The first time I drove a new Alpine A110 I thought its engine was hopelessly flat, its steering vague and inconsistent and its dual-clutch gearbox strangely unresponsive. There wasn't much I did like. But that was in December 2016, a full year before the international media launch. Three other journalists and I had been invited to Spain to try the car during its latter stages of development, the idea being we'd join the engineering team a handful of times between then and the launch itself, charting the car's progress.
In the end I changed jobs and didn't drive a development car again. The next time I lowered myself into an A110 it was a production ready example. And I loved it. Everything that had been wrong about that early car had been put right, and then some. I drove the car near Paris with a chap called David Twohig in the passenger seat. He was Alpine's chief engineer at the time, the man responsible for the A110 and the poor soul who, in a hotel dining room in Spain, had to listen to a boorish journalist bang on about the various things he thought were wrong with the little sports car... Sorry, David.
The engineering team would have listened to my feedback and disregarded it entirely, no question. But David was generous enough to say to me that one particular aspect of the car had been as good as signed off until I'd moaned about it. That was the action of the gearshift paddles. I said it was too spongey; that it should be much more clicky and switch-like. David was either lying to me to curry favour or being honest - you decide - when he told me his team went back to its supplier as a result and asked for improvements to be made.
I'm thrilled to say the A110's gearshift paddles are now a delight. And I'm just about gullible enough to believe I had some input into that. So I like the car very much and I've had a level of insight into its gestation that I've never had with any other car. Which is why I'm buying one.
I haven't bought a new car before, or even come close. Nor had I ever considered spending as much as £50,000 on one. To be honest the whole thing seems so improbable to me that I won't believe it's actually happening until the car is parked outside my flat and my name is on the V5.
But I can't tell you how excited I am. I'm due to take delivery of Renault Finance's car some time in August. I'm looking forward to having it paid off before my 40th birthday so I can finally call it mine... In all seriousness, if it wasn't for a very competitive finance package (available to anyone; no special treatment here) I wouldn't be buying the car at all. I'm putting down a decent deposit that isn't quite five figures. The monthly payments are pretty modest, although the balloon is so big I could hang a basket from it and sell rides. Which might help pay the car off.
I've always been fairly relaxed about finance but I completely understand why others think it profligate. What helps in this case is the A110's very strong anticipated residual value, which means I should always have options. In fact, what I would love to do is get the car paid off and keep it forever, but maybe I'm being romantic.
I thought long and hard about 10-year-old Porsche 911s and 981-era Caymans in particular. I adore both, but somehow I didn't feel the same draw to either of them.
Part of that, perhaps, is that I think the A110 is not just a great car, but also an important one. It breaks the cycle of sports car becoming bigger, heavier and more powerful. For my needs it absolutely nails the balance between being lightweight and focussed, and usable day-to-day. Next time I'll tell you about my car's exact specification.
1 / 3