Porsche 718 Cayman
This latest 718 Cayman ditches the old flat six engine in favour of a more efficient turbocharged four cylinder powerplant, yet still offers more power. As for the name, well in case you were wondering, the '718' reference refers not to the engine but a series of classic Porsche mid-engined models that won numerous races in the 1950s and '60s. Enough with the briefing; what's this car like?
So, what's it like? Well, the cabin envelopes you like a proper sports car should. You sit low, and there are no seats behind you; just a bulkhead that separates you from the new flat four turbo engine, just thirty centimetres from the small of your back. That'll be either a 2.0-litre 300bhp unit if you've opted for the standard Cayman or a 2.5-litre 350bhp powerplant if you've chosen the Cayman S. If you're wondering, that's now equal to what you'd get from the same engines fitted to equivalent Boxster models. Both powerplants are, as before, mid-mounted, that being the major point of differentiation between this Cayman and its pricier 911 stablemate, which has its powerplant slung out behind the back wheels. Here, in contrast, it's hunkered down in the middle of the car, something that has all sorts of beneficial effects on this car's handling dynamics.
Even if you don't plan to thrash round the Nurburgring, you'll notice a balance and friendliness to a driving experience that feels, well, just right. You'll be wanting some numbers. The basic 2.0-litre Cayman with a PDK auto 'box and the Sport Chrono package will accelerate to 62mph in 4.7 seconds and run onto 170mph. Go to the other extreme and plump for a 2.5-litre Cayman S with PDK and Sport Chrono and you'll be able to demolish the 62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds with the engine pulling strongly from 4,000rpm and taking on a lovely guttural bark as the revs rise towards the red line and the cars hurls itself on towards a top speed of 177mph.Turn-in is crisp at whatever speed you choose and body roll's well contained too. What we have here is a masterclass in sportscar excellence.
Does it look like a 911? The uninitiated might think so but visually at least, the Cayman is no longer a lesser, rather clumsy copy of that car. As for the '718' series changes, your eye is immediately drawn to the nose with its much sharper profile and ultra-slim Bi-Xenon front lights above the air intakes. In profile, there are strikingly sculptured wheel-arches and side sills - and a wider look to the rear, emphasised by a high-gloss black strip with integrated Porsche badge between the redesigned tail lights.
Behind the wheel, the upper part of the dash panel including the air vents is new. The smarter sports steering wheel is fashioned in a '918 Spyder' design. Plus an extensive range of connectivity options have been added to the 718 cockpit, along with the Porsche Communication Management infotainment system as (at last) a standard feature. Mobile phone preparation, audio interfaces and the 150-watt Sound Package Plus are all part of this package. Practicality remains as before, with a 275-litre boot out back and a further 150-litre compartment in the front. That means a 425-litre total that's actually more than you get in a Volkswagen Golf. A two-seater Porsche sportscar that carries more gear than your average family hatch? The surprises keep on coming.
Whether this improved Cayman can finally upstage its pricier 911 stablemate - or indeed whether this is the car a modern 911 really should be.... well, we can't help wondering whether these are really irrelevant questions. If you like one of these Porsches, you'll probably be unconvinced by the other, with fundamental differences that are small but highly significant.
As ever, perhaps a closer rival to the 718 Cayman is the car it was designed upon - the 718 Boxster, which drives almost as well and offers the option of open-top summer driving. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that Porsche has two brilliant cars on its books and as problems go, that's not a bad one to have.
What's not in doubt is that the Cayman makes the dilemma of where to spend a sports coupe budget limited in the £40,000 to £50,000 bracket about as straightforward as it can be. In the real world, it's one of the quickest cars you can drive and one that makes you feel special every time you sit in it. True, the asking price isn't cheap, the options are expensive and there are more powerful rivals that cost the same. But it's also true that for the money, nothing else offers as complete a driving experience.Click here to find out more about our Porsche 718 Cayman range
BMW's M5 is the yardstick against which all serious performance saloons are judged, a car that in sixth 'F90' generation form gets all-wheel drive for the first time. The company insists that the bespoke 'M xDrive' set-up is compatible with its brand values: it's certainly needed to control the prodigious output of this model's refettled 600hp 4.4-litre V8. A trick rear diff gets the power to the tarmac, there's an uprated auto gearbox and a myriad of drive mode settings to make this the most configurable performance car on the planet. Munich, it seems, has thought of almost everything.
