Audi R8 LMX, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo S, Front view 31 Photos Zoom

Audi R8 LMX, Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 Turbo S: Bhp-party in the Alps

Can the Nordschleife get boring? Even the mere question gets on our nerves! But in case you fancy trying a different drug for a change, we drove the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Nissan GT-R and Audi R8 LMX over the second highest pass in the Alps, both during the day and at night.

Allow me to introduce you to the Passo dello Stelvio or in English: the Stelvio Pass. Rather than sticking to Hockenheim or the Nordschleife, day we are inviting the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Nissan GT-R and Audi R8 LMX to dance around the corners of Italy's highest mountain pass, at a height of 2,758 metres.

Goodbye first generation Audi R8

At the same time we are bidding farewell to a car that we have regularly joined in a spot of curve dancing since 2006: goodbye Audi R8. But don't panic - the Bavarian mid-engine hero from Ingolstadt is not going into full retirement. It is just the first generation model to which we are saying goodbye. Before the second generation R8 lines up on the grid at the start of 2015, Audi has R8 fans salivating once again with the special LMX model, limited to a production of 99 vehicles.

14:30: We scale the Stelvio Pass from the from the valley town of Prad (Italian: Prato alla Stelvio), via the north-east ramp. Attack, 48 turns and gradients of up to 15 percent – wow. How wrong can you be? The drug chosen to replace the Nordschleife doesn't really seem to want to disperse into the blood stream. Lateral dynamic fascination is only aroused to a limited extent on the first few metres of the mountain pass road. Only the weather makes you think of the Nordschleife. The sun below in the valley, and then sudden, dense fog, which becomes increasingly like candy floss with increasing altitude. Meanwhile, the asphalt surface reminds you more of a patchwork rug.

Time and again the three all-wheel-drive sports cars, the Audi R8 LMX, Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 Turbo S must attempt to pass Tour de France wannabes on racing bikes and mountain bikes on the winding road, with at certain points in only wide enough for one vehicle. In addition, post buses, vans and groups of motorbikes slow the speed on the mountain to the level of a street with traffic-calming measures in place.

The Audi R8 LMX conjures up that racing feeling in road traffic

Keep calm, our all-wheel-drive sports cars will have their time. The leader during the Pass expedition is the Audi R8 LMX, which is only available in the sparkling customised ara blue crystal effect paint. Its name is somewhat reminiscent of its successful GT3-racing brother, the LMS. Lateral CFC panels to the front and a fixed carbon spoiler should also conjure that racing feeling in road traffic as far as visual appearance is concerned, as well as increasing the surface pressure at the front and rear axles.

Inside the vehicle the sporty theme continues: the bucket seats of the Audi R8 LMX really shine, with lacquered seat back shells in the same colour as the vehicle, and offer very good lateral support, although the sitting position is still too high for taller people. Please note in the specifications and optimise in the next generation of R8. With numerous carbon appliqués, Alcantara coverings, fine nappa leather and blue decorative seams, even today the cockpit of the first model series of the Audi R8 seems fresh and sporty.

The central display in the instrument cluster announces "max. 6000 rpm" – a sign that the 5.2-litre ten-cylinder engine beneath the glass engine cover is still warming up. Even in the lower rev range, it projects a rumbling echo back and forth between the valleys with each gear shift. The power of the high-rev V10 increases by ten in comparison to the already tested R8 V10 plus to 570 bhp.

However,on the creep towards the summit, the engine power initially plays no role. On the narrow corners of the north-east ramp of the Stelvio Pass, the Audi LMX feels as though it is climbing a multi-storey car park from 1960. All too narrow 90-degree hairpin bends are not its cup of tea. With very high steering angles, it requires its driver to adjust his grip, or risk tying his arms in a knot.

Nissan GT-R - the Japanese biturbo weapon

A glance in the rear-view mirror of the R8: its pursuer, the Nissan GT-R, is not faring much better with the climb. The Japanese biturbo weapon is forced to capitulate in some bends and even briefly engage the gear below in order to overcome the tight curve radii of the Pass roads, which were built between 1820 and 1826 and have barely altered their route since then.

