Best performance car: New Car Awards 2014

The McLaren 650S is the 2014 Auto Express Performance Car of the Year, with the BMW M4 and Porsche 911 GT3 commended

It’s taken a while, but McLaren’s junior supercar has matured into one of the most thrilling driving machines on the planet. Blisteringly fast and boasting acrobatic handling, a thundering soundtrack and jaw-dropping looks, the brilliant Brit ticks all the supercar boxes.

Yet unlike its 12C predecessor, the McLaren 650S also tugs at your heartstrings just as a true thoroughbred exotic supercar should. From the moment you open the ‘swan-wing’ door, climb over the wide carbon fibre sill and lower yourself behind the wheel, you know you’re in something special. The low, straight-legged driving position is pure racing car, yet the beautiful mix of carbon, aluminium and leather trims helps give the cabin a really luxurious feel.

Best used sports cars

At the heart of the McLaren is an uprated twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6 engine that pushes out a staggering 641bhp and muscular 678Nm of torque. Performance is simply sensational, with the 650S demolishing the 0-62mph sprint in only 3.0 seconds and smashing through to 100mph in 5.7 seconds – times that eclipse McLaren’s legendary, multi-million-pound F1 supercar from the nineties. The impression of speed is enhanced by the seven-ratio twin-clutch box, which rips through the gears as fast as you can pull on the gorgeous metal steering wheel paddles.

Yet despite the McLaren’s monumental performance, it never feels intimidating to drive. Visibility is excellent, the major controls are effortless and the stopping power from the standard carbon ceramic brakes is stupendous. Better still, tweaks to the suspension mean it’s more involving to drive than ever, and every blast down a twisting back road will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Plus, there’s so much grip that you’ll run out of bravery long before the 650S starts to slide wide.

The McLaren’s party trick, however, is its ability to turn into a relaxing long-distance cruiser at the flick of a switch. With the dampers in their softest setting, the 650S soaks up bumps with uncanny smoothness, while road and wind noise are surprisingly well suppressed. And for drivers who love wind-in-the-hair thrills, there’s even a drop-top Spider. In fact, no other supercar delivers such a broad range of talents.

Sure, it’s not cheap, but the best things in life rarely are.

Commended performance cars

BMW M4

BMW M4 front cornering

The old M3 Coupe was a legend, so the BMW M4 had some big boots to fill. Happily, the newcomer delivers – big time. The all-new straight-six is a masterpiece, combining scorching pace with a bombastic soundtrack, while the agile handling is sports car sharp. Better still, you can bring three friends along for the fun.

Porsche 911 GT3

Porsche 911 GT3 front

When it comes to raw, undiluted driving thrills, the 911 GT3 stands way above the competition. With its wailing flat-six, laser-guided handling and stripped-out cabin, it’s essentially a racing car for the road. You’ll need commitment to live with it on a daily basis, but the rewards are worth the small sacrifices in practicality.

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