Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars 2015-2016

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars

To be more than just a tool, a car must make your spine tingle, your eyes pop and your heart race. Below, Clarkson reveals his top 10 drives of the past year (or so)

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Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars 2015-2016

MY COLLEAGUE James May calls it “the fizz”. He says that when he is driving a really good car, its excellence manifests itself with a fizzing sensation in the root of his manhood. I have not experienced this myself, and it’s likely you haven’t either. But I sort of know what he means.

When you drive a Ferrari 488 GTB round a corner on a racetrack, it doesn’t feel like a tool that you’re operating. Or even a comfy, well-fitting glove. It feels like an extension of your very self.

It’s said that a blindfolded human being, sitting in pitch darkness, can sense the moment when a lion enters the room. He can’t see or smell or hear it but somehow he knows it’s there. Well, that’s the connection you get when you’re driving a Ferrari 488. You don’t know how you know when the front tyres are about to start sliding but you know nevertheless.


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And then you know what to do to solve the problem. It’s instinctive. And then you’re sweeping through the corner, on the raggedy edge, and it’s a rush. James May feels that in his underpants. I feel it at the back of my neck. Sometimes a Ferrari can make me shiver involuntarily.

Of course you would expect this from Ferrari. Because the company’s engineers are like the best chefs. They use the same ingredients as everyone else but somehow they are able to make those ingredients work in perfect harmony.

Here’s the funny thing, though. If you put me in Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen and gave me the same produce and the same tools that he uses to make his chicken liver pâté, the chances are that I’d make a terrible mess of it and everyone in the restaurant would be sick. But. It is statistically possible, if all the stars were aligned, that I’d do just as good a job as him.

“If a car doesn’t make you excited every time you climb inside, then it’s just a tool. And if it’s just a tool, you may as well use the bus”

You have eyes. You have hands. So it is possible that you could paint a masterpiece to rival anything by JMW Turner, or create a sculpture that was better than any of Henry Moore’s efforts.

Which brings me on to the Ford Fiesta ST. Ford’s engineers cannot have known when they bought in the suspension components and the braking system and the tyres from outside suppliers that the end product would be anything other than normal. But somehow, when they put them all together, the end result was spectacular.

We see the same thing with the BMW M2. Even when you’re turning left at a busy junction in a town centre, you know that you’re at the wheel of something that is way, way better than the sum of its parts; something that would cause James May’s genital root to vibrate so alarmingly that his whole sausage might fall off.

When you look at a building and think, “That’s pretty”, an architect can use maths to explain why. It’s all to do with proportions. But no one can explain why some cars work and some don’t. Fords and Volkswagens use the same layout and the same basic components from the same suppliers, so why is the Fiesta ST better than the Volkswagen Polo GTI?

That’s like trying to explain why, when humans are all made of the same basic ingredients, you can end up with Nelson Mandela or Adolf Hitler.

I could not buy a car that did not have this innate goodness. That didn’t cause the shiver. Unless, of course, it was extremely good-looking. Again, this is a human trait. What Leonardo DiCaprio needs is a good woman with child-bearing hips who will take care of him. But what he chooses instead is an endless succession of stick-thin underwear models.


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Which brings me to the Lamborghini Aventador. This is a car that doesn’t feel like an extension of your very self. It feels like a big, excitable dog, endlessly tugging at its lead. Its brakes are not good and the only way you know you’ve exceeded its limits of adhesion is when you crash into a tree.

And yet it is such a spectacular thing to behold that you will forgive it anything. I have a similar issue with the Jaguar F-type. It has a horrid interior and not much tech to swoon about, but ooh, it’s a looker.

But this is the point. A car must have something to elevate it from the norm. It may be speed, or cleverness, or the fizz, or styling to die for. But there must be something. Something that makes you excited every time you climb inside. Because if it doesn’t, then it’s just a tool. And if it’s just a tool, you may as well use the bus.

