Audi R8 vs Porsche 911 Carrera S vs BMW M6: Classic MOTOR

Germans can’t tolerate tardiness. Turn up to an 8.30 press conference at 8.34 (as I regularly, almost reliably do) and you can feel their disdainful, scolding stares burning through you.

This article first published in MOTOR March 2008

It’s ingrained in the bastards – they work to a precise schedule and they love timely organisation. None of this explains the belated dismantling of the Berlin wall, or male German backpacker’s undying affection for fluorescent-yellow boardies, but it provides great insight into their performance cars – bloody fast and precision-perfect.

Audi R8 vs Porsche 911 Carrera S vs BMW M6 rearObviously ‘precision-perfect’ can refer to both dynamics and build quality, though not always in the same package. But if we’re talking Audi R8, BMW M6 and Porsche 911 Carrera S, you get all that and then some. Yep, those anal, sartorially challenged, heavy-metal-loving Krauts know how to party, even if the entry ticket might send you broke.

BMW’s fastest-ever express costs an eye-watering $281,590 if you tick Individual premium hi-fi, and Audi’s moderately optioned supermodel isn’t far behind at $276,650.

Comparatively, you could buy a 911 Carrera S for $227,600 and spend the change on a quality tit job or a heated garage, but start reaching into Porsche’s abundant options cabinet (UVA-714 is $243,020 worth, though save yourself $2080 by sticking with the standard 19s) and you’ll be approaching M6 and R8 money faster than a washed dog to horse dung. Meaning the decision between M6, R8 and 911 S is a very real one.

And what variety. A four-seat, rear-drive, front-engined V10, a two-seat, four-wheel-drive, mid-engined V8 and a two-plus-two, rear-engined, rear-drive flat six. The 4.4m-long Porsche is 215kg lighter than the nearly 4.9m BMW, and 140kg less than the R8, but it’s the malicious M6 than dominates in a straight line.

2008 Audi R8 engineAt 228kW/tonne (against 198 for the Audi and 184 for the Porsche), the M6 is manfully well-hung, with an unburstable, amazingly tractable engine that disguises the M6’s weight completely. However, it’s only once you’re rolling that it manages to put clear distance between itself and the other two.

Despite the SMG’s tranny’s launch control, the M6 simply doesn’t have the traction of the rear-weight-biased R8 and 911 to put all those numbers into action off the line. Up to 100km/h, it’s neck-and-neck with the R8 and slightly ahead of the 911, but beyond that it’s no contest.

The M6’s richly warbling V10 increases its pace at an exponential rate right to the 8250rpm rev limiter, though it’s dangerously addictive to do so in filth-riddled Australia. And you don’t really need to, either – the V10’s off-beat, metallic growl pulling from low revs, and its minimum of 416Nm smeared across a 5500rpm band means it’s very tractable and still blindingly quick if you short-shift.

2008 BMW M6 engineChanging gears manually with the M6’s seven-speed SMG (we always avoid the lame ‘auto’ mode) soon becomes second nature, and even in the sportiest of five shift modes (there’s six if you switch off the DSC), its operation is smooth and its throttle blipping on downshifts as good as you could wish for. But there’s a caveat with the M6 – fuel consumption.

You’re never going to make big power without plenty of high-octane, but the BMW’s 19.2L/100km average over our 800km test route looked pretty greedy compared to the R8’s 16.6L/100km and the 911’s excellent 14.7.

With the RS4’s slightly amplified 309kW V8 sitting behind your head, Audi’s R8 was always going to sound glorious. And it does – particularly accelerating next to concrete walls or exiting tunnels with the windows down, where it roars a cultured, but aggressive V8 rock opera.

2008 Audi R8 frontPity the in-cabin wind buffeting above 80km/h and coarse-surface tyre noise ultimately drown it out somewhat, but she’s a mightily potent machine, and a very impressive base model, considering there’s more to come in the engine department for this car (see p.83).

Where the R8 performs best is at lower speeds, when its AWD grip and the transmission’s short gearing result in slingshot pace as the 4.2 V8 zings without hesitation to the 8250rpm cut-out.

