Neither of these cars is, fairly obviously, an all-wheel driven Japanese saloon from the early noughties. Yet that's what the contest between different versions of the Cayman and A110 increasingly reminds me of - the succession of twin tests that made up a fair percentage of my time as a junior road-tester, throwing various iterations of Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo together.
That isn't meant to sound cynical: I'm not complaining, and will happily keep writing versions of this story as often as Nic asks me to. But, like that earlier battle, the Alpine and Porsche exist in what is effectively a binary segment, one where the choice is either-or. There are other sports cars with similar price tags - but none that can really be regarded as true rivals for the mid-engined pairing in terms of performance or driving manners.
But now the launch of the A110 Legende GT has given the limited excuse necessary to ring the bell for another round. On paper this feels close to being the Alpine's greatest hits compilation, featuring the softer and more supple suspension of the Pure with with beefier 292hp engine of the S, plus its sports exhaust and upgraded brakes. The Legende's range-topping status has also resulted in some plusher cabin trim. No more than 300 are going to be produced worldwide, with that exclusivity in the UK assisted by a price of £61,655, with our test car boosted by options to £64,807.
The seriousness of that figure means the Cayman arrives as an underdog on money, if not on power. When the 718 launched in 2016 the base car briefly cost under £40,000 in the UK, although ticking a single options box would have tipped it over that line. The asking price has crept up in subsequent years, but £45,230 for the 300hp 2.0-litre entry level version still seems good value given a bare bones 911 Carrera is very nearly £40,000 more. Our test 718 has been given a predictable cost-option workout, with the list of ticked boxes including PDK, PASM active dampers, locking rear differential and torque vectoring plus an upgrade to 20-inch Carrera wheels. But even with all that added to the tally its £54,982 as-tested is still more than five grand under the A110 GT Legende's base price.
The stand-out difference on the spec sheets is the one that really defines the contrast between the two cars: weight. On the official EU DIN numbers the Cayman is 1,365kg, the A110 just 1,134kg. That latter figure represents an increase in 31kg over the A110 Pure, but it is still remarkably low for any car with a metal structure - aluminium in this case - which has to meet modern impact standards.
But before fat-shaming the Porsche, the compromises inherent in the A110's ultra light weight also need to be considered. It is shorter and lower than the Porsche, and although passenger space is similar, and headroom is slightly better, it has room for very little else beside two occupants and its own mechanical componentry. Like lesser A110s, the Legende GT has a tiny 90-litre luggage compartment behind its engine, and a wider but flatter 100-litre one under the bonnet. By contrast the Cayman is a Volvo V90 thanks to the combination of its 130-litre frunk and 275 litres in the back allowed by the low-slung flat-four engine.
Does this matter? To some, definitely not - the A110's lightness and svelteness is its raison d' etre and who really needs to carry more than a change of underpants anyway? But the Cayman's practicality has always been one of its core strengths, especially when it comes to justifying one as a principal car rather than a part-time plaything. It's why the Alpine will always be fishing in a considerably smaller pond of potential buyers, a truth reflected in its modest sales numbers.
The Legend GT's plusher cabin also seems to be wandering from its minimalist brief. Parts of it are lovely. The leather seats are beautifully trimmed, and I found the adjustable back much better suited to my naturally reclined driving position than the fixed buckets of the Pure (A110 owner Dan P disagrees, but I was in substantial discomfort after a three-hour stint in a bucket-equipped press car.) The seating position is also spot-on, hips closer to the ground than almost anything beyond a go-kart and with a great sense of where the car is sitting on the road.
But much of the Legende's posher trim also seems to be adding little beyond weight and price, a point made by the differing strata of the dashboard. This features, in various places, soft mouldings, leather panelling, a carbon fibre instrument binnacle and areas of unadorned scratchy plastic that British Leyland would have regarded as being a bit marginal. The tiny, fiddly infotainment system has already received a lifetime's worth of criticism I can't see any point in piling on to, beyond one correction. I previously thought it came from a Clio, but PH's new chief anorak John Howell points out it has actually been donated from a Suzuki Vitara. Still not the sort of thing you expect to in a car whose price tag starts with a 6.
