McLaren, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Audi are vying to claim the best super sports car accolade. We've tested each of them to determine which is best. Share Open gallery
Close Share story News by Autocar 9 mins read 1 March 2021 Follow @@autocar
We are living through a high period for the super sports car. Never before has there been such a varied and exotic mix of offerings available within this swollen niche of the performance car market, each car with its own blend of qualities and mechanical subtleties.
The list of 10 cars below features everything from hardcore hooligans to more forward-looking mid-engined hybrids. There’s a car for all tastes in this segment, but the ones below are our picks of the bunch.
1. Aston Martin Vantage
Aston Martin has taken a giant leap into true blue driver’s car territory with the new Vantage. Never before has Gaydon departed so clearly from its traditional preference for fairly laid-back, long-legged, old-school front-engined GT sports cars than it has here.
So much about the new Vantage – from its first-order performance level to its tight, tenacious body control to its impressively advanced driveline specification and its on-track composure, handling precision and staying power – tells you loud and clear that it’s ready to transform Aston into a firm that can be taken seriously by real petrolheads; people who’ve stuck to their Porsches and upper-level BMW M cars thus far. It’s now available in roadster-bodied form, as well as with the chassis and styling tweaks that made up the limited-edition AMR version.
Never have you been able to drive a series-production Aston as hard as this, or really contemplate using one like you might a track-ready 911. Partly perhaps as a result of all that newfound grip and purpose, the car doesn’t quite overcome the limitations of its size and weight and involve like the greatest driver’s cars when driven on the road – but it certainly enriches everyday use as a super sports car should, and as only an Aston Martin could.
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2. McLaren 570S
The 570S occupies purer and more exciting notional territory than many its super sports car rivals, but it’s also more forgiving and more comfortable than many as well.
Its performance level is exceptional, without compromise to driveability. Its handling is equally outstanding: a special mix of track-ready purpose, with on-road compliance, precision and stability – and enriched by wonderful control feedback and delicacy of feel.
It is more exotic than the Porsche 911, more tactile to drive than an Audi R8 V10 Plus and more practical than you might think too. There’s little doubt that McLaren’s entry-level ‘sports series’ model has actually been the car to make its creator’s reputation — although, with a replacement imminent, you’ll have to act fast if you want one.
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Read our review Back to top 3. Ferrari Roma
The Roma is a new mould of more affordable Ferrari that feels very much like an old one. The classically beautiful, V8-powered, front-engined, two-plus-two-seater coupe shares its platform with the Portofino but has looks and handling appeal way beyond the reach of that convertible relation. It is perhaps most alike Maranello’s popular 550 Maranello of the late 1990s in spirit, although not technically in every way: a compact, temptingly attainable, daily-usable sporting GT (which also ranks highly in our super GT top ten, by the way) with the performance, excitement factor and handling vivacity of a proper Ferrari, but a cabin and character you could really put miles on.
The Roma’s 3.9-litre turbo V8 gives it in excess of six-hundred horsepower and a top speed within a whisker of 200mph; and yet this is the modern Prancing Horse in relatively laid-back guise, and so it’s the car’s surprisingly comfortable and sophisticated-feeling interior that really strikes you, which is easy to berth, well equipped with the very latest technological mod cons, and tempting to simply spend time in.
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4. Porsche 911 Turbo & Turbo S
Porsche’s brutally fast, incomparably usable, four-wheel-drive performance icon is back for the ‘992’ generation, and once again ranks as one of the quickest point-to-point car on the planet. Four-wheel drive and new twin-turbocharged engine tuned to 641bhp contrive to deliver a 2.6sec 0-62mph time and a top speed comfortably north of 200mph. And as with other 911s in the current range, you can also expect a first-class cabin with tangible luxury allure, and a degree of under-the-radar subtlety absent from some of the more extrovert cars on this list.
And that’s a large part of the appeal with the Turbo S, which is also available in cheaper, slightly less rapacious ‘Turbo’-badged guise as well. Despite it’s manic pace, it doesn’t shout everywhere it goes, and its ability to swallow big distances and plenty of luggage also makes it an authentic alternative even to GT-leaning rivals such as the Aston Martin DB11.
Naturally, it’ll thrill like few else on a B-road, too. Intuivive steering and just a hint of that rear-biased weight distribution give the driver options, though admittedly the Porsche still isn’t quite as playful or involving as some on this list.
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5. Aston Martin DB11 V8
The DB11 V8 is the bigger brother of the Vantage. The V8 is the entry-level version, and the one that most qualifies for the car for consideration as an out-and-out driver’s car. And, by making the top half of this list, you can take it that it qualifies pretty well.
It isn’t the most refined car in its class, with tyre roar and some rustling of air passing over the base of A-pillar. Cabin ambience is old-school luxurious, with brogued leather in abundance if you want it. In some ways, the car’s interior isn’t as technologically impressive as perhaps it ought to be, nor are all of its fittings quite as materially solid of feel — but it impresses allthesame.
If you’re sitting in a DB11 V8, the AMG-sourced engine up front sets the tone for what this car can, dynamically speaking, do so well. It’s so deeply intuitive to steer and wonderfully balanced in its handling manners.
This is a hugely desirable product – one that ranks ahead of its V12 sibling in our book for driver appeal.
