How do you top an Ferrari F40? Meet the owner choosing from a GT3, 720S & Pista ‘Is there a modern supercar as magical as my F40?’ The 488 Pista, 720S and 911 GT3 RS 991.2 and the three finest supercars on the planet. But can any of them sway smitten Ferrari F40 owner Peter Bullard? Words Mike James Taylor. Photography Sam Chick.
The shortlist WE FIND YOUR NEXT CAR NEW
The shortlist: how the hell do you follow a Ferrari F40? Maybe a Pista? Perhaps a Porsche 911 GT3 RS 991.2? Or how about a McLaren 720S, with a Track Pack for good measure?
THE CURRENT CAR Ferrari F40
Inimitable, intimidating, iconic; irreplaceable?
THE NEW OPTION Ferrari 488 Pista
Physics-bending brilliance from modern Maranello
THE USED OPTION Porsche 911 GT3 RS 991.2
Turbo-free, track-bred: the ultimate driver’s 911
THE CURVEBALL McLaren 720S Track Pack
Track Pack Can a confirmed Ferrari fan be swayed by a car from arch enemies McLaren?
THE BUYING DILEMMA
‘The F40 is equal parts exhausting and exhilarating’
Peter Bullard has owned his Ferrari F40 for 15 years and firmly believes it’s a car that should be driven and enjoyed rather than locked away. ‘It’s a car for special Sunday mornings. I’ve previously driven it on longer journeys and in heavy rain, although the last few years I’ve tried to avoid doing so because, aside from the terror, it’s such hard work keeping it clean.’
Alongside a BMW 535i daily driver, the F40 shares garage space with a 993-generation Porsche 911, a Jaguar D-Type replica, which Bullard regularly drives to Le Mans, and a Morgan Plus 8, along with some classic motorcycles. ‘The F40 is a completely absorbing experience. When you take your right hand off the wheel to change gear, your left tightens its grip accordingly, the brakes feel wooden – there’s no servo assistance so you need to stand on them – and if you make a mistake, you know about it. It’s draining on long journeys – the 911 feels like a luxury car by comparison. It’s very special. There’s nothing quite like it.’
CAR climbs into the F40 alongside Peter for a drive. It is extraordinary. Because of the position of the engine, which virtually shares the cabin with you, you’re sitting so far forward that your head’s close to the A-pillar. The clutch is heavy but friendly, as is the dogleg H-pattern gearchange.
The unassisted steering, wheel curiously flat-angled like a kart, constantly chatters with information. You just need to make sure it’s straight when the turbos come on boost as the shove is relentless. And the sound… If the Pista’s 3.9-litre V8 sings pretty well for a turbocharged engine, the F40’s 2.8 sounds like it can access another octave.
Bullard probably won’t replace the F40 outright, but he does fancy the notion of a usable yet thrilling supercar to complement it, infused with some of the same track-influenced character.
Can any of our contemporary trio of high-performance cars tempt him?
McLaren’s astonishing 720S still shocks with its design – and brilliance. New F8 Tributo is the Pista sanitised. Pista is the Pista in all its untamed magnificence.
Following a Ferrari F40 on the road is one of those views, instantly recognisable in the car kingdom: triptych exhaust outlets, stepped rows of vents slashed into the Plexiglas rear screen, framed through that square spoiler, and tantalising glimpses through the mesh grille of the engineering magic within. It’s not a view you see every day. But today is not an ordinary day. The F40 belongs to reader Peter Bullard, and we’re about to swap seats. He’s contemplating a modern supercar, perhaps to sit alongside the F40, perhaps even to replace it, if it’s special enough. A car with a broader usability envelope than the F40, capable of short-notice travel into a city centre without concern, for example, or foul-weather driving without having to carry out the mother of all cleaning jobs afterwards.
If there’s a car that can do it, it’s one of these three. There’s a strong argument that today’s trio are the three greatest driving cars on sale today. Each represents a high-water mark even by the stratospheric standards of their manufacturers.
They share a common thread. Each is a track-orientated example of an alreay highly focussed model line, and each employs racebred technology that’s far more than mere marketing speak – both the Ferrari and Porsche, for example, take engine and aero components directly from their racing counterparts. They are all very special. But are any of them F40 special?
The new option: Ferrari 488 Pista
ONE OF MARANELLO’S BEST
The Ferrari 488 Pista blew us away when we first tested it, going on to win Drive-My’s Sports Car Giant Test 2018, a prize we don’t dish out lightly. Driving it on UK roads for the first time hasn’t dulled its impact.
To drive one is to marvel at the way it corrupts the laws of physics, to wonder just how it does it. There’s so much front-end grip the Ferrari’s apparently impervious to understeer, and doesn’t so much accelerate as time-travel. The speedometer is a gigantic digital screen, white numbers against a black background.
