The A110 and 718 will be battery-powered before you know it; both are signing off in fine style
By Matt Bird / Saturday, 10 June 2023 / Loading comments
Though public knowledge for a while, the reality really is looming large now: once a new lease deal is up on either a 718 Cayman or A110, we’ll know what the battery-electric future looks like for both sports cars. Perhaps even sooner, with Porsche having confirmed a 718 EV for 2025, and Alpine suggesting its electric sports car will be here in 2026. That’s when the next football World Cup takes place, and is sufficiently close that Max Verstappen won’t yet have reached a Hamilton-equalling seven world titles yet however hard he tries. The middle of the decade isn’t far away. And the end-of-times approach is clear in the product; the A110 and 718 haven’t had significant updates of late (and surely now won’t receive any), but both have been treated to crazy expensive, low-volume, track-focused special editions. Nothing says now or never quite like a 9,000rpm GT4 RS and a carbon-wheeled A110 R…
These two plainly aren’t those cars. And yes, almost every possible iteration of this twin test has been done since the Alpine’s introduction six years ago, from A110 Pure against 2.0 718 to GT4 PDK alongside Legende GT (with a Lambo thrown in for good measure). But not only does it now feel like any opportunity to drive mid-engined, rear-drive sports cars must be seized upon, the A110 and 718 have arguably never been as hard to separate as here: 300hp S against 400hp GTS 4.0 doesn’t necessarily look a fair fight, but more than a quarter of tonne difference on the scales evens that out. They’re close on price, too, with a healthy options spend on both making for a £71,689 Alpine and a £74,926 Porsche.
There’s never been a day in the past six years when getting into an A110 hasn’t been an event, and that remains true in 2023. It’s unlike anything else, and the better for it: small but capacious, low-slung but wholly unintimidating and stylish while still just practical enough. Granted, an M2 is like a Rolls-Royce by comparison inside. A Lotus Emira is plusher. And the Porsche is bigger, but not necessarily any better. The Alpine’s approach still feels like a clever compromise, even with a few quirks, as nowhere else does 1,100kg or so feel so well appointed. It’s pared back but not stripped out – others could still learn something from this about how to include essentials and not fripperies. And Alpine could make CarPlay work better.
Nevertheless, there ought to be a smile on your face long before a podcast is playing. Despite the remit of the S as a more focused variant, there’s still a delicacy and a fluidity to the A110 that’s a joy to experience. The driver is connected to the workings of the chassis, which ought to be a prerequisite of any sports car, yet never bombarded with harshness or unwanted feedback. The S can be felt working hard, but isn’t overawed or flummoxed by anything going on beneath the Cup 2s. All it offers up, through the seat of the pants and the Alcantara wheel, is everything you’d want to feel from lightweight, mid-engined sports car. Even if that’s at 30mph.
If nothing else, the Porsche proves what an achievement the little French car is. On the 20-inch wheels of a GTS the 718 thumps where the Alpine would have glided, fidgets where the A110 was restful and almost lumbers by comparison where the lighter car flits gleefully from turn to turn. We’ve known for a long time about the significant weight difference between the ostensibly similar two-seaters (properly comparable numbers are hard, because of how Alpine measures mass, but it’s getting on for 300kg), and it remains no less stark after all this time. There’s only one of these cars that feels like a pure, thoroughbred sports car to begin with, and it’s not the Porsche. Indeed, you’re soon wondering what a non-GTS 718 4.0 might be like if it ever existed, shorn of the larger wheels and lower suspension, such is the improvement on offer in an Alpine.
Nevertheless, the Porsche offers up 3,995 reasons (or perhaps that should be the very best part of 8,000 reasons) why it’s palpably superior to the Alpine. The 4.0-litre flat-six has always felt like a special engine, and never more so than when pitched against what is ultimately – sorry, Alpine – a fairly ordinary hot hatch powertrain behind the seats, right down to a not-quite-class-leading DCT and over-the-top exhaust. Yes, the 718 gears are too long and, okay, a pre-filter 3.4 might have sounded a bit better, but the 4.0-litre unit is shot through with the kind of star quality so conspicuously lacking from the 1.8 turbo – and that matters in every situation, all the time. Whether cold starting, hauling through the rev range’s middle order or screaming for the redline, there’s never a moment where the smaller engine is the one you want. And as the EV looms large, it certainly isn’t unreasonable to attach additional importance to the engine when considering a sports car. The GTS’s is wonderful; the Alpine’s is only fine.
Ally that to the emotional pull of a six-speed manual and any quibbles about the Cayman’s low-speed abruptness soon evaporate. There is no joy quite like operating a well-engineered clutch and gearbox, particularly when partnered with a great engine, and manuals really do come no better than Porsche manuals. Even if – before anyone says it – the ratios mean it’s not employed as much as you might like. No bother, as the stick is a pleasure joining a motorway, or negotiating a roundabout, or flicking between second and third on a B-road. It demands interaction and concentration the entire time, which you’re only too happy to provide when the operation is this slick. Moreover, much like the engine, it’s something we’re soon to lose from the sports car experience, making three pedals feel even more precious. And even more absent from the Alpine.
