MEGA TEST Bang For Your Bucks 2017
BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT 2017
Australia’s Best Value Performance Cars
WITH EVERYTHING you hear on the news it’s a miracle anyone buys fast cars at all.
Take the housing market.
Wages growth crawls at Toyota Camry speeds while city dwelling prices outstretch calculator screens. If you’re young, affording a first home seems like a lifetime of instant noodles away.
In all of this, cars hardly represent smart investing strategies. Sure, you could throw your life savings at Porsche’s new 911 GT3 with a manual, seal it away in storage for a good part of a decade, then sell it when turbocharging creeps its way into Porsche’s GT line.
But even if you did have the money to snap one up (at $327,100, that’s one helluva lot of smashed avocado) you’d need the clout of Mark Webber to sidestep a very long waiting list. Unfortunately, cars usually depreciate as fast as they accelerate and just aren’t a viable way to secure retirement.
Despite the nation’s finances, there are people W still buying cars for drift, rather than entirely for thrift, factor.
In fact, the fast car business here is booming. Every third Mercedes-Benz C-Class sold is wearing either a 43 or 63 badge.
We are among the greediest for Renault Sport models. And we’ve propelled the Toyota 86 into a sales success as its third most popular market.
Aussies love driving, partly because the open road is therapy in times like these. Or to paraphrase DC’s editorial last month, with all the bad news going on in the world, at least we have performance cars as a broadly reliable stream of good news.
Fun cars should be a driver’s universal right, which is why we’re at Winton Raceway with one goal, to tell you which new car offers the most thrills for the least bills. And we call it Bang For Your Bucks, or BFYB for short. How does it all work? Well, the blocks that make up Bang For Your Bucks haven’t changed much since its introduction in 1994; there’s a field of cars, a set of judges, and an infamous formula. And like any good game, it’s made up by a whole lot of rules.
The first revolve around the cars and how we pick them. We don’t want the BFYB parking lot resembling Sydney’s Port Jackson car yard. So before we ink up the invites, we cross off any car that’s older than a year.
Next, we fence off the event with a $100,000 price cap, because Lamborghini Aventador customers aren’t really concerned with their water bill prices.
We also restrict entry to performance cars, as even
No wigs, just wit
Metronome-like consistent and bullet fast. But runs strictly on pink doughnuts
Obliged attendance at BFYB after a failed venture in spectacle modelling
Ex-head honcho, brunt of apex jokes, handbrake-pulling trouble maker
Recorded great POV track testing footage but refused to turn off his camera in the loo
Went briefl y missing from judging duties after the AFP accosted him at the local bakery
a P-Plater would rather take the bus than drive a Suzuki Alto.
Even then, we’re still left with plenty of potential contenders, so eligibility is further tightened by the rule that each car must have had a significant update since its previous model year. In that vein, sticker packs or new alloys won’t greenlight a car for battle.
Nope, we’re looking for freshly baked drivetrains, newly budded differentials, or drastically shaven kerb weights. Price changes, too, will grant a car entry if it’s boosted its competitiveness.
As per also the rules, last year’s trophy bearers have been asked to defend their hard-fought titles, explaining how th VW Polo GTI, Holden Commodore SS Ute, and Mercedes-AMG A45 have snuck back into the fray with unchanged packages. But there’s no welcome ma rolled out.
Like last year, we’ve split the field at $50K. And after slaying Audi’s RS Sportback and dusting off BMW’s M2 last year, AMG’s manic A45 faces new foes just as tough – maybe even tougher – in the $50K to $100K category (which runs in next month’s issue, along with the outright winner of the whole event) Ford’s Focus RS was magic at Performance Car of the Year 2017, the “cut-price World Rally Car” giving even Ferrari and Porsche a fright. And unlike Bang For Your Bucks, price didn’t have sway at PCOTY – or at least not much – yet a bargain $50,990 price remains one of the Focus RS’s trump cards. It enters our value competition one of the favourites.
In its $50K-$100K class it finds strong opponents in Holden’s Commodore SS-V Redline – which arrives in specification BFYB has never seen before – and BMW’s M140i which has been plugged with a rocket-fast new engine. Making up the rest of the class is Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Veloce, Caterham’s 275, and Audi’s new S4 sedan, while MINI’s six-door Clubman suits up in JCW spec.
But fronting up for this issue which you’re holding in your hot little hands, are our eight sub-$50K contenders. They might be slower, but they’re just as mean and keen for a fight. Holden’s Commodore SS Ute looks to defend its $0-$50K champion status before forever bowing out from the event.
Anything’s possible with that snarling LS3, but its non-Brembo brake package and category topping price, at $43,990, could bring it undone.
It’s joined by Fiat’s 124 Spider as this class’s only other two-seater. It’s not as value-focused as Mazda’s MX-5, but its energetic turbo 1.4-litre gives that involving chassis a new challenge in this game.
