Leading the charge is last year’s winner, the magnificent McLaren 600LT, back for another bite of the cherry and the chance to join an elite band of back-to-back victors. But not if the astonishing Ariel Atom 4 has anything to do with it. Previous versions of the scintillating spaceframed sportster from Somerset have come close, but none had the breadth of ability of this latest offering. And then there’s the Porsche 911, the evergreen rear-engined machine still hitting high notes after six decades.
We’ll start with the McLaren, however, because, as our defending champ, it’s the known quantity – the one with the target painted large on its aerodynamically honed rump. What’s immediately clear is that the passing of 12 months hasn’t diminished the Woking Wonder’s appeal. Andrew Frankel speaks for most of us when summing up the 600LT: “Just so sensationally good everywhere,” he muses. “When cars are this fast, it’s all about confidence and I’m as confident driving this fast as I am the Mégane. Some might say it lacks character as a result, but for me it’s as good this year as last.”
As you’d expect, the Macca makes most sense on the track – this is a car built by a company steeped in motorsport tradition, after all. Around Anglesey, the 600LT is a car that rewards precision and commitment, getting better the harder you push it. With temperature in the tyres, there’s tons of turn-in bite, while the car’s ability to cope simultaneously with heavy braking and steering input leaves you slack-jawed in amazement.
Sure, it’s not as expressive as some here, or as willing to play the apex acrobat, but it’s a more engaging and natural companion than some of the firm’s more aloof models. The hydraulically assisted steering is rich with feedback, while the smooth transition from slip to grip is faithfully broadcast to your bum and fingertips.
You do need to pedal it the way McLaren intended to get the best results, however, as Matt Prior points out: “It’s great as long as you drive it its way, but I don’t always like its way. Understeer, turbo lag, then lots of oversteer. So it’s pushy often and loose sometimes. So close to brilliance.”
On the road, it’s the on/off boostiness of the industrialsounding motor that’s the frustration but, in all other respects, the 600LT manages to deliver sensorial rewards even at sane speeds (whisper it, but the Spider’s drop-top configuration plays its part here, literally opening you up to even more on-the-move sensations). And then there’s the mind-boggling damping that’s both supple and supremely controlled – this is a true blue-blooded supercar, but one that’s easy to live with. Almost as hassle-free as the 911.