Alpine’s iconic A110 name is steeped in rally history but this model on test is completely new, giving the French brand a svelte rival to the fiery Italian and that other two-seater from Stuttgart.
Despite largely aluminium construction and multi-link suspension both front and rear, it only suffers a modest weight deficit to the sparsely equipped Alfa Romeo 4C, courtesy of the latter’s featherweight carbonfibre chassis. Like its foe, you’ll look in vain for a clutch pedal, but where the Alpine really scores is in the quality of its suppliers: the seven-speed dual-clutch from Getrag, bucket seats by Sabelt, alloy wheels from Otto Fuchs, while Brembo supplies the brakes.
Our 4C is the Spider, priced just under $100K which the Australian Premiere Edition A110 is not. But the Alfa has been on sale for five years already and feels as old inside. However, it screams supercar drama on a sports car budget.
Equipment and value
It’s seven grand more expensive, but the Alpine feels the more polished contender. In addition to those parts from Brembo and Sabelt are leather and microfibre strewn throughout the cabin, a touchscreen infotainment system (though no reversing camera, which is a glaring omission from both cars), 10-inch digital display cluster, climate control and alloy pedals.
Thin though that list might seem, the 4C has only an aftermarket stereo head unit (with Bluetooth, at least), basic heating and cooling controls, racing bucket seats and a traditional analogue binnacle cluster supplemented by a small digital readout. While you won’t seek out either of these cars if you hanker after a long list of interior refinements, the Alpine feels a good deal more cohesive and liveable. Factor in its smartphone mirroring and you don’t even have to deal with a whole bunch of typically frustrating French infotainment idiosyncrasies.
Space and comfort
Both vehicles clasp occupants tight into their bucket seats, making long-distance comfort elusive, although the A110’s cabin caters better for taller drivers.
The Alpine feels more luxe despite some flimsy plastics and scratchy surfaces. There is plenty of the French design flair you’d expect but not a complete sacrifice of logic for aesthetics. The Alfa’s triumph is its dramatic entrance that requires sliding over a gorgeous carbonfibre chassis to get into the cockpit – something you’d expect from an expensive supercar – but falling into the seat becomes laborious compared to the more practical entry of the Alpine.
The 4C’s cabin is basic and the controls and dials practical and solid at best. The Alpine’s relative elegance is desirable on anything more than a hardcore punt. For touring, both require the two occupants to pack lightly, but the 4C boasts a 10-litre bigger boot (110 litres) and cupholders that the Alpine does not care for.
How they drive
The Alpine is exceptional when transferring its weight in response to syrupy-smooth steering and to throttle and braking inputs, with beautiful balance from its softly sprung, ultra-rigid chassis. The 1.8-litre turbo engine mounted between the driver and the rear axle is energetic and vibrant, barking in sport mode as power peaks towards 6000rpm. It’s not so powerful that the rear feels unpredictable, with ESC switched on at least. The seven-speed auto does well, with crisp shifts.
The 4C’s 1.75-litre turbo mill isn’t lacking in attitude either. Despite an 8kW deficit at 177kW peak, it develops 350Nm and the car is 68kg lighter so it feels quicker, despite both claiming 0-100km/h in 4.5sec. It gives the Alfa the edge for character, particularly with the roof off and the engine whistling and chirruping over your left shoulder, but its handling and manners on the road are gruff. The stiff carbonfibre chassis underpins a mute front end, while the rear does little to telegraph any impending adhesion deficit.
These two contenders have much in common, including a sophisticated chassis to rival some supercars. It is the Alpine’s fastidious attention to detail on dynamics that give it a noticeable edge, and the cabin and presentation was never under threat from the utilitarian Alfa. While trailing by some way, the 4C remains the most exotic-feeling to drive, and some will undoubtedly warm to its spiky, scaled-down supercar feel.