More pure in Japanese origin are Subaru’s and Toyota’s famed twins, back after half a decade’s absence. The BRZ has been upgraded for 2017 and the key changes are shared with its sibling at Toyota. With a new 86 GT already in our garage, it was up to Subaru to complete the duo’s attendance at this event.
No cut-price war would be complete without something from the Eastern Bloc. And because we returned our beloved long-term Skoda RS230 wagon only days before, Skoda’s been kind enough to lend us another, its sedan bodystyle hiding a Golf GTI Performance drivetrain underneath.
Speaking of front-drivers, Hyundai’s i30 SR was hurried fresh from its press launch for a shot at the title. It comes cleverly equipped with a manual transmission, side-stepping the $3400 penalty for a dual-clutch. Holden’s new Astra RS might have something to say about its chances though. Arriving lighter, faster, and sharper, it feels more at home here than the previous generation Astra GTC did last year.
But all eyes are on the Polo GTI, which returns as the event’s overall champion – and without the two-time champion (2014/2015) Ford Fiesta ST to keep it honest. Its performance will tell us how overdue the newly revealed version is, with a bigger chassis and turbo 2.0-litre four, but there’s every chance the anklebiting GTI can takes its fourth title.
This field could’ve been a few cars fatter, but Lotus didn’t reply to our invite, robbing us of a mid-engine contender, while Infiniti didn’t have a Q60 Red Sport on fleet. Volvo wanted to lob in an S60 Polestar with its new twin-charged four cylinder engine, but couldn’t make logistics work.
Okay, so newbies might be wondering how we make a fight between a four-cylinder hatch and V8 ute fair? Well, that’s down to our formula. Now, if you need an iPhone app to work out dinner tips, we
Our sub-$50K contenders
Challenged by a relatively high price but brings the extra herbs to compensate
Harder charging turbo 1.6-litre and lightened chassis ripen it for competition
Tops the $0-$50K price list at $43,900, so it’ll need to be seriously fast
Scores Veloster SR-spec turbo engine in all-new generation update. Slight dark horse
Will rely on unique suspension tweaks to overcome its $3K price premium over the 86 GT
Sneaks in the Golf GTI Performance’s LSDtamed 169kW drivetrain
Updated car ups price, but is still the cheapest ticket to 86’s uprated engine and fettled chassis
Defending outright champ is back and still a genuine threat with 1.8-litre turbo four
suggest skipping over the next few paragraphs. But for the rest of you, here’s the general gist.
Proven and honed over many years, the formula brings together price, performance data and judges’ rankings to order our field. When it comes to Bang, you can refer to the table below for the elements we consider, and by how much, percentage-wise.
Meanwhile, the Bucks relies on price, cars scored on how they sit against the category average.
The formula then grabs both scores and blends them into an overall. It’s weighted 60 per cent Bang and 40 per cent Bucks – because it’s easier for a car to be cheap than fast – and then ranks the cars accordingly. Effective? You bet.
It all takes place at the 3.0km-long Winton Motor Raceway, which was resurfaced and re-profiled only last year. And if it’s good enough for the (V8) Supercars calendar, well, it’s fit enough for us.
But there’s no point booking Winton Raceway with no-one to lap it. Cue one Warren Luff, Supercars hot-shoe, Bathurst veteran, and our own master-forhire.
He’s turned more laps in anger than the combined months we’ve all been alive. And that’s saying something with Morley here. He also has the unique ability to goad any car to its limit, in a single lap, and not leave it ready for a major service afterwards.
As for the recording equipment, our GPS Driftboxes record every car’s movements with RAAF-levels of precision. Then on top of all of this, each car’s unleashed on the drag strip multiple times to extract its best acceleration times.
Another refinement we’ve made this year is to take corner speeds from different turns, four and 10, their more consistent radii making it easier, and fairer, to compare each car.
Numbers don’t rule everything in the formula, though. A judge’s ranking is built into the Bang criteria because how a car makes a driver feel is still hugely important. And only Luffy practices front-row qualifiers out there, the rest of us use the racetrack to assess on-limit behaviour without worry of kerbsides, kangaroos, or the law.
Speaking of which, the judging team does without Associate Editor Scott Newman this year. He is focusing on a three-car comparison during the event, but has told us his schedule can (miraculously) free up if we need help with drift shots.
Bang For Your Bucks turns 22 this year. And things like it don’t last if they don’t work, especially when they’re this big. So, settle back and enjoy the first of our 2017 Bang For Your Bucks biffs – beginning with the sub-$50K stunners. And, as you’re about to see, irrespective of the finishing order, never has so little coin bought you so much car. M
Lap time (overall performance) 25% Judges’ ranking (subjective) 20% 0-400m (acceleration) 10% 0-100km/h (acceleration) 10% 100-0km/h (braking) 10% 80-120km/h (overtaking ability) 5% 400m terminal speed (power) 5% Apex speeds at T4/T10 (grip) 10% Lap maximum speed (power) 5%
ENGINE 1998cc flat-four, DOHC, 16v / POWER 152kW @ 7000rpm / TORQUE 212Nm @ 6400-6800rpm / WEIGHT 1282kg FIRE IT up, select first gear and this car is clearly the work of Subaru’s designers rather than Toyota’s.
