MOTOR PERFORMANCE CAR OF THE YEAR

CHEVROLET CAMARO 2SS

SN

Locally converted GM hero more fun than the result suggests

ITíS THE sad reality of any contest that someone has to come last and at PCOTY 2019 that dubious honour goes to the Chevrolet Camaro. Itís unlikely to placate the disappointed folks at HSV, but we prefer to think of it as 11th Ė as Morley says, it beat everything thatís not here. The Chevy is also an enjoyable muscle car thatís unlikely to disappoint anyone in the market for such a thing.

PCOTY is not a comparison test per se, but given the similarity between the Camaro and Mustang in intended function, itís inevitable comparisons will be drawn between the two. However, while the two are rear-drive V8 coupes tugging at emotional heartstrings, each delivers a remarkably different driving experience.

The Camaro is much more of a traditional muscle car. Its 6.2-litre LT1 V8 feels lazier, producing peak power at 5700rpm, but compensates with massive mid-range torque, not to mention a thunderous soundtrack. Thereís greater body roll in corners and less precision to the handling, yet the firm ride is a constant reminder of its sporting intentions. The steering is very heavy in its standard mode and only gets more so if you adjust it; thankfully, it can be adjusted independently of the powertrain.

Thereís the sense HSVís ride and handling team would love to get their hands on the Camaro Ė cushion the ride, lighten the steering, sharpen its responses Ė particularly as there is such an impressive base to work with. While it feels big and heavy, the Chevy is benign and adjustable when driven hard; on track it was the pick of the muscle cars for me, purely because its softness gave it an adjustability the Mustang lacked. It also happily soaked up the abuse; even the brakes held up well.

Unfortunately, circuit work only exacerbated the Camaroís biggest flaw Ė its transmission. This eight-speed auto is one of the most frustrating gearboxes ever encountered, more often than not ignoring seemingly reasonable downshift requests with the obstinacy of a surly teenager. Even left to its own devices it would wait until throttle was applied on corner exit before picking the appropriate gear. Hopefully the MY19 Camaroís new 10-speed is quicker-witted.

In the final reckoning, the Chevrolet proved itself a very good car, but not a great one. It scored well across most of the criteria without being a stand out in any area, but its ride and visibility hampered its liveability score and the value equation is a struggle.

When you see how much work goes into converting the Camaro, itís remarkable HSV can offer it at $85,990, but when its abilities are so similar to a car costing up to $20K less, itís always going to come off second best. Ė

SN

THE CHEVY CAMARO PROVED ITSELF TO BE A VERY GOOD CAR, BUT NOT A GREAT ONE

11 th

THE NUMBERS

0-100KM/H 4.73 SEC

0-400KM/H 12.72 SEC @ 186.35KM/H

LAP TIME 1:31.0

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL 10TH

If your only desires are a thumping V8 in a svelte body, youíll love the Camaro.

CORDONY 11TH

A reincarnated coupe Commodore SS, with some working issues.

MORLEY 11TH

Wasn't my favourite, but those who 'get' it will buy it.

NEWMAN 9TH

Great looks, grunty engine, fun chassis, just needs a gearbox.

KELLY 10TH

Great to look at, enjoyable to drive, oldschool drivetrain.

RENAULT MEGANE RS280

Hot hatch master chefs mess with a proven recipe

IF RENAULT SPORT was a restaurant, itís attracted a horde of return customers with its signature dish: the hot hatch. With a flavour and spice unlike anything else in town, this was one joint where you took your mates Ė and then later saw them bringing their own.

So imagine your horror if suddenly the food started tasting... different. And not good different. Perhaps itís here we can introduce the MkIV Clio RS, a car whose broadened appeal meant presumably more sales but a shift away from the core values of the enthusiasts to whom it owed its cred. Never mind, we had the Megane RS, one of the most involving hot hatches ever made. Eventually, though, there was going to be a new one, and we were all secretly worried itíd be a bit like just a bigger MkIV Clio RS.

Well, thatís kind of whatís happened Ė the Megane RS is no longer the hot hatch benchmark. In fact, and it pains us to say this, itís far from it. And this is reflected as much in its lowly 10th place finish, not really acceptable when a hot hatch Ė the Honda Civic Type R Ė managed to nab top honours at this very heated competition just last year.

