And the inaugural Robb Report Australia Car of the Year winner is ...
IMAGES: Thomas Wielecki
The automotive publishing trade has a long tradition of annual Car of the Year awards, nowhere as long and continuous as in Australia, where one mainstream motoring magazine had the monopoly on gong-giving since 1963. Since the advent of the internet, however, there has been a profusion of annual automotive acknowledgments. The ‘judging’ processes may range from an exhaustive, week-long group test using manufacturers’ proving ground facilities, with rigorous note-taking by experienced motoring writers, to more individual and arbitrary methods, possibly through rose-coloured glasses over a glass of red.
The Robb Report Australia Car of the Year (CotY) is different. Modelled on the award introduced by our US parent title 24 years ago, our CotY naturally focuses on a cross-section of only the finest of cars at the upper reaches of the market – be they super-coupé, sedan, convertible or SUV.
For the Robb Report Australia 2017 Car of the Year, the contenders are:
• Aston Martin DB11: The suave British brand introduces a breathtaking design direction, underpinned by an all-new V12 twin-turbo powerplant.
• Bentley Bentayga W12: There’s not much that’s “gently, Bentley” about a 12-cylinder, twin-turbocharged SUV able to top 300km/h in sheer, bespoke comfort.
• Ferrari 488 GTB: Even purists agree, turbo power has given Ferrari’s gorgeous mid-engined V8 more of everything. Winner of the Robb Report (US) 2016 CotY.
• Lamborghini Huracán LP580-2: With rear-wheel drive, less weight and a chassis tuned for racetrack romping, this is Lamborghini espresso-style.
• McLaren 570S: The Sports Series family pits the British disruptor against top-rung “mainstream” supercar models from the likes of Audi and Porsche.
• Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet: Pure indulgence to the eyes and ears, AMG’s big four-seater is an iron fist in a ventilated velvet glove.
• Porsche 911 Turbo: The ultimate expression of Porsche’s rear-engined icon, civilised with all-wheel drive and no fewer than 42 years of evolution.
• Rolls-Royce Dawn: The embodiment of traditional coachbuilding and unbridled engineering application, Dawn almost transcends mere motoring.
It’s an exceptional field, disappointing only in that it lacked our desired 2017 sedan contenders, the all-new and already acclaimed new generations of Porsche Panamera and BMW 760iL. Neither model was available in Australia in time for our two-day judging process.
Ah, the judges. The Robb Report Australia Car of the Year is not determined by motoring journalists; though we hope you’ll indulge an Editor in Chief with 35 years’ experience in this very field. Rather, we gathered a group of 14 owners and connoisseurs of precisely these kinds of cars.The members of our judging panel have enjoyed success in professional fields including finance, property, automotive, law and medicine. They enjoy cars even more.
Meet the judges
The judging panel for the inaugural Robb Report Australia Car of the Year award comes from a variety of fields. What unites them is professional success – and automotive passion.
PETER BAKARIC, 56: Peter is one of Australia’s leading cosmetic physicians, running the Collagen Face Centre in Woollahra, Sydney. A youthful-looking garage includes a Jaguar F-Type, Ferrari 458 Italia and a Porsche 911 (991) Turbo.
ROBERT BOUNASSIF, 39: This Sydney lawyer specialises in property and property development ... and Mercedes-Benz models. He owns an AMG S63 Coupé and a GLS 500 SUV.
PETER BURROWS, 70: Some might be familiar with this Sydney stockbroker’s surname. The Burrows Drive Days, begun privately more than 20 years ago, are invitation-only track days for owners of exotic cars. A serial Ferrari owner for 34 years, Peter currently has a 458 Italia and a 599.
ANTONY CATALANO, 49: Former journalist Antony completed the sale of a property magazine empire to Fairfax in 2015 and is a major Fairfax shareholder. The 49-year-old is now CEO of Fairfax’s successful Domain property arm. He has two Porsches: a 911 S 50th anniversary and a 1970 911 Targa.
