We had to wait a while for it and the expectations are high. We drive with the new Alpine A110.
In 1955 a Renault dealer in Dieppe (France) decided to build small, light cars with Renault parts. Just for his own pleasure. That man is called Jean Rédelé and he loves driving on mountain roads in the Alps. That’s why he calls his brand Alpine and he proves successful. In the mid-1970s, there are several rally titles in the name of his brand and, in particular, his most successful car: the A110. The recipe: low weight, power and maneuverability. After the 70s things go wrong when those basic elements are slowly but surely thrown overboard with heavier cars like the A310 and A610. The Alpine brand is hibernating, and production ends in the mid-1990s.
The brand never really goes bankrupt, but now Renault gives it back to life . By the way, it’s not a label from Renault, but an independent brand that can use Renault’s belongings but will have to develop things themselves. The focus for the first project is on the same characteristics as those from the heyday of the old Alpine: lightweight, agility and performance. And in addition, the developers get the mission to make a daily usable car, so no Lotus-like hardcore racers.
And that’s how the idea for the new Alpine A110 arises. In June 2015 we are introduced to the reincarnation of Alpine, in the form of the Celebration Concept. A clear modern nod to the most successful days of the brand. At the beginning of 2016, Renault boss (and Dutchman) Michael van der Sande will be appointed as Managing Director. The name will be announced: the label A110 will also be on the butt of the new Alpine. And now we are faced with the last pre-production model that we will see before the production lines are started in a few weeks. In Dieppe, where it all started.
What is in front of us? A car with an empty weight of 1080 kg. At least, if you leave the option list untouched. The car we are going to drive is slightly heavier than 1100 kilograms, still not very heavy. How that is achieved? No less than 96% of the body is aluminum, which is not welded but glued to save weight. The self-developed chassis? Aluminum. The center console? Only 2.8 kilograms including all buttons and wiring. The chair? 13.1 kilograms clean on the hook, thanks to the people of Sabelt. For comparison: with other brands, a comparable sports chair quickly weighs 25 kilograms. The stereo system was created in collaboration with audio brand Focal, where the speakers are partly made of linen, again to dump grammes.
Alpine did not want a spoiler to maintain the classic A110 line. An electrically rising spoiler on speed would also bring additional technology and engines. And they hate kilos at Alpine, so that was not an option. The solution: a flat bottom and a good diffuser ensure that you do not take off even at 250 kilometers per hour. In short: weight has been saved wherever possible.
And then you would expect to have to look at welds and bare steel in the cockpit, but Alpine did not make any concessions there either. The daily usability and a pleasant experience for the occupants should not be lost. In addition, Michael van der Sande proudly says during his presentation that all materials we see are real. Genuine aluminum, genuine leather, real carbon. The whole feels mature and very high quality. Moreover, tall people can also take a good seat in the Alpine. Now I am not long myself, but in this video you can see that both Van der Sande and 3 meters 15 long colleague @Wouter fit perfectly in the Alpine A110. The recognizable Renault elements are also kept to a minimum. We do not get much further than the operation of the air conditioning. The most important thing: the steering wheel. That does not only look brilliant, it also fits well. And there is a button with the text “Sport”.
Unless we were going to look under the hood. There we find the brand spanking new Mégane RS block from parent company Renault. It is a 1.8 turbo with 252 hp and 320 Nm of torque. That makes the development target of 4.5 seconds to 100 true and, if desired, you swing to a top speed of 250 kilometers per hour. Incidentally, the block in the Mégane RS already has higher output, so you can count on even more powerful versions of the A110.
In contrast to his distant forefather, the block on this A110 lies in front of the rear axle, instead of behind the rear axle. This results in a more neutral handling but costs space behind the front seats. The gearbox is a specifically developed Getrag DCT box with 7 gears, of which only the housing is shared with Renault. However, the internals are completely different, with relatively short transmissions. Time to try that out.
When starting the engine, even in comfort mode, the tasty, bubbling sound is immediately noticed. Alpine has used a Soundpipe that sends sound from the engine room to the cabin. There are three driving modes, where in the Sport mode some more exhaust sound (and -plofjes) come into play. Also, the steering becomes heavier and the switching moments shorter. You choose that position with the “Sport” button on the steering wheel. The third stand is Track, in which you can have up to 30% slip angle of the electronics. Moreover, the switching moments and throttle response become even more sporting. You can switch this on by pressing the same “Sport” button for longer.
What does not change is the damping. It is not bruised by itself, in fact, it tends to be comfortable for a car in this segment. But on the other hand, both front and rear double wishbones have been used for the suspension. Something that is normally reserved for the more expensive sports cars, but it means that your tires stay in better contact with the road surface. Very nice. It also provides a good mix between comfort and sportiness. Alpine did not make things easy and let us explore the hilly surroundings of Marseille on poor, narrow asphalt. It does not become unpleasant for a moment in the cab and that is commendable for a car without variable damping.