We've tested every generation of M5 over the last thirty five years - but nothing quite like this sixth 'F90'-series incarnation. The big news this time round is the addition of 4WD to the package, an M xDrive system incorporated in such a way as to only activate additional drive to the front wheels in extremis, so keeping this BMW's essentially rear-driven character. There's a selectable track-orientated 2WD-only driving mode if you really want to throw the back around. Power is provided by the most potent engine ever devised by BMW's high performance M division, a revised version of the 4.4-litre V8 unit used by the previous 'F10'-series model. This time, thanks to a sharper set of twin turbos, a new cooling system, a revised exhaust and higher injection pressures, it puts out 600hp - 40hp more than before - or as much as 625hp in the case of the uprated 'Competition' variant.
This powerplant doesn't quite have the thundery bluster of the AMG V8 used in this M5's Mercedes E 63 arch-rival, even if the optional M Sport-tuned tail pipes are fitted. But its output is now certainly a match for that Stuttgart saloon, as are the performance figures, which see 62mph from rest taking just 3.4s in this standard model en route to a top speed that when de-restricted will take you to 190mph. That's Ferrari-fast. But of course a two-tonne super saloon isn't going to change direction with the agility of that Maranello model. Or so you'd think. Actually, the M5 does an astonishingly good job of disguising all that bulk, aided hugely by the Active M differential that varies torque across the M-specific back axle. And by the extent to which you can set the car up to your exact driving preferences via short-cut buttons and an 'M-configuration' that allows you to alter stability settings, engine response, suspension and steering feel and timings for the torque-converter 8-speed 'M Steptronic' auto transmission that's been introduced this time round.
You'd have to know your BMWs to recognise this one's exalted status. The wheel arches are gently teased over M Double-spoke 20-inch alloys, through which you glimpse the high performance braking system. In addition, there are M-specific mirrors and M5-branded side gills - but that's about it for the model-specific changes. Unless you happen to be admiring the car from an upper window. Then you'll be able to take in the lovely 'CFRP' 'CarbonFibre Reinforced Pastic' roof.
It says a lot about the quality of the seventh generation 'G30' BMW 5 Series that it's only taken a bit of fairly minor fettling to make this cabin feel entirely appropriate to a car with a six-figure price tag. And to a supersonic saloon with Ferrari levels of performance. The primary contributor to that lies with the M multifunctional sports seats, which grip you tightly, use soft fine grain Merino leather and feature an 'M5' logo beneath the headrest.
You also get a red starter button and anthracite-coloured alcantara headlining. And the main controls are nicely finished - the bespoke red-striped stick you get for the new eight-speed M Stepronic auto gearbox and the thick three-spoke M leather steering wheel with its important two red Memory-setting buttons you'll want to programme to your preferences at the earliest opportunity. Through it, you view an M-branded set of graphics in the standard 'Digital Cockpit' instrument binnacle screen. In the rear, there's a fraction less space than you'd get in a rival E 63, but the difference isn't very great. Out back, there's a decent-sized 530-litre boot.
With this 'F90'-series model, the development team has proved that an AWD M5 can still retain a rear-driven, enthusiast-orientated character. And delivered a super saloon that's as happy collecting your dry cleaning as it is on the Nurburgring Nordschleife. If you are on a circuit, it's good that you don't have to have all-wheel traction unless you want it, but unless you're an expert or intent on showing off, we're guessing you'll really value that extra tractional help in extremis. And on a wet, icy morning, it'll give you the small but crucial extra dose of confidence that'll allow you to enjoy this car even more.
This would be our fast four-door of choice if money were no object - and, we suspect, probably yours too. We wish it wasn't so expensive, but it's more engaging than its predecessor and more real-world usable too. In short, this car is, more than ever, everything an M5 should be.Click here to find out more about our BMW M5 range
Mercedes-AMG GT 63 4MATIC+ 4-Door Coupe
With this Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door 63 4MATIC+ model, the Three Pointed Star maker's Affalterbach sub-brand has produced its first unique four-door design - and it's quite an achievement. Here, you're going to see the industry's most detailed film on this hugely impressive flagship AMG contender.
