Alpine A110 vs Porsche 718 Cayman
What’s the best £50k sports car?
We live in a time when the £80,000 sports car has all but died – the Aston Vantage is now over £100,000, as is the Audi R8 and supercars like the Ferrari F8 are now well over £200,000. So what is there to excite the soul of a petrolhead at affordable money?
Well thankfully in 2020 the £50,000 sports car market has had a bit of a resurgence, with plenty to choose from in every configuration possible. You could pick the BMW M2 Competition, Ford Mustang V8, Audi TT-RS even, but today we’re going to talk about the two options that are closest in layout and spec – the Alpine A110 and the Porsche 718 Cayman.
Recently I was lucky enough to have an Alpine A110 Pure press car for a week, and then spent a couple of days filming a video with a 718 Cayman. Many miles were done in both cars across all types of roads, so I’d call the comparison pretty thorough. Spec-wise the Alpine was in a lovely pearlescent white, the 718 a dark metallic blue, and both were dripping in options.
As much as people love to talk about brand perception, performance, handling and the like, the simple fact is that a sports car of any price has to excite you when you look at it, so that’s where we’ll start with these two – and I’m afraid it doesn’t start well for the Porsche. Take the 718 Cayman alone and it looks quite good, but put it next to the Alpine and it looks overweight, dull and about as dynamic as a potato. Now it’s worth noting here that looks are totally subjective – one man’s Angelina Jolie is another man’s Susan Boyle – but to me it’s actually by direct comparison that the Cayman loses out. The A110 is a bit smaller overall, not a huge amount but it certainly looks it when next to the Porsche.
For me, the Alpine is just a far more exciting design, the angular nose with the round driving lights at the leading edge of the bonnet, the deep scallop in the flanks, the tapering rear end and lights, all come together to give a look that has many nods to the past but looks totally modern. The pearlescent white paint certainly helps too, in sunlight I noticed elements to the Alpine’s styling I hadn’t clocked before on other colours, like the extra ridges in the bonnet or the little indents on the top surface of the rear end. Nice little touches, lost on the all-too-common metallic blue.
The biggest problem I think the Cayman has, is that to me the 718 just doesn’t look as good at the front as the older 981 generation Cayman. That had a nose with two large intakes and some aggression, some dynamism to the styling, whereas the 718 now has two wide, slim horizontal intakes with thin LED lights above and on this base model an awful grey plastic blanked off section in the middle. To me it’s just not exciting enough, the Sport Design kit seen on the GTS and of course the GT4 both show how good it can look, so I suppose this is the price you pay for buying the cheapest way into a Porsche.
Things do get better around the back though, as the 718 features a new set of dark rear lights and the spoiler which warns police that you’ve exceeded 70mph is now housed atop a wide section that bears the spaced-out P O R S C H E logo. From the rear three-quarter the Cayman is a very handsome thing, though again I’m afraid that’s only until you notice the French alternative sitting next to it.
Before we get into the all-important talk of how these £50k coupes drive, there needs to be some spec talk. These two cars are about as tightly matched as you can get – both two-door coupes, with four-cylinder turbocharged engines mounted in the middle, driving rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (the base 718 can only be had with PDK currently thanks to emissions issues). The Alpine comes in with 252hp from its 1.8 inline-4 turbo, while the Porsche counters with 300hp from the 2.0 flat-4 turbo. It’s a similar story when it comes to torque, with 320Nm versus 380Nm.
So it would be easy to think that the Porsche would just walk away from the Alpine in a straight line, but that would be foolish as you ignore the elephant in the room – weight. You see the Alpine is around 300kg lighter than the Cayman at 1098kg – that’s a serious amount of weight and it means that the A110 actually has a better power to weight ratio than the German offering. So the Alpine is quicker to 62mph at 4.5 seconds and that continues until you get to well beyond licence-losing speeds.
