You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

2016 McLaren 570S vs. 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 6/2/2016 AARON ROBINSON

2016 McLaren 570S and 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
 From the June 2016 issue

This article is part of our special feature exploring turbocharged vs. naturally aspirated engines, for which we conducted four head-to-head matchups of turbocharged vehicles and their non-turbo competitors. Beware: These are not conventional comparison tests. We focused these stories on the characteristics of the engines and judging the suitability of engine type for each class of vehicle.

A YouTube video that made the rounds purports to depict a streetcar ride down San Francisco’s Market Street just four days before the calamitous 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of the city. If not filmed then, exactly, the reel was definitely shot in an age when horses still provided much of the motive power in cities. Where have all the horses gone? To dude ranches and racing stables and country paddocks, where they now serve primarily as objects of sport and leisure, a change that is presumably more fun for them as well as for their owners.

There’s no question that an earthquake is coming to our world. The internal-combustion engine, the old nag that has served us so long, is at the precipice, and one of the early tremors indicating the greater seismic disruption to come is the increasing ubiquity of the turbocharger. It’s not a new technology, but it is being embraced and refined to an ever-widening degree to allow engine shrinkage without power sacrifice.

In the higher reaches of the perform­ance market, where the horses are already pretty much exercised strictly for pleasure, turbos have invaded. They are here not to offset shrinkage alone, but to also push up power outputs to levels formerly seen only in racing. Take our sherbet-orange McLaren 570S as an example. The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 of the new “entry-level” McLaren, base price of $187,400, makes 562 horsepower, enough to win Le Mans outright once upon a time. McLaren pulls 666 horsepower from this exact same displacement in the pricier 675LT, and the company’s hearty embrace of compressors surely scared Ferrari into adopting turbos for its own V-8s, lest it become the brand of poverty power.

Standing as something of a rock against the encroaching tide is the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Its 4.0-liter flat-six inhales exactly what a planet with an iron core big enough to give compressive weight to ethereal gas molecules can give it. Which is adequate enough to allow the Porsche to make 500 horsepower. That may not sound like much in these silly days, what with a 1500-hp Bugatti on the auto-show circuit, but it is a lot from a six-pot engine with no induction help.

2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS and 2016 McLaren 570S© Charlie Magee 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS and 2016 McLaren 570S

Not a direct competitor to the mid-engined McLaren, which is an extravagant peacock of a machine with a transparent engine cover and batwing doors slashed with black carbon-fiber lances, the GT3 RS is a peculiar vehicle with a specific task. Carrying a base price of $177,950, it is optimized for the track and is the closest thing you can get to a Porsche Cup car with a license plate. Or, in this case, a license plate plus carbon-ceramic brakes ($9210), a front-axle lift system ($3490), leather upholstery ($3480), Lava Orange paint ($3140), and some other plums off the rich Porsche option tree that raise the price to $204,160.

The McLaren is optioned as well, to $218,030, including carbon-ceramic brake rotors, a luxury pack with power seats and a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins ­stereo, and the aforementioned sherbet paint, its $4150 price buying a couple of grated BMWs’ worth of metal flake.

At this level of jousting purebreds, is natural aspiration still relevant or are turbos now necessary to make us hyperventilate? We took to the roads in the cheapest McLaren and one of the most expensive 911s, and also enlisted ­central California’s Buttonwillow Raceway Park to reach an answer. It was a very tough call.

All modern mid-engined supercars live in the long shadow of the Lamborghini Countach, a magically outlandish vehicle that was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a handful. A wedge shape and goofball doors remain as hallmarks of the genre, but supercars as actual cars have improved hugely. The 570S fully upholds McLaren’s reputation, begun with the original McLaren F1, of taking the supercar business seriously and building both a voluptuous screaming doorstop and a legitimate handler. But a supercar is not a race car, not when you have an almost–race car to compare it against.

2016 McLaren 570S and 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS© Charlie Magee 2016 McLaren 570S and 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

That’s not meant as a criticism. There are different ways to get your jollies, and what you have here is basically a Lotus Elise built to go to the moon. In the best British tradition, the steering is hypersensitive, the wheel jumping in your hands as the tires squirm for grip. The chassis reacts vividly to load transfer, sometimes wiggling as you brake, sometimes stepping two feet to the left if it also finds a rut while you’re gassing it. The car performs best when buttered with the smoothness of a polished driving technique, but you can be going at 80 percent of the Porsche’s pace while feeling like you’re doing 150 percent. Which is both hysterically fun and eventually exhausting.

