2017 AJAC CCOTY Round-Up: Premium Sports/Performance Car

“What’s the best car?” That’s the question I’m most often asked after my return home from TestFest at the end of October each year. If one takes the view that there is a single answer to that question, they’ll have to wait until the overall Canadian Car of the Year is revealed by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada next February.

But to me, the answer depends on who’s asking, and that’s why we also award winners to each vehicle segment. Someone who is being pragmatic about their next purchase might appreciate me mentioning that the new Subaru Impreza impresses. My car-nut friends, however, will start yawning the second I start talking about the new Chevy Malibu Hybrid, for example. No, they want to hear about thrilling handling, high horsepower, and what might constitute a bargain in the upper reaches of the new-car price spectrum.

Premium performance rides are pricey, to be sure, but those in the market can be just as concerned about money well-spent as those shopping in other segments. Three vehicles were entered in the category for this year’s TestFest: the BMW M2, Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, and Mercedes-AMG C63 S.

As expected in this less price-sensitive arena, there is quite a spread in this year’s field. It’s a German assault, starting with the M2 which stickers at $67,795. At the other end, Porsche’s new 911 C4S tips the scales at $150,970 as tested. The potent AMG sits in between, just nudging the six-figure mark at $98,490. And to be sure, these are three very different animals.

It’s telling that none of the premium performance entries in this year’s competition was equipped with a manual gearbox; the AMG is auto-only, and the dual-clutch versions of the Porsche and BMW are capable of quicker acceleration, faster lap times, and lower fuel consumption than their three-pedal counterparts.

2017 BMW M2 ($67,795)

In BMW’s world, the letter M represents the epitome of the German marque’s production car performance, and the M2 is the purest of those offerings available today. The spiritual successor to the limited-run 1 Series M Coupe that came to Canada in 2012 represents, unlike many in the company’s lineup, what today’s performance BMW should be. Smaller, lighter, and very nearly as quick as the M4, the M2 rewards its driver with an immediacy that the company’s larger offerings can’t match.

The M2’s impressive propulsion comes courtesy of a 3.0L inline-six enhanced by a twin-scroll turbo to produce 365 hp and a flat-as-the-Prairies torque plateau of 343 lb-ft between 1,400 and 5,560 rpm. Power is transferred to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

On the track, the M2 shines, hanging on tenaciously (once the tires warm up) and displaying a balance that makes the car feel right at home on the tight Driver Development Track at our test facility. It’s also every-day driveable, if the roads are smooth. On rough roads, the non-adjustable performance suspension can be jarring.

Still, I’m a huge fan of this car. It’s built for its driver, not its passengers, and that driver will be a very happy person indeed.

2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S ($98,490)

The first AMG I remember reading about as a kid was the Hammer: a late-eighties E-Class sedan with a V8 shoehorned under the hood. Thirty years ago, 365 hp was huge, even for a V8. Today, we’re getting that kind of power out of turbocharged four-bangers. But we could easily call this C63 S coupe a Hammer: this is the heaviest and most powerful of the group by far. Its twin-turbo V8 displaces 4.0L and cranks out 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of twist.

My issue with the C63 S is that Mercedes is wielding a hammer when others are throwing darts at the bullseye. While it enjoys an 83-horse advantage over the Porsche and a whopping 138 more than the M2, it was difficult to make use of that power in the near-zero temperature conditions at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during TestFest. What made things more difficult was a tendency for the back end to step out unannounced, thanks to the lack of communication from the chassis, to let me know that the tires were saying “uncle”. It’s that kind of isolation that costs entries big points in this class.

Brutally powerful and sumptuously appointed, the Mercedes-AMG is designed for high-speed blasts down the Autobahn, but lacks the kind of driver involvement we relish.

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S ($150,970)

This is a big year for Porsche: The Boxster and Cayman are now powered by turbocharged four-cylinder engines, and the entire 911 line – not just the 911 Turbo – sports forced induction for their flat-sixes. This Carrera 4S has a 3.0L twin-turbo that is down 10 horses (420 hp) from the outgoing unit, but with torque up by 43 lb-ft (368 lb-ft). The result is a more tractable engine that pushes and sounds every bit as good as its predecessor. The traditionalists may cringe, but this was a good move.

The only all-wheel driver of the bunch, the 911 is just as light as the M2, and with power getting to the pavement more efficiently, it dusted the others in AJAC’s instrumented performance tests: 100 km/h was reached from a standstill in just 3.7 seconds, compared to high-fours for the others on a cold October day.

Truth is, I couldn’t tell the engine was turbocharged when I drove the 911. Designers were careful to preserve the naturally aspirated engine’s characteristics in this transition, and their efforts paid off. Simply put, the car is brilliant.

While its price tag is dear, I can’t think of a better performance car for Canadian drivers. Beautiful, responsive, and four-season friendly, the Porsche 911 Carrera 4S gets my vote for best new Premium Sports/Performance Car at this year’s TestFest.

Alternatives

If it were up to me, I’d have liked to see a Jaguar F-Type SVR in attendance. It surely would have given the 911 a run for its money, with 575 hp and all-wheel drive. The Corvette Grand Sport might have made some noise, too, because it sports a 460 hp V8 and impressive chassis hardware to make it a Z06-lite. I have a friend who owns a Z06, and says, “Anything more than 500 hp is not usable in a rear-wheel drive car.” [Your friend is wrong. – Ed.] Not that he’d give up his Z06 for anything, but maybe the Grand Sport hits the sweet spot.

Ultimately, I have my doubts that the presence of other entries would sway my pick for best new Premium Sports/Performance Car.

By the numbers

Model

As-tested price

Horsepower (hp @ rpm)

Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)

Transmission

Fuel economy (L/100 km, cty/hwy/cmb)

BMW M2

$67,795

365 @ 6,500

343 @ 1,400–5,560

7AT

11.8/8.9/10.5

Mercedes-AMG C63 S

$98,490

503 @ 6,200

516 @ 1,750–4,500

7AT

13.4/9.6/11.7*

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S

$150,970

420 @ 6,500

368 @ 1,700–5,000

7AT

11.0/8.5/9.9

*EPA figures; NRCan fuel consumption rating not yet available

911 Carrera 4S vs C63 S vs M2 – but who’s missing? 11/10/2016 6:28:00 AM