High plains drifter

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Sport - Iain Curry

WHAT? An­other new car brand for Aus­tralia?

The mar­ket may be sat­u­rated but it’s hard not to wel­come the new Alpine A110 with open arms.

Alpine – Re­nault’s sporty sub-brand – has de­liv­ered an en­chant­ing sports coupe with a drive ex­pe­ri­ence that’s both rare and wel­come.

Un­ques­tion­ably beau­ti­ful in its tiny pro­por­tions, the el­e­gant Frenchie is flush with in­gre­di­ents to se­duce driv­ing en­thu­si­asts.

Ex­ten­sive use of alu­minium for the chas­sis, body and sus­pen­sion al­lows it to tip the scales at just 1103kg, some 360kg lighter than its Porsche 718 Cay­man ri­val, and close in mass to the Lo­tus Ex­ige, a car not known for ev­ery­day us­abil­ity.

With mid-rear mounted en­gine, rear-wheel drive and smart sus­pen­sion that in­creases the re­wards the harder you push, the twoseater sweet­ens the deal with be­guil­ing retro styling and cabin com­fort a notch up from track-spe­cific sports cars.

Most won’t be fa­mil­iar with Alpine, the brand that won the 1973 World Rally Cham­pi­onship with its Re­nault-en­gined A110, and this mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion blends exquisitely the de­sign charm of the old with mod­ern flashes. Cher­ryp­ick­ing cues from its stylish 1960s her­itage, the A110 uses twin front head­lights, dis­tinc­tive Alpine bon­net spine and tiny wrap­around rear screen.

A com­pletely flat un­der­side and rear dif­fuser mean that it needs no gar­ish spoiler, which would sully the clean de­sign of the im­pos­si­bly low rear.

The French can be ac­cused, of­ten and fairly, of putting form be­fore func- tion in cars but the A110’s drive ex­pe­ri­ence is truly joy­ous.

The launch edi­tion is lim­ited to 60 ex­am­ples (of which 42 have al­ready sold). Called the Aus­tralian Pre­miere Edi­tion, it’s yours for $106,500 be­fore on-roads.

Cheaper Pure and Leg­end grades (from $97,000) are due in March.

The orig­i­nal Alpine

A110 was a leg­end on the snowy Monte Carlo Rally. Hav­ing a first road test at a chilly Targa High Coun­try (it was -2C at the Mt Buller start line) in the mod­ern equiv­a­lent made per­fect sense once the ice was scraped from the win­dows.

From the first few cor­ners, it be­came clear Alpine has pri­ori­tised fun and driver con­nec­tion.

It feels prop­erly light­weight as it shifts di­rec­tion rapidly, play­fully twitch­ing its back end as the ea­ger turbo en­gine feeds the skinny rear tyres.

By no means pow­er­ful by mod­ern stan­dards, it bor­rows Re­nault Sport’s 1.8-litre boosted four-cylin­der from the Me­gane RS, re­tuned to 185kw/320nm, enough to launch the svelte coupe from rest to 100km/h in 4.5 sec­onds.

In its favour, its pow­erto-weight ra­tio matches that of a Cay­man S, it sounds bet­ter and it darts across the road with more agility than the weight­ier Ger­man.

It’s a good com­mu­ni­ca­tor through the sharp steer­ing and flatly re­fuses to scare its driver by do­ing any­thing vul­gar like fling- ing the back end out with­out am­ple warn­ing.

The en­gine has de­cent turbo shove but you need to se­lect Sport or Track mode to give the du­al­clutch trans­mis­sion a hurry on: in Nor­mal mode it’s a lazy thing. These sportier set­tings also sharpen throt­tle and steer­ing re­sponse, add some crack­les and pops to the ex­haust and loosen sta­bil­ity con­trol tol­er­ances while still pro­vid­ing a safety net.

The A110 will ap­peal to a cer­tain type of purist so the ab­sence of a man­ual gear­box op­tion is a sur­prise, es­pe­cially with such a fo­cus on weight sav­ing.

This be­ing the Pre­miere Edi­tion, cabin in­clu­sions aren’t bad. Sporty touches in­clude light­weight leather Sa­belt seats, dig­i­tal dash, sat­nav, cli­mate con­trol, cruise con­trol, smart­phone mir­ror­ing and lap timer with teleme­try data.

Space is am­ple for two but stor­age is want­ing.

Some of the switchgear and hard plas­tics feel a bit too ‘Re­nault’ at this price.

But the Alpine A110 is de­light­fully niche and de­liv­ers old-school light­weight driv­ing thrills that are so rare these days.

Not ev­ery­one can af­ford a slim­line French su­per­model but the re­wards are ob­vi­ous.

The new Alpine 110 along­side theclas­sic ver­sion.

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