Five minutes is all the Alpine A110 needs to convince you that, yes, this is worth the dollar sum it’s asking. Renault’s mid-engine coupe is small, but its $106,500 ask is larger than an Alfa Romeo 4C’s and Lotus Elise’s prices, each set at around $90K.
But this car is about more than numbers. It’s trying to revive a brand. Alpine used to be much like what HSV is to Holden. It built race and road cars, and won things, but then ran out of money before being absorbed by Renault (which hasn’t been HSV’s fate).
The A110 is a statement that this hardcore sportscar brand is back, in a big way, by modelling itself on the 1970s rear-engine A110 that won the very first World Rally Championship.
The most obvious link is its looks. Festooned with retro details like those quad headlights, fastback roofline and ridged bonnet, they’re striking, seductive and sure to fill any young petrolhead with awe.
Like the original car, the new A110 shares parts with other Renaults. Its turbo 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is in the Megane RS and its paddles are plucked from a Clio RS. But it’s actually more of a clean-sheet design.
Those paddles are wired to a new wet seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and there’s a unique aluminium chassis at its core. There are also bespoke double-wishbone suspension assemblies front and rear, a new active exhaust, and brake calipers beautiful enough to display in a gallery. In fact, that’s just what happened on the car’s international launch last year.
PCOTY 2019: Alpine A110
Renault wanted to stress the effort its engineers poured into delivering a pared-back, lightweight driving experience. But while back in Alpine’s original days this would have been ultimately to beat Ford Escorts or Abarths, the witch hunt for kilograms is now about fighting flab. Its kerb weight is 1103kg.
Almost the entire body is aluminium, and the one-piece Sabelt bucket seats weigh 13.1kg each. They’re not stripper items, either. The quilted stitching on their deep bolsters, matched to Alcantara cushion inserts, show how well lightness blends with luxury here.
The interior isn’t obviously Renault, besides the steering wheel, HVAC controls, metal pedals and finicky credit card-shaped key. The car’s bright red starter button is plugged into the bridge of the centre console, where you also select gear by pressing D (drive), N (neutral) or R (reverse).
MOTOR feature: Top sports cars with soft suspension setups
There’s only 185kW/320Nm propelling you forward, but that’s enough. The nose lifts and each gear disappears as quickly as they arrive. The sound is delicious and your eyeballs are entertained by the digital cluster, where big, white numbers displaying the gear rush at you.
Meanwhile, the sound is as if it takes the Clio RS’s turbo noises and the Megane RS’s growl, then turns up the resulting soundtrack by several notches. A deep burp escapes with each upshift. You might also cackle with laughter.
At the first corner the A110 is tugging at your sleeves, begging you for some fun. Brush the brakes and it shrugs its weight forward. Dart the steering off centre and it responds, instantly. Find the throttle, feel it settle onto its outside rear tyre, then squeeze.
How you exit the corner will depend on how you enter it. Pitch it hard on the brakes, run the soft suspension to its absolute limit, pick up the throttle aggressively, and the open-diff rear axle will step out on its rear 235mm Michelin Pilot Sport 4s.
But you can pivot it on the brakes, or with a bit of lift, just as easily. Its wheelbase is only 2419mm, or 151mm shorter than a Toyota 86’s. But overall it’s only shorter by 62mm.
Even though it has three drive modes – Normal, Sport and Track – ESP is either on or off, and this adjustability can spook you. But it’s also a knife-edged balance between grip and slip that sets the Alpine A110 apart from the stoic composure of a Porsche Cayman or the Lotus Elise’s layered dynamics.
While we tested one of the 60 limited-edition Premiere versions, the range will comprise only the Pure and Legende after it sells out. The Pure will be available for $97K. Or if you want some decent audio thrown in with mod-cons like a rear-view camera and sensors, then you can go for the Legende at $103,500. Both can be optioned with the Premiere’s high-performance Brembos, active exhaust or tasty 18-inch ‘Fuchs’ wheels.
If you’re into lightweight thrills, as we said, they will be worth the ask.
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2019 ALPINE A110 PREMIERE SPECS:
Engine: 1798cc inline 4, turbo, DOHC, 16v
Power: 185kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 2000-5000rpm
0-100km/h: 4.5sec (claimed)
Like: Exciting handling, growling engine note, smooth powertrain and amazing looks
Dislike: Loose-footed at the limit, no third ESP mode, interior storage space
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars