Recently, we tested a Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS against an F-Type R P575 AWD and, well, the 911 won. Easily as it happens. It had to. The F-Type is far from all-mouth-and-no-trousers, but it does have a big V8ty mouth, and its trousers, while on, came up a bit short compared with the 911’s perfectly pressed slacks. Put simply, the 911 GTS is a very serious car; dedicated to generating speed with scalpel-like accuracy. The F-Type feels a bit too much like a raucous toy. Nothing wrong with that if that’s what you’re after, but it’s not for those looking for a technically great sports car. So it’s time for round two. Can the GTS overcome another big-engine rival with its uncanny ability for meeting driver expectations? Especially when the rival in question features four more cylinders, mounted centrally, and stifles none of them with forced induction.
I’ve always enjoyed the Audi R8. And, before you say it, no, it isn’t an overgrown TT. Yes it has the infotainment system from a TT and its gear lever, too – but is this really a problem? These are good things. It means they work, along with all the other tried-and-tested Audi bits, and in the world of high-end supercars that’s not always a given. When you’re spending this much moolah do you really want to be infuriated by a sat nav that can’t find home? Or worse still, you can’t you get home because you’re sat on the hard shoulder in a cloud of steam? Dependability and seamless functionality are part of the reason why the 911 is touted as the default everyday sports car, so it seems churlish to criticise Audi for matching it.
And when you look past those four rings on its nose, the R8 still qualifies as a cut-price supercar. After all, it shares its underpinnings with the Lamborghini Huracan and no one ever said that’s anything less than super. It also has the same engine. That old fav: the naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10. That’s pretty super, too. Arguably it’s also as pure as it’s ever been, because now the new Performance RWD version gives you two driven wheels with an increase in power to 570hp. So it’s the perfect match for the purist’s 911 – this being a Carrera 2 GTS with a seven-speed manual gearbox. In theory, this is the 911 for those that would like a GT3, but cannot get one because they weren’t born in Bethlehem with three wise men delivering gold, frankincense, and your name on the list. I remember driving this particular manual car back-to-back with the yellow PDK Carrera 4 GTS we tested against the F-Type, and thought it was even better than its pricier sibling. It does rather suggest a floor-wiping against a car Porsche is accustomed to overcoming.
Well, not when it comes to the engine. Oh my. You know what I am going to say here, but I’ll say it anyway: this V10 is something else. It may be a bit quieter these days, owing to the particulate filters and the absence of a sports exhaust on the purist-grade RWD – but it still rocks like The Who. Let me talk you through, in detail, its various stages because, well, I think it’s worth it. It builds its momentum quite gently to start with. To my mind this is a good thing; it’s about the only thing it does subtly, and provides an antidote to the slap-you-in-the-chops turbocharged antics you find everywhere else. And it’s not like it’s really lacking torque. There’s plenty of the stuff low down for ‘normal’ duties, and by about 3,000rpm it’s building nicely along with the magnificent induction roar that starts to swell in those boom-box plenums behind your ears. At 4,000rpm, the intensity of the ten cylinders’ discordant harmony becomes more discernible; by 6,000rpm, the V10 is really pulling. And there’s no let up. Everything – the noise, the pace – just keeps getting distilled until the revs peak just a fraction off 9,000rpm, and the ferocious thrust harmonises with a baleful wail. The GT3’s 4.0-litre unit aside, there’s nothing better on the mainstream market. If you want a visceral experience, this is it. Plus there’s no silly theatrics; no pops, no bangs. It’s just what it is. Pure and divine.
The 911, despite its 90hp deficit, feels instantly quicker. That’s because its two turbos are alight like afterburners at around 2,000rpm, the resultant mountain of torque screwing you down the road like a fast-spinning auger. But the surge is consistent enough to blend credibly with the power at the top end, meaning it feels hugely fast all the way to its 7,500rpm limiter. And the noise? Well, it starts with smooth but muted flat-six tones that continue into the mid-range. In the upper reaches, these morph into a hard-edged mechanical thrash. It’s good, and by any normal measure would qualify as brilliant – but it’s not the full-blown symphony you get in the R8.
