New Alpine A110 vs Audi TT RS vs Porsche Cayman Comparison

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Historic French brand Alpine has returned with a lightweight £50k sports car that has the potential to out-drive the Audi TT RS and Porsche 718 Cayman – but which is the best sports car?

The contenders

*** Note : £1 = $1.34 (correct at time of post)

Alpine A110 1.8 Turbo Premiere Edition
  • List price £51,805
  • Target Price £51,805
Audi TT RS 2.5 TFSI quattro
  • List price £52,480
  • Target Price £51,843
Porsche 718 Cayman S 2.5 PDK
  • List price £54,423
  • Target Price £54,423

New Alpine A110 vs Audi TT RS vs Porsche Cayman

A grand piano. Not something you could carry around on your back, obviously. But you might not know that said instrument actually weighs about 300kg and requires four people to move it.

Why this seemingly irrelevant piece of trivia? Well, because that’s roughly how much lighter the new Alpine A110 is than the car it hopes to steal sales from, the Porsche Cayman, which in itself is far from a heavyweight. Yep, the French newcomer is all about lightness, from its aluminium chassis and body right through to its one-piece bucket seats and even its stereo.

And if you’re thinking this new upstart doesn’t have the heritage to compete with a powerhouse like Porsche, think again. Alpine (pronounced Alpeen) actually has a glittering history dating back more than 60 years, including winning the first ever World Rally Championship in 1973 with the car this new model’s design and name evoke. The company has just been… well, let’s say ‘hibernating’ for the past couple of decades.

But there’s a third option for sports car lovers with £50,000or so to spend: the Audi TT RS. Its philosophy couldn’t be more of a contrast to the A110’s, with raw power hoping to offset an even bigger weight disadvantage than the Cayman’s.

Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement

How do you get your thrills? No, no, we don’t mean that sort; we mean the four-wheeled variety. Because your answer to that question has a huge bearing on which of these very different cars will give you the biggest kick.If it’s mainly by blasting away from traffic lights and listening to an angry exhaust, we’d put money on you favouring the four-wheel-drive TT. It seems the brief sent to Audi’s engineers was “Just make it as fast and as loud as possible”. And on both counts, it’s an unmitigated success.

In fact, ‘fast’ doesn’t even come close to describing the way it accelerates. Activate launch control (by standing on the brake pedal, plunging the accelerator to the floor and then releasing the brake) and it slingshots you down the road like few cars in any price bracket, clocking 0-60mph in a McLaren 540C-equalling 3.5sec.

Then there’s the noise. The TT’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine barks loudly when it fires into life and purrs deliciously as you drive around. If you’ve opted for the RS Sport exhaust (£1000), you can press a button to crank up the volume to 11, with spits and pops echoing from the pair of gigantic oval tailpipes in a wonderfully antisocial fashion.

When it comes to aural delights, the Cayman S really couldn’t be more of a comedown. The stuttering phut-phut from its engine at tickover is more reminiscent of something you’d use to trim your front lawn than a sports car, and even on the move, the noise is more VW campervan than Porsche 911. Adding the sports exhaust (£1380) is like turning up the volume when a song you don’t like comes on the radio. We’d save the money.

It’s a real pity, because the performance delivered by the flat four engine is very good indeed. Not in the same league as the TT’s, admittedly, and there are several flat spots below 3000rpm, but on our launch control-equipped (£1271) test car, the Cayman still managed 0-60mph in a deeply impressive 4.0sec.

In this particular battle, brute force emphatically beats low weight; the 248bhp A110 simply has no answer to the 345bhp Cayman or 395bhp TT. That said, it’ll still comfortably out-accelerate all but the fastest of hot hatches (0-60mph takes 4.8sec) and it sounds heaps more appealing than the Cayman. True, the roar from its four-cylinder engine isn’t particularly exotic, but it’s loud, tuneful and accompanied by a smattering of pops from the exhaust every time you lift off the accelerator.

All three have twin-clutch automatic gearboxes with seven gears. The Cayman’s is best, being both the smoothest and, when you seize control by pulling the paddles behind the steering wheel, quickest to react. The A110’s ‘box is almost as snappy in Track mode, but the TT’s is often slow to react to downshift requests.

While sheer power wins through in the drag race argument, it doesn’t when the debate shifts to handling. Yes, the TT can carry lots of speed through corners, especially those of the fast, sweeping variety, but it never feels particularly composed when doing so. You can sense the engine’s power being shuffled brusquely between the front and rear wheels as the electronics try to maximise traction, while the steering never really gives you the precision or feedback that most sports car lovers will yearn for.