BRIAN CONNELL, 68: Brian is a company director of automotive wheel importer AMG Australia, which has distributed brands such as Oz Racing, HRE Wheels and BBS for more than 20 years. His collection of cars includes a Mercedes-AMG C63 Black Series, Audi R8, 1967 Ford Mustang convertible, Ferrari 355 F1 and 1979 Mercedes 450 SLC.
SIMON LOULACH, 37: Simon is the managing director of property development and construction company Loulach Steel, based in Sydney. His garage features a Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale and a Mercedes-AMG G63.
DAVID MARSHALL, 40: David is managing director of family-owned private investment company Marshall Investments, which specialises in retail property and private equity. A keen polo player, his Brit-centric garage includes a Range Rover and a Land Rover Discovery.
PAUL MOUJALLI, 37: Paul is general manager of a civil construction company. He has a Jaguar XE S as a daily driver and also owns a Ferrari 360 Modena.
MILAD RAAD, 58: Sydney lawyer Milad specialises predominantly in property law, and appreciates owning an eclectic range of luxury and performance vehicles.
MARWAN RAHME, 37: Marwan is managing director of Kanebridge, a Sydney-based company that specialises in property, investment and financial services.
MICHAEL SPARTALIS, 56: This Sydney barrister admits to owning “lots of toys” over the years, with favourites including a Dino 246, Ferrari 512 BB and a rare Daytona Spider. Beyond Ferraris, he’s owned various vehicles from Lamborghini, Mercedes, Maserati and Jaguar.
GRAEME WEBB, 67:Graeme is the chairman of a property development company. His current cars include a Rolls-Royce Ghost, Lamborghini Aventador and a McLaren 650S.
RYAN WILLIAMS, 33: Avid Formula 1 fan Ryan is managing director of Leica Cameras Australia, a fully owned, Melbourne-based subsidiary of the renowned, 102-year-old German photographic company.
JOHN WINNING, 32: John is CEO of family whitegoods business the Winning Group, founded in 1902. John set up his own successful internet off-shoot called Appliances Online in 2005. He currently owns a Jaguar XJR and Mercedes-AMG CLS 63.
Over two days, the judging panel drove the contenders in turn over rural roads outside Sydney. The road course component was specially selected for its variety of topography, road surfaces, curves and speed zones.
Further, our test route incorporated a completely private road, which allowed the judges to shrug off many of the constraints and concerns of the open road and more fully investigate the performance, handling and braking capabilities of each of our contenders.
With a field of such delectable, yet sometimes very different motor cars, choosing the Robb Report Australia Car of the Year was bound to be a more subjective and emotional affair. Our judges considered aspects such as the cars’ design, engineering, performance and quality – those considerations often leavened by the judges’ own preconceptions of each brand and model.
Inevitably, much weight was given to the ability of these cars to change those preconceptions.
Strictly speaking, then, there isn’t really a winner. Except there is.
Herewith, the eight contenders for the Robb Report Australia 2017 Car of the Year. We urge you to read slowly, savouring each one of these examples of automotive excellence – rather than accelerate straight to the outcome.
Aston Martin DB11
Aston Martin isn’t planning global domination like James Bond’s archetypal super-villains, though its Second Century Plan has laid a path to a more prolific and profitable future. With seven models planned over the next seven years, Aston Martin’s new era has begun with, appropriately, a new model from its enduringly famous grand touring ‘DB’ range – the DB11.
“It’s a vast improvement over the DB9,” said Michael Spartalis, comparing the predecessor that cut a dashing profile when it was released 14 years ago. “The windscreen rake creates better vision, it’s a comfortable ride, it sounds great, and there’s great steering and handling.”
Robert Bounassif shared the enthusiasm. “This is an awesome grand tourer: comfortable, stylish, and it handled winding roads beautifully.”
The DB11 didn’t make John Winning’s heart race quite as much as the more low-slung, two-seat supercar members of the group, but he acknowledged the Aston’s GT focus and heritage. “It’s smoother to drive than the DB9 and the interior is more modern than past Astons. And the exterior is a pleasantly sportier change without losing the classic Aston look.”
