Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: Sports Cars Don’t Get Better Than This
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, I’m not talking about the Jacobin Reign of Terror, or anything to do with Charles Dickens. I’m talking about how the Motor Trend staff felt after wrapping up our 2013 Best Driver’s Car competition (powered by Peanut M&Ms).
For most of us, it’s our most anticipated event of the year. Really and truly the best of times for certified performance-junkie fast-car types. The Porsche 911 had just pulled off the first ever back-to-back win in BDC history. That means that, in two competitions just 12 months apart, Porsche‘s rear-engine magic ride had taken on and defeated 19 other competitors. In fact, the last car any of us had driven that would honestly give the 911 a run for its money was the Ferrari 458 Italia, the 2011 BDC champ.
The newest Porsche 911 has won every comparison test we’ve entered it in. The 991 is as dominant as sports cars get. More than a few of us left BDC wondering if there is any car that can beat it.
As for the worst of times, Ferrari declined to give us the new 458 Spider, or any Ferrari at all. And the new C7 Corvette — the car everyone most wanted to see compete—was a no show. Despite an initial indication that the all-new seventh-generation Corvette Stingray would play, Chevy pulled the plug two weeks from the start. This really hurt because not only are new Corvettes markers in time, but we know Chevrolet benchmarked the new 911 during the C7’s development process. Plus, we’ve been comparing Corvettes with 911s since before most of the staff was born. Yet it was not to be. But would it have mattered? Is there any car that defeat the 911?
Here are two that might have a shot: the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 and the 2013 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. Fast-forward two months after Best Driver’s Car and voilà! Chevy graced us with a beautiful blue example of the Bow Tie brand’s heavy hitter. We also wrangled up a real, live 731-hp Italian stud.
Just like that, it looks like we’re back to the best of times bit. One little issue: Since the F12 stickers for nearly $400,000 more than the Corvette, we decided the only fair way to approach this comparison test would be to apply a version of our Best Driver’s Car rules. Metrics like value and design get flung out the proverbial window in favor of how great the car is to drive on the highway, a back-country twisty road, and, of course, our home away from home, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. To rub it in just a little bit more, these three are pretty dang spectacular.
Let’s start with the Ferrari portion of the story. The muscular F12 ripped to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds before roaring down the quarter mile in 11.3 seconds with a big-boy trap speed of 131.7 mph. Not to kill the suspense, but the 731-hp car is quicker in a straight line than the 400-pony Porsche and the 460-hp Corvette. However, is it that much faster? The Porsche, which has only 325 lb-ft of torque, took 3.9 seconds to reach 60 mph. Of course, by the time we hit the quarter mile, the 911 C4S was a full second (12.3 seconds) behind the F12 and losing, with a trap speed of only 114.4 mph.
The Corvette Z51 lacks the fancy dual-clutch transmission you’ll find on the two Europeans, nor does it have the Porsche’s all-wheel-drive traction. Given that, the C7 and its 465 lb-ft of torque reached 60 mph in an impressive 3.7 seconds and ran the quarter in 12.0 seconds flat at 118.4 mph, ahead — but not too far — of the considerably less potent 911, though still behind the Ferrari. As for braking performance, the story is reversed with the 911 requiring just 98 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph, the Corvette taking 95 feet, and the big Ferrari needing 106 feet.
Yes, big: 3 pounds over 2 tons, to be exact — 4003 pounds. While that’s more than 100 pounds lighter than the 4107-pound Lamborghini Aventador — the other $400,000-plus V-12 Italian exotic — the F12’s husky, big bones are surprising. Like the F12 Berlinetta, the new Corvette is aluminum-intensive, but it’s gained about 100 pounds since the last generation, weighing in at 3436.
Despite its rear seat and AWD hardware, the Carrera 4S is the lightest of this trio at 3401 pounds. If we’re being fair, the 35 pounds that separate the Porsche and the Chevy are basically negligible. But the more than quarter-ton difference between the Ferrari and the other two sure is noticeable out on the road. At first. Associate road test editor Carlos Lago said, “Noticeably bigger and heavier, but doesn’t feel any harder to place on the road after a few miles.” Associate editor Scott Evans remarked, “Kinda hairy out here. I’m not confident behind the wheel. Doesn’t feel planted.” Part of that might have been the tires, as the Michelin Pilot Super Sport K2s aren’t as aggressive as, say, the Pilot Super Sport ZPs on the Corvette. But the real story is that humdinger of a motor.
