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Porsche 718 Cayman T vs. Alpine A110

The Alpine's honeymoon period is over and the Cayman is back, leaner and meaner - round two!

By Dan Trent / Monday, July 29, 2019

Before skipping to the end for the verdict understand this much - both of these cars are brilliant, not least for their counter argument to the oversized footprints, excess weight and meaningless performance stats found in most rivals. That each also has a significant, click-bait friendly 'flaw' only makes the comparison more interesting.

To wit, yes, the Porsche has a four-cylinder engine when it once had a six. No, you can't buy an Alpine with a manual gearbox. Rage against this as much as you like but there are perfectly reasonable explanations for both. We've been over them. Still not buying it? Allow me to direct you to the 981 Cayman and Lotus Elise/Exige sections of the classifieds.

Still reading? Then you're probably aware these two have met before, the Alpine scraping it by the narrowest of margins. As that novelty factor fades it now faces tougher scrutiny though, and more intense competition in the form of a sharper, more focused Cayman T. Is the Alpine the game changer we hoped it could be? Or is Porsche about to reassert its authority? Demand for Cayman T press bookings is such the Alpine gets a three-day head-start worming its way into my affections. And makes good use of it.

With all 1,955 Premiere Editions now sold production has switched to the regular Pure and Legende options, this white press car the former with the racier Sabelt buckets and ostensibly more focused vibe. Power-adjustable seats and 18-inch wheels are the main differences for the Legende, bringing with them a marginal weight increase and subtle shift in character. For me Pure seems to fit the Alpine vibe more and loses little in refinement or usability, assuming you like the seats. Which I do.

Much has been written about the Alpine's deft handling and lack of weight. Equally impressive is the way these virtues count towards its comfort, refinement and usability, the A110 as light as a Lotus but as everyday viable as an Audi TT.

The benefits are everywhere. Because it puts less rubber to the road (the rears are the same width as the fronts on the Porsche) it's quiet on the motorway while soft springs mean it glides over lumps and bumps. It'll cruise at motorway speeds showing 40mpg-plus and, if not exactly stacked with toys, it has what you need and doesn't demand the hairshirt compromises of an Elise or 4C in return for thrills when the roads get more interesting.

When they do you'll want to hit D again for manual control of the gears and perhaps the Sport button on the wheel to sharpen response to the paddles. But the Alpine's simplicity is one of its most refreshing qualities, the fundamental set-up so sorted it doesn't need an electronic smokescreen of modes or configurability to adapt to different moods or driving conditions. That simply comes from how far you extend your right foot, the piped in engine noise offering a reasonable simulation of an old Berlinette sucking through Webers as you start pressing on.

Lean angles that tuck the wheels deep into the arches feel totally natural from the driver's seat, the linear response of the chassis to inputs and the way you can feel the weight shifting around all four corners of the car making it involving at speeds both sedate and spirited. The contrast with accepted industry norms is stark, the Alpine moving around on its springs and tread blocks without ever feeling like it's going to let go or catch you unawares. Brake hard into a downhill corner and it'll dive enough to unweight the rear tyres, at which point the rearward weight bias becomes apparent. But at fast road pace it doesn't intrude too much and if you adopt a more flowing style you're rewarded in kind.

By the time the Porsche arrives on the scene it's got some catching up to do. Miami Blue paint against grey Carrera S wheels and the purposeful stance are a strong start. And, yes, between the seats there's a manual shifter. Yum. As tested the car you see here is £57,904 against the Alpine's £53,553, a good chunk of the additional cost accounted for by the paint and slightly baffling twists on interior upgrade packages. Key additions for the T over the standard 718 include PASM sport, PTV mechanical locking diff/torque vectoring, the 20-inch wheels and inevitable fabric door pulls and smaller GT steering wheel. The chassis bits were previously reserved for the S and not available on the standard 718; I could bore you with the configurator number crunching but, at least mechanically, the T looks like a 'correct' spec for a 718. So to the engine...

For all the moaning it's worth remembering this is two-thirds of a 911's motor and therefore rather more exotic than the adapted Megane engine in the Alpine. That counts for more than just engineering snobbery too, the Alpine's soft limiter calling time at 6,500rpm where the Porsche is reaching a crescendo with a further 1,000rpm in hand. Is this enough to atone for the fact the Cayman is carrying at least another 250kg over the Alpine? Or that Porsche thinks 10J rear wheels on a 300hp car are really necessary?

