Today's column is devoted to a rousing round of Automotive Would You Rather?, featuring the following scenario: Let's say you have eighty grand to spend on a performance car. Would you rather buy a modern, mid-engine sports car with a long warranty, tons of comfort and convenience features, and all the latest gadgets? Or an old one that catches on fire?
That's right, folks. I've decided to compare my Ferrari 360 Modena to the all-new 981 Porsche Cayman S, generously loaned to me by a Jalopnik reader who handed over the keys with the following instructions: If you crash it, make sure you total it.
But I didn't crash it. You'd know this if you followed me on Twitter, where I recently posted a picture of both vehicles, perfectly intact, with all their body panels untarnished. Several minutes later we found a screw in the Ferrari's tire and I started freaking out like a schoolgirl, but that's a whole different story.
So anyway, I've made a little video that compares the Cayman and the Ferrari. But I know there are a lot of readers who can't watch videos at work, and – according to e-mails I've received – "even if I could, I wouldn't waste my time looking at your ugly face." So I've also decided to do a slightly more in-depth comparison below, for all my fans out there in the reading community. Here goes.
Given that the Ferrari and the Cayman are so similar on paper – they're both mid-engine coupes, they both have similar performance numbers, they're both owned by people who believe the fist bump is an acceptable alternative to the handshake – it's surprisingly how different they really are.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the interior. The Cayman has a well-made, if slightly boring, interior, whereas the Ferrari has a cabin that's primarily constructed out of leather. Seriously: the Ferrari has leather on every single surface, including some surfaces that no human person has ever looked at or touched, unless they're filming a video about how the Ferrari has leather on every single surface. When you spend some time in the Ferrari, you get the feeling that global safety regulations are the only reason they didn't go with leather windows.
Another key element here is equipment. Now, I know I'll get some anger about this part of the comparison from Jalopnik's younger crowd ("Who needs features in a Ferrari? You just DRIVE IT!!! If I had a Ferrari, I would drive it EVERY SECOND!!!"), but the truth is that when you spend this sort of money, you want some cool stuff. The Cayman has navigation, and ventilated seats, and HD radio, and an iPod hookup, and heated seats, and a TFT display in the gauge cluster. The Ferrari, and I believe I've already covered this point, has leather.
So if interior is important to you, you'll probably want to go with the Cayman.
Let's talk about styling. Styling is very subjective, which means that there's no right or wrong answer when we start discussing which car looks nicer. For example: one group of people might think the Ferrari is more attractive. Whereas a second group may think the Porsche is better-looking. Unfortunately, the second group is full of complete nincompoops.
Yes, that's right: the Ferrari is better looking than the Cayman. The Ferrari is low-slung, it's exotic, it's wide, and it's beautiful. It was styled by Pininfarina, and it has all the appeal of an Italian sports car. For proof: when you pull up at a stoplight next to a Ferrari, you hoist your iPad out the window and take a picture, apparently so that you can later show your friends and colleagues that you were in the vicinity of a Ferrari. Meanwhile, when you pull up next to a Cayman at a stoplight, you think: Wait a minute… leather windows would NEVER work. They're not even transparent!
So anyway, the Ferrari is more attractive, and for those of you who disagree with me, please remember I can always be reached at email@example.com.
Powertrain has always been a key component of performance cars. This is largely because performance cars, like many other vehicles, require a powertrain in order to move.
The Cayman and the Ferrari have two very different engines. In the Cayman's case, it's a 300-some horsepower, 3-point-something liter flat-six, like every single Porsche engine made in the modern era. Seriously: for the last several decades, every single Porsche has used a 300-some horsepower, 3-point-something liter flat-six, and yet they keep getting faster. There is absolutely no explanation for this except that Porsches must defy the laws of physics, in direct contrast to the increasingly sagging body parts of their aging owners.
The Ferrari, meanwhile, uses a 400-horsepower 3.6-liter V8. This is an excellent engine and it sounds great, though I'm constantly being reminded by YouTube commenters that their C5 Corvette Z06 is "way faster" than my "stupid overpriced $500,000 Ferari". So while I would say it's a great engine, I wouldn't necessarily say it's the best engine.
Both cars, however, suffer (or benefit, depending on your perspective) from the same issue: a complete lack of low-end torque. Although the Porsche is better about this than the Ferrari, you have to really wind up both cars in order to get them going. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I completely understand, and I can point you towards some YouTube commenters who would happily run over your cup of tea with their C5 Z06.
In the end, the thrill of owning a sports car largely comes down to the great question of: Which one drives better? And in this case, I've decided to tap into the inner reaches of my highly experienced journalist brain to provide the following clear-cut, truthful, tremendously helpful response: it depends.
It largely depends on what you're looking for from a driving experience. Handling is about the same, as both cars are truly excellent – and you won't find yourself anywhere near the limit of either vehicle unless you're on a racetrack. But there are other differences: the Ferrari's ride is far harsher, and visibility is worse. The Ferrari attracts far more attention, while the Cayman flies under the radar. The Ferrari has that glorious engine note only Ferrari seems to be able to master, while the Cayman still sounds like most other high-performance cars. The Ferrari is, ultimately, a Ferrari, while the Cayman still feels more like a mass-produced car.
So I'd say that if you're looking for a car you can drive every day, the Ferrari isn't that car. Yes, I once strapped a TV to the roof of my Ferrari in order to prove that it's a practical vehicle. But the main thing that proved was that I'm crazy, not that the Ferrari actually is a practical vehicle.
Instead, it's the Cayman that's far more practical: you can drive it every day without worrying about rough roads, angry vandals, or valet parkers. The Cayman is a fun car you can use all the time. The Ferrari is a slightly funner car for special occasions and rare Sunday drives when there's no one else on the road.
If you're reading this comparison with any actual desire to purchase either of these vehicles, I strongly suggest you buy the Cayman. That's because used Ferraris aren't for comparison tests: they're for the kind of passionate, crazy people who have wanted a Ferrari their whole life, and occasionally shop eBay for prancing horse ties. If you're that kind of person, you probably already know it. If you aren't, buy the Porsche. As your iPod plays through the touchscreen infotainment system, and your butt is cooled by the ventilated seats, and you speed through a corner with absolutely no worry of catching on fire, I suspect you won't regret a thing.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.