Bang For Your Bucks

Round 1

BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS 2016

Round 1

Budget bullets face off for the title of Australia’s best value performance car under $50,000

The leaves have fallen off the trees. The skies are grey all day long. Early morning windscreens are covered in ice. Must be time to dust off the Driftbox, load 19 or so cars on to transporters and head for lovely Winton in central Victoria. Yep, it’s Bang For Your Bucks time again. For many MOTOR readers, BFYB is the main event of the motoring year. We’d all love to drive the latest and greatest supercars that will drop bombs on each other in a few months at PCOTY, but the reality is those of us who have not worked hard enough at being born rich (thanks Gina) are, effectively, budget bound. That’s where the BFYB equation comes into things: how fast can you go without having to rent out the spare bedroom as a meth-lab?

These 12 months have been a bit of a champagne year and a quick glance at any of the contenders would have most revheads stopping for a second look. Obviously, the big local hitters are here, but for the last time as a club. Holden will still be building cars this time next year, but Ford Oz won’t. Scratch one epic battle in 2017. But for 2016, it’s still game on with the V8 Commodore pack facing off against the last-of-the-breed XR6 and XR8 Sprints. Gen-next is here too, in the form of the Mustang and the Chrysler 300 SRT with its new eight-speed auto and more poke; they’re the very cars that will be attempting to fill the void when the locals have left the building.

Our $100K cap hasn’t ruled out some of the tastiest Euros, either. Audi’s brand-new hot-shots are present and accounted for in the form of the TTS and the RS3 Sportback, which promises to be practical but potent with that crazy five-cylinder engine. The cheapest AMG you can buy – the A45 – is also here, this time with a power hike and revised suspension. There’s also a pair of BMWs, starting with the reigning over- $50K champ, the M135i, and another that has been deemed ballsy enough to carry the M-badge into a new market segment. Where the proper M-stuff used to stop at the M3, the new M2 aims to extend the M-ness down the price ladder as well as expunge the bad memories of 2011’s 1M, which was somehow less than the sum of its parts, not to mention more expensive than the M2.

But if those sub-$100K muthas make BFYB interesting, it’s the tiddlers (for want of a better word) that really take the ethos to the limit. Yep, the sub-$50K category is where the knives are really out.

Let’s begin with the reigning sub-$50K (and overall) champ: Ford’s character-filled Fiesta ST. The problem for the little Fordy this year is its performance has remained the same while the competition has all taken steps forward. Okay, it’s still well below thirty grand, but will it have enough oomph when we crunch the numbers in the BFYB abacus?

The opposition has never been sharper. There’s the revised VW Polo GTI, itself a two-time BFYB winner in its previous generation, which is now fitted with

“How fast can you go without having to rent out the spare bedroom as a meth-lab?”

The judges

More gavel, less gravel

LOUIS CORDONY

Judging newbie Louis managed to squeeze in track testing 19 cars between humiliating initiation rituals

DAVID MORLEY

Fresh from a failed audition as Arnie’s replacement in Terminator 6, Morley was left with no choice but to return to the madhouse

WARREN LUFF

Two days before BFYB Luff y was racing a McLaren 650S GT3, so we started him in the Fiesta ST to help him ease back into it

DYLAN CAMPBELL

The power of command having gone to his head, ‘Dictator Dylan’ decreed only his right side was to be photographed

SCOTT NEWMAN

Looked like he had just got Megan Fox’s phone number when Chrysler said please return the 300 without rear tyres

Fast tracked Winton Raceway

IT’S the same old Winton but with a completely new surface. Winton’s 3.0km liqourice strap is dressed in sticky new tarmac following a recent $1 million injection from the local government to bring the track up to global standards. The layout is unchanged, however the reprofiling of some corners, along with the smoother surface, should mean lap times will tumble compared to previous years.

adaptive dampers as standard. Also from VW is the Golf GTI, this time in Mark VII, base-model form – a first for BFYB. Don’t forget that it’s the Golf GTI that has been setting the hot-hatch benchmark for a decade now, so let’s have less of that base-model cringe, shall we?

Renault’s Clio Sport has muscled up with the advent of the Trophy 220 edition, following the lead of its big brother the Megane Trophy with a revised suspension tune, more grunt and better seats. There’s also a new tune for the double-clutch gearbox, aimed at making a sharper tool.

Plenty of Mini Coopers have had a crack at BFYB over the years, so it makes sense that the latest JCW version would get a guernsey, too. With 170kW, two litres and razor-sharp suspension, it’s the most focussed new-gen Mini yet. While we all fell in love with the new 1.5-litre ND MX-5 at PCOTY last year, with the 2.0-litre version of the MX-5 finally on sale, the ‘big block’ got the nod for Bang. The Mazda’s 118kW might not sound like much, but surely, any advance on the 1.5-litre version’s brilliance has to put it in with a shot.

You’ll also recall we had the Peugeot 308 GT at BFYB last year, but this time, the more serious GTi 250 version was a walk-up start. It doesn’t have the tricky diff or bigger brakes of the 270 version, but it does have the sticky Michelins from that car as an option. With 184kW from just 1.6 litres, it promises to be some kind of hand-held flare.

Wildcards? You want wildcards? Okay, how about these two? Thanks to the marketing departments at both Holden and Ford, there’s a big hitter from each camp that sneaks in below the $50,000 category cut-off. Actually, both the Commodore SS Ute and the Mustang Ecoboost easily make the financial cut which shows you just how much car you can get for reasonable money these days.

They’re both new models too, and even though the Holden Ute is ‘just’ a facelift of the VF series, it’s a big enough upgrade that the vehicle itself is hugely improved by wearing the VF II tag. For a start, the rather good 6.0-litre V8 is now a 6.2-litre unit, capable of 304kW and no less than 570Nm of torque. Significantly, the Ute also gets the luscious new soundtrack engineered by Holden for the VF II and if it isn’t the best sounding two-door ever to haul a hay-bale, we’ll go hee-haw.

When it comes to the Mustang Ecoboost, I know what you’re thinking: what the hell is a Mustang doing with a four-cylinder engine? What you have to remember is that four-banger ’Stangs have been a reality in the US since the fuel crisis of the late- ’70s led to the Mustang 2 with its piddly four-pot.

