The revisions to Audi’s TT coupe are simple but effective. It’s been an icon for the brand since it arrived in 1998, and changed perceptions of the firm with its tech and driving dynamics.

The third-generation model was the most advanced yet, and with this mid-life update Audi has tweaked the TT in key areas. Part of that coincides with some changes to the powertrain related to the new WLTP emissions testing procedure, but with more tech and subtly revised styling, the top-spec TTS is still facing off against its rivals with a renewed aggression and extra kit.

Best sports cars and coupes

And since the TT was launched, a new competitor has joined the fray; the Alpine A110 in Pure trim is a back-to-basics model that puts driving fun at the forefront of the experience. But as you’ll see, its price is closely matched to the Audi’s, so which is the better sporting coupe for keen drivers?

There is a third alternative, too. Now that the 718 Cayman is the entry point to Porsche’s sports car line-up, you can pick up a manual version for similar money. While it might not be quite as fast with this gearbox, it promises to involve you even more.

Audi TTS

Model: Audi TTS
Price:  £44,565
Engine:  2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 302bhp 
0-60mph:  4.1 seconds
Test economy:  32.5mpg/7.1mpl 
CO2:  161g/km  
Annual road tax:  £450

The Audi TTS was always an impressive all-weather, affordable performance coupe, and this mid-life update won’t have changed things. There are tweaks in areas to keep the car fresh, so let’s find out what this £44,565 flagship is like. 

Design & engineering

The TT is still based on the VW Group’s MQB platform, so it has a front-mounted engine paired with MacPherson struts. But the TTS has quattro four-wheel drive, which necessitates a multi-link set-up at the rear.

Its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine now boasts a petrol particulate filter, which has affected the power output. This is actually down by 4bhp compared with the pre-facelift model, at 302bhp, but maximum torque has risen by 20Nm, to 400Nm overall. The TTS still features a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The chassis gets a bespoke sports suspension set-up, with Audi’s adaptive magnetic dampers linked to the drive mode selector, so you can choose from Efficient, Comfort or Dynamic settings, or tailor the different elements to your taste in Individual.

When it launched, the third-generation TT’s cabin was a showstopper, and it’s every bit as impressive today. That’s helped by an upgraded specification with the Technology Pack fitted as standard. This includes sat-nav and three years of connected services, as well as wireless charging.

It’s all displayed on Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit, because the TT doesn’t get a centre screen; this is one of the key features that makes the cabin unique.

There have been minimal changes inside, so you still get diamond-stitched sports seats, although they place you a little too high and in a less natural-feeling position than its rivals. The red accents around the interior will split opinion, but they’re a £295 option.

Otherwise, the high-quality cabin’s build feels more on par with the Porsche than the lightweight Alpine. There’s plenty of kit and tech for a £40,000-plus car, too, while you can add options if you want more. Our car featured close to £10,000 worth of extras.

Driving

The TT is a known quantity when it comes to performance on the road. The changes to the engine’s calibration haven’t resulted in a dent to its dynamism, though, because the S sprinted from 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds. Traction off the line is great, thanks to the four-wheel drive, launch control and dual-clutch box, while the shifts are rapid enough, albeit with a slurred edge to just smooth out any aggressive clunks.

In Dynamic mode, the engine sounds different to before, with a more melodious note in the mid-range that is closer to that of the five-cylinder TT RS than a flatter-sounding four-cylinder. At higher revs the augmented noise is not so nice, though.

There is certainly no complaint over the model’s performance. The TTS split the lighter Alpine and manual Porsche in our in-gear tests and is ruthlessly rapid and efficient in the way it delivers its surge. But it’s hard to love, and that stems from the chassis.

In Dynamic mode the adaptive dampers are too firm, especially on our car’s 20-inch wheels. It means you pogo up and down in the seat quite noticeably, while it also affects the car’s balance and stability on a torn road. It’s better in Comfort mode, but the feeling is still there and only muted slightly by the softer set-up.

The steering has a similar lack of engagement, too. It’s light in default mode and feels artificial compared with its competitors here, which both boast among the best steering systems currently on sale.

