The first image of Renault's new Alpine sports car concept has been leaked ahead of the car's official unveiling on 16 February.
The image, which was leaked via social media, shows the concept's interior for the first time. The new concept will be a spiritual successor to the famous Alpine A110, and is likely to be badged A120. Previous teasers have been accompanied by a short statement, saying: "We wanted to announce our comeback, but some would say we never left."
We can now see the Alpine concept will receive a digital instrument cluster - something alluded to in previous spy photos - and is likely to come with a dual-clutch automatic transmission, judging by the paddles behind the steering wheel. Other features include a central infotainment screen with a standaout analogue clock, and metallic switchgear.
Insiders have already revealed that the production Alpine will be topped by a hardcore 300bhp version within two years - at which time the company is also expected to launch an SUV to capitalise on the booming demand for upmarket high-riding cars.
The high-performance version of the new sports car will follow around a year after the base model goes on sale.
According to reports in the French press, power for both the standard car and the more extreme version is expected to come from the same 1.8-litre TCe engine, located in a mid-rear position just in front of the rear wheels and linked to the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that has been developed for the new Renault Talisman.
The engine is, in fact, said to be based on a modified version of the Clio RS’s 1.6-litre unit, because it is lightweight and allowed the company to save on the development costs of a bespoke unit.
For the fastest version of the A120, power output will be extended from around 250bhp to around 300bhp by more aggressive turbocharging. That should make it a rival for the Porsche Cayman 3.4 S, which has 320bhp but, at 1415kg, is heavier than the Alpine’s expected kerb weight of 1100kg.
The more highly tuned version of the engine will need a heavily remodelled cooling system. Insiders suggest the firm’s designers have taken the opportunity to introduce ducts down the side of the car to improve airflow without disturbingthe front-end aerodynamics. At the same time, the modifications will give the more extreme A120 significantly more dramatic visual presence.
However, the power output of the range-topper is still significantly below that of faster Caymans. Alpine bosses are said to have settled on a formula of offering a greater emphasis on lightweight construction and optimum traction than outright power, because it provides a better link to the firm’s historical successes with the A110.
Many of the Alpine’s underpinnings are said to be made using advanced aluminium construction techniques. Engineers are rumoured to have been set a 1000kg target when the project began in 2013, but this was deemed achievable only if the firm used carbonfibre bodywork, which was too expensive for production.
The most extreme Alpine will receive other visual modifications - including front LED lights with a rally-style cross on them, to evoke memories of the Monte Carlo Rally-winning A110 cars - as well as being engineered for more extreme performance.
Beyond that, external differences from the Celebration concept are said to be minimal, beyond the removal of the racing stickers and the toning down of other racing features, such as the exaggerated tow hook and single-nut racing wheels.
Engineers are also said to have focused on providing a driving position optimised for enthusiasts and based around the relationship between the location of the bucket seats, pedals and steering wheel.
Prices are expected to start at around £40,000 for the base car, rising to more than £50,000 for the high-performance A120.
Renault has previously said the new model will stick to Alpine’s tradition of modest power output with light weight. The new model is set to weigh around 1100kg.
Alpine Celebration unveiled at 2015 Le Mans 24hr race
The car was present at La Sarthe ostensibly to support the entry of an Alpine-backed contender in the LMP2 category of the endurance classic.
The Alpine Celebration bears strong resemblances to Alpines of old, most notably the A110 Berlinetta which has clearly influenced the new car’s scalloped bonnet and twin spotlights mounted high on the front bumper. The rear is more contemporary, although there are clear references to the A110 in the way the shoulder line tapers away beyond the back wheels, not to mention the blue and orange paint scheme.
Alpine design boss Antony Villain said, “We envisaged the Alpine Celebration show car as the crowning glory of six decades of Alpine style and motor racing. But we wanted to go even further by reaching out to a much broader audience.”
Renault has not released any mechanical information about the concept beyond confirming its mid-engined layout. However, the Celebration is understood to be the logical offspring of the work started in 2012 between Alpine and Caterham.
That project was dissolved when Renault bought back the British sports car brand’s stake in 2014. At the time, Renault said it would continue using the technology developed by the two firms. The Celebration is said to use the project’s platform and construction principles.
The previous Alpine concept, 2012’s A110-50, featured the V6 engine from a Renault Mégane Trophy race car. However, it is understood that the production version of the Celebration will adhere more closely to the A110’s tradition of modest power outputs and light weight by featuring a four-cylinder petrol engine driving the rear wheels.
The A110 successor is seen by senior Renault officials as a crucial way of ‘re-legitimising’ the Alpine name, and opening up the potential for a wider range of models.
Laurens van den Acker, Renault’s design boss, said, “The challenge with Alpine is to somehow fill this gap of more than 20 years and do a product that is believable. The car really needs to create the foundation of Alpine. We need to create the 911 of Alpine. If we do that properly, then we can consider cars like the Panamera.”The production Alpine will almost certainly be built in the company’s original factory in Dieppe.
