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Performance Car of the Year 2019: Road test

By David Morley | Photos: Ellen Dewar & Alastair Brook, 26 Feb 2019 Performance COTY

Performance Car of the Year 2019 Road test feature

Not 30 minutes from Central Adelaide are some of the best driving roads in Australia. Where better for round one of the PCOTY 2019 fight

I’m not a great passenger. Even as a kid, before I could verbalise what people were doing wrong behind the wheel, I was picking up on bad driving ju-ju.

That said, the bloke who drove me the 700km from Melbourne to The Bend (Sean, one of the video dudes) did a good job and his experience with driving big, heavy things in underground mines shone through. But even so, 700 kliks in the wrong seat of a dual-cab ute had me well and truly ready to jump in the driver’s chair of something. Anything.

And here’s what’s extra special and nice about working for MOTOR in general and PCOTY in particular. By keeping my elbows out and being bigger than any of the Motor staffers, the first car I plonked my butt into was none other than three-quarters of a million bucks’ worth of 911 GT2 RS. Some days...

A little bit of me always dies when I see a car like this with but two pedals, however, at least the PDK trans means there’s one less thing for the driver to concentrate on. Which is lucky, because even on the road – even on the one-kilometre drive to the servo – there’s plenty with which to concern oneself.

Well, there would be if the damn thing wasn’t so noisy. Seriously, it sounds like you’ve been bundled into a 44-gallon drum and rolled down a bluestone alley. While 10 kids run along beside, hitting the sides with aluminium baseball bats.

I cannot recall another Porsche where I’ve been able to hear the PDK clattering away, but in this one I could. And the road noise from the tyres suggests to me that there’s precisely zero sound deadening under those voluptuous haunches.

To be fair, most of the noise is coming from the rear of the car, but equally, when you can hear the rear pads snuggling up to the calipers when you touch the anchors, it’s fairly clear this ain’t no limo. I’m also sitting on the buckle of the harness and the Alcantara wheel and shift knob have already been darkened by somebody else’s grease. At some point, race overtakes road, and I reckon the GT2 RS has passed that point.

First thing next morning it was off on the road drive proper. So I did the only sensible thing and grabbed the keys to the Alpine. This was a car I’d been dying to get hold of since I heard about plans to build it, but even then, my high expectations were kind of matched. Okay, again, I’d personally be happier with three pedals and a stick-shift, but if you’ve gotta have a double-clutch, this is as sweet as any of them.

MOTOR history: Alpine A110's heritage

And everything else, I just loved. The look of it is great, the sound is right and the mid-engined layout gives it that little touch of special that separates mere cars from truly magnificent pieces of machinery.

And yes, I’ll put the Alpine in that category. On the road, the steering actually reminded me of the way an old, torsion-beam, air-cooled 911 kind of makes the wheel dance in your hands a bit.

Actually, the old 911 comparison holds for the overall handling, too, and while the Alpine’s front end feels just about right for the road, there’s always lift-off oversteer available. But there’s a suppleness, too, that the car’s appearance belies and with that jewel of an interior, this is a seriously good road car for two. Sounds proper, as well.

By now we’re getting into the Adelaide Hills, a region dotted with cute-as-a-button little towns all linked by entertaining, largely empty roads. And even when you do range up behind a local in an SUV, they’re just about as likely to move over and let you past as drivers in the rest of the country will sit on the centreline and speed up when you try to get by. That’s almost enough reason on its own to pack up and move to the SA hills.

By now I’m in the i30 N, reacquainting myself with a car that will go down in history as South Korea’s first proper performance car. Despite having done lots of kays in Ns over the past few months, I’m still amazed at how effortless it can be when you’re on a transit stage, yet can still instantly turn it on when you want to play. Yes, the switchable drive modes have a bit to do with that, but the inherent balance and sheer accessibility play a big part, too.

For back-to-back purposes, I then grabbed the Renault to see if it could match the Hyundai for versatility. The Megane is good, make no mistake, but I don’t think it quite nails the fast road-car brief quite as well as the i30. The ergonomics are still puzzling (the cruise main switch down near the cup holders, for instance) and it’s just not quite as easy to grab by the nads and start throwing it around.

The four-wheel-steering thing is actually very good, though, and allows you to back her into bends like a pro. There’s evidence of more top-end squirt, too. I’m beginning to think the Megane might make a bit of a mess of the Hyundai on the track.

MOTOR comparison: Megane RS280 v Civic Type R v i30 N v 308 GTi

Towards the end of the day, I found myself in the Audi RS4. Now, it’s not that I’m not impressed by this car as a concept, but set among the other bling parked at the side of the road, the RS4, even in bright red, just kind of got lost a bit. But that stealth thing is such a lovely part of the Audi’s schtick that it’s hardly a criticism. And then you drive it.

Hoo-ey, this thing is polished. Look up a dictionary and ‘resolved’ is spelled ‘RS4’. It’s lovely to sit in with that El Fabbo virtual cockpit and the rest of the trim and equipment make it a soothing, comfy place to be. But even that pales when you get stuck in and the 331kW of the turbo V6 are revealed to be ready and waiting for your throttle-call.

The eight-speed automatic works as well as one of these ever did, and after the pummelling suspension of some of this batch of hotties, the RS4 is dead-set armchair perfect. This combination of balls and civility was all brought back home to right at the end of the day when a few of the cars, the RS4 included, started to get a bit dry in the tank department.

So a pack of us hustled them down the hill into the back of Adelaide for a top-up; a process that only further cemented my view of the Audi’s brilliance. Even if it looked like any other sales-rep’s Audi wagon in the car park of our overnight digs in the German-inspired town of Hahndorf.

