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Aston Martin vs Lamborghini vs Ferrari

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classic rivals in a modern era. But just who does make the best V12 supercar money can buy?...

20030313_shootout.jpgNever before has the fight between this trio of age-old supercar rivals been so intense, or so fascinating. And never before have they been quite so evenly matched on price. In the same week that the Lamborghini Murcielago has gone on sale in the UK for £163,000, Ferrari has launched its all-new 550 replacement, the 575M, for £2155 less. But are either of these two Italians good enough to show the £158,000 Aston Vanquish new tricks? Especially on its home turf.

London has rarely felt more restrictive than on this wet Tuesday afternoon. Its major arteries are so clogged with traffic that the nerve centre of England seems close to a breakdown. Disturbing for the trillion other motor-masochists that stumble through this every day, but soul-destroying for myself and motoring ed Steve Sutcliffe. The pathos of our two-car convoy in such conditions is acute: me inches off the floor in a pimp-blue 330kmh Lamborghini Murcielago, and he less horizontal behind the wheel of a 315kmh Aston Martin Vanquish. Big metal going slow; it's a London thing.

Not for long. We're heading west with the promise of blue skies and lonely roads, but without our other protagonist, the new Ferrari 575 Maranello. The latest front-engined V12 Ferrari won't be released from the French-polishers until 4pm, so we're off to do the noble and professional thing: recce a dozen majestic A-roads that we already know better than our families and take pictures while we wait for it to arrive. Honest graft indeed.

Bit of housekeeping first: we need a clean slate for this exercise. Don't allow your preconceptions of these cars to prejudice what you think of them as a collective; they are genuine rivals. That their list prices are within £5000 of each other and they represent the outer limits of what can rightly be called a car (but only just in the Lambo's case) is reason enough to bring them together. But some subtle changes in character have dragged the front lines far closer together than before. Get wrapped up in shape, configuration, purpose and price if you must, but this is the nub: Lamborghini gets driveable, Ferrari gets faster. And James Bond just got himself a Vanquish.

Bet he wishes it was a Murcielago. Not one for the terminally reticent, this first Audi Lambo, but it's an instant hit on the M4 motorway. Strange how in an era of grievous financial jealousy, this is a £163,000 car playing folk hero on a busy road. No wrist exercise gestures from random blokes, no anger with the lad behind the wheel, just admiration for the most beautiful car on sale - ever.

The Aston doesn't figure in all this: subtle Brit with the Coulthard jaw, it lopes obediently behind the show-pony Italian, avoiding the swarming masses safe in the knowledge that its driver can actually hear the CD player at motorway speeds.

The general synopsis on arrival is surprising. The Aston's seat is set too high and the steering wheel is a touch too far away. And where's the cruise control on this supposed GT? But it rides superbly, and the V12 feels like it delivers every one of the 460 horses it claims on the spec sheet. There's much more fatigue to be found in the Lambo: tyre noise is prolific from the rear 335-section Pirellis and the 6192cc 571bhp V12 is an ever-present companion. But never unwanted. Tire of the cruising drone and all you have to do is march the crank up to 7000rpm and drink some more of the real noise. It's fast too; as in frigging. It pulls whole car lengths out of the Aston gunning away from the Severn Bridge toll.

Wales, grey skies and damp roads aren't what the Met Office promised, but who cares? These cars need space and we've got it. The surface is drying and we savour a few hours pedalling before the sunlight melts through the cloud and pings off a silver roof in the distance. Ferrari.

Forget F1, watching the 575 being driven at speed over this road is twice as absorbing. For five kilometres and countless crests, dips and turns, it shimmies along the valley and then arrives in the car park, shuts down and plays a percussion solo while the exhausts cool. Thank you delivery man, Mr Dep Ed Andreae, for reminding me why I love front-engined Prancing Horse products so much more than their 'twixt-the-axles relatives. The car looks sensational. But one thing's bothering me. Why did I only hear it when it was a metre away? It's supposed to sound heaps harder than the old car.

