With the exception of the Corvette ZR-1, the $250,000 mark is where cars start crossing over from supercar to hyper car. We can all agree a Porsche 997 or Audi R8 are super cars, but at just over $100k MSRP, they’re far from unique hyper car status. $250,000 on the other hand, will put you in a car that is equal parts fast and special. This is a club reserved for only the best the automotive world has to offer, and right now, that’s quite a lot. The caliber of car you can get for $250,000 is simply incredible. For that money you can buy a car that will walk over a hyper-car from 5 years ago that costs twice as much. Some think it’s a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a car, but I see it as the performance bargain of 2010.
For this list we picked the 5 high-end powerhouses that will become available this year; the Audi R8 GT, Ferrari 458 Italia, Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Mercedes SLS AMG and Porsche GT2 RS. Make no mistake, although these exotic cars placed from 1st to 5th place, this was not a blow-out. These cars are all incredible. Choosing a winner wasn’t simple. This isn’t high-maintenance Goldilocks being choosey about her porridge. This was pitting the 5 Iron Chefs against one another and having to pick a winner. And we couldn’t be a delusional mom at a soccer game cheering, “They’re all winners!” We had to pick one…
5th Place: Mercedes SLS AMG Gullwing
The 2010 Mercedes Benz AMG SLS Gullwing was one of the most hyped cars of the decade. Spy shots of cars clad in Viper body panels were all over the magazines. All we knew was it was called “SL” and was inspired by the original, stunning 300SL. Well the stupid panels are gone, and what we have is well-executed Gullwing for the 21st century, complete with those awesome doors. It sits low, has a nose longer than Andrien Brody’s, and a clean, short tail. It’s striking inside and out, with a luxurious, beautiful cockpit that completely understates the performance this car has. It’s easily the best-looking Mercedes interior available.
Don’t let the retro looks fool you, under that old face are new parts. AMG chose its always-popular 6.2 Liter V8, making 571hp and 480 tq. sent to the rear wheels by a Getrag DCT 7-speed. 0-60 is a very modern 3.8 second trip and the SLS will thunder to 197mph. Sending spent gas out the short side-pipes, this thing growls, pops and roars. It’s one of the best-sounding cars out there.
When you put all those wonderful toys in a 3,500lb car, it can’t help but be sporty. While it was intended to be a high-caliber grand tourer, Mercedes ended up with a very capable driver’s car. It won’t set records, and the long hood can make apexes tough, but this car will be almost as good at Laguna Seca as it was on the drive there. Overall the SLS is a great car. It’s beautiful, fast and looks just like its famous father. But in this price range, the other kids are just a little bit faster, a little lighter, and a little better.
4th Place: Audi R8 GT
It was only a few weeks ago that the announcement of an upcoming 2010 Audi R8 GT had our light-weight-exotic-car tastebuds dancing. Less weight and more power is always a good thing. Scientists have actually proven that it reduces your cholesterol. When the R8 first rolled out of Ingolstadt it set the world on fire. It was an almost-perfect balance of daily-driver comfort and balanced sports car bravado. Audi had managed to glue an upscale living room to an LeMans car and the result was better than alchemy. Just as Audi had done with the super car, they saw the other kids building special light-weight versions and said, “We can do that.” And they did, almost.
Audi took the R8 V10 and used CFRP body panels, polycarbonate windows and Carbon Fiber to shave 220 lbs of the car. A more aggressive tune ups the power from 525 to 560hp, allowing the R8 GT to hit 60mph in a scant 3.6 seconds. The R8 GT’s interior looks the same as the stock one, but Audi shaved 86 pounds from the interior, so expect it to be a little louder and a little harder. Audi gives you the option to dress your interior as you see fit, but adding a big stereo and leather seats is a little counter-productive. Your better off checking the boxes for a full roll-cage, fire extinguisher and cup tires. Options like that don’t just prove that the GT means business, but that Audi does as well.
It’s hard to put such a great car so far down the list. Sadly, it’s only offered with Audi’s R-Tronic transmission. The problem isn’t the idea but the execution. While Ferrari, and even Nissan and VW use Dual Clutch systems, Audi still uses a single-clutch. It’s great for full-throttle track days, but around town it fumbles. On a car with so many options, it’s annoying the method of gear-selection isn’t one of them, especially for $256,000. Second, 560hp just isn’t that big a jump from the regular V10. For that money you could put a PES supercharger on an R8, add lighter seats and carbon brakes (not standard on the R8 GT) and have enough left for several year’s worth of track days. The is R8 GT is a phenomenal car that will keep pace with it’s rivals from Italy, but this battle requires more than some extra horses and plastic armor to survive.
3rd Place: Porsche 911 GT2 RS
Some people have been worried that Porsche is going soft. These mis-guided folks view the Panamera the way Dick Cheney looks at his daughter; not quite in line with family values. To quell these whiners, this year Porsche released the GT2 RS, and it is the fastest Porsche ever. Yes, it’s faster than the Carrera GT, and even at $250,000 it’s half the price.
All that speed is brought to you by the 620hp (90 more than the GT2) twin-turbo powerplant, sandwiched between two giant 325 tires, which are of course the only wheels that receive power in the RS. Porsche has also used a variety of light-weight pieces, like a carbon fiber hood, to shave a portly 194lbs off the regular GT2. While we’re on the subject, the GT2 is anything but “regular.” Even power-addicted Jeremy Clarkson was terrified by the thing, and wrote it off as useless. Well he does repeatedly advise the world that power solves everything, so he only has himself to blame if this car is scarier than its predecessor.
