When Alpine announced that the follow-up to the A110 would ditch its 1.8-litre turbo four-pot in favour of an electric motor, we feared the worst. After all, how could one of the last bastions of lightweight performance maintain its signature agility when encumbered by bulky batteries? Happily, our worries were allayed somewhat by the A110 E-ternité concept.
Revealed last year as a ‘rolling laboratory’ to test electric powertrains for its next two-seater, the E-ternité was confirmation that Alpine was fighting the good fight with only a moderate weight increase over the piston-powered A110. A sweet deal, even with some fundamental caveats. Firstly, Alpine maintains that it has no intention of putting the E-ternité into production; it’s purely a testbed. Secondly, a production-ready sports car is still several years away, which is an e-ternity in the EV world. Nevertheless, a recent visit to Alpine’s R&D facility in Les Ulis, just south of Paris, showed that the next A110 is indeed being developed with the same underlying principles as the current car.
Weight, or a lack of it, is evidently high on the priority list. We already knew that the A110 E-ternité would be heavier than the combustion car, with engineers quoting 1,378kg during our visit, but it’s how the firm has kept the kerbweight down – and evenly distributed – that really impresses. The E-ternité uses the same 62kWh lithium-ion battery as the Megane E-Tech, yet instead of burying the flat-but-wide 12-cell pack below the occupants, Alpine has managed to split the battery into two sections and positioned them on either side of the cabin. The weight saving comes by ditching the water-cooling system and replacing it with lighter ‘cooling plates’. By doing this, Alpine is able to save around 30-40kg over the Megane E-Tech’s pack.
Splitting the battery into two sections has also permitted the engineers to play around with the weight distribution. Rather than aiming for a perfect 50-50 split, Alpine has instead located four cells at the front of the car and the remaining eight behind the cabin for a 42-58 weight distribution – a smidgen more rear bias than the combustion car and not far off a 911 Carrera 2.
Sounds great, right? Well, the problem with stuffing the battery in the cavities left by ripping out the engine and its ancillaries, rather the hiding under the floor, means the centre of gravity is slightly higher than it might otherwise be. This requires a slightly stiffer setup, which comes courtesy of new Ohlins dampers and beefier anti-roll bars. What’s interesting here is that the E-ternité is still passively damped, eschewing the sophisticated active anti-roll and torque vectoring systems that proliferate among much heavier electric performance cars. And that’s the way it’ll stay if Alpine’s chassis boffins get their way. Providing it’s able to transition into the electric age without significantly upping the kerbweight, its engineers see no need to muddy the driving experience by throwing in complicated, heavy suspension trickery.
With that said, the A110 E-ternité still suffers obvious compromises. The standard engine is hardly melodic, but it’s still satisfying to flick through the seven-speed automatic to the tune of four pistons chasing a 7,000rpm redline. The E-ternité, meanwhile, only has two ratios, which you don’t have any control over. The final product may have three speeds if Alpine decides to hike the power up from the 242hp developed by the E-ternité’s rear-mounted motor - but shifting will still be managed by a computer.
Then there’s the range. Alpine claims the E-ternité is rated at 261 miles combined under WLTP, which should be fine for road use yet completely useless on a track day, as you’d sap the battery of all its juice in just 15 minutes. That’s not Alpine’s fault; that’s just the way batteries work. And while you might devour a full tank of fuel in the blink of an eye, most circuits have pumps on site so you can quickly fill up and get back to the action. Even if there were updated to accommodate EVs, you’d spend more time charging up than on track. Don’t count on regenerative braking, either. With no regeneration on the front axle, where most of the braking force is, a minuscule amount of energy at the rear is diverted back into the battery.
That’s the case for the E-ternité, anyway. When the A110 successor arrives in 2026 (a year later than initially rumoured), battery tech may have sufficiently improved to rival combustion cars for range. Whether it’ll be enough for a comparatively small electric sports car to be a viable alternative to a piston-powered alternative is anyone’s guess, but all the signs point in the right direction - i.e. toward a future where a more technologically advanced platform won’t be delivered at the expense of the driving experience.
Plainly, that's something to lift the spirits. Especially as by the time the A110 replacement comes along, the supply of new sports cars will have dwindled significantly - especially with the Porsche 718 well on its way to making the switch to EV only. And while we’ve got a wait on our hands to see if Alpine can crack the electric sports car code, it won’t be long until we find out what the company’s vision of an electric performance car will look like. The firm is currently working on an all-electric crossover and a hot hatch to launch between 2024 and 2025. Expect the latter to give us a more accurate read on whether or not gold is still being spun behind Alpine's doors.
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