She’s also pretty easy to drive in traffic, despite a sensitive throttle pedal and an annoying hill-holder that lets go fairly abruptly, but you need to clutch-in quickly in achieve smooth shifts, and the open-gated six-speed manual feels slicker and more wieldy when you’re having a go.

2008 Audi R8 wheelLikewise the R8 itself, because while its 430Nm torque max is constant from 4500-6000rpm, its engine prefers revs whenever it can get ’em, and it’s this top end that’ll push it to a claimed 301km/h if you’re brave. In Germany.

Like both its rivals, the Carrera S also ups the ante the harder you pedal, although with a rev cut-out at 7300rpm, the 911’s 3.8-litre flat six is a little less highly strung than the M6 and R8 engines. But don’t read that as meaning, well, less.

Porsche builds the best sixes in the world, and our Carrera S with its $4690 optional sports exhaust was utterly, insatiably brilliant.

The edgy-as-a-Wiltshire wail from its back end when exercising the flat six, combined with some delicious exhaust crackle on overrun and the unbeatable synergy of the 911’s well-oiled gearshift, superb clutch feel and beautifully judged throttle response (especially with the centre console’s ‘Sport’ button activated, that sharpens the right pedal and engine response, and slightly hardens the induction note) delivers an instant serotonin spike that takes some time to dissipate.

2008 Porsche 911 Carrera S steering wheelIt’s a totally different flavour to the R8’s roar and the M6’s warble, but the crackly Porsche has a bit more larrikin in its note to back up the standard-setting feel of its major controls.

Sniff out a decent set of curves and all this starts to genuinely make a difference. Mix the Carrera S’s aforementioned virtues with a near-perfect driving position, great vision and excellent sports seats and you’re blessed with one of the greatest driver’s cars of our time.

Play to the rear-engined 911’s preferences – turning into tight corners under brakes to get the front tyres to bite, then squeezing the throttle quickly because it has the traction to drive out (with just a whiff of oversteer) – and its unusual layout becomes one of its greatest assets.

2008 Porsche 911 Carrera S rearBut it’s the Carrera S’s wonderfully throttle-adjustable balance, its fast, talkative steering, and the brilliant body control – and ride – in both of the PASM damper’s two settings that makes the Porsche’s allure ethereal.

All of that makes the 911 sound virtually unbeatable, but the R8 and M6 are also great in their own right. The Audi’s Lamborghini layout of mid-rear engine and rear-biased AWD makes it similarly adjustable as the 911 at times, and delivers significantly more oversteer exiting tight corners if you’re brutal with its right pedal.

But the R8 is effortlessly rapid and beautifully balanced, and can be thrown around on a familiar road with surprising abandon considering where its engine sits. The R8’s two-setting magnetic dampers deliver a far more acceptable balance between a supple ride and very tight body control than they do in the flawed TT, and as a result, the R8 delivers a level of ride comfort that is most unexpected for a supercar like this.

2008 Audi R8 exhaustAlso unexpected, though, is the R8’s relatively low-geared steering. At 3.2 turns for an 11.8m diameter, it’s much lazier than the 911’s quick 2.6 turns for 10.9m, and doesn’t have the Porsche’s intimacy of feel, either.

The M6 has an even more ponderous turning circle – try a massive 12.4m – but disguises it via fast, meaty steering with just 2.4 turns lock-to-lock. And that’s not all it manages to hide – the GT-on-’roids Beemer never quite feels its size, even given its company.

The M6 maintains BMW’s deserved reputation for chassis balance and it feels beautifully planted, especially in fast corners with some gas dialled in, but its front end isn’t as positive as its lighter rival’s, and in tighter corners with DSC off, when its tail is really loaded up, you always need to be mindful of oversteer.

2008 BMW M6 frontIn this respect, the M6 is the very essence of a big-power rear-driver, but it’s also at the heart of what a super-GT should be. The three-setting damper’s ‘Comfort’ setting softens the M6’s body control, but in that mode it remains a phenomenal cross-country cornerer and can withstand mid-corner disturbances that make ‘Sport’ feel a bit too stiff.

