Gone is the standard car’s frustrating body roll, this uprated version being tauter, flatter and better controlled. The steering is sharp around the straight-ahead, though, making it flighty and nervous. My biggest reservation, however, is the amount of grip the car has. On Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres it grips like chewing gum to hair, so you carry more and more speed along a road as if you’re trying to escape from something. It’s too much even for the circuit. Yes, the car has massive turn-in bite, but when you have to take enormous liberties just to awaken the car’s rear-wheel-drive balance, you can’t help but wonder what the point is. The MX-5 is actually the least playful car of the four, although you could quickly fix that by changing the tyres.
Lane thought more highly of it: “What limits its appeal on the road – the firmness and constant jostling, the twitchy steering off-centre, endless grip – works in its favour on track. You can really drive it at the limit on circuit. With a better driving position and fractionally less sticky tyres it would have been my winner.”
Throughout BBADC one car quietly went about its business like a sensei, studious and unassuming, gradually winning us all over with its mature and undemanding manner. To a man we preferred this lower-powered version of the Hyundai i30N to the more highly strung Performance Pack model. On the road it has a plush and pliant ride quality that evades the more powerful model and it is easily the most absorbent over bumps of our final four. The steering is sweeter and more natural, too, and with no limited-slip differential it isn’t so fighty on rutted, craggy surfaces.
The i30N is good on track, too, and happy to be driven any way you wish. This is a car that’s comfortable in its own bodywork. “It’s very different to the other cars here,” said Lane. “It has a weightier, GT-type feel. You guide it through direction changes in a way you don’t with more pointy hatches.”
Saunders concurred: “It’s so much better than the Performance Pack model. Few cars could be backed into Blyton’s quicker corners with more confidence. It could perhaps have done with a more zingy top-end power delivery, though.”
These, then, are the four best real-world performance cars to have emerged during the past 12 months. Everyone is a winner in our eyes, although we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t determine the champion of champions.
Each of our judges had 10 points to award across the four cars, and the car that earned the most points would be crowned Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car.
I could split the group down the middle: two cars I quite liked, two I adored. The Hyundai and the Mazda earned two points apiece from me while the Ford and Renault took three apiece. That made the Fiesta ST and Mégane RS 280 my joint winners, the former because of its endlessly enjoyable on-road dynamics and unrivalled value for money, the latter because it is the only car in this test that I really loved driving on track.