The return of Alpine
Sports cars used to be modest affairs like Triumph
Spitfires and MG Midgets, little cars with humble power outputs in tune
with the narrow roads and speed limits. The roads are the same, speed
limits are the same, yet the modern sports car has evolved into a
monster, with massive power and huge size, to the point where they are
unusable. At last a sports car name from the past has had the sense to
buck this trend, step forward the Alpine A110, a partly retro design,
but a genuinely modern sports car for today. Are you listening Porsche?
Within the first 100 yards I am amazed at how it
absorbs the bumpy tarmac leaving the dealership, and the first prod of
the throttle reveals a swift turn of pace, but without savagery. This is
a good start, and after an hour of motorways and twisty little back
roads I think I may have driven one of the best sports cars of my
motoring career. Alpine claim 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, so this is a fast
car, but for once itís not about the figures, itís all about the
feel. For starters itís aluminium so itís light, there is a modern
turbo petrol 1.8 engine with that torque rich feel which makes pace come
easily. The 7 speed auto box is a gem, with beautifully calibrated
mappings, so you can cruise or scratch at the flick of a switch. I
confess Iíve never liked paddle gearchanging, but I take to this like
a duck to water. The steering is light, not overly talkative, but all
four wheels feel totally keyed in to the surface. Michelin Pilots Sports
I notice. Braking is strong, and the car brakes hard and deep into the
corners without feeling nervous, a sure sign of a balanced chassis.
Unlike its older brother the Renault Alpine GTA, which with its rear
engine layout was tricky to drive, this new car feels instantly
familiar, friendly and easy to drive. Donít believe all that Porsche
911 codswallop about having to master a difficult car to prove yourself
as a driver, itís just an excuse for a flawed design. The A110 feels
just right from the get go, and utterly trustworthy. It looks fabulous
in the optional metallic white too. Itís a honey.
Itís not perfect. Luggage space is laughable, I
could live without the rather juvenile sports exhaust, brilliant though
the fixed buckets seats are, you wonít need to be too broad in the
beam, and rear visibility is poor. Although some switchgear is filched
from lesser Renaults, it all works well, and build quality is admirable,
with a very stiff feeling shell. Pricing seems a little ambitious
perhaps, but as every car in the showroom is pre-sold and there is a 1
year waiting list, what do I know?
So what we have here is more than just an exceptionally good sports car, this is the early stages of a very welcome trend away from stupidly powerful and ostentatious cars to ones that are delicious, tactile and useable as fun transport, not just as male jewellery for the under-endowed. Buying a 200mph car the size of the Ark Royal may swell your ego, but letís face it, you simply canít use it these days. Having just ditched my own Porsche in favour of a VW Up GTI I feel justified in making this claim. Iím not alone either, a long standing Porsche devotee of my acquaintance has just sold his Boxster Spyder in favour of a Mazda MX5, and has found his pleasure in driving rejuvenated. James May and Gordon Murray have already taken delivery of their Alpines. Electric cars may be the supposed future, but those who are really in the know are already downsizing to cars like these, where feel and fun are more important than statistics and lap times. This little Alpine is a stunning return to form for the classic French marque, and more to the point itís bang on message too.
Zut Alors, as they say in France!
All words and photos copyright to John R Hunter
With thanks to Harry Cunningham at Alpine Glasgow