With the acceleration and top speed runs at Avalon, a day at Winton and the Hillclimb behind us, it was time to cull our 19-strong field down to six finalists. No one had started talking about a winner yet – but every judge had opinions on what not to keep.
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2004 issue
The process of paring down the field is based around an overall score out of 80 points. There’s a fair bit of subjectivity in each area of voting (performance, handling, driveability, styling and value) but once the score is committed to paper, that’s it. There’s no tampering to bring any car into the limelight simply because it’d look good on the cover.
All this leads to some major differences of opinion, boiling tempers and, as you can imagine, loads of swearing among the judges. But none of it makes any difference in the final wash-up, because by then the scores have been tallied and those cars not worthy of going on to the hallowed top six are sent packing.
When the potty mouth had died down and the straight jackets removed, the final six weren’t too far from each of the judges’ personal favourites. So, although the following deserve praise for making it into the Performance Car of the Year field this year, in the end they just didn’t show the sort of mettle needed to be within the top six.
CSV Mondo GT370R
Brawny? You bet. Delicate? No way. The Mondo is a car you cherish one minute and curse the next.
There’s no doubting its straight-line ability. With that giant 6.5-litre lump of V8 iron, the GT370R flew down the strip, second only to the Gallardo on top speed. It also put up a mighty showing at Winton, where its ability to lay power down early on smooth surfaces and rapid acceleration saw it slot into the top four.
It was a vastly different story on the road, however. The chassis felt overstretched and the suspension less than resolved on anything but the smoothest of roads. Give it too much leash and it would bite back – hard!
PCOTY 2004 Results - 19th
0-400m: 13.60sec @ 177.0km/h
0-1000m: 24.10sec @ 224.6km/h
Top Speed: 282km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 42.71sec
|Design & Function (/10)||8||5||6||8||6||5||4|
Total Score: 341/560
Like many that failed to make the grade, the Crossfire did most things reasonably well but failed to leave any lasting impression. “Safe but unexciting” was the general consensus.
The Misfire was one of the slowest cars at Avalon. It did manage to redeem itself at Winton, however, finishing inside the top 10 on lap time, thanks to the grip generated by its enormous wheel and tyre package. But in other areas – steering, throttle response, brakes – it just felt too stodgy. The DSC kept interfering just when we were starting to have fun, too.
classic MOTOR: Crossfire review
PCOTY 2004 Results - 18th
0-400m: 15.07sec @ 151.0km/h
0-1000m: 27.37sec @ 193.8km/h
Top Speed: 233km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 44.87sec
|Design & Function (/10)||4||5||5||6||6||7||7|
Total Score: 351/560
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
The Alfa was a car everyone wanted to see do well, but it just didn’t come together. It was the fastest of the hatches at Avalon but displayed some nasty torque steer when punting hard and a penchant for spinning its inside wheel in tight corners. With all-wheel drive it’d probably be a match for a WRX. As it stands, it just can’t match the efforts of its superb engine.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 17th
0-400m: 15.06sec @ 156.5km/h
0-1000m: 26.96sec @ 200.0km/h
Top Speed: 239km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 47.21sec
|Design & Function (/10)||6||5||7||8||6||7||6|
Total Score: 360/560
Holden Commodore SS
The General’s PCOTY hope didn’t want for pace, not with a raucous 245kW 5.7-litre V8 and only 1658kg to shift. But there were far more rewarding alternatives in this bunch when we took to Winton and the Hillclimb.
The problem with the SS is that it lacks the handling finesse of much of the assembled competition – its steering and body control coming in for particularly harsh treatment from the judges. Not even its keen price could bring it back into the reckoning.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 16th
0-400m: 14.50sec @ 162.5km/h
0-1000m: 25.95sec @ 207.8km/h
Top Speed: 251km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 46.13sec
|Design & Function (/10)||6||6||7||7||5||7||7|
Total Score: 364/560
Bentley Continental GT
If Cockburn had his way, I’m sure this car would be planted big on the cover under the words “Performance Car of the Year”. Our resident Anglophile and the big Bentley were nigh on inseparable. But at the expense of shattering his dream, it was swimming in the wrong pool. It’s a sublime, fast GT, but not a PCOTY champ.
