What do a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, Porsche 911, Jaguar XKR, BMW 328i, and Mini Cooper S have in common? Well, they’re all pretty lust worthy machines in their own right.
The SLS is a monster of a supercar. The 911 is a sports car honed to perfection. The XKR is a stunning GT car. The 328 is so much more than an ordinary four-door sedan, as it blends proper sport with indulgent luxury seemingly effortlessly. The Mini can punch well above its weight. And the Westfield is an untainted analogue instrument in a digital world.
But they all stir your soul. So, what better way to celebrate 75 issues than to bring this collection of eclectic machines to the BIC to find out if the SLS will eat the Westfield for breakfast – or if the 911, XKR, 328, and Cooper S have something up their proverbial sleeves instead?
An untainted analogue instrument in a digital world, the Westfield even gives you a Vettel’s eye view of the track. Well, somewhat!
What are the perfect ingredients for a track tool? It should be rear-wheel drive (check). It should be quick – 0 to 100km/h in about 5 seconds (check). It should have a manual gearbox, so it truly immerses you in the experience of going around the track (check). It should be low to the ground, so you get a Vettel’s-eye-view of the track (check) – well, somewhat! It should be light – around 600 kilos, so the tyres and brakes last lap-after-lap of abuse (check).
As these successive checks suggest, we had just such a machine at our disposal for this track test. And this isn’t the first time that we’ve been fortunate enough to pilot the Westfield. We first tested it last year, thanks to a young entrepreneur named Harsh from Incredible Cars – who’s importing, assembling, and selling the Westfield Sport 2000 in India.
As you may have already noticed, we had quite the collection of machines at the BIC for this, our 75th issue. But, having tested the Westfield before – during which time I was sideways most of the time (I even ended up facing the wrong way on more than one occasion) – I knew just how much fun it really was. So, it was one of the cars that I was most looking forward to setting a time in – even if we knew that its 155 horsepower generating 1.6 litre four cylinder Ford motor didn’t really stand a chance against the 570 horsepower 6.2 litre hand built AMG unit in the SLS – especially on the 1.2 kilometer back straight. But where the Westfield would likely be in its element would be in the tight and technical sections between turns 5 and 15.
The car was pulled off the tow truck outside the track, and I jumped in to drive it into the pits. What strikes you to start with is the fact that the unassisted steering is heavy, engaging reverse is nigh on impossible, and the underbody scrapes every speed breaker on the way to the track – this is clearly not meant to be an everyday grocery getter then! Drive out of the pit lane, however, and things change drastically. The rough rumble from the exhaust fills your sense – even through a helmet. The little gear lever snicks from cog-to-cog. The steering is impeccably precise – if you so much as sneeze, you’re likely to go straight into the barriers. The unassisted brakes have tons of feel. Thanks to a kerb weight equal to that of a single-seater racing car, the power is absolutely immediate. The best bit, though, is the sheer sensation of speed. Down the straight, the only thing between you and a wind speed of 200km/h is a small pane of glass – and, at that speed, it felt like my helmet would get ripped straight off my head.
The only changes I would make to the car would be to spec a full racing harness, which is an option, and opt for a six-speed box if possible – as opposed to the five speed on our test car. While torque isn’t a problem thanks to the low weight, the rear wheels can lock momentarily when downshifting and braking. The other change I would make is opt for some semi-slick rubber to provide more grip on track. While the Westfield’s tail-happy nature is pure joy, it does effect the lap time unless kept in check. Having said that, after the stint, we realized that the directional street tyres on the front had been mounted the wrong way – and that probably hampered the lap time slightly as well.
Despite all that though, I still think the Westfield did admirably well considering the competition it faced. Moreover, since it was by far the most involving car to lap, it was also the most fun. So, the slowest lap time in this test (not by much mind you) doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. This is a proper track tool for proper track use!
- WESTFIELD SPORT 2000
ENGINE: 1,592CC / 4 CYLINDERS / 16 VALVES
TRANSMISSION: 5-SPEED MANUAL / REARWHEELDRIVE
POWER: 155BHP @ 6900RPM
TORQUE: 165NM @ 5600RPM
ACCELERATION: 0-100KM/H – ~5 SECONDS
PRICE: Rs. 25 LAKHS (LANDED PRICE IN INDIA)
We’ve raced the Mini against everything – from a Maserati to a racing kart. Now it takes on the might of 570bhp.
