Car Comparison Tests Car Reviews

2016 Motor Trend Best Driver’s Car

Tough Crowd: Four Countries, 12 Sports Cars, One Winner

Tough Crowd: Four Countries, 12 Sports Cars, One Winner

Our 2016 Best Driver’s Car competition is the most competitive in the award’s nine-year history. This year, 12 automakers sent their best sports cars, supercars, and ponycars our way for a week of incredibly vigorous testing. In fact, if you’ll allow us to brag for a moment, we had so many contenders that we had to institute a one-car-per-manufacturer rule for this competition—more on that in a sec.

This year, we had 6,484 horsepower worth of cars competing to earn our Best Driver’s Car title. This $1.8 USD million field of carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel is particularly special because it represents almost every major auto-producing country. It’s a veritable best-driving Olympics. Our United Nations of competitors includes two supercars from Japan, three cars on behalf of the United Kingdom, four sports cars from Germany, and three more proudly representing the United States.

2016 Best Drivers Car Contenders and Finalists front three quarters
The Dirty Dozen: It’s always special going down Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s famous Corkscrew. It’s even more so when you’re running side by side with 11 other sports cars. This year’s field was more competitive than ever.

You’ll notice the lack of South Korean and Italian cars. The former is excused by simply not making any sports cars. The latter has no such excuse. Both Ferrari and Lamborghini are so terrified of the world’s most comprehensive driving-car competition that they’ve taken their ball and gone home. It’s not the first time they have refused to take the measure of their supercars; reconsider your declined invite next year, guys.

Although Ferrari and Lamborghini won’t play along, it’s worth noting fellow Italian Fiat had the guts to offer us a Mazda Miata, ahem, 124 Spider. Rather than letting the little Fiata go up against Godzilla, we opted to pull it out of the competition and save it for a potential minor-league Best Driver’s Car with the rest of the cars we cut from this year’s competition, which include the BMW M2, Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE, and Ford Focus RS. Stay tuned.

2016 Best Drivers Car Contenders and Finalists lineup
The rock stars at Service Group Distribution came through for us again this year, installing the newly launched luxury Nano-Fusion Clear paint protection film by CCL Design on the fronts of the vehicles and also on the windshields as a temporary layer of protection from tarmac debris. We couldn’t be happier with this clear bra film. It saved the vehicles’ paint from ugly chips, scratches, and abrasions, keeping the look of the vehicle new.

As for the rest of the field, well, here are the bullet points as per our test team: The “average” car in this year’s competition costs $131,730 USD before options. It makes 540 hp and 462 lb-ft of torque. It’ll sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds, and it’ll trip the lights at the end of the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds at 123 mph (198 km/h). Yeah, they’re fast.

Each of our 12 competitors will first be put through our battery of acceleration, braking, and handling tests in Fontana, California. Next, the cars will cruise on up to California’s central valley, where our good buddies on the California Highway Patrol will close down a gorgeous 4.2-mile stretch of asphalt known as Highway 198 so our judges can further evaluate each contender at their limits in real-world conditions. Next we’ll drive up to the coastal paradise of Monterey, California. Instead of a little R & R, we’ll head over to the world-famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where we’ll pass the keys to our contenders on to our good buddy, hall-of-fame race-car driver Randy Pobst, who will set a fast lap around the track in each car.

Then, with all the data and our editorial notes in hand, we all get to arguing. The winner doesn’t have to be the quickest in a straight line or the fastest around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but it’ll damn sure be the best car to drive of the bunch. It, ladies and gentlemen, will be our 2016 Best Driver’s Car. — Christian Seabaugh


12th Place: 2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

Old World Quaintness In A Modern Sports Car
2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S front three quarter

Everyone needs a V-12 in his or her life. It propels a car with that unmistakably historic, silky, shrieking gravitas that no other engine can. There’s something nostalgic about it, too, as if it were an endangered species (it probably is), and it’s this rarity—especially with a manual gearbox—that makes driving this Aston Martin V12 Vantage S that much more special. To date, this is the most sporting Aston Martin we’ve tested. Not the quickest, not the fastest, not the most nimble, but certainly it is the most ambitious in terms of mission.

Great fun if you’ve got nowhere to go and all day to get there.

But it is simply impossible to speak about the V12 Vantage S without first gushing over the engine. It’s even part of the car’s name, and the specs are gob-smacking. From the press kit, “All-alloy, quad overhead camshaft, 48-valve, 5,935cc V-12.” That’s a lot of metal, cams, valves, cylinders, and cubic-centimeters … but the sound. Every staffer’s notes waxed poetic on the sound of the Aston Martin. Sure, it looks like sex, especially with the orange lipstick that Cammisa said “looks like it’s been kissing the McLaren,” but it’s the sound that stands out. MacKenzie said the V-12 “loves to be revved, ideally kept spinning between 5,000 and 7,000 rpm to deliver its best—and an intoxicating metallic howl.” Said Seabaugh: “The engine! Whoa, boy! It revs so quick. Really a sweetheart of an engine, good power throughout, and it loves to rev. I only wish I knew where the hell redline was.”

And this is where things began to go pear-shaped. Lago was so ticked with the counter-rotating rev-counter that he said he would like to “instantly disqualify this vehicle for not having an actual redline. When you approach redline, the digital gear display turns red, but that is no substitute for the real thing.”

On State Route 198, everyone was impressed with the 565 hp, the steering feel, the poise it displayed at a seven-tenths pace, and the unrelenting power of the carbon-ceramic brakes. “This is a car you drive with your fingertips, not your fists,” Seabaugh said. Yet a lack of lateral support from the seat, a penchant for an unstable rear end, and the much-ballyhooed seven-speed dogleg manual transmission were equally mentioned. Cammisa defended it. “A history of abuse and a lack of maintenance have cost it any chance of scoring well,” he said. “And that’s a crying shame.” We all struggled with the narrow-gated, softly sprung shifter. Pobst even made an extra lap to be sure he hadn’t missed a shift or hadn’t been in the wrong gear.

With seven all-new Astons coming, the V12 Vantage S is the last of its kind, a swan song for this line of Aston Martins. We can’t wait to witness the next era, but we’re satisfied and saddened at the close of this one. This is a lovely old car. It’s a very grand grand tourer, a long-legged oh-my-gawd-am-I-really-going-that-fast GT rather than an outright max-attack sports car with an R in the badge. Had this been Best Grand Touring Car, the V12 Vantage S would’ve been at the top of the list. Chris Walton


Lap Time: 01:41.77 – Best Practices

2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S track map

Lug torque: NOTE: Two stage, 60  lb-ft to 133 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 36/36 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 36/36 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • ESC off, second-gear
  • Rev to 3,500 rpm
  • Dump the clutch, don’t botch the 2-3 shift

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Sport mode, ESC off
MRLS settings: Sport mode, ESC off

2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
BASE PRICE $202,820
PRICE AS TESTED $211,910
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatch
ENGINE 5.9L/565-hp/457-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12
TRANSMISSION 7-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,677 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 172.6 x 73.4 x 49.2 in
0-60 MPH 4.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.5 sec @ 121.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 114 ft
0-100-0 MPH 13.3 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.97 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.3 sec @ 0.83 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 101.77 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 12/18/14 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 281/187 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.37 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 565 hp @ 6,750 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 457 lb-ft @ 5,750 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.7-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

11th Place: 2016 BMW M4 GTS

Water, Water Everywhere
2016 BMW M4 GTS front three quarter

Our inner 16-year-olds—brandishing their freshly printed driver’s licenses and ready to prowl the streets while listening to vulgar music—are smitten with the BMW M4 GTS.

The M4 GTS employs a titanium exhaust “silencer” with a distinct sound, and it’s 20 percent lighter than a stainless-steel muffler, but this car doesn’t do silent. It has a carbon-fiber rear spoiler seated atop glistening aluminum uprights. Acid Orange contrast coloring liberally coats the car, particularly on the forged alloy wheels. It has an extendable carbon-fiber front splitter (the leading edge is also dipped in orange), which has two positions to pick: scrapes-over-95-percent-of-things street or scrapes-over-everything track.

The exhaust sounds like a flatulent kazoo in a bathtub.

This M4 has also been weaponized for the diehard driver. Coil-over shock absorbers allow for mechanical adjustment of rebound and low- and high-speed compression. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are 10mm wider all around than any M4 we’ve tested. The water-injection setup plumbed into the 493-hp, twin-turbo, 3.0-liter straight-six (68 more hp than standard) cools the intake air charge by as much as 80 degrees and is nourished by 1.3 gallons of distilled water housed beneath the trunk floor. The M4 GTS is supposed to thoroughly recalibrate what we think of BMW dynamics.

“Good thing this car looks so good,” Evans, one of our many in-house teenage boys at heart, said. “Otherwise I’d really be mad.” Mad. Hmm.

Cammisa elaborated: “Get in it, and you’ll be reminded of that 75-year-old former athlete. You can tell he’s still got the moves, still has that grace and strength that he’ll never lose, and yet he can’t keep up with the kids anymore. This is modern BMW.”

We were frustrated. Indignation was especially directed toward the electronic driver’s assists. “Stability control is ultra conservative,” Lago said. “It is not tuned for this power and capability. Even in M Dynamic mode, the stability control light blinks incessantly the entire way up the hill. This stability control pales in comparison to what you can get from Porsche and GM.” Electronics aside, Loh couldn’t stay engaged. “I was bored halfway up the hill,” he said. “I was bored 10 minutes into driving it on the street. Despite the rollcage and little bits of M/GTS trim, it doesn’t feel all that special.”

So we deactivated the traction and stability controls and clicked the suspension from street to smooth track for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where Pobst laid down a 1:37.66.

Pobst’s proclamation: “The car is fast, fun, easy to drive, and really happy on the racetrack.”

We’d deem the Bimmer amply quick if it weren’t for two meddling ponycar kids. The heavier and less powerful Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE with a manual transmission still nips at the BMW’s best lap just 0.11 second behind. The heavier Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R with 526 hp and a manual is 1.55 seconds quicker and lives on a higher plane of enjoyment. The not-boring pony kids do awesome work on real streets and post appallingly similar performance numbers to the M4.

As a result, the GTS doesn’t drink to a Best Driver’s Car victory this year. Despite drowning in talent-enhancing features, it puts on a better show on the track than on the road. — Benson Kong


Lap Time: 01:37.66 – Best Practices

2016 BMW M4 GTS track map

Lug torque: 90 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 35/30 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 33/35 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Select Drive, ESC off, select SportPlus and third-level transmission setting
  • Brake, throttle to the floor (it’ll only rev to about 2,500 rpm)
  • Release brake (then it will rev to 6,000 rpm), the clutch will dump and leave you with a ton of wheel spin to manage with the throttle
  • Good luck

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Street suspension, ESC off
MRLS settings: Race suspension/splitter/wing, ESC off

2016 BMW M4 GTS
BASE PRICE $135,195
PRICE AS TESTED $135,195
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 3.0L/493-hp/443-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,605 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 110.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 184.6 x 73.6 x 54.4 in
0-60 MPH 3.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.1 sec @ 118.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 100 ft
0-100-0 MPH 12.5 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.07 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.3 sec @ 0.88 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 97.66 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/23/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.05 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 493 hp @ 6,250 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 443 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.7-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

10th Place: 2017 Nissan GT-R

Godzilla’s Back
2017 Nissan GT R front three quarter

For its ninth model year, the GT-R has been revised to make it a kinder, gentler Godzilla. The new interior is “a step up,” Loh said. “Screens are bigger and have crisper graphics, and materials are nicer. But it’s a pretty mild step up, one that doesn’t take the GT-R a level beyond.”

Other changes were far more noticeable. The carryover six-speed dual-clutch transmission wasn’t perfectly silent, but it didn’t make the constant gear-gnashing racket earlier cars did. Additional sound-deadening measures and a softer suspension conspired to make this a much more livable monster. “If there’s one thing the GT-R has lacked since its debut, its refinement,” Walton said. “This one didn’t crash on its suspension, knocking fillings lose, and the driveline and diffs weren’t always whining and clunking away. This GT-R displayed a fluidity the old ones didn’t.”

The GT-R has gone gray.

That’s all good news—but the GT-R’s raison d’être was always speed, not livability. And it’s still got the straight-line speed thing nailed, albeit somewhat diminished by heat and California’s 91-octane gas. As usual, the GT-R was much, much happier with a bottle of octane booster in the tank; it was the only contestant that regularly suffered indigestion on 91.

Thanks to narrow, hard bolsters, several editors felt they were sitting on top of the seats rather in them—and the GT-R’s driving position is much higher than many of the other competitors. Markus said that the big, heavy GT-R “has always felt like one of those cars that, where the laws of physics are concerned, resorts to large-scale technical bribery to work around them, whereas the McLaren merely exploits all the loopholes in them.”

This time, the bribery extends to body roll. Even with the adjustable suspension in its stiffest R setting, the GT-R was noticeably softer than previous versions. In corners, it settled into significant understeer—remedied by its otherworldly ability to explode forth in a neutral drift at full throttle. Aged or not, this all-wheel-drive system is still incredible in its ability to rocket out of corners.

