"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." So spake m'colleague Mr Prosser of the Litchfield-tuned Alpine A110 he drove for PH this week. While some may have thought there was little room for improvement upon the utterly fabulous French sports car, then, it turns out there was - and for that rather reasonable sum, you can turn it into a car that will worry a 911.
Combined with the cost of an entry-level A110, that brings the total cost of a Litchfield-tuned example to £48,099. Still not an exorbitant figure in this day and age, and one for which it's hard to imagine a car that does so much, so well. So is there anything we can we drum up for half that price that holds a candle to it?
Well, keeping in mind that the hotted-up Alpine has the pace to frighten Porsche 911s, it is to the 911 we must head first. Whereupon we find this 997 Carrera S, dating from 2005, and with a very reasonable 60,000 miles on the clock. It's got the sports seats, Sport Chrono pack and a smattering of other options, and also comes with a full service history with the most recent being a big one. All very tempting - but also rather obvious. As tempting as the Porsche is, the lightweight, specialist feel of the Alpine is missing here - as is its tuner status.
Offering the latter by the bucket, however, is the Toyota GT86. Currently, there are no tuned examples for sale in the PH Classifieds, but this one, with just 5,000 miles on the clock, looks like the ideal base. Its £18,999 cost should, with a bit of haggling, leave plenty of room in the budget for an aftermarket turbo or supercharger conversion, an uprated clutch and some new brakes. And you can even have the work done by Litchfield, should you choose.
But as tempting as a boosted GT86 is, it still doesn't have quite that hardcore edge we're looking for. Which is why our money would instead go on this fantastic-looking Lotus Exige S2. Finished in Titanium Storm with black wheels, it looks hard as nails, and every bit as modern as the Alpine to these eyes despite its 12-year age deficit. Or surfeit, in fact, depending on which way round you look at it. The Lotus has a not-inconsiderable 61,000 miles under its wheels, too; either someone's been a committed commuter, or it's seen an awful lot of track days.
Happily, it's probably the former, as this Exige has the Touring pack fitted to it, which makes it marginally more usable than the standard car- you get electric windows, carpets, and plusher seats. Such luxury! But even if it has done a few track days, the signs are there that that shouldn't matter; a recent clutch and refreshed rear dampers will help it to feel fresh.
What's more, this particular Exige can play the tuner card, too, as it's had a few tweaks of its own. They're minor, mind you, so the goodness of the standard car hasn't been corrupted - but the engine has been freed up a little with an aftermarket exhaust and induction kit, which should give it a suitably fruity soundtrack. There's an upgraded radiator, too, to help with cooling - not that the Toyota-sourced engine's reliability has ever been in much doubt.
Oh sure, the Exige gives away quite a bit of power to the Alpine; both have 1.8-litre engines, but the Alpine's is, of course, turbocharged. Let's not forget, though, that Lotus made the pursuit of lightness its own long before the modern Alpine was even a twinkle in its parent company's eye, so the raw performance figures are far closer than you'd think.
The one area where this Exige really does lose out to the Alpine of course, apart from its age, is on day-to-day usability. You don't get your air conditioning, or your sat nav, or much else in the way of creature comforts. But as a fast road and track-focused weekend toy, it'll offer you everything the Litchfield Alpine can and more - and all for less than half the price.
SPECIFICATION - LITCHFIELD ALPINE A110
Engine: 1,798cc four-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 304@6,295rpm
Torque (lb ft): 298@3,450rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 secs (estimated)
Top speed: 165mph
Price: from £48,099
SPECIFICATION - LOTUS EXIGE S2
Engine: 1,796cc, four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 190@7,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 138@6,800rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 secs
Top speed: 147mph