The second day of Best Driver’s Car began right on schedule. All nine judges and (more important) 12 cars arrived on time, as did three members of the California Highway Patrol. Good part is, the officers were on our side, as we had a slithery 4-mile hill climb of State Route 198 permitted for video and photographic purposes, and as such we would have their assistance in intermittently closing the road.
2019 Best Driver’s Car Week Welcome: Five countries, 12 crazy-fast cars, one winner
Behind the scenes: We rank our 12-car field after day one
Hey, man, safety first. Well, OK, maybe not exactly safety, but we wanted to eliminate the possibility of an innocent party being involved if something went wrong. Self-inflicted injury? It’s a dirty job filled with risks, but 12 of the best new performance, sports, and supercars ain’t gonna drive themselves. Yet.
Behind the Wheel: Jethro Bovingdon drifts and drives the Challenger Hellcat Redeye
Between hitting the streets and drifting at the track, Jethro Bovingdon gives his take on the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye.Motor Trend
Watch this! Running a Corvette C8 on the Dyno
This near-enough the base Corvette. Yet, a 6-2-liter V-8 rated at almost 500 horsepower is nothing to sneeze at, especially in the ‘Vette’s dynamic mid-engined layout. How does this naturally-aspirated motor do in the brand-new car?Motor Trend
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain is the best wagon you’ll never drive
It’s got a 2-liter diesel engine and a special setting for soft roading, but unfortunately it will stay far from US shores.Roadshow
Want more 2019 Best Driver’s Car content on the Supra, Mustang Shelby GT350, Urus, and the rest of the BDC fleet? Get the full story HERE, and watch all the Best Driver’s Car videos you can handle HERE.
Due to some inside baseball mishegas, instead of our usual cadre of 12 judges, for 2019 we went with only nine. For some reason, I was very worried about this fact until I realized that having only nine judges looping per road closure meant that each run took only 75 percent as long as in years past. Work smarter, not harder, and all that. Was the outcome in any way impacted by having fewer drivers driving the car? Naw. If anything, it made us a more efficient unit and saved a bit of wear and tear on the cars. Oh, right, the cars! Let’s get to it.
After one run, the Mercedes-AMG came down the hill with smoke billowing from its brakes. Not a good sign, but if you’ll allow me the fleeting pleasure of tossing one of my colleagues under the proverbial bus, Scott Evans was driving, and, well, he does that.
Smoking brakes aside, the AMG rocked on 198. “Sure, it’s heavy and solid as a bank vault, but it tears up the asphalt as though it’s mad at the earth,” Mark Rechtin said. “Its baritone engine note is menacing, its cornering fleet and nimble like Lawrence Taylor at his peak, and its brakes confident (though a bit thin and prone to igniting under intense labor). Plus, it has great rear-seat room and a thunderous stereo to regale your passengers with Wagner as you blast toward your destination.”
I’m sure Rechtin would play something else if you asked nicely. Angus MacKenzie said much the same: “Stunningly fast both up and down Route 198, the AMG GT 63 S feels like a genuine four-door sports car, not a sedan gussied up to look like one.”
The car that I found most shocking was the Bentley. There was a time when even inviting a Bentley to Best Driver’s Car caused a flurry of nasty internal emails (“Too big!” “Too luxury!” “Your mama!”). But, I assure you, the third-generation Continental GT—the one riding on the Porsche-engineered MSB platform—will forever quash that argument.
We were caning the 4.0-liter V-8 version, which makes only 542 horsepower as opposed to the 626 ponies of the 6.0-liter W-12 edition. Now, here’s the point where I normally say, “Sure, the power is down, but the GT V8 weighs so much less.” Only it doesn’t. The big 12-banger only weighs 91 pounds more than the green guy we have. Laughably, the Lamborghini Urus SUV weighs but 3 pounds more than the GT V8. Despite that, what a machine! To me, the Continental drove like a Nissan GT-R wrapped up in 14 cows’ worth of green leather.
I suppose I shouldn’t get too much further without mentioning the $992,816 British elephant in the room, the Senna. Here’s what Chris Walton had to say (and this man has been driving and testing cars professionally for nearly 25 years): “I never thought I’d see a Senna, much less drive one, unleashed, on a closed road, without a McLaren handler riding shotgun. On Route 198, the Senna was a life-changing drive.”