We use the first kilometers to get to know the Alpine quietly. Two things that stand out negatively are the operation of the infotainment screen and the view to the rear. The rear window is similar to a letterbox in terms of visibility. Regarding the infotainment: the screen is too small, the controls on the screen are too small and the graphics are anything but sexy. Moreover, the menu structure is a bit cluttered. However, there are nice things in tucked away such as laptimers, sprint time meters, G-force meters and power charts. This system was clearly not the priority of the developers. It almost feels like it was discovered at the last minute that there was still infotainment to be in, but to be honest: the last thing I was looking forward to was the infotainment system, it has to be driving this car.
The chairs seem very tight at first glance, but they grab you well, give you a nice low seating position and you feel connected to the whole car. The steering is precise, maybe a tad light if you do not drive in Sport or Track mode, but somewhere that fits the agile and light-footed character of this A110. If you kick the gas, the thing goes smoothly through its gears. The result is that I sometimes shift the gear a bit too far back the first few turns, but after a few times I am used to being able to go faster in the corner and in an acceleration higher than I suspected the first few times. After half an hour of thorough sweeping, the Alpine and I are big friends.
This is partly due to the fact that the Alpine is a car that has been developed for pleasure on public roads, and not as a track tool. For example, the car has no mechanical lock, because that would also add weight again. Instead, the blocking effect is simulated with brake interventions. With Torque Vectoring your curves are braked, as it were, where you really will not encounter a bit of understeer. You just send in, and the car is neutral until you feel the ass starts working. With some mid-engine cars you will have to act very quickly to prevent you from landing backwards in the roadside with snap-over, but at the Alpine it is all a bit nicer, less aggressive, actually almost childishly easy to get along with the balance. play and find the limits of the grip.
Now I can make the comparison with all possible competitors. I can take the Lotus Elise or the Alfa Romeo 4C, or on the other side of the spectrum: the BMW 240i or the Audi TTS. But I’m going to grab the car that I consider the best in this segment with similar performance, which is almost exactly the same in terms of layout and which I would also prefer: the Porsche Cayman .
The Porsche Cayman is good at many things. Is something more expensive, but also feels something higher and more mature, honest is fair. But that difference is not huge, in fact, the Alpine comes very close. More importantly: in his handling the Cayman is super sharp and fun, but a little cunning on the limit. A feature that many cars with mid-engine and so also the Cayman, but the Alpine A110 is that to a much lesser extent.
In fact, it is a very manageable car and that is due to a few things. First, the low weight and the relatively soft chassis. Second, the control feels communicative, sharp and precise. It is an electrically powered unit, but one of the better of its kind. Thirdly, there are sublime auxiliary systems on board. In Track Mode you may be a little bit bothered, but if it gets too crazy, the interventions are so subtle that they solve things for you without you noticing it yourself. A bit of power from that spinning rear wheel, a small braking pin to get everything in line, but no hard braking or ignition cuts. To stay in French terms: alpine chapeau.
The only thing I have to notice about driving is that the Brembo brakes after a few times a bit (steep) mountain road to pop up and down for the cameraman, it was particularly good to smell. Probably thanks to the Torque Vectoring, who continues to do his work, so the rear brakes probably had little time to really cool down. I can imagine that if you want to enter the circuit with your Alpine for more than a few rounds, you can have problems with the rear brakes. But here too, I’m probably mainly trying to find something to make the Alpine feel less fun. Because people, what is this a wonderful car. And what makes me greedy.
I would almost say that fortunately it will take a while before I could order one. The first 1955 pieces entitled “premiere edition” will go into production at the end of this year and will be delivered halfway through 2018. Only then will the “standard” A110 go into production, which will be available in two finishing levels: the “Pure” is basic, has the lightweight seats with no adjustment options (other than forward and reverse) and will probably cost just under € 65,000. cost. The second is called “Legend” and gets multiple adjustable seats and some other luxury gadgets. That version will be comparable or slightly more expensive than the Première Edition, which was allowed for € 66.500 euros. If you want one (and I would be able to imagine that), you can go to two sales outlets in the Netherlands. There will be an Alpine showroom at Stam in Soestdijk and Munsterhuis in Hengelo. Depending on the success of the A110, additional sales points will be added later.
There are a few people who have asked me if I (as a Porsche fanboy) would opt for a Porsche Cayman or an Alpine A110. That is a bit like asking if you would rather go on a date with Heidi Klum or Alizée. That poster by Heidi Klum may have been hanging on the wall for years, but then you saw Alizée in that video clip and that was a refreshing appearance. Fortunately, I am not in the luxury position that I can beat a sloppy € 70,000 euro on a car. Because if that was the case, it might start to feel like cheating!