Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Aventador took first and second place respectively in our assessment of the seven supercars in our recent Pacific Coast Tour. Here’s how the remaining five cars aligned in our ranking.
Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 takes third
Every time I drive a Gallardo, the car seems considerably improved over what came before. Lamborghini Gallardo is no longer the clunky, raucous, unrefined offering for someone who wants something other than a Ferrari. Refinement and performance have increased hand in hand. Gallardo gets my personal Most Improved Exotic Award.
The interior was tasteful and organized. Carbon fiber and alcantara (also known as ultrasuede) in grays and blacks in the Gallardo we drove blended together in a modern high-tech environment that stopped short of being eccentric for the sole sake of eccentricity.
Gallardo is quick, responsive, and linear, although the sound of the V-10 is less satisfying when we could have had a V-8 or the throaty roar of a V-12. The F1 transmission is the most improved component. Although not nearly as crisp and quick as Ferrari 458, Gallardo is at least as good as the last Ferrari 430 I drove, which is something I could not say that about the last Gallardo I drove.
Mercedes SLS AMG a close fourth
I was pleasantly surprised by this car. It is a vast improvement over its replacement, the Mercedes McLaren SLR, and about half the price. It is beautifully tailored in the Mercedes style, refined and elegant with thoughtful ergonomics throughout. I think of the SLS AMG as handsome and understated, a far better expression than the gaudy SLR. And because the model is a roadster, it has regular rather than rambunctious gull-wing doors.
Whereas the SLR steering was twitchy and unpredictable, the SLS AMG is linear and builds confidence in going precisely where one points it. The rear end is planted and stable. Unlike its SLR predecessor, everything in the SLS AMG performs the way a precisely engineered automobile is expected to perform.
The singular surprise and unexpected outcome for such a refined but sprightly supercar was the exhaust, which uttered a tone of seriously low Teutonic grumble. A persistent popping from the exhaust — known as a backfire in rowdy hotrods — was out of character in this fine touring mobile. At the same time, it added uncharacteristic interest to the experience of this car. The SLS AMG is intended to honor the original 300SL gull wing coupe of the 50s, and it does.
McLaren MP12 placed a disappointing fifth
I really wanted to like this car, but it disappointed me in important ways. There is far too much turbo lag, even at high RPM. The transmission is not competitive with Ferrari or Lamborghinis. Paddle shifting was neither positive nor reliable. The car has plenty of torque but there is more to a first-class exotic than torque. Ingress and egress are utter disasters. The entrance opening has a bizarre shape disallowing any human body shape or size to slide in and out easily.
McLaren manufactures race cars for the track. Its entry into street cars borrowed generic designs from the better known road car brands. Bottom line: Nice try. Come back when you have unlagged the engine, tightened the transmission, and concocted a cockpit from which I can climb out.
Nissan GT-R sits at sixth
Nissan isn’t a name that enters the lexicon of exotics. Driving the GT-R, however, is a great counterpoint to the far-more-expensive exotics. The little V6 produces huge torque. The car feels balanced and hard to upset. The transmission was second best to the Ferrari, equally quick if not quicker, although a little jerky.
The interior finish was an exercise in ‘cheap.’ The Nissan Versa does better. Another five to ten thousand dollars spent on the interior would have made for a real world beater, but Nissan apparently kept the pricetag below $100,000 on the belief that the market would not bear a Nissan for more. The Nissan GT-R delivers huge performance per dollar. That value ensures the sale of every Nissan GT-R that they make.
Audi R8 V-10 at last
The R8 ranked last among the magnificent seven hypercars. How can this be? The short answers follow: crummy transmission; drab interior; ugly duckling looks in Spyder configuration, despite that the R8 has been touted as the daily driver exotic with ten, not eight or twelve, cylinders.
The worst flaw is that transmission decides for itself when to downshift despite being in manual mode, where the driver rather than the car normally makes that decision. Shifting is slushy for a modern sport automatic. The car is available with a 6-speed manual. Those seriously considering an R8 V-10 should get it that way.
Audi is known for its beautiful interiors, but the inside of the R8 lacked luster and looked pretty plain Jane. As for styling, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in Spyder form the R8 looks awkward and heavy. Bottom line: The R8’s reputation as a reliable daily driver seems to make too many drab compromises to make it desirable, while other exotics became increasingly ergonomic and reliable. Thus, if a ten cylinders is what you want and you want to turn heads with an exciting exotic look in the supermarket lot, get a Gallardo.
That about wraps it up. Which one of the magnificent seven supercars is for you?