Still, the GTS has a manual gearbox to revel in. And revel in it you will. I’m not someone who sees a stick and thinks automatically it must be brilliant. A manual has to have a great gate, a great clutch and great pedal positioning to really deliver on that promise of added interaction. The GTS ticks off all three. The lever is precise and tactile, the clutch action well defined and the pedal positioning, as always with 911s, is spot on for heel and toeing. You can use the auto-blip function if you wish, but, when it’s this easy to do it yourself, that seems like a waste of natural resources.
The R8’s gearbox is a seven-speed dual-clutch by default. So it’s missing the extra dimension of a manual to delve into, but it hardly hinders the experience. In fact, I swear it’s quicker, smoother and more responsive than I remember. Maybe not quite as good as the best and most recent multi-clutch transmissions when it comes to downshifting obediently, but it’s so seamless and so fast in every other respect that the difference is hardly noticeable. If only the paddles matched the quality of the ‘box. This is a well-worn-R8 gripe, which makes it all the more unfortunate that they have not been replaced. But there they remain; two slices of cheap plastic with the world’s most anti-climactic action.
Still, this is the only part of the R8 that feels cheap. The look and feel of everything else is superb; easily the equal of the 911’s smart surfaces and upmarket switchgear. Yes, some of the R8 is familiar from other Audi’s and carries a whiff of the everyday, yet in every other way the cabin is anything but run of the mill. It feels like what it is: a mid-engined supercar. For a start you’re sat on the ground, and the low, supercar scuttle gives a great view of the road being hoovered up in front of you. In other directions it’s not as easy to see out of as the 911, but as mid-mounted models go it’s not bad.
The seats are superb, too. They are the optional buckets (£3,250) that clamp you tighter than the 911’s (also optional at £1,991) 18-way electrically adjustable seats. That’s not to say the 911’s are uncomfortable. They’re not, and the Porsche has the better driving position by a mile. You sit behind those classically reimagined dials – the gorgeous analogue rev counter front and centre – peering out over a higher dashboard that makes you feel like you’re in a GT Cup car. And for someone lanky like me, the bathtub seating position and the ability to pull the lovely Alcantara-clad steering wheel out to my chest is a dream. The R8’s driving position is more classic Italian: arms straight and knees bent. It’s not quite Ferrari 308 GTB – I forget its limitations after a while – but it’s still the least appealing element of the car for me.
You may have heard people say that the R8’s steering is unappealing, too. Well, on this point I beg to differ. This is the standard setup rather than the adaptive steering and, okay, it doesn’t have as much sensation through the rim as the GTS – at least not in a straight line. You can feel bumps and cat’s eyes and a bit of road graininess, but you can’t count the grains like you can in the Porsche. But here’s the thing: if anything, the R8’s steering is a slightly better ally on the road for the first few degrees of turn – mainly because the GTS’s wheel is more corrupted by cambers that slightly alter its weight and direction. Beyond those initial – and it must be said – tiny fractions, though, the GTS still steers brilliantly – but it doesn’t shade the R8’s. Indeed, both cars weight up beautifully and continue to serve up spot-on progress through the lock: they’re neither flighty nor slow, but just so. As the lateral forces build in the R8, so do the sensations that were missing in a straight line, and, like the 911, by the time you hit the onset of understeer you register it immediately as the steering unloads in your hands.
At slow speeds both cars are firm. So much so that there’s little to distinguish one as better riding than the other. There are several reasons for this. The RWD relies on passive suspension, with no option to upgrade to adaptive, which the R8 quattro gets as standard. And while the GTS package includes PASM it also comes with a 10mm drop in ride height (along with GT3-style helper springs at the rear), so even in its softer mode you feel every rise and fall, just as you do in the R8. These produce spikes of vertical acceleration or – as my mum would say – “gosh, it’s a bit bouncy, isn’t it.” But as you move onto faster roads, both cars transcend this relative clumsiness and, to varying extents, calm down.
