Audi TT RS
Audi's TT RS might not offer quite the tactility of some of its best rivals but as a pure road car, it could well make more sense, being fast, beautifully finished and superbly equipped. As usual, buyers choose from Coupe or Roadster body styles.
You buy an Audi TT RS for its engine. If you merely wanted a very quick Audi TT, the TTS model with its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine more than fits the bill. It's good for 310PS and delivers its power effectively in almost all weathers. The RS is an altogether more charismatic thing, the warbling of its in-line 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine harking back to more famous Quattros of the past. In RS guise, that engine has been massaged to 400PS in its current form, 60PS more than it generated in the previous generation version of this car.
It now only comes mated to 7-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and will catapult you from rest to 62mph in just 3.7 seconds in Coupe form. The Roadster is only two tenths of a second slower and whether you choose soft top or metal roof, the top speed can be 174mph if you ask your dealer to remove the 155mph limiter.
And through the corners? Well, the progressive steering, whose ratio becomes ever more direct with increasing steering input, is RS-tuned. Targeted spring and damper modifications make the chassis with technically elaborate four-link rear suspension more dynamic and precise. The body sits ten millimetres lower than the base model, and this also applies for the optional 'RS sport suspension plus with Audi magnetic ride' set-up. Here, the damping characteristic can be changed electronically using the Audi 'drive select' driving mode system.
Standout TT RS visual features include the large air inlets and a Singleframe grille with a smart honeycomb grille and a quattro logo. Along the flanks, aerodynamically-shaped side sills aim to emphasise the dynamic design. At the rear, the fixed wing sitting on two thin double struts is a real eye-catcher. Alternatively, Audi can deliver the Coupe and the Roadster with an automatically extending spoiler. Under the striking bumper there's a strongly profiled diffuser insert with four vertical fins, leading to the two elliptical tailpipes of the RS exhaust system at its sides. The result is a lower cd value of 0.32 for the Coupe and 0.33 for the Roadster. For the first time on an Audi, 'OLED' (organic light emitting diode) rear lights are being used. These emit an extremely homogeneous, high-contrast light. The light can be continuously dimmed, it does not cast any shadows and does not require any reflectors - this makes the OLEDs in 3D design efficient, light and visually impressive.
Inside, as with other TTs, you get the clever Audi virtual cockpit with its 12.3-inch screen. The driver can choose from three views, including a special RS screen that highlights the rev counter and provides information on tyre pressure, torque, and gforce, among other things. The Audi virtual cockpit also displays a shift light which informs the driver that the engine speed limit has been reached. For the first time in the RS portfolio, the RS sport leather steering wheel with shift paddles has two operating satellite buttons for turning the engine on and off as well as the Audi drive select driving dynamics system, in addition to multifunction buttons. This means that the driver's hands stay on the wheel at all times. The driver can influence the exhaust flap control via the sound button on the centre console.
Anyone who still thinks Audi's TT is a bit soft is way behind the times. In this RS guise, it can live with the fastest and the best, accelerating as if on a mission, gripping the road like a limpet and it turning into corners like a shark turning towards a meal.
Is it as charismatic as the original Audi Quattro? Perhaps not. Is it a better sportscar? Very definitely yes. But then, bettering a 30-year old design, you might think, isn't too difficult. Matching the cream of the world's finest £50,000 sportscars: well that's a lot more difficult. That this Audi does it so easily should make rival brands worried.Click here to find out more about our Audi TT RS range
Porsche 718 Cayman
This latest 718 Cayman ditches the old flat six engine in favour of a more efficient turbocharged four cylinder powerplant, yet still offers more power. As for the name, well in case you were wondering, the '718' reference refers not to the engine but a series of classic Porsche mid-engined models that won numerous races in the 1950s and '60s. Enough with the briefing; what's this car like?
So, what's it like? Well, the cabin envelopes you like a proper sports car should. You sit low, and there are no seats behind you; just a bulkhead that separates you from the new flat four turbo engine, just thirty centimetres from the small of your back. That'll be either a 2.0-litre 300bhp unit if you've opted for the standard Cayman or a 2.5-litre 350bhp powerplant if you've chosen the Cayman S. If you're wondering, that's now equal to what you'd get from the same engines fitted to equivalent Boxster models. Both powerplants are, as before, mid-mounted, that being the major point of differentiation between this Cayman and its pricier 911 stablemate, which has its powerplant slung out behind the back wheels. Here, in contrast, it's hunkered down in the middle of the car, something that has all sorts of beneficial effects on this car's handling dynamics.
Even if you don't plan to thrash round the Nurburgring, you'll notice a balance and friendliness to a driving experience that feels, well, just right. You'll be wanting some numbers. The basic 2.0-litre Cayman with a PDK auto 'box and the Sport Chrono package will accelerate to 62mph in 4.7 seconds and run onto 170mph. Go to the other extreme and plump for a 2.5-litre Cayman S with PDK and Sport Chrono and you'll be able to demolish the 62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds with the engine pulling strongly from 4,000rpm and taking on a lovely guttural bark as the revs rise towards the red line and the cars hurls itself on towards a top speed of 177mph.Turn-in is crisp at whatever speed you choose and body rolls well contained too. What we have here is a masterclass in sportscar excellence.