The Mini has always been able to punch well above its weight. The enduring image that I have of the original BMC Mini is from blurry videos demonstrating these little cars conveniently slipping down the inside of big lumbering, but much more powerful, cars every time the road got twisty.
The first time that we brought the new-age Mini to the BIC was with a Maserati Quattroporte S – essentially pitting one of the largest cars you can bring to a track with one of the smallest. And the Mini wasn’t far behind. But, in the end, it just couldn’t match the 4.7 litre V8 under the hood of the Maserati. We’ve even raced the Mini against something even smaller than itself – a proper 125cc two-stroke water-cooled Rotax Max racing kart at the Kolhapur karting track. Come to think of it, we’ve raced these modern Mini’s quite a bit. Around the same time as the Cooper S versus the kart, we pitted the Countryman against a rally Gypsy, and recently lapped it on a rain soaked BIC as well.
The reason for all this lunacy is simple – these cars are just fun to drive! Forget drive, the new Mini’s have so much personality that they’re just fun to be in. Now, on the road, I admit that the ride is a little too harsh on both the Cooper S and the Countryman, but put them in a racing situation and they really come alive. In fact, the Cooper S is always tugging at the leash urging you push that little bit more. I’ve said this before, but it really is akin to a Pit Bull that ensures you enjoy throwing the stick as much as the little Terrier enjoys chasing after it.
As you drive out of the pit lane and hit the Sport button on the Cooper S, you immediately feel the difference in the throttle response from the 1.6 litre turbocharged, 184 horsepower four-cylinder BMW and Peugeot derived mill. Turn the wheel, and its as if the Cooper S hunts for the apex all by itself. It’s just so playful and responsive that you can’t help but smile when behind the wheel. And that’s the beauty of the Mini. It’s not the sheer performance, of which there’s plenty mind you, it’s the fact that the Mini just makes you smile – not to mention everyone who sets eyes on it. It’s not an everyday car. It’s not a track-focused machine either. It’s a combination of all these things put together in a package that’s just the right amount of quirky and cool, yet functional as well.
It’s got attitude, tons of it, which is what allows it to take on the likes of the SLS – and say to hell with engine size and lap time. In this setting, it’s David surrounded by quite a few Goliaths. But it’s unfazed all the same.
- MINI COOPER S
ENGINE: 1,598CC / IN-LINE 4 CYLINDERS / TURBOCHARGED
TRANSMISSION: 6-SPEED AUTOMATIC / FRONTWHEELDRIVE
POWER: 184BHP @ 5500RPM
TORQUE: 240NM @ 1600-5000RPM
ACCELERATION: 0-100KM/H – 7.2 SECONDS
PRICE: Rs. 28.6 LAKHS (EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI)
Super Sports Sedan
One of the most rewarding four-door cars in the world takes on some serious competition.
The BMW 328i is another car that we just can’t seem to get enough of. We’ve already tested it both on the road as well as the track – we even crowned the new 3 Series as being one of the best new cars of 2012.
You simply never tire of getting behind the wheel of this brilliant sports sedan. Whether on the road or track, it simply reinforces that sense of being one of the most balanced cars on the road – and that includes amongst this illustrious group as well. On the track, it’ll do four-wheel drifts all day long, thanks to its perfect chassis balance, and, on the road, it demonstrates just the right blend of comfort and power.
The chassis of the 328 is complimented by its 2.0 litre, four cylinder, TwinPower turbo petrol engine that produces an incredible 241 horses. You see, this is no ordinary turbo. To reduce lag and make the turbo as efficient as possible, the exhaust streams from cylinders 1 and 4 and the exhaust streams from cylinders 2 and 3 follow separate paths to the turbine wheel. A happy side effect of this is 350Nm of torque from as low as 1,250rpm, which means that there’s an endless and unlikely surge of power from this 2.0 litre engine. This is further complimented by a single clutch eight-speed gearbox that’s just as good as any dual-clutch unit – while being lighter and less complicated as well. Then you have a beautiful interior with a fantastic drivers’ seat that works just as well in traffic as it does on the track – all of which adds up to a very versatile machine indeed.
