2019 CAR OF THE YEAR: STAGE TWO ON THE ROAD

IT’S TIME TO GET REAL.

ASH WESTERMAN

IT’S TIME TO GET REAL. Stage Two of the COTY marathon finds our final five taking to public roads to show us what they’re made of out in the real world, where they’ll actually be driven. While the Italians failed to make the finals, there are representatives from France, Britain, Germany and Sweden still in with a chance of grabbing the glory, while Subaru is the only non-European left in the contest. The road loop is one of the most enjoyable, and revealing, tests of the lot. Hold on...

ALPIONE A110

NAILED NEARLY ALL THE CRITERIA AS DEFTLY AS IT NAILED APEXES

“JOYOUS! SOUNDS BRILLIANT; LOVELY TO PEDAL HARD”

ALEX INWOOD

JUST WHEN YOU thought the automotive world was being swamped by efficiency obsessing, downsizing over-complication and ICE ambivalence, along comes a lightweight sports car that’s shot through with purity of purpose, honed with a diamond edge, and infused with the ability to delight a driver. Yes, the Alpine A110 really is a tonic for these times.

Even before the driving started, the judges leaned forward in unison to listen to Carey outline its key elements: a bespoke aluminium spaceframe made in Dieppe, France (clad with panels stamped in Italy), a Renaultsport-tuned 1.8-litre turbo four from Korea, a Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch ’box from Germany, and a slinky exterior penned by Japanese designer Jun Okazaki. This really is a global car, despite paying a respectful homage to the 1962–1977 French original.

And for all the awesome things the Alpine is, let’s also give grateful recognition for all that it’s not: over-tyred, over-powered, overly stiff or over-burdened with fripperies like multiple steering modes. It’s infused with a welcome measure of restraint, where the design and engineering teams clearly recognised that adding ‘more’ would only increase weight and complexity, not driver enjoyment.

The engine is a cracker, out to convince you that turbocharging does not have to mean a tuneless soundtrack. It growls and slurps, exhales and whistles, rasps and crackles, encouraging you to spin it up just for the hell of it.

When driven with restraint, the transmission shuffles quickly through the ratios, and needs a decent throttle prod to fire you back into the torque curve. Some judges thought its calibration could be improved, but others reckoned the Track mode, which holds gears to redline, was spot-on. There’s also a manual mode if you reckon you’re sharper than the software.

But it’s the dynamics that define the Alpine experience. You take charge of an eager, ultra-responsive front end via what Carey described as “superlatively good steering”, and instantly revel in the car’s crisply communicated grip levels.

The ride is absorbent – “better than a Polo GTI” commented one judge – and the chassis tune allows the car to breathe with bumpy Aussie backroads, instead of arm-wrestling them.

The front tyres are modest 205s, yet their limits of adhesion feel ideally in balance with the engine’s output and traction from the 235 rears. But the bottom line is you don’t need to flog the A110 at rat-bag speeds to probe its limits and enjoy its nuanced, high-definition feedback.

So what put the brakes on the little Frenchie going all the way? Well, against the safety criteria, it floundered, with no AEB (although some judges questioned whether this was such a deal-breaker, given the expectation that a driver of a sports car should hopefully be an enthusiast and therefore constantly attentive and engaged in the driving process.) It also lacks a reversing camera; a dumb oversight given that a multi-media screen is already in place.

The question of value also niggled. Should the Premiere Edition (admittedly featuring lightweight Sabelt one-piece seats, 18-inch Fuchs forged alloys, Brembo bi-material brakes and an active sports exhaust) be priced at $106,500, given a Porsche Cayman (with PDK dual-clutch and badge pedigree) is only $9K more? Counterbalancing that, the $97,000 Pure and $103,500 Legende models do make an effort to provide a lower-cost entry point.

Regardless, what a blinding debut. Enright summed it up best: “A sports car for those who cherish light weight and efficiency but don’t relish the prospect of a bone-shattering ride and typically flaky, low-volume build quality.”

ASH WESTERMAN

SPECS

BODY

Type 2-door coupe, 2 seats

Boot capacity

100 litres (f) 96 litres (r)

Weight 1094kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout

mid-engine (east-west), RWD

Engine

1789cc 4cyl turbo

(185kW/320Nm)

Transmission

7-speed dual-clutch

OTHER

Tyres 205/40R18 (f);

235/40R18 (r)

ADR81 fuel consumption

6.2L/100km

CO2 emissions

137g/km

Crash rating not tested

PRICES

$97,000 – $106,500

VW Polo

A SKILLFUL POLO PLAY, BUT DOES THE MK6 RAISE THE LIGHT-CAR BAR?

SO COMFORTABLY DID the Volkswagen Polo demolish all of its rivals in the May 2018 edition of Wheels that it was almost embarrassing. “It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that the best handling, most polished, most spacious, quickest, most economical and best value car wins this test,” we declared, underscoring the fact that the Polo performed such a slam dunk on the Suzuki Swift, Skoda Fabia, Mazda 2 and Citroen C3 that the comparison rapidly devolved into an unseemly scrabble for the minor placings.

Big reputations count for little at COTY, however. With the slate wiped clean, the Polo had to reassert itself against the five criteria of function, technology, efficiency, safety and value. Unfortunately there were no extra points for additional laps sneakily accrued around the basic durability circuit, or else the Polo GTI would have made the top three.

“GTI MAY BE ALL THE HOT HATCH PEOPLE NEED – OR CAN USE”

ASH WESTERMAN

SPECS

BODY

Type 5-door hatch, 5 seats

Boot capacity 351 litres

Weight 1111 – 1355kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout

front-engine (east-west), FWD

Engines

999cc 3cyl turbo

(70kW/175Nm);

999cc 3cyl turbo

(85kW/200Nm);

1984cc 4cyl turbo

(147kW/320Nm)

Transmissions

5-speed manual; 6-speed

manual; 6-speed dual-clutch;

7-speed dual-clutch

OTHER

Tyres 185/65R15 – 215/45R17

ADR81 fuel consumption

4.8 – 6.1L/100km

CO2 emissions

110 – 140g/km

Crash rating 5 stars (ANCAP)

PRICES

$17,990 ? $30,990