At my age you would have thought l would have learnt but no, the urge to feel that rush through my veins and that chainsaw in my guts has never diminished. There comes a point where you accept that if you can’t beat it, live with it. So here was the event of a major birthday and the long-planned road trip with three supercars for a head to head trial. I could, of course, have lazily sauntered around France taking in the scenery and returned with a sweet little story of how the cars are quite fast but l cannot tell you how fast as the French police are bastards when they see a speeding UK plate and levy a fine conjured up upon sight of the value of the car, and you are unceremoniously marched off to the nearest cash point to cough up before they will release you or the car. Whether any of this cash sees its way into the government coffers is another matter entirely. So that wouldn’t do.
So l hatched a plan. Why not scream across the continent too fast to be stopped by any money-grabbing, cheese-eating, surrender monkeys, into Germany by the shortest possible route where, bless their cotton teutonic socks, they have no speed limits on the autobahns and then see what madness l can find to feed the adrenaline boost required. But driving three cars at once is even beyond me so l also needed a crew. Step up Ben, Charlie, Mark, Tory, Bron and Paul acting as co-drivers and camera crew and we were hot to trot. Ben and Mark are highly proficient drivers in who’s hand the cars would be safe and the girls were bomb-proof passengers and great navigators, so now the only question is which cars to take. It could have been fun with a Ford Fiesta, Skoda Superb and a Toyota Aygo but l was sure l could do better.
The aim here was to review three sub-supercars, what you might call everyday supercars. This would exclude the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston as they really cannot be driven everyday as the value plummets as the miles climb and trying to go to Asda in one of these for the weekly shop, is rather unpractical as errant door hits and trolley dents would knock thousands off the value. So l needed three sub-supercars that l felt were everyday drivers.
Step up the Jaguar F-Type SVR. Based on the standard V8 F-Type, the SVR is taken off the production line and secreted into the Special Vehicle Operations department for a few weeks and ‘tinkered’ with. As weight is the enemy of performance, they chuck out anything that is superfluous to requirements and work hard to save every gram possible. The exhaust is made from titanium saving 16kg, the forged alloy wheels save 13.8kg, they redesigned the suspension knuckles to save 0.6kg and the carbon ceramic brakes save 21kg - you get the idea, this thing is lean and almost causes a sense of shame to sit my fat arse into it as that adds 13 stone! Then they fiddle with the aerodynamics to reduce drag and then, best of all, they recalibrate the engine to deliver 575bhp and 700nm of torque that delivers 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 200mph. Then pop an all-wheel drive system in to ensure you don’t die when trying to corner.
Step up the Audi R8 V10 Spyder. The R8 has been with us for quite some time but never fails to stun. Essentially this is their R8 LMS race car brought to the streets with 40kg saved by cutting the roof off, a 5.2-litre engine that produces 540bhp and add a 7-speed S tronic transmission that changes gear faster than a human can blink and produces a 0-62mph time of 3.5 seconds. Mid-mount the engine to give it a lower centre of gravity and Audi’s legendary Quattro AWD system and you have a monster waiting to be tamed.
Step up the…… Oh, what on earth to match with these two? Here l thought l would try to step out of the obvious box and go with something a little left field. Step up the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (four leaf clover to you and l). Here is Alfa’s new supercar and the most powerful Alfa sedan ever produced. You might hear petrol heads like Clarkson and Evans bang on that you cannot be a true petrol head without having owned an Alfa, which is total poppycock, as in days gone by they were total crap, broke down every five minutes, rusted like the Titanic and your days were peppered with stopping every hour to pick up things that had dropped off.
Upon reaching your destination there was more of the car on the back seat than on the bloody car! Yes they were pretty and, when running, went like stink but that is not my idea of a good drive. And yes, l owned an Alfa in the shape of a GTV back in the day but it was a nightmare. So it was with some trepidation that l ordered the QV but the stats are irresistible. A relatively small 2.9-litre bi-turbo engine developed by Ferrari that, somehow, offers 510bhp and 600nm of torque and, as it is all aluminium, it is light and nimble enough to give the other two a good run for their money. The superb 50:50 weight distribution, rear-wheel drive and front engine, offers 0-62 is 3.9 seconds and on to 190mph - this had all the hallmarks of a titanic battle that would get the juices flowing. Oh, and it is half the price of the other two!
One further thing l think l should mention is that we had a television crew with us to ensure the entire adventure was recorded as a possible pilot for a new television show - a year in the life of a motoring journalist.
It was a warm and sunny Thursday morning when we departed Brighton with the ladies due to join us in a couple of days and that left us two days free to really see what these little tykes could do. I jumped in the SVR, Ben would have to be physically dragged out of the R8 and Mark clambered aboard the QV and it would of taken a team of 20 herculean men and a crowbar to get the smile off my face.
We took the Chunnel and were in France in a jiffy and then out of France as fast as sensible. By the way, a note of caution - if you take very expensive cars on the train book as a high sided vehicle, as then you get a wider wheel track in the carriage. The result of failing to do this was demonstrated as we alighted and stopped to empathise with a guy in a Lamborghini Aventador who was almost crying at the state of his wheel rims that were scarred around their full circumference leaving him with a likely £5,000 bill.
France flew by after a quick filming stop at Dunkirk and then we entered Belgium at Veurne and with the surrender monkeys behind us, we opened the taps. Belgium flew by and we entered the mecca for petrol heads at a town called Aachen and we were free of petty rules and restrictions. Finally, the go pedal could meet the Axminster and it was time to see these bad boys could do.
No sooner had the Willkommen in Deutschland sign been spotted than we were hard on the gas and my true appreciation for the wizard technology and magical skill of today’s vehicle designers came to the fore. The SVR leapt into action without pause and the needle was showing 150mph in the blink of an eye and, l know l might bore you with this from time to time, but this is one of the best soundtracks to emanate for the back of a car l have ever heard. It delivers a gorgeous pop and crack every time it changes gear and the overrun on the down shift was enough to make me realise that even sex with Heidi Klum is a very poor substitute for exactly what l was doing. It is spine tinglingly fantastic and totally addictive. Whilst thinking this and savouring my joy, Ben rudely flew past me in the R8 and the race was on. Side by side, we were hitting 180mph and smiling like baboons but at this speed, attention is the key as if it goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong and that would have ruined the trip, so laser focus was the order of the day as Mark came up behind and flashed for me to move over. That boys and girls, was not going to happen and at 195mph he started to drop back as with a top speed of 191mph, l knew l had him.
Now a funny thing happens at these speeds. As your focus is absolute, you cannot stop noticing out the corner of your eye that the scenery starts to merge into a green blur as l used to see in the old Star Trek shows when they went to hyper-drive and the passing stars transform into one constant streak of light. The cars l was passing were there and then gone in a flash and it is tough not to ponder what would happen if you got a puncture or a bit of detritus flew up off the road and shattered the windscreen but if you have these thoughts you would never do anything so to hell with that and onto 200mph. I hit it at 17.48 on August 24th 2017 and l note it as l have never travelled at 200mph in a car before and therefore that is the exact time my cherry was taken.
The car was steady as a rock and just feeds confidence into the cockpit but there was a slight lifting of the nose that was a tad disconcerting and, at 201mph, l lifted off and realised that my hands were bloodless from the death grip on the wheel, l was a little sweaty and l had forgotten to breathe for an age.
After a whip through the Eiffel Nature Park, at speed, we arrived at our first stop-over in the mountainous forest to find a picture postcard village called Monschau that caused a little embarrassment. The ancient old houses crowd round the tiny cobbled streets and the thundering sound of the three cars in unison caused windows to rattle, dogs to bark and the locals to stick their heads out of the windows. But this is Germany and they love fast cars so within a minute of parking up, the cars were surrounded by people looking like they wanted to lick them and asking a barrage of questions.
The next day... we awoke to the obligatory church bells echoing off the mountains and after a hearty breakfast comprising some very odd sausages, slices of cheese and bread that gave a good impersonation of a concrete speed bump, we were off to the cars. It is called a Full English as we really are the only folk that can produce it!
It’s rather lovely to fetch up at the cars and have to consider which one l will drive today - choices, choices, choices. Mark was looking all dewy eyed at the SVR, so l plumped for the R8 and Ben didn’t look too distressed at taking the QV and we were off again. Within minutes we came across a sign that announced The Shaker Road. This long straight road framed by tall trees gave absolutely no indication as to the origins of the sign and we left it wobbling in the wind as we stormed passed only to find out how good these £8,000 carbon ceramic brakes really are we were forced to step on them to save our fillings. My god, l have never encountered such a bumpy road in my life and as good as these cars are, they are not known for their forgiving suspensions and as we retreated to 40mph, l was still trying to work out how quick l could get an appointment with my dentist. Not only were they not the slightest bit bothered by this nightmare road, they saw fit to erect a sign proudly announcing it rather than fix it. I guess their joy came from watching twits like us try to drive on it.
