These aren’t necessarily the five best cars on sale; they’re the five cars we like best, which is a rather different thing.
Correctly, choosing them required extended wrangling, and at one time or another any of the top nine could have made the cut. In particular, some of us still can’t believe that the Ford Fiesta 1.0T Ecoboost and Ferrari 488 GTB didn’t make the final reckoning, and I’m one of them.
But no one could begrudge the five we chose to knock into a final order. We have a hatchback, a small sports car, an SUV, a race-track refugee and a pure supercar, but finding the common threads they share isn’t difficult. As driving machines, all are exceptional for the kinds of car they are, but there is something more fundamental here. Their most important bond is the way each was designed by teams who barely looked up when the class standard had been met, paused briefly to sneer at the class best and then just kept going, farther than would have been required for success in the marketplace. That is how the merely excellent becomes the truly exceptional. And that is why these five are here.
Land Rover really didn’t need to make the Range Rover Sport this good. Its predecessor was by far its weakest product but, at least until the Evoque turned up, easily its most profitable. People just loved the idea.
The Sport should be a terrible compromise, because its brief seems impossibly wide. Here is a car charged with being the first seven-seat Range Rover yet somehow also the best to drive. It must also do all those things Range Rovers are able to do off road, even if they’ll never actually do them, while making the right statement about the person behind the wheel. The fact that it achieves these disparate, conflicting objectives shows not only the skill of its designers and engineers but also the scope that remains within the SUV genre for standards to improve.
But anyone who wants a slice of its action is going to have to do it the hard way. The Sport didn’t just happen; it came about through the making of tough engineering choices, such as adopting an expensive aluminium monocoque in order to save 400kg. The talent required to design a cabin that’ll keep happy both modernists and traditionalists doesn’t grow in window boxes; nor, for that matter, does that needed to tune the chassis of a still heavy car to provide a ride and handling balance beyond the capabilities of any other in the class.
The Range Rover Sport was so useful when we shot these pictures, carrying all the kit and providing a stable platform for the photographer, that it was easy to forget it wasn’t part of the crew but actually taking part. But that’s what defines its magic: whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re doing it, the Range Rover Sport just works.