Skip advert

Ferrari F430 v Pagani Zonda F v Porsche Carrera GT: Class Warfare

Can Ferrari's baby Enzo, the F430, go up a class and beat the supercar giants, the new Zonda F and Carrera GT? We find out

You don't have to be a climber to be drawn to the mountains. The altitude and solitude, gratuitous challenges and rich rewards are there for drivers, too. You just have to know where to look. Which is how we find ourselves high in the Italian Dolomites, in what we reckon are the three most exciting, most involving, most complete supercars currently in production: Pagani's new Zonda F, Porsche's Carrera GT and Ferrari's headline-grabbing F430 Berlinetta. While the first two are obvious rivals, the F430, ceding a pair of cylinders and 1.5 litres of engine capacity to the Porsche, four cylinders and 3 litres (in effect another engine) to the Pagani, is clearly punching well above its weight. An Enzo would be the natural retort to such extreme, specialised firepower, but with all 399 cars long built, sold and tucked away in high-security underground garages, Ferrari's biggest gun is a recent chapter of supercar history, rather than a current force to be reckoned with. Its legacy lives on though. In fact, the F430 takes the Enzo's 21st century philosophy and runs with it, employing the same high-revving, high-specific-output engine technology, paddle-shift transmission, finely honed aerodynamics and even more advanced electronics, to devastating effect. It's no four-door German saloon, granted, but armed with such a formidable inventory, the F430 trounces its natural rival, the Lamborghini Gallardo, and makes a compelling case for the power of technology over the potent but more traditional approach of the Zonda F and Carrera GT. Our craggy location is a stark contrast to the flat plains of Modena, where we arrived just 24 hours earlier to collect an immaculate grey F430 Berlinetta from Ferrari's Maranello HQ. The last time I drove an F430 was at the car's international press launch, and I wasn't alone in thinking Ferrari hadn't so much replaced the 360 Modena as redefined what we could expect from a 'junior' supercar. A meteor to wipe out the dinosaurs? We'll know soon enough. This re-acquaintance, and subsequent drive to our overnight muster point in Bressanone, does nothing to dispel these initial thoughts. The shape still looks a little truncated from some angles, but the visual and emotional impact still hits you firmly in the chest; your heart beating a little faster at holding the key to Ferrari's most driver-focused car in your hand. No sooner do we hit the road than the weather takes a turn for the worse; conditions more reminiscent of Macclesfield than Modena. Despite the steady rain and busy roads, the F430 makes easy work of the journey. Conducted mainly on autostrade but latterly on twisty, streaming wet hill roads, the Ferrari displays none of the highly-strung truculence or twitchy, nerve-wracking edginess you might expect of an aggressive, mid-engined, 483bhp supercar. After a long, grinding drive through poor weather and heavy traffic, photographer Andy Morgan and I arrive at the Hotel Elephant, impressed at the F430's composure and usability. Its versatility, too, having swallowed all of Morgan's camera equipment, plus two sizeable bags of clothes. We've also been getting used to the F430's rakish road presence and its effect on other drivers. Until, that is, while hunting for an elusive space in the hotel car park, we stumble across the menacing black snout of the Carrera GT, at which point the scale of the challenge we've put before the Ferrari becomes clear. The Zonda is due next morning, and it's while we're slurping up the last of our breakfast cappuccinos that zizzing crockery and squealing school children herald the arrival of Pagani's latest, and what we hope to confirm as its greatest, supercar yet. It's hard to know where to look when you first clap eyes on the Pagani Zonda F. The massaged shape remains extraordinary, the proportions exaggerated, the sheer square footage this fantastic supercar covers hard to comprehend. Get beyond the initial shock value and the detailing is there to dazzle you. Exquisitely crafted carbonfibre bodywork, brushed alloy fixings, even leather straps, make this Zonda a unique stylistic and material mix of F1 racer, Swiss watch and Hermes Birkin handbag all rolled into one. Some new elements, such as the neater, more cohesive tail treatment, and the elegant, fragile-looking mirrors, re-sited from the A-pillars to the top of the front wings and perched on gracefully curved stanchions, work well. Others, such as the ornately 'toothed' magnesium wheel rims and fussy, hard-to-read instruments, are excessive, even by Pagani's flamboyant standards. Zondas have always possessed an abundance of detail and drama. To add to this risks gilding the lily. Consequently, if your eye errs towards the functional, rather than the ornamental, some of the Zonda F's signatures will look over-wrought. But if you appreciate Pagani's passion and extrovert style, and want to be reminded of where your money has gone in everything you see and touch, the Zonda F is an unparalleled triumph. One thing's for certain: the school kids of Bressanone have never seen anything like it. Whatever your take on the Zonda's aesthetics, its dynamics have a universal appeal. As we outlined last month (Dusk Till Dawn, evo 081), the Zonda F is