CAR's 2021 Sports Car Giant Test: as good as it gets | CAR Magazine

CAR's 2021 Sports Car Giant Test: as good as it gets

Published: 30 December 2021 Updated: 30 December 2021

► CAR’s performance car of the year 2021
► Seven contenders thrashed at Anglesey
► With guest judge Jamie Chadwick

Is this it? Do 2021’s best new performance cars represent peak combustion-engined supercar, just before everything goes electric? The CAR team headed to Anglesey circuit, with guest judge and racing champion Jamie Chadwick along for the ride, to find a winner among the latest hot hatches, performance execs and supercars that hit the road in 2021.

Sports Car Giant Test 2021: the cars

scgt 2021 roster

Porsche 911 GT3
Walking the tightrope between track prowess and road usability isn’t easy, but Porsche’s latest GT3 would appear to have both covered. Still with a shrieking naturally-aspirated flat-six and, here, still with a manual gearbox too. Hopelessly outgunned by the turbocharged, battery-boosted hybrid SF90?

Price £123,100 (£137,709 as tested)
Powertrain 3996cc 24v flat-six, six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance 503bhp @ 8400rpm, 347lb ft @ 6100rpm, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 199mph, 22.8mpg, 294g/km CO2
Weight 1418kg

Read our Porsche 911 GT3 review

Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm
The GTA is the Alfa we didn’t know we needed. Take one Giulia QF, rip out 100kg, fit a titanium exhaust, race-spec splitter and wing, boost power. This GTAm version is a further 40kg lighter, with Sabelt carbonfibre seats and a half-cage replacing the rear bench. One very serious Alfa.

Price £156,000 (£156,000 as tested)
Powertrain 2891cc 24v twin-turbo V6, eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 533bhp @ 6500rpm, 443lb ft @ 2500rpm, 3.8sec 0-62mph, 186mph, 26.2mpg, 206g/km CO2
Weight 1580kg

Read our Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm review

Ferrari SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano
E-power assisting a fierce V8 makes this the most powerful car here, by miles, with all-wheel drive to make the most of it, aided by enough computing power to manage a moon landing. This one’s the 30kg lighter, carbon and titanium-riddled Assetto Fiorano version.

Price £413,780 (£540,764 as tested)
Powertrain 3990cc 32v twin-turbo V8 plus three e-motors, eight-speed twin-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 986bhp @ 7500rpm, 590lb ft @ 6000rpm, 2.5sec 0-62mph, 211mph, 29.7mpg, 217g/km CO2
Weight 1570kg

Read our Ferrari SF90 Stradale review

BMW M4 Competition
The latest generation of M’s icon has a lot to prove but it’s already risen to the challenge of standing up to Porsche’s 911 Carrera. The engine is again a turbocharged straight-six, although a different one from before, but it’s the M chassis we’re falling for in a big way.

Price £75,080 (£87,745 as tested)
Powertrain 2993cc 24v twin-turbo straight-six, eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 503bhp @ 6250rpm, 479lb ft @ 2750rpm, 3.9sec 0-62mph, 180mph, 27.7mpg, 229g/km CO2
Weight 1725kg

Read our BMW M4 review

Hyundai i20N
Out-gunned and out-classed by everything else here? Based on our seat time in the i20N to date, we doubt it. Stiff chassis allows for mid-corner wheel-cocking, and the punchy turbo engine is backed up by endlessly configurable drive modes, automatic rev-matching and a physics-defying limited-slip diff.

Price £24,995 (£25,545 as tested)
Powertrain 1598cc 16v turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance 201bhp @ 5500rpm, 203lb ft @ 1750rpm, 6.2sec 0-62mph, 142mph, 40.4mpg, 158g/km CO2
Weight 1190kg

Read our Hyundai i20N review

Lamborghini Huracan STO
How could we say no to the purest Huracan yet? The Super Trofeo Omologato smashes
together a rear-driven, high-output powertrain with lessons learned from the one-make Super Trofeo race series and the even more serious Huracan GT3 Evo. Loudest car here by far.

