RE: McLaren 720S Spider meets Alpine A110 Pure

RE: McLaren 720S Spider meets Alpine A110 Pure

Sunday 7th April

McLaren 720S Spider meets Alpine A110 Pure

Spoiler alert: they're both fabulous



McLaren 720S Spider

Now obviously, being Team Supercar in this shootout looks simple enough; it’s a walkover to file not so much under ‘easy win’, but more ‘harder to lose’. The McLaren is a faster, newer, more dramatic and more expensive take on the Alpine’s mid-engined, turbocharged, driver-focussed sports car. With another 460hp. Not since AC Milan were 3-0 up at half time in that Champions League final against Liverpool could defeat be snatched so cruelly from victory.

And it’s not going to be. That’s because, while the prosecuting PHers (or maybe just Nic), will talk about the Alpine’s real-world validity, the accessibility of its performance on B-roads and the reward it offers the driver at sensible speeds, fact is the McLaren still has it covered. Because it does all that, not simply just as well, but even better. While also being a bonafide supercar.


Hopefully it’s registered over the past few years that McLaren’s dedication to genuinely interactive supercars has won it quite a few fans. Everything from 540C to P1 puts a deliberate emphasis on the driver’s enjoyment of the process; they’re all ballistically quick – this 720S can hit 124mph in less than eight seconds – but each makes a point of ensuring the driver is central to that experience. The ‘big Lotus Elise’ cliché has been trotted out countless times in relation to McLaren’s Super Series models; hardly original now, but it remains applicable, for there’s simply nothing else of this power and performance that makes the driver feel so involved with what’s going on.

Don’t assume that all supercars do this, either. As the push to automation continues, so it often feels that some manufacturers are preparing us for the switch by distancing drivers from the driving experience with comatose steering, pedals that act like switches and so on. McLaren’s peerless calibration of control weights, pedal positioning, visibility and feel didn’t happen by accident, and it deserves the utmost praise for doing so. Because it makes the cars brilliant fun. Less than 70mph in a car capable of nearly three times that should feel anodyne; the truth is anything but. And yes, it suits the Alpine just nicely too, but the fact is the McLaren feels as at home on a British country road as the little A110 does. Perhaps more so. And that’s a staggering achievement.


For a modern sports car, the Alpine has quite nice steering; the McLaren’s is exquisite, the process so ordinary in theory yet the very opposite in practice. The immersion and the enjoyment from pointing a 720S down the road makes it not so much steering as kneading the car beneath you, constructing the path you want to take with fingertips and the end result perfect. Every time.

The Alpine rides harmoniously, but the McLaren rides with even greater poise, at any speed. While the Active Dynamics panel is there to further pin down body movement, the standard ProActive Chassis Control II setting delivers all you could ever want. The Lotus analogy extends further, the McLaren’s spooky ability to combine ground skimming stance with pin-sharp dynamism and genuine comfort redolent of Hethel’s finest – only even better. And that’s something to enjoy as much at 30mph as it is at 130mph.


The only cars with better brake pedal feel than a 720S are dedicated track specials, McLaren’s own 600LT included; same goes for driving position, and your relationship to everything important needed for driving a car. The work on visibility means the Spider’s size and layout simply aren’t factors once you’re in; it’s a welcoming, satisfying, cleverly designed cabin. There’s joy, and a sense of engineering thoroughness, before a mile has been covered – how much more real world do you want than that? Then there’s the steering at low speed, the ride with a little more speed, then the speed with a little more, er, speed…

With a third of its total power (or about what the Alpine has), the 720S would still be a better sports car, for all the reasons listed above. With nearly 100hp more than an F1, the Spider can then do outrageous supercar very, very well indeed in addition. This duality is what makes the latest Super Series so compelling, and so deserving of praise; it’s both a great sports car and a great supercar, two very different criteria sets and ones which are very seldom so convincingly met. The 720S can engage, entertain and enthral like the very best sports cars - rather like an Alpine A110 in fact - while also being capable of warp speed when the situation suits. That might be less frequently that you might hope, but with driver appeal like this you’ll struggle to care about going that fast.
MB