Should this make any difference? Probably not, but subconsciously some of us probably relate to the Suby version as the real deal. Philosophically speaking.
Regardless, this is a Subaru design.
The other fact that I’m reminded of after any length of time without a drive in one is just how damn good the little buggers are. You kind of forget just how tactile they feel; how glued to the road they seem and how they beg (actually, demand) to be thrashed mercilessly in the name of speed. And you really don’t feel like you’re gonna kill the thing by revving its nads off at every available opportunity.
Mind you, to get any real pace out of the BRZ, those are exactly the tactics you must employ because the original criticism of the thing back in the day – that it was lacking a good serve of torque – hasn’t really changed. Fact is, in 2017, that two-litre flat-four is starting to reveal itself as a bit of a nail. Not that it doesn’t deliver if you get fair up it, rather that time has moved on and smaller capacity engines with turbochargers are simply doing a better job than ever. And even though it’s staunchly an atmo deal, you don’t ever get that addictive spike in power as the engine rides up on to the camshaft and really starts to hammer. To be brutally honest, the BRZ’s mill feels flatter than a Monday morning.
But the brilliance of the chassis more than saves it.
Seriously, this thing doesn’t give a damn what you do to it or how ham-fisted you are in the process. You can throw it at an apex, it won’t care. It’ll just sort itself out, point itself in the right direction and still be half a chance to hit that apex on the way through.
Get a bit more surgical with your approach and it responds by allowing finite adjustment at any stage of the game. Obviously, this is the quick way around a track, but hurling it about like a madman is almost too hard to resist.
The steering is your friend, too, and as well as being sharper than a good stand-up routine, there’s loads of feel and feedback to help you make sense of it all. This is one of those rare cars that is satisfying and relatively simple to drive fast. But we can’t help wondering if maybe you won’t grow out of it a bit too soon. ’Cos I think BFYB already has. – DM
08 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“The Subaru (and Toyota 86) platform is so much fun out here on track. You don’t have much power with them but the chassis dynamics on the tight confines of this circuit does suit the car well. You can really point the rear of the car, but it’s not going to catch the average driver out. You can have a lot of fun and get away with it. And obviously there’s so much more you can do in terms of improving the car. But as a base car it’s a great fun thing for Bang For Your Bucks.”
0-100km/h: 7.12sec (4th) 0-400m: 15.08sec @ 151.13km/h (4th) Lap Time: 1:44.3sec (7th)
Price: $32,990 Bang Index: 74.7 Bucks Index: 102.7 BFYB Index: 85.9
4th David Morley “Still great fun, but the motor is feeling its age” 2nd Dylan Campbell “Fast? Not especially. Fun? About as much as you can have in a car” 2nd Louis Cordony “The grown-up’s Toyota 86. Solid brakes, too” 5th Tim Robson “How can the BRZ feel so different?
Expected more from the update”
ENGINE 1368cc inline-four, SOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 125kW @ 5500rpm / TORQUE 250Nm @ 2500rpm / WEIGHT 1060kg CONFESSION time... I had an absolute blast in the Abarth 124 Spider. In fact, it was one of the few cars I snuck back out on track with for another cheeky session after testing was done.
I’ve always thought the Mazda MX-5 – the car that, of course, underpins the Abarth – needed about 10 per cent more of everything to be truly brilliant, and the 124’s bigger Brembo-based brakes, well-decent Bilstein damper set, mechanical rear slipper and chunkier turbocharged engine bring that to the table.
Hell, thanks to a schnozz that would do a Roman proud, it even looks more resolved (apart from the fooling-no-one interior) than the Mazda.
And yet... here we all are, discussing why the Abarth 124 Spider has come in second-last place. It’s a bit of a shock, actually. How could this have happened?
Numbers don’t lie. The data traces tell the tale – despite being one of the lightest cars on test at 1060kg, the 1.4-litre turbocharged Abarth’s relatively modest 125kW/250Nm isn’t enough for it to record less than seven seconds to 100km/h, or less than 15 seconds to 400 metres. This poor showing right from the outset puts the Italian/Japanese hybrid on the back foot.
The red ink isn’t done with yet, though. The Abarth logs the slowest 80-120km/h time and the fourth slowest lap time – albeit with the fastest speed at the apex of turn four with 97.9km/h and a competitive 66.1km/h at turn 10 – all of which help to bury the two-seater down the order in a competitive, keenly priced sub-$50,000 field. In fact, its $41,990 sticker price hurts the Abarth the most, especially when it’s slower than a Toyota 86, which is a full $10K cheaper.