Itís not from a lack of pace Ė the Megane RS280, in more focused Cup guise as tested here, and six-speed manual, is a fair weapon on track, a whole second quicker than the i30 N Ė itself not a slow car. The Megane RS is also stable and loves the high speed stuff, and begs you to drive harder and harder into its chassis where huge grip abounds. Itís just that itís all become a little... functional, rather than fun.

Personally, I desperately wanted to love the Megane RS, but struggled. I drove it repeatedly, and in as many different ways as I knew, trying to find the old magic. I glimpsed some fleeting remnants, but never tapped any vein. And neither really did the other judges.

Thatís not to say the Megane RS is a bad car, it just doesnít have the fizz of the old one. The engine is a bit flat and the handling a bit serious. The seating position is hard to like. The manual gearchange and clutch feel make you curious about the EDC, and the ride is a bit old school stiff.

There are redeeming virtues. Is this currently the best looking hot hatch on sale? Itíd run it close, with those pumped guards, flush wheels and rear diffuser with a bit of inspo straight from Danny Ricís F1 racer. But sexy as it is, itís a bit of a new thing to buy a Megane RS just to look at. Yet, you donít really itch to drive this one. And isnít that what made the Megane RS so great to begin with? Ė

DC

THE MEGANE RS IS NO LONGER THE HOT HATCH BENCHMARK Ė IT PAINS US TO SAY IT

10 TH THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 5.98 SEC

0-400KM/H 14.22 SEC @ 166.02KM/H

LAP TIME 1:36.3

JUDGEíS RANK

CAMPBELL

11TH was scared theyíd do a MkIV Clio RS. They did a MkIV Clio RS.

CORDONY

9TH Accomplished. Yet want to like it so much more than do.

MORLEY

9TH Outshone by the Hyundai with change for beer and pies.

NEWMAN

11TH Good, but not great. Engine feels flat, average brakes and chassis lacks cohesion

KELLY

9TH Friendly, predictable, but needs more performance to match its looks.

FORD MUSTANG GT

New V8 hero trots, rather than gallops, over the finish line

ITíS CLEAR THAT if popularity decided the results at PCOTY this blue-collar hero would swagger its way up the rankings. For Ford, selling a rear-drive atmo 5.0-litre V8 in a rig this sexy is yielding the same kind of success as culling íroos with a Minigun.

We were reminded of this when, with the 911 GT2 RS and Audi R8 V10 RWS in clear sight, a punter at The Bend picked it as the one car he would want a ride in.

We couldnít grant the poor bloke his wish, as the Mustang GT completed its hot laps a little too literally in Rickís hands and went into Ďlimp modeí after setting a respectable lap time. But he would have been a happy man hearing its engine rap its warcry off pit wall from the passenger seat. Itís arguably the best sounding car for under $100K.

Upgraded heavily in 2018 form with better breathing and optimised internals its Coyote V8 revs to 7400rpm with the 10-speed auto. Thatís almost as hard as the fancy DOHC unit youíd find in a Lexus RC F twice its price, while 339kW and 556Nm means itíll give it a proper arm wrestle, too.

Although the new transmission couldnít hack the heat, it certainly delivered the goods when it counted on the strip. On the road you need to dig in the spurs for it to respond, and itíll fire down through the gears during hard braking, but it can also fumble with what gear to give you (can you blame it?) when pootling around at half attack.

Opinions divided on its handling. Thereís not much information coming through the tiller, despite the darty front-end, and its big rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres dominate the grip balance. Rick liked the predictability of its understeer into and out of corners, but the tied-down rear-end and lofty power peak means only the brave will try hang it out from the rear.

Itís clear from the scores the judges rated it for value. But mystery surrounded whether the adaptive dampers make enough of a difference for $2750. They hold the car well laterally and add front purchase. However, itís hard to tell how much this carís optional forged alloys had to do with the improved ride over the standard suspension.