On track, Pobst also noticed the softness, pointing out that he “used to be able to throw the thing into a corner, but this GT-R doesn’t like that at all; it gets too loose at turn-in.” He also noted mid-corner understeer and long brake-pedal travel. The former could be nixed with power, and the latter seemed to have no effect on braking distances, only Pobst’s confidence in the system.

The lap time speaks for itself—the GT-R was once king of the road, but it’s obvious that time has moved on.

And therein lies the problem with this Nissan, and indeed with any numbers car locked in time. Once the incredible numbers are no longer incredible, you’re left with the experience. In the case of the GT-R, that experience just isn’t as organic, thrilling, or cohesive as some of the other cars here. We’ll always love Godzilla, but like the rest of us, our monster has gone a bit soft in the last decade. — Jason Cammisa


Lap Time: 01:37.08 – Best Practices

2017 Nissan GT R track map

Lug torque: 74 to 81 lb-ft
Tire pressures cold (f/r): 30/29 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 38/38 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Transmission R, Dampers R (unless it’s too harsh), VDC R
  • Brake
  • Full throttle (for no longer than 3 seconds)
  • Release brake

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Transmission R, Dampers R, VDC off
MRLS settings: Transmission R, Dampers R, VDC off

2017 Nissan GT-R
BASE PRICE $111,585
PRICE AS TESTED $112,585
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 3.8L/565-hp/467-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,936 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 109.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 185.4 x 74.6 x 53.9 in
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.2 sec @ 123.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 103 ft
0-100-0 MPH 11.3 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.98 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.6 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 97.08 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/22/18 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.06 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 565 hp @ 6,800 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 467 lb-ft @ 3,300 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.4-in vented, drilled disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled disc, ABS

9th Place: 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR

Better-Behaved Bad-Boy Brit
2017 Jaguar F Type SVR front three quarter

2016 marked Jaguar‘s third at bat with the F-Type. Its first, a 488-hp S-spec roadster, finished in fourth place in 2013 on account of iffy transmission logic and power oversteer that was mostly fun and mostly controllable but nonetheless excessive. The second, a 550-hp R-spec coupe, finished ninth in 2014 because the oversteer only got 62 hp worse.

We had high hopes that this year’s 575-hp SVR coupe might surge ahead in the rankings with all-wheel drive taming the tail-happiness, but from the first runs up State Route 198, Loh and others were scribbling in their notes: “Glad to be alive! Wants to enter every corner tail first.” Walton was particularly chagrined, as he’d pronounced such behavior tamed after the SVR’s launch.

It’s finally got ‘trustworthy’ and ‘fast’ in equal measures, putting its power down well without first scaring you.

But while fitting new tires for the track, we noted excessive play in the right rear toe-control link that allowed that wheel to contribute several degrees of unwanted steering in every turn. This explained the spooky secondary hip check we all felt. The Monterey, California, Jag dealer had the part, replaced it in 30 minutes, and exorcised this F-Type’s Drift King alter ego. “This is by far the best-handling Jaguar I’ve driven, and it catapults to one of my favorite cars in this test,” Pobst said. “A really satisfying car to drive on corner entry; power doesn’t seem to change the car’s balance a lot. It’s like I’m carving the friction circle.”

Editors largely agreed with MacKenzie, who said the F-Type doesn’t feel like an all-wheel-drive car. “Its steering remains fluid, linear, and marvelously uncorrupted by torque inputs into the front wheels,” he said. “Finally, an F-Type whose performance and handling genuinely deliver on the promise of the design.”

Our biggest other complaint with the F-Type is with the ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic. Several judges echoed MacKenzie’s comments: “The biggest letdown is the eight-speed automatic, which in both auto and manual modes always feels a beat behind the rest of the car. Feels unsophisticated compared with the other automatics here.” Pobst found fault with the Sport mode programming and felt the throttle mapping was a little too aggressive, Seabaugh felt the steering turn-in was a bit too eager, and Walton tired of the “trumpet exhaust note.”

Somehow, the two-seat F-Type SVR, which is 9.2 inches shorter than the 2+2 GT-R, weighs 44 pounds (19.9 kg) more than Godzilla. And sure, it feels super nimble for a two-ton car, but physics conspired against the SVR on the track, where its best lap time of 1:38.75 ranked 11th in this contest. We also had a “brakes overheating” warning illuminate after Pobst’s final hot lap. Still, Loh appreciated the SVR for what it is: “England’s take on an ACR or GT350R—coarse and hairy but more focused on thrills than straight-up performance.”

Had this SVR shown up in 2013 or 2014, it might have enjoyed a high podium finish. England’s ACR must instead settle for vanquishing the GT-R, M4 GTS, and V12 Vantage S. –– Frank Markus


Lap Time: 01:38.75 – Best Practices

2017 Jaguar F Type SVR track map

Lug torque: 99.5 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 37/37 psi NOTE: For State Route 198 use 32/29 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 36/36 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Select Dynamic mode
  • ESC off
  • Select Drive (not S)
  • Select first gear via steering paddle (will display as D1)
  • Brake
  • Full throttle
  • Release brake (allow auto upshift; i.e. do not use paddles)

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Dynamic mode, ESC off
MRLS Settings: Dynamic mode, ESC off

2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR
BASE PRICE $126,945
PRICE AS TESTED $147,945
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback
ENGINE 5.0L/575-hp/516-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,980 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 103.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 176.2 x 75.7 x 51.6 in
0-60 MPH 3.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.5 sec @ 122.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 113 ft
0-100-0 MPH 12.2 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.96 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.0 sec @ 0.87 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 98.75 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 15/23/18 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 225/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.09 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 575 hp @ 6,500 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 516 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.7-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

8th Place: 2017 Acura NSX

Proof There’s More To A Supercar Than Super Technology
2017 Acura NSX front three quarter

Perhaps no car in this year’s Best Driver’s Car lineup piqued more interest than the new Acura NSX. A hybrid powertrain with three electric motors. Active all-wheel drive with torque vectoring. Nine-speed dual-clutch transmission. More than 25 years after they shamed Ferrari, could Honda engineers do it all over again?

The short answer is, nope. Although technically interesting, visually arresting, and suitably fast, the 2017 Acura NSX isn’t a game changer. If it causes raised eyebrows in Maranello, it’ll be because the Ferrari guys, like us, were perhaps expecting all that technology to deliver more.

“Most of my drive … was spent eagerly waiting for the ‘aha!’ moment when I’d clearly comprehend what Acura‘s new-age ‘new sports experience’ was,” Kong said. “There were no eurekas found, though.”

Nothing but the name leads me to believe it’s the successor to one of the most important sports cars in history.