There also a ‘Sport 2’ option that does reduce understeer and does work on racetracks, but it isn’t for real-world Australia. What works brilliantly, though, are the M6’s fade-free brakes – huge ventilated discs (348mm front, 345mm back) that expertly tread the fine line between sensitivity and feel.

The Carrera S’s 330mm-all-round discs also have great feel and stopping force, but the R8’s standard brakes suffer from being too sensitive, which is compounded by the pedal being mounted too high.

Trying to decide which cabin works best is like choosing Belgium’s tastiest beer, but they all have their strong points. The 911’s large cubbies underneath the door armrests are brilliant, and the pair of adjustable aluminium cupholders that sprout from behind the metal strip in front of the passenger are likewise much-admired.

2008 Audi R8 steering wheelThe R8’s plush seat comfort and great view forward partially make up for its compromised storage, but its sat-nav and general controls are all up to Audi’s usual high standards.

The M6 has beautifully cosseting, supremely adjustable front chairs (even the bolsters can be electrically folded in) and much greater scope than the other two for carrying bodies around, but its bulky dash design is hardly elegant and there’s a frustrating lack of storage for even basic things. No cupholders, either, unless you reach backwards and use the single one on the transmission tunnel for the rear seat.

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But that’s all six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. The final decision here comes down to personality – yours. If you’re craving celebrity-like attention and don’t mind, or even enjoy, being constantly gawked at, then the Audi R8 is definitely your kind of transport.

In 10 years of press-car experience, nothing I’ve ever driven has turned as many heads as the R8. Guaranteed the android-like LED daytime headlights have something to do with it, but you can’t turn them off so that’s all part of the deal. That the R8 is a brilliant all-rounder is a bonus, though that’s selling this superb car’s wealth of abilities way too short. Finally, Audi has built something that does everything its smokin’ styling promises, and then some.

2008 Audi R8 badgeBut if the mere thought of celebrity is odious and only two seats is a pair too short, then BMW’s thumping M6 is a magnificent alternative. Like the new M3, the M6 takes time to genuinely appreciate, and as the heaviest, largest car here, it’s more a supersonic grand tourer than a pure sports car.

But it’s also the fastest of the three, and once up and running, it’ll leave the R8 and 911 floundering in its wake, while carrying a week’s worth of luggage and several passengers in luxuriant, opulent comfort.

Then there’s the Carrera S. Many think it’s too familiar and almost boring next to the radical R8. Fair call, but it’s still the enthusiast’s choice and remains unmatched for precision, feedback, and involvement.

2008 Audi R8 rearWhere the M6 is simply too different in concept to be directly comparable as a driver’s car, the R8 follows the 911’s lead surprisingly close. But the Audi isn’t as direct, or ultimately as characterful, or as rewarding, or as practical. It’s a style statement that just happens to be a great drive.

Default as a Porsche 911 purchase may be, it’s still the benchmark, still the king. Every drive is an indelible pleasure, and when you’re done with it, countless others will be lining up to pay a premium for a turn. You won’t get noticed like you will in the other two, but standing out from the crowd isn’t the definition of greatness. Just don’t ask a German backpacker.

SHOWER DUTY

If there’s one thing you can’t predict in this game, it’s weather. On the Friday before Christmas, it was hot and mid-30s. On the Saturday, which was scheduled for cornering shots and, in the arvo, performance testing, it rained so heavily we could barely see.

At least the downpour proved that even in such conditions, the M6, R8 and 911 handle brilliantly and were barely troubled by the rivers running below. Even with DSC off, the oversteer-prone M6 was effortless to drive quickly, but it was only one hearty stab of the throttle away from being 90-degrees to the direction of travel.