By which I mean, Americans ‘get’ a Mustang with four cylinders AWOL. But before you dismiss it out of hand, check the stats: a meaty 233kW of power and 432Nm. That would have been enough to see off pretty much any local V8 built before the turn of the century and I don’t recall anybody bitching about them having no performance. All of that in a package that has the other Mustang attributes – which are many.

So with all that in mind, let’s scrape the ice off the windscreens, zip up our jackets and hit the Winton hotmix. The cars might be new, but the Bangmethodology isn’t: We run ’em down the strip, round the track and flog ’em for two days straight. Hell, we even let Luffy loose in them. Yep, BFYB is back in town. Cue mayhem. – DM

“Let’s scrape the ice off the windscreens, zip up our jackets and hit the Winton hotmix”

The fast fl eet THIS MONTH: $0-$50K

Nine of the best

Ford Mustang Ecoboost

Puts up solid numbers, but if the four-pot Mustang is all show and no go, it’ll soon be found out at BFYB

Peugeot 308 GTi 250

French hottie comes optioned with wheels and tyres from 270 big brother in a search for more speed

Renault Sport Clio Trophy

Current Clio RS has tasted BFYB success before, and the new Trophy 220 version is hotter than ever

MINI Cooper JCW

Tops the $0-$50K price list at $47,400, so it’ll need to be seriously fast to compensate

VW Golf GTI

VW hasn’t had a basespec Mk VII GTI available in previous years, and the hot Golf has won before

VW Polo GTI

New adaptive dampers and revised steering qualify the Polo GTi for a return in 2016

Mazda MX-5 2.0

Speed of 2.0-litre earned it the nod over the cheaper 1.5. It’ll be fun, but will it be fast enough?

Ford Fiesta ST

Reigning two-time champion and hard to beat that bargain $25,990 sticker price

Holden SS ute

6.2-litre grunt made the VF II SS a walk-up starter, but we could only score the pricier auto

DETERMINING a Bang For Your Bucks winner is easy – every car earns a score, highest score wins.

How we calculate that score is a little more complex.

We split the field into two categories ($0-$50K and $50-$100K) as it gives a clearer indication of each car’s performance relative to its closest price peers. However, we also award an overall winner, incorporating data from the entire field.

As the name suggests, the score is made up of performance (Bang) and price (Bucks). Comprising 40 per cent of the final score, price is the easy bit.

The field has an average price (this year, for all 19 cars it was $55,795) which is given the indexed value of 100. If a car is cheaper than the average it’ll score greater than 100 (remember, high scores are good), if it’s more expensive, its Bucks score is less than 100.

The Bang score makes up 40 per cent of the overall score and is determined exactly the same way, there are just more criteria – listed below right. A lap time says a lot more about a car’s total performance than its ability to simply stop from 100km/h, so the various criteria are weighted. The data is collated in a huge Excel spreadsheet and after deploying various mathematical formulas to balance each car’s respective results on the track, we arrive at a ‘field performance average’.

Again, this average is given the indexed value of 100 and cars faster than this score higher than 100, cars slower than this score less than 100. The ‘Bang’ and ‘Bucks’ scores are then combined in a 60:40 weighting to become the final BFYB score, though the final scores are all divided by two to make the numbers look a bit nicer.

Here’s a simple example using two cars and one performance criteria. Car A does 0-100km/h in 5.0sec and costs $75,000, Car B manages 0-100km/h in 10.0sec and costs $25,000. For our Bang score our ‘field performance average’ is 7.5sec, which is indexed to 100. Therefore, Car A’s Bang score is 75 [(7.5/10) x 100] and Car B’s is 150 [(7.5/5) x 100].

Likewise, our average price, indexed to 100, is $50,000. Therefore, Car A’s Bucks score is 200 [(50,000/25,000) x 100] and Car B’s is 66.7 [(50,000/75,000) x 100]. Applying a 60:40 weighting to both scores gives a Car A a final BFYB score of 200 [(1.6 x 75) + (1.4 x 200)/2] and Car B a score of 166.7 [(1.6 x 150) + (1.4 x 66.7)/2]. There you go, Car A offers more bang for your buck than Car B.

Obviously, changing any of the criteria weightings will have an effect on the results. Every year we re-evaluate the formula and look for potential improvements, however it’s remained largely the same since 2008. It remains so for 2016 – we think the current formula offers a good balance between rewarding an exceptionally fast car while still giving the budget offerings a shot. – SN

How it works

The formula for success

Acceleration, 0-100km/h 10% Braking, 100-0km/h 10% Acceleration, 0-400m 10% 400m terminal speed 5% Acceleration, 80-120km/h 5% Outright lap time 25% Maximum apex speed 10% Lap maximum speed 5% Judges’ ranking 20%

09

Mini Cooper JCW

Hottest Mini a major let-down

ENGINE 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 170kW @ 5200-6000rpm / TORQUE 320Nm @ 1250-4800rpm / WEIGHT 1205kg

MINIS: ALL about sharp steering and firm suspension, right? So, in theory, they should perform well at a track. But when the rubber hits the road, the Cooper JCW just seemed a bit disappointing. The hottest variant of the latest Mini should have more tracksmarts, especially for the money – that’s pretty much the long and short of it.

Despite being the most powerful production Mini ever, the Cooper didn’t really make much of an impression at the dragstrip. With 0-100km/h in 6.56sec and a 14.46sec quarter mile, it’s not what you’d call slow by any means, but it didn’t dish up the sorts of times we’d expect from a 1200kg car with 170kW/320Nm. It also couldn’t pull the numbers around Winton, consistently off the pace of its peers in both fast and slow corners. It didn’t really want to play silly-buggers at the track either; there were definitely more entertaining drives waiting back in the pits.

First impressions, however, are better than that, and your first few metres in the JCW reveal a sharp, pointy front end and a feeling of being a pretty precise instrument. Unfortunately, that all goes to hell as you pick up the pace. While the Cooper is taut and responsive up to about eight-tenths, beyond that it all starts to get a bit sketchy.

The first thing you notice is that the car stops talking to you and all that sharpness you previously felt gets lost somewhere with the increased pace. From there, it doesn’t improve and by nine-tenths the Mini reveals itself to be a natural understeerer. At a place like Winton, even with the JCW’s excellent brakes, there’s just no coming back from that.

