Geneva 2015: the start of a golden year for sports cars?

Published: 05 March 2015

► The best sports cars of the 2015 Geneva show
► Could the year's best driver's car be in this list?
► Ferrari to Porsche, Ben Barry analyses the contenders

After a quick walk around the Geneva Motor Show, one thing’s for certain: CAR’s Sports Car Giant Test of 2015 is going to be a cracker. There’s going to be some serious competition later in the year and some pretty compelling questions to be answered. Here are some thoughts:

1.    Ferrari 488 GTB

Ferrari 488 GTB at Geneva 2015

Maranello has set itself a lofty benchmark with the 458, especially the ultra-precise Speciale. The big question is whether Ferrari can top the 458 – any 458 – while switching from a 4.5-litre naturally aspirated V8 to a downsized twin-turbocharged V8. My money says no. I’ve driven the California T, and while the same engine in that car is very impressive, it can’t top the excitement of the old V8. But the California is a softer car, and I wouldn’t put it past Ferrari to pull a rabbit out of the hat for the crucial 488 GTB.

2.    McLaren 675 LT

McLaren 675 LT at Geneva 2015

If Ferrari stumbles, you can bet McLaren will be snapping at its heels. The 650S-based 675 LT sounds impressive: radically revised aero for 40% more downforce, even more power, a 100kg weight reduction programme and stiffer, more driver-focussed suspension. After years of pushing its 12C/650S as a supercar with luxurious comfort, it sounds like McLaren has finally thrown caution to the wind to give us a raw experience without compromise. And just as Ferrari could be about to launch a less visceral 458 replacement.

3.    Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Porsche 911 GT3 RS at Geneva 2015

The RS will cost £130k. Can Porsche justify the £30k premium over the already excellent GT3? Well, I sat down with GT boss Andreas Preuninger yesterday, and he was talking a good game. The attention to detail on the RS is staggering: the crank is similar to the one you’ll find in the 919 Le Mans racer; the magnesium roof saves just 1kg over a much less costly carbonfibre version – ‘but it’s worth it,’ said Preuninger, ‘really worth it!’ – the body-in-white has been specially adapted to fit the huge 21-inch rear tyres. The GT3 won Sports Car Of The Year 2013, and it’ll be in with a strong chance of toppling supercars worth much more in 2015.

4.    Aston Martin Vantage GT3

Aston Martin Vantage GT3 at Geneva 2015

The Vantage V12 S was bloody good, the stand-out being its incredible steering feel, the low being the clunky automated manual gearbox. The GT3 ups the V12’s power to 600bhp and sheds 100kg, and the spec shows they haven’t been messing about: wider front and rear track, carbonfibre front wings and bonnet, lithium-ion race-derived battery, carbonfibre sports seats. The Vantage has been on sale for an eternity now, but there’s never been more anticipation ahead of a drive.

5.    Audi R8

Audi R8 at Geneva 2015

The Audi R8 displaced the 911 in our Sports Car Of The Year test when it first arrived. Could it be about to repeat the trick? One thing in the R8’s favour is its incredible, Lambo-derived 5.2-litre V10. As supercar rivals switch increasingly to turbos, the response, sound and appetite for revs of the V10 could be its crowning glory. I chatted with Quattro boss Heinz Hollerweger at Geneva, and he promised it’d be even better to drive. ‘Last time we made the road car, then the race car,’ he explained. ‘This time we’ve done them both together, with feedback from our engineers and race drivers.’ The R8 has always been a surprisingly lairy handler, despite its all-wheel drive, and while Hollerweger says the transition to oversteer is more progressive, it’ll still have that same satisfying rear bias.

6.    Lotus Evora 400

Lotus Evora 400 at Geneva 2015

The Evora won Sports Car Of The Year when it first launched. Would anyone back the Evora to clinch it this year? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it won’t pull off a surprise. Chassis guru Matt Becker left Lotus for Aston recently, but he played a huge role in the 400’s development, which always bodes well. And I have to say new boss Jean-Marc Gales’ enthusiasm rubbed off on me when we spoke yesterday. The 400 laps the Hethel track test fully six seconds faster than its predecessor, and Gales promises a much more involving, driver-focussed experience to go along with a huge improvement in braking and performance.

7.    Porsche Cayman GT4

Porsche Cayman GT4 at Geneva 2015

Perhaps the most intriguing of all contenders in 2015 is the Cayman GT4. Finally, the mid-engined Porsche gets more power than a rear-engined 911 Carrera with 385bhp, and the same purity of focus that defines Porsche’s other GT models – until recently, a preserve solely of the 911. While the GT3 RS gets ever more extreme, the Cayman will be the hardcore Porsche that more people can exploit, more of the time. And afford. Priced at £64k, the GT4 is not only £9k cheaper than a 911, it’s also substantially cheaper than any other Sports Car Of The Year contenders. You’d be daft to bet against it stealing the spoils.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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