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Performance Car of the Year 2020: Introduction

By David Morley | Photos: Nathan Jacobs / Alastair Brook, 11 Feb 2020 Performance COTY

Performance Car of the Year 2020 Introduction feature

10 seriously clever cars, 5 full-throttle days – it’s australia’s ultimate fast car prize

What? No supercars this year? Nup. But look a little closer: This year’s Performance Car of the Year (PCOTY) field is still 10 deep (literally) with cars you would give your left whatsit to drive, let alone own. There’s something for every budget, and for every personality disorder from Jason Statham-style ‘Transporter’ to track-day lunatic.

So what are we dealing with here? Well, let’s start at the big end of town. The Mercedes-AMG GT63 S is a new concept for the brand – having a four-door bearing the GT badge – but some of the best bits of the GT remain, namely that wonderfully retro grille, twin-turbo V8 powerplant and all-wheel drive.

It’s all based on a mutant E-Class platform, but with 470kW and no less than 900Nm, even the two-tonnes-plus weighbridge ticket shouldn’t slow it down. Ever. Mind you, the $351,640 sticker might throw things into reverse for a lot of us. Yes, it’s a big, heavy car, but AMG doesn’t allow that to get in the way of producing a high-end German muscle car.

The Porsche 911 is the other uber-pricey contender, and when you’re spending $265,000 you might imagine you’d get something with a GT badge. But no, this is the Carrera S, complete with turbo three-litre flat-six and rear-drive. Output has grown to 331kW and torque is now 530Nm at just 2300rpm; proof that the modern turbo-motor has quite a bit going for it in terms of flexibility. Transmission is now an eight-speed PDK, which is also new for the 911.

Now in 992 guise, the 911 is still a big bugger (about 1.8 metres across the front guards) and the real story is about the upgraded interior over the 991. Porsche has tapped into the retro vibe for the cabin and it kind of works well with an exterior that has always been retro.

Back to Mercedes-AMG, the A35 also got a guernsey. It represents the hottest A-Class-based gadget for now (until the all-new A45 turns up) and, although it’s more or less an embiggened A250, it still manages to pack a 225kW wallop and all-wheel drive.

Its performance is not likely to be far from the original A45, so there’s plenty going on. It’s also worth remembering that, despite the three-pointed badge, this is actually a hot hatch (one of two in this scrap) and if there’s a concept that has more currency with performance fans right now, we don’t know what it is.

The other mega-hatch is the Renault Megane Trophy-R. I’ll admit that until the Civic Type R came along a couple of years ago the previous Megane Trophy was the best tail-dragger I’d ever driven. And I wasn’t alone. Which means the new one, now based on the four-door body, has mighty big boots to fill.

Mind you, with just 12 examples earmarked for Oz, you’re probably already too late. Cracking second-hand buy though, and with 221kW (up from 205 for the previous car), the Megane’s (successful) tilt at a Nürburgring front-wheel drive record was always going to happen. And so much for clever-clogs dual-clutch trannies – the Megane has a proper six-speed with that rarest of modern fitments, a clutch pedal.

At the other end of the philosophy spectrum is the unashamedly old-school Lexus RC F Track Edition. Yes, we’ve had the RC F at PCOTY before, but the Track Edition builds on what was already a solid platform with a package aimed at track-day fans.

Well, that’s the theory, but is the exterior carbonfibre and red brake calipers enough? Actually, it is, because of what the engineers started with in the first place. Namely, that five-litre V8 with the howling soundtrack and a proper ability to rev sky-high and still make power while it does so. If nothing else, the Lexus deserves to stand out for being the only normally aspirated car here.

While we haven’t had a locally made car at PCOTY for the last two years, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at least gives us a bit of a history lesson with its distinct flavour. The blown 6.2-litre V8 is ballsy enough to crank out 477kW and 881Nm, so the real question comes down to whether it can harness that without blowing the tyres clean off the thing.

