For years we ‘ve been secret admirers of P-cars. We ‘re not afraid to admit the 911 and Boxster can be pretty compelling products when specced appropriately. Now with the Cayman added to the mix, Porsche has an even more compelling product for enthusiast that ‘s led to more than a few BMW owners going over to the ‘other side ‘. It wasn ‘t until recently that the Boxster and Cayman became particularly interesting to us. For 2011, Porsche released two hardcore models based on its entry-level cars; the Cayman R and the Boxster Spyder. We drove both recently (and briefly), outside of Chicago, at the Autobahn Country Club to see how these Porsche ‘s would stack-up to the two smallest M cars – the 1M and M3.

First, let ‘s just get this out of the way. If you ‘re an able-bodied person who doesn ‘t mind contorting, Porsche sells the best seats in any mass-produced car on the US market (period). In fact, the entire interior of a Porsche tends to be focused and functional. While they often lack the infotainment technology of a modern BMW, it ‘s perfectly set-up for the enthusiast.

That doesn ‘t mean it ‘s all without fault. The shifter is short but requires more force than you ‘d expect (or like). Then there ‘s the clutch; it doesn ‘t have the feel you ‘d expect in a car dedicated to delighting the driver. In comparing the left pedal in these P-Car offerings to my (ex) 1988 535is it was shocking how overboosted it was and how much mechanical delicacy was missing. Even most modern M cars have more feel than either Porsche.

Now let ‘s get to the good. Steering feel is as magnificent as you ‘ve read over the years. It ‘s direct, well weighted and full of organic feedback, something that is often missing in many modern day BMWs. The sounds emanating from behind me were great – especially in the Sport Exhaust equipped Spyder. I ‘d love to get some back to back seat time in an M Performance exhaust equipped M3 and the Spyder. So very different but both are spine tingling. However, one thing I do think BMW has the edge in is engine sound. I couldn ‘t help but think the sonorous purr of the BMW inline six (in 1M or E46 form) edges the flat six out in aural quality.

Both Porsches have a specialness that even a car like the 1M doesn ‘t replicate. They pull you in with their single-mindedness and make every drive feel momentous. Yet as a performance tool you have to ask yourself what you prefer. Both Porsches were perfectly honed in a way that even the 1M or the M3 can ‘t quite match due to their engine layout. But from a functionality stand-point unquestionably the 1M would be easier to live with day to day. I was particularly surprised at how much more civilized the ride was on the 1M ascompared to the Cayman R.

After a quick drive in and around Autobahn I was surprised at how much I preferred the Spyder over the Cayman R. What it may lack in structural rigidity (which it really doesn ‘t) it more than makes up for in presence and sound. There are few cars more gorgeous from the rear than the Spyder, which looks like a smaller version of the famed Porsche GT supercar.

Do they win out over the 1M or M3? It ‘s easy to cast them aside as not comparable given the lack of seats and luggage space. But let’s forget that for a moment and focus on what each would be like to own. Immediately I ‘d take the Cayman R out of the running because the Spyder just feels so much more compelling and special (which is the point of these cars). Likewise, I ‘d have to remove the M3 from the list as too big, heavy and common.

So the Spyder and the 1M then? After a very initial drive it ‘s the 1M that I feel has rock-star attitude that (ironically) matches the Spyders ‘ looks. As perfect as the Spyders ‘ dynamics are, it ‘s just less fun. In the end, if I had to choose one I ‘ll always go with the car that I prefer to drive rather than the one I prefer to be seen in.

Special thanks goes out to Autobahn Country Club for the use of its facilities and the 2nd photo above. For those who would like to know more Autobahn, check out their site. Individual and corporate memberships are available (less than you might think) and the track hosts many events and races throughout the year. If you have a chance to ever make it out for any of them, definitely do so.