We've tested sports cars from across the globe to find out which nation makes the best drivers' car. And it's down to England and Germany in the final...

THE FINAL: ENGLAND VS GERMANY

McLaren 540C (England) vs Porsche 911 GTS (Germany)

There will be no tortured analogies, no reference to pool towels, 1966 or penalty shootouts. These two are too special for that, their roles too important. After three rounds and 14 increasingly competitive contests, just two countries remain: the two greatest producers of sports cars there are.

Before you get reading, check out our semi finals here

It seems somehow right that it should come down to these two, and yet what different approaches these nations have taken to get themselves to the final. For Germany, it’s always the mainstream route, through massive premium brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and now Porsche. For England, it’s the specialists that have led the way: Caterham, Lotus, Aston Martin and now McLaren, minnows that could be swallowed whole by the paperclip budget of any of the German brands that have been put forward.

But however they got here, we believe the McLaren 540C and Porsche 911 GTS are the best sports cars in the business, at least by the rules of this contest. If we’d waited a little longer, the new 911 GT3 may have made a stronger case still, and you could argue the McLaren 570S should replace with 540C because technically it just nips under the price barrier. But you’d scarcely believe how little real-world pace the 540C loses and we doubt a 570S has ever actually been bought for less than £150,000, so the 540C it is.

One more thing: the cars are competing by themselves, but for their countries. We’re here to identify the greatest sports car-producing nation of all, and these are mere representatives; the best of the best, for sure, but examples nonetheless.

For such an extraordinary device, the 540C is the invisible McLaren. It was commissioned at a time when the company was a lot less confident about its future and place in the world than it is now and was  designed to ensure the company had something that could sell directly against the 911 Turbo. But it costs nearly £20,000 less than the 570S to buy, despite costing McLaren hardly anything less to build. Which is why there is no GT version of the 540, nor will there be a Spider. Given its time again but with the benefit of hindsight, doubtless McLaren would not have built it at all.

Which is exactly why it is such a bargain. The biggest difference between it and the 570S is that its engine produces 30 fewer horses, but because the 570S’s additional power is largely at the top end, you’re not going to notice what you’re missing unless you’re able to drive the wheels off both one after the other. Of course, we have done exactly this and it’s interesting to see what a difference that 30bhp makes, because even among cars with outputs in the mid-500bhp bracket, it is substantial; but unless you’re going to go redlining everywhere, the 540C does just fine.

And against the 911 GTS, where its advantage is closer to 90bhp, it offers a different category of performance. Don’t read too much into the 911’s 4.1sec 0-62mph time, because were you to equip it with a paddle-shift gearbox like the McLaren’s, that time would fall swiftly to 3.7sec, closer than you might think to the 540C’s 3.5sec sprint. But in reality, the McLaren really does feel much faster. It has more turbo lag, but when it kicks in a lower gear, it provides you with that uncomfortably hurtling feeling that is the hallmark of all exceptionally fast cars. And quick though the 911 is, it can’t quite do this.

But nor does it need to. Truth is (and we tried this, too), that so long as sane drivers are at the wheels of both cars, the GTS will sit neatly on the tail of the 540C from dawn until dusk. Sure, around a track, we’d expect the Brit to drive away from the German in short order, but in the always restrictive environment of even quiet moorland roads, both cars have potential to spare. The fact that the McLaren has rather more of it is really neither here nor there.

Nor can the McLaren make any subjective claim to powertrain superiority just because its engine has more cylinders. It is the Porsche engine that sounds better at all speeds and it is Porsche that provides a choice of two or three pedals in the footwell. And with a manual gearbox as good as that now used by Porsche, that is a sizeable point in its favour. Yes, the McLaren shifts gears pretty instantly in both directions and there is certainly pleasure to be had from the uninterrupted progress that results, but physically to use a lever to select the next ratio is always going to be a more involving process. And few levers find their way around the gate more sweetly than that of this Porsche. For a sports car, a pure driving machine, this stuff really counts.

