RE: Alpine A110: Driven

Friday 8th December 2017

Alpine A110: Driven

Can the French revelation deliver on its promise of unencumbered motoring fun?



There's snow and ice beside these narrow, hillside switchback roads and your breath steams in the cool, crisp, morning air. There's bit of a Monte Carlo Rally vibe to the place, then, which is entirely appropriate because, oh look: here's the new Alpine A110. Low, lithe, little, and blue. A small car for small roads and small corners and - we'll come to this - some of the biggest smiles you've had in ages. Alpine is back, so the hashtag goes.


There's something to bring back because Jean Rédélé, a Dieppe car dealer, started modifying cars, later making his own, based on Renault mechanicals, and was good at it. He enjoyed driving in the mountains and had success in alpine rallies, so called his company Alpine when he established it proper in 1955.

His cars were fast, too. The A110 locked-out the podium on the Monte in 1973 and won the World Rally Championship in that, its inaugural year. Subsequently Alpine was absorbed into Renault from where it went... well, not quite so well, longer-term. Renault eventually canned Alpine in 1995 off the back of the A610, a good car, but one which hardly anyone bought.

But now it's back. And whatever you think of this Alpine A110 - a slightly retro-styled small coupe, which I happen to think is achingly pretty - I do believe it's worth doffing your cap to the people who've made it happen, because when you look at the numbers, it's quite a bold move. This isn't just a new model, it's a new brand.

The Dieppe factory, where Renaultsport Clios and race cars are still made, has been modified extensively for the new Alpine coupe to be built there too. In total - Clios and all - it can make no more than 10,000 cars a year. There'll be the creation of a new dealer network, and all of the aftersales support that goes with it, all of which sounds expensive.

But nothing sounds so expensive as the fact that today's new Alpine A110 has an entirely new, built-from-scratch all-aluminium platform, all of its own. Caterham was in at the start, too, you might remember, but it bailed in 2014 and Alpine was left to go it alone.


The architecture is a thing of beauty. This is a compact car - 4.18m long, 1.8m wide and 1.25m tall, with two seats inside it and a transverse 1.8 turbo engine mounted behind them. It drives the rear wheels via a seven-speed DCT transmission.

It's packaged really impressively. Extrusions are bonded, riveted, in places (near the engine) welded, with pressed body panels atop. It's all aluminium bar some steel rivets and a plastic roof. There are double wishbones front and rear, which occupy more lateral room than, say, struts that Alpine could have carried over from a Clio. Yet the engine fits between them at the rear, while the 45-litre fuel tank fits between them at the front; an unusual position but Alpine wanted it there because it helps give a 44:56 weight distribution.

There are some other really key numbers here, but a Nurburgring lap time isn't one of them. Alpine says that laptimes aren't a priority, that speed isn't the biggie.


No, the numbers that count are a 1,080kg kerb weight and a decent 252hp, which gives a 228hp/tonne power to weight ratio. Tyres are relatively modest in width, too, at 205/40 R18 at the front, 235/40 R18 at the rear on this launch 'Premiere Edition' model, which comprises the first 1955 cars built (see what they did there). Later, 'Pure' models will get 17-inch wheels, slightly higher sidewalls, but the same tyre widths; 'Legende' cars retain the 18s. All run Michelin Pilot Sport 4s. Because who else but Michelin could it be?

All of which is, I suppose, a roundabout way of saying that, look, I know the fact that at (gulp) £50,000 or so, the Alpine looks expensive for a tiny coupe with four cylinders, but I don't know how you'd do it more cheaply. Even if they sell 4,000 of these a year that's £200m. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that when Alpine talks about this car's launch, it references Mini. This, it seems, could be the start of something bigger. Something that'll justify the expense on this car. Alpine boss Michael van der Sande won't be drawn, beyond saying "we will have the lightest, most agile car in whatever class we're in."


This car is so light and agile, then, that it has passive dampers, soft spring and damper rates, and easygoing hollow anti-roll bars. Roll isn't your enemy, say Alpine's chassis engineers, who allow the suspension to ease over bumps because lightness is, as we all know, the gift that keeps on giving: it's easier to keep control of a light body. And besides, your 252hp still gives a 4.5 second 0-62mph time, brake discs are only 320mm diameter, there's no limited-slip differential and fuel consumption is a claimed 46.3mpg.

All of which means? It means the A110 is brilliant. Sure, they still could have taken all of these ingredients and got them wrong, but they haven't. The A110 rides well, there's a touch of a good Lotus Elise, or modern McLaren, about the way it both absorbs bumps and yet retains impeccable control of its body movements.

It steers precisely, too; lightly, and perhaps not quite as reassuringly as a Porsche 718 Cayman but with sufficient road feel when you look for it. A button on its diddy wheel adjusts the drive mode, with Sport and then Track bringing a bit more anger to the engine note and response, gearbox response and steering weight, and lessening the ESP (which has a separate off button) but leaving the general dynamics well alone.


