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Chris Harris Drives

TG Speed Week 2016: the hardcore test

Chris Harris takes on McLaren 675LT, Aston Martin Vulcan, Aston GT8 and BMW M4 GTS

  • Test 5: Hardcore

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  • First, fit an industrial aircon unit. Preferably one you see on the side of a large hotel. I think Mitsubishi makes them. Stash it behind the seats. Get one of those rear camera systems fitted. And as for the hi-fi – best speak to the people who speakered-up Knebworth back in 1996 – otherwise the occupants won’t be able to hear a thing. Oh, and a cooling fan would be handy.

  • Otherwise, I can quite see – zero turning circle and marginal ground clearance notwithstanding – how one might want to “road” one’s Vulcan. Trawl through Chelsea in this and no one would even notice Mila Kunis driving a LaFerrari Aperta behind you. In the buff.

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  • The Vulcan driving experience is, simultaneously, unexpectedly violent and unexpectedly placid. The vast normally aspirated 820bhp V12 doesn’t bungee you into the near distance the way the 488’s turbo motor does, instead it builds and screams beyond 7,000rpm in a manner that alone probably justifies the £1.8m pricetag. The chassis is similarly benign – so long as you accept that cold slicks, all that power and injudicious use of the right foot has inevitable consequences. The long wheelbase and sensible steering ratio mean that you quickly find yourself reducing the traction control intervention on the steering wheel and then nipping away at little slides with opposite lock. It’s all quite serene, in a shatteringly loud kind of way.

  • But the brakes are not serene. By way of an experiment I plonked Mr Charles Turner, the editor, into the passenger seat and watched his body slam against the belt in each deceleration zone. They’re just astonishingly strong, and of course when you’re running slicks you can use all of that extra mechanical grip to further squish yours and your passenger’s vital organs. The Vulcan drives gently away from the 488 in a straight line – the difference would probably leave a few people unimpressed by the Aston’s claimed 820bhp, but it can brake 50 metres later.

  • Then you take into account the downforce and the low-speed grip and you have a racing car looking for a race series. Lapping this thing is a tonic. I could do it for days. But it couldn’t really make the final selection because I can’t really see how Wookie could take it for a blast up in them Alps. Sorry, Wook.

  • I am less enthusiastic about the little GT8 Aston. It’s a collector’s item really – a set of beautiful clothes covering a pretty average dynamic package which does at least have a manual transmission. There’s nothing unpleasant about the GT8, it just feels slow and a little undernourished. The balance is good front-to-rear, the brakes are fine and the noise is plain naughty.

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  • I’d just be a little weary of signalling my arrival at decibel levels not heard since Concorde was grounded when in reality I knew that an M2 would leave me looking a bit silly between any two roundabouts. But it’s so pretty I can see why people will want one. Me? I’d take a manual V12 Vantage S all day long.

    As a devout supporter of the turbocharged M3/M4, I should have been completely entranced by this GTS version, but the reality was a long way from the expectation. It was my biggest disappointment of the whole test.

  • Maybe I was in an odd mood, or my inputs didn’t work with the car, but it never came alive on the track in the way I’d hoped. The brakes were good and strong and offered good feel, but from then on the GTS was mostly aloof. The steering felt more inert than the standard car’s, the Michelin Cup 2s never quite bit and gripped as I’d expected and then there was the power delivery. Boasting a sizeable 62bhp increase over the standard M3 I’d expected this thing to launch itself up the straights in a way that would leave other similar cars in the test seeming badly underpowered. The opposite was true: the Alfa felt way more potent and even the M2 didn’t feel that much slower.

    Was the car fully healthy? I’m not sure. The chassis balance wasn’t great, either – too much understeer in the first instance and then quite wild oversteer as you attempted to power through it – but once it was sat at full yaw it never felt as settled and easy-going as the Alfa or the C63.

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  • Now I’m sure that ardent track-day fans will benefit from the multiple modifications that allow the GTS to withstand serious track use, but as a road car I’d just have a standard car with the silly exhaust. As for comparisons with the 991 GT3 RS, don’t even go there – the Porsche would chew this thing up and spit it out. I was so looking forward to the GTS, I just hope I caught it on a bad day.

  • McLaren 675LTs don’t have bad days, in my experience. The great advantage of basing your car around a carbon tub is that you don’t need to stress the roof panel too much and therefore your convertible version is barely any more bendy than the coupe. Hence the 675LT Spider feeling near identical to its coupe relative.

  • Step from the 488 after a fast lap, and it’s difficult to conceive of anything that could possibly accelerate faster, but the 675LT is faster still. It’s turbocharging is less subtle, but whereas the lag in the 570S highlights a slight lack of top end, the LT erupts in the low threes and then the needle keeps zipping into the red zone as you occasionally cast a disbelieving glance at the numbers registering on the speedometer. I don’t think an LT gives much away to a Veyron in a straight line, and I love what’s now becoming a distinctive McLaren set of intake and exhaust notes – it wheezes along like nothing else in this test.

  • You can’t throw it about with quite the same level of silly abandon as the 488 – it takes some time to feel a route into the way the chassis allows or punishes slip and slide. With the ESP set to the Sport mode, the interventions are beautifully controlled, and even average drivers will feel their inner Jenson preening itself. The 675 is keener to rotate on a trailing throttle than the 488 and, of course, not having a mechanical locking differential marks it down, despite the fact that McLaren’s boffins have made their software-derived solution very, very impressive. I just wish the car had a proper diff. It’s so exciting it deserves one.

  • The brakes are better than the Ferrari’s. I just felt I could get a better weight transfer onto the front axle, and the pedal weighting was more intuitive. The seat was better than the 488’s and it was ultimately a faster car, but then we’ll need to see what Ferrari does with the faster 488 version that must be arriving pretty soon to draw a fairer conclusion. The LT only loses out to the 488 in a few areas, and that’s an astonishing achievement, given how young the company is.

  • Perhaps even more impressive than the LT’s track performance is the knowledge that its clever cross-linked hydraulic suspension can slacken itself at the push of a button and allow a level of ride comfort that nothing else in its class can match. That’s a trick I suspect Tom Ford is about to enjoy very much indeed...

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