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Ferrari LaFerrari vs McLaren P1 vs Porsche 918 Spyder

  1. Geneva is the supercar show, and always has been. But every so often it surpasses itself, spewing out entire Top Trumps-worth of the things. This year is about the most epic of the lot, a place where even a new 911 GT3 and the extraordinary Lamborghini Veneno aren’t the biggest stories. Because at Geneva 2013 we get the definitive version of the McLaren P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari, to add to what we already knew about the Porsche 918 Spyder.

    Right then. Place your bets for the hybrid hypercar sweepstakes.

    They are fascinatingly similar of course, but fascinatingly different, too. All use electric motors to augment the torque and quicken the response of their already copiously endowed engines. All have DSG transmissions. All have carbonfibre bodies and all of them take active aerodynamics into new and brain-scramblingly complex places.

    But they all look very different. One has turbos, two don’t. Another one has all-wheel-drive, the other two don’t. The third one is a pure hybrid, but the other two can be plugged in and then driven for a few miles in electric-only mode.

    And above all this, one’s a Ferrari, one a McLaren and one a Porsche. Unless you’re mindful of their different makers’ philosophies and passions and proclivities, you’ll never get a feel for how far these cars diverge.

    Words: Paul Horrell

  2. Just look at them, for a start. The Ferrari first, because it’s the newest news - the other two have been copiously teased. Ferrari managed to guard the LaFerrari’s design and even its name like Italian state secrets (actually far more securely than that, because so many more people wanted to know).

    Anyway, the red car is curvy in a properly beautiful way. It’s the product of a maker which has mastery of aerodynamics, but also has a masterly understanding that what really sets its cars apart is drop-dead desirability. In the time of the Enzo, it put aero at visual front-and-centre, but now its rivals have entered that territory too, so Ferrari has gone back to what it does best: knee-trembling beauty. Mind you that’s not to say it doesn’t also speak of function: the nose and doors give the impression that air moves through the car as much as the car moves through the air. And the general proportions put the vast V12 motor right on the podium.

  3. Porsche has gone for visual understatement because that’s what Porsche does. The men of Stuttgart don’t do style, they do industrial design. It looks good because it’s thoughtful and correct, and because reference to earlier Porsche racing Spyders is subtle and pragmatic. Not that it’s entirely without flourish: the canon-like top-exit exhausts actually are a very rational solution to pipe-routing, but they’re also visually - and aurally - attention-grabbing in the extreme.

  4. The McLaren looks like it has most to prove. Which is strange really because McLaren has heritage: the F1 was the definitive hypercar. Maybe they know that we know that it was a completely different group of people who did the F1 and the P1, so there isn’t quite the heritage after all. Maybe they use this car as a deliberate answer to the people who say the MP4-12C lacks visual drama. Whatever. McLaren as a company presents itself as even more rational and functionally-led than Porsche, and so this is the car where aerodynamics - the reduction of drag and the generation of downforce and the extraction of heat - have most visibly informed the final shape.

  5. Engines next. Ferrari has a naturally aspirated V12. It no longer races that layout in Grand Prix but a V12 remains the most widely understood shorthand for Italian supercar. It’s based on the one in the F12, a proper rev-hound in itself. But here it’s tuned for even more top-end mania, not reaching the red until 9,250rpm. Such a state of tune loses lose mid-range torque but the electric motor should help fill in.

  6. Porsche could have gone for a turbo. Crikey it knows well enough how to do them. A downsized turbo motor would have fitted in well with the fact that the 918 is the most hybrid-emphasized car of the three. But against that, Porsche has a massive heritage in endurance racing. So the 918’s 570bhp naturally-aspirated V8 is inspired by (though it shares no components with) the high-rev unit from the RS Spyder Le Mans car. An engine with a pretty mad bark.

  7. The McLaren uses a turbo V8. Well that’s what McLaren has on the stocks. It’s the one from the MP4-12C, given a thorough re-work so it gets 727bhp from its 3.8 litres, with more emphasis on high-rev performance thanks to bigger turbos. Its compactness is a huge advantage when there are batteries and motors to be packaged. And turbo lag at middle-order rpms shouldn’t be too much of a problem, because the instant thrust of the e-motor will mask it.

  8. All three use seven-speed twin-clutch transmissions, all of them heavily adapted from the ones elsewhere in their maker’s ranges. Then we get to the hybrid systems, and they diverge again.

    The Ferrari always runs with the engine on. Combustion noise is integral to what it means to be Ferrari, they say. So the battery is a relatively small 60kg unit, and the hybrid system is all about augmenting the engine’s character rather than fundamentally changing it. The motor switches to recuperate power during times when there’s excess engine power available and during braking, but the car isn’t brake-by wire.

