The Alpine A110 is back and that’s a very good news but…
By now, you probably all have seen many many test drives of the A110, since it’s been around for almost 2 years now. We know, we are a bit late at the party, and you have to forgive us, but trust me, it isn’t easy to get your hands on one. So, in order to compensate our late arrival at this party, we will offer my our honest take on the car.
Alpine A110 : the Alpine brand up to the new A110 from our perspective
David: First, let’s backtrack a little. As a french car enthusiast (I am french and I like cars, not that I like french cars), until a few years ago, when I was told “Alpine”, it was always the infamous 60’s little A110 that popped in my mind. Often with wide arches and crazy camber (Group IV style). The rest of the Alpine brand wasn’t as good, or at least as significant. So, when we heard Alpine was back in the game, we naturally were very very excited, and of course had a lot of high expectations.
In 2012, they presented a concept car called A110-50 and boy did it look good. Design-wise, it was actually based on the Renault Dezir concept car presented in 2010. It was supposed to receive a mid-engine 3.5 V6 making close to 400 hp mated to a sequential 6-speed. The whole package weighing under 900 kg. Exciting, right?
Time passed and we heard nothing from Alpine for a while, except they ended their collaboration with Caterham. Too bad.
In 2015, someone I was close to worked for Renault, and happened to know some engineers working on the very secretive Alpine. So, from time to time I got information. At this point I was still thinking they were going to make the A110-50, very very exciting. And then I heard they put a 1.8 turbo Nissan engine coupled to a double clutch gearbox. No manual. Okay, now that’s wrong. And when I saw the first pictures of the car (don’t get me wrong, I think the car looks absolutely beautiful) I was surprised to find something radically different to the A110-50. Why did they throw such a beautiful concept in the bin? So, you can understand my disappointment at the time, not that the new Alpine A110 was that bad, just not what I was teased for.
Nico: Indeed, when Renault was thinking about producing and therefore selling the car, I suspected that it would be inspired by other manufacturers’ experience to relaunch a brand or a model. Like the Beetle, the Mini, the 500 or a little differently the 911, Renault has chosen to revive the Alpine A110. So Renault offered us an Alpine Celebration, a kind of modern Alpine A110 racing car with X on the long-range lights and a big spoiler (which is very similar to the current GT4 version). Finally, Renault presented the Alpine Vision, a pre-series version of the new Alpine A110. We thought we would never have it, but it would be there, it has been designed by Anthony Villain’s teams and it’s a neoretro Alpine. Voilà, voilà.
David: Then came the test drives, telling all kinds of beautiful things about it. In France, it was often designated as the 4C killer, the Cayman alternative, or worse the everyday Lotus, and was chosen as the best of them all, best of the decade. So, there I was excited again. And now comes our test drive.
Onboard the Alpine A110 in La Vallée de Chevreuse (yes again)
Nico: Facing the car I was going to drive, I thought it was beautiful. How to resist these charming round lines. The Alpine’s design is very French, simple, subtle, almost minimalist, against the current of everything we can see or almost today. You won’t find any spoiler, no huge air intakes, just elegant little things that fit superbly into the whole and I like it. So yes, we can blame it for not being very badass, for not being very baroque, but let’s remember that the original Alpine A110 has always been the cute little car that used to spray everyone in rallying. It’s not here to be noticed at first sight, it plays it shy to surprise you better. There is only this splendid new Alpine metallic blue that shines from afar.
David: Getting into the Alpine the first thing you notice (at least I did) is that you are seated very low. Too low in my case, since I’m not that tall. I’m average. Stop laughing. So, naturally, I start setting the seat up, and quickly realized it was a bucket seat, on which of course you can’t set the height or the back rest angle. Fair enough, it’s supposed to be radical after all.
Nico: In my case, the seats were fixed at the lowest and it was the perfect position for my giant height (1m90). But you can vary the height and inclination in three positions. In fact you can’t, you must ask your dealer to adjust it for you and give a big smile to the one who won’t be your size and who want to drive your car. Demonic!
The seats are buckets. Indeed, Sabelt has created custom-made seats for the A110 that look like buckets but actually have foamy edges covered with alcantara and quilted leather (diamonds as a nod to some of the Alpine buckets of the 70s). In fact, the seats hold quite a lot but are also very comfortable, a highlight for buckets.
Inside, I have at least 7 or 8 cm of space above my head. Perfect for putting on a helmet and riding on the track. Indeed, the ceiling is hollowed out to leave as much space as possible and this is rare enough to be mentioned.
The feeling in front of the wheel is very good, even if some people think it’s a little cheap, I don’t think so. Yes, you find some elements in common with the most popular Renault models, but the design and materials have been well chosen to give an impression of quality.
