Alpine A110 coupe
“The Alpine A110 is a mid-engined sports car that’s fast, fun and surprisingly cheap to run. Just don’t expect to carry much with you”
- Great to drive
- Stunning design
- Low running costs
- No manual gearbox
- Limited luggage space
- Less upmarket than a Porsche
Renault has revived the name of a classic French sports-car brand and the stunning Alpine A110 is its first production model. Based on the design of a sixties legend that found fame in rallying, it’s a successful homage to the much-loved original. It's far quicker than its progenitor, too, and brings extra choice for driving enthusiasts who have a relatively narrow selection of cars to choose from these days.
Compact and lightweight, the A110's closest rival was the no-longer-available Alfa Romeo 4C, but being built out of aluminium instead of carbon-fibre, the Alpine is less extreme and easier to live with day-to-day. Now that the 4C isn’t offered new, the Audi TT, Toyota Supra and Porsche Cayman are arguably its nearest competitors, but the Alpine is still a very different proposition from both these cars.
Power comes from a rorty 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 249bhp. It’s the same engine found in the Renault Megane RS, but here it only has one tonne of metalwork to get moving. This means 0-62mph is dispatched in just 4.5 seconds, which puts it on a par with its rivals. Yet, despite its performance, whooshes and rasps, the A110 can still return economy of up to 46.3mpg, bringing surprisingly agreeable running costs.
Renaultsport engineers have more experience with front-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks, but that hasn’t held the Alpine A110 back. Light, communicative and accurate steering makes threading it along a twisting road or track a delight. A low centre of gravity and mid-engined balance mean it can flick from one direction to the next in an instant. It also has a supple ride, making it more comfortable than the Porsche or Audi.
A small amount of this fluidity is lost in the more hardcore A110S, thanks to springs that are 50% firmer and anti-roll bars that are twice as stiff, but it's testament to the work of Alpine's engineers that the mid-engine sports car is still a great car in which to travel, as well as generating more grip and handling even more precisely. With an extra 39bhp, the S version also answers criticism that the A110 isn't fast enough in a straight line. It also gets a number of extra features thrown in, but it is significantly more expensive.
Its interior is spacious enough for a tall driver and passenger, with supportive and comfortable seats and decent visibility. The dashboard layout is simple, with an infotainment display hovering in front of the fascia and a simple row of toggle switches under it. The centre console is a thin spine with push buttons for the automatic gearbox and a prominent red starter button. It's less brutally simplistic than the Alfa 4C, but can’t quite compete with the Porsche 718 Cayman or Audi TT for plushness or build quality.
Luggage space could also be a deal breaker for some, with just 100 litres in the boot and a similar amount under the bonnet. Think of the Alpine as a fun weekend toy and it’s unlikely to be an issue, but a TT, Cayman or even a Toyota GT86 can carry more if you plan on taking your sports car on holiday.
In most respects, though, the Alpine A110 is a surprisingly good all-rounder. It feels special and doesn’t beat you up with a rock-hard ride or uncomfortable cabin, yet still has plenty of performance and sublime handling. Happily these come without the usual sports-car caveat of sky-high running costs. If you can justify its higher price, the A110S is even more exciting to drive and is destined to become a classic.
MPG, running costs & CO2
When a manufacturer builds a lightweight car with a small and efficient turbocharged engine, it’s a lot easier to achieve a balance between performance and fuel economy. This is exemplified by the Alpine A110, which is a 'proper' sports car that can return up to 46.3mpg – a similar figure to many crossovers. It beats the Porsche 718 Cayman, which can only just break the 40mpg barrier with an automatic gearbox. With its extra power, the A110S isn’t quite as economical but will still manage 42.8mpg.
CO2 emissions of 144-147g/km are impressive, too; they're well below the 158g/km of the Porsche and make the A110 more appealing for company-car drivers with its lower Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band.
Costing over £40,000, every Alpine A110 will be liable for a £320 road tax surcharge in years two to six of ownership, resulting in an annual payment of £465. It'll revert back to £145 in subsequent years. Insurance costs should be similar to the Porsche Cayman S, which occupies the same group 44 classification, while the Audi TT RS should cost a little less – it sits in group 43.
Exclusivity should mean the A110 will keep a firm grip on its value when it comes time to sell, and there should be a healthy demand. UK cars get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty – the same as a Renault Clio or Megane. Servicing costs have yet to be announced, but only a handful of UK Renault dealers are currently authorised to sell or service Alpine cars, which could be inconvenient depending on where you live.
Engines, drive & performance
Not only is the Alpine A110 fitted with the same 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine as the Renault Megane RS, but it’s also built on the same production line in Dieppe, France too. The fact it has been engineered by the people responsible for some of the world’s finest hot hatchbacks certainly adds to its credibility among driving enthusiasts.
Unlike the Megane, though, power is sent to the rear wheels and the engine is behind the front seats. The A110 follows the same mid-engined pattern as the limited-run Clio V6 of the noughties, but is nothing like as difficult to drive as that car. Control is helped no end by its advanced electronic safety net, which offers Normal, Sport or Track settings to alter the response of the automatic gearbox, throttle, steering and even the exhaust note while ensuring stability and traction.
