Let’s just cut to the chase. We are gathered here today for one, just one, purpose only — to see which one is the best 300+ bhp German-made daily track car.
Photos by Low Fai Ming
The one that you can drive to the office in and not garner too much attention. The one that you can drive to the track with when the urge kicks in. The one you’ll never grow sick of. Today, we have from Munich’s best, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe, or 1 M for short. Then from Ingolstadt, the Audi TTRS in Roadster form; coincidentally the oldest in this group. Last but not least, the newest bloke on the block, Stuttgart’s Porsche Cayman R – poised to shake the game.
So some of you might be wondering why on earth a roadster is slotted among the other two coupes. Well to be honest, it’s because with a roof up/roof down option, the TTRS Roadster should - without a doubt - promise a far more superior driving experience. Try to imagine, you're driving fast along a straight road with your shades on while the canvas roof is down, then braking and downshifting, some steering input, engine and exhaust screaming in all its glory, tyres scrubbing, wide grin on your face as you negotiate one chicane to the other. Makes driving the TTRS less forgettable, doesn't it? Plus, let’s not deny how the Roadster version looks far sexier than the Coupe.
Although it has already been more than a year, the TTRS isn’t exactly a hit among keen drivers here. You don’t know what to blame it on — that it initially came in only a 6-speed manual transmission? The boot size a joke? It looks similar to the entry-level TT? The price? All of the above? Sure, the clutch needs some getting used to and the gear changes isn’t as special as the 1 M’s, but look beyond that and you get a piece of Audi heritage in this car. A 5-cylinder 2.5-liter turbocharged heart, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission gives you 340bhp at 5,400rpm, and — like the 1 M — 450Nm from 1,600rpm.
The 1 M doesn’t need any formal introduction. It’s the latest “baby M” to arrive on our shores, and it packs the punch with the right packaging to justify why it’s selling like hot cakes. Under that beefed up compact body, you get a chassis and engine that — just by looking on paper — have enough firepower to eliminate any other potential competition. In case some of you have forgotten, its chassis came from the E30 3 Series, suspension from the E90 M3 and last but not least, BMW’s ubiquitous 3.0-liter six-cylinder, twin-turbo’d heart. Promising ingredients, even more so when you have 340bhp (at 5,900rpm) and 450Nm (from as low as 1,500rpm) worth of torque to play around with… And a 6-speed manual transmission. Yup, 1 M and TTRS has almost similar figures; “Deliberate coincidence”, I say.
Some of you might think we’re digging a deep grave for Porsche. The only one without any turbocharger, the only one in automatic guise, the one with the biggest price tag. Not helping, doesn’t it? But here are some digits for you to consider though — the Porsche Cayman R, with its 3.4-liter Boxer DFI (Direct Fuel Injection) flat six powerplant, mated to Porsche’s lauded 7-speed PDK ‘box whips out a healthy dose of 330bhp at 7,400rpm, and 370Nm at 4,750rpm. True, it takes longer to reach its sweet spot than the other two, but don’t judge just as yet.
So power delivery isn’t as manic as the other two, and traffic light sprints might not be as quick too, but what it lacks, the Cayman R makes up for it by offering power delivery that’s both melodious and full of pedigree. That engine note that emanates behind you, with that unforgettable exhaust roar, oh boy, makes you want to floor the pedal every single time you see a straight road. Push it past 2,500rpm and suddenly it picks up more speed, heading past expressway-legal speeds. This, ladies and gentlemen, makes the driving sensation unforgettable. See? You need to get to know it well before it rewards you dearly.
The 1 M, without a doubt, remains one of Burnpavement.com’s favourite performance car. The secondary reason is that exterior — aggressive and just ready to pounce on you. But primarily, it’s the way it drives that made us all fall head over heel — you get a force-fed engine that jumps the moment you release both handbrake and clutch. Hold the steering tightly, bring it all the way up to 6,000rpm and see as the world go by in a ferocious blur (wait, did I just passed the speed camera?). It’s as addictive as chewing gums — chew harder to squeeze more flavour out of it till it runs out of taste… in this case, unleaded petrol. To be honest, the feel of that stick and clutch is no different from the E90 M3’s I tasted some years back. Want more effect? Press the “M’ button; suddenly, the accelerator pedal’s response gets sharpened up and the exhaust disposes an even louder note. Brilliant.
