YOU MIGHT think that as roads become more clogged, legislation becomes more proscriptive and driving fast seems more socially unacceptable, that supercars should by now be an endangered species. On the contrary, one look at our list of contenders shows just what rude health these ultimate expressions of automotive fantasy continue to enjoy.
If a trend is emerging, it is towards supercars that, while being faster and more visually and dynamically exciting than before, are no longer merely sunny-day, open-road recreations. There seems to be a growing consensus that the amount of fun a car provides is measurable not only by how enjoyable it is to drive, but also in how often owners might want to drive it. An everyday supercar seems like an oxymoron, but cars such as the Ferrari F12berlinetta, McLaren 650S and BMW i8 come pretty close. There are exceptions — notably Ferrari’s unbelievably raucous 458 Speciale — but the direction of travel for the class is clear.
There are some great vehicles that don’t make the top five: the Lexus LFA, which Jeremy Clarkson would love to see featured, stopped production two years ago, and the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche GT3 — which would all have made the top five — can no longer be purchased as the order books are full, relegating them to the also-rans.
Clarkson says: “Mid-engined cars make us priapic. Which is a good thing because they also tell the world that we haven’t had kids yet”
1 Ferrari F12berlinetta
While Ferrari suffers one of its worst years on the Formula One track, where the only comfort must be that it’s not doing quite as badly as arch-rival McLaren, on the road it seems scarcely able to put a foot wrong. The flagship F12berlinetta can be seen as its take on the ultimate modern Italian supercar, and it’s not just about V12 power, howling exhaust notes and looks to make passers-by walk into lampposts. The 731bhp, 211mph machine has it all, but the real reason it’s here is a less obvious set of talents that you can’t see or hear.
It is the most comfortable two-seat supercar in the marque’s history, and at a steady cruise the most refined too. Plus the boot’s big enough to hold a fortnight’s holiday luggage for two. These may seem prosaic considerations but they’re not; on a 1,000-mile grand tour for which such cars are designed, owners will be grateful. This is the finest supercar you can buy.
- Price: £240,083
- Our pick: F12berlinetta, £240,083
- Engine: 6262cc, V12
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 3.1sec
- Top speed: 211mph
- Fuel | CO2 19mpg | 350g/km
2 BMW i8
When it was announced four years ago, BMW’s plan to build the world’s first bespoke plug-in hybrid supercar seemed stunningly, almost recklessly, ambitious. In fact the i8 it created seems likely to reward that bravery for years to come. This ground-breaking car has set standards others must now try to follow.
What’s so clever is that BMW has made a vehicle powered by batteries and a 1.5-litre three-cylinder Mini engine sound and perform as if it is a full-blooded supercar, and the i8 does this while returning preposterous fuel consumption and CO2 figures (135mpg and 49g/km respectively). Better still are its space-age looks and gorgeous cabin. It’s only the slightly artificial steering feel and dodgy handling that lag behind the very best that prevent it from topping this category.
Genuinely desirable eco-cars have been thin on the ground, despite manufacturers’ best efforts. The i8 is set to be the first green car that have will have customers queuing outside dealerships.
- Price: £99,895
- Our pick: i8, £99,895
- Engine | Motor 1499cc,3 cylinders, turbo, plus 2 electric motors
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 4.4sec
- Top speed: 155mph
- Fuel | CO2 135mpg | 49g/km
3 Ferrari 458 Speciale
Having two Ferraris in the top five gives you an idea of just how on top of its game the Maranello stable is at the moment. But while the Speciale is almost as quick as the F12berlinetta, when it comes to character, it could scarcely be more different.
If the F12 is a lioness — all grace and beauty but packed with power — the Speciale is the rabid hyena snapping at her heels. There is nothing elegant in the way the Speciale goes about its business; indeed there are times that you’ll beg it to calm down. But when it comes to the simple, brutal business of spiking your heart rate, you’d probably need to look back to the company’s F40 of the 1980s to find another car so fit for purpose. It is utterly manic.
But while the F40 and high-end hypercars such as the LaFerrari were limited editions, offered only to Ferrari’s best customers, the Speciale is as much part of its range as a California. With more power, less weight and a suspension different from that of its 458 Italia sibling, it is the most exciting Ferrari you can buy — and the most exhausting.
