This is a big moment in the history of Alpine, the once iconic French brand that went dormant for a couple of decades but is now on the brink of making a spectacular return with an all-new A110
I’m sitting next to Terry Baillon, Renault Sport’s head of chassis development; as we spear serenely but also very quickly through the French countryside just south of Lyon. He’s driving, I’m watching, wondering, trying to work out just how good the new A110 will be to drive, because from the passenger seat it already feels pretty damn tidy to me.
It’s an intriguing car for all sorts of weird and mostly wonderful reasons. It deliberately eschews huge horsepower, boasting just 185kW and 320Nm from its mid- mounted 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Instead, Alpine has gone back to its roots and obsessively kept mass to an absolute minimum – to a point where the claimed weight for the prototype we’re riding in is just 1103kg with fluids, including half a tank of petrol. As a result, it has a power-to- weight ratio of 168kW per tonne – a fraction better than a Porsche 718 Cayman’s 165kW per tonne. But to generate that number, the Porsche needs more power (220kW) because it weighs more (1335kg). And that, in a nutshell, is what will make the A110 so different to drive from its nemesis, claim its creators.
“We have gone for maximum agility with this car,” explains Baillon as we continue to drive along what turns out to be a great road at a faintly ridiculous speed. “By removing as much weight as we could, everything else is so much easier to get right.” And from the way the A110 changes direction, seemingly with almost no perceptible inertia, one can’t help but think Alpine is a long way towards getting it spot-on. From the passenger seat, the interior of the car looks high in quality, low in complexity It feels expensive in here, the ultralight weight carbon seats are lovely to snuggle right down into and visibility is excellent for a mid- engined car. The sounds – and thrust – coming from the engine just behind my left ear are also highly convincing. The noise is far nicer to listen to than the more anodyne thrum of the turbo Cayman, and the acceleration feels proper. As in 0-100km/h in not a lot more than four seconds and, just guessing, 0-160km/h in around 12 seconds.
But it’s the ride and the suspension control that feel most impressive of all from the passenger seat. As ever, there are different modes to scroll through that alter the characteristics of the engine, exhaust and gearbox maps, none of which I’m especially aware of from the wrong seat. But the suspension and dampers remain the same in all modes, which is a refreshing departure and shows the confidence Alpine has in this car. To put it simply, it just works. The A110 glides across the ground in a similar way to an early Elise, in that it appears to have huge grip and composure but also a beautifully fluid ride. There are no harsh edges to its responses. Instead, the springs and dampers appear to be able to deal with just about anything they encounter.
It feels quite soft in its roll stiffness, true, but with Baillon at the wheel the A110 simply feels fast, composed and refined. We drive the A110 for ourselves in late October/early November. After this experience from the other seat; I for one can’t wait.