It's savagely quick of course. The top 639hp 'S' model's 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 generates 900NM of torque and gets to 62mph in just 3.2s en route to 196mph, while the alternative 585hp standard variant is almost as quick. The acceleration times assume you're using the provided 'RACE START' mode in the 9-speed SPEEDSHIFT MCT AMG auto gearbox, which comes with perfectly-sited steering wheel paddleshifters and software that blips the throttle on downshifts to the evocative accompaniment of popping and banging from the switchable AMG Performance exhaust system. What's even more impressive than the straight line speed though, is the way that the various chassis and drivetrain systems have been developed to interact in such a sophisticated manner. There are plenty of these, including torque vectoring and handling features developed specifically to improve the cornering stability and traction of this car, including an actively locking rear axle differential and rear wheel steering that turns the back wheels slightly in the same direction as the fronts at higher speeds.
Another thing you don't get on a GT 2-Door is this car's 4MATIC+ 4WD system, which usually channels drive to the rear wheels, with those at the front called into action on the occasions (which will be frequent if you're pushing on) when all that torque twist is too much for the rears to handle on their own. The 'S' variant also features an extra 'Drift' mode for track use that disconnects the clutch from the front wheels to allow for lurid, power-sliding circuit drifts. 'Drift Mode' only works in the most extreme setting that this model's incorporated 'AMG DYNAMIC SELECT' drive programme system can offer, a 'RACE' mode that's also exclusive to the 'S' variant as part of an 'AMG DYNAMIC PLUS' package that additionally includes dynamic engine mounts. The other selectable 'DYNAMIC SELECT' options - 'Comfort', 'Slippery', 'Sport' and 'Sport+' - are common to both GT 4-Door models and as you would expect, influence throttle response, gearshift timings, steering, exhaust note and stability settings. Plus they include integrated 'AMG DYNAMICS' handling programmes, which have a lot to do with this car's sublime chassis and drivetrain interaction. The balance here has clearly been chosen to favour track behaviour rather than ordinary urban or highway use. But this model is still an eminently usable commuting tool or trans-continental luxury GT when you need it to be.
One look at this car is enough to convince you of the seriousness of its intent. The front end certainly offers the required level of overtaking presence, courtesy of a broad, wide 'shark nose' that sees carbon fibre-trimmed MULTIBEAM LED headlights flank a full 'Panamerica'-style vertically-slated AMG grille.
At the wheel, it's certainly not much like an AMG GT 2-Door. Rather than a low-slung seating position that sees you peering out of a letter box windscreen at a bonnet stretching into the distance, it really feels more like a sportily-trimmed CLS or an E-Class. The key differences though, lie with the grippy sports seats, this AMG Performance flat-bottomed three-spoke wheel and this so-called 'AMG DRIVE UNIT' lower console. This delivers configurable buttons for the car's key dynamic features and incorporates both a tiny AMG gearstick and a touchpad for the COMMAND Online media system. This controls the infotainment part of the car's 'Widescreen Cockpit' display that as usual with a luxury Mercedes these days, sees two high-resolution 12.3-inch screens shunted together beneath a bonded glass cover.
In the rear, there are three seat layouts you can order, two with a couple of separate chairs and one with a three-person rear bench. Either way, it's not actually too bad in terms of space to spread out, leg room aided by the particularly slim front seats with their scalloped knee-level cut-outs. Out back, lift the tailgate and a large, if rather shallow cargo area, is then revealed, 456-litres in size.
If AMG had merely added weight, size, power and complexity to its GT sportscar to create this top 4-Door model, the result might have been impressive but ultimately, it would have been unsatisfying. The name of this car suggests that approach but thankfully, the sublime execution here is very different. For us, this is, quite simply, the most impressive piece of design that Affalterbach has brought us so far.
Overall, we find ourselves rather smitten with this GT 4-Door model. It may not have the lottery-winning looks of its 2-Door sportscar showroom stablemate, but it'll be a darn sight easier to live with. Not only is it more accommodating but it'll look after you better when you're pushing on - or when conditions might be slippery. Yet it can still reward your inner F1 fantasies better than any other rival should you ever take it on track. It is quite simply, an immense achievement. And a remarkable piece of engineering.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-AMG GT 63 4MATIC+ 4-Door Coupe range