Sports Car Giant Test 2020: PORSCHE VS LAMBORGHINI VS FERRARI VS MCLAREN
I gave up on sleep long ago. There’s still too much adrenaline coursing through my system, too much of the experience to absorb. Plus my ears are still ringing. These cars are loud. Better to reflect on the day, let the still-burning memories set, and replay events in my mind. It started many hours/a lifetime ago; five of the world’s best driver’s cars slinking into a quiet side road, a nondescript meeting point chosen to avoid instant Instagram infamy via passing smartphones. Slinking? It’s hard to avoid attention in a gold-wheeled Lamborghini, a deepest blue Ferrari, a lurid green Porsche Cayman and a 911 Turbo with arches wider than the Dariйn Gap. And the new McLaren 765LT, a car with the visual drama to make them all recede into the background. Even painted don’t-look-at-me grey.
This is our first meeting with McLaren’s latest Longtail in the wild and on the road. From its louvred front arches to the longer, semi-raised spoiler that justifies its name, it radiates purpose and aggression. It’s the remarkable 720S, weaponised.
Some donor car. And the number of components changed is in the hundreds. New internals, fuelling, oil system and exhausts increase the twin-turbo V8’s power from 710bhp to 755bhp (or 765 metric horsepower – hence the name); ruthless dieting and exotic materials have slashed 80kg from the kerbweight; and clever aero surfacing dices, guides and holds on to airflow to not only increase downforce but, more importantly, ensure it’s usable, balanced downforce. The LT might look evil but McLaren says the goal was to retain controllable and consistent responses; to scare you just the right amount, without turning you to jelly.
The price can do that job for you. The LT starts at Ј280,000, around 30 per cent more than a 720S, but that’s before customers start adding MSO (McLaren Special Operations) options. Few 765LTs will have a price that doesn’t start with a three. Our test car has Ј43,910 worth of carbonfibre trim alone.
Swing the driver’s door skywards and a good chunk of the roof comes away with it, GT40-style, to help you drop into the alcantara-trimmed, carbonfibre-shelled racing seats. And it does feel like a racing car in here, albeit a beautifully finished one. The V8 fires and settles into a gruff burr, lightly vibrating through the seat’s shell more noticeably than is the case in the 720, thanks to its stiffer engine mounts.
It feels like a race car on the move, too. The steering pulls about over the crown of the road and needs a firm grip, just as the brakes need a firm stomp (the monobloc front calipers from the Senna bring a shorter-travel pedal with greater feel than the 720), and the ride is firm – very firm. The 765 uses the same hydraulic anti-roll bar/adaptive damper arrangement as the silky-smooth 720 but sets them up far more aggressively, all but banishing roll. You feel painted lines on the road. Relaxing it ain’t – nor is it intended to be. It’s totally absorbing; like suddenly experiencing a road in colour rather than black and white. And that’s when you’re just pottering around. The powertrain’s sheer ferocity when uncorked…
‘Well, it’s frankly quite terrifying, isn’t it?’ says contributing editor Ben Whitworth, sunglasses failing to hide how wide his eyes are after his first run in the LT. ‘The speed at which the turbos spool up and it deploys all that torque… it’s viciously quick.’ Shorter gearing means that, at full throttle in third gear, the 765LT accelerates 15 per cent faster than a 720S.
In the same way Ferrari has with the F8’s twin-turbo V8, McLaren has played canny with the LT’s torque delivery. It doesn’t give you the whole 590lb ft cake to eat until north of 5500rpm, lending more of a crescendo feel than most large, turbo engines. That’s not to say it does much holding back, though. Later, as the sun dips and the road surface cools, the LT will spin its wheels at the top of third gear. With the traction control on.
Following it on the road is an experience in itself. You’re mesmerised by the suspension and powertrain components visible through the laser-cut mesh rear bodywork, and see the rear tyres catch fresh air at times on bumpier roads at speed, so stiff is the suspension in its firmest Track mode. Yet it doesn’t get thrown off line, and the let’s-not-think-aboutthe- price front splitter never kisses the ground. Like other McLarens the LT’s responses are so consistent that, although by rights you should be intimidated, you can’t help but trust it.
