Finally, a car maker focused on producing a brilliant sports car, the Alpine A110 is nothing short of refreshingly brilliant.
I didn’t want to believe the hype when it came round to the Alpine. It’s been out a few years now, we all saw it infamously catch fire on Top Gear a couple of seasons ago, but given that was a pre-production model, that teething problem was quickly fixed. Not that you’d have thought that with just about every person I met over the week with the Alpine commenting, “isn’t that the one that catches fire…”
As I was saying – it’s been out a while now, and no doubt you’ll have read a number of reviews on the latest sports car out of France, all of which have been unanimously positive for the little Alpine A110 and sadly, you aren’t going to read anything different here.
I will, however, explain why. The Alpine A110 focuses on lightness, driving dynamics and looks. Look at it. There’s little wonder that it won awards for its design as it embodies its ancestry with the inner headlights and elongated boot. It sits low, the roofline is low and the engine is mounted in the middle. All of this helps to create a low centre of gravity which translates to excellent handling characteristics.
While some may be upset that its powered by the same engine that sits in the Renault Megane RS, a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-pot, that engine is more than enough to power the Alpine along to a 0-62mph time of just 4.5 seconds. This is in part thanks to a 7-speed DCT gearbox, not a ZF with torque convertor, but a proper dual-clutch system that readies the next gear for improved shift times. But the biggest factor is its kerb weight of just 1123kg. That’s a sensational feat given you get full leather seats inside, a decent-enough infotainment system, plenty of cargo space and enough sound deadening for it not to be irritating.
It’s not all positive, though. Our test car was showing under 10,000 miles, yet the door handle pull on the inside was loose, the centre console moved about a bit if you gave it a shake and the infotainment system has a meltdown periodically. And at £56,006 as tested, you’d be left feeling a tad short changed if you owned it with these niggles. It just reminds you of the problems that French cars have had for years; sadly the new A110 can’t shake those build fears. ARGH, was my initial reaction. But enough of that, we’re here to drive, so that’s exactly what we’ll do.
You buy an Alpine A110 for the drive, nothing else. So let’s do that. I took delivery of this car towards the back end of January this year, and as you can imagine, conditions haven’t exactly been the best for testing sports cars but I did find a few clear days to give the Alpine a proper drive. This is bloody quick. The 250bhp headline figure almost makes you chuckle in the wake of the 350bhp Cayman and TTRS (400bhp) but those cars weigh a darn site more, and boy does the Alpine show that. Straight line acceleration is very strong, gear changes ultra-quick, particularly when you chase the red line. This is a lesson in how to build a sports car, something that I’ve only experienced in the likes of the Lotus Elise and Porsche Cayman. For me, the TT serves an entirely different purpose; it isn’t aimed at those who enjoy the sheer delight of driving, more for those who want a sports car that is easy to drive and goes quickly in a straight line.
The Alpine’s lightness really shines through in the corners, it’s ability to transition its weight from one corner to the next is sublime. Sadly, we couldn’t send the car through a slalom, but I suspect its time wouldn’t be far off the Elise, and this is in a car that still has creature comforts unlike the Elise.
Something I should have mentioned before, don’t bother with the Normal driving mode; the engine feels a bit lazy, the upshifts are indecisive and the cars character dumbs right down. You’ll be wanting to leave it in Sport, not least because the engine wakes up and the throttle response comes alive, but also because gear changes are purposeful and the exhaust system opens its valves (this car was fitted with the optional sports exhaust you see). While you don’t get the growl of a V6, you get a nicer tone than you do in the Cayman, with some overrun burbles that seem to be the norm nowadays. Look, it’s not the most charming sound, but it isn’t a bad one, particularly as its “only” a four-cylinder.
The joy of the sound comes from the induction as well as the turbo spooling. If you turn the radio off, shut the windows and ease in the throttle above 2/3krpm, you can hear the turbo start to spool up; jump off the throttle and you get a neat blow off sound. Not a Cosworth-esque stutututu, but enough to make you smile.
There is a downside to the weight, or lack thereof, if you get caught in a crosswind like Storm Ciara has been churning up, you’ll need to battle the wheel to stay straight. Not really an issue when you’re prepared for it, but it can catch you off guard. It’s not something you should be particularly worried about, mind.
When the going gets tough, though, the body control is superb and the damping perfect. It’s as sharp as a Lotus, but with longer suspension travel so you needn’t have to worry about undulations on a b-road blast. You can carry substantial speed across country and into corners, the front end grips and pulls you in tightly, while the rear remains controllable and pushes you out of corners. It’s a car that has bucket loads of fluidity and composure, in fact, the suspension is one of the best I’ve experienced. It’s neither too stiff nor too soft, it’s brilliantly judged.
The Sabelt seats are light but not unforgiving. Our car was finished in brown leather, which may upset some but I thought it added to the quirkiness of the Alpine. There are plastics dotted about that remind you that this isn’t as plush as a Porsche, and the infotainment system bugged me. It’s the same one you get in a Suzuki Jimny, which would depress me as a customer. Also, the reversing camera appears to be 0.2 megapixels, compared to my brothers M2 Competition, another rival to the Alpine, it’s night and day and a little worrying given they’re the same price point.
If you focus on what this car was born to do, drive, then this car suddenly enters into its own little sphere. It sits somewhere in between a Lotus Elise and a Porsche Cayman. It can’t quite pip the Elise for sheer driving performance, it also can’t top the Cayman for luxurious performance.
But, see this as a cut-price Cayman GTS with the dynamics of an Elise and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Even still, I reckon the Alpine is sharper, more direct and ultimately more enjoyable to drive than a Cayman. It’s rarity also helps the allure of it, people stopping to ask what it is. You don’t get that with a Porsche. And that’s why my money would be heading towards Alpine. What a blast.
Tech Spec: Alpine A110
Performance: 248bhp @ 6000rpm, 184ft lb @ 2000-5000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top Speed: 155mph (limited)
Engine: 1798cc turbocharged four-cylinder, seven-speed DCT gearbox