Drag-strip hero fails to turn a performance corner – quite literally
THE Bang For Your Bucks testing regime isn’t easy. Invariably one or more of the contestants each year fails to reach the finish unscathed and this year that dubious honour goes to the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport. Whilst all the necessary data for it to compete was gathered, not every judge had a chance to sample the Infiniti in a representative state.
Having completed his first flying lap, Luffy arrived at turn one to find the Infiniti’s brakes had disappeared, resulting in Air Wazza making its debut flight through the runoff. The unorthodox line led to some geometry issues, so the Q50 was grounded for safety reasons for the remainder of the event.
As it turns out, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Plug the numbers into the formula and the Infiniti would have finished 15th out of 15 regardless. In a straight line the Q50 acquitted itself well, the 298kW/475Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo six propelling it to 100km/h in 4.89sec and 13 seconds dead over the quarter mile at an impressive 179.58km/h – second only to the Audi RS3 in both instances. Likewise its 2.8sec 80-120km/h effort.
The Infiniti’s struggles start when you reach a corner. Despite its accelerative prowess, the Q50 managed only the 12th fastest lap time, wedged between the Subaru BRZ tS and eco-tyred Toyota 86 Performance Pack, two cars with half the power and torque. Finding the culprit wasn’t difficult, as the Infiniti’s average apex speed was a mere 74.94km/h, easily the worst in the field.
This lack of grip costs the Q50 against the clock, but of more concern from behind the wheel is its wayward behaviour when driven quickly. Up to around six-tenths it’s fairly benign, though, even at this pace, ESP intervention is frequent. Begin to push the envelope and the experience becomes increasingly erratic.
ESP continues to intervene under power, yet appears to ignore lateral movement. It’s difficult to predict what it’s going to do next and it’s not overly keen to communicate any clues. Infiniti’s controversial by-wire steering doesn’t help – Morley described it thus: “if great steering is watching the footy live at the MCG, this is reading about it in the paper two days later” – constantly seeming a step behind your current input.
Even if no Q50 Red Sport ever sees a racetrack (which is very likely) its chassis is far too unresolved for a machine that purports to be a performance car. At first glance the Infiniti appears to offer far greater Bang For Your Buck than its immediate rivals (a similarly priced Audi A4 musters 185kW/370Nm, for instance), but the mechanically similar Kia Stinger is quicker and more resolved for $30K less. –
“Definitely a car that’s not suited to being on a racetrack and it lost brakes after one lap. The electronics are all trying to fight you and the seatbelt is trying to choke you. The gearbox is about as intuitive as much as I am a clairvoyant. The thing’s got good power and it still makes an alright lap time, but it’s not something that rewards you when you drive it on the limit. Nor is it a car that you feel like driving on the limit. So yeah, it’s interesting…
“Me no understand…”
Let the power and lovely interior materials distract you… from everything else”
An impressive engine that needs something else to propel”
Unforgettable for all the wrong reasons”
Predictably greater than the numbers suggest
THERE WAS a small part of us that believed this year would be different. That the Toyota 86, a car which thrills without especially thrilling numbers, might finish somewhere decent at an event decided almost solely by them.
See those red things peering from behind those new design 17-inch wheels? They’re four-piston Brembos that chomp at decent-sized discs, accompanied by dampers from German suspension gurus, Sachs. After furiously tweaking the 86 and BRZ for 2017, we hoped these additions would fit as the final piece in the puzzle for Toyota, and quantify the smiles an 86 convincingly delivers behind the wheel.
But the wider stream of fast cars moves rapidly. And the fact remains until Toyota delivers serious grip, or grunt, the 86 is going to keep sinking through the rankings until it thuds into last. Because even with new gifts, this optional pack is held back by its carried over Michelin Primacys.
Okay, so they bode an advantage when you’re trying to launch a peaky 152kW 2.0-litre boxer on a sticky strip, giving the 86 just enough wheelspin to arrive at both 100km/h and 400m sooner than its sticky-footed BRZ twin. But everywhere else, they seemed to be the denominator of slow times.
The 86 overtook only the Suzuki Swift Sport and Skoda Octavia on track, while its braking distances would ward people away from eco-orientated rubber – there was 6.62m separating the 86 and the Subaru BRZ tS. You could broadside drift a Kia Stinger through that distance.
The 86’s average cornering speed is more telling of the car’s true talents, moving up from 13th in lap times to 10th here. It’ll be fairly annoying having to move aside so regularly at track days, but you won’t care once you hit a bit of clear track. The tyres actually enrich the experience, moving the
86 around like its rear wheels are coated in WD-40. When ABS is called into action, the 86 shimmies in braking zones like a seal with an itchy belly. Yet, it never feels intimidating. And while those Brembos don’t help pull you up shorter, they’re undefeatable under a car weighing only 1258kg.
Its balance, point, control weightings, and seats remain untouched and brilliant. You will be pleased to know that the Sachs dampers have improved the car’s ride considerably, too. But the improvements weren’t enough to enamour the majority of judges, who found the package was overshadowed by our other standouts.
