Alpine A110

Re­nault re­vives a by­gone brand to of­fers its own Cay­man-fight­ing take on back to ba­sics driv­ing fun

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS - By DY­LAN CAMPBELL

IT’S NO REAL sur­prise the 2018 Alpine A110 drives like a Re­nault­de­signed Lo­tus given its de­vel­op­ment driver, Rudy Thomann, worked in Lo­tus’s ride and han­dling depart­ment dur­ing the in­cep­tion of the orig­i­nal Elise.

How­ever, what the new French mid-en­gine coupe has that the Lo­tus hasn’t is a sur­pris­ing level of re­fine­ment, in­clud­ing a roomy and com­fort­able, if still sim­ple, in­te­rior.

The Alpine A110 her­alds the re­turn of the French sports car brand af­ter a 23-year hia­tus. The new car’s fi­nally be­ing un­leashed on-road af­ter five years in ges­ta­tion, open­ing a new chap­ter in Alpine his­tory, the pre­vi­ous of which spanned 40 years from 1955 with nu­mer­ous mod­els and mo­tor­sport suc­cesses.

Get­ting the new rear-drive A110’s weight to a tar­get of 1000-1100kg was an en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge ne­ces­si­tat­ing a chas­sis and body made al­most en­tirely from alu­minium (96 per cent), a lot of it bonded with spe­cial high-strength glue to save fur­ther weight from welds and riv­ets – part of a ‘gram-strat­egy’-es­que ap­proach that is no­tice­able all over the car.

With the Pre­miere Edi­tion com­ing in at 1103kg the Alpine team – com­pro­mised mostly of Re­nault Sport engi­neers best known for their scin­til­lat­ing hot hatches – achieved their set-out goal.

It also meant a 1.8-litre tur­bocharged in­line-four, sourced from within the Re­nault em­pire (shar­ing its fun­da­men­tals with the Es­pace en­gine, and also slated for the up­com­ing new Megane RS), could make a rel­a­tively mod­est 185kW and 320Nm and get away with it. Rated at 168kW/tonne, that’s the same pow­erto-weight as a VFII SS Com­modore.

With launch con­trol, rear 235/40R18 tyres (the ex­cel­lent new Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 4), the new A110 will hit 100km/h in a claimed 4.5sec and com­plete the quar­ter mile in 12.7sec. The Porsche 718 Cay­man S does 0-100km/h in 4.6sec – although that’s an

ad­mit­tedly con­ser­va­tive claim, es­pe­cially given the num­bers MO­TOR recorded at PCOTY 2018.

The A110’s fairly blis­ter­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion is de­spite the lack of a tra­di­tional lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial, left off the car to save weight and cost. The Alpine in­stead dis­trib­utes torque across the rear axle by in­di­vid­u­ally brak­ing any sin­gle-spin­ning wheel.

The car’s ac­cel­er­a­tion also ben­e­fits a lot from the new seven-speed EDC twin-clutch gear­box, a unit shared again with the Es­pace (but not the up­com­ing new Megane RS, which will have a dif­fer­ent, and much beefier, EDC). How­ever, it has been over­hauled for sportscar use with be­spoke ra­tios and sig­nif­i­cantly quick­ened shift speeds. There are fixed colum­n­mounted metal shift pad­dles.

Ex­cru­ci­at­ingly for some would-be own­ers, the new A110 is not avail­able with a man­ual gear­box. Alpine bosses claim there was not enough bud­get to suc­cess­fully de­velop two trans­mis­sion op­tions to the de­sired stan­dard, putting their en­tire fo­cus into the auto in­stead given its bet­ter vol­ume po­ten­tial.

This is a shame as de­spite the A110’s new Ge­tragde­vel­oped EDC be­ing the best twin-clutch au­to­matic we’ve used that’s not from Ger­many or Italy, a man­ual would ab­so­lutely suit the char­ac­ter of the new light­weight Alpine. This is a fast lit­tle car that of­fers a back-to-ba­sics han­dling phi­los­o­phy that chan­nels the Mazda MX-5 – but with proper power.

