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Nissan GT-R vs Porsche 911 vs Jaguar XKR-S

  1. It’s still a 911. Just in case you weren’t sure, Porsche has been good enough to spell the whole name out on the back deck: Porsche 911 Carrera S. It’s picked out in silver, a two-line statement of fact stamped proudly on the rump. This hog has been branded.

    Hardly needs it, though, does it? I mean, you’re not going to mistake this for anything else, are you? Even now, after three days of Devon dirt has built up on the racing yellow paint, the silhouette of this almost completely new from the ground up car remains entirely familiar. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest it looks better now that the grime has taken the glossy sheen off the 20-inch wheels. This 911 wears its layers of Exmoor proudly.

    Words: Ollie Marriage
    Photography: John Wycherley

    This feature was originally published in the May 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. That was the intention, after all. To use the new 911, find out what it’s like to live with on all roads, in all conditions. To help us decide if the Porsche is the ultimate everyday sports car, we’re bracketing it on either side, firstly with something from the GT end of the spectrum, and then with something from the… dark side.

    It should be clear which is which. Should. But the mighty 542bhp XKR-S version of Jaguar’s coupe is hardly a waft-o-matic cruiser. No, it’s Jag’s fastest and most powerful production car ever (they don’t count the XJ220) and features all the aero and suspension mods needed to keep 501lb ft of supercharged V8 on the ground and pointing in the right direction. Most of the time. The rear wheels have a hard time coping.

  3. It strikes me that Kazutoshi Mizuno, chief engineer of the Nissan GT-R is a man with too much time on his hands. Can he not leave his creation alone? Every year he fiddles, so, for 2012, we have more power, enhanced transmission, extra body stiffening around the front bulkhead and asymmetric suspension: different settings either side designed to cope with the extra weight on the driver’s side of right-hand drive cars. The man’s clearly got GT-R OCD.

    And his work rate is frightening. Model year changes usually extend to a reprofiled column stalk, but he’s clearly been through every grommet until he was happy. And he’ll probably do the same again next year. Meanwhile, it’s taken Porsche seven years to transform the 997-generation into the 991, but they must have been busy, because at no stage did anyone realise the number sequencing didn’t work.

  4. Porsche’s shaky grasp of counting means we’ll just have to trust them when they say the new 911 is 90 per cent new, that it weighs 80kg less, is 25 per cent stiffer and has a 100mm longer wheelbase. I’d also like to point out at this stage that, yes, TG’s maths is equally ropey, as we are lobbing a 395bhp Porsche up against a pair of 542bhp monsters.

    But Porsche always manages to breed amazingly fit ponies and then harness them up to small, light frames. Neither Jag nor Nissan is either of those things, nor does either choose to stow its engine in the boot. Yet, despite these varied approaches, all manage to provide adequate practicality. Let’s take that as read here and now, shall we, so we can move on to look at more interesting things: small people do fit in the back of each with varying degrees of complaint (most vociferous from those in the XKR-S), and creative packing will allow all four of you to do a weekend away (squishiest bags needed in the 911).

  5. The 911 is the world’s most recognisable sports car. But it’s not Devon’s. Devon is a Jag county, and the XKR-S is making the running amongst the seafront shufflers in Lynmouth. These people remember Jags when Jags were really something. I know this because they tell me. Several times and quite loudly. One or two voice concerns over the title of the Italian racing red paintwork, pointing out that it’s not very, well, British.

  6. I’m surprised they haven’t commented on the unusual front-end looks. The grille seems to have sprouted a thin moustache that droops sullenly either side. And it has a carbon front splitter - that’ll be expensive when it nerfs into a sleeping policeman.

    The Jag’s still a lovely, voluptuous shape, and tracing its outline with your hand is an oddly sensual experience. Try it next time you see an XK, but maybe not if people are looking. Do the same to the GT-R, and you’ll be making a lot of chopping movements. It’s all angular and edgy. All of it except those strakes around the front running lights that look like someone picked up the original clay styling buck and forgot to smooth out the finger grip marks afterwards. The rest of it is architecturally brutalist.

  7. Next to it, the Porsche looks as intimidating as a summer meadow - the buttercup yellow helps here. Now take in the overall proportions. Notice how the rear haunches seem to push forward rather than squat down - that’s due to the rear wheels being mounted further back, reducing the rear overhang. It’s a clean, pure shape and successfully moves the 911 design forward, which, to be frank, is as much as we could expect from a new 911.

  8. More radical moves have been made inside, noticeable as soon as you open a door. So you drop down for a closer look, and, the second bum hits leather, you forget, just for a moment, to take it all in. The sound you just made is an involuntary ‘ooh’, and it was caused by perfection. Because the 911 just fits. Seat, wheel, gearlever, pedals, A-pillars, even rooflining - all are perfectly positioned and aligned. Neither the Jag nor Nissan are bad, but both require fiddling and wriggling to get comfortable.

