The Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, with its 420-horsepower rear-mounted six-cylinder engine, connects to the road unlike any other model in the group. The rear-wheel drive and torque vectoring (which transfers power to each 20-inch wheel) create such a firm grip, you feel like you could drive up a wall. It’s an impression boosted by Porsche’s excellent paddle-shift technology, which is ultraresponsive and smooth as the Carrera slips through its seven gears. (Much of this technology is available on the Cayenne and Macan SUVs, too, which have outpaced the 911 in sales—last year Porsche sold about 9,000 911s, compared with more than 15,000 Cayennes.)
The exterior design of the Carrera, largely unchanged since the model was introduced in 1963, is relatively modest. Likewise, the interior luxury is restrained, with three perfectly round gauges stacked behind the steering wheel. The buttons on the center console are minimalist and intuitive, and the dashboard is clean and elegantly slim.
With track-proven technology, including active suspension management and dynamic stability control, you get the most for your money among these three.
Mercedes-AMG GT S
Mercedes-Benz’s bad-boy halo car is designed to invoke fond feelings for the brand’s glorious gull-wing SL from the 1960s. With its protruding snout, the car practically begs for attention from young, new Mercedes shoppers, though so far not many are buying. Fewer than 1,300 have sold per year.
Inside, it has round dials through the center and the dash. The extras, such as carbon-fiber trim and carefully stitched leather seats, exhibit a visual emphasis on quality. The crash-avoidance and traction- and stability-control technologies, plus a state-of-the-art entertainment system, are impressive—the most advanced of the bunch.
Jaguar F-Type SVR
This is the two-door coupe Jaguar introduced in 2013 to get back into the luxury performance game. It’s been quite a success; more than 4,000 were sold last year, outpacing sales of the Audi R8, the Acura NSX, the AMG GT S, and similar models. The SVR is a performance version of the $61,400 base F-Type; the souped-up model we tested has a supercharged V8 and tweaks such as a light titanium exhaust system to reach its price tag.
The first thing that impresses about the F-Type SVR is the brawny exterior styling. The second is the starting howl of the engine. With 575 horsepower, it’s more powerful than both the 911 and the AMG GT S, and it also has better torque: 516 pound-feet of thrust on the heaviest car in the group. The driving experience feels the most raw, too—punching the gas and brakes feels abrupt and powerful. But the interior trimmings fall short: The leather on the seats could be suppler, and the stitching seems gaudy. The smartly arranged dashboard is a little better, with air vents that automatically rise in accordance with the climate control. Remember the F-Type SVR is a track-inspired car, and it’s a good deal for the power you get.