Audi TT RS vs. 718 Cayman S vs. F-Type S Coupe

If in your head a Porsche 911 is still a £60K purchase and logical first step into the proper sports car world after your BMW M3 or similar get ready for a newsflash - even a plain vanilla Carrera is a near-£80K car and it's not hard to option an S into six figures. But this has created opportunities for a new generation of upwardly mobile 'junior' sports cars.

£60,000 is now a kind of intersection between the top end of Caymans and TTs and entry level to more grown-up choices like the Jaguar F-Type. Better to buy a cheaper car loaded with all the kit though? Or take the first rung on the ladder of more serious machinery?

A question we'll try and answer here. The Audi TT RS and Porsche 718 Cayman S are, at heart, £50K cars capable of being priced to more like £70K without too much effort. The TT you see here would set you back £68,830 from its £51,800 starting price and the Cayman S £62,068 from £48,834 list - the last one we tested was on level pegging with the Audi though. The F-Type range kicks off at £51,775 for the 340hp 3.0-litre, the 380hp S Coupe manual you see here £60,775. As seen (thanks mainly to an options spree by yours truly) it's a £72K car though

Engines range from a 2.5-litre 350hp turbo four in the Porsche to a 380hp supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the Jaguar. The Audi is the punchiest thanks to its 400hp 2.5-litre five-cylinder. Mechanical layouts are just as varied, from mid-engined and rear drive to front-engined and all-wheel drive. Fundamentally though comparable cars competing for - give or take a few options - a similar budget and target audience. Which is best?

Audi TT RS
Hopefully you're familiar with the basics of the TT RS by now. From power output to price point, this is a punchy interpretation of the established TT formula and a lot of money for a car sharing fundamental underpinnings with Golfs, Leons, A3s and Octavias. Saying that the old 'Golf in a posh frock' is a harsh stick to beat the TT with. True, you sit a lot higher than the other two but from its part aluminium construction to that exotic five-cylinder motor there's substance as well as style.

And that engine really is the heart of the RS and considerably more charismatic than either of the other two. The evocative noise will sell it to many on the test drive - let's hope the limited supply of factory specced cars allocated to Audi UK all have the optional sports exhaust - and it delivers on the promise too. Audi's turbocharging legacy means it can be more relaxed about tuning its engines to feel properly boosty, the motor eager to respond with a beautifully crisp throttle pedal and thrilling sense of impending drama as the boost builds to a thumping mid range and searing top-end howl. A pity the compulsory seven-speed S Tronic dual clutch never really gives you full control, block shifting three or even four ratios when you only requested one even in manual mode.

The chassis is good though, the magnetic dampers firm but fair and the TT feeling lighter on its toes than the 1,515kg kerbweight would suggest. The engine is 26kg lighter than the previous TT RS but it's still tall and slung out ahead of the front axle and no amount of Quattro trickery is going to overcome the traditional nose-heavy balance. It's not scared of corners and aggressive trail braking or lifts will help tuck the front axle in. But this will never be a car for dancing about and is happier shrinking the gaps between the bends with that thumping power delivery and trademark traction.

Gadget freaks will like the Virtual Cockpit, superb Bang & Olufsen stereo and LED lights and it delivers all the feelgood factors you'd expect. At a price.

Porsche 718 Cayman S
Cheapest, lightest and arguably the most driver focused of the three the 718 Cayman S gets off to a flying start.

That engine will remain divisive but we've kind of had that conversation, haven't we? Yes, it sounds flat. But its technical sophistication - the flat-four configuration, the seriously oversquare bore and stroke, the variable vane turbo - and the inherent zinginess of its configuration help make up for it. Likewise the power delivery, which combines fabulous response with an appetite for revs surprising given the monotone soundtrack.

It's a better argument for sticking with a manual gearbox than the Jaguar too, the stubby little shifter having a shorter, more positive throw and the clutch faster and more decisive to encourage you to stir it around the gate. All part of the fun; just a pity the gearing is - as ever - too long to really make the most of it.

There's a harmony and positivity to the control weights, steering response and damping absent in the other two as well. Combine this with the natural balance of the mid-engined configuration and you can probably finish the paragraph yourself. It's just a cracking little car.

Pity the interior feels a little cheaper than before too, the general sobriety and heavy button count lacking the focus of the driving experience. For different reasons both the Audi and Jaguar feel more special to sit in and be around. And, let's face it, opportunities to revel in the Porsche's maximum attack poise are more fleeting than the chance to appreciate a well-appointed cabin and long-distance refinement.

