Opinion: has Alpine done enough to the ‘new’ A110 to battle the Lotus Emira? | Top Gear
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Opinion: has Alpine done enough to the ‘new’ A110 to battle the Lotus Emira?

Our beloved French sports car has had a refresh, but that new Lotus casts a big shadow...

Published: 29 Mar 2022

I drove the ‘new’ Alpine A110 and I absolutely loved it. Course I did. Mechanically, it’s pretty much exactly the same as it was when it won Top Gear’s Performance Car of the Year in 2018, and our overall Car of the Year crown. 

It’s still a lightweight tonic. A rolling demonstration of how modern cars can still look pretty. And be well-packaged. Lightweight. And how you can have way more fun with 250bhp than 2,000bhp.

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But it’s not actually changed much at all. The headlines are a revised touchscreen with a low-rent Renault skin – and much more useful Apple and Android phone mirroring at last – a slightly garish aero kit (that adds about 150kg of downforce to a car that’s wonderful precisely because it’s light on its feet) and stickier Michelin tyres. Oh, and a fetching shade of orange. 

The A110S is now up to 300bhp, as is the poshed-up GT trim level. The standard A110 stays at 248bhp and is none the worse for it. It’s the one I’d have without hesitation. The base price is now, give or take a tank of fuel, £50,000.

And my fear is this fabulous but ultimately very niche sports car (Alpine shifts about 2,100 a year) is about to have what little market share it controls gobbled up by the incoming Lotus Emira. Firstly, because the Lotus is The Shiny New Thing. Just like the Alpine was in 2018.

Secondly, the Lotus is going to offer stuff the A110 can’t. Like a V6. A manual gearbox. Later on the Emira will feature a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and DCT paddleshift gearbox, as per the A110. 

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The French car’s powertrain comes from a Renault Megane. It’s fit for purpose, but I’m really excited by the prospect of a Lotus chassis containing a fiery AMG four-pot engine and a Lotus-developed twin-clutch ‘box. 

The option of DIY gears and a big engine will do it for the old-skool enthusiast. What of the floating voters? The people who just want An Sports Car? Well, the Lotus has a more spacious cabin, a bigger boot, and its parts-bin switchgear and buttons come from a Volvo, not a Renault. I’m not sure where exactly you’ll buy the Lotus from as they have fewer dealers than Rich Energy, but I bet it won’t be a Renault showroom stuffed with Capturs. 

To go for the Alpine, you’re going to have to really buy into the fact it’s small inside because it’s light. That it has a small engine because it’s light. Every single decision made in the design and manufacture of that car was taken to keep the weight as low as possible – and prove where the car industry is going wrong. Ironic, don’t you think, that a new Lotus – the quintessential lightweight car brand – is going to be 100s of kilos heavier than the 1.1-tonne A110 turbo-tadpole?

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Alpine doesn’t have the budget or the sales clout to justify a roadster, or a bigger engine. Frankly, there isn’t even a suitable engine across the entire Renault-Nissan alliance, unless someone mad fancies plumbing in a Nissan GT-R’s bi-turbo V6. Hardly in keeping with the featherweight ethos, eh?

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So the A110 has to tread water with its natty new wheels and attractive paint, and hope enough buyers give it the benefit of the doubt. If they do, they’ll still end up with a world-class sports car. 

The A110 is still – and always will be – a joy. But I can’t help thinking that when the Emira hype dies down and the First Editions are all sold – just as Alpine’s 1955 Premiere Editions flew out of showrooms – the heavier Lotus and its more crowd-pleasing spec will be the bigger draw. Porsche Cayman? Nah, that’s on its way out and will return fully electric.

One final thought: don’t forget Alpine and Lotus are soon to go head-to-head not just with sports cars, but also lock horns with respective electric SUVs – far more critical for filling the company bank account. And what will the profits be invested in? An electric sports car, co-developed by Alpine and Lotus. Small world…

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