Bottom Line/Personal: What are the best high performance cars for 2015?

I’m Steven Kaye, Editorial Director at Bottom Line Publications, and today my guest is auto analyst Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book Senior Director. If you want a no-compromises sports car, something that’s going to be the rival of anything else out there on the road, you have a lot of choices. Karl’s going to help us sort them out today.

Karl, thank you for coming.

Karl Brauer: Hey, anytime you want to talk sports cars, I’ll come by.

Bottom Line: I want to talk sports cars right now, and I want you to tell me what you think is the top high performance sports car for 2015. Not necessarily the most expensive, but the one that you would most like to drive.

Brauer: I’m probably more of a pushover for iconic and historic and heritage elements than the average person, but that’s who I am. When I look at a car that’s been made for over 60 years without any break in production and become one of the most iconic sports cars on the planet, to me that says as much or more about how great the car is than its actual performance – which is also very good. And that’s the Porsche 911.

I’m a huge 911 fan. I feel like this car – it’s kind of an enigma. I mean, most engineers have to admit that it probably wasn’t the best idea in the first place to put the engine so far back in the car. Porsche has had to tame that lever action, that lever moment that you get when you have so much weight at one end of a vehicle. But they’ve done it. They’ve successfully tamed it.

What they’ve done is they’ve taken what was arguably an Achilles heel or a downside to the vehicle and turned it into a core DNA element for 911s that 911 fans, current and future owners, love. They love that aspect, that there’s now this rear engine sports car that handles and performs as well as any car that theoretically started out with much better weight distribution and weight balance.

Bottom Line: So throughout its history, the 911, with all the weight in the rear, has had a twitchy rear end. It’s a little hard to control and keep things in line. Awhile back, Porsche came out with a solution to that called the Cayman.

Brauer: Yes.

Bottom Line: They sort of fixed that. There was a terrific responsiveness to the Cayman, and without some of the “oh my gosh” danger of the 911. But maybe you’re saying that that danger of the 911 is no more. Is that really true in the current models?

Brauer: Yeah, they’ve pretty much tamed it. Everything from widening the rear track, the width between the rear wheels, widening the tires – they’ve pumped up the traction so much on the back of the car. That’s like a physical correction that they’ve made. Then they added Porsche Stability Management, so there’s also an electronic element that will actually keep the car from going sideways and spinning out of control.

So there’s multiple redundant factors to keep the back end from coming around on the modern 911. It really isn’t an issue or a trademark of the car anymore. It really hasn’t been since they went from the air-cooled one in the late ’90s. I think the car has no downside in terms of performance, but it still has this trademark feature that is theoretically a downside.

There’s almost an engineering rebelliousness of Porsche to say “We’re going to keep making the 911. We’re not going to evolve it into a more logical car,” like a mid-engine car, which the Cayman is. The Cayman starts in a more logical place; mid-engine is a great design for a car. You centralize all that mass, and you’re going to end up with a more responsive and more stable car at the limit.

But I’ll never forget that great Porsche commercial with Patrick Stewart narrating, and he says, “For 50 years we’ve stared gravity in the eye, and gravity blinked.” They basically overcame a design element that is hard to overcome.

Bottom Line: And what’s in your garage, Karl?

Brauer: Oh, I’m also a fan of the 911 because I own one, but that just happened recently. I’ve been a fan for years, but I did buy one just a few months ago. And I feel very fortunate because to me, again, it’s the iconic car that if you’re a true sports car guy, you’ve got to have one of those on your ownership list at some point.

Bottom Line: Yeah, they’re amazing to drive. You’ve got another car on your sports car radar right now that is actually brand new.

Brauer: Yes.

Bottom Line: Almost the opposite of the 911, but very impressive and exciting. Tell us about that one.

Brauer: Yeah, what’s interesting is that there’s now become a British alternative to the 911 that is every bit as viable as a sports car that the 911 is. That would’ve been an inconceivable thought, that someone like Jaguar could’ve produced a full-on 911 competitor, and they have. They’ve produced this new F-Type Coupe and Convertible.

This is another statement from the people who own Jaguar – they also own Land Rover; they’re called Tata. They’re out of India. They have done such amazing things with these brands. The Land Rovers are much better than they were even 5, 6 years ago, and the Jaguars are substantially better. Even the ones that have been made for years, they’ve improved.

This one’s all new. It’s purely made from the Tata era, and it’s a 911 alternative that has every justification to be a 911 alternative. You don’t have to make any excuses for it. But it is kind of the opposite; it’s brand new, it’s front engine, it’s British instead of German, it’s a V8 instead of a horizontally opposed 6.

