It’s cool to trade on your past, if indeed your past is worth trading on. If you fell down the stairs in 1983, we don’t need to still be hearing about it now. If you won gold in the 1983 Olympics though, well, that’s a story we can live with. It gives you credibility, too. You become an authority on all matters Olympic and gold. Yes, past successes are a good thing for your more contemporary endeavours.
This is also the case in the motoring world. Automotive greatness secures a brand’s future. It’s a surefire way to get people into the dealership and as such, it’ll keep the accountants happy. But you can’t just trade on the successes of old for financial gain. You have to make it work, you have to put the effort in. You can’t just slap an F1 logo on a Twingo and tell people it’s an animal around Monaco. That’s nonsense.
This brings us to the Alpine A110. The original car of 1961 was an icon. Hell, it still is. It was small, it was light and it was achingly beautiful. But there was more to it than that. It was also a machine that had the minerals when it was being pedalled, to such an extent that it won several rounds of the World Rally Championship back in the day. In fact, it won the constructors’ championship in ‘73. It was a mightily impressive little car.
The new car has been developed by Renault and Nissan, but is built and sold under the Alpine name, pronounced ‘Alpeen’, apparently. You can buy the car through Renault, as well as dedicated Alpine centres that have been created in the wake of the A110’s arrival.
It certainly, on first impressions, looks the part. And not only does it look the part, it looks to be faithful to the A110 of old. It genuinely looks like a modern version rather than some sort of faintly familiar pastiche. But a car like this, which boasts power, an engine in the middle and rear-wheel drive needs to do more than look good. It needs the hustle to match.
The car we were kindly loaned was a Première, which is to all intents and purposes a launch model, of which some 1,955 were built. It has the blue paint in honour of its predecessor, it has fixed Sabelt bucket seats, it has a reversing camera (which is worth mentioning as it’s exceptionally handy in this, a car with all the rearward visibility as a postbox) and also forged alloy wheels in 17inch flavour. It’s all very nice.
At some 6’3 tall, there was some trepidation about getting into this thing. It is a very small car, standing just shy of 50in tall. Yet once my aged knees had brought me closer to terra firma, all was well. It’s actually a surprisingly spacious cabin. The fixed Sabelt seats are, for a man of my, ahem, heft, about as comfortable as the rack, but even so, I struggled for neither head or legroom. That said, the latter would be thanks in part to the fact the A110 is not available with a manual ‘box. It’s seven-speed DCT or nowt. This of course meant my feet and ‘clutch’ leg weren’t smushed into an overly-busy footwell.
Everything falls to hand well. The infotainment, from which you control almost everything, is a little confusing and dim-witted, but it works. The seating position is pretty much perfect. Forward visibility is good. It’s all very nice. Though the reason the cruise control switch is pretty much behind you baffles me. The TFT dash is a nice, futuristic touch, and changes the anger of its hue depending on what mode you’re in; Normal, Sport or Track. As for drive modes, there are three buttons in the sculpted centre console; D, N and R. And of course, the handbrake is electric.
Anyway, what’s this thing like to drive? In a word, outrageous, but in the best possible way. Even in ‘normal’ mode the A110 feels spritely and alive. The engine is so eager to be pushed, I couldn’t help but giggle as I pressed on. Press the D button on the centre console and you’re in ‘manual’ mode, giving you the opportunity to use the paddles. The change from the seven-speed DCT is snappy, but not the fastest. However, it won’t leave you wanting. In automatic mode, however, it might. When in urban areas, the ‘box can be a bit dimwitted and easy to confuse, sending it cycling through the gears until it finds one it likes. It sorts itself out quickly, but even so, it’s still a mild annoyance.
The 248bhp rear/mid-mounted turbocharged four-pot is keen to rev and even keener to shout about it, though some of that comes from sounds symposed into the cabin. It barks and pops on overrun before singing aloud as you press on. The A110 isn’t all about the engine though. No, it’s the handling.
The A110 boasts construction of 96% aluminium and on the twisty bits it shows. The steering is near telepathic in its ability to change the car’s direction, it’s so pleasingly direct and sure. And the car itself turns in with poise, grip and purpose. It inspires confidence and encourages you to turn things up, which you can do by knocking into Sport mode. This does nothing to the key dynamics of the A110. All it does it hold the gears for longer. It also puts a bit more weight into the steering. But the change of display in the TFT binnacle and the prolonged music of the engine make it seem like more (Track mode see the steering get a bit more weight, and the shifting becomes completely manual with no auto option).
Driving this little thing around, building my confidence in it as I did, it made me love the simple art of driving. That’s what A110 does. At the very edge of adhesion it;s not the most confident car, but you’ll never be there in the real world. Instead, you’ll be somewhere in the middle, and as such, well within this car’s abilities. And it’s those abilities that will make you smile as you quietly relish every journey. This car gets under your skin. The seats killed me on a long journey, but no sooner had I arrived at home and put the car away before I wanted to go out in it again. The A110’s engineers have clearly put a great deal of thought in how this car makes you feel rather than try and fill a checklist. And it shows. You connect to this car. I certainly did.
What about the downsides? Well, there really aren’t any. I mean, as a car it’s next to useless. It has all the storage of a dolls house, you can’t see out of the back of it, and you look like a drunk gibbon as you try and unfold yourself out of it, but those are givens when buying a sports car. And that’s what this is, and it’s a brilliant one. My only minor complaint worth consideration is the fact the brakes leave you wanting. For a car so small, I expected more urgency and prowess from the brakes, but I didn’t get it. Maybe this press car has been pushed? I don’t know. I do know you should spec the optional upgrade though.
Is it worthy of the A110 name? Yes, a thousand times yes. When the man from Renault came to take AL15PNE back, I was genuinely sad. It brightened my world for a week and it made me fall in love with driving again. I miss it.
- Price when new: £52,194
- Engine: 1,798cc, inline-four, turbocharged, petrol, 248bhp/320Nm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
- 0-60 mph: 4.4 secs
- Weight: 1,123kg