I’m captivated. It’s very much my cup of tea. But it’s a strong one, and maybe an acquired taste. It needs to be driven hard to get the best from, and its limits and performance envelope are so extreme that it requires you to bring your A-game, at all times. Which, like having Lewis Hamilton for your team-mate, can be a stretch. Genetically, it feels like a splice between the 720S and the Senna, which is similarly intense on the road. It’s at the harder end of the hardcore scale than McLaren’s previous 675LT and 600LT models, perhaps because the 720S is already such a mind-meltingly high point to start from. Ben Barry points out that he’d get as much – maybe more – out of a 720S on the same stretch of road as the 765LT, and it’s hard to disagree.
There’s nothing like some context to fully understand a car that pushes so firmly at the farthest reaches of the supercar envelope. The quartet we’ve brought along today can put the 765LT into four-point perspective. Lamborghini’s newly updated, Evo-spec Huracan RWD is a naturallyaspirated contrast to the mega-boost McLaren and made a big impression in June’s 300-mile test. It’s the supercar at its least clinical and most romantic. So is the Ferrari F8 Tributo. This is our first opportunity to fully group test Ferrari’s sublime berlinetta, and although the more focused 488 Pista is the more natural playmate to the McLaren, that’s sold out. The Tributo has also inherited many of the Pista’s finer points, including much of its wondrous engine. Like the McLaren, it’s a turbo V8 with some lightweight, exotic innards and an aversion to lag.
No lag in the naturally-aspirated, 4.0-litre flat-six Porsche Cayman GTS. It might seem a minnow in this company, but it’s our favourite sports car and it walked September’s Giant Test against Alpine’s A110, BMW’s M2 CS and the Lotus Evora. This citrus-green car is a great acid test – can these missiles be as rewarding as the Ј64k Cayman?
But let’s start with the other Porsche, the new 911 Turbo. A high-tech, four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer, four-seat antidote to the pure mid-engined cars here, it’s as rapid as any of them. It can lunge 0-62mph in 2.7sec, quicker even than the LT (even if the McLaren goes 0-124mph a full, absurd, 1.7sec sooner).
There’s a fun game you can play in the 911 Turbo. Extend the throttle to 50 per cent of its travel, hear yourself involuntarily swear at the brutality of its acceleration. Pause, then (assuming you have the space) extend the pedal the other 50 per cent, and feel it leap forward again, even faster. This is a searingly quick car. And yet, to begin with, it leaves us cold.
‘Talk about effortless,’ says guest tester CJ Hubbard. ‘But in this company it doesn’t really feel like a sports car; more a big, friendly, stupidly fast grand tourer.’ Ben Whitworth shares the same sentiments: ‘It just feels like a really serious car; a bit clinical. It puts complete and utter domination of any road, in any conditions, above everything else.’
Gradually, though, the Turbo’s ability to stamp its authority on any surface or radius you care to throw at it begins to entertain as well as impress. Some of its ability is down to active anti-roll control and the rear-steer system, which both Ben Barry and I find takes a little adapting to. Previous 911s have enjoyed four-wheel steering so subtle you forget it’s there. It’s more pronounced here. At first you find yourself taking a bit of lock off as it steers more sharply than you expect, changing lanes like a rugby player side-stepping an opponent on a charge. Then adding a bit, then taking a bit off again, like steering your way around the perimeter of a 50 pence piece. You tune into it eventually, though, at which point you can’t help but be a little bit in awe of the agility it imbues the Turbo with. And a little bit in awe generally. It’s perhaps the greatest achiever of all the cars here, to possess such bandwidth between everyday usability and hypercar-bothering pace. In all weathers. It just needs a bit of soak time.
The Lamborghini couldn’t be more of a contrast. ‘It doesn’t so much fit into your life as take it over,’ says Binnie. Every car on the road wants to drive too close for a better look; every passer-by wants to stop and chat.