Technology crippled the Mustangís fun in the end. And herein lies its philosophy Ė peel back the fancy hardware and youíll find an honest, good looking and great sounding ponycar. But as the results show, even with movie-star looks and down-to-earth credentials, the judges didnít love it as much as the punters might. Ė

LC

9 th THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 4.65 SEC

0-400KM/H 12.64 SEC @ 188.91KM/H

LAP TIME 1:34.0

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL

9TH Good, but still not as dynamically capable as the VF II SS-V Redline was. And it should be.

CORDONY

10TH Cooler than Ice Cube at the North Pole, but still no stunner to drive.

MORLEY

10TH Extra power hard to reach and new auto leaves me wondering.

NEWMAN

10TH Impressive pace useless if youíre unable to use it.

KELLY

4TH A head-turning daily driver that's great value for money.

ALPINE A110

Retro Frenchy dares to be different Ė but not everyoneí sold

RIGHT FROM the word go, Rick Kelly just wasnít grooving on the Alpine. And it took me a little while to work it out. See, while Iím old enough to have read about (if not actually witnessed) the daring deeds of the original Alpine A110 from the 1960s, Rick isnít. So while I was soaking up the retro details like the frenched-in driving lights and the body-coloured door capping, Rick was looking at the same car wondering why those dopey lights were fitted and why hadnít Renault finished the cabin properly. Clearly, retro only works if you can relate.

But beyond that, Iíll stand by my assessment that the A110 is one of the finest retro cars Iíve ever driven. It lacks the twee irrelevance of the born-again VW Beetle and it hasnít subverted the original in the way the 1.5-tonne, all-wheel drive Mini Countryman All 4 has. But it does tap into the emotional skillset of the 1960s well from which itís drinking, yet manages to combine that with a driving experience that is not only contemporary, but also riveting.

That driveline borrowed from a Megane RS is the start of things and with 185kW and 320Nm, itís fit but not stupidpowerful. And while the original A110 was rear-engined and this car is mid-engined, the other piece of the Alpine magic Ė a lack of kilograms Ė has not been forgotten. At 1103kg, the A110 is a featherweight in 2019.

So, despite having less power than either of the trad hothatches here, the Alpine was faster than both of them to 100km/h (by a clean second over the Renault and 1.2 ticks over the i30 N). Across 400m, the dainty little Frawg extends its lead even further, beating the Megane past the post by a good 1.2 seconds (and 13km/h in terminal velocity) and the Hyundai by 1.3sec (and 15km/h). Thatís handy stuff when you consider the Alpine had to break into the 12s (at nearly 180km/h) for the quarter to dish out such a thumping.

The lap times favour the Alpine over the hatches, too, and while the Megane is a second-and-a-bit behind the A110, the Hyundai needs an extra two-and-a-bit seconds to get around the same Bend layout. Okay, so the Hyundai and Megane both seat five, but you can see where the development money has gone. Which is kind of the point.

Meanwhile, the Alpine proves in the real world that itís still, fundamentally, a road car. And a great one at that. The twinclutch is slick and refined and the engine never seems to give up or run out of enthusiasm for the job of hurling 1100 kegs down the road. But itís the way it makes all those special noises right over your left shoulder that completes the package and, combined with lovely, light, precise steering, you are reminded that retro isnít necessarily a byword for compromised. Ė

DM

8TH THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 4.79 SEC

0-400KM/H 12.90 SEC @ 179.84KM/H

LAP TIME 1:35.2

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL

8TH A very novel drive. Like an ND MX-5 with proper power and a roof.

CORDONY

4TH Authentic. Pretty. Playful. Just my type.

MORLEY =3RD Wanted to cheer when drove this but was sideways at the time.

NEWMAN

7TH A breath of fresh air in the increasingly polluted fast-car world.

KELLY

11TH Not my cup of tea. I think need a tour down history lane.

MERCEDES-AMG GT C

Thunderous super coupe fails to blow us away

EVEN THOUGH ĎPerformanceí is the first word in this eventís title, how a car makes you feel still counts for a lot. And while the Mercedes-AMG GT C was murderously fast against the clock (see figures to the right), we sometimes bailed from it confused.

