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Speed Week: victory parade

  1. And then there were three. After a week of road and track, four days filled with everything from idle, mile-eating cruise to tyre-howling abuse, three cars stood above the rest, proving that, on these days, on these roads, and around this scary, aggressive little track, they have that nebulous something extra. We weren’t looking for the fastest - because a quirk of the TG testing formula means that fast does not always equal fun - because we believe that the drive is more important than the lap time. So please bear with our subjectivity.

    Photos: Rowan Horncastle 

  2. The first wasn’t exactly hard to choose. The Porsche Cayman S is an object lesson in brilliance - dense and bright with balance and engineering. The way it steers and stops, the way it remains controlled and conscious at the limit, the way it always finds a millimetre of more. It’s small and pretty and usable in a way that so many other cars here simply aren’t: a gentle companion for those with less track experience, a weapon in the hands of The Stig.

    In fact, when it came down to the final reckoning, the Cayman’s only chink was a slight feeling of arrogance - its only failing is that it’s somehow too good, too perfect. Which matters bugger all if you were spending your own money on a car. Almost without exception, this was the car that most would actually aspire to buying in the real world, a car that provides so much, and asks so little in the way of compromise. It’s downright fabulous and deserves to be in the final three, without question. Though perhaps best sampled in a less vitriolic colour.

  3. The other car that immediately floated to the podium was the cheapest, the least powerful and the slowest around the track. Which seems counter-intuitive, until you drive the Fiesta ST with its Mountune upgrade and realise that this is the blue-collar hero, a performance car for 2013’s congested reality. It’s not particularly technological or outrageously engineered. What it is, is special. From the first time you feed the ST into a corner - and yes, it will be 20mph slower than most of the other stuff here - and feel it lift an inside wheel, to the moment you lift mid-corner and feel the controllable oversteer, the Fiesta makes you happy. Seven-years-old happy, in fact. The kind of happy where you run just for the joy of running, and sleep with your arms and legs spread wide.

  4. The Fiesta’s neatest tricks are to be clever, but not intimidating; fast, but not scary; fun, but not lethal. The steering is lively, the engine willing, the brakes confident, the laughter genuine. And there is a lot of laughter with this little hatch, meaning that it totally embodies the spirit of Speed Week. There’s also a not-inconsiderable amount of change from £20k, which makes it - for us - the performance-car bargain of the year.

    Which leaves us with the car that caused the most fuss when it came to the decision-making: the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series. The Yellow Peril. Now, it’s fair to say that three cars entered into the argument, with the Aventador and McLaren also presenting persuasive cases. But the SLS won through by being the biggest surprise. We were expecting the drama, both visual and aural… the trepidation the first time you lift those gullwing doors, strap yourself in facing the gun-slit windscreen and stare out over the eleventy feet of bonnet. We were expecting it to be fast and lairy and all the other things that make driving a supercar an event. What we weren’t expecting, what made the Black so exciting, was that not just had it become infinitely more aggressive than the standard SLS, it had also become a better car.

  5. The truth here is that the SLS feels like some barely tamed GT racer on the road, wide and intimidating and nervously rear-wheel drive. Excellent exercise for the adrenal gland. But, on the track, going fast, being pushed, it got… easier. It came together in a way that the others didn’t, daring you deeper into corners with its infallible brakes, challenging you through them with its exceptional body control and micron-perfect steering. The engine bellowing away up front, the gearbox slamming each ratio like a punch to the guts. The SLS Black is a car that makes you start to believe you have talent. Which is the only lie it ever tells. It’s literally awesome and earned its place with guts and conviction.

    It’s been a glorious few days, this. Some of the finest cars, on some of the best bits of tarmac ever laid. Days to remember. But, here at the end, it’s wise to remember that, although every car here started out equal, with an equal chance of victory, when it came to judgement, it turned out three were slightly more equal than the others.

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