Supercar Companies Want to Make Your Commuter Cars

Noel Badges Pugh/ Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A.

Close your eyes and imagine a supercar. Oh, why not, let’s make it Italian. What words come to mind? Beautiful, powerful, voluptuous, expensive. But six-figure sports cars have also conjured less-benign associations: finicky, impractical, uncomfortable, even dangerous, especially in the hands of amateurs.


That is why supercar designers, engineers and executives are speaking in a surprisingly unified voice: Today’s owners, they say, find no charm in harsh rides and design quirks, shaky reliability or shameless gas-guzzling. To satisfy these demanding, deep-pocketed buyers, companies are designing supercars to be, well, more like normal cars: safe, relatively comfortable and accommodating, not just weekend toys with intimidating, one-note personalities. Manual transmissions are passé, replaced by slick dual-clutch automated gearboxes that let drivers change gears with steering-wheel paddles, or let the car do all the work. Not only are the automatic cars faster and more fuel-efficient, but there are no thigh-burning clutch workouts in stop-and-go traffic.


Fuel efficiency and emissions, once afterthoughts, are now front and center, or as much as possible in cars with 500 to 700 horsepower and top speeds that can surpass 200 miles per hour. With technology and trends on their side, manufacturers are floating a particularly bold claim: These are supercars for every day, including commuting. From our extensive testing, these fast-lane specials would lift anyone’s morning mood—at least for owners with the cojones to roll into the company lot in such an extroverted, enviable machine. If that describes you, then go ahead and linger over that last cup of coffee. After all, these cars should slice precious minutes off your daily commute.

Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4

Like most Lamborghinis, the Huracán is named for a fighting bull, this one translating as “Hurricane.” But while the Lambo is as forceful and bellowing as ever, with its 610-horsepower V-10, its place in the Volkswagen/Audi stable has coaxed out a gentler side of this bull—Ferdinand, perhaps? Notably, the lurching, bucking city behavior of previous Lamborghinis is transformed by the brand’s first-ever dual-clutch automatic transmission. Beautifully streamlined and modern, the Huracán eschews the macho sci-fi flourishes that have marred some recent Lambos. A Quattro-based all-wheel-drive system lets it frolic in foul weather with remarkable poise. Audi-based Google Earth navigation and infotainment sets a new bar for Italian cars, in which you were once lucky to make the AM/FM radio work. Dynamic steering automatically adjusts anywhere from an ultra-quick 9.1:1 ratio—making parking so easy your grandmother could do it—to 17:1 to avoid twitchiness at speeds that can reach 202 miles per hour. Gee-whiz driver aids include the Inertial Platform: A trio of jet-fighter-style gyroscopes analyze handling forces to maintain stability and safety; consider it your digital wingman. Driver-selectable controls include a magnetic suspension with a livable Strada, or “street,” setting. An enormous 12.3-inch TFT screen forms the driver’s instrument cluster, with customized virtual displays: a fat tachometer, perhaps. After 25 shrieking laps around Andalusia’s Ascari circuit, we drove the Lambo straight to Ronda—one of the most spectacular cities in Spain—and oceanside Marbella. The Huracán cruised effortlessly after its hardcore workout, convincing us that it could handle more prosaic drives in head-turning, ear-splitting fashion.

  • Base price: $242,445
  • 610 horsepower

  • DOHC V-10
  • 60 mph in 3.1 seconds

  • 202 mph peak

McLaren
 650S

For decades, driving a serious sports car meant gritting your teeth, often literally, over its punishing ride. But England’s McLaren, which pioneered carbon-fiber construction in Formula 1 racers, is innovating again, with a matchless-suspension design that makes the 650S a surprisingly comfy companion in the urban jungle. Sure, most high-end sports cars have adaptive suspensions. But the McLaren’s ProActive Chassis Control is unique: An interconnected hydraulic system links adaptive shock absorbers at four corners, eliminating traditional anti-roll bars that can make the ride permanently stiff and unyielding. Instead, McLaren’s hydraulic circuits divert fluid front to back or side to side to soften or stiffen any of four wheels, based on real-time road conditions and handling g-forces. Driven in everyday Normal mode in the gauntlet of Manhattan, the McLaren dispatched potholes with notable ease for such a track-honed athlete. Segueing to Monticello Motor Club, a magnificent private road course in New York’s Catskill Mountains, the Track mode highlighted the McLaren’s raging dual personality—including a mid-mounted, 641-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 that hurtles the 650S to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds and to a 207 miles per hour peak. Road or track, drivers benefit from the Airbrake, a rear wing that pivots 52 degrees upward to help slow the car and boost stability under braking or hard cornering; it then flattens under full acceleration to minimize aerodynamic drag. Naturally, both Coupe and convertible Spider models are largely built from weight-saving carbon fiber. The Coupe tips the scales at 2,932 pounds, easily a class best. Such slender mass makes the 650S not just faster but smarter—saving fuel and wear and tear on pricey ceramic-composite brakes and tires.

