If there's a contest on automobile pedigree, two gentlemen named Carl and Gottlieb make sure Germany wins it hands down. And if you zero in on full-blooded sportscars, then another chap nicknamed Butzi helps the Teutons grab the chequered flag even before the race starts. No other sportscar in history can boast of being the benchmark against which other carmakers measure their products as the 911 can, and that too for close to half a century. So when Porsche decided to reinvent this icon that had only improved over its five generations, the news must have sent shivers down its rivals' spines. And with good reason too.
Whoever said "but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to heaven" was right, I thought while trying to squeeze my hefty self into the low, not-so-spacious cabin of the new 911 Carrera S. I'm not complaining; the 911 didn't make its name on being a paradigm for practicality. In fact I don't mind practising a little bit of contortionism to check myself in to motoring heaven. And once in, it's not as cramped a place as it looks from outside anyway. Although not a lot roomier than before, it leaves considerably more space to move around than in the smaller Cayman. It also looks a lot classier than before, with premium-feel soft-touch plastics, leather and Alcantara making up its cabin.
Twist the integrated key fob and the 3.8-litre boxer engine fires up with a snarl, literally sending a tingle up your backbone before settling down to a crackling, sputtering rhythm. Brace yourself up, hold on to the steering wheel and plunk the right foot, and the 400 horses right under your derriere are unleashed via the impeccably smooth seven-speed PDK tearing you away to 100kph in just 4.1 seconds. However the sheer aggression of the Carrera S's acceleration makes it feel much quicker. The rear engine layout, combined with its lighter weight, wider track and longer wheelbase result in a car that lives up to its legacy with sublime handling. The reimagined silhouette and reworked aerodynamics help the Carrera S slice effortlessly through the dense, humid air that's collected amid the towering Hajar mountain range. Even with limited intervention from its stability controls in the Sport Plus mode, the 911 felt more surefooted and planted than most of its rivals, brilliantly overcoming the challenges posed by its heavy rear.
The grip and poise are second only to the awesome Cayman R. And contrary to logic, switching from hydraulic to electric power has not taken any of the car's legendary road feel and its riveting drive.
It might not be the fastest or the best looking, but if it's sublime driving pleasure and a rapturous oneness with the machine that you're looking for in a sportscar, look no further than the 991 Porsche 911 Carrera S.
In Italy, nature blessed the Romans with stunning landscapes and azure coasts, which is why the country is full of wonderful, ancient architecture to reflect its surroundings, and people who easily pull off torn jeans with white Prada shoes. The thing is, Florence looks good in Florence, but not so good when you try to bring it to Dubai and make a mall out of it, like, for example, Mercato… Here at the wheels Dubai World Cup, Italy is represented by the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale. It has black wheels. It has a crown on the roof. It has stickers on the sides. It has racing bucket seats, a fire extinguisher, a roll cage, and four-point harnesses. In Dubai, it's ridiculously out of place.
The mirrors on the MC Stradale are also only semi-electrically adjustable. You can use the little buttons to whirr them into position, but they'll just stop short, preferring to display the car's gracious rear fender lines. I know it looks beautiful, but I need to see the road in the mirror, not the car's buttocks. As for the rear-view mirror, that just blocks the entire passenger side half of the windscreen.
The bucket seats are excruciatingly uncomfortable, and not at all supportive either. Why are they there? The lateral supports are so far away from each other, you end up sloshing from side to side in the seat at every twitch of the wheel.
And what do I need four-point harnesses for? With 450bhp from a 4.7-litre V8 that feels hardly breathtaking under full throttle, if the relatively slow-poke Maserati requires four-point harnesses to keep me alive, then the GT-R should come with 12. The Maser isn't fast. Zero to 100kph takes 4.6 seconds and mid-range acceleration can't match any of the torque-rich cars here. It wants you to think that it's a race car, but it's not.
The suspension is rock hard, although to be fair it's not jarring or crashy. The car rides with a firm solidity, and only these fine-tuned damper settings save the handling from being sloppy, because the chassis is nothing to write home about. It's an inconsistent car, hard to drive quickly over a mountain road with full commitment. The grip is huge at the rear, and the brakes feel excellent and progressive. But there's a serious lack of defined character here.
The Maserati comes across as a mixed bag of all sorts. It's not a race car for the road, and it's not a particularly good sportscar. It's like a mixed bag of candy. Only, this bag got burdened with a few too many licorice bites. I hate licorice.
The first wheels World Cup is a competition of questionable prestige, superfluous horsepower, and a lack of talent on the drivers' parts. We invited all sorts of competitors to turn up and proudly represent their countries, but not everybody was willing to let us have their high-power sportscars for the weekend. England was, but they decided to boycott us at the last minute, and we had France show up only to immediately go on strike.
The Swedes also came along, but unfortunately the Chinese bought their challenger for two kronas and took it home.
