It was a drive in the new 4.0-litre Porsche 718 Cayman GTS that did it. I took the car on the exact same route on which I’d recently driven the Cayman GT4 – just to see whether the normal GTS could get even to within viewing distance of standards set by its vaunted sibling and product of Porsche’s fabled Motorsport division.

But, as I drove, something appeared to be wrong. It wasn’t meant to be like this. I was actually having just as much fun in the GTS as I’d had in the GT4. You couldn’t use the GT4’s extra grip on the public road, but you could certainly appreciate the surer foot of the GTS’s less extreme tyres on the often wet surfaces, as well as the clearly superior ride quality. 

Was the steering any less lucid? You’d need them side by side to tell. Was it significantly slower? Did it sound any less good? Was I, in short, enjoying myself any less as a result? Not that I could see. But the GTS costs £11,000 less than the GT4, so does that not make it therefore the better car?

It’s certainly possible, and I’d say definite for someone looking for such a device as a daily driver, rather than occasional recreation. Which started me thinking about other ranges where the headline grabber may not actually be the best of the bunch. What about those cars which are neither too hot nor too cold, but just right?

Defining the automotive Goldilocks principle

I am not the first to have thought about this. Indeed, it’s a well-documented concept with applications in medicine, economics and science called, predictably enough, the Goldilocks principle. By far the largest and most obvious example is our planet, as we’d all find out to our considerable cost were we ever rash enough to try to live on Venus or Mars.

Goldilocks cars are nothing new. They’ve been around at least since the 1920s, when the six-cylinder Bentley Speed Six was at times compared unfavourably with the four-pot 41/2-litre model because, as someone put it, ‘I miss that bloody thump’. More recently, the 3.8-litre six-cylinder Jaguar E-Type was a far better driver’s car than the flabbier 5.3-litre V12 E-Type that followed it at a discreet distance. 

An Aston Martin DB4 is a better driver’s car than a DB5, a Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI nicer than the same car with 16 valves. And an original S3 Lotus Esprit is a better car than an Esprit Turbo as well. Controversial, I know. 

More recently, the shining example has to be the original Audi R8 with its super-sweet V8. The V10 that joined it sounded cool, but it spoilt the balance in terms of its handling neutrality and feel, and the balance between the powertrain and the chassis in determining your progress.