    And it’s not like the 911’s ergonomics are ideal. After a few days, I was bugged by the inaccessible heating controls, the lack of a handy phone storage slot, and the sunroof buttons where the electric handbrake should be that meant I kept opening the top when parking. But, from the Jag’s slow-reacting touchscreen to the Nissan’s wilful complexity, I had at least as many niggles in the others, and neither was as nice a place to spend time.

    The truth of it is that the new 911 is a very, very easy car to get on with. This matters. You think it wouldn’t in an £80,000 sports car, but it just does. Because their owners are just like you and me in one respect - spending 90 per cent of their time trying to get places, fuss-free.

  9. And throughout the day, as we mosey along this cutesy coast from Lynmouth to Ilfracombe to Woolacombe, the 911 does that better than either rival. It’s easier to see out of, turns more tightly, is smaller and easier to place and rides precisely. On the way down here and back, it cruised as quietly and almost as smoothly as the Jag and proved just as good in the two crucial measures of that - how much you have to slow down to conduct a Bluetooth conversation and whether the suspension jiggling causes inaccurate finger-jabbing of the touchscreen.

    Evening murk, and the 911 scuttles off on an errand, leaving the Jag and Nissan to convoy to the White Horse hotel deep in the heart of Exmoor. It’s dark, and these are difficult roads, so the Nissan should be in its element. The trouble is, when I look in the Jag’s mirror, all I see is the GT-R jinking and darting around like the driver is trying to fend off a persistent wasp.

  10. This is the issue with the GT-R - the suspension is so hard that the wheels skim and skip, and you never seem to be able to get enough heat into the tyres on cold, wet roads. Combine this with a 4WD system that is ever so keen to show you how rear-wheel-drive it can be, an engine of monstrous power and a chassis with reactions and intelligence that are way better than yours, and the big Nissan can scare you deeply. Or utterly enthral you. On the right road at the right time - the dry B3223 the following day, for instance - the GT-R is dynamite, easily the fastest cross-country (such things matter to some people), but also the best-equipped to make you hoot with laughter at the acceleration, the attitude, the involvement. Provided you’re prepared to show it who’s boss, the GT-R is addictive, but it only knows one pace - flat out. It doesn’t tootle.

    The Jag has its weaknesses to be sure - primarily steering that spins as freely as a bike wheel and body control that just can’t cut it in this company. There’s an off-putting touch of slop just off centre that’s manifested in a slight on-centre steering deadness, too. For a fraction of a second after you turn in, you’re not absolutely sure if the car is with you. But, for an evening flight across misty moors, the XKR-S is thoroughly enjoyable. Your heart rate stays settled, and it glides along and keeps momentum through corners so much you barely seem to trouble the V8’s torque and noise foundry. More’s the pity.

  11. The GT-R hates mornings the most. The engine chunters, the diffs hop, the gearbox is cantankerous. You might as well park up until it’s warmed through and spend the time marvelling at how anyone can say the Nissan has no character.

    The 911 farts around for the first few minutes making a noise exactly like you do if you put your bottom lip behind your top teeth and blow. Nothing particularly new there - the 3.8-litre flat-six in the Carrera S is the same capacity as before, only with an extra 15bhp. The chassis, though, well that’s changed in two keys ways: Porsche has fitted electric steering (to save precisely 0.1 litres of fuel per 100km, or, expressed another way, about 14 pence per 100km), and the change of wheelbase and overall weight balance means the front-end bobble that used to characterise the 911 has gone. Completely.

  12. It’s taken some of the steering reaction away with it, but, even so, the electric set-up doesn’t really offend me. The weighting through your palms is great, and even if your wrapped fingertips don’t fizz and tingle quite so much, this is still a bloody brilliant thing. You can drive it as hard as you dare, and it’s always on your side. The engine may need wringing out to keep pace, but that’s part of the fun, and it’s just so rapid over the last 2,000rpm. So keep the throttle pinned, hear the hollow, guttural flat-six yowl and bark, and take liberties with it that you wouldn’t dare in either of the others - or earlier 911s. It’s small and lithe, has tremendous brakes and magnificently supple yet informative suspension.

    Nevertheless, you think that the conclusion I’m going to draw is that the 911 has shifted into softer focus, don’t you? How else could it match the Jag’s nonchalant ease and flow? But, unlike the XK, the Carrera S will also charge with almost as much vigour and determination as the Nissan. It’s not softer, then - it’s just different. If it has a weakness, it’s that the car, much like the PDK gearbox within it, is maybe just a touch too… polished. Excitement sacrificed on the altar of competence.

    It has the Jag covered and beaten and is a far more rounded proposition than the GT-R. But is it actually better? Here we loop back round to my earlier point about stuff that matters. If you are willing to compromise massively on ride comfort, fuel bills and all the rest, go for the GT-R. Nothing else is as remorseless in its pursuit of speed or able to compress time and distance into such tiny chunks. It’s hilarious. And naughty. But if I were going to live with one, do the daily stuff and revel in the ownership as much as the driving, then I’d have the 911.

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