Alpines have always been iconic cars for us. How we loved the Berlinette rally cars of the 60’s and 70’s with their fluent contours, their growling sound, their speed, indeed, their panache. Building a modern successor with the same look, qualities and character is no small challenge. But Alpine, conceived as a standalone business unit within Groupe Renault, has succeeded, and how…
We already enjoyed this formidable thoroughbred at the latest Zoute Grand Prix GT Tour, where your servant had the privilege to be invited by Anja Van der Borght to be her co-driver at this event. You can read about this exhilarating experience in our columns. You can easily imagine our delight when the dynamic PR people of Renault Belux offered us a regular test drive in their French racing blue Alpine. Just read on…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Terrific “authentic” looks
The “new” Alpine breathes the styling DNA of the iconic Berlinette in its lines and contours. No small wonder, if you know that Antony Villain, head of design at Alpine, took his team at the start of the project back in 2012 to visit the Jean Rédélé Collection in Paris, where 30 or so classic Alpines are stored – A110s, A310s, Le Mans cars and so on. He asked his designers to sketch each car very quickly, in just 30 seconds. The idea was to capture the main features of an Alpine, to discover the DNA and mood of the brand. He commented:”That’s how we identified the important elements – the headlamps, the spine over the bonnet and the sculpted sides, and also the single line that runs from the front to the rear and the very low tail section with the wide wheel arches, which gives a very specific stance. All of those features are on the A110 Première Edition today, which helps to make the car a true Alpine.”
And indeed, the Alpine looks stunningly beautiful and purposeful from any angle, and to do it justice, your servant used his big Nikon DSLR with a 55-200 mm Nikkor zoom telephoto lens to capture its timeless classic curves in the golden autumn sunlight.
Also the cabin breathes the DNA and panache of Alpine. Just look at the instruments, the carbon fibre interior accents, brushed aluminium pedals, the beautifully shaped leather-trimmed Sabelt one-piece sports seats that weigh just 13.1kg each. The passenger footplate mirrors the car’s lightweight aluminium construction. Our test car is one of the limited edition examples, actually number 1693, which is proudly displayed on a numbered plaque on the centre console.
Just another word about this limited edition: limited to 1,955 examples – a nod to the year Alpine was founded – the A110 “Première Edition” was fully reserved within five days of going on sale. The production series A110 now rolls of the production lines at the revamped and enlarged original Alpine factory in Dieppe.
But back to the cabin. The floating centre console and exposed seat brackets give a sense of purpose and lightness and purposefulness. The Alpine is however by no means Spartan. The Focal stereo uses speakers that incorporate patented flax cone technology.
Each A110 Première Edition comes fully-equipped as standard, underlining the car’s day-to-day usability. Satellite navigation, climate control and cruise control, it is all there. The Alpine Telemetrics, meanwhile, allows drivers to record lap times on track days and store performance driving data. The A110 Première Edition also comes equipped with “MySpin” mobile phone connectivity, which ‘mirrors’ the driver’s smartphone to allow safe and simple use when on the move.
A formidable engine and drivetrain
Pushing the starting knob brings the 1,8 litre DOHC four-cylinder engine to life with a beautiful, deep growl. One is immediately lifted into the Alpine world, as the engine note is very reminiscent of the original Berlinetta’s, who incidentally also had a 1,8 litre straight four mounted in the rear. This new engine is turbocharged and features direct injection and is customised by Alpine with specific intake, exhaust, and turbo systems plus bespoke calibration. The maximum power output of 252 PS comes at 6,000rpm, with 320 Nm of torque available from just 2,000rpm.
The energetic in-line engine delivers its power to the rear wheels via a wet clutch seven-speed Getrag dual-clutch transmission, which features Alpine-specific ratios. The gearbox offers fast shift speeds and combines a manual function – in which the driver can change gears using the aluminium paddles – with an effortless automatic mode. It is a dream to use.
There is an orange sports knob on the right lower half of the steering wheel centre, and this allows you to select the different driving modes. These three driving modes are Normal, Sport and Track. As the driver switches up through the modes such parameters as throttle response, steering assistance, gearshift speeds, exhaust sound and stability control intervention are all adapted.
The 10-inch digital TFT display within the instrument binnacle also changes with each driving mode, favouring the rev counter, gear display and gear shift lights in the “Sport” and “Track” modes.
In these modes, Alpine driving has to be experienced to be believed.
Don’t forget, this car is light. Merely 1103 kg. This results in an excellent excellent power to weight ratio (228PS/tonne), and this enables the A110 to sprint to 100 kph in 4.5 seconds.
Its top speed is electronically limited at 250kph. Quite formidable performance can be achieved, as this test showed us again, and as we experienced in the special stages at the Zoute GT Tour.
Of course, this lightweight construction ensures excellent fuel efficiency (6.1L/100km combined) and low CO2 emissions (138g/km), too…
Indeed, the A110’s agility is all down to its lightweight construction and double wishbone suspension. Those two aspects are at the heart of what makes the car such a pleasure to drive, and makes it have the same racy “feel” as the original rally Berlinetta’s.
Keeping the weight below down means the engineers could get away with using a relatively small engine and reasonable wheels and tyres, all of which helps to keep the weight down even further. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres measure 205/40 R18 at the front and 235/40 R18 at the rear. They are mounted on forged 18-inch Otto Fuchs wheels, which also reduce unsprung weight.
The same is true of the double wishbone suspension. “We don’t have to fight the roll of the car in cornering, which means we can use relatively light springs and anti-roll bars. That means the car rides really well even on a very bumpy road”, are the comments of David Twohig, Alpine’s chief engineer. Indeed, despite its formidable cornering abilities, the Alpine is surprisingly comfortable too.
We also appreciated the brakebased electronic differential function, often referred to as ‘brake vectoring’, which delivers superb traction when roaring out of tight corners.
More importantly, the Alpine makes a better driver out of you. You don’t have to be a racing driver to enjoy the A110 and you don’t have to drive very quickly for it to be thrilling. Of course it excels on mountain roads and on the racing circuit… but nevertheless feels quite at home on the potholed Brussels streets.
The Alpine is docile and practical for everyday use by us common mortals. The 100-litre storage space in the front is generous enough to accept a pair of airline carry-on cases side-by-side, while the 96-litre rear storage compartment can accommodate two full-face helmets plus an overnight bag.
Quite a formidable two seater GT car, this Alpine. Practical and docile, quite comfortable in everyday use, it is an absolute gem to take it through its paces, and one enjoys every meter you drive it.
It makes you a better driver, and a happy one too. Of course, you can cherish and keep this car indefinitely, as it has a timeless, iconic shape, and exudes classic beauty. It is quite economical in daily use and service, so what is holding you back to enjoy it all?
Hans Knol ten Bensel