Price £260,012 (£294,357 as tested)
Powertrain 5204cc 40v V10, seven-speed twin-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 630bhp @ 8000rpm, 417lb ft @ 6500rpm, 3.0sec 0-62mph, 193mph, 20.3mpg, 331g/km CO2
Weight 1339kg

Read our Lamborghini Huracan STO review

VW Golf GTI Clubsport 45
VW’s GTI name is 45 years old, so Wolfsburg’s built a limited-run super-hatch. Decals and wild wing aside, this is the sharpest GTI in years; power’s up to near-R levels, there’s a pop ‘n’ bang soundtrack courtesy of Akrapovic, and a specific drive mode for driving the ‘Ring. Natch.

Price £40,715 (£44,390 as tested)
Powertrain 1984cc 16v turbocharged four-cylinder, seven-speed twin-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Performance 296bhp @ 5300rpm, 295lb ft @ 2000rpm, 5.6sec 0-62mph, 166mph, 38.1mpg, 168g/km CO2
Weight 1461kg

Read our VW Golf GTI Clubsport review

The guest judge: Jamie Chadwick

scgt 2021 jamie helmet

Joining the CAR team for Sports Car Giant Test 2021 is reigning W Series champion and Williams F1 development driver Jamie Chadwick.

She’s here because, apart from having the talent to hot-lap each car on the limit and to pass the kind of unflinching judgement only a hard-nosed pro racing driver can, she also has a limitless enthusiasm for driving and appreciates what makes a well-rounded road car as well as an uncompromising track car.

Since Jamie last joined CAR, to co-judge our Track Car of the Year 2020 test, she’s returned to defend her title in W Series, the international single-seater championship for female drivers on the F1 support bill. At the time of writing she’s tied for first place in the championship, with two rounds remaining.

She’s been combining that with a campaign in Extreme E, the global off-road electric racing series, going wheel to wheel with legends on its driver roster including Sebastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz (the father, not the Ferrari-pedalling son) and Jenson Button.

‘I’d never driven off-road before; it’s something that’s very new to me, and being able to have that opportunity is fantastic,’ she says of Extreme E. ‘Any driving skill, whatever you’re competing in, is valuable, and I think to have that adaptability regardless of the conditions teaches you a lot. No matter what you apply that to, whether it’s racing W Series at Silverstone or something completely different, like today, there are always new challenges to master and work into your skillset for use elsewhere.’

scgt 2021 jamie in-car

Hell, lapping Anglesey with us might even come in handy during the course of her development driving for the Williams F1 team… Jamie signed with the squad in 2019, and in Friday practice at the F1 weekends that don’t clash with W Series she’s often behind the wheel of the team’s simulator back at base, sending real-time set-up feedback to the team at the track.

Highlight of Jamie’s diverse career so far? ‘The Nürburgring 24-hour race. I’ve only done it twice in a GT4 car, and it’s enough to put your eyes out on stalks. An incredible event and an incredible race.’

She also knows Anglesey circuit inside out, having tested here in F3 and W Series (‘It’s fast, and physical in a downforce car’), so a 1000bhp Ferrari and a virtually unsilenced Lamborghini should be a doddle…

Sports Car Giant Test 2021: party time

scgt 2021 group static

Eek! Fourth gear through Anglesey circuit’s dare-you-quick first corner and the BMW M4’s bootlid makes a sudden bid to overtake its infamous nose. Whoa! Banked hairpin behind us, the rear wheels are still spinning down the straight, revs soaring. Ulp. Over the kerb into the blind-entry hilltop left-hander, the M4 slews sideways under power and its fat wheel begins racking itself towards the lock-stops.

With the 10-step traction control system turned almost all the way down, M Division’s super-coupe is A Bit of a Handful. Maybe BMW had second thoughts about the grille after sign-off and asked the chassis engineers to ensure that the car only ever comes into view side-on.

One important caveat, however: at this moment, Anglesey is wet. On a clear day, this clifftop track perched on the isle’s edge is the most photogenic circuit in Britain. But right now it’s hard to tell where the Irish Sea ends and the primer-grey sky begins.