Most tellingly for this 86 is the new wheels, brakes, and dampers add $2200 (or $2900 to a GT), meaning the only number significantly changed is its price. And that’s no way to win at this game. – LC
“It’s an MX-5 with a roof. With this particular 86 you can use the back of the car to help point the nose in to try and eliminate some of the understeer. So it’s a very playful thing to drive and you know that it’s not going to bite you. It gives a lot of feedback and it’s very progressive in everything that it does. Yes, it doesn’t have the grip that a lot of the other cars here do, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a fun and playful package.”
Still works for me in every way”
“How fun are these cars! Tyres unpredictable – exciting”
“Hilarious fun and the driver will wear out before the car does”
Gutless, but who cares. I could drive this thing all day long”
Family wagon fi nds its purpose on the road, not at a racetrack
GIVEN THE road-car bias of this thing, Skoda (or, at least, Volkswagen) has done an impressive job of engineering a decent performance wagon into the bargain here. True, the Octavia RS was more or less handed its own backside by some of the other stuff here, but as a car to get to and from a racetrack rather than to drive on it exclusively, the RS would take a bit of beating in this company.
So where’d they get it right? Well, from the moment you sit inside the Octavia, you’re amazed at how lush anybody can make a car at this price point. Seriously, that diamondquilted upholstery is beyond just nice and, in line with anything else to fall off the VAG shelf, there’s a general air of being nicely put together.
Throw in power seats and you’ve got yourself a real comfy wagon that is anything but slow in the real world. In fact, the booted Octavia RS steers truly and rides better than you might have been expecting.
So where’d it go wrong for the RS? Well, those same beautifully quilted, electric chairs lack a bit of side support when you’re having a big go on the track. And there’s more that stamps the Octavia as a non-track car. (Although, if we’re honest, that’s not really a surprise.)
That starts with the lack of power-down through not having a serious front diff in the thing. You can see the result of that in the lap times and corner speeds where the RS was off the pace of the rest of the pack. Throw a decent limitedslip diff at it and it’d almost have to improve, but then the rather tasty $42K price tag might go down the gurgler at the same time.
Another part of that puzzle is the lack of a proper over-ride for the transmission, which seems a bit headstrong. Thing is, we know that the VAG DSG can be sharper than a New York stand-up when it needs to be, so who knows why this one doesn’t want to play ball to the same extent. As it is, you can prod the tranny all you like and it’ll still change gears (up or down) when it damn well feels like it.
There’s one other factor playing against the Octavia RS as a track tool, and that’s the damn stability-control program. It seems really clumsy with both traction and stability control intervening early and without a whisker of finesse. You’re left with the impression that the mapping is pretty two-dimensional and slip or yaw in any amount equals intervention. Instantly. Maybe if you could turn the program off, we’d all get along, but unless there’s a switch I missed, that isn’t possible. Hell, even for road duties, the RS’s ESP is over the top. – DM
“Not one of the cars you’d expect to be a standout performer in track performance, but it really does deliver some surprising results. Probably its biggest downfall is a lack of a diff through some of the tighter sections because you’re really struggling with wheel spin on corner exit, which hurts the lap time. But it’s a good, fun car and it’s got really good driver input and feel. You’d just love it to have a proper LSD, it would improve the driving experience.”
“Simply clever? Yeah, in so many ways”
“An honest, sensible allround performer that lives to please”
“Love it as a car but on-limit handling ain’t its thing”
“Great package, although it’s a bit allergic to the ten-tenths stuff”
BFYB calculator isn’t kind to the gripped-up boxer, but the numbers add up for judges
KEEN students will know the new Subaru BRZ tS wears the same mechanical modifications as the Toyota 86 Performance Pack, namely larger Brembo brakes and retuned Sachs dampers. Why bring two of essentially the same car? Apart from giving each manufacturer a chance, the Subaru has one extra mod, the fitment of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.
The Toybaru ethos has always been about removing tyre grip to ensure accessible thrills and on the road the BRZ tS is certainly more tied down than any example before it. On track it’s a different story. At Winton the Subaru is a gem, retaining the playful attitude that makes these cars so enjoyable at the limit, but with a more stable base.
It could be difficult to predict just how far the Toyota would slide, its tyres checking out once their lateral grip limits had been exceeded, whereas the Subaru’s Michelins refused to give up completely, always allowing the driver some control, even when looking out the side windows. For track work, the grip-to-grunt ratio of the BRZ tS is spot-on in terms of driving enjoyment, as evidenced by its third-placed judges’ ranking.
Against the clock, however, it was a different story. The benefit of those tyres is evident by the fact that the Subaru was 1.6sec quicker around Winton than the otherwise identical Toyota and it stopped more than six metres shorter, too. Nonetheless, a 1:41.20sec lap isn’t anything to get excited about when the event’s fastest machines were more than five seconds up the road.
Unfortunately, the extra traction wasn’t welcome either, as the 86 and BRZ often need a fair bit of wheelspin to keep their torque-lite boxer fours singing off the line. According to Luffy, the Subaru’s engine also felt tight, which meant the best it could manage was a lackadaisical 7.48sec to 100km/h and a 15.37sec quarter mile at 151.24km/h. Only the Suzuki was slower in a straight line.
Tie these figures to a relatively high $39,894 price tag and the BRZ tS was always going to struggle to make an impact on the BFYB formula. The similarly priced Hyundai i30 N and VW Golf GTI Original simply operated on a different performance plane thanks to their turbocharged engines.
