Alpine A110R… do we take it R means racing?
Not exactly. Although it's good for racetracks. Alpine says this is the version of the A110 that's optimised for track driving, but it's still supposed to be OK on the road.
On the spectrum of such cars, you'll be thinking about the Porsche Cayman GT4, or some of the more hardcore versions of the now-deceased Lotus Exige.
Quite. Serious efforts have been put into the A110R. Innovative tech has been brought to bear for the chassis, aerodynamics and weight-saving. But the engineers are clear: it's set-up to be fun, not to chase the final tenths.
The price is certainly serious: £89,990.
What did they do?
The aero changes include a new front splitter, a bonnet that channels air into the low-pressure zone ahead of the screen, side skirts to keep air from washing into the underfloor. The rear spoiler to a more effective position.
The effect is to increase rear downforce versus the A110S, helping stability in quick corners. But there's actually less front downforce versus the A110S, because the car can rely on extra front grip at all speeds via the tyre and suspension changes.
All those aero parts are made of carbonfibre, keeping them light. So's the roof and even the panel that replaces the back window. So the A110R wears a black visor over the whole upper body, like a pair of wraparound shades. The seats too are ultra-light jobs with an all-carbonfibre shell.
Another conspicuous carbonfibre swap-out are the wheels. They're made via a new process, weaving the fibres in a 3D loom. It's claimed to cut the danger of crack propagation that can make other carbonfibre wheels shatter-prone. Their covers are standard flat-weave pre-preg, and you'll see they're not all the same. The front ones aid brake cooling and the rears cut drag.
The suspension has firmer springs and specialised dampers, and runs on semi-slick Michelin PS Cup 2 tyres. The ride height and damping is adjustable: plenty of fiddling fun when you're waiting your turn at a track day.
And what didn't they do?
Most conspicuously, they didn't raise the power. It stays at 300bhp, as per the A110S. Though the engineers and marketers know perfectly well non-factory chippers will pep that up for you. The gear ratios don't change either, but even so it'll get to 62mph in 3.9 seconds, which I'd call quick enough. Same as a Cayman GT4 PDK actually.
But the exhaust is fruitier-sounding than the A110S's and most engine-bay acoustic insulation has been evicted, again in the quest for lightness.
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So how light?
It's 1,082kg, which isn't a big cut under the base car, but then that was already pretty feathery thanks to its small size and aluminium structure. The Cayman GT4 is 1,495kg (DIN) as a PDK, which needs another 120bhp to match this Alpine's acceleration.
Does the performance justify the ninety grand then?
Perhaps not wholly so: the A110R talents are elsewhere. But the powertrain certainly doesn't let the car down. Its delivery feels almost naturally aspirated, as you get no big turbo-thump in the mid-ranges. Instead it's a steady build-up of surge as the revs rise. You hear very little mechanical thrash, and the exhaust is fruity and baritone, strong but not loud.
The seven-speed DCT gets its work done smartly, and the ratios, though unaltered from the A110S, are short enough to let the engine do its best.
So what does justify the R?
The steering and the chassis communication. The cat-like agility. The precision. The sheer fun of aiming it at a sequence of corners. I suspect the engineers didn't care too much about extracting the last tenth out of a lap time. What matters is the enjoyment from that lap.
The steering is just gorgeous, sharp but not too quick or nervous. The front end peels into a corner with a smidge of understeer, and the wheel rim lets you know it all, every little variation in the road surface and its effect on the grip. It's ultra-progressive when you shift the balance on the throttle. You feel it all, long before the grip actually melts away.
At speed, there's loads of reassurance and stability. That'll be the downforce at work. It also means you're happy to lean really hard on the brakes.
The suspension doesn't clamp the body too hard into the surface. It breathes a little, which helps the communication. An Alpine, even this most hardcore of Alpines, doesn't need rock-hard springs and solid dampers because it's so light.
To be fair we drove it in the cold, when the Cup 2 tyres probably weren't at their stickiest, but I hope when they do get warm the car won't lose that lovely supple roll-off from grip to slip.
And on the road?
Ah, there's a thing. You might imagine a car so focussed it does without a rear window will be pretty hard to live with. Yet it's actually pretty civilised. It doesn't have horrid transmission rattles or exhaust resonances. Transmission shunt isn't an issue. The suspension is generally pretty quiet – it's not solid-jointed. It sits straight and true on a motorway. It has a rear camera and Apple CarPlay and it retains its front and rear boot space.
Our biggest worry was that the suspension would be too hard, and that it'd lose that magical fluency and flow that marks out the base A110. Sure it's firmer, and sure as a purely road car we'd still have the 250bhp A110 base car or the 300bhp A110GT. Mind you the R's steering is even more precise, which is delicious on the road as well as track.
Anyway if your thing is track days, the A110R doesn't kill you the rest of the time. It still manages to cover the ground with grace and poetry. The car it most reminded me of is the McLaren 570S, just less powerful. Or most of all, an Alfa 4C done right.
So yeah, you could still use it as a shopping car. Only thing is, by the time you get the five-point harness done up, you'll have forgotten what it was you needed. Never mind, just go for an aimless drive instead.