The second best

Hear ye, hear ye! Today I will dispense more motoring advice collected from the vast armada of vehicles I have tested over the years. In my humble but considerable experience, the ultimate performance car to buy is always second best – one down from the top model.

You may think I’m mad but I have a few good explanations; plus I don’t give a stuff what you think. While the current collection of turbocharged and sport-ified muscle machines is vying for your attention, what you should do is walk straight past them and choose the next cheapest one.

I’ll get straight to an example. BMW M4? Ja nee, you want a 435i / 440i. M3 Sedan? I suggest a 330d. Chief among my reasons for suggesting this is money. Never mind the huge savings over an M model – which you could use for fuel – think of the less bespoke, less expensive parts. Maintenance. Repairs!

Go on and ask your local Audi stealership how much a set of front brake discs for an RS4 costs. Once you’ve gotten over the smelling salts, try again with pricing for regular A4 3-litre TDi or TFSi rotors. Get my drift yet? And those are just round bits of metal. Try an engine or gearbox.

Next thing is wear and tear. With sometimes half the horsies under the bonnet, a regular car will destroy its tyres, brakes, gears, shafts, rods and thingamajigs far slower than el sporty. Plus, seeing that there’s less performance, noise and other drama to play with, you’re less inclined to cane it.

Another consideration is looks. Subaru’s WRX and STi spring to mind here, with the STi going full retard on the fins and wings. Yes, it’s quite a bit faster and more exciting to drive but, hand on heart, I felt a lot less conspicuous in the WRX. Smaller wings ‘n fins, less punch but still fun.

Have I mentioned fuel consumption yet? An C63 is never getting near the frugal numbers of a C300 yet in daily traffic – you know the stuff – they’ll both be idling through a jam or cruising on a clogged motorway with nowhere to go. And a 63 in the daily grind – trust me – is rather thirsty.

They also tend to be unruly – top performance models usually are. Full throttle starts are just a mess of tyres and/or traction control, often through second or gear as well and you can forget about driving them hard in the rain. Which is probably why some of them come with four-wheel-drive…

Like Volkswagen’s Golf R. It has SO much power that you can actually feel the chassis reaching its limits of grip and refinement as it shudders and shimmies to keep you in a straight line. Yet again, just drop one level to the Golf GTi and get what I described as a beautifully balanced automobile.

Renault’s Megane RB Trophy RS Cup 265 Cup RB? No thanks, the regular RS is plenty fast. Opel’s Astra OPC is a bit deranged as well which is why I would happily buy an Astra GTC. Much less power, far fewer speeding fines, no second-gear torque-steer lane changes and something else…

I’ve left the best (or worst) for last: comfort. Getting half a thousand horsepower onto the road requires fat, low profile tyres and jerky, swivel-eyed gearboxes; firm, snug seats and solid, unforgiving rides. This is cool on a race track. On the way to work, you’ll hate it after a week.

Those ultra-low profile tyres, for instance, cost a bleedin’ fortune and chances are they have to be specially ordered; even in major centres. With any luck, the one step down model will have some generic, readily-available tyre size like 225/45/17. Oh, and possibly even a full size spare wheel.

This is why I recommend that when next to wish to purchase a fast motorcar, go straight to the most expensive (or powerful) one and slide your finger down one notch. Stay away from sports kits and avoid any overpriced extras which you’ll only use twice. You can thank me later.

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