It can’t even be saved by a set of judging scores that rank it in second place in the category. Second! No-one really had a bad word for it; its inherent balance may be more nose-led than the MX-5 it’s derived from, but that sweetly weighted steering and additional roll and pitch/dive stiffness give the svelte little chassis a genuinely fun edge, while its optional Monza exhaust system gives the at-times lacklustre MultiAir engine character. The extra 50Nm over a 2.0-litre MX-5 don’t hurt, either, as long as its spinning above 2000rpm.
That’s the beauty and reality of BFYB’s mathematics, though. On paper, the Abarth looked strong, but when the slide rule’s out, a lack of outright pace in the face of musclier foes puts it right here in seventh place. – TR
07 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“It was more of a surprise packet than I anticipated. Through all the tight and twisty stuff, like so many small sports cars it’s a lot of fun.
You can really slide the back of the car around. It’s got really good front end grip, surprisingly. It just cries out for another 100 horsepower.
The chassis is way ahead of the engine. But in terms of fun, it does everything right. Brakes are good.
Gearbox is quite good. You’d also like a seat that held you a bit better.”
0-100km/h: 7.31sec (6th) 0-400m: 15.24sec @ 146.78km/h (6th) Lap Time: 1:43.7sec (5th)
Price: $41,990 Bang Index: 90.6 Bucks Index: 80.7 BFYB Index: 86.6
2nd David Morley “I think I actually prefer this to the MX-5. Beefier engine counts” 1st Dylan Campbell “What a ridiculously fun, unhinged car. Wish it had an extra 50kW” 5th Louis Cordony “An aggro, yet charming, take on Japan’s brilliant roadster” 1st Tim Robson “Such a fun little jigger, but it just didn’t have enough firepower”
ENGINE 1984cc inline-four, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 169kW @ 4700-6200rpm / TORQUE 350Nm @ 1500-4600rpm / WEIGHT 1391kg PRETTY much every BFYB in history has thrown up one or two cars that, on the basis of the spec sheet, look like good prospects. And then we put them to the BFYB sword only to discover that they somehow fall a bit short. This year, the Skoda Octavia RS230 would be one of those cars.
But here’s the redress: That’s only because the things that make it a great road car also make it a less than totally stellar BFYB contender. Which, of course, means that if you want a car for the real world, the RS230 has the elements to make a damn fine choice.
But under the harsh terms and conditions of Mistress BFYB, those same elements play against it. That’s it, plain and simple.
So where do the cross-purposes surface? Well, let’s start with the chassis control. Clearly, the Skoda is sprung in a way that won’t offend its occupants out in Pothole County. And fair enough, but it does mean that it lacks that last little bit of accuracy when you start hoking it about a racetrack. That’s reflected in the steering responses, too, and the car that felt so sharp and accurate on the road feels a tiny bit vague in faster corners. A quick squiz at its apex speeds at Winton confirms that much.
Same goes for the speed potential of the RS230. At road pace it feels totally fit and brisk, but when you start stretching it out on the dragstrip, it can start to feel a little strangled up top. And what you thought were rippling on-road muscles turn out to be a bit weedy and a bit long in the gearing once you’re on the noisy side of the pit wall.
The other bit of this particular puzzle is that the SS Ute dominated the speed-trial element this year. It did it in such a way that everything else felt a bit soft. So, even though the Skoda was second fastest through the 400-metre traps, on a corrected BFYB score, it was still back in the pack.
And finally, there are those amazing looking front seats. On the road, they’re bliss, but when centrifugal forces begin acting on the indigestible object formerly known as lunch, the support simply vanishes.
The other element to play against the Skoda was the judges’ individual scoring. In fact, the judges left it pretty high and dry with not a lot of love for its track smarts, despite everybody who drove it on the road falling for the thing. That’s life. That’s BFYB. – DM
06 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“Should be able to go a lot faster than what it actually did. Probably the biggest disappointment is not being able to turn the ESP all the way off. Through the tighter sections it really does limit the drive off the corner. For everyday road driving it’s a good safety net so you don’t make a big mistake. There are lots of things the car does well. It rides the kerbs nicely, and the nice engine’s geared well, it leaves you wanting a little bit more out of it.
You think it’s going to be a little bit better than what it is.”
0-100km/h: 6.83sec (3rd) 0-400m: 14.98sec @ 158.17km/h (3rd) Lap Time: 1:42.4sec (2nd)
Price: $41,490 Bang Index: 99.4 Bucks Index: 81.7 BFYB Index: 92.3
8th David Morley “Thinking person’s hottie. I’ll have mine in a wagon, thanks” 6th Dylan Campbell “Feels happiest at eight-tenths; why it’s great on road but not on track” 6th Louis Cordony “Punchy, grippy package only lacking a little killer instinct” 7th Tim Robson “I’m a big fan of the RS, but the race track is not its natural home”
ENGINE 1998cc boxer-4cyl, DOHC, 16v / POWER 152kW @ 7000rpm / TORQUE 212Nm @ 6400-6800rpm / WEIGHT 1257kg THIS SEEMS a bit mean, doesn’t it? Thrusting a car which Toyota claims isn’t about numbers into a competition almost solely decided by them.
