The Alpine A110 is a per­fect get­away car for a coun­try break

The Observer Magazine - - Wheels -

Alpine A110

The long, wind­ing drive that leads up to Gi­dleigh Park in the heart of Dart­moor is less a road and more an au­to­mo­tive as­sault course. Dark, twist­ing, nar­row, steep, flooded, blind­cornered, high-banked… The lane doesn’t so much fol­low the con­tours of the land as thrash about on it like a net­ted eel. It’s so ar­du­ous that half­way along, the ho­tel has nailed an en­cour­ag­ing no­tice to a tree: “Keep heart, you are still en route!” My wife and I were cel­e­brat­ing a mile­stone an­niver­sary and had de­cided to treat our­selves to a night at the ho­tel. We laughed at the sign: it seemed like sage ad­vice for a long, wind­ing mar­riage, too.

Gi­dleigh Park was an in­spired choice. My wife was drawn by the fact the lav­ish Arts and Craft house sits in 107 acres of wood­land on the banks of the Teign river and has a chef, Chris Simp­son, who has just won a Miche­lin star for his vi­brant cook­ing. I, how­ever, was drawn by the chance to put a very dif­fer­ent star through its own breath­tak­ing paces on Devon’s tough-mud­der roads – Re­nault’s vi­va­cious Alpine A110. Price £46,905 0-62mph 4.5 sec­onds Top speed 155mph MPG 46

CO2 144g/km

If you are of a cer­tain age, you might re­mem­ber the bug-eyed, bot­tle-blue, French, two-seat rally car that tore to vic­tory in the 1973 World Rally Cham­pi­onships. Now, the Alpine A110 is back and it’s stayed true to many of its orig­i­nal win­ning traits. It’s in­cred­i­bly light. It is alu­minium bod­ied and has an alu­minium chas­sis. “If we have low mass, we can have mod­er­ate power,” says Alpine’s Thierry An­nequin. “We have chased all grams ev­ery­where on each com­po­nent and ev­ery sys­tem.” What Thierry means is that a small nut doesn’t need a big ham­mer to crack it. So the rel­a­tively mod­est, tur­bocharged 1.8-litre petrol en­gine, which sits be­hind the driver, lends the car a won­der­ful sense of poise and bal­ance. Floor the throt­tle and you feel you are be­ing pushed rather than pulled – like a gi­ant hand in the cen­tre of your back.

The ride and han­dling is be­witch­ing – and yet also re­mark­ably com­posed for a such a dinky car. The light­weight guys tend to bounce around on rut­ted tar­mac, but the Alpine re­mains won­der­fully grounded. It flows across all sur­faces – even over the dread­ful gutters and grooves that scar­ify Devon’s sin­u­ous lanes.

In­side you’ll recog­nise some fa­mil­iar kit from Re­nault – though nowhere on the car is its French par­ent even al­luded to, which seems a lit­tle rude. The leather sports seats and steer­ing wheel are com­fort­able and tac­tile. My favourite de­tail is the auto gear­box. You select ei­ther D, N or R sim­ply by press­ing one of the three cir­cu­lar but­tons. In hos­pi­tal a pa­tient’s DNR in­struc­tion spells the end, but here the let­ters are an open in­vi­ta­tion to grab life and zoom to­wards it.

Af­ter hours of joy­ously slalom­ing across Dart­moor in the lit­tle Alpine, we ar­rived into the warm em­brace of our r ho­tel. At the re­cep­tion desk we were given our key by the e friendly man­ager: “Many of our rooms are named af­ter lo­cal tors,” he said with a smile. “You will be in Laugh­ter.” ” Who wouldn’t be? ■ Keep feet fresh and dry on even the long­est bike rides, and amaze your mates with the wacky de­signs Often it’s the sim­plest ideas that prove the most com­pelling. And so it is with Chase the Sun. The chal­lenge? Ride across the coun­try in one day; coast to coast; east to west; dawn to dusk. Last year, 700 cy­clists from around the world took part in the event’s 10th-an­niver­sary ride. Orig­i­nally con­ceived by Olly Moore, the con­cept is unique: it is a ride, not a race; it is a col­lec­tive en­deav­our. The ride at­tracts cy­clists from many coun­tries and back­grounds, from trained ath­letes to de­ter­mined novices, ex­pe­ri­enced longdis­tance ad­ven­tur­ers to city com­muters. There is no tim­ing or rank­ing, no medals, only the ul­ti­mate suc­cess of chas­ing the sun across the coun­try to view the sun­set on the coast­line. In 2019, the event will be big­ger and more ex­cit­ing than ever. At mid­sum­mer sun­rise on 22 June, riders will be able to chase the sun some 200 miles over a choice of three dif­fer­ent routes: in south and north UK, and Italy. The south­ern leg starts at sun­rise on the Isle of Shep­pey in Kent and fin­ishes at sun­set in Burn­ha­mon-Sea in Som­er­set. The north­ern leg is Tynemouth to Prest­wick. In Italy, the ride tra­verses the coun­try from Ce­se­n­atico to Tir­re­nia. The event is free, but there are sup­port and ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions. Reg­is­ter at chasethe­sun.org.

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