Best Driver’s Car isn’t a numbers game, but the numbers provide useful context for a newcomer like the NSX. Against the other contenders, it recorded the fourth quickest 0-60 and quarter-mile times and tied for third in the 0-100-0-mph test: 3.1 seconds, 11.3 seconds, and 10.9 seconds, respectively. But it was only sixth fastest around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, more than two-tenths of a second behind the Shelby GT350R, a car with a DIY six-speed manual and performance technology old Carroll Shelby would have found familiar, and less than a tenth ahead of the less powerful two-wheel-drive Porsche 911.

Where’d the speed go? “The NSX is very sensitive on corner entry to weight management,” explained Pobst. “If I leave the weight forward, leave the weight on the nose a little too long on the way into the corner through trail braking, I get an entry oversteer that stays.” For Walton that translated to sideways fun for the cameras: “The car drifts like it was set up to do it: a slight flick, jump out of the throttle, then roll back on hard, but not to the floor.” But sideways is slow.

“The torque-vectoring front end should have completely redefined how a mid-engine supercar handles,” Cammisa said. “It does no such thing.” Instead, the NSX forces you to redefine your driving style. You have to learn to brake early and in a straight line to keep the rear end under control and then use a modicum of power to get the electrically driven front wheels to help you through the turn before rolling on the throttle. Finding the right balance is tricky, not helped by the numb steering and initial lack of bite from the carbon-ceramic brakes.

Where the NSX does shine is its talent at using torque-fill to emulate the response of a naturally aspirated engine. The integration between the electric motors and an internal combustion engine is as seamless as the shifts from the nine-speed transmission.

Driven with intent on a quiet, twisting two-lane, in Track mode, and while manually shifting the transmission, the NSX is deceptively, impressively fast.

But there’s always a part of your brain trying to figure out how to get around the artificially induced foibles in the handling, always trying to out-think the car. That makes the Acura NSX weirdly involving to drive. But not Best Driver’s Car. — Angus MacKenzie


Lap Time: 01:36.36 – Best Practices

2017 Acura NSX track map

Lug torque: 133 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): (ContiSport Contact) 32/32 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): (Trofeo R) 34/34 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Brake, select Track mode
  • Select DriveThrottle to the floor (wait 1-2 seconds)
  • Release brake

Figure-eight settings/procedure:

  • Track mode, ESC off (left side of I.P. press/hold until you hear two beeps)
  • Allow the weight to transfer to the front wheels before going back to the throttle at or slightly in advance of the apex. You should feel the torque vectoring helping the vehicle hold the desired line.

MRLS settings: Track mode, ESC off

2017 Acura NSX
BASE PRICE $157,800
PRICE AS TESTED $197,400
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 3.5L/500-hp/406-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 plus two 36-hp/54-lb-ft front and one 47-hp/109-lb-ft rear electric motors; 573 hp/476 lb-ft comb
TRANSMISSION 9-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,876 lb (42/58%)
WHEELBASE 103.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 176.0 x 76.3 x 47.8 in
0-60 MPH 3.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.3 sec @ 123.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 95 ft
0-100-0 MPH 10.9 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.03 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.2 sec @ 0.92 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 96.36 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 20/22/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 169/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.93 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 500 hp @ 6,500 rpm (eng only)
TORQUE @ RPM 406 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm (eng only)
SUSPENSION F;R Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 14.5-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

7th Place: 2017 Audi R8 V10

An Overachiever Too Cool For School?
2017 Audi R8 V10 front three quarter

On paper this is a real head-scratcher. Our last R8 V10 Plus finished third with few stated gripes aside from “wanting more torque,” “steering is a bit numb,” and issues with the tires and their pressure settings. So Audi gives the entire car a thorough going over that includes boosting engine output by 52 hp and 15 lb-ft, which helps the all-wheel-drive hypercar lay down the quickest quarter mile of any naturally aspirated car we’ve tested. It then slaps on some Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which help this richly appointed grand tourer circulate Mazda Raceway in a blistering

Rear end moves around more than the 911’s on corner entry but is more consistent and controllable than the NSX’s.

1 minute, 34.23 seconds—a result that ranks 10th among all cars we’ve tested at MRLS and is 2.16 seconds quicker than the crude R8 GT race car that finished in seventh place back in 2011. And somehow all this laudable effort lands Audi … back in seventh place?! “RECOUNT THOSE HANGING CHADS!” you’re shouting.

Have we mentioned yet what a hypercompetitive group this is? Trust us: This new Audi didn’t take four steps backward in driver’s car charm; rather the gathered competition made a five- or six-step forward advance. It’s no mean feat for the car deemed to have the poshest, comfiest interior to win the BDC drag race and set a Laguna lap trailing only our race-spec Viper ACR this year. The Audi earned plenty of love. From Loh: “Blindingly, blisteringly fast on the uphill.” Seabaugh: “Ride is excellent. Well controlled over the humps.” Lago: “Engine is loud, powerful, and a thrill to rev out.” MacKenzie: “A solid all-rounder. A 24/7 supercar that’s genuinely usable on a daily basis.”

Inherent mid-engine balance alloyed with sure-footed all-wheel drive and overachieving carbon-ceramic brakes forge confidence far more quickly than in lesser cars. But confidence can come across as stoicism. “No fuss, no drama, but little passion,” Loh noted. Walton concurred: “So unwaveringly competent it feels boring; it doesn’t stir the soul like a driver’s car should.” MacKenzie faulted the steering for providing “nowhere near the clarity of communication of the 911 or the McLaren.”

Driving at ten-tenths, Pobst found more tangible nits to pick. Although he loved the transmission’s shift quality, he lamented its lack of auto sport shifting in the Track mode Drive Select setting. “The car had a tendency toward trailing-throttle oversteer on entry if I downshifted to a really low gear,” he said. “If there were a lot of revs off the throttle, it would rotate, and I actually found this more in the right-handers than in the left-handers.” Then when powering out of those corners, “I find the Audi R8 tends to understeer a lot more than its platform-mate, the Lamborghini Huracán, does.” Pros hate such inconsistencies.