a major evolution of the familiar C12S. Much attention has been paid to further reducing the Zonda's already minimal mass, improving its aerodynamic stability and efficiency, and further boosting the mighty 7.3-litre Mercedes V12's output. In the company of these two big-league adversaries the F430 looks dainty, vulnerable even, and to follow the Zonda through the streets is to truly understand the meaning of invisibility. No one, and I mean no one, gives the Ferrari a second glance, its svelte lines and ballsy exhaust note swamped in the Pagani's wake. Bystanders regain sufficient composure to do a brief double-take as the Carrera GT yowls through town, but predictably it's the Zonda F that wins convincingly on wow-factor. Our target is Corvara and the surrounding mountain passes of Gardena, Sella and Giau, all of which reach an altitude of well over 2000 metres and thread together countless hairpins, short straights and gob-smacking vistas like no other roads we know. Sadly, today at least, they also throw more rain into the mix, and to be perfectly honest I'm glad I've opted to start off in the Ferrari. Compact, wieldy and exceptionally user-friendly, the F430 makes a confidence-inspiring partner in these testing roads and tricky conditions. Much of this security comes from the electronics, and in particular the steering wheel-mounted 'manettino', which offers a range of options, starting with Snow and Rain settings, then Sport, Race and finally no electronic intervention of any kind. The beauty of this system is that it's much more than a five-stage stability control. Using Ferrari's F1 experience, the F430's advanced electronics control everything, from the fly-by-wire throttle and Skyhook dampers to the multi-stage E-diff. Of course, it also manages the F430's stability control, but because the systems are interactive, each of the manettino settings offers a progressive, proportionate and near-organic increase in the car's dynamic behaviour, not to mention the safety system thresholds. I'm not ashamed to say that in this morning's conditions I've got the manettino set to Rain, and am very grateful for having the option to do so. We've left virtually all the traffic behind us as we head deeper and higher into the mountains, and our pace is increasing accordingly. Standing water, hidden surface changes and wickedly tightening corners all lie in wait to punish misjudgements and over-enthusiasm, but as it hinted yesterday, the F430 is a natural in such conditions. A pointy, responsive front-end is always good for probing at grip levels and this, coupled to such a trustworthy rear-end, means you can drive the Ferrari hard where prudence might suggest you tip-toe. Get greedy with the throttle and the electronics intervene, but the stability control is so finely judged that rather than simply butting into the point at which the tail slips and the system panics, sensitive throttle work and smooth steering minimises the intervention to the point at which the electronics are merely polishing your inputs rather than filing off all the rough edges. Equipped with Brembo's excellent carbon-ceramic discs, the F430 has immense stopping power, with plenty of response on-call from the moment you even think about squeezing on the left-hand pedal. Again this gives you immediate confidence, but with the roads slick with rain you rarely feel like braking as deep into the corner as the stoppers could ultimately allow, for you don't want to trigger the ABS and lengthen the braking distance. I'm sure it's a similar fear in the Carrera GT and Zonda, which are both howling and yowling their way up the mountain ahead of me, percussive pops and bangs punctuating Harry's progress in the Zonda, a gritty, shrill F1-esque shriek trailing the Porsche, driven by Roger Green. Watching these two giants (the cars, not the lads) slither and scrabble through the endless hairpins is a uniquely enthralling sight, and though the F430 seems happy to nudge a little closer into the corners and power more cleanly out of them, once the Pagani and Porsche have regained a purchase on the road, each literally erupts up the incline, the immense torque of their motors and the longer reach of second gear seeing them stretch away from the Ferrari, both broad rumps getting smaller in the Ferrari's windscreen. Time to swap cars. Climbing into the Zonda is an overwhelming experience. Few cars generate such anticipation, nor such intimidation, but we know from experience that Pagani engineers an uncommon level of drivability into what could so easily be a monstrous handful of excess power, untamable torque and knife-edge handling. True enough, all that torque is tough for the electronics to manage, especially in the rain, and it doesn't take much more than a mid-corner flex of your right foot to trigger a chain of events that starts with the big AMG-tuned V12 clearing its throat, followed by a split-second flair of revs and kick of lateral acceleration, and ending with a fleeting but effective stab of stability control. It's something you're wary of doing, for trusting any traction or stability aid is something of a leap into the unknown, but, as with the Ferrari, once you learn to trust it, the Zonda's stability system enables you to use more of the throttle and work the available traction harder and more consistently than you'd ever dare unaided. When the road offers enough grip for the Zonda to hit