As a result, the TTS is more of an all-weather point-and-squirt machine. Lean on the torque and traction, entering a corner slightly slower to exit it all that much faster, and it covers ground at a similar pace to its rivals. But the nuanced ways its competitors draw you in makes them better drivers’ cars for similar money, which is what they’re about.

Practicality

These coupes also have to be usable every day, and the Audi is about the best choice in this regard because, unlike the A110 or 718, it offers a pair of small rear seats. These are only really for children, but give more flexibility for a young family – or, if your luggage overspills the 305-litre boot, you can fold the seatbacks down to reveal a larger storage area to boost practicality.

The TT’s visibility is poorer than its rivals’ and the driving position less natural. The Porsche is the best of this trio on both counts. Four-wheel drive will bring benefits in bad weather, though.

Ownership

While the updated TT amounts to little more than a facelift, boasting similar engineering and technology, it should be as reliable as any other Audi model.

For a premium brand, 18th place out of 26 in the makers’ chart of our Driver Power 2018 satisfaction poll wasn’t the best result, but neither of Audi’s low-volume rivals in this test was ranked. Safety is okay, with the TTS getting lane assist as standard. Blind spot monitoring costs £595.

Running costs

Our experts predict the Audi will retain 50.4 per cent of its list price. Ordinarily this would be a very high value, but it trails here. The A110 is expected to keep 63.9 per cent, which means it will lose £16,928 over three years or 36,000 miles, and be worth £29,977. This compares with 58.2 per cent for the Porsche and depreciation of £18,784. It will therefore be worth £26,175.

Although the TTS is the cheapest car, it’s still set to lose more, at £22,113, so it will only be worth £22,452 after the same time, according to our experts.

Testers’ notes: “While the quattro AWD is reassuring, the TT doesn’t have its rivals’ deft balance. It feels more like a blunt instrument to bludgeon the road with, rather than a sharp one to pick it apart, like the A110 and 718.” 

Alpine A110

Model: Alpine A110 Pure
Price:  £46,905
Engine:  1.8-litre 4cyl turbo, 248bhp 
0-60mph:  4.7 seconds
Test economy:  33.6mpg/7.4mpl 
CO2:  144g/km
Annual road tax:  £450

The Alpine A110 arrived to great fanfare last year and in more expensive Premiere Edition trim just lost out to the 718 Cayman S. This cheaper, more pared-back £46,905 Pure rivals the standard 718 Cayman for price, so can it reverse the result of our previous test?

Design & engineering

We love the Alpine’s refreshingly individual approach. Instead of opting for lots of power in a heavier chassis, the A110 makes do with a relatively modest 248bhp from its 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which is linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

But the lightweight, bespoke aluminium chassis means the A110 weighs only 1,098kg – that’s 307kg lighter than the TT and 237kg less than the Cayman – and that makes for a strong power-to-weight ratio.

It has double-wishbone suspension all round, like some supercars, so it’s sophisticated, while that light kerbweight is the driver for the whole package. It means the springing and therefore the damping don’t have to be overly stiff to control the body.

The compact dimensions bring big benefits, too, making the mid-engined coupe easy to place and inspiring confidence on narrow roads.

This Pure model is meant to come on 17-inch wheels, but our car was actually specified with larger 18-inch alloys that were necessary to fit over the bigger £936 performance brakes. While we’d have liked to try the car on the standard wheels, it’s still a sweet package. There are adjustable driving modes, like its rivals, but these only alter throttle response and gearbox settings; the dampers are passive.

Alpine has tried to keep weight down and it’s fair to say cabin quality and build aren’t quite in the same league as its rivals’, although they’re sufficient, with some nice metal detailing and figure-hugging leather sports seats that put you at the heart of the action.

Infotainment comprises a seven-inch screen with sat-nav. You get climate control, Bluetooth, DAB and cruise control, but while a reversing camera and parking sensors are options, they aren’t needed.

It’s worth mentioning the Alpine’s styling. The TT features minor design updates, but the A110 apes its sixties cousin and is a faithful, modern interpretation of that car. Styling is subjective, but we think this is a well-executed contemporary design boasting lots of character in a class where that should be praised.