 

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars 2015/16

 

Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Recaro

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Mazda MX-5

Gravity didn’t come from a meeting. Neither did the Spitfire. But most cars today come from meetings, and as a result they’re almost all yawn-mobiles. Not so the Mazda MX-5.

The old model has been the world’s bestselling sports car for about 25 years, thanks to its combination of low price, ease of use and a smile-a-minute factor that’s up there alongside a game of naked Twister with Scarlett Johansson and Cameron Diaz.

The new one is better than ever. Because it’s so organic and raw and simple, it feels how a sports car should. It sings and fizzes and jumps about. It always feels eager and sprightly, and that makes you feel eager and sprightly too.

It’s a cure for depression, this car, it really is. You just can’t be in a bad mood when you’re driving it.

  • Full review The attack bunny has hearts thumping
  • Price at the time £24,295 (May 2016)
  • Engine / Power 1998cc, 4 cylinders, petrol / 158bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 7.3sec / 133mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★★
  • Clarkson’s verdict Blows the blues away

 

Alfa Romeo 4C coupé

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe

I’ve never driven any mainstream road car that generated quite such an outpouring of affection as the Alfa Romeo 4C. Not ever. It was like I was whizzing about in a reincarnated blend of Gandhi and Diana, Princess of Wales. The reason people like it is simple: it’s sporty and interesting and different but it’s not even slightly threatening. Think of it as a Ferrari puppy.

Sadly, however, there are a few issues with the actual car. There is almost no rear visibility. There’s a draught from the bottom of the doors. And then there’s the noise. After driving on the M1, I think my ears were actually bleeding.

It’s a terrible car. And yet I adored it. Every other vehicle, with its perfect refinement and its perfect electrics, cannot help but feel like a machine. Whereas the Alfa, with its flaws and its tendency to go where it wants, feels human.

  • Full review Be gone, crazy creature. The ecstasy I feel is not enough
  • Price at the time £52,505 (June 2015)
  • Engine / Power 1742cc, 4 cylinders, turbocharged / 237bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 4.5sec / 160mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★★★ (or ★★☆☆☆, objectively)
  • Clarkson’s verdict The Ferrari puppy needs training

 

Mercedes-AMG GT S

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Mercedes-AMG GT S

The SLS AMG was a stupid car for stupid show-offs, which probably explains why I liked it so much. Anyway, the latest GT sits on the same basic chassis as the SLS but costs, for reasons that are not entirely clear, almost £50,000 less. Sure, you don’t get gullwing doors — which is a good thing — and you don’t get the old 6.2-litre V8. But that’s not the end of the world either, because what you do get is a wondrous 4-litre dry-sump V8 twin turbo.

The GT S version weighs just over 1½ tons, which is light for a car of this size, and it feels it — it’s almost unnerving. Because from behind the wheel it seems as if you are sitting at the back of a supertanker. The bonnet is so vast that if it arrives on time, you will be 20 minutes late.

It’s not just long, either. It’s so wide that someone could land a medium-sized helicopter on it and you wouldn’t even notice. I think I know why. This is a modern-day muscle car. It’s Merc’s Mustang. You sense this when you drive it. It feels raw.

Of all the vehicles in this bit of the market, it’d almost certainly be my choice.

  • Full review Cancel the Uber car — I’ll catch a Crazy Horse cab
  • Price at the time £111,495 (April 2015)
  • Engine / Power 3982cc, V8 / 503bhp @ 6250rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 3.8sec / 193mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict The Mercedes Mustang

 

Ford Focus RS

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Ford Focus RS

In the early 1990s I had a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, and that car would go into anyone’s list of all-time greats. It was a working-class hero, a blue-collar bruiser that could mix it with the bluebloods. A Ford that could keep up with, and then overtake, supercars that cost five or six times more.

After the Cossie was dropped, though, Ford rather lost its way. Well, with the new Focus RS, you know after about 100 yards that it has created something very special. Even at James May speeds, on a roundabout in Hounslow, this car feels cleverer than is normal. It feels like a Nissan GT-R.