“My perception is that it’s a lot more modern than the last Aston I sat in, the Vantage,” said Brian Connell. “It’s better laid out, certainly more comfortable, and having two seats in the back with this body style is a very big tick.”
The DB11’s body incorporates a clever passive aerodynamic feature called Aeroblade, which enables both a sleek design and high-speed stability by channelling airflow out of slots in the deck lid via C-pillar openings.
If such downforce trickery might be inspired by Ferrari, judges also noted early influence from new technical partner – and five per cent stakeholder – Daimler. The Mercedes-Benz Comand-style palm-pad menu controller and the seat-shaped seat adjustment switches are a result of the Aston borrowing electrical hardware from Germany, thus bringing the cabin’s modern English ambience right up to date.
AMG-built V8 engines will eventually slot into other new Astons below the DB11; this GT’s 5.2-litre V12, though, is a new in-house unit featuring twin turbochargers and a 447kW power output.
Judges were mostly agreed that this powerhouse delivered strong GT-style performance, especially if the drive-mode settings were switched from the cruisy GT to racier Sport Plus. Michael Stahl felt that Sport Plus was actually the DB11’s “sweet spot – I’d leave it in that all the time”. Still, with the car’s menacing styling and impressive performance, some found themselves wishing for a more overt sound experience. No argument was brooked, however, that the DB11 wasn’t anything less than a vital and deserving advance for the beloved British sports-luxury brand.
ASTON MARTIN DB11
Engine - 5.2-litre V12 twin-turbo; Power/torque - 447kW/700Nm; Transmission - Eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive; Weight - 1770kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 3.9 sec; 0-200km/h n/a; maximum speed - 322km/h; Price - $395,000 (as tested: $462,000, launch edition)
Bentley Bentayga W12
Ettore Bugatti famously derided rival Bentleys as the “world’s fastest lorries” in the ’30s owing to their heaviness, and we can only imagine the Italian-born Frenchman’s views on the 2.45-tonne Bentayga SUV.
He would have been advised to first check the technical specification sheet before commenting, however, because this is an SUV that can get off the mark to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and sneak past 300km/h.
Even with those figures to hand, judges were still taken by the Bentayga’s acceleration.“The Bentley drives like a high-performance sports car. It’s surprisingly powerful – it’s actually 2.4 tonnes of grunt,” said Antony Catalano. “Its turn of speed is quite unexpected,” added Paul Moujalli.
Michael Stahl also acknowledged the “immense performance” but said the Bentayga couldn’t defy physics in corners – despite an innovative 48-volt electrical system that incorporates an active roll-control system to counter body lean. “The Bentley can’t disguise its weight, and the transmission’s upshifts aren’t as seamless as expected,” Stahl noted.
Subjective responses to the Bentayga’s exterior styling were mixed, even if the production SUV has achieved a far more stately and resolved appearance than the eyebrow-raising EXP 9F concept that first previewed the model in 2012.
There was, not unexpectedly, greater unanimity regarding Crewe’s craftsmanship inside a Bentley that shares its 130-hour build time with the Flying Spur (that’s 20 hours more than the Continental GT, though still well short of the flagship Mulsanne’s 400 hours). “The Bentayga has a beautiful, refined interior,” said Simon Loulach. “It completely lived up to expectations of what a Bentley SUV should be.”
Marwan Rahme’s positive thoughts were also balanced with a reference to a natural – and much older – rival. “The Bentayga has the refinement and quality you expect from the Bentley badge. It’s an amazing interior with great trim details such as the carbon-fibre sections. There’s something about a Range Rover, however, that makes it feel more palatial.”
John Winning, at 32, says he’s too young and a few kids short of being a compatible buyer for the Bentayga, yet he appreciated that it was “superbly comfortable, with great performance for such a large vehicle”.
“There’s a slight case of over-branding with all the Bentley badges inside, but you can’t deny it has all the bells and whistles,” opined Paul Moujalli.
Our Bentayga test car featured options that expanded the $423,600 price tag by nearly $110,000, though one option that wasn’t included would have placed the Bentley in the Rolls-Royce Dawn’s price range.
