PCOTY 2017: The Road

PCOTY 2017 The road

Here’s the thing: PCOTY is not just Bang For Your Bucks with no price ceiling.

Nope, the pure mathematics of BFYB are replaced with a much broader set of criteria which, as well as allowing for a little subjectivity, also means we have to test the contenders for a similarly broader skill-set. Which, in turn, means we need to take to the Queen’s Highways and see how they fare in the real world. As in, as transport as well as mere trackside trinkets.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the real track monsters out there can also be right pigs when it comes to the more mundane stuff like getting in and out of them as well as making your ears bleed on any journey farther than the next suburb.

The crewAnd what about ride quality and seat comfort and the view to the rear? Exactly, what about those things? Well, that’s why half of PCOTY was spent on the open roads, both straight and twisty, and it’s a major part of why stuff finished where it did. So listen up.

Let’s start with a pair of hatchbacks. Now, the VW Golf GTI has, since its re-emergence in Mark V form in the mid-2000s, stamped itself as the hottest of the hot. But the trick the GTI in Mark V, VI and now VII forms, has also pulled off is to convince us that it’s probably the most refined of these little freaks.

The new 40 Years version does nothing to alter that perception, to be honest. Yes, the ride is firm, but it’s beautifully controlled and driven to its strengths, the GTI is one hell of a road car. Most of all, it’s accessible performance, 95 per cent of which you will be able to use 95 per cent of the time.

Car convoyBy direct comparison, the Ford Focus RS is roughly the same money, but adds a fair whack more power and the ticky-tacky of all-wheel drive. It is arguably a more focused (sorry) machine but not as liveable as the VW in an overall sense.

However, point it up a winding track and it suddenly comes alive again. And practicality? Well, it is still a five-door hatch, right? Okay, so you can’t have it without the third pedal, but I cannot force myself to complain about that. Point to point on the right road, the Focus RS would be all but unbeatable by almost anything else here (with one notable exception that I’ll get to later).

Remember that bit about track-focused cars being pigs on the road? Yeah, well the BMW M2 Pure proves that such is not always the case. Because as well as scoring well on the track, the M2 also emerged as a truly magnificent road weapon.

Focus vs volkswagenThere’s a degree of suppleness in everything from the suspension to the steering feedback, even the gearshift feel, that makes you want to hug the little Bimmer. More than that, it makes you want to absolutely drive the wheels off the thing and it’s happy for you to do just that. I wasn’t the only bloke in 2016 to decide I had a new favourite BMW, just seconds after my first drive in the M2 Pure.

Now, if the year 2016 was a champagne year for supercars, it was also a pretty handy 12 months for big, V8, rear-drive passenger cars, too. The Ford Mustang GT is the one everybody wanted to know about (well, in the towns we travelled through, anyway) and it remains a stunning looking car that could only ever be a Mustang.

Mustang vs r8 clubsportAnd while it can seem a bit overwhelmed on the track (not forgetting the fact that it’s still streets ahead of any Falcon-based car we’ve tried at Winton) it was absolutely at its best on the road. The 5.0-litre V8 honestly feels like a 6.0-litre unit and the Stang rides and steers with a degree of accuracy and can-do that we’ve simply never seen from anything with a Mustang badge before.

The existence of the Mustang also ensures the old rivalry between Holden and Ford continues and, for now, the red corner is still populated by an Australian-made car. The Clubbie doesn’t really feel like a 400kW car (or, at least, how we expected one to feel) but it still hauls butt when you floor the gas on that blown 6.2. And the body roll that you feel on the track means that it actually rides pretty well on the road and that, combined with the no-surprises steering and loping gearing makes it a fairly complete road car.

Driving on the roadIn fact, despite its obvious size and heft, the R8 is unbelievably easy to place on the road thanks to that same accurate helm and a front end that never gives up being on your side. The front seats are comfy but, for some reason, even on a winding road (as opposed to a track) they seem to lack a little side support.

The GS F from Lexus is kind of like the Japanese equivalent of something like the HSV, actually. It’s a roomy four-door with a thumping great V8 up front, rear-drive and plenty of innate ability. But it also shares a little of the Stang’s retro-tech by sticking with a normally aspirated engine rather than relying on the efficiency benefits of forced induction. As such, however, it makes for a really entertaining road car. The power is stacked high but the rewards are well and truly there if you make the effort to access it.

At track speeds, you could argue that the GS F lacks that last little blob of involvement, but road velocities never really see that surface to any degree. The paddles work brilliantly and the automatic tranny obeys them like it should – here’s the Q-ship you’ve been waiting for.

AMG leading the packAMG’s embiggened C-Class cars have always been great companions on a road trip, provided you could handle the sharp-ish ride. In that regard the C63 S Coupe is no different and it remains that the ride quality can seem at odds with the three-pointed star’s more traditional attributes. But look beyond that and you soon find a car that is utterly brilliant at covering kays.

