Every year, on the occasion of Autocar’s annual Britain’s Best Driver’s Car test, the same argument breaks out: how do you define great handling? It’s one of those questions you can debate for hours on end. And we usually do.
Somebody very wise and experienced in the dark art of road testing once told me his irreducible definition. “A good handling car simply goes where you point it.”
He was talking about the importance of consistency and predictability of dynamic response. Referring to the laudable qualities of a car that responds exactly as you expect it to with every input. That ends up going where you want, on road or track, and doing just what you intend so consistently, easily and immediately that you could almost be controlling it telepathically. When reviewers blather on about cars that you somehow ‘think’ down the road, this is what they’re on about.
£887,576 worth of cars – but only one winner
But that definition doesn’t cover a car’s ability to make you feel more involved in the act of driving than you do ordinarily. Or sense of occasion – a car’s capacity to make you feel as excited as a dizzy kid, even at walking pace. Or the intense reward that often comes when you finally get under the skin of a really focused, fast and challenging circuit machine. Or dynamic flattery, for that matter – from a car that simply makes you feel more skilled as a driver than you ever have before.
The judges have to consider all of these issues and more every year before voting for ‘BBDC’. Because it’s ‘Britain’s Best Driver’s Car’, we also have to think about usability. A Caterham needs to be absolutely sensational to drive, for example, in order to make up for the fact that, thanks to the UK climate, you can only really use one for three months of the year. That gives you an idea of how good we think this year’s second-placed Caterham Supersport is.
Contrary to popular believe, outright grip and sheer speed have very little say the grand scheme of things. Because once they know what 0-100mph in less than seven seconds feels like, most people would choose a fun car over a fast one every time. And despite what you might deduce from the photographs we publish in ‘BBDC’ every year, driftability’s only got a bit part to play too.
So put yourselves in our place for a moment. What do you think distinguishes a really great driver’s car? Would you take fun before fast? And how important is value for money: is a £20k car that just impresses you worthy of greater praise than a £200k car that seems genuinely amazing?