Race of Champions

But now it’s time for the preliminary skirmish: The anthems are played, the grid girls are already hurriedly stumbling towards the pit wall. So here’s to the hustle and bustle: Welcome to our big Coupé Cup. Or to put it more pathetically: to the play-offs in the league of exceptionally sporty gentlemen!

Six representatives have qualified for this final round in the past tests, but only five will compete. Unfortunately one starting box remains empty – that of the TT RS. Did someone get cold feet there probably? Rather less, finally the AUDI may call itself since some expenditures officially M2 winner, which belongs definitely to the better references of the industry. Actually the refusal has logistic reasons: stagnating test car supply, limited workshop capacities – Corona stop.

The symbolic character: thanks to the six-cylinder vacuum cleaner, Porsche’s vision and the development of power are once again intertwined.

But it doesn’t matter now. Because the five-minute table is hoisted. It’s high time for a final quick run through the starting grid: Pole position, also known as the favorite position, is held by the Porsche. The Cayman, which has not lost so much in its long career. Except last, fans, which is why the new GTS has been given a conceptual turnaround. Tschüssle four-cylinder turbo, servus six-cylinder suction: four liters instead of two and a half, 400 instead of 365 hp. Or as the critics of the reorientation put it: emotion instead of torque.

His neighbor traditionally has both. In excess! In the front, six cylinders brew the mixture, in the back it is poured out. And always a few per mil more than the body can handle. We’re talking – logo – about the BMW M2, which we also adore because it never took the competition additive, which was given to it two years ago together with the biturbo engine, literally.

Tart or fine?

Next in the grid, which also contains a nerd: the (or that) – and I quote – Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S 4Matic+ Coupé. That’s right, it has four doors and is therefore actually out of place… Stop! In Affalterbach they say that we have now sufficiently talked about inconsistencies between the inscription and the content. We say: Okay, if he wants to be a coupe, then he has to compete with coupes! He’s got what it takes: at 1,689 kilograms, he weighs 86 kilograms more than the not exactly dainty M2, but he knows how to get his shapely physique moving: with a hefty 421 hp and four-wheel drive that, in a way, wraps him around the shortcomings of his compact-classic anatomy.

The Toyota is different. It does not have to get in shape, it is. Its sportiness comes from within, from the genes created in the spirit of the sports car bible. Value creation history, top priority: “You shall distribute your axle loads in a brotherly manner! And speaking of fraternal: technically, the Supra corresponds as far as possible to a BMW Z4. Except for: the tuning, which develops a very special spice here – the finer one, in our opinion.

Still too harsh? Well, then bienvenue in the Alpine, in the stealth candy. At first the little thing always looks a bit like Playmate, but after a while of being together it turns out to be a girl for almost everything. New in the repertoire: serious sportiness, which results from a larger brake, stronger stabis, wider tires as well as a power injection and the delicate
figurines now have a few female contours. Has Mademoiselle gained weight? Not at all, of course! The 292 hp is still only 1,122 kilos, with which she is trying to match the dizzying performance figures of her competitors.

How close? It’s about to become clear, because things are getting serious: the rattle of the launch controls shoots out of the CLA and A110S, in Porsche and BMW the gas dose and grinding point are adjusted again, while the converter-automated Toyota presses against the brakes with a clenched torque fist. The sprint classification, by the way, went to the AMG, which rages to 100 in 4.2 seconds – three tenths faster than the hand-torn BMW M2. But our race starts flying. Meaning: introductory lap and a few more moments of calm before the storm.


Alpine A110S, Rad

With the S-Upgrade the Alpine exchanges the summer dress for the battle suit. Unfortunately, the tightened suspension tuning on the race track lacks the punch.

All stability programs have now been paralyzed, the drives have been armed, and the adaptive suspensions of the Cayman, CLA and Supra have been maximally tensioned. Then the imaginary safety car swerves out of control, and the gang rattles along an imaginary line from start to finish, only to make its way around the north curve at once. The Porsche simply unhooks the hook, BMW and Supra brush it over the top, the Benz pushes itself through, while the Alpine jumps on two legs allez hopping over the bump of the inner curb – the chick.

But the A110 doesn’t feel quite as sexy as it looks from the outside from the driver’s seat. Not anymore. The S-additives have increased the intensity of the road contact, the steering has gained in strength, and the 1.8-liter turbo has gained in holding pressure. The result: the cheerful, fun driving experience gives way to a concentrated mood that also rubs off on handling.

