Car reviews - Alpine - A110 - Premiere Edition
Looks better in the metal, statement cabin design, deceptively quick performance, superb transmission, obnoxious exhaust note, benchmark handling, direct steering, decent ride
Room for improvement
No side airbags or advanced driver-assist safety systems, compromised driving position and visibility, completely impractical, questionable build quality, strange infotainment system
Alpine launches in Australia in style with light but strong A110 Premiere Edition
28 Oct 2019
ALPINE is back, baby! Well, for Australians, it was never really here to begin with, but Renault has been kind enough to bring its resurrected sportscar brand to unchartered territory, and after driving its first 21st-century effort, the A110, we’re pleased it did.
Set to do battle with Porsche’s 718 Cayman, the Alpine A110 certainly has a tall task ahead of it, but the French’s obsession with cutting weight by limiting compromises – even key items like side airbags – seems to have paid off if our first taste is anything to go by.
So, how exactly does the A110 find itself in the same conversation as the 718 Cayman? We sampled its limited – and aptly named – Premiere Edition on Australian roads to find out. Needless to say, we were as surprised as you will be. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
The Alpine A110 starts from $99,000 plus on-road costs for the entry-level Pure, with the mid-range Legende commanding a $5000 premium, while the flagship Premiere Edition tested here adds a further $2500.
Specification differences aside, what you get for your money is a bonafide mid-engined sportscar.
Sure, a Renault Megane RS-derived 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine doesn’t evoke sportscar vibes, especially when it ‘only’ develops 185kW of power at 6000rpm and 320Nm of torque from 2000-5000rpm, but it isn’t the headline act.
Instead, the focus is firmly on the A110’s tare mass, which is a lightweight 1060kg, giving it an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 174.5kW per tonne.
With drive exclusively sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the A110 seriously hustles off the line, reaching 100km/h in 4.5 seconds before hitting its top speed of 250km/h.
Mid-range torque and top-end power are the engine’s calling cards, and it loves to scream all the way to its 7000rpm-plus redline time and time again, which is frankly fine by us.
This experience is made better by the A110’s obnoxiously good bi-modal sports exhaust system that serves up plenty of crackles and pops on the overrun and when upshifting.
Again, the A110 might appear underwhelming on paper, but the way it deceptively builds speed is impressive, with gear changes both smooth and quick.
However, the transmission isn’t perfect, as it has trouble recognising when stretches of spirited driving have come to a conclusion, holding onto lower ratios and keeping engine speeds high.
The flip side is it’s very responsive to spontaneous throttle inputs, kicking down a cog or two in the blink of an eye. This behaviour is further exhibited when Sport is engaged, at which point the gear changes are so quick you get the signature dual-clutch thunk on upshifts.
Want full control? Switch to Manual instead and make use of the steering wheel’s large paddle-shifters, which are annoyingly fixed to the column.
While we appreciate that the A110 will happily bounce off its redline in this mode, it’s frustrating that it doesn’t have a dedicated button, with Drive instead requiring a double-click.
Don’t worry, the A110 is more than happy to cruise, too, when set to Normal. Its bi-polar nature makes it even more lovable.
Another thing to love – and one which is unusual for a sportscar – is the A110’s fuel efficiency. While we fell short of Alpine’s claim of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined-cycle test, our 7.6L/100km effort over 555km of mixed driving was impressive, especially when you consider how hard it was pushed at times.
But let’s be honest, the A110 isn’t about that straight-line life. It wants to carve up corners and lots of them. Thankfully, that’s something it’s also very good at.
See, Alpine’s obsession with keeping weight low wasn’t trivial. All those involved knew exactly what they were doing: Coming for the Porsche 718 Cayman’s crown.
Simply put, the A110 is one of the best handling sportscars we’ve driven in a while. It is highly agile, as demonstrated by its tight turning circle that serves as a precursor to its darty, go-kart-like behaviour around bends.
When attacking the twisty stuff, the A110 is wonderfully composed – save for a hint of body roll at speed – while allowing for some rear-wheel-drive antics before the electronics step in to keep things on track.
Thanks to its mid-ship layout, the A110 rarely breaks traction, which is impressive when you consider that it doesn’t come armed with a limited-slip differential to maximise grip when powering out of corners.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that the A110’s handling prowess means its ride is rubbish, but it’s not. In fact, we’d go as far as describing it as comfortable, with the softly-sprung front axle making road imperfections far less intimidating.