And like jump-scares in a second-rate horror movie, the M4’s oversteer moments mostly turn out to be false alarms; nothing to worry about, really. And a bit of a laugh. Once you trust it, you’re soon intentionally using the quick steering and understeer-repelling front-end grip to get a slide going, then relying on the long wheelbase to balance everything, and tapping into the bottomless well of torque to ride it out, all the time wearing a grin wider than the spinning rear Michelins. Not the most intellectual pursuit, perhaps. But addictive. I’m having so much lowbrow fun I’m tempted to crown the M4 the winner here and now. But there are six other cars to drive first, and a special guest to swap notes with.

scgt 2021 golf cornering

Guest judge Jamie Chadwick is with us and settling into the Porsche 911 GT3 for a sighting lap. I jump into the passenger seat to take notes. The GT3’s already wowed us this year and Jamie’s taken with it before turning a wheel: ‘This is just fantastic. I’d go for the Touring Package-spec if I were a customer, though; lose the rear wing, so it’s a bit more subtle.’

This is a new breed of 911 GT3: bigger and wider than ever (yet no heavier than before). The rear wing’s borrowed from the 911 RSR Le Mans car and so is the new front axle, with double-wishbone suspension replacing MacPherson struts. That’s a first for roadgoing 911-kind. But it still packs a 4.0-litre flat-six with a 9000rpm redline and a complete absence of turbos, and it’s still available with a manual gearbox – as fitted to this car.

Jamie slots it into first and we head out of the garage. The rain’s easing off, and Jamie experiments with different lines to find the driest part of the track, like a reverse water diviner. Even in these conditions, the grip the GT3 finds is startling. ‘The response from the front end is impressive – this feels different to other Porsches I’ve driven. I really love the weight of the steering, too – lots of feedback,’ gushes Jamie.

Despite the abundant traction, the flat-six’s revs still occasionally scream skyward as the rear tyres hit a banana-skin patch of water.

‘I like the gear ratios: you can keep it in second gear all the way around the longer hairpins, and it’s easy to short-shift to help traction.’ Jamie’s more than capable of heel-and-toeing but switches on the automatic throttle-blip for downshifts for the first exploratory laps. ‘It’s ridiculously good – somehow it always finds exactly the right amount of revs. And the engine responds so quickly!’ she adds, as the revs zing upward again on the downshift-downshift-downshift approach to Anglesey’s tightest hairpin.

scgt 2021 james jamie talk

‘I don’t love the seating position – I find it a bit too upright, especially wearing a helmet,’ she shouts over the engine’s racket, though the bucket’s position can be tilted using spanners. ‘Other than that, I don’t have many bad things to say about it…’ Ominous.

She’s right: the GT3 feels born for this. It is in possession of the most responsive front end of any 911 I’ve driven that isn’t wearing slicks; it is razor-sharp. So too is the throttle response, and the overriding impression is of absolute tactility: feedback through steering, pedals and the seat of your pants is so transparent you feel as if you’ve been driving this car all your life. It’s a 503bhp sports car with the engine in the ‘wrong’ place that you feel instantly at one with: quite some achievement.

While we wait for the track to dry a little more (‘Shouldn’t be long – it’s an abrasive surface, and the wind dries the circuit quickly here too,’ says Jamie, with the weather-eye of someone used to waiting out rain at race circuits), we warm up with the two hot hatches.

They’re here because the Ferrari and Lamborghini cost a collective £674,000 (before options), the Alfa and Porsche are both deep into six figures and the M4 starts at £75k. The Golf GTI and scampish Hyundai i20N bring some perspective and, rather than being lambs to the slaughter, they might just provide a rude reality check to the exotica. That said, the Golf looks worryingly expensive at just over £40k…

scgt 2021 golf i20 chase

But in wet conditions it’s the Golf that springs an early surprise. ‘I think that’s my new favourite car,’ says Jamie, stepping from the GTI Clubsport to a timpani accompaniment from its furiously ticking titanium exhaust system (largely responsible for the 45’s £2790 price hike over the mechanically identical regular GTI Clubsport). ‘In these conditions, you know exactly where the limit is and you feel comfortable to push straight away. It rotates really well if you trail the brakes into corners slightly, getting rid of that horrible understeer I’d expected, and then out of the corner it finds a lot of traction and hooks up nicely.’ (The Clubsport has its electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip diff to thank for that, and the Hyundai gets one too).

