2012 McLaren MP4 vs. 2012 Aston Martin Vantage

By Zack Klapman and edited by Christina Selter.

Digital vs. Analog: Right now there is an arms race of performance cars happening, and we reap all the benefits. “Regular” sports cars today perform like supercars from only 5 years ago. Heck, minivans have almost 300hp. What flavor car would you like? Speed? Handling? Noise? Brute force or finesse? It’s all out there.

How you decide depends on two things: 1. What you want from a car and 2. Available funds. The second one is easy, because it’s math. It’s the first that’s hard.

Case in point, today’s comparison. To some it’s a no-brainer: the McLaren is faster, and thus better. Shallow criteria I think, and if speed is the goal, a modified GTR is the right weapon, and saves you a down payment.

For me, cars are about more than speed, so if I was handed the 200-or-so thousand dollars they cost ($229,000 for the McLaren, $203,000 for the Aston Martin), I’d have to ponder it a bit.

2012 McLaren MP4-12C

2012 McLaren MP4-12C

“What’s in a name?” In the case here, not much that a flight number can’t deliver, but like an actress born Gertrude, a name is easily replaced for the sake of talent, which is why everyone just calls this car, “The McLaren”.

I call this car “digital” because like Casio did with timekeeping, McLaren took the essential goal of the sports car (speed) and brought it into the future with digital readouts and multiple functions.

The engine, for example, is tiny; a 3.8 liter V8 fed by two turbos. Floor it and 592hp goes through the 7-speed paddle-shifted transmission with such immediate efficiency it’s like the combustion chambers are inside the tires. A drop of power is not lost. The feeling in 2nd gear is that of teleportation: Here I am a stoplight, gas, now I’m 3 blocks down.

The car barely squats, there’s no sense of danger, just speed. Such speed. 60MPH takes only 3 seconds, and it runs high 10s in the ¼. Tens.

Cocooned in an interior painted with Alcantara (the cabin looks 8 years ahead of its time) it’s clear you are sitting in something different. There are 3 traction and power settings, an air brake, and touch screens. It’s the supercar by Skynet.

And is it a rigid racer, sprung so tightly it can’t drive over a penny without concussing the driver? Hardly. It is, in fact, one of the most comfortable cars I’ve driven. Not sports car, just car. Period. It rides nicer than an AMG Mercedes, gliding over cracks as quietly as a BMW 6 series.

Tighter than a diamond, fast as all hell, and smarter than you or I could dream of being. McLaren has combined performance and comfort in a way previously unseen. Wow.

2012 Aston Martin V12 Vantage Carbon Edition

2012 Aston Martin Vantage V12

The 2012 Aston Martin Vantage is to the DB9 as a caiman to an alligator. Powerful and beautiful, just shrunk a bit. Speed and bravado oozed from its orange skin.

It’s not as powerful, fast, or advanced as the MP4. It is 1.5 seconds slower to sixty; a full month in performance cars. The interior is very nice, but at this stage, familiar to a fault. The 6 speeds are controlled by pushing a pedal and moving a big aluminum lever. The engine – a 510HP 6.0L V12- can easily be called old, and requires a winding to reach full clip (max torque of 420 is at 5,750RPM). In many ways it is a typewriter to the iPad that is the McLaren.

Aging engine, replayed interior, “only” 510HP, I. Don’t. Care. The ear-to-ear grin started when I climbed in and continued for days after the car left my possession. On the contrary, the traditional aluminum gauges, burly shift knob and stiff ride made the event that much better.

2012 Aston Martin Vantage V12

And driving it is an event. The steering is heavy and direct. The clutch has a perfect stiffness. The sizable shifter would be appropriate for activating a laser to destroy asteroids. As you pull away you’re very aware a big motor has been stuffed into something short and sharp, a miniature javelin with a rocket tied to it. Pull away, put it in second, hit it.

Oh what a sound! Oh what a feeling! It squats, shimmies a little, and GOES, sprinting down the road, howling for open road. This car is fast in the best way, with a powerband that can be played at length. Unlike the McLaren MP4, the sound alone encourages speeding, burbling and popping when you let off. It’s some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

It moves through corners like an out of control mining cart (in a good way). Windows down, radio off, smile on. Other cars became trees on a ski slope. This car is the Shelby Cobra of the 21st century.

Pocket watch or USB?

The McLaren is a space ship. The inside is unlike anything you’ve seen. It has an air brake for Pete’s sake. The visceral sensation is less than the Aston, but it compensates with outright skills. You know how some racecar drivers have the personality of a bowling alley computer? This car is like that: a little down on looks, a little soft-spoken, but in its element it is unmatched, especially for the price.

2012 McLaren MP4-12C

The V12 Vantage Carbon Edition is gas-burning nostalgia. It is everything we want about cars. It’s the reason people fawn over the E30 M3 and complain that new Porsches are too easy. Loud, manual transmission, and requiring your attention it’s the Gatsby version of big motor, small car. It’s a sports car, in the purist definition.

Choosing between the two isn’t about the cars, it’s about you, and The 2012 Mc Laren MP4-12C is a symbol of where cars are going, while the Aston is a shining example of why we love them. I believe there will be many cars like the MP4 in the future, but the Aston Martin Vantage is a swan song, and for that reason, it would be key in my pocket.

(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Aston Martin and McLaren.)