Top-down showdown: Ferrari F8 vs. Lambo Huracan vs. McLaren 720S vs. Porsche 911 Turbo

Which of these super spiders is the best car to drive?
by Ollie Marriage | Apr 17, 2021

“The only thing that separates them from their coupe cousins is that the roofs come off”

“Are you single?” The words are directed at staffer Rowan Horncastle, who’s been cultivating what he refers to as a “Swedish billionaire” look during lockdown. The rest of us refer to it as “’70s TV presenter,” and will do doubly now it seems to have irritatingly attracted the right kind of attention. Charlie Turner and I—15 years his senior, the former afflicted with an entirely voluntary Mexican moustache, the latter with a dome not of his own choosing, but so burnished and rounded it would make a Byzantine cathedral jealous—look on.

“You realize,” twitches the moustache, as we watch Rowan sashay off across the sand, “that you and I are now too old to pull off the yellow Ferrari roadster thing.” A discussion ensues. Under 35s only is the conclusion. Maybe 40 at a push if you go for navy blue. Same applies to the Lambo, with the added proviso that you must also be short. If not, your head pokes out the top like a whack-a-mole. Or, if you’re me, something else entirely. The McLaren, that’s a bit more grownup, and you’re fine to the grave in the Porsche.

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I am making a point here. These are supercars. The only thing that separates them from their coupe cousins is that the roofs come off. And yet this small fact means we view them entirely differently. No longer are they steely-eyed, sinewy driving machines—now they’re just another means of conveying your wealth, along with your daft watch and sockless loafers.

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PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

Among us car people, the loss of status outweighs the loss of roof ten times over. It’s a question of perception. Once you realize the world around you is trying to work out if they’ve seen you on Made in Chelsea, you’re lost. But up to that point, away from chi-chi Mediterranean harbors and Mayfair hotels—and driven roof down through the swaying, chirruping countryside on a summer’s day with the sights, sounds, and smells filtering in—these cars feel wonderful, multidimensional in a way the coupes aren’t.

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The Ferrari is newest. It’s the F8 Spider, although underneath, not a great deal has changed from the 488, which itself had much in common with the 458. Brilliant cars, both. Power is up because that’s the only way it ever goes, aero efficiency is 10% better, it’s a little lighter with more advanced chassis electrics and the same roof mechanism it’s had for the last nine years—a simple flip-up-and-over arrangement that’s noisier than the McLaren’s neater, faster, smarter operation, but takes up a tiny amount of space on the rear deck. They’re both foldaway hardtops, while Lambo and Porsche 911 Turbo S prefer canvas. It’s clearly the cheaper method—before options, both cars (the Huracan is an entry-level RWD version) sit the happy side of the £200,000 (P13.4 million) barrier.

That’s still a whole hill of money. As tested, the £178,414 (P11.9 million) Porsche is over £100,000 (P6.69 million) cheaper than either the McLaren or the Ferrari. It’s no worse equipped and not much slower—all you’re missing is exclusivity and a frankly shameless attitude to charging for extras. May I present Apple CarPlay as evidence, which is free in the Porsche and £2,400 (P160,550) in the Ferrari. Or the fact that the 911’s impressive Burmester hi-fi is half the price of the pretty ropey systems fitted to the others. And it’s not like the Turbo S is affordable: you can have a non-Turbo (but still turbocharged) convertible 911 for little more than half the cost. It’s all relative, and up in the automotive stratosphere the price is—perhaps fittingly—plucked from thin air. It exists as much to look impressive as to represent value or worth.

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PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

The Porsche drives twice as many wheels as the others, sending power there from a 3.7-liter twin-turbo flat-six. The McLaren and the Ferrari get four-liter twin-turbo V8s with north of 700hp, and there’s a naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V10 of considerable voice for the Huracan. Loose rocks were scattered in our layby at Cheddar Gorge, evidence that the scenery does occasionally fracture and tumble. Each time someone clambered into the Lambo and flipped up the cover over the starter button, I carefully took up a position way out in the open. The coupe is rowdy enough, but the Spyder’s strident sonics scuttle deep into your ears. It’s a trumpeter, all pomp and stomp, the Italian national anthem piping from its posterior. Frantic tenor as the revs rise, bass rumbles when you lift off. The Gorge trembles at its passing.

The others, all gusty turbos, huff and puff along in its wake, asthmatic in comparison. It startles me to realize it, but it’s the Ferrari’s soundtrack that is the most disappointing. It drones. There’s a bit of volume, but it’s more Paxman than Pavarotti and doesn’t have the mechanical growl of the Porsche or the sharp hiss of the McLaren’s turbos. What it does have that they don’t, is response. How come every other supercar manufacturer hasn’t stripped this engine down to analyze and copy it? You’d imagine they would, but if they have, why do they still suffer from turbo lag? Maybe it really is witchcraft, after all. I drive the Ferrari and the Lambo back to back, and emerge convinced that the F8 has the most accurate and precise throttle response. Turbos beating a free-breathing V10.

