The world’s best driving road. Every motoring website, magazine and television show claims to have come up with the definitive list. I’ve done it myself for a feature at GoCompare.com, where I declared a section of road in Wales to be better than anywhere else.
Truth be told, I’d actually rather go to the second best choice, Susten Pass in Switzerland. This is a glorious stretch of tarmac running across the Alps, starting with a hairpin climb before stretching out in to a gloriously flowing sequence of bends slicing between mountain peaks, glaciers, tunnels and cliff edges.
It’s all based on gut feel. I drive a lot of cars over a lot of roads, and get a sense of what works best. You’ll do exactly the same, knowing that the cross-country route home engages you more than the faster and easier motorway run.
It’s all opinion, and we’ve all got different ideas of what constitutes ‘best’. Fortunately Avis has come along and applied science to the selection.
“There are four key phases of a drive,” explains Avis’ friendly physicist Dr Mark Hadley. “Bends, acceleration, cruising and braking, to be precise.
“A great driving road strikes just the right balance between the phases so you get the exhilaration of speed and acceleration, whilst corners test your driving capabilities and long stretches allow you to enjoy the scenery.”
Dr Hadley devised a formula, one far too complex to try to explain here, that promises to put a number to each road. The result is the Avis Driving Ratio, with the golden ratio being 10:1. Oversimplifying it all, the best roads offer 10 seconds of power to one second of corner, but if you want to find out more of the science behind it all head over here.
I was keen to put the formula to the test, so Avis loaned me a new Jaguar XE 3.0 S from their Prestige collection and pointed me towards the A535 from Holmes Chapel to Alderley Edge.
This ten-mile section of road leaves the picturesque Holmes Chapel before heading off north-east in to the Cheshire countryside. Twisty and undulating, the 19 bends spread out to leave a mile-long straight, allowing you to relax as you take in the sights – most notably Jodrell Bank’s 90-metre tall telescope.
The result is an ADR of 8.5:1, pretty close to that perfect 10, making it the best driving road in the UK. According to Avis, at least.
Heading out on the road, I unleash 335bhp of supercharged Jaguar, ready to revel in the heady sensory overload of a great driver’s car and a great driver’s road. The speedo starts moving, from standstill to 10, 20, 30, and then, er, back down to 20. And then I stopped.
Traffic. The curse of a good road. A low-speed run at least allows me to get a feel for the Jaguar. Stylish on the outside, the interior is unmistakably a Jag. The gear selector rises from the centre console, the infotainment system sits high up, and the leather clad interior is both cosseting yet compact. Not small, just tight and cosy, making you feel almost part of the car.
I spent the afternoon crisscrossing between Holmes Chapel and Alderley Edge, learning the road, taking in its nuances, its quirks. The surface changes; the grip levels; the mud-spattered section by a farm; they all add up to create the whole.
Late in the afternoon the road clears and I get one uninterrupted run. It’s finally time to put the scientists to the test.
They’re left wanting. Fifty limits. Thirty limits. Traffic lights. Even a roundabout. There’s never a chance to find a rhythm, no opportunity to unleash more than a fraction of the power available in the XE, and not a chance to put the Dunlop tyres to the test.
The A535 is undoubtedly a pleasant road, but a driver’s road? Not a chance. Countless back roads offer a greater challenge and more opportunities to explore the dynamics of a car and your own abilities, all in relative safety. The A535 just has a big dish nearby, with little else to offer.
It’s not a patch on that section of road in Wales I mentioned, and nowhere near as engaging, testing or visceral as Susten Pass.
This time it’s one point to the drivers, zero to science.