We feared for the Alfa Romeo 4C when we planned this feature, but not all of our testers had driven one and there was a chance, we’d heard, that the geometry had been knocked out on the last one we drove. So it got another chance but didn’t take it.
We thought that Jaguar’s F-type R coupé would fare rather better. But Castle Combe is a testing circuit, to which the Jaguar’s front wheels were better tethered than its rears. We like an oversteering car, but when that’s inadvertently in a straight line at 100mph, it’s less amusing.
Also less amusing than it could be is BMW’s M4, whose trick of going as sideways, and only on demand, is combined with too few other abilities to lift it clear of Vauxhall’s VXR8. That its daytime job is being a large saloon means equal ninth is more dignified for it than it is for the BMW.
BMW’s i8 is not a sports car and its handling changes dependent on the state of its batteries. It’s also quite charming, hence a respectable eighth-place finish, just behind the Renault Mégane 275, which we all liked a lot, and the Corvette Stingray, which some of us loved more than others. A better road performance would have placed the ’Vette higher still.
The top five were much harder to separate. McLaren has extracted so much from the 650S’s mechanical layout that it’s difficult to imagine it being better, so engaging is it. It finished a whisker behind the Porsche Cayman GTS, which would have fared better still, we suspect, were this a road-only contest.
Which leaves the top three. Last year’s winner, Porsche’s 911 GT3, occupies the bottom step on the podium. On the road, it feels utterly focused. On a circuit, it feels like motorsport. But even it couldn’t match the Ariel Atom 3.5R, which was unlike anything else on the track but whose unforgiving road nature prevented a few of our testers from placing it high enough to snatch first.
Which leaves the Ferrari 458 Speciale, which, by dint of three judges placing it first and no judge lower than third, takes a very narrow victory. Come the final reckoning, none of us felt it was undeserved.
The final scores:
1. Ferrari 458 Speciale – 16 points
2. Ariel Atom 3.5R – 19
3. Porsche 911 GT3 – 27
4. Porsche Cayman GTS – 33
5. McLaren 650S – 39