However, while the Toybaru recipe isn’t one that’s going to be met with BFYB success, they’re never going to struggle to secure an invite, as there are few more enjoyable cars to fang around a racetrack. The BRZ and 86 can literally be thrashed all day without a hint of engine exertion or brake fade – they don’t even wear their tyres out! That said, the BRZ tS is so composed a few pounds of boost wouldn’t hurt and might just vault it a few places higher up the order. –
“It’s interesting when you compare it to the 86, the primary difference being the tyres, as you’re talking nearly two seconds worth of lap time. The tS takes the great platform and improves the grip level by 20 per cent so it doesn’t numb too many of the playful chassis’ characteristics. You can carry more rolling speed into a corner and know that mid-to-exit understeer that you potentially would normally get isn’t going to be there.”
“Works even better than 86 thanks to grippier hoops”
“Better tyres make these cars better. The most fun car here”
“Turns out giving a Toybaru grip doesn’t kill the fun”
“Extra grip enhances Subaru’s driving deity and doesn’t smother its playful nature”
Once-great athlete feels close to retirement age
WITH ITS fancy new, understeer-nixing active Driver’s Control Centre Differential, the Subaru WRX STI recorded 0-100km/h in 5.53 seconds and 0-400m in 13.71sec at 159.7km/h. Its blistering turbocharged pace, in a straight line and around Wakefield Park, won it Bang For Your Bucks, coming out on top of a monster 25-car field. That was 2005.
Thirteen years later, the WRX STI is doing 5.29sec to 100km/h and 13.51 second quarters. Time has stood still for Subaru’s much-loved rally rocket, while the game, and its rivals, have bolted off into the distance in the full embrace of progress.
In fairness, the blob-eye STI was wearing Bridgestone RE070 semi-slicks when it recorded those straight-line times in 2005, and if you fitted modern equivalents to the 2018 STI, it would doubtless be even faster, and even more brutal, as the performance testing method, in this launch control age, remains the same – redline and pop the clutch right out, as the driveline threatens to explode out the bottom of the car. While you can launch, say, a twin-clutch VW Golf R all day long if you so wished, we can’t imagine many owners redline clutch-dumping their WRX STI very often, somewhat affecting the relevancy of its straight-line numbers.
That aside, the fact remains that the STI is still a right weapon and continues to wow and entertain in equal measure on a racetrack with its relentless turbocharged acceleration, tenacious traction and lateral grip. That its fundamental hardware still feels rock solid from a performance perspective, even though it’s a bit of a classic driving experience, says a lot about the enduring appeal of the STI formula.
It’s not perfect, of course. The peaky, laggy, boosty turbocharged power delivery is a bit 2010. The hydraulic steering sounds all sorts of pure on paper, but we’d replace it with the BRZ’s EPAS system in a nanosecond. The brake pedal also gets a little disconcertingly long and the engine temps disconcertingly high. With its 1:40.4 lap time, it was also getting beaten by cars like the less powerful, front-drive i30 N.
But it’s still fun. It’s an experience, the STI, with its raw turbocharged rush and the spooky ability to tighten your line as you pick up the throttle. It’s also cheap – the STI in 2005 was $56,630, or about $75K in today’s money. In a sense, you can get the same Japanese all-wheel rocket driving experience, brand new, for $25K less in 2018.
Why you’d want to, we’re not sure. Buy a used one. Or wait until the next STI comes out in the next few years, supposedly sporting a brand new hybrid powertrain. We can only hope it not only catches the STI up to its rivals, but puts it back on top as the cut-price performance technology king. – DC
“The STI is really good. It’s got a great chassis that really gives a lot of driver feedback. Probably its biggest downfall is the ergonomics inside. You feel like you’re sitting on a park bench as there’s no support from the seats in either the back or in the base. And that’s probably the biggest downside of it. Chassis-wise it’s really strong. The brakes, a usual Achilles heel of the STI, started to give away a little bit, but overall it’s a fun car.”
“Why do I still like it when it beats me up so?”
“It’s a blast from the past – as in, 2009”
“Has been passed by its rivals, literally and metaphorically”
“As hot hatches get better to drive each year, this gets worse”
Little Suzie punches above its weight as a road car, but not on a track
A TOP 10 place in this company is pretty good going, especially when you’re packing about a third of the horsepower of something like the Audi or the Infiniti.
Then again, at $25,490 even if the bang isn’t so huge, the bucks thing is even smaller (the smallest here, by a long chalk). It’s also a fact that the Swift Sport doesn’t feel bargain-basement. Quite the opposite, in reality, and that cabin looks and smells decidedly better than the price tag would suggest.
The little engine is a beauty, although that’s dependent on you having the smarts to feed it another gear by the time the tacho has reached 5900rpm. Because after that point, the fun – and boost – is all done. Around the Winton layout, that equated to the thing needing an extra 500rpm (or even a few more) just to keep it flowing on the gearing it’s blessed with. The overall short gearing is appreciated, but like many cars before the Suzuki, the tricky Winton footprint showed up that inability to hold a shorter gear for a tiny bit longer to get you to the next braking marker.
That slight shortness of breath is amply demonstrated by pretty much all the acceleration and lap-time numbers where the Suzuki finished motherless last, but when you look at the average speeds through the various apexes, that changes and the little Zook starts to come back into it. And for all the relative lack of go, there’s no such shortfall when it comes to whoa and the Swift pulled up very darn smartly.
