It’s a conundrum only the lucky few have to wrestle with, those five percenters who opt to live in a swanky flat in the right part of town rather than country manor where land is plentiful. Imagine you are living that gilded life: you have space to park one car so whatever you buy needs to strike the balance between supercar looks and performance but, as it’s the only car you’ll have at your disposal, it needs to be user-friendly enough to drive every day. Commute to work, trips to the coast at the weekend, a late night zip to the supermarket to pick up some milk: this head turner has to do it all.
In this market there are two obvious choices: the Audi R8 Performance and Porsche 911 Turbo S. You only need to compare how they stack up against each other on paper to see why choosing between the two isn’t easy. The R8 costs £144,130 before options, the 911 Turbo S is £155,970 (what’s ten grand when you’re a millionaire?). Both are all wheel drive and both pack well north of 600bhp. And both have the looks and soundtrack to make every Oxford Street shopper stop what they’re doing for a second and watch you drive past at 7.45pm on Christmas Eve.
There’s only one way to find out which is the best everyday supercar - drive them back-to-back. And that’s exactly what we did.
Let’s start with the biggie, because this is where the greatest differences lie between these cars. The R8’s engine is a thing of absolute wonder, and it’s one of the last V10s you can buy new today making it a heavily endangered species. The theatre it creates with the noise from its naturally aspirated 5.2-litres simply can’t be bettered in our opinion. But thanks to its lack of turbos it also delivers power in a smooth, linear arc and takes a bit of time to fill its lungs fully. It’s not slow to get going from 1,000rpm, that’s not what we’re saying at all, it just builds to deliver its full 580Nm of torque at 6,500rpm to arrive you at 62mph in just 3.1 seconds. This means that while it’s rocket ship fast, it isn’t interested in catching you out early. There’s a rhythmic predictability to it, and it’s incredibly easy to learn how to manage its extraordinary power.
The power from the 911 Turbo S is even more extraordinary still. It offers 640bhp to the R8’s 612bhp, and 800Nm of torque. But – and it’s a big but if you’re not well-versed in driving supercars – its maximum torque arrives between 2,500 and 4,000rpm thanks to its twin turbos. This means the moment you nudge the accelerator you’re catapulted into hyperspace, there really isn’t anything which feels faster in its class, and Porsche’s claimed 0-62mph time of 2.7 seconds is clearly on the conservative side. We would caution anybody thinking of buying this car to take at least one track day session with an instructor, just so you know what to expect.
That said, Porsche’s engineering brilliance means once you’ve got your head around the power at your toe-tips it’s a very sure-footed car, no matter what the conditions. Torque is shifted to where it’s needed most at almost supernatural speed, and the 911 Turbo S is content to send all power to the back wheels should you want, or split it entirely between the two axles. There’s also a rear wheel steering system which affords the car an agility which belies its size. The system effectively shortens the wheelbase, which makes slow speed manoeuvring much easier but also adds plenty of high speed stability. And additions like acoustic sensors in the wheel arches which listen for the sound of a wet road to adjust the parameters accordingly means it’s doing a lot to keep you shiny side up.
It’s not as if the R8 isn’t working hard to keep the driver honest though. In fact, it’s the brilliance of the Quattro system which makes it the ideal Supercar for Dummies. All of the hard work is removed from the driver, there’s no skill required to know when to get back on the power on the way out of a corner and you don’t need to think about when it might break traction on the way into the bend because, well, it won’t.
When it comes to the ride, the R8 wins. It eases over bumpy ground far more comfortably than the 911. That, coupled with the fact the 911’s PDK gearbox is wound so tightly it’s always looking to drop a cog and smoke the car behind you, while the R8’s throttle map can find a far more relaxed position, means the 911 can becoming a little tiring on smaller, bumpier roads.
It’s the Porsche’s turn to win. When the Audi R8’s uber-minimalist virtual cockpit was first debuted it was impressive. There’s no infotainment screen, everything is beamed to the driver via the 12.3-inch driver display, and there’s a rotary dial and a steering wheel festooned with buttons to make commands. But it’s the same setup as the Audi TT, which takes a lot of the shine off this £145K car, and to be honest the virtual cockpit is starting to feel like a bit of a tired gimmick.
The 911’s interior isn’t exactly flamboyant – this is a Porsche after all – but it’s supremely well-appointed with possibly the best infotainment system we have ever used. Everything about the cabin has been designed with the driver in mind, from the perfectly ergonomic steering wheel to the positioning of the important switch gear, which is always at your fingertips. There’s much more of a sense of occasion to be had when stepping into the 911 than there is the R8. The seats are deep and plush yet still offer all the support sports seats should, and the build quality throughout is phenomenal.
As much as we hate to say it, for true everyday ease of use the Audi R8 Performance just edges it. Its idiot-proof nature means no one - no matter how much performance car experience they have or haven’t had - would be intimidated to the point that they wobble it into a ditch. The fact is, both of these cars can be used happily every day, and we ourselves would take the 911 all day long over the R8 because it offers so much more when it comes to the fun stuff, but to be completely unbiased the R8 is as driveable as a Ford Fiesta (okay, not quite, but you see what we’re getting at) whereas the 911 commands a little more respect.
But we should add that there’s a danger of quickly becoming bored with the R8, especially if you appreciate driving for driving’s sake. It’s a little too sanitised, there’s too much hand-holding from the Quattro system. The 911 is a better all-rounder because, while it drives calmly and serenely when asked to, it’s ready to snap your neck and do fun, sideways stuff with the flick of a button. You can find similar thrills in the R8 – it too can send all power to the back – but it feels artificial and dialled-in. The 911 is a car which communicates with the driver. When it’s about to break traction, you can feel it. When you want it to wag its tail, you can push it to the point where it’s ready to do so without guess work. Not so with the R8, it’s always in control and ready to rescue you from anything beyond your skillset. And that, let’s face it, is what makes it the better everyday supercar for the road. Just.
Audi R8 Coupe V10 Performance
Engine: 5.2-litre V10
0-62mph: 3.1 seconds
Max speed: 205mph
MPG: 22.2 (combined)
Porsche 911 Turbo S
Engine: 3.7-litre six cylinder twin turbo
0-62mph: 2.7 seconds
Max speed: 205mph
MPG: 23.5 (combined)