A two-day spin in a trio of personal favourite cars; what better way to celebrate the broad, varied and exciting range of models manufacturers have launched over the past 12 months? Our three testers selected their favourite individual machines and drove them from one end of Wales to the other – just because they could.
The cars of choice were a VW Golf GTI Clubsport S, McLaren 570GT and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate. One of these – the limited-edition, 306bhp Golf – was better equipped than the others to deal with the torrential rain that happened to coincide with much of the test. That was mainly thanks to its front-driven chassis and Pirelli P Zero tyres that had temporarily replaced its usual track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
The rubber’s interaction with the road defines what is so extraordinarily good about the car. Its front end is so finely fettled that despite being the most powerful Golf GTI yet, it deploys its 2.0-litre turbo’s power with virtually no torque steer. This hotter-than-hot hatch remains assuredly brilliant when driven hard – especially in full-on ‘Nordschleife’ state of tune – yet is still captivating, calm and crisp during day-to-day driving. Of course, its real trump card is that despite jettisoning its rear seat and spare tyre during its weight-loss programme, it retains so much innate Golf-ness. It’s a useable, comfortable and refined hatchback, but one that just happens to feature a rocket motor.
On to the McLaren 570GT – which proves nowhere near as exhausting to drive for 12-hour stretches over two consecutive days as you might expect. Its multi-adjustable driving position is superbly judged, the heated, electrically moveable seats innately welcoming.
The model’s GT moniker comes into its own over our Welsh route’s single-track, uneven roads and hardly accessible shoot locations, aided in part by a standard-fit nose-lifter, while at a trot the exhaust is quieter than the 570S’s. The McLaren is hardly discreet, agreed, but its presence seems amazingly subtle compared with some supercars’ – if not lined up next to with its hatchback and estate counterparts here.
The 570GT’s chassis set-up is 15% softer than that of the 570S, and the steering slightly slower, ensuring lovely, smooth progress and brilliant body composure over even these poor surfaces. Wales may not be the McLaren’s natural proving ground, but terrific steering and brakes plus an engaging drivetrain are the icing on the cake.
Finally, the Mercedes E350d Estate. This solid, sophisticated mile-muncher never once loses sight of its inherent versatility, and consumes storm-ravaged country roads with reassuring ease. Its very ‘boring’ nature pays dividends when the going gets tough – and when the other contenders have run out of space in which to store overnight bags, camera equipment and essential road-test supplies.
The E350 d would make a superb family car, thanks to its unusual and beautifully enveloping blend of luxury, richness and comfort. Its performance, handling and grip are far from shamed by those of its 300bhp hot hatch and 570bhp supercar rivals here, even if it approaches its dynamic limits more quickly. With its comfortable seats, 600-mile fuel tank and radar cruise control, it’s the undisputed long-distance champ of the trio.