Forgetting the really expensive stuff that nobody who writes about cars for a living will ever be able to afford, I have never known any performance car to be met with as much universal praise as the new Alpine A110. Over the last 12 months I have watched a steady stream of car reviewers step out of the little sports car and rave about it. And yet, when the excitement finally drained away and rational thought had returned, every single one of them has muttered the same refrain: 'I wonder what it would be like with another 50hp...'
Gloucestershire tuning company Litchfield Motors took delivery of its own A110 a few months ago and has since been working through a handful of upgrades. A suspension package, a freer flowing exhaust system and perhaps a limited slip differential will become available some time next year, but a straightforward engine remap has already been given company founder Iain Litchfield's seal of approval and is being offered to customers immediately. Interestingly, Litchfield is so confident about the quality of the remap and the durability of the A110's 1.8-litre turbo engine that his upgrade comes with a warranty.
In completely standard specification Litchfield's A110 developed 256hp and a peak of 258lb ft of torque on the dyno, which is 4hp and a useful 22lb ft more than Alpine claims. 'The standard boost pressure is around 1.1 bar,' says Iain, 'and we increase that to 1.35 bar, going up to 1.45 a bit later in the mid-range, before tailing off again. That gives us 304hp at 6295rpm and 298lb ft at 3450rpm. We did have it up to 330lb ft in testing, but that made the car close to undriveable.
'The charge temperatures on the road and multiple dyno runs only went up four degrees C, which is nothing. We measure the cat temperatures to see how hot it's all getting and they were hardly any different on the new map. I'm happy the engine is running well within itself - I wouldn't put a warranty on it if I wasn't entirely confident.'
You can't fail to notice the difference the moment you open the taps and run the newly remapped engine through a couple of gears - the car feels not only a bit quicker in a straight line now, but enormously so. Whereas in standard form the A110 is quick and urgent, in this uprated spec it is forcefully accelerative, giving you the kind of hit in the back that you'd expect of a much more expensive sports car, or even a junior supercar. Never mind the Porsche 718 Cayman S; in this A110 you'll be frightening mid-range 911s.
Gains of 52hp and 62lb ft over the published figures perhaps don't look huge, but in percentage terms they are significant (21 per cent in both cases). What's more, the A110 is famously a very light car at around 1100kg, so those increases in power and torque actually count for even more. As it rolls out of the factory the A110 has 229bhp to push every 1000kg, whereas post remap that figure is 277hp/tonne. (For reference, the outgoing Porsche 911 Carrera S has exactly the same power to weight ratio.)
More straight line speed is all well and good, but if the remapped engine is peaky, or unresponsive, or in any way truculent it can hardly be judged to be an improvement. As it is, there are no such worries. The turbo spools up quickly at around 2000rpm, so the boost threshold is still very low in the rev range. From there the engine pulls with intent and at around 4500rpm you feel it light up again for the final dash to the limiter. This Renault-sourced four-cylinder was never a firecracker and even after this remap it's nothing of the sort, but there is good energy at the top end so you do chase after the redline. It's a pity it doesn't rev just a little higher, though, because you find yourself having to shift up a gear just when you want the engine to reach out a touch further.
If there is any more of a delay now between opening the throttle and drive reaching the rear axle it is so marginal that you'd have to drive a standard car back-to-back with this one to notice it. The truth is no turbocharged engine - short of those twin-turbo marvels you find in more exotic cars like the aforementioned 911 and the Ferrari 488 GTB - has instant throttle response, and while you can identify a brief hesitation here, you'll notice much the same in a stock A110.
In every other respect the Alpine feels as though it can handle this sort of power with ease. Perhaps the heaviest question mark that hung over any modification that affected a substantial uplift in power and torque was whether or not it would expose the lack of a limited slip differential. On greasy roads in chilly ambient conditions I have to say it does not.
The standard brake-based e-diff still works well enough on the road that you can neatly and predictably slide the car away from a sweeping second gear corner without lighting up the unloaded inside tyre. The A110 is as controllable and playful as it ever was, while at no point during my test drive did I feel it was traction limited. The long and short of it is the A110 feels like a car that was built to handle 300hp from day one.
The other benefit is that whereas the standard car sometimes feels stuck between second and third gears in certain corners, this one has enough power and torque to pull the longer ratio. That means you don't find yourself sitting on the limiter in second gear as you wait for the corner to straighten out, or shifting up mid-corner.
I cannot say how the power upgrade makes the car feel on a dry road, nor on a circuit. And while I was conflicted about a more powerful A110 having written countless times that I adore the factory car for its usable level of performance, I do not think a 52hp uplift in power suddenly makes it significantly less exploitable on the road. Litchfield's remap costs £995 before VAT and there's little doubt it makes the A110 an even more exciting sports car than it already is.
SPECIFICATION - LITCHFIELD ALPINE A110
Engine 1798cc, 4 cyls, turbo
Transmission 7-speed twin-clutch
Power (hp) 304hp@6295rpm
Torque (lb ft) 298@3450rpm
0-62mph 4.2 secs (estimated)
Top speed 165mph
Price £995 plus VAT