Currently reading: Matt Prior's tester's notes - the best car I've ever driven
It's a question I'm asked constantly - but is the 'best' car the fastest, most expensive, most well made, or something indescribable?

“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.

Which all means that the best car in the world may not be the obvious, glamour choice, but a…you’re glazing over, aren’t you? Okay, it’s the Ferrari F40.


Read our review

Car review

Ferrari's F40 was built to celebrate the firm's 40th anniversary, and in 1988 Autocar got behind the wheel to find out just how good it really was

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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bezor Ta 23 October 2015

A very easy answer

Ferrari cars are the only ones that tick all boxes for 99,99% of all the people. It's the cars people dream of. Sure there is one offs as Bugatti or brands as Porsche or Mclaren that also tick some of the boxes. But as a company, and what the cars stand for, Ferrari is simply above all. Of course we have daily heroes also that tick a lot of boxes and save us in our daily lives. But then again very few dream of those cars. Make a list of all the wishes and Ferrari is the only one making all those wishes come through for 99,99% of all people. You see how easy the answer was? :)
si73 25 September 2015

surely the question should be

Out of all the cars you have driven which is your favourite, the one you would most like to own?
DBtechnician 25 September 2015

That reminds me,,,

I have yet to drive the Nissan GT-R, I just hope that when this happens that it doesn't feel a bit like meeting one of your screen hero's in real life who happens to be a bit boring really.
I guess part of it is also about prior expectations and what the Brand stands for.