SPECIFICATION - MCLAREN 720S SPIDER
Engine: 
3,994cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-speed SSG dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 720@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 568@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 2.9sec
Top speed: 212mph
Weight: 1,468kg (with fluids and 90 per cent full tank)
MPG: 23.2 (WLTP)
CO2: 276g/km (WLTP)
Price: £237,000


Alpine A110 Pure

Cards on the table: I love the 720S. Matt's right: it's phenomenal. If it's not the best supercar you can buy, then it's definitely in a class of two. And thanks to the formidable and ceaseless advancement of the segment, by definition that makes it one of the best supercars ever made. Being able to lower the roof on the Spider is simply the piece de resistance.

None of this, however, spares it from the usual limitations. Sure, it's comfortable enough to be driven across a continent and there's space in the nose for an overnight bag or two (if you pack light) - but I still get chills parking it anywhere that isn't under lock and key, and truthfully I'm not quite vain enough to relish the attention it receives at every turn.

Then there's the terrifying prospect of its price. The Spider starts at £237,000. That's fine - it reflects its market value, after all - but it also means that every 720S will end up in the hands of the lucky few. Forever. Consequently, and not unlike an oil painting condemned to a bank vault, McLaren's technical achievement is something that most of us will only enjoy from a considerable distance.


Alpine's - or, more specifically, Renault Sport's - triumph is more of the National Gallery gift shop variety. You can touch it aplenty. Hell, if you're prepared to wait in a long line and stump up the premium, you can even buy one. Wait a decade or so and chances are you probably won't even have to break the bank.

Comparative affordability doesn't prove the A110's case, of course - but it's the open door through which the remainder of its brilliance romps. Even the most oblivious layman would expect the 720S to be exceptional because it looks like a flattened Henry Moore sculpture and goes like a grounded rocket. The Alpine is just a small French sports car with a useless boot. Yet it is the one to turn you into a true believer.

Given the modest sum of its parts, that ought to be impossible. A like for like comparison of most components is virtually redundant. No mass-produced four-pot in the world holds a candle to Ricardo's hand-built V8, and certainly not Renault's unremarkable 1.8-litre unit. Ditto their respective transmissions - seven-speed dual-shifters both, but relatable only in name.


Even the A110's clean-sheet body and chassis design, both engineered from aluminium - and quixotically brilliant from a mainstream manufacturer - pales next to the carbon fibre Monocell that McLaren built specifically to knock Ferrari from its high perch. Woking gets to make abundant use of composite because it produces cars in relatively low volumes, and is free to pass on the high cost of its manufacturer to the customer. Alpine cannot.

It does, however, possess a trump card. The A110 is small. And while aluminium is not as light as carbon fibre, it still delivers comparatively low mass when used sparingly and cleverly and when required to only carriage a compact engine. Thus the Alpine, in its entry-level Pure format, weighs 1,103kg. Which is more than 350kg lighter than the 720S.

The car duly takes that on-paper difference and runs with it so far up the road that it takes about a nanosecond to recognise it has a colossal advantage. The 720S is beautifully damped, yes, but the A110 is so loose-limbed and lovely in its control of vertical body movements that it's like driving a cloud. Only a cloud with a roll axis and centre of gravity at about shin height - so even while it floats and flits on what feels like about nine inches of wheel travel, it rounds corners with such light-footed insouciance that it makes even the McLaren's change of direction seem overwrought.


And when you drive faster, it gets better. It just gets more good. It is not just that the A110 is very well balanced in the way you might expect of a mid-engined sports car - because obviously the 720S is too - it's that you can feel its balance benefiting everything you do from the driver's seat because the subtleties of weight shift are so tangible. Factor in the unfussy steering and sufficient power to include the rear axle in any decision making, and the Alpine makes the concept 'fun' - the guilt-free and unfettered sort - more readily apparent than probably any other car on sale.

