Soon enough, a conclusion materialises out of the moorland mist that’s hung around all day and is now closing in. If you regularly need the use of back seats and value a reasonable boot, the only car for you here is the M2. That it also looks amusingly tasty, is effortlessly rapid, largely enjoyable to drive and comfortable over distance makes it a sound all-round proposition. But come on, to justify those M stripes it should be more than that. It is perhaps naive to expect a 2-series-based machine to compete head-on with a bespoke sports car – we do’get’that – but the M2 isn’t just behind on ultimate ability, it still seems to exist in a hinterland between an M Performance BMW and something like the wild M4 GTS. I want to love it, but I no more than like it.
The Audi? I don‘t know about you, but £50,000 seems an awful lot of cash for a hatch-based coupe that’s unfailingly ubiquitous in its more standard form. If only the TT RS had some box arches in Audi tradition. In short, if only Audi had matched BMW’s aesthetic effort.
Nevertheless, the TT RS is saved by two key attributes, and I expect you’ve probably gathered what they are by now. Firstly, its unique engine delivers a soundtrack and a level of pace that borders on the narcotic, encouraging an absurd blindness to the price. Secondly, it’s surprisingly entertaining to drive, if a bit one-dimensional in the long term. In essence the TT RS is like a mutant hot hatch, a ‘hot hatch plus’, if you like.
So the Porsche takes it, right? Yes, just. But it’s a depressing hollow victory. No longer can I imagine signing on the dotted line for a Cayman S with my own money. Nearly everything about the 718 sparkles like a jewel, but the engine is a most uncharacteristic fumble by Stuttgart. Don’t think for one moment this is us getting all rose-tinted over the six-cylinder motor. That would grossly underestimate where the 718 Cayman S falls short, because we’re not only talking about the flufftiy abstract notion of appealing sound, but the far broader spectrum of harshness and vibration, delivery, even kerbside manners.
More than anything, this test reaffirms our belief that the 718 Cayman simply must gain a genuine mass-market rival at this price point. A proper sports coupe, but one also designed and built in such a way that it can appeal to almost anyone, and ask for next to no compromises in return – such a difficult trick to pull off.
It must surely weigh 1400kg or less, and not hide behind the convenient ‘roadster’ caveat; no metal folding hard-tops, overly wide tyres, overly long wheelbases or platform compromises. The Cayman is vulnerable, but until such a time when there’s a rival to meet it head on, its rule continues.