On the road the GTI can feel a little one-dimensional but here, with extra space to play with, it’s a joy. There’s great stopping power (though, as Jamie notes, the pedal’s initial response is a little over-sensitive), the honeycomb-grilled nose tucks in neatly to every apex, and the Golf’s attitude can be adjusted neatly with the throttle.

More fun than the BMW, though? Believe. ‘I’m having more fun in the GTI than I did in the M4,’ says Jamie. (‘Rear-limited’ is the racing-driver phrase Jamie uses to describe the M4’s handling – ‘scarily tail-happy’ is the rough translation.) ‘The GTI’s more confidence-inspiring, and you can use its full potential in the wet. In the M4 you’re always under the limit, until you’re over it.’

scgt 2021 gt3 i20 chase

Editor-at-large Chris Chilton pulls in next to us in the Hyundai. ‘It’s less predictable than the Golf in the wet,’ he says. ‘I found myself gathering up a big slide at the first hairpin. But it’s good fun.’

On the move there are good signals immediately. You can feel the i20N’s stiff structure and light weight – at close to 1100kg, it’s by far the lightest car in the test – and, like the bigger i30N we’ve come to love, its quick-flick buttons on the wheel to shortcut settings for exhaust rortiness, steering heaviness, rev-match blippiness and throttle-map sensitivity allow Jekyll/Hyde toggling at will. (That the M4 also has them isn’t all that surprising given the former M division folk in senior positions at N.)

The locking diff heaves the i20N out of Peel corner, the coastal circuit’s highest point. Ahead, a breathtaking vista: the rain’s gone and mist rises from Snowdonia’s now-visible peaks in the distance. A lap later, the sea sparkles like an H Samuel window display.

The driving seat of the i20N is a great vantage point from which to take it all in: grippy, stable and eager. The knife-edge balance Chris noticed in the wet has gone – it does exactly as it’s bid. But a few dynamic shortcomings are also exposed. The new four-cylinder turbo engine feels surprisingly tight and reluctant to rev towards the top of its range. And barrelling into the first hairpin, there’s a lack of engine braking, almost as if your foot’s still brushing the throttle (the run-on effect of a weighty flywheel).

scgt 2021 i20 wheel kink

The H-pattern gearbox is good, foolproof and flickable. But the standard is high in this class, and the Hyundai’s isn’t as sweet as rival ‘boxes from Ford and Honda. Still, at least you’re changing gear yourself – Golf Clubsport is paddles-only. And the cheapest car here gives a good account of itself: the Golf is more fun but it’s not £15k more fun.

‘The Hyundai feels at home on track,’ says Jamie. ‘I’d say the balance is better than the Golf in the dry; it’s got a better front end. Here, every gear ratio feels like it needs to be a bit shorter. It’s a circuit- specific thing, but the long, wide hairpins here are too fast for second gear but too tight for third. It could do with a 2.5th gear for more oomph…’

No lack of oomph in the Ferrari SF90 Stradale, here in track-focused Assetto Fiorano spec. Since the surface is dry, it seems only right to jump straight from the cheapest car here into the most dizzyingly expensive.

Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid can summon 986bhp. Its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, a (very) thoroughly re-engineered evolution of the 488/F8’s 3.9-litre engine, generates 770bhp on its own. On show beneath the polycarbonate rear screen (slashed with F40-style louvres), the engine’s mounted unfeasibly low in the SF90’s aluminium chassis, nestling up against a carbonfibre bulkhead. It’s like looking down through a glass viewing platform at ancient Roman foundations, the wide-angled, red-crackle-painted vee of cylinders way down there in the shadows.

scgt 2021 sf90 overhead

An electric motor hides between the engine and transmission, driving the rear wheels, and you’ll find two more on the front axle, opening up a brain-scrambling world of both positive and negative torque-vectoring on individual front wheels. The effect is uncanny; around Anglesey’s steeply banked Turn Two, you can be really quite heavy-handed with the SF90, chucking its fast-responding nose towards the apex and then applying far more throttle than feels in any way appropriate. The rear begins to slide and then, spookily, you feel the front tyres almost instantly hooking up, pulling the car straight and helping the scarlet charger claw its way out of the corner, like a rock climber suddenly gaining a strong handhold.

Even spookier is feeling the engine drop out of the equation altogether when you back off in Hybrid mode, the SF90 whispering stealthily along like it’s borne by the wind alone. You hear sounds you ordinarily wouldn’t: grit hitting the wheelarches, and the mechanical sound of expensive pads brushing expensive discs when you brush the brake pedal.

Ahead of you is a dizzying array of information on the digital instrument panel, and controls on the wheel. Some are physical buttons to press and click, some touchpads to swipe and tap. You have four hybrid modes: eDrive, in which the SF90 never troubles its V8; default Hybrid mode, and then Performance and Qualifying, where the V8’s always in play. The latter is the best for lap times, and also longevity, good for several fast laps in a row. To the right, there’s the now-familiar e-manettino with which to switch modes. CT Off is Ferrari’s magic wand, giving you just enough rope to make you believe you’re a driving god without quite taking your stabilisers off entirely. ESC Off is best left to those without a self-preservation instinct. (Even Ferrari’s pro testers are quicker in CT Off.)

Assetto Fiorano spec gives the SF90 a sizeable carbon rear ducktail spoiler (in front of which a second motorised spoiler actively adjusts itself), lightweight carbon interior panels, track-specific dampers and titanium springs, and adds another £40k or so to the bottom line.

scgt 2021 sf90 huracan

Unlike all the other cars here bar the Lamborghini, you feel g-forces pulling at your body as the SF90 generates gigantic cornering loads. It’s absurdly fast, of course, but what’s more absurd is how easy it is to go fast – how in control of this implausibly powerful car you feel.

Jamie’s full of praise for the Ferrari. ‘I love the seating position: almost like a racecar, with your legs level ahead of you. Visibility is fantastic: you feel very comfortable using all the road. And it changes direction quicker than the Porsche. The whole thing feels like a racecar – you don’t get that road-car roll,’ she adds, moving her shoulders ponderously, miming a car sinking onto its door handles. ‘And the brake feel [the mark of any well-developed hybrid] – the pedal has such a short travel [a function of the brake-by-wire system], which is great for feel and precision. On the downside, the steering is very light, without much feel, which would be difficult to trust in the wet.’

The SF90 Assetto Fiorano might feel like a racecar, but the most track-focused car here comes from its Sant’Agata neighbours. Lamborghini’s Huracan STO has every automotive EQ slider pushed to full: visually, aurally, dynamically. While the standard Huracan is the purest shape in the Lamborghini range, the STO stretches the body’s coordinates with wickedly barbed aerodynamic fins and surfaces. Unlike the intense but road-orientated Huracan Performante, the STO’s rear-wheel drive, not four, and does away with Lambo’s active ALA aero system (all those fixed fins and manually adjustable wings generate more downforce the old-fashioned way). It uncompromisingly (or compromisingly, depending on your viewpoint) prioritises track performance over road usability; a Lamborghini for trackdays.

Jamie takes to the track first, snatches of the V10’s song making their way to us on the breeze as she brings it up to temperature. This car is loud. The engine note rises to a shriek as it reaches its 8500rpm redline, revs flicking up on downshifts as if directed by a conductor’s baton. A new Akrapovic exhaust makes the glorious 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10 even more vocal. You’d need generous noise marshals on most UK trackdays, or your own private track. If you’re shopping for an STO, that might just be an option: it costs £260k.

scgt 2021 huracan engine

Jamie hasn’t driven a Lamborghini before and is surprised to hear the original 2014 Huracan understeered. ‘Really? This one doesn’t… The engine and power delivery are amazing – the throttle control is so precise. The gearbox is great, too, very fast and smooth, but the brakes are a little over-sensitive; it’s hard to modulate them.’

Once inside you begin to appreciate just how much Lamborghini’s sacrificed in the name of circuit performance. The key has to go in the glovebox since there’s nowhere else to put it in this totally stripped-out (but beautifully finished) interior. Nor is there really a front boot, the aero nostrils cutting a path through the Huracan’s usual luggage space. There is the regular Huracan Evo’s portrait touchscreen, though, which distils all the ergonomic awkwardness of the Golf and SF90’s touch-sensitive interfaces into one even less usable package.

None of that matters, because the STO is built for driving. The front end is simply glued down. Turn-in is aided by rear-wheel steering totally transparent in its operation; you quickly forget it’s there, much as you do in the 911 GT3. The STO isn’t even on its optional soft track-spec tyres (though the ‘sport’ Bridgestones it’s wearing still have a fairly naughty tread pattern). The steering becomes too heavy in the most aggressive Trofeo mode, but there’s zero kickback and it’s incredibly quick in response.

On the road the STO is hard work, and unashamedly so. The aggressive suspension is uncompromisingly stiff in the two-stage adaptive damping’s firmest mode, and there’s enough road and engine noise to ensure your ears are still ringing the next morning (I write from experience). But on the track it’s an intense and unforgettable experience.

Which is exactly what Alfa Romeo is aiming for with its glorious Giulia GTAm: no rear seats, a body-coloured rollcage and a devilishly pointy rear wing in your rear-view mirror at all times. It costs near enough twice the price of the regular Giulia Quadrifoglio, but in return you get rarity value: 500 will be built, production split between GTAm (for modificato) and marginally less hardcore GTA models. And you get thoroughly reconfigured suspension that gives the GTAm a fantastically cambered, squat stance that makes it look like it’s turned up at a round of the old European Touring Car Championship, not a magazine test.

scgt 2021 giulia drift

At first, however, it feels a little out of sorts. There’s more body movement than you expect given the aggressive suspension stance, and if you’re clumsy with it, it can begin to get into a nasty shimmying motion, especially through Anglesey’s scary-quick Church corner. You’re constantly aware you’re driving a big car, not least because it takes a bit of stopping. Even though the GTAm has huge carbon-ceramic discs, it doesn’t decelerate quite as quickly as you’d expect, and Jamie notes its pedal is soft initially and then comes on strong just as you’re trying to blend off the pressure on turn-in.

The steering is light, overly so, although Chris finds its response more measured than the darty-racked M4 and the Alfa more intuitive to powerslide as a result. Both he and Jamie question whether the £156,000 GTAm is actually a better drive than the £75k M4, the more road-usable car.

scgt 2021 m4 drift

I must admit, though, I love the GTAm: as an object, for its design details (the ‘no-step’ markings on the front splitter and ’70s-era Autodelta decals, not to mention the silly-but-fun option of a body-coloured fire extinguisher ) and for the sheer brio of building a two-seater, 533bhp road racer in 2021 – even if it’s priced so astronomically it’ll only be enjoyed by a few wealthy collectors.

So, a finishing order. In the wet, the hatches duly do some giant killing but their challenge evaporates as the circuit dries. And neither can give quite as spine-tingling a driving experience on the road as the rest of the cars in this test, even if the Golf is the car we all volunteer to drive home. The Alfa and BMW feel like belligerents in their own private battle. Unanimously the M4’s engine is declared more charismatic and driveable than the Giulia’s, and though both are a handful in the wet, in the dry it’s the heavier BMW that actually feels the more composed and malleable of the two – even if its weight means it’ll chomp through brakes and tyres more quickly than the GTAm.