Experience has shown us that the Camaro’s driveline violence is enough to send the rear bags into hiding on any surface found on planet Earth, but it’s what the big fella makes of The Bend that is the first thing we aim to find out. If it’ll hook up, it should be a riot. If not, it could be a very expensive bust. And let’s not forget, PCOTY is also about road smarts, so…

Of course, if you want to talk real old-school sensibilities, then the Lotus Exige Sport 410 has to take centre-stage. It taps into all those emotional triggers by being lightweight and mid-engined, and if the overall look doesn’t take you to somewhere like the Mulsanne Straight you’re not paying attention.

The supercharged V6 makes 306kW and, with just on 1100kg to move, it promises to be both ballistic in a straight line and a true corner-hound. While the sticker might seem a bit sharp, compare it with other mid-engined exotics with anything like the shunt and the Lotus almost starts to look like a value proposition. Never thought we’d be saying that.

Equally unthinkable just a handful of years ago was the notion that we’d have a Hyundai on PCOTY. But there’s plenty going on here, including the fact that the Genesis G70 is kind of a shortened Kia Stinger. That means it’s equipped with one hell of an engine; the twin-turbo V6 makes 272kW and, more tellingly, more than 500Nm of twist.

It’s still a big, relatively heavy car, but its rear-drive layout will strike the right note for many out there missing home-grown, big-motored, rear-drive sedans. To be fair, the G70 is probably the least track-focused car here (apart from the Stelvio), but given what we already know about the Stinger’s driveline, there’s absolutely no way we could leave it out in the cold.

Ah yes, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Look, we’ve been down this road before – taking an SUV to PCOTY and watching as the hot-hatches kick its arse. Which is precisely why we’ve given SUVs a wide berth in recent years. But the Stelvio in Q form earned selection by offering up a monstrous V6 engine that, even though it measures less than three litres and is propelling more than 1800kg, is man enough to give the brute a sub-four 0-100 time.

It’s also – despite that SUV thing – possessed of the fastest steering rack this side of a billy-cart and, let’s be honest here, if anybody can build a brat-hauler that can lay rubber, it’ll be those crazy Italians at Alfa.

The car you all want to know about, meantime, is the all-new Toyota Supra. Yes, it borrows heavily on BMW tech, including the driveline and interior, but there’s so much more to this car than meets the eye. For instance, it’s actually smaller than a Toyota 86 (in both wheelbase and overall length). And it has a wild bonnet-to-cabin-length ratio. And there’s more.

Throwing the Supra into the rough-and-tumble of PCOTY gives us a great chance to really scope out what the car is about, what its intentions were all along and how well it has met those expectations. Frankly, shutting our ears to the online howls and offering the Supra up to the PCOTY criteria is the best way we can think of to sort the truth from the trolling. So it’s here. And so are we. Send it. 

2020's finest duke it out on Performance Car of the Year 2020

PCOTY 2020 Competitors

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q

Yes, it’s an SUV, but a Ferrari-derived engine and rear-biased AWD system mean the Alfa can do much more than the school run

SPECS
Engine: 2981cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 375kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 2500-5000rpm
Drive: AWD
Weight: 1830kg
0-100km/h: 3.8sec (claimed)
Price: $149,900 

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Simply put, the most powerful vehicle in this year’s competition and the one that comes closest to flying an Aussie flag

SPECS
Engine: 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v, supercharged
Power: 477kW @ 6400rpm
Torque: 881Nm @ 3600rpm
Drive: RWD
Weight: 1807kg
0-100km/h: 4.3sec (tested in 08/2019 issue)
Price: $163,100 

Genesis G70 3.3T

Don’t call it a Hyundai. The Genesis is essentially a Kia Stinger GT that’s been to finishing school and is a lot of car for the money

SPECS
Engine: 3342cc twin-turbo V6, DOHC, 24v
Power: 272kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 510Nm @ 1300-4500rpm
Drive: RWD
Weight: 1762kg
0-100km/h: 4.92sec (tested in 08/2019 issue)
Price: $79,950

Lexus RC F Track Edition

Lexus’s V8 coupe has been to boot camp and returned having shed weight and added some hefty carbon-ceramic stoppers

SPECS
Engine: 4969cc V8, DOHC, 32v
Power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Torque: 530Nm @ 4800-5600rpm
Drive: RWD
Weight: 1715kg
0-100km/h: 4.3sec (claimed)
Price: $165,690

