The Boxster demanded an astute driver to keep the tachometer needle toward the high side of the dial-between 4,500 and 7,200 rpm-where most of the power is stashed; doing so was frustrated by gear splits out of synch with this particular course.
The Audi TT's Quattro driveline was especially handy on the racetrack. This car could be flung aggressively into a bend without fear of a heavy tail drifting wide. Likewise, the TT tolerated early, aggressive throttle applications exiting a turn.
The Toyota MR2 Spyder used its lightness to advantage. Despite its overall responsiveness, track speed was diminished by the tendency to pirouette while late braking into turns and futile wheelspin in response to the driver's call for maximum acceleration while exiting bends.
Toyota's MR2 is the classic Sunday afternoon roustabout. You can flip the top open at a stoplight, map a route to the nearest twisting mountain road, and keep your smile even if that destination is never reached. All interior surfaces come from injection-molding machines, but an interesting selection of weaves, perforations, and textures keep your thoughts from drifting in the cheapskate direction. Low seats, high sides, and a wind blocker keep your hair from twisting in knots. Every nook and interior cranny is fitted with a mini storage compartment. But this is small compensation for a trunk that's barely large enough for a duffel bag. This car is ideal for weekends but impractical for everyday driving.
The midengine configuration creates a usable trunk both front and rear for the Boxster, but the interior still
is purposeful and close fitting. The Porsche constantly challenges its driver to pay attention, to polish his or her technique, and to savor the glories of a pedigreed sports car. There are idiosyncrasies-such as a left-mounted ignition switch, an engine likely to stumble if the clutch is engaged without a healthy nudge of the throttle, and vague-feeling shift linkage-but a well-driven Boxster S delivers a heady dose of driving dynamics in its purest form. In fact, the intoxicating six-cylinder serenade issued by this Porsche's power source has been known
to convince even hidebound skeptics that $57,452 is an entirely reasonable price to pay for a sports car.
We've previously called the Audi TT a rolling fashion statement and while that's still true, this soft-top Quattro edition goes far beyond flash and filigree. The baseball-glove seat motif is as comfy as it is clever and attractive. The power top works swiftly and proficiently. In contrast to the hard-core sports cars in this group, the TT takes a softer tack. It rides smoothly and quietly and never bombards you with noise. Its listless metabolism turned in this group's lowest fun-to-drive quotient, but it's near the top of the list of sports cars we enjoy being seen in.
That leaves the Corvette, which prompts twinges of love-hate frustration. Bummers include the resolutely fixed roof, a homely hind end, a turn-circle in the pickup-truck class (42.3 feet!), clumsy shift linkage, and an interior mood out of synch with the near-$50,000 price. But the Z06 buries those faults with a long list of winning traits. The engine is the absolute apogee of pushrod performance, there's nearly enough road holding to induce nosebleeds, and the Corvette's built-in electronic stability systems let even rank amateurs enjoy aggressive driving without risking their hide. When the hard charging begins, this is the ride we'd run toward every time.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.