When you’re pressing on and your eyes are out on stalks, scanning the rapidly approaching horizon, you’re aware of a vague white blur as the numbers tick-tick-tick faster than you can think. At a cruise, the same display proves how millimetrically precise the throttle response is. By flexing the sole of your foot against the pedal you can increase or decrease the speed by 1mph increments, the 710bhp engine entirely tractable and not in the least bit peaky. The most powerful production V8 Ferrari’s yet built, it’s a couple of hundred horsepower to the good over the also-turbocharged F40.
The steering, too, is uncannily accurate. It might not brim with feel like his F40’s steering, but a few metres into our journey Bullard notices its lack of self-centring effect, and its immediate response.
The Pista’s stability control systems work to keep you on the apex and out of the scenery
‘It’s as sharp as anything, this car,’ he says. ‘Tremendous bite on the brakes immediately, too, and the gearbox feels as smooth as an old slush box – we’re already in seventh gear at 30mph. You barely feel any turbo lag at all, even when you’re just breathing on the throttle.’
Instant response is a huge part of the Pista powertrain’s character. Race-derived lightweight internals dramatically reduce inertia: 18kg has been shed compared with the regular 488’s engine; the crankshaft alone weighs 1.7kg less. Variable torque management gives a feeling of increasing acceleration in any gear, almost like a naturally-aspirated engine. There are times when I feel a little more lag from lower revs in higher gears than I remember from when we last tested the Pista, but the powerband is still incredibly broad for such a highly-tuned engine – and when you’re into it, it accelerates so dramatically it might as well be lag-free. What’s equally impressive is how obedient the Pista is at lower speeds. Visibility is as good as it gets by supercar standards, and its adaptive dampers soak up bumpier stretches of road better than many exec saloons.
Peter isn’t completely sold on the interior, and it’s hard to disagree having just stepped from the F40’s evocative environment of bloodred bucket seats, analogue dials and kevlar architecture. ‘I don’t feel like the carbonfibre trim is necessary. It’s not race-car technology, or part of the car’s structure like in the F40 – it just looks like somebody wanted some carbon in there. The steering wheel is a thing of beauty, though, even crowded with switchgear.’
Bullard’s smiling as we park. ‘What an annoyingly brilliant sports car,’ he says. ‘Every input produces a result – and because it’s so damn clever, every result is a good result.’ There is a lot of digital cunning going on beneath the surface in the 488 Pista, with independent stability-control systems constantly working to analyse your intentions and prime the suspension and powertrain proactively to keep you on the apex and out of the scenery.
‘I can see what they’ve done, which is to make an average driver feel like a god,’ Peter says. ‘One of the things I love about riding classic bikes and driving the F40 is that if you make a mistake, it tells you. With this, I wouldn’t know if I’d gone around a fast corner really well or if it’s just a really great bit of kit. The F40 could have kept up with the Pista back there, but its driver would have been in a state of mild terror.’
The curveball: McLaren 720S Track Pack
If the Pista and the GT3 RS are outlandish, the 720S looks like it’s just beamed down from another planet. Its silhouette might be familiar but its sinuous bodywork and the eye sockets housing its air intakes and headlights make it look like nothing else. In trademark McLaren orange, it turns heads at 200 paces; cars ahead lurch drunkenly in their lanes as their drivers ogle the McLaren in the mirrors.
Inside, though, it’s relatively understated, and subdued in black. ‘It looks functional, and you would want a McLaren to be function over form,’ Bullard notes. ‘Well-made too,’ he says, as the digital instrument panel swivels to its full height behind the wheel. ‘That’s a really nice touch. Although I don’t normally like digital displays, this feels very of its time, and well thought through.’
This 720S has been fitted with the optional Track Pack, which chops out 24kg, partly by swapping the regular seats for reclined carbon race seats and a titanium frame for harnesses. It also fits a telemetry system, sports exhaust and lightweight 10-spoke wheels, and finishes the rear wing in gloss-black carbon.
The V8 sounds a little fruitier than usual, but I think it’s a little characterless and industrial next to the Pista and the Porsche. Peter is more forgiving: ‘I find it quite appealing – it’s a crisp, honest noise.’
Performance figures for the Track Pack are unchanged from the regular 720 – and very close to the Pista: 710bhp, 568lb ft and 2.9 seconds to 62mph. There’s more lag than the Pista, which can be frustrating if you’re trying to dip into the throttle to trim the car’s line in slow corners, but the straightline speed is phenomenal: the sort of acceleration that makes my eyes stretch wide and my mouth form all kinds of expletives.
Peter’s equally impressed: ‘That’s just ridiculous. Performance like this could take you in one of two directions: prison, or the sense that you should probably leave it in the garage and resist the temptation to take it out.’
