Three brilliant supercars. All four-wheel-drive. And a road trip to Wales to find our favourite. What could go wrong? Well, as is usually the case with AOL Cars tests, pretty much everything.
Despite planning it weeks in advance, the day we were due to depart Antarctic weather descended on the UK, blocking roads, causing crashes and generally making travelling in a motor car, let alone a supercar, inadvisable.
So obviously we went anyway.
Click on the gallery below and read James Baggot and Leon Poultney's report on this rather wintry but rather raucous road test...
All-wheel-drive supercar showdown
All-stars: Audi R8, Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 go head-to-head
Leon: We chose the village of Denbigh in North Wales as our base camp, partly because the scenery looks like it has been cut directly from a Lord of the Rings film but mainly because the surrounding roads are some of the most thrilling the UK has to offer. Hand-picked to tackle the sweeping bends and speedy straights were some of the finest four-wheel-drive supercars currently available to man: the Porsche Carrera 911 4S with its feisty 3.8-litre straight-six and an on-the-road price tag of £87,959. The giant-slaying Nissan GT-R packing a cheap-as-chips asking price of £76,610 and a meaty twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6. Finally, the new and improved £92,710 Audi R8 with its screaming 4.2-litre V8 and slick manual gearbox.
James: Well tackling those roads was the plan at least. With the south coast basking in sunshine it was hard to believe the weather reports and traffic alerts as we made our way up the country. But by the time we hit the M6 Toll the skies had changed and the white stuff was pasted across the hard shoulders. And it got worse. By the time we hit the A55, traffic was down to one lane and it was sheeting it down. It was at this point I thanked the motoring gods we were in four wheel drive supercars.
Leon: Baggott is painting a pretty picture here, I was tasked with piloting the monstrous Nissan GT-R from Stansted airport to the northern tip of Wales via some of the most snow-stricken areas in the UK. Baggo and the rest of the AOL Cars chaps had already furrowed a path up the country but I was merely picking my way around the edge of Wales when the real blizzards set in. The GT-R was magnanimous, always providing bags of grip even when the only lane left open on the A55 was covered in ice and snow. I crawled past abandoned MX-5s, stricken motorcyclists and even the odd Land Rover struggling in the snow and all the while the Japanese Tarmac-destroyer continued to march on. Apart from the time I tried to squeeze up a narrow country lane in order to cut down on the miles, resulting in me sliding sideways down a hill towards a hedge. It soon became clear motorways were the only option.
James: We were obviously EXTREMELY worried about you Leon as we threw another log on the fire and cracked open our third beer. Fortunately I’d been in the 911 for the journey northwards and had thoroughly bonded with it in the process. The new 991 model is an absolute corker and with the £10k Powerkit option, it looks stunning. Anyway, before we go all gushing, let’s set some parameters for deciding our winner. I’m thinking scores in the following order of importance: Style, price, performance, comfort, practicality and desirability. A mark out of five in each should help us decide the winner. What do you reckon?
Leon: What about dropping practicality for value for money? Let’s be honest here, comfort will be somewhere towards the top of most supercar buyers’ check list but fitting the monthly Ikea shop into a 530bhp monster is rarely considered. I can end the debate on practicality right here: the Nissan and Porsche have bags of room, the Audi is pathetic. There.
James: Oh, you bitch. Sticking the knife in early aren’t you? Ok, agreed. We’ll mark them later. So let’s recap. We’re in Wales, which could very easily be the North Pole. Cars are littering ditches, we’ve seen a JCB dig a Freelander out, but we’ve made it to base camp safely. Unfortunately our hopes of penetrating Lord of the Rings land (sounds like a porno) didn’t go to plan as six-foot snow drifts covered most exits to decent roads from Denbigh so this test will mostly be carried out in a rugby club car park. Picturesque. So Poulters, let’s start with that GT-R. Like it?
Leon: It’s very hard not to like the GT-R, especially if you were a fan of a certain videogame franchise that resulted in many poor GCSE results. On paper, the Japanese giant is pretty much unrivalled: 542bhp delivered to all four wheels, a 0-60mph sprint time of an astonishing 2.84 seconds and enough electronic wizardry to ensure mere mortals can keep the brute on the road. But far and away the most surprising aspect is the GT-R can quite happily devour motorway miles without resulting in spinal injuries. It can play music from one’s phone via the Bluetooth interface, it has a very good sat-nav and it even has cup holders that happily cosset a large Costa coffee. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Porsche offers a similar amount of luxury but I fear the Audi may fall behind... again.
James: I’m beginning to spot a theme here... Anyway, that GT-R. What. A. Car. I’ve driven a few of these brutes now and every time I honestly can’t understand how something can move so quickly in a forwards direction without a hyperdrive. It is one car that every car fan should drive at least once. Sod a Ferrari or Lamborghini, this thing may not have the brand cache, but it’s more frightening and astonishing to drive. The sound, the way that gearbox rifles through the ratios, and the grip. It’s incredible. I like the looks too, but the problem is it attracts the wrong sort of attention (think baseball cap and McDonald’s wrappers). But it’s hard to argue with that price – you could have one of these and a Cayman for the price of the 911...