Let me just say this: The 6.3-liter, 731-hp V-12 that spins to 8500 rpm in the blink of an eye is the greatest naturally aspirated production car engine on Earth. Full stop, it simply wails. I’ll go one further: This might be the last great big, free-breathing engine the world will ever see. The LaFerrari’s even more potent version of the F12’s V-12 gets electric assist, and Ferrari just told us it’s going to begin turbocharging its engines because of impending consumption and emissions laws. While future Ferrari power will no doubt go up, there’s no way the response will be as perfectly linear and lovely as what you get from natural aspiration. Please doff your cap in a moment of silence.
That said, and I can’t believe he wrote it, Scott Evans asked, “Too much power for public roads?” Editor-in-chief Edward Loh felt similarly, stating , “I love an engine that delivers 150 percent of the performance of anything on the planet.” Here’s the honest truth: None of us was prepared for the shock and awe the F12’s engine masterfully delivered. Especially not on a very tight, very bumpy, and frantically twisting road.
The Corvette was a similar story in that it took a bit of getting used to before we were comfortable in it. As Lago said, it “doesn’t have that immediate friendliness” of the 911. But give the Corvette a few miles, and you realize just how great a driver’s car it is. Evans reported, “Steering is fantastic — my favorite here. The weight is right, and the response is perfect.” Lago opined, “I really enjoy driving the Corvette. It has a nimbleness and a surefootedness that makes the car seem far more precise and, well, fun.” Loh felt the new Corvette was excellent up to 8/10ths, but then, “It’s not that it gets hairy beyond that — it doesn’t. The Corvette’s just a little frustrating. I felt like the steering slowed, like the front wheels/my hands were slower than the corners that were stacking up before me. But this might have also been the F12 effect.” To his point, the Ferrari’s steering is fearsomely quick, similar to the non-linear way a McLaren 12C behaves. The first few degrees of input give you exactly what you’re asking for, and then suddenly everything ramps way up; the gain is boosted. “Initially, inputs off center feel tremendously sharp, but as your speed builds, the steering seems to be a touch too quick for the chassis,” said Loh of the orange-red Ferrari. I concur with him. And with Evans, as I liked the Corvette’s steering the best. But, man, that Porsche is so good.
“I feel embarrassed and trite saying how good this car is, but the fact remains it is the current world standard,” said our own race driver Randy Pobst, who laid down a wicked-quick lap time around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Porsche of 1 minute, 39 seconds flat, slightly better than his lap in June, which required 1:39.19. I took a couple laps in the 911 C4S, and all the confidence I felt on the road portion of our test was instantly magnified on the track. I was immediately able to go flat out in the Porsche. Moreover, I experienced exactly no sketchiness, even in my usual trouble spots, turns 1 and 11. Remember, if you could boil down what we’re looking for when it comes to a Best Driver’s Car, confidence might be the ultimate factor. The 911 has it in spades. Explained Lago, “There always seems to be more grip in the front tires, and you can get away with utterly nonsensical speeds through corners. Never tells you anything’s going to go wrong, only tells you to go faster.” Evans said more or less the same thing. “After talking to Randy, I think the car is so good that it no longer really challenges you with its own flaws. Instead, it challenges you with your flaws.” The 911 C4S proves you really and truly can drift an AWD car.
Next up in order of on-track confidence is the stunning new Corvette. No, it’s not as instantly floggable as the yellow Porsche, but after a couple laps, it’s nearly there. The trick is figuring out which setting and mode you need to be in. In Randy’s first couple of laps, he was in Track mode with every nanny switched off. He wasn’t immediately thrilled. “I hated the Track suspension mode: too loose, too stiff, and too hard to read.” But after talking to a couple of track-junkie Corvette engineers who showed up to glom some fast laps of their own, Randy said, “Switching to Sport cured everything.”