Driving

The A110’s lightweight approach runs through every area of the car, and it’s most noticeable (and all the better for it, too) in the chassis. The Alpine has such a delicate touch on the road, seeming to skip over bumps rather than trying to bully them into submission, as with the Audi.

It’s because the chassis has compliance, and this soft side means there is some roll. But it gives the driver some feedback on where the limit is and the car’s balance. It seems to have a symbiotic relationship with the road in most cases, reacting to the tarmac harmoniously. Only occasionally does it come unstuck and feel hurried in its reaction to inputs.

The steering is sweet as well. It’s fast but not so that the A110 feels nervous. It doesn’t chatter away to you all the time, but it’s more communicative than the Audi’s. The powertrain isn’t as much of a highlight, though, but that’s only because the chassis sets the bar so high. Mounted behind your head, the 1.8-litre turbo engine has a gargly induction note and good low-down punch. There’s a little lag, but once on boost the motor revs hard to its limiter.

The transmission shifts quickly enough with a flatulent tone from the exhaust, although it sometimes holds on to revs when you lift off after an upshift. Downshifts feel a little laboured, too.

Still, it was good enough to hurl the A110 from 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds, thanks to launch control.That’s 0.6 seconds slower than the Audi, but just under a second quicker than the Porsche. Its in-gear times were stellar because the 320Nm of torque doesn’t have to lug a heavy body around. 

Practicality

This is where the A110 falls down. There are front and rear boots, as in the 718; the back one is most practical, at 100 litres, although the opening is very small, while the 96-litre front load bay is wide but shallow, so it won’t even take a suitcase.

Storage inside is restricted, too, so our car’s bag on the bulkhead as part of the £468 storage pack was useful, but it’s extremely pricey.

Rear visibility is poor through that small window, although the view forward is great. Other minor gripes include the driving position, which feels quite far back in the cabin and a little too reclined relative to the steering wheel. However, you can manually adjust the position of the seat with tools.

Ownership

As a small brand, Alpine didn’t rank in our Driver Power 2018 survey. However, because much of the tech inside is borrowed from Renault, it’s mostly intuitive. This mainstream French firm finished 24th out of 26 manufacturers.

Safety kit comprises two airbags and not much else. There aren’t any upgrades available on Pure trim. This is one of the sacrifices you have to make in order to get the great driving dynamics. 

Running costs

Less weight means lower CO2. The A110 emits only 144g/km, which puts it in the 29 per cent BiK bracket; that’s four per cent less than the TTS and eight ahead of the Cayman. It means the Alpine will cost higher-rate earners just £5,411 a year to run as a company car, compared with £5,848 for the Audi and £6,523 with the Porsche. 

Testers’ notes: “The £1,380 sports exhaust’s note is toned down in Comfort mode. It’s fruitier in Sport or Track, with a gruffer sound under acceleration and some obviously orchestrated pops when shifting down or lifting off.”

Porsche 718 Cayman

Model: Porsche 718 Cayman
Price:  £44,959
Engine:  2.0-litre flat-four turbo, 296bhp 
0-60mph:  5.6 seconds
Test economy:  31.8mpg/7.0mpl 
CO2:  186g/km
Annual road tax:  £450

For years the Cayman has had things its own way in this sector, but new and refreshed rivals like its two competitors here have brought things closer. Now that the 718 Cayman is the entry point into Porsche’s sports car range – it used to be the Boxster – the German coupe has got some tough opponents, so can it continue its winning ways?

Design & engineering

The Porsche 718 Cayman offers something neither of its rivals in this test can: a manual gearbox. This six-speed entry-level Cayman costs £44,959, so is on par with the TT S for price and undercuts the Alpine by around £2,000. Of course, you can also spec a seven-speed PDK model, which levels the playing field a little more with the A110, at £46,959.

However, when manual transmissions are this good they’re worth savouring. Besides, these cars are all about driving enjoyment and this element of the 718’s repertoire adds another addictive layer to the driving experience.

Like the Alpine, the Porsche is mid-engined and sends drive to the rear. It uses a 2.0-litre flat-four turbo engine that makes 296bhp and 380Nm.

It has multi-link-style suspension at the front and rear, and while the chassis is made mostly of steel it’s actually closer in concept and layout to the Alpine’s predominantly aluminium set-up. Unlike the TT’s MQB underpinnings, the Porsche’s platform is limited to the Cayman and Boxster roadster.

