“What’s the best car you’ve ever driven?”
Three times this week I’ve been asked that question, because three times this week I’ve told somebody what I do for a living. (It’s that or being asked what I think of Top Gear, although, I suppose refreshingly, that tends to happen less often these days.)
Thing is, people don’t really want to know the answer. Because when I suck my teeth and suggest that, well, you know, ‘what’s the best car?’ is quite a complex question, like asking somebody what’s the best food they’ve ever eaten, and that context comes into it a great deal, they glaze over.
“Hmm,” they say, on not getting the two-word answer beginning with ‘Bugatti’ or ‘Ferrari’ that they were hoping for. “Fascinating,” they lie, as I detect them making a mental note to try to not meet again.
But it isn’t a simple question, because how do you define ‘best’? Is the best one the fastest one, or the one built from the finest materials, or the quietest one, or the most expensive one, or the most exciting one?
The ‘best’ car may be none of these, if, perhaps, you think that the ‘best’ car is the one that does the job for which it was designed better than any other. I’m inclined to think like that.
And by that reckoning, a Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Golf could lay as much claim to being the ‘best’ car as, say, a McLaren P1. They each excel at what they’re meant to do, but the Fiesta and Golf are good at a larger number of things than the P1 – albeit rather less exciting things – while costing an awful lot less than the McLaren.
As examples of engineering, then, who’s to say that a Golf, Fiesta, a Mini or a Hyundai i10 is not ‘better’ than a P1 or a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a Range Rover or a Ferrari 488 GTB? They’re all very good, but at different jobs.
Take the Fiat Panda: it’s amiable family transport, decently practical, quite good fun to be around and costs nine grand. As a result, it has nailed the job for which it was designed.
A Porsche 918 Spyder also nails what it was meant to do: be a technological masterpiece that’s fabulous to drive and intriguing to look at, but so it should do for more than £600,000. Deciding whether the 918 or Panda’s engineers better fulfilled their briefs, then, is a complex and deeply debatable question.
Likewise, the way a Bugatti Veyron makes driving at 200mph feel like driving a VW Polo is astonishing, but I think I have more admiration for the way a VW Golf R makes me feel when I’m driving it.