MOTOR’s hits & misses of 2015

MOTOR’s hit & misses of 2015

Dylan Campbell – Editor

Dylan Campbell drivingHighlights

Porsche 911 GT3 – Holy moly. In a forest somewhere north east of Melbourne I had my best drive of the year in this car. The engine (9000rpm), the chassis (playful yet talented), the grip, the noise... They don't come much closer to perfection than this.

Holden Commodore LS3 SS – Australia's still got it. Holden tidied up a lot of VF complaints and installed the engine with the pep the SS deserved. Sounds great and matches a sweet, well-sorted chassis – it's by far and away not just a Clubsport with a Holden badge. It's even better than that.

Mercedes-AMG C63 S – A few hundred metres down the road the first time I drove the new C63, I was thinking, this is my kind of car. Sure, the ride's a little firm, but it makes all the right V8 noises (turbos done right for a change), has plenty of grunt and is keen to play. Merc sent one to PCOTY on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, which initially had us concerned. But the C63's chassis took the significantly extra grip in its stride. By god, it was good.

Audi R8 V10 Plus – Would list just the engine if I was allowed. Not saying the new R8's chassis isn't good - in fact it's excellent, which says a lot about that 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10. Truly one of the best engines ever (not just for the way it sounds) it turns the R8 into a silly-fast missile and is such an enormous part of its personality, fit any other engine and you'd have an entirely different car.

BMW M135i – Recently facelifted, but the hardware was barely touched, which might suggest it's at risk of feeling outdated. Not at all. A recent blast in our new long-termer could count as one of my best this year. It's got turbo-six grunt and hot-hatch agility in equal measure, yet it's also fun and friendly. And the price these days is seriously right (hence the Bang For Your Bucks class win).

Lowlights

HSV Clubsport LSA Tourer – Drove it back-to-back with the new Chrysler 300 SRT. The Clubbie corners better but the 300 shows it up for noise and entertainment – it's what a V8 should sound like. Holden nailed the LS3 SS for noise – why can't HSV do the same? Might sound like I'm being picky but you don't buy a V8 for the little badge on the boot. LSA Clubsport is a great car, and fast, but I wish it showed more personality.

Mercedes-AMG GT S – Not so much a miss as it is just a wee disappointment. Was so looking forward to driving this car – had it described to me as 'a 911 with a Jaguar F-Type R engine'. It's fast and remarkably well sorted – it feels right at home on a track – and looks stunning. If it had the C63's steering this could have been on the 'Hits' list.

Porsche 911 Carrera S – Again, not a bad car (truly the opposite) but the problem is I spent a lot of time in the old, naturally-aspirated Carrera. It's not that the new car isn't good – it's brilliant – but the turbos give it a totally different personality to its predecessor. This invites the subjective. And I would simply trade the improvements of the new car for the old naturally-aspirated engine.

Audi TTS – The latest-generation, base TT quattro had everyone shaking their heads in disbelief at Bang For Your Bucks. Finally, a TT that drives as good as it looks, we all agreed. So I expected the TTS to be that, and then some – but it wasn't quite. The suspension feels to need more polishing, not least because of a too-harsh ride. But just generally it wasn't the epic piece of kit I really wanted it to be.

Scott Newman – Associate Editor

Scott Newman drivingHighlights

Holden VF II SS V Redline – There wasn’t much wrong with the old Redline but the VF II updates fix pretty much everything. It goes hard and sounds amazing, but the detail changes are just as impressive, like the slicker gearshift, strong brakes and more agile handling. The car I’d buy with my own money (if I had any).

Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe – The ultimate grand tourer. Sublime ride and spectacular interior make it feel special day-to-day, yet it is brilliant to drive hard and the 430kW/900Nm twin-turbo V8 gives it fearsome acceleration. Only the rear-end styling lets it down; oh, and it went through a set of front tyres in under 100km. Sorry again, Jerry.

Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R – A triumph. Front-wheel drives don’t get any better than this. Gearshift sucks, but apart from that it’s one of the best drivers’ cars around, on road or track.

