With the rate of engineering progress and R&D in today's motoring world, these two cars are relative dinosaurs. A Windows XP to today's Windows 10 cars, but I still love them, and they're both exquisite cars to drive.
I'll be honest, I've wanted to do this review for a long time, but, for one reason or another it just hasn't panned out. But now, I can finally say that I've been able to spend enough time in both cars to wring their necks, form a subjective opinion on them, and tell you all about it. So here goes...
I'll come straight out and say that I think the Ferrari 458 Italia is the best looking Ferrari that the Scuderia have ever made. Yes, ever. It's my absolute dream car. The bodywork contours and panel sculpturing are a true work of art, and I personally think that no matter what angle you observe it from, it always looks stunningly gorgeous. Woking's answer to the Maranello supercar is the MP4-12C, which boasts more torque, more power, less weight, better braking and a higher top speed. It is in essence, a direct reply to Ferrari saying "anything you can do, I can do better". A game of one-upmanship if you will, which incidentally has served only to escalate in recent years with the LaFerrari and P1, and now the new duel between the 488 GTB and 675LT.
The 12C is a better car, and if driven in the correct manner, it will give you a quicker lap time than the Ferrari. The more avid viewers of Top Gear will remember how they used to go to great lengths to explain that whilst the 12C is a better car, it's just not as special as the 458 in that it feels too clinical, too scientific and discards the passion of motoring joy in favour of a few tenths of second around Silverstone. Upon testing the two cars in Assetto Corsa, it was readily apparent that Kunos Simulazioni have been able to capture this exact feeling in the virtual world as well. Yes the 12C is quicker, but the 458 is better looking, better sounding and more exhilarating to drive. So it was pretty awesome to be able to actually feel what Clarkson, Hammond and May have been saying over the years about this intangible X-factor that the Ferrari seems to possess, directly translate into the virtual world of Assetto Corsa.
You get the sense that the McLaren doesn't like to be driven stupidly, which is obviously where it excels at delivering lap time performance, but it also makes it less enjoyable to drive. In the Ferrari you can kick the back end out and hold it quite comfortably, and it's incredibly satisfying. It may be slower to corner sideways, but it's almost as if the 458 is egging you on to do it. Additionally, the gearbox in the 458 is an absolute peach. The gear changes are instantaneous, without any affect to the balance of the car. Where as the McLaren also uses a dual clutch gearbox, however it is less responsive than the Ferrari's particularly on the downshift, and can sometimes cause some issues with the car balance as there's a rather large difference in gear ratio size between 2nd and 3rd gear, leading to the rear end snapping out as the drive train attempts to absorb a lot of the stress you're putting it through. Speaking of gear ratios in the McLaren, the 6th and 7th gears are utterly useless. They're so long that they kill all 600Nm of torque, and serve only to maintain the speed of the car, rather than to increase its speed.
Aside from all those power and weight figures, another reason the 12C is the quicker of the two is because McLaren have been clever enough to utilise the helping hand of active aerodynamics. As with the P1 and the Pagani Huayra in Assetto Corsa, the 12C uses the same algorithm for its rear wing movements as its real life counterpart, which is a pretty special piece of programming by Kunos, and something that likely has never been done before. That's not to say that there hasn't been cars with active aero in any other games before, but certainly none have replicated road car physics and aerodynamics quite as realistically as this. In fact, nothing even comes remotely close. The difference in braking performance is very noticeable, as the Ferrari suffers from massive understeer under braking, almost as if the bias is set too far forward while the ABS prevents you from locking. You have to make sure that you're pointing at exactly the turn-in point for the corner before you hit the brakes because once you do apply the brakes, little can be done to change your line. The McLaren however, feels far better and is more agile in braking, allowing for more creative lines into corners, which again, helps with lap time.
As far as drawbacks go, the speedometer on the 12C only reads in Miles per hour, regardless of whether or not you've got it set to Metric or Imperial in the settings menu. I also noticed that the brake lights on the McLaren disappear when it's far away and the lower LOD's kick in, something the Ferrari doesn't do. The 458 on the other hand seems to suffer from some sort of strange rolling resistance when you're not on the throttle. It definitely didn't used to be like this, but I noticed a change in the way the car felt sometime around the release of 1.0 RC. It's almost as if the drive train is not aligned correctly, or something, and that is causing this strange feeling of some extra resistance to the cars natural roll. Whether or not the car behaves likes this in real life, I don't know, but I certainly preferred the way it was before as it can make corner entry rather unpredictable at times.
At the end of the day, I suppose it comes down to personal preference, as both cars are fantastic to drive, it's just a question of which one you like more. For me, it's the fun factor of the Ferrari that wins out, but if someone were to offer me a 12C in real life, I wouldn't exactly say "no" either, as it's still a truly special car.
Ferrari 458 Italia