New-car manufacturers are forever giving their sports cars more power, extra grip, tightening suspensions and keeping bodies – car and yours – pinned flat against the ground. And if they come fitted with a soft suspension setup, car enthusiasts will be in the aftermarket realm to do so.
But have we got it all wrong? This isn’t a new question – it’s about driver connection and sheer fun, versus methodical speed in a straight-line or through bends. The best sportscars manage to balance both, and the arrival of the Alpine A110 spurs us to look at how the former camp plays a part in that.
Far from being overly tied down, MOTOR editor Dylan Campbell reported delightfully from the French Cayman’s overseas launch that, “with relatively soft spring rates the A110 feels deliciously light on its suspension, a unique feeling only found in a few new cars, all of them weighing around the 1000kg mark, the MX-5 being one of them.”
“With suspension on the soft side, the Alpine likes a smooth driver,” he tells. “The nose dips visibly as you transition from full throttle to full braking, the body moving through big curves during hard cornering — extra exciting to push the limits of the … tyres, but also easy to upset the A110 if you’re not smooth enough. There will be some people who don’t like the extra body movement of the soft suspension and crave less of it, particularly on track.”
The thing is, some of the most fun this tester has had in cars, has been in relatively soft set-ups perfect for Australian road conditions, but crucially underpinned by superb chassis balance and with limits telegraphed to the driver via great steering. So, before we can drive the little A110 on local roads, here are our top-five bodyroll-loving driver’s car picks…
1 - Mazda MX-5
The ND-generation of Japanese roadster can only be in first place here. With the weight of the engine behind the front axle, and not much of it, the little Mixxer leans like a teapot in full pour going into a corner.
But once the angle is at full tilt, it settles immaculately on its outside-front tyre, cocking half-a-metre on its inside-rear hoop, and begging the driver to mash the throttle.Thanks to modest grip, a terrific electronic stability control (ESC) and limited-slip differential (LSD), the soft-top pivots around its nose, steering almost becoming neutral, all at relatively low pace.
Long a warm hatch, the Swift Sport now graduates to become a hot hatch not via excess power, but stripping back weight. With a 970kg kerb mass, this five-door light car can be driven hard all day while barely causing its Continentals to sweat.
Even the odd motoring journo, privileged enough to see more racetracks than most, would have still seen more round-a-bouts that ripple strips – and that’s where the Suzuki loves to dance its backside around, but in a socially acceptable fashion, skimming through curves with zest and verve that eludes many ‘sports’ cars.
They’re almost all gone, sadly, but this German original-recipe was more than just marketing hype. And that’s because there wasn’t any – rather than adding stuff and raising the price, this GTI lost its back doors and adaptive suspension, dropped a bit of weight, kept its tartan trim, golfball manual gearknob and 18-inch tyres, then sold for $38,990 driveaway.
The standard dampers sent the rear-end into a playful frenzy, almost always subtly helping the nose point. Lift-off oversteer, done to perfection here, is very different to a usual stickier tyres/ hard suspension/add LSD recipe.
MOTOR comparison: Golf GTI Original v i30 N
4 - Audi S4
Okay, this is a relative – but important – one. The previous- and current-generation S4 and RS4 have shared a 60 per cent rear-biased torque split, and a crown centre differential that can direct all torque to an individual back wheel. It was optional on the S-badged A4-based sporty model, but every press car comes with it.
Then or now, the lesser grip and extra bodyroll of the S4 has arguably made it a more playful car than the RS4, enabling a driver to actually indulge in throttle-induced rear-steer, if not big-time oversteer, that is more difficult in the firmer, grippier Avant-only car.
5 - BMW 330i
There are three things that the 330i is, which the S4 isn’t – rear-wheel drive, four cylinder and relatively light. Whether we’re talking four-cylinder Falcon or F-Type, taking a couple of pots off the nose of a rear-driver, preferably one with a relatively short overhang, is always a good thing.
The 2.0-litre turbo 3 Series weighs 1495kg, 45kg less than a 3.0-litre turbo six 340i. Yet the 330i’s 5.8-second 0-100km/h is just 0.6sec behind. It’s a balance of weight and performance that ensures this is a mid-sized sedan that feels nimble, agile and engaging. The new one has big shoes to fill…