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Motoring: Audi and Porsche price fits budget

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | December 3rd, 2007

Let's get something straight right from the beginning: The Audi S5 and the Porsche Cayman S are not competitors. Yes, while both cars are German, both have two doors, both have deliciously powerful engines and are priced quite similarly, these two cars have very different purposes and would thus interest different kinds of buyers.

So why did I then decide to feature these two together. Simple, because these two in my opinion are the two best cars that you can buy for under $100,000.

Make that well under $100,000 because the Audi S5 starts at just $65,900 and the Porsche Cayman S starts at $75,300 (the less powerful basic Cayman is just $63,500).

These two cars are not out of reach for many consumers and offer far more value than their price tags suggest.

Time now to look at them with a magnifying glass. Let's start with the Audi first. The S5 is not only new, it is a whole new line of cars. In the past, Audi models went from the A4 to the S4 to the A6, but now we get this incredibly gorgeous new coupe to plug the gap. It's designer, Walter da Silva, who has penned many beautiful cars for Alfa Romeo and Audi says that the S5 is the most beautiful car he has ever penned. I certainly won't argue with him. During my time with it, I would park it at restaurants where I could sit and look at the car. It is one of those designs I will never get bored of and it certainly looks much better in person than pictures. I love the tensed muscle stance, the gorgeous 19” alloys and those menacing LED lights up front. This car is so stunning, I think there should be a picture of it next to the word “beautiful” in the dictionary.

Open its vast door, and the good news continues inside. This is a classy, elegant car to be in. This interior is as close to perfection as car interiors can be; it's spacious, very well built, and even better equipped.

You can spend an entire day driving and not get bored of the interior. I know that because, I did just that. Not once did I wish I was in another cars interior, I liked it that much.

Not as much as I like its engine though. Audi has pulled a first for itself in the marketing department because they decided to launch the higher performance S5 model instead of launching it in the A5 guise with smaller, less powerful engines. So what you get right now is a 4.2-litre, V8, which is actually a restrained version of the V8 found in the magnificent R8 supercar (which is the best car produced this year). In the S5, you get 354 hp and 325 lb/ft of torque, driving all its wheels thanks to its Quattro system, through a smooth as silk six-speed manual gearbox (six-speed auto also available). Launch this car properly and you will hit 100 km/h from rest in just 5.1 seconds, keeping your foot buried for 10 seconds will result in your car getting towed away by the police, but if you are feeling brave and decide to keep your foot buried even longer, you should know it's top speed is limited to 250 km/h.

So the S5 is fast, but the Porsche Cayman S is even faster, despite having fewer horses to pull you along. The Cayman S has a 3.4-litre, flat-six engine, placed inside the cabin, five-inches behind your bottom, and produces 295 hp and 251 lb/ft of torque. This enables the Cayman S to sprint from zero to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and tops out at 275 km/h.

In the Porsche, power is only going to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. The shift quality of both the Porsche and Audi gearboxes is great, but I have to say the Porsche is just a little bit better. The Porsche certainly had a better clutch feel, but the fact that I wasn't 100 per cent happy with the Audi's clutch might have had a lot to do with how it was used before I got in it. My test car from Audi Canada had spent some weeks at the track as part of the AJAC car of the year evaluations, and knowing half the auto journalists in that organization are about as good at driving around tracks as a Kangaroo is at swimming (which equals very bad) no wonder the clutch and gearbox felt less than perfect, in fact there was an issue with fifth gear not engaging properly. Don't hold that against the car though, it just had an undeservedly hard life after it left the factory.

Comparatively, my Porsche Cayman S test car, as provided by Downtown Porsche was brand spanking new. It had just 12 km on the odometre. I expected a car this new with hardly any miles on it to be in need of some loosening up, but no, the car felt perfect right out of the showroom.

The Audi S5 is a very good car, but this Porsche Cayman S, in terms of driving thrills is in a higher league. The Porsche is lighter than the Audi and it shows as you start using the performance like it is meant to be. The Cayman S is also the first mid-engine car I have driven in which you can honestly feel the advantage of its mid-engine layout. You can tell the engine is bolted as low in the chassis as possible, and such on is the level of refinement here that despite this engine sitting in the cabin, literally (there is no glass partition here), there are no nasty vibrations or sounds invading your nerves. The quality of engineering here is “perfect.”

As is the handling, because this thing goes around corners like nothing else I have ever driven for this sort of money. You get so much feedback from the chassis and the steering, that you know exactly what the car is doing and thus you can enjoy it like few other cars. And if you say you are not very talented in the twisty bits, don't worry, Porsche does have an excellent traction and stability control device called PASM (Porsche Active Stability Management) which makes you feel like a hero around corners.

The Audi S5 also handles well, in fact maybe too well, as there is no drama, it just grips and grips. If you are being too much of an idiot behind the wheel, the Quattro system along with the traction and stability control system will bail you out. The S5 I had was fitted with summer performance tires, and during its stay with me, it rained a lot and the temperature was at times a bit too low for the tires on hand. I had one moment where the tires had given out and I was about to understeer onto oncoming traffic, but thankfully I knew what to do and the car sorted everything else. I am quite convinced that if I was in an inferior machine, you all would be reading my obituary.

So while both the Porsche and Audi handle well, if you have to compare, the Porsche does have the edge. One area where both cars have to be dead on par with each other is in the braking department. Both these cars have excellent brakes and will stop you so quickly you have to keep a worrying eye in your rear-view mirror to see if the car behind you is able to stop in time. So far the Porsche has the edge in performance but the Audi is perhaps a bit safer, but which is a better car to be in?

The Cayman S is actually a lot nicer place to be in than I originally thought. It is very spacious for a two-seater and practical too, as it has not one but two usable trunks (the S5 has one very large trunk by the way). The only edge the S5 has over the Cayman S practicality wise is that the S5 has two very usable seats in the back. Couple that with the Audi's gadgets and its awesome Bang and Oulfsen sound system does make it a more relaxing place.

As for which car looks better is down to personal taste. The Audi is elegant whereas the Porsche is athletic. I love them both equally as much, so looks won't be the deciding factor.

I had already mentioned in the beginning that these two cars are not direct rivals, but because they both will cost you about the same, you might for a moment cross-shop between the two.

If you are stuck in this dilemma this is how I see it. If you already have a daily car and want a toy to cherish and enjoy in the right weather and on the right roads, the Cayman S is unbeatable. I liked the Cayman S so much, I think it is even better than its big brother the 911.

However, if you have to have just one car that has to do it all, all year round, than the Audi S5 will certainly be the car for you. Thankfully, I am not rich enough to have to make that choice.
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