Don't be fooled by its appearance - the Maranello's tailoring might not have changed, but its body-building regime has seen power jump from 479bhp to 508bhp, a host of modifications to the suspension and brakes, and an optional paddle-shift gearbox for a crazy £6495. But the detail changes aren't as important as the shift in ethos. Yes, there's added straight-line speed, but the press blurb talks of more compliant bushes and better ride quality. I'm worried - a large chunk of the 550's appeal lay in its ability to satisfy on the limit as well as on the autostrada. Hope they haven't made the big lad too soft.

Time to find out. Lambo first: scissor door opens easily and you drop with surprising grace into a thinly padded bucket with a small amount of back-rest adjustment. The driving position has become a little more offset in the conversion to right-hand drive, but it's still a fine place in which to sit. You learn to fine-tune your seating position in this car because, just as in a racing car, nothing less than total support will suffice if you're to use it properly.

Because it is staggeringly fast and capable. I don't know whether the factory tapped into my brain to suss our location and then shipped a mechanic over to set this car's spring and damper rates to perfection, but it feels like it. The car works so well here. Banish any fears you may have about intimidating width and minimal suspension compliance; the Murcielago is easily the most confidence-inspiring of the three. It's easier to place on the road, has more grip and traction and levels of composure that, as we'll find out later, the other two simply can't match.

But it takes a while to plug into its capabilities. The all-wheel-drive Lambo has so much useable performance: from full- power exits that don't even muster a tyre chirrup to body control that deals with evil crests and compression points so nonchalantly, your speed is dictated by ethical and not physical considerations. And its surprisingly coarse V12 nails induction noise to your left eardrum. It's a fix.

Immediately, and not surprisingly, the Ferrari feels utterly sanitised. No engine noise to speak of and a set of Michelin Pilot Sports that keep their frictional noise to themselves. Don't let the mechanical refinement fool you though - new 575 thrashes old 550 for pace and initially, it feels as accelerative as the Lambo.

But that last bastion of open-gaited manual gearshifts, the V12 Berlinetta, has succumbed to the paddle-shift generation. Our car is fitted with the optional 'box and, to be blunt, I'm not enjoying it. Theoretically, a transmission that can bang changes through in 0.22sec and match engine and gear speed on downshifts is right up my alley. But in practice, going up through the 'box in sports mode is simply too aggressive - enough to break traction from second to third even in the dry. And it never seems to get the computer heel 'n' toe quite right - it's as if the electronic foot controlling the throttle is wearing a pair of clumsy Doc Martens rather than Sparco race boots.

The Ferrari engine's a stunner though. No, the V12 hasn't got enough to say for itself in either induction or exhaust noise, but the way it sends the centrally mounted revcounter needle round to the 7500rpm limiter regardless of what gear you're in is astonishing for its sheer pace. This is a powerhouse of a motor, one that shamelessly trades character for muscle. And for that it demands respect. Certainly more than the chassis deserves. Because all my fears are confirmed just a few km up the road. The 575 certainly plays the refinement card stronger than its predecessor but over these roads, its shortcomings as a sports car are surprisingly easy to uncover. What would be a stroll for the Lambo has the Maranello's suspension working through its full reach. But the combined effect of 1745kg and tricky blacktop has the car hitting its bump-stops easily and snagging its front splitter against the ground. Push any harder and frankly, its composure quickly fades. It all comes as a massive shock, to be honest.

All of which is fine news for the Aston. Pull that XK8 door handle, perch on top of the unimpressive chair (Audi S3, if I'm not mistaken) and it's easy to be churlish about Newport Pagnell's flagship. Then you press the starter button and rouse the finest-sounding production engine on the planet. The ECU gives it a delicious zap of throttle and then it settles to an even, vociferous idle. It's paddles or nothing in the Vanquish, so select first and tootle off nice and slow. What an improvement. Gone is the jerky, laboured change of the initial launch cars and in its place is positively the finest paddle-shift gearbox I've used. Even clumsy use of the throttle after a tap of the paddle doesn't jolt your passenger's neck, and just the slightest feather on an upshift brings a seamless change. But it's the Vanquish's ability to come back down its gearbox that really impresses. Only twice in 1600km did it slightly miss the optimum revs for a perfectly blipped downchange. It makes the Ferrari's 'box seem crude.