In updated Evo form, the Huracan has the dynamic substance to match its style. This new entry-level rear-drive car is down 29bhp and Ј34k on the regular, all-wheel-drive Huracan Evo, and doesn’t get that car’s rear-wheel steering, nor its electronic ‘brain’ to control torque split, suspension and rear wheel angle. That makes the RWD Huracan feel really quite different. The steering is both lighter in weight and slower in response, and it’s also, ironically, less tail-happy since the all-wheel-drive car is programmed to allow a little more playfulness with the stability control on. Switch it off, however, and the RWD can bend well out of shape should you wish, helped by a handling balance that’s inherently safe and stable in most situations. It’s less clever than its pricier sibling, but also purer and more transparent in feel.
‘I’ve tested a few Lambos over the years, and they’ve always delivered on speed and sound. But this one corners well, too,’ says Whitworth, who less charitably describes the Blu Symi paint colour as ‘urinal-cake blue’. Its adaptive damping is the least well calibrated here; comfortable but slightly springy in Strada mode, like stepping out onto a taut trampoline, and concrete-harsh in toughest Corsa mode. The steering, while direct and faithful, is short on feel, too. And where the Porsches put you instantly at ease, the Huracan’s obstructive touchscreen, gigantic rear blind spots and cramped driving position do the opposite.
Hear it and you’re inclined to forgive it everything and more. No car here sounds anything like as emotive as the Huracan’s 5.2-litre V10 at full cry, and its turbo-free throttle response feels micrometer precise. We’d all love to transplant the Huracan’s engine into the McLaren’s chassis, somehow. Despite the 765LT’s new four-in-a-row titanium exhausts, designed to tease out a more evocative timbre in the higher orders of its rev range, it still sounds a little industrial, a little white-noise. Less so from the outside; ‘It sounds like an old F1 car,’ art ed Mal Bailey breathes as Ben Barry charges away in a racing start, unburnt fuel jetting skywards from the exhausts with each blink-swift upshift.
The Ferrari, too, sounds a little flat in this company. The F8’s V8 is a little more muted than the Pista’s. But in its own way it’s just as special as the Lamborghini’s V10. No one disguises turbo lag like Ferrari but, after the Lambo, the F8 feels irrefutably turbocharged. It’s gruff at low revs, and its torque is deployed much earlier than is the case with the Huracan, the needle swinging around the revcounter and turning still-cold rear tyres to Catherine wheels at half-throttle. The on-song urgency in its midrange is frantic yet controllable, and since the Tributo also cribs the Pista’s knows-you-better-than-you-know-yourself intelligent stability control, it’s a 710bhp mid-engined supercar you feel you can powerslide like you’re the science-baffling progeny of Walter Rцhrl and Ken Block, even though the microchips are doing some of the heavy lifting for you.
The F8’s steering is light and immediate, a caffeine shot ahead of the McLaren’s more measured and nuanced set-up, but it’s still feelsome. And despite the 911 Turbo’s GT leanings, the Ferrari is by far the smoothest-riding car here. Maranello must have got its hands on some kind of alien technology from an Italian Area 51, because the way the F8’s dampers deal with the Earth’s surface is not of this planet. Bumps? What bumps? Every ripple in the road passes through the car without upsetting it, and yet you feel entirely in touch with its surface.
Just as you do in the Cayman GTS. And it’s not your fingertips doing the shifting from the steering wheel, but your wrist and shoulder – this is the only car here with a manual gearbox. What’s more, this one’s as sweet as they come. PDK paddleshift is an option; don’t bother. As ever, it’s the just-rightness of the Cayman that hits you as you pull away. So well positioned are its controls and so balanced is its weight distribution, carried so adeptly by the suspension, that within the first mile the GTS has wrapped itself around you like a cocoon. You feel it could have been built to order around your measurements.
When we tested this same car two issues ago, its 4.0-litre flat-six sounded muffled. Either some sound deadening’s come out of the silencers since or it’s just the contrast with the turbo cars here, because the GTS sounds fantastic. Only the Huracan sounds more evocative. It’s just a shame the 718 has such infuriatingly long gearing. Where the best policy when driving swiftly in most cars is to go one gear higher than you think, you invariably find you need to be one lower in the Cayman. After all, it can do more than 80mph in second. ‘It takes something away from the car,’ says CJ. ‘I always feel like I’m in the wrong gear. And since you’re in third most of the time, you’re losing that interaction with it.’
