By Zack Klapman.
These two cars are for those who want to be a bit different than the rest of the well heeled. Everyone knows those Italian’s names. Great as they are, choosing to spend some of your millions on a Ferrari or Lamborghini isn’t breaking new ground. The names have a cache, and many of the buyers enjoy that more than the engine note.
But the people that buy an Audi R8 or a McLaren aren’t as focused on the reactions of others. When the R8 came out, the common phrase, “Audi is building a super car?” As if. McLaren is known for the F1 (and for F1), but the last road car was so long ago, the name won’t get you as far with the busty, brilliant displays of hair coloring technology that, like Pavlov’s dogs, salivate when they hear “Ferrari”.
The 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus won’t get that response. Physics says that’s a good thing, as do I. The chassis, handling, and road feel in this car is near perfect. I’ve have never felt so comfortable, in a car so powerful, so quickly. Rear-biased AWD is the best invention ever, giving you lots of control but has fun too. The new dual-clutch gearbox shifts almost instantly. The V10 powerband is big and flat enough that you can rest an entire canyon’s worth of turns on it.
The dismissive and/or disinterested attitude people have towards “an Audi super car?” is actually an asset, because it allows you to fly a bit below the radar, and no one will call it obnoxious. It’s like meeting a model while she was still just the girl at the burger shop. The inside is under-stated for what the car can do, but it looks cool and is well organized.
The McLaren (I’m done with its name. It reads like an email password.) Is a bit more extroverted, even though I don’t prefer its looks. It’s hard to ignore a car that’s shaped like a 430, is covered in gills, and has a giant air brake spoiler. Though I prefer the Audi inside and out, the interior of the McLaren is the future. Digital screens replace analogs, the dash is clean and minimalist, Alcantara is as common here as carbon is on earth. It looks sparse at a glance, but the details are brilliant, and well done.
In a race, my gut says the McLaren will win. (They should, they’ve done nothing but built racecars for 15 years). Well, the handling is otherworldly. The 593HP twin-turbo V8 sends you forward with a violence so smooth it was like a surgical-grade chain saw. The result is an 0-60 of 3.0 flat, .5 seconds faster than the Plus. Even more amazing is how ridiculously comfortable this car is on city streets, bad ones. Concrete slabs? Hardly noticed. Though the Audi feels more like an acceptable daily-drive, it must be said the MP4-12C (dang it) is kinder on the road.
These cars aren’t sold on their name, but on merit. The Audi R8 is strongly rooted as one of the best all-around supercars, but all the while possesses handling chops that win handling contests in Motor Trend. It’s like you squeezed the soul of an Evo in a better-looking, more expensive car. I loved every second in it.
The MP4-12C redefines what a road car can do, using new creations like hydraulic anti-roll bars to smoothly pass the competition. They both quietly excel at being charming axe murderers, while the public buys tickets to Ferrari’s big red amusement park in the desert. They are onions, and your appreciation and respect increase the longer you spend with them.
Me? The R8 plucks the dopamine strings in my brain in so many ways-sound, sight, excitement, and humility-it beats the McLaren, something you won’t see very often.