Do you need a really fast car to go quickly from point to point, or can a slow car do the job almost as well while costing much less and using considerably less fuel in the process?
With car makers quoting astronomical top speeds and 0 to 62mph acceleration times for their latest high-performance models, we wanted to find out if you can really use all that extra power when you’re driving within the legal limits on UK roads.
The route: a 190-miles law-abiding run from bridge to bridge in Wales – that’s the Severn Bridge in the south east to the Menai Bridge in the north west.
Supercar vs supermini: Which is faster in the real world? A £130,000 Porsche or a £12,000 Smart? We decided to find out with a speed-limit-adhering race across Wales
It was an easy job to pick the quick car. A £130,000 Porsche 911 Turbo S, with 572bhp and all-wheel drive, is probably the world’s fastest real-world car.
The slow car was trickier. We could have gone super-cheap, and picked a Dacia Sandero, or something cheery and utilitarian, like the Fiat Panda. In the end, we went for another rear-engined model – the Smart Fortwo. Which had just 89bhp and costs. Slow enough, then.
The rules were pretty simple. Follow the same route and don’t stop. Don’t break any speed limits. Overtaking, though, was allowed – and this is where the 911 would have an obvious advantage.
We started off at the base of the A449, heading west on the A40 towards Abergavenny, then onto single carriageway roads all the way northwest.
The driver of the Porsche was an expert. Mauro Calo. He does stunt work for Hollywood movies and TV shows. We were in the Smart.
Mauro overtook us swiftly and disappeared into the distance at the first opportunity.
That was the last we saw of him. We put thoughts of how much he’d beat us to the back of our mind and concentrated instead on enjoying the Smart.
Whereas our competitor could overtake with ease, this was more of a challenge for us. Particularly lorries. Often, we had to simply sit tight and wait.
Worse still was when people saw us, assumed we were a sluggard, and pulled out in front of us. Other motorists, in contrast, stay well out of the way of the Porsche.
You might think the high-power Porsche would be the clear winner, but that wasn’t necessarily the case
The 911 Turbo S packs 592bhp, has a top speed of 205mph and can hit 62mph in 2.9 seconds
Compare that to the stats of the Smart. It has 89bhp, a top speed of 96mph and takes 10.4 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 62mph
When we did find clear air, though, the Smart proved to be enormous fun, particularly in slow corners.
Its short wheelbase and rear engine allowed us to dive towards the apex, then get on the power super-early and drive hard out of the corner. Well, as hard as 89bhp would allow. Even the dual-clutch automatic gearbox is better than it’s ever been, although still not perfect.
We arrived at Anglesey with a buzz from the drive. The assumption was that we’d be bored senseless, but the opposite was true.
Needless to say, the Porsche was there waiting for us, so we steeled ourselves to hear the bad news: how long had Mauro been waiting?
The race across Wales covered just over 190 miles of fairly free-flowing roads
The answer: a measly nine minutes. We were amazed. Mauro was too, as he told us he’d been really on it.
What helped us was the fact traffic was relatively light, so we weren’t delayed all that much by slow-movers. Plus the fact the rules stated limits were to be obeyed.
You can have all the speed in the world but on winding UK roads, you can only use up to 60mph of it.
It was a fascinating result.
Of course, Mauro had a blast in the Porsche, calling it the best car in the world for this sort of trip.
We thought we knew better and told him as much when we swapped keys for the journey home. Before firing up the flat-six Porsche and heading back south.
It was heavenly. Mauro was right. And this time, we didn’t have to worry about speed limits, either.
The Porsche arrived at Menai Bridge just 9 minutes earlier than its significantly less expensive race rival
With £118,000 splitting the difference in price between the two, it means you’re paying £13,000 for every extra minute of getting to the destination earlier in the Porsche than in the Smart
By the end of the trip, we’d come to the terrifying conclusion that the Porsche could have won by an hour or more, had legality not been our prime concern. But it was. And, on the day, these two cars came out almost neck and neck.
Probably the biggest margin of victory was the amount of fuel consumed.
The Smart swallowed half the amount, to cover the trip at an average speed of 48mph, rather than 50mph for the Porsche. That’s perhaps the most amazing statistic of all.
Had the journey been stretched to include refuels, they could maybe have come out almost neck and neck.
The Porsche is magnificent but if, like us, you can only afford a Smart, at least you can drive it safe in the knowledge there’s less between you and a supercar than you may think…
Journey comparisons showed just how much the saved 9 minutes cost in extra fuel use in the supercar. So don’t feel so bad about not being able to afford one next time a flash performance model overtakes you on the motorway
SUPERCAR VS BUDGET CAR: HOW THEY COMPARED OVER 190 MILES
Porsche 911 Turbo S
Top speed: 205mph
0-62mph: 2.9 seconds
Time take: 3hrs 49mins
Average speed: 49.8mph
Fuel consumption: 20.4mpg
Top speed: 96mph
0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
Time take: 3hrs 58mins
Average speed: 47.9mph
Fuel consumption: 39.9mpg
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