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Chris Harris chooses Speed Week 2018's final five cars
Harris whittles down our 14 Speed Week contenders into just a handful
It is rare for a car to achieve total domination in its class, but the last Fiesta ST managed just that – shutting down the competition to little more than a murmur at the back of the room. This latest version is probably set to worsen conditions for the opposition. Because it just feels right.
Rightness is the great intangible of car testing and elicits more cries of bulls*** from editors than any other word. But shuffle into the Fiesta’s big, bolstered seat and wriggle your hands over the wheel and you’ll find yourself thinking: “This feels right.” It drives right, too – 200bhp gives it real punch, and the chassis is super-talented. It isn’t perfect – the engine is too reluctant to shed revs on a trailing throttle and the whole thing is a bit too Essex for some tastes, but this is still the best small hot hatch on sale.
And it costs less than the optional extras fitted to the new G63. By the time you’ve stopped to ask yourself why you’re hooning a two-and-a-lot tonne SUV around a track, you’re probably having too much fun to care about the answer. I think Mercedes has played a blinder here – the world has been wondering what a reimagined Land Rover Defender might look like for the past decade and then along comes Merc and executes a perfect job of rebooting the G for 2018. It drives well, you can now sit an adult behind the driver and the boot is big enough. This thing has the charm to cripple sales of other £150k SUVs. Unlike the Lamborghini Urus, which I didn’t drive because I just didn’t really want to.
The Alfa Stelvio is an awkward-looking contraption, but my God does it move. Usefully, directing the missile keeps your eyes above the dashboard, which was made from reconstituted toilet brushes. But anyone wanting a very fast SUV should try one of these; it has just enough Italian about it to make an Audi seem dull(er).
The Aston Vantage doesn’t do it for me as a static object. Now, I know these things are subjective, but it’s the first Aston in ages that hasn’t made me feel warm inside and all proud to be British. I think it drives superbly, and when the circuit was wet it was the pick of all the cars here by some margin, giving the driver vast confidence where the others were spiky and harsh. But the cabin is a mess and there’s an identity issue lurking with the AMG powertrain. It has arguably the broadest spread of dynamic abilities of any car here and I might have pushed it into the top five, but it just missed the cut.
Just as Porsche drops the ball and makes the Cayman sound like a malfunctioning fart machine, the little Alpine steps up and clocks it one bang on the jaw
The fabulous, unhinged GT2 RS certainly missed the final call, which I’m putting down to it being too scary for my colleagues. If they’d grown a pair, the fundamental brilliance of this machine would have shone through; as it was, they all sat around muttering about it being a right handful. Bunch of Jessies. But this is a democratic vote, so I rightly shut up, flexed my biceps, beat my chest and moved my colossal 5ft 6in alpha-male frame on, to the Alpine A110. After a bowl of quinoa.
Now this is a car we all loved. Consensus of opinion is what wins these events, and from what I saw, more people were positive about this little crackerjack than any of the others. It flattered less experienced drivers and offered layer after layer of skills for more confident types to uncover. I love the way it looks, the bare cabin, the surprisingly zippy engine and the reaction it gets from all other road users. Just as Porsche drops the ball and makes the Cayman sound like a malfunctioning fart machine, the little Alpine steps up and clocks it one bang on the jaw. Avez ça!
For similar money, BMW will sell you the new M2 Competition, which is basically an updated M2 fitted with a detuned M3 motor and some suspension upgrades. And it’s a corker. The extra weight of the new engine doesn’t factor, and the whole car feels less skittish than before. It’s easier and more rewarding to drive smoothly and still a complete nutter if you want to enjoy that kind of thing. I loved the new clock faces, the sound of the motor on the overrun and I still think this is the best-looking M car on sale. In fact, it’s so good, we all felt it needed to make the top five. Alongside the Alpine which – let’s face it – simply has to make it through.
Given that the 570S is probably the sweetest car in the McLaren range, it’s no wonder this LT version has some hype to support – I mean, how much better and faster does a baby Macca need to be? On a circuit, it would seem quite a lot. Forget the meagre increase in power; McLaren has gone to town on the car’s dynamics, and the result is the most fun and agile car the company has produced. I just loved the way the car turned in and the overall composure. Ollie was driving it at one point, on a drying track, and I couldn’t catch him in the GT2 RS. The cabin is bare and beautiful, and, in a world of increasingly expensive road/track machines, McLaren might inadvertently have answered the eternal question “How much do you really need?” Step straight into the final few, Mr 600LT.
Is the Pista just a 488 dressed to ensnare Ferrari’s richer customers? Not at all. In fact, this is the Italians demonstrating that they really understand the world of fast cars. No massive aerofoils, no treadless tyres, no silly lap time claims, simply a machine that screams down the straights, remains accurate in the turns – albeit with enough power and torque to reduce anything in the first five gears to a drift-fest – and makes the driver smile. That’s the bit that matters here. Yes, the steering is too quick and the wheels are a bit aftermarket, but otherwise what a machine. I didn’t even realise it was turbocharged at one point.
So that’s four heroes; one more to choose for the final reckoning. And despite the quality on display, it isn’t a hard choice. The Fiesta ST is one of those cars whose charms worm a way into your heart. And I wouldn’t bet against it bloodying a few fancy noses in the next instalment.
To read more from TG’s Speed Week 2018, click here