January 27, 2017

McLaren and Ferrari have been rivals on the track since the 1960s, but, until recently, McLaren let Ferrari have things its own way on the road. Apart from the McLaren F1, a one-off supercar in the late 1980s that is still regarded as one of the finest cars of all time, McLaren simply didn’t build road cars.

Now that has all changed. McLaren has a full line of cars to go head-to-head with Ferrari. So when we heard that they were both building range-topping petrol-electric hybrids, the automotive world started salivating like a particularly slobbery dog at dinnertime.

Even with the ethereal greats of the Bugatti Chiron and Koenigsegg One:1, these are the headline acts in the supercar world. This battle would decide the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Both cars launched within months of each other, they both cost about the same, and in terms of the raw numbers they came out real close. They both sold out before their rubber hit the road, too. So which one is the best? There’s only one way to find out, it’s time for the two greatest cars in the world to go to war.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: USP

On the face of it, they are both halo cars for two of the most famous sportscar manufacturers on the planet. So, the USP is virtually the same. But there are subtle differences based on the respective marques’ histories, philosophies and national identities.

The LaFerrari is typically Italian. It’s loud, shouty and dramatic. It’s the Italian designer label, a flash suit, and it follows in the footsteps of the 288 GTO, F40 and Enzo. It is part of the Ferrari legend, too, which means you get the magic  of the badge, you follow in the footsteps of Gilles Villeneuve, Michael Shumacher and Sebastien Vettel. If you buy into the romance-fueled marketing.

LaFerrari, the ultimate hybrid?

McLaren forged its reputation on precision engineering and fastidious attention to detail. Every screw in the legendary Woking HQ is aligned vertically so it won’t collect dust. That’s a famous fact that epitomizes the McLaren approach.

It has just one car to look to for inspiration, too: the BMW-engined McLaren F1. This car really is the spiritual successor to that icon and McLaren simply had to get it right.

The British company isn’t as sexy, but it’s excellence of execution has won the British firm legions of fans around the world and has become anti-establishment in its own special way. The cars themselves are actually remarkably similar and the biggest difference is the Ferrari’s naturally-aspirated V12 and the McLaren’s smaller twin-turbo engine. It’s the philosophy that largely marks them apart.

It’s romance vs precision and wild flamboyance vs cold, calculating engineering. That is impossible to call: it’s a subjective thing.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Design

The LaFerrari is a jaw dropping car to look at, but it does have some odd angles. It was the first production Ferrari in recent years that Pininfarina didn’t design and, to be frank, it shows. The Ferrari is brutal, purposeful and every flap and surface has been dictated by the engineering underneath. But it isn’t the prettiest car we’ve seen come out of Maranello by a long way.

The McLaren P1, penned by Frank Stephenson, is a stunner. It’s more organic, curvaceous and animalistic than the LaFerrari. It looks bolder and simply faster when both cars are standing still. The P1 looks infinitely better with the rear wing standing proud, but you can lock it in place.

The P1 is a masterclass in lightweight engineering and yet it’s got more than that. It’s a seductive design and it’s more cohesive than the LaFerrari. For us, McLaren takes this one.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Price

The McLaren P1 sold for $1.15 million and all 375 sold before the car had truly broken cover. The LaFerrari was marginally cheaper, at an even $1 million, but again all 499 were sold to ‘friends of Ferrari’ that already owned a fleet of their cars.

The money didn’t stop flowing either. McLaren has in-house tuner McLaren Special Operations, which can do anything within reason to a modern day McLaren P1. Additional carbon-fiber, color matches for the two-tone paint and interior parts are all on tap and McLaren has even designed and built a bespoke body for one demanding client in the past. On average, customer’s spend $300,000 on top of the base price to spec their car.

Ferrari has its own in-house Tailor-Made program can do all of that, too. We haven’t seen any extreme examples of the road cars, but then we wouldn’t be too surprised to hear of cars that cost triple the base price when they finally get to the customer.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Special editions

Ferrari unlocked a magic formula when they created a track-only special edition of the Enzo and it was no surprise when they announced the LaFerrari FXX K. The name did make us snigger, though. Again, it’s a track special where the lucky customers get to wear Ferrari overalls and pretend to be a proper racing drive for a set number of days a year.

It cost $3 million to buy the car and join the club for two years. That gets you behind the wheel of a 1036bhp monster with more downforce and less weight. It’s a stripped out version of one of the fastest cars in the world and really it’s a racing car that is so advanced it wouldn’t be allowed to enter most championships.

mclaren-p1-gtr

McLaren has one of its own track only monsters, and the GTR is every bit as impressive. It cost $1.98 million, too, which makes it a bargain in this context.

Then the British firm went one further still. It converted five of the track-based GTRs into road cars, to create the P1 LM. That car costs a cool $4 million.

McLaren  P1 vs LaFerrari: Power

Here’s where things get really interesting, even though the raw numbers really aren’t that different. The McLaren P1 has 904bhp and 723lb/ft of torque at its disposal. The LaFerrari gets 950bhp and 664lb/ft of torque. So that’s one apiece and honors even, right? Well, kind of…

There’s a lot more to it than that and the drivetrain differences go to the heart of the matter. That’s because the Ferrari comes loaded with the charismatic, 789bhp, 6.2-liter V12, mated to a 120kW (161bhp) motor and KERS system. McLaren went for a 3.6-liter twin turbo, pumping out 727bhp, and an electric motor that has another 177bhp on tap.

