First Fang

NEW. FAST. FIRST

BY• SCOTT NEWMAN + PICS• NATHAN JACOBS

09 PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

01 MCLAREN 600LT

Woking whips up a tasty supercar treat

BY• SCOTT NEWMAN + PICS• NATHAN JACOBS

IN MANY WAYS the McLaren 600LT is like a pavlova. Both are light, more than the sum of their parts and very, very tasty. It takes a mere handful of ingredients and a simple recipe to create Australia’ favourite Christmas dessert, and a similar process has transformed McLaren’ Sports Series into a fire-breathing, tyre-burning supercar of the highest order.

You’ re probably aware that LT stands for Longtail, a homage to the McLaren F1 GTR Longtail that raced in the late 90s. It’ a bit of a misnomer in the case of the 600LT, its rear elongated by just 74mm whereas the original F1 GTR was 641mm longer than the car on which it was based. Other dimensional changes include a ride height drop of 8mm and an extra 10mm of front track.

A recalibrated ECU and new topexit exhaust system lifts outputs to a healthy 441kW/620Nm, an extra 22kW/20Nm over the 570S. Of more importance is the weight reduction. McLaren claims a 100kg diet compared to the 570S, though the actual figure depends on the spec of each car. Nonetheless, it’ an impressive loss, with weight shaved from a number of areas. Forged aluminium suspension wishbones and uprights are 10.2kg lighter, aluminium brake calipers and stiffer carbon-ceramic discs from the Super Series shed another 4kg, while forged alloy wheels – 19.0 by 8.0-inch front; 20.0 by 11.0-inch rear – delete a further 17kg.

Fixed-back carbon racing seats delete 21kg while ditching carpet cuts 5.6kg and exposes the carbon-fibre floor, which does look better than the welded aluminium you find in Ferrari’ lightweight models. You can even see the wiring harness snaking its way out from underneath the driver’ seat. The aero addenda, consisting of a front splitter, longer rear diffuser, side skirts and fixed rear wing, is all crafted from carbon fibre and results in 100kg of downforce at 250km/h.

To look at, the 600LT’ interior is all business, covered almost floor to ceiling with Alcantara, though our test car is fitted with air-con, sat-nav and a stereo – in this case an excellent 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system.

All this eats into its weight advantage over a 570S, but makes the car far more useable on a day-to-day basis. Happily, the 600LT is not a hard-riding skateboard; even with thinly padded race seats there is enough suspension compliance to easily pass the everyday driver test – it’ even relatively quiet until you hit coarse-chip tarmac, at which point the Trofeo R semi-slicks create a hell of a racket.

Those lightweight seats may be an issue, though. Hopefully they are available in varying sizes, as neither photographer Nathan Jacobs or I are large gentlemen, but we are wedged in tight. Anyone with wider hips (ie, women) or of larger stature simply wouldn’ fit in our test car. That aside, the driving position is brilliant and I love the way it essentially forces you to left-foot brake. The nose lift ruins the stance but is vital in avoiding expensive scraping noises on driveways and such.

Press the start button and there’ a lengthy whirr of starter motor before the M838TE 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 awakens with a blare. It’ loud but tuneless at low rpm, the combination of a flat-plane crank and forced induction giving it the aural appeal of an old Nissan SR20 inline-four with a cannon exhaust, thankfully without the drone.

Before you even begin to investigate its performance, the 600LT feels more special than its Sports Series siblings. Firstly, it looks incredible, the heavily raked profile and contrasting carbon panels giving it real supercar presence. On the move the Alcantaraclad steering wheel gently jiggles in response to bumps or cambers, while your already limited rear vision is further obscured by heat haze from those top-exit exhausts.

THE INTOXICATING 600LT IS CURRENTLY THE BEST CAR MCLAREN MAKES

Press the throttle and there’ a long enough delay to wonder what’ happening before all hell breaks loose. To call the 600LT laggy is a step too far, but it doesn’ have the immediate response of a 488 GTB or GT2 RS. Presumably it’ the result of fairly large turbos, as the torrent of power that is unleashed all the way to 8000rpm is insane. The claimed performance numbers are comical: 0-100km/h in 2.9sec, 0-200km/h in 8.2sec, 0-400m in 10.4sec. Those figures put it virtually on par with the 720S, but while it doesn’ quite feel as supernaturally rapid as its sibling, it’ better for it.

