TWO OF THESE CARS ARE so tremendously exciting at low speed, albeit for very different reasons, that you could fall for them without ever driving with any great purpose. To sit in the McLaren’s driving seat is to feel as though you’re piloting a Le Mans prototype. The seating position places your legs way out in front of you with your body reclined slightly and the steering wheel offered to your chest. The wheel itself is small, with a thin rim and slender spokes. You feel as though you’re sat right over the front axle with the weight of the car behind you, placed low in the carbon tub with a cinematic view forward over the low scuttle. It’s just so evocative. ‘I adore the driving position in the 570S,’ agrees Henry. ‘Those optional bucket seats are absolute marvels that let you sink right down into them, giving great lateral support. The fact that the steering wheel comes so far out makes the seating position perfect.’

Then you start to drive and even at town speeds you enjoy the tactility of that wonderfully detailed steering and the balance and low-slung centre of gravity of the chassis. 

The R8 also has an evocative driving position – this time you’re sat right in the middle of the chassis with the windscreen way out ahead of you, more like a DTM racer than a Le Mans car – although it’s the naturally aspirated V10 that steals the show. Somehow just knowing that it’s over your shoulder, with its near-9000rpm red line and hummingbird responses, is enough. But, when you do wind it all the way out, the immediacy, the energy through the rev-range and the fury of the soundtrack right at the top end floods you with adrenalin.  

The F-type’s blood-and-thunder V8 is enormous fun in its own way, especially now we’re on the thankfully dry roads of Bedfordshire and getting to use more of its full potential, but it feels crude compared with the Audi’s V10. In Dynamic mode, the Jaguar’s throttle calibration becomes so aggressive that you seem to get a full throttle opening at half pedal travel. Combined with the immediate response of a supercharger, it means you spend the first few miles deploying too much power far too early in the corner, which can upset the chassis. Soon enough, though, you learn to tickle the throttle pedal initially to modulate the input. 

It’s one example of the F-type’s hyperactivity, which, it seems, has been engineered-in to disguise the car’s weight. Jaguar quotes 1730kg, but, given that we weighed a rear-wheel-drive V8 R Coupe at 1800kg, it seems likely that the All Wheel- Drive model is closer to 1900kg (the four-wheel-drive system adds 75kg, according to Jaguar). The initial steering response is very sharp, too, and the front axle darts into an apex with an almost jumpy immediacy. The rear axle, meanwhile, feels very stiff in roll, so it’s always on the edge of sliding. For the most part that strategy does make the F-type feel very lively and agile indeed, but, when the direction changes come thick and fast and one undulation rolls into another, the realities of 1900kg travelling at speed do tend to come to the fore. 

Body control has been much- improved compared with the pre-facelift cars, though, so this model feels more tightly tied-down and less wayward than earlier F-types. Once you’ve tuned in to the car’s slightly artificial rates of response, it does begin to entertain, the chassis digging hard into the dry surface where it skated across it in the wet. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t have the intuitive, engaging on-road dynamic quality of the best cars here, which is perhaps to be expected of a GT in the company of supercars. 

‘for wet-weather dynamic ability, the porsche has
met its match in the r8’ 

In complete contrast to the Jaguar, the Porsche places you right at the front of the action, rather like the McLaren does. Its steering feels meaty but rather inert in normal driving; once up to speed, it does begin to patter away just a little, although not with any of the clarity of a 911 GT3’s helm. 

Over the past few years, during which time most manufacturers have switched to turbocharged engines, we’ve grown accustomed to the kind of boosty, torque-rich slingshot acceleration that has been the hallmark of turbocharged 911s for so long. This car still feels frantically quick in a straight line, but to my mind it isn’t as shocking as it once was. With more torque and stronger traction, it feels more urgent than the McLaren in the mid-range, although that car does sustain its accelerative push over a wider rev-band. The 911 has slightly sharper throttle response than the 570S at low engine speeds, but there’s no musicality to the way the flat-six revs out. 

Whereas in the wet the 911’s four-wheel-drive system would favour the rear axle just enough to get the car squirming around, in the dry the car is completely locked down. The front end still feels a touch light, but there’s no real understeer to speak of, while mid-corner grip and traction are both mighty. In fact, the Turbo S’s limits are so high that it’s rare that you ever feel as though you’re close to approaching them. One issue is that there’s so little body and chassis movement, even in hard cornering, that the car just seems completely unimpressed by your efforts. No matter how hard you fling it down a road, it’s composed to the point of being lifeless. It’s biblically quick across the ground, but it never feels as though that’s because of your efforts as the driver. You feel enormous confidence in the 911 Turbo S, but there’s just no sign of playfulness or engagement at the limit of what it can do. 

