Super, but also super practical. At least when compared to any full-blooded exotic grabbing more headlines. Both the M6 and V8 Vantage easily fit the role of everyday driver, but the F430 always surprises me with its ability to absorb potholes well. The "manettino" switch on the Ferrari steering wheel is tremendous technology that produces immediate results in all five positions. And despite the healthy knees required of any Lamborghini owner, four-wheel traction turns it into a four-season car, especially when you pop on the optional Pirelli Sottozero winter tire set for snowboard season.
Expectations were that the M6, in either the comfort or normal modes of the EDC (Electronic Damper Control) system, would be the most comfortable and show the most yaw and pitch under sporting conditions. While the comfort part ended up being true, the Aston Martin had body roll at least equal to that of the tall M6 in hard turns. This was a slight surprise for all involved, but was not taken as any sort of black mark. The stock V8 Vantage is truly meant to be an everyday driving car and, as such, it provides ample flexibility while remaining a terror on country lanes. As a base model, it's more fun than a BMW 650i and as agile as (with much more power than) a Porsche Cayman S. It could do with an EDC-style suspension range, but all things in due time.
Regarding the F430, the five manettino settings are genius and simple, and the pushrod dampers do an amazing job with the 19-inch wheels over occasionally scrappy Italian roads, even in race mode. The E-Diff, working together with any setting on the manettino, is the finest technology recently pulled from F1 for road use. Just as everyone is working furiously to have their own version of Audi's DSG transmission, so are they all heatedly laboring to get their own lightning-quick electronic differential. The F430 with E-Diff is a major leap beyond what was already terrific handling at speed in the 360 Modena. At a purely tactile level, too, the feel of the F430 steering wheel in your hands is tops.
As so many have said before now, the Gallardo is a supercar that anyone can drive in almost any weather. Our SE version showed, however, that at the car's heart is a racer. Even with the sport suspension deactivated, the ride was more rigid than anything felt in the other three cars. I personally love this in this particular car. Even so, with its great seats, driving the Gallardo SE cross country for hours-without exaggerating too much-would not be out of the realm of human comfort. Gear ratios for fourth through sixth are actually just slightly longer than on the standard Gallardo, so highway cruising is even an iota better than before. And the sound of the exhaust bellowing behind you is like a full-time massage with musical accompaniment.
Out on real roads, the tightly wound Ferrari and Lamborghini are dead close and the Aston and BMW stay very nearby in the rear-view. Driving styles are different for each car. A rear-mid engine set-up with a lower hip-point requires less body English, more arm-and-shoulder quickness. A front-mid engine position with a long bonnet requires a bunch of entertaining body movements from the driver. Naturally, I have a ball in either mode.
Cabin design on each of these collectibles is brand-consistent. By the end of our two days in the driver's seats, the two words on all lips for the Ferrari interior, at least when compared to the other three here, were "Spartan" and "purposeful." Designer Frank Stephenson (now sadly ordered over to save Fiat and Lancia from their doom) pulled the Ferrari V8 experience out of the 1980s and into today with the F430. It's clean and handsome, taut and simple to understand where everything is.
At the other extreme-and not unpleasantly so-is the BMW M6 with its raft of high technology making any new driver feel as though he's in a flight simulator. The cabin is the narrowest of the four and the materials the sturdiest in that German school-matron sense, though the seats do keep some of the standard 6 Series cushion.
Between these two separate animals sit the Lamborghini and Aston Martin. The Aston takes the award for best overall balance between driver comfort, positioning and support. In its own right, the V8 Vantage interior is almost as essential as that on the F430, but it's more compact by a bit and feels like a solid fit for any roughly typical driver's body. As with any car at this level or higher, really large people need to ask themselves some humbling questions while looking into the mirror.
For my money, the Lamborghini has the single best driver's seat and most reasonable amount of switch and technology clutter. The steering ratio, with just 2.4 turns lock-to-lock, adds a lot to this feeling of ease.