THE PETROL HEAD Jethro Bovingdon
God, I’ve been a miserable git of late. Sorry about that. This month, let’s look at things that can make us happy: great cars that are currently out of reach but one day will be the modern classics we’ll all be hunting down in the classifieds. In the last year alone there’s been at least one car I’d call an instant classic. Hot hatch fans (myself included) have been well-served with the wild-looking but extremely sophisticated Honda Civic Type Rand the superb Fiesta ST. The Type R pushes performance to new levels on a racetrack, but has an amazing breadth of abilities and rides with the fluency that’s essential for this type of car. Ford, typically, gets to the root of simple driving fun with the wonderfully honed ST. Both are dazzlingly good, pretty affordable and seriously useable.
Of course, fast Fords and focused Japanese machinery have long had a strong fan following, but there are new players too. The Hyundai i30 N lacks the polish of the Honda but makes up for it with pure enthusiasm, character and a seductive driving experience. As rivals get evermore refined and try to be all things to all people at all times, the i30 N’s singular character really stands out. It always seems to have its sleeves rolled up ready for a scrap.
Then there’s the Kia Stinger GT S, a 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 with 365bhp, rear wheel drive, 168mph, elegant styling, sweet steering, fantastic balance and a relaxed and effortless gait. The body control is a bit lacking but it can’t take the shine from the Stinger. Hopefully it’ll depreciate like mad. Like the Kia, the instant classic pictured is another left-fielder. It stands head and shoulders above the rest thanks to its rediscovery of forgotten qualities. It’s small, light, and engineered not to hit performance metrics but to entertain the driver. I’m talking, of course, about the new Alpine A110. This thing is beyond brilliant, a truly special little car devised and developed by people in love with driving. I haven’t met the team behind the A110, but I’ll bet not many of them care overmuch about in-car connectivity or WiFi hotspots. While the mainstream manufacturers tie themselves in knots with highly integrated ‘mobility solutions’, you get the impression Alpine just tried to build a bloody good sportscar. They nailed it.
In many ways, driving the A110 is like stepping back in time. There’s such clarity to the driving experience. It’s small and light, so despite its very supple set-up it’s incredibly agile and responds with immediacy. The steering is light and yet Somehow provides total confidence to quickly push the chassis pretty hard. When you do that you’ll discover a playful, malleable balance tied into some proper grip and aggression.
That’s the clever thing about the A110. Lots has been made of it prioritising handling over grip and its throwback soft spring rates, but few have talked about how it marries an old-school sensibility with thoroughly modern performance. The 1.8-litre turbocharged ‘four’ is really strong, there’s loads of grip and it feels like it could be driven hard for hours on end without even sweating. Okay, so it’s lacking a manual ‘box (sob) but the dual-clutch ‘box is great and fits the economy of effort that seems to characterise the A110’swayof doing things.
I talked recently a bout the growing Fascination with ‘re-imagined’ cars like Singer-modified 911s and the Integrale Futurista. The Alpine is part of that revolution. Only it’s a lot cheaper and more widely available. It’s an icon in waiting.