There’ still enough power to make your head spin, but it doesn’ dominate the experience like in the 720S. As crazy as it sounds for a car capable of mid-10sec quarter miles, the whole package feels beautifully homogenous. There’ outrageous grip and traction, though enough sheer grunt for thirdgear oversteer to be easily available, the superbly calibrated ESC subtly mopping up any over-exuberance. The steering is sublime, heavy at low speeds but so communicative that once you’ re somewhat accustomed to the speed you can throw the 600LT into corners and feel the tyres gently smear across the road.

A quick couple of words on the gearbox – it’ perfect. In Track mode upshifts are seamless and downshifts are nicely mechanical, accompanied by vicious cracks from the exhausts. The brakes, too, are astounding; a little dead initially, but with benchmark power and feel in hard use. Under heavy load the engine also comes alive, the dull buzz quickly morphing into a sharp racecar-like growl. The slight lag makes for a more challenging drive, but arguably a more involving one. Having to accelerate early and time your inputs accordingly is simply part of learning to tame this beast.

There are a couple of issues: the steering kickback that blights all McLarens is lessened, but not eradicated and the lack of an LSD results in occasional inside wheelspin. By far the biggest issue, though, is not the length of the tail but the height of the nose. If there’ not an F1-style wear plank under that expensive carbon splitter there needs to be, as time and time again it headbutts the tarmac.

As such, the 600LT comes tantalisingly short of a perfect score. On track, where there are no bumps to disturb its composure, it probably deserves one. Nevertheless, McLaren has created an intoxicating supercar that, even with the seemingly obligatory $100,000 options spend, significantly undercuts rivals from Ferrari and Porsche. It’ currently the best car Woking makes.

LAMBO HURACAN PERFORMANTE

5.2-litre V10, AWD, 470kW/600Nm, 0-100k m/h 2.9sec, 1382kg, $483,866

Similar in approach but very different in mechanical execution, the Lambo using a bellowing atmo V10, all-wheel drive and clever active aerodynamics. Both easier to buy than a Ferrari 488 Pista.

02 VW ARTEON

Skunkworks project expresses art in (rapid) motion

BY• CHRS THOMPSON

CAREFUL… IF THERE’S one word to describe the manner in which we drove the laps Volkswagen Australia offered us in its apprentice-built Arteon time attack car, it’ that. Careful.

Not just because it was very, very rainy, or because it was cold and the car is fitted with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R semi-slicks, or even because the car’ boasting 360kW and 600Nm. It’ because Luddenham Raceway, the setting for our race car romp, is a tight track with little room for error.

There’ a little more pressure, as the Arteon, which VW Australia has rolled out for us, is one of a kind. It’ the latest in a still-fresh program in which Volkswagen sets its apprentices up with the goal to build a racecar using a standard VW product as a base, and then show it off at World Time Attack Challenge at Sydney Motorsport Park.

The previous result of this was a stripped-out VW Amarok with custom suspension, smaller track tyres, but the standard diesel V6 engine. It lapped Easter Creek in 1:57.01, two seconds quicker than a Golf GTI.

The Arteon time attack car, known to VW as the ‘ART3on’ was built with the aim of hitting 100km/h in less than four seconds, something which Volkswagen claims it has achieved uphill on Luddenham’ straight with a 3.9sec run.

Aside from its custom track-focused build, it’ also sporting a harlequin-like livery designed by a street artist from Sydney named Simon Murray.

Underneath that is a host of modifications made to the chassis, suspension, and the Arteon’ standard running gear. The massive lift in power and torque, up 154kW/250Nm from 206kW/350Nm to 360kW/600Nm, comes thanks to several RacingLine modifications including a stage 3 turbo and intercooler setup, plus intake, oil management and fuel pump upgrades.

Upgraded DSG software comes from Harding Performance and TVS

Engineering, helping the standard seven-speed gearbox transfer the new outputs to the Arteon’ four wheels.

Bilstein Australia supplied a custom racing suspension setup, and APR dished out the stopping power.

