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Just when you thought the automotive world was being swamped by efficiency obsessing, downsizing over-complication and ICE ambivalence, along comes a lightweight sports car that’s shot through with purity of purpose, honed with a diamond edge, and infused with the ability to delight a driver. Yes, the Alpine A110 really is a tonic for these times.
Even before the driving started, the judges leaned forward in unison to listen to Carey outline its key elements: a bespoke aluminium spaceframe made in Dieppe, France (clad with panels stamped in Italy), a Renaultsport-tuned 1.8-litre turbo four from Korea, a Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch ’box from Germany, and a slinky exterior penned by Japanese designer Jun Okazaki. This really is a global car, despite paying a respectful homage to the 1962–1977 French original.
Meet the COTY finalists: Alpine A110
And for all the awesome things the Alpine is, let’s also give grateful recognition for all that it’s not: over-tyred, over-powered, overly stiff or over-burdened with fripperies like multiple steering modes. It’s infused with a welcome measure of restraint, where the design and engineering teams clearly recognised that adding ‘more’ would only increase weight and complexity, not driver enjoyment.
The engine is a cracker, out to convince you that turbocharging does not have to mean a tuneless soundtrack. It growls and slurps, exhales and whistles, rasps and crackles, encouraging you to spin it up just for the hell of it.
When driven with restraint, the transmission shuffles quickly through the ratios, and needs a decent throttle prod to fire you back into the torque curve. Some judges thought its calibration could be improved, but others reckoned the Track mode, which holds gears to redline, was spot-on. There’s also a manual mode if you reckon you’re sharper than the software.
But it’s the dynamics that define the Alpine experience. You take charge of an eager, ultra-responsive front end via what Carey described as “superlatively good steering”, and instantly revel in the car’s crisply communicated grip levels. The ride is absorbent – “better than a Polo GTI” commented one judge – and the chassis tune allows the car to breathe with bumpy Aussie backroads, instead of arm-wrestling them.
Wheels Car of the Year 2019: the judging criteria
The front tyres are modest 205s, yet their limits of adhesion feel ideally in balance with the engine’s output and traction from the 235 rears. But the bottom line is you don’t need to flog the A110 at rat-bag speeds to probe its limits and enjoy its nuanced, high-definition feedback.
So what put the brakes on the little Frenchie going all the way? Well, against the safety criteria, it floundered, with no AEB (although some judges questioned whether this was such a deal-breaker, given the expectation that a driver of a sports car should hopefully be an enthusiast and therefore constantly attentive and engaged in the driving process.) It also lacks a reversing camera; a dumb oversight given that a multi-media screen is already in place.
The question of value also niggled. Should the Premiere Edition (admittedly featuring lightweight Sabelt one-piece seats, 18-inch Fuchs forged alloys, Brembo bi-material brakes and an active sports exhaust) be priced at $106,500, given a Porsche Cayman (with PDK dual-clutch and badge pedigree) is only $9K more? Counterbalancing that, the $97,000 Pure and $103,500 Legende models do make an effort to provide a lower-cost entry point.
Regardless, what a blinding debut. Enright summed it up best: “A sports car for those who cherish light weight and efficiency but don’t relish the prospect of a bone-shattering ride and typically flaky, low-volume build quality.”