The Lamborghini is intense and absorbing; a car to leave you genuinely dizzy with excitement, if also in need of a lie down. Ultimately, though, the 911 has a finer degree of feedback and tactility, and the SF90 is capable of equally extreme cornering sensations, and so much more besides…

By James Taylor

And then there were two…

scgt 2021 sf90 gt3 road

Do not adjust your web page (or iPhone). You’re right: something about this feels awfully familiar. Three years ago, when only polite Japanese on tube trains wore masks, the 2018 Sports Car Giant Test grand finale pitted Porsche’s 911 GT2 RS against the Ferrari 488 Pista. On that occasion the Ferrari prevailed, and this SF90 is 276bhp more powerful than the Pista. It’s got to be a shoo-in, surely.

To find out, we’re leaving the track and keeping our shoe in as much as we dare, heading south-west into Snowdonia. Much as we like melting away hours and tyres on track, for our hypothetical money even circuit-focused supercars need to be able to entertain on real roads far below the grip limits you can explore around playgrounds like Anglesey.

Neither of these cars is in the optimal configuration for this portion of the battle, something we discover the moment we leave the smooth confines of the circuit. The GT3, which morphed into a surprisingly supple road car more than a decade ago with the advent of adaptive dampers, is much harsher on the road this time around.

And the addition of the Assetto Fiorano package has had a similar effect on the SF90, a car I remember feeling incredibly refined in standard form at the launch in Italy last year. But neither is unusable. We’re not talking wheel-hopping, vision-blurring stiffness, just a purer focus on handling that serves both well on the track – and serves to dim any GT strengths on the road by allowing tyre roar and small bumps in the road surface to permeate the cabin.

scgt sf90 interior

Inside that cabin, just as outside, it’s the Ferrari that feels more special. Acres of gorgeous carbonfibre, an incredibly detailed virtual instrument cluster and a total absence of carpet all serve as reminders that advanced technology and trick materials are central to Ferrari’s DNA. The forward visibility past the low scuttle and beyond the peaks of the wings is superb, but like many Ferraris (with the exception of the Roma GT, and its big centre tunnel) the SF90 never feels cosy. Perversely, it’s almost too roomy.

In the Porsche, by contrast, a human body is virtually an interference fit. That’s not to say it’s cramped, although I do find the carbon-backed buckets force my shoulders into a rounded, caveman-like shape that makes me wonder if I might be the only GT3 buyer under 25 stone to order mine with the regular sports seats. They don’t look as cool, granted, but they still deliver ample support and, unlike the non-foldable carbon chairs, they mean you can make use of the huge cargo area behind the seats.

The SF90 has only a small shelf behind its front seats, and most of the frunk is taken up by the electrical hardware that helps make this hybrid all-wheel drive. Just finding sufficient space to stow your clobber for a trackday weekend could be a challenge. That escape to the south of France might require that you buy fresh underwear en route.

Of the two it’s the Ferrari that feels most different away from Anglesey. On track, other than satisfying our curiosity to see what a hypercar feels like in EV mode (answer: serene, but city-car slow) or in Hybrid mode (disorientating), we’d had the e-manettino hybrid controller in Performance or Qualifying, to keep the V8 in play at all times.

scgt sf90 rear cornering

But on the road Hybrid mode is configured to maximise the benefit of the electric assistance, not only in terms of power but also efficiency. The way the powertrain leans heavily on its EV capability, sidelining the internal-combustion engine wherever possible – whether that’s bumbling through town at low speed, or cruising down the A55 at 80mph – is incredibly well engineered, and would become a real ally in regular-speed daily use. But it can feel disconcerting.

Because if you want to up the pace in any car, you need consistency. Having the V8 flit in and out of play is like watching a snooker match in which the coverage keeps switching from colour to black-and-white. Which is why, as we cross the Menai Strait separating Anglesey from mainland Wales and start picking our way through Llanberis towards Yr Wyddfa, the toggle stays permanently in Performance mode and the V8 stays permanently lit.

