lightning lap 2022
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

From the February/March 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

On our 15th trip to Virginia International Raceway, we set lap times in 21 of the best performance cars of the year. Over three days of hammering tires and brakes on America's most grueling road course, a few records fell, some old scores were settled, and we came to the realization that this in no way resembles work.

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⚡Lightning Lap 2022 ⚡ | The Ultimate Performance Car Test | Car and Driver
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When we invented Lightning Lap in 2006, we wanted to develop a performance test that could not only compare the hottest cars of the year, but also become a yardstick to gauge progress over time.

Inspiration came from the German magazine Sport Auto, which published a monthly "Supertest" that included a lap time at the legendary 12.9-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife. One of the world's most challenging road courses, the 'Ring has some 180 corners and substantial elevation changes. Unfortunately, that track is an ocean away. We needed something closer.

We decided on Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia. At 4.1 miles long in the Grand Course configuration, it's one of the longest tracks in the country. This crucible contains 35 corners and bends (though only 24 numbered corners), several of them wickedly fast, some blind, and all difficult to master.

To create classes, we grouped the cars into five price segments (LL1 to LL5) that we've adjusted over the years for inflation. To make it fair, we chose to run cars the way a customer can buy them. Occasionally, that includes dealer accessories, but any performance extras you'd need to re-create our times are added into what we call the Lightning Lap base price. That first year, we brought 17 cars and four drivers—all four with racing experience—and achieved quick laps without mangling any machinery. We could've used a pro driver, but then we wouldn't be able to provide first-hand experience and dissection of the cars.

This year we spread 21 cars over five drivers—three of whom were on staff in 2006, though not driving in that first year. As always, if there's a vehicle missing from the group, either we've already tested it or the carmaker couldn't supply a car or didn't want to play. Some car­makers like to play, though, and this year there were at least 20 people from car and tire manufacturers replacing tires and making sure their entries were performing at their best.

Clearly, automakers have concluded that Lightning Lap is serious business. While some factory development drivers with thousands of track miles in their cars have occasionally beaten our times, the differences are small, and over the course of 15 runnings, our times have become a benchmark. Which is what we set out to achieve all of those years ago. Csaba Csere, former editor-in-chief