Perhaps Walton was alone in his bewitchment? Let’s ask pro driver Randy Pobst, who should be well jaded about such things: “I was utterly seduced by the extreme power, sounds, stick, and wild-child road attack of the outrageous Senna.” As for MacKenzie, the most tenured guy on staff: “Dancing the McLaren Senna over the lumps and bumps on Route 198, the corners come in a wide-eyed rush as I learn to trust the hand-of-god downforce and truly epic brakes.” Even editor-in-chief Ed Loh was impressed: “The Senna was my first run up the hill, a drive I normally take relatively easy, to refamiliarize myself with 198. I ran up the hill in Sport and pushed myself. But the car? Not one bit. I saw 144 mph at the straightaway at the top of the hill and used that as a marker for the day. Never got within 10 mph of the Senna.”
Of course, there’s a counterpoint to the Senna love. “My favorite moment on 198 was getting out of the Senna and handing the keys to someone else,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “Actually, driving it up and down 198 was phenomenal—truly otherworldly. Babying it on fumes to King City and back for gas sucked. Hot, loud, uncomfortable. As an unabashed Viper lover, I’d normally say these things build character, but somehow the Senna takes the fun out of that.”
I’m more on Team Seabaugh vis-à-vis the Senna. Yeah, man, the performance is bonkers. But $600,000 more bonkers than the escaped mental patient McLaren 720S? I don’t think so. Rest assured, there was much disagreement. I wish I could leave you with what Evans wrote, but it’s literally uncut profanity. Let’s just say the car moved him.
If there were a trend to be spotted in 2019, it’s that our friends over in England are building some outstanding performance machines. Forget about the million-dollar McLaren and the Verde Bling Bentley, and check out the $300K Aston Martin DBS Superleggera. I mean, just look at it. Since day one, I’ve been saying Marek Reichman’s masterpiece is the most beautiful car of the last 25 years. Great thing is, the Superleggera drives pretty dang sweet, especially once you find the annoyingly buried/hidden traction control menu and get it into Track mode.
As Loh said, switching into Track mode “flips the DBS from WWF to UFC.” To which Pobst added, “The gorgeous Aston DBS surprised me by its giant step forward in sporting drivability for a big luxury coupe from the brand, and pavement-wrinkling torque.” Amen to that torque!
Sticking with Britain, the Jaguar impressed, too. Especially its brakes, which even Evans couldn’t immolate. From Loh: “The Project 8 surprised me the most. It was born to attack roads like 198, with its unceasing uphill thrust, punctuated by snarling upshifts and otherworldly traction through corners.”
At some point we scarfed tripas and asada tacos from our friends at King City’s own Tacos la Potranca de Jalisco. (They’ll perform roadside catering anywhere in California.) Most of the non-taco talk involved two cars that had emerged as our favorites: the wonderful Shelby GT350 and the we-knew-it-would-be-good-but-not-this-good Porsche 911.
“After experiencing the first three corners of supreme grip and confidence from the Shelby, I suspended the idea I was in a Ford product,” Rechtin said. “For the rest of the run up and down the hill, I put myself in the mindset of driving an exotic car because the GT350’s performance was to that standard. And it still excelled even when measured against cars costing thrice as much, never mind against previous Dearborn efforts.” Taking vehicular lust to a new level, Seabaugh wants to marry the Shelby and have its baby.
Speaking of inappropriate metaphors, here’s Walton on the Porsche: “Sweet, buttery, velvety, liquidy goodness, my goodness. It’s unfailingly up to the task, and that gives me unlimited confidence. Wow, what a car.”
That’s basically what every judge had to say about the 992 iteration of the 911. Think I’m being lazy? Here’s MacKenzie: “The 992-series 911 is thrillingly fast, telepathically responsive, and wonderfully communicative—all 911, all the time, yet more approachable and trustworthy at the limit than ever before.”
So the issue becomes, how do you pick a winner between the excellent American and the wunderbar Porsche? A racetrack and our pro driver would settle it the very next day.
Day 2 standings
1 Porsche 911 Carrera S
2 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
3 ↑ McLaren Senna
4 ↑ Jaguar XE SV Project 8
5 ↑ BMW M2 Competition
6 ↓ Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4Matic+
7 ↓ Bentley Continental GT V8
8 Lamborghini Urus
9 ↓ Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
10 ↑ BMW M850i xDrive Coupe
11 ↓ Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
12 Toyota GR Supra
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