The search for a decent mid-range sports car that handles track duty is a never-ending endeavor. Evos have their shortcomings, as do Mustangs, and the latest European offering is compromised in their own ways, too. They’re also special in their own particular ways, and seem to make good use of the power on-tap and their chassis balance all favor specific driving styles. How do they differ?
Edgy, Accelerative, yet Anodyne
Audi’s TT RS is the bargain beater here, at least on paper. Hitting 60 in 3.5 seconds and having the stoplight-to-stoplight acceleration of most supercars out there, the Audi is hard to argue with. The styling is subject to criticism—but I’ll leave that up to the viewer. What’s important is that the five-cylinder motor offers the most thrust of the bunch, but the chassis is handicapped somewhat.
The TT RS offers strong traction, but is clearly limited by the front end and its propensity to understeer. To get the most of the car requires a very disciplined, measured, and conservative driving style that, for most, isn’t that much fun. In fact, the TT RS is so stiffy sprung at the front that it’s incredibly easy to induce understeer just with steering lock, let alone under drive. “You end up having to overslow the car,” says Jethro Bovingdon. This inclines the driver into taking a diamond line through the corner, and hoping that the traction will compensate for the slow mid-corner speeds, but the front tires get overheated and more understeer occurs. Yes, it’s quick out of the corner, but it’s a frustrating experience, too, and not a car that rewards you, lap after lap at the limit. Simply put, the chassis just isn’t inviting in the same way that the Porsche is.
The most controversial of the bunch is obviously the Cayman S. Porsche’s entry-level car has never quite commanded the respect of a 911 GT3, but it’s actually a very capable sports car with a good grip-to-power ratio. The GT4 version of the latest Cayman only proves this, but taking the screaming flat-six out and replacing it with a turbocharged four-cylinder has left the hot-blooded enthusiasts scratching their heads. Scratching their heads and screaming silently.
Torquey, Responsive, yet Dull
Silently might be the operative word there. Deep down, though we may not always acknowledge it, the sound and the presence of an engine makes driving fun. If it weren’t we would go after electric vehicles in sporting formats more often. The quieted, 2.5-liter four is far from exciting. It’s dull, even—nobody enjoys the sound; like a Subaru Impreza that’s been given a double dose of Novocaine.
The upside is that it makes 350 horsepower and 308 lb/ft of torque from low in the rev range, thanks in-part to a VTG turbocharger—just listen and watch the engine’s response in trailing throttle situations at ?t=5m33s”>5:33. It’s not the dragster of the bunch, but it offers great poise, wonderful turn in, and despite a limp differential, the off-corner acceleration is decent. It offers “natural agility,” and gets better the harder it’s pushed, and is much more “enthusiastic” than the TT RS—the Porsche is the best track toy of them all—and the quickest by a large margin. Plus, it looks great, but it’s hard to get past that engine note.
The Barroom Brawler
BMW’s M2 has been compared to the classic E30 M3, but it’s quite a different car once the compact dimensions and aggressive styling are looked past. It’s chunkier than its size would suggest, and that means cooked brakes by the end of the second lap. Not ideal in a car that exudes so much aggression—a bit like a basketball player with glass ankles.
Of course, so much of this car is about the motor. That howling six is torquey and smooth in its delivery, and as Bovingdon notes, it has “incredible response for a turbo motor.” Sending its power back to the unweighted rears, the M2 shows that typical, tail-out cornering style that hot Bimmers are known for. However, it doesn’t ride bumps as well as the Porsche, and lacks the sort of traction shown by the Audi. Despite its shortcomings, it might still be the one which offers the most honest fun.
These three offer very distinct driving experiences despite being sold in a similar bracket. Ostensibly, they’re similar, but it’s always the Porsche which provides the most intimate experience; the one which relates to you more than the others. However, the Audi’s the fastest in a straight line, and the BMW is the drifter and the hooligan. Which you prefer says a good amount about your own character.