Porsche 911 GT3 – One of the most impressive performance cars there’s ever been. Now liveable enough that you could conceivably drive one every day, yet almost unparalleled for circuit ability. Would I buy one? I don’t think so, it’s a bit serious for my tastes, but it’s utterly brilliant.

Toyota 86 rally car – This essentially standard Toyota 86 was the car I had most fun in all year. Needs a proper mechanical LSD and some gravel tyres to be properly complete but otherwise this is rallying at its cheapest and most entertaining. I want another go.

Honourable mentions: Lamborghini Huracan; Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe; Porsche Cayman

Lowlights

Audi TT S – This is a great car badly let down by its suspension tune. Punchy drivetrain, playful, adjustable handling and a beautiful interior, but the way it crashes, thumps and bangs over bumps is unacceptable. What’s worse is the suspicion that it’s engineered-in to justify the ‘S’ badge, as the standard TT doesn’t seem to have these issues.

Mercedes-AMG GT S – Let me get one thing straight: the new GT is incredible in terms of pure performance. The way it stops, goes and handles sets a new Mercedes standard, however the light, darty steering and lack of composure over bumps meant I struggled to gel with it. Haven’t had a lot of time behind the wheel, so might be just an acclimatisation thing; hopefully there’ll be a chance in 2016 to rectify that, as this is a car I really want to love.

Missing in action – Despite numerous requests, we’ve not driven a Maserati, Lotus or Aston Martin this year; locally, at least. Nor a McLaren, though that’s more of an availability issue. Fingers crossed for 2016.

Louis Cordony – Staff Journalist

Louis Cordony drivingHighlights

Jaguar F Type V6 S AWD – While its interior isn’t class leading, the F-Type makes up for it with sex kitten looks, explosive performance, and a drive experience both visceral and friendly.

BMW M6 – Slurps up highways with crushing speed and cosseting luxury. Lacks tactility, and space, but that’s not its point. Also looks better than a Victoria’s Secret show change room.  

Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre – Without power, grip, or tricky electronics, the 1.5-litre’s balanced chassis and dialled-in inputs reward proper driving while punishing dodgy stuff.  Cramped cabin could be a deal breaker, though.

VW Golf R Wagon – Why can’t you have it all? This mutt-wagon’s all-round ability is only surpassed by its accessible performance. Exhaust is rortier than the hatch’s, too.

Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R – Dieppe’s stripped-out hatch offers super levels of performance with the character to match. Isn’t so charming when driven slow, but easily makes up for it on circuit.

Lowlights

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design – An absolute stunner to look at, being swoopy and futuristic, however the rest of its package isn’t as feel-good. Gone was the characterful five-cylinder, and rear seat room makes airplane economy class look spacious. Not terrible, rather mentioned because it should deliver more on its stunning looks and $49K price tag.

Peugeot 308 GT – The fact the 308 GT nails design, class, and refinement makes its flaws all the more frustrating. There’s a decent chassis underneath it, but the lack of speed, feel from its inputs, and ridiculous details, like its tacho that winds backwards, handicap its likeability.  

David Morley – Resident Bloke

David Morley drivingHighlights

Holden Commodore VF Series 2 SS – Got to be the Redline version with the Brembos. But even the boggo SS is all A-side. That noise!

Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R – The best tail-dragger I've ever driven. Period.

Porsche 911 GT3 – I know, predictable. But so was the realisation that this is still the high-water mark for 911s.

Tesla P85D – If one motor is good, two must be better. Yes, yes they are. A real dynamo (geddit?).

Jaguar F-Type V6 – It's not often I would  forgo the V8 version for the six, but this thing is bliss on a stick. For a bloke like me, anyway.

Lowlights

BMW M5 Pure – Yeah, it goes and all that, but the basic M5 package is still wooden and aloof.

Ford Mustang Ecoboost – Not because it was a bad car, just that I really wanted to drive the V8.

Interviewing VW brass just 36 hours before the emissions scandal hit the fan – oh how my questions would have been different.

Georg Kacher – European Correspondent

Georg Kacher drivingHighlights

Porsche Cayman GT4 – GT3 fun for the price of a used Carrera 2.