For as long as you're driving the Alpine over a demanding road this stops mattering. The suspension is almost magical, almost impossibly soft and supple over bumps and cambers and yet never allowing unwanted secondary motions to develop. The A110S is hardly harsh, but the more pliant set-up proves almost perfectly suited to the challenges of under-maintained British tarmac. There is some slight steering corruption, but not in a bad way - the wheel moves in response to unequal loads across the front axle, one of the things that electric power steering is normally programmed to eliminate. Similarly the Legende's sleek shape is gently affected by crosswinds, another largely vanished trait. There's a mechanical honesty at play here.
The A110's control weightings remain softer than the sports car norm. Steering and brakes can't be faulted for accuracy or proportionality, but there is never much resistance to work against. Similarly the seven-speed DCT 'box shifts with a seamless lack of drama in all of the dynamic modes; it misses the confirmatory torque bump many twin-clutchers use to indicate their keenness. But this is definitely one of those areas where personal taste and experience play a major part; it's desperately hard to fault the way the A110 flows over a road, or the hugely impressive amount of front-end bite and rear end traction it can find on even wet tarmac.
Yet although the Legende GT's turned-up engine gives it a better power to weight ratio than the Cayman, and a half-second advantage of manufacturer 0-62mph times, the real world difference is minimal. The A110 has markedly less torque, the Legende keeping the same transmission-limited 235lb ft peak as the Pure, the Cayman having 280lb ft. The Porsche feels laggier low down, which might be down to the inertia of its extra mass, but once the motor is pulling it has a definite advantage until the Alpine really comes on song. It also revs higher, happily going to 7,500rpm while the A110's limiter stops play at 6,700rpm. Subjectively the Cayman actually feels faster, but side-by-side there is almost nothing in it.
The Cayman's dynamic character is also very different; the A110's greatest achievement is arguably the way it makes the Porsche feel heavy and flat footed when travelling over a broken surface, the contrast between the two cars even greater when the 718's PASM dampers were (briefly) put into their Sport mode. The Cayman isn't actually harsh by any objective measurement, of course - and chassis discipline stays exemplary as the pace increases - but it will never be able to match the Alpine's magic carpet impression. Yet the Cayman's firmer control weightings, and especially its meatier steering, also make it feel like it is trying a bit harder, and our test car's addition of the option mechanical locking differential and torque vectoring made it feel much more throttle adjustable in tighter turns.
Even on a half-day's acquaintance the Cayman's greater utility is not hard to appreciate. It has door pockets and a glovebox, no cheap-feeling cabin plastics and a vastly nicer infotainment system. The switchgear feels more substantial, and the gear change paddles behind the steering wheel have a weightier and more satisfying action, plus you can take it to a supermarket and stand a chance at fitting the weekly shop into it. It's definitely better suited to all but the most austere lifestyles.
When Matt Bird adjudicated over our first Cayman vs. A110 test just over three years ago he concluded that the Porsche offered the more complete package while the Alpine had the more memorable driving experience. That remains true now, and the fact that somebody has beaten Porsche at the business of sports car dynamics remains a huge achievement.
Yet there is a crucial difference, that previous test was between two cars that were almost identically priced - and the GT Legende now carries a substantial supplement over even a well-equipped 2.0-litre Cayman. One that, to be honest, it struggles to justify in terms of the relatively modest improvements that separate it from the A110 Pure. The Cayman isn't just the more sensible choice here, it also looks like a bit of a bargain in this company.
SPECIFICATION | ALPINE A110 LEGENDE GT
Engine: 1,798cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 292@6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 235@2,000rpm
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG: 40.4 - 41.5mpg (WLTP)
CO2: 153 - 158 g/km (WLTP)
Price: £61,655 (standard), £64,807 as tested: heated front seats (£420), storage pack (£468), Alpine Telematics (£264), Matt silver paint (£2000)
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN
Engine: 1,988cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@2,150rpm
Top speed: 170mph
Price: £45,230 (standard), £54,982 as tested: Painted model designation: £168, PDK: £2000, PASM dampers £1010, PTV torque vectoring and mech lock rear differential £926, sports tailpipes: £380, 64-litre tank £84, 20-inch Carrera wheels: £1734, satin black wheels: £842, tinted taillights: £434, auto dimming mirrors and rain sensor £345, Park assist F+R £464, Speed limit indicator: £236, Cruise control: £228, GT Sports steering wheel: £194, Two-zone climate £539
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