Even sitting still and silent, the Porsche 911 GT3 and Audi R8 RWS possess a latent intent that all car enthusiasts recognise
There’s something evocative ABout the smell of a hard-driven car. It’s more than 12 hours since the Porsche 911 GT3 and Audi R8 RWS were driven in anger, and yet, there’s a whiff of fun and adrenaline in the air as the two are positioned by photographer Thomas Wielecki for the first of today’s many frames.
Usually, I hate photoshoots. The glamour portraited by a dozen images in the magazine is juxtaposed with the drudgery of finding locations, upsetting locals, standing around fantastic cars when all you want to do is drive them. Oh, and then there are the requests for “just one more frame” with a promise that “it won’t take long”. For the record, those words have been uttered by Thomas as I stood beside the Big Pineapple in Queensland at 2am, knowing that we still had another 150km to drive. The only time the one-more-frame request isn’t met with an eyeroll from me is when it’s for a cornering shot through an interesting and well-sighted corner that’s not within ear or eye shot of another living being.
But today will be different. Sure, there’ll be annoying requests for more frames and I’ll be jumping in and out of the cars to position and reposition them, and despite being just 4.5km from my house, there’s no guarantee I’ll be home at a reasonable hour. But today, we’re shooting at Kollector Cars in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt. For want of a better description, Kollector is a smaller scale and more egalitarian version of Dutton Garage or The Classic Throttle Shop. In other words, they sell cars and coffee and it’s the second item that presently has my attention, though the boxy but diminutive Lancia Integrale in the corner is doing its best to draw me away from my first caffeine fix of the day. The first of many.
Over my cappuccino, I take in the silent Audi and Porsche before me, both capable of screaming beyond 8500rpm, and ponder how much longer the new-car market will host such naturally aspirated wonders. As mentioned last issue, not a single car at evo Car of the Year featured an atmo engine. While I don’t think that eCoty has seen the last all-natural hero, I know that these two cars represent a dying breed and that both Audi’s 5.2-litre V10 and Porsche’s 4.0-litre flat-six deserve their place in the pantheon of all-time great naturally aspirated engines. Porsche has committed to the idea of an atmo-powered GT3 (and GT3 RS) for as long as possible, but they are the last of their kind within the Porsche catalogue. Audi, on the other hand, is playing its cards much closer to its chest and is being coy about both the future of the V10 and of the R8 it so magnificently powers.
Every time Thomas asks me to shuffle the R8 RWS forward, or move the GT3 a touch that way, Kollector’s cavernous space reverberates and reminds me why atmo engines are so special. Each start-up bark and yelp startles passers by or those parked at the bar knocking back an espresso, but surprise quickly fades behind the smiles.
The smiles were broad yesterday, too. These are truly brilliant and engaging cars, ones that focus in on our Thrill of Driving mantra with laser-guided intent.
Porsche’s GT3 has been the benchmark for unfiltered fun for more than 20 years and across three generations of 911. In that time, it’s seen off a host of pretenders and contenders from a variety of manufacturers, with a blend of engagement and out and out dynamic brilliance.
Audi’s R8 RWS is, perhaps, the most serious threat to the GT3’s hegemony as the sharpest knife in the drawer. The all-wheel-drive R8 has long been an evo favourite, but the idea of a lighter, more-focused and rear-wheel-drive mid-engined Audi had us salivating over the press release. The transition from R8 V10 to R8 RWS involves the removal of the cardan shaft that takes drive forward, multi-plate centre clutch, front differential and front drive shafts. For the RWS Coupe, this results in a kerb weight of 1590kg, which is 50kg lighter than the equivalent R8 V10 Coupe.
With the removal of the front-drive hardware, the weight distribution of the RWS models has shifted subtly rearward to 40.6 per cent front and 59.4 per cent rear for the RWS Coupe, and 40.4:59.6 for the RWS Spyder.
Beyond the removal of the hardware, the RWS models required significant recalibration of the software controlling the ABS, and stability and traction control systems. Stability control now allows a bit more leeway in Sport mode and will now let you tweak the tail out under power before guiding you back into line. The electronically assisted power steering also features a unique calibration that, as we’ve discovered on road and track, delivers a very natural and linear rate of response.
The suspension uses fixed-rate passive dampers rather than multi-mode adaptive dampers and they’re now 10 per cent firmer. There’s also a stiffer front anti-roll bar and more negative camber on the rear wheels; both changes aid low-speed agility and high-speed stability.
Distributing the power to the 295/35 ZR19 rear tyres is a mechanical limited slip diff with 45 per cent lock up under load and 25 per cent on the overrun. When the RWS starts to slide, you can really feel the lock-up effect of the diff and it imbues the chassis with an additional layer of trustworthiness.
The R8’s 5.2-litre V10 is an extraordinary engine and, like the regular V10 coupe and Spyder, the RWS is powered by the lower-output version of the motor. Despite dropping 52kW to the more potent Plus version, you certainly don’t feel short changed in the RWS. After all, there’s still 397kW at 7800rpm and 540Nm at 6500rpm. And this translates to a 320km/h top speed in the coupe or 318km/h all out in the Spyder.
The way the V10 delivers its power is addictive, the acceleration building proportionally with every fraction of an inch of throttle travel, the 10 cylinders delivering an internal combustion orchestra like few others. Above 4000rpm the 5.2-litre really gets into its stride, accelerating with ferocity, and emitting a spine-tingling howl that has you chasing the 8500rpm redline time and again.
