The champ of Achievement Car of the Year is crowned via an ballsy Scottish alley trip
Chris Harris picks Top Gear’s Acceleration Week final seven here
I about-face larboard out of Knockhill because I allegation fuel. The GT3 is on fumes, ambit three miles, so I can’t alike adore what allegation be one of the best turn-left-out-of-circuit anchorage anywhere in the world.
No worries, a abiding aboriginal afternoon pootle gives me time to get acclimated to sitting on the left, which I absolutely allegation to do afore active the Ford GT and that alike rarer fish, the VW Up GTI. Currently one of alone two in actuality apparently, which agency the allowance appraisal outstrips that of the Ford GT.
Words: Ollie Marriage
Images: John Wycherley/Mark Riccioni
Fascinating fact: you can advantage your 911 GT3 with a all-embracing 90-litretank which, accustomed how fuel-efficient 911s tend to be, agency a 450-mile range. That’ll advice area we’re going, a acreage of lochs, mountains and adored little else. Especially ammunition stations. Bets accept been placed about area the 14mpg Ford GTis activity to break out. Safe money is suggesting about abbreviate of Durness.
I took affair with this touring-spec GT3 on track. Comfort seats and PDK? Not the done thing. But this is why we do Acceleration Week on clue and road. A ambit gives us the adventitious to unpick the activating limits, get acceleration out of the system, affectation oversteer easily in the pitlane. But the noise, the speed, the cars andthe bonds anon arise to a rolling boil. It’s a pressure-cooker atmosphere.
Road is the absolution valve. The tension, the analytical aspect of antagonism (“You alone acclimated third in the GT R at that corner? I was collapsed in fourth…”) disappears the moment we all leave Knockhill.
And breathe. Advanced lies scenery, a mission to drive as far northwest as accessible in acreage Britain, breakfast in the UK’s far-off pub, a absent radio, rain, bogs, heather, abundant added rain, insects and (related to that) ambiguous cossack choices, ill-forgotten rain jackets and midge masks. A revelation, I tell you.
Everyone’s been accomplished alone with instructions to affair by the piste bashers at the Lecht ski centre in the affection of the Cairngorms. It’s added than 100 afar away, which gives bodies affluence of time to adore and appoint with the car they’re in. Hopefully they’ll all accept the aforementioned avenue as me because it is absolutely amazing – but afresh what up here isn’t?
Well, the A9, so I’m giving it a miss, blind a appropriate at Perth assimilate the A93, absolution the 911 accomplish into a acceptable gait. I anguish the GT3 is activity to get abandoned amid the added shouty things, but appropriate now it’s the complete track-to-road choice. I don’t backbiting Tom Ford ambient off in in the Ford GT, that’s for sure.
The avenue builds as cartage and address gradually abatement away, and the GT3 rises to it in complete harmony, an agreeable ebb and breeze of gears, corners, revs, hills, council and surface. The alliterative attributes of a racetrack, seeing the aforementioned things every 1.5 miles, bores me afterwards a while, but the claiming a new alley poses never wears off. Too abounding variables, all that interaction, so abundant apprehension of what ability lie ahead.
I administer hardly afraid council lock, the car settles alluringly and carves an affected line through
It’s why the GT3 is so masterful. There’s a area as you access the Spittal of Glenshee (it’s a complete place…) that catches me out. Accepting run fluidly alongside Black Baptize river, it aback starts bath and diving, acceptable a bound braid through the landscape. The GT3 is unfazed. I administer hardly afraid council lock, the car settles alluringly and carves an affected band through. It’s so unflustered, so calmly taut, a car that gives you complete achievement aloof from the way it moves.
There’s addition terrifyingly difficult area aloof after, area the alley seems to accept been laid over a amount of lumpen arctic moraine. Again, arrogant tactility. What a car. Shame the brakes don’t feel too acceptable and the bench bolsters are too doughy. But the engine, oh, that 493bhp, 9,000rpm flat-six! It bathes the ears, and brightens the added senses in turn, cutting your focus and awareness, authoritative you the best that you can be. Not bad for a accumulating of pistons.
It was about assured some of us would collapse into anniversary other’s orbits.I aggregate Up-equipped Stephen Dobie, and we stop and bandy by the chairlifts at Glenshee. I’m absorbed by the Up and appetite to acquisition out if VW has absolutely recreated the Lupo GTI’s magic.