Pretty much all the judges agreed that there are a couple of things Suzuki could do to make big strides in a competition such as this. The first would – obviously – be to stuff some more power and torque into the thing. No brainer.
But the second, slightly more debatable statement was that the little bugger could use a front diff. Jumping straight from the driver’s chair after a few laps, that much appears obvious, but then, when you hold the Swift’s strong points up to the light, it isn’t corner speed that lets it down. So who knows; maybe a diff wouldn’t make too much difference until you sort out the rest of the performance deal.
As it is, though, there’s plenty of body-roll and slides for the taking which seems like fun for a while until you try to stay with one of the big kids in the grown-up cars. At which point the Suzuki reveals that even though it’s a fun road car, as a track-day wannabe it’s got some work to do. – DM
“So many hot hatches over the years have grown up and got bigger, heavier and loaded with electronics. But the Swift is still that fun little thing you want to throw around. Its midcorner speed is really good, but obviously it’s going to lose out on the straights. Still, through all the twisty stuff at Winton it’s a match for any car here. You can feel it wheel hike and do all the things you’d expect a small hot hatch to do. Straights are its greatest enemy.”
“Is there anything more fun at this price?”
“What a great little car. A body-rolling bundle of fun”
“Its flaws on track becomes virtues on the road”
“It is as tiny and chuckable as a terrier. Good thing”
The Stinger fi nds itself in the right place at the wrong time
WE NEEDED this. Without a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon at Bang For Your Bucks we have welcomed the Kia Stinger with open arms. Mainly because a cuddle with a four door, long wheelbase, and brawny rear-drive sedan would help ease the absence of Aussie-made fast cars. Oh, and it’ll give the photographers an easy drift shot or two.
But we haven’t lobbed it into this battle for entirely selfish reasons. Kia has been keen to sink the Stinger’s teeth into our formula after a hiding at Performance Car of the Year (against exotic competition), especially since big cars have reaped solid results at this BFYB event before.
The Aussie Holden Commodore SS Ute bowed out last year with a category win and outright fourth place behind the SS Redline. Meanwhile, the Kia has proven its 3.3-litre twinturbo V6 packs just as much punch as our old V8 larrikins.
Its 5.07sec standing sprint to 100km/h here would have split the old LS3-powered pair’s 5.01 and 5.13sec acceleration figures in 2017, along with their 400m times. Additionally, its lap time, braking and handling data would have breathed down the SS Ute’s neck. So how’d our Stinger finish towards the back end of 2018’s order?
You could cast suspicions on our choice for the bargainbased 330S. We’ve seen the Stinger go faster with wider rear rubber; the Si and GT variants get 255mm-wide rear Continentals on wider rear rims, versus the 225mm you’ll find on the back of the S. But the Si’s 4.89sec/13.01sec acceleration figures, as seen at PCOTY, would only move it up one place at BFYB this year. The GT’s adaptive dampers aren’t a solution either. They would have to reduce its lap time by a second to overcome that variant’s $11K price hike just to maintain ninth at BFYB.
Nope, the Kia’s less-than-amazing result has been decided by much tougher competition. The hot-hatch breeding season over the past 12 months has moved the goal posts on cornering speeds, lap times, price, and straight-line figures so far forward the Stinger has had no chance to really sizzle.
The judge’s scorecard has reflected that much. We rue that it has auto paddles, but no true manual mode and the fact stability control can’t truly be killed. But in contrast to the Infiniti, the Kia Stinger throws together a decent package for much less. It points true, with a nicely weighted tiller that’s geared well, and even though there’s a fair bit of roll, it handles like a Commodore SS, rather than an unlikeable oaf.
Maybe if Kia slashed the 330S’s price and made wider tyres and adaptive dampers an affordable option it’d make real waves here. But for now it’s ninth place. – LC
“The Stinger’s chassis response and dynamics are really good at Winton. The 330S’s got great front-end feel and change of direction – as a driver it gives a lot of feedback. The engine is fantastic, it has plenty of power and low-down torque. The brakes are probably its biggest let down. The rear does get a bit lively, but it makes it that bit more fun to drive. Surprisingly, as a driver it’s a more rewarding package than some at BFYB 2018.”
“Fast but flawed. Next model should be a ripper”
“Kia’s made the new XR6 Turbo. On-limit handling is… exciting”
“Fun up to around 8/10ths, a wild ride beyond that”
“The journey to sport sedan greatness is still a long one”
NISMO is an abbreviation of Nissan Motorsport, so surely its tweaked 370Z would feel right at home on a racetrack? Yes and no. Its firmer suspension, grippier rubber, stiffer bodyshell and bigger brakes certainly delivered against the stopwatch, Luffy recording a stunning 1:36.9sec circuit of Winton, a mere second behind the turbocharged (and decidedly newer) hot hatches from Ford and Honda and good enough for a clear third on the day.
It achieved this time thanks to its field-best average corner speed, its 82.97km/h effort just 0.01km/h greater than the Civic Type R’s, but hey, a win’s a win. It stopped from 100km/h in only 33.68m, again trailing only that pesky Honda. On the drag strip it wasn’t quite so impressive, but 5.87sec to 100km/h and a 14.07sec quarter mile at 167.17km/h isn’t too shabby, its relative lack of torque only beginning to show at the top end.