Perhaps only the central column needs to be reviewed. It’s very beautiful but absolutely not ergonomic. You have less than 2 cm to put your hand underneath and put your driving license in the pocket holder. Unable to see the USB plug, you have to plug your cable blindly. You also have a pocket holder specially designed for a smartphone except that it´s upside down. Cannot read Waze when your phone is in this place. Oh yes, and there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto either. However, you have the statics of your car and your performance over 3 generations. I don’t quite understand.
The paddle shifter feel is very good but even though it is made of magnesium, the sound is very plasticky. It’s a pity, we were waiting for a little metallic notch that gives a more sporty impression.
David: Plus, apart from making maneuvers difficult, the driving position is not that big of a problem once you are driving (except if you like to put your elbow on the side like Nico from Nice).
Nico: I confirm, the glass line is too high to have a light and nonchalant elbow as practiced on the French Riviera. The angle is too wide, my elbow is way too high and I just look like a jerk. Good point, this car doesn’t seem to be for show-offs.
David: So, I had my father as a co-pilot this time, since he’s an Alpine enthusiast, I figured I would offer him the job. Wrong choice, you will know why soon enough.
Nico: My partner in crime is, as always, my girlfriend. Over the years and the cars we have tried together it has become as tough as a rock when it comes to judging a car from the passenger seat side.
David: So, I drive away in “Normal” mode, which could be called the “Clio” mode, since the car is so easy to drive in that mode. It’s as close as it gets to a city car, except for a bit of stiffness on very bad roads (which are everywhere in Paris, don’t get me started on that). Even though it’s an excellent thing to have a normal car when it comes to the city, it’s a bit strange as I remembered the Alfa Romeo 4C being the most uncomfortable modern car I ever drove, which is its direct competition. So it’s not that radical then, all good so far.
I headed towards the Vallée de Chevreuse since it went so well with the Megane RS Trophy the last time I went. Put the “Sport” mode on and started pushing the car on the small roads and round-abouts. Even though the Alpine A110 has an excellent behavior and impressive accelerations, after one hour of driving it I was still lacking some thrill. I thought that since it’s rear wheel drive, it would not be smart to put the “track” mode on. But then I remembered I drive classic cars most of the time, and those are rear wheel drive and not assisted. And I also remembered I was quite stupid anyway. I put the “track” mode on.
Okay, now the car really reveals itself. In this mode, you have aggressive throttle mapping (that should be there all the time in my opinion), aggressive exhaust sound, aggressive suspension settings, aggressive shifts: aggressive everything. As I once said, the “Normal” mode is for when you are low on fuel, the “Sport” mode is for never, the “Track” mode is for always. And it applies on the Alpine A110.
Alright, so what is it like to properly drive the A110? Well, it’s very good. Since the engine is very closely related to the one in the Megane RS Trophy, I won’t need to remind you that I´m not a huge fan of those modern small turbo engines, but still it’s good for what it is and produces enough power. Well, on paper 250 hp in today’s world is not that impressive, in reality in a car weighing 1,100 kg, it’s good enough (yep, just told specs without you noticing, getting better at it).
Between GT and sport car: Alpine A110
Nico: Clearly Renault didn’t play in the international competition for big, stupid numbers. If you wanted to surprise everyone by talking about the incredible performance of your new car at the start of a red light stop and in highway top speed (as many supercar owners do), you got the wrong car.
David: What about the rest? The gearbox is fast up-shifting, but only gives you full freedom once you are in “Track” mode. Although, the paddles don’t go low enough, which makes shifting difficult while the wheel is not straight, all because of the (good old Renault) radio command module placed under the right paddle, something I can forgive. Down-shifting is a bit more complicated when you ask for more than one down-shift at the time, but still doesn’t ruin the experience.
The braking is pretty impressive, the pedal is very firm, which is nice, but the car tends to get rear light when braking seriously, which I often do to say the least, therefore you have to hold onto the wheel, nothing serious. Some would say it’s even better to enter a corner.
The chassis behaves very sainly, you’re never surprised by oversteer, in fact I find it very difficult to upset the read end of the car, which would be fun. If you really push it, you will find some understeer very easy to deal with. I happened to find a long multiple zig-zag road on my way (route des 17 tournants, go there, it’s fun), and started pushing the car to its limits up until I heard the front tires scream. It was all fun until my father felt sick. Great job on balancing the car though.
