HANDBAGS AT DAWN!
Motor Trend|August 2021
PORSCHE VS. CORVETTE. NOW MID-ENGINE VS. MID-ENGINE. THE FIGHT THAT (THANKFULLY) NEVER ENDS.
CONNER GOLDEN

Brand tribalists will hate this comparison between the 2021 Chevrolet C8 Corvette and 2021 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0. Speed-actuated decklid spoiler alert: There’s a first-place finish at the end, but it’s a two-piece ranking of our conflicted preferences.

Frustrating, right? Everyone loves a winner, no one aspires to be a loser, but one cannot exist without the other. On the subject of horsepower and performance, there’s a more powerful car, a faster car, and a slower car, and there’s only one choice—otherwise, why bother harvesting test data to begin with?

These decades-long Porsche versus Corvette stand-offs usually raise subjectivism versus objectivism in our minds like bile in our throats. After all, the Corvette—in all its modern permutations—is the de facto victor on the performance-per-dollar front; it shouldn’t lose, at least not on paper. Forget the C8; a 16-year-old base C6 Corvette from 2005 is both lighter and more powerful than today’s base 992-series 911 Carrera.

Our choice was easier back then, too: Pick the lairy V-8 fiberglass wedge for atomic straight-line blasts and ass-out antics, or go with the finespun, finesse-inspiring Porsche for absolute confidence and a sublime driving experience.

But that was long before General Motors engineered the C8 Corvette Stingray, one of the finest and most impressive performance cars available.

As we enumerated in a face-off between the new C8 and the 992 Carrera in our February 2020 issue—in which the Corvette claimed the honors—the mid-engine Corvette isn’t just good for an American automaker; it’s a world-class supercar. Galaxy-class, even.

This test is not sports car versus sports car. It’s supercar versus sports car.

Quit shaking your head. If you consider the McLaren 570S, Acura NSX, and Audi R8 V10 to be supercars, the title must also go to our long-term C8 Stingray Z51. The car matches or beats each one of them in our skidpad and figure-eight tests, and it’s only a couple of tenths slower from 0 to 60 mph, aside from the absurdly quick Audi. If you desire the low-slung visual panache of a supercar, the C8 is all that and more. In fact, we reckon the Corvette’s stratospheric production figures will go a long way in normalizing the mid-engine shape. The front-engine Ferrari 812 Superfast—often derided by some for its C7 Corvette proportions—is now an alien novelty once again.

Conversely, the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0—quite an alphanumeric mouthful—is the purest expression of what it means to be a mid-engine sports car in 2021. You might wonder why, after the C8 finished ahead of the 992 Carrera, we brought a slower, less capable Cayman to the fight. It’s simple: The 718 GTS 4.0 twins (Cayman and Boxster) are, by and large, more special machines than the base 911.

The GTS 4.0 is like a Porsche from a lost era and not something we expected to see resurge. As goes the 911, so goes the Boxster/Cayman; when the majority of the 911 family went turbocharged for the 991.2 generation, the 718s came a year later in 2016 with turbocharged flat-fours across the board, including the eventual 718 GTS. Between 2017 and 2019, if you wanted a naturally aspirated Porsche sports car, you had to save for a 911 GT3 or surf the used market.

Then the next-gen Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder arrived with a 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six, barbecuing the pleasure centers of our brains into Texas brisket. Stuttgart next crammed the engine into the latest 718 GTS, mainly at the Chinese market’s behest, and turned brisket into foie gras. It remains one of the automotive industry’s most stunning and welcome philosophical reversals during the past decade.

Like Porsche GTS varietals to come before and all to come for the foreseeable future, the 718 GTS is, by design, the family sweet spot. Building the 718 GTS starts with standardizing all optional go-fast hardware available on lesser Caymans and Boxsters, then turns the wick up a few percentiles to give the platform an edge over a maxed-out 718 S or T. Brakes are bigger, the suspension is stiffer, driving aids are sharper, seats are tighter, exterior trim is darker, and interior surfaces are usually draped in Alcantara.

Jumping from the 718 S to the GTS is now less about handy order-sheet packaging and instead all about the engine. The GT4’s/Spyder’s 414 hp is now 394 hp in the GTS 4.0, though torque remains a stout 309 lb-ft when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, or 317 lb-ft with the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox like the one in our Guards Red test car.

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