From past PCOTY experience, we know all three cars are capable of fast performance times. The manufacturer’s claims – 0-100km/h in 4.6sec for the BMW and Audi, 4.8sec for the Porsche – are all capable of being beaten by a tenth or so on the right day, in the right environment. But above 100km/h, the M6 simply pulls away, leaving the R8 and 911 to fight for scraps.

Audi R8 vs Porsche 911 Carrera S vs BMW M6 sideIn PCOTY 2006, the M6 did the standing kilometre in just 22.7sec (at a searing 247km/h), while in PCOTY 2007, the R8 (carrying two people) managed 23.3sec (at 230km/h). The difference in terminal speed is the true indicator of the performance difference between the two cars once rolling.

In PCOTY 2005, with a different driver and yet another location, the Porsche clocked 23.4sec to 1000m (at 234km/h), placing it near as dammit to the Audi.

2008 Audi R8 sideOff the line, clutch-dumping the R8 at big revs delivers one of the best launches in the business, but the rear-engined 911 isn’t far behind in that regard. And both are significantly better than the launch-control-equipped M6 – if the surface isn’t grippy enough, the M6 wastes all of its first two gears in wheelspin, and then needs a cool-down period before launch control will work again.

As you may know, the R8 has much latent potential. Coming is a 5.2-litre V10 version, and Audi has just shown a V12 TDI R8 at Detroit.

  Audi R8 Specs BMW M6 Specs  Porsche 911 Carrera S specs 
Engine  4163cc V8, DOHC, 32v 4999cc V10, DOHC, 40v  3824cc  flat 6, DOHC, 24v 
Power 309kw @ 7800rpm 373kw @ 7750rpm  261kw @ 6600rpm
Torque 430Nm @ 4500-6000rpm 520Nm @ 6100rpm  400nm @ 4600rpm
Kerb weight 1560kg  1635kg  1420kg
Power-to-weight 198kw/tonne  228kw/tonne  184kw/tonne 
Transmission 6-speed manual 7-speed sequential 6-speed manual
Suspension Double A-Arms, Coil Springs, Adaptive Dampers, Anti-Roll Bar (F&R)  struts, A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r)   struts, a-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar  
Length/width/height 4431/1904/1252mm  4871/1855/1372mm 4427/1808/1300mm
Wheelbase 2650mm  2781mm 2350mm 
Tracks (f/r) 1632/1593mm  1567/1584mm  1486/1511mm 
Steering power rack and pinion power rack and pinion  power rack and pinion 
Turning circle  11.8m  12.5m 10.9m 
Brakes 381mm ventilated/drilled discs, eight-piston calipers (f); 356mm ventilated/drilled discs, four-piston calipers (r), ABS, ESP  348mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers (f); 345mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers (r); ABS, EBD, DSC  330mm ventilated/drilled discs, four-piston calipers (f); 330mm ventilated/drilled discs, four-piston calipers (r); abs, psm
Tyres Pirelli P Zero Michelin Pilot Sport  pirelli p zero rosso 
Size 235/35ZR19 (f), 295/30ZR19 (r) 255/40ZR19 (f), 285/35ZR19 (r)  235/35zr19 (f), 305/30zr19 (r) 
Price $276,650 (as tested)  $281,590 (as tested) $243,020 (as tested) 
PERFORMANCE      
0-100KM/H 4.6SEC (CLAIMED)  4.6SEC (CLAIMED)  4.8SEC (CLAIMED) 
TOP SPEED 301KM/H (CLAIMED) 250KM/H (LIMITED)  293KM/H (CLAIMED) 
0-1KM 23.3SEC @ 230KM/H  22.7SEC @ 247KM/H 23.4SEC @ 234KM/H
LIKE Audi’s best-ever car makes a great noise and looks brilliant Neck-snapping acceleration, superb grand-touring ability  The ultimate everyday supercar, with unmatched character 
DISLIKE Coarse-road tyre roar drowns out its engine, slowish steering  SMG tranny not to all tastes, could use more steering feel  Token rear seats, ugly steering wheel, fussy optional wheels 
STAR RATING 4 out of 5 stars  4 out of 5 stars   4.5 out of 5 stars

 

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