The plant is still under Renault ownership but is used only for small-volume products. It currently makes the Renaultsport Clio, and recently started assembling Bluecar electric vehicles for the Bolloré company that also owns the Source London charging network.
Caterham's Alpine rival
Caterham's design for its own sports car, known internally as C120, is believed to have been ready for some time, but as both cars were due to be launched together it's likely this contributed to the ending of the partnership.
It's understood that the British company will continue to use the tech it has already developed with Renault for its own car. The company has admitted that there will be some job losses at its Norfolk-based tech centre as a result.
Caterham insiders are also refuting rumours that the firm has acquired beleagured German sports car maker Artega to make use of its mid-engined platform and production facilities. Caterham's finished car is expected to have around 300bhp available, while Renault's Alpine is tipped to have around 250bhp and a kerb weight of some 1100kg.
Both cars will have separate bodies and interiors, and their handling and driving characteristics will be tuned differently. Caterham also intends to launch more versions of its car with varying power outputs after the first model goes on sale.
Q&A with Alpine boss Bernard Olliver
Does this confirm that a production car is on the way now?
“Yes and no. Yes because it’s a sign that we are beginning to get the concept, but it’s not finished. Our objective through Alpine Celebration is to assess. It is very difficult for us - we have to relaunch a brand. This is very rare on the market. And it is very difficult to be sure what kind of expectations customers will have, and at the end what kind of profitability we will have.
"For instance, you have seen the Alpine Celebration in the village [where it is on display to the public]. If I change the logo and I put Renaultsport, or Porsche, or Lotus. Is there a difference of assessment by people? If they are interested. It is very important for us. What kind of people? Perhaps if I put Porsche it’s not the same customer than if it is Alpine or Renault Sport. So it’s quite a survey.
"We think… we have our idea. Our objective is to validate our idea or to change. My opinion is that the potential customers are very modern so they are waiting for a modern car, but of course if you buy an Alpine, you are waiting for a real Alpine.
"A real Alpine means the DNA of Alpine, which is light, fast and fun to drive. So our proposition with Alpine Celebration is that we think a new Alpine should be - firstly, a modern car, with a modern design and modern technology. Secondly - a car which also shows the heritage."
It’s a very difficult balance then?
"The design of the car is very, very important. Probably 80% of the decision to buy a car is down to the design. So it’s very, very crucial.
"But after that, there are other points, the positioning of the car, performance, comfort and of course all the economic topics with the profitability."
Is there a timeframe to launch the car?
"We would prefer to be sure than to be quick. But also this is not only about France. France is quite a small market. Of course, I think about Germany, the UK, Japan etc. And this car will go to Goodwood in the UK.
"I am very interested because I know British people love cars. The design is quite close, it is not an Italian design. It will be very interesting for us to measure the feedback from Goodwood."
So you are still deciding on your markets, as well as the technology of the car?
"No. For me there are some topics that are not to be negotiated, because it is in the DNA. And the DNA of Alpine is not negotiable. The ratio of lightweight vs power is not negotiable, it’s the DNA."
Has developing the road car been a challenge?
"My challenge is the market has not waited for us. All the places are taken by carmakers and so we have to take our place. For that we need to be very strong on our uniqueness. If we copy Lotus, or Porsche, why will we succeed?
"It’s possible we will succeed because our car will be different. An Alpine has to be different to a Lotus."
What can you tell us about the final product?
"If you see our car, you can see this car will be useable daily. The car will be elegant, with the French idea of elegance. Simple, fluid, and very uncomplicated. It will be special. So we think these topics are not in the market today. So we have our place.
"There must already be quite a bit of confidence that there is a market for Alpine. What gives you that?
"I am confident we will be able to find the good solution. But today we have not finished solving the remaining issues. For instance, the profitability hot topic. If the profitability is low it means we are not sure on the long-term future. It is very important for me and for the Renault Group to build something for the long-term."
What customers are you aiming for with Alpine?
"The customers for Alpine cars won’t be the same as for Renault. For instance, even the customer for Renault Sport is probably young, not very rich, and he is buying a car which is useable for all the things he has to do.
"For Alpine, it’s not that. It is very passionate people, quite rich, probably it’s the third or fourth car for them. It’s a car only for pleasure for the weekend, not to drive a lot, only for pleasure. Is this customer going to go to a Renault dealer to buy an Alpine? I’m not sure, because you want to get a very, very dedicated service."
Is this concept close to the final product?
"We will modify this concept using feedback from today, tomorrow and Goodwood. We will modify, we will look for a good balance. I’m not sure this is for next year – the timing is dependant on our ability to make the right car."
Additional reporting by Darren Moss and Simon Strang