In the current January 2012 issue of CAR Magazine, before anyone else, we’ve pitched the new Porsche 911 in Carrera S guise against the latest MY12 Nissan GT-R, BMW’s Competition Pack-spec M3, and Audi’s R8 V8.
You can read Georg Kacher and Jethro Bovingdon's verdicts in the magazine, but here's a counterpoint from CAR's road test editor.
The BMW M3
BMW M3 first. In isolation it’s excellent, all the sports car you’ll ever need. The M3 has that brilliant blend of just enough power and pace, mixed with a decent dose of practicality, that’s been enchanting us for years. It’s honest and transparent: engine up front, drive to the back, the pair linked here by the optional super-sharp double-clutch gearbox.
Barking through a BMW Performance titanium exhaust the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre V8 sounds more race-bred than ever, and with skinny rear winter tyres, it’s also happier to play at being a hooligan than ever before. With new GT-Rs now costing £20k more, it’s a bargain amongst this group, too. Yet, as good as it is (and it’s very good), up against a genuine sports car, a supercar and a supercomputer, it’s outclassed. The rest of our group feels defter, more precise and more special.
The Audi R8
Most special is the R8. Here in 4.2 V8 guise it might be barely any quicker than the M3, but it’s got the mid-engined layout and supercar shape to enchant. Hurrah for Audi quality too, so you feel like you can use it everyday, and another hurrah because it doesn’t drive like any other Audi either. The steering actually communicates with the driver, the brakes aren’t wooden and over-servoed, the ride isn’t abysmally firm, and that manual gearbox click-clacks like a true Italian.
It’s a Lamborghini that’s easy to live with. If you want the definitive supercar experience, then it’s the R8 you should pick.
The Nissan GT-R
But it you want supercar-humbling pace, look no further than the GT-R. Nissan’s nutter was already ridiculously fast and stupidly quick when it was launched in late 2007 – where it got straight on with besting the 911 Turbo – but it’s been updated (twice) since then, the latest round of revisions gifting it the world’s first asymmetric suspension. Oh, and what was 478bhp in 2007 has become 542bhp in 2012. It didn’t need more power, but bar a Bugatti, little else on the planet is now quicker off the line.
Or in a straight line. Or over the deserted roads in the Tyrolean Alps. At first you just point-and-squirt as you’re overwhelmed by the power, but really you’re involved, using the high grip levels, detailed steering and superb traction to go far too fast and simply stroll away from 911, R8 and M3. It's that quick.
The only thing the trick electronics can’t disguise is the 1740kg kerbweight when you’re braking for a tight corner. Then it feels BIG.
And how did the new Porsche 911 fare against that lot?
The 911 doesn’t feel big whatsoever. It might be larger than ever before, but it’s lighter than its predecessor, faster too, and more economical (if that’s relevant here). It’s still less stable than the other three at high speeds, still shifts around slightly through bumpy corners, but it delivers more feedback to the driver.
The 991's new electro-mechanical steering only filters out a little of the beloved information, the 3.8-litre crackles and burbles like no other flat six before, and it’s still got brilliant Porsche brakes and imperious corner exit traction. In short, it's enough for the new 911 to win its maiden group test.
To read more on why the new Porsche 911 beat its three greatest rivals, read the full 15-page test in the January 2012 issue of CAR Magazine, on sale now. See a digital preview of the issue here.