A Tourbillon by Breitling dashboard clock is available from Bentley’s coachbuilding arm, Mulliner. It’s wound mechanically by the car itself, features eight diamond indexes, and is machined in either solid rose or white gold. The integrated timepiece commands a $300,000 price tag. Rolls-Royce will debut its own SUV in 2018, but for now the judges would struggle to counter the Bentagya’s self-proclaimed mantle of “world’s most luxurious SUV”.
BENTLEY BENTAYGA W12
Engine - 6.0-litre W12 twin-turbo; Power/torque - 447kW/900Nm; Transmission - Eight-speed automatic; all-wheel drive; Weight - 2440kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 4.1 sec; 0-200km/h n/a; maximum speed - 301km/h; Price - $423,600 (as tested: $532,511)
Ferrari 488 GTB
If Ferrari had persevered with the numbering logic of its early mid-engined V8s, such as the 1975 308 that acknowledged its 3.0-litre capacity and eight cylinders, its latest would be known as the 398 GTB.
Numerically, of course, that would be a backward step for a car that is in every sense an evolutionary advancement from the 458 Italia – excepting only a downsizing in engine capacity, from 4.5 to 3.9 litres, to accommodate turbocharging.
The alluring coupé body has been further honed for aerodynamic optimisation, though it’s the 488 GTB’s two titanium twin-scroll turbochargers that prove to be transformational not just in terms of performance, but also philosophy.
If a screaming, atmospheric V8 has long been the soul of Ferrari’s most accessible supercars, the 458 owners among our judging panel were particularly well placed to comment on the merits (or otherwise) of the introduction of forced-induction.
The consensus? Something has indeed been lost in the sound ... yet without displacing the 488 as anything but another Ferrari masterpiece. “The engine sound is certainly inferior to the 458’s, but there’s stunning acceleration and cracking performance,” said Peter Bakaric.
“The 355 F1 and 458 sounded brilliant, but the faster you drive the 488, the better it becomes, which is what you buy a Ferrari for,” said Brian Connell.
Peter Burrows isn’t convinced he would swap his 458 for a 488, purely because of the former’s involving noise, yet he concedes the latest model is a technological marvel. “The 488’s engine is the best V8 Ferrari has ever made. And it’s a superb-handling car and incredibly quick.”
On paper, that incredible speed registers as 0-100km/h in three seconds – a time even the similarly sized, and likewise twin-turbocharged McLaren 570S can’t match.
Appraisal of the respective steering set-ups consistently favoured the British over the Italian supercar during both the open- and closed-road testing, though this was a matter of the McLaren’s being sublime and the Ferrari’s merely sensational.
The 488 certainly won Michael Spartalis’ vote: “It’s engaging, addictive, easy to drive in any mode and with a gearchange that’s second to none.”
“Definitely a driver’s car,” concurred a beaming John Winning.
Robert Bounassif was prompted to reach for superlatives. “This is the best performance car I’ve driven in a while, and the best Ferrari.” The most controversial aspect of the 488 transpired to be not the two turbochargers beneath the bodywork, but the grey paintwork upon it. Beyond the polarising hue itself, its $21,730 option cost raised eyebrows even among our panel of affluent and experienced adjudicators. As did the remainder of the long list of options that increased our admittedly gorgeous test car’s price by $155,290.
Thankfully, however, what comes as standard equipment in the 488 GTB is the quality and technology that help make this not just another brilliant modern-day Ferrari, but the standard for V8-engined supercars.
Ferrari 488 GTB
Engine - 3.9-litre V8 twin-turbo; Power/torque - 492kW/760Nm; Transmission - Seven-speed, dual-clutch manual; rear-wheel drive; Weight - 1475kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 3.0 sec; 0-200km/h in 8.3 sec; maximum speed - 330km/h; Price$469,988 (as tested: $625,278)
Lamborghini Huracán LP580-2
Wedge-shaped styling, bright paintwork, naturally aspirated engine. We could be describing a classic Lamborghini from the ’70s, such as the Countach, yet it remains entirely applicable to the very latest Huracán.