So we were left with the four cars from four nations that passed our stringent qualifying stage, which consisted of phoning people and asking them for cars. Representing Germany is the new Porsche 911 Carrera S, while the Cadillac CTS-V Coupé will try to do the US proud. But with the pacey Nissan GT-R from Japan and the very Italian Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale completing our all-star line up, this is going to be a tough test of looks, speed and handling.
Our football pitch for the day is the narrow and winding roads around the Hajar Mountains and our spectators include goats. It's all to play for in our very first wheels World Cup. So don your favourite country's shirt and strap yourself in. This is going to be one wild ride. May the best car win.
And the winner of the wheels world cup is… this! At least it should be. And no, it's not just because I can't stand losing. Alright, I really can't stand that, but that is beside the point.
This car does everything the other three can do, such as look good (which should be the Maser's forte, but the angular lines on the Caddy are such a breath of fresh air and check out that Black Diamond metallic paint!) go exceptionally quickly (OK so the GT-R is quicker but this piece of Detroit iron hits 0-100kph in just 4.0 seconds until the limiters cut in to stop it going any faster than 280kph — it's no slouch) and it handles with nearly as much aplomb as the nimble little 911 (it even has the magnetic ride control employed by Ferrari).
It'll match and surpass those lot (especially in terms of looks — it doesn't need a single decal to be noticed unlike that Italian over there) yet, and here's the biggie, it costs way less than all of them. With a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 mated to a six-speed automatic, it churns out 747Nm of torque — enough to move a mountain. Truthfully, if we had our sensible hat on, then we'd be handing the CTS-V Coupé the coveted wheels world cup trophy because it's quite clearly the best car here. I'm wearing that hat, although it's on back to front because I'm trying to look as hip as the car, but no matter which way I don it, it hasn't altered my opinion of this sublime, 556bhp beast of a car. I drove it up and down Jebel Hafeet in a personal best of up before lunch and down before sunset not too long ago, and was blown away by its exceptional handling and manoeuvrability.
But, with a properly decent driver behind that Alcantara trimmed wheel, it'd give some supercars a run for their money. As a sportscar, it's by far one of the best. It even has a Bose stereo but that rumbling exhaust note is all the music you need. It simply embarrasses the dull drone emanating from the GT-R's tips or the fake roar the Porsche produces (you have to push a button to make it sound good).
And the ride? It floats along like a Fleetwood suspended in the clouds. It can be comfortable and civilised one moment and totally bonkers when you step on it. Launch into corners and it grips amazingly well. The steering is communicative and offers plenty of feel too — saying that about an American car would usually land you in the nut house, but things have clearly changed. If you want more bang for the buck, you absolutely want the CTS-V Coupé — my winner… But I'm sure Amit has something to say about this…
Let's talk numbers for a moment. The 2012 GT-R makes 550bhp from its 3.8-litre V6, hits 100kph from standstill in 2.8 seconds and will smash the 315kph barrier before running out of breath. Now name a car, any car, that can deliver this level of performance for under Dh450,000.
Let me help you; the answer is none. The GT-R is the ultimate performance bargain on the market today. Period. Sure the Cadillac delivers more horsepower-per-dirham, but that's purely academic. Ask it to lay down all these horses effectively on the road and it lays two black lines from the tyres instead.
There are some areas where the GT-R does lag behind. I'll freely admit that it isn't quite the best looking or best built car here. Even the Cadillac has a better interior and trim materials. However, both cars are trounced by the Europeans. The Maserati has great faux racing car trinkets, but the Porsche's cabin is head and shoulders above everything here when it comes to trim or build quality.
OK, I'll also concede that the Porsche feels more special than the GT-R. The Cadillac rides slightly better and the Maserati is clearly the chisel-jawed looker amongst this lot. But in the end it all comes down to the driving experience. And that's where things get interesting.
The Porsche is a great all rounder, but unless you are accustomed to the idiosyncrasies — and the consequent handling characteristics — that come from having the engine hanging over the tail, you will make a hash of things in the 911. The Maserati, despite having the most racing paraphernalia, is actually the softest. Which makes those four-point harnesses even more annoying and actually unnecessary. On these tortuous roads the Maserati could barely keep up with the rest.
The Cadillac, meanwhile, does stop, go and change direction unlike any other American car, but still you get a feeling that it's happiest doing the smokey tail-out stuff. And that brings me back to the GT-R. Straight line or around corners, it blows the doors off all the cars here. It has some understeer in Normal mode — the only dynamic flaw I could uncover — but switch to Race and you will be decimating corners flawlessly at brain-scrambling speeds.
It has its flaws, but the performance more than compensates. It offers supercar pace and handling, with the comfort of a four-seater. It has a big boot and in my opinion, it looks better than both the Cadillac and the Porsche. On balance, it is the best overall package.