There's never a bad time to drive V8-powered fast cars up a hill road. And when the mix includes beasts that headline your Monday morning with 550PS, quattro, torque vectoring and supercharging, you just have to look skywards and wonder ? what exactly did I do to deserve this?
One is manic and the other refined. But both these V8 coupes are a celebration of driving
Honestly, I don't care much about the answer; I am more of an enjoy-the-fruits kind of person. But what I do care about is finding an empty stretch of road on the winding section en route. We are headed to Mahabaleshwar from Mumbai. We have the lovely Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the wide and relatively empty (I hope it is) NH4 to Wai, and then a short but crisp hill climb to Mahabaleshwar to traverse.
Our stars of the day? The naturally aspirated V8-powered 450PS Audi RS5 with quattro and torque vectoring and it is joined by the Jaguar XKR-S, which has a barking mad supercharged V8 under its hood with 550PS on tap. If nothing else, it is going to be a loud day.
450PS V8 the RS5 might run but it is a comfortable and luxurious car to drive
I get into the Audi first, for no apparent reason other than because it is parked closer. It costs Rs 95 lakh ex-showroom in Mumbai. And given that one can't even buy a two-bedroom house in the suburbs for this sort of money, the RS5, in a contrived way, isn't outrageously expensive. It's also better appointed than most well-to-do households I have been to. For starters, the interiors are tastefully done and immaculately executed. There's almost every comfort and convenience feature you can think of in there as well. Forget the fully powered seats with memory, or the two-zone climate control system, or even the cup holders and the door pockets, it even gets cushy yet supportive seats. And this is supposed to be a sports coupe, and not a luxury yacht.
Drive Select module changes the driving characteristics but none of it can help match the Jag for sheer exhilaration
Not that I am complaining, because even with all this attention to detail, the high-end materials, the excessive padding, and the various motors on board, the RS5 can still crack the 0-100kmph run in five seconds. What's more, it feels effortless to drive fast. If you aren't in the habit of checking the speedo regularly, you'd be doing some serious speeds (for our roads, mind), and won't even realise it; even on the windy and bumpy ghat section on the expressway, the RS5 is phenomenal.
It has all wheel drive and along with torque vectoring tech, not only does it hold onto its line in a corner like a scaredy-cat all clawed in, it also shoots out of corners with gusto without a hint of under or oversteer. It is dynamically brilliant. What's amazing is with such handling prowess, it also rides well. It is comfortable, more than a two-door sports coupe should ever be allowed to be. It rides the small bumps and mildly broken surfaces without a hint of movement or noise or harshness. And though it doesn't take as kindly to heavily deteriorated surfaces, it's still not half as bad as a car running on 30 profile tyres ought to be.
The RS5 then is wonderfully fast and totally likeable. But, it lacks the drama, the noise, the over the top feel, and the ability to scare you. It is just one of those fast cars that anyone can drive fast.
Jag's interiors are surprisingly well equipped for a sports car
The Jaguar XKR-S, however, is a monster. A monster that's waiting to bite your head off, even if your driving is more margarita than fiery pepper. Mistakes are punished, and clean driving scoffed at. The Jaguar isn't just difficult to tame, it is also almost impossible to please. You drive it gently and it is boring. Drive it hard and it snaps at you. And the first time it bared its teeth at me, I just had to pull over to get a breather.
The gear shifter rises from the console. Trac DSC button next to it should be avoided by mere mortals
Engine is a beast and sounds manic
But I was being a bit ambitious too, trying to take on this 5-litre, supercharged, 550PS Jag in the Trac DSC mode. Big mistake, especially on a wet road. I am on a straight section, but when I pull out to overtake a truck and stamp on the throttle for a quick getaway, the Jag instead of shooting me into the horizon swings its tail out so violently and towards the truck that before I can even think about catching it, I am already perpendicular to my direction of travel. Thank god for the distance between the truck and me, otherwise the scene could have been quite ugly.
The thing with the XKR-S is, it is rear wheel drive. And the throttle response is so instantaneous, it's almost like an on-off switch. So, if you ever want to drive this car with the stability programme switched off, my suggestion would be to first get a right foot so sensitive that it weeps in a Sanjay Leela Bansali flick. Otherwise, like us, keep all the systems on, floor that accelerator pedal, and hang on tightly for the ride of your life.
The naturally aspirated 450PS V8 Audi engine
The car will squirm under acceleration, it will tramline under braking and it will make you fight its steering all the way. But, when you are done driving you just feel so alive, so elated, you just want to go back and do it again. And with the assist systems in full alert, it corners beautifully too. You can literally throw it into corners and it remains perfectly balanced, and then on exits, it just catapults you faster and harder that you'd deem necessary. This one, unlike the RS5 is a true blue, hardcore sports coupe. One which requires not just skill but guts to drive hard and fast.
Both the XKRS and the RS5 are performance editions of already fast saloons
And hard we drove, particularly through tunnels. The XKR-S has such a loud and brash snarl, you can feel it in your bones every time that rpm needle rushes towards the 6500rpm redline. It is also immensely addictive. And, of course, because the Jag looks so extraordinary among our current crop of cars - low slung, angry and sporty to the core - you just feel obliged to share this visceral soundtrack with the world. It just feels like good karma.
So, the Audi and the Jaguar are both front-engined, V8-powered petrol two door coupes. Both are performance versions of already quick cars. And both are blue. But, can they really be compared given the Jag at Rs 1.7 crore costs almost twice the Audi? No they can't. But this isn't a comparo, it is a celebration. It is a celebration of performance. A celebration of flamboyance. A celebration of purity that only wonderfully designed petrol engines can have.
It is a celebration of driving. Yes, the Audi might not look as dramatic as its engine demands. And the Jag might have an appalling ground clearance, which on our roads will probably see it lose its carbon lip sooner rather than later. And yes, we might be significantly poorer after this drive given we needed to fill in Rs 5000 worth of petrol every 200km per car. But, the bliss of driving both these cars deliver is worth every inconvenience and every penny spent. I for one simply can't wait to do this again.
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