For three or four months my Alpine barely turned a wheel. I did drive it to a deserted pub car park a couple of miles from home to record a self-shot 'HI GUYS!' type video on it for a virtual car meet, but mostly it sat in its parking space gathering dust.
That first lockdown seems a lifetime ago now. It was miserable, wasn't it? The same four walls, no face-to-face contact with friends or family, the stress and the worry... But for those of us with marginal PCP mileage limits, there was at least a silver lining to that period of enforced isolation being extended every few weeks.
I've covered very nearly 10,000 miles in my A110. (The exact figure is 9810 miles, if you're interested.) The big milestone will roll around 19 and a half months after I got on a train to Manchester to collect MV69 TKO. That means I've averaged a little over 500 miles a month in the time I've owned the car, which isn't a lot, partly because of the time I spend in press cars. Had we not been locked down for much of 2020 I'd be through 12,000 miles by now, in which case I'd be eyeing my mileage limit a little nervously.
As it is, I've got a couple of thousand miles in my back pocket. Once these pesky travel restrictions have been eased, might a continental road trip with friends be in order? I reckon so.
If I get 100 miles in a new test car I'm happy, because that gives me the time I need to assess it thoroughly and understand it deeply. There are few things more frustrating for a car journalist than having to arrive at a verdict when you've barely had an opportunity to get your seating position right. Sometimes we run long term test cars over a few months and that helps enormously, but it's a different sort of bond you form with a car that's actually your own (which might be a triggering thing to write about a car bought on PCP...).
I know, for instance, that after five hours in the Alpine's Sabelt bucket seats I'll emerge feeling just a little achy (the same period in a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4's similar pews tends to do far more damage). And I've developed a sixth sense for how wide my car is, meaning I slip between parked vehicles and oncoming traffic without wincing. I also know that on a hot day I'll need to drive with both windows down for the first few minutes, because the A/C isn't burly enough to do the job on its own.
In test cars I tend to cycle through driving modes endlessly, never quite sure which is the right one for a given situation. In the Alpine, I've got them sussed. Normal is used for town driving and motorways. Sport is for single-lane A-roads in flowing traffic, because in Normal the car will shift up to the highest gear it can pull and dull the throttle response, meaning you constantly have to awaken it to accelerate with the cars in front or overtake. In Sport, it's poised.
That leaves Track, which I always switch into when pushing on a little even on the road. The A110 has passive dampers so that mode does nothing to change the ride quality or body control, but the whole powertrain feels so much keener, like it's coiled and ready to spring into action. In Track the ESP also steps back quite considerably, leaving you to have some fun.
The car you know inside out will always be more rewarding to drive than the comparable machine you're unfamiliar with. You'll know where its limits are, and have a feel for how far you can stretch it. You'll have confidence in it. That's exactly where I'm at with the A110 now. I also know precisely how my car compares with other A110s, because I've driven plenty and there are subtle differences. Mine doesn't ride quite as fluidly as the best examples I've driven, which is why I swapped the springs and dampers my car came on with those from a friend's earlier Premiere Edition model. That helped a bit, but not enormously.
My investigations are ongoing. To be clear, once up and running or when I find a good stretch of B-road the car is sublime, the supple suspension working wonders over poor surfaces. But at low speeds there is some brittleness in the ride that I'd like to iron out.
My car has been to the Alpine dealership twice, once for a routine service and once to get a persistent rattle from behind a door card put right. The rear screen demister also stopped working. It turned out to be nothing more serious than a loose connector, which was reconnected during that second visit. Those tiny issues aside, the Alpine has been pretty much faultless.
For 10,000 miles it's been a joy both to own and drive. I took it to Warwickshire recently to test a Lotus Elise variant, which turned out to be absolutely brilliant. I worried my car would be a letdown after the Lotus, but it really wasn't. The A110's turbo engine and dual-clutch gearbox aren't as engaging at the Elise's drivetrain, but for me its chassis is every bit as rewarding.
What the Alpine does so well is to combine huge thrills on the road (at very sensible speeds, which is a biggie for me) with a level of usability and day-to-day comfort that I don't recognise in an Elise. I've never lived with a boggo Cayman, but would it be any easier to use every day than my car? I don't see it.
We now know the A110 will be the very last Alpine of its type, because its replacement, developed as a JV with Lotus, will be all-electric. I think that gives my car a little added significance and it's one of the reasons why I never want to part ways with it. I've no idea what the next few years have in store - if I become a parent, can I possibly justify holding onto it? - but if I can I'll keep it for a long time yet. If things do transpire that way, those mileage limits will become immaterial.
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