Well I had the honour of picking up the TTRS for this shoot. Truthfully, I forgot how it drove, despite the fact that this isn’t the first time I’m driving it (on a separate note, the TTS is a more memorable drive). But heck, the moment it sprinted in Sport mode down a straight road, all those memories (and misdemeanours) came back. With this 6-speed manual ‘box, it seem to deliver all that power to the four wheels — quattro comes standard — with slightly more finesse and alacrity than the 1 M. Bring the roof down, and you get that extra raw feel as you attack one sweeping bend and another, awesome brakes worth highlighting too.
In terms of handling, the Cayman R leads the pack. With that mid-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration, it feels perfectly balanced when driven hard — in fact, it doesn’t threaten to throw its tail out when you least expect it. Employ Sport Plus and the action goes a notch up; swap your own gears via the paddle-shifters to fully experience what the Cayman R has in store. There’s just so much grip, and you’d have to go to extremes to get the tail sliding behind you. Here’s the proof though: although the 1 M and TTRS leaves the Cayman R behind in a straight line sprint, you can be sure as hell the Porsche catches up neck to neck at the next series of bends.
At this same series of bend, somewhere in western Singapore, the 1 M can get a little handful. With the TTRS ahead and Cayman R breathing down its neck, punting it from a left bender to a right one does need some driver focus. Thing is, the moment you enter too fast with sudden steering movement, its tail can actually throw itself out — it felt as if the traction control has certain limitations. Or there’s simply too much power being delivered to the two rear wheels. Of the three, you can feel the body roll here the most, despite the stiff suspension.
The TTRS enjoys being driven like the Cayman R — hard and fast. With quattro four-wheel drive and, most importantly, the optional Audi Magnetic Ride suspension, its handling characteristic is — simply put — brilliant. Even if you’re no track junkie, this car will make you a road hero. It was leading the pack the entire day, be it down a straight stretch of road or down a series of bends and turns. But like other cars, not all is perfect though — it still has a thing or two to learn from BMW in terms of gear swaps. There’s just something about that short-shifter and clutch… It really needs some getting used to.
All three present themselves as everyday track cars, explaining why the driving position is spot on and comfortable. The TTRS gets seats that are huggable with adequate lumbar and shoulder support. Build quality is definitely not worth scrutinizing — you can’t really fault anything in here. The 1 M is the most practical of the bunch; it can seat four rather comfortably with a useful boot that can gobble up anything from travel bags to even Ikea furniture (unassembled, of course). The seats are firm, but not as heavily padded as the TTRS’s. Surprisingly unlike the TTRS, the 1 M gets standard iDrive, giving that premium touch… and bragging rights. The Cayman R’s? Typically Porsche. Controls are intuitive, sports seats with red seat belts and red door pull strips give an additional aura of sportiness. Ok, so the white finishing on some parts might come across as cheesy, but at least it liven things up, compared to the all-black interior of the 1 M and TTRS.
They all come with steering wheels you want to go to bed with — the TTRS’s chunky and great to hold with that flat-bottom, the 1 M’s rounded nicely and not overly fat, while the Cayman R’s skinny (in a cool way) with a real time display to tell you whether you’re driving in Sports or Sports Plus mode. The perfectly sized paddle-shifter’s a gem.
To date, the Audi TTRS Roadster remains one of the most enjoyable car to drive. Again, the manual transmission needs some getting used to — but beyond that, it’s sensational to drive. The Roadster doesn’t differ much from the Coupe; planted, handles well, sharp steering and zero scuttle shake when driven with the roof down.
BMW’s latest road rocket, the 1 M, is (very, very simply put) a hoot. That constant ferocious power delivery, brilliant 6-speed transmission and a suspension set-up that makes anyone exploiting it sweat profusely and laugh sinisterly, is hard to forget. It has strong brakes and accurate steering too. Add all of that up, and you get something our mothers would say, “bang-for-buck”.
Porsche’s Cayman R might not be as quick off the line as the 1 M or as effortless as the TTRS, but in all honesty, it gives the driver an important lesson in appreciating the finer things in (motoring) life. Best driven manually via the paddle-shifters, the accompanying engine note gives that sense of pedigree — you will constantly remember that this is a Porsche.