Here we are then: after months of voting, driving, scripting, filming, stressing and, um, raining, here are the famous five. The best supercar, sports car, track car, saloon and hot hatch since PH emerged, Excalibur-like, from online waters in 1998, as voted for by you. That was the easy bit, really - now a true champion must be crowned.
The bar, it must be said, is set incredibly high. We expected nothing less. Thanks to the enthusiasm, wisdom and ever-steady hand of the PH massive, a compelling case could be made for any of the five category winners. They all hail from a brilliant period, of course - almost certainly the defining era for combustion cars - and we knew they were all great at the time. But there really is nothing like getting an BMW E39 M5, Porsche Carrera GT, Caterham Seven 620R, Toyota GR Yaris and Lotus Elise together in a Welsh car park to remind you just how memorable the past 25 years have been.
Having given each their 15 minutes of YouTube fame already, it is conceivable that we could have taken the shortlist to a pub, argued about it for three hours and then declared a winner. And we did do that - but since it would have made a terrible video, and been entirely unworthy of our 25th anniversary, we made sure the car park was adjacent to the best Welsh B road we know, and spent an ordinate amount of time (and petrol and crisps) whittling five down to one. Needless to say, it was the only way to properly do them justice. Hopefully, the resulting film does too.
So good is the road we used for this vid that you could walk along its verge and still be raving about it to your friends for weeks. To drive it, in a car as good and true as the Elise, is one of life’s great pleasures. Even among this group, even with the platform as familiar as it is, there really is an undeniable star quality to it. The whole genre of small, light, supple, fast British sports cars was built to make the most of roads just like this one, and the little Lotus did not disappoint.
It's such an immersive, sensory experience: roof off, you can smell the world around as you drive by, watch the scenery change, hear that effervescent K Series come on cam. No one here needs reminding that that driving is about so much more than reaching a destination, but nothing better demonstrates the joy of operation - of any journey at any time - than an Elise.
There’s such clarity to the controls that you can’t help but throw yourself headfirst into the experience and relish every single second. Perhaps the gearshift isn’t the greatest the world has ever seen, but the rest of it is a work of genius and just so very easy to love: there’s speed that you need to work for, grip that’s perfectly communicated, poise and composure, and the apparently lost art of perfect, complimentary quantities everywhere you look for them. It’s a joy.
Pretty little thing, too. While the lineup is ostensibly great drivers cars, there are some stunning bits of design as well - and for a vehicle nearing its 30th birthday, the original Elise still boasts the enviable mix of prettiness and purpose that rarely seems to get a look in these days. It could hardly sit on a road any better. Indeed, the only disappointing thing about driving an Elise means you must stop staring - it really is that good to drive. And to look at.
Though we have no data to support this hunch, the indefatigable, unputdownable GR Yaris must have been the fastest car in Wales over the days we were there. Or more specifically, the car that was driven the fastest. And that, ladies and gents, is the hallmark of a truly great hot hatch. It got under everyone’s skin, and compelled everyone and anyone perched in its driver’s chair to drive like a (much older) Kalle Rovanpera.
It’s not the only hot hatch to do this, but precious few lap up the treatment like the Toyota or do so in a way that seems so unthreatening even when you’re on the door handles. This is how we’d like to remember all the four-wheel drive homologation specials - especially as they represent so much of what we like about performance cars in the first place.
That the GR owns such a tangible like to that recent past is part of what makes it so special. The doors feel light enough to blow off their hinges, the dials are basic enough to have come from a kid’s toy (ditto the plastic trim does) but everything mechanical feels built for decades of mischief. The clutch and shifter are resilient yet satisfying, there’s proper brake pedal feel, that little turbo triple won’t stop revving - and honestly to drive something so small, yet endowed with so much substance is a real tonic.
Moreover, it remains baffling how a car of this size can summon so much purchase and stability, the Yaris seemingly unperturbed by any choice of braking point or turn in speed. It grips and goes and thrums its merry tune along a wonderful British B road with such glee that it’s hard not to be swept up in the silliness of it all. This is nothing like a Yaris and not much, really, like a super-talented small hot hatch. It is a right old giggle. The fact that the GR is still available brand-new only seals its reputation as a modern great.
There was a concern that perhaps the M5 might struggle to acquit itself in Wales, being the elder statesman of the group and weighing hundreds of kilos more than anything else. But we needn’t have worried. As it has done for the past 25 years, the E39 handled everything thrown at it with aplomb, and emerged from the examination with many new fans - and some teary-eyed old ones, too.