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Above 4,500rpm, the McLaren nearly matches it for response and actually betters it for speed, but you’re only at 4,500rpm when you want to be. In the real world, the one with traffic lights, changing speed limits, and small gaps in traffic, you’re at 2,000rpm. That’s where you need instant thrust. And in the Ferrari, you have it. Put it this way: It may sound a little flaccid, but I’d take this engine over any of the others in a heartbeat.

PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

They are all crazily fast. Only the Lambo takes more than 3sec to hit 97kph (60mph), all can be at 210kph within 10sec. The Lambo turns this sprint into a stadium event—it’s a broadcaster in every sense, the most likely to draw a crowd, the most likely to back off halfway through when it realizes it’s not going to win, showboating for the crowd instead. The McLaren goes in for intense focus. With its complex aero and carbon-fiber chassis (the only one here), it has the best power-to-weight ratio of the group, and seems to reshape itself under acceleration into a dart, focusing at some point ever further down the road. It knows it will win before the race starts, executing its plan and accomplishing its mission.

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The Ferrari will be very close behind. The F8 basically uses the outgoing 488 Pista’s engine, so it’s up 50hp on the GTB. Once again, Maranello has engineered it to hold the torque back in lower gears, which means that each time the next pops home (which it does with a sneaky clutch surge), the acceleration seems to increase. The effect is an utterly relentless headlong rush for speed. There’s no time to breathe, no time you’re not in the fastest flow of the powerband. It leaves you breathless and trembling. And often unaware of just how fast you’re traveling. The dominant yellow center dial is given over to revs and gear info, so unless you’ve got the correct display showing in the flanking screen, the speed reading is a footnote next to the remaining range.

The Porsche accelerates like a sneeze. There’s buildup before the main event, a tickle in the nostrils at 2,000rpm, a sense that the Turbo’s lungs are expanding under inhalation, a tense little pause as the needle rises past 2,500rpm, a few false ‘ahs,’ and then at 3,000rpm, there’s an enormous spit-flecked explosion. Happily, unlike a sneeze, it’s the kind that forces your eyes open. Wide-open. Actually, it’s more of an eruption, as it’s sustained for as long as your bravery dictates. The Porsche has four seats and more weight than the others, but as a snapshot for your memory, these anticipatory moments as you wait for the hit are as addictively delicious as the whack in the back itself.

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PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

The 911’s turbos do take some managing, though. Porsche has clearly decided that making the capital-T Turbo feel...well, more turbocharged, emphasizing the lag rather than trying to banish it, is the way to set it apart. Through the twists and turns of Cheddar, it means you have to keep a gear lower, make the engine bubble and fizz more hungrily if you want to exit corners with the force the Turbo S is capable of generating. And it is a frighteningly forceful car, the best at maintaining momentum when the inevitable happens and the heavens open, sending torrents down the road.

For the next few hours, all we learned between the showers was that the McLaren’s roof (10 seconds for the complete operation, but the panel over your head in only seven) is the fastest and quietest, and leaves you with the lightest cabin thanks to the £7,500 (P502,000) electrochromic roof panel. I’m going to ignore the car’s spec—not so much the white paint, as the pleblon gray cabin. You need to see past that to the efforts McLaren has gone to to give the 720S Spider a sense of vibrancy: the flip-panel dashboard, the perfectly sized, positioned, and shaped steering wheel, the upward-lifting, outward-twisting doors, the buttress that holds the gearbox buttons.

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After it, the Ferrari feels lazily familiar. Not much has changed. Yes, you can now have a display in front of the passenger, so maybe have them shout your speed to you instead of searching for it yourself. And CarPlay appears, but on a screen no bigger than your phone and operated by a twist knob on the dash. Just like the cruise control. The Ferrari is not good at being easy to use if you’re pootling around. It wants you to drive. That’s why revs dominate the dash, and thumb-reach controls litter the steering wheel.

The Porsche’s cabin has more in common with an Audi than it does with its rivals here. It’s organized in the same way and operates with the same clarity and ease, but doesn’t feel special or unique, just well-ordered and logical. The Lamborghini, despite being under Audi ownership, is a law unto itself. You can rub along with it, but just wait until you drop the roof and realize the upward-facing console screen is now so reflective, you need to shield your eyes.

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PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

The bigger issue is where you’re positioned in the Huracan. The McLaren, the Porsche, and the Ferrari tuck you down. The Lambo sits you on. As a result, it has the most turbulent cabin; if you’re tall, the windshield rail will be at your eyeline. It’s a long way forward, so you shouldn’t head-butt it, and it certainly enhances the sense of exposure, but pop the roof up and it’s cramped and dark. Tiny space up front and zero space behind the seats. None of the two-seaters buck that trend, but all do better up front.