Surprisingly, it also sounded the business from outside, doing a damn good impression of an E46 M3 (seriously!) as it howled its way around the track, its sharp, metallic song being music to the ears of bystanders. This only makes it all the more frustrating that from behind the wheel the Nismo sounds like an asthmatic vacuum cleaner, feeling harsher and more strained with every rev from 6000rpm to the 7500rpm redline.
Despite lacking any great enthusiasm for revs, the engine is effective and the gearing well-suited to Winton. The gearshift is far from buttery smooth, but it is at least short in throw. As much as it’s painful to admit, Nissan’s auto-rev function on downshifts is absolutely flawless and allows you to gain crucial metres under braking, safe in the knowledge you can simply select the next gear at any time and the computer will sort out that tricky heel-toe thing.
Unfortunately, this electronic wizardry only removes another layer of driver involvement from what is a fairly one-dimensional driving experience. A powerful, naturally aspirated rear-drive coupe on a racetrack should result in a smile a mile wide, yet the 370Z Nismo has, in DC’s words, been “smothered in grip”.
Wearing Dunlop SP SPORT MAXX GT 600 tyres measuring 245/40 front and 285/35 rear, the Nismo just doesn’t have the power or ability to generate enough speed to stress its sticky boots. As a consequence, you simply barrel into corners as fast as you can then mash your foot to the floor on exit – there’s little finesse required. At a very fast track this stability might be an advantage, but at Winton the 370Z just wasn’t that entertaining. Our resident racer was a fan, placing it 6th, but every other judge was less impressed, ranking it either second- or third-last. – SN
“Out of all the cars here it’s probably the easiest car to produce that kind of lap time. Probably the only thing that makes the car nervous is the ABS. It’s like it has a bit of a trigger on the inside wheel and causes the car to pull a little left-right, which upsets the car. Still, the mechanical grip and the amount of lateral grip this car has is phenomenal. The gearbox is good, while the engine probably feels a little raw and unrefined.”
“Zed’s dead, baby. ”
Smothered in grip, like a bad meat pie with tomato sauce”
Substitutes handling for grip. Quick but not very pleasant”
“A car that continues to hit and miss at MOTOR. Fast, but a bit numb”
Storms the track, but fails to make the formula rain
It lacks a handbrake handle, but never mind, the GTi 270 knows how to rotate on its own
HIGH HOPES ignited for this Peugeot 308 GTi when Luffy drove the 250 version at Winton two years ago. He bailed from the car extolling praise with words like “great” and labelled it the day’s “surprise”.
They grew after when, by witchcraft, voodoo, or some magic for this 270 variant, Peugeot squeezed another 16kW from its turbocharged 1.6 litres. That means it’s good for 125kW per litre, a figure 1kW shy of a Ferrari 488 GTB twin turbo 3.9-litre V8’s own specific output.
Then there’s its chassis. It wields fearsome two-piece brakes, fat 235mm Michelins on 19-inch wheels, and a strengthened six-speed manual gearbox with a Torsen LSD nestled within. Oh, and it all weighs just 1205kg.
Adding to its hype, the real draw for the 270 is in the fact Peugeot recently shaved a fair chunk off its price. At $45,990, it’s four grand cheaper than before and would be only $1K more expensive than the 250 if that variant hadn’t been axed in favour of a more streamlined 308 line-up.
Somehow, though, all these things didn’t help it mow the competition as expected. Yes, it’s crushed all other front-drivers on track, bar one special Honda, as well as a couple of all-wheel drive weapons. And as you can clearly see in the photography it works its contact patches like a ballerina, lifting one to press on another, to hammer its way to the fourth highest average cornering speed of 81.07km/h.
But the allure starts to fade in braking zones. Despite massive 380mm front discs slicing four-piston calipers, its stopping distance of 34.99mm ends lineball with the Subie WRX STI. That’s by no means bad, but can be seen as average considering the Pug’s weight advantage.
Nor could it muster any decent pace along the drag strip, trailing the less powerful Golf GTI Original from the line and only catching it by the strip’s end.
Then there’s the experience of actually driving it. It’s no doubt effective, as all judges unanimously agreed it can cut a lap time without even peeking at the Driftbox. But so many different things erk different people. If it’s not the control weightings or brake feel, it was either its iffy ergonomics or dodgy dash design – why, Peugeot, does the rev dial spin anticlockwise? And that’s reflected in its rather average ranking.
It’s all a shame, because the 308 shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s solidly built, hugely fast, and expertly engineered. We’d happily tell someone to consider it over a Golf GTI if they’re looking for something different. But as it turns out, it couldn’t manage the performance it wanted here. Let’s hope that doesn’t dampen Peugeot’s hopes in the future. – LC
“The 308 GTi is really fast on the limit. It does everything so well – it’s so positive in the front-end and it has a lot of grip. The engine’s torquey and has great driveability; there are so many things that are good with it. But then there’s so many things that are very annoying. With my seating and steering-wheel position I can’t see about 80 per cent of the dash. But its on-track performance is second to none, in that regard it’s a class act.”
