Read about every winner we've ever crowned
It’s been a decade since we first handed out this award. Truth be told, for two years we called it “Best Handling Car” but then decided to switch it to Best Driver’s Car, or BDC, back in 2009. Why the switch? Well, some cars handle great but aren’t so fun to drive. Think of it this way: A purpose-built track car will set a blistering lap time, but it’s probably miserable for a Sunday afternoon drive on your favorite road. Probably. Anyhow, by switching the focus from the relatively narrow handling criteria to the much broader “what makes a great driver’s car?” matrix, we could see the entire performance forest, not just a single tree.
Ten years later—though for various reasons, we skipped 2010—BDC is bigger and better than ever. That said, it’s always helpful to go back and see what came before. Meditate on our history, learn from our mistakes, reflect on what made this award important enough to give out again and again and again. And let’s be honest, when is reading about sports cars ever not fun? I believe the answer to that is “never.” With all that in mind, here’s the list of previous BHC and BDC winners. Enjoy! –Jonny Lieberman
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.”
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S in about 800 words? Let’s start with these: exclusive, luxurious, sensuous, quick, nimble, versatile, and in the right hands a track-ready supercar capable of lap times that don’t seem possible considering its versatility and second-place road test performance results. So what makes GT S, a car seemingly too stylish to be taken seriously, such a singularly special supercar or definitive driver’s car? In boxing terms, the never-flinching Animal from Affalterbach fights above its class—and wins—consistently and decisively.
If you’d asked us five years ago whether the then-all-new Chevrolet Camaro would be invited to Best Driver’s Car, we would have scoffed. Had you suggested that a Camaro would win Best Driver’s Car, we’d have all had a good belly laugh at the very notion.
Who’s laughing now?
The transformation of the fifth-generation Camaro from “musclecar that handles pretty well” to Best Driver’s Car winner is astounding. Few other cars we can think of have made such an advance in a single generation. Says Lieberman, “Perhaps the Corvair, but even by 1965 it wasn’t anywhere near this good.”
It was inevitable. Sooner or later, there was going to be a repeat Best Driver’s Car winner, and with three former champions all competing head to head, the odds were good this would be the year.
Of course, you shouldn’t be surprised. Technically, the 911 was already a repeat winner, with the 911 GT3 having won our inaugural Best Handling Car competition, the precursor to Best Driver’s Car. (This Carrera’s 1:39.19 lap time was nearly half-a-second quicker around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca than that 2007 GT3’s.) Then there’s the fact that the 911 Carrera S won unanimously last year. This year, the 911 Carrera 4S faced stiffer competition, and both the SLS and R8 stole a few first place votes, but not a single judge ranked the 911 lower than second. While the Star fought with the Rings, the Crest walked away with the girl.
The 911 won by being supremely confident at all times. Even with all the nannies off, you could wait until beyond the last second to torpedo the brakes, ride the smooth oversteer at turn-in, keep the nose dead on the apex through the middle, and go to wide-open throttle on the way out. In every single corner, every single time. Hail to the King.
Yup, the Porsche. Ferry’s ageless squashed Beetle takes top honors in this year’s BDC. Don’t even bother to stop the presses. Porsche wins another comparison. This time, it’s the 991 version of the Carrera S, currently the hottest version of the sixth-generation, rear-engined, “four”-seat luxury sport coupe. It’s larger than ever, with the rear engine scooched a bit more toward the middle, and features the electrically assisted power steering system that has kept most of the Porsche-loving world up for months with the cold sweats. Why? Because of the possibility that an ounce of that precious 911 steering feel has been lost. That Porsche won it all.
A much more interesting outcome to this story would have been if one of the hand-built exotics had won. After all, every 12-year-old boy in the world knows a priori that the Aventador must be the winner. Just like how every F1 junkie is positive that the McLaren is the best one here. Or, good-story-wise, what if the little BRZ pulled off an upset? Talk about David cleaning Goliath’s clock! Even the AMG would have been a more interesting verdict. But no, the car with the second-least power here, the car that’s not even a special performance derivative (like the upcoming Turbo, GT3, GTS, 50th Anniversary Edition 911, etc.) is the 2012 Motor Trend Best Driver’s Car.