Bottom line—the more mortal your driving skills, the more this unflappable chassis will flatter them. But if you have the skills and cojones to probe a car’s limits, you may derive greater joy from one of the higher finishers on this list. — Frank Markus


Lap Time: 01:34.23 – Best Practices

2017 Audi R8 V10 track map

Lug torque: 89 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): Pirelli P Zero NOTE: Ignore doorpost “Max” values and use “Normal” 35/32 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): Pirelli P Zero: 36/36 psi; Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2: 32/32 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Select Dynamic mode
  • Select “S” Drive (not “D”)
  • Brake
  • Throttle to the floor (observe “Launch” message)
  • Release brake

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Dynamic mode, ESC off
MRLS settings: ESC off, Performance mode, but this forces manual shifting

2017 Audi R8 V10 (Plus)
BASE PRICE $192,450
PRICE AS TESTED $198,850
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 5.2L/602-hp/413-lb-ft DOHC 40-valve V-10
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,642 lb (42/58%)
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 174.3 x 76.4 x 48.8 in
0-60 MPH 2.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 10.6 sec @ 130.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 102 ft
0-100-0 MPH 10.0 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.99 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.5 sec @ 0.90 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 94.23 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 15/22/17 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 225/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.11 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 602 hp @ 8,250 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 413 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.0-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.0-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

6th Place: 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S

Last Year’s Winner Has A Rough Sophomore Outing
2016 Mercedes AMG GT S front three quarter

From first place to … sixth. Hey man, still top half. As far as our defending champion is concerned, the headline reads: “Hosed By A Power Steering Pump.” That’s right, friends. Halfway through our runs up and down 198, the mighty AMG got sick. As a result, about half of us (yours truly included) weren’t able to take a turn in the GT S. What’s the expression? For want of a nail the shoe was lost. Or in this case, the crown. Especially because this year’s GT S—complete with a new aero package—was quicker than last year’s winner around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the AMG had been fully functional. Where would it have placed in this year’s competition? Still mid-pack it turns out. We know this because Mercedes was able to parachute a technician in to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to replace the power steering unit. Once the car was healthy, those of us denied an opportunity to flog the GT S on 198 were instead able to experience MRLS’s 11 turns in the potent yellow German missile. Come to think of it, some of us maybe got the better end of that deal.

The power steering failed, but it still felt like a German cruise missile.

We still love the engine. “AMG’s twin-turbo V-8 is the hammer of the gods,” MacKenzie said. “It’s a versatile and engaging engine that’s already deserving of a place among the greats.”

Pobst agreed. “I love the wide powerband and no sense of turbo lag on track,” he said. “It’s a very satisfying engine. I just love the engine.” It’s important to remember that the AMG’s 503 horsepower comes from a relatively low state of tune for the twin-turbo, 4.0-liter eight-pot. Much more powerful GTs are coming (AMG GT C and R, respectively), yet additional forward thrust is the last thing a two-wheel-drive car needs— especially one that runs 11.4 in the quarter mile.

A better transmission, however, could help. To be fair, AMG’s seven-speed dual-clutch unit is pretty good. But pretty good isn’t great.

The Porsche 911’s PDK, for instance, is great. “I can’t quite get it to be completely intuitive on the racetrack the way Porsche PDK is,” Pobst said of the AMG. “A couple times, it was a gear higher than I wanted, and it kicked down, which wastes time.  And a couple of times, it was a gear lower than I wanted, and it’s explosive, and I had to be very careful.”

But not too careful. Walton nailed what is perhaps best about the Mercedes-AMG GT S: “The car is properly sorted, so drivers can trust it’ll do what they want when they want it.”

Amen. Also, exactly.

Look, had the AMG not broken, there’s little doubt it would have placed higher. Fourth place, even third, would not be outside the realm of possibility. There’s just so much right with the beast. As Evans said, “Note to Audi: Do it like this.” The great news is that at next year’s Best Driver’s Car, AMG will be sending us the monstrous, more potent, all-wheel-steering, track-special GT R. It’s only been a couple of weeks, and I can hardly wait. — Jonny Lieberman


Lap Time: 01:35.30 – Best Practices

2016 Mercedes AMG GT S track map

Lug torque: 133 lb-ft (replace center hubcap with tool in trunk at 18.5 lb-ft)
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 36/39 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 31/32 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Race mode
  • Brake
  • Pull both paddles (observe Race Start)
  • Pull right paddle to confirm
  • Full throttle
  • Release brake

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Suggest using Sport, ESC off (not Sport+ or Race)
MRLS settings: Race mode, ESC off

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S
BASE PRICE $130,825
PRICE AS TESTED $169,450
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback
ENGINE 4.0L/503-hp/479-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,698 lb (48/52%)
WHEELBASE 103.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 179.0 x 76.3 x 50.7 in
0-60 MPH 3.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.4 sec @ 126.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 95 ft
0-100-0 MPH 10.9 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.03 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.4 sec @ 0.90 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 95.30 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/22/18 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.06 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 503 hp @ 6,250 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 516 lb-ft @ 1,900 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.8-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

5th Place: 2016 Dodge Viper ACR

Snake Charmed
2016 Dodge Viper ACR front three quarter

Deserved or not, the Dodge Viper has long held a reputation for actively trying to kill its driver. Whether it be by outright speed, lack of grip, or simply exhaustion, driving a Viper has always been a workout. The new 2016 Dodge Viper ACR still is, but the snake’s been charmed—it’s now one of the most enticing track cars on the road today.

The key to the Viper’s new polish lies in the letters ACR. Short for American Club Racer, the ACR package sheds some weight and adds a picnic table-sized carbon-fiber rear spoiler, a front splitter, dive planes, and a host of other aero improvements, plus adjustable shocks, huge carbon-ceramic brakes, and a five-point harness for good measure.

I was the one who the California Highway Patrol clocked coming off the hill at 140.

The formula is an alluring one. “It’s a brutal assault on your senses, but with the pain comes gain,” Evans said. “The speed, the power, the grip, the handling: They’re all phenomenal.” Walton agreed: “Terrific steering, brakes off the space shuttle, and more than enough power to frighten a zealot: The Viper actually shrinks around me and points from corner to corner like a firmed-up 600-hp Miata. Talk about confidence.”

The keys to that confidence are numerous, but what they boil down to is grip. At each corner sits a massive Kumho Ecsta tire—a street-legal race tire if there ever were one—that just refuses to let go. By the time you approach speeds where the tires might begin to lose traction, that spoiler and splitter are developing more than 1,200 pounds (544.3 kg) of downforce, keeping things firmly on the ground. (It produces more than 1,700 pounds (771.1 kg) of downforce at its 177-mph (235 km/h) top speed.)

Although the Viper has some newfound charm, some things haven’t changed. Under the mile-long hood sits Dodge‘s 8.4-liter V-10 cranking out 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. “The V-10 may sound like a truck engine, but the thrust is epic,” MacKenzie said. “It doesn’t seem to matter what gear you’re in; there’s always a ton of power and weapons-grade torque.” Bolted to that legendary V-10 is a beefy old-school six-speed manual transmission that doesn’t like to be hurried.

