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Car Review: Alpine A110 the Rebirth of a Legend

The Alpine A110 is Renault’s performance brand reborn. Production of Alpine models ceased in 1995, but they have hit back with the introduction of the new, sexy Alpine A110. To understand the new Alpine A110 we need to take you back to the original, produced from 1961 until 1977. The Alpine A110 achieved fame in the 1970’s as a rally car, with 6 World Rally Car victories in 1973. This was a legendary car, that has since attained a cult-like following, it should have established the Alpine brand, but after a few hits and misses with a lot of time in-between the brand with so much promise never ignited.

It was a strong choice for Renault to revitalise their performance brand by bringing new life to its hallmark vehicle. It’s not only the name with retro origins, but the design as well, which is being touted as ‘retro-modern styling’. The most eye-catching element of it’s design, the oval shaped headlights, pay homage to the rally ready look of the original Alpine A110.

We’re going to get a little ahead of ourselves and say we are already in love with the design. The car looks magnificent. It perfectly captured the retro elegance of the sporty original, but is also modern, sleek and looks every bit a sports coupe. The timing is perfect – if Renault was going to relaunch a performance brand, the time is now. The automotive industry is going through a bit of a renaissance, the rise of the SUV, the introduction of hybrid and electric cars, new manufacturers entering the market, self driving cars and a litany of smaller technological advances.

Last month we reviewed the Genesis G70, the new flagship model of a premium car brand launched by Hyundai, and the first pure Genesis branded car. Earlier we reviewed the retro Hyundai Urban EV, a retro styled EV, mixing nostalgia with innovation. What we are trying to say, is that it’s a great time for Renault to be launching the Alpine brand again, with a flagship model that is both innovative and delightfully nostalgic, is embodies the romance of 1960’s design with the sleek sexy angles of modern sports coupes.

But… when reviewing a two door sports coupe, it’s not just about the design. This is a rear-wheel-drive two door sports coupe, emphasis on sports. Under the hood we have a 1.8 litre turbo-charged 16 valve inline four engine married to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission – pushing 185kW of power and 320Nm torque to the rear-wheels. On numbers alone it may look a little slim compared to the Alpine A110’s closest competitor, the Porsche 718 Cayman, delivering 220kW and 380Nm from it’s 2.0 litre engine. Yet, the Alpine outpaces the Cayman with it’s lightweight design, at 1103kg it glides across the road 200kg lighter than the competition, hitting 0-100km in 4.5 seconds. In comparison, that additional power in the Porsche 718 Cayman, translates to a slower 0-100km at 4.6 seconds.

The weight of the Alpine A110 is where the car is winning. It’s easy just to look at the base figures but when it comes to simple power and torque, but it’s the power to weight ratio that packs the real punch, and for the Alpine that’s 226bhp/tonne compared to the Porsche at 210bhp/tonne. That 200kg lighter frame makes the Alpine A110 fast, powerful and nimble on the road. Also, surprisingly fuel efficient. The Alpine A110 on “normal mode” modestly sips at it’s tank to achieve the fuel efficient figure of 6.1L/100km – that’s on par with the 1.5 litre Mazda MX-5 or most fuel efficient hatchbacks.

Let’s talk driving experience. We’re going to start a negative first. The Alpine is a lightweight car, with the majority of weight at the back of the vehicle at a 44:56 ratio, making the car a bit more susceptible to wind. The Alpine A110 will need a bit of a guiding hand in strong crosswinds. It doesn’t feel unsafe or unstable, but the lighter weight does make the vehicle a little bit more susceptible to strong winds – which would be a bigger negative, if the Alpine didn’t come on top for handling… and we mean handling not grip.

A common trap manufacturers have been falling into is mistaking grip for handling. The Alpine A110 rides on classic F1-style lightweight double wishbone suspension. Instead of offering adaptive suspension, the Alpine takes advantage of the superior geometry of the double wishbone suspension couples with well calibrated passive dampers and hydraulic bump stops. This design is much like the Lotus Elise, allowing for agile smooth handling without requiring stiff springs or adaptive dampeners.

The overall experience is a sports coupe with power, not quite over-amped, but instead dynamic and agile. The general feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, this is a driving experience that couples both power and grace. This is where the Alpine outstrips competition, they may hit similar speeds, may have a slightly larger roar of the engine, but they just don’t have the same accuracy and fluidity of steering, instead they hold the road in a death grip, over-committing to turns, losing accuracy for grunt and grip, aggressively tackling the road, rather than dancing on it.

The lightweight sports design continues in the interior. The low-slung, fixed-back sports-seats weigh in at a light 13kg, allowing enough room for drivers as tall as 6’7″ to sit comfortably in the drivers seat. Forgoing unnecessary heavy controls the seats only offer front-to-rear adjustment. To raise or lower the seat, the race-like bolts will need to be removed, and then locked into place. This isn’t a car to share, this is a car that only caters to the comfort of one driver. Perfect!

The minimalist design has created a surprisingly spacious interior, it does not feel as luxurious as the Audi TT Coupé or Porsche 718 Cayman, yet it doesn’t feel cheap, this is unapologetically a sports car.That does include forgoing some of the luxuries that you may be used to, such as a reversing camera or side airbags. The latter places a hurdle for Australian imports, without side airbags imports are limited to 100 per year, putting projected sales on par with the Alfa Romeo 4C. The import restrictions are only going to add to the Alpine’s exclusivity, and that may increase its resale value – as from early impressions, it looks like this iconic car may once again establish a cult-like following. Yet, Renault has thrown a further limitation for interested buyers, instead of offering the standard 5 year unlimited kilometer warranty, they have elected to only offer a 3 year guarantee – but again we don’t think this will make a big impact on the demand for a statement sports coupe.

If it hasn’t been clear so far, our overall impressions are very positive. Is this an every day car? Probably not. Will this car overtake Australian roads? No, but that’s perfectly fine by us, we want the exclusivity. This is a statement car. This is a dream car … and a relatively affordable dream car at $90,000-$100,000 – undercutting the Porsche at $110,000. This is a car for a weekend jaunt to a vineyard, leaving behind responsibilities, leaving behind the practical day-to-day mover, and off to enjoy the feeling of the road under a high performance vehicle.

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