There’s more to love about the Cayman. Much more. Simple physics – the engine being in the middle of the car rather than the front – mean it feels inherently more balanced in fast bends and there’s even more lateral grip. The Cayman’s steering is also far more precise than the TT’s, building weight more naturally to give you a better sense of how close you are to the limits of adhesion.

But even the Cayman can’thold a candle to the A110. That the French car weighs so little helps its cause immensely, but it’s how wonderfully balanced it feels that makes it such a delight to drive. Its nose reacts to small steering inputs with a speed and delicacy that the Germans can’t compete with, and you’re always rewarded with more feedback filtering up to your fingertips. Yes, the A110’s relatively skinny tyres mean it can’t carry as much speed through corners as its rivals, but that’s missing the point. This is a car that, quite rightly, puts driving pleasure above arbitrary lap times.

None of these sports cars is bone-shakingly uncomfortable, but the Cayman smooths over bumps best, particularly around town – at least when equipped with optional PASM adaptive dampers (£1010). With no fancy suspension options, the A110 is noticeably firmer, yet its impeccable damping means it doesn’t lose composure over broken surfaces; you feel the impact but there’s no nasty crash.

Even when the TT is equipped with adaptive dampers (£995), its ride is the most wooden at all speeds, not helped by the optional 20in wheels fitted to our test car.

Alpine A110

Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality

From the driver’s seat, the TT actually feels more like a hot hatch than a sports car – certainly compared with its squatter,mid-engined rivals. The fact that you sit farther from the ground does have its advantages, though – mainly that it gives you a better view out. Rear visibility is really quite poor in the A110, and it’s the only car here that isn’t available with a rear-view camera.

More positively, the A110 has the best seats; the Sabelt buckets hold you in position brilliantly through corners and remain agreeable on longer jaunts. The only criticism is that some of our testers wished the fixed seatback was a little more upright for spirited driving.

The TT’s seats run it closest and come with adjustable lumbar support as standard, whereas the Cayman’s seats are curiously short of side and lumbar support. These issues can at least be fully resolved by forking out £2315 for optional bucket seats.

Infotainment systems

Alpine A110

Not the A110’s strongest suit. The 7.0in touchscreen is bright enough, but the menus could be more logical and you can’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring. Alpine’s alternative, called MySpin, is, frankly, a bit naff. The lightlight Focus sound system is surprisingly punchy, though, and the Telemetrics mode lets you record lap times on track days and store performance driving data.

Audi TT RS

The giant 12.3in screen behind the steering wheel (a feature Audi calls Virtual Cockpit) displays the instrument dials and shows the infotainment functions. The easiest way to take control is by twisting the chunky dial between the front seats (although you can also use buttons on the steering wheel), and it soon becomes second nature. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto costs £250.

Porsche 718 Cayman

Porsche used to charge extra for sat-nav, but it’s no longer so cheeky. In fact, it now even gives you Apple CarPlay as standard. There are two ways to control the system: either by pressing the screen or by twisting a small dial below it. However, since the latter involves reaching forward, you may as well just use the touchscreen. It’s a pity the screen isn’t higher on the dashboard so as to be nearer your eyeline.

Alpine A110 interior

Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

No one buys a sports car solely for its family-carrying credentials, but if you have even one eye on practicality, the TT is probably the only car here worth considering. True, no-one over 5ft tall will fit in its rear seats, but the area is a handy place to chuck coats and bags. The TT also has Isofix child seat mounts on all three of its passenger seats, whereas you have to pay £126 for an Isofix mount on the Cayman’s front seat and you can’t have one at all in the A110.

It’s a similar story when it comes to boot space. Open the TT’s hatchback and you’ll find a surprisingly long and broad, if rather shallow, boot. We managed to fit four carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf relatively easily, and if you fold down the rear seats, there’s a flat extended load area that can even take a bike (with its front wheel removed).

The mid-engined cars actually have two luggage compartments – one at either end. Combined, the Cayman’s actually add up to more storage space than that offered by the TT, so you can still comfortably manage a weekly food shop. That’ll be rather trickier in the A110 unless you live alone and are on a strict diet. But then, given all of Alpine’s efforts to keep weight to a minimum, surely you’ll be doing that anyway, right?