We were a little concerned when we first got behind the wheel of the new 3 Series that the electromechanical steering would rob the car of feel. But our fears were unfounded. Any worries about doing away with a traditional hydraulic power steering system are dispelled the minute you turn the inch-perfect steering on the 328. In fact, the variable sport steering system on this particular car, paired to proper paddles behind the steering, make for pinpoint accuracy on the road and track. The only department in which the 328 falls short, however, is in its soundtrack. The direct injection sounds almost like a diesel clatter, and the exhaust note is simply too muted for a sports sedan. But this is only a problem at idle – at speed, you’re simply having too much fun to notice.
And when you’re done power sliding at will on the track, you can put the Dynamic Drive into Comfort and cruise home while sipping just one litre of fuel every dozen or so kilometers. Plus, the 328i has all the tech and niceties you could ever ask for, it looks great, and won’t break the bank to run. This would be my perfect everyday car – if only it came with a proper manual gearbox!
- BMW 328i
ENGINE: 1,997CC / 4 CYLINDERS / 16 VALVES / DIRECT INJECTION / TWINPOWER TURBO
TRANSMISSION: 8-SPEED AUTOMATIC / REARWHEEL DRIVE
POWER: 241BHP @ 5000-6500 RPM
TORQUE: 350NM @ 1250-4800RPM
ACCELERATION: 0-100KM/H – 6.1 SECONDS
PRICE: Rs. 37.90 LAKHS (EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI)
The Gentleman's Choice
We know that the XKR can cross continents with effortless speed, but how does it fare at the BIC?
The XKR-S is one of my favorite cars of all time. It’s the only car in which I don’t miss not having a manual gearbox – and that’s saying something as far as I’m concerned (in case you hadn’t noticed while reading about the BMW). The XKR-S is a supercar, muscle car, GT car, sports car, and luxury car all rolled into one. Why, then, don’t we have this most-manic-of-all-Jags in this test? Why the XKR, its lesser sibling (I use that term loosely, since you can’t really refer to an XKR as ‘lesser’ anything)?
Well, we’ve tested the XKR-S extensively on the road and the track. Ashish drove it recently at the BIC, and I piloted it around a rain-soaked Nurburgring earlier in 2012 – and it doesn’t get more terrifying than that. Plus, we wanted a pure GT car in this test, to see just how it fares against this varied bunch. The XKR is another car that we’ve tested extensively on the road – but never on the track.
When Tata Motors first bought Jaguar Land Rover in 2008, I spent a couple of weeks with an XKR convertible and Range Rover Sport in California – and I came back pretty confident that they had done the right thing in acquiring these legendary British marques. But there was work to be done, and Tata continued to invest in product development and R&D – despite global sales taking a nosedive. Last year, when I recreated my first experience with the XKR – same location, updated car – I came away even more impressed. With its 5.0 litre, 503 horsepower supercharged V8, it was not only more powerful than before, it was also far more athletic. The icing on the cake was a noticeable jump in cabin quality. Obviously, the engineers had been hard at work.
Naturally, the XKR-S is more hard-edged. It turns-in sharper, has even more power, and since you can turn the traction control off completely (which you can’t in the XKR) you can indulge in as much counter-steering lunacy as your heart desires. But the XKR is no slouch either. Step on the loud pedal, and the car shoots forward like a cat possessed. The gearbox may only have six-speeds compared to the BMW’s eight, and the Porsche and Merc’s seven, but – frankly – with such a powerhouse of an engine you simply don’t need any more! Plus, the gear changes are quick and seamless. And thanks to the aluminum architecture, the XKR is quite happy when the road turns twisty.
But that’s on the road. On the track, instant changes of direction are met with some trepidation. The initial response is understeer, which can’t be countered with a boot-full of throttle since the traction control cuts in. If you drive smoothly, though, the XKR is more than happy to oblige, but try and really hustle it to put in a lap time and it raises its eyebrows at you. It’s best suited to crossing continents at light-speed. The engine is sensationally responsive. If you look at the telemetry chart, you’ll see that the Jag enters many corners at far higher speeds than any other car here. But it loses out when chucked into the bend, and only catches up once again when the track straightens out once more.
