The Alpine A110 S was a thinker from day one. Traditionally, the quicker, pointier version of a mid-engine sports car qualifies as a virtual no-brainer, yet the standard A110 is so absurdly sweet to drive that the thought of tinkering with any of its faculties seemed almost like sacrilege. Consequently, we assumed the S would be faster - and worser.
But it isn't. It's very good indeed. Matt sagely concluded that you need to specifically want what the S is cooking to choose it over the standard model, but once that stumbling block is behind you, Alpine's more expensive A110 is a terrific entrant to the rear-drive sports car segment. If you said you preferred it, we'd understand.
Question is, would the same amount of money - and with a similar set of criteria - get you something better still in the secondhand market? Matt and Sam flicked through the classifieds to find out...
Rules of Engagement
Mileage: Less than 25k
Driven wheels: Rear
Engine position: Middle
Engine size: Dealer's choice
2019 Lotus Exige S3 - Matt B
If there can be complaints about the new Alpine sports cars - and that's a fairly substantial 'if'- then they would centre around two things: the absence of a manual gearbox option, and the fairly ordinary four-cylinder engine. From a five-door hatch.
Step forward, then, the Lotus Exige. Also light, also mid-engined, also wonderful to drive. And, crucially for the sake of this prosecution, possessing a six-speed manual gearbox and a 3.5-litre V6 that, while hardly a specialised unit, makes a racket as joyous and tuneful as the Alpine's is slightly synthetic and meek. Even the 'box, never a typical Lotus strong point, has a rewarding, tactile action. All that interaction and aural excitement missing from the Alpine is spilling from the windows of the Hethel hell-raiser.
This Sport 350 is also a perfect exponent of what the Exige does well. It'll be more accommodating on-road than the racier Cup models, it looks superb in the optional Olive Green paint and - whaddya know - this 500-mile example has £10k off the list price, meaning it just sneaks in under our £60k ceiling - the perfect antidote. And while nobody is going to suggest that an Exige is a more usable everyday sports car than an Alpine, there will be plenty - myself included - who would argue that it's the more exciting, absorbing, memorable car to drive fast. What more reason is there, really, to buy a sports car than that?
Joker - 2010 Audi R8 V10
This R8's rev limiter is higher (8,500, if memory serves) than its recorded mileage (8,400). Incredible. It's a V10 manual supercar that make a 911 seem staid. It's somehow less than £60k. It was a dead cert for my Alpine alternative, were it not for the pesky 4WD...
2015 Porsche Cayman GTS (981) - Sam S
The four-cylinder 982 Cayman has given Alpine's A110 S an easy ride, but transfer your consideration to the old 981 and things look very different. GT4s aside, the flat-six-powered GTS is arguably the pinnacle of Cayman development largely thanks to the razor-sharp responsiveness of its naturally-aspirated 3.4-litre. The 340hp motor sings and wails in ways that make its flat-four successor sound like a box of nails, so before you've even grasped the delicateness of the 981's other controls, you'll likely be smitten.
True, the 981 GTS weighs 1,375kg to the 1.1-tonne A110 S. But the Cayman shuns any weight concerns with its quick, feelsome steering and a chassis alive to the smallest input. The stiffer GTS dampers provide a fantastic compromise between handling and ride quality (something the more focussed GT4 can't quite match), of the sort normally reserved for considerably lighter track cars, while the rearward power supply delivers remarkably unthreatening - but very real - throttle adjustability.
The real magic though is conjured by that flat-six. An A110 S and today's 982 will be no less appealing on a winding route to the 981, but neither has a soundtrack capable of making your hairs stand on end - nor a throttle response which so closely follows the adjustments made by your right foot. Ok, this 13,000-mile-old car isn't a hero-spec manual, but the PDK auto is brilliant and allows you to focus more on the GTS's excellent other traits. An unbeatable all-round sports car package, I'd say.
Joker - Ferrari 360 Spider
Scrap the mileage limit and your money can buy a 360 Spider featuring Ferrari's glorious 3.6-litre V8. The noises of that compact 400hp unit are downright heavenly, particularly at 8,500rpm and when a Spider soft top is down. An A110 S would be far from your mind when you're dancing this midship Prancing Horse down the Stelvio Pass.
Well, it's a nail-biter right out of the gate. If there's objective daylight between the two it's in the Porsche's more rounded usability and - historically, at any rate - its superior build quality and reliability. Also, the flat-six has a pedigree that Lotus's Toyota-acquired V6 cannot claim to hold a candle to. But then there's the Exige and what it does when presented with the English countryside, and the way it stands out apart from almost anything else you care to think of...
Were the Porsche equipped with a manual transmission, it would be hard to argue against its many virtues. But for PH's Monopoly money, the PDK would likely have you second guessing the car's purchase over the similarly geared A110 S - which comes with the added value of no miles and a manufacturer warranty. Ten minutes in the Exige, and you'd second guess nothing. Hethel wins by a nose, then - assuming you're not also daydreaming about owning a V10-powered supercar from 2010.
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