Progress report: New Alpine A110 vs old Alpine A110
The new Alpine is retro design done properly. Time to meet its flyweight inspiration
Any adult who’s attempted to commandeer one of the kids’ ride-ons in Toys’R’Us (RIP) will experience a sense of déjà vu as they squeeze their limbs into a classic Alpine and then attempt to drive the thing.
The process of climbing aboard is not dignified. Think of a determined delivery driver of an unnamed online retailer, desperately trying to squeeze a parcel through your letterbox that really ought not to fit, jemmying it this way and that until it bursts through, no longer its original shape. Once you’ve finally worked out how to squeeze yourself into the A110’s cabin, you are that lightly beaten up parcel.
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Once aboard, you're greeted by a delightfully sized wheel and some deeply evocative Sabelt harnesses, but the pedals seem to reside somewhere in the middle of the dashboard and it’ll take concerted effort – and dinky shoes – to ensure you use them all independently rather than clumsily together as one. But my god, does the A110 reward effort.
It came in numerous specs across its 15-year production run, this end-of-line Berlinette 1600 SX quoting a modest 93bhp compared to the 248bhp of today’s turbocharged A110. With a slightly tricky five-speed manual rather than a new-fangled seven-speed paddleshift auto it’s a considerably harder car to extract speed from, but don’t go presuming it feels slow. With negligible mass and a driving position akin to a bobsled, it’s plenty fast enough.
It’s really short geared, so you’ll be extracting nearly every rev from all of its ratios on the road. Think that sounds immoral? At the exact point your conscience takes over - the speed feels too much and you ease off - you’ll look down and realise you’re doing 60mph. Or thereabouts. Try the same thing in its modern-day equivalent and the number will be unprintable.Advertisement - Page continues below
There’s similar modesty to its grip levels, too. On weeny 13in wheels and with such tiny dimensions (it really does feel like four-fifths-scale model) every little flick of the wheel has a profound effect on the car’s trajectory. You need to brace your hands over bumpy roads if the flyweight Berlinette isn’t to be bounced right off course and save gearchanges – and their removal of one hand from the wheel – for respites from the action. Yet if you respond to this car’s physicality with your own, it’s an absolute riot to drive.
An intense, hot, sweaty riot where your left leg will cramp almost immediately, mind. But all the benefits of its meagre 790kg weight come bubbling to the fore; I’ve never driven a Seventies car and come away impressed by the brakes, but with so little metal to slow they bite hard.
Every component encourages proper commitment and it’s an absolute joy to take by the scruff of its neck. Long distances would be hellish in here, but a balls-out stage of the Monte Carlo rally? I can’t think of anything better.
You’ll have seen just about every car journalist declare the new A110 a breath of fresh air and a paragon for modern lightweighting, but parked beside its 300kg-lighter ancestor it suddenly seems a bit lardy and tech-laden.
Relatively speaking, of course. It’s still a glorious exemplar for keeping cars skinny and simple, and a visit to see its granddad also gives credibility to its styling flourishes, even if it’s taken functional little scoops and vents from the old rear-engined car and blanked them off now its four-cylinder sits a bit further forward.
It’s miles comfier, of course. And easier to climb in and out of. While the exterior styling is flagrantly influenced by the original, its interior feels much more unique, the only real nod to the past being the layout of its digital dials in Normal mode (but not Sport or Race, oddly).
That means there’s tons of room for all shapes and sizes and fancy climate control ensures there’s none of its forebear’s suffocating heat. No cramp in your left ankle, either, as there’s a chasm of space in the footwell where a clutch pedal would normally be.Advertisement - Page continues below
It may be easier to live with, but it’s no less fun on a great piece of road. It skips merrily over surfaces just like the Berlinette, only with much less flightiness to its reactions. It’s one of the very best sports cars currently on sale, in fact, and its seven gears are so short and punchy, I never once pined for an old-fashioned manual. Seriously.
Selling a brand-new sports car for fifty grand is punchy, and you’ve not only the Porsche Cayman to fight these days, but a Toyota Supra, BMW M2 and even super hatches like the Mercedes-AMG A45. Taking them on with less than 250bhp and the same touchscreen as a Suzuki Jimny would be borderline foolish if the A110 didn’t underscore those ‘quirks’ with one of the very best chassis on sale.Advertisement - Page continues below
It really is sublime to drive, and while I don’t think you’ll ever pine for more power – it weighs as much as a Clio – plenty of people are tuning them up these days. Even Alpine itself.
The new A110 stirs up all the commitment of its forebear, but requires none of the compromise. You’ll still relish attacking a stage of the Monte, then, only this time you’ll happily drive all the way through France to get there.
Alpine A110 Berlinette 1600 SX (1976)
Engine: 1647cc 4cyl turbo, 93bhp, 94lb ft
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph in 7.5secs (est), 121mph top speed
Price (now): £90,000 (plus!)
Alpine A110 Premiere Edition (2018)
Engine: 1798cc 4cyl turbo, 249bhp, 236lb ft
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.5secs, 155mph top speed