When I bought my 2012 McLaren MP4-12C, more than a few people mentioned that I should have been smarter (nothing new there), and bought a Ferrari 458 instead. I dismissed this criticism, since a comparable 458 is significantly more expensive, and the McLaren is the better performer — at least on paper. I was pretty comfortable with my decision — at least until I parked both cars next to each other for a side-by-side comparison. Now I’m not so sure.
When my McLaren was new seven years ago, it was built as a direct competitor to the 458. Both cars were priced similarly and had similar power -- with a bit more on tap from the twin turbo V8 in the McLaren, versus the normally aspirated Ferrari. In track performance situations, the active hydraulic suspension gave an edge to the McLaren, as well -- but now these cars are aging, fragile vehicles, so I can't imagine many owners take them on the track anymore. I certainly wouldn't, since tracking my McLaren also voids the precious extended warranty. So what buyers are really looking for when considering one of these depreciated modern supercars is the most flash and fun for the money -- and it's easy to make strong arguments for both cars.
If you look only at the cost of entry, the McLaren is a slam dunk. I bought my 30,000-mile example with nearly a year of bumper to bumper extended warranty remaining for only $105,000. Well, I couldn't afford to pay cash, and financed the majority of it -- but still, you can see the value versus a new McLaren. Meanwhile, a comparable Ferrari 458 is hard to find for under $150,000, which is well above McLaren 12C prices -- but the cost of entry isn't the only factor in true cost of ownership.
Without a warranty, my McLaren would have been a financial disaster for the prior owner. With issues ranging from two failed transmissions, a replacement engine and various electrical failures, the warranty saved over $150,000 in out-of-pocket repairs. The Ferrari, meanwhile, is considered much more reliable, but it still has a few land mines -- such as a $15,000 parking brake failure that sends the car into limp home mode. Also, despite over 30 years of Ferrari interiors struggling with sticky buttons and warped leather dashboards, it's still common to find these maladies on a well-used modern 458.
Most would say the Ferrari looks better than the McLaren, and I have to agree, but I couldn't get over the fact that the Spider model I drove completely hides the engine under the folding hard top clamshell. Popping the engine hatch only reveals the air intakes, and just teases a few inches of the beautiful V8. The McLaren 12C spider has a similar top, but it still manages to showcase the engine clearly under glass.
While the Ferrari engine may not be seen, it's certainly heard -- and it sounds way more exotic than the turbocharged McLaren engine. It also feels faster, even though it isn't, but it's also exhausting and uncomfortable. Also typical of Italian ergonomics, the Ferrari feels dated in terms of technology, as well as confusing to operate. The McLaren really shines with its comfort level, in both the seats and ride quality, and how civilized it feels for normal driving.
The 458 is certainly more exciting to drive -- and, like nearly all Ferrari models, it feels special. My old Ferrari F355, even though it was slow by modern standards, had a similar unquantifiable wow factor -- right up to the point where it caught fire and exploded. Early 458 models shared this proclivity for spontaneous combustion, but overall are much more robust mechanically. Still, I still feel like I would be more protective if I owned a 458, and I would worry more about it getting dirty, or depreciating it with too much use. The McLaren benefits from being hugely depreciated already -- and since it's a more practical, comfortable car, I wouldn't hesitate to drive it cross country.
So if you're wanting the normal weekender spare car, and will spend more time in the garage drooling over it than actually driving it, the Ferrari is probably the better choice. The McLaren would be more satisfying for someone wanting to regularly drive their supercar -- but very dangerous without the extended warranty, which cannot be renewed after 10 years or 70,000 miles. So if you're in the very fortunate position to decide between these two cars, I'm sorry -- because I can't find an obvious winner. Maybe check out the Huracan?
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