DRIVEN: Jaguar F-Type vs. Audi R8 vs. Porsche 911

April 19, 2013
2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet Vs 2014 Audi R8 4 2 Spyder Vs 2014 Jagaur F Type V8 S Front Right View
We might have picked somewhere warmer than northern Wales for the Jaguar F-Type's first meeting with its sports car rivals, but despite the chill of a winter that had overstayed its welcome, this frigid clime did offer some benefits: barren rolling hills; traffic consisting of little more than the postman in the morning and a farmer or two in the afternoon; and mother nature's own special driving stages laid out long before man invented the automobile. Here, three high-performance driving machines gathered for the young season's first roadster shoot-out. In one corner, we have the Audi R8 with the 430-hp V-8 engine and an S tronic automatic transmission. In the other corner is the 400-hp Porsche 911 Carrera S with a seven-speed manual. At center stage is the top-of-the-line, 495-hp Jaguar F-Type V8 S with an eight-speed automatic.
At just over $92,000, the 495-hp F-Type is $11,500 less expensive than the bigger 510-hp XKR convertible. Why is the cheaper, less powerful F-Type just as enchanting as its big brother? Being about 400 pounds lighter, the F-Type is 0.4 second quicker to 60 mph than the older, full-size model, which uses the same engine but is handicapped by a less energetic six-speed automatic transmission. When the next XK arrives, Jaguar will have the opportunity to move the two farther apart, likely by making the larger car more of a proper GT. At Porsche, however, it seems that the gap between the 911 and the Boxster/Cayman has narrowed, particularly with the latest iteration of the mid-engine cars. In a way, Audi suffers from a similar genetic syndrome. After all, the R8 is in essence a reskinned Lamborghini Gallardo. In V-8 form, however, the mid-engine two-seater sits quite comfortably in its own niche, with its price being the only serious downside. Although the $140K Audi is far less expensive than the Gallardo, it costs a massive $47,000 or so more than the Jag, and it even makes the $112,750 Porsche cabrio look like a good value.
2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet Vs 2014 Audi R8 4 2 Spyder Vs 2014 Jagaur F Type V8 S Front Right View 2
The F-Type V8 S is a roadster on steroids. Think of it as a softtop Nissan GT-R without four-wheel drive or as a transformed Ford Shelby GT500 with British papers. The Jag is, in other words, all muscle, and its presence on the road is accordingly aggressive and unrestrained. (Jaguar also makes two less expensive, less intense V-6 F-types, which we've yet to drive.) As we traveled through Wales, our white wedge cut an acoustic swath that made the sheep flock and the birds take flight. Under trailing throttle, the 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 would blat-blat and misfire and burp and implode. When let off the leash, the V-8 weaved the roaring and the thunder into an acoustic train you could almost watch fade away in the rearview mirror. You probably wouldn't want to be identified as the driver of this chariot from hell, but being the devil at the wheel is a whole lot of fun.
The R8 ranks second on the hooligan list. For a start, our test car's testosterone-orange-brown metallic paint triggered dozens of wagging fingers from local residents. The mid-engine mauler is also a victim of its own proportions: 2.5 inches lower than the Jaguar and 3.8 inches wider than the Porsche. Furthermore, it sports the longest wheelbase, the shortest overhangs, and the most extreme two-plus-nothing packaging. Mean-looking even when parked, the R8 proudly displays its exotic proportions and its ground-hugging, wide-body stance, which is even more firmly planted than the front-engine Jaguar and the rear-engine Porsche.
After seven generations, the 911 feels more like a longtime friend than a recent acquaintance. Similar to a charismatic speaker or a talented musician, the Porsche takes only a couple of minutes to cast its spell. Although the 911 looks and feels reassuringly familiar, quite a few aspects are actually fresh and exciting. The seven-speed manual gearbox, for instance, is complex on paper yet 100 percent fail-safe on the road -- pity the ratios were chosen more for fuel mileage than for quickness. The electrically assisted power steering feels light and brisk. The liquid-cooled, direct-injected 3.8-liter flat-six talks with the same snarly chain-saw twang we remember from its air-cooled, 2.2-liter great-grandfather. The rear-engine layout can be wayward and unpredictable, but even more so than its predecessors, the current 911 is a master of grip and traction. In wintry Wales on polished, windswept blacktop, the Porsche was neither a hold-your-breath balancing act like the sometimes fidgety and restless Jaguar nor a who-cares-about-the-weather champ like the R8. Instead, it comfortably covered the middle ground, never too benign to be boring and never too hairy to frighten the wits out of you.