It’s no surprise then that with track-focused tires and all that aero, the Viper posted the best lap of the bunch around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, tackling the course in 1:31.58. “People, that right there is a race car!” Pobst said after his lap. “I’m sure it was going really fast because everything works so effectively. I don’t have to think about driving the car. I have to think about shifting, especially second to third, but when it came to cornering, the car rewards aggressive driving.”

Despite its killer lap time and confidence-inspiring grip and brakes, the reason the Viper ACR isn’t our Best Driver’s Car is simple: Race cars aren’t so nice to drive on the street. For everyday street use, the Viper, as Lago put it, “is like a bazooka in a spork fight.” It’s loud and cramped, and even with the adjustable suspension in Street mode, the ride is so stiff that numerous drivers reported being launched out of the seat while wearing the three-point seat belt, only to be brought back down again once their skull smashed into the ceiling. Good thing for that five-point harness then. Although the Viper ACR is hands-down the best Viper yet, best street-legal race car doesn’t make the ACR our Best Driver’s Car. — Christian Seabaugh


Lap Time: 01:01.01 – Best Practices

2016 Dodge Viper ACR track map

Lug torque: 90 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): Begin at 27/27 psi NOTE: Do not exceed 32/32 psi NOTE 2: For State Route 198/street drive(s), use 35/29 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 32/32 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • ESC off
  • Rev to 5,500 rpm
  • Dump clutch
  • Shift deliberately, not fast

Figure-eight settings/procedure: ESC off
MRLS settings: ESC off, wing it

2016 Dodge Viper ACR
BASE PRICE $123,390
PRICE AS TESTED $132,890
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback
ENGINE 8.4L/645-hp/600-lb-ft OHV 20-valve V-10
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,379 lb (50/50%)
WHEELBASE 98.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 175.7 x 76.4 x 49.1 in
0-60 MPH 3.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.5 sec @ 124.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 91 ft
0-100-0 MPH 11.1 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.14 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 22.4 sec @ 0.96 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 91.58 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 12/21/15 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 281/160 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.30 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 645 hp @ 6,200 rpm
TORQUE 600 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.4-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

4th Place: 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS (1LE)

In Any Other Year, This Record-Setting Camaro Might Have Won
2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE front three quarter

For its 50th anniversary last month, we highlighted Chevrolet Camaro performance through the years. Had we tested this 2017 Camaro SS 1LE, it would’ve proven one of the greats.

The high-water mark for the Camaro had been the 2012  supercharged, 6.2-liter, 580-hp ZL1. For acceleration, it still is: 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds on its way to a 12.1-second/117.4-mph quarter mile. ZL1s have stopped from 60 mph in 100 feet, clung to the skidpad with 1.03 g in lateral acceleration, and completed MT’s figure eight in 23.9 seconds—at the time, all Camaro records. At Mazda Raceway, it lowered the Camaro’s lap record by 6.52 seconds. Along came the marginally slower yet hardcore 7.0-liter, 505-hp Z/28. It managed a 4.0-second 0-60 time and a 12.3 quarter mile, but with its racy Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tires and brutish suspension, it was capable of 100-foot stops, 1.08 g, and a 23.6-second figure eight. It lowered the Camaro-best lap time by 1.38 seconds and in doing so earned our 2014 Best Driver’s Car title.

Why buy an M4 GTS when I can have one of these?

The 2017 SS 1LE you see here, all $45,700 USD of it, just back-handed both of those specialized $60k-$75k USD Camaros. Thwack! Check this out: 0-60 in 4.0 seconds and the quarter mile in 12.4 (so close), yet 60-0 in just 94 feet (a new Camaro record), 1.09 g of lateral acceleration (record), a 23.3-second figure eight (record), and a 1:37.77 lap time (record). All that on a 200-treadwear Goodyear street tire. And this is only the beginning of the sixth-gen Camaro’s iterations. Next will be a new ZL1, followed by a Z/28. Can you even imagine?

What makes the 1LE such a great performer boils down to grip and control, engine torque, and putting it to the road, and all of this boosts overall performance and driver confidence. “It drives with the precision and the finesse of a much lighter, much smaller sports car,” Lago said. Like a stock 2SS, part of that has to do with the rigid structure itself and the magnetor-heological dampers, but the 1LE’s unique electronic differential and FE4 suspension with revised spring rates and anti-roll bars kept the car settled and predictable in every situation we threw at it. Pobst called the steering and front grip the best part of the car. “Down in the middle of the corner,” he said, “if I wanted to tighten it up more, I still could.” This gave him confidence when it broke rear traction. “It’s so predictably loose. I don’t like snappy cars. Kind of made me feel heroic.”

How, then, did this record-breaking Camaro not win? There were a few criticisms: a non-linear throttle in Track mode that seemed to go from, say, 50 percent to 100 percent on corner exits; tall gears (especially third) that took the snap out of the acceleration zones; and a long-travel (progressively so) brake pedal that we first noticed descending 198 but that caused Pobst to pump the pedal a few times on track.

With the other cars’ performances so staggeringly good this year, the Best Driver’s Camaro still fought way above its class and came away with an honorable mention award. — Chris Walton


Lap Time: 01:37.77 – Best Practices

2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE track map

Lug torque: 140 lb-ft, (110 lb-ft hot; preferably don’t torque when hot)
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 32/32 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 28/29 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • ESC off
  • Rev to 2,500 rpm
  • Dump clutch
  • Modulate wheelspin with throttle
  • No-lift shift

Launch control for non-drag strip street surface:

  • Set drive mode to Track
  • Press traction button twice to enable PTM, select PTM 4
  • Full throttle•Dump clutch

No-lift shift Figure-eight settings/procedure: 35/35 psi, bleed front as necessary to quell understeer
MRLS settings: Likely PTM 3 for outlap then at PTM 5 or ESC off

2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS (1LE)
BASE PRICE $44,400
PRICE AS TESTED $45,700
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 6.2L/455-hp/455-lb-ft* OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,735 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 110.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in
0-60 MPH 4.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.4 sec @ 114.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 94 ft
0-100-0 MPH 13.1 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.09 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.3 sec @ 0.86 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 97.77 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/25/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/135 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.02 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 455 hp @ 6,000 rpm*
TORQUE @ RPM 455 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm*
SUSPENSION F;R Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 14.6-in vented disc; 13.3-in vented disc, ABS

3rd Place: 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S

Stuttgart Works Its Magic Again
2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S front three quarter

I find the best driving cars are the ones that put me in a state of flow from the very first turn of the wheel. Flow? What? Some hippie-dippie psychobabble? Perhaps, but until I got behind the wheel of our winner, the 911 Carrera S was the only car I found myself leaning with into corners, perfectly in sync, a big, stupid grin on my face.

