labels: porsche, automotive
Romancing luxury on wheelsnews
15 February 2005

Driving impressions of two super luxury cars - the Porsche 911 and the Audi A8 L By Our Automotive bureau

With two Porsche dealerships having been finalised in India - one at Delhi and the other at Mumbai - it is now a matter of signing on the dotted line and driving away in one of the three Porsche models available for sale- the Porsche 911, the Cayenne and the Boxster.

The cream of the three models is undoubtedly the Porsche 911. It's history dates back some 40 years when Prof Ferdinand Porsche went about creating a true sports car, which has, over the years, turned out to be one of the most exclusive automobiles in the world, bordering on a cult icon.

The early examples of this car are already rubbing shoulders with the most regarded sports cars of the '60s at various museums around the world and in the collections of numerous collectors. Though the car has been through various forms - coupe, cabriolet, targa-top - the coupe remains, by far, the most popular and good enough to make a 2+2 sports coupe.

The present 911 belongs to a platform dubbed as 997, the latest and most recent interpretation of the legend called the Porsche 911. This car guards its exclusivity almost as fiercely as did the original and, in the process, keeps the connection between itself and the original alive even as it seeks a rendezvous with new technologies to further expand the boundaries of performance.

The 911's ability to perform is humbly yet acutely reflected by the coupe's wedge shape that shines the light on the car's race bred, purposeful stance with minimal cladding. This may set it apart from the Italian giants but one good look at the 911 and one is aware of its lean muscularity and clarity of line and precision in every outline.

With a drag co-efficient of 0.28, the 911 looks every part a born runner even while standing still. Changes worked to the 911of the 997 platform include headlamps that are oval and smaller than those on the previous model. The Carrera S gets bi-xenon lamps. The indicators, trafficators and fog lamps are housed in a separate module at the top of the front bumper, which lower down has a large, aggressive air dam. From a functional point of view, the air dam channels air to the radiators placed at each front corner and the large ceramic discs and six-piston monobloc aluminum calipers.

These ceramic discs and aluminum calipers have a hard life to lead as they often have to retard the 911 that can reach dizzying speeds and top at 293kph in very little time.

As for the radiators at front, Porsche turned to water-cooling the 911's engine a few years ago. So, while the 325bhp, 3.5-litre flat, six-cylinder engine of the 911 and the 355bhp, 3.8-litre unit of the Carrera S sits at the rear and almost between the rear wheels, the radiators are located at the front. The engine at the back is yet another of 911's exclusivities that flows down from the original 911. The engine is located longitudinally and powers the rear wheels through a six-speed manual or a five-speed 'tiptronic' auto transmission. A small hatch enables a peephole view of the motor as the angled transition from the tail section reveals the visual urgency of the design. The theme carries further in the form of a curving waistline accentuated by the fat, low aspect ratio tyres on nicely crafted 19-inch alloys.

Open the rimless-glass door of the low-slung coupe and enter into a world of luxurious exclusivity - sumptuous leather adorned interior that revolves around the driver. Not only does it exude quality but also provides a world of adjustments to feel at ease and in command. The driving position is low and spot-on and the car offers an almost unending array of personalised options that only turns the 911 into a sports car that is wonderfully satisfying to drive.

Turn the key an the five-dial instrument bank lights up to be followed by the throb as a near-endless array of warning lights disappear from the bank. Push the shifter into D on the five-speed auto, which has tiptronic shift buttons on one of the spokes of the multi-functional steering wheel spoke to enable a manual over-ride, and step on the pedal. The response is instantaneous and razor sharp.

The engine turns aggressive as the needle climbs its way up the dial. Performance is fuelled by an unending supply of power that has the ability to push the occupants deep into their seats as the exhaust note turns into a shriek that only has the effect of making ones hair stand up! However, as much a great car the 911 is, it also executes the role of an everyday commuter with equal finesse.

The only reminder of its capabilities while crawling in the slow moving rush hour traffic is the deep growl of the "flat six" at the rear and the controls that feel so precise. The ride is stiff at best and its handling, highly precise. It is possible to power around sharp corners without letting up on the throttle as the 911 feels glued to the road, letting the driver feel almost every surface change. So communicative is the 911 that within moments one has the exhilarating feeling of being a part of the. The 911 has so much to offer. Sadly, if it could include the price - the 911 costs close to a crore!

The Audi A8 L
Some years ago there was hardly any choice at the top end of the luxury car market. The S-class was the only luxury car one could buy from DaimlerChrysler's operations in India. Audi is officially here and marking its arrival into India is its flagship luxury sedan, the Audi A8 L (L for long wheel-base). The present generation A8 carries forward Audi's tradition of taking risks and in the process exploring new ideas and technologies. The A8 carries a lot of these ideas and technologies and none speaks well than the car's aluminum space frame. 5051mm long, 1894mm wide and 1444mm tall, the aluminum space frame grants the big sedan a favourable power-to-weight ratio if not make it look fearsome as it draws closer in the rear view mirror with its four-circles shining brightly and in a way highlighting the brand's strong sporting tradition that dates back to the days of the Auto Union racers and the Audi Quattro that gave Hannu Mikkola his splendid win in the grueling Safari Rally.