Dance on the jelly

While the standard Alpine prances like a slice of lemon on the fizzy flow of power, the cheekier little fruit now tries to anchor itself to the ground. The reason for this attempt is that it has not yet been successful as planned. See the latest comparison with a 718 Cayman T. The A110S did manage to achieve a better lap time, but the cornering behavior got a bit out of balance due to the hardened kinematics. But: As you can hear, the good one was not in top form at that time – especially with regard to the axle geometry.

And now? Let me put it this way: The hope for a David-triezt-Goliath scenario is fading even before the parabolics. Until then, the Alpine will be playing along with the bigger ones. But when the crowd is threading its way through the right-left bend onto the long (un-)straight line, it suddenly dangles from the rearmost tip of the string of pearls.

Causes? The traction is the bomb, so it’s just as much a thing of the past as the engine, whose power deficit only makes itself felt on top – where the weight advantage gradually diminishes. No, it’s the curves that bring them to their knees again. When braking, the Alpine is just as firm and lively as you would expect from an S-model, but at the moment of turning, it falls into a pattern of behavior that was thought to have been cured – into this tangle of understeer and load change oversteer. The result: driving at the limit is transformed into a ride on a jelly.

BMW M2 Competition, Exterieur

Competition additives or not, the BMW M2 always tends to be fun to drive, even at the limit. This may not win comparative tests, but it does win the hearts of all test editors.

What a contrast to the BMW M2, which seems to expand its driving characteristics – as a playground under the red-blue-white canopy. There are two things to be aware of before entering the car. First: Talent must be brought along, after all, performance starts where the grip of the rear wheels already stops. Oh yes, and beware of the temptations! Right behind the border area, cross mania begins – a weird parallel world, where it smells of moonshine and the average fly dies of side impact.

In other words, the M2 demands a healthy balance between load and lust, which is a real challenge depending on the type of curve. In the fast curves, the active rear axle diff knows that there is no room for silliness. In the tighter corners, however, it leaves the gas foot to play the role of the tongue on the scales. The crux of the matter: The rear end must neither sit still nor run away, because both cost momentum. And that is essential.

First file, then hammer

In this sense: Turn in with a smack, the front axle can handle this very well. After that, however, sensitivity is required: balance power and steering angle, gliding along the edge of adhesion – until the Michelins at the back are engaged again. Does it hold? Holds! Then take away the file, take out the hammer and get into the glory of the three-liter engine. Its twin loader not only responds mercilessly, it also shovels forward massively. Sure, his pronunciation was more succinct at one time, back before two particle filters were stuffed into his airways. But it’s still enough to keep his spirits up. And: the M-flags!

In principle, the Supra sounds the same, but unravels the typical BMW character traits in a different way. Point one: the ergonomics. The seats may be a little too weak, but they are in the right place: deeply integrated into the car, in the immediate vicinity of the rear axle and in such a way that you have a wonderful view over the stem, which looks so bulbous but is so incredibly close to the steering.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Toyota GR Supra, Interieur

Technically, the Supra corresponds as far as possible to a BMW Z4. Except for the tuning, which develops a very special spice here – the finer one, in our opinion.

In short: the Supra tastes like a sports car, while in the M2 you always have one foot in the middle class. And also shares the driving experience: The M2 is the prototype of a man in the urban Bavarian sense, the Supra moves in a feminine way. It has the softer knees, builds up less body tension, so that the ideal line feels more like a liana than a rope. So the classic hanging section? Think so! Even if the road holding is more relaxed, it won’t derail. At least not by itself.

If you manage to keep the latent tendency towards transverse manoeuvres within a productive framework, the looseness even solidifies into an extremely stable transverse dynamic foundation. Nevertheless: Entrance Turn 9 – that is the right left angle in front of the Mercedes grandstand – the Asia-Bajuware is struggling for connection. Instead of mixing up the 400 hp squad, he fights for fourth place with the fickle Alpine, which puts him well below expectations despite the worst power-to-weight ratio in the field.

The only thing still within reach is the AMG. But a straight line further on, the Motodrom, the squiggly little thing that brings the Hockenheimring back to start-finish and should really play into the hands of the traction-insured artistry of the CLA drive, is threatening. Its pronounced hip articulation stems from the rear axle drive. In concrete terms: two clutches that literally convert the rear wheels into torque vectors. Or more figuratively: chisels. In left-hand bends, they push the force to the right, in right-hand bends to the left, logically. The whole thing works gigantically well, but – and there the dog is buried – of course only under load.