But so does the way a sports car feels in your hands. And, of course, the 911 is exceptional in this regard, especially in this lightest spec a GTS can be. Its steering is pin-sharp, its damping superlative. If you want to feel confident while driving a rapid car quickly, there’s no better place to shop.

On the other hand, if you want to feel like a superhero, you’re going to need the McLaren. Its handling is better than exceptional: it is incredible. Porsche abandoned hydraulic power steering years ago but McLaren proudly states it’ll be the last manufacturer on earth to embrace electric assistance. Drive the 540C on an undulating road and you’ll see why. The feel the helm provides, that sense of contact with the road it imparts, is such that when you jump back in the 911, it’s like you’ve donned a pair of thick gloves. It still does exactly what you want and when you want it to, but that level of communication is missing. You get more through the McLaren’s carbonfibre shell, too, its ultra-stiff construction providing the perfect platform for its exquisitely tuned suspension to work upon.

There’s also another thing, important even in the realm of the sports car. The McLaren feels special in a way the Porsche does not. Look at its stance, its styling, its partly exposed carbon shell, its low-slung driving position, its elegant yet futuristic interior design: all speak of an exclusivity, a quality of experience and a likelihood of retained memories the 911 cannot touch. Yes, we think this second-generation 991-series is one of the prettiest in 911 history, but it’ll take more than that, centre-lock wheels, a bit of Alcantara and a few GTS badges to bridge the gap – no, gulf – between it and the McLaren in this respect.

Yet other gulfs exist, too. Sports cars must also be usable, and while we applaud McLaren for giving the 540C a big boot, such exceptional visibility and (rubbish sat-nav aside) a pretty impressive ergonomic environment, it does not have 911-grade visibility, nor its ground clearance. It’s a little harder to enter and much, much harder to exit. You can’t thread it through gaps like you can the Porsche and, of course, it has no rear seats. By the standard of mid-engined exotics, the McLaren Sports Series (540/570) is probably the most practical and usable of them all, but a 911 it is not.

Which is why, were this a conventional twin test, we’d factor in the price differential and award victory, by the smallest margin, to the Porsche. Recently, we named the GTS our favourite car on sale and nothing we’ve seen here changes that.

But, as we know, these two cars are mere envoys, ambassadors for their countries. So which makes the best case for theirs to win the sports car world cup? Both are emblematic of the cars they do best. The Porsche is a version of a big-selling product and part of a model range that shifts nearly a quarter of a million cars a year. The likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are, of course, many times bigger still.

Conversely, McLaren is the ultimate expression of a culture of, and an appetite for, the purest of sports cars that is richer and longer lasting than any other in the world. But we don’t need to look back to old Triumphs, MGs and AustinHealeys here, because in addition to those that have already taken part in others, from Ariel past Morgan to Radical, those traditions live on today, faster, more pure, exciting and true to the sports car ideal than ever.

Which is why we’re giving the sports car world cup to England. The 540C may be only very nearly the best sports car in the world, but as an example of the kind of car that England does best and illustrative as it is of this island’s unrivalled record in this field, there is none better to come forward, step onto the stage and collect the award. 

McLaren 540C

Power 532bhp Price £126,000 0-62mph 3.5sec Top speed 199mph

Porsche 911 GTS

Power 444bhp Price £95,795 0-62mph 4.1sec Top speed 193mph

Our Verdict

McLaren 540C

It might be the entry-level McLaren, but the 540C feels no less complete or exhilarating on the road than the firm's brilliant 570S

Join the debate

Comments
10

11 June 2017
Yes,yes it is,well,I think so,too many compromises with the McLaren ,I know the Porsche haters out there will ridicule my words,but,the Porsche is in a way like the Family Car,you can put kids in the back (short trips,I know!) it can get service like a Family Car is,it doesn't cost a month's rent to service ,whereas the McLaren your scared to leave it anywhere or take it down Streets with speed control measures,no,the everyday fun Car?.....yes,yes IT is!

Peter Cavellini.

11 June 2017
If you want practicality then buy yourself a M6 as a 911 has NO proper rear seats and boot. If you want a comfortable sports car then McLaren will take some beating.