The Cooper wasn’t a favourite of the judges either and it finished last on that basis alone. Part of that is down to the fact that even if it had been a sharper track tool, the rest of the package doesn’t really add up. That jukebox interior doesn’t work for many of us and the seats (the passenger one had started to come apart at the seams – literally) lacked any meaningful support. Once you tipped the car in, you then had to concentrate on holding yourself in place rather than figuring out the car’s next move.

But let’s not be too hard, the Cooper has a great engine note; it’s rorty and fat, the gearshift is slick and, if you drive the Mini at road speeds, it stacks up better with a fast steering rack and a tight, responsive feel.

Like we said, all good until about eight-tenths. But BFYB isn’t about eight-tenths. Never has been. – DM

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

03 David Morley “Am I the only one who liked this car? Maybe, but I did.” 09 Dylan Campbell “MINI engineers would do well to drive the old JCW and GP again.” 09 Louis Cordony “Darty chassis led astray by iffy steering.” 09 Scott Newman “So disappointing. Strong engine, but chassis feels unresolved.”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.56sec (8th) 0-400m: 14.46sec @ 164.74km/h (4th) Lap Time: 1:42.6sec (6th)

SCORES

Price: $47,400 Bang Index: 85.1 Bucks Index: 82.7 BFYB Index: 126.0

WARREN LUFF SAYS

09 “ A good car, but it doesn’t do anything that really inspires”

“IT’S SURE-FOOTED, but there’s nothing that gives you the excitement and feel some of the other smaller hot hatches give you.

“It really has the characteristics and feel of a much bigger car; it’s a very easy car to drive on the limit, but it’s like they dulled it down too much and have taken away a little too much of that character.

“Because of the dullness in the chassis you try to use the back of the car in the tighter corners, but the mid-corner understeer is that little bit stronger.”

08

Ford Mustang Ecoboost

Is this four-pot Pony nothing but an ego boost?

ENGINE 2261cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 233kW @ 5600-5700rpm / TORQUE 432Nm @ 3000rpm / WEIGHT 1629kg

HOW WOULD a four-cylinder Ford Mustang fare at its first ever Bang For Your Bucks? It was tricky to get a sense prior to the event. Down on power, but down on price, and with 73 fewer kilograms between the front wheels, it was going to be interesting to say the least.

And interesting might be the most appropriate word to describe its dragstrip performance. Pipped by three front-drivers for trap speed, the neutered ponycar even had the Polo GTI yapping at its hoofs across the quarter mile. Odd for something with 233kW and 432Nm – even in a car weighing 1629kg, not what you’d call gutless, on paper at least. But the reality is, it’s not particularly fast in a straight line. Which just seems odd for a Mustang.

Not too long ago, that would be the end of the story. There’s a reason America’s most popular motorsport category, NASCAR, minimises the corners – traditionally, those in the New World haven’t been much interested. And their cars have reflected this with enormous power combined with live axles.

Not the Mustang Ecoboost. In fact, it’s quite the sorted thing in the cornering department. It tore around Winton third fastest for the $0-$50K class, beaten only by a sticky-tyred Peugeot and muscledup ute – proving the Ecoboost is, in some ways, more than the sum of its parts.

The bum-o-meter confirms what the stopwatch says, all the judges having very nice things to say about the Ecoboost’s chassis. The steering is keen and direct, if lacking feel, and the rear-end stable, with a sniff of understeer if you ham it up – but otherwise it does everything you’d hope it to. And then some.

And don’t think this ponycar is not up for bucking sideways either – it just takes technique. Feint the rear around in an S-motion on corner entry and boot it as the outside rear loads up, and you’ll be looking out the side windows so long as you don’t dare lift. One of the best feelings in driving, and the Ecoboost is only too happy to oblige.

Gripes? Aside from the unsettling philosophical implications of a four-cylinder Mustang, the brakes are too bitey in the initial few centimetres of pedal travel, the interior is low rent and the engine note splits opinion. It struggles price-wise, too, being Monaco-money in this company. So: a bit expensive, a bit odd, and a bit slow – that’ll be eighth, then.

But on track the Ecoboost was hardly out of its depth. It surprised us. With a tune and more power, it could be quite the thing. Or you could just buy the one with twice as many cylinders. Hold your horses for next month, in other words. – LC

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

07 David Morley “Sounds like a portable generator.

Goes a lot faster than one, though.” 07 Dylan Campbell “Drives way better than you’d expect it to. But, but, the V8...” 06 Louis Cordony “Like a sausage roll without sauce.

Good, but missing something.” 05 Scott Newman “Torquey engine, great chassis, but don’t ever drive the V8.”

DavidMorley

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.14sec (2nd) 0-400m: 14.20sec @ 161.93km/h (2nd) Lap Time: 1:40.4sec (3rd)

SCORES

Price: $45,990 Bang Index: 89.7 Bucks Index: 85.3 BFYB Index: 131.4

WARREN LUFF SAYS

08 “ It has great handling and braking, but it sounds awful”

“THERE’S something very wrong about a Mustang having a fourcylinder engine. In saying that, it has great mid-corner dynamics; its handling is surprisingly good, particularly for such a big car.

“That said the steering really lacks feel – it’s very light and the feedback doesn’t give you the confidence to unleash the true potential of the car.

“It also has great brakes, but its engine is its weak point. Obviously it’s there for a price-point, but they could have done something better with the sound of it.”

07

Mazda MX-5 2.0

Not much grunt, but a lot of fun

ENGINE 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v / POWER 118kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 200Nm @ 4600rpm / WEIGHT 1033kg

ONE THING I’ve learned about Mazdas over the years is that ticking the box for the bigger engine option is not always dosh well spent. Never was that more true than when dealing with the first NA series MX-5. Not only was the 1.6-litre original version all but as quick as the later 1.8, but it was also a smoother, sweeter unit. Save your money: get the 1.6.

But does that still hold these days? Frankly, no.

While the new 1.5-litre ND MX-5 is sweeter than a sugar-coated puppy, the even newer 2.0-litre model is definitely worth the extra gold. I know what you’re thinking, 118kW isn’t a whole lot in 2016. And you would have been right, but the MX-5 concept is not of 2016 – it’s a dead-set throwback to the carefree, lightweight, less-is-more days when men were men and roadsters could jump puddles.