- Price: £208,090
- Our pick: 458 Speciale, £208,090
- Engine: 4497cc, V8
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 3.0sec
- Top speed: 202mph
- Fuel | CO2 21.2mpg | 275g/km
4 McLaren 650S coupé
Like many early offerings from car makers, the McLaren MP4-12C of 2011 was full of great theory but was a letdown in the flesh. It looked dull, its handling was strange, its gearbox was inconsistent and the navigation didn’t work. The car felt only 95% developed.
Not any more. The 650S finally irons out all the bugs inherent in that machine. It has a new nose derived from that fitted to the company’s P1 hypercar, an extra 25bhp above the updated MP4-12C — sold as the 12C — plus revised settings for the suspension, gearbox and stability control. But you’ll never understand the true effect of these until you get to drive one — fast.
No longer does this McLaren feel like a collection of individually impressive components co-habiting inside the same shell; now they work together to provide a cohesive whole of devastating ability and pure driving enjoyment. The Ferrari 458 Speciale is more exciting, but as a car to own and drive regularly, it is the McLaren to which we would turn.
- Price: £195,250-£252,500
- Our pick: 650S coupé, £195,250
- Engine: 3799cc, twin-turbo V8
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 3.0sec
- Top speed: 207mph
- Fuel | CO2 24.1mpg | 275g/km
5 Lamborghini Aventador
One glance at the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of the Aventador tells you all you need to know: this is a supercar of the old school. You can’t see a great deal out of it, there isn’t an electrically powered operating mode to ease any burden of environmental guilt and the engine relies upon brawn rather than brains to deliver the car’s performance.
And what performance. The Aventador is a monster; a 217mph real-deal supercar and the first car built in any appreciable volume to charge from 0-62mph in less than three seconds. The 6.5-litre V12 engine is glorious, and increasingly rare in the age of the turbocharger, and its power pushes the four-wheel-drive system and tyres to the very limit.
The gearbox could be better and, on a track at least, the handling has some room for improvement, but it’s impossible not to fall for this raging bull. And what’s more, unlike Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren, Lamborghini does not restrict the number of supercars it makes, so if you have money to burn and a pulse rate that needs raising, you can order an Aventador today.
- Price: £260,040-£361,320
- Our pick: Aventador LP700-4, £260,040
- Engine 6498cc, V12
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 2.9sec
- Top speed: 217mph
- Fuel | CO2 17.7mpg | 370g/km
6 Rolls-Royce Wraith
For It’s a Rolls-Royce and a supercar all rolled into one
Against Less elegant than the Ghost upon which it is based
7 Lamborghini Huracan
For Audi engineering; gorgeous looks; noise of the V10 engine
Against Not as exciting as a Ferrari Speciale, nor as able as a McLaren 650S
8 Ferrari LaFerrari
For Hypercar pace to blow your socks off; surprisingly easy to drive
Against Hybrid power but still slurps super-unleaded; sold out
9 McLaren P1
For Space-age hypercar that makes the McLaren F1 look slow — and it returns 30mpg
Against Sold out
10 Porsche 911 GT3
For Accomplished handling; half the price of rivals
Against No manual transmission; sold out
Vote for your favourite!
Top 100 Cars 2014 sections
- Introduction by Jeremy Clarkson
- Top 10 4x4s & SUVs
- Top 10 Electric Cars & Hybrids
- Top 10 Supercars
- Top 10 City Cars
- Top 10 Sports Cars & Convertibles
- Top 10 Family Cars & Estates
- Top 10 Superminis
- Top 10 Executive & Prestige
- Top 10 Hot Hatches & Coupés
- Top 10 MPVs
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Vote for your favourite of Top 100 Cars 2014
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Used alternatives to the winning cars
Top 100 Cars 2014: the fine print
Top 100 Cars is compiled by Andrew Frankel, Joseph Dunn, Dominic Tobin and James Mills. Prices are correct at the time of going to press; fuel-economy figures are for the combined urban and extra-urban cycle (source: Newspress); electric-car prices quoted include government grants where applicable.