The sense of solace was palpable at the end of the first day of our Britain’s Best Driver’s Car test. As darkness descended on the pit lane, the majority of the serious driving and judging was over, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief at our good fortune in the gathering crepuscular calm.
The conditions had been bad all day, and appalling in parts. Every driver had discovered, if they didn’t already know, how treacherous and unforgiving a circuit Castle Combe might be in the wet if you don’t respect its bumps, cambers and shaded slippery expanses. And yet somehow our day had been incident free, ending with exactly as many undamaged cars – and prides – as it had started with. And nobody could claim they hadn’t learned – and often learned very quickly – what separates the very best driver’s cars we’d gathered from the rest.
So what difference did the rain make? For a while, we wondered, as four judges dissected and decoded their impressions of the best and worst performances they’d witnessed. The slippery conditions were certainly a levelling influence, making a secure, predictable front-driver such as the Golf GTI Performance feel like a fine refuge from the eye-widening, poweron snap oversteer you might have encountered immediately beforehand in anything from the GT R to the M4 CS.
A dependable, judiciously tuned traction and stability control system certainly did more for a car this year than it might have ever before in a Britain’s Best Driver’s Car contest. But in the end, the same qualities that make a car impress at the limit of grip in the dry – communicative controls, good close body control, a dexterous well-tuned ride, a powerful and linear powertrain, and a finely balanced chassis that mixes stability with adjustability in just the right proportions – also distinguish one when the heavens are well and truly open.
We had decided well in advance that only the top three cars in the test would go forward to be covered in greater detail here. And yet it also became clear that, for everyone present, three cars had really stood out from the rest of the pit-lane crowd – while one or two others had passionate but more lonely advocates. I, for one, was sorry to find out that the Civic Type R hadn’t upset the odds and forced its way into our final round, because the tactility and honesty of its driving experience seemed to me to shine so brightly. Prior thought the Giulia Quadrifoglio deserved a podium finish, not least because of this 500bhp rear-drive car’s endearing approachability. Prosser, meanwhile, argued that the Seven 420R Donington Edition should have made the cut on account of it being so communicative, trustworthy and drivable in testing conditions. All were worthy shouts.