THE FAST LANE

After completing a lengthy road trip in Europe, Philip Callow ponders the best car for today’s discerning continental drivers

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I was exhausted as I finally took my seat on the plane back to Singapore. I had been endurance racing over the weekend in Spa, Belgium and had made the long drive back to London to catch my flight in my 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS. As I sat there I couldn’t help but wonder whether the car I had just left behind was really better suited to a race track than to a transcontinental road trip. What I had really needed was a Gran Turismo, a GT. But which one?

The money no object options for today’s continental driver are truly varied. There are super salons and coupés that are just as comfortable blasting to KL on a Friday night as they are in Hong Kong’s rush-hour traffic. Take the new Mercedes CL63 AMG. Gorgeous to look at, a real departure from the safe design of recent times, a hugely impressive engine with 585bhp and more gadgets and driver aids than the Apple store at IFC. But if you are a Mercedes fan, you will also have considered the SLS AMG. And don’t get me started on options from Porsche and BMW.

Out of all the Euro car makers, the Italians invented this niche and Ferrari owned it. The Mille Miglia road racing days of the 1960s blended together the need for a level of refinement mixed with the reliability and power of a V12 engine, a GT trademark that continues to this day. Ferrari 250 GTO anyone?

Interestingly, there are only a handful of proper GT cars on the market. The exquisite Aston Martin Vantage S is one of the most beautiful cars on sale today, demanding attention from the valet at The Landmark over more expensive metal but also has 565bhp lurking should you wish to make time. Despite this though, it has an antiquated gear box and feels, dare I say it, a little mainstream.

Rolls-Royce has just turned up to the GT party and my goodness, have they grabbed our attention. The Wraith is simply magnificent. It weighs 2.5 tonnes but is as quick to 60mph as a standard 911. But whilst it’s got a V12 (albeit turbocharged) and rear wheel drive, it’s not too subtle and you need a chauffeur as it’s too big to park anywhere. Perhaps it’s too much of a departure from what a GT car should be.

The Bentley Continental was a hugely important car for this historical brand and its success has been deserved. But you would have to go for the Speed, which is like a hooligan in the company of the Aston. It’s also got all- wheel drive, and proper GT cars don’t. It doesn’t snow in Hong Kong, anyway.

And this brings me back to Ferrari, specifically the F12 Berlinetta. All 730bhp of it. It’s a car as comfortable chewing through highway miles one day as it is being driven leisurely on the South Side the next. It also fits into your favourite car park in Central.

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It’s a shockingly beautiful beast, not as classical as the Aston but more modern, more taught, more compact than its heritage (or competition). It simply blows the others away. But then again, at around US$150,000 (plus options) more than the Aston and the Bentley, so it should.

Its ability is subtle, its well appointed cabin a very comfortable place to be. But its intentions are made clear as soon as you twist the key, select race on the magneto and drive with urgency.

Oh, and what urgency! Much as I am an aesthete I am also a driver and this is where the F12 really shines. Yes, it should do given its price point, but what other front engine, rear drive car comes close? This is a car that you can pop into IFC in the morning, blast over to Zhuhai over lunch and then drive around ZIC in the afternoon whilst telling people to “Leave me alone, I know what I am doing” on the handsfree.

But then again, what would I expect? The F12 is more than a GT car, it’s a bona fide supercar.

 

 

 

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