Today we had to get to Cologne airport to collect our passengers and the journey time in the SatNav said 58 minutes. 27 minutes later, we were at the airport and some very excited ladies deplaned and we were now six up. As pleased as l was to see them l could not stop from worrying about what this would do to the weight distribution of our respective cars!
Stand by your beds and prepared to be shocked to your very core, as the next two days involved no driving!!! Well, not by us anyway.
Early Saturday morning we proceeded to a little Belgium town called Aachen and proceeded to a little Belgium town called Spa-Francorchamps, Now for those of you uneducated in the ways of obsessive petrol heads such as l, this is a very important little spot buried in the Ardennes forest. This is home to the Belgium Formula One Grand Prix and one of the most historic of such sites. They have been racing here since 1925 and, such is the changeable weather, that at one time it rained on every race for twenty years straight. I had, of course, advance ordered good weather and the sun was shining brightly and although we would not be driving (even l couldn’t fix that) there would be a splendid weekend of madcap racing to behold.
I will not bore those non F1 fans with the details but the finest driver of our generation, Brit Lewis Hamilton, charged to victory in his Silver Arrow Mercedes and l duly cheered my lungs out whilst Ben and Tory looked glum as they think he is a knob. A knob he might be people but he is the fastest knob we have ever seen and he is a Brit!
We spent the weekend there watching first qualifying on Saturday and then the race on the Sunday along with 70,000 others and sauntered back to our hotel with a momentary pang of anti-climax that the weekend was over - until l remembered what l had planned for the next day………..
There’s a fair bit of adrenaline to be had watching the fastest cars on the planet race at over 230mph, 1 inch from the ground and within an inch of each other but it is second-hand as l was only watching - that is just not good enough, so the next morning we made our way, at speed, to a patch of grass near Rue de la Sauveniere in Southern Belgium to meet with a charming chap called Ronald Emonts who would accompany us on our next adventure - the highest skydive it is possible to undertake without oxygen. Herculean men and crowbar required again!
With the sun shining like a jewel, l selected the Alfa and we headed South to a little town called Nurburg. The Alfa was singing all the way but l could not help feeling that it didn’t feel as special as the other two cars. It is fast, agile and well planted but does it feel special? I was a little disappointed that l had given up the R8 and the SVR for this car and that pretty much sealed my view on which car would come third in the test. We checked into the Lindner Congress & Motorsport Hotel and if that doesn’t give you a clue as to what we were about to do, read on.
There is only one race circuit in the world that is classed as too dangerous for Formula 1; only one track in the world that has killed so many drivers over the years; only one track in there world that fills petrol heads with a mixture of fear and excitement. That track is called the Nurburgring, or, as Jackie Stewart called it ‘The Green Hell’. The Germans, ever practical, have classed this ex-racetrack as a ‘one-way public toll road’ therefore ensuring that you can run it without specialist race insurance or helmets. There is a barrier at the start which lifts once you pay your 25 Euros and off you go to meet your fate. We had three of the fastest cars in the pits so here goes nothing.
The Ring is an incredibly unforgiving place but is known as the best 13 miles of tarmac in the world. With the exception of a handful of bends, there’s no run-off: if you fail to make a bend, you’re going to hit something hard. Worse, most of the bends and crests are blind, so the chances of one accident leading to a second one are also relatively high, and it averages 12 deaths per year and too many serious injuries to even count. The extra problem is that you all share the track - fast cars, race cars, family hatchbacks, motorbikes - you can drive anything on the Ring. Motorcyclists should (and indeed must) wear full protective gear, but it’s highly advisable to wear a helmet in a car also. In one crash, the driver was wearing a helmet and the passenger wasn’t: the driver survived, the passenger was killed and his head was found an hour later. One study estimates that 15% of those killed in car crashes would have survived had they been wearing a helmet. Oops, we hadn’t brought helmets but hey ho and off we go. It is also advisable not to try to time your laps as that leads to death and destruction but l knew that the best times in our cars were SVR 7 minutes 33 seconds, R8 7.34 and the QV 7.32 so they were very evenly matched although set by the finest race drivers on the planet. If we got under 15 minutes, we would be doing well.
