By Zack Klapman.
The highest level of professional automobile racing is Formula One. Of course we know these are the most advanced and complicated cars on the planet, taking corners at speeds many cars couldn’t hit after being dropped from a plane, but the most basic ingredient to them is their mid-engine layout.
Most cars have the engine in front of the cabin, which puts a varying degree of weight toward the front of the car. The Porsche 911 –one of the most iconic sports cars ever- has its engine in the back. The weight used to make them prone to spinning, but that’s been fixed by making the rear track as wide as Texas.
Cars that have their engines mid-mounted used to be very expensive, wearing names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren. But a few years ago Porsche went against its mantra, first making the Boxster, and then the 2013 Porsche Cayman (a Boxster with a roof), and have come very, very close to becoming the preferred Porsche for people with who own driving shoes.
For straight up performance and stability, a mid-engined car is better, but what if you don’t want that to be stable? What if you don’t care about every last tenth of a second? What if you want just to play?
From as far back as I can remember, I have enjoyed sliding the back around. Power-slides on skateboards led to skidding bikes, which led to sliding mom’s Jeep Cherokee in rural muddy lots. No matter the vehicle, or the speed, I like a tail-happy car. I like to play. For that reason, I would buy a 2012 BMW 1-series M coupe (referred to as the 1M from here out).
It’s not that the 2013 Porsche Cayman (base price $52,000, $60,000 as tested) isn’t a phenomenal thing to drive. You have 275 horsepower screaming right behind your head. No motor out front means a low hood, so you get incredible visibility, making wheel placement easy. People will tell you to buy the expensive Cayman S, and that you need its extra power, but they’re wrong. 275 aren’t a lot, but that means you can use all of it, all the time, without spinning off a cliff or going a million miles an hour. End-to-end it is an amazing drivers car.
But a 1M is more fun. What started at $50,000 has already gone up, and I know why. It’s a skittish thing; a powerful fireball, a miniature Pitbull that’s smaller in stature but not in strength. It makes 335HP, and huge 370ft-lbs of torque. Fast? Holy hell yes. I believe it’s underrated. It hits 60MPH a full second before the 2013 Porsche Cayman and from there the race will get embarrassing.
All that mustard is controlled by a steering wheel that only spins 2.2 times lock-to-lock so make sure your movements are measured and subtle. This makes it a little more challenging. I like being kept on my toes.
Looks? Not as good as the 2013 Porsche Cayman. The 2012 BMW 1-series M coupe is covered in flares and creases, like The Rock wearing a shirt a few sizes too small (see: every movie he’s in for examples). The interior is quite plain, and reminds me of a 90s 3-series. And that busy steering requires focus on long drives, more than the Cayman at least.
But none of that matters, because if I’m going to pick a small car whose goal is to titillate my fingers, toes, and guts, I want that little bit of uncertainty. That jolt of electricity that comes with easily-accessible loss of traction, and the speed. Give me the Pit bull, give it an espresso, and park it in my driveway.