And I certainly wasn’t the only one going with this flow. “The car itself practically disappeared from my consciousness as it translated my will into motion,” Walton said. “Almost like an out-of-body experience, this out-of-car experience had me way out in front of the 911, pulling it behind me through each bend and corner.”

Evans touched on one secret to the Porsche’s success: a host of carefully selected options. “I can’t feel the rear steer or any of the other fancy computers working,” he said. “It feels completely mechanical and natural. What perfect integration.”

There’s an all-road, any-condition, every-driver competency here that makes the 911 attractive.

The 911 had $36,000 USD worth of options, including, MacKenzie noted, “unquenchable carbon-ceramic brakes and the four-wheel steering system, pushing the sticker to $140k USD, but it is arguably the most perfectly specced Carrera S you could buy.” That doesn’t even mention the sunroof delete (a no-cost option that lowers the center of gravity), the sport seats, the aforementioned rear-axle steering system, and the fantastic seven-speed PDK transmission.

And for the last time, if you think a real driver’s car must have a manual transmission, heed our resident racer. “I just leave the PDK in automatic; that baby always knows what I want to do,” Pobst said. “It’s always right there.”

As is the engine it is mated to. Those who thought the switch to turbocharged engines in the 911 would spell some sort of laggy catastrophe somehow forgot that Porsche has been refining turbocharged performance since the original 930. The expertise is on full display in the 991.2.

“The new turbo engine is deeply impressive,” MacKenzie said. “There’s a slightly different timbre to the noise, and the torque arrives much earlier in the rev range, but it still feels like the free-spinning flat-six a 911 engine ought to be.”

And it’s sneaky fast, noted Markus: “Speed comes remarkably easily in this, the least powerful car here.”

So what’s missing? Some YOLO with all that flow. “The 991 still doesn’t have the thrilling, I-may-die-at-any-moment experience of older 911s,” Cammisa said, “but what it lacks in passion, it makes up for in performance.”

Lago also desired more aural excitement. “I love the power the turbochargers add, but they quiet things too much,” he said. “I long for the howl of the old engines.”

And yet what an impressive feat Porsche has accomplished. “Just when you think there’s nothing more that can be done to make the 911 better, Porsche engineers figure something out,” MacKenzie said. “The 991.2 is a meaningful step change over the 991.1.” But it’s just short of being our winner this year. — Edward Loh


Lap Time: 01:36.44 – Best Practices

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S track map

Lug torque: 118 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 29/33 psi
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 29/33 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • With tires properly warm (no drifting)
  • ESC off
  • Select Sport Plus
  • Brake
  • Throttle to the floor (allow revs to reach 6,100 rpm)

Release brake NOTE: No noticeable wheelspin if tires are properly warmed
Figure-eight settings/procedure: Sport Plus, PDCC Sport, bleed pressures to 29/33 psi hot if possible
MRLS settings: Sport Plus, PDCC Sport, ESC off (or per Randy’s preference)

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S
BASE PRICE $104,450
PRICE AS TESTED $140,465
VEHICLE LAYOUT Rear-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 3.0L/420-hp/368-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,353 lb (37/63%)
WHEELBASE 96.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 177.1 x 77.9 x 59.8 in
0-60 MPH 3.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.5 sec @ 120.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 97 ft
0-100-0 MPH 11.7 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.05 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.1 sec @ 0.91 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 96.44 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22/28/24 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.80 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 420 hp @ 6,500 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 368 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 16.1-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.4-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

2nd Place: 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

8,250 Reasons To Celebrate
2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R front three quarter

Ford should’ve named this Shelby GT350R after its engine. The Voodoo 5.2-liter V-8 dominates the driving experience and all subsequent conversations. Reaching for its 8,250-rpm redline fills you with disbelief. You stare at the tachometer and ask it incredulously, “Really? Really?!”

All the cars here feel special, but some only do at their limits. The GT350R’s character is ever-present because of that engine, inspiring socially irresponsible behavior at all speeds. At 8,250 rpm, its redline is the third highest in this group. Its 526 horsepower is the most of any naturally aspirated Ford engine ever. And its 429-lb-ft torque peak at 4,750 rpm is strong enough to make you short shift by mistake.

Ford dealers are selling these for $25,000 USD over sticker. Feels like a bargain.

Like a Ferrari V-8, the engine employs a flat-plane crank where the connecting rods attach at 180-degree intervals. Unlike typical flat-plane crank V-8s, this one has a larger displacement and a unique crank design and firing order to accommodate the packaging limits imposed on the intake manifold and exhaust. The resulting sound is neither the grumble you’d expect of Detroit nor the howl from Maranello. “Sounds like a chainsaw with a Flowmaster,” Evans said. Add a megaphone, too; with the variable exhaust set to Sport, the GT350R is the loudest car here.

The engine overshadows everything else, and that’s crazy when you’re talking about a car with carbon-fiber wheels. Those wheels reduce rotational inertia, which sharpens acceleration, braking, and steering. Combined with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, they create a front with a seemingly endless capacity for entry speed. The MagneRide dampers provide excellent control on the track and compliance for street driving. They also allow a drag race mode that softens the rear to aid squat during launch. Drag racers will also appreciate a factory line lock.

Unlike some others here, the GT350R doesn’t have track-car kit such as a low-hanging splitter or a massive wing, nor does it punish its occupants with a harsh ride and road and tire noise. Yet it delivers on enjoyment and performance. Its best lap was 1:36.11. In 2010, a Ferrari 458 ran 1:36.22. More important, that lap wasn’t hard work. “It was putting a smile on my face even though I’m dead serious about trying to turn a good lap time,” Pobst said. “That almost never happens.”

What held the GT350R from first? The steering. We expected tramlining—the front tires are the widest here—but MacKenzie called it “by far the worst experienced in any modern high-performance car.” Further, the wheel itself would go numb and occasionally bind when countersteering. This made the rear hard to catch during power oversteer off a corner, turning small slides into large ones. Criticizing the drifting capabilities for many cars here seems silly, but the GT350R encourages such behavior.

