The generation game: Choose between 10 iconic cars & their spiritual successors
In a recent article, DriveTribe supreme leader and shunner of hairdressers, James May claimed that without exception, new cars are better than old cars.
Many of us were rather taken aback by this. James - a man famed for his nostalgic love of steam engines and crap old planes - freely admits that classic cars are rubbish?! What next? Clarkson admits that handling matters more than power? Hammond confesses he HAS in fact had his teeth done?
Of course, from a dispassionate stance, James is absolutely right. Modern cars are faster, safer, and more reliable than old cars. If you were to line up May’s gorgeous old Ferrari 308 against an entry level 2019 Ford Focus, you’d likely struggle to find one measurable area in which the Fezza comes out on top.
But that’s the thing. It’s in those immeasurable areas where older cars make their case. How they make you feel. How they look. How they sound. How they smell.
So with that in mind, here is a list of 10 excellent modern performance cars, each pitted against its spiritual predecessor. Will you choose with your head or your heart? Be sure to vote for your favourites.
Battle 1: Ferrari 488 Pista vs 360 Challenge Stradale
The Ferrari 488 Pista is a bloody monster. A razor-edged, s**t-scary track weapon, with roughly as much horsepower as your average aircraft carrier. It was on every motoring publication that matters’ shortlist for 2018 car of the year, and is probably the fastest Ferrari ever to wear number plates.
But. If you care more about a pure, visceral driving experience than you do lap times, then you might be better off with a Challenge Stradale. It was the final mid-engined Ferrari to come with a manual gearbox and its naturally-aspirated V8 engine makes an infinitely better noise than the twin-turbo drone of the Pista. Sure, the Stradale is almost 300bhp down on the newer car - but that still leaves it with an ample 420bhp. And how often do you get to exploit the difference between a 400 and 700bhp supercar anyway??
Battle 2: F90 BMW M5 vs E39 M5
It wasn't easy deciding which past M5 to pit against the latest iteration. The original essentially invented the super-saloon sector. The E60 was ugly and unreliable - but it had a V10 engine. Which makes it awesome. But surely the old M5 most likely to tease you away from a shiny new one is the E39. Manual box, serious performance and timeless styling - understated yet menacing. In any kind of race, the new M5 would, absolutely walk away from an E39, and it comes with a ton more luxurious tech. But stare long and hard at the two pictures before making your decision...
Battle 3: Lamborghini Aventador SVJ vs Murcielago SV
Interesting one, this. Any of Lambo’s prior V12 flagships (Miura, Countach, Diablo) would make for an interesting match up against their latest and greatest. But the Murcie SV makes for the most intriguing comparison because while the Aventador SVJ is the most EXTREME Lambo ever, the Murcie is the most LAMBO Lambo ever.
Aerodynamic witchcraft, rear-wheel steer and other clever computery things recently helped the Aventador set a new lap record at the Nurburgring. That's jolly impressive. But the Murcie SV is food for the soul. It was the final Lambo to use the legendary Bizzarini-designed V12 first seen in the Miura way back in in 1963. It makes a glorious noise. And it wants to kill you. Surely these are the things you look for in a Lambo - not Nordschleife records?
Battle 4: Nissan GT-R (R35) vs R32 Skyline GT-R
Godzilla vs Godzilla. A fairly simple comparison, this. The R34 is probably the one you want, and we've left it out to keep things interesting. So - highly tuneable twin-turbo Japanese beast or, erm, highly tuneable twin-turbo Japanese beast?
Battle 5: Porsche 911 GT3 RS (991.2) vs Porsche 911 Carrera RS
Has there ever been an RS-badged 911 that wasn’t brilliant? None come to mind. But here, bookending the RS chronology, are two of the very best. The 2.7 Carrera RS is regarded as the ultimate 911. Which, by default, makes it one of the best sports cars ever made. A brutally simplistic homologation special, offering a driving experience of unparalleled purity. Doesn’t hurt that it’s gorgeous either.
Next to it, the 991 GT3 RS looks massive, but it adheres to the same core values with similar success. Plus, because it isn’t 40 years old, the brakes will actually work and it won’t embarrass you when pulling away from traffic lights next to modern hot hatches.
Battle 6: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio vs Giulia Sprint
When the new Giulia Quadrifoglio was released last year, it was the first RWD, performance Alfa in decades. And somehow, it was completely worth the wait. A Ferrari-engined 4-door family car with exceptional handling and a sense of playfulness absent from any other car its size.
But let’s not forget the original. The old Giulia is 20 times more beautiful than its grandson, is far more compact, and famously glorious to drive. The newer car is very talented, but it ain't a looker. And in Alfa Romeo world, that's fairly inexcusable.
Battle 7: Honda NSX vs NSX
But for the name, you’d struggle to find very much to connect these two cars. The old NSX is JDM royalty. It was the very first useable supercar, combining legendary handling and performance with things that had never before been considered in the supercar world - like ability to see out the back, and not exploding every 12 miles.
Compared to its predecessor, the new NSX is a spaceship. It has blistering hybrid power and a million computers poised to make minute adjustments to help you go even faster. It seems that everyone who has driven the new NSX walks away astonished by its brilliance... and yet no one seems to really care because it’s a bit unsexy. The most underrated supercar in the world right now?
Battle 8: Toyota Supra Mk4 vs Supra Mk5
We have a feeling that this one isn’t going to be close. The mk4 Supra is a tuner’s wet dream, with its iconic 2JZ engine able to comfortably withstand 1000bhp with the right modifications. The new Supra is... a BMW Z4 with Toyota badges. Harsh? Maybe. It will doubtless be beautifully balanced and plenty quick. But you've already clicked on the Mk4, haven't you...
Battle 9: Ford Focus RS vs Escort Cosworth
A modern 345bhp supercar-hunting hyper-hatch vs... an old Ford with turbolag for days and a silly wing. This one should be easy, but it isn't. Because these days, Cossie-badged fast Fords are cult legends and the Focus RS is - dare we say it - a bit common.
Battle 10: McLaren P1 vs F1
The spiritual successor to the McLaren F1 - the new Speedtail - hasn’t actually arrived yet. So in the meantime, the unenviable task of going head-to-head with one of the greatest supercars ever made is assigned to the P1.
Could be worse - the P1 has north of 900bhp thanks to its hybrid powertrain and is understood to be the most ferocious - and fastest round a track - of the so-called ‘holy trinity’ of hybrid hypercars. The Senna may have it licked for lap times, but as far as sheer bloody violence, no car comes close.
But the F1 speaks for itself. In 1993 it became the world’s fastest car, clocked at 240mph. It would be 12 years before that record was beaten. 12 YEARS. Best supercar ever? Not for us to say. but yes.