its stride the V12 feels and sounds like no Merc V12 before it. Smooth, sweet and much more free-revving, it whips up to its 7000rpm limit, howling for all the world like a Ferrari V12 F1 motor. The gearshift is quicker and lighter than in previous Zondas, but, to be honest, such is the Pagani's mighty reach that on the twistier sections of the pass, second gear is more than enough, while on the more open straights (actually more like very gradual curves) third gear is sufficient, unless you short-shift and tap into the torque. What impresses, aside from the obvious sense-assaulting speed, is the Zonda's ability to cope with every kind of road surface, from smooth and slick to lumpen and frost-cracked tarmac. It's this depth to the damping that gives the Zonda its tactility and makes it possible to unleash and exploit such gargantuan power. As you can probably tell, there are no serious gripes, but one source of annoyance in this test car is the steering wheel, which aside from being far too fussy, is awkward to use when applying more than half a turn of lock, thanks to its squared-off base. Another hindrance is the sighting of the mirrors, as they always seem to be in your line of sight as you attempt to pick a line through the next corner. Ergonomic gripes aside, the Zonda F's display in such rotten conditions is magnificent. Now for the Porsche. You don't just get into the Carrera GT: you drop into it, shimmying over the broad sill and sliding first one hip, then the other, over the high-sided, hard-edged driver's seat. Once in, the driving position is perfect. Before you that big, plain steering wheel, behind it a pair of large, unadorned analogue dials with inset digital displays for secondary information. Switchgear for the lights and ventilation is unashamedly functional, the pedals well placed and perfect for fancy footwork. After the glitz and high glamour of the Zonda F's cockpit, the Porsche's interior is more sober, unapologetic in its clarity and focus. A place of work. The Carrera GT's race-bred V10 starts on the twist of a key (how conventional!) and treats bystanders to an exuberant and uniquely melodious exhaust bark. From the more privileged position of the driver's seat the engine's note isn't quite so silken, an underlying and ever-present mechanical chatter pulsing through the carbon chassis, adding to the sense that this is more a living organism than a mere machine. At its launch much fuss was made about the abrupt action of the GT's compact and hard-wearing carbon-ceramic clutch. Clearly Porsche has continued to develop this aspect of the Carrera, for this later car's (number 477) clutch is much easier to balance while retaining a deliciously positive feel at the point of engagement. Coupled to a similarly precise six-speed H-pattern gearbox, the Carrera GT is a terrifically engaging car to drive from the moment you depress the clutch pedal, slot first and feed in the power. You don't get quite the same gut-squirming instant display of torque-to-weight as you do in the Pagani, but the Carrera GT is similarly explosive, and you have to be disciplined with your throttle usage, squeezing the pedal rather than mashing it, as you can and do in the Ferrari. Even with the stability control wisely engaged, you have to be wary of wheelspin in the lower gears. This comes as a surprise after the tighter control of the Ferrari and Pagani, but once Porsche's systems and sensors detect some lateral forces at work, the electronics tighten their grip. Even so, it's a mark of the Porsche's ultimate sporting focus that its stability system is the last to blink, and the first to re-open its eyes. Perhaps because of this knowledge, it's harder to relax with the Porsche, especially as it's also the edgiest of the trio in the rain. It takes more time and a bigger leap of faith to trust it, but once you've nudged into the zone where the stability system begins to work, you know that you can trust the GT to help you out. What's more, it promises to come alive when the roads are dry. Day three, and after a frustrating but ultimately valuable and informative day of rain and drizzle, we're treated to a bright, clear and infinitely more promising morning. Again I start in the Ferrari, keen to compare yesterday's wet ascent with a dry run up the mountain. Having jumped between the three cars all day yesterday, I'm now fighting the temptation to regard the F430 as the toy of the group. Not only is it the easiest to climb in and out of, and the most adaptable to the prevailing weather conditions, but its paddle-shift transmission, super-responsive helm and equally sharp brakes make it a natural on the point-and-squirt sections of the pass. Smaller and more nimble, with less grip but more progression as a result, there seems less to fear from over-cooking things, and with dry tarmac beneath its Bridgestones, the F430 can really be hustled from corner to corner. When you're really on it, the F430's a brilliantly reactive machine, that screaming engine pulling with addictive vigour through to 6000rpm, then keening with even more conviction to 8000rpm and beyond. The excellent F1 transmission allows you to pile into corners right on the limit of the brakes, while bat-bat-batting down the gears in a way you'd never contemplate attempting in a conventional H-pattern manual. What I hadn't reckoned on was just how close to its dry weather pace the F430 had got in