Can Audi’s Golf-based family carryall really trump Britain’s purebred sports car? Prepare for opening statements…
This is Audi RS territory right here… a warm, calm evening and empty road network in the Cape Town CBD now that all the pesky commuters have shuffled off home. The RS3’s climate control is set to Auto 19.5 degrees, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission also locked in Auto, barely registering 2000rpm on its Nasdaq-spec digital display. There’s a sense of calm and quiet before the inevitable storm. A storm of my own brewing, you see, because in the rearview mirror, bobbing over road joins, LED DLRs glinting with pure menace, is Jaguar’s F-Type 400 Sport. A very black one, so dark in fact that like Lord Marshall from Riddick, it’s as if it absorbs the light and life force of everything it passes. Can it do the same to the Audi?
It’s at this point, I bet, that the anoraks are having a meltdown, because plainly, that’s a four-door saloon and that’s a two-door sports coupe and they cannot be compared with one another. Pray tell, why not? Both have 294 kW, while a mere 20 Nm separates the twist from their force-fed engines. Despite possessing extra driveshafts and doors, the Audi tips the scales at 1520 kg while the aluminium and carbon-infused Jag is 200 kg heavier somehow, but the F-Type has an extra cylinder, an extra gear ratio, better aero and a wider footprint. Well, I say that, but it’s the Audi that leaves the lasting imprint on the road with four-wheel drive and mixed tyres that are wider up front. It’s like Audi is saying ‘it will not understeer, dammit!’
That’s the why. The how, of course, when you’re low flying in tandem, is very different. The meeting point for this showdown is the foreshore’s business district, for no other reason than this is where top-tier management spend the majority of their time, and both of these cars mean business. Up until now the F-Type relied on unholy power – we’re talking supercharged 5.0-litre V8 – with a chassis that couldn’t quite keep up. But taking the better balanced V6 S and tuning it up was pure genius. The 3.0-litre snarls on throttle and rumbles off it, but for the first time I can remember in an F-Type, it dovetails with accurate steering and progressive handling – a wonderful sense of knowing what’ll happen at the rear axle before it does. And assuming you find a light source strong enough… just look at it: fixed front skirt and rear wing, all its Cheshire brightwork swapped out for the dark and brooding variety and 20-inch rims housing carbon ceramic brakes the size of dustbin lids – it’s the best looking F-Type yet.
The Audi draws the eye, too, mind you. Regular A3s are discreet, the first to follow the office dress code, but the RS3 has been busy during its lunch hour, shredding-up at the gym before squeezing into a shirt that’s deliberately two sizes too small. It’s a controlled drama though, with swollen wheel arches and dual canons out the back typical of any RS; extra ducting, wicked daytime running lights and quattro lettering leaving you in no doubt it hails from Audi Sport. Size wise, it’s difficult not to draw a comparison with the magnificent B7 RS4 (that’s for you, code geeks), Audi hasn’t offered a small, fast sedan in South Africa since.
On the move, you couldn’t have two cars that go about their business more differently. The RS3’s boosted inline five-cylinder is pure Walter Rohrl at Pike’s Peak, 1987, but its rev-hungry brio is controlled, one that immediately settles when left unprovoked. The Jag on the other hand doesn’t know discretion. Fiddle all you like with the drive mode and exhaust toggles – all it does is switch from loud to profanity-inducing. Show me an F-Type owner who opts for shush mode and I’ll show you someone who plainly bought the wrong car. Every kilometre of this test the 400 Sport’s exhaust flaps have been at maximum pelt, bellowing noise beyond the city skyline – there’s no question it boosts the driver’s mood. Nevertheless, in the city, both navigate the mundane well: the drivetrains are restrained enough for stop-start driving, both ride firmly but not to the point a highway join puts it out of joint. Obviously, one must take care in tight carparks, owing to their large alloy wheels, and the Audi’s bizarrely long tailpipes that clout on everything, while the Jag is uncomfortably wide at times and its rear three-quarter view out isn’t great.