The Cayman doesn’t feel slower though. When you run through the gears, the PDK is so quick, so smooth and precise, that it feels faster, it’s a strange sensation as when you accelerate in the Alpine it feels anything but slow, maybe it’s down the heavier weight of the Cayman that feels more impressive to be moving it along at such a pace. Don’t get me wrong, the 718 is a very impressive sports car, with great steering and a great balance and feel to the controls. But then the Frenchman arrives…
Lightness the key?
You see the key here is the lightness. Colin Chapman really was onto something all those year ago at Lotus, as when you make a car lighter, pretty much everything gets better. There’s less to move, so you don’t need as big an engine or as much power, which in turn means the engine doesn’t work as hard. So over a week of genuinely ripping the A110 down every road I could at 100%, I still achieved 37.2mpg average. A day in the Cayman saw 26mpg – that’s quite the difference over a year’s driving.
Another benefit is in the ride – you see without all that extra mass to control, the suspension doesn’t need to be as firm, so you end up with a comfortable ride (far more so than the firm ride in the Cayman) and a car that rolls in the corners a little, but that just gives you delicious feedback and allows the wheels to stay in contact with the ground more. I’d honestly call the Alpine a revelation – it’s what should have happened to the sports car industry many years ago. Reduce the weight and it all becomes better.
As I’m singing its praises, the Alpine certainly sounds better too. No four-cylinder engine is going sing like a V6 or growl like a V8, but I had hoped there’d be a hint of Subaru-style warble to the Cayman’s flat-4. Sadly not, there’s just a fairly gruff sounding lump which was even better than standard thanks to the optional sports exhaust. The Alpine had the optional sports exhaust too, but was a far richer, more sonorous affair.
Inside the Alpine is a great place to be, with the superlight Sabelt fixed-back bucket seats holding you in place. They look great and are remarkably comfy, I spent an entire day driving the car while filming and felt fresh when I finally got home. At 6 ft 3 inches I was pushing the extremities of the ergonomics too, but found no issues. The infotainment system is a little weak, but with phone mirroring that becomes somewhat irrelevant these days. The biggest issue I have with the Alpine is how the Renault connection shows through on the interior – behind the wheel sits the stereo controls – volume up/down, that sort of thing – and it is exactly the same grey plastic item I had in a 2003 1.2 Clio I once owned. Really not what you expect to see on a £50k sports car. There are other issues as well, like the very plasticky climate control dials, but with all the money spent on the construction of the car there had to be compromises somewhere.
No such issues in the Porsche though – okay the design is a lot more staid, with some comfy but boring looking sports seats and a very understated dash and centre console, even though this is the cheapest way into a Stuttgart product, everything just works as it should. Lovely weighting to all the controls, high quality feel to all the surfaces, it really is a cut above. And the Cayman has more than double the storage volume in the front and rear boots than the Alpine as well – no small point if going away for the weekend with a significant other.
So which one would I buy? Well it’s an absolute no-brainer for me – I’d step on the Cayman’s toes to get to the Alpine every day of the week. For me it’s quite possibly the best sports car I’ve driven in a very long time – the fact that you can use the majority of it’s performance at non-licence-losing speeds is fantastic, all the while you feel great driving it and can’t take your eyes off it once you park up.
But I also couldn’t fault someone for buying the 718 Cayman, it’s a proper Porsche despite the engine and bottom-rung positioning and as a daily driving proposition I can see that some of the Alpine’s quirks would make life difficult for some. So the Cayman is great, but for me the Alpine A110 is better.
On the day of filming though, our cameraman had just taken delivery of his brand new BMW M2 Competition – an altogether very different proposition but definitely a contender in the £50k sports car market. A lovely straight-six engine, muscular styling, big boot and usable rear seats all make it a tempting option. But I’ll discuss that, along with the V8 Mustang and TT-RS in another article…
Tim Oldland is a design engineer, sometime motoring journalist and cast-iron petrolhead. https://www.instagram.com/timoldland