Even more than the 575, this car doesn't like to be hurried. Apply a measured pace and there are reassuring levels of grip and composure and the steering is accurate, if a touch remote. Rather cruelly, the Aston's biggest asset is also its nemesis: that perfectly orchestrated set of noises it makes under full throttle. It encourages you to go faster, you see, to get right up its abilities, but that's where you'll ultimately find it wanting. Like the Ferrari, it's soft enough at the front to have the nose kissing the ground with little effort, and in harsh objective terms it has to bow to the Ferrari for ultimate suspension control, let alone the Lambo.

The Vanquish doesn't bow to either for cruising comfort though. Next day, our journey back to the hellish South East is an eclectic mix of A- and B-roads and M-ways. And the Brit is busy righting some of those moorland wrongs. Hampered by long gearing, the Aston doesn't have the punch to match the others, but factor in the neat transmission, lack of wind noise and fine ride comfort and it makes a strong case for itself as the long-distance choice from this group. If only it could carry more than 80 litres of unleaded in its belly and the cabin was more eventful. I'm bored of playing "where does that bit come from" with Astons, and anyhow, the rest of the car deserves better than a parts-bin ensemble. For all its expensive smells, both Italians knock the Vanquish flat for cabin ambience.

It seems only fair that the Aston peels off the route early and heads back home to the Midlands. It comes third in this test, but has acquitted itself far better than I'd ever imagined and in no way feels like the loser. It's a markedly better car in every way than the examples we drove last year: fast, comfortable and unassumingly desirable - though not in possession of the depth of engineering quality and character that distinguishes a Murcielago or 575M.

It's a head-to-head for ultimate honours, so Sutcliffe and myself continue pounding east and use the performance on offer as discreetly as is possible in such a mind-blowing convoy. One thing's clear: there's no doubting the 575's straight-line speed. Given a straight, flat piece of road, it matches the Murcielago. However, in every other department bar absolute cruising comfort, it yields to the awesome Lamborghini. It hasn't the traction - especially not in the wet (see panel left) - nor the chassis composure to trouble the Murcielago. The Ferrari is - and this is the really difficult pill to swallow - a markedly inferior driving experience. It is a better GT car though, more comfortable gunning around Europe's byways sipping from that enormous 105-litre fuel tank and making best use of that extra suppleness. You'd be hard pressed not to rate the 575's interior as the best on sale too. Lovingly crafted and deliciously styled, it's a fine place to sit.

But sitting's not why we're here. We want speed, style and a bottomless pit of raw dynamic ability. We want the pinnacle of exuberant bent-twelve motoring. We want a bona fide supercar. And there's only one car among this trio that's worthy of this title: the Lambo Murcielago.

"Vanquish has improved hugely - it has the best gearbox and is easier to drive in the wet than the 575 Maranello"

"007 has just been given a ...vanquish. Bet he wishes he had a murcielago instead"

"A nice place to go with half a million quid's worth of supercars; Lambo leads, in more ways than one"

575M: "the sexiest interior of any car on sale right now"

"Driving position is much more raked in Lambo; pedals still offset to the centre"

"Aston is knocked flat by the Italians for cabin ambience"

"the 575 may feel sanitised after the lambo but it can stay with it on any straight"

As a rule, the moment you soften the suspension of a car, it should become easier to drive in the wet. The tyres should pick up more grip, traction should improve greatly and the general balance of the chassis should, in theory, become less edgy. Yet, despite the fact that Ferrari has softened the 575's chassis to make it more refined, it is genuinely hard to describe how evil this car becomes when it rains. Traction is a joke if you're crazy enough to turn the ASR system off; wild understeer or oversteer appears to be no more than an eyeblink away through any corner taken at speed, and the lack of grip at both ends needs to be experienced to be believed over greasy B-roads. It's so bad, in fact, I think the 575 could well be the hairiest car I've ever driven in the wet in this country, and that includes such monsters as the TVR Cerbera 4.5 and original Porsche 911 GT2.

