What Car? Car of the Year awards 2011 - Performance car contenders

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What Car? Awards 2012 website

Best buy less than £60,000
Lotus Evora 3.5 V6
List price £51,030
Target Price £51,030


Sixty grand doesn't buy you a great deal of performance car choice these days – not if you want something that no one has owned before. Even the majority of high-performance saloons require a substantially larger investment.

Fortunately, Lotus can offer you something that doesn’t cost as much as a house, as long as you don’t mind eccentricities.

The entire Evora range undercuts our £60,000 ceiling. There’s the standard car with a 276bhp Toyota 3.5-litre V6 engine, and this year it’s been joined by the S which, with the help of a supercharger, ups the game to a more-than-adequate 346bhp.

For a while we were tempted to give the S the nod, but in the end we decided that the standard car will save you £9000 without feeling £9000 poorer to drive. It’s a little easier on the spine over the worst bumps, too.

As for the eccentricities, well, rear visibility is terrible and the dash layout appears to have happened by accident rather than through a process of design. We can live with these, though, because the rest of the car is great.

Lotus Evora review

Performance
0-62mph 4.9sec Top speed 162mph
Running costs
Economy 32.5mpg CO2 205g/km
Insurance group 50

Best buy £60,000-£120,000
Audi R8 Spyder V10
List price £116,660
Target Price £116,660


Normally we shy away from open-top models when choosing our favourite performance cars. They’re less structurally stiff once shorn of a metal roof, and therefore not as precise to drive – that isn’t what you want in a performance car.

We’re prepared to make an exception with the Audi R8 Spyder , though. It has an aluminium skeleton in place of welded steel, and is said to be as stiff as the coupé – and it needed only 6kg of extra metal to make it that way.

It certainly feels as solid, and with four-wheel drive nailing it to the road, the Spyder is just as crisp as the coupé and every bit as solid in every sense.

There are, of course, compensations for risking frostbite. With a closed performance car what you hear in the cabin isn’t the same as what’s served up to passers-by.

Here, though, you get to enjoy the sounds of the mildly detuned 518bhp Lamborghini V10 engine in all its magnificent glory. Just make sure you buy it with the manual gearbox instead of the ponderous paddle-shift semi-automatic.

Audi R8 Spyder review

Performance
0-62mph 4.1sec Top speed 194mph
Running costs
Economy 19.0mpg CO2 334g/km
Insurance group 50

Best buy more than £120,000
Ferrari 458 Italia
List price £169,545
Target Price £169,545


When the sky's the limit, just how do you go about making a rational choice? We could have put a Bugatti Veyron in here, or a Pagani Zonda, or any one of a number of cars you might never even have heard of.

In the end, we decided it should be something that doesn’t require you to be an oil sheikh to buy, and that you might be prepared to use every day.

That made the choice surprisingly easy. There are some historic names competing in this area of the market – Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche to name the most famous five – yet the Ferrari 458 is so far ahead of the rest that the discussion lasted all of a nanosecond.

It is everything you might ask for in a modern supercar: something you could happily use as an only car (whether you’d want to, given the carelessness of some other drivers, is another matter) but with scarcely believable talents, in every respect, once unconstrained.

The pity is that, with today’s road conditions, you’ll probably only ever find out if you take it to a track.

Ferrari 458 review

Performance
0-62mph 3.4sec Top speed 202mph
Running costs
Economy 20.6mpg CO2 389g/km
Insurance group 50

Tester's view
‘Choosing the best performance car looks like an easy job: just go for something that accelerates like it’s been dropped off a cliff and looks like it’s been designed to do 300mph. If only.

‘First off, you’ve got to consider engine position (front, mid or rear) and how much power you’ve got to play with. Then you worry about whether you go for the high-tech advances of four-wheel drive or stick with the purity of rear-wheel drive.

‘Coupé or drop-top? Manual gearbox or semi-auto? Do you want V6, V8, V10, V12, or perhaps flat six? What about costs? We also consider what a performance car will be like to live with, because it’s no use being able to pull 3g in a corner if it’s uncomfortable to sit in. There are many things to consider – and many hours of enjoyable driving, too!’
Euan Doig Group production editor
Euan.Doig@whatcar.com

What Car? Car of the Year awards 2011 - Performance car winner

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