When it comes to rental supercar tests, the people have spoken! And you’re going to get five of the original eight cars ranked between today and Saturday. But when you choose five from eight, you still have three that didn’t make the cut. I’ll explain why below.
Non-Contender Number Zero: Ferrari F430 F1. Periodically, I think to myself: “Self, you should buy a Ferrari 430. They’re under a hundred grand now and they are pretty reliable as far as Ferraris go and they are pretty cheap to maintain as far as Ferraris go and wouldn’t you like to have a Ferrari before you die?” After spending a weekend driving one and coaching in one, I can answer that with a solid “Nope.” To begin with, it’s neither vintage-charming like an F355 or fantastically competent like a 458 Italia. It has a performance envelope that sits comfortably inside that of something like a C6 Z06 or a 2005 Viper.
It’s not handsome; the proportions just don’t work on this or the 360 Modena. The F1 shift genuinely sucks. I’d rather spend my Ferrari money on a 575M, which is no faster but is a grand-touring twelve-cylinder in the classic style. Or you could buy a 328GTB and an early C6 Z06 for the same money, netting you a better-looking Ferrari and a faster track car. In isolation, it’s pretty charming, but the 458 makes it look like a used Mercury Monarch. More annoyingly for the tifosi, the Gallardo does as well.
Non-Contender Number One: Mercedes-AMG SLS Roadster. As a Black Series gullwing, the Mercedes-AMG is the stuff of legends and it wowed the crowd at PCOTY 2013. When I took one to Toronto Motorsports Park, home of our sister publication AutoGuide’s track tests, I immediately set what would have been their all-time best lap — while I was warming up. Capable isn’t the word. It’s one of the all-time greats.
As a convertible, without the wings and things? Well, it’s still very fast. The final form of the hand-assembled “6.3” V-8 is splendid from tickover to torque peak to rev limit, carrying the eternal mail like it’s been harpooned by Queequeg before sounding for a final time. The double-clutch transmission is a nearly perfect ally and responds as if it only had a GTI’s worth of power to transmit instead of thrice that. The brakes work. After a while, you get used to the nose hanging out there, just like you do with a Viper.
Yet this isn’t truly a supercar; it’s a grand tourer that happens to haul ass. You need the laser-sharp focus of the Black Series to make it competitive with the mid-engine Italians or the Z06 Corvette. As a way to get around Beverly Hills, it’s the alpha dog, but around a racetrack it’s too big, too soft, and too relaxed. Also, and I feel I should mention this, it’s an absolute nightmare in the wet. As in, it’s the only car I thought I might scratch up during the recon laps every morning, because it oscillated heavily under power in the rain. So beware, Real Housewives and all who adore them.
Non-Contender Number Two: 2009 Nissan GT-R Premium You’ll notice that I’ve included the year and the model of the GT-R here. There’s a reason for that. When I drove the Nismo GT-R for PCOTY 2014, I was utterly convinced by the reborn Nissan’s poise, power, and back-road fling-ability. Though it costs a pretty penny, the Nismo is worth all the money, in large part because all the pieces have finally come together. The engine is making the right amount of power and delivering it in the right fashion, the transmission and diffs have been to Senna school, and the bonded-and-seam-welded chassis feels all of a piece. Go buy one with my blessing, even if I would personally rather have a Viper TA for less money.
That Nismo GT-R represents five years of continuous effort and improvement over the original R35 GT-R, and the difference is easy to feel when you drive the old one. There’s far less subtlety and speed in the way the power gets transferred to the different corners of the car. Furthermore, while I in no way want to contribute (further!) to the computer/video-game stereotype about this car, it does feel distant and physically large most of the time. This is exaggerated, of course, when you’re coming to it from a McLaren MP4-12C instead of from, say, a Mustang or Infiniti G37 coupe. It never really shrinks around you the way a Viper does; you are always aware that you are piloting a very tall, very large, very heavy automobile.
With that said, it’s easily fast enough to get you into trouble that the computers can’t solve, so don’t believe all the hype about it being idiot-proof. With that said, we’ll leave the GT-R behind for now, because while the current version is ready for the world, this one is now about as impressive as a first-generation iPad.
That leaves us with five:
I’ll mail a TTAC Racing shirt to the first poster who correctly guesses the finishing order. See you tomorrow!