Our car was fitted with the £926 Porsche Torque Vectoring option that adds a limited-slip differential to boost traction and agility. Other extras included a £1,592 sports exhaust, adaptive dampers at £1,010 and heated seats, which cost an additional £294.

While these options look pricey, you might need to add a few because there’s only a basic level of kit fitted as standard, which includes sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and climate control. Rear parking sensors are extra, at £362, while cruise control costs £228.

Quality is strong, though; in fact, the materials are plusher than the Audi’s, while the build is just as solid, but the Porsche’s driving position and cabin ergonomics are also the best of this trio.

Driving

There’s no getting away from the Cayman’s move to flat-four turbo power. It’s not the nicest engine, but it is still incredibly effective, smoothly revving with real punch, as showed by the Cayman’s 3.1-second time to accelerate from 30 to 70mph through the gears – and remember this is a manual, not a dual-clutch, so shifts take longer.

They’re something to savour, though, because the six-speed transmission has a delightfully precise mechanical shift and the extra interaction it gives helps to offset that droney motor.

With one fewer ratio than its competitors, the gearing is long, which is why the 718 trailed in our in-gear assessments. It wasn’t by much, however, and once the engine is into its stride there’s a broad spread of power to match its rivals’.

But the Porsche puts clear ground between itself and the TT in corners. The 718’s steering is a lovely weight and works perfectly with the chassis – and at least the engine’s extra torque allows better access to the car’s delicious balance.

There’s so much grip available – more than with the Alpine – that the 718 feels a little more serious as a result. That’s not a negative, just a difference in personality between the two models.

The damping is as brilliant as the A110’s. Normal mode is best for B-roads, with some compliance and extra travel allowed to soak up sizeable ruts well even on 20-inch wheels. Sport mode tautens things up and is maybe a little too much in some situations, but in either setting the Cayman’s focus is resolute. It’s a great driver’s car that balances performance and engagement with comfort and usability. 

Practicality

You get some tyre roar from those large wheels, but it’s no worse than in the TT, and although the 718 is only a two-seater it’s actually surprisingly usable, with 425 litres of luggage space split between two areas – 150 litres in the nose and 275 litres at the rear.

Storage is okay and visibility is good as well. It’s easy to manoeuvre and you don’t have to make compromises to use the 718 Cayman every day. We’d like a little more kit as standard, though.

Ownership

Safety equipment is more limited, too, because you get six airbags and that’s about it. Bi-xenon headlights are fitted as standard, but you can add adaptive LED units for £1,397. You can also specify adaptive cruise control for £1,094, which includes collision warning and autonomous emergency braking.

You might want to add parking sensors given it’s a low-slung sports car, but visibility is actually good. Rear sensors are £362, or it’s £1,086 for them all round plus a reversing camera. Euro NCAP hasn’t crash- tested the Cayman or the Alpine, but the TT received four stars when it was originally evaluated in 2015.

Running costs

The 718 was actually the least efficient car on test, but even its result of 31.8mpg was impressive. It means you’ll spend £2,069 on petrol over an annual average of 12,000 miles; that’s just £45 more than it’ll cost to fuel the TT, which returned 32.5mpg.

But the Alpine again showed why a lower weight can be a benefit; it managed 33.6mpg, which equates to annual fuel bills of £1,958. Expect that cost to rise the more you explore the performance, though.

Testers’ notes: “Traction and grip is so strong you have to work hard to unstick it, but they don’t come at the expense of subtle adjustability through the throttle, steering and brakes, which still makes the Cayman desirable.”

Verdict

First place: Alpine A110

In Pure trim the A110 is fabulous. Everything stems from its light weight, including efficiency and low running costs. Despite its modest power output, performance is great and the gearbox isn’t a hindrance, despite it being the weakest point. This car isn’t that practical, but the chassis is so sweet and the set-up so totally rewarding that it just edges ahead here, despite flaws in other areas. It nails what a small sports car should offer. 