To save fur­ther weight and cost, and also be­cause the light weight per­mits, Alpine has spurned adap­tive dampers and in­stead de­vel­oped a fixed spring and shock set-up, one of the best-judged pas­sive com­bi­na­tions of spring and damper rates we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced. For bet­ter han­dling the Alpine team also went with dou­ble A-arms at each cor­ner in place of the more com­mon MacPher­son struts at the front – a pack­ag­ing chal­lenge, but well worth­while.

With rel­a­tively soft spring rates the A110’s body feels light on its sus­pen­sion, a unique feel­ing only found in a few new cars, all of them weigh­ing around the 1000kg mark, the MX-5 be­ing one of them. Flick from Nor­mal to Sport to Track mode us­ing the steer­ing wheel-mounted red tog­gle but­ton and the A110’s per­son­al­ity be­comes no­tice­ably more ag­gres­sive. It’s

Un­der full throt­tle the Alpine squats po­litely on its rear axle as it an­grily un­leashes its power

even a tiny bit feral. The bi-modal ex­haust opens to re­veal a loud and rau­cous note near­ing the 6650rpm red­line that re­minds us – strangely, de­spite be­ing half the en­gine – of a Ricardo V8-pow­ered McLaren in its up­per revs. It’s pretty spe­cial.

With a proud tur­bocharged per­son­al­ity there is very no­tice­ably an en­gine be­hind you and noth­ing much in front of you, in­clud­ing the bon­net which dis­ap­pears be­low the bot­tom of the wind­screen. You sit low and back in the Alpine, your bum not quite on the road, but with the door sills at shoul­der height and the dash­board ris­ing up to en­ve­lope you in clas­sic sportscar style. It’s a fan­tas­tic (and there­fore very un-French) driv­ing po­si­tion with even more pleas­ing fixed-back light­weight Sa­belt bucket seats. They’re at­trac­tive, sup­port­ive and gen­er­ously padded – a real high­light of the car.

De­spite the low-and-back driv­ing po­si­tion, for­ward and side vis­i­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent, while rear vis­i­bil­ity is the bare min­i­mum. Sadly there is no en­gine to peer over in the rear vi­sion mir­ror through the nar­row rear win­dow, just a car­peted panel.

Un­der full throt­tle the Alpine squats po­litely on its rear axle as it an­grily un­leashes its power. Trac­tion is strong in a straight line and the EDC sat­is­fy­ingly quick go­ing up gears with a loud brap as the en­gine tran­si­tions from a Clio RS-like grum­ble at low rpm to a buzzing, baby su­per­car-es­que bark at higher rpm. This is a loud car from the out­side, with plenty of the­atri­cal bur­bles on the ex­haust over­run as well.

For any­body who’s ex­pe­ri­enced a su­per­car the Alpine is not scary fast, but plenty ex­cit­ing as it pushes you back into the seat. You would ab­so­lutely de­scribe it as fast, with enough grunt to make it a car not to be taken lightly in nu­mer­ous con­di­tions.

With sus­pen­sion on the soft side, the Alpine likes a smooth driver. The nose dips vis­i­bly as you tran­si­tion from full throt­tle to full brak­ing, the body mov­ing through big curves and set­tling at the end of rel­a­tively long arcs dur­ing hard cor­ner­ing – and the body get­ting a tiny bit ragged with bi­nary in­puts. The Alpine seems to revel in be­ing grabbed by its scruff and or­dered around, but any ag­gres­sion still must be smooth.

Mix this han­dling dy­namic with the fre­netic power, and good lat­eral grip, and you have one very de­light­fully fun car to drive fast. The light­weight body and sus­pen­sion also breath with the road, of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent com­pli­ance on what is again a re­mark­ably well-judged fixed spring/damper set-up.

There will be some peo­ple, how­ever, who just don’t like the ex­tra body move­ment of the soft sus­pen­sion and crave less of it, par­tic­u­larly on track. But while it would be pos­si­ble to fit a firmer and lower spring, damper and anti-roll bar set-up, from the af­ter­mar­ket

and per­haps with grip­pier tyres, to do so with the same amount of pol­ish and ex­per­tise-bor­der­ing-on­ge­nius as the cur­rent set-up, would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. Your sus­pen­sion guy might ruin the car.