Amazingly, the Murcielago is nowhere near as scary in such conditions. In fact, it's rather enjoyable in an old-fashioned kind of way. No, it's still not a car you take by the scruff and hurl at a wet road, but the feeling of balance that's there in the dry does not abandon the chassis when it rains. And the actual grip the Lambo develops, front and rear, is in a different league from the Ferrari - wet or dry.

But neither can hold a candle to the Aston in the rain. All of Ford's Premier Automotive Group cars behave unusually well in the wet, and the Vanquish is a shining example. The key is, it never feels snappy or unfriendly or overpowered, even when it's chucking it down. So not only can you drive it faster than the 575 in dodgy conditions, you have more fun while doing so. In the UK, with our 'delightful' climate, that's a pretty compelling factor in favour of the Aston Martin.

"Aston is the friendliest on the limit, especially when it rains"

"575 has very aggressive diff: great in the dry, scary in the wet"

"Not wise to get a Lambo out of shape, despite its fine handling"

"Despite its softened suspension, 575M is evil to drive in the rain"

Lambo is an extraordinary car - it wins this test by a clear margin


Ferrari 575M Lambo murcielago Aston Vanquish

How much in UK? £160,845 £163,000 £158,000

On sale Now Now Now

CO2 emissions 499g/km na 396g/km

How fast?

0-100kmh 4.2sec 4.0sec 4.4sec

0-160kmh 9.4sec 9.1sec 10.5sec

0-240kmh 20.3sec 19.9sec 22.6sec

48-80kmh in 4th 4.3sec 4.2sec 4.8sec

80-112kmh in top 7.7sec 6.4sec 8.4sec

Top speed 325kmh (claimed) 330kmh (claimed) 315kmh (claimed)

How big?

Length 4550mm 4580mm 4665mm

Width 1935mm 2240mm 1998mm

Height 1277mm 1135mm 1318mm

Weight 1745kg 1819kg 1835kg


Layout 12 cyls in vee, 5748cc 12 cyls in vee, 6192cc 12 cyls in vee, 5925cc

Max power 508bhp at 7250rpm 571bhp at 7500rpm 460bhp at 6500rpm

Max torque 588Nm at 5250rpm 649Nm at 5400rpm 542Nm at 5000rpm

Power to weight 291.1bhp per tonne 313.9bhp per tonne 250.7bhp per tonne

Installation Front, longitudinal, rwd Mid longitudinal, 4wd Front longitudinal, rwd


Front 255/40 ZR18 245/35 ZR18 255/40 ZR19

Rear 295/35 ZR18 335/30 ZR18 285/40 ZR19

Type Michelin Pilot Sport Pirelli P-Zero Rosso Yokohama AVS Sport


Front 330mm ventilated/drilled 355mm ventilated/drilled 355mm ventilated/drilled

Rear 310mm ventilated/drilled 335mm ventilated/drilled 330mm ventilated/drilled


New 575M is faster than ever, but not as sharp as the old 550.

Definitive supercar in looks, performance, handling and noise.

Prefers the quiet life, but still a fine GT with stunning-sounding V12.

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That is one huge post! You didn't copy and paste, did you?! :wink: Anyways, I'd personally either go for a Lamborghini Murcielago or a Lamborghini Gallardo. But I guess Gallardo's not in the line up. So, Murcielago it is! Of course in real life if I was going to buy a car, it would be like a Tercel or Geo Metro or something! (LOL)! :):P

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