been HSV’s fate).

The A110 is a statement that this hardcore sportscar brand is back, in a big way, by modelling itself on the 1970s rear-engine A110 that won the very first World Rally Championship.

The most obvious link is its looks. Festooned with retro details like those quad headlights, fastback roofline and ridged bonnet, they’re striking, seductive and sure to fill any young petrolhead with awe.

Like the original car, the new A110 shares parts with other Renaults. Its turbo 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is in the Megane RS and its paddles are plucked from a Clio RS. But it’s actually more of a clean-sheet design.

Those paddles are wired to a new wet seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and there’s a unique aluminium chassis at its core. There are also bespoke double-wishbone suspension assemblies front and rear, a new active exhaust, and brake calipers beautiful enough to display in a gallery. In fact, that’s just what happened on the car’s international launch last year.

Renault wanted to stress the effort its engineers poured into delivering a pared-back, lightweight driving experience. But while back in Alpine’s original days this would have been ultimately to beat Ford Escorts or Abarths, the witch hunt for kilograms is now about fighting flab. Its kerb weight is 1103kg.

Almost the entire body is aluminium, and the one-piece Sabelt bucket seats weigh 13.1kg each. They’re not stripper items, either. The quilted stitching on their deep bolsters, matched to Alcantara cushion inserts, show how well lightness blends with luxury here.

The interior isn’t obviously Renault, besides the steering wheel, HVAC controls, metal pedals and finicky credit card-shaped key. The car’s bright red starter button is plugged into the bridge of the centre console, where you also select gear by pressing D (drive), N (neutral) or R (reverse).

There’s only 185kW/320Nm propelling you forward, but that’s enough. The nose lifts and each gear disappears as quickly as they arrive.

The sound is delicious and your eyeballs are entertained by the digital cluster, where big, white numbers displaying the gear rush at you.

Meanwhile, the sound is as if it takes the Clio RS’s turbo noises and the Megane RS’s growl, then turns up the resulting soundtrack by several notches. A deep burp escapes with each upshift. You might also cackle with laughter.

At the first corner the A110 is tugging at your sleeves, begging you for some fun. Brush the brakes and it shrugs its weight forward. Dart the steering off centre and it responds, instantly.

Find the throttle, feel it settle onto its outside rear tyre, then squeeze.

How you exit the corner will depend on how you enter it. Pitch it hard on the brakes, run the soft suspension to its absolute limit, pick up the throttle aggressively, and the open-diff rear axle will step out on its rear 235mm Michelin Pilot Sport 4s.

But you can pivot it on the brakes, or with a bit of lift, just as easily. Its wheelbase is only 2419mm, or 151mm shorter than a Toyota 86’s. But overall it’s only shorter by 62mm.

Even though it has three drive modes – Normal, Sport and Track – ESP is either on or off, and this adjustability can spook you. But it’s also a knifeedged balance between grip and slip that sets the Alpine A110 apart from the stoic composure of a Porsche Cayman or the Lotus Elise’s layered dynamics.

While we tested one of the 60 limited-edition Premiere versions, the range will comprise only the Pure and Legende after it sells out. The Pure will be available for $97K. Or if you want some decent audio thrown in with mod-cons like a rear-view camera and sensors, then you can go for the Legende at $103,500. Both can be optioned with the Premiere’s highperformance Brembos, active exhaust or tasty 18-inch ‘Fuchs’ wheels.

If you’re into lightweight thrills, as we said, they will be worth the ask.

AT THE CORNER THE A110 TUGS AT YOUR SLEEVES, BEGGING FOR SOME FUN

08 RANGE ROVER SPORT SVR

As sensible and entertaining as a pet elephant

BY • SCOTT NEWMAN + PICS • ALASTAR BROOK

THE RANGE ROVER SPORT SVR has never been a car for shrinking violets. Any illusion you’d made the sensible family choice quickly faded once the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 fired into life. Still, outwardly at least, it was somewhat of a sleeper, especially on the standard 21-inch rims. No longer.

The MY19 Range Rover Sport SVR now looks like it has driven through a F1 team factory, or at least our test car did, clad with the Carbon Fibre Exterior Pack. This $14,690 option spreads the black weave across the front bumper, grille, guard vents, mirror covers and tailgate, joining the standard-fit bonnet.

