If you read this blog on a regular basis (for which I’m eternally grateful!), chances are you also spend some time on the excellent activity referred to as car surfing, i.e. looking on various car website-marketplaces with either something or nothing specific in mind. I certainly do, a bit more than I should according to my better half. In the holiday season, chances are you’ll have more time at your hands than usual for this. So as mentioned in last week’s post where I said that if I had the 400′ to spend on a car, i.e. the money Ferrari’s new Purosangue will cost (at least…), I’d rather by the new Range Rover in full spec and spend the rest on a good sports car. Assuming the spared amount would be more or less 130′ (EUR/USD/CHF, given they all trade more or less at parity), the car surfing question thus became: which sports car would I choose?
That’s of course a very large question so in order to make this somewhat manageable, I set a few parameters. A sports car is here defined as having a roof and not a soft top, and two seats (I’ve allowed for the minimal back seats for very small children or amputated people you find notably in the cars from Zuffenhausen…). In terms of power, 400 hp feels like a good number, and those should come from at least six cylinders. As you’ll see from the selection below, if you’re willing to consider not only new but also well-kept older cars, the selection is pretty wonderful to a degree that I’m thankful this is only a theoretical exercise, because again, what would I choose? Below are six of my own top picks!
I wrote about the Emira quite recently and called it the best car Lotus has ever built. I stand by that in terms of the full experience, even if it doesn’t dance around corners like an 800 kg Elise would, which after all is pretty normal. That doesn’t change the fact that the Emira is a great car and one made for driving. It looks like a mini-Ferrari (with some hints of the Alpine A110 in the back), has an interior that is vastly superior to anything Lotus has ever built before, has a reliable Toyota V6 engine that sounds good if not at the Maranello level, and in the booth behind the engine and behind the seats, it can store more luggage than two people need. In the Lotus tradition it remains a car more for curvy roads than for long motorway stretches and it doesn’t excel in driving assistance stuff, but then again, it’s a car for driving. And at 1400 kg, it’s still on the lighter side, as a true Lotus should be. For the 130′ it costs as new, it really is a lot of car for the money and it’s actually cheaper as new than its predecessor, the Evora was as new. That’s not something that happens often these days!
Chevrolet Corvette C8
Very far from the Emira in terms of concept is the new Corvette called C8. In spite of having been launched in 2020 you don’t see many in Europe yet, something we can probably blame broken supply lines for. American readers will have seen lots of new Corvettes on the other hand, as I was able to note on our recent trip to Florida. What I also noted was of course how good it looks. I’ve always like the Corvette but the C8 takes its design to a new level, while still retaining the unmistakeable Corvette look. The interior is also said to be of good, if not superb quality and if it wasn’t for the logo in the center of the steering wheel, the car could easily be mistaken for something coming from Italy or Germany. The C8 is obviously also the first Corvette in 65 years with a mid-mounted engine, and that engine is no less than a 6.2 litre, naturally aspirated V8 putting out around 500 hp. Nothing European about that! It’s associated with an 8-speed double-clutch box and interestingly, its weight distribution is about 40-60 as opposed to the typical 50/50 of mid-engined cars. This brings really good handling on track and apparently almost too much comfort on the road. At around 130′ in Europe and even less in the US, the C8 is nothing but a bargain in all regards!
Ferrari 458 Italia
If you’re not set on a new car, then there’s really no way around the Ferrari 458 Italia which is now reaching the 130′ price mark. That’s to say that this is not a collector’s Ferrari, but it remains a significant car in several ways, besides being a great success for Ferrari. Design-wise it was the last model to come from Pininfarina and on the inside, it was the first car with Ferrari’s new dash and interior layout, that would basically be used in every car from Maranello up to the very recent Romas and SF90’s. Engine-wise, the 458 remains naturally-aspirated with the mid-mounted, 566 hp V8 singing out of the three central rear pipes from below the transparent hood. The suspension is great, the front booth is large enough for two and quality-wise, the 458 has a reputation for being very reliable, actually more so than many far more normal cars. You’ll have to fight a bit to find a 458 on the right side of 130′ but when you do, provided history and ownership are right, not much can go wrong! Choose wisely on the options for a good ownership experience (hints are front lift and upgraded speaker system more than carbon applications).
