Is everyone wrong about the Alpine A110?
Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera, driven it incredibly hard and then written about it. When he's not writing he's can be found fettling his 1971 BMW 2002 and BMW E36 318is.
The Beatles, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Five Guys, Tom Hanks, the Alpine A110. All things that are almost universally loved, yet things I just don’t quite get.
I won’t discuss them all, DriveTribe is hardly the place to tell you why I think Five Guys is like a spenny McDonald's that someone has sat on, or how I think B*Witched’s very tiny back catalogue is greater than everything the Beatles achieved put together. So, if I haven’t completely ruined every last shred of respect you might have for me there, let's stick to the A110.
Last month the new Alpine was almost crowned European Car of the Year. Confirmation that, if you care about that sort of thing, it is A Good Car. You see it’s unprecedented that a sports car be recognised in the European Car of the Year awards – the Porsche 928 is the only performance car to take the overall title, and that was in 1978.
But the dainty little Alpine, along with the Jaguar I-Pace, accrued 250 points, placing them both joint leaders ahead of more mundane cars, the sort of cars that usually win things like that. The Jag eventually took the title as more of the judges placed it in first position, and the Alpine had to take silver.
If you’ve read anything on the Alpine, its success in that competition, even as a sports car, will not be a huge surprise. I mean, it’s difficult to find a bad word about it anywhere.
The praise starts with its looks, and that is something I can totally agree with. It’s a very pretty car – all slim and pert with enough of a retro vibe to identify it as an Alpine but not too much that it looks gaudy. The Alpine’s fans are less effusive about its drivetrain, but rarely actually critical. I too find it difficult to muster up much passion, good or bad, for its engine and gearbox.
Then it comes to how it drives. This aspect of the Alpine is the glistening glaze on the patisserie fruit tart, the cheesy crouton on the onion soup for its fans. And I must be missing something because I’ve only ever found it a little unnerving.
It’s all very French; all laidback and louche, lovely and soft, and the ride is very supple. But, partly because of these attributes, I’ve never really been sufficiently in tune with it to feel truly comfortable driving it with any fervour, like you might want to drive a sports car.
Admittedly, the soft chassis does have more control over the body than Emmanuel Macron has on a group of hi-vis tabard-wearing protesters, but not quite enough that I feel absolute confidence in how the car might react over a nasty crest or after an evasive change of line during a fast corner. So when presented with a well-known stretch of tarmac, I’m only ever inclined to go for just little pootle in the A110.
It’s a similar issue that I have with the MX-5 – another car that favours exaggerated body movements over tight body control. This opinion on the Mazda – that it’s really not a car for Keiichi Tsuchiya-levels of commitment – is shared by many other people too.
Of course, both cars are very different; the A110’s chassis does feel more sophisticated than an MX-5’s – the damping more rounded and the wheels more tender towards the tarmac – as it should do for a car that’s twice the price, and why many people might not level the same criticism at the Alpine.
But if you do come over all Alain Prost, the front-engined rear-wheel drive MX-5 stays relatively benign, if a little ragged. Whereas, be a little aggressive in the mid-engined A110 – with its ballast (the engine) all tall and heavy right behind your shoulders – it feels very edgy and, without the all usual sports car chassis tools, pretty tricky to manage.
There are enough people in support of the Alpine to suggest that I am in fact totally wrong about the A110 and that the problem is me.
Maybe I need to calm down, take things a bit more steady, take a sign-off-at-midday sort of attitude, just be more French and I’ll start to understand the A110.