Vehicle Comparisons

Porsche 911 Carrera

Porsche 911 Carrera

Porsche's updated seventh generation 911 is now smarter and more efficient, with the key changes found beneath the bonnet with the installation of a fresh range of turbocharged engines. It's still as intoxicating as ever though.

Porsche's 911 is an automotive icon but the Stuttgart brand still needs to keep it current. Hence the installation in this updated MK7 model of an efficient 3.0-litre turbo engine to replace the previous naturally aspirated 3.4 and 3.8 litre units. Has the quest for greater efficiency robbed this car of its essential character?

Despite being up to 800cc smaller than the engines it replaces, this 911's 3.0-litre turbo offers more power than 911 Carrera and Carrera S buyers have been used to before. In the former model, the new motor develops 370PS, while in the latter this increases to 420PS. In both cases this in an increase of 20PS over the old engine, with torque increased by 60Nm. Crucially, peak pulling power is now developed from just 1,700rpm, which should make it much easier to tap into the performance.

The 0-62mph sprint now takes 4.2 seconds for the Carrera and just 3.9 seconds for the S (using the PDK auto gearbox), with top speeds at 183 and 191mph. Those are figures a full fat 911 Turbo model would have been proud of in the not too distant past. Those worried about losing the 911's distinctive noise at high revs are promised a lofty (for a turbo motor) 7,500rpm redline and the 'typical sonorous Porsche flat-six engine sound'. Handling isn't likely to be too much different for the regular Carrera, although 'Porsche Active Suspension Management' is now standard. More of a change will come from the optional four-wheel steering system which is available on the Carrera S for the first time.

There may be a revolution in the engine compartment of this improved 911 Carrera but the rest of the facelift is typically Porsche. In other words, you'd be hard pushed to notice many of the changes unless you had this and the old model next to each other. On the outside, there are smarter headlamps with four-point daylight running lights, sleeker door handles, revised bumpers with active air ducts and a change in the exhaust positioning. Plus, there's vertical instead of horizontal louvres on the engine cover and sharper-looking rear lights too.

Underneath the restyled body panels, the hybrid aluminium and steel structure remains, as does the basic suspension set-up should you avoid the four-wheel steering. There is however, an optional hydraulic lifting function that can raise the nose of the car by 40mm to prevent scraping. Inside is a revised 'Porsche Communication Management' infotainment system that supports smartphone style gesture controls and offers a simplified menu structure. There's also Apple CarPlay connectivity for the first time along with a wireless charging pad for supported devices. Also added to this improved model is a steering wheel inspired by the 918 Spyder hypercar - an optional 'GT sport wheel' that is 15mm smaller in diameter.

It's at this point that many motoring publications would bemoan yet another move away from the 911's core character. They'd say the move to turbocharging robs the engine of its unmistakable sound. At the same time, making it even more usable on a day to day basis somehow makes it less special. If though, we get back to reality and look at the 911 as a car instead of some sort of deity, the far-reaching changes made here are exactly what was needed to keep this model competitive.

The problem is that it isn't 1963 or even 2003 anymore, so change is necessary. The 911 Carrera and Carrera S models are now less thirsty, less polluting yet even faster than ever before. In case you were wondering, these are all very good things. They're also the reason why this is likely to be the best normal 911 ever to come out of the Zuffenhausen factory.

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BMW i8

BMW i8

It's been a long time coming, but BMW's vision of the future sports car has finally landed. The BMW i8 is a hybrid supercar capable of delivering a 357bhp punch if provoked. Alternatively, it can glide noiselessly along on pure electric power. The 135mpg quoted fuel economy figure needs taking with a grain of salt but if you wanted a vision of the future of sports cars, you're looking at it right here.

Let's cut to the chase with the performance numbers. That 1498cc three-cylinder mid-mounted engine drives the back wheels and a 96kW electric motor takes care of the fronts, endowing the 1485kg i8 with some serious pep. It'll fizz from zero to 62mph in just 4.4 seconds and keep going to an electronically limited 155mph, which makes it quicker than a V8-engined Audi R8 off the mark. As you might expect, the i8 has a number of tricks up its sleeve. In eDrive mode, it's a front-wheel drive electrically powered vehicle with a claimed range of 23 miles. This mode delivers a peak power output of 129bhp and a top speed of 75mph.

Select Comfort mode and the i8 is a plug-in hybrid with a range of up to 310 miles. Choose Sport mode by slotting a small lever from 'D' to 'S' and the i8 goes feral, the petrol engine and motor double-teaming to really bring the excitement. In this mode, you get a combined 357bhp and a massive 570Nm of torque. The damping will tighten, the power assistance for the steering will taper off and the software will juggle the torque split for maximum entertainment. There'll be some artificial noise piped into the cabin but it should sound good. The six-speed 'automatic transmission has been chosen over the ZF eight-speeder to save weight but it's a good unit. The calibration of the braking between regenerative and mechanical is something many manufacturers should benchmark. The i8's centre of gravity is admirably low, but the 215/45 R20 front tyres have been chosen as much for their green credentials as anything else and will be the first thing to lapse into gentle understeer if you manhandle the car. Wider tyres are optionally available as long as you don't mind a small economy trade off. Keen drivers should certainly tick that box.

The i8 looks like no other car. It's sleek, clean in its detailing and features beetle-wing upwards opening doors. I can't think of another rival in its price bracket that offers quite so much visual drama. Given that you could easily blow £100k on a Porsche 911 Carrera, the BMW moves the game on. Suddenly Audi's R8, a car that once looked so bold, looks a bit under-baked. The rear end is particularly unusual, with no visible exhausts and what looks to be the tail of a Porsche 911 being enveloped by the i8's plastic bodywork. Once you see it, you won't be able to forget that one.