2014 Jagaur F Type V8 S Front Right View
It was always nice to return to the cozy cocoon of the F-Type's cabin, which fits even those who grew taller than most. You sit on well shaped, fully adjustable seats. The pedals are conveniently spaced, visibility is OK despite the tall beltline and the steeply raked A-pillars, and the ergonomics don't require the mind-set of a mechanical engineer. Stability control is either on duty 24-7, in track mode, or off completely. The transmission works well in D, but you can pull the lever to S for more ambitious performance. You can also calibrate engine, transmission, steering, dampers, exhaust, lights, and stability control to your liking, and the car will retain your chosen setup.
Which of the three engines makes our hearts beat fastest? The flat six from Zuffenhausen is the most charismatic, and its soundtrack triggers the most emotional deja vu. It also boasts the best fuel efficiency. But the Porsche doesn't excel against the stopwatch with the seven-speed manual, which simply is not as slick and quick as its rivals' paddle-shifted transmissions -- or its own optional PDK dual-clutch automatic, for that matter. The R8's normally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8 is rev-hungry and acoustically memorable. At 430 hp, which equals a hoarse 7900 rpm, it sits happily between Porsche's 3.8-liter boxer, which dishes up 400 hp at 7400 rpm, and Jaguar's 5.0-liter V-8, which is good for 495 hp at 6500 rpm. Unfortunately, torque is not the R8's strength: it musters only 317 lb-ft from 4500 to 6000 rpm, trailing both the 911 (325 lb-ft at 5600 rpm) and the F-Type (460 lb-ft between 2500 and 5500 rpm). Although its driven wheels are lightly laden, Sir Jag wins the sprint-to-60-mph sweepstakes, coming in at 4.2 seconds against the Audi's 4.4 seconds and the Porsche's 4.5 seconds. Maximum speed is 186 mph across the board.
Fat displacement, oodles of twist action, and eight gears -- that's what swings the drivetrain vote in favor of the newcomer from Britain. True, the old-school mechanical layout results in tail-happy handling and traction issues on slick tarmac, but it can dawdle along in seventh at 2000 rpm and still won't feel underpowered. Plus, you can access at random the mighty midrange punch. Fuel economy is decent, too: better than the Audi but worse than the Porsche. What certainly speaks in favor of the two German powerplants is the fact that they sit above or just aft of the rear axle. For this reason in particular, the rear-wheel-drive 911 is a riveting experience. Quattro all-wheel drive is of course standard on the mid-engine R8, which can be a little more playful than the Porsche. Furthermore, the Audi feels even more firmly planted than the Carrera S. Its cornering attitudes are equally transparent, if slightly less extroverted, and in foul weather it clearly is the most confidence inspiring.
We tried the F-Type with stability control off through a couple of roundabouts and on an open road garnished with two or three hairpins, but then we duly switched back to track mode. When the rain started to fall, all guardian angels were back onboard. Whereas older Jags would virtually drift on the spot, the F-Type hangs on about as long as a Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG or a BMW M3 convertible. When it does eventually let go, it needs quite a bit of room because it tends to slide with all four wheels, hind legs first, fronts following suit. Even though its weight distribution is even more extreme, the Porsche prefers to carve through bends without grand gestures. Unless the radius tightens dramatically, the car's nose will obediently follow the chosen line. It's a tactile tool, this 911, very quick yet surprisingly well balanced, much more user-friendly than its widow-maker reputation. Slightly refreshed for 2014, the R8 still feels a bit long in the tooth. Its cabin is wide but short of legroom, the cockpit looks dated, and the latest driver-assistance systems are conspicuous by their absence. And yet. The steering is quick, precise, and communicative despite the excessive 39-foot turning circle. The chassis blends a compliant ride and superglue roadholding. The brakes fuse bite and balance. Downsides? The limit arrives abruptly, the S tronic keeps confusing itself in automatic mode, and the weight penalty (about 200 pounds versus the F-Type, 600 pounds versus the 911) puts the Audi's exotic aluminum construction into perspective.
2014 Audi R8 4 2 Spyder Front Right View
All three roadsters are roughly the same size and are quite similar performance-wise. Even their head-turning ability suggests a dead heat. The 911 ticks all the right boxes, but Porsche's Cayman and Boxster siblings have become such tempting alternatives that it is increasingly hard to justify the extra thousands for the more iconic but not necessarily much more competent sports car classic. There is also a certain danger for the Porsche of falling into the been-there, done-that trap. Although resale value and build quality clearly speak in favor of the Carrera S cabriolet, its high base price and costly extras blur the bottom line. Minor irritations include the virtually useless rear seats and the casually arranged switchgear. More of a concern are the little question marks that keep popping up: Is the new electric steering as good as the old hydraulic setup? Do optional systems such as Sport Plus and PASM amplify the car's dynamic abilities too much? Does the latest 911 feel rather pale unless you push it?