Inside, the seats have all been turfed and a roll cage put in place of the rears, while Velo racing seats sit up front. Most of the carpet and lining has been removed, while the dash and centre console are the only major interior elements that remain.

All up, the changes to the Arteon allowed a 1:49:02 lap of Eastern Creek with racer and driving coach Renato Loberto at the wheel. Luckily, Loberto was also on hand to coach us at Luddenham.

After a few demonstration laps in the passenger seat, during which Loberto gave a taste of what could go wrong and where it’ likely to happen, it was time to drive.

Being strapped into the driver’ seat is a bizarre fusion of the alien and familiar, facing Volkswagen’ familiar dash while feeling a bucket seat underneath and race-style metal shift paddles behind the wheel.

At idle, the car is burbling and vibrating as you’ expect a racecar to do, competing with the visuals of its exterior for volume dominance. This is clearly not going to be as easy as driving a standard 206kW Arteon.

On the out lap, Loberto asks if we can keep things smooth and gradual, keeping throttle application conservative in corners and at low speeds. Even with this request – or plea – taken into account, the mix of coldish Trofeo Rs and a wet surface wasn’ conducive to laying down 600Nm, and it showed in a rather startling fashion.

A moment of reflexively strong right foot had the 360kW Volkswagen wanting to get sideways, while still heading for the outside of a bend.

“Did you feel that? You lost traction there,” Loberto said. I was aware, or at least my heartrate was.

Its exhaust note is almost equally as exhilarating. The anti-lag system creates intense crackles and backfires on the overrun, and it sounds like there’ a rally car trying to get out.

After getting more familiar with the Arteon’ bitey gearshifts and sharp torque delivery, it becomes much friendlier, almost to the point where on any other day (and on a more open track) it seems like it could be considered easy’ to drive.

THE ANTI-LAG SYSTEM CREATES INTENSE CRACKLES AND BACKFIRES

After fighting puddles for enough laps to feel like the Arteon wasn’ constantly at risk of meeting the wall, Loberto suggested opening it up properly on the short straight.

While the Arteon might not have topped a particularly impressive speed, in fact a Golf R was almost certainly faster in the conditions, its acceleration is brutal and a dry surface would surely reveal a proper weapon.

If anything, the rain gives us an excuse to ask VW Oz for another crack in the dry…

03 FERRARI GTC4 LUSSO T

Turbo V8 might be the smarter pick over the V12

BY• DYLAN CAMPBELL + PCS • ELLEN DEWAR

EVER WANTED to give your Ferrari 488 GTB some sort of magic potion that transforms it into a four-seater with something resembling a boot? Well, if you could, it might take a form not unlike that of the GTC4Lusso T.

To create this car, Ferrari took a V12 GTC4Lusso and swapped out the big, 6.3-litre atmo donk with a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 (relax, the V12 model still exists). Then it also did away with the V12’s alternative all-wheel drive system to make the V8 a rear-driveonly proposition. Weight has come down 55kg and in the process, shifted the distribution more rearward, now 46:54 front-to-rear versus 47:53 of the big twelve-potter. Ferrari has taken the opportunity to make the V8 a sportier drive with specific calibrations for the rear steering and adaptive dampers. Price is also down, $503K before options (and there will be options), a full $75K cheaper than the V12.

You might be tempted to think this car is the poorer sibling of the V12 model, but you’d be misled. With 449kW it’s hardly underpowered, and 760Nm is in fact 63Nm more than the V12 can muster. Ferrari claims 0-100km/h in 3.5sec and a 320km/h top speed, versus the V12’s 3.4sec and 335km/h. Meanwhile there’s a sevenspeed twin-clutch gearbox between the rear wheels; an electronically locking differential; and stopping the whole show, huge 398mm/360mm carbon ceramic brakes.

In the metal, the GTC is physically larger than you’d expect, wider and almost as long as a VF Commodore and with a bigger wheelbase. Photos don’t really do it justice – it grows on you over time, and turns plenty of heads. It’s got lots of presence.

Ferrari interiors have also come a long way. The leathers feel as expensive as leathers get, soft and waxy, while you won’t find a cheap material anywhere inside, save for a few design solutions that feel a bit cheap for a $500K car, like the wobbly infotainment control knob or centre console lid.

