Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the definitive list (in no particular order). Without further ado, here ‘tis:
2005 Acura NSX – The car that forced Ferrari to raise their game, also known as Ayrton Senna’s car (legend has it he forced Honda back to the drawing board when he test drove the car during the late stages of development). The car employed a lot of trickle down technologies from racing and were firsts for road cars (e.g, all aluminum construction, variable valve timing , 4 channel abs). More importantly it was brilliant to drive. Never had a road car had such precision and drivability, even at the limit it gave the driver lots of confidence to push. Sure the new NSX is much more powerful (literally almost 2x the power) and faster all around, but is largely missing the point. The 05 engages the driver in a way few other cars ever do. Price brand new in 2005 – $90k, price today for a good one – $140k.
2004 Corvette Z06 – For several years this was the high water mark for american sports cars… actually the high water mark for sports cars period. With its near perfect balance, low weight, sodium filled valves to the titanium exhaust and carbon fibre hood it was one of the most advanced cars on the road. All that translated into a car that was engaging to drive. The newer Z06 with 650 HP is certainly quicker in all aspects, but…it’s missing the point. Poised, predictable and with lots of grip, drivers of all calibres felt immediately comfortable with the car, there is no higher praise. Price brand new in 2004 – $50k, price today for a good one – $44k.
1998 Mclaren F1 – What hasn’t already been said about this car. Uncompromised, fastest car in the world for 10 years, one of the fastest cars in the world even today. A car that was one man’s vision ( that man also happened to be the chief aerodynamicist at the F1 world championship winning team of Mclaren with, yes you guessed it, Ayrton Senna as the racing driver winning multiple championships). 1st production road car to ever fully use carbon fiber in its build. With a 641hp V12, no power steering, no ABS and a curb weight about 450lbs lighter than a new civic coupe you start to see why this thing was a such a great driver’s car. Demanded (and rewarded in equal measure) the absolute best from whoever was driving it. At 0-60 in 3.4 secs it is very quick even by today’s standards, Elon Musk very accurately tweeted that his Tesla P100D is quicker to 60, but he’s missing the point. Price brand new in 1998 – $900k, price today for a good one – $18 million.
2019 Porsche GT3 6 speed manual– Sure the 7 speed dual clutch pdk (basically an automatic) is faster in a straight line but you would be missing the point, that point being further elaborated in subsequent paragraphs below. Porsche actually only made a pdk model initially, folks screamed bloody murder, hence the manual was made. With 500hp and a 9,000 rpm red line this is one of the last greatest naturally aspirated engines to ever be made. Low weight, precise steering and a beautiful composure all combine to give a driving experience rivaled by few.
2019 Corvette Grand Sport, 7 speed manual – Sure the 8 speed automatic is faster in a straight line but, again, you would be missing the point. With a low weight and a perfect 50:50 front midship balance, this is the classic definition of what a
sports car should be. Even the lightweight poster child of balance (of course i am referring to the mx-5 miata) has a 53:47 weight distribution, same for the 370z and the Z06 mentioned above. What of the mighty BMW M4 you ask? 52.3:47.7. Had Corvette engineers stopped at 50:50 it would already be one of the best cars in the world, but they didn’t… they went in for the kill, biggest stickiest tires all around, biggest most advanced braking all around, magnetorheological suspensions, carbon fiber hood, roof and an aluminium frame all came together to make the car > the sum of its parts. Some even say the 7 speed manual is a bridge too far, to which i say …perhaps, however that bridge is in the right direction. Brilliant.
The Point – It’s hard to explain, but i’ll try… a great car is more than just outright speed and outrageous specs, the whole package needs to come together in a cohesive almost organic car that communicates with the driver to establish trust, confidence and rewards the driver’s efforts and skills in equal measure. Not unlike an athlete being in “the zone”. A certain…je ne sais quoi. For example you get into a Mclaren P1 with its 900+ HP, drive off and, using your best efforts, set a lap time at Laguna Seca of say 1:34.50. Sure that lap time would be quicker than what you could accomplish in any of the cars above but, you get out of the car after the lap with white knuckles, cold sweat and thanking God you are still alive and, more importantly, you are not sure you want to go back and try again for a faster lap time, then you begin to understand the point.
I read a book once about mindfulness and athletic performance, and remember a quote from it “May all living things achieve excellence with grace and ease”. Each of the cars on this list embodies that quote more than any other car ever produced to date.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2 where we rank the aforementioned cars from great to greatest and establish (1) a ranking system and (2) the start of the greatest car index.