Range Rover claims “its lightweight construction delivers genuine dynamic benefits”, but then it needs to, as the updated SVR is 42kg heavier than its predecessor. Our test car is probably closer to being on par thanks to the aforementioned added carbon.

The new Performance seats would look more at home in the Jaguar Project 8 and are yet another example of the new SVR’s added pizzazz. The interior has undergone the biggest transformation, adding the Velar’s twin-touchscreen setup, greater connectivity and the full suite of active safety systems. It’s a very nice place to spend time, though the twin-screen set-up feels a bit like technology for technology’s sake, as there aren’t enough vehicle functions to make use of all the screen real estate.

Despite the cabin overhaul, the primary reason to consider an SVR is the lump of fire and fury under that carbon bonnet. It now produces an F-Type SVR-matching 423kW/700Nm, dropping the 0-100km/h claim to 4.5sec. This still feels conservative, the ultra-sharp throttle response catapulting this monster forward like it’s attached to an aircraft carrier launch line.

09 AUDI A7 55 TFSI

More involving, more aggressive, less expensive

AUDI’S FIRST A7 couldn’t topple the well-established Mercedes-Benz CLS.

But now its second-generation rings the bell on round two and comes armed with tech from the new A8. It’s derived from the same MLB Evo platform to slash weight, stiffen its bones and extend its wheelbase 12mm. Meanwhile, it has also shrunk in length.

Its sleeves now bulge, too. Its tracks are wider and a new ‘power dome’ bonnet looms above an S-line specific front bumper. Behind its new grille lurks one of three engines, and we’re in the 55 TFSI that swaps the old supercharged 3.0-litre V6 for a turbocharged unit much like the S4’s. Its cylinder heads are flipped, so exhaust gases flow inwards to the twin-scroll turbo in its vee. It produces 500Nm between 1370rpm to 4500rpm.

Acceleration is brisk rather than rapid, and its 255mm-wide Pirellis dig in via part-time all-wheel drive. With a seven-speed dual-clutch, it dispatches 100km/h from rest in 5.3sec.

Full throttle is quiet, though occasionally interrupted by a highpitched whir from the new 48-volt alternator. The electric motor offers no extra power, just quicker engine restarts to allow eco-coasting or earlier startstop engagement.

Even though it is more grand tourer than apex-carver, the rigidly mounted front subframe enlivens the front-end. It’s more direct, and there’s more grip than you expect when leaning into a corner as well.

The upgraded rear five-link set-up keeps it on your intended line, and 1815kg in check. Optional all-wheel steering promises to hone its agility, for $4200, but we’re yet to drive it.

Aussie cars switch the base 18s in Europe for 20-inch wheels as standard. And as part of an $8000 Premium Plus package you can then upgrade them to 21-inchers, but the included air suspension cushions and controls the car’s mass well.

It almost has more safety lasers, lidar and infrared cameras than a jet fighter, while inside a heads-up display above Audi’s familiar 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit is joined by 10.1-inch and 8.6-inch displays in the centre stack. They click satisfyingly with haptic feedback, but the real draw is the new space found by deleting a multimedia controller wheel.

The slick driver-focused interior is let down only by seats that lack useful bolster. It won’t be this year’s most memorable car, even with the pokey V6, but that’s not what we expect from it. Bring its competition into focus and the A7’s charms are clearer. Even with the expensive Premium Plus package, its $131,900 base undercuts rivals from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche.

The chassis also promises delicious S and RS versions. Add alluring looks and we’re happy to bump its rating to four stars. It’s relative, and might change after a more thorough drive, but for now it looks like the A7 has made the entrance it wanted all along.

It sounds murderous, too, with a gurgly snarl like a bear in the bath. The racket is addictive, but activating it doesn’t do much for the fuel economy, which needs all the help it can get with this much power and weight.

These two numbers largely dictate the SVR’s cornering behaviour. Apparently the suspension has undergone revisions, but driven hard the SVR is still definitely more Sport in name than nature. The rear-end is especially mobile and the steering can be corrupted when drive is fed forward; it’s better to back off in the bends and just thunder down the straights.

The facelifted SVR is an intriguing machine. It has attitude galore, but ask it to relax and the throttle is doughy and the ride unsettled. It’s not difficult to see the attraction but I do wonder how long the appeal of this automotive extrovert would last.