The old-school charms of front-engined, rear-drive V8s rarely fail to entertain, but can the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Jaguar F-type R coupé or Vauxhall VXR8 GTS challenge for overall glory?

Handling Day – the shorthand name for our Britain's Best Driver's Car competition – never fails to defy your expectations. The more ‘foregone’ the contending line-up seems, the greater the potential for confounded surprise.

For every underachiever, though, there is always a delightfully unpredicted ace in the pack. And nothing in the pit lane is more disappointing than prejudice.

This year, you could spot the veteran judges of these big tests by their approach to the Jaguar F-type R coupé, Chevrolet Corvette C7 and Vauxhall VXR8 GTS in particular – all front-engined, rear-drive V8s of pretty much the oldest sporting mould of them all. Cars like this shouldn’t demand many laps to decode – should they? When one of them is half as good as it’s tipped to be and another is twice as impressive, they most certainly do.

There’s performance and burbling charisma in abundant supply here whichever car you plump for – but the biggest slice of both comes not from either small-block Chevy engine with the blue-blooded V8 lineage, but from Jaguar’s rambunctious 5.0-litre supercharged lump.

The F-type R's snarl isn’t just loud; it’s angry with it – predatory, even. To listen to, you’d think it produced at least 50 per cent more accelerative force than either of the American V8s. In fact, the Vauxhall-née-Holden’s 577bhp and 546lb ft give it ultimate bragging rights.

Take into account kerb weight, though, and it’s the Jaguar that tops the order, 328bhp per tonne for the Brit playing 315bhp per tonne for the Aussie and just 299bhp per tonne for the American.

Lap times aren’t always so illuminating, but look at how those power-to-weight ratios translate into circuit clockings and you’ll begin to understand where the true dynamic achievement is to be found here. Because despite it being the least brawny under the bonnet, the Corvette tied the Jaguar’s lap time to the tenth.

The Vauxhall, meanwhile, came in 0.6sec after both of its rivals – although it still had enough speed to go quicker than both a BMW M4 and a Porsche Cayman GTS.

Getting a fast lap time out of the Jaguar was no straightforward task over the bumps and around the flat, testing corners of Castle Combe. Everyone who drove the F-type came back to the pits with the same wide-eyed expression – one inspired by a car with a great deal more poke than it can use most of the time and a notable penchant for the dramatic.

“Significantly underdamped; consequently a rather wild ride” was how one judge described the experience. “Rapid, ferocious – but only if you commit to turning off the driver aids,” wrote another.

Road test editor Matt Prior summed the car up best: “It lets go everywhere –including in fourth gear, in a straight line, at 100mph. That’s less entertaining than it sounds. This is what I imagine racing a historic saloon is like.”

By which, we can assume, he meant very evocative and very sideways, but not always where you’d like it to be.

The F-type felt a little on tiptoes around Castle Combe, its power to accelerate and willingness to turn in not quite matched by the ability of its rear axle to stay in line and hunker down. Simply put, it lacked ultimate high-speed stability and composure.

On the road, it hit greater heights, the intuitive suaveness of its powertrain and steering and its chassis balance coming to the fore. But the road impressions couldn’t redeem the car. Two judges placed it dead last in the overall rankings and no one had it higher than eighth.

That the VXR8 ranked better can be celebrated Down Under and vindicates the praise we heaped on it earlier this year. Nothing – not even 577bhp – can adequately disguise its size and weight in this company.

Relative to every other car on the day, the VXR8 felt short on stopping power, short on body control, restricted on outright grip and soft of directional response. Relative to normal benchmarks – the more relevant ones of other super-saloons, even – it would have fared much better. But then ‘normal’ never has been what this event is all about.

Those limited reserves didn’t make the Vauxhall half as demanding to drive as the Jaguar, though – which explains the judges’ warmer recommendation. To a man, they all praised it for excellent dynamic consistency, honesty and coherence.

If the Jaguar was full of surprises (some nice, some nasty), the Vauxhall was a picture of predictability. “It’s friendly, trustworthy, keen to please – like the world’s fastest Labrador,” wrote Andrew Frankel. Quite a Labrador that can tie with an M-badged German shepherd for ninth place.

In the end, it was for only one of these cars to get in among the true thoroughbreds and score a top-half ranking – and no one would have guessed that it would be the Corvette. Finishing sixth in the overall order also underplays the esteem in which the American two-seater was held in some quarters, with one judge scoring it as high as second.

'The basics’ are what the Stingray covers – quite emphatically well. That’s remarkable when you consider how far off the pace some of this car’s predecessors once languished. The atmospheric V8 is broad-chested and flexible. The chassis and steering respond cleanly and with plenty of feedback. There’s assured grip and directional bite at the front wheels, lots of lean-on stability from the rear… almost everything you need to derive confidence from a sports car.

The electronic aids are also good enough not to dilute your outright pace yet deftly prevent you from overstepping the bounds of grip. You’ll be glad of the latter, because beyond that limit, the Stingray is not quite so tame and obliging. As a road car, meanwhile, its appeal is a touch limited by left-hand drive, considerable vehicle width and questionable cruising refinement.

Still, one judge was heard to say that, of everything assembled, the Corvette was the car he’d most like to go racing in – a towering compliment in the presence of a Porsche 911 GT3 and a Ferrari 458 Speciale.

“Box office” was how another described the American’s showing. Take a bow, the ace in the pack.

Lap times

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – 1min 14.3sec

Jaguar F-type R coupé – 1min 14.3sec

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS – 1min 14.9sec

Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014

Click on the links below to read each section of Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014, followed by the crowning of this year's overall champion as decided by our eight judges.

The supercars – Ferrari 458 Speciale vs McLaren 650S vs Porsche 911 GT3

The sports coupés – BMW i8 vs Porsche Cayman GTS vs BMW M4

The misfits – Alfa Romeo 4C vs Ariel Atom 3.5R vs Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy

The verdict – Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014 is crowned

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Our Verdict

Jaguar F-Type R

The powerful Jaguar F-Type R is sensational to drive, with even better driving dynamics than its lesser siblings without resorting to the savage tendencies of the SVR

16 October 2014
corvette is not a muscle car, more super car

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