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Top Gear mag's greatest cars - supercars

Small wonder these are the cars that decorate bedroom walls

  1. For Top Gear magazine’s 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here’s our pick of the best supercars

     

    The apex predators were the mid-engined flat-12 Ferrari and the mid-engined V12 Lamborghini. They had the earthly power and the otherworldly drama. As Top Gear was born in 1993, the supercar contest was 512 versus Diablo. Simple as.

    Over time, the supercar world got broader. We’ll try not to get hung up on defining it, and instead take the position of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”

    The 12-cylinder Lamborghini bloodline carries on today, but the Murciélago, most of all the SV, was the one that most boiled down the essence of snorting nostrils and cloven hooves. Just look at the thing. It has the ridiculous proportions that Lamborghini has always carried off better than any other carmaker. It’s a life event to drive too, not just thunderously dramatic but capable and strangely big-hearted without any of the clever-clever transmission or steering systems that colour the Aventador. 

  2. The two-seat 12-cylinder Ferrari changed, though. I remember the revelation of driving the then-new 550 Maranello, and even more vividly of being driven in it by Michael Schumacher as he did full-hairpin drifts, one- handed, gesticulating at me with the other. No one reckoned this front-engined V12 machine was a lesser car than the flat-12 mid-engined F512M. But it had less of a talent for making eight-year-old boys point and shout – Ferrari had ceded that ground permanently to Lambo.

    Meanwhile the sluggish and unloved Ferrari 348 TB flowered into the rather wonderful F355, and with that the mid-engined V8 Ferrari became a pivot around which the rest of the supercar constellation turned. That’s been the way ever since, as power grew with the generations and each time the chassis found ways of shouldering the effort. Today’s 488 (above) has frankly ridiculous performance, but that’s not enough to erase the memory of the 458 Speciale, natural aspiration’s tear-jerking finale.

  3. Supercars used to be great at being super but a bit pants at being cars. They’d not start, they’d mist up and wet themselves in traffic. Then Honda showed the NSX. It was as thoroughly developed as any other well-kitted Japanese car. It had electronic control of climate as well as traction, its gearshift was sweet, and you could see out of it. Stout defenders of the existing supercar order were so flummoxed they retreated to the feeble jibe that it lacked character. But Ferrari had the wit to quietly take note, and the 550 and 355 were a result: usable cars too.

    Honda decided the NSX could go the other direction and grow fangs, and the utterly captivating NSX Type R was what happened. It was magically pure and focused. With every rotation of its tyres and reciprocation of its pistons, you felt the heartbeat of those race engineers.

    That heartbeat somehow ebbed away from Honda, and the NSX was left with no replacement. Audi stepped forward to make that car. The first R8, in its manual-gearbox V8 form, was a mid-engined two-seater made of aluminium and used a fairly small, high-revving naturally aspirated engine, and it existed in a very sweet spot of livability and raw excitement. Sound familiar?

  4. The R8’s other job, over its two generations, was to make the business case (dread words) for the Gallardo and Huracán. Neither of those Lambos were, in their first incarnations, as captivating to drive as they were to look at, but in both cases they spawned versions – the latest Huracán Performante especially – that could hold the Ferrari V8’s feet to the fire.

    McLaren too. It seems a long time ago now, but the 12C arrived only seven summers back. All the arrows fired at the Honda NSX and Audi R8 were aimed once again at that first 12C. Here was another supercar made usable, only to be sneered at by supercar loudmouths who didn’t want their cars to be easy, but to be difficult. McLaren, operating with the commitment to continuous improvement that had (hasn’t lately) made them a titan of motorsport, immediately made the 12C angrier (sharper, louder) and easier (they gave it doorknobs). The rise and rise of McLaren has been one of the great supercar stories since, well, since ever. In seven years it has launched the 12C/650/675 line, the P1 family, and the 540/570. Then it rebooted the first of those into the 720S, a car that’s close to gatecrashing the hypercar club. The 675LT was to the 12C what the Type R was to the first NSX. An over-delivering answer to every criticism and a shredding of the boundaries. Last year’s new hybrid NSX, funnily enough, is another reprise of the old arguments, a car that, like the first one, is called too progressive. Electricity has arrived. Another challenge to the commandments of the supercar holy texts.