It’s all the things the 911 isn’t, and yet it’s beautiful, it’s got an exhaust note that some would argue is maybe the best one currently available in a modern car, and it performs at an equal level to the 911.

Bottom Line: Power-wise, handling-wise?

Brauer: Yeah. Handling, stability, capability. They really dialed this thing in. And it’s just exciting to see a brand like Jaguar, which has had its ups and downs and has had its challenges, but they’ve got the E-Type in their history, which is probably the most iconic vehicle ever made.

I mean, this is a car that Enzo Ferrari, at the time running Ferrari in the ’60s, called “the most beautiful car ever made.” When you have someone who owns their own car company say that about a direct competitor, I think that’s a pretty strong statement.

That brand needed something to revive it, and this car is doing that.

Bottom Line: How’s the packaging of the F-Type Coupe in terms of room for people, room for a couple of bags for the weekend? That’s something that the 911 – it’s always been a little bit of a give and take there. It’s not the most spacious car. How about the Jaguar?

Brauer: Yeah, it’s really good. It’s got some trunk space, it’s got some space behind the seats, especially in the coupe version, which is newer. That’s a more recent release than the convertible. So I think you end up with a practical, in the sense of a sports car – I mean, neither of these cars is going to carry a lot of cargo – but you can definitely carry some items in the F-Type Coupe especially, and still enjoy all the fun and engaging and evocative things that you want out of a sports car.

Bottom Line: Let’s talk about the price ranging now for both the Porsche and for the Jaguar. Where can you start and how high can you go?

Brauer: The 911’s kind of nutty, because even the cheapest ones now are I think in the eighties, and if you head into GT3 and turbo range and all, you end up well past $150,000 and approaching $200,000. But that weakness is also its strength. It means that even if you aren’t capable of affording a $200,000 one, you can still get one that’s still going to be a very enjoyable car for less than half that money.

With the F-Type Coupe and Convertible, you’re going to be in about that same price range; they just won’t go as high. But you’re going to spend seventy-five plus for an F-Type, and if you get the supercharged V8 version with all the bells and whistles, you’re going to start getting to $100,000.

Bottom Line: I want to ask you about one more car that is not brand new for this year, but recently redesigned and plenty of power and performance and a much lower price point, and that’s the Chevrolet Corvette.

Brauer: Yeah.

Bottom Line: What’s your feeling about that car, current version?

Brauer: The Corvette has always been a massive bang for the buck vehicle. You get so much vehicle. There was always the one problem with the car, which was the interior quality. You always had to make that excuse. You want the best bang for your performance dollar, you buy a Corvette, but remember the interior’s pretty low-grade. It was very frustrating as an automotive enthusiast and as a journalist to have to have that footnote every time you talked about the Corvette.

Bottom Line: Actual parts from other General Motors cars sometimes in the interior.

Brauer: Yeah, I know, like the Cobalt steering wheel was in there and stuff for the steering wheel. That was really unfortunate. They have known this; they finally have addressed this. The redesigned 2014 Corvette has no interior issue problems in terms of quality or design. It’s very premium-feeling. The exterior is all new, of course. The performance is amazing.

This is a car that, even without enhancing it with a lot of performance packages, will give you exotic car levels of performance. And then if you get the Z51 package thrown on, you are absolutely rivaling exotic cars.

But what’s really exciting is the Z06 that’s coming, because this car is going to pull three-second 0 to 60 times, it’s going to have a top speed of 200 miles an hour, and it’s going to cost in the $85,000 to $90,000 range.

Bottom Line: Every bit as much performance, depending on the version, as the other cars. Much less money. Still not the refinement, still not as elegant as the Jaguar…

Brauer: Or the Porsche. No, it’s still not at those levels, but it’s not glaring. You have to really care about those things as opposed to being hit over the head with the fact that it’s got noise, vibration, harshness or interior quality issues and all. Now you have to look for it. And it’s at a level that most people who are already fans of the Corvette, or even performance car fans, aren’t going to care.

Bottom Line: So starting to be a reasonable cross-shop among these cars at this point?

Brauer: Yeah. There’s reason to consider a 911 or a Corvette in the same breath, and not just because “Well, I want the performance of the 911 and I want to save thirty grand. I don’t care if the interior’s terrible.” That used to be the argument. Now, I want a really nice, premium-feeling sports car? You can still look at a Corvette right next to a 911 or the F-Type.

Bottom Line: Okay, super. Thank you, Karl.