We’ve only got ourselves to blame here. The decision to whisk away the top three contenders and have them face off on the road meant that almost certainly some very senior stuff would be left behind in the paddock at Snetterton – and so it proved.
Even so, the exact identity of the nearly-but-not-quite brigade came as something of a surprise. For a start, in fifth, it included the Lamborghini Aventador SV, a car universally praised for its appearance and prodigious V12 engine, and just as widely pooh-poohed for the pig-headedness of its handling. Its lofty appearance in almost everyone’s running order (rising to second at one point) is testament to the remarkable transformation bestowed upon it by the SV overhaul.
Nevertheless, it was the final fourth-place ranking of the Porsche Cayman GT4 – a five-star road test subject, no less – that had us all reaching for the nearest calculator app. Surely, this, the finest example of Porsche’s peerless mid-engined middleweight, wouldn’t be the last car cut adrift before the medals were handed out? Alas, a steward’s enquiry confirmed it: 13 points to the Porsche 911 GT3 RS’s 11, its hopes ultimately dashed on the remarkable, myriad qualities of those above it.
There is, it must be pointed out before we delve deeper, some method to this madness, but I think it only proper to dwell for a moment on just how inordinately good the GT4 makes £65k feel. After all, two of the cars it lost out to cost at least twice as much and the Lamborghini below it was an even greater multiple of its price.
On the road route, on day one, the Cayman was exceptional. “Consistently excellent,” Saunders called it. Or to put it another, aptly longer way: “That I keep driving it, past the usual turnaround and just onwards for a few miles more, is not because I want to learn anything more about it but because I want to enjoy it for a few more yards, a few more minutes, until all time runs out.” Well said, Prior, and firmly seconded.
By virtue of everything you can hold, touch, shift and toe, the GT4 is a marvellous thing to pedal. “The best EPAS yet,” Frankel declared. Also, I’d say, the best manual gearbox, the best seats and, save for the distance between the pedals, the most satisfying driving position – one overtly primed to convey the sensory pleasure of a back-seat engine and pointy front end.
As a counterpoint to the GT4’s delicacy along the same length of B-road, the SV brooded with bad intentions. Where the Cayman slings you deliciously low, the Lamborghini’s hip point is practically that of a skateboard, and at very low speeds the stiff-backed ride isn’t dissimilar, either. But the car’s savage, simmering talent crystalises almost immediately. “Grips as hard as anything else here, communicates as vividly, blows the Ferrari into the weeds on emotional appeal,” Saunders remarked.
Its tactility, through the revised steering rack, is starkly terrific and, when combined with four-wheel-drive security, helps the Aventador’s improbable size and massive speed to shrink around you, even on Norfolk’s narrow lanes.
It impressed on track, too. Indelicacy with the throttle tends to induce understeer but, as Prior suggested, “it’s docile at some pretty big speeds, and I’m disinclined to find out too much what happens beyond that”. Frankel cited its Corsa mode for making the transmission’s upshifts so violent that they can potentially upset the car between apex and exit – although there wasn’t anyone in the pit lane who didn’t prize the Lamborghini’s ability to make its naturally aspirated ferociousness seem usable. Saunders, its champion, went one better: “Turning the Aventador – any 700bhp mid-engined V12 car for that matter – into something that feels so at home on a scrappy British B-road, and still capable of liveliness and even a natch of adjustability on circuit, is little short of a miracle.”
The real miracle, though, was to come. Truthfully, whether you liked the Cayman or not wasn’t ever in question – it’s plainly fabulous – but the extent of our admiration at Snetterton was initially dictated by the time of day you drove it. The weather was ghastly in the morning and Frankel called it “spikier in the wet than expected. Excellent traction tempts you into using too much power too early and ending up with armfuls of opposite lock”.
Even Prior, a confirmed devotee, agreed that the GT4 “wasn’t at its best on a damp track” and only became the “old-school” car he remembered when it dried out a little. It was Saunders, though, who consciously stuck the knife in, with a lowly fifth-place rating: “I’ve cost a fine car a podium finish here. But I couldn’t in all good conscience rank the GT4 higher, given that I genuinely think everything above it is more rewarding. Very grippy and composed on circuit and as superbly balanced as ever. But I want a Cayman to be more playful, actually. And I don’t care if it’s quicker than a 911. I had fun – high expectations, too, I guess – but I could have had more fun.”
On another day, the rest of us might have argued the GT4’s case more vociferously. But not here; not in this contest. Fun is the single-market currency of Handling Day, and to find it in comparatively short supply is reason enough to rank something else higher. The SV and GT4 were both brilliant. That they didn’t travel to Yorkshire was unfortunate – yet it only serves to highlight the compelling standard of the cars that finally did.
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