I first took the R8 as with such a low centre of gravity and four-wheel drive, l deemed it the right car to ‘test’ the Ring. The power of the R8 is impressive and the cornering speeds often defy belief. It corners on rails and surges out of the corners with such a sure footed stance that is begs you to go faster. The dash warning lights looked like an eighties disco but l ignored them and and surged on. That first lap was 11.32 which is not too shabby for a first run. Once back in the pits, we all looked at each other like grinning maniacs and traded stories of near misses and accidents we had witnessed before we all switched cars and launched off again. This time, l took the SVR and although four-wheel drive, l noted the tyres screaming on each bend and the slight tendency to understeer, which l hate. I love oversteer, as once you feel the back going, you can catch it but there is nothing to counter oversteer but to lift off and l did not come here to lift off. The sheer speed out of the corners is awe inspiring and, again, that noise just begs you to go faster - which l did until l came over turn 14 and encountered a race prepped M3 in the barrier. The fleeting thought of oil on the track sliced through my mind by which time l was passed it and into turn 15 and back in race mode. I was not overly impressed by the cornering ability of the SVR under full load but it will give you a lovely tail wiggle under full acceleration as it screams out of corner after corner. I managed 10.29.
Back in the pits with more manic giggling and rapid water consumption from my crew to replace the gallons lost from perspiration, l hear Ben, Charlie, Tory and Mark lauding praise on the Alfa with me thinking this lot obviously don’t know how to drive as nothing can beat the feeling of the sheer power of the Jag and Audi.
I should have known something was afoot when, mingling with all the other fruitcake drivers in the pits, they would walk past the SVR and the R8 and crowd round the Alfa. Odd.
On the last lap, l was close to losing the Jag when l saw Ben behind me and the red mist descended with the determination not to let him past so, for the final lap in the Alfa, l let them both go five minutes ahead so that l could get a clear run. Now don’t get me wrong, the Quadrifoglio is a very fast car but with two-wheel drive and front engine, it cannot touch the other two - surely?
Oh my giddy aunt! You quickly realise that power ain’t everything. It’s the speed you can enter and exit corners that matters and, of course, the most important thing is the balance of the car and how quickly you can get the power down. The Alfa was a revelation. The weight split of the car is close to perfect and it will put its nose into the bend instinctively, at just the right angle, and then tidy itself up in the corner to be in the right place to exit thus allowing you to get the power down a smidgeon earlier than anything else out there. Drive it in auto and it’s pretty lifeless but use the paddle shift to fully explore the rev range and the thing absolutely flies. I managed 10.05 in the Alfa and trying to get anything better than that would have demonstrated where my talent runs out so l retired to the pits. The only thing you have to ensure is that the brakes are hot as, when cold, they are non-existent and for ceramic brakes that is mighty odd. As l arrived there were two grinning monkeys in the shape of Ben and Mark waiting for me with looks of huge expectation on their red and sweaty faces. Well?
I clambered out of the car with a grim look on my face before splitting it from ear to ear and we all fell over laughing and agreeing that, on the track, the Alfa won hands down.
So what’s the final result? The R8 is a stunning piece of technology and on the road is tough to beat for £132,000. On the track, the Quattro system is constantly trying to help but it doesn’t, it just gets in the way. The SVR is the best looking car and has a noise that l will take to my grave with me and, on the road, is an absolute barnstormer at £111,000. On the track, it is not so sure footed and seems like it wants to get away from you much of the time. The Alfa on the road is a tad dull and uninspiring but give it its head on the track, with hot brakes and in manual, and it wipes the floor with the other two. At £62,000 it is a fraction of the price of the other two and, rumour has it, that the engine developed by Ferrari is a test bed for the engine in the all-new Dino coming soon.
But, and this is a big but and resulted in many heated wine soaked evening discussions with the crew, we don’t live on tracks. We go to work on the B2330 or the M23, we pick the kids up from school, we have to go shopping and park in drab municipal car parks and we have to take Granny to the doctor. But (again) that is not the point of a supercar. If you can afford these prices then you have another car so do all that banal crap in that car. A supercar is designed for you, the driver. On that basis, although the R8 is an astonishing piece of kit that is brilliantly put together and is quick enough to make your eyeballs swivel, it is rather flash with a boot the size of a hankie. I say that as for the entire week it was stared and pointed at and that gets old very quickly. For me, the best all-rounder is the F-Type SVR. It looks gorgeous, drives superbly, sounds orgasmic and is ‘slightly’ understated - oh, and it is £21,490 cheaper than the R8 and that my friends, will buy you 107 laps of the Green Hell. Sold.