After ruining each and every windshield filming our epic, 11-car drag race, the whole crew was standing in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant waiting for our 24-person table. It had been a long, grueling, yet utterly fantastic week, and to celebrate we were drinking beer and whiskey out of plastic cups. Markus and MacKenzie were regaling us young ‘uns with tales of lousy Ferraris of yore, in particular the 348, which Lucca had earlier explained was developed by famed Ferrari test driver Dario Benuzzi with one arm in a sling. Both Frank and Angus told how the old-school Fezza had tried to kill them. The conversation moved to the F355, the F360, and the F430, and how each generation represented a huge improvement over what came before. “But you know, this car is more like the NSX,” said Angus, leaning against our bright yellow 458 Italia. “It changes everything. The rest of ’em are now playing catch-up.”
In technical editor Kim Reynolds’ first-drive story of the Porsche Cayman S PDK, which marked Motor Trend’s initial experience with Stuttgart’s mid-engine seven-speed-dual-clutch sports car, he made a very bold declaration. “It’s now, in my humble opinion, very simply the best sports car in the world.” Since most of you don’t know Kim, allow us to inform you that he is quite possibly the most humble man on the planet. So when the humblest editor states a humble, albeit audacious opinion, his fellow MT staffers perk up and heed the call. Still, the best sports car in the world? Rightfully so, Reynolds had his skeptics.
Well, after flogging the Cayman S around track and twisties, we have only one thing to say to Sir Kim:You were absolutely right.
“No other car here — not one — delivers the Porsche‘s Braillelike road-reading,” says St. Antoine. “You can feel every tire doing its work.” Markus wholeheartedly agrees: “Probably more than any other car here, including the R8, this one feels like an extension of your neural synapses.” And Pobst? Why, the first three words to come from his mouth were, “Racecar. Racecar. Wow.” Translation? “The thing about the Cayman is-gosh, I hope they don’t hate me for saying this — I think it’s just about better than any 911. The Cayman is one of the best-handling cars I’ve ever driven.”
In another world compared with the other cars here,” said Pobst of the Audi R8. “So sweet,” said road-tester Scott Mortara. “Lots of steering feel, great grip, but a compliant ride, too,” noted editor MacKenzie. Each driver was describing the same qualities: On track or road, the R8 is Baryshnikov-fluid yet controlled, graceful yet dynamic. The figure-eight tracing is smooth and tight, with high limits but gentle transitions. Step-steer reaction time is fourth, lane-change third, ride quality fourth. The numbers only hint at the overall handling excellence, though. At any speed, you feel the delicate transparency of the steering, the supple yet confident chassis control, the crisp turn-in. Offered a weekend off to exploit the twirls and twists of Southern California’s beckoning hills, the Audi R8 — a car we’ve experienced from the Corkscrew to the salt flats of Utah’s Black Rock Desert-is the car we’d most want to pilot, the machine with magic in its mid-engine, quattro-fed chassis. Why, in just a turn or two, the R8 even makes second-thoughts disappear.
Which is the best-handling car in the land? We’ve instrumented and tested 10 great cars, microanalyzing the vehicle dynamics of each. We’ve spent hours at the wheel assessing the nuanced feedback each car transmits to its driver. The logbook notes, interview tapes, and 420 megabytes’ worth of objective test data agree: The clear winner is the Michelin-Porsche 911 GT3. We’re augmenting the nomenclature here to acknowledge the immense contribution the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires make to the tail-heavy Porsche icon’s handling. They’re the closest thing to a full-on racing tire that is DOT-legal for street use. They’re fair game because GT3s come from the factory with these tires, and we doubt that fitting conventional summer rubber would lower the GT3’s performance to a second-place finish here. Conversely, a set of Cup tires probably wouldn’t have enabled any of the competitors to outperform the GT3.
But we’re nagged by the fact that the astonishing fair-weather grip generated by these new Michelins will degrade markedly when the short-lived gooey tread compound wears down, when temperatures fall, or when anyone so much as wet-sneezes on the pavement. If actual rain is falling, park this car or limp it home as though negotiating a blizzard in Buffalo.