Alpine A110S: after 7,000 miles, here's what bad about it, and what's *so* good
I’d been wanting to run an Alpine A110 since I first drove one five years ago. I love clever, lightweight cars, and this remains the best example of the virtuous circle of engineering on sale today. It’s easy to make very light sports cars if you do away with habitability, but as Lotus has found with the Emira, if you inject some daily comforts, the weight spirals. The Lotus is 300kg heavier than the Alpine. It’s no better equipped, no more refined or comfortable, and not much quicker.
I say this to make the point that weight influences every aspect of this car and every interaction with it. Almost entirely for the good. So let’s start, after 7,000 miles of driving, with the bad. It gets buffeted by strong crosswinds and that can be unnerving. It’s not as fuel efficient as I expected. I anticipated 37mpg all day long from the 1.8-litre turbo, but the reality was more like 32. The twin load bays are both poorly shaped and very small. Yes, the marketing bumpf says flight cases fit in the front, but what about full bags for life? Those don’t fit anywhere other than the passenger’s footwell. Supermarket shops then, have to be unpacked into the car, and then repacked to get into the house. Hassle. Thank god for CarPlay, because that really took the sting out of the otherwise awkward infotainment. I never did fully figure out the hifi’s fingertip controls.
The good stuff far outweighs the bad, and it starts with coming out to the car every morning and getting in something low, small and lovely to look at. The Sabelt seats could do with a little more underthigh support for me, but otherwise are simply wonderful, and picking through traffic in something so deft, nimble and slim is a joy. I love introducing the Alpine to people. It’s cool and rare and manages to look both quirky and intelligent.
People are well disposed to it because the A110 is not aggressive. And it’s the same on the road, it doesn’t raise hackles. It’s got a strong light signature so people notice it yet they’re happy to pull over and let it past. It’s also a riposte to everyone who thinks the future is a 2.5-tonne EV, because none of them – not one – is anything like as considerately designed and engineered as this.
And to drive it fits your mood rather than the other way round. You want to rag it senseless? It’s there for you, slicing around corners. Just mooching into work? It won’t intrude, the ride is light and delicate, the gearbox unobtrusive. What it does best is carry speed without appearing to put any effort in. It’s a hands-in-pockets-whistler, completely nonchalant.
It was this I enjoyed most about it, because it came across as a giant killer. In Stig’s hands it was faster around Dunsfold than an 850bhp supercharged Mustang V8, yet it was the way it effortlessly flitted along B-roads that made it so unlike anything else. It glides where others stomp, slipping over ruined roads without being deflected or pulled around. Cayman, Emira, Supra, M2 – on a good road they all play second fiddle to this. I’ve had some of my most memorable ever drives in this, some of them on unremarkable roads.
The turbo engine isn’t scintillating company, but it is effective. The key question is whether you need the S over the standard A110. After all it’s only another 50bhp (no more torque) and stiffer suspension for an extra £10,000. When the S came out I was definite on this: don’t have it, stick to the base car. But after eight months I no longer think I’m driving the ‘wrong’ Alpine. I’ve grown to like the slightly more focused edge.
I spent time in the regular car again as a comparison (there’s a pic of a South Beach edition in the gallery) and didn’t love or admire it any more than my S. If it was me that’s still the car I’d have because I don’t necessarily want the carbon pack and rear wing, but I do want the £10,000 saving. While I’m on the subject though: limited edition models. Oh dear Alpine, you seem to have slipped straight into Mazda MX-5 mode: car’s been around a while, sales aren’t that strong, best do some wacky colours. Still at least they haven’t named one after an F1 driver who no longer races for the team… Oh.
I’m disappointed for Alpine that it hasn’t sold better, but grateful to have been driving something so rare. British sports car buyers – to be fair almost all sports car buyers – are a conservative bunch, wary of new brands, wary of residuals and image and, well, buying anything non-German. Me? I’ve hunted on the classifieds for nearly new ones, and the truth is… they hold their value brilliantly. I was assuming I’d be able to pick one up for £30,000 by now, but they’re all well over £40k. Which has me comparing them against Audi R8 V8s and 3.4-litre natasp Cayman 981s. Cor, that’s a tempting line-up. Used car group test ahoy.
The trouble for the Alpine is that it feels like a junior entry-level sports car, and the cabin isn’t special enough. Too many Renault-grade plastics and switches. And don’t get me started on the hopeless storage. So, despite knowing it would be the easiest - and certainly the cheapest – of those three to run, it would also probably be the one I chose last.
But I treasure the stuff I’ve done in this car. Taking it over to Ireland to meet James Deane’s 900bhp BMW drift machine, carrying Look bikes in a celebration of French-ness, watching Stig scamper around Dunsfold, slicing Wales wide open on an early Sunday morning drive. But mainly it was the simple pleasure of driving a car that entertains constantly without you having to do anything. A car so communicative and poised. So undemanding and rewarding. And it was perfectly reliable. Nothing has fallen off or gone wrong. Of all the cars I’ve run, only the GR Yaris and Ariel Nomad were more pure fun than this, and both were a lot more flawed to live with.
It's a blissful device, the A110, and these few months have only reinforced that. If you’re tempted or swaying or interested, please go and drive one. Me? My time is up, I’m off to get in a two tonne plus EV. Gah.