Wonderful news – VW hasn’t given up on the estate car just yet
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£56,545 when new
A quicker Alpine. I presume it’s excellent. Logic would dictate so. And I’m one of those people who’d default to the fastest, hardest version of whatever car they’re buying because I’d otherwise worry about what I was missing out on. Even in cars where conventional wisdom suggests you’ll be perfectly happy keeping it simple: V8 vs V10 in the original Audi R8, or Sport vs Cup with the current Renault Megane RS, for instance. Perhaps not here, though. The Alpine A110 snared so many awards and racked up so much positivity last year because it was different. The slower, softer performance car we’d all secretly been crying out for, one that was slinky enough to thread down the smallest of lanes and modestly powered enough that you could rev out several of its gears without throwing your morals out of the window. There’s potential for the A110S to completely scupper the wondrous balance it struck. What’s new, then? Finest anorak on if you want to spot one of these out on the road. There’s no wing glued to the back and the wheels haven’t swelled to teeth-shattering size. The A110’s subtly retro vibe has been maintained, with a smidgen of extra assertion thanks to black badging in place of chrome, a new wheel design and a 4mm drop in ride height.
The latter accompanies 50 per cent stiffer suspension springs and 100 per cent stiffer anti-roll bars, while the turbocharger’s boost pressure is up 0.4bar to yield another 40bhp from Renault’s 1.8-litre turbo four, the A110S’s outputs now 288bhp and 236lb ft. Performance is only marginally better; the 0-62mph time is 0.1sec quicker, at 4.4secs, while the top speed is up slightly at 162mph. The optional Brembo brakes from the base A110 are standard here. As standard it weighs more than stock, at 1,114kg, but by speccing an optional carbon roof (£2,208) and delicate Fuchs forged alloy wheels (£936) you can slice a modest 7kg from that. Given the base price is up almost ten grand on the cheapest A110 (the S costing a touch over £56,000), that might not seem like the best value for money. It’s hardly a GT3 RS, then… Nope, and while Alpine wants to appear a separate entity to RenaultSport, the gap between A110 and A110S – both on paper and in reality – feels similar to the one between Sport and Cup chassis options on that Megane. The core character of the car is the same, but the way it goes about its business has suddenly gained a heap of extra focus and precision. So we still have a car that’s petite enough to encourage quite a lot of pace on tight country roads. The interior remains beautifully simple with widescreen visibility, a neatly sized steering wheel and tactile paddleshifters. The flyweight Sabelt seats are just superb. Storage space continues to be at an extreme premium, but otherwise the inside of an A110 is an incredibly feelgood place to be right from the off.
And after some time? Your grin will be even wider. It’s just a wonderfully judged road car, even with the tangible extra stiffness the S badge brings. It’s still reasonably supple – on European roads at least – and while the unique light-footedness of the standard car has been traded for a more conventionally firm set-up, this is marvellous in its own way. Bumps are communicated more forcefully but they hardly upset the A110S’s balance and you don’t have to suddenly make allowances for the surface beneath you. Full judgement when we get one in Britain, though. The steering feels sharper than before and while there’s more grip here from wider Michelin tyres, there’s still a delightful amount of movement on offer from a car with limits that still sit within road speeds. Hurrah! The S simply broadens the A110’s remit, answering the criticisms of anyone not convinced by the super soft nature of the base car. In short, this is yet another plausible reason to avoid a four-cylinder Porsche Cayman. Does it feel much quicker? It’s not night and day faster, but an intensity and aggression towards the top of the little 1.8’s rev range that’s absent in the standard car. There’s more reason to hang onto each gear and nudge the 6750rpm limit, though the car will only leave upchanges entirely in your hands if you’re in Track mode, which also loosens the stability control’s shackles. As in the stock car, this is a seven-speed twin clutch transmission that’s so sharp and tactile, you’ll simply never pine for a manual, no matter how much it might suit a car this size. High praise, given how duff RenaultSport’s first paddleshifter felt six years ago on the Clio RS. How is it on track? Like its less powerful sibling, the A110S is a car you kid yourself you’ll build up to, before – one corner in – concluding it’s so transparent and malleable that you’ll ramp it straight up to Track mode and turn the electronic nannies off. Body roll has been minimised and its limits are higher, so anyone wanting truly slapstick slides might be better in the standard car, but there’s still a riotous sense of humour only marginally buried beneath its slightly more serious skin. Whereas the A110 can flamboyantly oversteer merely on turn in, the S needs more provocation. Still not on the throttle alone, though; you’ll need to be braking heavily into turns or throwing it around a bit to break traction at the rear. All told, the A110S better balances speed and silliness and is evidently a more focused car, but there’s margin for further fine tuning and another layer or two of stiffness and seriousness. There’s still room for an A110RS or suchlike, in short. The verdict? Alpine has strengthened a lot of its car’s ingredients but not messed with the recipe. So we’re still dealing with one of the best-judged real-world performance cars currently on sale (well, as real-world as £56k can be) just one with more nous and likely a fiddlier ride when we get to try it on UK roads. If you want simple, accessible fun and a superlative road car, though, the base Alpine hasn’t been outshone and costs almost ten grand less if you can be shy with the options list. I’ll take the S then, please. Score: 9/10