They’re two very different engines with very different characters. The Ferrari is nostalgic, big, aggressive and sonorous. The McLaren is every bit as dramatic from the driver’s seat, but that note just isn’t the same.

It’s a different kind of buzz and some people prefer the punch from the turbos, while others like the high, free revving nature of the Ferrari. It’s horses for courses and you simply have to choose your poison. This, though, is one of the biggest differences between the two cars.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Acceleration

As both cars are so evenly matched in terms of power, it isn’t a surprise to hear that they’re close when it comes to straightline speed either. What is a surprise is that the figures really aren’t that outrageous by today’s standards. Not at the low end, anyway.

Ferrari quotes less than three seconds to 60mph and McLaren has gone for 2.8s, which is way off the fastest production cars in the world. The Tesla Model S P100D, a four-door saloon, is 0.3s faster.

That’s partly down to the rear-drive nature of the cars, though, and the fact they’re just packing too much firepower for the tires to lay it down. As they get into their stride, they start to live up to their billing as the best cars on the planet.

The P1 hits 125mph in 6.8s, it covers the quarter-mile in 9.8s, with a trap speed of 152mph and it will do 185mph in 16.5s. That is seriously fast.

The LaFerrari hits 125mph in less than seven seconds and does 185mph in 15s. So its slippier bodywork counts at the top end. The only way you’ll really feel it is to hit the track, but if you’re buying one of these cars then you simply want to know that it can go faster than the competition.

Ferrari handles all the power and you can engage a Drag Reduction System, just like the F1 drivers, to boost the straightline speed. You can do the same in the P1, but with a drag co-efficient of 0.30, compared to the P1’s 0.34, the LaFerrari wins the straightline war in the end.

The McLaren has the edge low down, the Ferrari streaks past higher up the range. We’re giving this one to Ferrari.

McLaren P1 Everything you need to know

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Top speed

The McLaren P1 top speed is 217mph (349 km/h) and the LaFerrari top end is 220mph (354 km/h), largely thanks to that streamlined shape. Once again, though, the two are basically separated by a gnat’s whisker. You won’t notice the 3mph, but you will know that your friend’s car is faster. That could get really annoying if your friend is the type to rub your P1’s inadequacy in your face.

The kind of people that buy these cars tend to know each other and they just love showing off their stuff and comparing stats. It’s a real life game of Top Trumps and that 3mph actually matters.

McLaren P1 vs LeFerrari: Weight

When it comes to the handling, then weight makes a major difference and the pounds on the hips that separate the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari is one of the more significant differentiating factors. The LaFerrari is the heavier car with a curb weight of 3495lb, while the McLaren P1 tips the scales at 3411lb full of fluids.

Both cars have a carbon-fiber tub and a mass of weight saving measures, but the dual drivetrains mean that these were never going to be flyweights.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Handling

Both cars are designed to give the driver the kind of driving experience that sears itself in to your soul. Both are blindingly fast cars, both offer vast adjustability and a traction control safety net that lets you play with the tail.

They’ve both been likened to big go-karts with the nanny aids off by some of the best drivers in the business and again this one is going to come down to a purely subjective choice. The McLaren did edge the fight on track in a number of high profile tests, but it came down to a razor wire decision each and every time.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Economy

Now this one is interesting. The McLaren does just 6.2 miles in electric-only mode, but then the LaFerrari doesn’t offer electric-only mode in any way, shape or form. The Italian car is a mild-hybrid, so the P1 wins if you just want to roll down to the shops. In fact, when it comes to economy, the McLaren walks it.

McLaren claims an overall economy figure of 34mpg, which is more than solid for a car with this kind of performance. In fact it’s astounding.

Ferrari hasn’t made any such claim and has revealed that its car does 12mpg in the city and 20mpg on the highway. That’s still not bad for a car that can rip up the road, but it’s only worth a distant second place here.

McLaren P1 vs LaFerrari: Interior

The cockpits of the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari neatly encapsulate their respective company philosophies. The Ferrari is loud, covered in buttons and it comes with a shouty digital rev counter in on the digital instrument binnacle. The steering wheel has indicators, the iconic Manettino switch and the big red starter button. It’s busy in there, but there’s no doubting the elegance of the carbon-fiber and Alcantara.

The McLaren is minimalist in comparison. It has just two buttons on the wheel, one for the drag reduction system to boost your straightline speed, and that intriguing red IPAS button that gives you all the electric and petrol-derived boost in one hit. Push both together and just hold on, you’ll be a passenger from that point on.

At least you can appreciate the clean, near clinical approach to the cockpit design. That floating center console is a neat trick that also saves serious weight. Everything in the car is perfect and it’s equally festooned with carbon-fiber and Alcantara. It’s less dramatic than the Ferrari, but that is by design and a bright color could easily bring some life to the cockpit.

Wrap-up

It’s still shocking that the two biggest supercar manufacturers in the world could start with a clean sheet of paper and a brief to raise the bar basically went down the same road to come up with two cars that are separated by fractions. But there is simply no denying the fact that is what has happened.

The P1 and LaFerrari are so closely matched that it really comes down to individual preferences, subjective calls on the styling, the USP, the powerplants and, bizarrely, the McLaren’s electric only mode.

You could make a case for either one and while our heart belongs to the more aggressive P1, we know that others will prefer the clean lines of the LaFerrari.

Read next: Best electric cars

So the two greatest cars in the world are so closely matched that we think we’re going to sit on the fence. We’re calling this one a draw.

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