Second place: Porsche 718 Cayman

The 718 was so close to beating the A110 again, not least thanks to its brilliant manual gearbox and incredibly capable chassis. The engineering has true depth that’s felt through the steering and damping, but it’s the engine that still grates, even if the rest of the package is dynamically brilliant. Items such as the infotainment are also showing their age, but make no mistake, this standard 718 Cayman is still a fantastic sports car.

Third place: Audi TTS

Updates to the TT S aren’t extensive enough to elevate it from third place against incredibly tough competition. There’s no denying its accessible, storming all-weather performance, while the tech, cabin and efficiency are all strong, too. With two small back seats, it’s also the most practical model. But these cars are about thrills and involvement, and the TT doesn’t deliver the highs of its extremely talented rivals here. 

Is it worth waiting for this model? 

Toyota Supra

Toyota Supra - red front

Due: Late 2019
Price: £52,695
Engine: 3.0-litre 6cyl, 335bhp

It might be pricier, but the Toyota Supra promises huge performance from its straight six (0-62mph in 4.3 seconds) and a driving experience with poise and balance that should rival our test trio. It’ll be usable, too.

Figures

Alpine A110 Pure Porsche 718 Cayman Audi TTS
On the road price/total as tested £46,905/£53,553 £44,959/£51,255 £44,565/£53,245
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £9,977/63.9% £26,175/58.2% £22,452/50.4%
Depreciation £16,928 £18,784 £22,113
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £2,705/£5,411 £3,261/£6,523 £2,924/£5,848
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £1,958/£3,263 £2,069/£3,448 £2,024/£3,374
Ins. group/quote/VED 44/£775/£450 42/£732/£450 42/£609/£450
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service N/A £495/£630/£495 (est.) £468 (2 services)
Length/wheelbase 4,180/2,420mm 4,379/2,475mm 4,199/2,505mm
Height/width 1,252/1,798mm 1,295/1,801mm 1,366/1,832mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/1,798cc Flat-four/1,988cc 4cyl in-line/1,984cc
Peak power/revs  248/6,000 bhp/rpm 296/6,500 bhp/rpm 302/5,400 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs  320/2,000 Nm/rpm 380/2,150 Nm/rpm 400/2,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission  7-spd DCT/rwd 6-spd man/rwd 7-spd DCT/4wd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 45 litres/repair kit 54 litres/repair kit 55 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (front/rear) 96/100 litres 150/275 litres N/A/305 litres
Kerbweight/payload 1,098/267kg 1,335/320kg 1,405/410kg
Turning circle 11.7 metres 11.0 metres 11.0 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs 3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos. N/A N/A 18th/22nd
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars N/A N/A 81/68/82/64/4 (2015)
0-60/30-70mph 4.7/3.8 secs 5.6/3.1 secs 4.1/3.6 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 2.0/2.6 secs 2.8/3.9 secs 2.2/3.2 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th 3.5/4.4/5.8 secs 3.9/4.9 secs/N/A 4.2/5.4/9.8 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph  155mph/2,400rpm 170mph/2,600rpm 155mph/2,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph  42.7/31.7/8.1m 46.8/33.1/9.7m 43.5/32.4/8.1m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph 76/52/63/76dB 69/53/68/76dB 76/49/70/79dB
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range 33.6/7.4/333 miles 31.8/7.0/378 miles 32.5/7.1/393 miles
WLTP fuel consumption (med) 44.1mpg/9.7mpl 32.8mpg/7.2mpl 35.3mpg/7.8mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 194/144g/km/29% 205/186g/km/37% 201/161g/km/33%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Two/n/£384/£1,140* Two/£126/£362/£1,086* Six/yes/yes/£550
Auto box/lane keep/blind spot/AEB Yes/no/no/no £2,000/n/£413/£1,094 Yes/no/yes/no
Clim/cruise ctrl/leather/heated seats Yes/yes/yes/no Yes/£228/yes/£294 Yes/yes/yes/yes
Met paint/LEDs/keyless/pwr tailgate £1,656/no/yes/no £581/£1,397/£497/no £575/yes/no/no
Nav/digi dash/DAB/connected apps Yes/yes/yes/yes Yes/no/yes/yes Yes/yes/yes/yes
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android Auto No/yes/yes No/yes/no Yes/£400*/£400*

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