Chris Har­ris

Time for Lord Chief Jus­tice of Fast to ex­plain our fi­nal five

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS: CHRIS HAR­RIS

We down­load the opin­ions (and there are al­ways opin­ions) of the raci­est TGTV pre­sen­ter

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 bull­shit 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.

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.

“The 600LT is the most fun and ag­ile car the com­pany has pro­duced”

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