Fast Blasts

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN SNACK-SIZE BITES

-Scott Newman

01 LEXUS IS350

Old school sports sedan a grower

IF YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH the traditional premium sedan set, stepping behind the wheel of the Lexus IS350 F Sport will be a bit of shock. Press the accelerator and nothing seems to happen, the steering is disconcertingly vague around the straight ahead and why is the infotainment seemingly impossible to navigate? Sadly, the latter never improves, the process of using your left-hand to operate a clunky mouse always feeling unintuitive. Thankfully, with familiarisation the driving experience grows on you. The naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 might lack the bulging torque of its turbocharged rivals, but the need to expend a little effort to access some power enhances the involvement and the reward is a rorty V6 note. Ride quality is excellent, once off-centre the steering responds well and controls a nicely balanced rear-drive chassis. It illustrates the depth of this category. Against the likes of the impressive Jaguar XE 300 Sport, cohesive Audi A4 45 TFSI and polished Mercedes-Benz C300, not to mention the brand-spanking BMW 330i, the Lexus struggles to trouble the top of the class, but it remains an enjoyable car. And when was the last time you heard about a Lexus reliability issue? Exactly. Just fix that damn infotainment!SPECS: 3.5 V6; 233kW @ 6400rpm; 378Nm @ 4800rpm; RWD; 1685kg; $72,880

-Scott Newman

02 BMW X2 M35i

The go-fast version of BMW’s

THIS LITTLE SUV or ‘Sports Activity Coupe’, houses the most powerful four-cylinder engine ever found in a production BMW. It’s the newest part BMW’s fast SUV onslaught for now - and it’s based on a Mini. It’s also priced north of where the outgoing BMW M140i sat. A new BMW hot hatch? Not quite. Peak torque arrives at 1750rpm, so despite a very occasionally rebellious it’s rather quick off the mark. A 0-100km/h sprint takes 4.9sec, but the feeling of speed could be a placebo induced by the rorty exhaust, producing almost AMG-like crackles and pops. Through bends and twisty roads, especially if they’re rough (read: Australian), the M35i’s ‘big hot hatch’ vibe starts to fall apart. Its size starts to make itself known the more you lean on the brakes to avoid overcooking a corner. The xDrive AWD system makes firing out of turns easy, but it’s not an incredibly playful chassis, and tends toward understeer. Then, feeling planted shouldn’t really be a complaint in an SUV. Especially if it’s wet. Two damper modes provide a ‘sporting’ and slightly less sporting ride. Don’t rule out long trips, but you’d want to be lenient. As performance car, it doesn’t live up to the M140i. However, it is fast, practical, and dare we say fun. And that’s usually enough for most. SPECS: 2.0 I4T; 225kW @ 5000rpm; 450Nm @ 1750rpm; AWD; 1610kg; $68,900

- Chris Thompson

03 KIA STINGER GT

Rear-drive halo gains grippy Michelins

AT PCOTY 2018 we learnt a lot about the Stinger. With wounds fresh from the closure of Aussie manufacturing, the twin-turbo V6 South Korean aimed to be the perfect Band-Aid. And champion the Stinger we did. However, one bee in our bonnet, apart from the lack of a true manual mode for the eight-speed auto and an absence of steering tactility, was a somewhat unhinged rear-end. The Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres were good, but they did have a habit of shedding chunks of rubber under the stress of sending 272kW/510Nm to the rear axle alone. To help remedy this, Kia has fitted the Stinger GT with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. Straight away the 255/35 rear boots (225/40 front) add a bit more grip to the rear. The 1780kg Kia revels in its new rubber, feeling more planted and allowing access to the grunt earlier with greater assurance it isn’t going to snap or breakaway under heavy provocation. Yet, on really bumpy roads, the GT still fails to utilise all its grunt. It scampers atop imperfections with the traction control light buzzing harder than a raver at Stereosonic. Find a smooth road and you can use the GT’s power, extra grip and muscular torque. In isolation the big GT is almost as loveable as our now defunct Aussies. Throwing Michelin rubber at the Stinger has only made it a more appealing proposition and we continue to hope it gains a second act. SPECS: 3.3 V6TT; 272kW @ 6000rpm; 510Nm @ 1300rpm; RWD; 1780kg; $59,990

- Trent Giunco