THE VERDICT

Evo - - ALPINE A110 v PORSCHE 718 CAY MANS v AUDI TT RS -

THE TT HAS THE MOST PO­TENT and eas­ily the most charis­matic en­gine here, all 394 war­bling horse­power of it, and for that we love it. But it’s not enough. If you en­joy the process of driv­ing and the feel­ing of en­gage­ment with a car, the Audi de­liv­ers the least of these three. It’s very fast and easy to drive quickly, which is what most peo­ple would ex­pect of a grippy, qu­at­tro Audi. But there’s lit­tle in­ter­ac­tion, and the op­tional 20-inch al­loys with even low­er­pro­file tyres do more harm than good on our B-roads, adding grip, sure, but also adding an ex­tra de­gree of ag­i­ta­tion and tac­til­ity to a ride that’s al­ready firm.

This is a two-car bat­tle for top honours. The A110 is a breath of fresh air, the prod­uct of an ob­ses­sive pur­suit of light weight. ‘Alpine is to be praised for pro­duc­ing some­thing that’s both light and im­bued with a char­ac­ter all of its own,’ says James Dis­dale. ‘It would have been all too easy to cre­ate a clone of the Ger­man com­pe­ti­tion, but Alpine has re­sisted, and de­liv­ered some­thing fast, fun and gen­uinely dif­fer­ent.’

Porsche’s de­ci­sion to go from a silky, char­ac­ter­ful flat-six to an unin­spir­ing flat­four is a gift, a self-in­flicted chink in the pre­vi­ously im­per­vi­ous Cayman ar­mour. The A110 ex­ploits it for all it’s worth. Its own four-cylin­der en­gine is sweeter, more en­er­getic-sound­ing and, de­spite be­ing al­most 100bhp in ar­rears, gives the Alpine plenty of pace. It isn’t per­fect – Lo­tus man­ages sup­ple­ness with con­trol rather bet­ter – but it’s a unique take on how a sports coupe can feel and be­have, and on any road there’s some­thing be­guil­ing about it. It looks great, too, and it’s good to be in. It’s ex­pen­sive, but it’s an ex­quis­ite, all-alu­minium per­for­mance car.

Would we re­ally have one over this Cayman? The Porsche is hand­some and well made and for­mi­da­bly well de­vel­oped, with great steer­ing and re­serves of grip that you don’t have to fully ex­ploit to feel re­warded. Would it be quite so pol­ished with­out the op­tional big wheels, adap­tive damp­ing, lim­ited-slip diff, torque vec­tor­ing and car­bon brakes? Experience says it would still be deeply im­pres­sive. And £20,000 cheaper, of course.

But that en­gine. Yes, it’s strong, but the note is such a dis­ap­point­ment, even this more re­fined ver­sion. Most of the time it’s droney and unin­spir­ing, and only in the last 1500rpm does it sound keen and pure. Some in the evo of­fice would dis­miss the Cayman purely be­cause of its en­gine, but oth­ers still find it hard to re­sist, be­cause on any de­cent road it will tread so adroitly you’ll (al­most) for­get what it sounds like.

Yet the idea of find­ing the small, lithe Alpine on your drive­way each morn­ing is quite com­pelling, as are its unique, al­most clas­sic car dy­nam­ics. It feels spe­cial, a car you’d en­joy tak­ing out on high days and hol­i­days, but which you could use ev­ery day. To­day the Cayman claims the nar­row­est of vic­to­ries, but with­out its op­tional dy­namic com­po­nents it could be a very dif­fer­ent re­sult. Porsche re­ally should be wor­ried.

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