The classic cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s you want to save from extinction the most
Twin test: Porsche 991 911 v Audi R8
Nestling under the old Severn Bridge just off the M48 in Wales sit two of the greatest sub-£100k sportscars currently on sale.
The unremitting challenger, as ever, is the Porsche 911. This latest iteration, known as the 991, is 2012's sportscar to beat. The pluses are more power and better economy, but controversially Porsche has also meddled with the steering, switching from a hydraulic rack to an electrical set-up. That's a move that won't please purists, but will it wreck the Porsche's chances today?
Our contender, the Audi R8, is no pushover. It might have been around since 2007, but here you have the classic junior supercar, a mid-engine, four-wheel-drive V8 with the sort of exotica styling that causes motorway pile ups. It's the finest handling, best-looking Audi ever made.
To test these cars properly we need to find a special road and that sits three hours from London in the Welsh mountains. It's a place where you can see through corners for miles, where rush-hour traffic is limited to Postman Pat making his morning deliveries and where the surface is as fresh as a newly-dug lettuce.
It's a challenging road, too. Slight mistakes can quickly turn into MAJOR BLUNDERS and the first we will know about it is when we're upside down at the bottom of a hill wondering why the sheep are so suicidal around here.
I was up first in the Porsche 911 Carrera S. The road rises fairly steeply to begin with and there's a dramatic drop of several hundred feet into a lake. Having left my scuba gear at home, I decide to tread carefully through the first mile or so until the road levels out.
More power, less weight
Soon, it does just that and I can begin to explore the extra 15hp this 991 version has over the old 997, which used the same 3.8-litre, flat-six engine. With 400hp, you don't need me to tell you that it goes about destroying a road with the same efficient ferocity as Bruce Lee in a room full of knife-wielding enemy henchmen.
Coming alive at 5,000rpm
Porsche has raised the rev limiter on the 991 by 1,000rpm and you need to wind the needle out further to extract the full potential; only when you're sweeping past 5,000rpm does it feel as if it's really coming alive.
For the sake of your licence then it's just as well that you don't have to drive the kahunas off it all the time; with 324 lb/ft of torque - 14 lb/ft more than the 997 - the engine is as flexible as an acrobat's spine.
Jonathan Bushell & Microsoft
Porsche has also been tinkering with the exhausts and as the revs rise the noise changes from a deep, bassy flat-six chorus to a zingy, high-pitched crescendo with pops and bangs as you downchange or lift off.
Obviously the optional 'sports exhaust' button has been pressed to amplify the experience in surround sound, though I can't help thinking that the extra crackles and pops are engineered in rather than naturally occurring.
What about that steering?
The steering is still sublime. Light at low speeds, it weights up nicely as things get quicker. The most notable difference is that the 911's nose no longer bobs up and down as it reacts to the surface, but in removing some of its character Porsche has also made the 991 more comfortable and easier to drive fast.
Running out of air
Through a series of open bends with clear sightlines the 911's purchase on the road is astonishing and your lungs will run out of air before the car runs out of grip. On tighter corners, it's tempting to apply power too soon, but hold the throttle steady and let it run out naturally to allow the front end to bite before stamping on the throttle pedal. In fact, odd as it sounds, the 991 seems happiest trailing a little brake into the bend.
Jonathan Bushell & Microsoft
This is completely at odds with the Audi. Despite its four-wheel-drive system, the R8 feels as if it will overcome its grip levels sooner than the rear-driven, rear-wheel-drive Porsche.
Partly, this feeling is down to the Porsche's tactility, and the fact you can feel everything that's happening below you through the steering wheel and the pedals. It's confidence-inspiring and also communicative to the point that you know exactly when to apply power, when to turn in, when to hold back. The 911, even in these rain-soaked conditions, displays so much mechanical grip it is hard to believe the engine is stuck out behind the rear wheels.
Power v weight
The Audi is actually the more powerful of the two with its 4.2-litre V8 garnering a 30hp advantage, but this is negated by the fact it weighs 165kg more than the 991. It's like a WWF wrestler having a fight with a 100m sprinter. First he has to catch him.
The Audi goes about this part well. The Porsche never gets too far up the road before the R8 is sniffing at its tail like an overly friendly Labrador and it stays there through fast bends and tight corners, egging the Porsche driver on.
Jonathan Bushell & Microsoft
Despite the feeling that the R8's tail will kick loose should you get on the power too early, it's merely the power overwhelming the rear wheels initially. Stick with it, correct the angle and the four-wheel-drive system steps in and hurls you out the other side like a human cannonball.
In isolation, the R8 is a thrilling, all-weather supercar. It's only when you line it up against the new 911 that you detect its steering isn't as sharp or communicative and the chassis not quite as polished. Elsewhere, these two cars are neck and neck.
In fact, climbing into the R8's low-slung cabin, it feels the more special of the two, the most supercar-like. Every time you glance in the rear-view mirror you spy that V8 engine behind a glass screen, reminding you you're in exotica.
Ferrari-style open-gate gearbox
It's easy to get comfortable in the R8, too, with sports seats that are actually accommodating and not designed for size zero models. In fact, the only issue in here is the open-gate gearbox, which looks incredible but means gearchanges are more ponderous than they ought to be.
Rear seats, children only
The Porsche's cabin takes a more practical approach. Glance in the rear-view mirror here and you'll be looking at two rear seats making this one of the world's most thrilling people movers. Small people, mind, because with the rakish slope of the 991's roofline, they are fit for children only.
Jonathan Bushell & Microsoft
The 991 is 61mm wider at the front, 56mm longer and 6mm lower than the 997 and this translates into more cabin space. The layout inside is designed to ape the Panamera's with a central column running between the driver and passenger. The only issue with the 911 is the overly large steering wheel.
Look down at the gearlever and you will initially do a double take as you notice the number 7. The 991 is the world's first car to feature a seven-speed manual gearbox and it is designed to save fuel when you're cruising up the motorway. You can only get to seventh from fifth or sixth and don't bother trying to accelerate in this gear as it is not geared to deliver.
You'll be lucky...
32.5mpg from the Porsche
As for fuel economy, which might not be too much of a concern if you can afford these cars anyway, the 991 averages 32.5mpg, up 4.8mpg over the 997. In contrast, the combined average for the R8 is 19.9mpg and as much as 28.2mpg if you're driving like a Greenpeace activist. In reality neither car will get close to these figures but the 911 will have the efficient edge.
Today, over these roads, we're scrapping mid- to high teens for both cars, but then if you saw this road, your inner rally driver would emerge too. We continue to swap cars and enjoy this five-mile stretch of nirvana until the sun starts to fade and we realise home is a three-hour journey away.
Steve and I park up and swap notes, to try and determine which of these cars is the best sub-£100k sportscar. We both agree the Audi is the one for attention seekers but if you value driving pleasure and precision, there can be only one winner and it is the fantastic rear-engined Porsche 991 911. Once again Porsche has proved that being wrong is so right.
Read another Porsche review
Read another Audi review
Buy a used Porsche 911 on Auto Trader
Buy a used Audi R8 on Auto Trader
On Bing: more pics of the 991 Porsche 911
On Bing: more pics of the Audi R8
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
On the road with the landmark Lambos for special golden anniversary drive.
Date 13/05/13, Duration 4:26, Views 8220