This means: When turning into the corner, the CLA is on its own for the time being. To be more precise: on its front axle, which, however, gets the engine completely off. Of course, the top-heaviness is due to the vehicle concept. Moreover, the two-liter should not and must not be seen as a bogeyman. After all, the four-cylinder engine is not only the most powerful of its kind, but also a real entertainer. But all this does not change the fact that the power pack has to be balanced around the corner as a hawker’s tray. The whole way to the apex has more to do with waiting than with partying. And that in turn means that the sphere of influence of the propulsion miracle cure is reduced to the relatively short phase of accelerating out.

Disguised sensation!

Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S 4Matic, Motor

The elaborate two-liter four-cylinder turbo of the small AMG is both its heater and drag shoe.

Unless the four-wheel drive is first used. And that can be done: Knowing that both the turbocharger and the clutch choreography need a moment to take effect, the chain of command is simply shifted forward. In other words, you steer too far too early, step on the throttle earlier and more forcefully than you would – and ta-taa, the CLA is already flexing through the corner in the Powerslide.

The effect is resounding, but not enough to defend third place. Even before the Sachskurve, the simple knitting but more sharply turning Toyota crawls into the trunk of the car to finally pass and pull away. What remains for the CLA is slipstream and the question of being and not being. I mean: Is AMG in fourth place in our race really sailing past the coupé finish line? Or are we not rather witnessing a small sensation here? Sure, in the end an M2 like this is just as unpackable as the Supra.

On the other hand, a de facto compact car, which is what the CLA is despite all its dislocations, loses only 2.6 seconds on the Cayman GTS, which is then quite different. I only say: 276 kilos less. And: mid-engine.

In any case, the changeover inevitably leads to a culture shock. The skin-tight AMG sports seats can compete with the perfect Porsche shells to some extent. And even the roar unleashed by the AMG two-liter on top has, in its own way, a similar appeal to the heroic roar of the Porsche organ. However, the Cayman’s driving behavior and feel reach a completely different level. The Porsche is built more wirily, the roadholding more filigree and richer at the same time, the feedback more concrete. The drive, on the other hand, seems almost banal in comparison: Rear wheels, lock between them, the subject is done.

So you don’t have to translate technical theory into practice in order to find the maximum performance. No, presence and four functioning limbs are enough! The rest is controlled by the equipment, which also works in real time. For each of the people present, actions must always be weighed out against the reactions of the car, whereas the Cayman presses itself together with driving intuition. And this bond has now been strengthened even further by the comeback of the naturally aspirated engine: a gaudy response, a joy of turning until the very end. No doubt about it: the underarm hairs, which have been lying around lazily on the skin lately, are back in business from now on. However, the disembarked four-cylinder engine does not look as bad as it is being talked about everywhere. In our eternal lap time table, the turbo – look at that – even BEFORE the new 4.0.

Sportliche Coupes von Alpine, AMG, BMW, Porsche, Toyota, Exterieur

The Supra’s braking performance helped the M2 to a stalemate, while the CLA lost fourth place. Uncatchable in front: the expensive 718 Cayman GTS.

How could this happen? Well, temperature differences between the reference lap and today’s lap play a role. But the main reason for the upside down hierarchy is in the gearbox. Since the PDK for the six-cylinder Cayman is not yet available, the GTS started with manual transmission. It not only had to make do with one gear less, but also with overstretched gear ratios, which together with the upward shifted torque peak increased to the disadvantage. On the country road, still something like the spark of a firework of emotions, on the race track the manual transmission dims the explosive power of the six-cylinder: the third gear is simply too long for most corners, the second does not reach all the way around, so that you are either hanging in the air or like a sip of water on the gearstick. Hmmm.

Otherwise? You can only blame the Cayman for a few frills: For example, that the intermediate throttle control is linked to certain modes. Oh, and then there is the unfortunate fact that it makes the race, which is currently waved off in the order Porsche, BMW, Toyota, AMG and Alpine, a rather one-sided one.

Conclusion

The Cayman GTS not only dominates the race, it also lifts the spirits the highest – despite or rather because of the manual transmission. But: the fun is extremely expensive, which is why the actual winner must be Supra. In the twisty passages, it is practically as fast and has more spectacular handling. AMG and M2 are not good enough for big surprises in their respective ways, and Alpine is undervalued for its set-up. Once again.

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