The sun is shining, the roads ahead are an inviting blend of sweeping curves and fine Cotswold scenery, and you've just been handed the key to one of the fastest and most exclusive motor cars money can buy. Five more supercars – each with its own individual character and appeal – are lined up for you to drive during the course of the day. Driving doesn't get much better than this.
The 'Six Supercar Day' is run by supercar hire specialist dreamcarhire.com, which operates a fleet of more 40 luxury cars and supercars from its Oxfordshire base. The day offers a rare opportunity to compare some of the most exciting cars available today, ideal for informing a purchase decision or helping you to choose a car to hire for a longer period. Or you can treat the day as an end in itself – perhaps the focus of a superb corporate occasion, or just the perfect high-speed day out for the well-heeled petrolhead.
My day with the dreamcarhire.com fleet promises the best British, Italian and German supercars but begins with a badge that lacks the pulse-quickening cachet of Ferrari or Lamborghini. What the Nissan GT-R lacks in prestige it more than makes up for with blistering pace. The front-mounted twin-turbo V6 engine generates 485bhp, which is enough to make this one of the fastest of a very fast group. Automatic transmission and sure-footed four-wheel drive make that performance eminently usable. What the GT-R lacks is refinement: at speed the interior noise level is high, and you can hear every clunk and whine from the rear-mounted gearbox.
Aston Martin's V12 Vantage has more cylinders, and that means greater smoothness and a far more intoxicating soundtrack. The Vantage is Aston's smallest car and the 6.0-litre V12 is currently its biggest engine, a combination which delivers breathtaking acceleration and a top speed of 190mph – with instant response at almost any speed, in almost any gear. The big non-turbo engine shows it's a more traditional machine than the Nissan, and the effect is heightened by the conventional manual transmission, rear-wheel drive and hand-crafted leather interior. The Aston pulls off the clever trick of always feeling special, even when ambling through a town or waiting in a traffic queue.
Sit behind a steering wheel bearing Ferrari's cavallino rampante – the prancing horse – and you know you are in for a special ride. In this case the famous shield is attached to an old Maranello favourite, the F430. Thanks to its F1 automatic gearbox the Ferrari trickles through urban traffic without complaint, but it's easy to see that this machine is at its best in a very different environment. The simple interior and the oversized yellow rev-counter dominating the instrument panel show the Ferrari means business, and when the roads open out, it delivers. The lethargic low-rev response sharpens as the revs rise, and the flat engine note hardens into a metallic howl. Despite its much smaller engine it will out-run the Aston, but only if you drive it the way its maker intended – hard.
Over lunch, laid on at a wonderful Cotswold inn, there's time to savour the first three cars of the day and look forward to an afternoon which includes a Lamborghini and a Porsche. But first, a new kid on the supercar block: Audi.
The German premium car maker owns Lamborghini, so it's no surprise that its mid-engined R8 supercar has similarities under the skin to the Italian machines. The R8 lined up for us to drive next even has Lamborghini's V10 engine, albeit detuned to 'only' 525bhp. That gives it genuine supercar pace – it's a fraction quicker from rest to 62mph (100km/h) than the Ferrari – and multi-cylinder sound effects at the top of the rev-range. But the Audi doesn't quite hit the spot for me: the two-stage throttle pedal weighting is irksome, and the R-tronic gearbox slow-witted. Will the Lamborghini, so similar under the skin, be any more appealing?
With its folding hardtop stowed the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder LP560-4 e-Gear certainly promises a very different driving experience to the urbane Audi. Around town it's easier to drive smoothly thanks to its linear throttle weighting and nimble automatic transmission, but once you get the chance to explore the upper half of the rev-counter the Lamborghini shows its mettle. In Sport mode, selected using a button on the centre console, the V10 unleashes a guttural roar that is sharper than the Ferrari's V8, less musical than the Aston's V12, but every bit as exciting. It's one of the most involving cars of this group, if not the fastest.
That honour falls to the sixth car of the day, the latest version of Porsche's 911 Turbo. It's a car anyone could drive every day, without cursing a heavy clutch, hairspring throttle response or stiff ride, but it has a dual personality: tread harder on the accelerator and the 911 comes alive. The PDK twin-clutch transmission instantly selects a lower gear and the rear-mounted 500bhp flat-six engine launches the car at the horizon with jaw-dropping ferocity. This is a car that redefines your perception of speed: the Porsche's prodigious acceleration opens up overtaking opportunities that simply do not exist in lesser cars.
For me, the cool efficiency and astonishing speed of the Porsche win the day. If I had to live with just one of these cars, the 911 would be the one. But I know that I would miss the superior soundtrack of the Aston and Lamborghini, and that sometimes I would wonder if I had been wise buying a car that was barely quicker than the Nissan but almost double the price. If choosing between these cars is too difficult, one solution is to hire rather than buy – which is where dreamcarhire.com comes in. Regular hirers can join the company's 'black&white' club to take advantage of discounted rates, while premium membership, available to only 50 members each year, provides free access to the fleet. That allows you to choose your supercar to suit the mood of the moment – and it doesn't get much better than that.