Aside from the weight loss brought about by the removal of the front diff and driveshafts, Audi has carved a sizeable chunk of change from the price. With a starting price of $299,950, the R8 RWS Coupe is $67,500 less expensive than the V10 Coupe, and the first time Audi’s offered a V10-powered R8 at under $300,000 (a price point more closely associated with the V8-powered model of the first-generation R8). It also undercuts the Porsche GT3, which starts at $326,800 – though the Guards Red example here wears numerous options that inflate the ask to $358,100.
It’s all well and good that the R8 RWS is cheaper and more powerful than the Porsche, but the GT3 is the most-successful variant of the most-successful car at evo’s Car of the Year. And this example has a secret weapon between the seats. It’s a six-speed manual.
There was much internet uproar when the 991.1 GT3 was introduced without the option of a stick. So much so that it caught Porsche off guard and, after a limited-edition return in the 911 R, a manual is back on the menu for the 991.2 GT3. Of course, the GT3 RS and insane GT2 RS remain PDK-only. Frankly the thought of man handling a manual GT2 RS isn’t my idea of the Thrill of Driving.
Aside from the reintroduction of a manual gearbox (the seven-speed PDK remains an option and the most popular choice), the GT3 has been upgraded in numerous areas, most notably, the lump of alloy just ahead of the rear number plate. The engine is no longer a 3.8-litre flat-six but a 4.0-litre. It’s a heavily reworked version of the unit found in the GT3 RS and 911 R, combining the power output of that engine – a conservative 368kW – with the head-spinning 9000rpm redline of the 3.8 in the 991.1 GT3.
With 460Nm at 6000rpm compared with 440Nm at 6250rpm, the new 4.0-litre engine is more torque-rich than the old 3.8, but it’s the area beneath the torque curve, rather than the peak output, that makes the real difference. Open the throttle from 2500rpm and the thing just starts to pull, even in third and fourth gears. It may well be a high-revving, normally aspirated motor, but it’s got muscle. The car picks up speed gradually at first, the pace then building exponentially as the engine passes 5000rpm. Then the engine note hardens at 7000rpm and the rev-counter needle explodes around the dial, engine speed rising so quickly and ferociously you swear something is about to blow up. Over the final dash to 9000rpm it sounds like a bandsaw cutting through stone, and the intensity of the delivery doubles.
In charge of the gear shifting, you’ve got to be quick to catch the ferocious engine from clattering into the rev limiter. Time your shift right, however, and the engine drops into the meat of the rev range and starts its crazy charge to 9000rpm all over again. Do that a couple of times, and in very short order, the GT3 is deep into lock-me-up territory. But the scream of the engine and the sweetness of the shift is so addictive that you roll the dice with your licence and liberty on frankly too many occasions. That the GT3 sits silently before me in a café and not in a police compound is a huge relief.
Regardless of the legalities, yesterday was proper fun. While the R8 and GT3 are competing for the same type of driving enthusiast, they are unique in their delivery of thrills. Sure, there’s some commonality between the soaring naturally aspirated engines, but the Porsche is imbued with an intensity that very few cars can match, and fewer still can exceed. And of those that can go toe-to-toe with the GT3 for nape-prickling intensity, fewer still couple the raw edge with the kind of dynamic polish and engagement that is almost impossible to criticise. But it’s also enthralling on an emotional level. The intensity of the soundtrack, the rawness of the power delivery and the tactility of the steering – of the entire chassis – mean it connects with you, drawing you so close to it that you’re almost removed from the real world for a moment.
The R8 RWS feels so polished and effortless, but not in a remote and detached way. Very much like how the 911 Carrera spans the gulf between every day and extraordinary, the R8 brings that duality to the world of mid-engined supercars. The steering isn’t too hefty, but it’s quick and offers decent feel, allowing you to instinctively judge the amount of grip on offer at the front end. Then there’s a stream of information through the seat, allowing you to judge the grip and traction levels of the back tyres. Obviously, without the traction of quattro, this information is now even more important in the R8 RWS.
The R8 feels settled on turn-in, with the merest hint of stabilising understeer. Allow the Audi to settle, feed in the power, and the car gently transitions to a neutral stance, helping straighten it for a slingshot exit. It’s efficient and fast, yet engaging at the same time. This feeling of well-honed poise is enhanced by the impressive body control, the long and wide Audi shrugging off bigger bumps and simply getting on with the task at hand.
Up and down some great roads yesterday, the Audi and Porsche danced along, each taking a turn at leading. You could learn much about the behaviour of one car by following it at pace in the other. From the outside, the GT3 looks tightly wound, the rear end dancing more than is felt from the cabin, while the Audi looks relaxed, languid, even, as it storms from apex to exit.
Yesterday ended with deep admiration for the R8 RWS and the GT3, but the only honest conclusion is that the Audi still lacks that last few lumens of brightness compared to the GT3. Perhaps the road-biased tyres of the RWS hold it back compared to the grip of the track-biased Dunlops on the GT3. Regardless, there’s little doubt that the GT3 retains its crown as the most focused and involving sports car on the market. Jesse Taylor
The idea of bringing together cars and coffee is hardly a new one, and has become increasingly popular thanks to Jerry Seinfeld’s series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. But you don’t have to be in West Hollywood to get your fix of great coffee and cool cars. Tucked away in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt (already known for good coffee thanks to its Italian heritage) is one of evo Australia’s favourite places to hang out. Kollector sells both the cars and the coffee, so it’s possible to add an extra shot of Lancia Delta Integrale with your espresso.
Photography by Thomas Wielecki