Launceston to Hobart – if you’re in a hurry, it’s just 200km down National Highway 1 and should take you no longer than 2½ hours.
But in something like Audi’s (then-new) RS3 Sportback, the only way is the long way; a series of quieter A and B roads that will let this prestige powerhaus show off its full repertoire of abilities.
The drive is via Longford (circa 1953-68, once home to one of the world’s most amazing road racing circuits), Cressy and the writhing B51 up Poatina hill through a succession of dense switchbacks and on to Tasmania’s Central Plateau.
You then dine out on a veritable feast of hairy hairpins, sensational sweepers and unreal undulations that comprise the A5.
Turn right in the middle of Bothwell and follow Hollow Tree Road (B110) down to just south of Hamilton, then left onto the Lyell Highway (A10) towards New Norfolk.
Hook a right before Rosegarland and join the B61, then, a few kilometres on turn left into Glenora Road (B62).
Just south of New Norfolk, it’s another right at Sorell Creek to the C165 which leads through Molesworth and Glenlusk down the hill to Berriedale and onto the highway to Hobart.
That’s a tasty drive in a nutshell, but what about the wheels?
With its Cosworth-designed 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbocharged engine (essentially half a first-gen Lamborghini Gallardo V10) pushing out 270kW of power and 465Nm of torque, the second-generation RS3 is the most powerful car in its segment.
To nail a 0-100km/h time of 4.3 seconds (three-tenths faster than the A45 AMG of that time), enable launch control by simply switching off the ESC, call up ‘Dynamic’ mode in Audi Drive Select, snick the S tronic gearbox into ‘Sport’, place left foot on the brake pedal and floor the throttle.
With the engine harnessed at 4000 rpm, step off the brake and the RS3 catapults down the road.
There’s more to like. The steering feels quick and direct and ride quality exceeds expectations with a surprising level of compliance and adjustability over what are typical back-block road surfaces. Just the car for the drive.
2015 Audi RS3 Sportback quattro
Basic price: $78,900
Engine: 2.5-litre turbo DOHC 20v inline 5-cyl
Power: 270kW @ 5550-6800 rpm
Torque: 465Nm @1625-5550 rpm
Transmission: 7-spd dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 4.3 secs
Car: Mini Cooper S
Drive: Hobart Targa stages (26km)
The roads around Cygnet and Oyster Bay, south of Hobart, are well-known in Australian motorsport as some of the most challenging stages of our celebrated annual Targa Tasmania.
The latter takes in 12km of devilish delight, starting with an uphill, twisting run just off the Channel Highway following Nicholls Rivulet Rd (C626).
The former charts its course 14km along the C640 and C639, starting with a long climb followed by a fast descent to a T-junction; then continues to twist and contort along the banks of the Huon River and back over Silver Hill to Cygnet.
Just the roads to see just what Gen 2 (R56) of the reborn Mini Cooper S has got. A product of collaboration with PSA, the 1.6-litre four-pot boasts a twin-scroll turbo and direct-injection.
As I’d not driven its supercharged predecessor, this is all new territory.
That’s ‘territory’ as in literally as well as metaphorically – signposts point the way to not just Cygnet, but intriguingly-named places such as Snug, Flowerpot, Eggs and Bacon Bay, Police Point and Peppermint Bay.
Sounds like out of an Enid Blyton storybook, does it not? But the first few kilometres behind the wheel of a range-topper Cooper S Chili dismiss this as no Noddy-mobile.
In Sport mode (naturally), the Mini adeptly links the dots that scribe the natural watercourse along Nicholls Rivulet Road.
‘Go kart’ handling is the expression that comes to mind, particularly over a flowing bit of bitumen like this.
And seeing as we’re on the subject of well-hammered clichés, how about ‘punches above its weight’?
This it does, the Mini’s peppy powerplant feeling more than the sum of its displacement volume.
Back at base in Cygnet, all the talk is about the new electric steering – or, more to the point, it‘s sensitivity to input, speed off-centre and lack of weighting and feel.
A newbie to this road-testing malarkey, I say nothing.
Even the torque steer when getting on the power too early on anything other than smooth hot mix, the steering wheel tugging first one way then the other, demanding constant and instantaneous increments of correction, failed to faze me.
To be truthful, I’m enjoying this flawed, but feisty, little car and these wicked roads too much.
2007 Mini Cooper S Chili
Basic price: $43,500
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo DOHC 4-cyl
Power: 128kW @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 240Nm @ 1600-5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual
0-100km/h: 7.1 secs
Car: Subaru WRX
Drive: Hellyer Gorge (20km)
It surely says something about a strip of road when it is elevated from a single stage to a tarmac rally all of its own.
Such is the story of Hellyer Gorge, in Tasmania’s north-west.
At a whisker over 20km, this fabled feature of Targa Tasmania takes in a section of the Murchison Highway (A10) south of Burnie.
It’s revered by tarmac rally competitors for its mix of tight twists; quick, bumpy sections; and the occasional bridge crossing.
Heavily-shaded sections prevent the road from drying, sometimes creating a minefield of black ice and other slippery stuff, adding another layer of complexity and challenge.
In 2015, Targa Hellyer Gorge came into being as a one-day rally, serving the purpose of an introduction to targa events as well as providing an invaluable hit-out for more experienced crews before big daddy, Targa Tasmania.
Though subsequently morphing into Targa North West, the Gorge section remains core to TT.
My opportunity to drive it came in the form of Subaru’s Australian launch of the fourth-generation WRX in early 2014.
But as well as Hellyer, we got to tackle nearby Savage River, a road true-believers would remember from years ago as the main stage of Rally Tasmania.
Unused for competition until Targa North West, Savage River comprises a mighty montage of twists and turns for some 25km.
There’s only one way in and out, but who’s complaining?
At $1000 less than its predecessor, the new Soobie is also bigger, roomier, safer, quieter, more efficient, more refined, better equipped and therefore smarter value than ever.
Its performance bent – more responsive engine, stiffer body, sharper steering, flatter cornering, smoother ride and better brakes – is what’s front of mind as we roll along the A10 to the traditional targa stage start at the Oonah Road turn-off.
Time to downshift and get into it.
Although downsized, the newer FA-series direct-injection 2.0-litre turbo Boxer unit makes smart use of its 197kW and 350Nm, with power peaking 400 rpm earlier @ 5600 rpm and peak torque arriving @ 2400 rpm and staying fat until 5200 rpm, a whopping 1200 rpm up on previously.
Both virtues come in handy when the road kinks and chinks its way at pace past Harnetts Road.
Then, the tight turns keep on comin’, one after another.
The WRX is up for the challenge, sitting flat and composed, yet remaining compliant in ride.
That’s a tough double to achieve, but a 40 percent increase in torsional rigidity, beefier roll bars, firmer springs and revised geometry have worked their magic.
The brakes get a right, old workout descending a succession of downhill hairpins, but show no complaint.
Not so another another ‘Rex’ that finishes the run with overheating issues.
We forge across the Hellyer River and, just when there can’t be many more twists to the tale, there is. In quantum.
Finally, the road irons out and it’s flat to the finish at Parrawe. And there’s still Savage River to attack. Best of all, we can then turn around and do both all over again.