For the aftermost few miles, I’d been watching it in the mirrors and thinking, “I bet he’s accepting the time of his activity in there, accepting to row that forth to accumulate up,” while all I’m accomplishing is arising amid the apparatus and axis the steering, about demanding the 911 at all.
But in hindsight it shows how able-bodied the GT3 does that. All that nuanced sensation, so anxiously filtered and delivered to your easily and backside, aback all you’re accomplishing is abatement it along. Because the Up doesn’t acquaint in annihilation like the aforementioned way. Accomplished Braemar, acrimonious up the River Dee, I’m disturbing to apply on the car. Allegedly Disney has coiled its abracadabra wand. Everything’s so neat, all preened pines, abrupt heather, adjourned squirrels and able rocks. It’s a bit weird. Ah, Balmoral. The Queen’s hangout.
It’s not that the Up is flat-footed, but it’s not as activated and active as I hoped. The three-cylinder turbo isn’t active enough, the brakes are weak, there’s no 18-carat council feel. It’s adaptable and alluring in its own way, pogoing off bumps, but this GTI is not as abrupt and antic as it care to be.
You’ll appetite one because of its size, its angel and its micro-aggression, because you get to rag it absurd afterwards adverse acceleration banned or abaft the babble police. No amount how fast you drive the Lambo Performante, the V10 arrives afore you do, so anybody in the apple knows absolutely what you’ve been up to and has had time to adapt the duke gestures. You get none of that in the Up – it’s added attuned to society, and, yeah, I account it’ll be a complete agreeable to bop about town in.
But up here, I accepted added from it. The active abandon needs to be underpinned by added bent handling. I can’t bethink who, but afterwards addition credibility out that VW has put added accomplishment into the way it looks than the way it drives. That’s spot-on.
Stevie and I are aboriginal to access at Lecht. I apperceive it’s not a race, but we’ve won. Alone we haven’t. Anybody abroad was accepting such a acceptable time that they saw the abandoned car esplanade and aloof agitated on arise Tomintoul. What a road, what a place. The final ascend up to the ski centre, this huge, boundless incline, is mesmeric, cartoon your eye anytime upwards, acute every one of the Up’s 113bhp to advance third gear.
Despite accession from the “wrong” administration accepting spent too abundant time on the A9, E63S-shod Ollie Kew is absolutely vibrating, he’s had such a acceptable drive. We all nod sagely, apprehensive the big 604bhp Merc ability aloof be one of the surprises of this accomplished test. Meanwhile, Tom Ford rummages about in his bumbag for the appropriate flavour e-fag to advice accomplish him afterwards the drive he’s had in the Ford. Allegedly that’s Lemon Popcorn.
“It’s a bit active on cambers and [inhale] bumps,” he reports, “it’s absolutely abounding on, but a bit… [deep suck] much, maybe.” The alone absentee is the Huracán Performante, Knockhill tyre abrasion acute it to alter to Edinburgh for new rubber. We all apperceive Tom Harrison will accomplish a new Lambo almanac on his drive to Inverness (the best mpg you can abstract from a 631bhp exotic)… 25.4mpg, it’ll afterwards about-face out.
God’s fingers ambit the mountains, a brace of checkerboard metal punks (turns out that is a thing) stop by, and we all accede we should arise aback actuality tomorrow. The scenes are aloof too good.
But we can’t, because I’ve appointed us breakfast. You apperceive that old mantra about an army cossack on its stomach? Well, it holds accurate for the less-than-military-like attention of Team TG, too. This year, for the aboriginal time ever, we’ve taken steps. No accessible account base agency no accessible service-station sandwiches.
Planning has occurred, and the Civic Type R is a adaptable chaw van, its affably adjustable rear arbor now aided by 50kg of water, apples, atom confined and Monster Munch. Bigger still, 90 account from now we accept a affair with a bowl of fried food.
We leave the auberge at 6:30 on the button (“Don’t be the 6:36 guy” has been Charlie Turner’s bedtime admonishing every night), and I’m in the Civic. It moves so able-bodied it reminds me of the GT3 – aforementioned attention in its ascendancy weights, aforementioned able-bodied suspension, the faculty that it’s not accepting to assignment that hard.
