Sports cars have a very broad definition. My Zenshi Nimessa is technically a sports car, simply because the guys at Newman shoved some dynamite in the air intake. Sports cars originally, however, were made specifically for performance. You could still drive them on the road of course, but they were ultimately made to be fast, and sacrificed luxuries and comfort in pursuit of this. This isn’t me going on a rant about ‘how it was in the good old days’, as the vast range of sports cars available today is superb. It’s just that a number of companies recently have evidently looked at the current market and saw that it was lacking pure, performance-focused sports cars. The results of these projects have now been released, and we’re here to test them. And where better than the Yorkshire Dales National Park? Astounding scenery, amazing roads and very few cars. Perfect.
First up, the KHT Augusta. The German speed freaks launched this ‘budget’ model last year, and it’s now the company’s main source of income. The Augusta doesn’t hide or shy away from telling you its fast, you just know it is from the multitude of intakes around the car. Hardly a car to get if you don’t like getting second glances, but the inner 12 year old in me really likes it. ($35000)
Then, from Ridgewell-Jeong Motors, comes the 13R. The Anglo-Korean machine is a combination of British sports car standards and advanced Korean technology. Quite the mix then, and they’ve done well on the styling too. Really well. The front has a restrained ferocity about it, while the back looks gorgeous, especially with the single mid exhaust. ($38135)
Baltazar’s offering, the Zepellin, recently had a facelift and a retune, and now offers some serious pounds-per-performance with 321 hp lurking underneath its smooth lines. The styling doesn’t captivate me as much as the others, but its simplicity and smoothness are to be rewarded. There’s an elegance here that some people will get instantly. ($37400)
And finally, the Zenshi-Cavallera Seiryu. An international sports car project that has produced a tidy looking vehicle that, on paper, is very quick indeed. Once again, there’s a turbo i4 planted in the middle, and it produces 300 hp. It’s not as exciting style wise as the 13R or the KHT, but it seems to promise a lot. ($38205)
All of these cars have a certain thing in common; they’re light. And they all have small engines. Everything here is about cutting off every last bit of baby fat and being efficient in terms of what mass they do and do not need. To keep up with this weight avoidance, they all have small engines too. Testing these cars, however, is about more than just working out which one is fastest. It’s about how they deliver their performance, the package they offer – or try to offer – and how well they reward you on the road. It’s subjective, oh yes, but no one said drivers couldn’t be picky.
Don’t worry though, there is some fairness to this test. We’re sticking to the road from Garsdale to Hawes to Thwaite, the latter half of which is the infamous and brilliant Buttertubs Pass. Why? Because these cars are made for b-roads like this. No pointless testing in stop-start city traffic today for me. The conditions will also be the same, so long as the weather doesn’t change its mind.
I try out the RJM first. The interior certainly has stuff in it, but they’ve clearly been trying to push the boundaries in terms of what “basic” is. Not that that is the point, as you still get satnav, plenty of radio functions and even simple aircon – in other words, just enough creature comforts to keep you going. On the road we go and you quickly realise how civilised everything is. Smooth sequential transmission combined with a turbo spool that doesn’t shove a spear through your chest and the result is an experience that won’t require you to wear brown trousers whenever you drive it. And that’s despite this things 1.3l i4 producing 274 hp. Quite an achievement if you ask me.
It’s certainly nippy, and the gearing feels slightly old school with 5 driving gears and one overdrive which gives you plenty of revs to play with, benefitted especially by its wide powerband. In short, the power is very usable and very easy to use. The engine is on the quiet side however, a shame given how nice the engine is to rev. You get all the go without that extra reward on top.
However, we then come to what I consider to be this cars deal breaker; air suspension.
On the one hand, it makes the car very comfortable when you’re just driving normally, and gives it acres of adaptability when you’re driving harder. On the other hand, it makes the ride response feel weirdly numb. It’s just something air suspension cannot do; it can never feel tactile, and the result is that it’s like 70s hard rock song with a disappointing guitar solo. I couldn’t feel satisfied no matter what I did.
Worse still, it’s not setup as well as it could be. It understeers way more than you’d expect from a MR car for one, and it doesn’t quite feel as sharp as I want it to be either. It’s too quick to give in when cornering hard to be a machine that really enjoys being on the limit, and that’s a shame for such a vehicle.
How does the KHT fair then? Well, its way more powerful than the 13R with its 2.0l i4 Turbo rated at 334 hp, and much louder too. This is a proper track machine more than anything else, with a sparse interior and a 3 point safety harness as standard. You don’t even get power steering, just to save on that extra bit of weight. It all adds up though, and the result is a car that is way, way faster than the 13R. It delivers its power just as unfrantically as the 13R too, only there’s a lot more of it. It rockets out of corners, stops like no tomorrow and handles with razor sharpness.