That’s because it uses one of the most advanced four-wheel-drive systems fitted to any car at any price. The 2.3-litre engine is less amazing, but even so, 345bhp is enough to provide a meaty shove in the back when you accelerate and a growly 40-a-day rumble from under the bonnet.

  • Full review Gary, son of God, v the bean-counters
  • Price at the time £31,000 (May 2016)
  • Engine / Power 2261cc, 4 cylinders, turbocharged, petrol / 345bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 4.7sec / 165mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict The half-price Nissan GT-R

 

Ford Mustang Fastback 5.0 V8 GT

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Ford Mustang GT

Plainly, someone at Ford in Detroit was given an atlas for Christmas, because after 50 years or so of making the Ford Mustang, the company has decided to put the steering wheel on the correct side of the car and to sell it in the hitherto unknown Great Britainland.

Incredibly, this 410bhp, 155mph American icon costs less than I paid for a Volkswagen Golf GTI. It’s billed as a sports car, but that’s like calling the Flying Scotsman a “sports train”. It just isn’t. It’s too heavy.

What it is, is a muscle car. And you sense that in the second yard. This is a machine that wants to turn its tyres into smoke and go round every corner sideways.

You’ve seen the film Bullitt. Well, it’s that.

  • Full review Mixes iron, wood and little boy’s dreams
  • Price at the time £34,995 (March 2016)
  • Engine / Power 4951cc, V8 / 410bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 4.8sec / 155mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict Time to believe the hype

 

 

Volvo XC90 D5  AWD

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Volvo XC90

When the second-generation XC90 was brought round to my gaff, I thought it’s not much of a looker any more. My God, it’s big. Really big.

But the bigness pays dividends on the inside, where you now get a boot and seating for seven adults. Not five adults and a lot of moaning from the teenagers in the very back.

And, ooh, it’s a nice place to sit. The dials, the textures, the air-cooled subwoofer and the design are wonderful. It’s so simple too. There are only eight buttons on the dash — not counting the starter button — because everything is controlled by what isn’t an iPad but sure as hell looks like one.

If you let the driving aids do their thing, it becomes quite relaxing, because the 2-litre engine is far quieter than in the old model, and the ride is pretty good. It’s so soothing, you could nod off. And you’d be fine, because it’d wake you up if anything was wrong.

This car is so good in fact that it’d be ideal for those who find the offerings from Land Rover a bit — how can I put this? — pratty.

  • Full review Sven and Thor’s safety car now comes with insomnia control
  • Price at the time £45,750 (July 2015)
  • Engine / Power 1969cc, 4 cylinders, diesel / 222bhp @ 4250rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 7.8sec / 137mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict Ice-cool child carrie

 

 

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 1.6 CDTi Tech Line

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

I arrived at Bono’s house in France with a red face and sweaty moobs, having arranged to borrow a car. He wasn’t at home so I was greeted by a shabby-looking individual who I thought was the gardener. But he turned out to be John F Kennedy’s nephew. He handed over a key. My head was spinning. Bono. Has. A. Zafira. With. A. Diesel. Engine.

A previous model had a reputation for bursting into flames but as I climbed a mountain what struck me was how brilliant the engine in this Zafira was. Then I went over a bump and didn’t feel a thing. Never have I encountered any car, including the Rolls-Royce Phantom, that’s so good at refusing to transmit road irregularities into the cabin. Which makes it the most comfortable car in the world.

Later, JFK’s nephew told Bono a tramp had borrowed the Zafira. He was surprised: I was meant to have had his BMW 6-series convertible.

  • Full review Merci, Bono, it’s just what I’m looking for
  • Price £22,620 (July 2016)
  • Engine / Power 1598cc, 4 cylinders, turbodiesel / 134bhp @ 3500rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-60mph: 10.4sec / 120mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★★
  • Clarkson’s verdict Shh; it’s a great Vauxhall

 

 

BMW M2

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: BMW M2

I was overtaken by a Porsche 911 GTS that was travelling at about a million. And then, before I’d had a chance to think, “Golly, that was quick”, my world was rocked by an Aston Martin DB9 that tore by at a million and one. It’s been a while since I’ve seen two cars really going for it on the public highway. It’s a hobby I thought had been killed off by speed cameras.

