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Ferrari versus McLaren from an owners perspective

Pictures of the Ferrari 458 Italia, Spyder and McLaren MP4-12C
Pictures of the Ferrari 458 Italia, Spyder and McLaren MP4-12C

There has been a lot written about the McLaren MP4-12C vs. the Ferrari 458. What better way to learn about them from someone who has owned both? Tony Gaples, a 10 year veteran of the Pirelli World Challenge race series who finished the 2012 season 8th overall has owned a 458 Italia, the MP4-12C and now a 458 Spyder. Tony races a C6 Corvette and is no stranger to the podium. He knows what he’s talking about when evaluating cars from a performance perspective. And having spent more time in either as a day-to-day owner rather than a journalist, prepare for some interesting insights and answers.

Ferrari 458 Spyder owned by Tony Gaples

Why did you buy the:

McLaren: Because they touted it as a direct competitor or better than the 458.
Ferrari: I have been a long time rear engine Ferrari owner and it was the next one in line.

What do you like the best about the:

McLaren – The power. It’s faster than the Ferrari 458.

Ferrari - The way it lays down the power when sliding around a curve. It defies physics the way car chews forward instead of the back end kicking out further.

SJCE: What is interesting about Tony’s answer is the Ferrari has the E-Diff, the electronic differential limited slip differential that varies the torque to each wheel. The McLaren doesn’t have a limited slip differential.

What do I like least:

McLaren: After spending 30 seconds with a many step process to turn off traction control I learned the reason why this is so hard to do. The car has horrible torque steer. The back end kicks out to a point where if you are not a professional you are going to ball up the car if you get into it from a stop or around a curve.
Ferrari: An amazing unit as a whole there is not much to fault it on. If I had to pick something I would say the ceramic brakes need to be heated up before they are going to perform at their maximum efficiency.

What was the quirkiest thing about the:

McLaren: Which to choose..... We'll go with the doors. You have to slide your hand against the paint to open them from the outside, in turn scratching the paint each time you do it. Then when inside, the doors don't close unless you really muscle them. Even a hard closing will not get them closed.
Ferrari: At first I would have said dash layout, but that became just about perfect after time in the car. The quirkiest thing about the 458 is when you turn the car off it doesn't always let you remove the key right away.

What was the coolest thing about the:

McLaren: Its looks. The MP4-12C is very much Lamborghini-like where it looks great and are fast, but not much else.
Ferrari: This is a hard one because there are too many cool things. I'm torn with how they get all that horsepower out that small displacement (engine), how they get the engine so low in the chassis and with how fast the car shifts. It shifts faster than you can snap your fingers, as if it were one continuous gear.

Biggest surprise for the:

McLaren: That the car wasn't what it was billed as. Such a disappointment. I was ready to sell it after a week. The dealer convinced me to hold onto it another 2 weeks before I let it go. Attributes of that disappointment were the brakes which were way too touchy preventing you from coming to a complete stop smoothly at times. At first they wouldn't even give me the instructions to turn off traction control. Heat/AC controls in the doors. I could go on with complaints but you get the idea. One more, FM radio couldn't pick up local stations without static and the radio reset or locked with every restart
Ferrari: The traction it gets when getting sideways or should I say chewing forward. I wasn't expecting that at all.

Did you notice or discover the McLaren did not have a limited slip differential?

The car is a nightmare without traction control on. Nightmare! If you're putting a high horsepower car with a turbo on the street, it needs limited slip.

Thoughts on the dual clutch transmission of both, around town, etc:

McLaren: The paddles on the McLaren are the same as the ones on my rotax go-kart. Cheap and not paddles at all, but one solid piece of plastic that goes behind the steering wheel. The software would get lost at times coming into a corner downshifting. Not as refined, slower and more clunky.

Ferrari: It’s the pinnacle of double clutch transmissions. Shifts "NOW" even when not flat out which keeps the car charging forward even at half throttle.

Your thoughts on mid-engine layout vs. front engine? Have you owned a mid-engine car before?

Both cars can be made to handle well. You get more pendulum swing on the back end with front engine cars. Fun for the street and familiar when at the race track. Rear mounted mid-engine is the way to go for a performance car. It balances the weight better so the car will work properly under braking and cornering. In the old day you had to worry that if you got the back end out more than 30 degrees the car was going to spin. Which still maybe the case for most of them, but not the 458. Ferrari also believes optimal weight distribution is 44/56 front to rear. I suspect this is why the car chews forward instead of sliding further out when the car gets sideways.

How many miles did you drive the:

McLaren: Almost 2000 miles in the car and each drive started out by the car pissing me off one way or another.
Ferrari: I have about 6000 miles on them. (458 coupe and now a 458 Spyder)

How was the dealer experience for the:

Dealer experience was exemplary. I bought both from Lake Forest Sports cars who has always treated me well

Would you buy an evolution of the same model again?

McLaren: I'll drive the next MP first before I ever decide to give them money, but currently they have achieved Lamborghini status in my head: Great looking, but not functional. I don't see myself ever buying each of those two again.
Ferrari: Yes no brainer. It is by far the best sports car on the road.

Which do you feel or know would be faster around the track and which would you prefer?

McLaren: With traction control on the MP in theory should be faster. Better brakes, faster straight line speed. But with traction control off when you go beyond the limit you'll be going for quite a ride. With it off it is very difficult to keep the car at the limit because it prefers to go beyond, such as, what is the turbo going to do this time when I feed the gas? Is it going to kick me in the ass or is it going to be smooth. Power application around corners is not the McLarens strong suit.

Ferrari is the car I would prefer. It is the complete package. It is fast, great brakes (once heated up), handles amazing and has power delivery that defies physics.

Did you drag race the McLaren or Ferrari?

McLaren: Never took the MP to the strip, but it should have been faster assuming I left traction control on. Then again the traction control might have held it back too much? SJCE: Car & Driver ran a 10.7 @ 134mph.

Ferrari: SJCE: Tony supplied a timeslip (see slideshow) showing an 11.746 sec @ 125.76 mph with a 2.129 60ft. i.e. “the launch.” As quick as the Ferrari is, it’s certainly capable of a 1.8x 60ft. A 3-tenth drop in the 60ft time would translate to a 6-tenth drop in the E.T. A low 11-second ET has been documented with multiple magazines. Fast cars!

How was your selling experience of the cars?

McLaren: Even though I had it for sale within a month to a month and half of it being released I took a big hit in selling it.

Ferrari: Nothing resells as well as a Ferrari!!

Final thoughts?

McLaren: It needs help to be a true performance car. They have plenty of knowledge over there to make that happen. Will they? SJCE: As I wrote before, the lack of an LSD is a handicap. One could speculate the transmission characteristics and power delivery could be changed via software.

Ferrari: The Ferrari 458 has dramatically raised the bar for sports cars. The closest thing to it I have driven is the Porsche GT3 RS and that is about a half step behind the 458 due to the lack of a dual clutch transmission. Other than that GT3 RS There is nothing even close to the full package that the 458 is. Ferrari and BMW are the best manufactures in the world in my opinion for how they seem to do everything correctly starting with sports then infusing luxury and making their cars a complete functioning unit that work in fantastic harmony.