Over the past few months I've been scheming, scoping, and saving for a new project car purchase. The first big decision was to choose between a new BMW Z4 M Coupe or a Porsche Cayman S.

I tend to be compulsive when it comes to researching automotive purchases, whether it's whole cars or just bits and pieces. But it never hurts to do your homework thoroughly. I read every brochure, website review, road test and comparison I could find. Though each car runs a different drivetrain layout, from a performance point of view they're about as close they come.

To get to the heart of the matter, I needed to find out which one would best fit my needs as a daily driver and track day companion-and of course, as suitable project car material. Real-world testing is a must, so I had to drive these machines and see for myself. Both cars are more thrilling to look at in the flesh, yet each is different from the other. The Porsche has beautifully flowing lines with definite lineage from both the 911 and Boxster. I'm not a fan of recent Bangle-era BMW designs (though I did enjoy Manic Monday), but the new M Coupe really works for me. It flows, but is angular and aggressive at the same time. The roof really makes it.

On the street, there's no problem with either of these prestigious German-engineered sports cars, apart from staying on the right side of the law. With their creature comforts, fairly compliant ride, strong power delivery, and intoxicating sounds, both could make great daily drivers. Their interiors speak of high quality in both form and function, the Porsche being more on the flash/luxury side, the BMW more understated/minimalist (which I prefer). On the track, they perform like Swiss watches, precise, with style and flair, and it feels like they will do so for many hours to come.

The Cayman S is easier to drive fast. I am completely comfortable after my first lap.The BMW feels less refined, but much more exciting to drive from the seat of the pants. It sounds better and I also love its seating position, thickly padded steering wheel, and the superior pedal ergonomics.

Then there's the math. No doubt about it, Porsches are expensive. The Cayman S is a fantastic car, well worth the money-if you're able to spend it. The M Coupe, on the other hand, seems a comparitive steal. It has equivalent performance and build quality at a much lower base price, better all-inclusive pricing, and important standard features not available at all on the Cayman S (like a limited-slip differential, automatic hill-hold function, and dual intensity brake lights). Seems to me the M Coupe should have been priced at a level closer to the outgoing Competition Package M3. But let's not tell BMW that.

In the end, I've gone for a beautiful black-on-black 2006 Z4 M Coupe-but you knew that. I decided to protect my purchase by covering the front end with 3M clear protection film. Some feel doing this can take away from a new car's smooth good looks. Unfortunately, they're given to spreading boulders on the roads here in Canada during the winter, so this is really a necessity that actually works reasonably well, even if you elect not to drive your precious sports car in the bad weather.

I have quite specific performance objectives in mind. However, this will not be your typical warranty-blowing build. I've made a conscious decision to demonstrate what can be done without voiding my warranty. This will make the project more challenging, and hopefully more interesting for those who prefer to keep that useful (and paid for) factory coverage intact. Anyway, I'm anxious to get started. I haven't owned a BMW since I sold my 2002tii in 2001 after 16 enjoyable years. I'm now back in black. Even my accountant is pleased. First job: upgrading brakes and rubber.

By Doug Neilson
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