Porsche 9ff 911 vs Audi R8 vs Mercedes CLS63 AMG - The Unholy Trinity


I kept tossing and turning that night, but I couldn't get the sounds out of my head. Between the click-clack-click of an Audi R8's six-speed manual, a 911 Turbo's whistle and a CLS 63 AMG's V8 thrum in a tunnel, my mind was just running riot to the hooves of 1400-plus horses galloping hard. At several points, I would wake up, try to discern the sounds and then try and catch a few more winks before, somehow, the replay button was hit again.

It happens when in the span of one day, you drive three supercars back-to-back at speeds that send shivers down one's spine. Okay, it was two supercars and one mother of a super saloon, but you get the drift. It doesn't happen every day and when it happens, you are left with haunting noises that don't seem to disappear even four days later.

These three, ladies and gentlemen, are among the finest and most powerful cars you can buy from the land of Germany in India, and all three follow very distinct engineering philosophies. The Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG is a front-engined, rear-wheel driven naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V8 that throws AMG's supercharged tuning philosophy into the paper-bin. The Audi R8 on the other hand is Audi's first supercar, a mid-engined all-wheel drive work of art that shares enough and more from the fire-breathing Lamborghini Gallardo, except for its 4.2-litre V8 engine. And finally, there's the Porsche 9ff 911 Turbo, essentially a slightly tweaked 911 Turbo, with a 500 bhp 3.6-litre boxer six resting above the rear axle, in what seems like 45 years of engineering to correct a mistake. In what seemed like a stroke of luck, fate or any other synonym to that effect, the task of choosing a winner among the three fell on me. Leaping with joy was easier than making a decision, because at the end of it all, when your mind selectively remembers all the good bits of each of them, it's harder to find faults.

At first, it seemed wrong to bring the CLS to the same party as an R8 and a 911 Turbo. It isn't a two-door sports coupe, nor is it a balls-out supercar. Instead it is a four-door coupe, a sort of first which has now lead to many more such photocopies from all and sundry. At 507 bhp, it was the most powerful of the trio here. But then it's also one of the first AMGs to dump the supercharged euphoria for naturally aspirated pleasure. Whether it has worked or not I will tell you later, but what catches your fancy is that you have the choice between raising and lowering its suspension and choosing the kind of shifts you want –- tip shifts or full-on paddle shifts.

With the ESP off and the suspension lowered a notch, I gunned it. Not one to wince, the car first raised its front-end and then squatted back into position before it found traction, smoked the rear wheels for a couple of metres and made headway for the horizon. The 64 kgm of peak torque pulled the near 2.4 tonne car like a pair of locos pulling a freight train, and I didn't know the speeds I was doing until I hit the first set of corners - at which point the CLS was doing something close to the naughty side of 200 kph, and the only reason I knew it was because the car twitched and made me lower my line of sight. It made me realise why a sports saloon can never truly be a supercar. Nothing wrong with the CLS, mind you, but it somehow didn't feel right. The front end went light and what began was a fight for grip. It would have been fine if the steering gave some feedback, but there was just a mite of it before it went back to becoming numb. Shame then, for all its wonderful ride quality, the way it looks and the manner in which the engine pulls all that mass -  it just doesn't feel reassuring enough. So, to make amends, I downshifted as we went through a tunnel, tip shifting once, twice, thrice and ever since I haven't forgotten the sound of that V8, blipping through rarefied air and taking one last breath of air into the cylinders. It sounded great, not supercharged great, but great nevertheless.

Greatness has also been bestowed upon the 911 Turbo, arguably the longest running supercar after the Chevrolet Corvette. This particular example, owned by Zaheer Khan, an avid Porsche aficionado, isn't an ordinary example. Running a set of 9ff tuned exhausts and manifold, it now produces 500 bhp from its 3600cc boxer six, up some 23 bhp from the previous stock version. Since it is a 2009 model, it has a six-speed tiptronic instead of the seven-speed PDK that I drove elsewhere in this issue.

There is something purely mechanical about this 911 Turbo that the PDK version can't seem to replicate. The controls are heavier, the tiptronic shifts a tad slower and everything feels like you have to put that extra bit of effort into it. But it's the exhaust note that changes this car from being a boxer-six with attitude to a boxer-six with a fire breathing dragon in its belly. So I went for the sport button and in an instant it changed character like it had become a high strung race-prepped engine. The exhaust note changed to become even more aggressive and then I never looked back. Before I knew it, I was fighting with the car, the car with me and the relentless bouts between the two left me more tired, while the car just mocked me and asked if I was ready for more. It felt as if I had been pummeled for the major part of a twelve round heavyweight boxing match, the 911 Turbo just re-adjusting its teeth brace for more.

It turned out to be one of the most unforgettable drives I've ever had, and with the exhaust barking mad through the same set of tunnels like a loud two-stroke motorcycle, I couldn't help but wonder if I could take any more. In what seemed like a lifetime, the 911 Turbo taught me something very profound. That a machine, however imperfect in thought, can become the most challenging and yet the most beautiful one to use.

Beauty, somehow, seems to be a title that rests with the Audi R8. Among the trio, it was the Audi that attracted the most attention even though the CLS had a rather unusual shape while the Turbo had 9ff stickers emblazoned across its flanks. It's designed to look like a Puma driving shoe, yet is so well detailed that you can easily miss those features in the pictures. It might be the least powerful here, but the R8 really proved how Audi managed to close the gap on its supercar peers in one fell swoop, despite them being around for decades.

You don't have to fight the R8, in fact it becomes one with you. You become the master, the supreme conductor of the entire orchestra that sings through the mid-engined V8 and the aluminium shell. Fire it up in a very traditional manner and when you do, you will notice the six-speed manual gearbox with its exposed gate that is meant to make things difficult for a couple of Italian prancing horses. The 4.2 V8 is probably one of the best engines of the last decade and if you don't believe me, borrow a last-gen RS4 for a day and drive it on Germany's autobahns. You will come back with a smile plastered on your face forever.

What made the R8 the winner of our trio here was the fact that it becomes forthcoming, paying heed to your every beck and call. Slip the gears through the gate and the sound of the gear lever mashing against the aluminium ring will stay firmly in your eardrums. The more you shift at 8000 rpm, the more you want to work through those gears. And when it's time to overtake a slow moving car, it flits through lanes with a sense of supreme balance and fluidity that the 911 Turbo could only wish for. It is perfectly honed, and even though it is engineered to perfection, there's still enough seat of the pants feel to keep you interested. Lap after lap of 200 kph plus runs and the R8 never felt like it was going to overheat or melt, but kept asking if I was ready for more. It keeps the driver fresh for another go and yet another and before you know it, day turns into night and then the pearl of LEDs light up the dark to give a simply stunning effect.

Yes, the 911 Turbo is the kind of car anyone would want to own, simply because it challenges you and asks you to up your game. But it doesn't take any prisoners, it doesn't forgive you if you make a mistake. The R8 does. It isn't interested in taking your life, but wants to see you the next morning and let you have another go. It's the kind of car that will give you a good night's sleep.

We'd like to thank Zaheer Khan and Racetech India for organising the 911 9ff Turbo. Racetech can be contacted at 0 9741111194.