In all other respects, though, interaction is the Cayman’s hallmark. Because it’s so much narrower than the other cars here, it’s easier to place on the road, and less intimidating. And because its limits are lower, you feel more comfortable driving to them. In fact, so transparent and readable is the Cayman in extremis, you swiftly feel like you know it inside-out. That’s both a compliment and, oddly, a criticism; even after the first drive there’s nothing left to learn, no more layers to peel away.
To do so in the McLaren you’d need a circuit. Rear wing eclipsing the rear mirror, turning into an airbrake as the brakes bite, warmed tyres biting hard on turn-in, shoulders leaning into the race seats’ upper mouldings, I realise I’m using my neck muscles, pushing against invisible g-forces; something I’ve rarely experienced in a road car. In contrast to the Cayman, McLaren has shortened the final drive and stacked the gears closer together. You upshift surprisingly frequently for a 755bhp car. In manual mode, a high-pitched bleep signals you to change up; usually timed to cover your exclaimed expletives, Gordon Ramsay TV show-style.
On a bumpy but open, well-sighted stretch of road, space and my nerve hold long enough to take the 765LT to the redline through third (ding!), fourth (ding!) and some way into fifth, steering writhing in my hands, suspension bucking over the bumps but the damping never running out of travel. The intensity of that drive is something I’ll never forget.
Nor the final drive back to base in the Ferrari, dashing cross-country as dusk turns to darkness, the exhausts of the Huracan ahead gradually glowing a steadily more intense shade of orange. When I speak to the rest of the team the next day, they all say the same thing; sleep just wasn’t an option for hours after getting home. There’s another reason slumber’s proving evasive. How on Earth to put these five into some kind of order?
Like James, I didn’t get much sleep last night – partly the intensity of all that driving, but also because we’d be in the Supreme Court if we were making a tougher decision. There were no disappointments, certainly not the 911 Turbo S we’ve placed last. The Porsche is an astonishing car. It has the ride comfort, technology and lunging speed to make countries feel like counties, the all-wheel-drive security to shrug off awful weather and the poise and performance to thrill. Had we given daily usability equal billing to driver entertainment, the 911 would’ve walked it – it’s the most all-round-capable car here.
The Huracan Evo RWD places fourth. It is intimidating and a little flawed (if not to drive), but it is also a surprisingly exploitable analogue supercar, one that bristles with character and has a masterpiece of a V10. The RWD is not only the least expensive Lambo, it’s the best.
The McLaren 765LT was our pre-test favourite, but places third partly because the 720S it’s based on is already so polished. Previous Longtails have delivered not only faster lap times but also a more tactile road drive. This latest LT is firmer, louder, lighter, grippier and – mind-blowingly – significantly quicker too, but it doesn’t materially improve the driving experience. On track, we’ve no doubt its uncompromising revisions elevate it beyond the 720S, most notably that car’s lack of traction when really pushed. But you’ll need to be a hardcore track-goer for an LT to be a better fit than a 720S.
The 718 Cayman GTS could barely be more different. It is sublimely balanced for the road, with compact dimensions, a fabulously supple ride and the most intuitive mid-engined handling, matched with precision steering and a slick manual gearshift. Best of all, it’s now topped off with the naturally-aspirated flat-six, not the flat-four with which previous 718s have been hamstrung. This is performance you can use everywhere. Most impressively, the Cayman can hold its own even when you forget value for money – it’s simply fantastic to drive. But add in its relative affordability, practicality and usability and this is an unbeatable package.
Yet ultimately the Porsche couldn’t stand in the way of the Ferrari. The F8 is a supercar so sweetly balanced it could win Strictly. It does much of what the Cayman does so well: gliding over the surface, arcing deftly through turns, responding to every input with wheel and pedals. But it also takes that competence to another level entirely courtesy of a twin-turbo V8 delivering monstrous performance and a chassis that’s even more exploitable. That such a powerful machine can still be enjoyed sensibly on the road only seals the deal; 2020 is Maranello’s year.