Nudge the steering into fast, smooth bends and it hunkers down on its fat Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s with proper focus. Thereís a wall of grip to lean into. The wider rear track and electronically controlled LSD also let you stomp on its twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8ís throat as soon as youíve eyed the corner exit. Of course, its 252kW-per-tonne makes forward thrust cover-your-eyes fast and its thunderous noise will shake koalas out of trees.

Dynamically, though, things take a turn. While you sit on the rear axle sometimes, not even Rick, who has the most attuned butt out of all of us, felt confident in what the backend was going to do. So what chance did us mere mortals have? Surprise it with a mid-corner bump and its chassis throws itself into a state of confusion to stop your heart for a moment or two.

Still, on the right road, it is enrapturing when youíre feeling brave enough to tune into its frequency at nine tenths. Its brutal mid-range, that can pull in any gear, and huge grip are pleasantly contrasted by its sharp steering feel and delicate front-end. Its seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle shifts robustly and the sport bucket seats secure your kidneys better than an organ thief. But each situation comes with a balance of negatives; its steering had some iffy kickback on our road loop and its optional carbon brakes also felt too dull at first touch, or too sensitive half way through the travel. Meanwhile, the transmissionís lowspeed manners left us wanting.

The interiorís beautiful to behold, but unfortunately, itís a chore. The transmission stalk is placed too far back and its bulky centre console casts buttons (like the exhaustís) out of easy reach. The ride, too, is on the firm side of things.

At $316,500 itís obviously in proper sports car territory, but itís hard to come to terms with that when itís fitted with a sunroof. Conversely, itís too fast and focused in practice to be anything else. The judges discussion tried to make sense of its place in the world. With tremendous pace, grip and presence, it feels right as a track toy. But if thatís where the GT Cís going with this, weíd suggest just going the full-fat 430kW/700Nm GT R. Ė

LC

THE GT C IS ENRAPTURING IF YOUíRE BRAVE ENOUGH TO TUNE INTO ITS FREQUENCY

7 th THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 3.66 SEC

0-400KM/H 11.55 SEC @ 204.34KM/H

LAP TIME 1:27.3

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL

7TH Epic powertrain but chassis sometimes does stuff youíre not expecting.

CORDONY

8TH Unbelievable noise and pace marred by little flaws.

MORLEY

8TH remain unconvinced by the ride, even if it is AMG-typical.

NEWMAN

8TH Why the recipe matters as much as the ingredients.

KELLY =5TH A mean-looking car with a personality all of its own!

AUDI RS4 AVANT

Jack of all trades, except ultimate driving thrills

IF PCOTY was held purely on-road, the RS4 Avant might have made the podium. Time and time again during the judgesí chat Audiís super wagon was described as ďa road carĒ. But it wasnít damning with faint praise, as this was usually prefaced with ďbrilliantĒ. Audi has changed tack dramatically with the latest RS4, abandoning the highrevving atmo V8 for a twin-turbo V6 and ditching the stiffriding, handling-first model for compliance and comfort.

In doing so, the RS4 returns to its roots and is all the better for it. The new engine is magnificent, with huge power (0-100km/h in 3.87sec!), great response and a stirring howl under heavy load. Switching to an eight-speed auto ensures no dual-clutch stumbles, while there is now genuine ride comfort. For long road sections the RS4 was the pick of the PCOTY litter and even switching the dampers to Dynamic didnít destroy its composure.

This softer setup results in plenty of body roll when cornering hard and the RS4 can feel heavier than its 1715kg suggests, but the extra movement makes it easy to judge the limits. What truly brings this Audi alive, though, is the diff setup. Trail brake into a corner, use the weight shift to help pin the front to the ground then simply step hard on the throttle; power is shuffled exactly where it needs go with ruthless efficiency.

There is none of the dreaded on-throttle understeer that afflicted Haldex-equipped Audis of old and combined with the enormous grunt under the bonnet, the RS4 is capable of covering ground Ė in all weathers Ė at a pace that would make a few supercars sweat. It now works with the road surface rather than fighting against it.

Unfortunately, a lot of what makes the RS4 Avant so brilliant on the road handicaps it on the track. It might seem churlish to mark a car down for its circuit ability when itís clearly not designed for it, but weíre looking for the ultimate performance car and every car ahead on the list works to a very high standard in both environments.