With its short wheel­base, fast and pre­cise steer­ing, re­spon­sive EDC (which will let you grab two lower gears in quick and crisp suc­ces­sion) and sweetly stacked gear ra­tios, the Alpine loves a tight and twisty back road. The tur­bocharged en­gine sup­plies enough low-down torque to punch out of tight cor­ners, while the ESC in Track mode is also le­nient enough to per­mit a quar­ter-turn cor­rec­tive lock when pow­er­ing out of sec­ond-gear bends in the dry. If you obey the prin­ci­ples of smooth­ness, this is an easy and fun car to drive fast, even on faster flow­ing roads where you can short-shift and surf the tur­bocharged torque as the en­gine hisses un­der boost right be­hind your head. It is a mega lit­tle thing.

Some of the con­trols are quite light just be­cause they don’t have much work to do on a 1103kg car, and this might take a lit­tle bit of get­ting used to for some. The steer­ing and brakes don’t re­quire much phys­i­cal ef­fort to do an ex­cel­lent job and are cer­tainly not meaty and mas­cu­line like heav­ier ri­val cars. The throt­tle, how­ever, falls short of ex­cel­lence. It’s far from ra­zor­sharp in terms of re­sponse, with the most mi­nus­cule dough­i­ness and lazi­ness ow­ing pre­sum­ably to the sim­ple physics of its ex­haust-pow­ered in­take pump need­ing to catch up. Turbo boost is 1.1 bar (16psi).

This car would also be im­proved by a proper lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial. It works quite well with the open diff and brak­ing soft­ware, but the feel­ing of a lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial would be a sub­tle ex­tra in­gre­di­ent that im­proves the recipe.

Aside from lug­gage space, with a shal­low front boot and cute lit­tle rear boot, both with no chance of deal­ing with a golf bag (96L and 100L re­spec­tively), the in­te­rior is where the owner is asked to make the big­gest sac­ri­fices for the Alpine’s cause. While sur­pris­ingly roomy for two large adults, cramped in no way, it is a sim­ple, min­i­mal­ist, al­most func­tional space to be – and a part of the car Re­nault clearly used to save some cost on the project.

There is a cu­ri­ous con­trast of ma­te­ri­als, nice soft leathers used di­rectly next to hard, scratchy plas­tic – and there is a lot of that. Aside from the seats, which

The Alpine A110 seems to revel in be­ing grabbed by its scruff and or­dered around

look and feel like no ex­pense was spared, the in­te­rior al­most feels like it was splashed in small pan­els of leather and Di­nam­ica (mi­crofi­bre) to jazz it up. The indi­ca­tor and wiper stalks, and air-con con­trols, look straight out of a base Clio. There is an al­most in­ex­pli­ca­ble lack of stor­age space, no glove­box or door pock­ets, just a space be­side the seats big enough for a phone and wal­let, and enough space be­hind the seats for a soft lap­top bag (un­less you’re very tall). There is only one cup holder.

Plainly, the in­te­rior was used to save a bit of money and has noth­ing on a Porsche Cay­man, BMW M2 or Audi TT. That said, the Alpine in­te­rior is still a nice place to be with its afore­men­tioned rock­star seats, two large TFT screens in­clud­ing in­stru­ments, and gen­eral re­fine­ment in­clud­ing low noise and good around­town ride. If you read enough into Alpine’s his­tory, the slightly bud­get in­te­rior is kind of ‘on brand’.

Quite aside from the lack a man­ual gear­box, which there’s no point mop­ing over, that’s re­ally all you can ob­jec­tively fault the Alpine for. While this au­thor wishes the pro­duc­tion car got the lower off­set wheels of the lat­est con­cept, the funky and retro styling seems pop­u­lar. To drive, it has a re­fresh­ingly orig­i­nal han­dling phi­los­o­phy, is fast and fan­tas­tic fun. It’s hon­estly more of a ri­val to a Lo­tus Elise than a Porsche 718 Cay­man, but pick an Alpine A110 over either and you’ll be a very happy chappy.

The Alpine A110 ar­rives in Aus­tralia in June 2018. Fi­nal pric­ing is yet to be con­firmed, but ex­pect to pay be­tween $90K-$100K

Help­ing the A110’s weight dis­tri­bu­tion is the place­ment of the fuel tank – which is im­me­di­ately be­hind the front axle, giv­ing a 44:56 bal­ance front to rear

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