Alpine A110

The A110 is surprisingly roomy for people, but quite the opposite for luggage. The front boot is super shallow and just about swallowed a single carry-on suitcase. The rear boot is only slightly deeper.

  • Boot 96 litres (front), 100 litres (rear)
  • Suitcases 1
Audi TT RS

The TT is easily the most practical. Admittedly, its rear seats are tiny, but its boot is surprisingly spacious. You can even fold down the rear seatbacks for an impromptu trip to the tip.

  • Boot 305-712 litres
  • Suitcases 4
Porsche Cayman

Add both of the Cayman’s boots together and you actually end up with more luggage space than in a VW Golf. The trouble is, neither compartment is nearly wide enough to take a set of golf clubs.

  • Boot 150 litres (rear), 275 litres (front)
  • Suitcases 4

Alpine A110

Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

All three cars are priced within £3000 of each other, and after you’ve factored in the bills you’re likely to face during three years of ownership – fuel, tax, servicing, insurance and depreciation –the cost difference shrinks to less than £100. Not much to help you decide there, then.

Of course, few will have the wherewithal to walk into the dealership with a cheque for £50k, so PCP finance deals are also an important consideration. Alpine was unable to provide a quote at the time of writing for reasons that will become clear when you read our verdict. However, if you put down a £6000 deposit on a three-year deal, the Cayman will cost you £613 a month, compared with the whopping £743 you’ll need to shell out for the TT. But consider what you get for your money and the picture becomes rather different.

Whereas the A110 and TT come with climate control, cruise control, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers and parking sensors all round, all of these items cost extra on the Cayman. In fact, to bring the Cayman close to the same specification as the others, you’ll need to stump up £7000 or so extra on options (or roughly £850 a month on a PCP deal).

verdict

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We’re not looking for the best all-rounder here; we’re looking for the best thoroughbred sports car.

The one that puts driving thrills highest on its agenda. And that’s why the A110 has to win. It’s unequivocal proof that you don’t need silly amounts of power and grip to have fun. And, boot space aside, it doesn’t even demand many compromises. There is a problem, though: this Première Édition model has already sold out. So, if you want an A110, you’ll need to look at the cheaper Légende and Pure trims.

The Cayman runs the A110 closest. It’s still a fantastic driver’s car and is actually faster and more capable than the French newcomer. It’s just spoilt slightly by its unpleasant engine and a meagre standard equipment list.

If you do want the best all-rounder, the TT RS actually racks up the most stars and is the only one of our contenders that’s vaguely practical. It’s also insanely fast, but it just isn’t rewarding enough to drive.

1st – Alpine A110

  • For Glorious fun to drive; great driving position; remarkably economical; very well equipped
  • Against You’ll need to pack (very) light; shortage of safety aids; Premiere trim is sold out
  • Recommended options None
Specifications: Alpine A110 1.8 Turbo Premiere Edition
  • Engine size 4cyl, 1798cc, turbo, petrol
  • List price £51,805
  • Target Price £51,805
  • Power 248bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque 236Ib ft @ 2000-5000rpm
  • Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
  • 0-60mph 4.8sec
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 46.3mpg
  • CO2 emissions 138g/km
2nd – Porsche Cayman S

  • For Highest handling limits; stellar performance
  • Against Unpleasant engine; not much kit
  • Recommended options Climate control (£569), cruise control (£228), front and rear parking sensors (£623), auto wipers (£345)
Specifications: Porsche Cayman 2.5 PDK S
  • Engine size 4cyl, 2497cc, turbo, petrol
  • List price £54,423
  • Target Price £54,423
  • Power 345bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Torque 310Ib ft @ 1900-4500rpm
  • Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
  • 0-60mph 4.0sec
  • Top speed 177mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 38.7mpg
  • CO2 emissions 167g/km
3rd – Audi TT RS

  • For Jaw-dropping pace; stunning interior; brilliant infotainment system; easily the most practical
  • Against Slightly clumsy handling; expensive on PCP finance; thirsty
  • Recommended options Metallic paint (£550)
Specifications: Audi TT RS 2.5 TFSI quattro
  • Engine size 5cyl, 2480cc, turbo, petrol
  • List price £52,480
  • Target Price £51,843
  • Power 395bhp @ 5850-7000rpm
  • Torque 354Ib ft @ 1700-5850rpm
  • Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
  • 0-60mph 3.5sec
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 34.1mpg
  • CO2 emissions 187g/km

(whatcar.com, http://bit.ly/2x8Ey5J)

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