Lotus Exige Sport 410

Lotus is back at PCOTY! In Sport 410 guise the Exige is a supercharged screamer focused on pure driving thrills

SPECS
Engine: 3456cc V6, DOHC, 24v, supercharged
Power: 306kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 3000-7000rpm
Drive: RWD
Weight: 1108kg
0-100km/h: 3.72sec (tested in 10/2019 issue)
Price: $159,990

Mercedes-AMG A35

Speaks softly by AMG standards and doesn’t carry that big a stick, but to drive the A35 is more than the sum of its parts

SPECS
Engine: 1991cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 225kW @ 5800rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 3000-4000rpm
Drive: AWD
Weight: 1480kg
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
Price: $67,200

Mercedes-AMG GT63 S

Arnie with wheel, the GT63 rewrites the rulebook on what a luxurious four-door can do, but comes with a price to match

SPECS
Engine: 3982cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo 
Power: 470kW @ 5500-6500rpm 
Torque: 900Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
Drive: AWD
Weight: 2045kg 
0-100km/h: 3.16sec (tested in 08/2019 issue)
Price: $349,900

Porsche 911 Carrera S

The benchmark. New 911s have an enviable track record at PCOTY and it would be a brave punter who bets against the new 992

SPECS
Engine: 2981cc flat-6cyl, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 331kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 530Nm @ 2300-5000rpm
Drive: RWD
Weight: 1515kg 
0-100km/h: 3.5sec (claimed)
Price: $265,000

Renault Mégane RS Trophy-R

Ultimate front-drive hot hatch and front-drive Nurburgring record holder intent on restoring Gallic pride 

SPECS
Engine: 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo 
Power: 220kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 3200rpm
Drive: FWD
Weight: 1281kg
0-100km/h: 5.4sec (claimed)
Price: $74,990

Toyota GR Supra GTS

A potent rear-drive sports car with a price tag of fewer than six figures? Sounds like a recipe for PCOTY success

SPECS
Engine: 2998cc inline-6cyl, DOHC, 24v, turbo 
Power: 250kW @ 5000-6500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1600-4500rpm
Drive: RWD
Weight: 1495kg
0-100km/h: 4.3sec (claimed)
Price: $94,900

PCOTY 2020 Judging Panel

01 - Dylan Campbell
A hugely successful PCOTY for DC, as he managed to avoid grievously injuring himself for once

02 - Scott Newman
Devilishly handsome, supremely talented, deserves a huge pay rise. May also have written this bit

03 - David Morley
When he’s not judging PCOTY, Morley enjoys denying kids’ Christmas present requests in his role as Evil Santa

04 - Louis Cordony
Ever fashionable, LC turned down the catwalks of Milan and Paris for a role with MOTOR, the silly sod

05 - Tim Robson
Grumpy exterior hides equally grumpy interior until the words ‘mountain bike’ bring forth an instant smile

PCOTY 2020 Judging 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

PCOTY 2020 Missed entrants

Each year PCOTY invites are sent out earlier and earlier in an attempt to ensure the ‘big guns’ have plenty of time to organise a car for our flagship event. Sadly, this year many declined the invitation to compete.

Aston Martin said no to a DBS Superleggera, likewise Lamborghini with the Huracan EVO, Ferrari with the F8 Tributo and Nissan with the MY20 GT-R Nismo. McLaren was keen, but unfortunately found itself “between press cars” with regards to the 600LT and 720S Spider.

Others fell foul of poor timing. The BMW M340i and M135i missed by mere days, while the M8 Competition slipped over to a Q1 2020 launch. In the same boat (possibly literally) were the Mercedes-AMG A45 S and Ford’s Fiesta and Focus ST twins, while the Mustang R-Spec hadn’t begun production. The Tesla Model 3 Performance fell foul of a lack of fast-chargers in South Oz.

Nonetheless, this year’s field wasn’t exactly lacking in quality, and the good news is that PCOTY 2021 is shaping up to be a classic with the likes of the Audi RS6, Porsche 911 Turbo and Taycan, Mini JCW GP and much more!

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