Aston Martin V8 or Porsche 997 S

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Aston Martin V8 or Porsche 997 S

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Aston Martin V8

Porsche 911

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I'd have a 911. If we were still with the old 996, I think I'd be swayed by the Aston. But the 997 is the best Porsche 911 ever, and it's time I had one.

May and Hammond, er, 'discuss' the new Aston V8 and Porsche 911

James May: The thing is Hammond; I know the 911 is an icon and a benchmark and all that old toot, but there must be something fundamentally wrong with it. I mean, it's not as if everyone else has rushed to copy the layout, is it? In fact, no one has.

Richard Hammond: Yes, but it's not as if Porsche has copied anyone else, either. The company developed something unique and stuck to its guns. And anyway, what are you talking about? You've got one. Sure, it's an old snotter, but it's still a 911, so how do you explain that?

May: I only bought the 911 because I couldn't afford the old Aston I was looking at. If I was prepared to prostitute myself to the supermarket empires of Britain like you do, I could have had a 1982 Vantage. But I wasn't, so I had to 'make do' with a 911 and my integrity intact.

'You claim to understand 911s, but you bought an old, knackered one. Admit it, you're hopeless'
Hammond: Whatever. You like Astons because you prefer things to be in black and white, and you secretly want a moustache. In fact, that's your problem. You spend so much time wandering around in 1932, that you get all confused when you occasionally come across something from the post-mangle era.

May: Ah, but that's where you're wrong you see. I love old Astons, but I love the idea of a really modern one as well. Like this one. It looks fantastic and contemporary but it's still a no-nonsense Aston. And anyway, the Porsche 911 goes back to 1937 because it is, of course, related to...

Hammond: Don't start that. Of course, you were already an old man then, so I suppose the original 911 still seems a bit new-fangled for your tastes.

May: It's possible to appreciate the past and love modernity. Unless you're a 911 fan, of course, in which case you want to stay stuck in 1963 with an idea that wasn't right even then.

Hammond: Well, speaking as a 911 owner, you would know I suppose. Look, you like Astons because you like sideburns, cravats and leather elbow patches. You claim to like a modern Aston, but there's no such thing. You claim to understand 911s, but you bought an old, knackered one. Admit it, you're hopeless.

May: OK, little boy. Let's assume we both had the money - obviously you have because you've just opened a shopping centre, but let's imagine I have as well.

We're both on our way to the car supermarket - which you've also just opened. At this point you have to think ahead to that moment when someone asks you what you drive. What do you really want to be able to say, 'an Aston', or 'a Porsche'?

Hammond: Well if it comes down to that, I'll just keep my Morgan and say I've got an Aston. Surely you, of all people, are not about to start spouting on about 'brand awareness'. That's like Prince Charles asking what you've got on your iPod.

'You shouldn't drive a 911 because they don't make a 911 "Captain Slow" special edition'

May: It's not about brand awareness, it's about being a chap. I don't wear a bra, but it's not because of the Wonderbra brand. It's because I'm not a woman. And I'm not a financier or a funds manager, so I can't drive a 911. And neither should you.

Hammond: I thought you did wear a bra. And you shouldn't drive a 911 because they don't make a 911 'Captain Slow' special edition with three cylinders and wooden tyres.

May: Is this is good time to point out that the Vantage is two seconds faster than the 911 around the Nürburgring?

Hammond: Oh yes, a performance advantage you'd no doubt appreciate. On your way to the bowls club.

[The Editor intervenes and tells the boys to go and drive the cars around the Top Gear test track. Some hours later...]

Hammond: The thing is, it might be the all-new 997 and, yes, it moves the thing on a heck of a long way, but it is still a 911 and that's really important.

It still feels like one at the wheel. You know, that sort of bounce it does, when it goes light as the weight moves back beyond the rear wheels and the rear suspension shoves it forwards again and takes control.

It might be safer, more supple and sophisticated than before, but it still has that sort of springiness that says, '911'.

Every time I get into one of these things I get out and think 'that is just the best thing you can possibly drive'.

Hammond: It's got so much character, so much personality, so much about it that you don't get anywhere else and yet, corny as it sounds, you can still use the thing every single day of your life and know that it will never, ever let you down.

May: Hang on, you haven't tried this Aston yet. For a start, the handling is very, very benign. None of that turning in gently and then wondering if it's safe to give it the berries yet. It feels safe and easy to drive fast. But it's still very exciting.

It's taut and short, and full of energy. And the noise is simply stupendous. It's like an Alfa Romeo at low revs on a part throttle, but then that valve thing in the exhaust opens up and it goes mad. It actually sounds mid-engined, because the exhaust noise is behind your head. Marvellous.

Hammond: Granted, the noise is fabulous, especially from outside when it pulls away. But then that flat-six following the Porsche around makes my hair stand on end too. And the 911 has so much grip.

You don't think it will ever let go, and then it does, but it does so in such a gentle, progressive way that you can keep on top of it. It's nothing like the old 'park up a tree' 1980s' stuff.

By sticking with the same layout - and yes, I'll admit, the engine started off in the wrong place - they have had no choice but to refine and develop and polish and perfect the thing until it's got to where it is now; it has its flaws, yes, but they are what define it.

It's how it overcomes them to become just the best thing to drive, ever, that makes it so special.

'Hmm. I don't normally like to admit it, but the lad has a point here. This is too important to gloss over'

May: But Aston has done everything right from the start. A compact car, engine in the front, a normal gearbox with no flappy paddle nonsense. It's immediate and uncomplicated.