Within all this, we’d locked onto a little road loop just off the main LA-canyon-esque road we’d been using and it was the wee side road that allowed us to soak up a bit more of each car. And while a few cars emerged pretty much as expected from the rest of the drive, a few really gave up their souls on this side track.

Not the least of those was the AMG GT C, which started to feel, to some of us, that its suspension wasn’t perhaps quite as sorted as we’d hoped. Certainly the bigger bumps didn’t fry its brain, but the smaller, pattery gear somehow made it feel less composed.

MOTOR comparison: AMG GT C v 911 Carrera 4 GTS v Vantage

 

Okay, so a stiff ride is an AMG branding thing, I know, but it did mean you weren’t always as keen to hoik the GT C in hard, purely because you weren’t confident that it would soak it all up. Not that you were constantly thinking about a crash scenario, but with big days in the saddle, sometimes just saving your kidneys another smashing is incentive enough to back off the throttle. And this is where 16-hour PCOTY road days really sort things out.

BMW’s M5 Competition is another great example of this. Yes, it’s blisteringly fast both in a straight line and mid-corner, but in the BMW’s case it was the relatively distant dude-to-car connection that made you consider your entry-speed options.

Hell, it’ll go around a corner faster than I’ll ever need it to, but, like a millennial will tell you, it’s nice to be told that you’re doing well. In this case, the M5 Competition was giving up nothing of the sort.

It wasn’t exactly road-loop two, cars nil, but what happened next put things into perspective. Because that’s when I climbed down into the Audi R8. Now, my experience of this type of platform and rear-drive was a Lamborghini Balboni at PCOTY a few years back which immediately reminded me why they make ’em all-paw. It was scary-sketchy, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the R8 RWS.

MOTOR interview: Lambo's Valentino Balboni

Boy, was I wrong. Okay, I can see how losing the front drive axle might make a difference on the track, but on the road, it just made the thing ultra-playful; able to wag its tail if you wanted, but also mega-fast if you used your skill and judgment. And having the front tyres steer rather than steer and drive has done the steering feel no harm at all. In fact, that’s this car’s forte; the level of communication and accessibility it gives off.

The other car that shone on our little side-route was the M2 Competition. The M2 has been my fave BMW since it was launched and the Competition is even better. But on the undulations and weird radii of this little road, the short-wheelbase M2 was surely in its element. How that will translate to the track is a guess at best, but on the road, it’s magic. Oh, and it’s stealthy enough that the unmarked VF full of coppers going the other way never looked twice.

My last two road drives were reserved for the Camaro and the Mustang. Makes sense, too, because a back-to-back of this pair was always calling. Again, the day was drawing to an end and I was brain-baked. So the Camaro was a nice, comfy, familiar thing that goes like a good ’un but didn’t require you to be cracking the whip. The ride didn’t wow me, however, and the auto seemed pretty aloof. The track tomorrow would tell us more about that stuff.

MOTOR comparison: Camaro 2SS v Mustang GT

The final photos taken, the Motor crew headed for a local restaurant. Meanwhile, I’m too frazzled to bother, so I hit the road in the Mustang and headed for the old sub-station for beddy-byes. It clearly doesn’t have the stomp of the Chevy and while it is faster than the previous ’Stang, you only discover that when you rev it right out. At road speeds, using road revs, it feels no faster than the old car. I’m also starting to wonder about the 10-speed auto, too. Seems like this engine could make do with five gears and less leap-frogging between ratios, because as it is, there’s just too much going on.

There was also too much going on as I hit the final on-ramp and booted the Ford up onto the plane. Too much police presence, anyway, and just as I reached cruising velocity, there he was, a highway patrol car parked in the median strip, pointed my way. And no, he didn’t. We love you South Australia.

2019's best on track and road on PCOTY 2019

Hey, big drinker

Which car got the closest to its consumption claims?

Rank Vehicle Claimed* Measured Difference
1 Hyundai i30 N 8.0L/100km 11.4L/100km +3.4L/100km
2 BMW M2 competition 9.2L/100km 16.3L/100km +7.1L/100km
3 Alpine A110 6.2L/100km 13.4L/100km +7.2L/100km
4 Renault Megane RS280 7.2L/100km 14.5L/100km +7.3L/100km
5 Porsche 911 GT2 RS 11.8L/100km 20.2L/100km +8.4L/100km
6 Audi RS4 Avant 8.9L/100km 18.5L/100km +9.6L/100km
7 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS 11.6L/100km 21.3L/100km +9.7L/100km
8 Ford Mustang GT 13.0L/100km 22.8L/100km +18.6L/100km
9 Mercedes-AMG GT C 11.4L/100km 22.3L/100km +12.1L/100km
10 BMW M5 Comptetition 10.8L/100km 22.2L/100km +11.4L/100km
11 Audi R8 V10 RWS 12.4L/100km 25.7L/100km +13.3L/100km
*Combined urban/freeway fuel consumption

Gorge Road, SA - 26km of bliss

Hundreds of kilometres of tarmac are draped across the Adelaide Hills like ribbons of cooked spaghetti, but not every road is a winner. Gorge Road is certified gold, though, which is why it’s one of the key stages for the Classic Adelaide tarmac rally each year.

It’s almost perfect, with tight, bumpy canyon sections giving way to smooth, fast rollercoaster bits. Even better, there’s a great cafe at the Cudlee Creek end, while if you run short of fuel, it’s a quick run down the hill into town.