Leon: Stealing my analysis again, Mr Baggott? But yes, if I were in the market for a car that was simply incredible to drive, I would buy a GT-R and then grab a Cayman for the tighter, twistier stuff. See, that’s the problem with so many supercars these days, the Great Horsepower Race has made many cars almost impossible to drive on ‘normal’ UK roads. I’m not talking about the vast, open expanses of North Wales but the country lanes in Surrey where most of these will find homes. But I digress, in summary, the GT-R is a phenomenal machine that shouldn’t just be viewed as a great car but one of the great engineering feats of the last decade.
James: I’m not clever enough to come to my own conclusions, hence stealing yours... Let’s move on. Rapidly. So to the Porker. When this thing turned up at the office and you sent me that picture of it I was instantly in love. That kit, with the ducktail and skirts, in white, makes this thing look ace. I love the way it drives too. The PDK gearbox is awesome – but that said I’d have a manual too – they’re both great. And the sound it makes when you hit that exhaust button is sublime. Everything works brilliantly too and it’s comfy, real long distance comfy. But £105k? Really? That’s so much more cash that no matter how good it is I don’t think I could justify it. Could you?
Leon: Drive the Porsche for just five minutes and you could justify that asking price. The German marque is often lambasted for not taking bold steps with model updates but this 991 looks, drives and sounds better than ever. The driving position is superb and my time spent piloting it back from Wales was the most comfortable I had been all weekend. The cockpit felt special too, with lashings of Alcantara and splashes of leather making sure it stood out over lesser models in the line up. I will never forget a stretch of the M6 when Design Ed Windy depressed the sports exhaust button in the Porker, let himself drift back a few yards and then nailed the throttle past me. The noise was out of this world – a mix of savage roar and exploding overrun as he wound through the gears. I was in the not-so-silent R8 at the time – doing a stellar job of adding to the cacophony of exhaust notes – but finding my ear drawn towards the Porsche’s vicious soundtrack.
James: Ok, I’m with you, but I can’t help thinking it will be a difficult conversation in dealers when a 997 owner comes in and the cost to change makes him spew his frappuccino all over the salesman. It’s good, in fact it’s great, but if it were your cash on the line, would it really be worth £30,000 over the GT-R? Let’s move this on to that R8. A car I’m very fond of. In terms of head-turning looks the R8 nails it. Porsches are everywhere, GT-Rs don’t look outrageous enough, but the R8 is a beauty. I love the sound of that V8, the steering is a delight and the open gate gearbox is always an occasion. It’s also so easy to drive – it feels a lot smaller than it is. I like the new LED indicators too – that strobe across the car from left to right; they’re Tron cool.
Leon: I feel that I’ve been unreasonably harsh about the Audi in the last few exchanges – the R8 has always been a personal favourite of mine ever since I had the pleasure of driving the mighty V10 convertible for a couple of weeks during one of our unusually hot summers (remember those?). I stepped into the Autobahn-destroyer after doing long stints in both the GT-R and the Porsche and my first, overriding feeling was, ‘God, this open gate gearbox is great’. There is something instantly involving about having a real, chunky gear lever in a car of this magnitude, it instantly forces the driver to be on his or her A-game. We left a service station and instantly came across a set of roundabouts – down went the clutch, ‘thunk’ went that excellent gearbox, second gear was selected and then many whoops of delight were emitted as I screamed onto the slip road at mind-boggling revs. The sensation soon fizzled out as I quickly realised I couldn’t get comfortable. The seating position was too low and I sat with my legs outstretched almost horizontally like I was driving a Caterham. Is this because I am vertically challenged or a design fault?
James: Vertically challenged, almost certainly that. Anyway, let’s try and decide a winner, which I can guess isn’t going to be easy. I’m going to do it mathematically and work it out on a piece of paper… It goes like this for me: In a surprising third place is the 911. I can’t get past the price, and despite the looks and performance it’s in no way worth so much more than the faster GT-R. In second, is the R8, scoring pretty much middle of the road marks in all our categories. But the GT-R storms it in my rankings. Its great value for money, by far and away the quickest with only it’s relatively bland styling letting it down. Controversial I know, but them is the results of the numbers. For me anyway. Let’s see what you come up with, add it all up and work out the winner. Scientifically and all that jazz.
Leon: Your mathematical methods seem to work a treat, perhaps that’s why you purchased that rust bucket Peugeot 205 for such an amazing price (another story readers). After doing some frantic scribbling it looks like this for me: In joint third place are the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 with the latter only really slipping up in the price department. It’s so difficult to justify such a premium over the other great cars here and even though the Porsche press department will argue that a standard 911 is cheaper that an Audi R8, we all know it’s impossible to leave the options list completely unchecked. That means the GT-R storms ahead in my makeshift table, mainly thanks to the exceptional ‘bang-for-your-buck’ value it offers. I also don’t agree with the desirability argument against owning a GT-R. We parked all three luscious motors up at a service station somewhere outside Birmingham and the crowds soon flocked, with the majority leaving grubby prints all over the windows of the Nissan while a select few admired the German offerings.
James: So Mr Mackie the Maths Mumbler off of school didn’t fail me – sums actually work! Next someone will be telling me the world really is round and that PE really does have to be done in your pants if you want to lose weight... At least we came to a sensible conclusion for a not so sensible test. What Car – we’re coming for you!
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Audi R8 4.2 FSI quattro
Price: £92,710 (as tested)
Engine: 4.2-litre V8, petrol
Power: 424bhp, 430Nm
Max speed: 188mph
MPG (comb'd): 19.9