  9. The McLaren works the same way, and indeed the two cars have similar e-motor power (163bhp Ferrari, 179 McLaren). But the McLaren carries a bigger battery (100kg roughly) so it can go for about 15 miles on electric charge alone, provided by plugging-in.

  10. The 918’s hybrid system is more complicated. For a start it has two e-motors, one at the front as well as one at the back. Total power of these is 270bhp in short bursts, more than an early 911 Turbo. So the car goes pretty hard in its plug-in electric-only mode, and will go further than the McLaren too - at the expense of having a heavier 135kg battery. But the availability of so much electric power when the V8 is also running means that there’s scope for active front-rear torque split, and extra doses of regenerative braking for greater efficiency. To harvest that regeneration, the 918 has a by-wire brake system that apportions braking effort between the motors and the friction discs according to the power the battery can accept. For instance, if the battery is fully charged, more braking effort falls to the discs. All-wheel drive front-rear torque vectoring, brake-by-wire - this is a complicated chassis. And that’s before you add the fact it has four-wheel steering too, like they just introduced on the 911 GT3.

  11. They’re all carbon. The McLaren’s tub is the same as the one in the 12C, and indeed will also be used in the company’s third, cheaper sports car later on. The Porsche one is made by the same process - the comparatively low-cost RTM method - by the same supplier, Carbo Tech. Whereas the Ferrari’s is a more exotic sort of carbon, hand-laid at great cost and autoclaved in the company’s race department. So it ought to be lighter. There’s also some clever weight-saving multi-use of parts in the Ferrari’s tub: the seats are integral, while the pedals and steering wheel move to fit different sizes of driver.

  12. There you go then. A quick run-around these amazing cars. Maybe some statistics will help keep up the general level of staggerment. The Ferrari’s total system output is 963bhp, the McLaren’s 916, the Porsche’s 800. With the extra hybrid componentry in the Porsche comes extra weight. The 918 will be between 1600-1700kg. The McLaren is about 1500, the Ferrari 1400. The 0-62mph numbers are all under three seconds, but the 0-125mph numbers tell a different story: the Ferrari and McLaren are both under seven seconds (gulp) while the Porsche - heavier and less powerful and by this speed no longer able to make use the traction advantage it has when launching - takes around 9.0sec.

    But because it can run so far on electricity, the Porsche can claim just 70g/km. The McLaren is ‘less than 200’, the Ferrari 330. Ignore the McLaren and Porsche numbers though, because they don’t include the energy from the grid. The Ferrari takes no juice from a socket, so its number can be compared with any regular car.

  13. Price is hardly a factor because they’re so stratospherically high that the buyers won’t notice the difference. The McLaren, for the record is £866,000. The Porsche €768,000 or about £664,000. Ferrari isn’t saying yet but it won’t be vastly different. Of more significance is the collectability, and hence likely depreciation. Ferrari’s record is sky-high there because its limited editions sell out fastest. Porsche is less strong, McLaren a bit unknown (F1’s sell high now, but it didn’t sell out when new). Also, McLaren buyers might be resistant to the fact their car shares its base engine, transmission and tub with the 12C.

    But none of this numerical Top Trumpery can tell us the true character of these three off-the-scale cars. We’re carpet-bombed by unanswered questions. Can anyone really use 900bhp through just the rear wheels? Maybe the Porsche’s electric AWD will make it more driveable? Will that driveability gain offset the Porsche’s extra weight? Are the Porsche and Ferrari aspirated engines more of a draw than the McLaren’s turbo?

    And what floats your boat? If you’re an F1 fan, are you a McLaren or a Ferrari fan? Are you an F1 fan at all, or an endurance nut? At the bottom of it all, are you a Porsche or a Ferrari or a McLaren person?

    We remain impeccably impartial. First one of these three manufacturers to give us a drive wins our hearts.

  14. Ferrari LaFerrari vs McLaren P1 vs Porsche 918 Spyder: the specs


    Ferrari LaFerrari: 6.3-litre V12 naturally aspirated
    McLaren P1: 3.8-litre twin turbo
    Porsche 918 Spyder: 4.6-litre V8 naturally aspirated


    Ferrari: 963bhp/715lb ft
    McLaren: 916bhp/664lb ft
    Porsche: 800bhp/553lb ft


    Ferrari: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
    McLaren: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
    Porsche: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic


    Ferrari: less than 3.0s
    McLaren: less than 3.0s
    Porsche: less than 3.0s


    Ferrari: under 7.0s
    McLaren: under 7.0s
    Porsche: under 9.0s


    Ferrari: 15.5s
    McLaren: under 17s
    Porsche: under 27s

    Top speed

    Ferrari: N/A
    McLaren: 218mph
    Porsche: 202mph


    Ferrari: 330g/km
    McLaren: under 200g/km
    Porsche: 70g/km


    Ferrari: approx 1400kg
    McLaren: 1500kg
    Porsche: 1600-1700kg

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