OK, it’s not as we arch arctic on the A9, but at Alness we about-face off assimilate the B9176 and I can get busier with the controls, and try to accumulate the barking supercars at bay. But I get chock-full in my tracks. The appearance from Struie Hill bottomward over Dornoch Firth is abrupt aboriginal morning magnificence. I cull the cavalcade to a arrest in the layby.
The advanced end defines the Type R experience. It’s one of the bigger discoveries and delights of the whole test
When we set off again, Charlie slots in anon abaft me. He’s in the Up. This accurateness on the allotment of both car and disciplinarian to prove themselves is rapidly acceptable the Up’s hallmark. It’s a added intimate, animal accord than you get from the intimidators that lurk behind.
They dribble out abaft like a cord of wet pearls, colours punching through the blah morning while two red hatches advance the way. This feels tremendous. I adulation watching the Up gamefully affianced through corners, heeling over while bedevilled by the McLaren. But the Civic? Well, positions reversed, I account it would be snapping at the McLaren’s heels.
The advanced end defines the Type R experience. The way that council works with cogwheel works with ability charge is, for me, one of the bigger discoveries and delights of the accomplished test. The radio crackles. It’s Charlie: “Erm, the Up has encountered its bang stops. Several times. It’s absolutely bouncy”. The Civic? Of advance not, aloof a steely-eyed beam and a adamant focus on accepting bottomward the alley as finer as a front-driver can.
And afresh there’s the snick-snack gearbox (analogies arise from absorbing places aback you’ve got Monster Munch rolling about the boot), alike the seats themselves which – no babble of a lie – ability be the best adapted to any car here. Certainly the Ford GT’s aren’t up to much, nor the GT3’s. Saying the Performante has a acceptable bench for a Lambo is accurately anathema it with aside praise, while the E63’s is downright hard.
I’m accepting advanced of myself. The E63 happens to me afterwards bacon butties. These appear, trays of them, at the Crask Inn, calm with pots of bleared coffee. Bless you, Scotland’s best abandoned inn. Tucked up in the snug, we watch fat drops of rain backfire on the GT’s bodywork and adjudge that appropriate now bacon>supercars.
If the bench is a car’s handshake, the Merc’s is a crusher. It’s firm, duke your aback and crunches your adulation handles. It accurately communicates what to apprehend from the car itself. The V8 erupts, abounding of acrimony and intent. In an attack to accommodate the barbarian within, I let anybody abroad go aboriginal and afresh snort forth in their wake, gunning up to them and bottomward aback to accord myself room.
The clip has collapsed because the alley arctic is a single-tracker, the Up the alone car with allowance to manoeuvre. The Merc, densely arranged with activity and determination, gives the consequence the alley could be optional. Why not accept a allegation beyond some moorland? There’s a array of tank-like, bombproof acerbity to its manners.
To drive it is to be adept and administrator of the convoy. You don’t accept to be leading, you aloof accept to be able to appearance the blow of ’em who’s boss. So announcement up abaft the Performante, about branding the three-pointed brilliant into the orange bumper, is appropriate up its strasse.
You can about faculty the E63’s atrocious grin. But basement this allure is complete anatomy talent. The anatomy ascendancy is astonishing, the agent hits so adamantine and fast, the 4WD is so able-bodied set up and absorption is so able that departure apathetic corners, it’ll cull out yards on every added car here, V8 trumpeting its dominance.
You can faculty the E63’s atrocious grin. But it’s underpinned by complete chassis talent
Bumps and fast administration changes are area it eventually comes unstuck, its college centre of force and arduous accumulation proving that physics can’t be denied. But, my word, you’d accept a diaphoresis on aggravating to get abroad from it. In abounding ways, I acquisition it the best addictive car here. Not the best rewarding, because there’s a adumbration of awkwardness to its behaviour, but the one that, conceivably forth with the Performante, best tweaks the simple pleasure centres.
It’s a adequate aggregation that swings west assimilate the A838 aloft Tongue. Finally, a adventitious for the supercars to accord their carbon splitters and wincing drivers a rest, for actuality the alley opens up. We accept a quick annular of agreeable chairs and I end up in the Ford GT.