This is where the McLaren really shines. There’s so much to enjoy about the chassis at low and medium speeds, even well within the limits of grip, but when you do start to press a little harder the car just comes alive. Despite wearing a relatively slim 225-section front tyre, the car carries good speed into a corner. The steering is both very direct and natural in its rate of response at the front axle, and it’s deeply communicative from initial turn-in right the way through the corner. In this day and age of electric steering systems, the McLaren’s helm feels like a rare treat. The kickback over bumps can be quite violent, but I’m happy to accept it as a consequence of the detailed feel. 

There’s just enough roll in the body to give a clear indication of how hard the car is being worked, but it’s the relationship between the driving position and the chassis loadings that makes you feel as connected as you do to the 570S. You’re hardwired into the car, downloading its messages and uploading your inputs on intuition. 

Nudge the chassis right up to its limit of grip and the car settles into this slight, perfectly balanced window of four-wheel drift on the way into an apex. Entering a corner with a fraction of the slip of a classic sports car on cross-ply tyres in a modern supercar is unspeakably exciting. At corner- exit there’s enough poise in the chassis that the car can be persuaded to drive away on the slightest turn of corrective lock in the middle of the three stability control modes. 

McLaren has understood that a performance car will be judged not only on its technical ability, but also on the way it involves and rewards the driver. The R8 has its work cut out. As I’ve already mentioned, the Audi exists on an entirely different planet in drivetrain terms. Its 5.2-litre V10 is one of the great modern performance engines, while the twin-clutch gearbox shifts so quickly the new gear engages even before the paddle has completed its short travel. It’s as though the gearbox read your mind.

This new R8 has that same sense of lightness and pliancy, with tight control across the road that made the original such an evo favourite. The Dynamic Steering system (£1200) feels incredibly direct and responsive with no slackness whatsoever, but it doesn’t load and unload as consistently and intuitively as the McLaren’s hydraulic rack, and nor does it stream back the same detailed messages.  

Henry introduces the McLaren to the Bedford Autodrome. The driving position and the view out are pure Le Mans racer

‘get the Mclaren set up properly and you can more or less do as you please’ 

‘The Audi will slide like the best of them, reaching enormous angles of slip’ 

McLAREN 570S

Engine V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo

CO2 258g/km

Power 562bhp @ 7500rpm

Torque 443lb ft @ 5000-6500rpm

Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive, torque vectoring

Front suspension
Double wishbones,
coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs,
394mm front, 380mm rear,
ABS, EBD

Wheels 8 x 19in front,
10 x 20in rear

Tyres 225/35 ZR19 front,
285/35 ZR20 rear

Weight (dry) 1313kg

Power-to-weight (dry)435bhp/ton

0-62mph 3.2sec (claimed)

Top speed 204mph (claimed)

Basic price £143,250

EVO rating

Porsche 911 Turbo S

Engine Flat-six, 3800cc, twin-turbo

CO2 227g/km

Power 552bhp @ 6500-6750rpm

Torque 553lb ft @ 2200-4000rpm

Transmission Seven-speed PDK, four-wheel drive, electronic rear diff lock, PTV Plus

Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, PASM dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension Multi-link,
coil springs, PASM dampers,
anti-roll bar

Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs,
410mm front, 390mm rear,
ABS, EBD

Wheels 9 x 20in front,
11.5 x 20in rear

Tyres 245/35 ZR20 front,
305/30 ZR21 rear

Weight1605kg

Power-to-weight 349bhp/ton

0-62mph 3.1sec (claimed)

Top speed 197mph (claimed)

Basic price £142,120

EVO rating

Audi R8 V10 Plus

Engine V10, 5204cc

CO2 287g/km

Power 602bhp @ 8250rpm

Torque 413lb ft @ 6500rpm

Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive,
LSD, ESP

Front suspension Double wishbones,
coil springs, magnetic dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, magnetic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs,
380mm front, 356mm rear, ABS, EBD

