Base price: $56,500
Proving performance is not simply a measure of power, the mid-engine Porsche Boxster used its hot looks, advanced technology and impeccable handling to conquer its powerful rivals.
Not only did the Boxster have the least amount of horsepower and torque in this group, but the finishing order followed the same less-is-more pattern, with the most-powerful 662-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 finishing fourth.
The Boxster's 265 ponies may seem meagre next to the GT500's numbers, and the six-cylinder Porsche's 207 lb-ft of torque is not even a third of the mighty Ford's supercharged V8's low-end oomph, but it proved its sports car pedigree eloquently on the closed runway handling course.
The Boxster's engine below and behind its two seats allowed the driver to easily feel every movement of inertia right around the driver's hips, quickly attaining that magical "oneness" with the car that's a mechanical high on four wheels.
To be fair, it likely helped the Porsche that there was a cold rain for two of the three voting days for this category. This hindered both the GT500 and the Camaro ZL1 on the road and handling course, making it difficult for the Chevy to put power down in both a straight line and especially coming out of corners, and nearly impossible everywhere for the more fishtail-prone Mustang. The Boxster, by contrast, stuck like glue on wet or dry roads.
Top scores for its impressive PDK dual-clutch transmission with launch control, along with the best fuel efficiency, also helped hand the Boxster its win.
Mercedes-Benz SLK 55
Base price: $80,500
This was the chic, effortless performer, with equal acceleration to the Chevy Camaro ZL1, but not scary in the wet or dry. It impressed testers with its interior sophistication and lovely features, such as neck-level warming vents and its changeable clear roof. But it was also priciest vehicle in this group, and trailed the Boxster in handling and braking.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Base price: $58,500
The Oshawa, Ont.-built Camaro ZL1 was the hometown hero here, and is more refined than the Shelby, on track or off. In the rain, the ZL1 felt more planted than the Ford, though both could easily spin those rear tires in a straight line, even with ESC fully active. However, it lost points inside, and was the heaviest drinker.
Ford Shelby Mustang
Base price: $61,699
"I could get around this [handling] course faster in a Prius," was one tester's conclusion after driving the Shelby GT500 in a chilly fall rain, the stability control continually chopping off the juice with even a tickle of throttle. On dry pavement, there's still a continuous battle with adhesion. It's the clear horsepower per dollar winner though.