lightning lap class boundaries

The Contenders

subaru brz limited

Subaru BRZ Limited


Base: $31,455
As Tested: $31,455
228 hp • 2842 lb • 12.5 lb/hp

volkswagen golf gti autobahn

Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn


Base: $39,790
As Tested: $40,185
241 hp • 3311 lb • 13.7 lb/hp

toyota gr86 premium

Toyota GR86 Premium


Base: $31,325
As Tested: $31,750
228 hp • 2833 lb • 12.4 lb/hp

acura tlx type s shawd

Acura TLX Type S SH-AWD


Base: $54,945
As Tested: $55,445
355 hp • 4202 lb • 11.8 lb/hp

lexus is500 f sport performance

Lexus IS500 F Sport Performance


Base: $58,525
As Tested: $63,620
472 hp • 3958 lb • 8.4 lb/hp

volkswagen golf r

Volkswagen Golf R


Base: $45,440
As Tested: $45,440
315 hp • 3357 lb • 10.7 lb/hp

bmw m240i xdrive

BMW M240i xDrive


Base: $49,545
As Tested: $57,120
382 hp • 3851 lb • 10.1 lb/hp

bmw x4 m competition

BMW X4 M Competition


Base: $81,395
As Tested: $86,145
503 hp • 4548 lb • 9.0 lb/hp

audi rs q8

Audi RS Q8


Base: $123,695
As Tested: $138,340
591 hp • 5489 lb • 9.3 lb/hp

honda civic type r limited edition

Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition


Base: $45,010
As Tested: $45,010
306 hp • 3084 lb • 10.1 lb/hp

bmw x5 m competition

BMW X5 M Competition


Base: $115,095
As Tested: $126,295
617 hp • 5338 lb • 8.7 lb/hp

bentley continental gt speed

Bentley Continental GT Speed


Base: $280,225
As Tested: $343,890
650 hp • 5050 lb • 7.8 lb/hp

cadillac ct4v blackwing

Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing


Base: $67,515
As Tested: $78,985
472 hp • 3902 lb • 8.3 lb/hp

bmw m3 competition xdrive

BMW M3 Competition xDrive


Base: $89,845
As Tested: $104,595
503 hp • 3917 lb • 7.8 lb/hp

porsche cayenne turbo gt coupe

Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT Coupe


Base: $184,614
As Tested: $201,134
631 hp • 4945 lb • 7.8 lb/hp

ford mustang mach 1

Ford Mustang Mach 1


Base: $60,245
As Tested: $60,740
480 hp • 3811 lb • 7.9 lb/hp

bmw m5 cs



Base: $143,995
As Tested: $148,995
627 hp • 4116 lb • 6.6 lb/hp

cadillac ct5v blackwing

Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing


Base: $101,265
As Tested: $105,665
668 hp • 4132 lb • 6.2 lb/hp

porsche panamera turbo s

Porsche Panamera Turbo S


Base: $181,344
As Tested: $192,054
620 hp • 4714 lb • 7.6 lb/hp

porsche 911 gt3

Porsche 911 GT3


Base: $181,062
As Tested: $188,862
502 hp • 3229 lb • 6.4 lb/hp

mercedes amg gt black series

Mercedes AMG GT Black Series


Base: $327,050
As Tested: $340,820
720 hp • 3632 lb • 5.0 lb/hp

2022 subaru brz limited
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Subaru BRZ Limited

Lap Time: 3:12.4

The playful character that makes the BRZ such fun to drive on the street—its quick-witted responses and willingness to slide its tail—is every bit as present at VIR. It's a heart-racing blast that slip-slides through corners, even if it posts the slowest lap time of the year.

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2022 volkswagen golf gti autobahn
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 VW Golf GTI Autobahn

Lap Time: 3:12.1

The eighth-gen GTI's performance this year reconfirmed what we've known for some time: Its handling is a marvel. Officially, it was 2.5 seconds per lap quicker than the seventh-gen GTI we ran here in 2015. Unofficially, it is even quicker. We'll explain what happened in a minute.

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2022 toyota gr86 premium
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Toyota GR86 Premium

Lap Time: 3:11.8

The Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ are the automotive equivalent of identical twins separated at birth. It's the age-old question of nature versus nurture—they start with the same mechanical DNA, but how did each parent influence their progeny's development?

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2021 acura tlx type s shawd
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2021 Acura TLX Type S SH-AWD

Lap Time: 3:06.7

The TLX starts off strong, hanging on for 1.00 g through Turn 1. But it works its Pirelli P Zero PZ4 tires so hard that they have only one strong lap in them before getting hot and greasy.

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2022 lexus is500 f sport performance
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Lexus IS500 F Sport Performance

Lap Time: 3:04.9

Our initial test of the IS500 exposed a flaw. After six stops from 70 mph and three from 100, the brake pedal felt like we'd stepped into mashed potatoes.

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2022 volkswagen golf r
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Lap Time: 3:04.3

A racetrack doesn't care if a car looks like a decommissioned fighter jet or a box with windows. The only thing that matters at Lightning Lap is how quickly a vehicle can wend its way through the circuit. Golf Rs might be boxy machines with economy-car roots, but they're also imbued with the power and handling to make your fast-driving aspirations a reality, at least most of the time.

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2022 bmw m240i xdrive
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 BMW M240i xDrive

Lap Time: 3:03.0

The M240i didn't really get a fair shot this year. Like every other BMW present, the all-new 2 arrived without extra tires. To avoid prematurely wearing out the rubber, we sent it around the track in anger only four times in two days. The quickest lap came on the third session, and the by-then scrubbed-up tires contributed to a startling amount of turn-in oversteer that robbed some time.

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2022 bmw x4 m competition
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 BMW X4 M Competition

Lap Time: 3:02.9

The aptly named Roller Coaster consists of a 130-foot drop into one of the last corners before the front straight. Smashing over the final chunk of curbing on the left before dipping into the right-hander Hog Pen is usually routine business, but in BMW's roided-out tilt-a-whirl, it's a moment of weightlessness. Siri, play Sinatra's "Come Fly with Me."

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2020 audi rs q8
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2020 Audi RS Q8

Lap Time: 3:02.2

No one gets excited about SUVs at Lightning Lap. They're too heavy, too tall, too big, too powerful for their own good. But there is real joy in seeing an elephant run free and then try to stop, probably.