One drive of the 2.0-litre MX-5 is enough to prove that it’s appreciably faster and ballsier than the 1.5.

Quick enough, in fact, to be considered quick enough.

Lined up against the significantly musclier Cooper JCW, the MX-5 uses its rear-drive power-down to good effect to keep the Mini honest to 100km/h. The rest of the drag-race, though, falls to the Mini – but only by a couple of tenths. Clearly, that lack of kerb mass is doing its thing (the JCW, itself no porker, is nearly 200kg heftier). What’s lacking for the Mazda is V-max through the traps, pointing, once again, to a car that is easy and efficient to launch from a standing start, if not actually that grunty.

But a tractable engine and lightness can only achieve so much and, at Winton, that limit was reached with the others blowing by on sheer hump out of turns.

The MX-5 was up there on corner speed, just not on velocity down the chute.

But man, is it fun. Yes, it moves around and it body-rolls more than most here, and there’s always something happening – and not always the same thing – at each end, but it delivers huge giggles in the process. The steering feels natural and all the controls are weighted just so; another traditional MX-5 long suit. It’s also the most analogue-feeling car here and one that us old blokes were quickly able to relate to.

Less pleasing is the wide centre console that eats into an already pretty tight cabin. But just like the SS Ute, which can carry a big load at high speed, when you can drop the top of the Mazda on the right day, you’ve just added a whole new dimension to the experience. You youngsters would do well to sample an MX-5 and discover what proper fun at the wheel really means. – DM

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

05 David Morley “Bigger engine equals even more reason to love it.” 01 Dylan Campbell “Surely the most fun you can have with 118kW, had a ball in this thing.” 01 Louis Cordony “Finely attuned to every one of your inputs. Cheek-popping fun.” 01 Scott Newman “Brilliant driver’s car. Challenging but rewarding – needs technique.”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.54sec (7th) 0-400m: 14.68sec @ 153.00km/h (7th) Lap Time: 1:43.5sec (8th)

SCORES

Price: $34,490 Bang Index: 75.5 Bucks Index: 113.7 BFYB Index: 140.0

WARREN LUFF SAYS

01 “ The MX-5 is a real driver’s car – it makes you think about driving”

“IN A modern world of electronics, the MX-5 is refreshing as it’s still very pure. It’s fun on the limit and you don’t have to be going that fast; it’s driving at its most basic.

“It slides, it has understeer and oversteer, it makes you actually think about your driving because there’s no electronics or sticky wide tyres to make up for poor driving.

“It’s sort of hard to get the lap time out of it because you’re trying to have that fine balance of under and oversteer and carry as much speed as possible, because it doesn’t have the power to make up for it.”

06

Renault Sport Clio Trophy

Lots more dollars for not a lot of improvement

ENGINE 1618cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger / POWER 162kW @ 6050rpm / TORQUE 260Nm @ 2000rpm / WEIGHT 1270kg

CAR LOVERS and enthusiast media have widely panned the fourth-generation Renault Sport Clio for being not enough a chip off the old block. We speak about its three-door, nat-atmo predecessor with a glint in our eyes, because god, was it good.

Not to say the new Clio RS is a dud – it’s a more useable, comfortable and probably better car – it’s just a bit boring by comparison. Credit to Renault for creating this, then: an update aimed at bringing more fun. The RS220 gets more poke (15kW/20Nm), quickened twin-clutch auto gearchanges, tweaked chassis to make it more lively, more aggro seats and even shorter travel on the column-mounted shift paddles. And on track, the changes absolutely make for a better mousetrap.

The engine is still hardly a cracker, but the tweaks add some pep regardless. Roaring out of pit lane, the engine note is a loud whooshing sound mixed in with speaker engine noise. Interesting, but you wouldn’t call your mates over to tell them about it.

But it immediately feels stronger and more energetic, to the point traction is just starting to become an issue. The gearchanges are noticeably faster, too, in a welcome way, with a nice twin-clutch exhaust pop on upchanges.

The chassis changes have made it an even bigger laugh on-track, more lift-off oversteer-y than the ‘regular’ Renault Sport Clios. Back it in all day, now a little easier, too, thanks to a poofteenth-quicker steering rack. Renault Sport still knows how to do a chassis, clearly.

The changes seemed to translate to speed on track, too. Keeping the quicker surface in mind, the RS220 posted a respectable 1:42sec lap – 3.4sec quicker than last year’s RS200, 1.3sec quicker than the Polo GTI and a whopping three seconds quicker than the Fiesta ST, two cars it could count as rivals.

But still it was pipped by the VW Golf GTI, a car just $1000 more expensive. And that’s where the Clio starts falling down: it’s also the most expensive fourth-gen Clio RS so far. Sure, its $39,000 gets you a lot of equipment, but it’s big money for a Fiesta-sized car and really put paid to the Clio RS220’s hopes of a repeat win. Remembering its $29K, lower-spec sibling won the $0-$50K class at Bang For Your Bucks 2014.

The numbers tell the performance story of lots of grip – quickest in class, in fact, through Turn Nine (probably no small thanks to those pricey-but-sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports) – but not quite enough grunt nor brakes. Fast, and an entertaining handler, but for $39K, not fast enough. – DC

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

09 David Morley “Kind of didn’t do it for me. And what’s with the fixed paddles?” 05 Dylan Campbell “The best Clio RS of this generation but still so difficult to love.” 05 Louis Cordony “Its abilities run deep, but asks a pretty penny for the pleasure.” 08 Scott Newman “Improved drivetrain, but feels less than the sum of its parts.”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.49sec (6th) 0-400m: 14.54sec @ 160.33km/h (6th) Lap Time: 1:42.0sec (5th)

SCORES

Price: $39,990 Bang Index: 91.9 Bucks Index: 98.1 BFYB Index: 142.2

WARREN LUFF SAYS

07 “ It’s a really fun car on the limit with that traditional lift-off oversteer”

“LIKE the Fiesta ST, you can backoff and have that old school hot hatch lift-off oversteer.

“The engine is really good, but the gearing is probably not well suited for this circuit. Also with the shift paddles staying on the steering column and not following the steering wheel, you’re coming off some of the second gear corners and trying to find where the lever is – but that’s probably more circuit specific to Winton.

“But it’s certainly a good fun car and I’m surprised at the time it did.”

