Aussies love driving, partly because the open road is therapy in times like these.
Despite the nation’s finances, there are people still buying cars for drift, rather than entirely for thrift, factor. In fact, the fast car business here is booming. Every third Mercedes-Benz C-Class sold is wearing either a 43 or 63 badge.
We are among the greediest for Renault Sport models. And we’ve propelled the Toyota 86 into a sales success as its third most popular market.
Fun cars should be a driver’s universal right, which is why we’re at Winton Raceway with one goal, to tell you which new car offers the most thrills for the least bills. And we call it Bang For Your Bucks, or BFYB for short. How does it all work?
Well, the blocks that make up Bang For Your Bucks haven’t changed much since its introduction in 1994; there’s a field of cars, a set of judges, and an infamous formula. And like any good game, it’s made up by a whole lot of rules.
The first revolve around the cars and how we pick them. We don’t want the BFYB parking lot resembling Sydney’s Port Jackson car yard. So before we ink up the invites, we cross off any car that’s older than a year.
Next, we fence off the event with a $100,000 price cap, because Lamborghini Aventador customers aren’t really concerned with their water bill prices. We also restrict entry to performance cars, as even a P-Plater would rather take the bus than drive a Suzuki Alto.
Even then, we’re still left with plenty of potential contenders, so eligibility is further tightened by the rule that each car must have had a significant update since its previous model year. In that vein, sticker packs or new alloys won’t greenlight a car for battle.
Nope, we’re looking for freshly baked drivetrains, newly budded differentials, or drastically shaven kerb weights. Price changes, too, will grant a car entry if it’s boosted its competitiveness.
As per also the rules, last year’s trophy bearers have been asked to defend their hard-fought titles, explaining how the VW Polo GTI, Holden Commodore SS Ute, and Mercedes-AMG A45 have snuck back into the fray with unchanged packages. But there’s no welcome mat rolled out.
Like last year, we’ve split the field at $50K. And after slaying Audi’s RS3 Sportback and dusting off BMW’s M2 last year, AMG’s manic A45 faces new foes just as tough – maybe even tougher – in the $50K to $100K category.
Ford’s Focus RS was magic at Performance Car of the Year 2017, the “cut-price World Rally Car” giving even Ferrari and Porsche a fright. And unlike Bang For Your Bucks, price didn’t have sway at PCOTY – or at least not much – yet a bargain $50,990 price remains one of the Focus RS’s trump cards. It enters our value competition one of the favourites.
Of course, those less well-endowed in the Bucks department are always going to fare better than one with a heftier swing attached to its door mirror, but there’s a couple of contenders this year that are almost born to do well in an annual test that’s now in its 23rd year (incidentally, that’s the same length of time since David Morley visited a barber).
At this point you might also be wondering why we’re back at Winton, the saucy old minx of track in country Victoria. Older than Campbell, Newman and Cordony all put together – or just Morley, and not by much – the 3.0km National circuit was repaved last year, and has subsequently been repatched in key areas, which adds a challenge to the approaches of several corners.
Its short, sharp nature draws out the best – and worst – from a chassis, while its short straights highlight power deficiencies quick smart.
All of our contenders will undergo the same set of tests, including performance testing by Messrs Morley and Luff, who will not only measure 0-100km/h prowess, but mark each car over a 400m stretch and see how it stops from 100km/h.
After that, our resident hot shoe, Luff, will pedal each car around the twisty, tricky Winton layout as only a Supercars race winner can.
Our remaining judges will use Winton not as a measure of how fast they can bury a car in a sandtrap, but as a venue to objectively sample each entrant on its relative merit in an appropriately safe way, and their opinions will make up 20 per cent of a car’s total.
The rest of the result is pure, unadulterated mathematics, where the time-proven equations of our Bang and Buck indices come together to produce a result that’s not left (exclusively) to the vagaries of opinion. It’s just the facts, ma’am. The BFYB facts.
However, that’s enough background. Let’s find out what motley mass of metal has fronted up in 2017 to an uncharacteristically dry and sunny Winton to stand up and be banged? And, er, bucked?
Our sub-$50K contenders
Fiat 124 Spider
Challenged by a relatively high price but brings the extra herbs to compensate
Holden Astra RS
Harder charging turbo 1.6-litre and lightened chassis ripen it for competition
Holden Commodore SS Ute
Tops the $0-$50K price list at $43,900, so it’ll need to be seriously fast to compensate
Hyundai i30 SR
Scores Veloster SR-spec turbo engine in all-new generation update. Slight dark horse
Will rely on unique suspension tweaks to overcome its $3K price premium over the 86 GT
Skoda Octavia RS230 sedan
Sneaks in the Golf GTI Performance’s LSD-tamed 169kW drivetrain for $5K less
Toyota 86 GT
Updated car ups price, but is still the cheapest ticket to 86’s uprated engine and fettled chassis
Volkswagen Polo GTI
Defending outright champ is back and still a genuine threat with 1.8-litre turbo four
Our $50K-$100K contenders
Ford Focus RS
If this were a horse race, the Focus would be an unbackable favourite. No Cup tyres today, though
Mini JCW Clubman
The latest iteration of John Cooper’s finest works is the biggest Mini ever
Holden Commodore SS-V Redline Ute
It’s time to farewell an icon of BFYB – and we can’t think of a better way
Caterham Seven 275
Could this lightweight, retro-tech British beauty bring something new to the BFYB party?
New engine for our BFYB 2015 class champ – will it be what it needs to nab outright honours?
Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
The reputation of a reborn brand rests on its pumped guards
A ferocious four-paw feral dressed in a Paul Smith suit. Back to crack skulls in 2016
Four-door sophistication that cleverly hides a surprising turn of speed and chassis talent
Want more? Check out the rest of 2017 Bang For Your Bucks