It’ll never scythe through bends like an Elise or snap and crackle like the Yaris, but it is still supremely capable and wildly loveable. Its cohesiveness, even now, is something to behold. It is so much more than just the third M5, and must have felt like the second coming for the supersaloon in the late ‘90s. Don’t believe us? Just look at what a contemporary XJR or E55 is available for compared to one of these.
Perhaps the steering isn’t world-beating, and BMW M brakes have come on some way, but to nitpick about age-related issues is to miss the point. Every aspect is in perfect harmony with each other: power and torque nicely matched with gear ratios and traction, size and grip ideal for British roads, suspension tuning complemented faultlessly by wheel and tyre size for one of the sweetest ride-handling compromises you’ll find anywhere. There’s simply not a situation where you’d want to change anything fundamental, despite nothing more than a Sport mode in sight. A sure sign of inherent brilliance.
Not every car was driven the whole way there and back for the shoot, but the M5 was - and after 600 miles it’s no exaggeration to say every one of them was a pleasure. Whether scouting out photo locations four-up like budget baddies in a Guy Ritchie film or charging between roundabouts on the A5, it felt like the car to be in. And that’s the way it’s been since 1998.
It could easily be argued that the 620R was not the ideal derivative to represent the mighty Caterham Seven in this fight. It felt pretty out-there on an actual race track, so you can imagine how immoderately unhinged it felt on a lumpy B road - it wasn’t so much going in fast forward as time travel, suddenly arriving in one place much further from where you started in scant time. The 620R obviously isn’t a superbike, but to have so much performance in such a tiny package makes it hard to compare to any other experience on four wheels. There are other stripes of Caterham that make it much easier to get your mind around them.
But here’s the thing: because a Seven floods its driver with so much feedback, the initial shock and awe does eventually subside. The 620R is never less than shockingly fast, but there comes a point where you start to get a real grip on its potential. And when you feel confident enough to exploit it, that’s when you realise you’ve got something special.
In a sane person, that fear never entirely subsides (because there always seems to be more throttle travel to go), but there is no car better than Seven for helping you to learn what you - and it - are actually capable of. It does everything we know and love about front-engined, rear-drive cars, only at twice the speed and half the height. Most people will spend years learning to get the most from the supercharged Seven experience. And loving every bit of it.
Oh sure, the sequential ‘box can be a pain in the bum (or hand, rather). But even after all this time, driving for driving’s sake is never quite as exhilarating as in this Seven. As it always did, what it lacks in comfort and convenience, it more than compensates with raw, unadulterated thrills. We were overjoyed to see the Seven in the top five given the width and breadth of the surrounding track car talent - it more than lived up to expectations.
Truthfully, there aren’t many situations where a Carrera GT won’t stand out, but rolled out of its transporter in the middle of Wales (thanks again, Lucas!) the Porsche looked like a supermodel at the school prom. Even in the company of four other brilliant cars, everyone was drawn to it courtesy of its reputation. And rarity. The numbers are irresistible, too: more than three times the cylinder count of the Toyota, even more swept capacity than the mighty BMW, a four-fold increase in power against the Elise. The Carrera GT is on another planet - just as the best supercar since 1998 should be.
Of course, had the vote gone differently, there could have been cars closer in terms of performance and cost. A 458 Speciale might’ve been declared the best track car and the best saloon might’ve been an M5 CS, and so on. But such is the almost mythical status of the CGT there is a fair chance it might have outshone just about anything else anyway.
There was nothing like it before and there’s been nothing like it since. Think about it - any later and it surely would have been automatic, any earlier and the technical ingenuity used in its construction might not have been there - carbon tub, ceramic brakes - and those are crucial for it feeling so sensationally good 20 years on. If we’re going to consider the last 25 years a truly great time for fast cars, where tradition and tech coalesce in near perfect blend, then the Carrera GT could justly be called the era’s zenith.
So, of course, it was to die for good on the road. Especially a road with space to play and nobody to disturb. This V10 could have powered a Cayenne and it would’ve made for something unforgettable; similarly, the plainest four-cylinder in the world could be in the middle of the CGT and it would be a driver’s car of the highest order. Together they add up to something like pure bliss. Which is exactly what the best supercar since 1998 should feel like.
Which brings us neatly to the main event. We hope it’s a fitting celebration for five fantastic fast cars and a big birthday for the greatest car community around; the occasion merited nothing less. Sincerely, enjoy...
As well as announcing the best car of the last 25 years, we've also today launched our brand-new auction platform - check it out here!
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