Speed Week 2020: Alpine A110S vs BMW M2 CS
Our favourite RWD coupes have lost weight and gained power. Must be paradise?
You’re right to be cynical about this pair of honed, hardened Speed Week veterans. Back in 2017, the BMW M2 Competition was a finalist in our horsepower extravaganza. The Alpine A110 won the whole shebang, pickling us in its cocktail of perfectly balanced small size, low weight, and Goldilocks power. Three years on, both have morphed into faster, stiffer, steeply priced evolutions that don’t seem to add up.
The M2 CS isn’t a stripped club special. The good work done weaving the roof and bonnet from carbon fibre is undone by heftier uprated cooling beneath that new hood vent and standard adaptive suspension. You still get back seats, heated front chairs, aircon, and a hi-fi, though the armrest is deleted, to save 0.01 kilos. You’re spending £23,000 more than the elbow friendly M2 Comp, but there’s nowhere to charge your phone.
Adding an ‘S’ to an A110 lifts the price by £10,000, but this flagship sports car slips through your gaze like a tadpole swimming in WD40. It’s got none of the M2’s sinister Gallagher brother swagger.
No, the A110S’s devil is in the hidden details. Another 40bhp has been found lurking somewhere in the gargly turbo’d 1.8. The brakes have swollen in response, and Dieppe’s been busy nerding about with the suspension. No modes here, but the springs are 50 per cent stiffer, the anti-roll bars are 100 per cent firmer, and the whole car rides four, yes four, millimetres lower. The wheels, despite wider tyres, also save a few precious kilos.
The Alpine’s probably the best car here to learn Anglesey in – it’s a car that thrives off flow, linking up corners and resisting greedy gobs of throttle. The ‘S’ doubles down on that sense you’re driving a turbocharged water boatman, with flatter cornering and more faith the front end will bite.
It’s still got that unmistakeable Alpine magic to it, that sense the heaviest bit of the car is in fact the driver, not the engine, but you’ve just got more grip to exploit more of the time. Properly fast now, too. In the standard Alpine, you wait for the straights to end so you can get stuck into the next bend. The S chomps down the Roman bits in a hurry.
But every braking zone ends up strafed with flashes from the hazard lights. I still feel like I’m sat too high. The noise isn’t any throatier. There’s less lean than the standard car, and I miss it. This is less nerve-wracking in faster corners. Better. And yet somehow not.
This is what’s confusing about the S. It’s a steelier eyed faster version of a car we loved precisely because speed was the lowest of its priorities. Lordy-lord it’s quick now, but once that urgency’s been digested and tamed, there doesn’t seem to be a lot else to explore. It never quite outruns that sense of ‘I’d be just as happy in the standard car right now’.
Back in the garage, swapping into the M2 is a lesson in ‘chunky’. The door handle, the door itself, the horribly girthy steering wheel, the hefty seats... everything is just denser, more thickset. And it should be more numb than the Alpine. But it’s not – it’s gregarious, silly and more exciting. The CS is the car I keep coming back to, come rain or more rain. I like how it punches the twin-clutch shifts in even at pit lane speeds. I like the gruff, semi-industrial noise and the cocooning sense of being sat low in the car’s chassis.
Most of all, I love M Dynamic mode. This is the PG-13 traction control setting. It’s a poor man’s Ferrari side slip control, and it’s genius. Grab an armful of opposite lock one way into the complex, crack a grin, then let it swing back the other way, knowing the guardian angel of ones and zeros is cradling you safely in its motherboard. The CS’s pointier front end improves it over the M2 Comp, and suddenly, a short-wheelbase, torquefest driftmonger isn’t a spiky liability. It wants to be friends.
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The price doesn’t make sense. The spec isn’t the all-time great M car hero we deserved. But it made me laugh out loud so much more, I completely forgot to be cynical, and didn’t miss the armrest either.
A huge thank you to Esso for supplying us with a few barrels of their Synergy Supreme+ 99 fuel to keep our Speed Week contenders topped up on the track