M3 Competition, Ioniq 5 N, Dark Horse shine at Road America

The Carousel at Road America comprises turns 9 and 10 but amounts to one long 180-degree righthander. To tackle it in a typical street car, accelerate up to 70-75 mph, place your left-side tires midcorner, hold the throttle and steering wheel steady, and pinch it down to the final apex of turn 10. A car with a well sorted suspension and sticky tires will hunker down and let you build speed as you sweep through the turn. It tests not only the car but also how much mettle the driver has as speed builds toward the edge of adhesion. 

The track is also hard on brakes. Turns 3, 5, and 8 involve downhill braking, often from triple-digit speeds, and a street car’s brakes can give up in turn 12, Canada Corner, after multiple heavy braking events.  

Last week, Motor Authority editors Joel Feder and yours truly attended the annual MAMA Spring Rally put on by the Midwest Automotive Media Association. It featured seven track cars on the road course at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. 

To keep things safe, the organizers added two on-track chicanes to limit top speeds, incorporated the motorcycle chicane that leads into the very dangerous Kink, and set up the 4.048-mile track so we skipped most of the front straight. The first chicane actually revealed more about the cars’ handling because it added a section of esses, and the configuration kept fun areas including the Carousel, Canada Corner, the dive into turn 5, and the run uphill into turn 6. Some of the cars also competed in an autocross on the infield go-kart track.

Comparing how the cars performed in back-to-back drives provided insights that we might not have otherwise noticed, confirmed or revised previous impressions and set up a pecking order of the best performers. Of the seven cars we tested, every one handled the rigors of the track quite well, and we applaud the automakers for developing them to be trustworthy on a racetrack. Below, we share insights that wouldn’t be possible in any other venue. 

2024 BMW M3 Competition at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 BMW M3 Competition

We’ve experienced the M3 Competition on the street and reveled in its performance, but the track is where this car is meant to be. Its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 rocketed the car to the highest speeds of the day, with 503 Bavarian horses providing what felt like easy and unrelenting power that just kept building at triple-digit speeds. The car’s stiff suspension was also a boon to its track performance. It snaked through the esses with confidence and in the Carousel the suspension took a confidence-inspiring set that had us going about 5 mph faster than we did in any other car. The M3 Competition has the long legs for a track like Road America as well as the agility for shorter, curvier, more technical tracks. 

We have our complaints with the M3 Competition: A stiff ride, available sport seats that aim to punish those with wider builds, and too-light steering with too little feel. However, it’s easy to forget all that when the M3 Comp slays a racetrack better than the other cars assembled for the track day. If you buy one, you won’t know its true purpose unless you join a BMW club and attend its track event.

2024 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N

2024 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N

2024 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N

Having driven the 2024 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N around Laguna Seca, we already knew that it’s fast, visceral, and fun. The Ioniq 5 N excelled in Road America’s fast straights and heavy braking zones. When the pavement straightened out, the overgrown electric hot hatch’s two motors spun out 641 hp and built up to 119 mph before we had to brake for the chicane after the Sargento Cheese bridge. 

The 5 N was well balanced around the Carousel at 75 mph, thanks to its firmly tuned suspension, grippy Pirelli P Zero tires, and the low-set battery in the center of the chassis. Had we been so inclined, we could have kicked out the rear end in the middle of the Carousel, but that would have risked sliding off the track, which wouldn’t be a good look. Still, this car begs to be drifted. 

We chose the engine-like Ignition soundtrack, and delighted in its fake sound, as well as the programmed shifts that combined to make it feel like a gas engine and automatic transmission were motivating the car. Our quick laps around Road America confirmed that the Ioniq 5 N will likely be one of the best performance cars to emerge in 2024. It’s too bad Hyundai didn’t make the Ioniq 5 N available for the autocross as it most likely would have been the quickest car around the course.

2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse

Hitting the start button in the Ford Mustang Dark Horse sent shivers up our spines. The sound from the quad exhaust pipes is enough to make any enthusiast smile. The blue titanium shift knob and short-throw 6-speed manual shifter easily snicked from gear-to-gear, and it was more fun than the 10-speed automatic, which sometimes doesn’t grab the low gears you want when accelerating out of a corner. This particular car didn’t have the available and wonderful Recaro high-back performance seats. The wider, flatter, stock GT seats let us slide around more than we’d like through the corners. 

All it took was driving through turn 1 for us to confirm that something was wrong with the Dark Horse we drove last fall during our Motor Authority Best Car To Buy 2024 testing. That car’s suspension wouldn’t settle. This car took a quick set in each corner and carved a precise line. No bobbing, just planted and controlled. It’s still a little big and heavy, so it didn’t feel as lithe through the esses as the BMW, but it was well suited to this track. It also didn’t accelerate as well as the BMW or the EV6 GT, leaving plenty of room for a version of the V-8 with forced aspiration. 