Nico: I can add that despite its very healthy handling, the car seemed a little too comfortable to be totally accurate on small winding roads. On this type of forest or mountain road, the tar is far from perfect, it is made of bumps, cracks and hollows that put the car in tension and torsion. At a steady pace the car absorbs these defects particularly well, like a small GT, but when you drive more strongly, it doesn’t change into a small radical coupe, it remains a sporty GT. The car’s suspensions make it jump from dent to dent, causing the cabin to toss and some other steering defects such as a slight gap in the steering wheel and an uncommunicative front axle, when in fact the car goes everywhere and at quite crazy speeds. It’s just the impression it gives behind the wheel: an impression closer to the sporty GT than the radical coupé. It’s effective while being comfortable, so you feel it less light than it is and above all you miss fun.
My girlfriend told me after a few kilometers “actually, it’s perfect for going to work” and she’s not wrong. Renault probably wanted to produce a sporty everyday car, which, thinking of coffee machines, Excel spreadsheets and traffic jams, is a little less exciting.
Anyway, I am sure that a normal owner, who will drive 80% of the time on the perfect tar of the highway, 15% on the city’s infernal cobblestones and 5% of the time on the wide and smooth circuits (in the best of cases), will find nothing to complain about. Good, Renault has perfectly met the expectations of those who were most likely to buy this car, but it’s not totally in line with the A110, which we knew was a kind of mini rocket queen of the mountains and not of the circuits. But today everything has to be measured on the track, fair enough. Actually, it’s a little like The Lion King. The new film is beautiful, well made, pleasant to watch and it’s very good but it’s also too friendly and doesn’t have the charm of the first one.
Let’s go home then with the new A110! Not quite yet!
David : Well then, reading all of it, it sounds like the car is perfect apart from the powertrain right? Well… it’s more complicated than that. As a classic car driver, I will always look for a connection in the driving experience. It always has been what mattered the most to me in a driving experience. Performance can go to hell, the more I feel the road with my butt, the steering, the gearbox, the engine noises, the suspension, the brake pedal, the smells, well, the more I fall in love. And it didn’t happen with the Alpine.
I can see the engineers tried to make it feel like it, but well, it all feels a bit indirect, or rather un-natural to me. In the end, it seems like everything is too easy, and every driver can drive it fast without any danger. It’s good, except I miss the adrenaline shot, the one you get when you drive a classic car fast. To be honest, when I heard Alpine was back, I expected them to make a car with a high reving NA engine, a manual gearbox, very stiff suspension, a modern classic in some way. Well, they chose to make a usable sports car, kind of a GTish spirit, which is not bad, just not what I was hoping for. Maybe Gordon Murray is making my ideal car, but it’s a bit out of my league.
Nico: Moreover, here are some quotes of French and international journalists about the Alpine A110:
« It’s the car of the decade! »,
« of course the 458 is more magical — it’s a special-edition Ferrari, after all. It’s ultimately more exciting. But the Alpine is exciting more of the time »,
« What a fucking wonder! ».
When I read or hear this, I think to myself, “wow, this car is going to be really amazing,” and no. It’s nice, very nice but be honest, it isn’t so “wow”. Particularly when we talk about the engine´s sound. Onboard you can only hear two things: the decompression of the turbochargers and the cracklings of the sports exhaust. And it’s not a light, almost nice, turbo whistle, it’s a constant breath. On the other hand, cracklings are unfortunately automatic every time the accelerator pedal is released. I’m not a crackling freak, but I like them when you have to reach a certain engine speed or have a certain pedal stroke to be rewarded by one, especially when they are amplified inside the cabin… Those who say otherwise are liars, those who say they make drifts in curves are mythomaniacs, it has grip on all levels (on summer’s dry roads).
#FunToDrive Score: 77/100
David: So, while it’s an excellent car, I don’t think it is fair to compare it to a 4C. Even though on paper, they are very close, the fact is the 4C is the radical car, and the Alpine is the easy car, it forgives. Well then, what is the Alpine all about? To me, it felt like a good alternative to a 911. What? Yes. Look at it, it’s usable in a city, it’s fast and easy to drive fast, it’s beautiful and it’s less than 60k€ new. So yes, I can compare it to a 911. Alpine invented the French 911. And between the two I would maybe take the Alpine because you don’t see a lot of those. Or maybe not.
Nico: The 2017 Alpine A110 is not really a new A110, well it looks like an A110 but it would rather be an Alpine 910, the evolution of the last A610. With 50 years of Porsche 911, the Alpine A110, which has been absent for 40 years, has plenty of time to evolve in the right direction. For that, keep the car production in Dieppe, forget the special editions every 6 months, we never understand anything about it and please don’t make SUVs. We expect a lot of Alpine in the coming years.
David: So, Alpine just announced the evolution of the Alpine A110, called the A110S. On paper, it’s more powerful and a bit lighter, as you should expect. I expect it to be more roar and uncomfortable, if so I will definitely fall in love with it.