Martyn Raybould

Martyn Raybould

Aston Martin V12 Speedster vs McLaren Elva road test

Words: Jeremy Taylor | Photography: Chris Brown & Max Earey  Our thanks to David Lillywhite for the item in their recent Magneto news letter. Hot House Media & Magneto are official working partners to the SVA.

Few hypercars split opinion quite as much as the new McLaren Elva and Aston Martin V12 Speedster. Forget the staggering performance and jaw-dropping looks, what really has the Twitterati bristling is that neither feature a windscreen or roof.

Cynics might say both are just pointless playthings for the idle rich, created for a world where a mere supercar will no longer suffice. But if you think sales of ultra-exclusive, impractical speedsters like this have been pummelled by the pandemic, then think again.

According to automotive industry analysts, Jato Dynamics, demand for ‘everyday’ supercars like the Porsche 911 and Ferrari F8 fell by 0.8 per cent across UK and European markets in 2020. However, in the rarefied stratosphere of limited edition hypercars, it seems the crazier the better.

McLaren and Aston Martin claim just ‘a few’ built slots remain for both limited editions, confident their outrageous designs will be a sell-out. And while the price point is ridiculous and neither is equipped for the vagaries of the British climate, if money was no object, wouldn’t you enjoy a slice of genuine automotive exotica too?

Long before the British summer arrived, I managed to dodge the rain clouds and take both cars for a genuinely breathless drive across the English countryside. McLaren has since announced an optional windscreen but my Elva was the ‘in-your-face’ version, completely untroubled by glass.

Priced at £1.4 million – almost double the V12 Speedster – driving the madcap McLaren is best explained with a couple of technical stats. The 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 is from the Senna hypercar and pushes out 804 bhp, while the Elva weighs a mere 1,148 kg, or some 600 kg less than the V12 Speedster.

A sub-3.0 second dash to 62mph is naturally thrilling but remember, the featherlight Elva is asking you to enjoy the experience full in the face, sat high in the seat with the door tops at roughly chest height. 

A buffering beyond endurance? It would be, except this McLaren has an ace up its sleeve. Those gaping slots in the bonnet gulp air in and are a key part of the Elva’s Active Air Management System (AAMS), activated via a discreet – rather awkward to locate at speed – button beside the steering column. 

When pressed, a 15cm bonnet flap rises at speeds over 28mph, forcing air up and over the cockpit and, theoretically, cocooning both driver and passenger in a bubble of calm. The buffer does automatically limit the Elva to 124 mph, although most drivers will be slowing down for oxygen long before that.

Without AAMS, even at 50mph the blast of air is enough to leave passengers fighting for breath. For those determined to remould their faces at triple digit racetrack speeds – remember Clarkson in the Aerial Atom? – McLaren provide a pair of bespoke helmets which, unlike the V12 Speedster, don’t fit inside those distinctive humps behind the headrests.

AAMS on or off, with or without helmet, driving the Elva is for hardcore enthusiasts only. The wind-deflector certainly takes some of the sting out of the experience but not much. I once rode a four-man bobsleigh, the brutal battering was nowhere near as bad.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the £765,000 Aston Martin Speedster feels more gentlemanly compared to the Elva. I’m still glad for the full-face safety helmet I crammed in my travel bag earlier before leaving home. Without it I would be gasping for breath inbetween the giggles and guffaws, as this 186mph supercar scrabbles for grip on rain-soaked Tarmac. 

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