More so than the McLaren? For me, yes. Driving the 720S quickly is undeniably compelling - and obviously it's capable of waltzing away from the A110 in virtually any scenario - but extracting even a third of its performance on the public highway feels perilously close to anti-social. In the Alpine though, with lower speed and attainable limits, the physical act of driving is rewarded no less thrillingly - and in a way that makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Which makes it the best mid-engine car you can actually buy. And own, run, park and adore.
NC


SPECIFICATION - ALPINE A110 PURE
Engine:
1,798cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 252@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 239@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,103kg
MPG: 46.3
CO2: 138g/km
Price: £46,905



















Author
Discussion

mrclav

Original Poster:

766 posts

163 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Good piece. More of these, please.

justa1972

146 posts

77 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Excellent - one of the best written articles I’ve read on PH for quite a while !

That Alpine really is a brilliant little car !

Iamnotkloot

266 posts

87 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Both lovely but with two demerits;
No manual gearbox - kind of forgivable in a supercar, less so in a sports car
Boring sounding engines - McLaren should just put the original Mac F1 power plant in the 720 and be done with it!

Maldini35

1,973 posts

128 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Good piece.
Two proper drivers cars.

Alpine looking more and more tempting.

Kevin-sz0nv

188 posts

46 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Love both cars but having been in a few Mclarens I feel the interiors don't justify the price. It's time they changed their Iris sat nav altogether instead of keep updating it, the one I used was a nightmare and the engine is pretty soulless even though it has bombastic acceleration. Using it at normal everyday speeds it's comfy in fairness for a supercar but I personally would like to hear some nice sounds from behind. Mclaren have lent my pal a few now and in this colour they do look stunning. In fairness they've come a long way in such a short time they just need to sort the interior and engine noise out and they have a winner. The Alpine imo is right 1st time a great car.



Edited by Kevin-sz0nv on Saturday 6th April 09:03

Advertisement

cmoose

44,077 posts

169 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Iamnotkloot said:
Both lovely but with two demerits;
No manual gearbox - kind of forgivable in a supercar, less so in a sports car
Boring sounding engines - McLaren should just put the original Mac F1 power plant in the 720 and be done with it!
Agreed. The article says McLaren is 'dedicated to making interactive' cars but doesn't offer manual at on any model. So, that claim simply ain't justified. If the firm was truly 'dedicated' to that, there'd be manual at least optionally available on one or two models, and probably some NA engines.

I think they do a nice job given the core recipe. But if that recipe is 'dedicated' to anything, it's delivering numbers, from which point they do a good job clawing back some driver reward.

The Alpine has different problems. It's more cost and opportunity that limits its options. Arguably not viable, for instance, to engineer the bespoke compact six pot lump that the car would really benefit from, so a FWD hatchback derived powertrain is probably had to be, though as you say, a manual option would have been awfully welcome in this kind of car.

MX6

4,032 posts

153 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
This obviously seems like quite a mismatch in terms of a comparison between them, but an interesting piece none the less. Some high praise there, these both seem like great driving machines albeit at differing price points.

nicfaz

249 posts

170 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Much as I like the 720S, I think the Alpine is an absolute steal for the money. And I don't agree that the 720S would be as enjoyable on real roads - it won't. Part of the enjoyment of any car on a good road is wringing it out to a reasonable margin of safety from its capabilities. You'll never get anywhere near that in a 720S, apart from maybe the odd hairpin. But you'll do it a lot in the Alpine.

kambites

56,249 posts

161 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
nicfaz said:
But you'll do it a lot in the Alpine.
I agree with the general thrust of the argument, but I'm not sure I agree with this. I suppose it depends where you drive but it's pretty rare for me to be able to really push my Elise to its limits on the road and that's a much slower car than the Alpine.

Renault have clearly done an almost unfathomably good job with the Alpine so I think it deserves all the credit it gets, but for me personally it's still too fast and too grippy to make a truly great B-road car.

Motorsport3

285 posts

132 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
20 smth years ago or so when the first elise was launched i recall a test against a Lamborghini Diablo on a track. In some ways this is a contemporary equivalent.