I didn’t join in. Well, not much. But, coming off one roundabout, I may have put my foot down a bit, into the overboost zone of the M2’s turbocharged torque lake, and there’s no getting round the fact that it was faster than both of the way more expensive GT cars.

It’s not just fast in a straight line. It’s also fast through the corners. And not just fast, but a complete delight. It’s so good that in a few bends I was actually dribbling with joy.

I like the M3 before the present model — the one with the V8 — and I adore the current M6 Gran Coupé. And then there was the original, 286bhp M5: the ultimate Q-car. It looked like the sort of box that your chest freezer was delivered in but it went like a spaceship. That’s always been my favourite M car. Until now.

  • Full review The secret sex robot has testers in a fever
  • Price at time £44,070 (May 2016)
  • Engine / Power 2979cc, 6 cylinders, turbo, petrol / 365bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 4.5sec / 155mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict My favourite M car

 

 

Ferrari 488 GTB

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Ferrari 488 GTB

There are those who say that a 488 is not a proper Ferrari because it’s turbocharged. And that turbocharging has no place on such a thoroughbred.

Yes. I get that. But let’s not forget Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari race car was turbocharged or that the best Ferrari of them all — the F40 — used forced induction. And also let’s not forget that thanks to modern engine management systems, you simply don’t know that witchcraft is being used to pump fuel and air into the V8. It doesn’t even sound turbocharged. It sounds like a Ferrari. It sounds baleful. It sounds wonderful.

And, oh my God, it’s lovely to drive. You can potter about with the gearbox in automatic and it’s not uncomfortable or difficult in any way. That is probably Ferrari’s greatest achievement with the 488. To take something so highly  tuned and highly strung and powerful and make it feel like a pussy cat.

It’s so docile that you get the impression it can’t possibly work when you put your foot down. But it just does. I know of no mid-engined car that feels so friendly. So on your side. There’s no understeer at all and there’s no suddenness from the back end, either.

The old 458 was not as good as a McLaren 12C. But this new car puts the prancing horse back on top. As a driving machine, it’s — there’s no other word — perfect.

  • Full review It’s devilishly good at rattling Mr Normal
  • Price at time £183,964 (April 2016)
  • Engine / Power 3902cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol / 661bhp @ 8000rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 3.0sec / 205mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict Devilishly good

 

 

Lamborghini Aventador

Jeremy Clarkson's Star Cars: Lamborghini Aventador

The Aventador is not the best supercar to drive. It feels big and heavy. And if you go for a hot lap of a racetrack, you’d better not think about doing another, because the brakes will fade and then fail.

But who cares? Nobody buys a supercar because they want to get round the Nürburgring in four seconds. Supercars are capable of 200mph, but they’re bought mainly for doing 1% of that speed in Knightsbridge. And when it comes to prowling, nothing looks quite as good as the big Lambo.

Yes, it’s soundly beaten both in a straight line and round a corner by the new hybrid hypercars, but, while they make a range of unusual noises, they can’t compete with the visceral bellow of the T rex that lives under the Aventador’s engine cover.

Given the choice of any supercar, this is the one I’d buy. I admire the McLaren P1. But which would you rather have as a pet: a clever and sophisticated electronic robot? Or a bloody great brontosaurus?

  • Full review Yabba dabba doo! T rex is snarling in evolution’s face
  • Price at time £260,040 (October 2015)
  • Engine / Power 6498cc, V12 / 691bhp @ 8250rpm
  • Acceleration / Top speed 0-62mph: 2.9sec / 217mph
  • Clarkson’s rating ★★★★☆
  • Clarkson’s verdict T rex is alive and kicking

 

Click to read part 2: Jeremy Clarkson’s Stinkers

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