the rain. Of course, you can't really lean on the chassis or the brakes when the roads are wet, but in pure accelerative terms dry roads don't suddenly unleash another torrent of previously untapped performance, and you simply wait a fraction later before you brake. The point is rammed home as soon as I get back into the Zonda, which now stands a fighting chance of getting all 602bhp and 560lb ft to the tarmac. Not, as it transpires, in second gear, for the rear Michelin Pilot Sport 2s still struggle to contain the rampant muscle, but once into third gear you're treated to a mind-altering stream of acceleration that humbles the F430's best efforts. Clearly, even at this rarefied level there's acceleration and then there's acceleration. What makes it all the more impressive is that while clearly a major step on from even the C12S, in terms of raw accelerative power, the Zonda F matches this gain with increased steering feel and precision, size-shrinking agility and miraculous progression and pliancy. We've always marvelled at the skilful way in which Pagani manages to combine such immense performance with suppleness and subtlety. Now, even with more than 600bhp and enormous reserves of torque, the Zonda F retains that control, stability and driveability without sacrificing any of the tactility. If anything, the F feels more involving and informative than ever. Trading my place in the Zonda for the Carrera GT elicits a less dramatic contrast but reveals the decisive differences between these epic supercars. You immediately sense the Porsche's intensity, its focus and, as with the Zonda, its ability to take you to a dimension that simply doesn't exist in the F430. That V10 is an absolute masterpiece. So free-revving and instantaneous, so responsive to the most minute throttle inputs, you don't so much drive the Carrera GT as play it like an instrument. When driven all-out, the gearbox is possibly the best manual 'box around, delivering lightning fast shifts that engage with absolute precision, and the brakes, though initially feeling as though they lack assistance at times of less commitment, come into their own with a perfectly judged combination of progression and pedal travel that facilitates delicious heel-and-toe downshifts. There's less compliance to the damping, with more 'noise' through the steering as a result. It jiggles over bumps and sniffs at cambers more insistently than the impeccably filtered Zonda's steering feedback, but when you ask everything of the front-end the distractions fade, leaving you with an explicit flow of information. You have to work at it in the Carrera, concentrate on being positive and precise with your inputs at times when the Zonda might cut you a little more slack. To do so your work rate needs to be higher, and your palms are most probably sweatier, but because you get so dialled-in to the Porsche's responses, if it does decide to twitch its tail, you've snapped in a correction instinctively. More demanding and less forgiving, the Carrera GT is a racer at heart, cohesion building in line with your commitment. The frantic nature of the roads have undoubtedly played their part in shaping the outcome of this test, but one suspects that, like its big brother Enzo, whatever the road, the F430 compresses the driving experience into crazed lunges into the braking areas and clinically contained explosions towards the corner exit and on down the next straight. While this means you can attack a road like never before, and in so doing tap into more of the F430's prodigious performance more of the time than in perhaps any other supercar in history, it also makes such driving easy. Driving the Zonda F and Carrera GT throws Ferrari's approach into stark relief, for both cars make greater demands on the driver and reward with greater involvement and connection. On roads where wringing the Ferrari's neck can feel like a game of high-octane instant gratification, urging on the Zonda F or Carrera GT is an absorbing challenge that brings huge, lasting satisfaction and leaves you with the sense that you could drive either car for the rest of your life and still continue to discover ways of extracting more from yourself and your machine. Every mile in either of these two is a moment to savour. To decide between two such sensational cars almost seems churlish, for in the end it comes down to personal taste. The Zonda F, like all its forebears, is an extrovert's delight, famed for its extreme aesthetics as much as its unrivalled quality, exclusivity and finely wrought dynamics. Unique amongst its rivals, it embodies the stylistic showmanship of Italian supercars of yore while achieving a level of dynamic polish that sets the supercar standard for all-round ability. By contrast the Carrera GT is the introvert's supercar: functional, focused and pitched at those who are drawn to the purity and credibility of Porsche's motorsport pedigree. If you're a fan of the Zonda's old-school flamboyance and theatrical drama the Porsche ticks fewer boxes, thanks to its understated style, edgier dynamics and relative lack of exclusivity. It's almost certainly slower against the clock than the rampant Italian, too, but the GT counters by delivering what we believe to be the thrill of driving in its purest form. Until we drive Pagani's forthcoming, lightweight, 650bhp Zonda F Clubsport, that makes the Carrera GT the most vivid supercar on the planet.