There is enjoyment to be found, as long as you donít push too hard. The RS4 is obviously very quick in a straight line, but itís also surprisingly adjustable and, again, those diffs work their magic in keeping more than 1.7 tonnes pointing in the right direction. However, beyond eight-tenths the engine feels 500rpm short of true excellence and there just isnít enough tyre, body control or brakes to make the RS4 fun. Nonetheless, as a fast family hauler itís fantastic. Ė

SN

6 th THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 3.87 SEC

0-400KM/H 12.02 SEC @ 187.25KM/H

LAP TIME 1:34.0

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL

5TH Seriously good. V6 is ace but can still wish it got a twin-turbo V8?

CORDONY

6TH So much car. And those looks. But an S4 makes more sense.

MORLEY

7TH This is the daily youíll take out of the shed. Even on a Sunday.

NEWMAN

6TH Audi Sport discovers compliance and adjustability. Nice.

KELLY

8TH A smart, comfortable everyday car that packs a punch.

HYUNDAI i30 N

Grunt-packed hatch fails to overpower the podium

SO, WE all know that this is PCOTY where value for money and everyday practicality count for less than they do at Bang For Your Bucks or even a MOTOR comparison. Which means the i30 N canít hope to trade on its hatchback smarts and its everyman price tag. Well, not entirely anyway. But we say those factors still come into this which is how the humble hot hatch managed to jag a spot in PCOTY in the first place. And this was no wildcard entry; nope, the Hyundai got here by also being a damn fine performance car.

If you can remember a time when a local 5.0-litre V8 muscle car made 200kW (on a good day) then the Hyundaiís 202kW from 2.0 litres will leave you making underwater fish faces. Modern turbocharging and electronic management of everything from the injection to the valve timing has also meant that a 2.0-litre making 202kW is no longer a cammy, cranky hand-held flare that needs to be revved stupid. In fact, if anything, the Hyundaiís engine is almost tuned a bit too far to the conservative side of things. As in, itís all done and dusted by about 5800rpm and it genuinely lacks the top-end surge of, say, the Renault Megane RS.

But thatís on the track; on the road where itís all about mid-range and flexibility, the Hyundai is a revelation. Punch the throttle to the floor Ė doesnít matter what gear youíre in Ė and the N simply bolts. Not only does it have more peak poke than those old-school muscle cars, it also has more of everything else, everywhere else.

The lack of a two-pedal option will hurt the i30 Nís sales (thereís a double-clutch job heading for the market in the latter part of this year), but it surely doesnít hurt the car itself. Nope, the six-speed manual has great ratios, a slick shift and an easy-to-manage clutch action that reminds us all why manual boxes were once the performance go-to.

In any case, the combo is good enough to hustle the slightly porky little i30 (1429kg) to 100km/h in 6.25 seconds and across 400m in 14.3sec at 164.3km/h. It pulls up hard, too, needing just 33.8m from 100km/h despite the fact that it isnít sporting the Brembos suggested by the red paint.

The lap time of 1:37.3 is shaped by a degree of chattery understeer that sets in as you get braver. But the price people, the price.

Again, this is PCOTY, not Aldi, so the dollars are less important. Which is why the Hyundai finished fifth and not higher. Things is, though, even if this was a $60K car, itíd still make you think about your definition of performance. Ė

DM

DOESNíT MATTER WHAT GEAR YOUíRE IN THE HYUNDAI i30 N SIMPLY BOLTS

5TH THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 6.25 SEC

0-400KM/H 14.29 SEC @ 164.26KM/H

LAP TIME 1:37.3

JUDGEíS RANK

CAMPBELL

6TH Great fun. If a Golf GTI and Focus RS had a baby...

CORDONY

7TH Nails its brief brilliantly. Could lap it all day.

MORLEY =3RD Puts the rest of Planet Hot Hatch firmly on notice.

NEWMAN

5TH The Goldilocks hot hatch. Just right. Places here on merit.

KELLY

3RD A really enjoyable little performance car. Iím impressed.

AUDI R8 RWS

Rear-drive atmo V10 knew how to steal hearts

SUPERCAR GOOD looks, howling atmo V10 and rear-wheel drive Ė throw in a gate-shift manual and the Audi R8 Rear Wheel Series could almost represent the dream sports car.