Unlike most other modern-day supercars from the Sant’Agata manufacturer, the numeral ‘2’ in this Huracán’s designation belies another characteristic this version still shares with iconic Lamborghinis of old: rear-wheel drive.
Across two days of CotY testing, it wasn’t difficult to isolate one common word from among all the varied musings of the judges as they emerged from the jet-fighter-style cockpit of our ‘Arancio Borealis’ LP580-2: “fun”.
“I didn’t expect the Lamborghini to handle as well as it did,” said Ryan Williams, of the car that was comfortably the second lightest in the group, just 45kg shy of the benchmark 1344kg McLaren 570S.
“It’s not twitchy or unpredictable, and I had extra confidence from the way the power comes on in such an urgent, yet linear fashion.”
“It feels like you’re drifting Batman’s car, if not quite enjoying the same level of handling as the Ferrari and McLaren,” said John Winning.
Marwan Rahme observed how the Italian brand’s design approach was appreciably flamboyant compared with that of a German rival: “It has a genuine supercar feel where the [Porsche] 911 looks more like a sports car. And the interior is like a spaceship.”
“The LP580-2 doesn’t feel as clinically quick as the 911 Turbo and the Ferrari; it’s old-school fast where they’re scientifically fast,” said Michael Stahl. “In terms of visceral feel, there’s a linearity to the acceleration and performance that’s natural and intuitive.”
However, away from smooth roads the LP580-2 was also a matter of grin-and-bear-it. Without the optional magnetorheological dampers that give an agreeable ride to the all-wheel-drive Huracán Spyder (as tested by Robb Report Australia), the LP580-2 was questioned by some for its viability as a daily driver owing to the overly track-focused suspension. The $4860 damper system is a worthwhile extra outlay, especially in the context of the $425,888 base price, and the Huracán includes a nose-lift system as standard, where this underside-saving feature is optional on the Ferrari.
Fewer options are open to taller buyers. Two of our judges, both at 1.85m tall, had to concede defeat in trying to achieve a comfortable driving position.
Yet if the Huracán LP580-2 isn’t the complete package from an ergonomics perspective, the visceral experience of its hard-edged, high-revving V10 and its playful dynamics enshrined the Lamborghini as a salivating, first-rate prospect for track days.
LAMBORGHINI HURACÁN LP580-2
Engine - 5.2-litre V10; Power/torque - 420kW/540Nm; Transmission - Seven-speed, dual-clutch manual; rear-wheel drive; Weight - 1389kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 3.4 sec; 0-200km/h in 10.1 sec; maximum speed - 320km/h; Price - $425,888 (as tested: $459,719)
It’s nearly 30 years since a clique of McLaren leaders sat in the lounge of Milan airport, contemplating the next step for a company that was in the process of establishing what still stands as the most dominant season in the history of Formula One.
Ironically, the 1988 Italian Grand Prix was the only race the McLaren-Honda team wouldn’t win that year, but the post-race discussion led to the creation, four years later, of the world’s fastest production car: the fabled F1.
Just over 100 F1s were ever built, but McLaren Automotive is these days a fully fledged supercar maker.
For the team that pioneered the use of carbon-fibre in F1, it’s fitting that a Monocell chassis constructed from the magical black weave is central to its new Sports Series range. The 570S featured here sits in the middle of that line-up.
Brian Connell best summarised how the McLaren’s remarkable, inherent rigidity delivered comfort levels seemingly contradictory to its razor-sharp handling: “The McLaren rides the best of all the supercars here.”
While the McLaren versus Ferrari ownership split is skewed more dramatically than the 570S’s tremendous power-to-weight ratio, even those “pathetically loyal” to the prancing horse – to use Peter Burrows’ words – were brimming with open admiration for the British supercar’s steering.
“There’s no doubt McLaren is building a superb product,” said Burrows. “The 570S is a wonderful go-kart experience and it actually has the best steering of all the cars here.”
“The McLaren has super-responsive steering – much more so than the 488’s,” added Simon Loulach. Milad Raad’s close personal experience with the now-discontinued, track-focused McLaren 675LT positioned him perfectly to compare the 570S’s credentials. “The 675 is stiffer and tuned to go faster, but the 570S still has racetrack capability yet is comfortable and easy to use every day.”