Hungrymc

3,686 posts

77 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
nicfaz said:
Much as I like the 720S, I think the Alpine is an absolute steal for the money. And I don't agree that the 720S would be as enjoyable on real roads - it won't. Part of the enjoyment of any car on a good road is wringing it out to a reasonable margin of safety from its capabilities.
We all enjoy different things. But I think McLaren and Lotus in particular have an ability to make cars that are lots of fun driven quite a long way from their limits. It’s not just about being in them or about speed either, it’s specific to the calibration of controls and the feedback through wheel, seat and pedals. I believe it’s pretty special and changes your view on what it means to be a driver focused car. Long may they continue to do so as well.

E65Ross

22,207 posts

152 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Iamnotkloot said:
McLaren should just put the original Mac F1 power plant in the 720 and be done with it!
Whilst it sounds lovely, I'm not sure it'd be feasible to do this.

kambites

56,249 posts

161 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
E65Ross said:
Iamnotkloot said:
McLaren should just put the original Mac F1 power plant in the 720 and be done with it!
Whilst it sounds lovely, I'm not sure it'd be feasible to do this.
Quite. Good luck getting that lump EU6 compliant!

justin220

3,929 posts

144 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Great article.

I love both cars, would make a great two car stable smile

acalex

35 posts

89 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
Surely it's a bit like comparing, oh I don't know but say a little Kia, whatever that may be called, with a £75k BM/Mercedes/Jaguar/something else......
The McLaren is 5 times the price for heaven's sake! The price of an average house maybe.
As said, in the real world the little Alpine ticks boxes. In the unreal world the McL no doubt rules.

Kolbenkopp

1,603 posts

91 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
kambites said:
Quite. Good luck getting that lump EU6 compliant!
Hire someone from VW smile? Must be possible to poach someone...

Maldini35

1,973 posts

128 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
cmoose said:
Agreed. The article says McLaren is 'dedicated to making interactive' cars but doesn't offer manual at on any model. So, that claim simply ain't justified. If the firm was truly 'dedicated' to that, there'd be manual at least optionally available on one or two models, and probably some NA engines.

I think they do a nice job given the core recipe. But if that recipe is 'dedicated' to anything, it's delivering numbers, from which point they do a good job clawing back some driver reward.
.
Manual with N/A ?
Why not go the whole hog and stick in a carb fed v12 and remove the seatbelts?

Ok I’m being facetious but it’s a tad niaive to expect a relatively small company like McLaren who have tried hard to carve out a niche making hi-tech super cars in fiercely competitive sector to start looking backwards.
Porsche have the heritage and the finances to indulge this niche audience - McLaren do not.

Although I have to agree a stripped out, manual 570S with N/A 4.0 V8 would be hugely appealing (all be it very limited sales potential)

Lastly in terms of concerns re driver engagement, when did you last drive a McLaren? (Not meant to be an aggressive question by the way, just genuinely interested).
They’ve come a long way since the 12C.

leglessAlex

3,038 posts

81 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
I do hope that McLaren have plans for a different engine at some point in the future. I am an admirer of their cars and I would be lying if I said I didn't want one, but I am left a little numb at the endless derivatives of the 4.0 TT V8.

Yes, I understand that because of their size, it's not easy for them to develop a different engine, but maybe a partnership with another brand could work, as Aston have done or as they did with the F1?

The idea of something that stops, goes, looks and drives like McLarens do but sounds like an Audi R8/Huracan? Even an F12 or Superfast? Yes please.


The Alpine is immense and I want one very very badly indeed. After the Evora I'm about to order, maybe.

rockin

6,320 posts

185 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
leglessAlex said:
The idea of something that stops, goes, looks and drives like McLarens do but sounds like an Audi R8/Huracan? Even an F12 or Superfast? Yes please.
Better check out that mid-engine Corvette V8 thread. smile

Iamnotkloot

266 posts

87 months

Saturday 6th April
quotequote all
kambites said:
E65Ross said:
Iamnotkloot said:
McLaren should just put the original Mac F1 power plant in the 720 and be done with it!
Whilst it sounds lovely, I'm not sure it'd be feasible to do this.
Quite. Good luck getting that lump EU6 compliant!
The engine was designed over 27 years ago. Twenty seven years. Think of the improvements in materials and design in that time; you could make it compliant and more powerful if you wanted.
If I had the greatest engine ever made in my back catalogue, I’d make damn sure to keep it.