An aerodynamically smooth underside helps the Alpine to remain stable at speed, and the brakes are responsive and full of feel. Head into a corner and the steering is precise and provides plenty of feedback without being overly heavy, and there’s lots of grip. The car weighs 1,080kg, so there’s little inertia and changing direction feels almost instantaneous. The A110 is also nearly perfectly balanced, with 44% of its weight over the front wheels and 56% at the back. If you want to provoke the rear to slide, it'll play along, but unlike the docile Mazda MX-5, the A110 will eventually spin when all its electronic aids are switched off.
Its suspension is softer than the Porsche Cayman S or Audi TT RS, but this doesn’t make it any less involving, and the extra compliance helps the A110 live with the bumpy tarmac found on most British roads. We've only tried it on 18-inch wheels, but suspect the standard 17-inch alloys would make it even more compliant over rougher surfaces.
The 249bhp engine makes all the right noises, hissing behind you as the turbo releases pressure and howling as you accelerate up through the gears. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 4.5 seconds, exactly matching the Alfa Romeo 4C, but a little slower than the more powerful Porsche Cayman S and Audi TT RS. The A110's turbocharged engine does hesitate briefly when full power is called upon, but the engine performs strongly from 2,000 to 5,000rpm At this point it’s best to change gear – one criticism is that this can sometimes feel a little soon, but the Alpine is more fun to rev than the Porsche. While it might not be quite as rapid off the mark, the A110’s short gearing does make it extremely quick between 30-50mph and 50-70mph, giving it great corner-to-corner speed and overtaking nouse.
With 289bhp, the hardcore A110S arrived at the end of 2019 to give buyers the option of the A110 with more power. The engine sounds louder but more importantly its extra power shaves a tenth off the 0-62mph time and its top speed is increased to 161mph. Adding to its more focused feel is suspension that's considerably stiffer, a large set of Brembo brakes and wider Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.
It might not be quite as supple as the standard car, but it still feels well suited to British roads. The steering and brakes feel sharper, especially when turning into a corner, and there's a lot more grip. The A110S rolls less in corners and seems more stable than the regular car. However, it has a much higher price and we’re sure that most buyers would be delighted with the standard A110.
Following the disappointing gearbox of the Clio Renaultsport some might have been worried that the A110 is only available with an automatic gearbox. Fortunately, this one is far better, with crisp changes and an immediate response when you grab one of the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It’s not quite as impressive as the Cayman’s PDK automatic, but it’s quick enough to excite ardent driving fans.
Interior & comfort
In an effort to stick close to its ancestor and keep weight down, the A110 is unsurprisingly compact and light. Somehow, though, this has been achieved without entirely abandoning comfort and interior style, and the Alpine feels rather more plush inside than the rather spartan Alfa Romeo 4C.
Quilted leather abounds and the raised central console helps to create a feeling that you're hunkered down in the machine. The standard seats are good, but the optional sports seats provide extra support without feeling too hard. A set of digital instrument dials adds a real motorsport feel, and their appearance changes depending on which driving mode is selected.
The Alpine is quite well equipped, too. Features like LED daytime running lights and rear lights are standard, along with 18-inch alloy wheels from Fuchs – a company famous for producing Porsche 911 wheels. The Premiere Edition gets carbon-fibre interior trim and brushed aluminium pedals for a motorsport-inspired look. There's a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB radio, but no sign of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, even as options.
Choose the A110S and you'll be greeted with orange stitched upholstery on the roof lining, sun visors, door panels and centre console, along with a standard telemetrics device to display and record driving data. The A110S also gets parking sensors front and rear, aluminium pedals and an upgraded Focal stereo. From the outside, the S model is distinguished by black and carbon badges, orange brake calipers and anthracite GT Race alloy wheels, but the changes are subtle and don’t shout about the A110S’ extra power.
Practicality & boot space
The Alpine A110 feels rather more conventional than some of its sports-car rivals. The French car has much narrower door sills and to negotiate when getting in and out, and the doors open more widely, too. You’ll also find decent amounts of space for the driver and front passenger, with supportive quilted leather seats that hold you firmly in position without being too hard.
For the vast majority of owners, the Alpine A110 won’t be their only car – and that's probably a good thing. That’s because in the back there’s only a 100-litre boot, making the A110 far less practical even than a city car. Luckily, there’s another storage space up front, of a similar size, but even combining the two provides far less storage than the Audi TT or even a Porsche 718 Cayman. Still, think of the A110 as a pure sports car for use at weekends and it makes more sense. After all, it weighs around 300kg less than a Cayman, which is no heavyweight itself.
Reliability & safety
Alpine is a rekindled brand, but it has the full force of Renault behind it, and the knowledge that’s been built up creating a long lineage of hotted-up Clios and Meganes. Renault fared a little disappointingly in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, coming 19th out of 30 brands - a five-place improvement on 2018. In our survey, 18.6% of customers experienced a fault within a year of buying their car. The Alpine ownership experience is likely to be quite different to that of Renault customers, though, with only seven dealers are currently geared up to sell or service the A110.
The fact that the Alpine appears well built is promising, though, and its engine and automatic gearbox – also found in the heavier and more mass-produced Megane Renaultsport – should be relatively unstressed due to the A110's light weight, which must be good news for reliability.
Likewise, safety will remain somewhat unknown until independent experts Euro NCAP crash-test an A110. However, Renault has an excellent safety record, to the point where it comes as a shock if one of its new cars doesn’t receive the maximum five-star score.