If there were some mild objections to the McLaren’s relatively basic cabin, they were quickly assuaged by its stunning performance.The McLaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 put its 419kW to the ground so effectively via a seven-speed dual-clutch manual, many judges were initially convinced the 570S was all-wheel drive.
“There are no traction issues; it just rips and goes,” said Robert Bounassif. “I was blown away by the performance.”
Perhaps McLaren’s greatest progress isn’t a technical one, however. Previous models such as the MP4-12C were widely criticised for lacking the emotive appeal so ingrained in Ferraris. Graeme Webb was not alone in being stirred by the 570S experience.
“I’m really impressed by the McLaren. That’s how I think supercars should be now. I don’t find it soulless at all – I just admire that it does what it does so well.”
Engine - 3.8-litre V8 twin-turbo; Power/torque - 419kW/600Nm; Transmission - Seven-speed, dual-clutch manual; rear-wheel drive; Weight - 1344kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 3.2 sec; 0-200km/h in 9.5 sec; maximum speed - 328km/h; Price - $379,000 (as tested: $416,130)
Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet
Mercedes-Benz hasn’t exposed the occupants of its flagship luxury car to fresh air for nearly half a century – since the W111 280 SE Cabriolet of 1971.
That alone could be sufficient to consider today’s convertible the most special of the S-Class variants before noting that, in V12 S65 guise, it is also the Daimler brand’s most expensive car.
With the single S65 imported to Australia already delivered to its owner, it leaves the V8-powered AMG S63 – on the other side of half-a-million dollars, at $444,715 – to breeze into our Car of the Year equation.
If there was a realistic threat that the presence of the Rolls-Royce Dawn could overshadow even a model of the S-Class’ stature, it never materialised.
“It’s a 110 per cent interior – a beautiful concept,” led Brian Connell.
“I’m impressed with the interior more than the exterior,” said Milad Raad. “It’s very plush, very smooth, and the seats are as good as the Dawn’s.”
Robert Bounassif even elevated the Mercedes above the Rolls: “It’s the best interior of any car here, in my view.”
Judges noted the S63 was presented in virtually standard specification, fitted only with an optional, alternative 20-inch wheel design that added just $1500.
Graeme Webb, however, did offer some valid criticism from the perspective of where a few owners may prefer to sit: “Rear leg room could be more generous.”
Many commented on the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8’s restraint of throttle response in Comfort mode, before discovering the S63’s duality with a switch to Sport. The setting that puts more emphasis on the AMG part of the Mercedes-AMG badging had the power to transform opinions, as much as the vehicle settings.
Connell again: “I was underwhelmed in Comfort mode, but Sport mode tightens up the handling and sharpens throttle response, so the S63 Cabriolet can give you both comfort and dynamics.”
“The Mercedes doesn’t have the Rolls-Royce’s X-factor, but then the Dawn doesn’t have this performance,” said Michael Stahl.
“Fun and fast, yet smooth and comfortable and with every conceivable feature,” said Antony Catalano.
Peter Bakaric’s enthusiasm suggested he was ready to exchange domestic air travel for the Mercedes. “An effortlessly addictive and ballistic interstate cruiser.”
There were collective nods for the remarkable quietness of the cabin with the triple-layered fabric roof in place – and the fact it is operable while on the move at speeds of up to 60km/h.
Whether the roof is up or down, the S63 Cabriolet can hold its head high amid such praise, especially in the company of a Rolls-Royce costing $250,000 more.
MERCEDES-AMG S63 CABRIOLET
Engine - 5.5-litre V8 twin-turbo; Power/torque - 430kW/900Nm; Transmission - Seven-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive; Weight - 2185kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 3.9 sec; 0-200km/h n/a; maximum speed - 300km/h; Price - $444,715 (as tested: $446,215)
Porsche 911 Turbo
Since its introduction in 1975, the Turbo has never been the most delicately balanced of Porsche’s 911 family – but it has certainly been the most devastatingly quick.