Like the Porsche, the R8 makes for a compelling four-seasons car -- except that it has even less storage space behind the seats and holds an even less generous 3.5 cubic feet in the luggage bay, plus it's even harder to see out of. What might really disqualify the Audi for quite a few potential customers are the hefty sticker price, the high fuel bills, and the steep depreciation rate. We used to love the R8 with the clickety-clonk manual gearbox, but that was largely because the R tronic sequential manual suffered from notorious hiccups. Although the new S tronic dual-clutch automatic is much better, it occasionally preselects the wrong ratio, downshifts too early in sport mode, and hangs on to high revs too long. Still an undisputed R8 forte are the optional magnetic dampers that dial in maximum compliance on bumpy roads and reassuring firmness on smooth pavement. Another strong point is the accurate and honest steering, which hasn't yet been infected by electronic assistants and by variable this-or-that add-ons. The engine is bound to be one of the last of its kind: high-revving, normally aspirated, tuned for emotion rather than for efficiency. Its likely replacement, a twin-turbo unit with cylinder deactivation, should be more frugal, but we bet it won't be as vocal or as intense.
Three keys, three cars, three choices. Which one would I take home? If cost were no object: an R8 with the 525-hp V-10 engine. If I could have one built to order and someone else paid for the lease: a 911 with the PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission. However, if it were my own money and if this was to be my only car, it would have to be the F-Type. It feels like the right choice for someone who has the body of a giant, the heart of a chicken, and the mind of a child. The Jaguar is not only the newest car on the block, it also is the most pragmatic option, sporting the biggest trunk and the least offensive price tag. Its supercharged engine is a known quantity and a true gem, the eight-speed automatic guarantees even more joyful paddleshifts per mile, the chassis wears the Entertainment Guild's seal of approval. True, the handling is a bit rough around the edges, and more often than not it takes the considerable help of computers to coax all that torque into traction. But the F-Type looks fresh, its lightweight architecture is modern through and through, and it is composed of the latest materials. Deep within, however, this Jaguar is an old-fashioned driver's car -- just like the E-Type it is supposed to remind us of.
2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet
BASE PRICE:
$111,750
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE:
24-valve DOHC flat-6
DISPLACEMENT: 3.8 liters (232 cu in)
POWER: 400 hp @ 7400 rpm
TORQUE: 325 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed manual
DRIVE: Rear-wheel
CHASSIS
STEERING:
Electrically assisted
FRONT SUSPENSION: Strut-type, coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Pirelli PZero
TIRE SIZES F, R: 245/35R-20 (95Y), 295/30R-20 (101Y)
MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H:
176.8 x 71.2 x 50.9 in
WHEELBASE: 96.5 in
TRACK F/R: 60.6/59.7 in
WEIGHT: 3230 lb
CARGO CAPACITY: 4.8 cu ft
EPA MILEAGE: 19/27 mpg
0-60 MPH: 4.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 186 mph
2014 Audi R8 4.2 Spyder
BASE PRICE:
$140,000 (est.)
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE:
32-valve DOHC V-8
DISPLACEMENT: 4.2 liters (254 cu in)
POWER: 430 hp @ 7900 rpm
TORQUE: 317 lb-ft @ 4500-6000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic
DRIVE: 4-wheel
CHASSIS
STEERING:
Hydraulically assisted
FRONT SUSPENSION: Control arms, coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Control arms, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Pirelli PZero
TIRE SIZES F, R: 235/35R-19 (91Y), 295/30R-19 (101Y)
MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H:
174.6 x 75.0 x 49.0 in
WHEELBASE: 104.3 in
TRACK F/R: 64.5/62.8 in
WEIGHT: 3870 lb (est.)
CARGO CAPACITY: 3.5 cu ft
EPA MILEAGE: 14/23 mpg
0-60 MPH: 4.4 sec
TOP SPEED: 186 mph
2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S
BASE PRICE:
$92,895
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE:
32-valve DOHC supercharged V-8
DISPLACEMENT: 5.0 liters (305 cu in)
POWER: 495 hp @ 6500 rpm
TORQUE: 460 lb-ft @ 2500-5500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
DRIVE: Rear-wheel
CHASSIS
STEERING:
Hydraulically assisted
FRONT SUSPENSION: Control arms, coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Control arms, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Pirelli PZero
TIRE SIZES F, R: 255/35R-20 (97Y), 295/30R-20 (101Y)
MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H:
176.0 x 75.7 x 51.5 in
WHEELBASE: 103.2 in
TRACK F/R: 62.4/64.1 in
WEIGHT: 3671 lb
CARGO CAPACITY: 7.0 cu ft
FUEL MILEAGE: 16/23 mpg (est.)
0-60 MPH: 4.2 sec
TOP SPEED: 186 mph

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