However, numbers are exactly what the 86’s engineers have obsessed over for the car’s first update since its debut. They’ve liberated extra power, shortened its final drive, and fiddled with its suspension bits.
We know what you’re thinking. The 86 rolls off the exact same line as Subaru’s BRZ, so why bother with both? Well, the two aren’t exactly identical. Both have suspension tuned to unique tastes. That, and the fact MOTOR’s own long-term GT costs $2200 less.
Once fitted with the Driftbox our 86 GT doesn’t open the batting very well. Its 2.0-litre four may breathe through bigger pipes, but it can’t catch the turbo frontdrivers on the dragstrip. On track it has a nice lofty power peak, but your right foot spends forever on the firewall to get there. You could call its boxer a little flat.
The good news is it’s an absolute riot everywhere else. You’ll say “fun” more times than a Disneyland commercial when describing what it’s like to drive.
That steering remains pin-point accurate, perfectly weighted, and so rich with feedback it’s like dragging your palms across the tarmac.
We’re smitten with the way it points into corners. It’s also keener to indulge in a slide than the BRZ, which already adjusts its angle like the rear axle’s on castors, and the track-tuned ESP is a lot more subtle.
What’s revealing in all of this is the car’s respectable laptime. Sure, you’ll need to eke out every engine revolution and manage ABS into braking zones, but the 86 shows us how a well setup rear-drive chassis is worth more than the sum of its parts.
Not everybody was gushing with praise, however.
One judge wishes Toyota would hurry up and arm the 86 with a turbo, bigger brakes, and proper tyres, while another likes that choice being left up to punters.
There were no arguments over the interior, though, which is starting to look a bit dated in GT trim, bar the new smaller steering wheel.
At the end of the day the 86 GT should be proud.
On top of thumping its sibling, those minor tweaks have helped it clinch a mid-field place and remain a thrilling drive. But if it wants to dominate the BFYB formula, it’s obvious Toyota will need to change which game it’s playing and heed to the numbers war. – LC
05 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“Yeah, look, the same as the BRZ in that they’re so much fun out there.
While both cars are technically the same, there are some very minor differences. The BRZ is on Michelins, the Toyota is on Yokohamas, which make some subtle differences you notice out on track. This car feels like it turns in a little bit better into the tighter stuff, but again there’s nothing night-or-day about them.
You can slide them around. It’s just such a fun car to drive on the limit. ”
0-100km/h: 7.63sec (8th) 0-400m: 15.36sec @ 151.95km/h (8th) Lap Time: 1:43.3sec (3rd)
Price: $30,790 Bang Index: 92.0 Bucks Index: 110.1 BFYB Index: 99.2
5th David Morley “Still seems good value to me. Flat motor might annoy me” 4th Dylan Campbell “Still so happy Toyota and Subaru made these cars. Love them” 1st Louis Cordony “Like a supermodel with a gap tooth. The good outweighs bad” 4th Tim Robson “It should be a bit better. Fun and focused but it hasn’t moved on”
WINTON’S SWEEPER is a tricky sequence that rewards a little bit of bravery… but equally will punish you if you overstep the mark.
Getting what’s called turn five right actually starts at the exit of turn four. You can use its outside kerb almost like a motocross rider uses the berm in a corner. You don’t want to end up over the kerb, though, as it will upset the balance of the car – and then your speed – as you enter T5.
And you need the speed; it’s a really fast approach to this double apex corner. Hold your breath and brake later than you think is possible, holding it all the way in to the first apex before letting the car run out to the middle of the track. This guarantees you can carry a lot of speed on the way in.
As you try to turn to the second apex late in the midpoint of the corner, understeer is going to an issue.
It’s just a matter of dealing with it as best you can; depending on your car, you might use the throttle to help point the nose in better.
It’s important that the second apex is left as late as possible, because this affects the change-of-direction run through the right hander into six and then the approach to turn seven.
Approach on the right with your eyes on the first apex and your foot nowhere near that brake pedal yet. Wait, then wait a bit more.
Once you’re on the brakes, ‘trail’ (hold) them all the way to the apex.
The curb is serrated, so don’t run up on it too hard.
Hold your nerve and let the car run naturally wide, letting your eyes drag your hands towards the second apex. Don’t fall off the track.
Kiss (don’t climb) the second apex, with your eyes already on the entry to turn six and your foot picking up the throttle.
ENGINE 1598cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 147kW @ 5500rpm / TORQUE 280Nm @ 1650rpm / WEIGHT 1320kg IT FEELS weird that from October this will be it. Holden has quietly shown its rabid Astra VXR the door, and we know the fate of the Aussie Commodore. Until the rebadged Insignia sedan arrives next year, Holden’s hottest offering will be this warmly baked Astra.