Yeah, the Continental GT is bloody quick in a straight line, slotting in behind only the Lamborghini and CSV for top speed at Avalon. The really astonishing thing is just how easy it is to come close to 300km/h in Crewe’s imposing leather and walnut-lined coupe. You simply plant your right foot and hold the wheel straight. The twin-turbo W12 hardly sounds like it’s working at all.
At Winton, however, the Bentley felt ponderous and lacking in any real feedback. Even the stiffest of the air suspension’s four settings failed to rein in big amounts of body movement. Someone said it was like watching a rhino on ice skates. The Continental GT is right at home on motorways and flowing secondary roads; just don’t ask too much of it on twisty strips of bitumen.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 15th
0-400m: 13.88sec @ 171.9km/h
0-1000m: 24.58sec @ 225.9km/h
Top Speed: 280km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 45.03sec
|Design & Function (/10)||4||5||7||7||6||6||8|
Total Score: 373/560
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
If PCOTY proved one thing, it was that the 2355kg Cayenne is no sports car – not in the Porsche mould, anyway. Yes, the twin-turbo 4.5-litre V8 did a stellar job of hurtling the Cayenne down the strip. But show it a corner and the laws of physics soon conspire to wipe the smile off your face.
A combination of all that weight and generous height sees the body heave and understeer quickly build until you’re forced to back off early to keep it all under control. In the end it’s better to back off and allow the Porsche to do what it does best: cruise. But that’s not the real spirit of Porsche, is it?
classic MOTOR: 2004 Cayenne S v HSW Avalanche
PCOTY 2004 Results - 14th
0-400m: 14.49sec @ 159.7km/h
0-1000m: 26.10sec @ 205.6km/h
Top Speed: 250km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 46.12sec
|Design & Function (/10)||6||5||6||8||5||7||7|
Total Score: 376/560
Volvo S60 R
The Volvo was let down mainly by its lack of real involvement and an odd suspension set-up that lacks damping control.
Hardly distinguished at Avalon, it also languished towards the tail of the field at Winton, where poor steering and dull brakes conspired to spoil any headway won by its torquey engine and grippy chassis.
On the road, the Volvo felt more at home. But only if you had its suspension pegged to comfort. Choose sport mode and the damping becomes too stiff for its own good, creating sharp vertical movements that upset momentum and have you backing off way before you would in other cars assembled here.
classic MOTOR: S60 R review
PCOTY 2004 Results - 13th
0-400m: 14.58sec @ 156.6km/h
0-1000m: 26.40sec @ 204.0km/h
Top Speed: 250km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 47.00sec
|Design & Function (/10)||6||6||7||7||6||8||7|
Total Score: 378/560
Something wasn’t quite right with the Jag’s gearbox and brakes. McConville reported a “big clunk” from underneath while hot lapping it at Winton, and the brakes were very second-hand after a couple of runs, after which we didn’t have the heart to keep pushing.
Up until then, however, it had proved capable if not exactly scintillating company. The XJR’s supercharged 4.2-litre V8 is incredibly smooth, impressing at Avalon by being just 0.4sec shy of the Lambo on 0-100km/h acceleration, despite its lack of outright brawn.
But it was a different story at the track. Big body movements conspired to strip away confidence during hard cornering, and it was also difficult to catch once it decided to let go, owing to slow steering and a general lack of feel.
That said, the Jaguar’s keys were always snapped up quickly when it was time to hit the road. This speaks volumes for its character. It’s a superb cruiser; just don’t make the mistake of calling it a sports car.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 12th
0-400m: 13.96sec @ 167.0km/h
0-1000m: 25.17sec @ 214.6km/h
Top Speed: 252km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 45.94sec
|Design & Function (/10)||6||6||7||7||6||8||6|
Total Score: 379/560
Holden Astra SRi Turbo
Our BFYB champion might offer solid performance for your dollar, but that doesn’t automatically place it at the pointy end of the field here. It was dead last in all but the standing kilometre split at Avalon and trailed the field again at Winton, despite the efforts of its energetic 2.0-litre turbo engine.
