Autocar Magazine - Handling Test- 30 August 2000 issue



This is the 11th year on the trot that we've taken a group of our favourite driver's car to a race circuit to see which ones handle best.  Last year we went to Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire, the two years before that to Silverstone.  But this year we hope you'll forgive us for abandoning Blighty, considering the venue we've chosen.

 Goodyear's extraordinary Mireval proving ground in the south of France is probably the finest of its kind anywhere in the world, consisting of both wet and dry handling circuits, as well as guaranteed sunshine.

 As usual our line-up consists of a broad cross section of our favourite driver's cars from the past 12 months and includes everything from an Audi A2 to a Lamborghini Diablo GT.

 And as ever the results aren't always as predictable as the enormous difference in price and speed might suggest.  This year also marks the first appearance for a diesel-powered car in the form of BMW's extraordinary 330d. 

Our aim?  To establish which out of all these great machines provides the biggest thrill for the committed enthusiast within its own price range.   

To help us reach our conclusion we drove all 18 contenders around the dry handling circuit for a day and a half, measuring lap times and cornering speeds to provide back-up to our subjective impressions.  We then shortlisted our favourites and took them to the wet handling circuit to find an outright winner. 

Lotus 340R

Lap Time :  1min 34.21 Sec

ON THE back of a five-star road test earlier in the summer, the little Lotus promised to be one of the stars of this year's show.  It didn't disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded all expectations.

 Just look at the lap time for evidence of its supreme grip and composure.  Only the deeply crazed Caterham R500 was quicker, and its straight-line  performance advantage means only one thing: that the Lotus was far quicker through the twisty bits.  Take it from us, that's a mind-boggling notion.

 Getting the best from the 340R isn't easy simply because it takes time to adjust to the sheer grip on offer through the corners.  The Yokohama A038 semi-slick tyres are responsible for much of the grip.  And no matter how dramatic it looks the 340R probably produces little more downforce at 100mph than a Boxster.

 Yet the 340R just refuses to understeer through any corner, its nose seemingly nailed to each apex no matter how fast you approach it.  And unlike the Exige it never feels edgy or nervous.  Having said that, the 340R delivered its best when you approached corners braking in a straight line, aiming the nose at the apex and applying the throttle as early as possible.  It didn't so much punish backing off as just give the driver a warning that it wasn't the ideal method.

The brakes were among the best on show: no servo to ruin pedal feel and little inertia to cause fade.  We did have one major grumble, though: the extreme heat soak from the front-mounted radiator.  Even after three laps most testers found it deeply uncomfortable and the centre console got so hot that the driver's left leg was starting to singe.  It may not be a handling issue, but a car intended for track use that grills its occupants after 10 minutes isn't too clever.


Copyright Autocar magazine August 2000  












Wet Handling

Any racing driver will tell you that it often takes a wet track to sort the good from the great when it comes to wheelmanship.  To a certain extent it's exactly the same with road car handling, which is why we headed straight for Mireval's 1.06-mile wet circuit once we'd established a shortlist of favourites in the dry.

In no particular order these were: the Toyota MR2, Subaru Impreza Pl WR, Lotus Exige, Porsehe 911 Turbo, Noble M12 GT and Lotus 340R.  We also took the Diablo, just to see how much of a handful it would be. 

We expected great things from the Lotus pair but they turned out to be surprisingly evil in the wet, the 340R largely because of its virtually treadless tyres, the Exige because it would do little more than understeer dramatically with the odd snap into wild oversteer. ,, The 340R had less basic grip at its disposal than the Exige, its Yokohama tyres either generating grip or skating above the water, with nothing in between.  But at least you had a chance of catching it once it went, usually at the back under power or at the front under brakes.  The grippier Exige was not so friendly, understeering through the slow corners and whipping into difficult-to-catch oversteer through the quicker ones if you came off the throttle.  In the end we put the two cars from Hethel quietly to one side, glad that nothing other than a bit of pride had been dented.


Overall Winner

Porsche 911 (996) Turbo 4



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