Britain's Best Driver's Car 2020: The final three

Britain's best drivers car 2020 final three - lead image

The Totota GR Yaris, Ariel Atom 4 and McLaren 765LT make the 2020 podium. Here’s the set up for the closest call for top honours in BBDC history

The estimable Mr Frankel was bang on when he said, there and then in the pit lane with brakes and engine still cooling, that we’ve never had a Britain’s Best Driver’s Car field quite like this year’s. Fully four out of nine cars within it were capable of breaching 200mph. Five of them – more than half – had 600 horsepower or more. Maybe the weather was just our punishment for being so damned greedy.

Moreover, only one car involved either at Combe or on Exmoor had to make do with just one solitary driven axle with a conventional open differential, with everything else getting either a limited-slip diff at least, or an active torque-vectoring diff – or, in one case, a handful of ’em. It was, inevitably, the most powerful car in the whole line-up: the McLaren 765LT. Of course it was. On the occasion of the most absurd, waterlogged, horsepower-crazed and top-heavy BBDC anyone could recall, nothing was too bizarre to be true.

And yet, even on the dankest late October day, there was still a job to do. And so, after we drove, we reacted. We debated, evangelised, criticised and compared. It was the time for “ooh, I like this” and “yes, I love that” as well as “wait, hold on, you mean you don’t like it?” and “are you sure you shouldn’t drive it again?”. Consensus is definitely quicker to build when the conditions are less changeable, and one tester’s experience of a car therefore bears a closer resemblance to that of the next.

Eventually, the driving time simply ran out. We voted in the format we’ve repeated year after year of late, giving each car two scores out of a maximum of 25 points: one score for driver appeal on road and the other for the same on track. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I’m still waiting for it to turn out that way.

The car we couldn’t vote on was the one that didn’t quite last the course. Mechanical failures are rare at BBDC, but Ferrari withdrew the F8 Tributo that it had supplied before all of our judges had assessed it on track as a result of an unmistakably rough-running V8 engine. We thought it could have been a misfire caused by water ingress; it could have been a dodgy tank of fuel; or it could just be what Ferrari’s latest traction control system feels like when faced with Cup tyres and a surface that wet. It later transpired that a car likely to have been among the favourites had suffered an engine misfire caused by a cracked spark plug, consequently opening a route to the podium for the other contenders.

And what a diverse but emphatically distinguished trio they were. With the theoretical maximum points haul for any single car set at 250, just three cleared the 200-point watershed. And improbably enough, all three finished within just five points of each other.

Moreover, for the first time in Handling Day history, our top two could only be separated by a tie-breaker. The judges’ scorecards had to be referred to a second time, to identify our outright winner on count back as the car that topped the order for the greatest number of individual judges. This contest has never been won by so fine a margin.

And in that top three was our new Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car champion, the irrepressible Toyota GR Yaris; the effervescent and dramatic 765 LT; and our reigning and defending 2019 BBDC champion, the Ariel Atom 4.

The Yaris wooed the judges with its sheer suitability for soaking autumnal conditions. If there was a weather lottery to be won, it definitely hit the jackpot – although it went on to reveal hidden depths of driver appeal the likes of which haven’t been seen in a hot hatchback in a generation.

The Atom and the 765LT, by contrast, both had to overcome the conditions in order to take their places at the sharp end of the order. But how well they managed it, often using similar tools to keep their drivers so engaged, in control and at ease with what they were doing; but also using them to conjure and construct such different brands of dynamic allure.

As Andrew Frankel saw it, the GR Yaris seemed nothing more or less than “the most dynamically capable car ever offered for sale at this kind of money. What is so impressive about the way Toyota went about this car is that they could so easily have created a hot rod but chose not to. It feels so deftly engineered, more grown-up in many ways than all those Evo Mitsubishis in whose footsteps it treads with such confidence. I love the fact that it rides so well on the road, that the power isn’t just slopped onto your plate with the giant ladle, yet that preposterous point-to-point pace you hope and expect to find in such a car is there in full.”

For Frankel’s money, if the little Toyota wanted for anything, it was only a little on-track throttlesteerability. Simon Davis also recognised a certain “lack of expressive adjustability” about its track handling but loved that the car “demanded to be driven through the rain just as hard as if it were dry”. James Disdale suggested that it was “perhaps not one of the greatest hot hatchbacks for outright feel and rich rewards, although it never fails to raise a smile”. I, for one, loved the way it mixed on-throttle stability with off-throttle handling adjustment, allowing you to back it into bends and coax some attitude out of the car on a trailing throttle, knowing that the driveline was ready to balance it all out again when you opened the taps back up.

But there was enough for other judges to question, clearly, to put five marks of doubt between the little Toyota and our competition’s two highest-praised contestants. In the 765LT, drama and pace were in epically generous supply. For Matt Prior, the car had its limitations, but he loved the way it “now feels like you’re at the pointy end of a rocket. I don’t remember that before in McLarens. Perhaps it’s a more aggressive turn-in and front grip.”

For Davis, the Longtail’s appeal was as surprising for its tactility: “This is a wonderful car to drive at social speeds, purely because all of its controls are so communicative. The steering just talks to you constantly, so you can enjoy changing direction as much at 30mph as at 130mph.”

The oily weight and feel of the 765LT’s wheel also made it inspire amazing confidence around Quarry bend and telegraph changing grip levels under braking oh so clearly. There were voices of defiance asserting that, at times, it didn’t offer as much good old-fashioned accessible fun as the Ferrari; and, yes, we’ve heard similar before. But nobody contended that the F8 dealt with doused roads and a deluged track nearly as well as the 765LT on the day. Nobody claimed such an apparently fearsome mid-engined supercar didn’t deserve enormous credit for staying so stable, faithful and drivable in bad weather.

And finally, what of the Atom 4? How did a car so apparently dedicated to good-time motoring, with so little weather protection of any kind, come to find itself locked in a two-way tie for Autocar’s highest accolade with a 755bhp supercar?

Frankel said: “Of course there’s the obvious stuff like the feel, the traction and the turn-in, all of which defied logic for the conditions, but it was the security of the thing I’ll always remember most. Loved it.”

Disdale was thrilled to find that, in the rain of Castle Combe, the Ariel was the same “totally absorbing, totally analogue experience” that he remembered from Anglesey in the dry during the BBDC contest 12 months previously. On the road, he called its blend of suppleness and body control “spooky” – and eruditely so.

But when all had been thrashed, probed, prodded, leant on, skidded, emptied and spent – and when everything was finally said and done – what would all of it mean? Would victory go to the returning champ or the big-hitting new boy? If just one judge had deployed a single mark for either car differently, the result wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting; but a result there was – just – and it’s right over here.


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Source: Autocar

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