The new genre of "lower-case halo cars" — specifically the Porsche Cayman R, BMW 1M and Audi TT RS — are pricey, but they've got their priorities in the right place, with nimble handling, supercar acceleration and manual transmission only. The question is, which one would you buy?
Simple: The Cayman R.
Of the three, the Cayman starts with the best sports car bones, It's is the least encumbered by luxury, the least compromised by corporate economies (e.g., it starts with the best sports-car chassis around) and it's got the purest mechanicals. With such a wide rev band, the naturally aspirated flat six is the most responsive and easiest to modulate of the three engines. I can't help but wonder what it might be like if Porsche stripped it even further, added 100 horsepower and took on its own 911 GT3 RS. That's how scalable the Cayman R feels. Maybe someday they'll do that.
There's one caveat. With money as no object (at least for this exercise — which is good, because the Cayman R is the most expensive at a base of nearly $68,000), my own choice is dependent on urbanish living circumstances and an 11-foot commute. If I had to have one of these cars for everyday use, it would be the BMW 1M. The 1M's got an amazingly well set up chassis, the M3's rear suspension and diff and tons of usable torque. It's also easy to get sideways, and who doesn't love that? Indeed, the 1M is the most hoonable of the three.
The Audi TT RS is a strange bird. Others have said It's either the most expensive Golf imaginable, considering its Volkswagen-based chassis, or the least expensive Porsche 911 imaginable, considering its quickness and track capability. To me, the TT RS is a scalpel among buck knives. It's seemingly engineered to a very specific set of performance requirements. It's very capable, but driving it well requires thought and a leap of faith — in that it just doesn't offer the degree of feedback that makes a car like the Cayman so engaging. It's too encumbered with trick gear that allows it make it do things it shouldn't. Now, a rally version...
Just to clarify, I've driven the BMW and Audi on the street and the track, but the Porsche only on a short street run and an autocross course - thus the lack of a proper review on the site (consider that on the to do list before the winter sets in).
So, which one would you buy?