This is a car that indulges you in the lap of luxury. It provides seamless and instant power – as much of it as you could ever desire. It rides brilliantly. But, most of all, it still sounds epic. Aurally speaking, it loses out only to the XKR-S, and, yes, to the SLS AMG.
Nevertheless, my favorite memory of my first drive in the XKR drop-top is driving through a single-lane tunnel with the top down and the throttle mashed to the floor. It was like having a Messerschmitt (I should probably say Spitfire) preparing for takeoff in the tunnel. The roar from the V8 made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and the resulting wail from the quad exhaust will be embedded in my memory forever.
So, this is a road car – a stunning one – in which to create such memories. For the track, get the XKR-S. For effortless speed and style off it, opt for the XKR.
- JAGUAR XKR
ENGINE: 5,000CC / V8 / 32 VALVES / SUPERCHARGED
TRANSMISSION: 6-SPEED AUTOMATIC / REAR WHEEL DRIVE
POWER: 503BHP @ 6000-6500RPM
TORQUE: 625NM @ 2500-5500RPM
ACCELERATION: 0-100KM/H – 4.8 SECONDS
PRICE: Rs. 1.19 CRORES (EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI)
Honed To Perfection
The iconic shape of the 911 is instantly recognizable – not only for its simplicity and beauty, but also for defying the laws of physics for half a century.
Now, things are getting serious. The 911 is proper sports car material – has been for the past 50 years. This is a car that has evolved continuously over the past half-decade.
You see, Porsche engineers are not from here. They come from a planet in which a car with its engine slung out over the rear wheels performs in a way that it just shouldn’t – it quite simply defies the laws of physics.
I used to own a 1988 Porsche 944 Turbo in the US, and when I sold it the buyer had to pry the keys from my clenched fist. I left a peace of my heart behind in that car – I absolutely loved it. But, if you talk to Porsche purists, anything less than a 911 simply won’t do. And when you drive one – of any generation – you get a sense of why that is. It’s raw and visceral – it just draws you in. Plus, there’s something about a car in which you hear the sound of the engine coming from behind you that seems to immerse you in the experience that much more.
Driving a 911 is a special experience. I can vividly remember each occasion in which I’ve been fortunate enough to do so – whether it was the 993, which I must confess is my favorite everyday car of all time, the 996, the 997, or this one, the 991. Before I drove it for the first time last year, I was worried about the new electric steering. But it took a mere 30 seconds to realize that it just didn’t matter. Yes, it’s nowhere near as communicative as a 993, but the new car is so much more advanced in every way – even compared to the last generation – that you’re just left in awe of its capabilities. So, what better place than the BIC on which to test its limits?
But this car had only 200 kilometers on the clock. And this was Srini’s first week – ex BS Motoring Editor, and the new Corp Comm head at Porsche India. When the car was delivered, he called to instruct us to treat it with care, and warned us not to engage launch control on his brand new baby. Now, Srini’s a really good guy, so I simply didn’t have the heart to give him any bad news during his first few days on the job. So, we did as we were told. We put in just a handful of fast laps to get a taste for this Carrera S on the racetrack.
Porsche’s motorsport heritage shines through from the second you leave the pit lane. This is the 911’s natural habitat. It’s so incredibly easy to be pinpoint accurate with this car. And you have to admit that having the majority of the weight on the rear wheels definitely helps when powering out of a corner. Even with traction control turned off, the car didn’t so much as twitch on corner exit at full throttle while already doing ludicrous speeds.
In fact, the 911 is so capable that you start to expect too much from it. And that’s when you enter a corner too hot, and find that the front end does actually feel a little light when you first turn in. It does take some getting used to, and I could have lapped it all day. But, we had just a few laps. And in that time, the 400 horsepower 911 managed to get to within .6 of a second of the time set by the 570 horsepower Merc. And that’s despite being 10km/h slower at the end of the back straight. If you look at the telemetry, you’ll see how much quicker you can pick up the throttle in the Porsche.
