- Photo: Parkers

Why are the worst cars the best?

In many cases we see that sometimes facts and figures aren't all that matter

3y ago

I had a thought recently. Why is it that when given a choice between two or more cars, the ‘worst’ car usually ends up being the best? For me at least this is the case nine times out of ten. Surely the car with the best 0-100kph time or the one that spends less time at the fuel station should be the victor? Or maybe I’m just a bit of a numpty. Fearing that I might be a numpty, I decided to investigate this matter further.

What determines a car to be ‘good’ differs from person to person, as we well know. To some, the battle between cars is won on the spec sheet. Take some really close rivalries as an example. A few years ago we saw the relatively unestablished McLaren upset the Ferrari stable with the MP4-12C. On paper, the McLaren was the victor in almost all areas. The 12C was faster from a standing start than the 458, more fuel efficient than the 458, more comfortable than the 458 and so on and so forth. However, in all the tests that I’ve seen and read between these two very close rivals the 458 was almost always the car of choice. Why? In the words of James May, the 458 Italia offered people ‘the fizz’ that the McLaren didn’t seem to possess. The 458 was certainly my choice. Now that Ferrari has also gone turbo-charged, though, they no longer have the naturally-aspirated trump card to pull out when somebody mentions McLaren. But, having never been in a 488 GTB or a 720S, I cannot make a fair judgment call on that as yet.

To others, the ‘best’ car might be the one that has the best performance. Let’s use another example. Relatively recently, we’ve seen two front-engine, V12 GT cars coming out of England and Italy. Yes, I know that Aston has just recently launched the very beautiful DBS Superleggera and Ferrari the rather astonishing 812 Superfast, but I want to talk about the Vanquish S and the F12berlinetta. It is my article after all and I also prefer them to their successors. The capacity of the F12’s engine is greater than the Vanquish S’, the Ferrari is about 300 kilograms lighter and quite a lot more powerful (about 150 more ponies live under the F12’s bonnet). The net result of all the ‘more than’ and ‘lighter than’ comparisons mean that the Vanquish S doesn’t stand a chance against the Ferrari on a track or any competition where speed is of importance. But despite that, I still feel my self being drawn to the Vanquish. The fact that Aston has sold even one Vanquish S means that there are other people like me too.

“But Barrie,” you may argue. “There is absolutely no way you wouldn’t prefer a Porsche 911 over the new Aston Martin Vantage. It’s the benchmark after all.” Well, sorry to disappoint you imaginary person I’m arguing with, but I do. You see once again, technically the 911 Turbo S is a better car. It’s more powerful than the new V8 Vantage, it’s quicker from 0-100kph and it’s cheaper too. In all honesty, the 911 is probably the ‘best’ sportscar money can buy. The thing is the Turbo S is all about the performance but at the expense of the theatre and being an event to drive, and that is what I look at when I need to determine what the so-called ‘best’ car is.

You see, facts and figures aren’t all that matter. It is very often the intangible aspects of a car that make it all the more special and indeed ‘better’ than a car that is faster, more practical or less expensive. One manufacturer immediately comes to mind, and that is Lamborghini. Ferrari and McLaren make cars that are far faster than both the Aventador S and the Huracán. Yes, the single-clutch mechanism in the Aventador may be a bit rubbish and practicality does take a back seat. But in terms of a sense of occasion and making ordinary driving in traffic exciting, you are going to have to pay a considerable amount more money to get close. Look at all the old Top Gear supercar, or even cheap car challenges. How many times have Clarkson, Hammond and May deduced that the worst car is actually the best? It’s a weird paradox, isn’t it? But one that all to many times is true.

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Comments (13)

  • I can remember (some 15 years ago) a test drive comparison between a 206 GTI and the Cleo equivalent. The Cleo had it all on paper and was a great drive, however the test driver came down on the side of the Pug by a whisker. Why? Apparently, its chassis was more accessible for more of the time, increasing the wow factor. That was an interesting assessment.

    When you look at any vehicle where the worst is represented by the standard model, and the best is the version with all the gubbins and bits, quite often the worst turns out to be the better of the two. I believe the reasoning is that designers and engineers base the 'vehicle core' on the basic or volume model, not the flagship model. An example of this (and its only anecdotal) is when you read a report that on 16" rims the vehicle was a smoother drive with NVH being lower or was less pronounced and the vehicle was less choppy. Swap to the version with 20" rims and low profile tyres and it maybe the reverse Just my understanding of course, and there are many examples that will defy that assessment, but its still interesting. Always a good idea to think about the base model before going up the price range. Not sure if that helps you though.

      3 years ago
    • Interesting thought👌

        3 years ago
    • The bottom spec with the big squishy curb bumping tyres will always be the more comfortable. My 225/45/18s will not be as comfy as the bottom spec A3 wheels. It’s what you want from it. I do enjoy my heated seats, climate control and auto...

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        3 years ago
  • Lots of numbers are next to meaningless in the real world.

    There are just way too many variables and a lot of them get overlooked. For example visibility. You can have a beautiful car with immense specs but if you can barely see out of it driving and especially parking it will be so terrifying that it ruins the car.

    Same for maintenance costs for example. We all know faster cars will generally cost more to drive per mile than slower ones. But if you decide to buy a nice second hand Audi R8 which costs about the same as a new VW Sharan now maintenance will be reasonable for a mid engined supercar. Sure a set of tyres will cost you 3 times what your old Golf GTI would cost and run out quick but it's manageable. If you buy a DB9 or something even more exotic for around the same price you're probably going to be hemorrhaging money. So you won't use it as much, making it more art than car.

      3 years ago
    • That's true Rolf. Sometimes it's worth the sacrifice of money for a car!

        3 years ago
    • It's a gray area of course.

      Get the best car you can where you can still afford to use it all the time. I've been in the situation where I thought "But I don't want to put too many kms on it and if I take the diesel I'll save €6 on a 30 minute trip on...

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        3 years ago
  • I don’t see how a Peugeot 3008 has anything to do with any of the supercars you discussed in the article

      3 years ago
  • I agree. It’s not all down to figures. It’s dependant on the person and what the car is used for. A Ferrari is no good on a farm.

    I was talking to a lady who saw me driving a Yeti at work. She had just bought one and was asking what I thought. Now our old yeti was the 2.0 TDI 4x4. I told her I loved it. So ugly it was cute. Disgustingly practical. Roofbars ready for the bikes or roofbox. A boot deep enough for a german Shepard. Slight ground clearance that made driving round rural areas much easier without the need for a cumbersome ‘proper’ 4x4.

    Ultimately comes down to the individual and how the vehicle is worked day to day.

    I have an A3 and a Corrado Vr6. I love a quick car the same as the next person. That being said, I would happily own a Yeti ( as long as it’s got the big engine 😏 no one needs that 1.2 petrol ) 😍

      3 years ago