Like the Pista, the 720S manages to combine its shattering performance with surprisingly impeccable road manners, only more so. Of all the cars here, this is the most soothing and comfortable to drive, its interconnected hydraulic suspension riding bumps smoothly while keeping a tight rein on body control. Its steering, too, is hydraulic, and a marvel: light yet full of feedback.
I find the 720’s brakes, which need a firm push like a competition car’s, less responsive at road speeds compared to the other two cars, but Bullard notes that they’re far better than the F40’s, if some way short of the Pista’s.
‘I find this a deeply impressive car,’ says Peter. ‘I felt quite at one with it within a few minutes, and its overall usability is remarkable. But in no way is this a substitute for an F40 – it’s for going blindingly fast with minimal effort.’
The used option: Porsche 911 GT3 RS 991.2
GOOSEBUMPS ON EVERY JOURNEY
If a £141,346 car could ever be considered a bargain, the GT3 RS 991.2 was a bargain when it was brand new. Subject to the bizarre phenomenon whereby GT Porsches begin to appreciate immediately after purchase (supply and demand, baby), the RS is now sold out (although Porsche hasn’t ruled out another short production run) and values have climbed to figures comparable to the Pista and 720S.
The RS is missing two cylinders, two turbochargers and nearly 200bhp compared to the other cars in this test, and although it doesn’t have the same ‘Oh my word!’ wallop of acceleration, you’re unlikely to find yourself wishing it was faster.
I thought the GT3 RS was burned into my memory but I’d forgotten just how alive it feels thanks to the just-so weighting of the controls, the immediacy of the steering, and the noise. Shrieking through titanium pipes, the 4.0-litre flat-six is redlined at 9000rpm and takes on a hard, metallic edge to its note past 8500rpm that’s goosebump material time and again.
Bullard agrees: ‘Aurally, it’s the winner. If you were buying a car on sound alone, it’s what a modern sports car should sound like. It’s as intoxicating in its own way as an air-cooled 911. ‘For all its modernity, this absolutely feels like a 911, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s still got that bobbing movement to the front end, which everything I’ve read tells me they’ve engineered out – but it’s still there.
‘There’s also that intuitive feeling to the ergonomics and the cockpit’s essential layout – it could only be a 911.’
Like the other two cars, there’s a host of active tech in play to keep the RS balanced: adaptive dampers, dynamic engine mounts, torque vectoring, and rear-wheel steering – which feels surprisingly natural in operation. Peter notes the ‘incredible’ agility on turn-in, partly aided by the rear wheels subtly swivelling, but doesn’t find it intrusive.
As on the McLaren, there are no buttons to clutter the GT3’s wheel. All three of these cars have superb steering but the McLaren has the most detailed feedback. The Pista’s is remarkable for both its stability and its rate of response. But the 911 isn’t far behind.
Despite wheels that fill its arches so tightly you can barely fit your hand between tyre and bodywork (the Pista’s arches look like those of an SUV by comparison), and spring rates not far off those of the GT3 Cup racing car in Nordschleife set-up, the RS rides relatively sweetly. There’s more chop to its ride at high speeds than the other two, but it’s still a relatively comfortable road car.
‘It’s got that traditional upright 911 driving position and full-height windscreen – with the visibility and the low-speed ride, I can imagine taking it into London if I needed to,’ Bullard says. But he can’t come to terms with the styling; the Lizard Green paint, decals and race-car wing are all a bit extreme for him, and he’d swap the RS’s standard-fit PDK gearbox for a manual if he could. That sounds very much like the GT3 Touring he’s describing – also now sold out…
Despite spring rates not far off the GT3 racer, the RS rides relatively sweetly.
Sorry, James, but he’s really not very keen on trading his car for your invisible rabbit. The contented look of a man who’s forgotten he’s wearing a green seatbelt. GT3 RS might rev to the clouds but it can’t shake off the 488 Pista
Peter’s choice: Porsche 911 GT3 RS
‘If I were to replace the F40, and was searching for something special to have in the garage, it’s the Pista. As a driving experience, it’s the most thrilling,’ Peter Bullard says. ‘But if I’m keeping the F40 and choosing a car to complement it, which I think I am, then I’d lean towards the GT3. As absolutely captivating as the Pista is, there’s no overlap between the GT3 and F40 in the Venn diagram.
‘In that context, the McLaren begins to fade into the background, which is a shame because it’s an incredible achievement. For me, its greatest failing is perhaps its greatest strength – it’s good at everything without standing out in a particular area.’
Perhaps that’s because driving all three of these computer-aided missiles back to back with the F40 shows up one of their few weak spots: a lack of drama at lower, ordinary road speeds. ‘These engine and chassis electronics mean that more or less anyone can use so much of these cars’ performance – but you don’t get the early warning signals. The performance envelope in an F40 is so much narrower than any of these, and its braking, handling, heavy clutch and gearbox influence the decisions you make at a lower level, and the involvement begins at a lower level.’
