It is a question so basic and relevant to those of us who like cars, I found the fact I had no idea of the answer entirely bewildering. It is simply this: how much faster is a really quick car from one place to the next than a really slow car? I didn’t have a clue.
Of course, a lot depends on those places. If they are the start and finish lines of a race track, the question becomes easy to answer. If they lie at either end of a motorway network, it becomes an irrelevance because, if speed limits are obeyed, then both arrive at the same time, and if they’re not, what results is not a test of one car against another but one driver’s nerve against his rival’s.
I did once race a supercar against a family hatch for this magazine, but it was to prove a subtly but significantly different point. Ten years ago, I drove a diesel-powered Ford Focus from Calais to Berlin against a Lamborghini MurcieÃlago, my theory being that whatever time he gained from being able to do 200mph on the autobahn would be lost in having to stop for fuel more often. Rather satisfyingly, we arrived at Berlin’s SchoÌˆnefeld airport side by side.
This time, I wanted a pure driving test, uncomplicated by extended periods on motorways or the need to stop and refuel. A pure point-to- point contest on some of Europe’s best roads, not to see whether a fast car was quicker than a slow one but by how much, and over a 190-mile cross-country route. So we decided to go from bridge to bridge in Wales, from the Severn Bridge in the far south-east of the country to the Menai Bridge in the north-west. The cars would leave at the same time, the difference in their arrival times providing the answer to our question.
Choosing the fast car was simplicity itself. On the cold and damp roads of varying widths on which we would be travelling, I truly believe the Porsche 911 Turbo S is the fastest car in the world. With 572bhp backed by an avalanche of torque combined with four-wheel drive and compact dimensions, it was the perfect weapon for the job.
The slow car was harder to select. It could have been a Dacia Sandero, Fiat Panda or similar but the one I kept coming back to was a Smart Fortwo. Maybe it was the knowledge that we already had the 911 and I subliminally wanted another car noted for its short wheelbase and rear-engine location, but I also liked the incongruity of the tiny city car bombing along trying to keep up with quickest mainstream version of the greatest sports car of all time. Smart was unable to provide a car with the base spec engine, but the automatic ‘Prime’ model that did turn up could still only muster 89bhp and a 0-62mph time of 11.3sec – certainly slow enough to make the point.