Foot flat to the floor, and this Audi R8 Performance feels broken. This is a car that has 5.2 litres of engine, 10 cylinders and 611bhp, so surely it should feel a little quicker than this?
It does, of course, feel every bit as fast as it should. Eventually. Being in the company of two turbocharged brutes, this naturally-aspirated heavy-hitter needs a slight retuning of your expectations - it feels breathless until the last few thousand RPM on the dial, at which point you’re finally on the receiving end of that pinned-back-in-your-seat oh my God the world outside’s gone blurry acceleration only a supercar can provide.
Jumping straight out of the potent McLaren 570S, this shouldn’t be a surprise. But a Porsche 911 Carrera S? That’s a car that has no right to be making an Audi R8 feel slow.
That’s exactly why it’s here with the McLaren and the Audi. The 992-generation 911 is slightly longer and much wider than the car it replaces, a little heavier, and sports some particularly giant wheels. Some seem to think this means it’s starting to morph from a sports car into a long-distance grand tourer, but I disagree - instead, I reckon it’s now getting on for supercar territory. If it can mix it with an R8 and a 570S - much more powerful cars with base prices around £40k and £50k higher - it’ll give my theory some credence.
Certainly, if you look at the figures, the 992 sounds like a supercar. Even the rear-wheel drive Carrera S like the one we have here will do 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds when optioned with the Sport Chrono Pack. A similarly configured 4S meanwhile will do the same in 3.4 - just a tenth off a 991 GT3.
It feels every bit as fast IRL: the Carrera S gathers speed at an alarming rate, but that’s only half the story. The response from the 3.0-litre engine defies logic - the lag is barely detectable. You can’t help but wonder if Dr Strange is on the powertrain development team, given the level of engineering sorcery at play here. Or perhaps it’s down to the new turbochargers. Either way, it’s extremely impressive.
Had this been the first turbocharged 911 Carrera and not the 991.2, I don’t think we’d have heard anything like the grumbling experienced when the old 3.8 N/A flat-six was ditched a few years ago. It’s a true best-of-both-worlds car, giving almost the responsiveness of an atmospheric engine with the flexible mid-range torque we’ve grown accustomed to from turbocharged setups.
It sounds great too. It may not quite replicate the memorable howl of the 3.8, but it’s really not far off, and it makes a noise like nothing else out there when you approach the 7500rpm redline. Let the revs drop to the idle position, and that classic Carrera clatter returns. A flat-six is as defining a 911 feature as the rear-engined layout, and its voice is in fine tune here.
Porsche may have been nudging the engine forward over the years, but it’s still way back there, giving the 911 both its distinctive shape and its unique driving characteristics. Having all that weight over the rear axle, combined with Porsche’s decision to fit giant 305/30/21 rear tyres, means that traction is resolute no matter how subtle you are with the throttle pedal, or how ‘off’ the electronic aids are. Do you even need a 4S? With the addition of the clever Wet mode - which turns on automatically in damp conditions to make the car more stable - it’s looking increasingly like a ‘no’.
The fast, weighty steering is probably the best electric power system out there, taking the place of, erm, the 991.2, which used to have the best electric power steering system. Switching over to the McLaren, however, proves that even the greatest EPAS simply can’t compete with good old-fashioned hydraulics.
Speak to anyone at MTC about steering, and they’ll tell you that they won’t switch to electric until it can properly rival hydraulic setups in terms of feedback.
After only a few minutes behind the wheel of the 570S, or any of Woking’s products, for that matter, it’s hard to argue with that stance. Compared to the Porsche, the 570’s steering feels slower and lighter, but it feeds so much more information to your fingers while providing proper kickback.
It makes placing the baby Macca’s nose on corner entry a thing of joy. The balance is - inevitably - more neutral than the 911’s, and the oh-so obedient front end is easily the best here. But, traction can be an issue. Partly because it doesn’t have the benefit of a whacking great engine sat on its rear axle, but mostly because of the delivery of its V8 - it has a savage mid-range kick to it.
