What car do you bring along to battle the hugely acclaimed and frankly brilliant Porsche Cayman S, Charlie Tee asks? David Gandy might have the answer in the Alfa Romeo 4C. Both mid-engined, both coming in at the £50k mark, and both proper sports cars. Let battle commence!
Design and styling: exterior
CT: Let’s face it, the Porsche design team are nailing it at the moment. From the 911 to the Macan and now the new 718 Cayman, they are all great-looking cars. I can’t criticise any element of the Porsche – for me it just looks correct from every angle, faultless in fact. A very pretty car with a powerful stance.
DG: I agree with you, though it may be prudent to disclose that the Cayman is your day-to-day drive.
CT: Indeed. And who recommended me to buy that in the first instance?
DG: Touché. However, when the Alfa turns up, the Porsche does begin to look ever so slightly conventional. Alfa Romeo doesn’t bow to convention and this is what I love about it – it seems to not abide by any of the design rules that other car manufacturers adhere to. If Ferrari made a small sports car, this would be it and I, frankly, adore it. It’s hard not to keep staring at this 4C… but maybe that’s just down to the yellow paint job. On turning heads in the street, the 4C wins hands down.
Design and styling: interior
CT: Can we politely suggest that the 4C’s interior doesn’t quite match its exterior? The Alfa has been designed with a clear mandate around shedding weight, which is absolutely correct for a sports car, and I do love all the visible carbon fibre. However, the last time I saw an Alpine front flip radio/CD player was around 1999 in your Peugeot 106XSi (which you bought aftermarket FYI).
DG: It does feel like that’s the year they got the plastics for the interior from also, but the driving position is spot on and you feel like you are driving a proper sports car. Actually, more like a racing car.
CT: The Porsche interior is an absolute masterclass. It feels expensive, luxurious, and has every bit of modern technology that one would need. I can’t fault it, and as soon as I get my masters in computing, I should be able to work out how the integrated Apple CarPlay actually works.
DG: There’s a lot to be said about the simplicity of the Alfa’s interior. It’s a bit like Nokia bringing back the 3310; the absence of complication is rather appealing to me, especially in a car like this, which doesn’t even pretend to have the little luxuries of a GT.
DG: Many very well-respected (especially by me) car journalists have said the new turbo-charged Porsche engine doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as the previous one: rubbish I say. Unless you are a lifelong Porsche enthusiast, you won’t know the difference. This new engine is quite superb and, in my view, you don’t need anything more powerful than this car in the real world. It’s very quick, and hugely responsive in any gear (this being the manual).
Actually, the perfection of this car is starting to annoy me a tad.
CT: The Alfa is also a turbo-charged engine, albeit very different to the Porsche. It sounds more raw, louder and less unprocessed. The Alfa doesn’t feel any slower than the Porsche, just a little more crazed, frantic and on the edge. Actually, this is a bit of an issue. It’s so loud in the cabin that you can’t expect to have much of a conversation – or listen to Smooth FM on your 90s flippy head-unit.
Ride and handling
DG: If you want to know what true unassisted steering feels like in a racing car, then drive the 4C. On a typical, poorly tarmacked British road, it’s like having a wriggling six-month-old puppy in your hands. It takes intense concentration, pulling you in every direction, but this is a sports car after all. The same goes for the ride: in the Alfa you feel everything through the seat of your pants, it’s intense, tiresome but, at the same time, thrilling. The Cayman is subdued in comparison. However, you still feel everything that is being processed from the road into your senses. It is no less thrilling, just a great deal more refined.
CT: Nothing changes on the track. The Porsche is frankly sublime. It is just as good on track as it is on the road; communicative, rewarding, smooth, fast – it’s certainly everything that I want a sports car to be.
I came to the track thinking this is where the Alfa would win us over, the ultimate road-to-track car. For me, it failed. Maybe it was the Bicester Heritage track that didn’t suit the pre-defined ranges of the gearing ratios, maybe it was the engine, maybe it was my driving, but I struggle to excuse the amount of understeer.
DG: With all the electronics and ESP turned off, it did slightly improve, but not by much. To conclude my thoughts on the ride, on the best country road, this car is as much fun as a Victoria Secrets show after-party; on the track it is found wanting, rather disappointing.
CT: That these cars cost roughly the same, with the Alfa coming in a little more pricey, is a bit of a mystery to me. The Porsche feels superior in every category, and if it were £20k more, it would still be worth the price – it’s that good. The Alfa can’t really compete, other than in two areas; design and rarity.
DG: You are right. The Porsche is a brilliant but at the same time sensible car. In fact, there are three parked on my road in London alone. I’ve only ever seen one 4C in London. It was in black and its beauty and rarity made me stare and give the driver a nod of approval. Would I do this to a Porsche Cayman driver?
CT: So, one of the best road cars available to buy at the moment is quite popular in West London? Quelle surprise!
Conclusion: what would you take home?
DG: I love the Alfa 4C. The morning I woke up to drive it back to Alfa Romeo HQ, I was excited about the drive. Every part of me wants to give this brilliant, beautiful little nonconformist machine the win. I can hear my 25-year-old Lotus Elise-driving self telling me: “Go on, be an individual, be a maverick, stand for what you believe in and what a sports car should truly be. Give the win to the Alfa”, but sadly I just can’t. The winner of this contest must be the Porsche Cayman S.
CT: The Cayman S doesn’t just win in this contest – it would win most contests. It is that good. In fact, it is brilliant. This is one of the best, if not the best driver’s car on the road at present. Throw into the mix that it is so good looking, practical, with a brilliant interior, and you have something that is almost a perfect car.
DG: I don’t disagree. Remember who first steered you away from the RS3 and told you to get a Cayman.
One final word though: just keep an eye on Alfa Romeo. It might just be the brand to be seen in within the next couple of years.
Images: Indira Flack/Paul Lund