And it may be. Weighing only 3,020 lbs it hits 60mph in 3.4 seconds and won’t stop until it hits 205mph. But it’s more than a driving range hustler, it dissects race-tracks like a German surgeon with OCD. Remeber how the Viper ACR had the ‘Ring lap record for “production cars?” Not anymore. The GT2 RS ran around that little town in 7:18, 4 seconds faster than the ACR. The GT2 also looks a lot better than the Viper, although I doubt it rides like a Town Car. In fact, that’s why it’s in 3rd place. This car is Hannibal Lecter; behind bars on the track it’s brilliant but in public it will just be a menace and possibly kill you.
2nd Place: Ferrari 458 Italia
Whenever the fine folks in Maranello tell us they’re working on their next car, Viagra sales drop 40%. That is how exciting every Ferrari is. When the Enzo came out it was at the top of the auto world. A few years later its own smaller, cheaper flesh and blood, the F430 Scuderia, sent it packing to the retirement home. Well the 2010 458 Italia, the “normal” 458, is even better than the Scuderia. Here’s your apple sauce Mr. Scuderia, if you finish it all you get to play checkers.
Ferrari continues to baffle and amaze us with their forward progress. Every car they make is incredible and we wonder “How can they top it?” And then they don’t just top it, but kick the crap out of it. What Ferrari learned from the Scuderia is that you could have a car that is incredibly fast and sharp on a track, but also (through the magic of electronic suspension and engine settings) composed around town. They applied those lessons to the 458 from the start, and the result is just silly. 560hp 4.5 liter V8 that redlines at nails-on-chalkboard-like 9,000RPM, yet also makes 80% of it’s 400 tq. at 3,250RPM. What? How!?
With Ferrari’s computer whiz F1 software and E-Diff it hits 60mph in a group-leading 3.3 seconds and on to a 2nd place-worthy 202mph. It comes (only) with a 7-speed DCT tranny, so you can put it auto mode while you cit in traffic, and then move that switch to “Race” mode when you reach the canyons. This is how the Italians do “daily driven supercar.”
It’s also downright sexy, even though its eyes are a little too big for my taste. It has soft edges, hard curves, and too many brilliant surface lines to comment on. The interior is almost perfect; completely driver-oriented with customizeable screens and that lovely mannetino switch. I say almost because the interior looks like it’s about 5 years ahead of the rest of the car. It’s like a Stepford Wife, pretty but a little too alien. After reading everything about the 458, the biggest shock was that it’s only $250,000. A car that performs better than a Scuderia should cost more than one, right?
But it doesn’t. And, unlike the Scud, the 458 has a full leather interior, AC, a stereo, and NAV. It has a smooth DCT transmission that can take you to the store without lifting a finger, or shift hard enough to break your teeth. You get the gadgets of a 599, the performance of an Enzo and a chameleon suspension system. I feel weird saying it, but this is like a bargain Ferrari that doesn’t compromise anything.
1st Place: Aston Martin V12 Vantage
This was not an easy list to make; all these cars are incredible. Their 0-60 times and top speeds all fall under the technical category “fast as ****.” Their prices are basically the same and they’re all pretty easy on the eyes. We’d be happy if we got to take any of them on a date. But the 2010 Aston Martin V12 Vantage is the one we want to spend the rest of our lives with.
It has beauty, power, speed but most importantly it has a soul. That soul is something that trickles down from the top of Aston Martin. After it was completed, the engineering team and Aston Martin CEO entered a V12 Vantage in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, and won its class. Knowing the people that built this car cared enough to race it for 24 hours, including Bez himself, shows the love they have for their car. They weren’t even going to send it to the US, but due to customer demand they changed their minds. Whether you see that as a financial move or a company being good to its fans is up to you, but to us it’s both.
The result of their hard work is a gorgeous coupe with the heart of a DBS. It’s a classic sports car shape; long hood, sloping roof, curvy fenders. There isn’t a bad angle on it. The interior is just as good; perfectly appointed in luxury yet tells you you’re in a performance car. The dials may look like jewels, but their tight packaging alludes to what this car was made to do. It also comes with a proper manual transmission, further elevating the driver enjoyment this car can provide. The DCT is certainly the future, and the best choice for hot laps, but I guarantee there is a simple joy you will get from simply resting your hand on the Aston’s aluminum shifter than cannot be replicated by a carbon paddle.
Slide into the Alcantara seat and hit the starter button. In front a 510hp V-12 - the Kobe beef of engine layouts – roars to life. Slide the lever into the 1st of 6 speeds, and you’re gone. In 4.1 seconds you hit 60mph, not as fast as the others, but compared to more “mortal” automobiles this thing goes. Just because it won’t win the drag race doesn’t mean it’s not a proper super car. In fact if it hears you say that, it will use its 1.3g of lateral grip to smack you back in line. Yes you top out at 190mph and yes the GT2 could eat you but overall, from all-in-all, this is the best car.
Its shape is undeniably timeless, the interior is just gorgeous and it’s 9/10ths as fast as anything here. You see the GT2 is that date that’s fun, but you can’t take her near your parents. The Ferrari is hot, but she’s a bit of an attention whore. The Aston is classy, yet far from dull.
Aston Martin CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez said, “This is the ultimate performance interpretation … combining our most agile model with our most powerful engine. It represents the definitive driving package; providing spectacular performance to ensure a dynamically thrilling and everyday useable driving experience.” We couldn’t agree more.