But no sooner has the Porsche eked out an advantage than the Alpine claws it back. The turbocharged four-pot might not be that exciting and the gearbox hardly superlative, but there really remains little better on four wheels for a tight, twisty, bumpy British B road than an Alpine A110. It’s superb, somehow retaining most of its suppleness while displaying incredible agility and poise. The front end is fantastic, too, aided by the tenacity of the optional Cup 2s, meaning the occasionally vague first few degrees of a standard car has been eliminated. That it can also stay so composed, never deflected by bumps or upset by undulations, is further to the Alpine’s credit as a sports car. And the brake feel is brilliant. Plus, perhaps most importantly of all, it fits everywhere, so the driver can be even more confident in placing it – and revelling in it.
For all the immersion offered by its superior powertrain, the GTS does not impress as much over the same stretch of road. It’s no faster despite the extra power, and no better controlled despite the Sport setting for the PASM dampers. The stiffness only further unsettles it, in fact. There’s the occasional flash of a driver assist to indicate how hard the Cayman is working, the experience characterised by – relatively speaking, at least – a more compromised sports car. It isn’t quite as keen to change direction, it doesn’t control body movements as well, and it doesn’t communicate with quite the same clarity. We’re talking fine margins because these are the two best sports cars out there by a distance, but they exist nonetheless. The lighter Alpine manages to feel both more relaxed and more alert, responding to inputs instantly yet still with just a little roll still present so you know something’s going on.
But England isn’t comprised solely of B roads. When things opens up and the tarmac smooths out, the sonorous Porsche is once again the car to be in. There’s greater opportunity to explore the engine’s upper reaches, appreciate how planted it feels in long, fast bends, and marvel at the way it flows from one corner to the next in perfect harmony with its power delivery. It’s a different kind of appeal to the Alpine, perhaps a tad less visceral, but the 718 bristles with idiosyncratic charm. Even after all these years, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that. And as much as we’d love our collective motoring to occur exclusively on the sort of empty roads that PH seeks out for the camera, we know how rare the backdrop actually is. That the Cayman better suits more mundane scenarios is a tribute to just how popular (and pitch-perfect) the mid-engine, manual flat-six Porsche has been for all these years.
The proximity of the sportier A110 even here though is a reminder that these cars remain the class of the field. You couldn’t do better than either even when pitching standard A110 against 718 T, and that’s still the case half a decade later – even with an Alpine that’s markedly more expensive and a Porsche accommodating an engine that’s twice the size. In fact, it’s very much because of the 4.0 that the Cayman continues to present such a formidably strong case for itself. This sort of new Porsche simply won’t exist by the end of the decade, and that looming demise probably predisposes any enthusiast to look upon it more fondly. That it remains, without question, such a supremely talented sports car only increases the affection.
The Alpine’s case, though, is undeniable. Naturally, a couple of days’ testing isn’t representative of long-term, real-world use – no doubt the Cayman would demonstrate why it’s so admired with, say, a trip to Scotland planned, or a family member to pick up from the airport. And the A110’s engine should be more of an event at £50k, let alone more than £70,000. But it offers an unparalleled driving experience when a superlative driving experience is called for, and comparison with arguably the best Cayman not sold out has only cemented that impression. The compromises it insists upon for being so obsessively small and light are more than worth it – go away for less time or take fewer outfits; the A110S consistently rewards your sacrifice.
The Alpine approach arguably bodes better for the future, too. Certainly attempting to make a light BEV sports car – as previewed to some extent with the 1,378kg E-ternité – feels a less daunting challenge than replicating (or replacing) the sensory appeal of flat-six heritage with batteries and motors, even if neither will be the work of engineering moment. The Porsche engine will be as fondly missed as the Alpine’s is swiftly forgotten, but then maybe that will prove advantageous in a brave new world of propulsion. Nobody knows for certain what shape that will take, of course – but one thing we do know is that it’s later than you think. Both GTS and A110S are worthy of wrapping in cotton wool as the combustion cut-off looms large on the horizon. Whatever replaces them will need to be very special indeed.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN GTS 4.0
Engine: 3,995cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@5,000-6,500rpm
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 182mph
Weight: 1,405kg (DIN, without driver)
CO2: from 246g/km
Price: £65,390 (price as standard; price as tested £74,926, comprised of Cruise control for £228, Tyre sealing compound and electric air compressor for £42, BOSE Surround Sound System for £834, ISOFIX child seat mounting points on passenger seat for £126, Two-zone automatic climate control for £539, GTS interior package for £2,096, Speed limit indicator for £236, ParkAssist front and rear including reversing camera for £464, Auto dimming mirrors with integrated rain sensor for £345, LED main headlights including Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus for £1,397, Side window trims and window triangle trims painted in high gloss black for £329 (!), GTS interior package Carmine Red for £1,242, and Carmine Red paint for £1,658.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 ALPINE A110S
Engine: 1,798cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@6,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 251@2,400-6,000rpm
Top speed: 162mph (170mph with Aerokit)
Weight: 1,119kg (minimum kerbweight)
MPG: 41.5-42.2 (WLTP)
Price: £59,955 (price as standard; price as tested £71,689 comprised of 18-inch ‘GT Race’ wheels for £640, Focal premium audio for £552, Front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera for £480, Mirror Pack (folding external mirrors and interior anti-glare) for £468, Storage pack for £468, Aero Kit for £4,650, A110 S Microfibre pack (steering wheel, roof lining, centre console and dash in black microfibre) for £1,430, Sabelt Racing bucket seats for £620, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres for £640, Alpine floor mats for £110 and Fire Orange paint for £1,656)
- 2023 Alpine A110 R | PH Review
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