We put common-sense issues to one side, and look at those cars that deliver the ultimate thrills at any price. These are the ten best supercars you can buy.
There's actually no clear-cut answer to the question of ‘what is a supercar?’. A supercar certainly isn't defined purely by power or speed; certain cars are blisteringly fast but don't warrant the supercar tag. Nor does 'supercar' merely describe machines that were designed for pure driving excitement alone; the label implies a certain level of expense, which excludes some fantastic drivers’ cars like the Lotus Elise and Caterham Seven.
Perhaps a definition isn't actually necessary. After all, every car enthusiast has their own idea of what a supercar is, but it’s typically a ground-hugging car that’s very fast, very expensive and utterly impractical for daily life. The essence of the word ‘supercar’ that we still have today was formed during the 1980s, and generally referred to the cars that adorned bedroom wall posters, which back then were invariably Italian. The Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Testarossa were among the favourites, and both helped to turn 'supercar' into an everyday word.
Such exotica paved the way for the expansion of what used to be a much smaller sector of the car market. Nowadays, marques such as Ferrari and McLaren are seldom short of buyers for their fiercely expensive products, and the public's appetite for supercars remains strong, even when sales of more affordable machines slow. What's more, there's a greater choice of supercars for sale now than ever before.
Not only do Ferrari and Lamborghini compete for customers, but Britain's McLaren Automotive is now a force to be reckoned with, re-established as a standalone brand in 2010. German premium brands Audi and Mercedes both have cars that battle with the fastest versions of the long-established Porsche 911, and the re-incarnated Honda NSX brings thoroughly modern hybrid technology to the supercar party. Meanwhile, Ford – a name better known for its family-friendly hatchbacks and MPVs – has the track-influenced Ford GT to offer.
Put any concerns about fuel economy or bootspace aside, sit back and enjoy our list of the best supercars on sale now.
Not everybody regards the Porsche 911 as a supercar. After all, most models have four seats and a boot that reaches far beyond the 'wallet and toothbrush' carrying capacity of many cars in our top ten. However, part of the appeal of the 911 is the sheer diversity of its range. There's no such thing as a 'slow' 911: even the entry level Carrera sprints to 62mph from rest in 4.2 seconds. However, direct your gaze to the top of the 911 tree and you'll find the Turbo S, and few can argue which category this 641bhp powerhouse belongs in. The 0-62mph sprint takes just 2.7 seconds. The engine's position directly above the rear wheels helps transmit all that power directly to the road, so there's rarely a lack of traction. However, overstep the mark and you had better know what you're doing – the Turbo S has enough power to catch out the unwary. Fortunately, there’s so much feel through the controls that you'll have plenty of confidence to enjoy the car all the way to its limits.
The original R8 was Audi's first crack at the supercar market, and few could have expected the German marque to have got things quite so right. However, it's no coincidence that the VW Group's premium arm happens to own Lamborghini, and the latest R8 shares its mechanical platform with the Lamborghini Huracan. The R8 shares an engine with that car, too - a 5.2-litre V10 that's as soulful as it is muscular. The V10’s 533bhp output leaps to 602bhp in the R8 'Plus', which is the ultimate expression of Audi's supercar. The Plus manages 0-62mph in just 3.2 seconds and goes on to over 200mph, yet its quattro four-wheel drive system makes it easy to exploit all the power, even when the roads are narrow, winding, wet or greasy. In fact, the Audi R8 is among the very easiest supercars to drive, and though some will fear this comes at the expense of thrills, it simply isn't the case. While the R8 will show a clean pair of heels to most other cars on the road, it hasn't forgotten how to be civil; settle down to a high speed cruise and the R8 will cover big distances with no drama.
The name might sound strange but ‘812’ is derived from the car’s 800ps (789bhp) and 12-cylinder engine. The Ferrari certainly lives up to the Superfast part, with 0-62mph taking just 2.9 seconds. Drag racing isn’t the primary purpose of this car, however; the 812 is fantastic when you show it a set of bends and so communicative that it’s easier to explore its limits than the daunting stats suggest. It’s more comfortable than you’d expect too - potholed roads are soaked up nicely when the suspension is in its softest setting - and the interior is as luxurious as the price suggests. We’ll also mention the noise. Most supercars have succumbed to turbocharging and smaller engines, but the Superfast sticks with a naturally aspirated V12 that you can wring out all the way to 9,000rpm. The noise grows and gets more intense towards the redline, sounding like a mix of F1 car and the world’s finest orchestra.
The gorgeously svelte DBS Superleggera is Aston’s answer to the Ferrari 812 Superfast. It boasts a twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12 engine making a whopping 715bhp, and it’s a front-engined 2+2 seater that’s arguably more ‘super GT’ than supercar. As a grand tourer, the DBS Superleggera has few peers, offering a relatively relaxed and refined driving experience that’s less frantic than the Ferrari. Until you step on the gas, that is, when the Aston will hurtle towards the horizon and its 211mph top speed, knocking off the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in just 3.4 seconds. As is often the case in performance-focused GTs, the second row of seats is so cramped as to be almost useless for adults. You can squeeze the kids in, but they’re much more useful as space for extra luggage on weekends away. You’ll need it, as the boot is only 270 litres. As you’d expect from Aston – especially if you’ve just spent a quarter of a million pounds on a car – the Superleggera’s cabin is luxuriously detailed and exquisitely finished.