Even with its seven-speed twin-clutch auto, the R8 RWS is an extremely desirable driverís car, which was confirmed by finishing fourth, just off the podium. Nothing to shirk at Ė the RWS is an outstanding thing.

Perhaps the question to first ask is, what is there not to like about the RWS? Acceleration Ė ballistic, almost surprisingly so, and not just because its 3.57sec 0-100km/h time bested Audiís claim by 0.2sec! No, if you drove all the cars here, youíd be unlikely to put the RWS second on the drag strip order ahead of the GT C or M5. That probably has something to do with the R8ís big 5.2-litre V10 meting out its tremendous oomph in a polite curve all the way to its 8700rpm redline, rather than rudely lumping it all at the bottom of the tacho with a pair of dirty big turbochargers. Interestingly, at PCOTY 2013, the winning R8 V10 Plus Ė 404kW and all-wheel drive Ė did, no kidding, 3.57sec to 100km/h (and a slower quarter mile). Perhaps we should do all our straight-line testing at The Bend from now on...

If handling is more your thing than acceleration times, then charming, old-school mid-engine dynamics await you in the big, bad RWS. With 245/295 front/rear tyres, the R8 likes you to keep brake pressure right to the apex Ė but not too much, ícos that big lump of V10 will have you facing backwards quicker than you knew what just happened. Patience, too, is rewarded getting back on the power, where over-eagerness is met with fairly serious power understeer.

To get the absolute best out of the slightly precious RWS takes real precision and patience Ė itís not a cinch.

Of course, if you signed up to RWS for skids, it will oblige, if also not in quite the benign way you might think Ė this is no forgiving drift machine. But get it right, and youíll feel like a superhero.

Then thereís the windows-down sound; epic brakes; flat, low-centre-of-gravity handling; even the price is relatively cheap... so why fourth and not higher? Adaptive dampers and perhaps more grip would be nice, but really, this is where the points game is most apparent, the final three are little bit better across the board. In another time and place, the RWS is absolutely PCOTY-winning material. Ė

DC

IN ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE, THE RWS IS ABSOLUTELY PCOTY-WINNING MATERIAL

4th THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 3.57 SEC

0-400KM/H 11.36 SEC @ 206.87KM/H

LAP TIME 1:28.5

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL

4TH Offers a classic mid-engine supercar experience in 2019.

CORDONY

3RD Does theatre. Does milk runs. Does fast. And cheap, too.

MORLEY =5TH canít believe that losing front drive hasnít ruined it.

NEWMAN

3RD A thrill and a challenge, everything a supercar should be. Love it.

KELLY =5TH Cool looks, great sound. More enjoyable on track than on road.

BMW M5 COMPETITION

An icon returns to form but stumbles on the details

ITíS A FAIR WHILE since the BMW M5 has been declared a sensuous, inviting thing. Three generations probably (starting with the V10 E60 model back in '05). Even in this car, the latest, Competition version of the M5, thereís still a slight tactility barrier between your brain and the car. The steering is a bit lifeless and the whole car is faster than youíll ever be, so you might as well shut up and just take the ride on its many other merits. And merits there most certainly are. Enough for third place, anyway.

Actually, calling the M5 Competition out for being a bit aloof is probably a mistake to begin with. Remember being told how a modern supersonic fighter-jet just wouldnít stay in the air without computers? Well, itís the same thing going on here, I reckon. While your attack-jet has to be inherently unstable to be able to turn fast enough, and absorbs distance faster than the human brain can figure, itíll also fall out of the sky without a super computer making the crucial split-second decisions.

Ditto the M5, to some degree. See, there are times, particularly on the track where you honestly felt like you were just (and only just) hanging on to the tigerís tail. When those 460kW and 750Nm light off, you are inevitably going to start arriving at corners in a way youíve never discussed with your Nana. At which point, you better hope like hell that the car is going to step in and not get as flustered as you are right at this instant.

Seriously, on full boost and big revs, unless youíre Rick Kelly, youíre probably just along for the ride. Itís very focusing, but itís also intimidating. Kind of like trying to land a four-metre shark in a three-metre tinny. You better be careful where you put your feet.