The GTS still gives you a workout. When it comes to body control it rules over itself with a big stick – like the stern housemaster who uses fear to stop things getting out of hand. After every bump it pulls itself back into line with a vice-like grip. It’s effective, sure, but it can also be taxing. Then you get into the R8 and it’s like those rare teachers who can keep order without shouting, and without anyone realising their will is even being bent. It just floats along. You could imagine its wheels are an inch or so off the ground because the smaller imperfections just aren’t felt. Only the larger ones are, and they are dealt with so deftly that they rarely upset the car or put it out of kilter. It is notable that along the very same roads, I distinctly recall the Lamborghini Huracan STO bottoming out – maybe just because it’s that bit lower. The R8 tackles them with no hint of drama. To be fair, so does the 911, although it isn’t quite as fluid. It makes you think it’s carrying more weight than the R8, but it isn’t. It’s just that the R8, as Cackett says, “goes about its business like a big Lotus.”
This doesn’t mean it would set a quicker lap time; on track I have no doubt the 911 would be faster. It has more grip for a start. Yet on the road, where a little movement at lower limits is no bad thing, the R8’s shortfall (it’s all relative of course, it still grips) is arguably a plus. You don’t have to work as hard to get the rear moving and when it does, it’s predictable rather than spikey. You can begin the rotation with a lift on the way into a turn, then keep it going with a smidge more power on the exit. You can, of course, do the same in the 911. It’s no less exhilarating, either, but because of its higher limits and gutsier torque, the risk of overdoing it feels more immediate.
Both cars are a near match on the brakes. Okay, maybe the 911’s pedal has a bit more progression at the top end, but in either car you can wash away immense speed impressively quickly, while still finessing those few pounds per square inch on the pedal as you feel the anti-lock begin to kick in. And there’s nothing fancy here: iron discs rather than ceramics are the order of the day.
If you’re planning on using one of these cars as a daily driver then we know just how good the 911 will be. Its boot fits more in than the R8’s, and, as you know, it has rear seats to accommodate things into as well – kids included, or even the odd adult for a short trip. The R8 isn’t as capacious, although the shelf behind the rear seats is useful. I’d argue it’s slightly better from a refinement point of view; there’s a little less road noise, and when you’re on a light throttle the mighty V10’s bark shuts up like an obedient dog’s.
These are two outstanding performance cars, then – so much so that they easily thwart the idea of a binary, one’s-great-one-isn’t verdict. In and among their undoubted qualities, they outdo each other here and there. Endowed with superior infotainment and more useable space, the 911 is possibly more liveable, and modestly cheaper to buy. It boasts a better driving position, too, and delivers a little more sensation through its steering. Being a GTS, it’s a little bit more motorsporty – a bit rawer. I think it’s fantastic, I really do, especially in rear-drive format with that lovely manual gearbox to savour. I would be extremely happy to own one just like this, because, bar the hard-to-get GT3, I don’t think there’s a better spec for the current 992 generation.
And yet…as much as I love a 911, and as many times as the GTS won me over when I spent some more miles in it, I’d swap back into the R8 and find myself thinking I liked it a little more. It’s not a track car, but I wasn’t at Snetterton. I was in Sparsholt, on sweeping roads that weren’t race-track smooth. And on the day in question, I think the RWD worked even better than its illustrious rival. Some of this is its wraithlike ability to flow over everything the road could conjure sensationally well. Some of it is because you can feel it moving around more. Quite a lot of it is that V10, which is so endearing in this day and age I’d like to give it a hug. But mostly it’s because it doesn’t feel like a toy; it’s not like the F-Type at all. And it’s nothing like an overgrown TT either. It is, in fact, a seriously good supercar – and probably the best R8 yet.
Specification | 2022 Audi R8 Performance RWD
Engine: 5,204cc, V10, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 570 @7,800-8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406 @6,400rpm
0-62mph: 3.7 seconds
Top speed: 204mph
MPG: 22.4 (WLTP)
CO2: 286g/km (WLTP)
Price: £132,805 (£150,075 as tested in Edition spec)
Specification | 2022 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 GTS (992)
Engine: 2,981cc, flat-six, twin-turbo
Transmission: 7-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 480 @ 6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 420 @ 2,300-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Top speed: 193mph
Weight: 1,510kg (DIN)
MPG: 27.2 (WLTP)
CO2: 236g/km (WLTP)
Price: £111,380 (£126,038 as tested)