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Speedweek 2023 Contenders: The coupés

Two doors and a tonne of flair

TopGear Reporter
January 26, 2024
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Coupe contention

This is TopGear SA's annual Speedweek. A competition that favours the brave, the bold, the technologically-inclined and quite simply the best of the best in terms of performance machinery. To kick off this reflection of a week of speed, we'll get it started with the quintessentially accessible, yet modest coupes. While the hot hatches and the superpowers may be getting the lion's share of the attention on the roads, it's these cars we have to thank for performance in the first degree. Without further ado...

Toyota GR86

The wild card

The GR86 has rightfully received a lot of love due to its lively nature and fun in almost any environment. This year, the GR86 was not the fastest by any stretch of the imagination, but it provided a driving experience that shocked many members of the team.

In comparison to its rivals, it stood out as an oddball, lacking the g-force-inducing cornering abilities that other competitors brought to the fight. Much to our surprise, though, the GR86 brought plenty of fun to the contest in its own right.

With its light weight, cool noise, and excellent driving feel, the rear end's playful nature made everyone smile. Its naturally aspirated 2.4-litre boxer engine lays down 174kW and 250Nm; modest compared to the other machines available at Speed Week 2023. Yet, its snappy gears, supercar-like seating position, and lively rear end proved the Japanese equation of lightweight and less power to be a brilliant foundation for a driver's car.

Its simple yet pleasing interior ensures youthful driving, and although it requires some work to keep up with the rest of the pack, it provides a fun driving experience that many of the other competitors struggled to match.

Coming in at R755,500, it's substantially less than the competition, meaning that there was no direct competition for the little GR86 at this year's Speed Week. For the money, though, you'd struggle to find a car with more character and attitude off the dealership floor.

Surprisingly, the little GR86 was not the slowest on the timing sheets, beating the boisterous American, the Mustang, mostly due to the wet conditions. Yet our resident racing driver needed to mention just how much fun he had out on our track in the rain. The GR86 is a great lightweight car, and although it couldn't match the capabilities of the other vehicles at Speed Week in outright acceleration, it proved that the 86 is still a great driver's car and definitely ranks high on the fun scales. Jordan Schmidt

BMW M2 Coupe auto

Magic M

It’s been called many things, Lego car, box cart, BMW’s backpedal… Okay, that’s all I got for now but to set a contrasting scene I’ll just jump to the gist of the BMW M2 and say that the force of the M is strong with this one. Baby M4…? Someone wasn’t paying attention.

The thing is, it perfectly embodies everything that BMW’s M division stands for: driving performance and precision in a rather nutty package that can make anyone with measurable driving skills feel like a hero. It’s that connection between man and machine where all variables are perfectly in sync – that rare and perfect moment; that’s where the BMW M2 shines. 

The power regurgitators may find it disappointing that the M2’s power output is a mere 3kW more than the average of all the testers at 338kW. At the same time, its Newtons fall 38Nm short of the standing average with the M2’s turning power rated at 550Nm. So, that’s that then and the M2 can be brushed off as an average sportscar? That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. The Beemer’s power onset from its 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-6 engine is nothing short of impressive. While it too requires a degree in M-cryptology (see BMW X6M Competition) to fully extract what it has on offer, it’s how it delivers the M Magic that places it on a rung well, well above average. 

See, where many cars on the contenders’ list put millimetre-perfect cornering precision at the forefront of execution, with the M2, enjoyment is considered the top priority. It’s that quintessential coupe enjoyment that keeps a driver on their toes. A hot approach into a corner isn’t necessarily rewarded with the intervention of a catalogue-worth of electronics urging a driver to maintain the optimum line. Instead, the rear will happily step out, chirping a playful challenge of “Catch me if you can”. 

While it looks all dramatic from the outside, it never felt that it was challenging too hard, just enough to make it an involving driving experience that not many cars can match… It wants you to micromanage all aspects of driving, it wants you to toy with it and ultimately feel like an unsung driving hero. That’s the magic of BMW’s M division, and it’s made one heck of a comeback. Baby M4? Pffft. Deon van der Walt

Ford Mustang 5.0 GT Fastback


The Ford Mustang 5.0 GT is a benchmark of sorts. It served as a benchmark during the leather jacket-and-bad-attitude craze when the pony car emerged as an icon, and still, to this day, it serves as a benchmark against which emotion and, to an extent, performance is measured.

In a world where high-performance SUVs are all the craze due to their inherent usability and power-to-weight ratios which is the yardstick in spirited debates, the Mustang should be obsolete. And yet, it’s so far removed from what is considered the norm that it plays in a different sphere altogether. At the heart of the emotion that it provokes is that 5.0-litre normally-aspirated V8 thumper that produces 331kW and 529Nm of torque – figures that are quite unremarkable by modern standards, and therein lies the appeal: the 'Stang, as it’s affectionately known, isn’t an on-paper kind of car. A case in point? Just look at the lap times around our test track elsewhere in this feature.

It was never built for lap times, no matter how remarkable some driving scenes in modern films portray it. It was built, first and foremost, for driving theatrics, feels, and goosebump-inducing moments chasing the horizon with only that booming, chest-reverberating V8 for company. In that department, it’s unbeaten by the present Speed Week company. It symbolises everything we love about driving: that incomparable immersion, the provocation of the senses as you peer over the double-brow dashboard, and how it gets out of shape when you ask it to wholeheartedly harness that 529Nm of torque.

Nearly a decade on, and the current generation Mustang still has that characteristic enchantment factor that goes hand-in-hand with the nameplate. It’s still as good at evoking feelings as it was when it first launched in South Africa. And now, after spending some time at the helm of what is widely considered an iconic car and experiencing it in its purest form, I can finally forgive Ford for that 2.3-litre EcoBoost blunder. Thanks for the memories, 'Stang; I will fondly treasure them for years to come.

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