Here’s the thing. I’m driving the new Porsche 911 and I know it’s terrific. I can see it’s going to be one of those cars that becomes the default choice in its class. But there’s still a little doubt in the back of my mind.
I know it’s an unreasonable one. Because – as when somebody says they want a small hot hatch and without hesitating I recommend a Ford Fiesta ST – when people ask what sports car is special but usable every day, the stock answer will remain ‘buy a 911’.
The new 911 is polished to a brilliant degree, honed like never before to the extent that, possibly, there’s less inherent 911 quirkiness to it than ever. The engine has been pushed forwards by 14mm and the front track is much wider so there’s less inherent 911 nose-bobbing. Though that’s not what’s bothering me; push a 911 and the physics are still the physics.
I know, they’re not really rivals. But I’ve had colleagues who have said the Alpine A110 is the car they’ve been waiting their entire careers for. It’s a car that takes the things that were great about the original 911 and distils them into a modern package, which is more compact than a modern 911, less powerful than a modern 911 and less grippy than a modern 911, so has more approachable limits. And at a stroke has made a 911 feel more like a Mercedes SL than it does a small sports coupé.
That’s not to say the Alpine A110 is a perfect car, or a better car than a 911. I suspect it isn’t. It has more roll so less traction, no limited-slip differential and, most importantly, it doesn’t steer with the same precision and response as the Porsche. There’s more lean and float and less accuracy, and of course it’s only got four cylinders.
But there’s something about the purity in the way the A110 does things that’s just so compelling. A bit like the Toyota GT86 and the Morgan 3 Wheeler, of course there are compromises and things they don’t have, because they don’t weigh much, and because their focus is on something else: tactile response, feel, amusement. And so you’re compelled to love them because of what they don’t get, rather than in spite of it.
The 911 is the no-compromise, do-everything mainstream take, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that; it’s a technically superior car to the Alpine. It steers, goes, rides, stops, grips and slides fabulously.
But I’m just not sure it has the last word on defining what a sports coupé should feel like any more. Because something extraordinary has come along.
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