Unfortunately, even after we’ve found the right road, things don’t go quite as smoothly as we’d hoped. Since our last journey to Wadi Wurayah, security has been tightened, barriers have been erected, and anybody keen to go for a thrash on the park’s 10km of epic winding tarmac must have a signed permission slip submitted no less than one week in advance. Which we do not. It seems our two-hour highway cruise has been all for nothing, and only the exhaust notes coming from our idling engines drown out our groans of disappointment.
Salvation though is at hand, courtesy of our $482K-convoy. Even during our discussion with security, cheeky iPhone shots and selfies have been snapped almost constantly. Eventually, having promised – hand on heart – that we won’t do anything untoward and will have finished shooting within three hours, the security barrier is lifted and we are allowed access to the park. Following close behind is a Toyota Land Cruiser packed with security personnel keen to see how the Porsche and McLaren handle the turns. Naturally, we don’t want to disappoint them…
Lighting up the 911, I had expected nothing less than brilliance with the handling. Such proves to be the case. Inputs through the steering wheel are met with uncanny precision through the front wheels, and given the rear-wheel steering and power being sent equally through the all-wheel drive configuration, hitting the corners and flowing from one apex to another is a doddle. There’s rarely even a hint of oversteer through the 1605kg coupe, such is the poise of the Turbo through the turns, though the Sport+ function does turn off the traction control and make the back end a little lairy should you really want to test your reflexes. Steering then is bang on, but there’s just enough weight through the wheel to make sure you’re putting the effort in. Porsche’s electronic steering has come under flack from diehard purists, but even with the rear wheels taking some of the work away from you, there’s still plenty of connection to the front wheels to help you drive from the seat of your pants.
It’s not the precision though that proves the Porsche’s party piece. That would be the 560hp 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six, which delivers its power like a sledgehammer. At first, acceleration is aggressive, the grunt from all six cylinders nailing you to your seat. Around mid-rev level though, the awesome power of those turbochargers kick in, delivering a sizeable dollop of grunt and giving a tangible, more violent burst of speed, coupled once again with that awesome soundtrack. It’s an amazingly dramatic note from the Porsche, and it’s difficult not to be a little bodyslammed by the power: even Steve in the following McLaren has been caught off-guard and starts to get smaller in my wing mirror. The Porsche retains its precision and finesse through the corners thanks to a stiff chassis and good weight distribution, but the extra grunt – manageable courtesy of the quick-fire changes through the seven-speed PDK gearbox – has brought with it a much more animalistic vigour that I had not expected. It’s a visceral drive and one that gets my heart beating quickly, the sense of occasion seemingly endless.
At the top, Arun jumps out to savour the view and pick his spots whilst I take a minute to consider the run up the mountain we’ve just done. Steve though, arriving shortly afterwards, has other ideas. So far he has been mightily impressed with the McLaren – it’s his first run in the 12C – but the unexpected vigour of the Porsche has got him curious, and I’m soon being booted out and into the McLaren. Not that I’m complaining, for I too am curious to see how the old guard of the group handles the impudent newcomer.
It takes me a couple of attempts to alight the 12C with dignity (I having forgotten the time honoured ‘right leg in, hold onto the driver handle and lower yourself into the bucket seat’ approach) but once I’m in, I’m reminded why the 12C proved such a popular addition to the Management Fleet. What is immediately noticeable is the almost sedate manner in which the McLaren picks up speed. Banging through the six-speed gearbox thanks to the meticulously designed paddles brings with it immediate changes and a forceful pull from the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, but not an aggressive one. Compared with the Porsche’s almost angry manner of picking up speed, the 625hp McLaren seems to dart through the double digits into the triple without breaking sweat or pausing for breath, and the fact that I’m able to travel this quickly with this little fuss is quite surreal. It’s not the same drama as the Porsche, but that doesn’t mean drama is in absentia. The husky shout of Woking’s V8 pitches through the cabin more ferociously than the flat-six, and the sensation of speed is impressive. It’s all very straightforward, and as a result, enjoyable.