As the Nissan GT-R arduously makes its way along the rock face towards the plateau, we shall briefly address the question as to what has changed in the 2014 model. If you want to get to know the new model you will have to take a closer look: only rear lights and modified head lights with LED daytime running lights and the new Sunset Red paint colour set the 2014 GT-R apart visually.

While the V6 biturbo, known internally as the VR38DETT, with 550 bhp remains unchanged, something has happened to the chassis beneath the muscular bodywork: a slightly more comfortable setup has been selected. In fact, the Nissan GT-R now absorbs bumps a little better than its direct predecessor.

In addition to this, the directional stability of the Nissan GT-R has been improved – our heart misgives us, from a lateral dynamics perspective. However, to what extent the modified adaptive dampers, the altered spring rates and other comfort-improving chassis modifications impact the performance in the limit range will be clarified later.

Porsche 911 Turbo S with 560 bhp

The Porsche 911 sticks tightly to rear spoiler of the GT-R: this very Porsche 911 Turbo S has already taken the comparative test by storm (sport auto11/2013) also scoring top marks in the Supertest (sport auto 2/2014). However, at this particular moment the lap times of the 560 bhp biturno box engine are only of secondary interest. Yet even at the crawling speed in South Tirol, the Turbo S plays the model student. While the Nissan GT-R and Audi R8 occasionally have to reverse in the angular hairpins leading up to the Stelvio Pass, the biturbo 911 scurries impudently around the corners, as if carrying the short wheelbase of a Mini Cooper.

How does Porsche's technology, described as a "virtual 15-centimetre reduction of the wheelbase" work at low speeds and with low curve radii? The magic words are "rear-wheel steering". A short technological digression: thanks to two electromechanical actuators, which work on the rear axle, to the left and right, in place of the conventional tie rod, the 911 can steer the rear axle in the same or opposite direction as the steering angle on the front axle.

It thus runs rings around its competitors with astounding agility, like former ski-ace Alberto Tomba. Arms tied in knots when steering? Not at all, in comparison to the Audi R8 and Nissan GT-R the driver has to put in significantly less work at the wheel in the Porsche 911 Turbo S.

All-wheel-drive trio at the summit

2,758 metres, finally at the top. Crackling, the all-wheel-drive trio pause for breath at the plateau of the Stelvio Pass. While the traffic on the SS38 state road moves slowly, the last of the cyclists Splunge down into the valley and the souvenir shops at the foot of the cable car line running to one of the last summer ski resorts still open in the Alps close up, we move into our lodgings for the night. Just below the peak of the Pass road is the Hotel "Albergo Folgore".

50 Euros per night, small cells with a view of the Pass, no trendy Alpine shelter – the simplicity really helps you keep your feet on the ground. Afterall, outside in the gravel car park are three sports car to the value of over half a million Euros.

23:30 time to back out into the clear Alpine night. It is not so much the thin mountain air as the empty Pass roads that cause an increase in heart rate. No cars, no cyclists, no motorcyclists – the asphalt surface is as empty as an open-air pool in Winter. First we take a seat in the black & red Recaro sports seats of the Nissan GT-R and press the start button. A metallic rattling, the drive train speaks up with its familiar, rustic background noise¨. All-wheel-drive and adaptive dampers in R mode, VCD-R drive dynamics control off – the Nissan GT-R is now as sharp as a sushi knife.

Nissan GT-R lacks any factory specifications

While the equipment scrambles to operating temperature, we roll slowly down the SS38 towards Bormio. Quick like a Rally ice spy, it checks the road conditions. Straights with fun bumps, various hills followed by corners that creep up quicker than expected, wild left-right bends – this more fluid stretch of the Pass road is just to our taste.

Turn around, full beam on, Launch Control active – the hissing Japanese projectile disrupts the silence of the Alpine night. While we are still fascinated by the traction, in the comparative test the Nissan GT-R has long entered the next dimension and throws its sheer weight forwards with a maximum torque of 632 Newton metres. For those who like their stats, we later measure a 0-100 acceleration time of 3.5 seconds – along way from the fabled 2.7-second factory specification.