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Advertisement Back to top 6. Honda NSX
Honda has managed to deploy world-first powertrain technology with a superb lightness of touch here. It has used unconventional means to refine and enhance, rather than reinvent, the conventional mid-engined driver’s car. And it has produced a very rare breed of exotic as a result: one that doesn’t shout about its potential or impose itself on your senses, but is instead a very mature and complete driver’s car, and has multi-faceted appeal whatever your prevailing speed and journey.
Despite updates introduced in 2019 – which, along with the bright orange paint-job, included detail chassis tweaks and recalibrations for the adaptive damping, steering and four-wheel drive — it could still be better equipped, nicer to travel in and a touch more luridly exciting at times. The car’s weight and its tendency to run short on outright power at really big speeds make it less impressive on track than it might be, so that if Honda wants to release a Type R version anytime soon, it’ll need to do plenty to make it really worthy of the billing.
However, for its fusion of talents, the NSX deserves plenty of respect, and perhaps even a certain reverence. Amond mid-engined options, arguably only the McLaren 570S offers a more rounded, versatile and compelling driving experience, but it does so with a far simpler powertrain.
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7. Audi R8 V10 Coupe and Spyder
The Audi R8’s technical relation to the company’s motorsport efforts is clear. The car is a visceral, singular tribute to power and performance, noise and revs, grip and traction. It’s hugely exciting to drive, although not quite as rounded, communicative or engaging as the very best super sports cars. Advertisement Back to top
When we first drove the latest R8, we felt it had lost some of the old car’s character — trading it for a more digital form. However, with the introduction of the new R8 RWD — which, unsurprisingly, drops its front-driven axle — a good helping of that character has been restored. This new series-production model’s steering may still lack some of the talkativity you’d get from the likes of the new 911 Turbo S and McLaren 570S, but there’s an entertaining and approachable — if not totally immersive — super sports car beneath the aggressive exterior.
The car can now be had in V10 RWD (543bhp), V10 Quattro (562bhp) and V10 Performance (612bhp) forms, any of which can be combined with closed-roof coupe or open-top Spyder bodies. Options such as ‘Magnaride’ adaptive dampers and carbon-ceramic brakes can only be had on upper-level four-wheel-drive versions, however.
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8. Mercedes-AMG GT-R
With the spaceframe underbody structure of a supercar, an engine from a muscle saloon, suspension tuned for maximum attack on the track and yet the practicality and luxury feel of an elegant coupé, or roadster, the GT is an even more bewildering addition to the sports car world than the Mercedes-Benz SLS was.
Affalterbach introduced the more hardcore ‘-R’ version of the car in 2017, as its ambitions to make inroads into the market of near neighbour Porsche’s GT-car clientele grew. The first version upped power to 577bhp, which remains where it rests. The extra track-focussed GT-R Pro version that came along in 2019 brought some chassis and suspension tweaks and aerodynamic gains, but left the car’s powertrain pretty much as it was. Advertisement Back to top
The GT-R is something of a brute compared to rivals in this chart; the kind of car to beat a bump into submission rather than breathe over the top of it, and that can feel marvellously over-endowed for power with the electronic aids disengaged. It’s fun mostly because it’s so direct unreconstructed, but it’s certainly requires plenty of precision, skill and commitment of its driver if you’re going to drive it well.
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9. Nissan GT-R Nismo
It may have been around for more than a decade now, but the Nissan GT-R remains one of the quickest, most capable super sports cars money can buy. The hardcore Nismo version builds on this.
There’s a more aggressive aero package that includes a sizeable rear wing, an increase in torsional rigidity, as well as tweaked springs, dampers and anti-roll bars for even greater levels of agility. Nissan says these modifications make the GT-R Nismo even more playful on the limit, which can only be a good thing. Its steering is impressively incisive and accurate, while the fact that it seems happier to send its power rearwards in order to bring its tail end into play serves to confirm Nissan’s modifications have worked as intended.
Of course, it’s still devilishly quick in a straight line too. Its 3.8-litre V6, whose twin turbos come courtesy of Nissan’s GT-R GT3 race car, produces some 592bhp and 481lb ft. Nissan don’t quote an official 0-60mph time, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it might well dip below the 3.0sec mark. Advertisement Back to top
It might be showing its age, but the GT-R Nismo remains as brutally effective as ever.
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10. BMW M8 Competition
It’s debatable whether this £130k, 616bhp BMW super coupe (which also comes as a convertible or a four-door, as you prefer) really ought to be considered here as a super sports car, or alongside the likes of a Bentley Continental GT as a super GT. BMW’s M Division was certainly seeking to bridge both classes when it bestowed M Division tuning and styling on the M8, as well as a luxurious interior, and a driver-selectable four-wheel drive system whose front driveshafts can be disengaged completely.
The M8’s size and two-tonne heft both count against it to certain extent when you consider it as a pure driver’s car. It isn’t as involving as an Aston Martin Vantage or Porsche 911, isn’t as viscerally exciting as a Ferrari Roma, and doesn’t have any of the mid-engined poise or tactile feel of a McLaren; which is what has caused some to wonder why you wouldn’t simply save a tidy five-figure sum and have the mechanically related BMW M5 Competition instead.
For BMW M car afficionados, this may the top of the tree; but viewed in the wider context of the niche in which it plays, the M8 lacks some of the finer detail on both genuine driver appeal and static desirability.
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