Which is good, because they are absolutely superb. Agility and poise is, on the road, sensational, as it also is on the small hillside track where we pushed the A110 a bit harder. There's not a lot of understeer inherent in this chassis, and if you turn on even a neutral or trailed throttle, the weight distribution - the centre of gravity is between occupants hips - brings the back of the car gently around, from where there's sufficient power to ride out a slide beautifully. It feels like there's less roll steer and perilousness to it than an Elise. Yes, a Porsche Cayman has its own blend of mid-engined fabulousness, and a limited-slip diff option to go with it, but the Alpine is more agile again. More fun? Quite possibly. Could it do with an LSD? Out of a hairpin, where you can't get enough lateral load into the chassis to start moving it around, then perhaps so, because the A110's inclined to spin an inside rear wheel instead, despite a torque-vector-via-brake system's best efforts. And maybe on a really grippy dry circuit the same might apply. But LSDs have their own weight and refinement issues, and can make cars push on a bit under braking.

The A110 is probably better off without, then, because it might spoil what is one of the most delicately balanced, rewarding and perfectly composed sports car chassis I've driven in years. The engine and 'box? They're fine. The engine's a little boosty at times, but sounds zingy enough - it probably has the measure of a Cayman's noise. The gearbox doesn't: there wasn't the money to do a DCT and a manual, so they did a better DCT, they say. There are wet rather than the dry clutches you'll find on a Clio (and an extra ratio) but while mostly it's fine, it occasionally feels like you've pulled neutral on lift-off when you expect some engine braking. And the interior, though sweetly designed and very accommodating for big occupants, feels a touch lower rent than a Porsche too. Which is, I suppose, inevitable in a 1,080kg car (1,103kg in this launch spec).


But I barely think any of these things matter. The Alpine A110 is such good fun dynamically that, as with a Toyota GT86, you can overlook the foibles because without them the car would not be the car it is: it would be heavier, duller, slower. The wonderful thing about the Alpine is that it has a bit more power than that Toyota yet weighs 135-150kg less, and it has a more rounded dynamic ability too. Enough for it to challenge cars at any price, not just at its own. So break-out the bunting and the hashtags: Alpine is back, in sensational style.


SPECIFICATION - ALPINE A110

Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cylinder turbo
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 252@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 239@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,080 - 1,103kg
MPG: 46.3
CO2: 138g/km
Price: £50,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

V8 FOU

Original Poster:

2,503 posts

78 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Fab, just fab!
Not a brilliant write up, but I'll wait for Monkey to do this in style.
have to think about one of these - a much better/rarer bet than a 4C.

Mmmmmmm

Paddy78

94 posts

77 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Have to agree, these look lovely and I suspect they will hold their value fairly well too... shame! smile

Bright Halo

411 posts

166 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Positive first impressions!
No doubt there will be more powerful and limited editions to follow.
Great to see, just the price I struggle with. Sub £40k and it would be so much more tempting.

Krikkit

12,524 posts

112 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Bright Halo said:
Positive first impressions!
No doubt there will be more powerful and limited editions to follow.
Great to see, just the price I struggle with. Sub £40k and it would be so much more tempting.
Problem is it's too far from other production cars that they could raid the parts bin for - a whole new chassis and interior, hardly any shared parts save some switchgear, makes for a very expensive thing to build.

I think this looks absolutely magnificent, a 4C-style Cayman alternative. The choice between the Alfa, a Lotus and this would be very tricky.

Gameface

3,265 posts

8 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Looks like Caterham should've stuck around.

Wonder what theirs would've looked like?
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Evilex

436 posts

35 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Magnifique!

But I'm biased, for I love Alpines.

James P

2,719 posts

168 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Gameface said:
Looks like Caterham should've stuck around.

Wonder what theirs would've looked like?
Can't find the picture I took of the clay styling buck at the open day earlier this year but pretty similar to this I recall.

ben5575

1,210 posts

152 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Lovely looking thing and I can buy into the marketing hype/nostalgia as well.

I hate to be the first person to say 4pot, DSG, 250bhp, no LSD, 1100kg for £50k.

4C seems to be the natural competition (how many have they sold again?), but is perhaps the Alpine lacks the carbon tubbed Italian flair?

Caymans etc are a different kettle of fish. I can't see a Cayman buyer switching to this or vice versa.

I can see an elise/exige buyer thinking carefully about it, but as a caterham owner (so similar philosophy), DSG and no LSD would be a struggle to get over.

Add in the power of a warm hatch rather than a hot let alone a hyper hatch and on paper it seems to fall between several stools.

That said, it's a looker alright and it may absolutely be your heart and its soul that carries the day. Love to see one in the flesh.

GTEYE

1,175 posts

141 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
A bit pricey for the mechanical specification, but with those looks and the fact that it will be a fairly rare site I'll forgive it that.

One of an amazingly small number of new cars that is genuinely pretty. Bravo!