Wheels 8.5 x 19in front,
11 x 19in rear

Tyres 235/35 ZR19 front,
295/35 ZR19 rear

Weight1555kg

Power-to-weight 393bhp/ton

0-62mph 3.2sec (claimed)

Top speed 205mph (claimed)

Basic price £134,500

EVO rating

JAGUAR F-Type R AWD

Engine V8, 5000cc, supercharged

CO2 269g/km

Power 542bhp @ 6500rpm

Torque 501lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, LSD, torque vectoring

Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Ventilated discs,
380mm front, 376mm rear,
ABS, EBD

Wheels 9 x 20in front,
10.5 x 20in rear

Tyres255/35 ZR20 front, 295/30 ZR20 rear

Weight1730kg

Power-to-weight318bhp/ton

0-62mph 4.1sec (claimed)

Top speed 186mph (claimed)

Basic price £91,660

EVO rating

It’s no real hindrance, however, because the chassis itself is so easy to read. There is a trace of understeer on turn-in, but the biggest point of difference to the original model is the car’s behaviour mid-corner. The key to getting the best out of the R8 is rotating it using a weight transfer at the apex, which allows you to exit with a sweet, neutral stance. If you don’t get the car rotating, though, the four-wheel-drive system and suspension now find so much purchase that you can’t persuade the car to exit in anything other than gentle understeer. The R8 has the 570S licked in drivetrain terms, but the McLaren counters with a more rewarding chassis. 

With just four hours or so until sunset, we head to the circuit. There are occasions in this line of work when you find yourself making bold statements that could set you up for a titanic fall. This is a good one: the Jaguar is unspinnable. With so much weight up front, it enters corners with a meaningful amount of understeer. At the apex it pays to dab the brakes, because this neutralises that understeer and gets the car set up for the exit phase. Even if you stand on the throttle fully the car will only oversteer to a certain point because the four-wheel-drive system just pulls it back into line. 

Even when you’re trying to be neat and tidy, that’s more or less the way in which the F-type wants to be driven on circuit: it’ll always push on the way in, you’ll always need to dab the brakes at the apex to beat the understeer and it’ll always settle into some degree of slip the moment you touch the throttle. 

The 911 also understeers on the way in, but for the exact opposite reason to the F-type. The key to enjoying the Turbo S on circuit is defeating that understeer, which you do simply by trail-braking and getting the heavy rear axle swinging around. The moment you’ve beaten the push, the 911 is yours. You can do as you please. These cars somehow got a reputation for being point-and-squirt machines on track, but that’s so far from the truth. Properly set up on the way in, the Porsche settles into this enormous, soft-edged window of playfulness. You can either drive away from the apex in a neutral stance, or stand on the throttle and pull off the most lurid slides. It’s a pity that this enormous window of fun and adjustability is just out of reach on the road. In longer corners, those that don’t require a brake input, the four-wheel-drive system will take care of any understeer if you simply stay on the throttle. 

The Audi, too, will slide like the best of them, reaching enormous angles of slip that the four-wheel- drive system somehow manages to recover. ‘It’s a curious feeling when it first oversteers,’ says Henry, ‘as you can feel the sudden stabilising transfer of power to the front axle. Once you’re aware of this, however, it means you can drive it almost like a mid-engined Nissan GT-R or a WRC car.’ With an incredibly sharp turn-in and a neutral mid-corner balance, the R8 is fun when you’re not driving like a hooligan, and the drivetrain is as intoxicating as ever. 

The most eye-popping car of the foursome, though, is the McLaren. It lift-off oversteers like a front-wheel- drive hot hatch on the way into a corner. You can have it fully crossed-up at the apex, then ride the slide all the way out to the exit kerb on the power. The key is to not let it go too far off-throttle, because then the first sniff of power will send the car into a spin. As with the Turbo S, if you get the 570S set up properly, it presents itself to you and more or less allows you to do as you please. The shifts in balance are always so beautifully telegraphed through the chassis and steering, too. 

As on the road, the McLaren is the most engaging car on circuit. There are very good reasons, not least its everyday appeal and spectacular drivetrain, why the R8 should win this test. Indeed, for some members of the road test team, that wailing V10 seals the deal. Offer me the keys to any of these cars for one drive over a great road, though, and it’ll be the carbonfibre pendant with the distinctive speedmark on it that I’ll pluck from your palm. The McLaren 570S is a very special car indeed.