Now, while it sports an RS badge and the Polish plant it’s built in nears Germany, there’s no shrieking six-pot or tricky all-paw system underneath. What the sixthgeneration Astra wields is a truly clean-sheet design from the sidewalls up. Okay, the RS’s direct-injected turbo 1.6-litre four has done Bang duties in the old twodoor GTC Astra, but now it finds a home in this stiffer, lighter D2XX platform.
Holden’s global engineers have trimmed a staggering 170kg worth of flab from the old GTC’s frame. At the same time they’ve programmed the turbocharger with an overboost function, which handily slathers on an extra 20Nm between 1700-4700rpm.
This helps the engine, which we’ve tagged as gutless before, and it suddenly feels half potent. The RS carries an extra nine clicks at the traps compared to 2015’s Astra GTC and cuts the 80-120km/h sprint by almost a second to 3.84sec.
Of course, past ghosts don’t matter much here. In fact the Astra proves a bit of a dud on the dragstrip.
On top of feeling breathless as it nears a 6500rpm redline, it struggles for traction. Those comfortorientated Michelin Primacy 3’s can’t cleanly ground its overboosted, low-down grunt.
Its scoresheet is buoyed by a strong braking performance and cornering speed through turn four, but a lowly judges ranking destines the Astra for a poor Bang index. Opinions were split on the gearshift, with some ruing the second-to-third action and others thinking it suited the car’s warm-hatch intentions.
Verdicts aligned on the Astra’s suspension, though, which was decided to be soft and supple, but better suited for less exciting driving. Frustratingly the pedals are widely spaced for heel toe, and the brakes don’t cope with track-lapping’s rigours.
So, how’d it snatch fourth? Price, that’s how. And while we’re on it, the RS feels too expensive as a performancecar prospect. The upside is its decent steering, grippy chassis, and solid interior provide a strong base for a Focus ST fighter. Which is whispered to be revealed this year. Now, that wouldn’t feel so weird. – LC
04 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“A very soft car out there when you start pushing to the limit, you can feel it’s got a lot of body roll on the way into the corner. But surprisingly it doesn’t generate as much understeer you normally equate that to. It’s surprising how it uses its bodyroll to help it grip up that outside tyre. Look, it’s not the fastest car here. It’s not the most fun to drive, but for it’s own characteristics it was surprising. The engine was not too bad, it definitely starts to run out of puff in the upper rpm. It’s okay.”
0-100km/h: 7.37sec (7th) 0-400m: 15.29sec @ 155.96km/h (7th) Lap Time: 1:43.9sec (6th)
Price: $26,240 Bang Index: 81.2 Bucks Index: 129.2 BFYB Index: 100.4
7th David Morley “Not the hottest of hatches, but classy and feels high-end.” 8th Dylan Campbell “I’m sure it’s a good car but just completely outgunned in this test” 7th Louis Cordony “Fast grocery-fetcher feels out of place in this environment.” 8th Tim Robson “Fundamentals are there, but it just doesn’t all quite come together.”
ENGINE 1591cc inline-four, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 150kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm / WEIGHT 1315kg
03 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“It was surprising. You get to the midpoint of the corner, and even when you’re on the throttle, you can actually put more lock on and the thing will respond. It was a pleasant surprise. It was a bit asthmatic in a straight line, that’s the kindest way to put it. But certainly was a surprise in the tight corners. Even through the sweeper you can turn in with fourth gear and slightly lift at the mid-point, the thing will then rotate nicely, steer through and get back to the second apex with minimal fuss. The chassis and dynamics are there to be had.”
0-100km/h: 7.20sec (5th) 0-400m: 15.20sec @ 152.25km/h (5th) Lap Time: 1:44.6sec (8th)
Price: $25,950 Bang Index: 88.1 Bucks Index: 130.6 BFYB Index: 105.1
4th David Morley “Another warm, rather than actually hot, hatch. But watch out Japan” 7th Dylan Campbell “Would love to hate on it but I can’t.
For what it is, it’s actually quite good” 8th Louis Cordony “Solid handler but underbaked drivetrain didn’t do it for me” 4th Tim Robson “Sweet little chassis, actually. Best SR Hyundai’s done yet”
ELL, WELL, well... look at the swotty new kid in the class! Hyundai’s sportiest iteration of its fourthgeneration i30 hatchback, the SR, literally launched a couple of days before BFYB festivities kicked off. And impressively, given its newbie status, it’s managed to rattle a couple of high profile cages along the way.
With 150kW of 1.6-litre four-pot W turbo squeezing out of the i30’s open turbo squeezing out of the i30’s open front diff to go on with, the mildly warmed over SR’s dragstrip performance is not what one would call scintillating at 7.2sec for the 0-100km/h and 15.2sec for the quarter... but look at the handful of cars it left in its wake, including Subaru’s much vaunted – and more expensive – BRZ. And in a competition that’s decided sometimes by tenths, thus the SR started its quiet march forward towards a top-three spot.
