Renault’s reborn Alpine brand is back and in typical French form it will deliver a performance car that does things differently. Rejecting the performance car world’s obsession with lap records, hugely powerful engines, massive brakes and fat tyres the A110 delivers a delicate driving experience almost unheard of in 2017.
Reviving a dormant badge with strong European heritage – including historic victories at Le Mans and the World Rally Championship – the performance arm of the French manufacturer is a name relatively few people in Australia will know about.
Awareness of the original Alpine A110 is key to understanding a new model which draws heavily on its forbear. After all, this is retro-modern styling similar to the latest VW Beetle or Mini Cooper, an evocative shape with compact dimensions and interesting curves which make a strong first impression anchored by details drawing you in for a closer look.
Vehicle Style: Performance coupe
Price: $90,000-$100,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine/trans: 185kW/320Nm 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km
The reinvigorated brand has paid homage to its past and the design of the new A110 echoes shapes and elements from the 1962 original. Prominent oval-shaped driving lights are plucked straight from the rally-ready original, framing a bonnet home to a sculpted rib running up its centreline. The rear end is all about the car’s proportions, a low and wide tail calling back to the 1962 original.
It’s a striking car to see in the metal, and its rear three-quarter stance is unlike anything on sale today, helped by a striking panel that runs from the low sill ahead of the rear wheel, alongside the door’s shut-line, up the C-Pillar toward the roof, under the rear glass and over the tyre to a subtly kicked-up bootlid before meeting the taillights and rear bumper.
The bodywork of the contemporary A110 is so extraordinary and meticulously sculpted that few factories are able to produce it, which is why Alpine has enlisted the same Italian factory responsible for much of Aston Martin’s coachwork to stamp its coupe.
The first couple thousand cars produced will be the A110 Premiere Edition, powered by a mid-mounted 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo engine similar to what you will find in the next-generation Renault Megane RS hot hatch. The A110 sends a relatively modest 185kW of power and 320Nm of torque to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with column-mounted shift paddles.
- Standard Equipment: Fixed Sabelt sports seats, quilted leather trim, climate control, digital instrument cluster display, LED headlights, cruise control, keyless entry, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour display, satellite navigation, mobile device mirroring, USB input, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, CD player
- Cargo Volume: 96 litres to rear seats
Fitted as standard with 18-inch Otto Fuchs wheels, Brembo brakes, Sabelt seats and a lightweight Focal stereo, the Premiere is also home to lashings of carbon fibre, quilted leather elements and grippy faux suede touchpoints that bode well with its sporty theme.
You get a digital dash with dedicated displays for its three driving modes and the ability to store track data, a small central screen with sat nav and a “MySpin” smartphone mirroring system, air conditioning, cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.
The fixed-back seats are gorgeous but only offer sliding front-to-rear adjustment, however, you can open the toolkit and remove race-like bolts to carefully raise or lower the seat to meet personal requirements. Rather than fitting heavy electric motors to the A110, Alpine figured most owners will spend a few minutes setting the perfect seating position and leave it locked there for the rest of their ownership period.
As a tall and (extra) large Aussie bloke surrounded by compact Frenchmen at the car’s launch near Marseille, I was surprised to discover a spacious interior offering plenty of headroom and an impressive range of height and reach adjustment for the compact and beautifully finished steering wheel. Pedal position is also well implemented and the accelerator is perfectly placed, though left-foot-brakers might prefer a pedal positioned a little closer to its footrest.
The A110 interior is somewhere between the minimalist Lotus Exige and tech-fest Porsche Cayman, with the Alpine being comfortable and relatively loaded with gear, but going without side airbags, a reversing camera or useful interior storage compartments in pursuit of driving dynamics.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 185kW @ 6000rpm, 320Nm @ 2000rpm
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front and rear
- Brakes: 320mm vented front discs, 320mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electromechanical power steering
Alpine’s Renault-sourced engine offers similar performance to the Exige and Cayman, promising to hit 100km/h in 4.5 seconds before reaching a top speed of 250km/h, but it’s not all about grunt for the lightweight coupe.
In a world where the hottest hatchbacks are on the cusp of 300kW outputs and three-point-something dashes to the highway speed limit, the Alpine’s lesser output but slender weight works in its favour at every turn.
Despite being fully-loaded, the heaviest-model Premiere Edition tips the scales at just 1103kg. Subsequent models will be even lighter and it puts Alpine’s power to weight ratio between Ford’s 257kW Focus RS and BMW’s 272kW M2 Coupe – vehicles few could accuse of being tardy. Its 6.1L/100km fuel figure is similarly impressive, matching the entry-level 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5 while using almost double the roadster’s power to pull similar weight.
Equally as satisfying is the Alpine’s rorty exhaust tune that sounds brilliant, piped through a central exhaust and accompanied by a determined induction growl from air intakes tucked into the rear corner of its driver’s side window.
Get onto the throttle and you can hear the distant breathe and hiss of its turbo accompanied by a pop and crackle from its exhaust in a rich and rewarding soundscape.
There’s no manual available in the A110 and it gets a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The omission of a stick-shift might seem glaring but the new ‘box is much better than previous efforts from Renault, offering crisper shifts and a quicker response than the six-speed Clio RS currently on sale, and fitting a manual between the seats would have increased the cars overall size and weight.
Drive, neutral and reverse buttons join window switches and an electronic parking brake on the centre console, doing away with a bulky gear lever arrangement. You pop it in park by holding down the neutral button and access a manual gear setting by pressing drive twice. A red sport button on the steering wheel cycles through driving modes and a retro toggle on the dash serves to start and stop the engine.
Unlike most rear-drive performance cars, the Alpine does without a limited slip differential on the rear axle, preferring the agile turning characteristics – if inferior traction – offered by an open diff with an occasional pinch of rear brake to keep things tidy.
Renault’s ultimate coupe pitches, dives and leans more than any modern performance car I’ve experienced, though its low seating position and near-perfect centre of gravity serve to minimise the effect on occupants.
Drivers face a choice at every turn – squeeze the throttle with care to make tidy progress or get greedy with the power and be ready with opposite lock as the rear axle pushes wide.
The three driving modes – Normal, Sport and Track – have no bearing on its suspension, changing only its steering weight, driveline response and stability control settings. All three bring brilliant road manners with light, accurate and well-weighted steering that responds beautifully to driver inputs.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. The exhaust drones at highway speed and there is precious little cargo storage - modest front and rear spaces cannot contain some carry-on sized luggage. My regular-sized backpack had to be squashed to close the front or rear boot.
Like a Lotus or Alfa 4C (and unlike the Cayman), this is not a car most people would drive every day. Renault Australia also elected not to extend its standard five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty to the Alpine, which will make do with a three-year guarantee.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Tipped to cost between $90,000 and $100,000 when it arrives mid-next year, The A110 is likely to undercut the $110,000 Cayman and comes with gear such as fixed-back seats, a dual-clutch transmission, sports exhaust system and lap timer that would pile at least $20,000 on the Cayman’s price tag.
More importantly, the Alpine’s unique focus on weight reduction and pliable driving dynamics shows there is more than one way to build a brisk, engaging, and addictive performance car in 2018 that isn’t trying to be a Porsche, Lotus, BMW or Alfa Romeo.
Vive la difference.
MORE: Renault News and Reviews