Ferrari 488 GTB Spider – Pretty much the best of all worlds, at a price.

Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2 – Even more smiles per mile than the much faster Ferrari.

Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe – Perhaps currently Germany´s finest muscle car.

Ford Mustang V8 – Perhaps currently America´s finest muscle car.

Lowlights

Audi R8 – Immensely capable but poorly packaged. We didn´t click.

BMW M4 GTS – A lot more money for not a lot more poke.

Porsche 911 – Can´t wait until they unleash the GTS

Daniel DeGasperi – Web Editor

Daniel DeGasperi drivingHighlights

Mercedes-AMG GT S – Balances a typically AMG brutish personality with a delicacy we haven’t seen before from the brand (and certainly not from the SLS). I’ve only driven the GT S on track, where its light but incisive steering and nimble attitude results in being able to drive it with loose fingertips, not clenched fists. Likewise, the new V8 is fast and sounds great, yet superb throttle response means it’s communicative rather than simply arrogant.

Jaguar F-Type R Coupe – Forget the 4.2-second 0-100km/h claim – this supercharged V8 coupe has one of the strongest mid-range power deliveries of any car at any price. In short it feels much faster than its claim. Sitting on the back axle and guiding that long nose feels as though you’re perched on the base of cannon, just like Cher in the If I Could Turn Back Time music clip but minus (hopefully) the fishnet stockings.

Holden VF II Calais Sportwagon – The combination of soft suspension and touring tyres with 6.2-litre V8 and bi-modal exhaust is sleeper heaven. The VF II chassis remains sweetly balanced, but the Calais is a challenge to drive quickly given the pitch, roll and occasional float. Add a sexy, practical wagon bodystyle with police-pack brakes hiding behind the 19-inch alloy wheels, and you have a car that surpasses the VL Turbo – in maroon, no modifications! – as my Commodore wagon favourite.

BMW M235i with optional LSD – Adding a limited-slip differential to the M235i raises the price by a hefty $4000, but it also transforms the driving experience of what already is a lovely, turbo-six rear-drive coupe. To match the sharp front-end is a backside that feels properly connected to allow impressive mid-corner power-down. The perfect gap-filler between best hot-hatch and entry-level Cayman.

Volkswagen Polo GTI – Not inspiring at first glance and with a rubbish driving position, steering a Fiesta ST and then 208 GTi 30th Anniversary made me fully appreciate how much the little Polo GTI offers. Not only does it feel faster than both of them, but its ride and refinement is in a different league, yet its handling is brilliant without being boring. New turbo engine with manual gearbox, adaptive suspension and trickier front-diff electronics/Sport ESC truly transforms it.

Lowlights

BMW i8 – It is possible to love a car yet be disappointed by it. I love the way the i8 looks and drives – a dainty, zingy supercar seems like the equivalent of healthy cocaine. What were BMW thinking, though, fitting bicycle-thin front tyres to its hero car? They hobble the handling as much as the three-cylinder turbo hybrid drivetrain limits supercar-matching acceleration. It all means that with the exception of consumption, the i8 almost deliberately falls short to drive. While AMG shoots for Porsche, BMW are aiming for … well, I don’t even know.

Subaru Liberty 3.6R – Another generation, another disappointing Liberty. The boxer six is still a sweet engine, but it’s installed in a sedan with woeful damping that allows it to feel supple over small bumps, yet aggressive in its rebound over larger ones. The result is a combination of gently waving head-toss on a country road punctuated by occasional abruptness. To think 10 years ago this tester coveted a Liberty 3.0R Blitzen manual. In red. As a wagon.

Lexus RC200t – Lexus delayed its 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder program, claiming that it needed to address NVH issues the Germans ignored. The engine is now deathly quiet, with no personality anywhere. Despite 180kW and 350Nm, the dreadfully heavy (1675kg) RC200t feels sluggish. The eight-speed automatic is docile, even in Sport+, and the brilliant four-wheel steering system that transforms the handling of the RC350 F Sport hasn’t been engineered for RC200t – the result is safe, stable, but ultimately dull dynamics. A bit like the rest of the car. 

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