JUDGE’S NOTES: STUART GALLAGHER
ecoty 2022 was a test of two halves, says Gallagher
FROM THE MOMENT I SAW THE SL55 in Northumberland, I guessed it would be in trouble. It was the fear that here was a car that would drive how it looked: undistinguished, cumbersome and unsure what it wants to be. And, indeed, the first time you wound up the driver modes to experience the first Amg-developed SL, it quickly became apparent that we, or rather I, had made the wrong call to include it.
Beyond the unobtrusive but intuitive fourwheel-drive system that could apportion grip and control like some guardian angel with a sixth sense, it felt as heavy as it looked, lacked the punch you expected and was flat-footed and aloof in almost everything it did.
Previous SLS weren’t benchmark driver’s cars, but they were a benchmark in effortless Gt-like delivery, capable of impressing when required, blending in and soothing when not. But the new SL is neither as refined as its predecessor nor as sharp or as focused as the AMG GT that it also replaces. My colleagues were often left confused as to why it was here, but not as confused as the SL is when trying to figure out what it’s supposed to be.
Is the M4 CSL a mighty fall from grace for BMW M? A company that enjoyed back-toback victories with the M2 and M5 CS models, surely its first CSL for nearly 15 years would build on that success and nail the hat-trick?
Alas no. Where the CS models shine with detail and feel polished until there’s nothing left to improve, the CSL feels like a car whose Michelins have been tied together, weighed down by the badge and the expectation that comes with such a nameplate.
Look beyond its raw speed – and my word it’s indecently fast, even in the company of a handful of mid-engined cars – and some bad old M traits of the last decade come through. A rear axle that feels solidly mounted and challenged by the torque load the engine throws at it. Steering that’s heavy, lacks the crispness of a CS’S rack and is hard to read on anything but perfectly surfaced roads. These things set the tone for a car that trades the delicacy of a CS for unwanted aggression. Perhaps they’re saving the best for the 3.0 CSL Hommage or next year’s M3 CS. I hope so.
Two years ago, the rear-drive Audi R8 failed to make the cut to our final round, outshone by its Italian cousin, the Huracán Evo RWD.
So what’s changed? Not a great deal. Some fine-tuning and minor tweaks to damper and spring rates, some different bushes and that’s about it. The result is a car that, once again, highlights how good a driver’s car the R8 V10 is, and how many are missing out because of the badge it wears.
That engine helps, of course: how could a V10 not lend support? But it’s not the most impressive thing, even if its vocals try to make it so. Where the Audi impresses is in the simplicity of its approach, the directness of its controls, the intuitive nature of its behaviour and how it’s a better GT car than the SL while also being a mid-engined supercar that can take the fight to Ferrari, Maserati and Mclaren and come away almost unscathed.
Unlike the GT4 RS. The Porsche had moments of sublime brilliance, when the road and the conditions came together to allow it to shine. And boy did it shine brightly. Punching in those upshifts, hearing that flat-six bellow and scream to 9000rpm, its front end locking on to every apex, the balance through every turn, the grip out of every corner. Pure magic. Everything we hoped an RS Cayman would be. If it’s a plugged-in, visceral experience you’re after, the GT4 RS delivers. There were drives when I didn’t want to get out.
Unfortunately there were plenty more when I couldn’t wait to offer the keys to someone else. Anyone else. It’s a no-compromise car that wears its heart not only on its sleeve, but across its entire body. As a consequence, I found myself more often than not in a car that was picking a fight with the road and I was simply there in an attempt to keep the peace. I always knew I’d make a rubbish bouncer and this simply confirmed it.
There’s no question the GT4 RS is a devastating device, one designed with a single focus and built on pure emotion, but during – and certainly after – every drive I asked myself the same question: would I have enjoyed it more in a GT4? It was a yes every time.
For me there were two clear groupings in this year’s ecoty: a top four and the rest, the former group made up of a quartet of quite remarkable driver’s cars. And I still can’t believe how brilliant the GR86 is. Indeed, I reckon other manufacturers could learn a great deal from this amazing little car.