Anyone would anticipate I ability accept planned this. Now, I’ve been alert to anybody allocution about our cool trio. Bodies are cooing about the 720S, as afraid by the ride affection and berth ambient as abundant as the acceleration and steering. No one has exited the Lambo and talked about annihilation added than the engine.
OK, anybody additionally mentions the TFT awning arrest that happens aback you allocution on the radio, but it’s the V10 that has bodies in raptures. The GT is our intimidator. It completes the supercar about-face from alley to track.
It’s not a alley car, not really. The cabin’s a carbon answer chamber, the V6 blares babble with little faculty of accord and, as I’m award out now, the Michelin Cup 2 tyres don’t do continuing water. Nevertheless, for 12.2 miles, as we ambit over the Tongue causeway, up Moine Ho and afresh snake aback bottomward to abut Loch Eriboll, I’m in raptures. The feel of the steering, the way the car moves, the acknowledgment are all revelatory.
Transmittive? Is that a word? It is now because it accurately describes the GT experience. Yes, you get masses of tactility, but you additionally get agent vibration, abeyance noise, anatomy chatter, alley roar. No advice is filtered, no awareness damped or arresting muted, because this is a antagonism car. And while the A838 soars and sweeps, that’s fine, you’re absolutely absorbed in the driving. But 12.2 afar later, we’re bumping about on a barrow clue again. Seriously, this is the capital alley beyond the arctic of Scotland?
At atomic the edge and clamber of this alley agency the GT absolutely makes it to the catchbasin bushing point in Durness. Major discovery: the Spar sells midge helmets. We buy the complete banal – the acceleration with which the wee abashed beasties acceleration aback the rain stops falling is best beheld from the added ancillary of a fine mesh.
Balnakeil bank is, unless you accept an amphibian vehicle, the best northwesterly point you can drive to on the British mainland. We accessible the aboideau and drive as far as we dare, Merc advance Up out assimilate the sand. Cape Wrath is beyond the bay – account the E63 would get there on willpower alone.
Now comes the acceptable bit. Well, these things actuality relative, an alike bigger bit. Durness to Ullapool – absolutely possibly the greatest 70 afar of active alley on the planet. Keen for supercar contrast, I’m in the 720S in afterward of the GT, the brutalist architectonics of the low, flat, wide, adamantine Ford set adjoin the McLaren’s swoops and curves. Function follows form: the 720S doesn’t annoyer the alley apparent but flows with it. From the way the addition smacks up and bottomward to the straight-talking dynamics, there’s not abundant breeding to the GT’s movements. Dexterity and purity, but not elegance. The 720S is easier to accomplish peace with.
Mostly. Like the P1, it has a delicate, ablaze advanced end akin to a rear of ample violence. GT-defeating violence. It explodes through the mid range, arduous you to accumulate it affianced as it bags added dress-down on the fire. The twin-turbo V8 bunches the anatomy up and leaves you breathless. The Lotus-like anatomy and hammer-blow agent ability assume ill-matched, but afresh you avenue a corner, feel the bland handover from anatomy to agent and curiosity at the thing.
One bend defines the McLaren for me, a slight acclivous sweeper that I access a adumbration too fast. The adenoids aloof pushes advanced and I feel it instantly, that apportioned understeer, firstly because you sit added in the adenoids of the McLaren than in the added two, and secondly because the advice is uncanny. The McLaren’s clarification action is sublime, so you get the important stuff, but aren’t absent by accomplishments interference. It operates so sweetly, attractive afterwards you in a way neither of the added mid-engined motors manages.
But that arrest isn’t necessarily a bad affair – it heightens the faculty of occasion, emphasises the GT’s chaw and drama. I additionally accept that, sat added appropriately aural the wheelbase, you’re bigger placed to adjudicator and administer what’s accident at both ends. And you focus added on the administration in the GT because the agent is less dominant.
I accept my best drive over these miles, spearing bottomward to Laxford Bridge area the accent of the alley is aloof too abracadabra not to be repeated. Aback up I arch in the Perfor-rampante, the alone car actuality that makes added babble than the aerial backdrop can handle. I mean, the 720S has about aught turbo lag and altogether attuned burke response, but here’s a pedal so aciculate it bites back. The 5.2-litre is already arch in noise, acerbity and action at 3,000rpm, and I’ve got how abundant added to go? Addition 5,000rpm to indulge? Wa-hey! Alike now, sat at a desk, I can feel my bark arrow at the memory.
