LET’S START WITH a little history lesson. If there’s one thing that the Brits have been good at, it’s building small, quick, agile, lightweight, two-seater sports cars. Take the original Lotus models, or the MG Midget, or perhaps the Triumph Spitfire. They were designed to be as fun as they were affordable.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, the French produced Alpine. The original A110 Berlinette, made from 1961 to 1977, was one of the prettiest cars ever made. But sadly Alpine cars ceased production in 1995.
Back in Blighty, the Caterham company continued to build its hugely entertaining cars. It was even involved in Formula 1, where it used engines supplied by Renault.
Consequently, when Renault decided to build a small, quick sports car, they decided to have a chat with their mates at Caterham. In November 2012, it was announced that the two firms would work together on a new model.
However, two years later, like a lot of British-French stuff, the deal collapsed. Both firms went their own way; Renault decided to forge on alone with the project.
The result was the rebirth of Alpine in 2017 with a new A110, one of the most exciting two-seater cars to come from any country in recent years. And this year, we now have the more powerful Alpine A110S. We travelled to Portugal (neutral territory, I guess) to try it out.
The new A110 is one of the most exciting two-seater cars to come from any country in recent years
The new Alpine roadster has racked-up a host of awards since it was launched. It’s a brilliant car and a genuine competitor to the likes of the Audi TT, Porsche Cayman, BMW M2, Toyota GT 86 or Lotus Elise.
The Alpine A110S builds upon this success. The turbocharged petrol engine has been beefed up by 39bhp to 288bhp. The 0-60mph dash drops slightly to 4.4 seconds; top speed rises to 161mph. Go easily and you’ll manage low 40s mpg. The A110S is also slightly lighter, tipping the scales at a little over one tonne. You can reduce that even further by specifying a carbon-fibre roof panel.
When you push on, the sound from the single, centrally mounted exhaust is delightful, but during cruising, the engine, which is positioned directly behind the passenger compartment, is pleasantly quiet.
If you compare the A110S with the other models in the Alpine range – the Pure and Legend – you’ll spot additional trim details and fatter tyres. You’ll also spot that the ride is slightly firmer and the car sits lower to the ground. The suspension settings have been stiffened by 50%, and the anti-roll bars are twice as firm. However, even on uneven, rutted surfaces, the Alpine A110S is no bone shaker; it’s remarkably civilised. Some of the test routes we used in Portugal were through forests. To call the roads rough is doing them a favour.
The driving experience is nothing short of fantastic: this is seat-of-the-pants motoring. You sit quite low in the car, but it’s a great position. Anyone who owns a Lotus Seven or indeed a go-kart will feel totally at home. There’s a surprising amount of room – even drivers who are six foot plus won’t have a problem. The steering has a lovely feel to it and there’s stacks of feedback.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox is also a peach: flick the paddles behind the steering wheel and the gears change up and down remarkably quickly and very smoothly.
Inside, the Alpine A110S adds even plusher trim with some nice details. The bucket-style suede seats have colour-contrasting stitching. Oh, and talking of colours, you can get matt grey as one of the exterior colour options.
This is one of the most usable, day-to-day sports cars currently on the market. It looks fantastic, especially the rear and profile, and will be a rare beast. The majority of folk will be perfectly happy in the Alpine 110 Pure or Alpine 110 Legend models, but if you want the best package for all-round fun, then the Alpine A110S is the one for you.
For more information, see alpinecars.com