Of course, you don’t buy a Ferrari for its interior, what you really want to do is mash that right pedal and experience that engine and that transmission – the highlights of the whole car. And when you do, the rear 295mm P-Zeros are quickly overwhelmed by that heavily turbocharged flat-plane-crank V8. Yet traction is strong enough, in the dry at least, that you wonder why they ever thought about all-wheel drive, the GTC hooking up after another little rear wriggle at the top of second gear. Like other turbo models, Ferrari limits the torque in the lower gears, unleashing more with every new gear for acceleration that, in this car’s case, isn’t 488-spec, but would leave a BMW M4 or AMG C63 behind. And they are cars that blow people’s minds with their straight-line ability. The GTC4Lusso T is seriously quick.

FOR ACCELERATION, THE GTC4LUSSO T WOULD LEAVE AN M4 OR C63 BEHIND

Get stuck into a few corners and you feel the big four-seater revealing an eagerness to corner like it’s remembering a time it weighed 1600kg before letting itself go. It’s ballistic down a winding road, the turbos hissing under load as you pile on speed at an incredible rate. Does it sound good? Yes, and it’s pretty loud, although it’s mostly tailpipe and you do miss the V12’s crisp intake noise filling the entire cabin at any speed – in fairness it’s a very hard noise to beat.

Despite razor-sharp, 488-esque steering and front-end, the GTC4Lusso T is strangely tricky to place. We couldn’t quite figure it out until we flicked the manettino to ESC Off, which locks out the rear-steering, just to see what would happen. Suddenly the GTC4Lusso T started handling like a car again, and the confidence returned. The all-wheel steering is almost too aggressive in its calibration, causing the GTC to dart about a little too much for the speeds it is possible to carry. With fairly nannying TC and ESC, we also wish it had CT Off mode on the manettino so you can dance the rear around in safety – it’s a rear-drive Ferrari, for crying out aloud!

Still, you can have a lot of fun in this car. More than you’d think – more than the V12. As with many Ferrari models, the GTC4Lusso T does not like the cold, harsh light of logic. Some might argue you can get a more comfortable car, still crazy fast, for a lot less money, like a Porsche Panamera Turbo. But the big German can’t match the four-pew Ferrari for how it makes you feel when you drive it; there’s just something a bit special about a Ferrari. The big price ensures exclusivity – and that’s just the way many owners like it.

IF THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE PERFORMANCE SUB-BRAND, THEN THE UPCOMING X3M IS TEMPTING

04 BMW X3 M40i

M Performance tweaks adds fun to the formula

BY • TRENT GUNCO

IT’S EASY TO make an SUV fast in a straight line – just add more power. But can it be engineered to be fun? That’ the real question. Hence the burgeoning M Performance moniker is now attached to an X3, a variant that up until now has run without the haloed M badge on its rump.

What do you get for your $99,529? Impressive B58 powertrain aside, the M40i gains the M Sport Package, adaptive M xDrive all-wheel drive, adaptive M suspension, M Sport differential, eight-speed ZF automatic, bespoke M Sport exhaust system and 21-inch M light alloy wheels. It’ safe to say that current X3 flagship (until the X3M arrives) isn’ whispering the involvement of the M Division.

The interior and exterior styling also gains the M treatment. However, it’ not as in your face. The cabin is more luxury-focused, while the bodywork changes merely hint at what lurks beneath. When removed from the spec sheet, subtle is the X3 M40i’ middle name. It blends in like any BMW SUV.

Addressing the fast part of the X3 M40i equation is fairly straightforward. It is damn quick for an 1810kg, fullbodied SUV with a 550-litre boot. Actually, it’ so big boned that the X3 has now dimensionally outgrown the original X5. The boosted 3.0-litre straight six is unquestionably effective. The M40i gets to 100km/h in a launchcontrol assisted 4.8 seconds with 265kW and a meaty 500Nm.

However, to simply call the B58 effective’ is selling it short. With a fat torque range coming on from as low as 1520rpm, you’ re never short of pulling power. There’ a genuine reward for staying in a higher gear and working the mid-range, yet it’ happily rev out with purpose to redline. The turbo six never feels laggy or off the boil – you just plant your foot and it takes off.

