Dodge Viper ACR, Jaguar F-Type SVR, Porsche 911 Carrera S, Nissan GT-R
The awesomeness that is the 2016 Best Driver’s Car competition continues as we introduce the four final contenders, which include the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR, 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR, 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S, and 2017 Nissan GT-R.
Don’t miss Randy Pobst’s test-track impressions on each car, below.
More 2016 Best Driver’s Car content:
- Meet the Contenders, Part 1: Mercedes-AMG GT S, BMW M4 GTS, Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R, McLaren 570S
- Meet the Contenders, Part 2: Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, Chevrolet Camaro 1LE. Audi R8, Acura NSX
2016 Dodge Viper ACR
The Dodge Viper has always had a reputation of being a car that’s hard to drive. Yeah, with its big 8.4-liter V-10 up front, now churning out 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, it’s fast like it always has been, but that speed has never been easy to manage.
The Dodge Viper ACR seeks to change things. Equipped with a massive rear spoiler good for almost a ton of downforce at top speed, dive planes, a big front splitter, and loads of other aero add-ons, the Viper ACR looks more race car than road car. Dodge’s SRT team didn’t stop there; the ACR also gets unique 10-setting adjustable coil-over Bilstein shocks at each corner, and both compression and rebound adjustable with the turn of a dial. To go with the new shocks, Dodge partnered with Brembo to provide big carbon-ceramic brakes at each corner and with Kumho to develop super sticky street-legal race tires. To round things out, the Viper ACR gives the driver a five-point harness and a six-speed manual gearbox to work with.
People, that right there is a race car! Those giant wings, the diffuser, and the spoiler! They work! The grip level is just outrageously huge compared to the other street cars that we’re driving it against here today.
On a racetrack, it actually feels so slow that it feels like the shift takes forever because you’re accelerating, clutch in, lift, move the lever, clutch out. Compared to these good dual-clutch modern automatics that are just snapping off the gears, it seems really antique, to tell you the truth, and I hate saying that because I love shifting. The Viper is a car where I’m using second gear in almost every corner because the car is geared so tall. It just—the engine makes its power high in the rev range. Even though it’s a giant 8.4-liter, 10-cylinder engine, it still likes to rev.
What I really liked about the Viper was the braking. Mazda Raceway is so much of a braking track. With the Viper, we go deep into the brake zone, and when I go to the brake—POW—you get max-braking g, instantly. I mean, it happens right away. And that helps shorten up the brake zones, and it’s very much a confidence-inspiring thing.
I was driving the car and consciously thinking about all the downforce. Thinking, “Don’t slow down too much. Don’t over-slow these corners, and enter fast.” It’s very stable on entry, and it rewards going in there hot. That’s where a lot of lap time is here, and actually that’s a lot of fun. It just—it takes a little time to get used to it. I think I kept driving it better and better.
2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR
When Jaguar’s angriest F-Type, the supercharged V-8 R, showed up to compete in our 2014 BDC event, we loved the scorching straight-line performance its 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque spooled out. But none of us, including ace shoe Randy Pobst, felt like the chassis had been sufficiently fortified to contend with all the R’s additional power. In short, it was an oversteering handful—on turn-in, mid-corner, and when powering out of a curve. So for 2016, the R got all-wheel drive, and we carped about that system pushing too much in corners. This year that bedeviled R cat adds an S, a V, 25 hp, 14 lb-ft, and a thorough going-through of its suspension—revised bars, fatter tires, tweaked damping, and a reprogramming of the electronic handling aids (including the brake-based rear torque-vectoring system). Can these improvements better the Jag’s ninth-place 2014 finish?
I am in love with this car. It’s by far the best-handling Jaguar I’ve driven. The chassis balance was so beautiful. After I drove a couple cars that were kind of oversteer-y, the Jaguar was just beautiful on corner entry. You just have to be patient on the throttle or trail brake it a little bit, and it just turns right in—it’s like I’m carving the friction circle. The all-wheel-drive system is a huge success at all speeds. Power doesn’t seem to change the car’s balance a lot in different gears and at different speeds. The SVR team has really made an accomplishment here on their setup of the all-wheel-drive system and the suspension. Braking was confidence-inspiring and firm. The pedal stayed firm. Stopping power was strong. I thought the braking effectiveness and cornering grip were really good for a P Zero, which is a decent street tire that seldom holds up on the track, but they did. The throttle is too aggressive, and I don’t like the transmission shift programming— it was frustrating on track. It would downshift in braking zones but wouldn’t get down to the right gear for exit, and it would kick down in drive, Sport, and manual. But it’s a huge step forward for Jaguar.