Stunning is an overused superlative, but there’s no doubt the two-seat, mid-engined Ferrari 488 has the visual presence to make jaws drop. It’s also got the power and performance to back up the looks. The heart of the 488 is a 3.9-litre turbocharged V8 that delivers 660bhp with such ferocity that 0-62mph is achievable in three seconds flat. Top speed is 205mph and the 488 uses a superlative F1-derived seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox for truly lightning-fast changes. When you throw in a lightweight chassis with super-sharp steering, retina-detaching brakes and an aerodynamically efficient body that generates downforce to help grip the road in seemingly physics-defying cornering manoeuvres, it’s easy to see why enthusiastic drivers love the 488 so much. You need to be a rich enthusiast to actually own one, of course, but that’s all part of the magic. Still, 25mpg on a gentle run isn’t too bad, and Ferrari eases the pain a little by including seven years' free servicing when you buy one.
McLaren’s range now includes a baffling number of different models that all look pretty similar. The 570S is one of McLaren’s less expensive supercars (it’s still far from affordable) and rivals the Lamborghini Huracan and Ferrari 488. We think most drivers will be delighted with the 570S, especially as its 3.2-second 0-62mph time and 204mph top speed is pretty close to what even costlier hypercars achieve. You could use it everyday if you’ve got deep enough pockets, especially as it comes with mainstream-car features like an infotainment screen and vanity mirrors. Lower door sills mean it’s easier to get in and out of, too, but it’s not a case of practicality over performance. The 570S is one of the most fun-to-drive McLarens and more agile than some of its bigger stablemates. Posers might prefer something a little more expensive, but scissor doors and vivid colours give the 570S plenty of theatre - although you’ll need to remember to take drinks out of the door bins before you open the doors...
McLaren is one of the most famous F1 teams of all, and it was the legendary McLaren F1 that truly established its road car arm back in the early 1990s. The intervening years brought collaborations with Mercedes, but a reborn McLaren Automotive took the supercar world by storm in 2010, with the MP4-12C. Today, the 720S tops its 'Super Series' range, and though faster models are available on request, few will be left disappointed by this carbon-fibre masterpiece. Packing 710bhp from a 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine of McLaren's own design, the 720S can reach 62mph from a standstill in 2.8 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 212mph. Possibly even more impressive than its speed, is how remarkably polished the McLaren looks and feels inside and out. You'll find nothing but bespoke fittings for the interior, including an electronic dashboard that swivels into race mode. And while some might prefer the raw feel of certain rivals, the 720S drives just as precisely as it's built.
Honda well and truly bemused the supercar establishment when it unwrapped the original NSX at the end of the 1980s. Here was a manufacturer of run-of-the-mill hatchbacks, suddenly beating Ferrari at its own game, and it was largely achieved on the back of the brand's experience in F1, including the insight of Ayrton Senna. While today's NSX stays true to the same principles of balance, it also channels the latest hybrid technology. Don't mistake the NSX for an eco-champion, though – its electric motor helps match the performance of its purely petrol powered competition, backing up a relatively compact 3.4-litre V6. Unlike the original, the latest car has four-wheel drive and can deploy its power even when road conditions deteriorate. Comfort is high on the agenda, even if practicality isn't, but the most impressive NSX virtue is just how accessible its performance is. Like the original, you don't have to be a professional racer to enjoy the NSX, but it's a great car in which to hone your driving skills.
Based on the same engineering platform as the Audi R8, the Lamborghini Huracan offers buyers all the visual drama they could wish for in a mid-engined supercar, along with easy driving manners and Germanic reliability. Powered by a normally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 that sounds phenomenal when wound up, the Huracan comes with 572bhp in our favourite rear-drive version, or 602bhp with four-wheel drive. In spite of its lower output, the rear-driver is more agile and sharper than the 4x4, which understeers under extreme cornering. Most owners do specify 4x4, though, and its remarkable traction and balance make it one of the easiest supercars to drive briskly. There’s also a Huracan Spyder model for drivers who want to feel the wind in their hair, and an even more powerful Performante version with 631bhp and some eye-catching carbon-fibre aerodynamic mods Even the slowest Huracan will sprint from 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and reach 199mph, with most topping the 200mph mark.
Ford’s showrooms are full of models like the Kuga, Galaxy and Puma, but the Ford Performance arm is responsible for some very special machinery. Even the Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Mustang are eclipsed by the GT, which is the pinnacle of Ford development and technology. The GT has history on its shoulders; the original Ford GT40 was designed to beat Ferraris at Le Mans and was successful. A racetrack is still a GT’s home, and it’s best thought of as a race car with number plates and LED headlights. You won’t find any luxuries or any concession to practicality inside its stripped-out cabin. Everything - including the breathtaking styling - is devoted to performance, which there’s plenty of courtesy of a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 engine with 638bhp. A 0-62mph time of 2.8 seconds and a 216mph top speed place the GT in one of the top rungs of automotive performance, but fast lap times are offset by a small fuel tank. The GT will manage just 150 miles on a tank when driven normally, and far fewer on a trackday.