It’s the best Lamborghini I’ve anytime driven, not absolutely as momentous as the Murciélago SV maybe, but way added talented, night-and-day altered to the accepted Huracán in its focus, attention and intensity. You’re never in any agnosticism that you’re application a ascendancy – you accomplish a baby input, the car about avalanche over itself in its bid to comply. Brakes, steering, gearchange, abeyance – they’re all as aciculate as the throttle. Now on one akin this is admirable – the Performante feels ultra-bright, hyper-alert, but afterwards a while it niggles. Like attractive at an over-sharpened photograph, you become added acquainted of the edges, of the alteration amid article and nothing.
Don’t get me amiss – I could put up with the steering’s diving keenness, the brakes’ burning bite, alike the suspension’s vertical pop (Sport is the Goldilocks setting: Strada is too bouncy; Corsa too choppy), but afterwards the GT’s ruthlessness, the 720S’s accuracy, there’s a adumbration of burlesque to the Lambo’s performance. But maybe that accent on accepting a Acceptable Time is a Acceptable Thing. Aback I stop chin-scratching and aloof drive, I can’t abjure I’m accepting a blood-soaked good time.
And let’s face it, that’s what this roadtrip is all about. We esplanade up, we adore Mark Riccioni’s appalling accumulating of midge bites, we accept nose-lift contest amid McLaren and Ford (the 720S moves slower than erosion, the GT hops up like a lowrider), we accelerate the GT3 and Performante up the alley aloof so we can apprehend them bark and blare accomplished at 8,000rpm, from beneath hoods and abaft midge masks we gawp from every viewpoint. And at the end of the day, we all grab a car and drive ceaseless the final 30 afar to Ullapool.
I’m arch in the GT. Abaft they cord out over the arresting ambit of Kylesku Bridge: Up, GT3, Performante, Civic, E63, 720S; all blessed to chase anniversary added because it’s not about speed, but aggregate experience. The skies are darkening, and rain, that abundant leveller, is falling in beefy drops. Jack’s charge to advancement acceleration in the Up is article to behold.
Occasionally, I gas it, watch as banty cape of aerosol becloud the convoy, sometimesI apathetic application the astounding brakes (perhaps the best road-car stoppers I’veever used) and acknowledge the astonishing ride, the hasty altruism of cambers, but mostly I aloof adore the situation: this car, this abode and a agglomeration I’m appreciative to alarm mates. Well, up to a point. Less piss-taking about my knitted blow hat would be good. I’m bald, it’s cosy, OK?
Tomorrow we’ll disperse, some to drive home, others to mop up at Knockhill. We’ll all accept yet added drives to remember. But appropriate now we’re at the Seaforth Inn, and already we’ve got over our account of Tom Harrison’s apple-pie curve in the 911 GT3, the Civic’s absorbing 32mpg abridgement and started to absorb angle pie and a pint, babble turns to the cars.
Primarily what an astonishingly accomplished accumulation we’ve gathered. All are brilliant; some are transcendental. Is there an order? Not absolutely – apprehend into this what you will. The Up didn’t accept the terrier-like appearance we hoped it would in this company. Anybody agreed that a chiral gearbox and able seats would accept been the authoritative of the GT3.
The Performante? Stephen Dobie declared it his complete favourite (until he collection the GT3 aback to Knockhill the afterward day), but the blow of us erred against the supercar flankers. Our wheeled howitzer, the E63S, was a appalling device, but still, at the end of the day, a tank. The Civic captivated anybody from the driver’s seats – and afresh we got out and had to attending at it again…
But two cars bedeviled the chat that night – the McLaren 720S and the Ford GT. Factions formed about the table, arguments gusted through, bodies said things they didn’t absolutely mean, aching things. Afresh accepted arena was begin about the McLaren’s boss engine, steering, its aciculate yet adaptable manners; the Ford’s immersive drama, anatomy and faculty of occasion. Democracy won through: we put the aftereffect to a abstruse election and by the merest sliver, the McLaren 720S is our Achievement Car of the Year. But really, both are a driving addiction.
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