Still, many in this group have more power and more complex technology and command vastly higher prices. And many of them are almost as fast as a Mustang. — Carlos Lago


Lap Time: 01:36.11 – Best Practices

216 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R track map

Lug torque: 150 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 32/32 psi NOTE: For drag strip, use 28/28 psi cold; will heat up
MRLS hot pressures (f/r): 38/38 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Select Drag Strip setting
  • ESC off
  • Rev to 3,500 rpm
  • Dump clutch and modulate wheelspin with throttle

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Track mode, ESC off
MRLS settings: Track mode, ESC off

2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
BASE PRICE $63,495
PRICE AS TESTED $66,990
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 5.2L/526-hp/429-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,711 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 107.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 189.7 x 75.9 x 53.6 in
0-60 MPH 4.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.2 sec @ 118.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 101 ft
0-100-0 MPH 12.5 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.08 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.3 sec @ 0.87 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 96.11 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 14/21/16 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 241/160 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.18 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 526 hp @ 7,500 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 429 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.5-in vented, drilled disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled disc, ABS

1st Place: 2016 McLaren 570S

Bruce Almighty
2016 McLaren 570S front three quarter

In the great pantheon of automobile racing, there exists a remarkably small club of people who’ve both built race cars and won championships behind the wheel. None, though, was more prolific or more famous than Bruce McLaren. The team McLaren founded would go on to be one of the winningest in Formula 1 and build a road-going tribute through the 1990s that would become a legend in its own right: the McLaren F1.

In 2011, McLaren would return to the road, but its confusingly named MP4-12C met a cold reception. A technological marvel, it sorely lacked the charisma of a Ferrari. It finished fifth at Best Driver’s Car 2012, behind the Subaru BRZ.

I don’t know what sort of sorcery lies in this car’s suspension, but I don’t have words to explain how well it works.

What changed in the intervening four years can best be described as everything that matters. Yes, it’s the same basic design, but everything from the suspension to the body to the twin-turbo V-8 has been carefully reworked into what we now know as the 570S. Where the 12C, 650S, 675LT, and P1 all stretched the limits of performance higher, none has thoroughly vanquished McLaren’s reputation for being more computer than car. None until the 570S.

The effective successor of the 12C, the 570S is less powerful but lighter and quicker in every regard. It’s a tenth quicker to 60 mph and through the quarter mile, carrying an extra 1.3 mph (2.1 km/h) in the latter. It stacks an extra 0.02 lateral g in steady-state cornering and knocks three-tenths of a second off the figure-eight time. Braking distance drops by 7 feet. The only measure the 12C retains an advantage in is its Laguna lap … by four-hundredths of a second.

How? Pobst explained. “There’s this little bit of entry oversteer that made me a little careful,” he said. “The corner entries were just loose enough to make me think about it and make me a little bit careful, and I don’t like being a little bit careful when I drive.

“Under braking or off throttle, entering a corner, there was a tendency for the tail to want to move. I could feel the rear mass taking its toll on the rear tires, so I had to lay it in gently, lay it into the corners softly.”

That one complaint out of the way, Pobst found a lot to love about the 570S.

“It also has one of my favorite tendencies,” he said. “It’s a two-wheel drive that puts down power like a four-wheel drive. It has such good traction. The power settles the car like it’s supposed to. You get a little rotation, go to a little bit of power, transfer weight. McLaren’s done a good job with shock geometry and [brake-based limited-slip] differential. The package puts down power really well.

“One time, it lit up and gave me just a little baby power oversteer that was beautiful. It almost didn’t even need correction. It’s a car that doesn’t need a whole lot of steering input, because it’s pretty neutral. This 570 feels more organic, more mechanical than the other McLarens I’ve driven. It’s actually my favorite.”

It’s a behavior Walton appreciated on the road, as well. “The 570S needs just one steering input per corner, and adjusting the line was best accomplished with the throttle,” he said. “Want to tighten it up? Breathe off the throttle. Push it out a little? Squeeze.”

Cammisa agreed. “Measured in terms of how a car faithfully obeys the wishes of its driver,” he said, “the 570S is orders of magnitude superior to every other car here.”

What truly made the 570S a standout in a crowd of overachievers, though, was the preternatural connection between driver and machine.

Markus explained. “The brakes and steering and engine are so organically connected,” he said. “I can feel through the steering wheel how the front grip increases when I brake entering a turn. Similarly, I can feel the deceleration effect of a downshift through the brake pedal while braking into a turn.”

Obviously smitten with the McLaren, MacKenzie was more poetic. “You don’t just feel hard-wired into the 570S,” he said. “Such is the delicacy and intimacy of the communication between man and machine that you feel like it’s become an extension of your own flesh and blood.”

This is a car, then, that makes every road familiar. The word “telepathic” appeared in several judges’ notes. “You know exactly what the car is doing and what it wants to do next,” Lago said. It makes 100 mph feel like a drive-thru, setting your heart racing but never making your palms sweaty, because no matter how fast you’re going, you can always count on the brakes to slow you for the next corner and the car to easily take it at double the recommended speed.

What’s more, it does all of this without the active suspension and aerodynamic technologies McLaren has hung its hat on. Going back to basics, McLaren has built its most engaging road car yet. “Previous cars might have been faster,” Lago said, “but it’s the one with the simpler, fixed components we like driving more.”

This is the essence of a driver’s car in our estimation. The McLaren may not be the most technologically advanced car present, nor is it the quickest. It doesn’t need to be. We want to drive it far more than we want to drive any of the other cars. The 570S wants to take that favorite road faster, to set a quicker lap time, as much as you do, and you’ll become addicted to the rush every time you go a little faster around a corner you’d thought you’d mastered. “The second you start moving, something magical happens,” Cammisa said. “You become part of the car.” — Scott Evans


Lap Time: 01:34.58 – Best Practices

2016 McLaren 570S track map

Lug torque: 96 lb-ft
Doorpost cold pressures (f/r): 26/27 psi  NOTE: Bleed to 26/29 psi for multiple runs
MRLS hot tire pressures (f/r): 26/29 psi
Acceleration settings/procedure:

  • Track mode for chassis/powertrain
  • Press Active button
  • Select manual shift mode
  • Select Launch Control
  • With a HEAVY foot on brake, press throttle quickly to the floor
  • Observe/wait for “Boost Ready”
  • Release brake

Figure-eight settings/procedure: Track mode chassis/powertrain, press Active, ESC off
MRLS settings: Track mode chassis/powertrain, press “Active,” ESC off

2016 McLaren 570S
BASE PRICE $187,400
PRICE AS TESTED $219,770
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 3.8L/562-hp/443-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,188 lb (42/58%)
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.3 x 75.4 x 47.3 in
0-60 MPH 2.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 10.7 sec @ 132.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 97 ft
0-100-0 MPH 10.1 sec
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.04 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.0 sec @ 0.93 g (avg)
2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP 94.58 sec
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/23/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.05 lb/mile
POWER @ RPM 562 hp @ 7,500 rpm
TORQUE @ RPM 443 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
SUSPENSION F;R Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; control arms, multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F;R 15.5-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS

 


If Only…

Even in the most competitive Best Driver’s Car field yet, we can’t help but look forward to a few dream cars for next year. We can always hope.

Revisit the 2015 Motor Trend Best Driver’s Car competition HERE.