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With its dedication to simplicity and purity, the Alpine A110 delivers a uniquely singular experience unlike any other.

03 Jun 2019



As a motoring journalist, cars are fundamentally straightforward to review for a very simple reason - just about every car is a known quantity.

BMW M? Take a standard series BMW, make it sharper, more powerful, more track focused. AMG? Lop a massive engine in and make it outrageous. Porsche? Dynamic brilliance. Toyota? Reliable to a fault. Ferrari? Soulful engine, impeccable handling.

New cars are not complicated, because most of them have a clear predecessor on which to build our expectations on. A brief stint in a car is often enough to get a sense of what the car is capable of.

The new Alpine A110 is the first car manufactured by the French marque in more than 20 years

So, what happens when you are faced with a completely unknown quantity? Ever so often, a car will appear out of the blue that doesn't fit neatly within any of our preconceived expectations. Case in point, this car, the new Alpine A110.

A lightness of the heart

Back in the mid-1950s, the Alpine brand was established as a maker of racing and sports cars. Closely related to Renault throughout its history, the marque achieved notable racing success, especially in rallying. However, production of Alpine models ceased in 1995, largely due to the niche nature of Alpine products and the high costs of new projects.

This new Alpine A110, first revealed in 2017, marked the relaunch of the Alpine brand.

With its low slung sports-car silhouette, the A110 will draw curious stares anywhere you go

What is it, really? On paper, this is a two-seater mid-engine rear-wheel drive sports car with 248bhp. So it's not exactly very powerful and it's French. Yes, it's complicated.

The initial impressions are modest. Certainly, the car's design will turn heads. With its low-slung silhouette, curvy sheet metal and graceful sweeping lines, the A110 definitely looks like a sports car.

However, move into the cabin and it's not particularly special. It's quite bare, with not much space to store you wallet or sunglasses. Equipment is modest at best - the infotainment system is mediocrethe sound system isn't that great, and there's not much in the way of amenities. There are also a lot of pieces picked from the Renault parts bin, which doesn't really help in trying to raise the overall sense of quality or 'specialness' of the interior.

The 18-inch Otto Fuchs forged wheels contribute to the car's light weight

Powering the A110 is a turbocharged 1.8-litre engine, producing 248bhp and 320Nm of torque. It's the same engine found in the Renault Megane RS, but that one has been uprated for more power. The engine is paired to a seven-speed Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) transmission, sending power to the rear wheels.

Very importantly, the Alpine is about one thing - lightness. It weighs just 1,094kg, thanks to a host of weight saving measures. These include the aluminum chassis and bodywork, Sabelt sports seats that weigh just 13.1kg, a world-first four-piston Brembo aluminum brake calipers that incorporate the parking brake into the main rear caliper (saving 2.5kg), among many others. 

The lightweight Sabelt bucket seats offer ample lateral support whilst still being comfortable for everyday driving

Subtle knife

This dedication to lightness comes to define this car. Alpine says it delivers 'trademark agility and handling precision that thoroughly rewards the driver with the most stripped-back driving experience'. That's, quite a claim. 

Again, the initial impressions are slightly underwhelming. The car is undoubtedly light and fleet footed (0-100km/h takes just 4.5 seconds), but it doesn't feel powerful in the way we know performance cars to be. The ride is a lot more forgiving than you'd expect from a two-seater low-slung sports coupe. And while it is certainly nimble and agile, it doesn't have the same visceral cornering aggressiveness you'd find in the Megane RS, for example.

The seven-speed EDC gearbox delivers aggressive and precise gearshifts

However, spend more time with the car and its magic grows - the car opens up in a way that is remarkable.

There's plenty of pace from the 1.8-litre engine - more than fast enough for everyday driving, but not so fast as to scare you. It helps that the car is so light - overtaking manoeuvres are dispatched in a cinch. The seven-speed EDC gearbox is also pretty damn good. Especially in Sport or Track mode, it's quick to react, sensitive to your driving inputs, and responsive to your right foot.

And, because it's so unencumbered by weight, the A110 reacts instinctively and with effortless agility. The way it negotiates the left and right transition through corners is highly fluid and organic. The car handles with precision and accuracy, and you know what the front wheels are doing all the time. 

The suspension is also fantastically sorted. Not overly harsh, it has good amounts of travel, making it capable of soaking up bumps in the road well. As a result, the balance and poise of the car is hard to upset - the A110 is even capable of shrugging off imperfections on the tarmac even mid-corner.

The A110 dances across the tarmac with graceful and balletic agility

It is this combination of performance, balance, agility and generous benignity that makes the A110 highly enjoyable to drive. Unlike many performance cars that require you to push it hard to discover its dynamic capabilities, the A110 delivers even when you are cruising along or pushing the car to just 50%.

This isn't a car about sharp steering inputs and aggressive directional changes. It's a car all about the 'flow' - the way it dances across the tarmac as you wind your way around a set of bends.

The nicely-weighted steering rewards measured driving inputs

It's not the sharpest car in the world, but it doesn't need to be. This isn't a corner carving, timing chasing track machine. It's a car that delights in just being driven everyday, everywhere, anyhow and anytime. Responsive, but never overwhelming, the A110 is subtly brilliant. 

Golden compass

I will be honest - the first hour with the A110 is certainly the worst hour. Part of this is because you spend a lot of time focusing on perceived 'faults', what the car is not. It doesn't feel particularly special, it's not that fast, it's not super aggressive or sporty, the cabin is rather bare bones, and it's obviously not very practical.

Stripped bare of any excess, the A110 instead focuses on the joy and delight of driving

But, after spending two days with the car, it has grown on me. It's deeply endearing, gnawing at the back of my mind. I find myself curious about what else I can discover about it.

The car is special because it is its own unique thing, unlike anything else on the market. It's assured in its distinctively singular character, and is so much better for it. The engineers could have made it more powerful, more hardcore, more sporty, but the fact that they didn't is what stands out. They exercised careful and calculated restraint. In the age of more, this is a car that embraces less.

The A110 captures the sheer driving delight across all manner of driving situations

A lot of modern performance cars are what we might call 'hooligan' cars - shouty, aggressive, more power than you can reasonably need. Part of this perception is because the true dynamic capabilities of such cars can only be discovered on the track. On normal roads, it's all a little bit much.

The Alpine stands out for being gentle - it's modest and not very much, allowing you to savour it even in the Comfort setting. You don't have to push the car to its limits to enjoy what it can do. Simply put, it's rewarding to drive, all the time.

With its dedication to lightness and driving purity, the Alpine A110 will endear deeply to any enthusiast seeking the simple joys in life

It took me a long time to form concrete impressions of the Alpine and write this review. It's rare to come across a car that isn't straightforward. The A110 delights in simplicity, but it's no simple car. It's curious, interesting, eccentric, and different. You want to spend more time with it to feel it out, explore its eccentricities, and figure out what it actually is. And even now, I still want to know more.

Now, I know the Alpine A110 to be deeply special - a tribute to the purity and simplicity of driving, anywhere, anytime, any way you want.  

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Car Information

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Alpine A110 1.8 Pure (A)
Rate it

Price

: $238,800

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1798cc

Horsepower

:

185kW (248 bhp)

Torque

:

320 Nm

Transmission

:

7-speed (A) DCT

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

4.5sec

Top Speed

:

250km/h

Fuel consumption

:

15.6 km/L

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