5 Jaguar XKR
Target Price 72,105
Used from 44,010
Jaguar's barmy new XKR-S is a hoot, but we reckon the standard XKR is a better bet.
Its only a fraction slower, is prettier, cheaper and just as much fun to drive. It moves outrageously quickly for such a big car, too. Theres a brilliant blend of comfort and control, while the XKRs steering is alive and precise.
Theres thumping mid-range thrust and the 503bhp supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine sounds awesome when you put the pedal to the floor, yet its also exceptionally refined. Thats the XKR in a nutshell: a silky-smooth grand tourer when you want it to be, but an exceptionally rewarding and capable sports car when youre in the mood.
4 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
Target Price 128,466
Used from 65,000
An all-new 911 is around the corner, but the latest GT3 RS 4.0 may just be the finest 911 of all.
The new 4.0-litre engine is the biggest ever fitted to a production 911. Power is up to 493bhp, while lighter components and upgraded suspension and aerodynamic aids mean the GT3 RS defies physics more outrageously than ever, giving mind-boggling grip and balance.
The steering, as always, provides a pure connection between the driver, car and road.
On the outside, the white-only paint job, distinctive decals and bodywork add-ons make sure everyone knows this car means business.
Inside, the GT3 RS is just as focused and, in the interests of reducing weight, misses a few fripperies. There are lightweight seats and a roll cage, but essentially its standard 911, which means excellent quality and usability.
Porsche has spent ages getting the 911 this good. Its hard to see how the next one can top it.
3 McLaren MP4-12C
Target Price 168,500
Used from na
McLaren has taken its Formula One fight with Ferrari to the road with the new MP4-12C.
Performance is simply shattering. The 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine packs an almighty 592bhp, channelled through a seven-speed semi-auto gearbox to rocket the McLaren to 62mph in just 3.3 seconds quicker than everything here bar the Nissan GT-R.
The McLarens immense grip keeps it glued to the road, and although the body stays virtually flat through corners, the suspension is supple enough to prevent the car feeling skittish or nervous. In fact, the ride is surprisingly comfortable.
Its clear that McLaren has delivered on its promise to make the MP4-12C grippier, more powerful, more comfortable and more refined than any rival.
Why, then, is it sitting in third place? Well, because this line-up is all about having fun, and if we have one criticism of the McLaren its that its a bit too clinical. It hasnt quite the soul of our top two cars here.
2 Audi R8 Spyder
Target Price 116,660
Used from 95,000
When Audi decided to build a supercar, it didnt do it by half. The basis for the R8 is an aluminium body thats light but exceptionally stiff. Around this, Audi has built a car that combines everyday ease of use with incredible visceral appeal.
So why have we chosen the V10 Spyder? After all, the V8 is hardly slow, and the Coups body is inherently more rigid.
It all becomes clear when you drop the roof and fire that 518bhp engine into life. The sound is simply glorious and, without a roof in the way, you can hear it all the more clearly. Mash the right pedal and, as the V10 howls behind you, the R8 rockets forward at explosive pace.
Peak power doesnt arrive until a heady 8000rpm, but getting there is a blast. The four-wheel-drive system shuffles power between the front and rear wheels to provide optimum traction, but most of the time the majority goes to the rear, giving the R8 a classic sports car feel and letting the front wheels get on with the job of steering. Pin-sharp, communicative steering also tells you exactly whats going on.
For maximum interaction and fun stick with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. Slotting the drilled aluminium lever across the metal gate is hugely satisfying its a tactile delight you dont enjoy with the semi-auto box.
By contrast, the R8s cabin is restrained. Its classy, easy to use and typically Audi. Forward visibility is excellent, the seats are comfortable and theres even decent boot space.
Whenever that V10 barks into life, though, youre reminded that the R8 is anything but ordinary.
Audi R8 Spyder review
1 Ferrari 458
4.5 V8 Italia
Target Price 173,181
Used from 185,000
The Ferrari 458 Italia is the supercar of the moment. Yes, it draws on the Italian brands rich heritage, but the 458 is a cutting-edge sports car, brimming with the latest technology. The chassis, engine and transmission all benefit from Ferraris F1 involvement, delivering mind-blowing handling and performance.
The exterior sets the tone: of course the 458 will cause jaws to drop, as a Ferrari should. However, theres also a more purposeful, edgy character than fans of the marque are perhaps used to: distinctive vents slash the bodywork at the front of the car and a chunky diffuser juts out at the rear. Its all there for a purpose to manage the airflow around the car and keep it hunkered to the road as tightly as possible.
At the heart of the 458 is a mid-mounted 4.5-litre V8 engine that provides peak power of 562bhp at a heady 9000rpm. Its a gem of a unit, linked to a slick, rapid paddle-shift gearbox that F1 star Fernando Alonso would feel right at home with.
Twist the manettino dial on the steering wheel and you can change the 458s character at will; from docile town friend to track-ready supercar in an instant.
Make no mistake, this is a phenomenally good car to drive: it has enviable grip, composure and steering feel, while theres a screaming V8 soundtrack to match.
The cabins minimalist styling has a distinctly high-tech feel, yet it keeps distractions to a minimum. Its classy and simple, allowing you to concentrate on what the 458 excels at: sheer driving pleasure.