2024 Kia EV6 GT at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Kia EV6 GT at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Kia EV6 GT

The Ioniq 5 N and Kia EV6 GT are electric cousins. While the 576-hp Kia came first, it doesn’t have as many fun electronic features and falls short on some performance equipment. The Kia lacks grip, its dampers are too soft, and it foregoes the sophisticated cooling system of its hotter Hyundai cousin. 

Like the Hyundai, the EV6 GT rocketed off the line, even spinning the front wheels if launched correctly, but the first turn made it apparent that the EV6 GT’s softer suspension tuning and its 255/40R21 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires couldn’t hold the line with the same composure as the Ioniq 5 N, resulting in slower corner speeds and more roll and push. While the EV6 GT has the same 545 lb-ft of torque as the 5 N, it’s down 65 hp. That’s not a lot, but it affects the way these cars build speed. The EV6 GT didn’t thrust forward with the same sense of urgency when closing in on triple-digit speeds as the Hyundai. Shedding that speed also took more effort as the smaller brakes had to work harder.

The EV6 GT was the second quickest car on the autocross, coming within a half-second or so of the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35. The EV6 charged up the initial hill far quicker than any other car on the autocross. The instant torque of electric power matters. Around corners, the EV6 felt like an ice skate. It understeered on corner entrance as its mass proved hard to wrangle, its Goodyear F1 tires gave up grip too soon, and it could wag its tail on corner exit because its power was so quick to hit. 

2024 Subaru BRZ tS at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Subaru BRZ tS at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Subaru BRZ tS/Toyota GR86

Sometimes a partnership between automakers is a wonderful thing. While Subaru did most of the engineering for the BRZ and the related Toyota GR86, you can bet that neither would exist without Toyota’s deep pockets. And that engineering is fantastic, with a low center of gravity aided by Subaru’s boxer-4 engine design, light weight, and some tS upgrades that include Hitachi dampers and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. The BRZ was easily the most stable car through the chicane esses, and its electric-assist power steering should be studied by all automakers for quickness and feel. 

The BRZ feels much like a coupe version of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, though it has some of the traits we’d like to see in a MazdaSpeed version of the little droptop. It corners flatter, gathers its weight quicker for changes of direction, and has a little more usable horsepower. 

The BRZ’s Toyota GR86 sibling was also made available for the autocross, where it put up better times than it should have given its middling 228 hp and even lower 184 lb-ft of torque. However, it sits so low and is so agile that it carved corners better than any other car, leading to impressive times.

2024 Mazda Miata RF at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Mazda Miata RF at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata

You can use most of the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s performance capability on the street, so a track like Road America provides a chance for all-out fun at lower speeds than the typical track car. The notable body lean provides excellent feedback and lets drivers get away with driving hard on the street before succumbing to oversteer or understeer. However, it becomes a bit of a detriment to times on the track or autocross as it takes a bit longer for the suspension to set in corners and transitions. In addition, the 181 hp of the ND-generation Miata, while plentiful on the street and more accessible than it was in previous generations, paled in comparison to every other car we drove. It’s still happy to rev, though, and that adds to the engagement that the Miata is so happy to provide. The brakes held up through a day on the track and another on the autocross, which is a testament to both their robustness and the advantage of stopping less than 2,400 pounds. The ND Miata remains a two-seat ball of fun eight years into its run.

 

2024 Subaru WRX TR at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Subaru WRX TR at MAMA Spring Rally

2024 Subaru WRX TR

We recently drove the WRX TR and decided that while it takes a step forward in performance versus the base WRX, it’s still a half step short of the dear-departed WRX STI. The performance upgrades are most notable in the brakes and suspension and those strengths showed through on Road America. The most important upgrade was the Brembo 6-piston front brake calipers that handled the track punishment like a champ. The suspension upgrades showed through with good body control through the chicaned ess section. 

However, our complaints still hold. The clutch, shifter, and steering all feel too light. But with the unregulated speeds of a racetrack, we also noticed the engine isn’t tuned for a sporty car. It revs only to 6,000 rpm, and that threshold comes up quickly from gear to gear. We want the higher revs and the accompanying mechanical crescendo that goes with them. The 265-hp 2.4-liter turbo-4 is strong and quick, but it feels more like it’s made for a crossover SUV than a sporty sedan. 

—Senior Producer Joel Feder contributed insights and words to this story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *