Okay, let's make one thing clear—there probably isn't anything called a 'cheap' Supercar. In America, any new mid-engined Ferrari 458 Italia or a Lamborghini Gallardo would still retail for over USD 300,000.00 (or over half a mil in Australia, thanks to our taxes!). In other words, buying even a small supercar can be the same spending that amount of money on an average-priced house.
Moreover, servicing these beautiful works of art can cost the same as a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla—so why am I calling these cars cheap? Well, that's because they are.
The most expensive cars in the supercar or the hyper-car royalty can cost upwards from $700,000 to over a million or even beyond (like the Bugatti Veyron and the Pagani Zonda), so I'll be focusing my article on the "poor man's supercar" i.e. one who doesn't have a million quid to splash on hypercar royalty, but can part ways with half a million, is tad bit concerned about fuel-consumption and would like to look dignified while getting in and out of his car (and won't mind parking it in public).
My 5 Favourite Compact Super-Cars
- Ferrari 458 Italia
- McLaren MP4-12C
- Audi R8
- Lamborghini Gallardo
- Lexus LFA
1. Ferrari 458 Italia
Released in 2008-2009 as a successor to the F430, the 458-Italia is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful compact Ferraris in existence today (since at least the days of the F355 and 360).
Mounted with a mid-engined aspirated 4.5 litre/8 cylinder V8, the 458 is available either as a hard-top or a retracting hard-top Spyder and is lower, smaller and tauter than its predecessor.
My favourite colour combinations on the 458 are usually the traditional red with black leather or black with red leather.
The 458 is also the first Ferrari to completely get rid of all stalks behind the steering wheel of the car and replace daily driver functions like indicating, turning the headlights on and off and the wiper-blades into buttons on the steering wheel of the car—a first for almost any mainstream manufacturer.
As far as pricing goes, the 458 in the US can retail for over $250,000.00 (although Australian prices are significantly higher due to our ridiculous luxury car tax of 33%) but like any other luxury sports car, they do depreciate and you can pick up a bargain direct off a private sale or though a dealer.
Ferrari 458 vs Ferrari F430 on Top Gear UK
2. McLaren MP4-12C
As Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear UK put it, "I wonder why did McLaren name their car after a fax machine."
Quite frankly, I don't understand it either. But nevertheless, McLaren's direct rival to the 458 has shown the world that they can still churn out a serious machine for the race-connoisseur who's not really interested in 'posing' or flashing a brand name but prefers what can possibly be technically sound. The MP4-12C is McLaren's 2nd road-car after the McLaren F1 (the supercar which defined the 1990s) and the SLR (jointly built with Mercedes) so they had to ensure they gave it their best when releasing the usually difficult 'third album'.
The MP4-12C is a shade quicker and lighter than the 458 (Thanks to a 3.8 Litre Twin-Turbo V8 instead of the 458's 4.5 L V8) and also boasts daily-driving practicality but being mated to softer suspensions. The McLaren also has stylish butterfly doors and is available in striking colour combinations (most notably the signature McLaren Orange-Metallic) and the cockpit layout is more accessible and refined than the Ferrari's.
Performance-wise, the MP4-12C can do 0-200 KPH in under 10 seconds; however, despite its pluses, any supercar enthusiast might say that it lacks the 'raw' factor that bellies any Ferrari or Lamborghini.
Read More from AxleAddict
Like the Ferrari 458 Italia, the MP4-12C is available as a hard-top or a soft-top convertible and is available in a wider choice of colours than the 458.
McLaren MP4-12C Top Gear UK Review
3. Audi R8
Audi's first supercar and usually considered by critics as the less shouty version of the Lamborghini Gallardo, the R8 made its debut in 2007-2008 as the German car maker's attempt at landing a punch in a world dominated by the Italians as in my lifetime and to my best of knowledge, the previous proper super-car made by the Germans was probably the Mercedes CLK-GTR back in the 1990s and the McLaren-Mercedes SLR (jointly made with the British) and the Porsche Carrera-GT (which actually belongs in hyper-car leagues along with the Koennigseggs and Paganis).
Unlike the 458 Italia and the McLaren, the R8 is available in a choice of two engines (either a 4.2 Litre V8 which I believe is derived from the one used in the RS4 or a Lamborghini-derived 5 Litre-V10). The R8 is also available either a soft-top Spyder Convertible or a hard-top is only available in limited colors (with white and black-R8's with Carbon-fiber tinsel on their body-paints being the most popular choice with buyers).
The R8, while being more economically priced than the MP4-12C and the 458 Italia off the showroom, is probably more expensive to outfit with options (Audis usually are)—nevertheless, its understated looks are perfect for those who don't wish to be too conspicuous about their wheels but can still cause a stir on track-days while saving more fuel (The R8 is more economical than the McLaren or the Ferrari).
Audi R8 Review by Tiff Needell
4. Lamborghini Gallardo
While the looks of a Gallardo may seem a bit old and dated as against the Ferrari 458 or the McLaren MP4-12C (both of which were built as direct competitors within the mid-engined compact super-car segment), the Gallardo should never be underestimated.
This is the super-car which practically radicalized looks of how a compact supercar should look at the turn of the 21st century (it was also Lamborghini's first attempt at competing in this segment when it was originally released to stand up against the then-new Ferrari 360).
The Gallardo is available with a 5 Litre-V10 setup and the only one with the option of 4-wheel drive to give ground-hugging handling on the road and the track and bellows a growl from its exhaust that's louder than any Ferrari and is also available in the most outlandish colour-combinations out there. With 0-100 KPH times quicker than the R8 and the McLaren, it is not the most fuel-efficient supercar in its segment but has the feel of 'passion' and 'zest' which can sometimes lack in even the 458.
The Gallardo's also the supercar in its segment which has the most varied options available (in terms of models) including rare special editions which evolved from it (for example the Gallardo-Edizone series, the SuperLeggera, the Sesto Elimento and the TriColore) which have now become collector's items.
While Lamborghinis have struggled with issues regarding reliability in the past, their ownership by Audi has ensured that those are problems consigned into the past (for example many of the car's options and mechanics like the Sat-Nav and air-conditioning come directly from an Audi S8).
The Gallardo's also considered by many to be one of the easiest supercars to drive and the most practical (due to its small size) and the only supercar (apart from the Audi R8) which is still available with a traditional 6-speed manual stick.
Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder Review on Top Gear UK
5. Lexus LFA
Okay, so it might not be the cheapest compact supercar around, but it definitely has been the most striking in recent times, especially when one realizes that this is a car which took almost 9 years to produce since it was conceptualized and that the company which made it was known for its stylish and clinical looking family cars.
The LFA was a very limited edition super-car (only a handful were sold in a handful of markets—Australia only received 20) and Lexus actually lost money on building each and every model of it despite its ridiculous asking price (over $700,000 AUD Down Under). In fact, this was Japan's first proper re-entry into the super-car market since Honda stopped building the NSX in 2005
So what made the LFA so special? Well, part of it was the sheer mechanics and the construction of it. The LFA has almost no steel in its body—the whole car is almost entirely made out of Carbon-fiber and each 4.8 Litre V10 is hand-built.
The LFA was also known to be one of the best handling super-car in its class (capable of out-maneuvering even a Ferrari 458 or a Lamborghini Gallardo) but was a bit shy in straight-line acceleration to 100 KPH.
Nobody really knows how Lexus did it, but the fast-revving 4.8 Litre V10 in the LFA was so fast that they had to replace a traditional rev-counter with dials with an electronic one. An extremely futuristic exhaust and cockpit ensured that the LFA was literally a car that was one of a kind and anyone lucky enough to be able to afford and buy it was indeed buying and preserving a piece of unique art and history.
The LFA is no longer produced, however, there's a chance one could still buy one from a resale at a competitive price (as long as they're willing to explain to anyone why their Lexus is so different and radical from any other Lexus people might be familiar with).
Lexus LFA Review (Top Gear UK)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.