South Australia, the great land of strange posh accents, Stobie poles, Farmers’ Union Iced Coffee, a great ocean of dirt and, dare we say, an even greater inferiority complex. Did you know South Australia was the only colony not settled by convicts? If you didn’t, clearly you’ve never met a true blue South Australian before.
Yet as much as we like poking fun at our South Australian friends – they love to call Adelaide small, but hate it when someone interstate says as much – this great land is quickly becoming a Mecca for car and motorsport enthusiasts. Like a spaceship from Independence Day, the otherworldly Bend Motorsport Park has arrived and landed permanently an hour south-east of Adelaide.
With a proper FIA Grade 2 racetrack, up to 7.77km long, Australia’s only CIK karting track and soon, an ANDRA-spec dragstrip, its creators imagine The Bend as a one-stop “theme park” for motorsport enthusiasts. And also their gift – from a wealthy family of migrants who own an empire of BP service stations – to a state of Australia they owe so much.
Meanwhile, independent of that, and merely 30 minutes from Adelaide’s CBD itself lies a playground of tarmac rally roads known as the Hills, where the locals drive fast and dawdlers driving at what would be normal eastern seaboard speeds are almost ran off the road.
So what better place, we thought, than to aim an 11-strong armada of some of the year’s hottest fast new cars. Engineering over-achievers, the best metal released in Australia in the last 12 months – that we could get our hands on – precisely $2.2m, 3685kW, 72 cylinders and 13 turbochargers. This is the first time in its 23-year history Performance Car of the Year – Australia's original, best and most-trusted performance car award – has strafed South Australia.
The Plan is thus: Day One, send the troops and weaponry 650km from Melbourne to The Bend Motorsport Park. Day Two and Three, tear off in search of Adelaide’s best roads. Day Four, hit The Bend Motorsport Park’s challenging 3.41km West Circuit (leaving the 7.77km monster configuration to another day as we'd need a week to do our track testing alone...).
This includes drag times, run on The Bend's flat, 1km front straight. Day Five, collapse in a heap, slash drive all the way back to Melbourne. Test 11 cars between five judges, get essentially a magazine’s worth of notes and photography, two TV show segments for the new WhichCar program on Channel 10, and a whole lotta ones and zeros for the MOTOR website and social media (PCOTY is not confined to a magazine these days, oh no). And all on a budget dwarfed by whatever is tangled in Clive Palmer's pocket lint on a given day... whose idea was all this again?
With the battleground and the strategy for our high octane offensive outlined, let’s talk weaponry.
Having spent our childhoods rubbing rabbits’ feet, avoiding mirrors, black cats and ladders and hoping there’s a car god listening to our prayers, now in adulthood we have the very privileged task of testing hundreds of new performance models every year.
We know which cars are good – and which are mutton dressed as lamb. Coalescing in the MOTOR hivemind over 12 months, The PCOTY Shortlist forms throughout the year, approximately 20 of the fastest, finest, hottest and most cutting-edge new machines you can park in your driveway.
Then, we whittle it some more, and then some whittling happens whether we like it or not – Ferrari 812 Superfast? Not available (still licking wounds from a few years ago?) Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, McLaren 600LT and Senna, 992 911? Also not quite here yet, but walk-up starts for PCOTY 2020.
And so we give you our 2019 PCOTY competitors, beginning, we may as well, with the one car that looks like a super-sized red-back spider and copping probably the same amount of up-scaled venom: the Porsche 911 GT2 RS.
Dripping with intimidation, the GT2 RS is a 911 Turbo dipped in a bubbling vat of lunacy in the early stages of production. Power from the 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-six is upped to an OH&S-incompatible 515kW. And then, in possibly the greatest test for Porsche’s traction control and ESP engineers, the front driveshafts are removed to create a rear-drive only car.
Unlike GT2s past, this RS is seven-speed PDK only – no manual. Which is probably for the best, as with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 2.8 seconds – and a claimed 0-200km/h of 8.3 seconds, only 0.5sec off a 918 Spyder – the GT2 RS keeps you busy enough.
Beast? Yes. Expensive? $729,930 as-tested, a $41K chunk of that the lighter weight Weissach Pack. With a GT3 RS and Touring potentially also available, we invited the GT2 RS as the ultimate of all three released in the last 12 months. But can its epic performance overcome its epic price?
Attempting to prise PCOTY victory from the pincers of the red Nürburgring king, BMW has stumped up two Bavarian bruisers in the M5 and M2 Competitions. The former has had its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 wound to an eye-watering 460kW/750Nm – but has all-wheel drive turned the legendary M sedan into something a bit limp? We doubt it, but we’ll find out in what will be the F90 M5’s first PCOTY appearance.
Nobody can expect anything other than tyre-frying rear-drive excitement from the M2 Competition under whose bonnet now nestles the M4’s S55 twin-turbo straight-six – literally nestling in a hoop of structural carbon-fibre. Both these BMWs, thanks in part to things like solid suspension mounts, promise next-level driver connection and track stamina.
Also hailing from the Fatherland is the Mercedes-AMG GT C. With hardware from the big daddy GT R, the potent 410kW twin-turbo V8 GT C hopes to redeem the AMG GT’s somewhat disappointing third place finish at its first PCOTY in 2016. Hell, if this was a competition for hottest-looking car, the brooding, all-hips GT C would be a walk-up start.
Doing away with turbochargers or any kind of forced induction for their V8s, there’s the Ford Mustang GT and Chevrolet Camaro 2SS. Technically rivals, a $10K price gap separates these two American muscle cars. The Mustang is fresh from a facelift, the big news a 10-speed auto with close-packed ratios, but also Ford’s new nag is a bit faster, louder, and generally fitter.