Kites, a cricket bat, a badminton set, balls, frisbee, and buckets are all slotted in the Ferrari, because we were off to the beach. It should have been that afternoon, but the weather intervened, so we headed home to regroup the following day at Brean Sands. By pure coincidence, Rowan, Ollie Kew, and I hook up at Membury services. Ollie doesn’t jump nearly as high as I wanted him to when I creep up on him and beep the horn. I realize he’s already spent two hours in the Lamborghini, so will be deaf. When we depart onto the M4, the 720S grunts, whistles, and is gone. The Lambo, with three times the apparent effort, moves visibly more slowly. I’m in the 911. I’ve pulled paddles and am in fifth already. They’re specks by the time the 911 gets a tickle in its nostrils.

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But at the other end of the M4: 12.9km/L for me, 11.1km/L for the McLaren, 9.8km/L for the Lambo, which, like the Ferrari, pulls over 2,500rpm at around 110kph, while the Anglo-Deutsch consortium potter along in top at around 1,700rpm. It’s been amusing to watch Kew’s barnet buffet in the breeze, and to be honest the best place to appreciate the Lambo’s V10 soundtrack is a position about 200 yards behind it. That way, you can’t be blamed. The Lambo looks hunched, like it has tucked its head into its shoulders, whereas the Porsche is more hump-backed, the visual weight placed squarely over the rear axle. Both decks are challenging to see over.

PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

The beach at Brean is near enough seven miles long. We’ve got the first mile to play with, as long as we avoid beachmats, dogs, and sandcastles, and at up to a heady 25kph. We’re not here to learn about the cars, but we are here to see how other people react to them—which iswith considerable excitement and then sucked teeth when they learn the prices. A straw poll suggests the Lamborghini strikes the biggest chord, because as one onlooker put it, “I had a poster of a girl in a bikini sitting on a Countach when I was young. That stuff sticks with you.”

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It’s later and we’re out driving on some good roads. Some good, bumpy roads. The sort that are unkind to roadsters. Not the McLaren—what an astonishing car. Nothing deviates it from its course or causes it to lose control. All wound up, it’s incredible—you sit with your feet thrust into the nose, viewing the action up close with the front seeming to swing from under you. It has fabulous steering and outrageous speed, and tactility is undiminished compared with the coupe. It is a brilliant communicator, and aside from brakes that have too much travel before they bite properly, it’s savagely exciting to drive. Not playful, but plain determined. Chassis tremble has been ruthlessly purged.

The others all suffer to some degree. The Lambo is commendably free from shake, but then you turn into a corner and it’s not as direct, eager, and incisive as it should be. Some measure of flex is delaying the signals, and you don’t get the coupe’s sense of connection to the front wheels. The back axle, yes, but the nose has lost its brightness.

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PHOTO: Mark Riccioni

Similarly, the droptop 911’s front end isn’t as tenacious as the coupe’s, but for a car with such a large open area, there’s very little shake indeed. It doesn’t so much shudder as twitch: a small movement, instantly corrected. The Ferrari, amazingly, has more difficulty keeping control of itself. Here, the movement when it hits a lateral ridge is a shiver up the spine that makes it as far as the steering wheel. And yet this doesn’t disrupt the lines of communication. Aside from the engine noise and this hint of flex that can’t help but mildly pollute the driving, the F8 is a sparkling car to drive. It’s more beguiling and vivacious than the McLaren and the Porsche, more alert and alive than the Lamborghini. It flows beautifully on any road, at any speed. The McLaren is more focused, even better resolved, but not quite as effortlessly carefree.

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Both these, and the Porsche, know how to kick back, cool off, and cruise. The Lamborghini just misses the mark there. It’s the least resolved of this quartet, dominated by its barking engine. It wears its heart on its sleeve, but that just reminds you it has less depth than the others. Intending this as regular driver? Get the Porsche and ignore the sneers about it being a convertible. They’ll only be jealous when, four-up you, head off for your first post-lockdown run to a country pub.

The Ferrari F8 feels like an interim measure and, I’m afraid, like it hasn’t yet caught up with the technical advances McLaren has made with the 720S. Put those to one side and you’ll fall for the Ferrari. It’s the most exciting car here. But overall, the McLaren does the job better. As far as the job matters. Want some advice? Have the one that suits you best. Handily, we reckon that’s the McLaren for our Swedish billionaire. Not sure which one we would put our ’70s TV presenter in. I don’t think they’re going in for roadsters these days.

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The Ferrari F8 Dashboard and Interior

The McLaren 720S Dashboard and Interior

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The Porsche 911 Turbo Dashboard and Interior

The Lamborghini Huracan Dashboard and Interior

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The McLaren 720S

The Porsche 911 Turbo

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The Lamborghini Huracan

The Ferrari F8

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: Mark Riccioni
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