He’s not fibbing. For the first time in my professional career, I can honestly say that a new Corvette is a complete package. There’s nothing anywhere to betray America’s favorite sports car. Stuff like crap seats, crappier interior, and an indismissible feeling of cheapness have been banished to the dustbin of automotive history. The new Corvette absolutely rocks. Around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I found it nearly as planted as the 911. That said, I believe the 991 iteration of the 911 has the best suspension damping in the history of the production car. That’s hard to beat. But more important, the RWD Corvette puts its power down to the ground as well as the AWD 911 does. Big props to the guys who perfected that trick sport differential — it’s close to magic. I did have an issue with the C7 around the near 90-degree turn 11, but that corner is an Achilles’ heel for most RWD cars. Randy was able to bang off a time of 1:38.28, which makes the Z51 faster than stuff like the Shelby GT500 or the C63 AMG Black Series Coupe. However, it’s not radically ahead of the 140-lb-ft-torque-deficient AWD 911. That time also puts the ‘Vette within striking distance of a certain Ferrari with 270 additional horsepower — and there are Z06 and ZR1 editions to come.
As much as we all dug the Ferrari as it screamed down the front straight and over turn 1, it quickly became obvious that the big, V-12 missile simply is not a track car — the F12’s a Grand Tourer. Despite its massive power advantage, the prancing horse took 1:38.04, just above 0.2 second quicker than the Corvette and not even a full second ahead of the Porsche 911. Worse for Ferrari, the equally sickeningly expensive Lamborghini Aventador took just 1:35.40 at last year’s BDC, where we ranked it dead last. I hope I’m not upsetting too many people by stating that the mighty F12 Berlinetta isn’t much of a track car. The F12 was a literal handful almost everywhere on the track, and I nearly spun off the track in turn 2. While I’m no Randy Pobst, I’ve never nearly stuffed a car in 2. The F12 needs more tire, less flab and a rework of the magnetic shocks (which come from the same supplier as the C7’s) in race mode to make the car less of a GT and more of a dual threat. Here’s hoping a track-focused version is on the horizon.
Randy had very positive things to say about the F12’s magnificent powertrain. “The new absolute best engine ever award. Formula 1 sounds; instant, predictable, naturally aspirated response with a wide torque curve; plus an astonishing power peak; and a race-quality, instant, smooth, and smart paddle-shift dual-clutch tranny backing it up.” Randy continued: “The gorgeous, swooping bodywork covers a chassis that’s much happier going touring than it is on the track.” We all concur. And we all want to do illicit things with and to that V-12.
So, yes, the Porsche 911 wins another Motor Trend test. I know, we’re so boring and predictable. Still, Edward, Scott, Carlos, Randy, and I drove all three cars back to back and came to the same conclusion: The Porsche 911 Carrera 4S is the best of the mini-bunch. We also all had the Corvette in second place, not far from the 991. In fact, most of our discussion about the C7 involved phrases like, “I can’t wait for the Z06!” and “Bring on the ZR1!” If we were to compare the C7 with the 911 in a contest where money mattered, it would be hard to ignore the fact that the Porsche costs twice what the Chevy does. Really, really hard.
Which brings us to the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. There’s no doubt that it’s packing the very best engine currently on sale today, and certainly one of the best engines the world will ever know. Sad to say, that’s not enough. While the F12 inspired things like joy, amazement, and, to quote Carlos, “pure happiness and smiles,” it was simply not as good to drive as the Corvette or the 911.
In conclusion, please join us in our letter-writing campaign to convince Ferrari to let us test a more hardcore version of the F12 once we get our hands on the 991 GT3 and C7 Z06. Or should that be Porsche Turbo S and Corvette ZR1? Decisions, decisions, decisions…
|2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51||2014 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta||2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$70,770||$434,144||$151,260|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe||Rear-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.2L/460-hp/465-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8||6.3L/731-hp/508-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12||3.8L/400-hp/325-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve F-6|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed manual||7-speed twin-clutch auto.||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3444 lb (49/51%)||4003 lb (47/53%)||3394 lb (39/61%)|
|WHEELBASE||106.7 in||107.1 in||96.5 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||177.0 x 73.9 x 48.6 in||181.8 x 76.5 x 50.1 in||176.8 x 72.9 x 51.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7 sec||3.6 sec||3.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.0 sec @ 118.4 mph||11.3 sec @ 131.7 mph||12.3 sec @ 114.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||95 ft||106 ft||098 ft|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.9 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)||0.99 g (avg) (est)||23.9 sec @ 0.88 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||17/29 mpg||12/16 mpg||19/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||198/116 kW-hrs/100 miles||281/211 kW-hrs/100 miles||177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.93 lb/mile||1.43 lb/mile||0.90 lb/mile|