The M5ís lap time of 1.30:8 puts it fourth outright in the inaugural MOTOR/The Bend GP an amazing feat when you consider that itís the only car here (apart from the hot hatches and the RS4) with four doors and five seats. Itís also a hefty bugger at almost 1.9 tonnes, and, again, itís here that you can see that the Competition is all about a result, not necessarily giving you puny humans a chubby, per se.

3 th THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 3.78 SEC

0-400KM/H 11.53 SEC @ 203.09KM/H

LAP TIME 1:30.8

JUDGE'S RANK

CAMPBELL

3RD If it had the front end and noise of an E63, it would be near perfect.

CORDONY 5TH Superman in a business suit, but three cylinders sound missing.

MORLEY =5TH A dead-set ballistic missile. With controls of clay.

NEWMAN 4TH Lunatic performance but ride, steering and noise should be better.

KELLY 2ND A big angry monster that really deals with its size well.

With the dampers set to Comfort, you might notice a tiny bit of body roll and maybe even a whiff of understeer on the track. But switch the drive modes up to a racier setting and the thing is suddenly producing mild oversteer on the limit. Turn off the DSC (as you can in a modern M-car) and turn off the front axle, and the M5 is a drift-car par excellence.

In a straight line, the thing is utterly formidable. Again, itís a no-nonsense approach to things with the Competition combining tyre and mechanical grip (itís all-paw, remember) with a warhead of an engine to get it to its destination 400m away. From rest, it needs just 3.78 seconds to get to 100 and from there it requires a mere 7.45sec more to reach the quartermile (in 11.53sec). At which point it can be relied upon to be screaming along at better than the double-ton. In the process, it requires just 1.8 seconds to get from 80 to 120km/h. Only the 911 GT2 RS needs less time for this crucial-to-overtaking stunt. And not much less.

And you donít need to be redlining the thing in every gear to achieve that sort of thrust, either. The torque curve is flat enough that every single one of those Newton metres is available from as low as 1800rpm all the way through to just 200rpm shy (5800) of where power maxxes out. Thatís modern engine management for you. Impressive barely covers it.

The other theme that has surrounded the latest M5 is its value-for-money quotient. Okay, so the Competition package adds around $30K to that, but you can see and feel where that money has gone. BMW has previously admitted that the Competition is all about going fast at the possible expense of some luxury. But unlike the track-oriented M4 CS where BMW ditched everything from the cup holders to the actual door trims, in the M5 Competition, itís hard to see where the luxo thing falls anything like short. On the flip side, the stiffer suspension can be felt and itís this that gives the car its edge on the track. Well, combined with the lower ride height and the tweaks to the wheel-alignment settings, but the fact that adaptive dampers have been retained enable to car to remain civilised but fearsome over a wide range of conditions.

It may not be the most talkative car BMW has ever built, but in terms of the brandís four-door sedans, itís far and away the fastest weíve ever seen. Ė

DM

IT'S NOT THAT TALKATIVE, BUT IT'S FAR AND AWAY THE FASTEST FOUR-DOOR BMW WE'VE EVER SEEN

BMW M2 COMPETITION

BMWí small M delivers a big verdict

TWO TENTHS of a second. Thatís all that split the BMW M2 Competition and M5 Competition around one lap of the West Circuit. When Rick Kelly revealed this, jaws should have hit the concrete. But the M2 Competition had enchanted so many at this point, we more wondered if it could squash BMWís 17-year-long drought at Performance Car of the Year. It was clear this is one of Munichís most potent weapons in a while.

The M2 has barely passed puberty in its life cycle, but the Competition badge changes much more than its name. BMW now bolts the M3 and M4ís twin-turbo inline six into the M2ís little snout to raise power from 272kW to 302kW. Meanwhile, torque swells to an M3/M4-matching 550Nm.

Despite gaining 55kg, an injection of an extra 30kW/85Nm means it still punches as hard as a rapperís security guard and a 2.5 second burst from 80-120km/h reveals itís three tenths faster than the old car on a roll. Drop the hammer and thrust builds instantly before its mid-range hurls you into a meaningful top-end rush.

