Simply Sublime: 2018 Alpine A110 driven

Regular readers will note this isn’t the first time in recent weeks that we’ve blogged about the Alpine A110. Last time it was as the subject of our Automotive Reincarnations series, where its similarities to the Lotus Elise SC were highlighted. Today, it’s time to get behind the wheel to find out what this gorgeous two-seat coupe is like to drive.

HERITAGE
Before that, the anticipation, which begins with the knowledge that this is not just any new sports car, but one with true heritage. Alpine was founded in 1955, when Jean Rédélé, a Renault dealer and rally driver, took the decision to set up a company to build affordable sports cars. Draped in lightweight bodywork, cars such as the early Alpine A106 looked the part, yet were relatively cheap to build and extremely durable due to the use of proven Renault parts.

It was the A110 of the early 1960s (pictured above) that put Alpine on the world stage, and then through careful development kept it there for more than a decade, taking the World Rally Championship title in 1973. It was in the same year that Groupe Renault, which had always worked closely with Alpine, took control of the company.

With Renault’s budget behind it, more advanced road and racing Alpines arrived, including the 1978 Le Mans winning A442. Later still came the GTA, which was then developed into what would be Alpine’s final car, the A610, production of which ceased in 1995.

And that was that for Alpine until Renault and Caterham struck a deal in 2012 to develop a new bespoke sports car that could carry either Alpine or Caterham branding. When the latter pulled out of the deal only two years later it was left to Renault to see the project through to fruition. The all-new A110 is the result.

ON THE INSIDE
Given how Alpine began, it seems perfectly acceptable – inevitable even – to find a scattering of Renault switchgear in the modern-day A110. Does it matter? If you’re coming straight from looking at a Porsche Cayman or Audi TTS then perhaps it does. The reality, however, is that it’s the cost savings provided by these shared components that allow the important bits – the aluminium platform and body, the double wishbone suspension – to be bespoke to the A110.

There’s also little doubt that this car looks truly special. Low and long, it might well be significantly larger than its 1960s namesake, but the connection between the two is clear, and by modern standards the Alpine is still a compact car.

Given its height you need to dip a long way down before falling inside, where you’re greeted by a lightweight Sabelt seat. Ease the door shut and the driving environment pulls off the trick of feeling snug yet roomy, with all but the very tallest drivers having space to stretch out. As you’d hope given the bespoke platform, the driving position is perfect, and while overall material quality and finish is more Renault than Rolls-Royce (and the infotainment system a little fiddly), there’s nothing so disastrously bad that it should put you off.

THE DRIVE
Nor should the fact the A110 uses a four-cylinder engine, rather than a more exotic configuration. After all, it’s the character of the thing that matters, and in that sense the Alpine excels.

The 1.8-litre turbocharged unit is a lightly modified version the new Renaultsport Megane engine, but sounds and feels even more exciting. Part of that is no doubt due to the fact it’s mounted directly behind your seat, but it’s also because the Alpine weighs so little – about 1,100kg for the top-spec car we tested. As a result, the 249bhp and 236lb ft of torque available to play with seem just about perfect; acceleration is intense, but not so much so that the car ever feels like a handful to control.

As a guide of just how quick the A110 is, it’ll get from 0-62mph in just 4.5 seconds, while with the sports exhaust in its louder setting (achieved by putting the car into Sport or Track mode, which also sharpens the throttle and adds more weight to the steering) the soundtrack is suitably raucous.

Then there’s the gearbox. Admittedly, it’s hard not to think how good the auto-only Alpine would be with a full manual ’box, but if you have to use a paddle shift this is the one to have. Naturally, it’s super smooth in auto mode, and makes the Alpine a doddle to drive in traffic. But what really impresses is how fast it responds in its manual override setting, with changes dropping home the instant you touch the paddle, and each new gear sending a small but determined thump through your seat. Not since first trying a Ferrari 458 Italia can I remember a gearbox making quite such a vivid impression.

Of course, the very best driver’s cars marry a wonderful drivetrain with sublime ride and handling. So it is with the A110, which thanks to its low kerb weight can be relatively softly sprung for a sports car, which not only gives it a perfectly acceptable level of comfort, but also allows it to breathe over bumpy roads.

As a result you can carry speed without fear of being jiggled around or bounced off line, with so much feedback you’re never in doubt about how much grip is available. And that, for reference, always seems to be just about the right amount, for which you can thank careful tuning of chassis and electronics, along with Alpine’s insistence on using that double wishbone setup front and rear.

It’s this sense of flow and agility, along with the messages fed back through the steering and brake pedal, that make driving the A110 such a delightfully delicate experience.

THE VERDICT
Alpine sales are off to a strong start (all 1,955 of the Premiere Edition models were accounted for within five days of order books opening), which perhaps isn’t terribly surprising when you understand just how brilliant it is. Interestingly, company insiders report that many examples have been ordered by owners of more exotic sports and supercars, who are presumably buying into the A110 not as a status symbol or for its outright speed, but simply because of the driving experience it offers. Frankly, we can hardly blame them.

Price: Alpine A110 from £46,905. As tested £51,805 (Premiere Edition)
Power: 249bhp @ 4,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 46mpg (on test: having so much fun we forgot to check)

WHAT THE ALPINE A110 HAS TO BEAT
Porsche Cayman 718

The mid-engined, rear-wheel drive, four-cylinder 718 Cayman is about as close a rival as you’ll find to the Alpine, and is equally as brilliant to drive in its own way. In fact, it’s one of the sweetest handling Porsches money can buy.
Search for a used Porsche Cayman 718 on CarGurus

Lotus Exige
If you find the Alpine is still a bit too sanitised for your tastes, try a Lotus Exige instead. It shares the same mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive configuration as the A110, but is altogether more raw, with a track-focused nature that makes it a huge amount of fun.
Search for a used Lotus Exige on CarGurus

Toyota GT86
Is it stretching things to compare the £50,000 Alpine with a Toyota costing half the as much? Not at all. For these are both cars that adhere to the same core principles of being small, light and great to drive, with as little to complicate things as possible.
Search for a used Toyota GT86 on CarGurus

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