Only in this case, most of those decisions went against the plucky little Korean. It logged the second tardiest 80-120km/h time, for example, in front of only the Fiat 124. Its 1min 44.6sec lap time, too, is the slowest by three tenths to the BRZ. In fact, its best result was in the 100-0km/h braking category...
And yet, the whispers started to circulate about the incongruous-looking blue hatchback amongst our, ahem, esteemed judging panel. Its new chassis is all right, said one; lovely balance, especially through the sweeper. Steers pretty damn well, said another. Those brakes, said a third. No one’s elevating it to dizzying heights, mind you – it’s more of a pleasant surprise than a mind-altering experience.
Out on track, though, the surprised whispers bore truth. This has to be the nicest Hyundai to ever hit a racetrack. The SR badge hasn’t always sat comfortably on the i30, but bolted on top of the fourth-gen PD chassis – and with greater things to come in the shape of N-badged toys – and thanks to a local suspension tune that values compliance and balance as much as it does overall roll control and ride stiffness, this Hyundai has flow, pizzazz and chutzpah, even though it’s demonstrably slower than most of its opponents.
Hey, you can’t measure fun with a stopwatch, right?
Its archest of arch rivals on the day is the similarly powered, similarly priced Holden Astra, closely followed by the smaller, more nimble, but older Volkswagen Polo GTI. The Astra and the i30 duked it out all day, trading tenths and metres back and forth as BFYB wore down to its conclusion, however, it’s back at MOTOR HQ where the telling blow is landed.
You see, there’s only a few hundred bucks between the Astra and the i30, which means their relative price index figures are all but identical, and their data lines are almost a mirror image. It’s actually the judge’s tallies that makes most of the difference in the end here, with the i30’s Bang index score easing it well ahead of the Astra in the final reckoning; in fact, just three points separated the i30 from second place.
In truth, no one really expected this much from the $25,490 i30 SR, and perhaps that’s why it scored so well with the judges. – TR
ENGINE 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 141kW @ 4300-6200rpm / TORQUE 320Nm @ 1450rpm / WEIGHT 1234kg I F APOLLO 8 was good enough to land astronauts on the moon, they didn’t need to hop out and fix the craft for its return trip.
The same goes for the Volkswagen Polo GTI at Bang For Your Bucks. The addition of twomode dampers in 2016, at no cost to its bargain price, gave it deadly fangs to sink into the competition. And it ended up swiping second in the sub-$50K category and top honours overall.
This year it seems VW didn’t fix what isn’t broke. This might be because its sizzling replacement is about to land with a bigger 2.0-litre four, but either way, the Polo GTI’s back to defend its crown without an extra arrow in its bow. So you can imagine our shock when the formula spat out 2017’s results and perched it on the podium’s second shelf, yet again, with nothing but a $200 increase to its price.
Now, conspiracy theorists might put this down to the formula’s flaws rather than the car’s talents, but let us explain. While the numbers work in dark and mysterious ways, the gist of the formula is to work out how a contender stacks up against the rest.
Which means the field’s average performance is the benchmark to beat every year. Still with us? Good.
Keeping that in mind, consider the Polo GTI has gone from being one of the meekest in the $0-$50K class to one the burliest. Mini’s fizzing JCW, VW’s big I brother Golf GTI, or Peugeot’s fat-tyred 308 GTi aren’t here to hold the Polo’s head under water. And it’s used their absence to wreak havoc in track and field. Just peek at its data rankings to the left. They spank its respective third, fifth, and seventh from last year.
Okay, so you might be wondering why this hasn’t shot the baby GTI to the top of this category’s rankings if its sticker price remains so damn cheap. Well, the universe has a funny way of balancing things out.
Without the same big hitters this year, the category’s average price has dropped from $39,219 to $33,891, robbing the Polo of its relative thrift factor.
However, the ankle-biting GTI’s appeal doesn’t only lie in cold, hard data. That turbo 1.8-litre drivetrain not only feels more refined than any other sub-2.0- litre mill on test, but punches harder as well. Its meaty torque band swells early at around 2000rpm and carries past its 6000rpm redline, leaving one judge convinced it’s this Bang’s muscliest hatch.
Of course, ticking a manual box rewards it two-fold.
The engine piles on another 70Nm, VW’s seven-speed dual clutch not being able to handle that, and slashes its crucial price. More importantly, though, is it’s filled with nice long second and third gear ratios. As a result the Polo happily holds third gear down the back straight into the braking zone, past where other cars start headbutting their limiters.
What doesn’t change with transmission choice is a solid chassis underneath the baby GTI. VW’s engineers
02 BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS SHOOTOUT
THE PRO SAYS
“It’s been a mainstay of BFYB over the years and is still a worthy contender today. It’s so much fun out there, it does everything right, and feels like a traditional hot hatch. You can slide it in with the rear of the car. You can feel the electronics wanting to come back in but it’s not too bad. It gives you that fun factory along with the reassurance it’s there to catch you if it goes too far. The brakes are good.
