A bright, crisp winter morning, one of Japan’s best driving roads ahead and a Porsche Panamera turbo and Audi R8 V10 to play with.
Life could be worse…
I should explain. Although it’s my mission to drive many new models in Japan, I’d come late to these two hypercars. The Audi and Porsche had slipped through my fingers, so today would be a kind of catch up session - or what car bosses like to term “product familiarisation.”
The R8 came from Audi Japan’s press fleet. A journo mate brought along the Panamera from Porsche Japan. Parked up in the sunshine, it suddenly occurred to me that, while they’re not direct rivals, they do actually have a thing or two in common as German-built, 500bhp multicylinder machines with 185 mph-plus top ends tend to do.
Price? Again, close. We’re talking a basic 20 million yen or so a shot here, which at current yenshock rates works out at an elevated £135K or more. Yikes…
We’d come of course to the Hakone Turnpike, a legendary strip of enthusiast tarmac that’s featured in countless Japanese car mags, videos and on the net.
It’s Japan’s own Col du Turini, a storied and picturesque mountain road that’s fast, well surfaced, quite wide, full of high G-force corners, dips under and over bridges and throws in some heart thumpingly long straights as well.
Do it once, do it a dozen of times, the Turnpike is always great and at this time of year with the leaves changing colour amid the clear, crisp mountain air, it’s more compelling than ever.
The Audi predictably makes mincemeat of the Turnpike. You just can’t argue with the precision and feel of that stellar mid-engined chassis, nor with the power, sound and shove of the 5.2-litre V10. The R8 is also beautifully presented and dripping with cool design touches.
Ah, but does the V10 really move the game on versus the R8’s original and still excellent 4.2-litre V8? Yes. But then again, maybe not by that much.
The four-seat Panamera is really some curio and, although loaded to the gunwales with tech, didn’t like the twists and turns of the Turnpike nearly as much, no matter what the suspension setting. Powering back to Tokyo on the motorway, though, it was in its element: effortlessly fast, comfortable and refined. No, not beautiful, but a real GT car.
There again, it was exactly at that moment that I found myself pining for the old 928 which served up the kind of V8 driver thrills that Porsche hasn’t engineered into the Panamera – yet.
Conclusion? Tokyo is full of Cayennes, 911s and Boxsters so the Panamera will find its audience. But for me it doesn’t begin to compare with the Audi on the lust-o-meter. The R8 really is a fabulous piece of kit.