 Ferrari F430Zonda FPorsche Carrera GT
Engine90-degree V860-degree V1268-degree V10
LocationMid, longitudinalMid, longitudinalMid, longitudinal
Bore X Stroke92mm x 81mmn/a96.0mm x 92.0mm
Cylinder BlockAluminium alloy, dry-sumpedAluminium alloyAluminium alloy
Cylinder HeadAluminium alloy, dohc per bank, four valves per cylinderAluminium alloy, dohc per bank four valves per cylinderAluminium alloy, dohc per bank4v per cyl, variable valve timing
Fuel and IgnitionBosch ignition/injection fly-by-wire throttle controlElectronic engine management, sequential multipoint injectionBosch ME7.1.1 management, sequential multipoint injection
Max Power483bhp @ 8500rpm602bhp @ 6150rpm604bhp @ 8000rpm
Max Torque343lb ft @ 5250rpm575lb ft @ 4000rpm435lb ft @ 5700rpm
TransmissionSix-speed manual with F1 paddle-shift, rear-wheel drive, E-diff, CST stability and traction controlSix-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited slip differential,Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, ASC, limited slip differential, traction control
Front SuspensionWishbones, coils, 'Skyhook' adaptive damping, anti-roll barDouble wishbones, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll barWishbones, pushrod links, coils incorp horizontal dampers, arb
Rear SuspensionWishbones, coils, 'Skyhook' adaptive damping, anti-roll barDouble wishbones, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll barWishbones, pushrod links, coils incorp horizontal dampers, arb
BrakesDrilled, vented carbon-ceramic discs front and rear, ABS, EBDVentilated carbon-ceramic discs, 380mm front and rear, ABSVentilated carbon-ceramic discs, 380mm front and rear, ABS, ABD
Wheels7.5 x 19in fr, 10 x 19in rr9 x 19in fr, 13 x 20in rr9.5 x 19in fr, 12.5 x 20in rr
Tyres225/35 ZR19 fr, 285/35 ZR19 Pirelli P Zero Rosso255/35 ZR19 fr, 335/30 ZR20 rr, Michelin Pilot Sport 2265/35 ZR19 fr, 335/30 ZR20 rr, Michelin Pilot Sport 2
Weight Kerb1435kg1230kg (dry)1380kg
Power to Weight342bhp/ton497bhp/to445bhp/ton
Max Speed196mph+ (claimed)214mph (claimed)206mph
Basic Price£117,000£400,000£321,093
0 to 60 MPH4.0sec (claimed)3.6sec (claimed)3.7sec (claimed)
Skip advert
Skip advert

Most Popular

Saab PhoeniX – dead on arrival
Saab PhoeniX

Saab PhoeniX – dead on arrival

The Swedish brand’s failed 2010s revival meant we missed out on a 400bhp hybrid TT rival – and more
11 Jul 2024
Red Bull’s RB17 hypercar will offer F1 performance, and you can bring a passenger along for the ride
Red Bull RB17

Red Bull’s RB17 hypercar will offer F1 performance, and you can bring a passenger along for the ride

Adrian Newey is leaving Red Bull, but his final project with the team is a 1184bhp+ V10 hypercar that can match F1 lap times
12 Jul 2024
BMW M3 CS v Litchfield BMW M2: which makes the better track car?
BMW M3 CS v Litchfield BMW M2 – front
Group tests

BMW M3 CS v Litchfield BMW M2: which makes the better track car?

BMW's latest and greatest M3 takes on Litchfield's 640bhp tuned M2 around Cadwell Park
13 Jul 2024