Georg Kacher: supercar summit counterpoint

Published: 27 June 2011

Here is my ranking: Ferrari 1st, in its slipstream the McLaren. Then a break. Next, the Audi, followed by the Porsche. Then an even longer break. Eventually, the SLS appears, with the Lamborghini trailing not far behind. Let me explain...

The Performante is everything you expect from the brand. Street cred, noise and, true to the badge, performance. But I am not Jimmy the Rubber Man who comfortably fits into a suitcase, so if I wanted physical torture I would rather visit Samatha in her bondage den.

The SLS is a better car than most of my colleagues think. A much better car, in fact. Consider the V8 grunt, a chassis as game for hooliganism as the C63 AMG, plus the crowd-stopping effect of those gullwing doors. But then the Merc is the only softcore supercar in this lot, ideal for feisty fortune-seekers, less so for purveyors of ultimate sharpness and total response.

The GT2 RS scares me. This Porsche is a clear case of the car's talents exceeding the driver's talents. Especially when you throw in the zero-tolerance Cup tyres and the one-size-fits-all-but-me bucket seats. Having watched Walter Röhrl tame this beast like only he can, I almost enrolled in a pottery course and forgot fast driving for the rest of my life.

For the money, nothing beats the R8. Except perhaps the V8-engined version which is an even shrewder used-car bargain. Our test car epitomized the best of the breed - manual gearbox and steel brakes. This is a truly involving piece of kit, putty in the palms of even less talented pilots, fluent and flawless if not exorbitantly fast. You can't go wrong with the Audi. But you can reach for something even better.

The MP4 puzzled me. I have now driven five different McLarens, and they all varied in character and ability. Best of the lot were the silver and black pre-production cars with steel brakes that Chris Chilton and I tested at Portimao. Worst of the lot was our orange metallic track car. Its suspension was too soft, it felt loose and woolly albeit at a very high level, and the brakes tended to ABS-S-S-S themselves and me into the next available gravel trap. The solid orange road car was a much more convincing specimen. Again, the carbon brakes left something to be desired (mushy pedal, difficult to modulate, noisy), the Brake Steer feature was momentarily counter-productive on rough roads (it pulled the car's rear end briefly to the left or the right in a misjudged attempt to correct the course), and the beautifully strong and torquey engine sounded shamefully annonymous and un-special. But the steering, the chassis and the controls are spot-on, suspension compliance is second to none, and the handling is both spicy and sane.

So it's the Ferrari, again. With under 2k miles under its belt, the 458 was wonderfully tight, perfectly progressive and eerily involving. The steering is even quicker than the direction-finder of the MP4, the steering-wheel sets a pattern the others are bound to follow (the Manettino is so much more intuitive than the Macca's driving dynamics controls), the brakes are sensational, and the engine-gearbox combination hammers home that goose-pimple-growing King of the Road message loud and clear. Despite the stunning velocity, grip, roadholding and stability, there is a confidence-inspiring lightness and poise to the way the Italia dances round bends, dives into dips and flies over crests. Going really fast has rarely felt easier, safer, more reassuring. Instead of shelling out £70k for gaudy options, I would rather go for a no-frills base car and spend a few extra grand to jump the queue.

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By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

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