Jaguar F-Type S Coupe
Are you getting better value for your money buying a cheaper car loaded with all the kit to raise its game to a higher price point? Or does an entry-level model of a more senior product actually make your money go further?

Admittedly an F-Type S with a £10K option spend is hardly entry-level. But given the same underpinnings provide the foundations for a £110K 911 Turbo and AMG GT rival you're arguably getting a fundamentally more serious car.

No F-Type is exactly light but with two fewer cylinders over the nose there's an argument to he had the V6 models are actually more balanced and pleasant to drive, if lacking the bombastic firepower of the V8 versions. As such the most powerful V6, a manual gearbox and minimum of electronic meddling has the potential to be the pick of the range.

It's definitely more mature than the other two, being a grown-up GT with a sporting edge rather than a numbers-driven trophy hunter like the TT RS or finely balanced driver's car like the Cayman. Like the Porsche there's a sense real thought has gone into the response to all the controls though, the F-Type's electric steering light but blessed with real feel and the damping offering trademark Jaguar flow. A lack of suspension travel does leave it getting a bit frisky when things get bumpy though, the damping doing a sterling job of containing the considerable weight but the F-Type ultimately feeling a little unwieldy. Lack of visibility and the size of the thing don't help either; you can't place it like the others and it feels like a car for wide open spaces more than tight and twisty back roads.

It's packed with feelgood factors though. The voluptuous styling has real wow factor, the six-cylinder growl is arguably more refined and inspiring than the raucous V8s and the touchpoints - outdated infotainment system aside - mainly satisfyingly stylish solid. A pity the manual seems an afterthought though, the rubbery shift and vague clutch dulling what should be a zingy, inspiring connection with the car's old-school soul.

As we've teased this triple-test heavily and some have attempted to second guess the conclusions. Did you call it right? Let's see...

The Audi comes third. Which is harsh because it's a stylish and beautifully built product that nails its objectives with style and surprising charisma. It's also bloody fast and makes it easy to exploit its performance. Even with the most powerful engine, nicest cabin and all the rest it feels out of its league at this kind of money though.

Porsche and Jaguar are more closely matched, albeit very different in the kind of people they'll appeal to. No question, the 718 Cayman is the best driver's car here. It's fast, fun, thrilling and rewarding and the only one here you'd really consider taking on a track once in a while. If that's your taste you'd want to explore the options from Hethel before taking the plunge though.

As an overall ownership proposition the Jaguar has a lot going for it in this test. It's fast enough to be entertaining, has bags of charisma and will impress people who'd fail to recognise the TT as anything special and (misguidedly) write the Porsche off as an attempt to prove your virility and/or 'not a proper Porsche'.

The F-Type then? It's the kind of car that makes even non-car folk go a bit wistful when they see it, the kind of car you look over your shoulder and smile at as you walk away and plays successfully on its old school foundations and our nostalgia for traditional British sports cars. Objectively it's not actually the best car here. But it's the one that pushes the feelgood buttons the most effectively.

: 2,480cc, five-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed S-tronic dual-clutch, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@5,850-7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 354@1,700-5,850rpm
0-62mph: 3.7sec
Top speed: 155mph (174mph optional)
Weight: 1,515kg (EU unladen)
MPG: 34.4 (NEDC combine)
CO2: 187g/km
Price: £68,830 (basic list price of £51,800 plus Ara Blue, crystal effect £775, Super sport seats with Audi Exclusive Design package in Cloud Grey and Alabaster fine Nappa leather with Alabaster white stitching £4,500, 20" x 9.0J '7-spoke rotor' design alloy wheels in matt titanium look, diamond cut finish with 255/30 R20 tyres £1,595, Rear-view camera £450, engine cover in gloss carbon £650, Matrix LED headlights with LED rear lights and dynamic front and rear indicators £945, storage pack £175, Hill-hold assist £90, extended matt Aluminium styling pack £800, Carbon inlays £850, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System £200, Audi Side Assist £595, Matrix OLED rear lights £800, smoking pack £30, Audi Phone Box with wireless charging £325, Dynamic Package Plus £2,600, Comfort and Sound Pack £1,650)

