If you’re a regular Octane reader, you’ll probably know all about Alpine. Founded by Jean Rédélé in 1955; rallied to a 1-2-3 finish on the 1971 Monte; took the first ever World Rally Championship, in 1973; bought out by Renault that same year; foundered with the glorious (if slightly odd) A610 in 1995. And yep, the A110 (1962 to 1977) was The One.
But consider this. The A110 was never sold in the UK. And the Alpines that made it here (fabulously sleek GTA and the A610 that was developed from it) were badged as Renaults because PSA still owned the name. Blame those rattly Talbots.
So Alpine – newly revived and still part of Groupe Renault – might have a task persuading Porsche Cayman types to part with similar money for the new A110. Built by a company they’ve never heard of. But should you be in the market for a £50,000 sports car, you should certainly step this way. Groupe Renault or not, there is much that’s bespoke about this little car. And we don’t say ‘little’ in a derogatory way. The A110 weighs only a bit more than a tonne, it will sell in exclusive numbers (the Dieppe factory has a 10,000 annual capacity and also builds the Clio RS), offers 249bhp from its 1.8-litre turbo four, and promises 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds, plus a top speed electronically limited to 156mph (250km/h). Limited why? Because a higher top speed would have necessitated hefty active aero. And that’s a clue to the whole ethos of this car.
Rather as McLaren did with the F1, Alpine has chased down every single kilogramme. It has a bespoke bonded and riveted aluminium structure, and lightweight aluminium panels too. The Brembo brakes are specially developed and incorporate the parking function in the rear calipers. Seats are lightweight fixed buckets by Sabelt. Forged wheels are by Fuchs. Even the Focal loudspeakers employ molybdenum magnets and feature linen-fibre cones, so they weigh half as much as conventional ones.
The A110 also looks like an A110. And that’s important for a marque relaunching after 22 years in the grave. ‘It’s my mission to establish Alpine as a permanent fixture in the sports car segment,’ says MD Michael van der Sande. ‘This car is the bridge between the past and the future. If it fails, there’s no reason for Alpine to exist.’ Yet he talks of BMW’s Mini as a brand model. So expect more. And this from a car boss who’s a car guy: he owns an Alfa ES30 SZ and built his own Caterham 7.
Judging by the number of people who flashed, beeped, waved and even got out at traffic lights to video Octane’s test car, Provence alone could keep the disinterred Alpine afloat. Those people will be ecstatic to learn that this car is an absolute belter.
Right from the off it feels a little different. Sure, it’s light, but it’s also supple and rather refined. The steering, despite an electric rack, feels organic, alert and hyper-accurate. Its balance is exquisite. There’s oodles of torque. The gurgle from the exhaust is purest Alpine in an aural bottle. And all this in the first few hundred yards.
It feels as though Alpine’s engineers have deliberated over and tweaked every single dynamic aspect, then gone back and thought a bit more. They talk like geeks (in a good way). Roll is not the enemy. And who needs adjustable damping when you get the geometry and weight distribution exactly right? There’s no manual trans either, Alpine preferring to configure a dual-clutch Getrag that most buyers would plump for, and not to offer a compromised manual option.
On these twisting Provence roads, you soon become addicted to the way in which the nose sniffs out the apex while the rear adjusts perfectly. Quit the traction control and you can play bawdier tunes with that attitude, but if you like to drive with precision rather than heroics, this is equally the perfect tool. And it never feels as though it’s nailing you to the road surface in the way of German rivals; nor does it patter, chatter and rattle like the Norwich alternative. Instead it glides.
And the A110 is quick, naturally for a power-to-weight ratio so close to 250bhp per tonne: three figures spool-up all too easily. Yes, it could handle more power, and doubtless will in months to come. Perfection, then? Almost. If we’re picking nits, some of the plastic trim inside is too Clio. Disregard the tuned exhaust histrionics and the engine (from the next Megane RS) is a bit 2D in its nasal whine. And it costs nearly twice Subaru BRZ money…
Yet it’s so much more special. Cayman special? For those who want something rather more unexpected, definitely. You could spend serious time learning to get the most from the Alpine A110. And you’d love every single second.
Left New A110 is a modern reinterpretation of the original – in every respect. And it drives unlike anything else on today’s market.