“Ergonomics aside, the 308 is a towering performer”
“World’s most underrated hot hatch – if you can get used to the controls
Does the numbers, but control weights are all a bit off”
“I wanted to love it. The chassis is clearly capable, but it failed to truly talk to me”
Cracking base is crying out to be let off the leash
THE VW Golf GTI Original is a cliche on four wheels. “It’s not what you’ve got, but what you do with it”, “jack of all trades, master of none”, etc, etc. Put simply, the GTI Original doesn’t do headline stats or eye-popping numbers, it merely over achieves in every area and ends up well inside the top half once the results are tallied.
It struggles most on the drag strip, but beats its much more powerful front-drive rivals, the Peugeot 308 GTi 270 and Hyundai i30 N, to 100km/h before fading slightly over the 400m. It claws ground back with its chassis, stopping in just 34.38m from 100km/h, matching its all-wheel drive bigger brother for average apex speed and beating the Subaru WRX STI by 0.2sec around a lap.
It ticks boxes subjectively, too. It feels agile, light on its feet and more powerful than its 169kW would suggest. It brakes strongly, turns in eagerly, responds quickly to mid-corner throttle changes and has an absolutely beautiful gearchange. Every facet feels finely engineered and complements every other beautifully.
Except the ESP system. Unlike the Golf R, the GTI Original doesn’t allow drivers to completely disable the electronics and in a performance setting this really hurts it. Even in a straight line the traction control is constantly intervening in first and second, robbing it of crucial tenths, and the same is true on the exit of every tight corner on a hot lap.
To be fair, the intervention is relatively subtle, especially if you attempt to be silky smooth to avoid upsetting the electronic nannies, but nonetheless it prevents the GTI putting its best foot, ahem, wheel forward. Imagine if Usain Bolt was forced to wear terrible shoes that held him back from running as quickly as he could? He could very well be the fastest man alive, but we’d never know as he could never perform at his best – that’s the GTI Original on a racetrack.
There’s a supremely playful hot hatch lurking within the GTI, but every time you get close to the limit and feel that rear end start to move around the health and safety brigade come in to start grabbing brakes to straighten the ship. It’s a shame, and frustrating. As a result, the judges’ scores align with its objective numbers – average, rather than troubling the podium like it would if it was truly allowed to express itself.
In the final reckoning, the Golf GTI Original actually tied with the Hyundai i30N in fifth place, however, due to the Hyundai’s higher judges’ ranking – fifth versus eighth – the Korean received the nod in the overall standings. Still, the fact remains that the GTI punches above its weight, successfully keeping more powerful, better equipped rivals honest. – SN
“Such a fun car on the limit. It does everything you want, with the benefit of power levels that some of the smaller hot hatches don’t have. It’s not one of those cars that you kind of go ‘yeah, I’ve got the best out of it’ – you want to keep going. It doesn’t really have any faults on track. It handles well, it’s got good front-end grip and stability, great change of direction and most importantly from a driver’s perspective, it gives you confidence.”
“Purity in tartan”
“Just lovely. Sweet controls, even a bit playful. Boo ESP”
ESP prevents its true excellence being expressed
“Unlike milk, I find the Golf GTI better when it’s of the light, reduced kind”
Solid result for Namyang’s fi rst proper hot hatch
THE HOTTEST Hyundai ever is a total bargain on paper. For $39,990 you get 202kW and 378Nm from a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four, 19-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, a tricky electronically locking front differential and all the exhaust pops and bangs you could ever ask for.
And so, having arrived at its first-ever Bang For Your Bucks, hyped like it was made by Steven Spielberg himself, top honours are not within the i30 N’s grasp this time around. So what gives?
In fairness, by the time you mix Bang and Buck together, there was very little separating sixth to third. A bit of extra speed, or a few less grand, could have been the difference between fifth and a podium for the i30 N.
In a sense, as well, it’s done its job to finish ahead of the VW Golf GTI Original and Peugeot 308 GTI 270. Technically, as you’ve read, it’s tied with the GTI Original on the BFYB index, but comes out a spot ahead as it was much more popular with the judges.
What the numbers don’t tell you is that the i30 N was one of the few cars that felt great on the track, a car that you wanted to keep going around in (when there were other cars here in which you did the bare minimum laps, and then jumped into something else). The seats hold you in, there’s a strong connection through the steering to the front wheels, the tyres feel tenacious and the brakes solid, challenging you to give all you’ve got. Forgetting all the hype and just focusing on the i30 N on merit, this is a fun car on track, up for a bit of lift-off oversteer fun as well, if you dare.
Would we buy an i30 N if we intended on taking it to track days? Absolutely – and we can’t quite stress how big a call this is, as so many supposed track-able performance cars – some of which are in this very company – we wouldn’t dream about taking to regular track days. The i30 N felt great at Winton, the tyres and brakes more than holding up.
If we had to level some criticism at the hottest Hyundai ever, it would be that while the interior styling and ergonomics are quite good, you can see where some cost is saved with material quality, particularly compared to its European rivals. It’s also just not as fast to 100km/h as we thought it would be – 6.82sec was more than half a second slower than the GTI Original, a car with supposedly 30 less kilowatts.
But a solid performance it was for the i30 N, popular with the judges for fun factor and plenty fast for its price. It’s just that there were cars on the day that were more expensive, but also with more than enough pace to counterbalance their extra cost. – DC
“The i30 N was pleasantly surprising out on track – this thing’s really punching above its weight. Its only downfall is that it misses out on a bit of straight-line speed. But through some of the fast-flowing and also tight and twisty stuff it’s very positive at the front-end. The overall balance, confidence and feedback that it relays makes you want to do more laps. It doesn’t do all the work for you and that’s what makes it a good driver’s car.”