This is a proper driver’s car. So, if you can afford one, buy the stick shift. Porsche is the only company that’s still developing the manual gearbox, and it’s developed a seven-speed manual for this car. But if that’s not your cup of tea, the PDK is a sensational gearbox as well. Just make sure you tick the option for the paddles – otherwise you’ll be straddled with the ridiculous shift buttons on the steering wheel like our test car.
They say you should never meet your hero’s. But, in the case of the 911 that’s simply not the case. It’s everything you hoped it would be, and so much more!
- PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S PDK
ENGINE: 3.8 LITRES / HORIZONTALLY-OPPOSED 6 CYLINDERS / 24 VALVES / DIRECT INJECTION
TRANSMISSION: 7-SPEED DUAL CLUTCH PDK / REAR-WHEEL DRIVE
POWER: 400BHP @ 7000RPM
TORQUE: 440NM @ 5600RPM
ACCELERATION: 0-100KM/H –4 SECONDS
PRICE: Rs. 1.37 CRORES (EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI)
Beware of Monsters
I simply didn’t expect to love the SLS AMG like I did – despite its mean streak…
Well, it’s no surprise that the car powered by the 6.2 litre, 570 horsepower monster of a V8, which propels this SLS AMG Roadster to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, was the fastest. What was surprising, though, was the fact that it was actually quite drivable – and not nearly as intimidating as it looks.
Don’t get me wrong, this is most certainly a monster of a machine – crafted around its hand-built V8. The hood, replete with claws and vents, extends in front of you for what seems like an eternity. And it can most definitely be twitchy over the limit, so you do have to show it a lot of respect. In fact, this is the first car that I’ve tested at the BIC without turning the traction control off completely. But that was more the result of its reputation, rather than the way it responded to being thrashed around the track.
And this is the car that I lapped the most during the day, not least because of the addictive power, but also because it took a couple of laps to get accustomed to the violence demonstrated by both the throttle and brake pedals. But you’ve got to hand it to Mercedes, because whenever we’ve taken a car with the three-pointed star onto a racetrack, it just seems to motor on-and-on without complaint.
The SLS has an exhaust note with all the fury of Mother Nature displaying its might during a typhoon. In fact, it almost seemed like the SLS was pissed at the wind for being in its way. At the same time, it also has a properly luxurious cabin, light (but accurate) steering, and in ‘Comfort’ mode you can drive it around town all day long without a problem. But, press a button marked AMG, put it in ‘M,’ and it turns into something completely different.
In the end, we could have gone faster still – of course! The traction control was a little too obtrusive, the tyres were a little worn, and the track temperature was high. The next time I’m fortunate enough to drive the SLS on track, I will turn the traction control off – and that’s not bravado talking, it’s the fact that the SLS is so much more than an imposing face with gull-wing doors. This is a proper supercar. And I just didn’t expect to enjoy lapping it as much as I did. It’s manic, yes, but it’s also pliable and fun.
But what is the future of big-engined supercars like this one? Well, they’re a bit of an endangered species. It seems that you have to be a hybrid in order to be politically correct enough to survive in the new-age (see our report on the Geneva Motor Show). Cars such as R-spec Jags or AMG Mercs – with their naturally aspirated, glorious sounding V8 engines – will either have to adopt some form of hybrid tech, or, at the very least, switch to turbo power to increase their efficiency without losing out on grunt. In fact, AMG has developed a special acoustics team to adequately tune the next generation of its turbo-powered muscle Mercs. So let’s enjoy the full-blooded roar of these machines while we still can, shall we.
How do you even begin to describe a day like this? Well, I suppose, you cap it off with a car like the SLS. After all, there’s wind-in-the-hair motoring and then there’s scalp shearing madness on wheels – and the SLS Roadster definitely defines the latter. Here’s to many more such celebrations of the best of motoring…
- MB SLS AMG ROADSTER
ENGINE: 6,208CC / V8 / 32 VALVES
TRANSMISSION: 7-SPEED DUAL CLUTCH / REAR WHEEL DRIVE
POWER: 570BHP @ 6800RPM
TORQUE: 660NM @ 4750RPM
ACCELERATION: 0-100KM/H – 3.8 SECONDS
PRICE: Rs. 2.9 CR (EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI)