FIRST DRIVE: Falling In Love With The New Alpine A110
Photography by Romuald Clariond
We’ve all collectively been waiting a few years now for the new Alpine A110, and in February 2016 I had the pleasure of attending the celebration in Monte-Carlo where I saw the new car for the first time in person. Since then? Not much, just an app that was put out so people could order the car once it was ready for production. However, I’ve just returned from my first proper drive in one.
After spending a lovely handful of days taking the A110 through the dry and the wet and the slightly snowy, I can confirm that the wait was well worth it. The specific car I drove was one of 50 press cars that apes the specifications from the 1,955 units in the limited run of Première Éditions—the volume of course being a reference to the year in which Jean Rédélé built the first Alpines—but the one I ordered for myself is a bit different; it features many of the same options, just without the numbered plaque and special wheels, little things like that. That car is known as the A110 Pure, which is lighter and more focused than the third launch option, the A110 Légende, which adds to the options list. More weight is not an option for me though, so I chose the Pure, and I must admit to being a little apprehensive about buying one of the first cars to be wearing a badge of a business that turned its lights off in the 1990s—even high-volume manufacturers typically have issues with the first batch in a new series, let alone ground-up projects.
That issue of weight is a fine starting point to talk about what it’s like to drive the new A110, and at just 1,1103kg (2,432lbs) with fluids, it weighs hundreds of kilograms less than its soon-to-be-rivals like the 718 Cayman. And if the reading from the scales doesn’t tell the full story already, when it comes to the construction of the car, the modern Alpine has stuck to Jean Rédélé’s original philosophy even if there is a touch screen infotainment slab on the dash. It’s just 33cm longer than the original A110 Berlinette for starters, it still has a rear-mid-mounted engine (giving the car a playful balance of 44/56 front to rear), and just about the entire car is constructed from aluminum in pursuit of light weight. Every body panel, as well as the subframe, are all aluminum, and instead of welding everything up like a typical car it’s been bonded and riveted together wherever possible, making it just that much leaner.
Surely there is no substitute for lightness, but the A110 doesn’t rely on that alone to deliver its agility, featuring such sporting gear as double wishbone suspension on all four corners, and huge 320mm discs all around as well. The powertrain that’s nestled in between it all consists of a 1.8-liter inline-four with a twin-scroll turbocharger good for an output of 252hp and 239ft-lbs of torque. It’s not going to win any dyno sheet contests, but when you factor in the poundage its power-to-weight ratio starts to look pretty damn competitive. The only thing that’s slightly confusing about the setup is that they’ve chosen a seven-speed dual clutch system for the transmission, rather than a traditional manual that would have been more in line with the car’s identity and the enthusiast side of the demand curve. They’ve already announced an upcoming, more powerful version of the A110 though, so perhaps a good old stick shift will enter the options list in the future too. It’s a strange omission though in my opinion, and almost equally so is the lack of a handbrake lever right next to the gear lever. Turns out the handbrake has been ditched to save even more weight, with the regular pads in the rear taking up the slack.
The rest of the interior is also pretty minimal, and I’m sure I’m recognizing a few items from the Renault parts bing alongside the Alpine-specific trim. It’s a sporty setup overall, with lots of aluminum and Alcantara, and strakes of carbon fiber every so often among the plastics. There is no glovebox—no door storage either—but you tend to not mind such things from your perspective in the terrific Sabelt seats. Besides extremely light at just about 25lbs each, they were super comfortable for the duration of my test driving, rare for a seat that holds you so snugly when the G-force vectors start getting all zig-zagged on the tight roads.
The rest of the interior follows a diet too, with the Focal-supplied sound system being a bespoke design for the A110, with the imperative again being a reduction of weight. There is no subwoofer as a result, with the car’s aluminum body acting in its place—a feature I’m guessing Alex Roy will appreciate! The instruments are all digital and precise and very modern feeling, etcetera, etcetera—but what’s it like to drive you’re wondering?
Well, Jean Rédélé’s vision has been respected and updated with a new level of efficiency in compact design and lightness. The power from the four-pot is more than enough to move this balanced chassis and body, but not so much where you find yourself overdoing it. It’s beyond what we’d call a “momentum car” surely, but you won’t be mashing the gas and then the brakes between corners like a madman. The curves wake the car up, and it delivers exceptional grip—especially on the front end—for a car with a relatively skinny set of rubber. It is a pleasure to drive wherever you find yourself though, with a respectable 4.5-second 0-60 time that eats up the straight spaces between the turns where it really thrives. It’s just so balanced, and not only in a corner-weighting way; put it on a rough patch of road and it won’t shake you and itself to pieces like you might expect from a focused sports car such as this.
It’s just sheer pleasure to see a windy road through the raked windscreen of the A110. Even better when you’re in the middle of it, almost rotating the rear-mid-engined rear-wheel drive through the corners. It’s flat and poised if you drive it correctly, but it isn’t opposed to a little slippery mischief either, and once you do initiate a drift it doesn’t end in frantic spins of the steering wheel and an abrupt return to grip, instead responding to measured inputs and rewarding them with smooth transitions. It’s a car that makes you want to be a better driver not because it withholds its potential, but because it’s so receptive to what you ask of it. You get the sense that its limits are simply your limits, that it will go as fast through the mountain passes as you’re wont to try.
It’s really quite amazing how Alpine’s managed to more or less transpose the legendary original A110 to this new form, incorporating modernity with history, and starting the whole thing from scratch. So after the test drive in Provence, I then had participated in welcoming the new A110 and her chief engineer, David Twohig, to the Cars & Coffee in Monaco that following Sunday. It was a fitting place to finish the week of Alpine celebration, and I can’t wait to receive my own A110 when the first cars start shipping next year. The three launch markets will be Europe, Japan, and Australia, but already the automotive industry at large is taking notice of the unique French approach to modern sports motoring. It’s the continuation of an amazing story of ingenuity and beauty, and I’m so excited to play whatever part I can in its future.