Head-to-head: Porsche Cayman GTS vs Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

If you had the choice, which would you pick? A collection of smoked wurst and sliced meats, or a fried corn dog? The electronically precise beats of Kraftwerk or the simple yet powerful sound of The White Stripes? A long weekend away in um… Stuttgart or Detroit?

Okay, so that last one might seem like an odd round of ‘would you rather’, but it signifies the home of two unlikely performance car rivals. The Porsche Cayman GTS is seen by many as the ultimate in driving enjoyment, while the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray delivers a surprising amount of finesse once you look beyond the overwhelming experience of American V8 muscle.

We’re comparing an iconic piece of Americana against some of the finest engineering that Germany has to offer, but which should you choose?

Design

Although both cars ultimately have the same aim, their methods of achieving high performance and excitement are completely different. In order to house a vast 6.2-litre V8 engine ahead of the driver a long low bonnet stretches out ahead of a cabin, seating the driver far back almost over the rear wheels.

The Porsche on the other hand offers a more modest 3.4-litre flat six sitting between the cabin and the rear axle – a location which allows the Cayman optimum weight distribution. The proportions are fantastic – sitting on 20-inch alloy wheels and lowered suspension, the Cayman looks squat and purposeful, without drawing too much attention to itself.

Attracting attention is something the Corvette does very well, especially when finished in eye-catching Velocity Yellow. Beyond the colour, the Corvette logo sits proudly above a wide, gaping air dam within the front bumper, while vents in the bonnet and front wings add further visual drama. The fantastically over-the-top quad exhaust pipes sit in the centre of a huge rear diffuser and below a modern interpretation of the original Stingray’s double taillight array.

The cabin feels cosy, and is a big jump in quality compared to the dreadfully cheap feeling cabins of old ‘Vettes, but it still can’t match the style and quality of most German hatchbacks, let alone the Cayman.

Cayman vs Corvette performance

Despite the diverse approaches to engineering each car has taken, the pair’s outright performance aren’t worlds apart. The Corvette’s monster V8 pumps out 466 horsepower, helping it to smash the 0-62mph barrier in just 4.2 seconds. Top speed is 190mph – genuine supercar pace. At 340hp, the Cayman sacrifices the equivalent of a whole Ford Focus EcoBoost’s worth of horsepower to the Corvette. But it weighs 124kg less too, so the performance gap isn’t as wide as you’d expect.

A 4.7-second 0-62mph time and a 177mph top speed isn’t too shabby however you look at it. It’s the noise that it makes getting there which is the real highlight. The way it revs to its 7,800rpm redline is glorious, and thanks to the GTS sports exhaust you’ll be looking for any excuse to accelerate hard. Volume wise, the Stingray matches the Porsche and then some. Testers describe the traditional American V8 rumble as “sublime” – it sounds almost as special simply burbling along in traffic as it does at full throttle.

If there is one criticism that can be ever levelled at the Cayman, it’s that the gearing is a little too long. Even if you decide to venture on track, it’ll always feel like it goes slightly off the boil through low-to medium speed corners. We’re nitpicking though, and critics say the sensation of rowing it through the gears is a lovely one, particularly with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Driving

The Cayman GTS feature some of the most advanced chassis tech that Porsche has at its disposal. Adaptive dampers control suspension movement incredibly precisely when needed, while active gearbox mounts firm up during hard cornering to add a feeling of stability. For a rather eye-watering £4,977, carbon ceramic brake discs can be fitted for even greater stopping power.

The results are outstanding. Reviewers’ compliments for the Caymans’s ability to string together a challenging series of bends are endless. Words like “sensational” regularly feature in testers’ notes, and its ability to both flatter and challenge the driver in equal measure is almost impossible to find anywhere else. The ride is firm enough for the driver to be aware of what is going on yet never feels harsh. Even the electric power steering system – often a bugbear of reviewers – receives praise for its accuracy, weight and its ability to transmit what the front wheels are up to.

On the face of it, the Corvette might seem like it has quite an old-fashioned set up: the rear leaf-spring suspension, for example, is similar in principle to an old Land Rover Defender. However, they are looked after by state of the art tech.

Magnetorheological dampers (try saying that after a shandy or two) can adjust their firmness almost instantly and infinitely to offer the ultimate in cornering control, while an electronic differential enables a sharper turn in and lessen the chance of wheels spinning up as you accelerate out of corners.  Body panels are made out of plastic (except the bonnet, which is carbon fibre), while much of the chassis is now aluminium, which helps to offset the weight of the “small block” motor up front.

Critics agree that it all combines to create a well-composed driving experience. The Chevy is well balanced, and in the right conditions provides huge reserves of grip. The Cayman is more compact on the road – it’s approximately 15cm shorter and 8cm narrower than the Corvette – and as a result the American car can feel more difficult to hustle at times. This is exacerbated by the fact that it is available in left-hand-drive only, which can be a pain on UK roads. Still, given the space (and the budget for rear tyres) it’ll drift endlessly, which will help put a smile on petrolheads’ faces.

Value for money

There was a time when owning a big American V8 would leave you grateful just to reach the end of the driveway without running out of fuel. Although the latest generation LT4 engine can’t match the efficiency of the Cayman, it’s far better than engines in Corvettes of old.

A claimed 23mpg is almost bearable if you’ve budgeted for performance car running costs, and thanks to a combination of cylinder deactivation and the long gearing testers have noted that figure can creep to the heady heights of mid thirties. A Cayman can supposedly achieve that in everyday driving, which is a truly remarkable achievement for such a focussed performance car.

It could well be argued that for the quality and ability of these two, their prices are something of a bargain. The Corvette has the outright speed and outlandish looks to worry cars costing almost double its £65,510 asking price, whereas the Cayman GTS starts from £55,397.

Conclusion

So which is the best? The truth is, both cars are as equally as thrilling to drive, but both deliver their thrills in such wildly different ways then it makes picking a winner extremely difficult. In the end it comes down to what you want from a car: if a pure handling balance, engaging controls and impeccable quality are vitally important, then the Porsche is for you. If you’d rather experience raw V8 power in a car that will get you noticed, then few do it better than the Corvette.

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