The guttural sound the M40i makes while doing so, albeit slightly synthesised, is also in contrast to the image and presence of the X3. The pops and cracks on the overrun give real theatre to the experience. It will have everyone chortling on the way home from soccer practice…

So, that’ job done by the M Division in terms of straight-line prowess, but the M40i doesn’ kick an own goal when it comes to handling. There’ an underlying rear-drive BMW-ness about the way it hurls itself along a twisty section of road and the adaptive dampers afford a compliant ride quality at speed. The brakes stand up to the task as well, however, the steering plays in a nondescript middle ground.

The ubiquitous drive modes come into play, too, with Sport Plus being the pick for spirited blasts. In the loosened dynamic setting you can get some controlled movement from the rear on corner entry. And thanks to the variable torque split and rear diff apportioning grunt to the wheel with the most grip, firing out past the apex is a fuss-free affair.

Letting the side down is the Bridgestone Alenza run-flat rubber. For an SUV with this performance level, a tyre with more bite is preferable as the X3 feels like it has more mechanical grip from the chassis than the tyres. Understeer can be induced and some of the M40i’ movement under braking and load is down to the lack of tyre grip rather than a distinctly playful platform. However, the SUV part of the equation can’ be forgotten here. Its dynamic abilities (and deficiencies) must always be kept in perspective with the genre it plays to.

The added appeal for buyers is that for all the performance on offer, the M40i is still an X3. It’ lug the family and dog around in supreme comfort. Loads of standard kit (radar cruise control, active lane keeping, blind-sport monitoring and a 12.3-inch digital dash) keeps the value equation in check.

If you’ re after tangible performance, yet still can’ help but be pragmatic, then something like an Audi S4 Avant is going to tickle your fancy more of the time. However, the X3 isn’ without charm, convenience or character. And it certainly isn’ lacking dynamic talent. If this is supposed to be the performance sub-brand, then the upcoming X3M is a very tempting prospect. So is the X3 M40i fun? Somewhat surprisingly, yes.

05 MERCEDES-AMG S63 COUPE

Living the high life in AMG’ new beaut brute

BY•SCOTT NEWMAN

MERCEDES-AMG S63 COUPE buyers are a small but dedicated bunch. Their choice of wheels, however, mark them out as people of not only extreme wealth – the entry ticket is $370,500, or $399,900 for the Cabriolet – but also excellent taste.

The two-door S63 has recently enjoyed a substantial update, incorporating all of the changes made to its sedan sibling, including a new, more powerful drivetrain, refreshed interior, subtly tweaked styling and an almost bewildering amount of new technology. It’ not a machine that shouts about its abilities, but its breadth of talents is such that the S63 Coupe could make a claim to being the best car in the world. A bold claim which needs substantiating.

The inclusion of AMG’ 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 in its most potent guise certainly answers any performance questions. Despite the near two-tonne kerb weight, 450kW and 900Nm deliver crushing acceleration at any speed. Like its four-door sibling, the Coupe is built to dominate autobahns and can either cruise in near silence or deliver a snarling V8 soundtrack depending on the drive mode selected. The new engine now comes attached to AMG’ nine-speed MCT gearbox, which works brilliantly in this application, for you’ re not chasing the final few milliseconds of shift speed like you might be in a C63 Coupe or similar.

The S63 replaces the S560’ preemptive Magic Body Control system with AMG-tuned air suspension, but ride quality suffers little. There’ very occasional pattering on ripply roads, but most bumps are smothered before reaching the occupants, making it easier to relax in one of the finest automotive interiors around.

Rich leather, glossy carbon and cool metal offer old-school luxury, but there are gadgets galore. Most obvious are the twin 12.3-inch digital displays for the infotainment and instruments, along with every conceivable active safety aid, heated and cooled massage seats, a 13-speaker Burmester stereo, digital

TV and more, though a JLR-style split screen setup would be helpful to allow TV and navigation to be displayed simultaneously.

All this is available in the $314,900 S560, which is probably the pick if you’ re the grand touring type, especially as with a 345kW/700Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 it’ still plenty powerful. Just don’ drive an S63; the extra grunt is addictive and can be put to remarkably good use.

