Sportscar enthusiasts will welcome back the Alpine brand and its first credible modern-era contender, the A110 coupe. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Alpine is a name you might dimly remember. A French sportscar manufacturer long forgotten. Except that it's back. And this Renault-owned brand is gunning for class-leading performance coupes like Porsche's 718 Cayman and BMW's M2 with this car, the A110.
Alpine has quite a history. So much so in fact that you might wonder why it's taken Renault so long to revive the brand. Founder Jean Redele created the marque to build lightweight, compact, highly agile sportscars, but the company has also been highly instrumental in Renault motorsport success, the Alpine-Renault team claiming the World Rally Championship manufacturers' title in 1973. In more recent road car terms, there's been little that's been properly Alpine-badged since the sleek GTA coupe of 1985, but in 2012, a joint venture with Caterham Cars was hatched to revive the brand. It was based around creating the design you see here, but Caterham pulled out of the project in 2014. Leaving Alpine to complete the task of bringing what has become this A110 model to market.
Powering 'Pure' and 'Legende' versions of this mid-engined rear wheel drive Gallic tearaway is a 1.8-litre turbocharged 252PS four cylinder engine mated to a quick-shifting 7-speed paddle-shift Getrag dual-clutch auto gearbox - there's unfortunately no manual option. As you'd expect, there's a driving modes system offering Normal, Sport and Race options. As for the figures, well rest to 62mph occupies 4.5s en route to a limited top speed of 155mph. By comparison, a Porsche 718 Cayman manages 5.1s and 171mph. If you want more, there's also alightweight A110S model using a 292PS version of the same engine. The aluminium body has a low centre of gravity - there's a near-perfect 44/56 front-to-rear weight distribution - and doesn't need the overly stiff spring rates and broad tyres that some rivals depend on for cornering vim. There are hollow lightweight ant-roll bars instead of solid heavy ones - one reason why the kerb weight of this car can dip beneath the 1,100kg mark. Armed with this information, you start to understand why the performance of this car betters its Cayman counterpart, even though this Alpine engine's 252PS output is much lower.
The A110 is based almost completely on the Alpine Vision concept car that the brand showed to the press in Monaco back in 2016. It's an attractive, distinctive thing, though inevitably perhaps, not quite as eye-catching as the model that inspired its badging, the A110 Berlinette of 1969, styled by Giovanni Michelotti and recognised widely as one of the most beautiful sports cars of all time. But back to the present. The bodywork of this modern day A110 is entirely constructed from aluminium And inside, well like most mid-engined sports cars, this one is a strict two-seater. You get a couple of deeply-bolstered sports bucket seats upholstered in leather and alcantara and finished with evocative blue stitching. Cabin quality is better than you might think given the Renault heritage. True, there are Renault switches and controls deployed in certain places but that's all been done quite tastefully. There are two flat screen TFT displays, one viewed through the wheel - a 10-inch screen for the instrument gauges. The other 7-inch monitor is in the centre of the dash for the navigation and telematics. As for practicalities, there's a 100-litre boot in the front and another 96-litre boot area in the rear.
The two mainstream A110 variants on offer are the 'Pure', which has a more driver-centred minimalistic approach, and the 'Legende', which is more luxurious. The 'Pure' variant costs around £47,000, while the 'Legende' is around £51,000. Finding a car to try might be a challenge: there are only a handful of Alpine dealers in the UK - all large Renault dealer group outlets. Both A110 models get a driving mode selector with three options: Normal, Sport and Race. In terms of specific spec, the 'Pure' variant has light weight Sabelt monocoque leather seats, 17-inch light-alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a satellite navigation system, the 'mySPIN' Alpine smartphone mirroring system and front and rear LED lighting. In addition, the 'Legende' gives you a high-gloss carbonfibre-trimmed cockpit, parking sensors and a rear camera. Specific bi-colour 'Legende' 18-inch wheel rims pay tribute to the original motif of the A110 Berlinette 1600S. Two other 18-inch wheel rims are available to choose from as an optional extra. Both models can be ordered with an upgraded FOCAL audio system complementing the two speakers and two subwoofer tweeters. And in the 'Legende' version, you can add heated seats and an active sports exhaust. There's a choice of three body colours - 'Blanc Irise' (Iridescent white), 'Blue Abysse' (Abyss Blue) and 'Gris Tonnerre' (Thunder Grey). If you want something more exclusive, there's the flagship lightweight 292PS A110S variant, which offers styling flourishes inside and out, as well the use of high-end materials such as carbon fibre and Dinamica upholstery to amplify the car's purposeful nature.
So to the figures. Alpine quote a combined consumption figure of 46mpg and a CO2 emissions reading of 141g/km. A rival Porsche 718 Cayman 2.0 manages 38.2mpg and 168g/km. Helping the Renault-derived product is the fact that it weighs from just 1,098kg. Of course, if you drive this A110 in a typical manner, you'll get nowhere near the quoted figures. As with most models in the class, you'd struggle to achieve 30mpg on a regular basis, which would mean a real-world range of around 280 miles between fills of the 45-litre fuel tank. Depreciation of course will be a key consideration with an unknown brand. Rarity should help here though - and that classic Alpine heritage. Industry experts reckon that after three years of ownership, this A110 should still be worth around 55% of what you originally paid for it. That gets within 5% of what you'd get back from a rival Porsche 718 Cayman, which isn't a bad showing. All A110 variants have a 3-year/60,000 mile manufacturer's warranty, which can be extended to four or five years. Maintenance packages are also available.
In some respects, we've been here before. In 2013, Alfa Romeo launched a hand-built sportscar in this same sector called the 4C. It looked great on a motorshow stand, performed brilliantly on paper but ultimately rather lacked something on the road. From the outset, we wondered whether this A110 model was headed in a similar direction. Fortunately though, the effort put into tarmac R&D dynamics seems to have been much greater in this case. The few prepared to consider this car should find that on the road, it responds in a way that Alpine founder Jean Redele would have very much approved of. If you're about to sign for a Cayman or an M2, hold off until you've tried one of these first.
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