In the early 1970s, two agile rear-engined sports cars made their mark on the European rally scene; one was the Porsche 911, the other was the even more diminutive Alpine A110. The 911 went on to become a living legend while the descendants of its French counterpart hobbled along under the aegis of parent company Renault, before finally fading into obscurity in 1991.
Then in 2012 Alpine announced to the world that it would be “coming back” after over two decades of being dormant. In alliance with the then Caterham F1 team, Alpine said it would be making a return with a brand new lightweight mid-engined sports car very much in the vein of the original A110 - a simple machine with few frills but lots of driver thrills.
Unfortunately however, the Caterham F1 team didn’t survive beyond 2013, which meant the alliance went west, and with it the mouth watering prospect of an all-new car from one of France’s most iconic sports car companies.
With Gaelic pride and the need for an image making sportscar at stake, Renault decided to go it alone, and resurrect the legendary Alpine brand all by itself. And so a couple of years later the brand new A110 was unveiled, featuring a mid-mounted 1.8-litre turbo engine and a chassis/body made almost entirely from aluminium.
The car looked stunning and very obviously paid homage to the original A110 in its styling as well as its engineering. And now that we have finally sampled the fruits of Alpine’s five year endeavour, we are happy to say that the result is frankly little short of sensational.
As promised, the A110’s mid-engined chassis, its all round double wishbone suspension, along with most of its body panels are fashioned almost entirely from aluminium, which contributes to the pretty little coupe’s impressively low kerb weight of just 1,103 kg with all fluids.
The basic construction method is not dissimilar to that used by Lotus, with two immensely stiff extrusions either side of the cabin for stiffness, the chassis and body elements glued and riveted to them. The only welded parts are to found on the rear sub-frame, which carries the engine, since the extreme heat in this area could compromise adhesives over time.
The engine is a brand new turbocharged 1.8-litre, four-cylinder unit that will eventually come in various power outputs. Significantly, the 252 hp base version we drove delivers a power-to-weight ratio of 229bhp per tonne, which betters the entry level Porsche 718 Cayman. Positioned aft of the cabin, this engenders the A110 with a 44/56 percent front/rear weight distribution.
This is sufficient energy to propel the lightweight A110 to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.5 sec, and on to an electronically limited top speed of 251 km/h. Yes, 251 km/h rather than 250 km/h! Could this be a raised Gaelic middle finger aimed at the Germans?
Economy and emissions are highly competitive with a claimed 6.1 L/100km combined figure and 138g/km. Somewhat controversially, perhaps, the A110 is not available with a manual gearbox, Alpine instead going with a seven-speed Getrag dual clutch gearbox featuring aluminium paddles fixed behind the steering wheel.
Three different drive modes - normal, sport and track - are selectable and these alter the parameters for the engine, gearbox, steering, exhaust, ESC and e-diff to suit the road conditions and your desires as you scroll up through the menu. However, as Alpine wanted to maintain a degree of comfort as well as control, no matter which mode the driver selects, the damper setting remains unchanged throughout.