ALPINE A110 France’s Cay­man-fighter vs Oz roads

Floats like a but­ter­fly, stings like a bee

Motor (Australia) - - JUST LAUNCHED - BY • LOUIS COR­DONY

FIVE MIN­UTES is all the Alpine A110 needs to con­vince you that, yes, this is worth the dol­lar sum it’s ask­ing. Re­nault’s mid-en­gine coupe is small, but its $106,500 ask is larger than an Alfa Romeo 4C’s and Lo­tus Elise’s prices, each set at around $90K. But this car is about more than num­bers. It’s try­ing to re­vive a brand. Alpine used to be much like what HSV is to Holden. It built race and road cars, and won things, but then ran out of money be­fore be­ing ab­sorbed by Re­nault (which hasn’t been HSV’s fate). The A110 is a state­ment that this hard­core sportscar brand is back, in a big way, by mod­el­ling it­self on the 1970s rear-en­gine A110 that won the very first World Rally Cham­pi­onship. The most ob­vi­ous link is its looks. Fes­tooned with retro de­tails like those quad head­lights, fast­back roofline and ridged bon­net, they’re strik­ing, se­duc­tive and sure to fill any young petrol­head with awe. Like the orig­i­nal car, the new A110 shares parts with other Re­naults. Its turbo 1.8-litre four-cylin­der en­gine is in the Me­gane RS and its pad­dles are plucked from a Clio RS. But it’s ac­tu­ally more of a clean-sheet de­sign. Those pad­dles are wired to a new wet seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion, and there’s a unique alu­minium chas­sis at its core. There are also be­spoke dou­ble-wish­bone sus­pen­sion as­sem­blies front and rear, a new ac­tive ex­haust, and brake calipers beau­ti­ful enough to dis­play in a gallery. In fact, that’s just what hap­pened on the car’s in­ter­na­tional launch last year. Re­nault wanted to stress the ef­fort its en­gi­neers poured into de­liv­er­ing a pared-back, light­weight driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. But while back in Alpine’s orig­i­nal days this would have been ul­ti­mately to beat Ford Es­corts or Abarths, the witch hunt for kilo­grams is now about fight­ing flab. Its kerb weight is 1103kg. Al­most the en­tire body is alu­minium, and the one-piece Sa­belt bucket seats weigh 13.1kg each. They’re not strip­per items, ei­ther. The quilted stitch­ing on their deep bol­sters, matched to Al­can­tara cush­ion in­serts, show how well light­ness blends with lux­ury here. The in­te­rior isn’t ob­vi­ously Re­nault, be­sides the steer­ing wheel, HVAC con­trols, metal ped­als and finicky credit card-shaped key. The car’s bright red starter but­ton is plugged into the bridge of the cen­tre con­sole, where you also se­lect gear by press­ing D (drive), N (neu­tral) or R (re­verse). There’s only 185kW/320Nm pro­pel­ling you for­ward, but that’s enough. The nose lifts and each gear dis­ap­pears as quickly as they ar­rive. The sound is de­li­cious and your eye­balls are en­ter­tained by the dig­i­tal clus­ter, where big, white num­bers dis­play­ing the gear rush at you. Mean­while, the sound is as if it takes the Clio RS’s turbo noises and the Me­gane RS’s growl, then turns up the re­sult­ing sound­track by sev­eral notches. A deep burp es­capes with each up­shift. You might also cackle with laugh­ter. At the first cor­ner the A110 is tug­ging at your sleeves, beg­ging you for some fun. Brush the brakes and it shrugs its weight for­ward. Dart the steer­ing off cen­tre and it re­sponds, in­stantly. Find the throt­tle, feel it set­tle onto its out­side rear tyre, then squeeze. How you exit the cor­ner will de­pend on how you en­ter it. Pitch it hard on the brakes, run the soft sus­pen­sion to its ab­so­lute limit, pick up the throt­tle ag­gres­sively, and the open-diff rear axle will step out on its rear 235mm Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 4s. But you can pivot it on the brakes, or with a bit of lift, just as eas­ily. Its wheel­base is only 2419mm, or 151mm shorter than a Toy­ota 86’s. But over­all it’s only shorter by 62mm. Even though it has three drive modes – Nor­mal, Sport and Track – ESP is ei­ther on or off, and this ad­justa­bil­ity can spook you. But it’s also a knifeedged bal­ance be­tween grip and slip that sets the Alpine A110 apart from the stoic com­po­sure of a Porsche Cay­man or the Lo­tus Elise’s lay­ered dy­nam­ics. While we tested one of the 60 lim­ited-edi­tion Pre­miere ver­sions, the range will com­prise only the Pure and Leg­ende after it sells out. The Pure will be avail­able for $97K. Or if you want some de­cent au­dio thrown in with mod-cons like a rear-view cam­era and sen­sors, then you can go for the Leg­ende at $103,500. Both can be op­tioned with the Pre­miere’s high­per­for­mance Brem­bos, ac­tive ex­haust or tasty 18-inch ‘Fuchs’ wheels. If you’re into light­weight thrills, as we said, they will be worth the ask.

ABOVE The in­te­rior space might be scarcer than an orig­i­nal film plot, but it’s event­ful and nice to be­hold

RIGHT We’re hes­i­tant to call the Alpine’s chas­sis ‘friendly’, but it’s def­i­nitely full of per­son­al­ity

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