Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The story of the A110 begins with heavily accented Frenchman Jean Rédélé, who started out tinkering with Renault 4CVs for competitive success in the 1950s. Rédélé continued to develop 4CV-based vehicles through the decade, resulting in the first Alpine-badged cars – the A106 and A108. Encouraged, Alpine moved on to manufacturing its own car, inspired by the berlinette-bodied version of the A108 and called, unsurprisingly, the A110. Nimble, light, and propelled by a series of tiny four-cylinder engines the A110 would become an icon of lightweight motoring. But the A110 wasn’t just a B-road princess, finding an incredibly successful home in rallying to the point that it won the first ever World Rally Championship – winning seven of the 13 rounds in 1973 to clinch a dominant title in an era when there was no driver’s championship. Alpine would continue for the next couple of decades, building ever-closer ties to Renault until the French giant took a 70 per cent stake in the company in 1973 to save it from extinction during the fuel crisis. Alpine managed to live on, building such icons as the A310 and GTA, but in the mid-‘90s the name, which had never legally made it to the UK, disappeared, apparently forever.
Today though, Alpine are back, back in the original factory in Dieppe and back with a lightweight sportscar bearing the name A110. The first sparks of life in the old brand appeared in Monaco in 2013, when a concept appeared called the A110-50, celebrating 50 years since the birth of the original. After an aborted partnership with Caterham two more concepts appeared in 2015, previewing the new car we see today. Two years later the new Alpine A110 made its dynamic debut at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.
The car we tested is the Premiere edition, reserved for the earliest buyers of the A110. This comes fully stocked with satnav, climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and a telemetry system that allows the driver to record lap times and store driving data. Every A110 has a bespoke seven-speed automatic ‘box (packaging means there will never be a manual) through which the A110’s 248PS (245bhp) is routed to the rear wheels only from its 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, mounted just in front of the rear axle. That turbocharged motor is enough to produce 320Nm (236lb ft) of torque, propelling the teeny (even this heavily-kitted cars is only 1,100kg) Alpine to 60mph in a sprightly, but not mind-blowing, 5.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 150mph.
Outside, the design is a modern take on the original. Put the two side-by-side and you’ll see how modern cars have inflated over the decades, but in modern terms the A110 is compact, standing just 1.2m tall. The design works, with the elements of the Berlinette clear to see but surrounded by modern touches – see the ‘x’ rear running lights and the four LED running lights at the front. Inside the A110 grabs old switchgear from the Renault parts-bin but this is mostly a blank canvas design much like the rest of the car; the instrument binnacle is digital and the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is simply laid out and easy to use.
Alpine’s designers and engineers were given a blank slate when it came to the A110, rather than being asked to use anything from the Renault inventory to underpin the newest Alpine. That gave them the freedom to create the car that they really wanted, one that harks back to the spirit of the original Berlinette. Nothing has been allowed to slide in the design phase, with focus on lightness and driver enjoyment being complete. The A110 will probably not get you from point A to point B faster than its rivals, having been set up for fun rather than outright pace, but it’s far more likely to leave you with a smile on your face – Alpine’s engineers have set out to teach us that roll and slip are not the enemy.
Through the country lanes of Sussex the Alpine is constantly on its toes, always feeling lithe and live rather than sitting on rails. Steering is light but communicative and pinpoint sharp and the chassis comes alive the moment you show it a corner. Turn the traction control systems down and you can have some serious fun in the A110, a hard corner entry will bring a sniff of understeer, but such is the pliability of the A110 that any push is fixed with a stab of the throttle, as the rear is ready for action from the word go. The magic of the A110 is that they have made it slippery and alive without being dangerous – you feel completely in control of the Alpine at all times, never worried that it’s about the get angry and tear away from your control.
The Alpine A110 is a contradiction: it is at the same time revolutionary while being a throwback. It highlights where the sportscar world might have gone wrong over the last few decades, where cars have become complete machines, capable of doing almost everything with minimal input from the driver. The Alpine takes the driver and plonks them in the centre of the action, bringing a fizz of control to the fingertips on almost every drive. While 250-ish horsepower may not sound like much in 2019 believe us when we say that it’s plenty in a near-1,000kg car. Is the Alpine both the future and past of motoring? We hope so.