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?
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.
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.
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.
Cheapest, lightest and arguably the most driver focused of the three the 718 Cayman S gets off to a flying start.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
Engine: 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
Top speed: 155mph (174mph optional)
Weight: 1,515kg (EU unladen)
MPG: 34.4 (NEDC combine)
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)
Engine: 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
Top speed: 177mph
Weight: 1,430kg (unladen EC with driver)
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)
Engine: 2,995cc, V6 supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@6,500rpm
Torque(lb ft): 332@3,500-5,000rpm
Top Speed: 171mph
Weight: 1,584kg ('from' according to Jaguar figures)
MPG: 28.8 [NEDC combined]
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