CALL IT the remnants of the cultural cringe: that belief that whatever we produce in Australia, Europe does it better. Its reach surprised me when I arrived Down Under in 2013. The Euro view of Australians is of can-do, salt-flecked superheroes, refreshingly shorn of neuroses. Truths, as ever, often lay elsewhere.
I was minded of this internalised inferiority complex when the motoring desk was discussing great driving roads. Many colleagues could name the iconic routes in Europe, but looked askance when I mentioned that certain Aussie roads were just as good, if not better. I’ve never driven anywhere that approaches the Targa roads of Tassie, and on mainland Australia there was a drive that I’d champion as easily having the measure of Romania’s Transfagarasan Highway, the road Jeremy Clarkson confidently pronounced the best in the world. Its location? The Victorian high country.
Regular readers of Wheels will know that the roads around the mountain resorts of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek are some of our go-to choices when we’re looking to stretch the legs of some serious performance cars. Link those two hill routes with the forested crest of Tawonga Gap to the north and the dementedly twisty Omeo Highway and the montane Bogong High Plains in the south and you have a 245km loop that delivers every combination of corner, surface and grade any keen driver could ask for.
To do such a circuit justice, we needed something elevated a long way above the plane of the ordinary. Porsche’s boxfresh Cayman GT4 seemed about perfect. A pure, normally aspirated coupe with a 4.0-litre flat-six, the innate balance of a mid-mounted engine, rear-drive and a manual gearbox is a recipe that seems a bespoke fit for this route, the Alpine Ring. That would normally be more than enough, but this time we also brought company in the shape of its big brother, the 911 Carrera. Why have one ‘best sports car in the world’, when you can bring two?
There’s a $29,700 gulf between the apex of Cayman ownership and the bottom rung of the 911 ladder, but throw in the options prices on our test cars and that blows out to a hefty $54,370 gap. Most of that options spend is typical press car dress-up; paint, carbon parts, better lights, stereos, trims and such like. Both cars carry the must-have chrono package and sports seat options and come with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) as standard. Neither has carbon discs. And, after spending a few minutes in both, neither seems a candidate for a cross-shop.
The Cayman feels claustrophobic, raw and highly strung. The jutting underbite of its front splitter has to be nursed obliquely onto drop kerbs and speed humps, while its engine chunters along at its resting 3000rpm lope with all the musicality of my Indesit on an eco cycle. Go any lower than three grand and the bass note turns your spleen to puree. Jump from here into the 911 and it feels as if you’ve landed in a Bentley Continental. It’s airy and plush. The controls feel supremely slick, as if each input is luxuriating in an oleaginous bath of steamy fractional distillates. The engine whirs remotely, and the knurled metal controls contrast with the plastic touch points of the junior sibling. The 911 feels an entire generation fresher. Largely because it is.
The Ovens valley offers one of the few opportunities on the loop to ease back and take in the scenery. I’m in the Cayman, with editor Inwood ahead in the Carrera. The road tracks the Ovens river, its path delineated by tree species: the occasional stand of poplars, willows and river red gums. A seemingly impenetrable wall of mountainside rises ahead at Smoko, climbing 1500m above you to that most alpine of Aussie peaks, the 1922m summit of Mount Feathertop. And yes, in case you were wondering, the village was so called because it was here that the gold prospectors would stop to take stock of the task ahead and have a smoke.
On the fringes of Harrietville, the driving instantly changes. Head past the Tronoh dredge pool, where the 167-metre long ‘Tronoh Monster’ sifted for gold at the base of the local quartz reefs, and the road abruptly turns left and climbs hard. There’s no gentle ease-in. The 911 squats onto its broad haunches and goes, its 3.0-litre turbocharged flat-six delivering peak torque of 450Nm anywhere from 1900 to 5000rpm whereas the Cayman needs to be wrung round to 5000rpm to deliver its 420Nm quota. In the meantime, the 911’s dual-clutch transmission blat-blats seamlessly through its eight ratios, receding effortlessly.
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