Speed Week 2021: meet all 26 of our contenders
From Alfa to Zenvo and everything in between, including a £130k Mini and an actual Dakar car
Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm
Heard the one about the two-seat, four-door saloon car? Well, it turns out it’s a properly tenacious track toy. But has Alfa messed with the fluid, approachable fun of the regular Giulia Quadrifoglio too much? Especially when full, £160k GTAm spec basically doubles the price of fast Giulia ownership? A testing few days at Dunsfold will reveal all.Advertisement - Page continues below
BMW M5 CS
Nice to have a dinosaur along, huh? Because a two-tonne, twin-turbo V8 saloon car can’t help but look a little prehistoric these days – especially when its power and performance are basically matched by an Audi four-door that plugs into the mains and doesn’t pollute an ounce of carbon when it’s on the move. Time to see if the T-rex still has some killer moves.
From a heavyweight car to one that’s barely a paperweight. Welcome to Caterham’s lightest ever Seven, the lads and lasses somehow managing to strip mass from a car already short of a regular roof, doors or anything resembling safety or technology equipment. The end result: just 440 kilos and a dinky little 660cc 3cyl turbo engine to shift it. In £23k base spec, it’s the cheapest car of the whole event. With the seven grand of options pictured here, not so much.Advertisement - Page continues below
Keyboard warriors assemble: it’s an electric restomod that’s seen an innocent little Porsche 964 wheeled into an automotive abattoir to have its petrol guts stripped and new zero-emissions hardware wired in their place. The result is similar power and torque to a modern 911 GT3, just delivered without the 9,000rpm redline and little in the way of driver-flattering tech to channel it to the tarmac. What’ll it upset more, the tyre wall or the comments section?
Porsche 911 GT3 (992)
Like a pack of ice to a twisted ankle, a swift jab of relief for the Porsche die-hards feeling genuine physical pain from the Everrati’s existence. Some say that inviting a GT3 to a big gathering of performance cars is to invite the guaranteed victor of the whole thing… all we know is that with trick new front suspension and that intricate new swan-neck rear wing, the 911 GT3 remains as enticing a proposition on track as when the first one landed 22 years ago.
Ferrari SF90 Stradale
From the oldest-school of the supercar crowd to a nice, sensible plug-in hybrid. Just what the world needs right now. But once you’ve crept silently from the car park to the pit lane, any chance of getting on Greta’s Christmas card list (e-cards we’d guess, to save the air miles of postage) is shredded mercilessly by a near 1,000bhp total and 0-100mph in somewhere around the five-second mark. One of the stars of the show, no doubt.
You could have a fleet of 20 of Hyundai’s latest hot hatchback for the price of one luxuriously specced SF90. Which could be the making of quite an exhilarating one-make race series. This is N division’s cheapest, least powerful model yet, but our experiences so far suggest it may just be the best; all of N’s learnings distilled into one tiny, relatively affordable package that provides a glimmer of hope in a shrinking teeny hot hatch market. A giant killer? We’ll see.Advertisement - Page continues below
Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition
Aston Martin has done something Mercedes never did – properly aping its Formula One safety car with a production model for the ultimate piece of merch. But it’s not merely a fancy-dress costume: Aston’s also used it as an excuse for some welcome dynamic tweaks which apparently “sharpen the car up, make it more engaging and connected front to rear and support it better vertically for composure and poise”. Time to see if it’s worked out.
Bowler Defender Challenge
Last year, the Land Rover Defender scooped up Top Gear’s overall Car of the Year gong without ever getting an invite to Speed Week. It lacked, you see, something vital. Speed. Enter Bowler, which is transforming a bunch of humble Defender 90s into actual rally cars. Lob them £100k and you not only get the gnarliest SUV currently on sale, but entry into seven rounds of a rally championship with Bowler mechanical support at each event.Advertisement - Page continues below
BMW M3 Competition
The best all-rounder present? That’s certainly a role BMW M3s traditionally fill on huge, diverse tests like Speed Week. The formula is a touch different this time, with the M3 using a conventional automatic gearbox for the first time while gaining a wealth of tech and a couple of hundred kilos’ extra chunk. Apparently there are mixed reactions to its styling, too. Time to give it a grilling alongside some supercars to see if it can slay them with the ease of its iconic ancestors.
Ford Mustang Mach 1
Lost in the array of Mustangs you can currently buy? Well the Mach 1 might be the sweetest of the bunch, offered in standard RHD form in the UK (unlike the bad-lad Shelby versions) while offering a bunch of hardcore mods to the regular ‘Stang GT. So you get some of the juicy bits of the GT500, but on a car that costs less than £60k and hosts its driver on the correct side. Whether it’s still a bit big and dumb to impact on Speed Week, we shall see…
Lamborghini Huracán STO
Most years there’s a Huracan of some kind at Top Gear’s Speed Week. But in 2021 we’ve the hardest cored and most extreme of the lot – Lambo’s basically taken the friskier rear-wheel-drive Huracan and flung a host of serious racecar aero at it. The engineers claim it’s the first time they’ve developed a car where ability on circuit takes precedence over road driving. Good job we’ve got the TG Test Track booked out, then.
Lotus Elise Final Edition
It’s 25 years since Lotus launched the Elise, and very little of it that’s fundamental has changed since. Engines have grown in power, a few creature comforts and electronic safety devices have crept in as standard… and that’s it. Knocking on for fifty grand may sound a lot for a car with a flimsy roof and a Toyota engine, but you’d be a fool to bet on any of the other contenders trumping the Elise’s fun-per-pound ratio. Plus this really is the last one it'll make…
Yes, it’s a Morgan. But not as anyone’s ever known it. It’s the answer to a question we’d wager no more than ten people have ever asked. So it’s a good job it's only making eight. But the madness of a Dakar-inspired rally raid Morgan doesn’t dimmish our sheer joy at its existence – not least if its sublimely poised suspension setup and underbody protection descend down to the slightly brittle roadgoing Plus Four on which it’s based.