“A proper fist of a hot-hatch first time out”
“Must. Forget. Hype. If you can do that, it’s terrific on track”
“Poised and predictable, but not as potent as expected”
“Great, involving package can’t shine bright as more expensive hot-hatch giants”
Grunt-packed hyper hatch fails to overpower the podium
IF YOU’RE going to be the most expensive entrant in the Bang For Your Bucks contest, you’re going to want to be extremely quick to have any chance of a decent result. And boy is the updated Audi RS3 Sportback quick. It dominated the drag strip, setting the fastest figures ever recorded at BFYB, jetting to 100km/h in 4.01sec and blitzing the quarter mile in 12.18sec at 186.57km/h, while 80-120km/h takes just 2.4sec. Nothing else came close.
The new all-alloy 2.5-litre turbo five-pot has shaved a couple of tenths off its predecessor’s acceleration times and has thankfully retained the RS3’s signature warble. It provides a great accompaniment to hot laps around Winton, but of greater importance to its dynamics is the 16kg weight loss the engine’s new, lighter construction provides.
The RS3 has always felt more at home on the road than the racetrack, and despite the lighter nose, understeer is the predominant handling trait at the limit. However, crucially, there’s just enough chassis adjustability to prevent hot laps being an exercise in frustration. Carry the brakes gently on turn-in and the rear will edge out slightly, relieving the front tyres of some stress and allowing a straighter exit – from there the monster engine takes over once more and rockets you in fast forward to the next bend.
Push hard and Audi’s five-pot hottie starts to get a bit sooky: the gearbox won’t accept early downshifts making it hard to slow the car sufficiently, at which point the nose runs wide of the apex. The RS3’s Haldex-based all-wheel drive system works a treat at getting all the power to the ground, but can’t divert enough power to the rear to really help steer the car.
In fact, the RS3 now almost feels a little overpowered, the front pulling wide if you get greedy with the throttle on corner exit – the VW Golf R is certainly the better balanced, more rewarding tool, a fact reflected in every judge placing the slower, less powerful car ahead on their scorecards.
It’s a feeling backed up by the stopwatch: for all its power and acceleration, the RS3 only lapped 1.4sec faster than the Golf R, which itself wasn’t particularly brisk, and trailed the Peugeot 308 GTi 270 by 0.2sec. The culprit is its mediocre corner speed, its 77.2km/h average in the same league as the Suzuki Swift Sport and Skoda Octavia RS245 rather than taking it to the Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type R.
But who needs corner speed when you have a hot hatch that sounds like a baby supercar, can pin your body into the seat under acceleration and has a top-notch interior? By playing to its strengths, the RS3 nabs fourth place, missing the podium by a whisker. – SN
“The RS3 is a car that promises so much. It looks and sounds good and it’s a beautiful car to drive on the road, but in a racetrack environment it is a real let-down. It’s a point and squirt car and it’s got chronic understeer. It feels very heavy over the nose so you’re always struggling to try and slow it up enough so you can turn it and rotate it and then use the power out of the corners. The RS3 is not a car that you want to jump back in when you’re at a track.”
“Light blue touch paper and retire to the nearest ditch”
“Lovely engine warble. Less-lovely understeer. Better on the road”
“Mucho motor and just enough playfulness to prevent frustration”
“What it offers in acceleration it lacks in dynamic character”
Budged-based hot hatch benefits from manual labour
ORDINARILY, shipping us a BFYB car with a conventional manual gearbox when the thing is also offered with a sharpshifting DSG would be a hiding to nowhere. But maybe not this time, in the case of the VW Golf R Grid.
See, what the conventional six-speed manual lacks in shiftspeed, it almost certainly makes up for in entertainment value, and there wasn’t a judge here who wasn’t glad to see a Golf R with three pedals. In fact, if this year’s Bang was anything to go by, we could be seeing the return of the clutch pedal. Although this sadly isn’t the case for the front-drive GTI range as it’s set to go DSG-only in the future.
As it turned out the Grid’s 0-100 time wasn’t too badly distorted by having to operate a clutch and 5.6 seconds is a good result. Even better was the 400m time of 13.6 which, if you ignore the time of the ballistic Audi, is right up there at the pointy end. Okay, so that’s all-wheel drive for you, even if the corner speed average at Winton was a bit less impressive.
What’s going on? Hard to know, because the Grid deal is really just a smaller infotainment screen and a delete of the leather seats. It’s still got the same 213kW tune of the other Golf R, but for some reason, this particular car felt like it had a driveline that was simply a better match for its chassis.
Yes, the 2.0-litre turbo-mill has always been a cracker, but now it just seems even fatter and it’s never in any danger of quitting on you.
Again, yes, the Focus feels fitter (and it is) but you’d never call the Golf R a slacker. And with the manual gearbox with which to keep flogging it along, it’s about as much fun as a Golf has ever been.
