Right from the word go, Rick Kelly just wasn’t grooving on the Alpine. And it took me a little while to work it out. See, while I’m old enough to have read about (if not actually witnessed) the daring deeds of the original Alpine A110 from the 1960s, Rick isn’t.
So while I was soaking up the retro details like the frenched-in driving lights and the body-coloured door capping, Rick was looking at the same car wondering why those dopey lights were fitted and why hadn’t Renault finished the cabin properly. Clearly, retro only works if you can relate.
But beyond that, I’ll stand by my assessment that the A110 is one of the finest retro cars I’ve ever driven. It lacks the twee irrelevance of the born-again VW Beetle and it hasn’t subverted the original in the way the 1.5-tonne, all-wheel drive Mini Countryman All4 has. But it does tap into the emotional skillset of the 1960s well from which it’s drinking, yet manages to combine that with a driving experience that is not only contemporary, but also riveting.
That driveline borrowed from a Megane RS is the start of things and with 185kW and 320Nm, it’s fit but not stupid-powerful. And while the original A110 was rear-engined and this car is mid-engined, the other piece of the Alpine magic – a lack of kilograms – has not been forgotten. At 1103kg, the A110 is a featherweight in 2019.
So, despite having less power than either of the trad hot-hatches here, the Alpine was faster than both of them to 100km/h (by a clean second over the Renault and 1.2 ticks over the i30 N).
Wheels comparison: Megane RS280 v i30 N
Across 400m, the dainty little Frawg extends its lead even further, beating the Megane past the post by a good 1.2 seconds (and 13km/h in terminal velocity) and the Hyundai by 1.3sec (and 15km/h). That’s handy stuff when you consider the Alpine had to break into the 12s (at nearly 180km/h) for the quarter to dish out such a thumping.
The lap times favour the Alpine over the hatches, too, and while the Megane is a second-and-a-bit behind the A110, the Hyundai needs an extra two-and-a-bit seconds to get around the same Bend layout. Okay, so the Hyundai and Megane both seat five, but you can see where the development money has gone. Which is kind of the point.
Meanwhile, the Alpine proves in the real world that it’s still, fundamentally, a road car. And a great one at that. The twin-clutch is slick and refined and the engine never seems to give up or run out of enthusiasm for the job of hurling 1100 kegs down the road.
But it’s the way it makes all those special noises right over your left shoulder that completes the package and, combined with lovely, light, precise steering, you are reminded that retro isn’t necessarily a byword for compromised.
On track and on road on Performance Car of the Year 2019
2019 ALPINE A110 SPECS:
Engine: 1798cc inline-4, turbo, DOHC, 16v
Power: 185kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 2000-5000rpm
0-400m: 12.90sec @ 179.84km/h
The Bend lap time: 1min 35.2sec
Dylan Campbell - 8th
"A very novel drive. Like an ND MX-5 with proper power and a roof."
Louis Cordony - 4th
"Authentic. Pretty. Playful. Just my type."
David Morley - =3rd
"Wanted to cheer when I drove this but I was sideways at the time."
Scott Newman - 7th
"A breath of fresh air in the increasingly polluted fast-car world."
Rick Kelly - 11th
"Not my cup of tea. I think I need a tour down history lane."
PCOTY 2019 Scoring