11 June 2017
A few weeks ago I saw Y222 MCL on a burnt orange 720S, as it passed me on a narrow lane a few miles west of Taunton, whilst I was walking the dog.

Citroëniste.

11 June 2017
Never really been a fan of those rear lights not to mention the black engine panels on the 670s back. The rear could do with a major facelift.

11 June 2017
Never really been a fan of those rear lights not to mention the black engine panels on the 670s back. The rear could do with a major facelift.

11 June 2017
No surprise with the outcome, not only is the 570S the best sports car by far, but McLaren have now shown themselves to be the definitive sports car maker while all their cars lead their class. What's more impressive though is the depth of world-beating cars from British companies where may lead their classes or aren't that far behind. For example, the cars below all trump their rivals:

Bentayga - Best luxury SUV
Range Rover Sport and Land Rover Discovery - Best large SUVs
Discovery Sport - Best mid-size SUV
Evoque - Best small SUV
Jaguar XF - Best executive car
Jaguar XE - Best mid-size car
McLaren P1 - Best hypercar
McLaren 720S - Best supercar
McLaren 570S - Best sports car
Aston DB11 - Best GT
Rolls Ghost - Best luxury car
Bentley Mulsanne - Best limo (now that the Phantom isn't made)
Bentley Continental - Best luxury coupe

And cars like the Vantage, Range Rover, F-Type, F-Pace, Jaguar XJ, Flying Spur etc are mostly only bettered by other British cars in their respectively classes.

13 June 2017
Roadster wrote:

No surprise with the outcome, not only is the 570S the best sports car by far, but McLaren have now shown themselves to be the definitive sports car maker while all their cars lead their class. What's more impressive though is the depth of world-beating cars from British companies where may lead their classes or aren't that far behind. For example, the cars below all trump their rivals:

Bentayga - Best luxury SUV
Range Rover Sport and Land Rover Discovery - Best large SUVs
Discovery Sport - Best mid-size SUV
Evoque - Best small SUV
Jaguar XF - Best executive car
Jaguar XE - Best mid-size car
McLaren P1 - Best hypercar
McLaren 720S - Best supercar
McLaren 570S - Best sports car
Aston DB11 - Best GT
Rolls Ghost - Best luxury car
Bentley Mulsanne - Best limo (now that the Phantom isn't made)
Bentley Continental - Best luxury coupe

And cars like the Vantage, Range Rover, F-Type, F-Pace, Jaguar XJ, Flying Spur etc are mostly only bettered by other British cars in their respectively classes.

Anybody who has read my replies to some of the pathetic and defeatist posts on the subject of Britain's future outside of the EU will know that I have an unshakeable belief in the ability, resilience and dynamism of the British people, and that I am utterly convinced that we are going to thrive far more under our own steam than under the influence of that corrupt and undemocratic EU.

However, after you have dried your dick on your Union flag curtains, you need to take a long, hard bath with yourself and consider where you may have left your sense.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

11 June 2017
Chauvinism is an exaggerated patriotism and a belligerent belief in national superiority and glory. Whereas patriotism and nationalism may represent temperate pride, chauvinism is intemperate. It can be also defined as "an irrational belief in the superiority or dominance of one's own group or people". Moreover, the chauvinist's own people are seen as unique and special while the rest of the people are considered weak or inferior. It applies to cars too.

12 June 2017
The adjective " invidious " applies to this comparison.
The McLaren 540C should be compared with the Porsche 911 GT3.
But there is no getting away from the fact that the 540C is one helluva supercar if this review is anything to go by ( although I can't take that dashboard seriously ).

13 June 2017
Scroll across the row of pictures and the final two show the essential difference between these cars. The 911's rear is like a curvaceous, sexy, wiggling pair of cheeks in tight-fitting shorts. The McLaren's is an unsightly arse crack sticking out of a builder's jeans.

If driving a sports car may be likened to an intimate dance, I would rather feel the Porsche's rump writhing in my hands.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

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