And that’s the key, really – the Grid is bulk fun. Even if it’s not going to stay with the Focus (and it won’t, based purely on the numbers for which BFYB is so rightly infamous) it will still be making you laugh lap after lap. Need proof? Okay, so the Nissan 370Z and the Peugeot 308 were both faster around Winton. In fact, almost 3.0sec and 1.5sec faster respectively. But neither of those car was anywhere near as much thigh-slapping fun as the Golf R. In fact, both the Nissan and the Pug only outgunned the Grid on the basis of superior stomp and when nobody’s grizzling about the Golf’s urge in the first place, can it not be said that enough is enough? Especially if it means more smiles-per-hour anyway?
“The R Grid Edition takes the fundamentals that make the GTI so great and simply adds to it again. It’s got all the things you want to have on your wish list in one car. You can definitely feel the difference with the adaptive dampers as you can trail brake and get a bit of looseness in the rear. VW has given it back a bit of liveliness and character that it always had. You’ve got to be smooth to get the most out of it, but it’s a 10 out of 10 for fun factor.”
“Manual gearbox returns to hero’s welcome”
“The best ‘car’ here. What is the Golf R not good at?”
Most don’t realise just how good this car is. Shame on them
“Amazing all-rounder, but can’t help wanting its oily bits under a lighter three-door bodyshell”
In the end, it comes down to the way the car interfaces with you rather than simply its clinical abilities. The Golf has beautifully weighted steering, for instance, with enough feel to remind you that, really, nobody does electric power-steer as well as the VAG. The Grid sounds good, the seats are lovely and there’s just enough tail-out action – if you’re game – to keep you entertained without getting you in too deep.
Fact is, we’ve often driven Golf Rs and GTIs back-to-back and wondered out loud if maybe the purity of the GTI’s execution would get it over the line against its big bro. But this time, even though it was predictably grippier than the GTI, the Grid in R spec just seems like a double helping of that concept.
Balance is a word used a lot at times like these, but often it’s to paper over a shortfall in some area or other. But in the case of the Golf R Grid, ‘balance’ is still entirely appropriate, yet it doesn’t infer the same apology. Not a bit. – DM
Newfound grip and a trick LSD transforms an already formidable package
THERE will possibly be those who don’t reckon that the Limited Edition version of the Focus RS should be here at all. They will point at the BFYB rule that says a car must be substantially changed (or totally new) before it can have a second bite at the Bang cherry. They will further ague that autonomous braking and blue leather trim does not a new Focus make.
Well they can get stuffed. Because let me tell you right here, right now, that while smart braking and dead cow won’t cut it, the Quaife LSD and the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 hoops most certainly do. And isn’t it nice to see a manufacturer spending the money where it’s needed, rather than window-dressing a car that still trips over its own scarf in a corner?
To be brutally honest, the Focus RS didn’t wow us at last year’s Bangfest as much as it probably should have. Well, speaking for myself anyway. I just came away from the Winton circuit wondering why the RS didn’t carry more corner speed. Oh sure, it was fast in a lap-time sense, but purely because it jumped out of turns so hard and accelerated like it was on fire. But actual mid-corner speed? I couldn’t find it.
But now, with the extra power-down of the clever diff and those super sticky Cup 2s, I was able to make the Focus flow so much better. Suddenly, I could tip it in, line up the apex and get back on the noise fast, just as you should be able to in an all-wheel drive hot hatch. Luffy’s equal-fastest lap time in the wee blue Ford backs that up; so does the RS’s average cornerspeed trace that puts it up at the pointy end. And suddenly, you can make better use of that super-quick steering-rack and the way it allows you to really stick a fork in the apex rather than simply brush by it, hoping for the best.
In fact, the RS is a car that will easily cope with giving the ripple-strips a bit of an elbow now and then, too. There’s more compliance than I remember and, while that does amount to a small degree of body roll, the damping is bang on the money. And since the seats grab you so well, that bit of roll doesn’t matter quite as much.
This new level of grip and poise allows you to also further exploit the Focus’s other charms of which there are many. Primary among them, of course, is that monster engine which not only sounds grouse, but also tugs you along like only a 257kW claymore mine can. You still get a slight sense of disjointedness as the acceleration graph dips while you shift gears, but that’s really only because it’s such a surging animal when it boosts back up and, possibly, because we’ve all become used to seamless double-clutch transmissions.
Perhaps the only mild downside to all this new grip is that the RS is even harder to launch across 400m than ever. You need to ignore all concepts of mechanical sympathy, rev the thing to the limiter and side-step the clutch. Fortunately, the RS feels like it would take that sort of thuggery all day long, but sometimes, even that level of brutality is insufficient to keep the engine on boost and the 60-foot times where they should be.
Frankly, the new LE version of the Focus RS is so good that had it turned up last year in the same form, it might very well have taken home the chocolates. Problem with waiting 12 months to give us the LE is that the rest of the world hasn’t been standing still either. – DM
“You can drive the Ford Focus RS LE really hard into the corner, to the point where you feel like you’ve gone in too quick, but as soon as you grab the throttle, all of the electronics makes the car turn and rotate. Yet, in some lowspeed stuff I think the basic mechanical grip isn’t quite a match for some of the other cars here. Still, this thing, on the limit, is a huge amount of fun. It’s also got a great engine, that’s reasonably torquey.”
“Stickier tyres have completed the picture”
Made for the track, endlessly fun, epic chassis to explore”
“Fast and grippy yet supremely adjustable. So much fun”
“Tyres and diff inject it with unbelievable grip levels, but its brakes eventually went soggy”