Porsche Cayman GT4, Cadillac ATS-V, Volkswagen Golf R
In addition to a brief overview of each contender, professional race car driver Randy Pobst offers insight on each car’s lap time.
Want more from Motor Trend’s 2015 Best Driver’s Car? Read about the Cadillac CTS-V, Lexus RC F, Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, Mercedes-AMG C63 S RIGHT HERE.
2016 Porsche Cayman GT4
History will show that the day after the Porsche Cayman debuted, someone complained it didn’t have enough power. Historians are still debating whether that same person started the rumor that the Cayman was being held back to protect the 911. Today, things are different.
Today, the Cayman GT4 is powered by the 911 Carrera’s 385-hp, 3.8-liter flat-six and its 310 lb-ft of torque. The only manner of control is a six-speed manual transmission, finished off with a limited-slip differential.
The real magic, though, comes from the suspension. Up front, it’s borrowed directly from the 911 GT3. In the back, new knuckles and helper springs up the ante. At all corners are ball joints in place of rubber bushings and carbon-ceramic brakes, also from the GT3. A new front splitter and adjustable rear wing keep it pressed to the pavement.
“I mean, my only complaints are the gearing is too tall for this track work and for street work, I think. And it still has a little too much understeer, which surprises me. But the bars are adjustable, so owners can put that where they want. Brakes are fantastic, as good as anything I’ve ever driven; the pedal is firm. Never changed an iota. Great bite. The car stops really, really well. The shock damping is superb, just really has the car in control all the time. There is a teeny smidge of oversteer. If you go in a little hot, it’s kind of a good drifty oversteer.”
2016 Cadillac ATS-V
The Cadillac ATS-V‘s chief engineer says the goal was “to put the BMW M3 on the trailer.” How? By being the better luxury sport sedan on the track, the traditional home to BMW, and for most of Cadillac‘s history, its kryptonite.
The how is pretty straightforward: a lighter, stiffer chassis and lots of power. Its twin-turbo, 3.6-liter V-6 cranks out 464 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque, which you can dole out with either a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic or our choice, a six-speed manual that features no-lift shifting and automatic rev-match capabilities. An electronically controlled limited-slip differential distributes power to the rear wheels.
At the ends, custom-designed Michelin tires work with the latest adjustable magnetorheological dampers to keep grip levels high. Brembo brakes handle stopping duties, and GM’s Performance Traction Management gives you five levels of stability and traction control interference or assistance.
“It’s really happy on the racetrack. It just blows my mind out of a Cadillac. Having raced them for years and in the Pirelli World Challenge, I guess it shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Good chassis, well-balanced. And a little teeny bit of power oversteer if I got real aggressive. Really not much—no, there was like a one understeer, which is just about perfect. The car was well-balanced. Little bit of turbo lag. Sometimes it took a while for the power to get rolling as we came off a corner. The braking was strong, but there was a lot of travel in the pedal before I got there.”
2015 Volkswagen Golf R
For many people, the Volkswagen Golf was already plenty sporty in GTI trim. The GTI is, after all, the original hot hatch. For others, though, it’s way behind in the horsepower wars. For those people, there’s the Golf R.
Turning a Golf into a Golf R is not as simple as cranking up the horsepower, though crank it up VW did, wringing 290 hp and 280 lb-ft out of a 2.0-liter turbo-four. That’s backed by either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the latter of which was specced for this test. This is where things get tricky: A Golf is front-wheel drive. The Golf R somehow crams an all-wheel-drive powertrain underneath with a Haldex center coupling, and programmed in some brake-based torque vectoring.
Speaking of programming, you can now fully disable the stability and traction control systems, a long-running complaint against the GTI. The optional dampers also are programmable.
“Braking was good and strong, firm pedal, which is something Volkswagen didn’t use to create, so I’m really happy about the brake feel, and that they didn’t fade. The power is reasonably good. It’s got good midrange. The Volkswagen turbo-fours used to run out of breath at high rpm, and this engine is still pulling pretty well. The car is quiet, smooth, refined. It makes a little bit of engine noise, which is good. There is a little nice intake noise in the midrange. Very little exhaust noise; maybe a little, not much. Shocks are well-damped. It does not have any secondary oscillations. It’s a very comfortable car to drive in terms of ride and in terms of being easy to control.”