It sounds all right, too, as even though the new engine replaces the N55ís soulful timbre with a coarser note, its growl is more natural approaching its 7600rpm redline.

Weíll admit we were nervous to uncork this power where South Australiaís Gorge Road straddles Cudlee Creek, especially in something as wide and short as a go-kart. Those corners dotted with cracks, lumps and elevation changes arenít forgiving. Yet, few could have kept up with the M2. New engine mapping calms the S55ís outputs so they build more progressively and make its throttle more usable than the original M3 or M4 could ever dream.

Turn in and it holds on as if its Michelins double in width. The suspension soaks any big lumps and, crucially, itís an M-car that wants to talk to you. You can feel the grip of each tyre patch through those nice, big-winged M4 Competition seats. The steering, too, relies on new software and a reinforced front-end to cut corners with the kind of precision a surgeon would envy.

Make room on your bucket list to drive this thing on track because its dynamics are bewitching on, and beyond, its limit. Itíll happily shift its angle of attack into a corner on the brakes or pivot around at the apex with more lock. Meanwhile, stability software lifted from the M4 CS softly guides, rather than snaps, you back in line if you overcook it. Switch off the stability and not only does it now have the power to now match, and overcome, its prodigious grip, it gives you the confidence to hang the tail out at a desired angle.

Throughout the event youíd exit the M2 Competition wanting more for all the right reasons. Only a crowbar would pry Messrs Newman and Campbell from the driverís seat after their drift shots. Even Rick found it difficult to move onto the next car. Hunting down its big bro so convincingly on a track with a straight as long as an airstrip shows how deep its talents reach, and only Max Verstappen on a qualifier would care about the whiff of understeer or high-speed instability.

Few cars have felt as involving, exciting and confidence inspiring. That rings true even outside the walls of PCOTY where its price, practicality and pedigree attract a span of rivals. It might not accelerate like an Audi RS3, or poise itself like a Porsche 718 Cayman, but it comes close, and offers more options than either.

2 nd THE NUMBER

0-100KM/H 4.50 SEC

0-400KM/H 12.52 SEC @ 182.57KM/H

LAP TIME 1:31.0

JUDGEíS RANK

CAMPBELL

1ST Love at first slide... my Performance Car of the Year.

CORDONY

2ND Like a well-trained pitbull, itís both your best friend and a viscious giant killer

MORLEY

1ST My favourite BMW just got even favouritier. Come to Daddy.

NEWMAN 1ST A new entrant to BMWís pantheon of greats. Would happily drive this forever.

KELLY =5TH A nice road car that turns into a monster when it needs to.

AN INJECTION OF 30KW AND 85NM MEANS IT STILL PUNCHES AS HARD AS A RAPPERí S BODYGUARD

Itís hard to grasp this breadth of ability when you first hop in. You still sit high and itís clear much of the Competitionís budget was spent on things deep underneath the leather. Its ride, too, is firm. Do we wish it had adaptive damping? Not if it compromised its simplicity, because thatís what allows it to focus on mastering one thing Ė driving.

As for improvements, we do wish 400mm and 380mm brake discs combined with 20 pistons worth of caliper bit harder. But the real value in the optional brakes, that inflate its $104,990 price by $3000, is theyíll outlast Iron Manís armour suit. And even though its seven-speed dual clutch proved faultless, thereís a good chance the no-cost six-speed manual would sweeten its package even further.

Slaying what finished in first place was always going to be a colossal challenge, yet at the top of three judgesí score sheets and a tight second on another, it came very close to joining the E36 and E46 M3 in BMWís PCOTY trophy cabinet. However, swiping a silver medal in a field of this calibre is a solid achievement and helps the little fella make a point loud and clear. BMW M is back. Ė

LC

The Data

Are you more of a numbers person? Welcome, then...

THE BENDí kilometre-long front straight is the ideal spot for performance testing, especially with the grippy new surface. And with contenders like the AMG GT C, Audi R8 RWS and the epic GT2 RS, we anticipated fast times on the fresh tarmac. Although no 0-100km/h times start with a two (the Porsche managing 3.13sec, not its claimed 2.8sec), thereí certainly a few top speeds on the fast side of 200km/h!