The seating position is fantastic.
You can get nice and low and feel like a part of the car. Will be toward the top again this year no doubt.”
0-100km/h: 6.55sec (2nd) 0-400m: 14.80sec @ 156.03km/h (2nd) Lap Time: 1:43.5sec (3rd)
Price: $27,690 Bang Index: 98.5 Bucks Index: 122.4 BFYB Index: 108.1
3rd David Morley “Pretty grown up for a tiddler. Good combo of ride and handling.” 5th Dylan Campbell “Love it to bits and would own one, I just had more fun in other cars” 4th Louis Cordony “Grippy chassis and grunty engine make an accomplished ankle-biter” 3rd Tim Robson “I’m a front-driver man, and I’m a big fan of the GTI. Lots of heart.”
must have hacked into the Porsche suspension department’s computers because the Polo’s dampers strike a brilliant balance between suppleness and feel.
This gifts the Polo ample grip in the bends and means it never feels like it’s going to bite. The handling setup feels tuned for stability, rather than liveliness.
Although some judges reckon the GTI could channel its inner WRC if Volkswagen wound back the stability control’s intrusiveness.
Similarly Germanic are the little things that add up to define its character. That gearshift is involving enough, even if it doesn’t slot like a Fiesta ST’s. The EA888 four-banger growls and hisses, but ultimately sounds like it’s hard at work rather than here for a good time.
No surprise then the Polo GTI rewards clinical driving. Those front tyres have a hard enough time trying to tame such grunt with an ABS-based diff system, and early throttle will push the nose wide. But drive it cleanly and it’s a blast to punt around.
All in all, though, a category win just wasn’t to be. As new foes shifted the focus from price to performance, the little Polo GTI washed up lacking in the shadow of all but one contender. There is, however, always the top-gong to go. And if history’s any clue, the Polo GTI could be passing by the sub-$50K second place on its return trip to overall numero uno. We’ll just have to wait and see. – LC
BFYB 2017 The Data While the numbers don’t tell the whole story, they do a pretty damn good job. Write your own conclusion with all the important data
BODY 2-door, 2-seat convertible DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINES 1368cc inline-four, SOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 72.0 x 91.2mm COMPRESSION 9.8:1 POWER 125kW @ 5500rpm TORQUE 250Nm @ 2500rpm POWER/WEIGHT 118kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1060kg SUSPENSION A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) BRAKES 280mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers (f); 280mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) WHEELS 17.0 x 7.0-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 205/45 R17 (f/r) TYRES Pirelli P Zero PRICE $41,990
5-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1598cc inline-four, DOHC, 16v, turbo 79.0 x 81.5mm 9.25:1 147kW @ 5500rpm 300Nm @ 1650rpm (with overboost) 111kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1325kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 276mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 264mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 17.0 x 7.0-inch (f/r) 225/45 R17 (f/r) Michelin Primacy 3 $26,490
2-door, 2-seat ute rear-wheel 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v 101.6 x 92.0mm 10.7:1 304kW @ 6000rpm 570Nm @ 2000rpm 180kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1691kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 321mm ventilated discs, two-piston calipers (f); 324mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r) 19.0 x 8.0-inch (f/r) 245/40 R19 (f/r) Bridgestone Potenza $43,990
5-door, 5-seat hatch front-wheel 1591cc inline-four, DOHC, 16v, turbo 77.0 x 85.4mm 9.5:1 150kW @ 6000rpm 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm 114kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1315kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 305mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 262mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 18.0 x 7.5-inch (f/r) 225/40 R18 (f/r) Hankook Ventus Prime 2 $25,950
BODY 4-door, 5-seat sedan DRIVE front-wheel ENGINES 1984cc inline-four, DOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 82.5 x 92.8mm COMPRESSION 9.6:1 POWER 169kW @ 4700-6200rpm TORQUE 350Nm @ 1500-4600rpm POWER/WEIGHT 121kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1391kg SUSPENSION struts, A-arms coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) BRAKES 340mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 272mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers WHEELS 19.0 x 7.5-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 225/35 R19 (f/r) TYRES Pirelli P Zero PRICE $41,490
2-door, 2+2-seat coupe rear-wheel 1998cc fl at-four, DOHC, 16v 86.0 x 86.0mm 12.5:1 152kW @ 7000rpm 212Nm @ 6400rpm 119kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1282kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 294mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 290mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 17.0 x 7.0-inch (f/r) 215/45 R17 (f/r) Michelin Primacy HP $32,990
2-door, 2+2-seat coupe rear-wheel 1998cc fl at-four, DOHC, 16v 86.0 x 86.0mm 12.5:1 152kW @ 7000rpm 212Nm @ 6400rpm 121kW/tonne 6-speed manual 1257kg struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r) 277mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 286mm solid discs, singlepiston calipers (r) 16.0 x 6.5-inch (f/r) 205/55 R16 (f/r) Yokohama dB decibel E70 $30,790
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 $27,690