2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Since we renamed it Best Driver’s Car in 2009, a Cayman S and two 911s have won BDC, so the guys at Porsche firmly believe they know what it takes to bring the trophy back home to Zuffenhausen. After last year’s top step Cayman GT4 failed to best the field, it was no surprise that Porsche opted to send the latest iteration of its two-time champ, the newly turbocharged, 420-horsepower 911 Carrera S. It’s stunning Miami Blue paint sent a lot of friends and acquaintances sliding into our DMs about clandestine drives and ridealongs, but the real beauty of this 991.2 was how cleverly it was optioned.
Base price on our 911 C2S is $104,450 USD, but as equipped it sits at $140,465 USD, thanks to some carefully considered sport driving goodies, including Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes ($8,520 USD), the Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) 7-speed transmission ($3,200 USD), Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) with PASM Sport Suspension ($4,050 USD), 4-way adjustable sport seats ($440 USD), sunroof delete ($0 USD) and rear-axle steering and sport exhaust ($6,810 USD bundled together). The leftover cash went to things like leather, heated/cooled seats, and body colored painted bits inside.
Was the drive worth the extra scratch? Check out Randy’s video above and comments below.
“What a fabulous driver’s car. On track, I had no sense that it had a turbo engine. It just felt like a 911 – and sounded like one with the flat-six raspy exhaust note we know. It had a broader torque curve, frankly. That might have been the only clue; it’s got more torque in the mid-range than the old normally aspirated engines, but they rev out the same. It pulls strong, up to high revs.”
“The PDK gear box, I just leave it in automatic, and that baby always knows what I want to do. It’s always right there. It’s on Pirelli P Zeros, which is just a normal street tire – I mean, yeah, ultra-high, extreme performance summer tire – but the grip from these new Pirelli’s is actually impressing me. A real step ahead of the old one.”
“The 911 exhibited the advantages of rear-weight distribution, which include good potential for putting power down, because the weight is on the rear tires for traction. Because the weight is in the rear, when you brake, the car is better balanced. “
“The stopping was incredible and again, these new Pirellis are impressive in that regard. The car rotated, but it was a beautiful thing; it’s just so much fun to run that on track. I did a couple extra laps. I didn’t want to come in. I was hoping that everybody was looking at the lap times to see if I was as consistent as I felt like I was, because I could put that car right where I wanted. It is a superb driver’s car.”
But is it our 2016 Best Driver’s Car? Stay tuned…
2017 Nissan GT-R
A perennial Best Driver’s Car candidate, the Nissan GT-R has shown well but never reached the podium. Could this finally be the year? With the most extensive updates to the car to date, there’s a compelling on-paper case to be made.
The 2017 GT-R’s updates start at its core, where its frame has been strengthened to reduce chassis flex. Moving outward, an updated interior is more comfortable and less cluttered. The engine has been upfitted with GT-R NISMO ignition control technology, which adds 24 horsepower and 4 lb-ft of torque for 565 and 467, respectively. More important than the peak numbers, the powerband has been broadened and flattened for more linear response. The seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, meanwhile, has been smoothed out with new control software.
Out in the wind, a new nose greatly increases engine-cooling capacity, and a new rear diffuser, a stiffer hood, and massaged creases keep the drag coefficient unchanged. At the corners, updated active dampers and Dunlop tires work with stronger suspension mounting points to tighten up the handling. Steel Brembo brakes are on stopping duty, pulling against super lightweight Rays wheels.
“At turn-in, it will rotate, and I found I had to be a little careful with that. I thought I could just throw the thing into the corner, but this GTR is not a big fan of that. In fact, it doesn’t like it at all. It’ll get too loose at turn-in. Once the weight transfers all the way over and you’re trying to aim for the apex, it starts to understeer if I’ve got too much speed. So it does not like a heavy trail brake late in the brake zone. I had to be a little gentler with my entry, a little more precise, a little more measured with the corner entry. And then the power was very strong. There’s a big surge of torque. It’s got strong, what I would call, midrange, which is probably around 4,000-4,500 rpm, so I found myself having to apex later, and then it actually drove out of the corner real nicely. But I had to be a little bit patient with the throttle or in third gear up. Third or fourth would cause understeer. It would cause understeer as a result of the power more than anything. It just accelerates so hard that it runs wide. So you need a nice late apex. It’s also softer than I recall, much softer. I remember GT-Rs being known for being quite stiff, right? And I found it a little frustrating that I have an R mode, and it’s still soft. And the balance was actually pretty good once I kind of got it a little bit figured out not to overdo it. Historically, GT-Rs could be driven more aggressively. And this car was not rewarding that. I had to be a little bit more precise and then it actually felt like we were going pretty fast. I’ve got a feeling this is probably a much better street car. The NISMO was much more race car.”