You may have noticed but we've been doing quite a few stories comparing the BMW M135i we're running on the PH fleet against ... everything on four wheels. Fear not, it goes back to BMW soon and we'll have to stop before we start assessing its off-road capabilities against the new
Range Rover Sport
or checking its 'ring lap abilities with
the 918 Spyder
The finale to this whole shebang will be a properly written and photographed feature on what you see unfolding here today. In its absence we present a possibly rushed, mis-spelt and hurriedly snapped liveblog as we head from North Yorkshire to the dirty south via as many interesting roads as we can.
With a manual hot hatch with 230hp, a trick kind-of limited-slip diff and front-wheel drive, that bloomin' BMW with its eight-speed auto and rear-drive and a four-wheel drive AMG mega hatch with four-wheel drive and a dual clutch it should at least be an interesting comparison of the state of the 2013 hot/mega-hatch contenders.
Watch this space for updates. And in the meantime here's some further reading:
Last update: 1930h, M6 Toll services
Dreams of a) an evocative dawn sky for an inspirational opening photo and b) being able to update the blog as we go have both been smothered by the autumnal gloom but we're under way and on the Helmsley Road written about previously in a
I've been given the Golf, Matt and snapper Tom declaring that local knowledge and a horsepower advantage would be unfair. So I've got a mere 230hp, front-driven wheels and a manual gearbox against the BMW's 320hp and the crackling, popping A45's bonkers 360hp. If anyone in my hometown wasn't already awake when we left Tom selecting Sport mode as we left town will have dealt with that. Comedy is the only way to describe it. For the driver at least.
As we've parked up for the snaps we've just seen an incredibly slow lorry setting off down the road too. We'll be seeing him again soon no doubt...
So the Helmsley Road is certainly something! Yes, we caught that lorry up (plus a few more), but its fast, flowing nature, plus some spectacular views, more than made up for it.
Having not spent much time in the BMW yet, I nabbed it for the run across from Stokesley. Much has already been written about its delicious powertrain so suffice it was supreme for the B1257.
However, not all is perfect inside the M135i. Really push and it loses some composure, feeling a bit leaden over compressions and a little flustered. It's not unruly, but neither does it reward over those last couple of tenths like the best hot hatches. But given its 'M Performance' remit, it seems rather churlish to complain.
I'm in the A45 next. Let's hope these old buildings in Helmsley have double glazing...
A pause for refreshments in the scenic (actually not) surroundings of Ferrybridge, the three cars gulping down 180 quid of super with the BMW being the thirstiest. Fair to say it's not spent much time in Eco Pro mode though.
After Helmsley we headed south, taking the twisting and deserted back roads to York.
I was in the Golf, my first time in the new GTI and very impressive it is too. It certainly doesn't feel 130hp down on the AMG, its lightness and chuckability really coming into their own on the narrow lanes. At first I didn't think the Haldex diff was doing much but I decided to MTFU and get a bit more aggressive on the power and, after an initial pause, you can really feel it bite just as an XDS ESP based diff would be cutting power. There's still a will it, won't it pause for thought but once hooked up it really pulls the car round. It's definitely the option to pick over the adjustable dampers, these passive ones feeling really lively (in a good way) and supple. Only the grabby brakes spoil it, even a light brush of the pedal causing the car to lurch most unpleasantly and unsettling it just where you'd hope a feathering of the brakes would calm it on turn-in.
Overall very impressive though.
Now to the A45 AMG, bang, pop, ba-ba-bang, etc...
M135i haters rejoice - we ditched the fugly Beemer at Ferrybridge and left Tom to take the fast road to another shoot at the Cat and Fiddle while Matt and I took the scenic route to the same. We're nearly there but growling bellies have got the better of us and we've paused in Glossop for a breather after a frankly astonishing drive across Saddleworth Moor and into the Peak District.
I'll have to do a Dream Drive on this too because the roads were just amazing. To think you're just a few miles from Manchester and near the busy cross-Peak routes like the Snake Pass and M62... It's desolate, deserted and awesome in scale, the rival to anything in Wales and yet bordered by huge conurbations on all sides.
The choppy, broken tarmac has been a great test of the A45's suspension too, which word on the street had down as excessively harsh. From the driver's seat I'm not sure it is but it's from the Renaultsport mould of fierce springing and quick damping, of which I'm a fan too. Whether passengers would be so enthused is another matter but the A45 feels lively, alert and eager to chuck itself into the bumpy switchbacks with the inevitable flurry of pops and bangs. It pulls so strongly too, boosting hard all the time. Only the low redline hampers you, cutting in just as you'd hope a bit of four-wheel drive might do something interesting under power.
Cracking car though. Oh, and anyone thinking bringing the Golf was a knife to a gunfight needs to see how well it's been doing. On the road it's a constant presence in the AMG's mirrors under anything less than full bore acceleration.
I seem to have ended up back in my comfort zone of the BMW for the schlep back down the M6, Eco Pro on and pondering on a hell of a fun day of driving. And a healthy reminder of the diversity now on offer in the practical performance car market, hot-, mega- or however you want to prefix them. And, yes, I'll accept the latter was probably a bit hyperbolic, especially in the Golf's case. Sorry.
Final stage for the day was to meet back with Tom just as he was finishing his additional shoot at the Cat and Fiddle. After all the 'spirited driving', trundling along at the SPECs neutered 50mph was a shock but a few runs to and fro in all cars was revealing. Trundling along the straights and then mashing it into the tight, well-sighted turns revealed an odd two-stage power delivery from the Golf's Haldex diff and just at the point your instincts say 'understeer, time to back off' there's a distinct shift in attitude and with a constant amount of lock it holds its line even with maximum throttle. The rear axle still felt stubbornly welded down no matter how much provocation though. It's no Megane on that score.
The BMW was predictably more fun and balanced, the A45 in the same situation just fearsome, railing round at ludicrous velocity and tightening its line as power went rearwards before - ba-ba-bang! - hitting its limiter.
The highlight for me has been just how alive and agile the Golf feels compared with the two hard-hitting rivals. The power deficit is less telling than the weight advantage and at night on the motorway there are lots of nice design features to divert attention from the tedium.
The comments thread has been focusing hard on numbers too. Here are a couple to close this update on - the Golf, as tested, costs £27,480. The AMG, again, as tested? £50,845, the BMW £37,680.
Now, best get that Golf back to VW. MK here we come.
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