Good sports: New BMW M2 CS vs Porsche and Alpine rivals

If you’ve ever seen animated movie classic Monsters, Inc (and, god bless the kids, who hasn’t?), you’ll know the image that I’m thinking of. It might even have been on the DVD cover. It’s the one with the big furry monster, built like a brick outhouse, front and centre in the frame, with the little green monothalamic feller peeking out from behind his leg.

Well, in the version you get when you park the new BMW M2 CS alongside the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 and the Alpine A110 S, the big guy (Sulley, if I remember correctly) has an equally square outline, only now he’s grey and has a blue and white propeller badge on his snout. Moreover, there are not one but two ankle-biter Billy Crystals – and one of them is even the right colour. The likeness is uncanny; the monsters are in the house.

This is a story of littles versus large, then – sort of. Even the very smallest proper M car that BMW makes, now in extra-steroidal CS derivative form, makes a brawny, imposing-looking prospect for any comparable mid-engined sports car to overcome. Although you certainly wouldn’t bet against a smaller, lighter, lower and mid-engined sports car to see off even the best front-engined M car for by-the-book driver appeal, would you? All the power and noise and sticky-Cup-tyre grip that the M division will ever muster for the likeable M2 is fighting the compactness, delicacy and effortless agility of mid-engined opposition on two fronts, then. Or is it?

The truth of what happens when you drive these cars back to back and try to pick a winner is even more complicated than that might imply – for this tester, even a little bit odd. It was like being in a room with an old best mate not seen for years, a newer acquaintance whom you like and would like to see more of, and a third person whom you’d swear you’ve met before but is acting like a stranger. The four of you should get along like a house on fire, yet somehow you can’t quite engage everyone in the same conversation. Given the chance to disappear to the pub with only one, you’d probably pick the first; you might pick the second, but you’re almost certain not to pick the third, whoever he is.

Don’t worry: I’ll get on to explaining which car is which person before we’re much older. First up, we should acknowledge that there are probably two important comparison tests to consider here rather than one. There aren’t many Autocar group tests that could have quite happily gone ahead without the freshest member of the automotive cast, but this is one of them, so let’s get the preliminary round out of the way.

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2014 Porsche Cayman GTS, £40,995: You’ll want the 981-generation Cayman for its 3.4-litre flat six, and the GTS adds bespoke styling, a sports exhaust and a more dynamically focused suspension set-up. Look for the Sport Chrono pack.

1994 Alpine A610 Turbo, £23,995: The 1960s original A110 commands huge prices today, but the A610 costs Ford Focus money, even for #1 of the 68 RHD cars built. Its rear-mounted turbo V6 makes 247bhp and 258lb ft.