The Camaro boasts a cubic advantage over the 5.0-litre Mustang, and a sinister V8 noise. Holden Special Vehicles converts the Camaro to right-hand drive – so what will this brand new era of V8 rear-drive performance yield at PCOTY 2019? At the very least, it needs to beat Mustang.
Rivalries simmer in the hot hatch ranks. Last year, the Honda Civic Type R took a shock win at Performance Car of the Year, proving you don’t need supercar performance to wow our judges. How did it win? It had as much talent as the best supercars. And so the i30 N, Hyundai’s first crack at a hot hatch, arrives at PCOTY with high hopes – and it should, as it’s fantastic.
Renault Sport also fronts with its new Megane RS280, and presumably similarly high hopes, however, while Renault has a history of stellar hot hatches, we will have to see how the latest front-drive Frenchie fares as it’s not exactly proven popular with road testers thus far.
A car that has, however, is also French – the Alpine A110. It has the same engine as the RS280, but in the back, and driving the rear wheels. An aluminium-rich chassis cuts weight to just 1103kg. Could the early hype translate into a PCOTY victory?
Audi's screaming atmo V10 R8 ‘Rear Wheel Series’ is a dark horse. Having shelved the quattro system for this car – it's rear drive – and at a relatively sharp $321K as-tested, the R8 RWS is hoping for a repeat of R8 PCOTY victories in 2009 and 2013.
The RS4 Avant is another contender from the Ingolstadt stable. Diehard fans may rue the atmo V8 being replaced with a twin-turbo V6, but trust us, the torque-rich six-potter has taken the RS4 to a new level of acceleration and overall ability.
As ever, this is not a comparison test; we are not directly comparing a $45K Hyundai to an Audi R8. By way of the judging criteria above, each car is measured against its intended purpose and how close the manufacturer got. To simplify further, a lot of it is just how good the car is – according to our very experienced judging panel and their highly calibrated bum-o-meters. (That’s a technical term.)
Speaking of which, it's time to put those into action, grab the keys, brim the tanks and head for the hills – the Adelaide ones.
Turbo I4, mid engine, RWD, 185kW/320Nm, 1103kg, $106,500
It’s French, mid-engine, quite bloody fast and promises a classic lightweight driving experience. Dark horse
BMW M2 Competition
Twin-turbo I6, RWD, 302kW/550Nm, 1575kg, $107,900
Baby M-car scores the M4's engine and lots of tasty M bits... but don’t call it a parts-bin special. Brings back old 1M night-sweats
Ford Mustang GT
Atmo V8, RWD, 339kW/556Nm, 1742kg, $75,640
Henry’s V8 hay-muncher has had a nip and tuck but is also sharper, faster, louder... and now with a 10-speed auto
Audi R8 RWS
Atmo V10, mid engine, RWD, 397kW/540Nm, 1590kg, $321,100
A rear-drive R8, you say? With an atmo V10 spinning to 8500rpm? Excuse us a moment... the ‘Rear Wheel Series’ is on-paper perfection
BMW M5 Competition
Twin-turbo V8, AWD, 460kW/750Nm, 1865kg, $229,900
Competition treatment promises to turn the big, bad F90 into a proper track monster – if all-wheel drive hasn’t spoiled the M5
Renault Megane RS280
Turbo I4, FWD, 205kW/390Nm, 1407kg, $47,860
Renault Sport are the hot-hatch masters. So can their new Megane RS keep a hot hatch on the PCOTY trophy for another year?
Porsche 911 GT2 RS
Twin-turbo flat-6, rear-engine, RWD, 515kW/750Nm, 1470kg, $729,930
Gunning for its 14th PCOTY win, Porsche fronts with its most powerful, expensive 911 ever. Gulp
Chevrolet Camaro 2SS
Atmo V8, RWD, 339kW/617Nm, 1710kg, $85,990
HSV-converted Chevy has 1.2 litres more V8 than the Mustang – but it’ll need a few other tricks to justify the extra coin
Hyundai i30 N
Turbo I4, FWD, 202kW/353Nm, 1429kg, $43,485
It cracks, it pops, it dances – Hyundai has nailed its first ever hot hatch in the i30 N, and enters its first ever PCOTY!
Mercedes-AMG GT C
Twin-turbo V8, RWD, 410kW/680Nm, 1625kg, $345,829
AMG’s drop-dead gorgeous V8 supercar finished a lowly 3rd at PCOTY a few years ago. Can it redeem in potent GT C guise?
Audi RS4 Avant
Twin-turbo V6, AWD, 331kW/600Nm, 1715kg, $165,546
The V8 is dead. Long live the V8... but Audi’s supercar-startling war wagon now has a V6 with a twin-turbo tidal wave of torque
Head honcho, logistical mastermind and creative guru. Fastest driver in all the land. May have threatened the person writing this with a job on DOLLY
First-time judge, but no road-test newbie. Loves belting around in his Rotax; or his Forester (but is not a lesbian). Has a tapeworm called Gary
Judged the first PCOTY in 1996. Has forgotten more about cars than the rest of us know. Road-tested the Model T when it was new... probably
Rally obsessed, allergic to ESP, knows where to put a car in a corner. Feared by tyres. A favourite of photographers when tired
We’re not exactly sure who this is – he kind of just showed up and kept driving things – but we really like his suit. We wish we were sponsored by Minties!
The winning Criteria
01 - Performance
Raw speed; powertrain response, feel, and smoothness
02 - Dynamics
Grip, chassis balance, steering response, and braking ability
03 - Accessibility
Effort versus reward, ESP calibration, feedback levels
04 - Liveability
Road noise, ride comfort, ergonomics, visibility, interior
05 - Value
Price, cost of options, performance offered
06 - ‘X Factor’
Styling, exhaust note, how badly you want one in your garage
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