The engine – now a twin-turbocharged V8 – might not swell up and explode like the old atmo 6.2, but to criticise it for having bulk torque everywhere instead is to sound churlish to us.

And the even better news is that the active exhaust on the C63 S can still be activated whenever the driver likes, leading to some distinctly anti-social blurts and bangs. And that’s just in the motel car-park warming it up for the off. Everybody in Wangaratta must have heard the C63 S idling... Interesting, because we were staying in Benalla.

Cars drivingMeanwhile, trundling around to the shops for breakfast, negotiating servo driveways and parking in typically mean little motel car-spaces is where a lot of supercars have come unstuck over the years at PCOTY. It’s these seemingly little chores that will sometimes see a big-hitter unravel as it leaves half its chin spoiler on the ground or knocks over a pot-plant because you can’t see out of half-a-million-bucks-worth of exotica.

Of course, there is one supercar that has never had that sort of criticism levelled at it, and that’s the Porsche 911 and all its derivatives. Including this one. The Turbo S is the supercar that makes you question why you can’t change lanes safely in some other supercars.

It’s the one that forces you to wonder aloud just why some competitors are so difficult to enter and leave. And why you can’t judge where the nose is. And why on Earth the damn thing can’t idle along in stop-start traffic.

 

That said, the Turbo S ain't perfect: the cup-holders are in another suburb from the driver’s chair and there’s pretty much nowhere to stash modern-day millstones like mobile phones and such. A big bottle of water? Forget it.

Porsche turbo sOf course, the fact is you’ll be first to the pub anyway, because the 911 Turbo eats kilometres like The Donald goes through ex-girlfriends. I mentioned earlier that the Focus would be a chance to be home first on a winding track, but it’s the 911 that would give even that WRC refugee a blood nose in any chase scenario.

Although it costs but a fraction of the Porsche’s sticker, the Nissan GT-R wouldn’t be too far behind either. As a getaway car, the GT-R’s sheer pace would serve it well and its mid-range poke, top-end and sheer bloody-mindedness ensure that’s it’s a dead-set weapon on the tar.

But it’s a little less friendly to use than some and although Nissan has softened both the suspension and the tranny’s shift-shock, there’s still no mistaking it for a Godzilla. It’s noisy, a bit rattly through the clutch packs and to us old blokes, it still feels about equal parts supercar and arcade game. And you can only wonder how many nose-to-tails that configurable info screen has caused.

Audi R8Audi’s R8 had always seemed like the thinking person’s supercar with better than average liveability. That, so the story goes, is what happens when you take a Lamborghini’s spirit and combine it with Audi’s traditionally brilliant ergonomics. That’s still more or less how it pans out, too, although it’s still a moderately noisy car on coarse-chip surfaces. But it is still a relatively accessible car and one that’s not too daunting when you’re having a bit of a go.

The elephant in the room? Why oh why does an otherwise sensible car like this have fixed-back seats. Race seats are fine, but without a recline function, they just seem a bit try-hard.
Two-wheel drive Lamborghinis have not always been the stuff of happily ever after. But the Huracan LP580-2 is a much more benign character than the old Gallardo Balboni ever was.

Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2On the road, it retains the pointiness that defines it as a great track car and that engine never quits. At track velocities you might miss the extra driven axle, but on the road, it’s a moot point. But, again, it’s noisy at speed and the ergonomics are a bit of a shambles. But hey, it has a nose-lifter for driveways and such; the very thing both the Audi and Ferrari could use themselves.

Which brings us to the Ferrari – the car that should be the orneriest to live with. I mean, if it’s going to follow decades of Ferrari tradition, it should be difficult to enter or leave, uncomfortable once you’re in and a bit tricky to drive.

Fact is, once you’ve got your head around the steering wheel workstation, the 488 is none of those things. I got used to the indicators on either side of the tiller, but the dip-switch was like the TV remote at Chez Morley: never seemed to be in the same place twice.

Ferrari 488But the seats are lovely and supportive and defy Italian fashion by being wide enough across the shoulders to accommodate those of us who used to chop firewood after school. You sit low and forward, too, as if your feet might be brushing the back of the front bumper and you’re actually part of the car rather than just trying to stay on top of its brutal pace. Of which there is, of course, plenty.

The 488’s turbomotor lacks the last little daub of drama of the old atmo screamer, but it doesn’t actually feel boosty at all; it feels more like a big capacity, old-school donk, if you want to know the truth.

Cars driving rearAnd here’s how you know the Fezza works as transport: even old Cockburn – the slowest adaptor to new technology the world has ever seen – put his analogue phone away, stowed his shooting stick in his Gladstone bag, jumped in the Ferrari and drove it like he meant it. And the old bugger loved it. No further questions, Your Worship.

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