Yes, uneven road surfaces can make for a choppy ride, coarse-chip roads are felt (but not agonisingly so) and deeper pot holes are met with a suitable crunch, but it’s all very civilised.
Needless to say, the A110’s power steering is ridiculously good. Some drivers will say it’s far too direct, but we love how on point it is.
What we love even more is the incredible feedback it offers, ensuring the driver is across the front wheels’ movements at any given time.
The steering is also well-weighted, although we suspect some drivers would appreciate a little extra heft, especially in Sport.
While the A110 is undoubtedly a cracking drive, do you really what to be seen in it? We had our reservations before seeing it in the metal, but after spending a week in it, we fell in love in more ways than just one.
The exterior design is unusual and certainly not to everyone’s taste, but there is no doubt that it is steeped in tradition, with the connection to the original A110 from the 1960s and 1970s strong.
That said, the A110’s interior is more likely to unite than divide. Yes, it’s a two-seat sportscar, so basic is certainly a word that gets thrown around here (one cupholder and no glovebox or storage bins), but it is the little touches that add up to something truly special.
For example, the Premiere Edition’s supportive Sabelt seats look fantastic thanks to their gorgeous quilted leather and microfibre upholstery with blue stitching (also featured on the door inserts and armrests, dashboard and centre console), but they lack height adjustment.
In fact, this issue extends to the steering wheel that is conversely limited in the amount of height adjustment it has, making for a compromised driving position for taller drivers that conceals the top of the digital instrument cluster.
Visibility takes a hit, too, with the steeply raked windshield and letter-box rear window making for a challenging combination.
It’s good then that the Premiere Edition comes with a reversing camera, except it doesn’t. Just parking sensors here. Yet the Pure and Legende get one? Go figure.
But we digress, the door shoulders are smartly made out of body-colour plastic, which not only looks good, but is a smart way around not using soft-touch materials that are conspicuous in their absence.
As good as most of these trims are, they’re at odds with the cheap faux carbon-fibre used atop the instrument cluster and around the air vents. Why?
Speaking of cheap, the A110’s incredibly basic infotainment system is straight out of a Suzuki. A total head-scratcher, but we suspect Alpine parent company Renault’s penchant for vertically orientated touchscreens didn’t fit in with this cabin design.
And being French, it’s only right to test the build quality by shaking a few things here and there. Surprise, surprise; the A110’s skinny, floating centre console visibly shakes when the smallest amount of force is applied to it. Time will tell for the rest.
The real concern, though, is what isn’t in the cabin: Side airbags. There’s a reason why Alpine can’t sell more than 100 A110s per year and this is it. Make of that what you will.
The A110 also goes without key advanced driver-assist safety systems, such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist, which would naturally add ‘unnecessary’ weight.
Every hero has their flaws, but you never thought of buying a sportscar with safety in mind, did you?
Warranty and servicing
Alpine offers the A110 with a three-year/100,000km warranty and three years of roadside assistance, while service intervals are every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first.
If there ever was a textbook definition of a ‘brand-builder’, the A110 has got to be it. Frankly, as is it stands right now, Alpine doesn’t even have another model to lean on.
Thankfully, that’s not a big deal because the A110 is in nearly every regard an overwhelming success. Sure, some of its non-compromises are to its detriment, particularly from a safety perspective, but we can’t help but forgive it.
The A110 picked a fight with the school bully on its first day and wasn’t embarrassed. Its combination of performance – both in a straight line and around corners – and comfort see it wheel to wheel with the 718 Cayman. Alpine just has to convince buyers to give it a go.
Porsche 718 Cayman automatic (from $118,690 plus on-road costs)
While it may be the A110’s direct rival, the 718 Cayman has been around the block a few more times. Even if it is often referred to as ‘the poor man’s 911’, we would feel so lucky to own one. Performance, handling, comfort – it’s got it all. Sound familiar?
Audi TT S Coupe automatic (from $101,855 plus on-road costs)
While not a proponent of the mid-engined layout employed by the A110 and 718 Cayman, the TT is still an interesting proposition in itself. But we would be digging a little deeper into our pockets a paying a few extra grand to go French.
BMW Z4 sDrive30i automatic (from $104,900 plus on-road costs)
Like the TT, the Z4 doesn’t follow the same formula as the A110 and 718 Cayman, but it is still an impressive drive, with its underpinnings of course shared with Toyota’s reborn Supra coupe. But like its German counterpart, there are better options.
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Model release date: 1 October 2018
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