But not lit lit. That would be insane. Even at half throttle the SF90 is outrageously rapid. This is a car, remember, that has almost exactly twice the power of the GT3. The merest tickle from your big toe sends it firing down the road, the only lag the one between your eyes and your brain as you scramble to compute what’s happening. Thanks to the seamless way in which the e-motors take up the slack, there’s no respite as you wait for the V8 to summon its boost.

scgt 2021 gt3 chase

And in a sense, that’s a problem. Because while the SF90 is pretty much unflappable on the road, thanks to its grip and all-wheel-drive traction, there are few stretches of road on Earth where you can really indulge yourself by uncorking the car’s combined 986bhp for any length of time, and almost none where you can do it legally.

You could argue that the GT3’s 9000rpm redline is similarly out of reach, and that even with ‘just’ 503bhp the 911 is also ridiculously over-endowed. But the Porsche’s power output feels well judged, while the modest 347lb ft of torque means that you must work for your reward. That work also involves, should you choose it, hustling a six-speed manual gearbox with a deliciously mechanical feel. The narrower 911 is also easier to place and easier to see out of, and we love the feel and consistency of its brakes and steering, and the purity of a front axle whose only job is to steer the car.

There’s nothing revelatory about this GT3. It’s only incrementally more exciting than before, and we’ll admit some people might find the idea of it almost underwhelming as a result. If you already have last year’s GT3, why would you trade up?

scgt 2021 james chris talk

Yep, ask us which car fascinates us most and we’ll tell you that it’s the Ferrari SF90, no question. It bravely pushes the supercar into new territory, makes 1000bhp more accessible and friendlier than it has any right to be, and bridges the divide between the exotic combustion-engined machinery of the past and the high-performance electric cars that will surely become the norm in the not-too-distant future. It’s a multi-dimensional character in tune with the clean-air zeitgeist in a way the GT3 just isn’t, one capable of gliding silently through city streets one minute and ripping round a track, guns blazing, the next.

But this test’s criteria have always been simple. We’re only interested in the blazing bit. Three years ago the self-assured, single-minded Pista prevailed over the GT2, a car you might describe as a GT3 overcomplicated by the addition of turbocharging, which adds heaps of performance but sacrifices sound, throttle response and purity in the process.

scgt 2021 gt3 tracking

This time, it’s different. We’re mesmerised by the SF90. It’s an incredible machine. But while watching and listening to a world-class orchestra can stand the hairs on the back of your arms so upright you could use them as wire brushes, sometimes a simple stripped-back two-chord jam can be so absorbing you never want it to end.

By Chris Chilton

And now it’s your turn…

scgt anglesey track map

You’ve seen Anglesey Circuit in all its glory – you can very easily drive it too.

There’s nowhere quite like Trac Môn, to give the circuit its native name. Perched upon the cliffs next to the Irish Sea, with the mountain peaks of Snowdonia visible beyond on a clear day, the circuit’s layout is a match for its location: cambered corners, corkscrew plunges and an incredibly smooth surface courtesy of £4.2m of funding back in 2008. Think of it as Great Britain’s Laguna Seca.

You can experience Anglesey for yourself in a range of performance driving courses offered by the circuit in single-seaters, sports cars and skid-control cars, or tackle it in your own car (or on your motorcycle) in a packed calendar of trackdays throughout the year.

There’s racing at the circuit too, and Anglesey is home to the annual Race of Remembrance, an event like no other. Each November the forces and motorsport communities come together, with 150 drivers battling the circuit – and the elements. The 12-hour endurance race is temporarily halted for a special pitlane Remembrance Sunday service.

You won’t regret an expedition to the top-left corner of Wales.

Jamie Chadwick, fastest woman on four wheels and Sports Car Giant Test guest judge, says: ‘It’s a real driver’s circuit – very technical, and it’s got everything you need to test a car thoroughly. In an F3 car it’s very fast…’

Sir Chris Hoy, Olympic legend and handy racing driver, agrees. ‘I love the beauty of the views on a clear day, and the fact the track lends itself equally well to chasing lap times or going sideways round the wide hairpins, depending on your mood. I love the place.’

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