Surprises Of 2013

BY Azfar Hashim

An exciting and unforgettable year it was, made even more memorable thanks to the arrival of these wheels

Photos: Azfar Hashim

New regulations? New classification? Baah… You don’t have to bother about all those heebie jeebies when you look at the collection of cars we have here. We have selected six of the best big surprises of 2013; ones that will knock your socks off after a mere full prod of the accelerator.

Well, they may not be your average supercars, but they are all sporty enough to give any big-engined, bank-breaking engineering feats on four wheels quite a hard time on our roads. Simply put, a lot of performance for not a lot of money. Meet (in clockwise direction) the BMW M135i, MINI John Cooper Works, Volkswagen Touareg TDI R-Line, Volvo V40 R-Design, Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG and Audi S3 Sportback. That’s a combined 1,592 bhp and 2,350 Nm of torque…

BMW M135i

BMW’s hatchback on steroid here is awesome for one thing: surprising the unsuspecting. From afar, it looks no different than a, well, kitted out 118i. That is until you scrutinize every single bit of the car; big brakes with a subtle M badge, equally big 18-inch alloys and that little ‘M135i’ badge on the top right hand corner of the boot’s hatch. This car is amazingly quick by the way: floor the accelerator at standstill and watch as the entire world around you turn into a blur as you’re pushed back into your seat. After all ladies and gentlemen, under the bonnet lies a 3.0-litre six-cylinder, twin turbo’d powerplant. Matched to a quick shifting 8-speed ‘box (not a DCT by the way), it pushes out 320 bhp at 5,800 rpm, and a whooping 450 Nm at 4,500 rpm. On top of being a fast hatchback that is equally practical for a small family, during the weekend it spent with us, one trait that made us fall deeply in love with the car was how it handles. It’s not clinical, enjoys taking a series of bends at speed controllably and when you do manage to throw the tail out in ‘Sport+’ mode, the M135i does it safely enough to not throw you off guard. Full of surprises, you little monster... $244,800 with COE

MINI John Cooper Works

You’re probably wondering: It’s not a new car, so why on earth did the John Cooper Works (JCW) made it into this list? Well, because a JCW with automatic transmission - that is equally fun to drive - arrived at the beginning of 2013; which is good news for all you 3A license holders who has always fancied a very fast and sharp MINI. So it doesn’t get any fancy 8-speed auto or 7-speed dual-clutch ‘box from BMW’s parts bin, but the JCW’s 6-speed torque-converter automatic transmission works very well; shifts are not rude and it responses to your right foot’s input religiously. Working hand in hand with a tuned 1.6-litre turbocharged powerplant, the front-wheel drive JCW is good for some 211 bhp and 280 Nm of torque. It does the zero to hero sprint in about 7 seconds. To add on more drama, there’s also a Sport button that sharpens throttle response AND makes the exhaust note a thousand decibels (ok, kidding) louder. To quote our Managing Editor Joel Tam after testing the hatch version earlier, “While I don't know what John Cooper would have said, I'm sure he'd be proud that the MINI JCW still remains true to its roots, a giant-slaying, no-nonsense performance supermini - yes, even with a slushbox.” We spent some time with the slightly-more-practical Clubman variant for this group feature, but what we found still amazing is how sharp this car handles, despite the additional sheet metal. $238,800 with COE

Volkswagen Touareg R-Line TDI

The giant in this group feature, the Touareg R-Line defies what most SUVs are typically known as: slow and boring. Yeap, the Touareg R-Line you see here, in TDI guise - a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel to be more precise - has more than enough punch to give hot-hatches a hard time and supercars something to sweat about. It has an 8-speed auto transmission: just right to deliver all that 245 bhp and, most importantly, an unworldly 550 Nm of torque. Simply stomp the accelerator and you will be greeted by a loud growl from the bonnet and see every little thing, I mean, other cars, move away. Tipping the scale at 2,035 kg, the 0-100 km/h sprint timing of only 7.6 seconds is something worth respecting; the Touareg R-Line has all the bloody rights to conquer the fastest lane on the expressway. Well Volkswagen fitted a set of air-suspension here as well, which gives you the option to choose different ride heights for different terrains. Also, steering response is spot-on and positive; makes you wonder at times whether you’re driving an SUV or an executive sedan. Good job with this one Volkswagen, this is a perfect all-rounder SUV worth every single cent. Oh, the unbelievably good fuel economy is another unique selling point. $332,800 with COE