Prodrive BRX Hunter
Prefer your Dakar cars to actually enter the Dakar? While wearing a costume designed by Ian Callum that, from some angles, looks suspiciously like the Jaguar F-Type he also penned? Well step this way. Power comes from the same 3.5-litre V6 turbo setup as a Ford F-150 Raptor, but everything else comes from the world of off-road motorsport. Including a fairly blatant disregard for anything approaching ‘subtle volume levels’. Good job the folk around Dunsfold are accustomed with jet engines occasionally visiting their back yard.
Volkswagen Golf R
And now for something more sensible. Much more sensible. We’ve actually had a glut of fast Golfs in the last year, with VW launching several iterations of the Mk8 GTI as well as the latest R, in both stock and Performance Pack options. Naturally we’ve gone for the latter, not least because the wide expanse (and run off) of an airfield gives us more than ample opportunity to see if Drift Mode is more than just a YouTube-pleasing gimmick. Wish us luck. And stand well back...
McLaren 720S GT3X
Welcome to the most gloriously niche McLaren product of the lot, for the GT3X is neither a road car nor a racecar. It’s basically a 720S GT3 that’s been removed from a race grid – and thus the stifling world of regulations – with everything demonstrably turned up several notches to create, perhaps, the ultimate track toy. It should help you nip past that extraordinarily well-driven MX-5 in danger of showing up your rusty driving skills at the local track evening. Or in the case of Speed Week, an extraordinarily well-driven MX-5 in period costume…
“Roll up your sleeves at home,” says the blurb, “and at your own pace transform your MoT test failure MX-5 into an F1 legend.” Yep, beneath the 1930s racecar aesthetic sits an old Mazda sports car. Which could be a very good recipe indeed: modest performance, easy (ish) skids, but styling that makes the whole thing look utterly heroic. The wildest of wild cards, surely.
Audi RS e-tron GT
The Porsche Taycan Turbo S won quite a lot of our heads and hearts at Top Gear Speed Week 2020. Now it's time to see if its more suave cousin can sweep aside as many internal combustion engined sports cars a year later. And also see if we can unshackle enough of its safety systems to actually have it drifting gratuitously out of Hammerhead.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Speaking of ‘drifting gratuitously’, meet the latest, greatest iteration of Continental GT. Usually the ‘Speed’ version has mostly been just that – a smidge more power for a mite more accelerative force and a touch more top speed. But this time, Bentley’s gone for a big makeover beneath the skin – four-wheel steering and a new limited-slip differential combine to promise actual skids. The tyre fitter’s on speed dial.
Heard the one about the front-wheel-drive BMW performance car? One that just so happens to be more appealing to run everyday than a VW Golf GTI, at that. BMW knocked it out the park with the 128ti – if a slightly boring looking hot hatchback is what you crave. But does ‘nice ride’, ‘impressive fuel economy’ and ‘classy interior’ translate into fun when we’re camped out at the Top Gear Test Track for a few days?
Mini Remastered Oselli Edition
Let’s say you’ve just untapped a £130,000 windfall from a scratch card wantonly flung onto the end of your shopping bill. And that you’re looking to spend every last penny of it in the Speed Week paddock. The BMW M5 CS for the ultimate family holdall? The Audi RS e-tron GT to land slap-bang in an electric future? Or you could spend it all on this, a restomod Mini from the folks at David Brown, with a host of power and suspension upgrades, a sheet of Alcantara plastered inside, and CarPlay. Quite a conundrum, huh…
Peugeot 205 GTI Tolman
For a mere third of the cash you could have this, a restomod of a car that was already a fairly potent hot hatch. There’s definitely a degree of sense to dropping 40 large ones on one of these – given the tidiest 205s go for eye-watering sums at auction these days, why not stretch the budget to secure a well restored example with some well-chosen powertrain and dynamic mods? Plus another sheet of Alcantara. Either way, you’re getting the car that caused most inappropriate noises to be muttered from TG’s more senior staff as they tried to walk to the sandwich bags without another glance at the gracious old Pug.
Porsche Taycan 4S Cross Turismo
If the M3 isn’t quite floating your boat in the ‘best all-rounder’ stakes – owing to the fact you don’t particularly want to have to reverse it onto your driveway to avoid seeing its schnozz first thing every morning – then how about this? The coolest crossover on sale, we’d attest, mainly owing to the fact it’s a hiked up EV estate rather than a fully blown SUV. Perhaps a two-tonne-odd soft-roader doesn’t scream ‘track car’, but we’d be amazed if the Taycan doesn’t claim at least a few unlikely scalps during its stay at Speed Week.
It may look like Kinder’s started popping toy Batmobiles in its eggs, but this dinky device apparently beats a Chiron to 186mph – with turbines in place of a rear wing. The stats on the prototype are promising, and daft – think around 1,000kg, and around 1,000 electrically powered horses to move it. What’s even more promising (and perhaps equally as daft) is there’s a one-make series of these being touted. We’re sold. Adorable madness.
Welcome to the car with the world’s most bonkers rear wing. You’ve heard of active aero and seen flaps moving and airbrakes deploying, but you’ve never seen anything quite like the body-popping transformer on the back of the Zenvo TSR-S. Seven figures to have a rear wing that moves like a Strictly contestant with a cactus caught in their strides? Perhaps a few laps of the Top Gear Test Track will make some sense of it all. Perhaps.