The French manufacturer returns to the mid-engine sports car segment. It’s a serious contender against the Porsche Cayman and Alfa Romeo 4C, and should be on your list when searching for the perfect two-seater.
There aren’t many days that you wake up pinching yourself, knowing that in less than two hours, you’ll have the keys to the newest competition in the mid-engine sports car segment.
The night before, I was watching videos and reading up about this mysterious French sports car, trying to wrap my head around what exactly Renault set out to achieve by reviving its sports car subsidiary.
My time for contemplation has ended, as I find myself driving through the heart of Sydney, in an Alpine Blue A110. This particular car is the Alpine Australian Première Édition, optioned with stunning silver metallic wheels, and Alpine – Brembo brakes, featuring matching blue callipers. If you’re going to order an A110, just get this spec, nothing looks better, or is more suitable for this car.
Driving through Alexandria and Sydney’s CBD, I am quickly reminded of the rough surfacing of these roads and having to navigate through busy lanes. I was expecting this to be a bit of a challenge whilst driving a mid-engine sports car, that was capable of doing 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds, producing 185kW and 320Nm of torque. I was under the impression we’d be experiencing a handful of a car, like the Alfa Romeo 4C (which I had the pleasure of driving over 24 hours in Canberra), since this Alpine only weighs around 1,100kg.
The complete opposite was true. Alpine has nailed the everyday driving characteristics that one would expect from a road car, whilst not taking away from the experience that is, having a racy 1.8L 4 cylinder behind your head. Taking control of the car’s three driving modes, normal, sport and track (via the bright red sport button located conveniently on the wheel), can turn this car into a relaxed road car, or an eager lightweight monster of a performance car.
Ingress and egress were seamless, even though this car was fitted with specially constructed bucket seats, weighing around 13kg each. The interior is simple, yet refined. It’s not as well fitted as the Cayman’s interior, but it sure is a hell of a lot more exciting than that.
I adore the use of a digital display in the Alpine, changing to suit the appropriate use of the sport button. Where normal mode gave you mundane but important everyday driving information, and track set you up with opposing rev counters that met in the middle the closer you reached redline, prompting you to shift, and be rewarded with a laughably loud exhaust ‘pop’.
The exterior is one of the main reasons this car turns so many heads and evokes a sense of emotion that is greater than that of the 4C and the Cayman. Lots of little design features that hark back to the original A110, such as the bonnet veins, front lights, rear air scoops and side profile. You can’t help but feel as if you’re channelling the legend in motorsports that was the original A110, all accented by the use of the stunning blue.
The only things that give this car a little less flair than the 4C is the engine bay and the absence of dramatic Italian styling. The engine sits right behind your head, so you naturally want to see a beautifully finished engine bay under the glass that protects it, similar to a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Instead, you are greeted with a plain looking engine cover, adoring the signature Alpine ‘A’. Taking after the Cayman, this is quite practical to improve visibility (which is great for a mid-engine sports car), so a little flair for practicality isn’t the worst thing in the world. At least you get a visible engine bay, unlike the Cayman.
For a car that weighs as little as it does, it feels far more planted than the 4C. The use of power-steering and adaptive suspension aids in this feeling, as you progress through the three driving modes. Boot space is pretty ‘meh’, I couldn’t fit my relatively small camera bags in the front ‘frunk’, but thanks to an even smaller, but slightly deeper rear boot, I was able to fit all of my equipment. Fuel usage is next level for a car like this, as fuel gets more expensive, its cars like the Alpine that will last longer on our roads, as a whole day of spirited driving only saw a slight dip in the fuel needle from ‘Full’.
The lift-off ‘burbles’ and ‘pops and bangs’ are what makes this car feel alive. Compare this to the 4C, it is somewhat more emotional, where the 4C relied more upon climbing the rev range and quick shifts to get more sound out of it, the Alpine was able to be quite entertaining at more ‘sensible’ speeds. Shifting with column mounted aluminium paddles made the car feel a lot more fun, with a reliable ‘click’ every-time you upshifted or downshifted. Paired with the dual clutch transmission, whether you’re negotiating bumper to bumper traffic, or hitting the track, you’re greeted with slick, smooth and responsive shifts, that only add to the experience.
Overall, this car ticks a lot of boxes, it’s fun to drive, it looks like a proper sports car, you can clear most speed bumps, driveways and potholes, and most importantly, it does not demand your full attention for the entire time you are driving it.
The Alpine A110 takes the excitement and engagement that is the 4C, sprinkles some refinements and practicabilities, without feeling too insulated like the Cayman, and bring this recipe together to form what might be one of the most enjoyable sports cars that $100,000 AUD can buy.
There is no substitute for weight, and ultimately you want to drive something that is somewhat usable, but not entirely compromising. I know what car will be on my list when searching for the ‘right’ sports car in the near future.
You can follow Cameron here at Hunter and Bligh or by subscribing to ‘Discovercars’ on YouTube and following him on Instagram and Facebook at @discovercars, for sneak peeks and other car content.