Ominously it looks like it might be. We all know Porsches are sensitive to minor spec changes but the 718 T is one of those first corner cars, feeling utterly dialled from the first moment you turn the wheel.

With all that extra weight and rubber the steering is a tad numb compared with the Alpine. And the mindset of the chassis set-up is totally different, nailing the Cayman into road surfaces the A110 is happy flowing over. Goddamn, the T feels good though. Sure, it's not a (trigger warning) GT4 on the cheap. But, helped by the manual gearbox, there's a sense of that car's raw, mechanical honesty and, like the 911 T, the tweaks are enough to dial out some of the mush in standard versions. In everything from pedal response to the way the diff hooks up and slingshots you out of the turns this car just feels proper, no matter its supposed junior billing in the Porsche hierarchy.

Haters gonna hate but I really like the engine, too. There's a real sense of turbocharged rush as the revs build but the reaction to the throttle pedal is so precise you can rev-match like a naturally-aspirated motor. This is not your average, modern-day forced induction slugger, hauling from its boosted mid-range into an angrier, revvier top end if you're willing to hold the gears. The manual helps here, the shift action positive, the positioning and response of the pedals perfectly harmonised and the whole interactive joy of choosing a ratio, holding it and then picking the moment to shift adding a level of involvement the Alpine can't quite match.

You feel the extra weight though, compounded by tall gearing and a sense it's carrying a little more tyre than it really needs. Without the afterburner mid-range you get in the 2.5-litre S and GTS versions it can, at times, just feel a little flat too. Neither car is a straight-line hero but with less weight and an extra ratio it's easier to keep the Alpine on the boil, raising the question of whether the seven-speed PDK would be a better comparison here. Possibly so objectively. But speaking subjectively the manual is a significant point in the Porsche's favour. The fact 85 out of 93 718 Caymans currently in the dealer network are PDK suggests this will be of limited relevance to all but an impassioned minority, though.

But that's us, right? And without the option of a Bandersnatch style choose your own ending I'm going to have to call it, the question being does the Alpine have enough about it to tease me out of a manual Cayman in a colour and spec appealing right to my tastes? Weirdly the answer comes not through the dynamic behaviour on hard-driven B-roads where, hand on heart, I enjoy the 718 T more. But on the long haul home, the M1 bathed in golden early evening sunshine as the miles tick by. After a long day a four-hour schlepp up a motorway in a lightweight sports car like this shouldn't be a thing of joy. The fact that it still is demonstrates substance beyond 'not a Porsche' novelty. The 718 T narrows the margin of victory to the merest sliver. But I'm glad to be driving the Alpine home.

Engine: 1,798cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 252hp@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236lb ft@2,000-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,098kg ('minimum')
MPG: 46 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 144g/km
Price: £46,905 before options (£53,553 as tested, comprising Iridescent White paint £1,656; aluminium passenger foot rest £90; blue Alpine logo on steering wheel £78; lightweight Focal audio system £552; 18-inch Sérac wheels £936; uprated brakes £936; cargo net/storage case behind driver £468; Alpine Telemetrics £192; blue Alpine callipers £360; sports exhaust with active valve £1,380)

Engine: 1,988cc 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (optional seven speed PDK dual-clutch auto)
Power (hp): 300@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280lb ft@2,150-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.3sec (PDK 4.9sec, 4.7sec with Sport Chrono)
Top speed: 170mph
Weight: 1,425kg (PDK 1,455kg, both EU with driver)
MPG: 32.5 (WLTP combined)
CO2: 186g/km (PDK 180g/km)
Price: £51,145 before options (£57,904 as tested comprising Miami Blue paint £1,658; black leather interior with 718 T interior package £1,242; 64-litre fuel tank £84; dimming mirrors/rain sensor £345; cruise control £228; ParkAssist front and rear £623; Interior Package 718 T £1,809; ISOFIX for passenger seat £126; 'Sports-look' pedals and footrest £126; leather interior package £518; Porsche Communication Management with phone prep and Sound Package Plus £0)


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