Today this is just as incidental as the top speed: even with a great deal of courage on the Stelvio Pass only the first three gears are engaged. Then comes the first ambitious attempt at braking: the ceramic brake system decelerates with a well modulated feel on the pedals. On the other hand, the curve sketching of the Japanese sports car is less pleasing: after steering, the car understeers slightly into the corner and there are noticeable rolling motions about the longitudinal axis. The 2014 GT-R body tilts more in the corner compared to its predecessors. Load change on bends helps somewhat to reduce the understeer.

If you put your foot down too early at the apex, the Nissan GT-R slips over the front axle. To put it briefly: the addition of comfort features when tuning the chassis were definitely counter-productive with regard to lateral dynamics. This is also highlighted later by the much slower lap times in Hockenheim compared to those of the 2013 GT-R (1:11.2 rather than 1:09.6 minutes).

Porsche 911 Turbo S - the acceleration master

Back to the Hotel's gravel car park to change car. Into the Porsche 911 Turbo S and back down into the valley. The ergonomics of the cockpit with the optional carbon bucket seats are the mest suited of the tree test vehicles. And then there is the Launch Control start: with textbook acceleration, the Porsche 911 Turbo S zooms into the night. The word perfection rarely passes our lips, however, the Launch Control start without any noticeable slip and no nagging clutch certainly earns this title!

The numbers people will still be delighting in the measurement of 0 to 100 km/h in 3.0 seconds, long after we have taken aim at the first corner and steered into the bend a split second later. As had already been evident at lower speed it also quickly also becomes clear at a higher speed that no other car will be a patch on the Porsche 911 Turbo S with regard to handling behaviour.

Neither the Nissan GT-R nor the Audi R8 LMX react as precisely to steering commands and remain as neutral over the corner as the Swabian all-wheel-drive weapon. Thanks to the PDCC anti-roll compensation, lateral inclination is reduced to an astonishingly low level.

And the traction when accelerating out of the corner? Thanks to the very well tuned interplay of the rear-axle steering, Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus and the regulated rear-axle differential locking, this is another forté of the Porsche 911 Turbo S. On the short, straight passages, its biturbo box engine impresses with even more explosiveness from the lower rev range and a more even power distribution than the GT-R assembly. Even before the get-together on the Pass it was actually already clear that the Turbo S would later nab the fastest lap time in Hockenheim.

Audi R8 LMX - a "shining light"

Final change of cockpit, and first a few metres in honour in honour of the departing first generation Audi R8. It immediately becomes clear what is lacking in the Porsche and Nissan turbo hammers: the inimitable sound of the naturally aspirated engine, which when in Sport mode and when gearing down in the Audi R8 sounds almost like a racing car.

In the R8 LMX emotion does not manifest itself in the brutish acceleration or perfectionist handling. At this high-rev concert it is almost inconsequential what happens in the next corner. But this doesn't mean that the Audi R8 is content to play the role of the striking show car on the Pass. Even if it cannot check off the short straights on the Stelvio Pass with the same explosiveness of its biturbo competition, it convinces sports drivers with its refined throttle response and snappy revving up to over 8,000 rpm. In so doing, the dual clutch transmission is smoother than the R tronic was previously.

The handling, on the other hand, leaves room for improvement: following the thoroughly precise steering, the Audi R8 LMX also tends towards slight understeer, regardless of whether coasting or under load. It reacts to a load change with noticeable slip, as is typical of mid-engine vehicles. The large steering angles, that do not convey a particularly precise feeling when steering are in need of revision. Now enough of this big-time whinging - we would rather enjoy the racing line on the next Pass road.

Thanks to its laser full beam lights with a range of 600 metres, the Audi R8 LMX has incidentally also incidentally earned the right to share a nickname with Franz Beckenbauer, the "Lichtgestalt" (shining light). In the second generation, the mid-engine sports car should then, with a weight of just under 1,500 kilograms, try to be a shining light with regard to drive dynamics.

Christian Gebhardt

Photo

Rossen Gargolov

Date

29 January 2015
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