When I meet new people and they find out what I do for a living, 99 per cent of them crack a line about my driving supercars all the time. I smile politely, then mention that for every supercar, there are 50 standard hatchbacks to examine and long hours spent squinting at a computer. Sure, there’s glamour every now and again, but it’s the silver lining rather than the cloud.
Today, however, represents a solid silver cloud with a generous lining of extra shiny diamonds. Because we’ve assembled three of our favourite supercars, and we’re going to spank them silly.
Lined up for a full day of amusement are a Lamborghini Aventador, a Ferrari 458 Italia and a McLaren MP4-12C. It’s no real spoiler to say that all are fantastic – we’ve driven each of them individually and love them. No, today is about exploring the differences between these dream machines, to find out what approaches they take to the supercar concept.
My day starts in the McLaren. Bright and early one week day morning, I’m heading into work to meet up with colleagues Bassam and Mo. This particular McLaren is an understated shade of metallic grey, with matching wheels. Only the bright Papaya Orange brake callipers bring a bit of colour to the proceedings, as well as a fitting sense of heritage – Papaya Orange was the colour McLarens raced in before sponsorship was introduced to top-line motorsport.
My first challenge is getting in. When I picked the car up, the salesmen opened the door, eager to show me the gadgets within. I, however, am having issues. There’s no physical door handle, just a sensor under the car’s skin that detects the swipe of a hand across it. That’s the idea anyway; under my inexperienced technique, it looks like I’m just a stranger tickling a supercar in a multistorey. I swipe, I brush, I caress. Nothing. In desperation I resort to a full on rub, as if willing a genie to burst from the tailpipes. Pop. The door rises upwards. Excellent.
Once settled into the very low and manually adjusted driver’s seat, I refamiliarise myself with the controls. Bassam drove the 12C during our last sojourn with the car, and I’ve only driven a right-hand drive version in the UK last year. But the driving position is excellent, perhaps the best of any car I’ve driven. My posterior is millimetres above the carbon floor and the wheel extends all the way to my chest. The wheel – apparently scuplted from Lewis Hamilton’s preferred grip – is the perfect size for a sports car. I feel like the driving environment has been fitted for me.
A stab of the start button in the middle of a minimalist, narrow carbonfibre centre console fires up the engine behind me. It’s a throaty sound from the twin-turbo, 3.8-litre V8, less evocative than I expect, but still full of promise. The McLaren is the only one of our trio to have its engine blown, and from that smaller, turbocharged block it makes a claimed 592bhp. Which should be good for a bit of pace.
Of particular interest, as I head out of the car park and begin the short freeway journey to the office, is the suspension. Through the use of very sophisticated engineering, McLaren has done away with anti-roll bars, separating ride comfort from lateral stiffness, which means that in Normal suspension mode, the ride is close to S-Class levels of comfort. Speed bumps are dispatched with merely a thunk. It’s really quite remarkable.
The 20 minute cruise to the office passes quickly, and with little drama. Which is a little bit weird. This is one of the supercars of the decade so far, and it’s as easy to drive as a Taurus. Also, I’m not getting the looks from passers by that I would in either of the other two cars. Although the McLaren is unmistakeable in its sports car-ness, it doesn’t make as much of a visual impact as its companions. At least, not until I stop and open the doors up again.
Mo turns up next in the Ferrari. Even without the sky-scraping doors of the other two, here clad in bright white it’s a beautiful sight; the best looking Ferrari since the 360 in my book and a return to form after the angular, awkward looking F430.
Beautiful is not a word you could use to describe the Aventador, however. Bassam turns up and heads pop over the surrounding balconies, staring at the impossibly low, wide and angular machine parked below. This particular Aventador is clad in matt black paint, giving it a look very similar to the stealth fighter aircraft that inspired its designer. It’s aggressive as aggressive gets in the automotive world, glaring at onlookers with its Y-shaper LED headlights. As all three garner attention outside crankandpiston Towers, it’s the Lambo that best fits the supercar look.
But we’re not just here to compare looks. Amid jealous glances, we each climb into our steeds and get underway in a flare of unnecessary revs (sorry neighbours). Our plan is to head across the UAE, along the new Dubai-Fujairah highway and have a play around the quiet, twisting roads near the east coast.
Once again I’m in the McLaren and once again I’m entirely comfortable as we work our way through Dubai’s traffic and out onto the open freeway. The design of the MP4-12C’s cockpit means visibilty is excellent, the road a wide vista ahead of me.
The new road heading into Fujairah is the perfect playground for these cars. It’s wide, free from speed cameras and largely devoid of traffic, and we get a chance to properly stretch the legs of each machine. A glance from Mo prompts us to put our feet down at the same time, and the British car leaps forward. Close to 600 horsepower head towards the rear wheels and the delivery is instant. There’s not a trace of turbo lag, just immediate, hard acceleration, squashing me into the seat with no let up through third and fourth gears. The noise is there, but it’s not as loud or characterful as I expected; I can hear the Ferrari V8 screaming alongisde over the sound of the Macca, but it’s my MP4-12C that begins to creep away, the extra 30bhp giving it the slightest advantage.
However, both of us are obliterated by Bassam in the Aventador. It may be larger and heavier, but with 690bhp the Lamborghini is an absolute monster in a straight line, and it opens up a substantial gap very quickly.
We pull over and swap seats – Bassam hops into the McLaren, Mo into the Lambo and I get behind the very busy wheel of the Ferrari. This is a much more flamboyant place to be, mainly thanks to the steering wheel, which contains, well, everything. Indicators, wiper controls, headlights – there are no stalks, just wheel and gearshift paddles behind. The piece de resistance is the manettino switch which sets the car’s mood in terms of the various bits of high tech, such as the E-Diff and the stabilty control. It’s all very F1, but I never quite get used to not using stalks.