On the same stretch of road that the brilliantly flexible Porsche flat-six was punting me out of corners regardless of engine speed earlier, the McLaren is revealing its very high boost threshold. While the 911’s 3.0-litre engine starts to wake up at about 2500rpm and gets into its stride not long after 3000, you’ll need to wait until 4500rpm before the 3.8-litre turbo V8 in the 570S really makes itself known.
The boost from the two turbochargers arrives explosively, but after that, something odd happens: you’re treated to an N/A-like linear pull up to a very N/A-like 8500rpm redline. You’ll want to keep the revs up there are much as you can.
It’s in this area that the 570S does its best racecar impression, filling the cabin with an aggressive, unapologetic flat-plane V8 cacophony, and feeling especially fast just before you smash into the hard rev-limiter. Every gearchange, meanwhile, is fantastically aggressive.
Is this that extra bit of drama that the 911 lacks? The calling card of something which can truly be described as a ‘supercar’? And, of course, we have to consider the awfully unsubtle dihedral doors.
While pondering this, it’s time for another car switch, back to the Audi R8 Performance which - now I’m exploring the upper limits of its V10 - feels anything but ‘broken’. God, I love this engine.
Keyboard warriors will foam at the mouth while furiously telling you it can’t compete with the wail of the motorsport-derived V10 in the Porsche Carrera GT or the Yamaha-built 10-banger in the Lexus LFA, and they might have a point. But those limited-run specials are long gone. The 5.2-litre Audi lump, on the other hand, has been with us 10 years and will be sticking around for a few more thanks to the arrival of this new facelifted model. What a treat.
Again, it’s a level of theatre the Porsche isn’t able to match, even if dynamically, the 911 walks all over it. But the Audi is more than just an engine. I didn’t go into this showdown with particularly high hopes for the car, but it’s not all that far behind the other two when it comes to sheer driving pleasure.
There are problems, of course. It’s the heaviest car here, and it feels it. The all-wheel drive system is too keen to shove power to the front and punt the nose wide. The variable ratio rack steering is something I usually don’t mind, but after the very natural-feeling Porsche and the McLaren, it’s not as easy to anticipate the lock you’re going to get, and it’s far too light.
"The 992 isn't a supercar. But it is very, very close"
Combining that amazing engine with all-wheel drive, though, makes the R8 fantastically approachable. It’s almost disarmingly easy to drive quickly mere minutes after getting behind the wheel, relying on the ridiculous traction of the drivetrain. Also, as with the McLaren and the Porsche, the dual-clutch gearbox is very hard to fault - this test is certainly proving to be a good advert for modern DCTs.
It’s probably the firmest car here, with the surprisingly pliant 570S probably the softest and the 911 somewhere in the middle, but body control is nicely resolved.
As our day with these three just over the Welsh border draws to a close, boring logistical challenges mean it’ll be the R8 I’m driving back. But I wish it wasn’t. The one I really want to take home is the 992 because it really is that good.
It must be said that new Carrera S hasn’t proven that all that extra dough you’d spend on something like an R8 or 570S is a waste of Sterling. The extra power, the low and squat stances, the Audi’s exhaust note, the McLaren’s look-at-me doors - it’s what makes them supercars. It’s what makes them extra-special cars to experience and to simply be around.
The 992 isn’t a supercar. But it is very, very close, and yet it’s by far the most practical car here, and the nicest to sit inside thanks to its solid, retro-inspired cabin. The McLaren feels cheap in comparison (the single-piece, push-pull steering wheel paddle makes up for that, at least), and the Audi, while well-built, doesn’t feel as special. Take away a few of the fancier bits, and you could just be sitting in a TT.
911s have, for a long time, been good at ticking many boxes. That the 992 continues this trend shouldn’t be a surprise. But taking on a couple of supercars and leaving me clamouring for the keys? What an achievement.