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2021 honda civic type r limited edition
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition

Lap Time: 3:00.7

We anticipated that the Type R Limited Edition would take back the front-drive lap record from last year's Mini GP by shedding a few pounds and swapping to Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 track rubber. But it delivered a 3.1-second spanking on the Mini, going 3.2 seconds quicker than the previous Type R

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2023 bmw x5 m competition
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2021 BMW X5 M Competition

Lap Time: 3:00.5

BMW used to tout its even front-to-rear weight distribution as one of the magical elements that made its cars handle so well. Jump from the Audi RS Q8 into the X5 M, and you'll be a true believer. The X5 M carries 50.6 percent of its 5338 pounds in front, whereas 56.4 percent of the RS Q8's 5489 pounds sits on the front tires. Instead of steady understeer, the X5 M is playful and works all its tires hard, not just the fronts. The X5 seemingly pivots around an axis in the middle of the car. Depending on where your feet shift the load by braking or accelerating, the X5 rotates in an easy and controllable manner that makes it seem alive and willing.

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2022 bentley continental gt speed
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Bentley Continental GT Speed

Lap Time: 2:56.2

Bentley's most powerful Continental GT may share its platform with the Porsche Panamera, but when you're sawing at its wheel, wringing out the mighty W-12, and ensconced in the rich leather and brushed-aluminum cabin, the experience couldn't be more different.

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2022 cadillac ct4v blackwing
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing

Lap Time: 2:55.6

They say that when you summit a mountain, the journey is only halfway over. Reach the crest of the Climbing Esses and what follows is a blind left-hander with existential repercussions. Overdo it by a mere 0.1 mph and a very bad ending becomes a very real possibility.

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2022 bmw m3 competition xdrive
Car and Driver

2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

Lap Time: 2:53.5

The BMW M3 Competition takes the win over the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing primarily because it can stay with the Cadillac in the lower-speed technical parts of the track and flex its 31-hp advantage on the straights and in the straight sections that lead to the Climbing Esses.

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2022 porsche cayenne turbo gt coupe
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT Coupe

Lap Time: 2:52.6

Here's step one in the Cayenne Turbo GT's recipe for beating the Lamborghini Urus's SUV record: Bake four Pirelli P Zero Corsa PZC4 tires at 180 degrees for two hours. According to Porsche, heat-cycling them in this manner makes them more durable on track.

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2021 ford mustang mach 1
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Lap Time: 2:51.4

The Ford Mustang Mach 1 didn't happen overnight. It's the culmination of years of development to the sixth-gen Stang bundled into a single package. The 2019 Shelby GT350R donates its camber plates. With the front wheels canted like the head of a curious dog, the Mach 1 enjoys precise turn-in and averages a 1.13-g ride through Turn 1.

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2022 bmw m5 cs
Car and Driver

2022 BMW M5 CS

Lap Time: 2:50.3

Without so much as a press release or other announcement, BMW apparently decided it would like the Lightning Lap four-door record back and rolled out a lighter M5 CS. BMW briefly held the record, but then in 2019 was eclipsed by the Mercedes-AMG GT63 S with a 2:49.3 run.

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2022 cadillac ct5v blackwing
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing

Lap Time: 2:49.4

Fast laps come one of two ways: clean or ugly. The 2:49.4 we managed in the CT5-V Blackwing unquestionably falls under the latter classification. On the street, the big Blackwing is an absolute peach—a very fast one, but still juicy and good. But when you put the 4132-pound sedan on a track and right on the limit of its Pilot Sport 4S tires, its mass starts to fight against physics and the controls.

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2021 porsche panamera turbo s
Car and Driver

2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S

Lap Time: 2:47.8

Like the Hulk, the Porsche Panamera Turbo S's Mamba Green hue hints at the rage beneath. But unlike Hulk, the Panamera gets better the angrier you make it. Put it into the curbs, stomp on the brakes at over 150 mph, throw it into corners as hard as you dare, and instead of wreaking havoc, it'll simply drive away with the four-door lap record.

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2022 porsche 911 gt3
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2022 Porsche 911 GT3

Lap Time: 2:40.6

It is easy to characterize this 9000-rpm 4.0-liter flat-six as an automotive master­piece. And while it's true that this engine is just about the best out there, when the GT3 is placed on a road course, it's the chassis that makes the car worthy of hyperbolic praise.

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2021 mercedesamg gt black series
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

2021 Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series

Lap Time: 2:37.0

As the GT Black Series tears down VIR's front straight toward a peak speed of 166.0 mph, all the pit wall hears is the sound of air rushing around the body and the whoosh of the turbochargers. On the inside, however, the Benz V-8 puts out more mechanical noise than a cruise ship's engine room, and there's also the metallic tinks and pops you get in a purpose-built race car. If AMG fitted any sound insulation, it's not working. But that's about the only thing that doesn't work on this car.

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