Local S63s remain rear-drive only, but while the coupe is no lighter than the sedan, its shorter wheelbase, lower centre of gravity and wider front track make it a sharper steer.

ITS BREADTH OF TALENTS IS SUCH THAT THE MERCEDES-AMG S63 COUPE COULD MAKE A CLAIM TO BEING THE BEST CAR IN THE WORLD

It is more than capable of carving tighter corners, offering impressive front-end accuracy for its size and weight and oversteer on demand on corner exit. It comes alive in fast, open sweepers, though, the only caveat being that driving it anywhere near its limit would result in licence-killing speeds. It can be driven quickly with confidence as its behaviour is much friendlier than you might expect. Tentenths action feels inappropriate, but the S63 Coupe relishes being punted. The heavier, wobblier Cabriolet isn’ quite as keen, preferring a more leisurely (if still very brisk) pace.

So it has incredible performance and involving dynamics, along with a beautiful four-seat interior, superb refinement, the latest tech and, to these eyes at least, amazing looks (just avoid the rear from dead-straight-on). To spot the updated model, look for the new Panamericana grille at the front and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) tail-lights.

Finding flaws feels like nitpicking: The indicator stalk gear selector can be annoying, there’ the occasional ride question mark, the diff could lock up tighter and more quickly. It’ easy to see why many S-Class Coupe owners are repeat customers. Purchases at this end of the market are highly personal, but anyone in the market for an Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT or Ferrari Portofino should at least sample the two-door S63. You might end up joining a small, but dedicated bunch with excellent taste.

06 RANGE ROVER VELAR P380

Pace and grace in swoopy SUV, but it’ cost you

BY • SCOTT NEWMAN + PICS • ALASTAR BROOK

THE RANGE ROVER VELAR P380 HSE R-Dynamic loves to oversteer. That’ an unusual sentence to write, but a factually accurate one, nonetheless. It feels important to start with a simple statement, as in many ways the Velar is incredibly complex.

In essence it’ a mid-size SUV that slots between the Rangie Sport and Evoque for those who want plenty of style to go with their substance. It’ quite the looker as SUVs go, though the sombre black paintwork and 21-inch wheels lessen its visual impact.

However, if you’ re in the market for a Velar, be prepared to do some research. There are a mind-boggling 50 variants of Velar to choose from, with four engines in six states of tune all available in either base, S, SE, or HSE trim levels. From there you can tick the R-Dynamic box, which adds more aggressive styling, snazzier interior trim and a Dynamic drive mode.

As mentioned, our test car is a P380 HSE R-Dynamic, meaning it’ the sportiest looking model with the most kit and the biggest engine, a 280kW/450Nm 3.0-litre supercharged V6. You can theoretically buy a Velar for $71,550, whereas this range-topper starts at $135,762. I say starts, because there is also the (not so) small matter of the JLR options. Somehow, our black test car with its standard wheels wears almost $30K worth of options, bringing the total to $163,842.

Just as well, then, that it’ enjoyable to drive. The engine is smooth, responsive and powerful, the outputs feeling nicely in tune with the amount of grunt the chassis can handle. It can be a little jerky during quick on-off throttle manoeuvres, but the biggest bugbear is the lack of noise. Uncorked, Jag’ blown V6 sounds magnificent, but here it’ more of a muted growl.

As you’ hope, it’ refined and comfortable, the standard air suspension smothering most, though not all, bumps. At 1884kg, the Velar isn’ particularly heavy, but the weight is up high and, combined with the soft setup, there is a reasonable amount of body roll to contend with. On the way into a corner, the Velar is remarkably playful, turning in under brakes easily provoking the rear end.

Pressing the throttle continues to involve the tail, the variable all-wheel drive system feeling to send a healthy dose of power to the outside rear tyre, sharply pivoting the car towards corner exit. The Velar’ dynamic talents are such that it deserves better tyres.

It’ impressively able. It just makes no sense at this money. A Range Rover Sport is little more, while the likes of the GLC63 AMG, forthcoming X3M and Jag’ own F-Pace SVR offer much more performance for similar cash.