So far we have six and eight naturally aspirated cylinders, so perhaps time to bring 10 into the mix in the form of a real long-runner among supercars. The Audi R8 was introduced as far back as 2007 and although a second series came in 2015 and a face lift in 2019, there are few designs that have stood the test of time better, and touch-ups are indeed limited. The interior has almost seen more changes than the exterior in line with Audi’s general development, and the wonderful 5.2 litre V10 we’re looking at here (the R8 also comes with a perfectly good eight-cylinder engine) has gained some power over the years to now just over 600 hp. Some people will love the fact that this is an Audi with all that it brings in quality, service-friendliness and drivability, also thanks to its four-wheel drive. To others, that makes it a bit too much of a “normal” car for a real supercar, that perhaps looks a bit too much like its smaller brother, the TT. Our budget of 130′ will get you a face-lifted 2015-2016 car, certainly money well spent and perhaps especially so now that the R8 is discontinued and will be replaced by… an electrical model.
It’s easy to forget that McLaren Automotive, i.e. the street car company, has only been around since 1992, meaning 30 years. Back then the F1 was introduced, which with a top speed of 385 km/h is still one of the very fastest road cars in the world. Then in 2011 the MP4-12C came out (later only called 12C) as the first in McLaren’s range of, let’s say quite similar-looking cars. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good, but perhaps a little too unspectacular for the supercar it really is? The MP4 is a technological masterpiece which thanks notably to computer-managed suspension with four independent wheels offers unrivaled handling and comfort. Weighing in at only 1300 kg thanks to lots of carbon and composite materials, its 3.8 litre, 600 hp double-turbo V8 makes it very fast indeed, but it is so without a soundtrack in any way comparable to its closes competitor, the 458. That’s the thing with the whole car and also why it will only appeal to some; the MP4 (as all McLaren’s) is still today one of the fastest and most efficient cars around, but it’s so clinically perfect in how it drives that it makes an R8 look like a real rowdy and the 458 like something from another world. Being able to get one at 130′ as you now can is however very attractive indeed. If ever a road car had a real F1 heritage, this is the one!
Last but by no means least is the Porsche 911, which at this budget point gives you many different options. 130′ buys you a 2018-2019 4S or GTS with 450 very healthy horsepower, a GT 3 from 2014-2015 with another 26 hp on top of that or if you prefer, a GT3 from around 2010 with the benefit of a manual gearbox and much more of a race car experience. To me all of these beat the more powerful turbo of the above generations, but that’s a matter of preference and otherwise also a very good alternative that qualifies price-wise. Of course you can also get a 911 for less, including some of the great earlier generations, but that would mean going outside my 400 hp power conditions set above. What all 911’s have in common is quite simply being some of the best sports cars every built, that most of us have memories of in various shapes and forms, and which if serviced correctly are very unlikely to bring you any problems whatsoever. The backside of that is of course that as you see one on practically every street corner it may not feel as special as you would want. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that a 911 is always a very compelling proposition!
So there we are – my selection of six sports/supercars around the 130′ mark. Most of them naturally aspirated, which was actually not something I was actively looking for. It’s a really tough choice but seeing you get real supercars as the R8, the MP4 or the 458 for the money, I wouldn’t go for the new Emira and C8 although they’re excellent cars, and neither the 911 as it’s a bit too common for my taste. Of course you would need to drive these three back to back to choose but this is a car surfing exercise and based on that, the 458 takes it in my book. If you’re lucky enough to have the choice in the real world, you’re a lucky person indeed!