We cannot suffer keeping these cars hemmed in any longer, so we strap on the data loggers and select the most obstreperous drive modes. The Jag costs near-as-make-no-difference R500k more than the Audi, but does it deliver the big-money thrills? The main drag out of town reveals all. Both launch controls armed, left foot holding the brake, right foot hard on the throttle, 11-cylinders firing gleefully before the off. Green light and the Audi’s shove off the line is invincible, like a true a quattro, pulling car lengths on the two-wheel drive Jag like its handbrake was still on. 0-100 km/h in 3.8 sec. Wow that’s faster than claimed and a crushing victory against the F-Type’s 5.2 sec. We swap drivers and repeat. Same result. This time, being behind the wheel of the 400 Sport, I feel its indelicacy at getting power down, even with the driver aids in place to restrict wheel spin.
The Audi is the straight-line king, no question, but even as it jumps ahead and relentlessly builds upon its lead, it’s always a controlled sort of fast, like Ingolstadt engineered speed into it. It’s a sensation that’s best served by leaving the dual-clutch transmission in S, delivering measured bursts of throttle between corners, with a point-and-shoot technique from the helm. It feels likes its only happening at the front end, owing to quattro’s default 50:50 torque split perhaps. However, Audi alleges the AWD system can send 100% of the power to the rear axle, if enough front slip is detected, but I assume that’s as you’re about to hit the guardrail after massively overcooking it. The steering gives precious little feedback and you always leave a little in reserve as a result.
The Jaguar is a substantially different animal. The speed doesn’t feel synthetic, it feels organic, with the whole experience defined by its addictive six-cylinder engine and how the rear end just wants to raise merry hell when a boot-full is added. There’s no escaping that underlying balance and the delicacy in control that comes with it. A concept the fast yet blunt Audi simply didn’t get a memo for. Stuff like leaving a trailing brake on the way into a bend, loading up the front end, and adjusting the angle of attack with the throttle. You can do it in the Jaguar, try it in the Audi and it’s too stubborn to acknowledge your inputs. ‘I’ll go around my way, thank you very much.’ Corners are 3D in the Jaguar, 2D in the Audi. You’ll go around faster in the RS3, no question, but you’ll savour them in the 400 Sport.
And here we get to the nub of what I want to demonstrate with these two machines. Thanks to the Jaguar’s loquacious motor and rear-end revelry it feels more dramatic than the Audi, and therefore just as fast… if not more so. Speed is and always will be relative, and until the quattro king lined up next to black beauty here, no one was none the wiser as to their speed differential. But, I agree with you quarter-mile nuts, the sheer audacity with which the four-door saloon batters the sports car in a straight line is massively impressive and deserving of high praise. The Audi is the (relatively) discreet, practical one, the one you’d want to blast home in on a daily basis, while the Jaguar is fractionally less competent, arguably harder work to drive fast, but more of an occasion. So how do we choose a winner? Easy, choose which you value more in a fast car! For me, I’ll go with the sexy, shouty, skiddy, black one.
In a nutshell – Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport
Bombastic motor, handles with finesse. Best F-Type of the lot.
Can be dropped at a set of lights by something costing two thirds.
Engine: 2995cc, 6-cylinder, supercharged
Power: 294 kW @ 6500rpm, 460 Nm @ 3500-5500 rpm
Performance (tested): 0-100km/h 5.2 sec, top speed 275 kph
Tyres: 20-inch alloys, 255/35 front, 295/30 rear
Economy: 8.6 l/100km
Transmission: 8-speed auto
CO2 emissions: 203 g/km
Price: R1 414 600
In a nutshell – Audi RS3 Sedan
Dual-purpose: supercar fast, family friendly.
Bit of blunt instrument, but when you’re burning all-comers at the lights – who cares.
Engine: 2480 cc, 5-cylinder, turbo
Power: 294 kW @ 5850 rpm, 480 Nm @ 1700-5850 rpm
Performance (tested): 0-100 km/h 3.8 sec, top speed 250 kph
Tyres: 19-inch alloy, 235/35 front, 255/30 rear
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
CO2 emissions: 191g/km
Price: R925 500