Aston's also understood that a good ride will also give good handling. It's a bit knobbly over small bumps, but the composure of the thing is very good, and it makes it really pleasant punt around.

It's almost like a posh MX-5 - a no-nonsense sports car. Porsche has lost sight of that with the 911. It's burdened with the heritage and meaning of the thing. Cobblers to all that. We just want a good time. You get that in the Aston.

Hammond: All right then. I defy you to drive that 911 and get out of it not grinning. I defy you to say it isn't the best thing you can drive today.

[The boys stomp off to drive the other's car. Later...]

May in 911 (aside): Hmm. I don't normally like to admit it, but the lad has a point here. This is too important to gloss over. This latest 911 has retained just one feature of the original - the wonky layout.

But he's right; it's part of what makes it so charming. And it all works. You do have to be a bit careful in a fast, tight bend, but the traction control is so clever you can be heroic in complete safety. Crikey. I really like it.

Hammond: It's got so much character, so much personality, so much about it that you don't get anywhere else and yet, corny as it sounds, you can still use the thing every single day of your life and know that it will never, ever let you down.

May: Hang on, you haven't tried this Aston yet. For a start, the handling is very, very benign. None of that turning in gently and then wondering if it's safe to give it the berries yet. It feels safe and easy to drive fast. But it's still very exciting.

It's taut and short, and full of energy. And the noise is simply stupendous. It's like an Alfa Romeo at low revs on a part throttle, but then that valve thing in the exhaust opens up and it goes mad. It actually sounds mid-engined, because the exhaust noise is behind your head. Marvellous.

Hammond: Granted, the noise is fabulous, especially from outside when it pulls away. But then that flat-six following the Porsche around makes my hair stand on end too. And the 911 has so much grip.

You don't think it will ever let go, and then it does, but it does so in such a gentle, progressive way that you can keep on top of it. It's nothing like the old 'park up a tree' 1980s' stuff.

By sticking with the same layout - and yes, I'll admit, the engine started off in the wrong place - they have had no choice but to refine and develop and polish and perfect the thing until it's got to where it is now; it has its flaws, yes, but they are what define it.

It's how it overcomes them to become just the best thing to drive, ever, that makes it so special.

'Hmm. I don't normally like to admit it, but the lad has a point here. This is too important to gloss over'

May: But Aston has done everything right from the start. A compact car, engine in the front, a normal gearbox with no flappy paddle nonsense. It's immediate and uncomplicated.

Aston's also understood that a good ride will also give good handling. It's a bit knobbly over small bumps, but the composure of the thing is very good, and it makes it really pleasant punt around.

It's almost like a posh MX-5 - a no-nonsense sports car. Porsche has lost sight of that with the 911. It's burdened with the heritage and meaning of the thing. Cobblers to all that. We just want a good time. You get that in the Aston.

Hammond: All right then. I defy you to drive that 911 and get out of it not grinning. I defy you to say it isn't the best thing you can drive today.

[The boys stomp off to drive the other's car. Later...]

May in 911 (aside): Hmm. I don't normally like to admit it, but the lad has a point here. This is too important to gloss over. This latest 911 has retained just one feature of the original - the wonky layout.

But he's right; it's part of what makes it so charming. And it all works. You do have to be a bit careful in a fast, tight bend, but the traction control is so clever you can be heroic in complete safety. Crikey. I really like it.

Hammond: The noise is intoxicating. At idle it has a muscle-car rumble; open the taps and the noise rises, aided by the valves in the exhaust, to an Italian supercar wail. It might be the 'baby' Aston, but it still feels dramatically larger than the compact and lithe 911.

Yes, there are genuine problems, even for the enthusiast used to the whims and fancies of handbuilt stuff: the dashboard is enormous; it's like sitting on a low chair at a big dining table.

Most of the switches would shame a basic rep mobile and it's very difficult to find anything like a decent driving position.

But, if I'm absolutely honest, it has got something. Perhaps the closest thing to it I've driven recently is the Maserati GranSport. But where the Italian car feels slightly too glammed-up and showy, this mixes a little dignity with its flamboyance. Erm, I think I like it.

[Later, in the pub...]

May: Admit it. You fell for the Aston.

Hammond: Hmm. I did a bit.

May: Nah naaaaaah.

Hammond: I admit I want to be in the pub when the landlord says "Will the owner of the Aston Martin please remove it from my wife's parking place", but it's flawed. The interior's flawed, the driving position's flawed, some of the details are flawed.

'Bugger. You're right. I think it's excellent. But I'd still have the Aston. I've loved them since I was a boy'
May: I know. It's a proper Aston. But the theatre is there. It makes you feel like a cad. That's what it's about.

Hammond: And the 911 still feels like magic. More than ever. And I know you liked it because I saw the look on your face when you climbed out.

May: Bugger. You're right. I think it's excellent. But I'd still have the Aston. I've loved them since I was a boy, it looks and sounds brilliant, it's great to drive, it'll be more exclusive and, um, it suits my image.

Hammond: Pity it doesn't suit your wallet, then.

May: Tart. Pity it doesn't suit your tractor-pulling Gloucestershire lifestyle.

Hammond: Doesn't need to. I'd have a 911. If we were still with the old 996, I think I'd be swayed by the Aston. But the 997 is the best Porsche 911 ever, and it's time I had one.

May: I've got an old 911 for sale, if you're interested. Excellent condition, full history, formerly owned by that other bloke off Top Gear.

Hammond: How much?

May: To you? £14,000.



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