05

Ford Fiesta ST

Former king loses its crown

ENGINE 1596cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 134kW @ 5700rpm / TORQUE 240Nm @ 1600-5000rpm / WEIGHT 1197kg

HOW THE mighty have fallen. The reigning Bang For Your Bucks $0-$50K champion, not to mention twotime defending outright winner, languishes in fifth place in 2016. Simply put, in the most potent BFYB field ever, the feisty Fiesta just wasn’t fast enough. The 1.6-litre Ecoboost four remains a great engine, rorty and revvy, but with 134kW/240Nm (147kW/290Nm on overboost) it was left badly outgunned in comparison to this year’s heavy hitters.

Its figures were relatively strong – bizarrely, its 6.97sec 0-100km/h and 14.93sec 0-400m times were identical to those recorded in 2015 – but not enough for Ford’s baby to escape the drag strip wooden spoon.

It struggled to shed speed too, taking further than any other $0-$50K competitor to stop from 100km/h.

While not overly powerful, the brakes refuse to wilt under the strain of continued track abuse and offer a firm, reassuring pedal feel. Combined with quick steering and a beautifully neutral chassis, the Fiesta ST remains a brilliantly entertaining hot hatch.

Personally, I found it a little less overtly playful than in previous years, but the way it feels constantly on the edge of oversteer in faster corners, perfectly using all four tyres, remains a highlight among the current crop of front drivers. The Fiesta’s enthusiasm to be punted hard is reflected in the judges’ scores: Morley, historically one of the Fiesta’s strongest proponents, the only one to place it lower than third.

Unfortunately, this enthusiasm doesn’t translate to the stopwatch, the Fiesta clocking the field’s slowest lap time, its 1min45sec a measly 0.1sec better than last year, despite the theoretically faster track layout.

The Fiesta ran first, but any fears a slightly dusty track hurt its lap time were dispelled when Luffy tried again later in the day, only to go 0.5sec slower.

Why didn’t it show the same improvement as others in the field? Tough one. Our test car was on Continental rather than Bridgestone rubber this year, which could’ve been a factor, but then its corners speeds were there or thereabouts.

Regardless, the Fiesta ST would have had to go a lot quicker to keep up with its main price rival, the VW Polo GTI (which appears a few pages further on), and its fall from grace brings into sharp focus the relentless pace of performance car development.

While the Fiesta remains an incredible bargain at $25,990, that’s only the case for a couple more months as from September 2016 a smattering of extra equipment lifts its price to $27,490. Unfortunately, there are no mechanical upgrades as part of this midlife facelift; does Ford have enough up its sleeve in future to put its pocket rocket back on top? – SN

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

06 David Morley “Still a fabulous thing and I’d have one in a heartbeat.” 02 Dylan Campbell “Same old show? Nope, the most fun front-driver here. By a long shot.” 03 Louis Cordony “Sharp, agile and rorty, but no longer an absolute standout.” 02 Scott Newman “Still great fun, but a knife in a gun fight this year.”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.97sec (9th) 0-400m: 14.93sec @ 155.48km/h (9th) Lap Time: 1:45.0sec (9th)

SCORES

Price: $25,990 Bang Index: 57.9 Bucks Index: 150.9 BFYB Index: 151.9

WARREN LUFF SAYS

02 “ From a driver’s point of view it does everything you want it to”

“IT’S such a fantastic little hot hatch, it’s such a fun car on the limit.

“Probably its limiting factor is brakes. After two laps around here the pedal is starting to go long and it’s a little bit disappointing, but the engine and chassis are great and it slides about a bit in the rear.

“The electronics don’t cut back in, so in that sense it’s a true hot hatch.

It’s just great fun.”

04

VW Golf GTI

Fast and fun, but needs to fire the nanny

ENGINE 1984cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 162kW @ 4500-6200rpm / TORQUE 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm / WEIGHT 1342kg

FOR REASONS I am yet to discover, we’ve never run a base-model Golf VII GTI at Bang For Your Bucks.

Oh sure, there have been plenty of Golfs sporting the GTI badge over the years, but since the advent of the seventh generation, they’ve always been up-specced numbers with tricky diffs or they’ve swapped the GTI tag for an R badge.

I have to ask why? Why the hell have we not thrown the entry-level GTI into the mix, especially when the Bang formula rewards povo-pack interiors and the reduced weight and price-tag that they bring? (Because VW’s never had one available before, Dave! – Ed) At least they’ve fixed that this time around – and how.

One thing you can count on from any Golf GTI, of course, is that solid feeling and something that is well screwed together. This base-model feels substantial – clearly a Golf’s inner magic is not a function of bolt-on shit-and-glitter.

The 162kW summoned up by the boosted 2.0-litre is strong, but not as feral as some others. While the GTI scrabbles to 100km/h faster than stuff like the Peugeot and the Mini Cooper – with which it competes pretty much directly – by the time the end of the 400m looms, both those hatches have rounded the Golf up and left it behind. The Golf isn’t especially fast around the Winton layout and its corner speeds are nothing to write home about.

But what gets it over the line and into fourth place was a combination of pretty keen pricing and bankvault security. It is genuinely good to drive, and whether you’re bumbling about town or having a red-hot go at a track-day, the GTI rewards with direct steering that is beautifully weighted and a tendency towards neutrality. You know you’re on a thoroughbred when you can give the tiller a wiggle at speed and nothing terrible happens. In fact, the GTI quite enjoys the high-speed change of direction, something that marks it out as a resolved package.

Our gripes are limited to the fact that the car can feel a bit remote and clinical when you’d rather be whooping it up, but you can’t have it both ways. The ESP won’t switch completely off, despite what the light on the dashboard suggests. Not that we’d ever condone tampering with a factory setting (this is not a dig about Diesel-gate), but if there’s somebody out there who can disable the GTI’s ESP properly, please let us know. – DM

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

02 David Morley “Even in its most basic form, the GTi magic shines through.” 06 Dylan Campbell “Lacks some sizzle on track but it’s the car I’d drive home in.” 07 Louis Cordony “A class act but just a little too sensible here.” 06 Scott Newman “Fantastic car, smothered by an electronic helicopter parent.”

Da idMorle

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.37sec (4th) 0-400m: 14.58s @ 161.97km/h (7th) Lap Time: 1:41.5sec (4th)

SCORES

Price: $40,990 Bang Index: 117.5 Bucks Index: 95.7 BFYB Index: 161.0

WARREN LUFF SAYS

04 “ It’s easy to drive on the limit, but it needs to be a little more exciting”

“THE Golf has always been sort of the benchmark in this class. The engine is good and the steering is good, but you want it to have a bit more liveliness about it.

“It’s a very easy car to drive [fast] but it doesn’t inspire you to keep pushing hard, it’s probably that little bit too dialled down. If it was a little livelier, it would it make it so much more of a driver’s car.

“It loses out a little in lap times because it doesn’t have as much power as some of the others, so it makes up for it in the corners, but it needs to have a little more zing.”

03

Peugeot 308 GTi 250

French flyer grips a podium spot

ENGINE 1598cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 184kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 330Nm @ 1900rpm / WEIGHT 1205kg

THE first rule of Bang For Your Bucks is don’t talk abo… no, wait, that’s not right. The first rule of Bang for your Bucks is don’t make your car more expensive than it needs to be. Rarely does the extra performance of any go-faster option outweigh the added cost, hence any given BFYB field tends to be made up mostly of manuals.

This year, however, Peugeot’s new 308 GTi 250 arrived fitted with the optional wheels and tyres from its GTi 270 bigger brother. This increases the wheel size from 18s to 19s and tyre width from 225mm to 235mm all ’round. Critically, those tyres also change from Michelin Pilot Sport 3s to the more focused Michelin Pilot Super Sports, the same rubber worn by the likes of BMW’s M2.

Peugeot Australia’s canny public relations bloke was rolling the dice, betting the extra grip from the stickier rubber would outweigh the extra $1600 the fancier rolling stock adds to the GTi 250’s $44,990 base price.

Did it work? Did it ever!

One of the great things about BFYB every year is the surprises it throws up. We didn’t really figure the 308 GTi to be a contender during our pre-event speculation; its price sat towards the upper end of the price bracket and while it’s certainly no slouch, based on previous experience it seemed unlikely to blow us away with its pure performance.

Initially, that’s exactly what occurred. Its 6.42sec 0-100km/h and 14.41sec quarter mile efforts were about on par with its (cheaper) front-drive rivals, while in the other straight-line disciplines it was resolutely mid-field. You could argue a car with 184kW/330Nm and weighing only 1205kg (just 8kg heavier than a Fiesta ST) should be faster – we would – but that’s for another time.

Where Peugeot’s new hot hatch is plenty fast is in the corners, recording a scorching 1min40.1sec lap time to place it second in class behind Holden’s 300kW-plus SS ute. It may not be a rocket in a straight line, but it’s not difficult to discover where the Pug is making up time.

Even without the massive floating rotors of its 270 bigger brother, the 308 was the second best stopper from 100km/h at 35.34m and its corner speeds through the high-speed turn five sweeper and tight turn nine were second and third respectively.

Basically, it stops really well and has heaps of grip.

One feature that was missed on track was the 270’s limited-slip differential. Short gearing makes

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

01 David Morley “The surprise of BFYB 2016 for me.

Is it really a 1.6?” 04 Dylan Campbell “It’s like a Megane RS265 and Golf GTI Performance mixed together.” 04 Louis Cordony “No LSD? No worries. Engine’s a gem, but better seats would help” 03 Scott Newman “Rubbish seats, great engine and chassis. Relishes a thrash”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.42sec (5th) 0-400m: 14.41sec @ 162.17km/h (3rd) Lap Time: 1:40.1sec (2nd)

SCORES

Price: $46,590 Bang Index: 131.5 Bucks Index: 84.2 BFYB Index: 164.1

WARREN LUFF SAYS

06 “ The biggest surprise of the day, it’s a great bit of gear”

“THE engine and chassis are really good, it has heaps of power and it’s a usable chassis too. Very responsive on throttle, brakes are fantastic, but probably the biggest let down are the ergonomics.

“The seats have no lateral support, you may as well be sitting on a bench. You’re struggling to hold yourself in the car which then affects the driving, and I’m having to look around the steering wheel because the tacho goes in the opposite direction. Little things like that let it down, but it’s a great bit of gear.”

the most of the highly boosted 1.6-litre four’s available grunt, but care is needed to stop the inside wheel spinning up, even in third gear.

It’s also a testament to the engine’s flexibility; it might only pack 1598cc, but there’s power everywhere.

The chassis majors on stability rather than adjustability, but that isn’t to say it isn’t fun. The GTi 250 is one of those rare cars where driving it cleanly and accurately is just as much fun as sliding around.

Unfortunately, the driver will still be doing plenty of sliding around as the front seats are woefully inadequate in terms of lateral support.

Peugeot’s odd ergonomics, requiring the steering wheel be dropped to see the gauges, again came in for criticism and a bigger steering wheel and faster steering rack wouldn’t go astray, but interior quirks aside, the 308 GTi 250 proved fast and fun. – SN

“The chassis majors on stability rather than adjustability, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun”

“With trick adaptive dampers now standard, VW’s baby GTI slashes 2.2 sec from last year’s lap time”

02

Volkswagen Polo GTI

Well-endowed hot hatch falls just short

ENGINE 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 141kW @ 6200rpm / TORQUE 320Nm @ 1450-4500rpm / WEIGHT 1234kg

VOLKSWAGEN must think its 2011 and 2012 Bang For Your Bucks trophies look awful lonely in its poolroom.

Given the chance to make it three wins last year with a new Polo GTI, it didn’t muck around when cooking up a contender. The car was stuffed with a bigger engine, more power and priced lower than before.

But while this gifted it cracking pace on the dragstrip, it was left dynamically wanting. It took third in class and we reckoned VW’s choice to launch the car without adjustable dampers might’ve been the difference.

Almost instantly VW hit back. The trick dampers that eluded our Polo GTIs were thrown on to its standard equipment list free of charge. And the steering system was re-tuned.

So this year when Wolfsburg’s updated mite tore down Winton’s bumpy access-road-slash-dragstrip and the data started to trickle in, we grabbed the blank trophies and fired up the engraving tool. It beat every front-driver in its class to 100km/h, including the more powerful (by 43kW/60Nm) and lighter (19kg) Peugeot 308 GTi 250.

