Sweet-spot cars: fun models that aren't flagships

Mini Cooper

Porsche 911: defying conventions

And while we’re on the subject of the Porsche 911, there’s a Goldilocks car in its range, too, although here, as in so many other fields of its endeavours over the generations, it doesn’t quite obey the rules. 

It used to: back in the early 1970s, when there was a 911 T, E and S, it was the mid-range E you wanted, a point largely lost on the market today. The truth was an S was only a little more powerful, had less shove in the mid-range where you most needed it and was, of course, more expensive.

But today, and indeed for the 30-something years I’ve been employed to drive cars, it has always been the base-model 911 to which I’ve been most drawn, if you exclude GT models. They are always the least powerful but somehow the most engaging. Because they tend to be lighter than their siblings, less broad in the beam and have skinnier tyres, they are easier to thread along difficult roads and provide better feel through the chassis and steering, which is what driving such a car should be all about. 

If there was an exception, I’d say it was the first generation of the 991 series, whose stock Carrera offering featured a normally aspirated 3.4-litre motor that needed to be worked too hard before it would perform properly.

Alpine A110: too much on the side

Of course, if there are just two cars in the range, the Goldilocks principle is in need of adjustment on account of there having been three bears. But it’s still apposite to point out examples where a slower, cheaper car somehow gets the job done better than a faster, more expensive stablemate.

The most obvious example today is the Alpine A110. Although quick, this car was never about speed for the sake of speed. It is about feel, delicacy and balance – none of which has ever been improved by chucking a ton of horsepower at it. 

Actually, the A110 S is a brilliant car and we like in particular how Alpine has resisted making it look like the ‘go-faster’ model. It’s still compact, utterly driver-oriented and excellent to drive. But is it as good as the base-level car? Actually, no. The problem is not the extra 40bhp but the bigger wheels, fatter tyres and stiffer suspension that has been brought in to marshal it. And you know what I’m going to say next: what it has gained in raw point-to-point pace, which is of not much good or interest to anyone, is not matched by the loss of that near magical ability of the A110 to breathe with the road.


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