The two turbochargers do the job they were assigned, helping the V-8 make truly jaw-dropping output. Coming in 20 pounds lighter and packing 62 more galloping Clydesdales, the McLaren handily clobbers the Porsche to the 60-mph mark, completing the job in 2.7 seconds. The turbos aren’t slow to wake up, either. Compared with the towering 8800-rpm Porsche, the McLaren gives you more torque in the lobby and lower floors before you start the long elevator ride up the tach. The Brit is a spinner, too, capable of 8100 rpm. But the big shove is over by then, the 443-lb-ft torque peak arriving at 5000 rpm. You could happily upshift in that neighborhood and never feel as if you’ve left the best part of the engine on the table, there’s so much torque waiting for you after the revs drop with the next gear.

The 570S looks fast, it is fast, and it sounds fast, the $3860 sport exhaust ensuring that everyone hears the lions-fighting-chainsaws startup. But when someone noted that the V-8 isn’t so much an engine as a powerplant module, there were knowing nods. In the pursuit of more power, turbos are a Faustian bargain that trades away some of the soul. Plainer, more anodyne music is heard in the McLaren’s cockpit, for example, and the throttle response will never be perfect. It is very good, a popgun with a deliciously elongated explosion, but it can’t match the Porsche for direct response. The 570S felt quicker off the corners at Button­willow, but when we looked at the GPS data, the Porsche actually built speed sooner.

And that is fine. The McLaren doesn’t want to be a racer; it’s trying to create a 5000-volt arc between your ears using your eyeballs as the electrodes, and it fully succeeds.

2016 McLaren 570S and 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS© Charlie Magee 2016 McLaren 570S and 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

The McLaren’s face resembles a smiling shark, while the 911 has the blank stare of an android as it twists your head off. Massive tires stuff the Porsche’s wheelwells to bursting, and its mesh screens are moved forward to be nearly flush with the front bumper. Why? Because on a track, crud collects in them otherwise, as it did in the McLaren’s deep-set nostrils. The McLaren is theatrical and dramatic, while the Porsche just gets the business done.

The 911 may be clinical, but oh, what an engine! This flattie is one pissed-off pancake. If your day isn’t complete without an aural visit to the forests of Spa, then allow us to introduce you to your next car. At 5000 rpm, where you’ll be upshifting most days to ­prevent being arrested, the sound is mellifluous, but the band is just warming up. At 7000, the harmonics are so hot as to be incandescent. A finer flamenco you will never hear in a modern car, especially from this, a lowly half-12.

We said the Porsche builds speed quicker, but that’s only true in the first hundred or so feet. Once the McLaren comes up to full bluster, it begins to pull away. The top speed on Buttonwillow’s back straight belongs to the 570S, which hit 146.5 mph to the 911’s 142.9. And that’s off a 3.6-mph deficit through the previous corner as the McLaren pilot cautiously manhandled the nervous car. No doubt, aero is a factor, both at speed and in general cornering ­superiority as the GT3 RS’s big wing bites the wind hard. Above 100 mph, the 911’s steering gets noticeably heavier, as if a giant is sitting on the hood. With less horsepower, it beat the McLaren around Buttonwillow by 1.6 seconds.

Going fast is not necessarily joyous; a Southwest Airlines 737 kicks both of these cars to the curb. It all depends on how insulated you are from the environment and the working parts. There’s an intimacy with the machinery in the 911 that is slightly blunted in the McLaren because of its turbos and the disconnect, however minimized, they create between inputs and outcomes. You’ll win drag races in the McLaren, but is speed everything, or is it the total experience that matters? The GT3 RS makes a convincing case for the latter.

Don’t get us wrong; the McLaren 570S is all ate up with dazzling personality. But in this confrontation, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS reminds us of sunsets over Sebring and 935s in the rainy night and why we love engines. When it goes to pasture, as it surely must given that the bulk of the 911 line is now turbocharged, we will mourn an era that has ended.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Car and Driver

Car and Driver
Car and Driver
Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon