It’s probably not fair for me to be comparing the McLaren Senna to the Ferrari F40 quite yet. We have owned the F40 for a larger number of years than we have weeks on the Senna. However, my first impressions driving both back to back are vivid enough that I wanted to capture them. On paper there are quite a few similarities between the two, to the extent both could have been developed off the same brief, just 31 years apart. Both the F40 and Senna are twin turbo V8s, both utilize a wide rear, narrow front tire set up, both take a very minimalist approach to creature comforts, and both demand complete engagement and concentration from the driver. Under 3000 rpms, the F40 feels like a 328 in a body kit. The same holds for the Senna, when driven sedately, it behaves like a civilized 720S with a massive wing on the back.
I still remember vividly the first time I drove our F40 (Collecting Our F40). The rush of excitement and terror was intense, thrilling, and when we both (car & driver) had survived it in one piece, it was deeply rewarding. I’m sure every F40 owner remembers the first time they spooled the turbos up. The Senna, while not quite as raw, still delivered the same rush of thrilling intimidation as the F40 the first time I took it out. The instant response to every input coupled with the brain cell mashing acceleration, drove home that I was in something unique and truly special. If the F40 has a single signature element, it’s the head snapping brutality of forward thrust when the turbos fully spool up. In the Senna, 30+ years of progress has smoothed out the turbo lag. The result is the feeling that you have unlimited instant power. The Senna doesn’t accelerate from 0-60, it jumps from 0 immediately to 60.
Firm best describes the suspension of both the Senna & F40. You feel and hear every imperfection on the road surface. Despite this it isn’t teeth rattling hard. Steering feedback is best in class and near perfectly weighted in both cars. The hydraulic steering system in the Senna is a work of art and far superior to any drive by wire system I have driven. The unassisted system in the F40 is very heavy at first by lightens up wonderfully at speed. The Senna’s brakes are phenomenal, mash them at speed and you can feel your brain pressing against the front of your skull. The F40s brakes, well they date back to the Reagan/Thatcher era and need to be treated with caution and respect.
The interiors on both the Senna and F40 are focused and minimalist. Rearward visibility is fairly limited in both and might actually be slightly better in the F40. The side mirrors on the Senna actually work well where the ones on the F40 look good, from the outside. In terms of practicality, the F40 side mirrors are basically useless. While the F40 looks like it is held together by green gel, the Senna’s build quality is outstanding. Instrumentation in both is well laid out and easy to read at a glance. While both the Senna and F40 appear to be wide imposing cars from the outside, they both shrink around you when you drive them aggressively. While both cockpits look to be about the same size, the Senna’s feels much larger due to the glass panels in the roof and doors.
Where the F40 has distinct advantages are in luggage space and mechanical simplicity. The front trunk holds enough for two adults for a one-week road trip. Something we have done multiple times. The mechanical simplicity of the F40 saved us on a road trip in France a few years ago (France & a F40 Moment) when we had a problem with the ignition switch. If this had happened in the Senna, back it would have gone on a flatbed. In the Senna, the small area behind the top of the seats might hold enough clean underwear for two for several day but you would probably need to share a toothbrush. The Senna is a road trip car for singles only.
I am very glad I don’t have to make a choice between the two. They are both incredibly special in their own right but also quite similar in nature, just a few decades apart in the concept execution. To drive either is a special experience, to drive both back to back is petrolhead nirvana.
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