Most of the pack catches it by the quarter mile, and blow by in roll-on acceleration, but the Polo notches up a string of small wins. It claims the third-best braking result and its new dampers unearth new pace around Winton Raceway.

With Luffy at the helm the baby GTI slashes 2.2sec from last year’s lap time. And while that owes a lot to Winton’s gluey new surface, last year’s mechanically identical champs don’t come close to such a trackinduced improvement. Nor does the returning Ford Fiesta ST pile an extra 4km/h on its turn-nine apex speed this time around.

However, while the new suspension unlocks extra speed in isolation, it can’t gift it the edge among classmates. And only to highlight how fast ‘cheap’ cars have become, the Polo manages the third-slowest lap time, and third-slowest speed through the sweeper.

Neither does the new suspension transform the car’s on-limit behaviour. Initially there’s a lot to like about the chassis. You can tell it’s pliant, even on a track, and balanced enough to chuck around. But for a car less than four metres long you expect it to feel more agile as you up the pace.

The front end’s not as keen as the Clio or Fiesta either. Contrary to how it feels though, the Polo’s apex speed for one of the track’s slowest corners (turn nine) is second-best in class.

The judges speak with their votes, however, and it’s no surprise the Polo is picked fourth-last from the line-up. While it has some strong foundations – a strong engine, good grip, and upgraded suspension – it didn’t use them all to extract the most from the car.

Inside the cockpit, it’s less involving than others. Its gear shift action feels adrift, and its steering rack was simply outshone by the Fiesta ST’s for sharpness and pinpoint accuracy.

But its price sure helped – if anything, the Polo’s strongest performance. It’s cheaper than it was five years ago by $300, or $2500 if you account for inflation, meaning even though VW’s developed its pace, the price is generously left well alone. And to its benefit.

Even with the formula skewed towards performance, its thrifty tag was enough to give it a combined index that trumped everything else. Well, everything expect a certain big-engined Aussie that offers about as much fun as you can have on four wheels. – LC

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

04 David Morley “A truly relevant and resolved car this time around.” 07 Dylan Campbell “A hot hatch for over-30s; makes the Fiesta feel like a car for teenagers.” 08 Louis Cordony “Great car, small price. Just missing that X-factor.” 06 Scott Newman “Huge performance, but needs a little more driver appeal.”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 6.26sec (3rd) 0-400m: 14.50sec @ 159.80km/h (5th) Lap Time: 1:43.3sec (7th)

SCORES

Price: $27,490 Bang Index: 91.7 Bucks Index: 142.7 BFYB Index: 173.2

WARREN LUFF SAYS

03 “ It’s a very refi ned package, and very sure-footed on the limit”

“PROBABLY the most complete package of all the hot hatches as well; not as sketchy on the limit.

Everything is pretty good – the engine, brakes and the speed that you can get out of this thing.

“I’d like to see it more agile in the rear, so you could have that hot hatch characteristic and use the rear of the car a little bit more.

“Great engine, probably a little bit long in the gear ratios because, like for most of it around here, you’re only in second or third gear, but, certainly a fun car and easy to drive on the limit as well.”

Big Data

BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS 2016 Take in the numbers that make up the Bang part of the equation, a good 40 per cent of the competition – and join the dots we haven’t

MUSTANG ECOBOOST

BODY 2-door, 2-seat coupe DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINES 2261cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 87.6 x 94.0mm COMPRESSION 9.5:1 POWER 233kW @ 5600-5700rpm TORQUE 432Nm @ 3000rpm POWER/WEIGHT 143kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1629kg SUSPENSION struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) BRAKES (F) 352mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 330mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 19.0 x 9.0-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 255/40 R19 (f/r) TYRES Pirelli P Zero (f/r) PRICE $45,990

PEUGEOT 308 GTI 250

5-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1598cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 77.0 x 85.8mm 9.2:1 184kW @ 6000rpm 330Nm @ 1900rpm 153kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1205kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 330mm ventilated front discs, 2-piston calipers (f); 268mm rear discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 19.0 x 9.0-inch (f/r) 235/35 R19 (f/r) Michelin Pilot Super Sport (f/r) $46,590

RENAULT CLIO TROPHY

5-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1618cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 72.2 x 73.1mm 9.5:1 162kW @ 6050rpm 260Nm @ 2000rpm 127kW/tonne 6-speed dual-clutch 1270kg struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 320mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 260mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r) 18.0 x 7.0-inch (f/r) 205/40 ZR18 (f/r) Michelin Pilot Super Sport (f/r) $39,990

VW POLO GTI

5-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 82.5 x 84.2mm 9.6:1 141kW @ 4300-6200rpm 320Nm @ 1450-4200rpm 114kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1234kg struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 288mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers (f); 232mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r) 17 x 7.5-inch (f/r) 215/40 R17 (f/r) Bridgestone Potenza S001 (f/r) $27,490

MINI COOPER JCW

3-door, 4-seat hatch front-wheel 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 82.0 x 94.6mm 10.2:1 170kW @ 5200-6000rpm 320Nm @ 1250-4800rpm 141kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1205kg struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r) 330mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 259mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 18.0 x 7.0-inch (f/r) 205/40 R18 (f/r) Dunlop Sport Maxx (f/r) $47,400

VW GOLF GTI

5-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1984cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 82.5 x 92.8mm 9.6:1 162kW @ 4500-6200rpm 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm 122kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1324kg A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r) 312mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 300mm discs, single-piston calipers (r) 18.0 x 7.5-inch (f/r) 225/40 R18 (f/r) Bridgestone Pontenza S001 (f/r) $40,990

FORD FIESTA ST

3-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1596cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 79.0 x 81.4mm 10.1:1 134kW @ 5700rpm 240Nm @ 1600-5000rpm 112kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1197kg struts, L-arms, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 278mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers (f); 253mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 17 x 7.0-inch (f/r) 205/40 R17 (f/r) Continental ContiSportContact (f/r) $25,990

MAZDA MX-5 2.0

2-door, 2-seat roadster rear-wheel 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v 83.5 x 91.2mm 13.0:1 118kW @ 6000rpm 200Nm @ 4600rpm 114kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1033kg double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, antiroll bar (r) 280mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 280mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 17 x 7.0-inch (f/r) 205/45 R17 (f/r) Bridgestone Potenza S001 (f/r) $34,490

