For wet-weather dynamic ability, the Porsche has met its match in the R8. On its Continental SportContact 6 rubber, the Audi finds equally impressive turn-in grip, but with a little less understeer. It also grips hard mid-corner, but its traction under power is more resolute – a result not only of its very quick-witted four-wheel-drive system but also its less demanding 413lb ft. On the few occasions that you do ask too much of the four contact patches away from a corner – perhaps if the tyres are still dealing with the cornering force – the R8 is very lively, snapping into oversteer quite suddenly if you’ve dared to remove the electronic safety nets. In this moment, the car feels as though it has a wide track and a short wheelbase, as though it sits square on the road.
The Porsche, Audi and McLaren all bite hard into the road surface at the mid-corner point to give you a degree of confidence in these treacherous conditions. The Jaguar, however, does not. Rather than sense the F-type’s weight settle onto the outer edge of the car, it feels as though its P Zeros are right on the edge of letting go and sending the car into a slide. It isn’t very often that it actually happens, but that impression, corner after corner, does erode your confidence. The remote, elastic-feeling steering also self-centres so aggressively after turn-in that you lose all sense of the grip levels across the front axle.
This All Wheel Drive car does at least make vastly better use of the supercharged V8’s power and torque than the rear-wheel-drive version does in such weather. That car is so severely traction-limited in the rain that you tend to give up any notion of driving quickly at the first sight of a threatening cloud, but in this model you can continue pressing on. There is still a reasonable amount of exit oversteer if you stand on the throttle early, but you immediately feel drive being sent forwards and the car being hauled straight again. It’s actually rather a lot of fun.
‘I normally wouldn’t venture anywhere near the F-type’s wet weather mode, but it really is that wet today,’ says Henry. ‘It does a great job of softening the throttle response and generally making the car more driveable.’
With the rain showing no sign of easing, there’s absolutely nothing to be learnt about the dry-weather behaviour of the cars, so to pass the time I begin to consider their day-to-day merits. They do, after all, tend to be an only car rather than part of a bigger fleet. That’s certainly the brief McLaren set itself for the 570S, and a number of measures were taken to make it more agreeable in everyday use than the more expensive 650S. There’s more stowage space in the cabin, for instance, and the carbon tub has been modified to improve access. Lowering the sill by 80mm at the point where your feet pass over it has made some difference, but the rest of the sill is still high and the showpiece butterfly doors do require you to stoop down low to clear them.
The quality of the materials and build within the cabin is very good, though, and the sculptural dash shows real design flair. The brightly coloured leather door panels of this particular test car won’t be to all tastes, but at least the cabin is in no way dour. With all the navigation, stereo and ventilation controls nestled within the IRIS touchscreen system, there is inevitably a period of familiarisation during which time the simplest operations can be quite baffling, but you do soon learn them.
The Jaguar’s cabin immediately gives it the impression of being a much bigger, weightier car, which isn’t helped by the annoyingly doughy steering wheel. The second impression is of slightly patchy material quality in some places, although it’s worth remembering that the cheapest derivative of the F-type is a £51,000 car.
Being a less exotic sort of creature, the Jaguar does seem a more likely everyday machine, although, once you’ve folded yourself into the 570S’s cabin, there’s no real reason why the McLaren should be any more taxing day to day. It actually has a more relaxed and cushioned ride quality than the Jaguar, which can feel brittle over a rough road surface.
The Porsche’s cabin feels very understated compared with the McLaren’s and, to a lesser extent, the Jaguar’s, almost to the point of being functional and no more. At least the quality is very good. The Turbo S rides with some of the harshness of the F-type, feeling quite tight-limbed over certain road surfaces. Those small rear seats are a massive boon for anybody with young children, though.
On optional Audi Magnetic Ride (£1600) dampers the R8 rides with some of the fluidity of the McLaren. Add to that the highest quality cabin here and the R8 is probably the most amenable everyday car (for those who can do without the 911’s rear seats, at least). Despite this test car having a very dark cabin, it feels like a tremendously exciting place in which to sit, while the infotainment functions are all pretty intuitive.
These are not the usual observations of an evo supercar test. Still the rain falls, so we scrap around to bag a few more photographs before calling it a day. We’ll awake in the morning to much sunnier scenes, I reassure Henry and the others.
We do not. I don’t know if my fading sense of humour is just getting the better of me, but if feels even darker, wetter and colder this morning. With all the foolhardiness of the few Snowdonia hikers who laced up their boots this morning, we press on with the photoshoot, adding whatever we can to yesterday’s fairly paltry haul of pictures. Then the Audi suffers a minor electrical fault after being launched through a big puddle (hopefully that’ll unravel the mystery of the colour-changing R8), photographer Aston Parrott declares the whole thing a waste of time, and Henry and I decide we’re learning nothing of any real value. We take refuge in a small café and scramble plan B.
Leaving rainpocalypse behind us, we head home that afternoon. We’ll meet next morning at the Bedford Autodrome. Not only does that give us the best opportunity to finish the photoshoot in the limited time we have left, we’ll also be able to test the cars on dry and familiar roads close to the circuit. I remind myself never to trust another weather forecast.