First Drive: Alpine A110

Racy 60s appeal meets modern technology to create something seriously special.

Despite starting out back in 1955, it’s been a while since we’ve had an Alpine in the UK. The last one was a 1980s plastic-bodied angular coupe with an engine at the back and electronics that rarely worked as they should. Still, I’d have one in a heartbeat.

Now Alpine is back with the A110, and it’s really rather good. You can see the 1955 original in the fluid lines of the bodywork, but don’t think this is old-fashioned in any way. Underneath that compact body (it’s just 11cm longer than a Ford Fiesta) lies an aluminium chassis with double-wishbone suspension, with a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine wedged between the rear wheels.

That means the fuel tank is in the front, as it’s the only gap left, but the result is that the centre of gravity, the point at which the car rotates, is right by the driver’s hip. It leaves you feeling like there’s a telepathic connection direct to the car’s chassis, the Alpine zipping and darting from one direction or another with little more than thought required.

Ok, there’s a bit of steering input required too, but the reactions are so fast, the car so nimbe, you think there must be some magic going on. Instead, it’s good old-fashioned engineering, with the team in Dieppe taking an almost fanatical approach to reducing weight.

The handbrake is electronic, because that weighs less than a lever and cable. The speakers use magnesium, saving around a kilo per speaker (there are four of them) and Alpine asked Sabelt to build a one-piece lightweight seat. If you want to adjust the height of it, you need a spanner. It tips the scales at just 1,080kg, although this Premiere Edition has gained a few pounds and weighs in at a porky 1,103kg. That’s still less than that Ford Fiesta, though.

Some of that weight has clearly been saved inside the cabin, as the plastics are perhaps a little thin, lacking the solid feel you’ll find in a Porsche Cayman. There is a touchscreen infotainment system, which lifts the cabin a litte, and a row of toggle switches below add some retro charm. This Premiere Edition also comes with spectacular diamond stitched leather and Alcantara seats, but they’re not exactly necessary.

It’s not cramped either, with plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and more than enough elbow and headroom. There’s precious little room for bits and pieces though, and the boot is virtually useless.

You don’t buy a tiny two-seater for practicality though. You buy it because it goes like stink, and the equally tiny (by modern standards) 1.8-litre engine certainly does push the Alpine along at some pace. The standard 0-62mph dash is sorted out in just four and a half seconds, and it offers the same surge at any sensible speeds. There’s a seven-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to just the rear wheels, with paddles behind the steering wheel allowing for near-instant manual shifts.

Turn into a corner and the old-school passive dampers steady the body while absorbing change sin the road surface. There’s nothing adaptive here (the tech is too heavy) but it doesn’t need to be – the A110 is so finely balanced and so beautifully damped that it’s a pleasure to drive in all circumstances. Flat out? It flows and glides wonderfully, diving into an apex, gently sliding through the exit of a corner if provoked, and generally being a huge ball of fun. In town? It’s soft and supple, with short overhangs and diminutive dimensions making it easy to manoeuvre and park. On the motorway? It’s fine, but find a side road…

If you ever looked at the Alfa Romeo 4C and felt let down by its inability to be a sports car on anything but the most perfectly flat surface, and think another lightweight, small volume, two-seater sports cars might be repeating the same mistake, put those thoughts aside.

The one thought you might have justification for is wondering whether your £52,000ish should be spent on this pocket rocket or on something perhaps a little more established, such as the Porsche 718 Cayman. Well, the latter is quieter and has some higher quality materials in the cabin but that’s about where the advantages end.

I don’t fully understand how Alpine will turn a profit on a small-volume sports car that’s really quite good value for money, but I don’t really care. All that matters is that it’s come up with an utterly beguiling, irrepressibly addictive and supremely talented car that combines technology with beauty and value. It could be the finest car of the last year.

Model Tested: Alpine A110 Première Édition
Price: £51,805
Range: £46,905 – £51,085 Top speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 4.5 seconds
Power: 252 PS (249 bhp)
Torque: 320 Nm (236 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £707
Official fuel economy: 44.1 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 144 g/km
Car Tax: £450
Insurance group: 44E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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