  • Base price: $283,925
  • 641 horsepower

  • Twin Turbo V-8

  • 60 mph in 2.8 seconds

  • 207 mph peak

Ferrari California T

At this sun-kissed moment, the “T” stands for Tuscany, where we are gunning the Ferrari convertible through the Sangiovese vineyards of Montalcino, en route to lunch—followed by a can’t-miss cheese shop—in the Renaissance town of Pienza. Sure, it’s a Fellini fantasy, played to the 553-horsepower tune of a twin-turbo V-8, Ferrari’s first turbocharged engine since the 1987 F40 supercar. But the “California” name could easily allude to snarled Santa Monica traffic. In that workaday world, the Ferrari’s cosseting ride, generous passenger and cargo space and improved fuel economy make it the most daily-drivable Ferrari yet. The retractable hardtop makes this a true four-seasons car, and barely detracts from luggage space when it’s tucked away. A sexy new body cleverly distracts the eye from bulky hindquarters required to package that practical top. Compared with the previous California, Ferrari engineers boosted steering quickness. The result is nimbler handling yet less work for the driver, with steering-wheel activity reduced by 12 percent. Twiddling the Manettino lever on the steering wheel, drivers can adjust the magnetic suspension from suburban soft to racetrack firm. Thank Ferrari’s Formula 1 technology, and especially those turbochargers, for letting drivers have their cake and eat it, too: The downsized engine boosts the California T’s output by 70 horses and a staggering 185 pound-feet of torque. The result is a 3.6-second romp to 60 miles per hour and a 196 miles per hour top speed, with 15 percent better fuel economy and a 20 percent slice in CO2 emissions. As ever, odometers don’t lie: California owners are racking up 30 percent more miles than the average Ferrari driver. And why not? The California offers too many reasons to leave the Range Rover in the garage and take the Ferrari instead.

  • Base price: $202,723
  • 553 horsepower

  • Twin Turbo V-8

  • 60 mph in 3.6 seconds

  • 196 mph peak

Bentley Continental GT3-R

Bentley made its bones with classic Grand Tourers that combined the rolling-library feel of its Rolls-Royce sibling with a touch more style and sport. Now divorced from Rolls and part of the VW/Audi empire, Bentley has become the world’s top-selling ultra-luxury automaker by cranking up power and technology to supercar heights—without sacrificing the long-distance comfort of a traditional GT. Bentley calls the GT3-R the most dynamic, fastest-accelerating road car in its history. Our remarkable test drive didn’t disappoint: We drove the Fabergé-rare GT3-R during its North American debut at the Pebble Beach Concours weekend. As we took on the curves of nearby Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley, the racing-derived Bentley with its carbon-fiber wing and equally aggressive green racing stripes, painted brake calipers and interior trim boggled the mind. A 4,839-pound GT, it can slay 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds, via a retuned version of the racer’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 with 572 horsepower. Previous Continentals have been speedy isolation chambers, but this one allows actual, thrilling exhaust sound and steering sensation into its hand-built cabin. Yet drivability remains paramount. The Bentley never feels high-strung or overwrought, with a discreet eight-speed automatic transmission, throne-like leather chairs and a driver-adjustable suspension. And don’t worry about spotting another in the car-pool lane: Only 300 GT3-Rs are being built for worldwide consumption, with just 99 coming to the States beginning in early 2015. 

  • Base price: $337,000
  • 572 horsepower

  • Twin Turbo V-8

  • 60 mph in 3.7 seconds
  • 203 mph peak