CedricN

337 posts

76 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6b34wj

Test drive by sportauto.fr, it just moves around beautifully and looks so balanced, looks like so much fun. I really like the balance between light weight and nice interior, it would be nice it boxsters were at this size/weight to. Might be a manual gearbox away from perfection smile

Any ideas of the base price for non launch spec cars? ive heard rumors in the region of 40k£

Edited by CedricN on Friday 8th December 12:48

ZX10R NIN

10,986 posts

56 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
I think the pricing is correct for this type of car there's no way this could be made for under 40k & Renault not lose money, saying that they could've skimped on some bits here & there then the car wouldn't have been as good & no one would even think about buying it.

I like the way Renault have left some BHP from the engine which no doubt will be for a Trophy version that'll have Ohlins an extra 50bhp & an Akrapovic exhaust.

Simon Owen

116 posts

65 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
A breath of fresh air to see someone bucking the trend.

Slots very nicely into a gap in the market in my opinion.


Turbobanana

1,009 posts

132 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Why compare this to a hot hatch? You either want a bespoke, 2 door coupe that looks like little else, or you want a hatchback.

I say well done for creating something stylish with a nod to genuine heritage. I'd have one in a heartbeat if I didn't need the interior space for children, although £50,000 does sound a bit ambitious and I'd prefer a manual.

ben5575

1,210 posts

152 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
CedricN said:
Yeah ok that does look lovelycloud9 And so low unless he's a giant.

l354uge

1,399 posts

52 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
Why compare this to a hot hatch? You either want a bespoke, 2 door coupe that looks like little else, or you want a hatchback.

I say well done for creating something stylish with a nod to genuine heritage. I'd have one in a heartbeat if I didn't need the interior space for children, although £50,000 does sound a bit ambitious and I'd prefer a manual.
Because a modern 'petrolhead' with £50k burning in their pocket will look at this, the cayman and then the A45 AMG, and I bet 70% will take the AMG purely because it has 400hp.

I really hope I'm wrong and this starts a new trend of driving fun over stats, but i doubt it.

Toltec

5,169 posts

154 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
CedricN said:
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6b34wj

Test drive by sportauto.fr, it just moves around beautifully and looks so balanced, looks like so much fun. I really like the balance between light weight and nice interior, it would be nice it boxsters were at this size/weight to. Might be a manual gearbox away from perfection smile

Any ideas of the base price for non launch spec cars? ive heard rumors in the region of 40k£

Edited by CedricN on Friday 8th December 12:48
The rumble strip farty noise on the up change is weird and it would have been good to see more fast corners rather than deliberately induced journalist oversteer, but it does look good.

NickCQ

1,418 posts

27 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
Bravo Alpine. The first new car I’ve been genuinely excited by for a long time.

astrsxi77

275 posts

152 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
If their comendable claims of not being interested in laptimes and top whack are true, why then dilute the experience with DCT-only? A genuine lightweight two seater sportscar is a pitifully rare thing in this age of missguided eco-sycophancy and the more-equals-sporty++ mindset. A car not marketed on irelevant numbers and instead on the actual driving pleasure should have a manual gearbox. Leave the DCTs for the heros in Clios and Meganes that crash daily into the Nurburgring armco.

jonby

4,882 posts

88 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
In Europe, a 718 costs 55k Euros, a 718S 68k Euros and the premiere A110 costs 58.5k. So whilst it's probably wishful thinking on my part as a depositer with a launch edition car coming, if they price it similarly here and peg it to Porsche pricing, it will work out at £46k for a premiere edition car (here 718 costs £43k, 718S £52k). If they do a straight exchange rate, then it works out at nearer £52k. In reality, I guess it will be somewhere inbetween at c £48-49k

It's also worth bearing in mind there are literally no options on the premiere cars. That means the base (pure) model must surely come in at around £40k.

It's certainly frustrating still not knowing what my car will cost, but hopefully that will be cleared up early in the new year

But it's also worth pointing out that Alpine have said from the start they see this as a car for people who already have several other cars, including some significantly more expensive, more than a car for someone looking to buy it as their only car/DD.On that basis, it makes more sense IMO than a base Cayman and such buyers will not be so worried about track times/ prestige /etc. I liken it in some ways to the Biposto Abarth a friend of mine runs alongside some real exotica - it's quirky, fun but not truly justifiable financially. The question is whether the market is large enough in the UK for people buying it as a fun 3rd/4th car - I suspect not unfortunately.

Too Drunk to Funk

804 posts

8 months

Friday 8th December 2017
quotequote all
ben5575 said:
I hate to be the first person to say 4pot, DSG, 250bhp, no LSD, 1100kg for £50k.

4C seems to be the natural competition (how many have they sold again?), but is perhaps the Alpine lacks the carbon tubbed Italian flair?

.
4.5s to 60. 4 pot engine to save weight it would seem.

The 4C didn't do well because it was a bit ste.

Not many new cars still doing it for me but would love one of these.