2021 Alpine A110 review: is it exciting enough?
Does the French sportscar deserve all the praise?
Sometimes you have to wonder if car manufacturers are targeting real buyers – or just nerdy car journalists who get off on super-niche machines that probably don't have a huge addressable market. Examples: big petrol SUVs. Anything Lotus makes. Caterhams. The BMW M550i.
Another car we can add to that list – or so it first appears – is the Alpine A110. Here's a £49,000 lightweight (in a modern context) sports car that seems to do everything in its power to please car journos. It's niche, it's small, it has lots of clever engineering bits to keep the weight down and it's French, which always helps. James May has bought one. And Gordon Murray. Name two bigger car geeks.
But what about your average callous-handed driving oaf with as much throttle control as a tranquilised Barbary ape? Can a normal person derive some pleasure from Dieppe's slinky retro-modern throwback? Watch the video below to find out, or read on for more thoughts.
What is it?
It's a 1,100kg mid-engined sports car with a 1.8-litre turbo engine putting out 252hp and 320Nm of torque through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The weight of that engine over the back axle helps it dash undramatically and without wheelspin to 62mph in just 4.5 seconds.
We absolutely love the purple/gold combo
Our deliciously purple car would set you back £60,000 thanks to £5,000 of Tulipe Noir (Cadburys Dairy Milk) paint, £700 of gold wheels, a £1,500 sports exhaust, a £1,300 reversing camera and rear parking sensors and some other bits and pieces.
A four-cylinder engine in a sports car? Didn't Porsche just stop doing that?
Sort of. But the Alpine is £20,000 cheaper than an optioned-up six-cylinder Cayman, so they're not real rivals. But the Alpine's Renault-derived four-cylinder engine actually has a surprising amount of character when it's sucking and whistling away behind your head. It fires up with a surprisingly loud blare, yet the smooth-shifting gearbox means the Alpine's no harder to trundle around town in than a Volkswagen Golf.
The rear of the Alpine still doesn't look quite right to our eyes, but the front and the driving experience make up for it…
But it has a surprising amount of poke when you floor it. Because there's so little weight to propel down the road, the engine feels punchier than 252hp suggests, and even an iron-buttocked idiot can sense the relative lightness compared to its rivals. So long as you're above the 3,000rpm turbo lag floor, the Alpine accelerates immediately and without thinking about it. It even sounds quite involving for a four-cylinder – there's a bit of fakery going on, sure, but it's not unpleasant. The sports exhaust also introduces some grin-inducing rally-esque pops on upshifts and downshifts.
Does it handle like a dream?
If you're expecting a flat-cornering, locked-down and ultra-grippy sports car experience then you'll want to look elsewhere – because the Alpine's been engineered to be properly fun on the road. That means it has suspension that actually deals with bumps rather than passing them directly to your anus, and thus it leans a bit in corners, which helps tell you exactly how much grip you have. Which isn't loads, especially at the front end, which can wash wide if you're not used to getting a mid-engined car to turn.
But once you're settled into a corner you get that very Lotus-like sense of being able to change the angle of the car in the corner. Lift off the throttle ever-so-slightly and the nose darts into the corner. Get on the power and you can move the rear about a bit. It sounds like a helmsmith's ideal thing, and it sort of is.
This is a small car – it's a full 20cm shorter than a Porsche Cayman
But the big deal is that even if you don't have the Italian slippers, yellow sunglasses and tweed jacket to mark yourself out as a full-on driving nerd, you'll still notice that the Alpine is something truly special. Every bit of the driving experience is improved by its light weight. It transitions from left to right quicker than you'll be used to, and it sheds speed incredibly easily, all without the need for big, heavy and expensive brakes.
These Sabelt bucket seats are incredibly comfy yet perfectly supportive for hooning
One major benefit of the A110's diddy proportions is that it fits on tiny country roads, and you can drive it quickly without fearing a large SUV coming around the next bend.
It works really, really well as a real-world sports car. The only downside is that the steering isn't alive with feel, although this does have the benefit of making it a less tiring long-distance tourer than an Elise.
What about the interior?
The Sabelt bucket seats are wonderful to sit in, and they didn't give us any aches or pains after long motorway trips. Naturally they're lightweight at 13kg each, and they're not adjustable for height because they sit on race-like seat rails, but they're plenty low enough. The steering wheel's nice and small, the digital dashboard clear and modern, and the infotainment does the job just fine.
The red button flicks between normal and sport modes, or you can hold it to put the car in track mode
Carbon fibre trim on the centre console/transmission tunnel comes as standard, and you get a hilariously large red engine-start button accompanied by buttons to select forward and reverse gears, as well as a rocker switch to flick between cruise control and the speed limiter.
There's not a huge amount of storage, mind you. There aren't any door pockets, and the only space for a mobile phone is under the centre console which is a bit of a faff to reach because the bucket-seat bolsters get in the way of it. The 92-litre rear boot is pretty tiny, but it's deeper and more useful than the shallow 100-litre tray under the frunk.
The boot's not big anyway, and it's full of stuff to start with. There's a slightly bigger but shallower space up front
But overall the interior's well up to the job of feeling like a £50,000 car – you'll just have to pack light for long trips away.
Should I buy one?
If you're shopping for a £50,000 sports car and it has to be brand new, then the Alpine should be at the top of your shopping list. It combines a fun, engaging chassis with plenty of poke and a day-to-day usability that the Lotus Elise can't dream of. It's easy to get in an out of, the gearbox won't annoy you and it'll still put on a smile on your face for years to come.
It's bloody brilliant, and for once it feels as if a car journalist's favourite car does actually work for normal people who aren't tedious to spend time in the pub with.