Volvo V40 R-Design

A high performance Volvo is not a norm. A high performance Volvo in a loud shade of blue is a rarity. Anyway, it’s good to see Volvo trying to revive the R nomenclature for their range. Implementing it for the V40 model is a smart move; getting the help of Polestar to add more horses under the hood is even smarter. As tester Keegan Gan puts it, “Being eager to accelerate at the slightest of prods at the pedal, braking ably with its well servoed brakes as well as excellent ride comfort, the V40 R-Design is a treat to drive.” The last time we saw a truly sporty Volvo was almost a decade ago, in the form of the S60 R and V70 R wagon. Yours truly got the keys to the S60 R back then and here is one word to describe it: impressive. The S60 R is fast, handles very well and is a complete sports sedan; it sure made the Germans sweat. The turbocharged 1.6-litre V40 here is no real R Volvo, but nevertheless, it has 200 bhp and 245 Nm of torque and a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic (Powershift in Volvo speak); respectably fast by Volvo’s standard. Which is a good surprise. $190,000 with COE

Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

It’s small but it makes a hell lot of noise when you need it to. And it’s by no means offensive; melodious and inspiring is more like it. The A45 AMG here is considered the ‘baby AMG’, but once you let it loose, you really need to have balls of steel to keep it in control. Failing which you might have to say goodbye to your driving license. Yes, it’s that fast and — let me emphasize once again — loud. To quote our Managing Editor Joel Tam, “Start the engine and it booms into life with an angry growl. Floor the throttle and the car will go, go, go and go! The A45 is blisteringly quick. Even in Comfort mode, this hot hatch will zip around effortlessly. Set it in the more aggressive Sport mode, and the car will feel like it's popped a couple of steroid pills. Sport mode also wakes the exhaust system up and shifts will be accompanied by growls and barking on the overruns.” Yours truly could not agree more; in fact it’s so addictive to drive, I had to stop only because the tank went dry. Meals were McDonalds drive-thru: brunch, lunch and dinner all in the car. Along the way, I cannot help but wonder how on this solar system AMG manage to squeeze 360 bhp and 450 Nm out of that 2.0-litre engine and at the same time, provide an all-wheel drive system that grips like super glue on tarmac. Geez. Brilliant job Mercedes-Benz and AMG. $296,888 with COE

Audi S3 Sportback

This S3 is the last performance car that arrived on our shore before the year 2013 came to an end; it seems as though Audi was keeping it as ‘the best for last’. Power comes courtesy of a 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged lump and mated to a 6-speed S-tronic, it rocks the road with 276 bhp and 380 Nm of torque at it’s disposal. Overtaking is effortless, being the first off the traffic light is never an issue and gobbling every sharp corner is child’s play for the S3. Oh and by the way, set the car to Dynamic and be prepared to get additional entertainment from the exhaust system: it shouts and farts every single time you rev the engine and shift a gear. It even sounds a decibel or two louder than the predecessor. The S3 entertains also by the way it drives. Then to complete the package, it comes with respectable build quality, faultless interior features and generous amount of space for passengers. Even the boot is useful. So, if you want a fast Audi that doesn’t cost you an obscene amount of money, this is the car for you. And because it does not look loud and show stopping, you will have a good time throwing people off with how capably fast it is. Come join me as I give the S3 a “Woot! Woot!” $262,950 with COE