HOLDEN SS UTE

2-door, 2-seat ute rear-wheel 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v 101.6 x 92.0mm 10.7:1 304kW @ 6000rpm 570Nm @ 4400rpm 180kW/tonne 6-speed automatic 1691kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 321mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers (f); 324mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r) 18 x 8.0-inch (f/r) 245/45 R18 (f/r) Bridgestone Potenza RE050A (f/r) $44,040

Winner 1ST PLACE Holden SS Ute

BFYB 2016 $0-$50K CATEGORY BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS 2016

01

Holden SS Ute

Crikey, this is one beaut ute, mate

ENGINE 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v / POWER 304kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 570Nm @ 4400rpm / WEIGHT 1691kg

WHEN we start looking at BFYB contenders each year, we always try to shake out the version with all the pace but less price-tag. Hey, it’s the BFYB credo, right? But when we started talking to Holden about a VF II SS Ute, it just couldn’t come up with the cheaper, sixspeed manual version. Best it could do was provide an automatic version which not only affects the fun factor (on paper) but also adds $2200 to the sticker.

And boy, we bet it’s glad that’s how it panned out.

See, the auto ’box doesn’t detract from the experience one bit. In fact, it’s arguably easier to launch on the dragstrip and that meant quicker times.

I personally ran those numbers and when I checked my score-sheet after three runs of the Winton hotmix, it occurred to me that the SS hay-hauler would be a very tough act to follow. Four-hundred metres in just over 13; 0-100km/h in just over five. Yep, those are sharp digits. It’s not the easiest thing to launch cleanly, but if you persevere, the rewards are there.

The other extra-cost option that our SS Ute carried was the $350 brake upgrade. Again, those shekels might seem crucial in the context of BFYB, but treefitty ain’t much for what are essentially police-spec stoppers, and when they can haul the Ute down from 100km/h in 36.5m, those dollars seem well spent.

Thing is, of course, that even against those bald numbers, the SS Ute is about as much fun as you can have without hiring specialist help. Scotty, never one to hide his, er, emotions, stepped out of it proclaiming it to be the easiest car ever made in which to be silly.

It’s hard to argue with that. Fundamentally, the SS Ute is stable and with all that wheelbase, it’s also incredibly neutral. Not in a cornering sense, so much, where it trailed some of the other contenders in both the fast and the slower turns, but in a drifting-like-amad- bastard sense. And anything it lacked in outright corner pace was more than made up for with that 6.2- litre mill that kept it top of the lap time charts. So it ain’t a one-smoky-trick pony by any means.

It’s true that it’s not the most responsive or tactile

Anything it lacked in outright corner pace was more than made up for by that 6.2-litre engine

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

07 David Morley “Practicality counts for squat at BFYB. Luckily for everything else ” 03 Dylan Campbell “Sounds great, goes hard, bucketloads of drifty fun. Kinda want one” 02 Louis Cordony “Surprisingly chuckable. LS3’s stonk well overdue” 04 Scott Newman “It might just be the most entertaining car I’ve ever driven”

TIMES

0-100km/h: 5.10sec (1st) 0-400m: 13.13sec @ 179.06km/h (1st) Lap Time: 1:39.6sec (1st)

SCORES

Price: $44,040 Bang Index: 159.2 Bucks Index: 89.1 BFYB Index: 189.7

WARREN LUFF SAYS

05 “ It’s not the best handling thing, but it is certainly a lot of fun”

“IT HAS a huge amount of character and sounds really good. I think the tyre is probably not capable of what the chassis is.

“Surprisingly the brakes held up better than I anticipated; in the past Aussie cars have been weak in this department. In the high-speed sweeper, where you’d expect a ute to feel light in the rear, it hangs on really well.

“It’s not the fastest car out there [from a 19-car, outright perspective – small hint] but it’s one of the cars that makes you want to go out and have some fun.”

machine, and there are more playful cars out there on first acquaintance. But as you get to know the SS and learn where the limits of its tyres are (probably the limiting factor) then you can start to trust it and have the sort of fun that had Scotty gibbering in his helmet.

Chances are it’ll also bring a smile to your dial even if you’re just going about your normal daily stuff. There’s always huge grunt on tap and we’re not going to be called liars by saying that this is the best sounding local V8. Ever. The only thing you can hear over the SS’s zorsts is the exhaust aftermarket opening a vein.

Okay, so what’s wrong with the SS Ute? Well, those fat A-pillars block out the view of Turn Three just as you tip in, and the tonneau drums hard and loud on its centre-stay at about 160km/h, leading me to believe (the first time it happened) that a con-rod was on the verge of exiting stage left.

But is it just me, or is there some kind of pleasure in knowing one of the most hilarious, good-value cars you can buy can also cart your dirt-bike and/or cement-mixer? Thought so. – DM

Judges’ pick And if the numbers didn’t matter?

THE Holden SS ute is a worthy class winner, offering an enormous amount of performance for your dollar, but it wasn’t our favourite machine in the $0-50K class.

BFYB is primarily about the numbers, but the judges’ subjective ranking still determines 20 per cent of the score, basically to prevent a car that’s extremely fast but as much fun as doing your tax taking the win. All the speed in the world’s no good if a car is no fun to drive.

This year’s clear subjective winner was Mazda’s 2.0-litre MX-5, with every judge bar Morley ranking it first thanks to its revvy engine, slick gearbox, playful handling and the fact it doesn’t seem to suffer from either brake or tyre wear.

The way it moves around at speed means care is needed – it could easily spit you off if you’re ham-fisted – but that’s part of the appeal. It’s a challenge to drive smoothly, but very rewarding when you get it right. – SN

The fi nal scores

COMPETITOR BANG INDEX BUCK INDEX BFYB SCORE

1. Holden SS ute 159.2 89.1 189.7 2. VW Polo GTI 91.7 142.7 173.2 3. Peugeot 308 GTi 131.5 84.2 164.1 4. VW Golf GTI 117.5 95.7 161.0 5. Ford Fiesta ST 57.9 150.9 151.9 6. Renault Clio RS200 91.9 98.1 142.2 7. Mazda MX-5 2.0 75.5 113.7 140.0 8. Mustang Ecoboost 89.7 85.3 131.4 9. Mini Cooper JCW 85.1 82.7 126.0

$50K – $100K NEXT MONTH

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