Speaking of which, the suspension. It’s horrifically uncomfortable, and constantly feels like someone’s bashing you with a hammer from all sides. But the result is incomparable handling perfection. The sharpness is one thing, but because it’s light, the lack of powersteering doesn’t end up being an issue. Of course, you do have to work it – a lot – but the precision you can achieve is quite something. On the sharper, more dangerous corners, where nimbleness is everything, the Augusta really proved itself. It’s here that it works best.
But, when you aren’t hugging every apex as though you’re going round Rascasse, it’s dreadful. Maybe they priced it that low so you could afford to buy a tow truck to drive your Augusta around. This simply isn’t a road car, it’s far too rough to be that. But holy god, as a track machine, this is a bargain.
The Baltazar then. It has the nicest interior so far, with most of the features you’d expect on a top end Quasar , which is nice. It’s certainly my favourite for style and equipment levels so far, though it does also make it the heaviest. Still, with 321 hp coming from its 2.0l i4 turbo, it can certainly shift, and accelerates as well as the previous two cars. Better still, the turbos kick in at 3000 rpm, lower than the other two also. And it’s a properly big spool up too, shoving a ton of torque down through its manual gearbox. You can certainly control it thankfully, and that force makes this a very exciting car indeed.
It’s certainly the most rounded so far in terms of handling. In all honesty, it feels comparatively soft to the KHT, though it does make it more road friendly and less twitchy. It under steers quite nicely if anything, but like the RJM, gives up too early for my own liking. The thing that really impacts the handling though is the weight. Drive any of the others and you will notice it. It’s more planted, but only because of that extra mass, and the result is it has a more lumbering feel through the corners. It certainly handles its weight well, but the chuckability is notably lower here.
After a bit of driving, I’m certain that it’s the power that really sells the Zeppelin. It just feels better than the others when it comes to delivering it, and I really came to like the gearing. It’s just right, and that low turbo spool really helps it. The rounded feel of the suspension does give it a softer side, but that is continued with its well equipped interior. Without a doubt, it’s the one to go for if you don’t want a razor sharp car – essentially, the opposite of the KHT in the context of this test.
Finally then, I clamber into the Seriyu. The interior feels very Zenshi – that is, very Japanese, but with European flair (I guess that’s the Cavallera side of things?) which ultimately comes across as appropriately sporty. Acceleration is predictable; turbos don’t kick in too hard and spool low, which is nice, but they give a surge of power later on in the rev range, making them very usable. The engine is rather quiet compared to the others, but still offers a reassuring thrum. It stops as equally predictably and quickly. So far then, it’s a solid sports car.
And then you feel how light it is.
Oh yes, it’s really light. At 1.02 tons, it’s considerably lighter than the rest, and boy does that make a difference. It’s like driving a gnat. The semi active suspension is the only thing that will put off performance purists, but you’d be stupid to turn that into a deal breaker. The speed is fantastic, and it rockets in and out of corners.
It does roll more than you expect, however, plus the front wheels are a lot more narrow than the rear, meaning it does feel like you’re fighting the back of the car when you’re taking sharp turns, but what makes the Seriyu so good compared to the rest of the field is how far you can push it. It rewards hard driving, and I like that.
After a bit more driving in all four of the cars, and a bit of time to contemplate, we go to the Farmers Arms in Muker for a pint of proper ale and some steak and chips.
Time to summarise these cars then. The KHT Augusta; a race car for your pocket, very uncomfortable and totally stupid to try and daily, but very fast, and the only choice if you want something for the track. Plus, it’s the cheapest here, and you certainly get a lot of speed for your pennies.
The RJM 13R; clever technology, and very usable power, but you’ll have to get used to driving with air suspension, for all its benefits and cons. It’s a well rounded machine though, that’s for sure, and it looks fantastic.
The Baltazar Zeppelin; the heavyweight of the crew, and the one that feels the fastest, but also quite a bit heavier and lacking in styling against the rest. It doesn’t cut the mustard for me, however much I want to like it.
And finally, the Zenshi-Cavallera Seriyu; brilliant in the corners, conservative with the styling, but thoroughly convincing as a sports car. I really struggled to find a flaw with it other than overtly subjective issues with it.
I think it’s fairly obvious which one is the winner then. The Seriyu simply outclasses the rest in just about every category. Buy the KHT if you want a weekend track toy, buy the RJM for the styling, buy the Baltazar for the power, and buy the Seriyu if you don’t want to have to compromise.
- Gavin Anderson