That status remains comfortably intact despite the latest evolution of standard Carrera models also adopting turbocharging, thereby ending the distinctive configuration of the big-T Turbo’s six-cylinder powerplant.
Where the fastest-of-the-rest 331kW 911 GTS can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds, the 427kW Turbo S is capable of 2.9 seconds. And beyond its supreme all-wheel-drive traction, phenomenal in-gear response is confirmed by an 80-120km/h time of just 1.8 seconds. It’s almost irrelevant that the ‘regular’ Turbo we tested is one-tenth of a second slower than the flagship Turbo S in both these increments; the difference is imperceptible by consciousness alone.
Yet while judges were undoubtedly impressed by the 911 Turbo’s performance, more telling was a consistency of feedback on handling that pointed to dynamic progress.
“An amazing drive – very responsive handling that gives you confidence on interesting roads,” said Milad Raad. “This is simply a very capable car.”
“It’s very fast, there’s responsive handling and the ride is smooth,” said Simon Loulach.
Ryan Williams joined the chorus of admiration: “The handling is very balanced. And the power delivery is impressive, though there is some turbo lag.”
Michael Stahl agreed with the latter observation, wondering aloud whether Porsche had engineered the momentary delay into the car as a deliberate characteristic – to help differentiate the monster Turbo in feel from lesser forced-induction 911s.
The engine and exhaust notes didn’t thrill all judges, including Brian Connell, who has owned no fewer than six examples of the 911 Turbo over the years.
“There’s no argument about how capable the car is, how fast it is, and how good an everyday car it is,” Connell said. “But the engine note suffers from what I call vacuum-cleaner syndrome. You can jump into a car that’s a bit more engaging sound-wise ... In fact, I ended up swapping my most recent Turbo for a GT3. That has personality, whereas the Turbo has credentials.”
The 911’s familiar design clearly isn’t breeding contempt, either, even if the Turbo continues to distinguish itself with widened tracks and trademark ‘whale tail’ spoiler.
“The exterior styling is timeless simplicity,” said Peter Bakaric. “How can you fault the style of a 911?” echoed Antony Catalano. “Porsche has achieved the consistency of style.”
There was also no detracting from the traditional belief that the 911 Turbo is one of the finest all-round supercars available. Four decades on, the variant that offers a choice of restrained everyday useability or breathtakingly brutal performance remains one of the great Porsches.
PORSCHE 911 TURBO
Engine - 3.8-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo; Power/torque - 397kW/710Nm; Transmission: Seven-speed, dual-clutch manual; all-wheel drive; Weight - 1595kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 3.0 sec; 0-200km/h in 10.4 sec; maximum speed - 320km/h; Price - $384,600 (as tested: $411,300)
Rolls-Royces are meant to be unique, so the British marque is keen to stress that the Dawn is no mere ‘drophead’ version of the Wraith coupé (or Ghost sedan) to which it is related.
The company points to the convertible’s body panels, which it says are 80 per cent new and express a more dynamic evolution of the Rolls-Royce design language.
According to the company’s CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the new Dawn “promises a striking, seductive encounter like no other Rolls-Royce to date”. The age of our judges spanned nearly 40 years, from 32 to 70, yet one after another they were entranced by this majestic, open-topped automobile.
“To be honest, I expected the Dawn to be a tank,” said Peter Burrows. “Yet it’s nimble, it’s not floaty, it’s got good road feel, surprising power ... The feeling it gives you is quite unusual; it’s an extraordinarily good car.”
The Dawn made Marwan Rahme feel like a king. “It’s almost like you’re driving on air. Effortless, quiet. You feel quite regal driving it.” “This is the ultimate car to drive to a country estate,” said Antony Catalano. “You’re at 180km/h in a blink; it’s like you’re taking off in first class in an A380.”
There’s no denying the Dawn interior’s twinned relationship with the Ghost’s cabin, though that didn’t restrict the flow of effusive praise, even from the two judges who could claim the best vantage point as owners of the sedan.
And there was broad appreciation for the distinctive Dawn options such as the open-pore veneer deck and panelling – which contributed $45,161 to the options that lifted the Rolls’ pricing from just above $700,000 to a little under $870,000.
In describing a car that belongs in natural habitats such as the Cote d’Azur and the Amalfi Coast, Michael Spartalis offered a fitting analogy. “The interior reminds me of a boat, and it is like a big cruiser. And you can float around in this anywhere; it’s very easy and comfortable to drive. I was sceptical about the interior but the open-pore timber suits the car. And this car’s not old – it’s technologically savvy, very refined.”
With its iconic Spirit of Ecstasy figure and imposing grille, plus trademark 2:1 wheel-to-body-height ratio, the Dawn’s status on the road was probably best spelled out by Brian Connell.
“I like Bentleys, too, but that Dawn is such a big statement. You know, you pull up in the Ferrari, a McLaren pulls up next to you, then a Lamborghini – you look at one another, and it’s on. But you pull up in the Dawn, there is no competition.”
Brian wouldn’t have been aware how relevant his comment would prove to be in the overall context of our Car of the Year judging ...
Engine - 6.6-litre V12 twin-turbo; Power/torque - 420kW/820Nm; Transmission - Eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive; Weight - 2560kg; Performance - 0-100km/h in 5.0 sec; 0-200km/h n/a; maximum speed - 250km/h (governed); Price - $703,582 (as tested: $866,800)
And the winner is...
1. Rolls-Royce Dawn
There’s a point at which a machine transcends its engineering and manufacturing, and becomes as inspired and unique as a work of art. Similarly, there is a point at which a motor vehicle can “transport” you in ways beyond the merely physical.
The Rolls-Royce Dawn motors serenely beyond both those points. Its design is achingly elegant inside and out, and with only 1000 or so to be built each year, the likelihood is great that no two examples will turn out to be the same. Such exclusivity equates to true luxury.
Dawn’s majestic acceleration is in the realm of small, two-seater sports cars. Yet it is unique among even large limousines in delivering serene motion in immersive comfort – “waftability”, to borrow the brand’s own, entirely accurate description. The experience was eye-opening for some among our judging panel; fondly familiar to others.
In the Rolls-Royce Dawn, every drive is an event to savour. It’s a deserving winner of the Robb Report Australia 2017 Car of the Year.
2. Ferrari 488 GTB
Ferrari knew it was straying into controversial territory when the decision was made, perhaps inevitably, to move to turbocharging for its much-loved, mid-engined V8 series. A further challenge was that the new model would have to supersede the 458, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful and emotive mid-engined Ferrari products since the Dino of 50 years earlier.
However, the 488 – now available in both GTB coupé and GTS convertible styles – simply shrugs off any concerns. Powered by a 3.9-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 (replacing the 458’s naturally aspirated 4.5-litre), the 488 raises the bar in almost every area. It is swifter, smoother, better balanced, offers sharper handling, is more solid, more sophisticated and more fuel-efficient than its forebear.
Our judges found the other super-coupés to have admirable qualities in certain areas; the Lamborghini’s resolute stability and intoxicating engine responsiveness, or the McLaren’s sublime steering and superior forward vision. But as an overall package, the prancing horse has beaten them by a head.
3. McLaren 570S
McLaren boasts a motor racing pedigree (almost) second to none. Founded in the UK in 1963 under the team of expatriate New Zealand racing driver Bruce McLaren, the firm initially dealt with the construction of single-seat and Can-Am sports racing cars. Sadly, Bruce McLaren’s plans to produce road-going supercars died with him in a testing accident in 1970.
Four decades later, however, under a new McLaren F1 team mastermind in Ron Dennis, McLaren Cars became a fully fledged production supercar concern. The brand’s carbon-fibre-intensive construction and clinically efficient approach is wholly evident in the 570S.
Judges praised its user-friendly driving position and controls, and exemplary cockpit vision. More remarkable, though, was the turbine-like power from the 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8; the fantastically agile and “kart-like” handling; and the near-telepathic steering that several judges described as probably the best they’d ever experienced. In the company of these contenders, that comes as high praise indeed.