: 2,497cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 350@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@1,900-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.6sec
Top speed: 177mph
Weight: 1,430kg (unladen EC with driver)
MPG: 34.9
CO2: 184g/km
Price: £62,068 (Basic list price of £48,834 plus Miami Blue £1,595, Bi-Xenon headlights including Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS) £591, ParkAssist (front and rear) with reversing camera £1,044, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) £971, Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) incl. mechanically locking rear differential £890, Sport Chrono Package including mode switch £1,125, Sports exhaust system (incl. Sports tailpipes in silver colour) £1,328, 20-inch Carrera Sport wheels Exclusive £1,566, Light design package £203, Heated multifunction steering wheel £315, Sports seats Plus (2-way, electric) £546, ISOFIX child seat mounting points on front passenger seat £122, Navigation Module for Porsche Communication Management (PCM) £1,052, BOSE surround sound-system £801, Digital radio £284, Connect Plus £801)

: 2,995cc, V6 supercharged 
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@6,500rpm
Torque(lb ft): 332@3,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.5sec
Top Speed: 171mph
Weight: 1,584kg ('from' according to Jaguar figures)
MPG: 28.8 [NEDC combined]
CO2: 234g/km
Price: £71,880 (Basic list of £60,775 plus Firesand Orange paint £715; Jet leather facings and Firesand stitch £0; Jet/Firesand Interior £0; Dark Hex Aluminium centre console £0, 20-inch Cyclone wheels in black £1,785; High Performance Brake System with black calipers £310; Visibility Pack inc. heated windscreen and Auto High Beam Assist £1,100; Premium Leather Interior with Performance Seats £2,495; Parking Pack inc. front parking sensors and rear view camera £515; illuminated metal treadplates with Jaguar script £255; Meridian 770W Digital Surround Sound System £1,380 and Carbon Fibre Roof £2,550)




















Photos: Tim Brown

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Comments (170) Join the discussion on the forum

  • StescoG66 27 Nov 2016

    So much want for the Jag. The other two leave me stone cold alas........ Not that I could afford them anyway.

  • Kawasicki 27 Nov 2016

    The Jaguar doesn't really have two cylinders less over the front axle.

  • big_rob_sydney 27 Nov 2016

    I would love to see both a Lotus and a GTR in a group test against these.

    For ultimate performance, none f these 3 would be on my shopping list.

  • je777 27 Nov 2016

    These options are a great way of throwing your money away. I can’t believe that anyone believes dealers when they say ‘these are essential for resale’. Does anyone honestly think that these options will get you back the ~£10k they cost? Buy a basic version without all the unnecessary tat or a better car.

    Both the Audi and the Porsche have horrible fronts in my opinion – nice designs ruined.

    None of these cars seem worth the money. I can’t imagine spending £50k and not having a 6 – although I could live with the 5.

    The Audi is essentially a Golf – with that engine placement – in a different body (and not a very special looking one – where did they get that rear wing? – and fork them with that gearbox: how insanely frustrating), the Jag’s too heavy (although they all are) and not really sporty enough with an inferior clutch and gearbox, and the Porsche has that engine (and no, there is no getting over that).

    That a second hand Cayman with a 6 cylinder engine and non-electric steering is the answer should be painfully obvious to most. Unfair comparison? I don’t think so.

    Then tune it. Add a small turbo - >400bhp. Best of both worlds. And cheaper. Is a new Cayman that much better than a mark one? I doubt it. And you can tweak the suspension, etc. to make it better – you’ll have the cash. (And it looks better – in my opinion.)

    Even with reliability concerns, you’d still be saving so much money that you could cover that. Imagine the mark 1 Cayman you could create for yourself (to your exact specifications) for £35k.

    If it’s your own money – and that’s the big if – would you buy one of these new?

    Gearboxes that decide for you, soulless engines, gearing that is designed for economy and feel-less steering are not acceptable in a sports car – no matter how many times journalists gloss over them. The other improvements do not counter these.

    What you want is a Cayman without all these flaws.

    Journalists should stop ‘accepting’ these flaws – they are not necessary. The economy nonsense is pure politics – if you want an economical car, you don’t buy a sports car. Nor a car for fifty grand. The environmental problems we face are huge – pretending that making a sports car slightly more economical is any kind of answer is ludicrous.

  • Riverside Red 27 Nov 2016

    big_rob_sydney said:
    I would love to see both a Lotus and a GTR in a group test against these.

    For ultimate performance, none f these 3 would be on my shopping list.
    Totally agree, I chose a SLK55 AMG over this lot in 2013 (albeit previous incarnations of the Boxster and TTS/RS) because it had more character, and I've just replaced the SLK with a Lotus Elise S because the Lotus is a proper drivers car without the £15k worth of hairdressers options.

    The Porsche is too clinical, the Audi will have had all it's character engineered out, (my previous S5 couldn't handle properly in a straight line at full throttle) and the Jaguar is too lardy and should come with a pipe and slippers.

    Sorry just not for me...........

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