Food for thought, but which of the cutting-edge trio would he choose?
‘The GT3 RS is special. If I could buy a manual GT3 Touring [similarly magical, more reserved in its styling] at list price tomorrow, I really would think seriously about it. Not necessarily because it’s the dynamic equal of the Ferrari, but as a usable supercar it’s a wonderful complement to the F40 – one that can take on any journey, but is also a thrilling drive.’
1st: Ferrari 488 Pista
It won out over such cars as the McLaren Senna, Porsche 911 GT2 RS and Alpine A110 in our last Sports Car Giant Test, and on UK roads the Pista is still our favourite contemporary supercar. Spine-tingling, telepathic, awesome.
2nd: Porsche 911 GT3 RS 991.2
Punches well above its weight for tactility and involvement, standout steering, an incredible engine and unique character.
3rd: McLaren 720S
A step-change for the supercar genre, not only in appearance but in visibility, in usability, and in the extraordinary clarity of its feedback – all with near-hypercar performance. Astonishing.
‘As a usable supercar, the 911 GT3 RS would be a wonderful complement to my Ferrari F40’ Peter Bullard
Race-bred, road-friendly supercars
NEW OPTION FERRARI 448 PISTA
Successor to the hardcore 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale more than lives up to the bloodline. Impossibly fast, and yet friendly and accessible enough to make any driver feel like a hero.
Price new £252,765
As tested £290,781
Powertrain 3902cc 32v twin-turbo V8, 7-speed dual-clutch auto, electronically controlled diff, rear-wheel drive
Max Power 710bhp @ 8000rpm,
Max Torque 568lb ft @ 3000rpm,
0-62mph (0-100kmh) 2.9sec
Max Speed 211mph+
Suspension Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear, adaptive dampers
NEED TO KNOW
No radio or sat-nav as standard, in keeping with the track-car remit. Optional stripes, showing off the aerodynamic ‘S-duct’ front to best effect, cost £8640. Four-point harnesses recommended for track work; they’re a £2100 option.
The Pista is sold new with Ferrari Genuine Maintenance: free services for the first seven years, transferable to future owners. Service intervals are 12,500 miles or 12 months, whichever comes sooner. Brakes are scheduled for replacement around 56,000 miles, sooner if the car’s used on track.
Ferrari offers finance options for the 488 Pista tailored to individual customers.
USED OPTION PORSCHE 911 (991.2) GT3 RS
The only car here with its engine located behind the rear wheels, and no turbochargers. Everyone wondered how, or even if, Porsche could better the previous 991.1-generation GT3 RS. This provides the definitive answer.
Value now £220k-£275k
Price new £141,346
Powertrain 3996cc 24v flat-six, 7-speed dual-clutch auto, electronically controlled diff, rear-wheel drive Performance
Max Power 514bhp @ 8250rpm,
Max Torque 347lb ft @ 6000rpm,
0-62mph (0-100kmh) 3.2sec
Max Speed 193mph
Suspension MacPherson strut front, multilink rear, adaptive dampers
NEED TO KNOW
Optional Weissach package saves 18kg, using titanium rollcage and CFRP anti-roll bars, rear wing, front lid, mirrors and roof. Ceramic composite discs and nose lift to avoid bottoming on speedbumps also optional.
Menu servicing prices for the current GT3 RS haven’t been announced yet, but the 991.2 version needs servicing every two years or 12,000 miles. You’ll pay around £2000 per visit if there are no nasty surprises.
(Representative PCP example from a Porsche dealer)
Monthly cost £1122 (36 months)
Total amount payable £166,937
Mileage allowance 10,000 APR 6.7%
CURVEBALL McLAREN 720S TRACK PACK
McLaren’s Super Series comes of age with the knockout 720S. Same chassis but light years ahead of the 650S – we just wish it had a more charismatic engine. Track Pack leaves the fundamentals unchanged but adds trinkets.
Price new £232,740
As tested £262,100
Powertrain 3994cc 32v twin-turbo V8, 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Max Power 710bhp @ 7500rpm,
Max Torque 568lb ft @ 5500rpm,
0-62mph (0-100kmh) 2.9sec
Max Speed 212mph
Suspension Double-wishbone front and rear
NEED TO KNOW
Track Pack adds MSO rear wing in gloss black carbon, sports exhaust, 10-spoke forged alloys, carbon race seats in two width options (both in a non-adjustable, reclined position), full harness options mounted to titanium frame behind the seats, track telemetry system (three cameras and datalogger) MSO carbon shift paddles, alcantara trim for steering wheel.
Service intervals are 12,500 miles or one year, whichever comes first. Interim service costs £850 ex-VAT. Twin-turbo V8 is always thirsty but manages to go single-digit on mpg with very hard use.
McLaren offers its own finance options – head to retailers.mclaren.com to find your nearest dealer.