The i8 keeps its weight so low thanks to a body that's a mix of carbon fibre and aluminium. The chassis is aluminium and the upper 'Life' passenger cell is carbon but BMW hasn't gone all race-tech and stripped-out. There are small rear seats and even if you hid the badges, the smooth sweep of the dashboard and the excellent ergonomics clearly bear Munich's mark. The dash is an LED virtual screen with another display popping up from the dash roll top. It's very nicely executed but surprisingly, not as adventurous as the humbler i3 hatch. Practicalities include a 42-litre fuel tank, a 12.3 metre turning circle and a rather puny 154-litre boot.

The BMW i8 is an utterly fascinating vehicle. There's no doubt that this technology affords us a vision of the future. It already makes many of its more conventional rivals look positively quaint. Where the i8 is even more special is in the way that it normalises this brain-bending complexity. It's beautifully-finished and comes with a warranty just like any other BMW product. It doesn't impose itself on you.

Yes, it's fearsomely fast in a straight line but the i8 is no B-road brawler. That model may well come and it will probably come from BMW, but here's something that's a bit more refined and looks set to change the way we think about this sort of car. You might not have ever believed that a car with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine could command a six-figure price tag. The i8 does that yet still seems a bargain. It's an incredible achievement.

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Audi R8

Audi R8

The Audi R8 has become fiercer and more focused, with V10 petrol engines for the time being and the promise of an electric version in due course. Buyers choose between a 540PS V10 and a 610PS V10 Plus version, both capable of topping 200mph. Lighter, smarter, better finished, better looking and you can get laser headlights. Beat that.

The big news with this latest R8 is that Audi has done away with the eight-cylinder model. Yes, you probably heard countless road testers opine that the V8 was a sweeter engine than the feral V10, but buyers wanted horsepower and they wanted that ten-cylinder engine - the one also used by Audi's sister company Lamborghini. As before, the chassis is made of aluminium, but whereas in the old R8, the range-topping V10 Plus made 550PS, this time round, even the entry-level V10 is knocking on the door of that figure, with a healthy 540PS at its disposal. Go for the Plus version and in this second-generation range, you get 610PS, making this variant the most powerful Audi road car ever built. That's serious stuff and so is a sprint to 62mph in 3.2 seconds and a 205mph top speed.

The manual gearbox gets the heave-ho for the MK2 model, with only an S-tronic twin-clutch sequential 'box offered. Audi claims to have shaved weight from a superstructure that now weighs a mere 200kg and, together with some carbon fibre parts, helps cut the kerb weight of the V10 Plus by 66kg to 1454kg. Hand in hand with the reduction in weight is a 40% improvement in chassis rigidity. The suspension is the same basic layout of double wishbones front and rear, mated to steel springs and dampers or there's an optional Magnetic Ride system that delivers continuously variable damping control. Again, weight has been excised from the suspension parts, Audi claiming that it has used lighter components developed through its LMP and LMS racing programme.

Well it doesn't look that different, does it? The MK1 model R8's shape generated quite some controversy when it first appeared but the design ended up wearing really well. The big talking point of the original car was undoubtedly the side blades, those unusual inserts that broke up the visual bulk of the rear three-quarter. The latest car retains the side blades, albeit in a truncated form, sitting at the back of the side intakes. The front lights and grille treatment are sharkier and although this R8 has exactly the same 4442mm length as its predecessor, it's also 39mm wider and 9mm lower. Lower and wider is good in the supercar world. 19-inch alloy wheels are fitted as standard to both models, but there's also an option of a 20-inch rim for the first time. If you like the idea of open-top motoring, there's also a Spyder version.

Inside the car, there's the usual Nappa leather sports seats while the V10 Plus gets deeper bucket seats. A flat-bottomed steering wheel houses two 'satellites' incorporating the control buttons for the Audi drive select system and engine start-stop function, both features which are also new to the R8. Go for the V10 Plus and there are two more satellites. One houses a button controlling the exhaust system's sound-altering adjustable flaps. The other deals with the activation switch for the 'performance mode' which is standard for this version (and optional for the V10), along with a rotary wheel enabling selection of this mode's individual 'dry', 'wet' and 'snow' programs.

The 'Audi virtual cockpit' we first saw on the brand's MK3 model TT sportscar also makes an appearance here. It sits in the conventional speedo and tach binnacle, this 12.3-inch display allowing the driver to toggle between different display modes as well as a custom 'individual' mode. In 'performance mode', the driver is presented with information on the driving programs, acceleration, deceleration and lateral forces, as well as power and torque. There's even a shift light which illuminates when the rev limit has been reached.

Modernising the Audi R8 must have presented a few headaches. Back when it was originally launched, it was a rival for a Porsche 911 Carrera S. That's changed. Now it's way above the price of even the most expensive 911 Turbo. This, one feels, isn't exactly by chance. Volkswagen owns Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini, so it needed to slot the products into some sort of non-competing order. With V10 engines and rapid-fire sequential gearshifts, the latest R8 is laser-focused, and hasn't lost any of its wow factor.

Sit inside and it's impossible not to be impressed by the Virtual Cockpit, with its myriad of purposeful-sounding buttons that hang off the steering wheel and just beg to be prodded. Then there's the general build quality, which is all soft buttery leathers and cool turned aluminium finishes. More power, less weight and more exaggerated supercar dimensions complete a compelling argument. The R8 has evolved. Now it's up to you to try to keep up.

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