On the track, the Astra was hampered by a tendency to spin its inside front wheel in corners and the odd torque steer moment. It’s fun on the road, but like the Alfa it can’t really cope with all that power going through the front wheels.
classic MOTOR: Astra SRi Turbo v 206 GTi 180 comparison
PCOTY 2004 Results - 11th
0-400m: 15.44sec @ 149.2km/h
0-1000m: 27.86sec @ 194.7km/h
Top Speed: 232km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 48.14sec
|Design & Function (/10)||7||8||7||8||7||7||9|
Total Score: 389/560
Subaru Liberty GT
Everyone agreed the Liberty was great fun on the road, where the modest power from its turbocharged 2.0-litre flat four, sharp steering and superb balance held it in good stead. But at Avalon and Winton the Subaru found itself towards the bottom of the timing sheets. Part of the problem rests with its five-speed automatic, which is difficult to operate and anything but the latest in gearbox technology.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 10th
0-400m: 14.99sec @ 150.2km/h
0-1000m: 27.60sec @ 189.4km/h
Top Speed: 234km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 47.06sec
|Design & Function (/10)||7||6||8||6||6||8||7|
Total Score: 390/560
FPV Falcon GT
If engine note was the sole criteria by which this contest was judged, the GT might have stayed the distance. But despite the efforts of its 5.4-litre V8, it never got ahead of the Clubbie at Avalon. Put that down to its hefty 1835kg kerb weight.
Winton wasn’t kind to the big Ford, either. An inability to get the power down early saw it drop down the leader board. Its on-limit behaviour is actually quite good, but it’s not as progressive as the Clubbie and offers less feedback. Personally, I had an issue with the level of grip at the front, which is very softly sprung.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 9th
0-400m: 14.52sec @ 162.8km/h
0-1000m: 25.81sec @ 209.7km/h
Top Speed: 254km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 45.57sec
|Design & Function (/10)||7||7||7||7||6||8||8|
Total Score: 405/560
A raging favourite early, and so astonishingly agile and entertaining on the Hillclimb that plenty of judges tried to squeeze seven into six. But it didn’t go, and you can take that both ways. Its biggest point of difference – the engine – was also the biggest shortfall.
In a straight sprint it didn’t lose out by much, but in the real world, when you ask for it to torque to you, it falls short, especially against the Zed. A brilliant piece of engineering in so many ways, it was quirky enough to have bags of turn-in oversteer at Winton, then felt serenely progressive on the Hillclimb’s bumps and cambers. Unbelievably good brakes helped, too.
In short, though, the chassis carries the engine. Perhaps Mazda would have been better off with a turbocharged Mazda6 mill. Instead of being its deal-sealer, the rotary is, in this company, its downfall.
classic MOTOR: RX-9 meets the Cosmo
PCOTY 2004 Results - 8th
0-400m: 14.58sec @ 156.6km/h
0-1000m: 26.50sec @ 199.8km/h
Top Speed: 235km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 44.62sec
|Design & Function (/10)||7||6||9||8||8||6||9|
Total Score: 421/560
Boy, did this car create debate among the judges. Some loathed it. Others loved it.
Two things mould the S4’s character above all else: its responsive (if not blazingly powerful) 4.2-litre V8 and its traction-inducing all-wheel-drive underpinnings. It’s a ridiculously easy car to drive fast. Try harder in corners, though, and while initial grip is strong, it eventually pushes wide of the apex. The steering is nicely weighted but a little slow to respond to sudden directional changes. Drama is conspicuous only by its absence, which, depending on your priorities, is either a good or bad thing.
The appeal of the S4 is very much the same as with the RS 6: efficient and quick, except that you haven’t got anywhere near as much power to play with and it’s not as well tied down in the twisty stuff.
PCOTY 2004 Results - 7th
0-400m: 14.38sec @ 160.4km/h
0-1000m: 25.81sec @ 212.0km/h
Top Speed: 261km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 44.31sec
|Design & Function (/10)||7||7||8||8||9||7||9|
Total Score: 435/560