Viewed from the front, the A8 looks unmistakably Audi even if it does not have the huge and aggressive grille seen on the W12 version. Confidence speaks through the car's muscularity projected by its stance supported rather wickedly by the streaks of head lamps and an aggressive air dam, low down into the bumper. Walk over and the big 17-inch alloys nicely fill-up the wheel arches to add a sense of sportiveness that is hard not to recognise.

A three-fourth quarter view of the A8 and the car comes across as truly imposing as if to say, "I mean business." Viewed from the side, the expanse of the car is clearly visible and any doubt if the S-class is bigger and longer than this car, evaporates in thin air. The A8L is big and long! But it is different too. It wears a clear streak of sporting attitude that is only hinted by the small badge on the side of the grille spelling Quattro.

Quattro means an all-wheel drive, a system that is very dear to Audi and the one, which the company has dug into for years. The Quattro system consists of a limited-slip torsen center-differential that splits the torque between the front and rear axles. If one of the front wheels loses grip and starts spinning, the center differential redistributes the torque to the rear axle to regain grip. This system ensures better grip on wet or slippery surfaces, which can exist on the road and not just off it.

The A8 also comes equipped with air-suspension that can adjust the ride height of the car anywhere between 90mm and 140mm (ground clearance) to adapt to the road conditions. However, the adaptive air suspension is calibrated such that if the speed exceeds 100kph even momentarily, the ride height lowers to 90mm to enhance the car's handling dynamics. The system can be adapted to different ride modes as well, such as dynamic, automatic or comfort.

After a tour of the exterior step into in to the A8. A combination of soft, rich looking leather and wood looks near indestructible and hard to fault. It also gives the cabin a subtle combination of freshness that is highly intriguing. However, like a few of its competitors it is not all that complicated. The instrument dials with their sporty accentuations extend the sportiveness to the inside and without diluting the luxurious feel even an ounce.

Above the center console, in close proximity to the ventilation vents is a LCD screen that pops up to read various audio, navigation and suspension settings the controls of which are located behind the gear shifter of the six-speed 'tiptronic' transmission. This system is called 'MMI'. Select the menu, enter the programme and choose the right station on the FM or set the suspension into dynamic mode. One of the switches is the electronic parking brake. The audio system, which is actually a 12-speaker Bose system, is not visible and the CD-changer is located in the glovebox. So, if one wants to tune into a FM station or listen to a CD, it is necessary to dig into the MMI system to select the station displayed on the LCD screen or the specific track on the CD. May sound complicated but the fact is that this system is far more user friendly than the BMW's 'i-drive'.

At the other end of the shifter and closer to the LCD screen is the climate control switch bank. The temperature and air flow can be independently set on the A8. While this bank contains controls for the driver and the co-driver, the one at the rear (built into the back of the center console and between the front seats) enables adjustments to the rear, left and right zones. The rear is truly generous with abundant room. Two occupants can travel in the rear in impressive isolation.

Back to the six-speed 'tiptronic' auto transmission and the paddles, just aft of the steering wheel spokes enable up shifts and downshifts. F1 styling one may say, but the driver does not need to operate the gear shifter once he has slotted it in D. Push the lever into D and step on the gas. The A8 moves away with the zeal of an Olympic sprinter. Powered by a 335bhp, 4.2-litre, V8 motor, a strong whoosh of power ensues as the needle climbs past 2500rpm only to propel the A8 ahead and quick enough to displace 100kph in 6.78seconds!

The rush continues as the box up shifts without any let up and the needle swings past 200kph as if it has just started on the journey. Floor the pedal and the motor will rev up to redline in every gear leading to a strong rush of power that does not seem to end. The rush of power to the wheels is accompanied by a muted growl that only adds fuel to the excitement of driving the big luxury sedan. Hardly any road noise filters into the cabin leading to a splendid level of isolation.

Lock the auto-box in the first cog and floor the pedal; the motor will rev all the way to redline before up-shift and the process will continue all the way through the six speeds. Don't operate the paddles and the box will downshift as the car brakes and the engine rpm falls.

The auto-box of the A8 is very intelligent and capable of surprising the driver into mistaking it for a human assistant! So strong is the performance and so intelligently is it handled by the transmission that even at 250kph there feels to be a lot more in reserve.
Ride is not exactly harsh but firm enough to let the road surface be felt. This has an effect on the handling and the A8 feels sure-footed and confident. Hardly any roll is felt when pushed into the apexes of the corners.

The A8 is very eager to change direction or execute a maneouvre and no longer feels as big as it really is or displays any symptom typical of a big American luxury sedan with an emphasis on ride. The driver and occupants become an integral part of the machine while they relax in the luxurious environment of the A8's interior, eating kilometres in near ideal isolation. Now isn't that a sign of a sports luxury sedan? Only remember to tank up with 93 octane!

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