    Not all the supercar action has been with mid-mounted engines. Ferrari showed the value of lots of cylinders under the bonnet, and others followed. Aston Martin, almost as an afterthought, stuffed the V12 into the Vantage (above) and made by far its best drivers’ car for decades. AMG, because we all know gullwing doors add 20mph to a car’s top speed, fielded the SLS Black. Finally, today’s thoroughly sorted GT R.

    The uppercase G, T, and R rightfully belong elsewhere, though. Can a front-engined V6 4WD 2+2 coupe be a supercar? Drive the mighty Nissan, and you can’t say otherwise. It ain’t how you do it, it’s what you do. Japanese corporate might also went way outside its comfort zone in making the slightly scary V10 Lexus LF-A. That’s a car so different from America’s V10, the Viper. Oh except that’s scary too. But America showed it could do fast and civil with the Corvette ZR1.

  5. The ZR1, or indeed the Jaguar F-Type SVR, might not be counted as supercars because they’re hot versions of ordinary sports cars. You might get your knickers in a twist over that, but if you do, we have just three words. Porsche. Nine. Eleven. The fastest 911s have been obvious supercars. Like the Vette and the Jag, being based on a mass-made coupe they look too mainstream and act too practical. But the Turbo has always been a supercar by anyone’s definition, not just Humpty Dumpty’s. When Top Gear was born it could be a vicious handful. These days it has double that power, yet dispenses its raw shot of speed with astounding control and civility. It’s not the one we lust after, though. That’s always been the pure and addictive GT3 line, none more so than the 997 4.0 RS, a car that seems wired not just to your nerves but your soul.

    Rule of thumb: supercars have all doubled in power over our 300-issue span. Yet most of them seem less mad to operate, not more. So global supercar demand has shot up because rich men (mostly men; women aren’t so shallow) buy them to cruise slowly through city centres hoping it’ll get them looked at. It doesn’t; people look at the supercar, not its driver.

    Still, if 300 magazines’ worth of supercar development has made them better to drive slowly, what matters is it’s also made them better to drive very fast indeed. 

  6. Lamborghini Murciélago

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    The Murc steers, handles and brakes better, goes even faster, is a little easier to drive, looks even better but doesn’t sound quite as exhilarating as the Diablo

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    A loud, theatrical, mind- frazzling event. For this the word supercar was invented. Yet, whisper it, became far better-sorted than the reputation of its predecessors would have you believe

  7. Ferrari 458 Speciale

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    The engine feels more refined at low revs while just poncing about. But, once you boot it, it takes on a quality that does more than any rev-counter to tell you what’s happening in the combustion room 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    Integrated multi-facet chassis electronics are a game- changer in extending the boundaries of your skills. But we’ll remember it for its savage, charismatic n/a V8

  8. Audi R8 V10 Manual

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    On roads you don’t know, through corners you haven’t learned, over poor or unpredictable surfaces, the R8 is on your side, like no other mid-engined car 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    Its styling and rock-solid Audi cabin have aged well. Uses 4WD and a small nat-asp V8 to terrific effect, making you concentrate, but it won’t slap you

  9. Honda NSX Type R

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    This turns the mild-mannered NSX into an edgy, aggressive racer. And driving it is wonderful 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    So the original NSX was somehow soft? Not this one. Lightened and stiffened, its revvy engine even more responsive than the already awesome V6. Sharp and transcendently communicative

  10. McLaren 675TLT

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    The 675LT’s performance puts it in the supercar stratosphere, as real-world fast as the hybrid hypercar superstars

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    The 675LT’s magically talkative steering works with a gorgeous chassis and buzz-saw engine. After just five years, Woking proved it could match any rival anywhere, anyhow

  11. Nissan GT-R

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    Yes, it’s a big hunk of a beast, but it’s incredibly responsive and very, very keen (Issue 77)

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    So unique and anti-establishment that it became a generation’s cultural phenomenon. Huge acceleration thanks to immense traction. Has a reputation for digital aloofness, but is actually soulful and analogue

  12. Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 (997)

    WHAT WE SAID THEN
    The key word is agility. This little car – and it is no wider than an ordinary hatch – is nimble, responsive and is itching to be driven fast 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    The Mezger engine’s mighty 4.0 swansong, a car you could drive to Le Mans and race there. Too serious to be a supercar? Maybe, but it elicits smiles as well as awe

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