The brakes on our showroom test model are a little on the woolly side unfortunately, and with little travel in the pedal, it’s difficult to get a rhythm going without slamming on, a polar opposite to the feel and progressive braking in the 911. That’s of little concern though, since engine braking is so succinct and the poise through the corners so pinpoint, that balancing the car is beautifully manageable. There’s less weight at the helm through the steering than the Porsche but again, for the gentleman’s 12C, that seems to make sense. I’m not grabbing this car and throwing it by the collar as I was with the Porsche. Instead, I’m pointing and squeezing the trigger, the focus on precision and art rather than out and out lairiness. It’s once again a trait that suits the McLaren superbly and one that many of its contemporaries – now and in the future – will struggle to match. It’s unsurprising that by the time we’ve got to the bottom of the mountain range, we’ve left our chaperones behind. We’re tempted by another couple/dozen of hoons up and down the mountain, but we have a shoot to get through and sunlight is already starting to disappear.
Whilst adjusting a tripod, holding a flash bulb or repositioning cars at Arun’s direction, I mull over the drive we’ve just taken. Over and over again. With the Porsche comes aggression, anger, and brute force that is impossible not to love. With the McLaren comes precision, pinpoint attention to detail and a composure that’s difficult to better or even match. I can honestly say that this is one of the toughest head to heads I’ve ever undertaken on crankandpiston.com.
There’s no doubt, given the speed alone, that the Porsche could take on the Ferraris and the Lamborghinis of this world, but that the Turbo also brings with it a certain lairiness suggests that this could be the closest 911 yet to genuine supercar territory. It’s a bold claim, but in ticking the boxes the Turbo S has made a massive leap. Then there’s the difference in price, with the $195K Porsche coming in some $92,000 cheaper than the McLaren. My brain says 12C Spider but my heart says 911 Turbo S, and it’s difficult not to side with the Porsche on this occasion, the Porsche adding that little extra drama that the McLaren certainly doesn’t lack but which perhaps hides a little better.
That’s not to say though that the Turbo has trounced the McLaren. Far from it, for the old schooler has shown the Porsche exactly what it is capable of on these roads and shown that even on its way out, it has left a formidable reputation. A reputation which will be difficult to match, and not just by the 650S.
|Porsche||991 Turbo S|
|Engine:||Flat-six / twin-turbo / 3800cc|
|Power:||560hp @ 6500–6750rpm|
|Torque:||516lb ft @ 2100–4250rpm|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed Doppelkupplung (PDK) with controlled rear locking differential / all-wheel drive|
|Front suspension:||Strut suspension (MacPherson type, Porsche opti- mised) with wheels independently suspended by transverse links longitudinal links and struts / cylindrical coil springs with internal dampers / electromechanical power steering|
|Rear suspension:||Multi-link suspension with wheels independently suspended on five links / cylindrical coil springs with coaxial internal dampers / active rear-wheel steering|
|Brakes:||Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) / dual-circuit brake system with separate circuits for front and rear axles / Porsche Stability Management (PSM) / vacuum brake booster / brake assistant / electric duo-servo parking brake / auto-hold function / six-piston 410mm x 36mm (front) / four-piston 390mm x 32mm (rear)|
|Wheels:||9J x 20 (front) / 11.5J x 20 (rear)|
|Tyres:||245/35 ZR20 (front) / 305/30 ZR20 (rear)|
|Engine:||V8 / Twin Turbo / 3799cc|
|Power:||625hp @ 7500rpm|
|Torque:||442lb ft @ 3000-7000rpm|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed automatic SSG / rear-wheel drive|
|Front suspension:||ProActive Chassis Control|
|Rear suspension:||ProActive Chassis Control|
|Brakes:||Cast iron discs with forged aluminium hubs / 370mm (front) / 350mm (rear)|
|Wheels:||19in x 8.5in J (front) / 20in x 11in J (rear)|
|Tyres:||235/35 R19 (front) / 305/30 R20 (rear) / Pirelli P Zero|
|Base price:||$287,000 (2013MY $210,990)|