Does it look like a 911? The uninitiated might think so but visually at least, the Cayman is no longer a lesser, rather clumsy copy of that car. As for the '718' series changes, your eye is immediately drawn to the nose with its much sharper profile and ultra-slim Bi-Xenon front lights above the air intakes. In profile, there are strikingly sculptured wheel-arches and side sills - and a wider look to the rear, emphasised by a high-gloss black strip with integrated Porsche badge between the redesigned tail lights.
Behind the wheel, the upper part of the dash panel including the air vents is new. The smarter sports steering wheel is fashioned in a '918 Spyder' design. Plus, an extensive range of connectivity options have been added to the 718 cockpit, along with the Porsche Communication Management infotainment system as (at last) a standard feature. Mobile phone preparation, audio interfaces and the 150-watt Sound Package Plus are all part of this package. Practicality remains as before, with a 275-litre boot out back and a further 150-litre compartment in the front. That means a 425-litre total that's actually more than you get in a Volkswagen Golf. A two-seater Porsche sportscar that carries more gear than your average family hatch? The surprises keep on coming.
Whether this improved Cayman can finally upstage its pricier 911 stablemate - or indeed whether this is the car a modern 911 really should be.... well, we can't help wondering whether these are really irrelevant questions. If you like one of these Porsches, you'll probably be unconvinced by the other, with fundamental differences that are small but highly significant.
As ever, perhaps a closer rival to the 718 Cayman is the car it was designed upon - the 718 Boxster, which drives almost as well and offers the option of open-top summer driving. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that Porsche has two brilliant cars on its books and as problems go, that's not a bad one to have.
What's not in doubt is that the Cayman makes the dilemma of where to spend a sports coupe budget limited in the £40,000 to £50,000 bracket about as straightforward as it can be. In the real world, it's one of the quickest cars you can drive and one that makes you feel special every time you get behind the wheel.Click here to find out more about our Porsche 718 Cayman range
Prepare to re-set your views on sports coupe value for money. The sixth-generation version of Ford's iconic Mustang gets proper right-hand drive engineering and the choice of both coupe and Convertible body styles. It goes large on power too, bringing a super-sized 418PS powerplant in full-fat 5.0-litre V8 guise or one with 314PS in more economical 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo form. With prices from around £30,000, similarly powerful European performance cars look hopelessly over-priced.
The Mustang offers a choice between two very different powerplants. While there will be many who don't see the point in choosing anything other than the 5.0-litre V8, Ford predicts a good take-up of the 2.3-litre Ecoboost turbo four. With UK pump prices being what they are, you can see the logic. It's not exactly limp-wristed either. With 314PS to call upon, it'll get to 62mph in a mere 5.5 seconds in six-speed manual guise. There's also a six-speed auto option. In isolation, that would be a very tempting proposition. Look at the ballistic 418PS V8 version though and your resolve might weaken. This demolishes the benchmark sprint in just 4.8 seconds and sounds immeasurably better.
Early reports suggest that with less weight under the bonnet, the Ecoboost Mustang may actually handle a bit more crisply than the big-banger five-litre. The standard performance pack on European cars is supposed to firm up the ride, which some won't care for, but should also improve body control when the car's being driven hard. It's a fair compromise and you also get better brakes. There are three driving modes to choose from and stacks of grip. Of course, you can also disable the traction control if you'd rather demonstrate the effects of a surplus of unfettered power going to the rear wheels. The rear suspension is a multi-link affair, so you won't have to put up with ill-informed barbs about leaf springs and live axles.
Buyers choose between fixed-top or Convertible body styles and it's the coupe that most distinctively retains the characteristic fastback shape the Mustang has always had, a look which first debuted way back in 1965. Half a century later, this version of the car was unveiled in December 2014. It's still a fundamentally simple piece of styling, more modern and less aggressively surfaced than its predecessor, with flowing curves replacing wedgy angles. Its stance is more purposeful, with this sixth-generation car being lower and wider than before. It's still a fairly conservative all-steel unitary creation and it is a bit disappointing that it's slightly heavier than its predecessor. Still, Ford reckons that's purely down to higher equipment levels and better safety provision. Like for like, the latest Mustang would be slightly lighter than the car it replaced.
The cabin isn't going to have the likes of Audi and Mercedes reaching for their drawing boards anytime soon, but a Mustang needs to feel like a Mustang; a proper blue-collar, hairy-chested people's sports car. No, that's not a cop-out: Ford had long and detailed discussions about this. Mustang buyers have an expectation of a certain straightforwardness about the car and Ford needed to guarantee this while at the same time improving interior quality. It actually strikes a nice balance. It's not chi chi, but then neither does it feel like a holiday rental.
The Ford Mustang might not seem an instant fit for a UK market where we like our sporty cars to be light and nimble, but it's hard to argue with the sort of value for money it delivers. After all, even the 2.3-litre EcoBoost version sounds as if it's going to be quick and this will be the car that will appeal to most UK buyers. The monster 5.0-litre V8 model seems a bit of an indulgence but it certainly has its own charisma and if that thirst for fuel can be offset by reserving it as a weekend toy, then it's not difficult to see this car chalking up a few orders, especially when Ford is asking around £33,000 for one.
The EcoBoost version weighs in at just under £31,000 in coupe form, or £35,000 if you want the drop top. It's exceptional value for money for a 314PS sports car. It's not sophisticated, it's not beautiful and it's not backwards about coming forwards. But it's a Mustang and the people who'll love the thing would have it no other way.Click here to find out more about our Ford Mustang range