Dieppe adds downforce, and sheds weight, to take the A110 into track car territory

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The Alpine A110 R represents a bigger leap for its manufacturer, and a more significant departure for the Alpine A110 sports car, than many might realise.

Track-day versions of particular sports cars do great business for some of Alpine’s rivals, of course, but the A110 isn’t just any mid-engined two-seater.

Moreover, Alpine itself plays in a domestic market that would harshly penalise it for simply dropping a bigger or more powerful engine into a special derivative, and taking the easy route to boosted performance. Nor would doing that align historically, in any case, with the company’s approach to car-making.

Springing out of founder Jean Rédélé’s successes in Alpine Rallies, the Alpine car brand of the 1960s famously favoured compact sports cars whose modest size, lean weight and particular suspension tuning made them very well suited to road driving. Big power was never really part of the equation.

When the Alpine brand was rejuvenated 50 years later, it was with a sports car similarly designed and engineered for road use. The A110’s narrow width, modest wheel sizes, easily controlled mid-engined chassis and concurrently gently rated suspension made it a refreshing change from the performance car norm.

But now, while that acclaimed base model continues, Dieppe is exploring what else the A110 can do. In 2019, it brought us the mildly tuned-up A110 S; now, the even more hardcore A110 R follows suit.

As the base car enters its autumn years, then, the A110’s derivative range is finally fully extended – and Alpine has been free to radically explore what opportunities there are to turn this car into something with the sharpest dynamic cutting edge.

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The Range at a Glance

Models Power From
A110 248bhp £51,790
A110 S 296bhp £61,790
A110 GT 296bhp £61,790
A110 R 296bhp £96,290

The R broadens Alpine’s derivative range for the A110 to four models, the S having joined the line-up in 2019 and the GT as part of a facelift in 2022. Special editions have been regular appearances too, examples of which include the San Remo 73, S Enstone Edition and R Le Mans.

The entry-level car comes quite simply equipped: 17in wheels are standard, with parking sensors, reversing camera, sports exhaust and Brembo performance brakes all cost options. On the R, you can still pay extra for premium audio, special paint and Alpine’s Ultralight R pack. 


alpine a110r review 2023 02 action rear

When you already make one of the lightest two-seat sports cars there is in large-scale production, finding new ways to save weight means thinking creatively.

The A110 R is a claimed 34kg lighter than an A110 S. On Millbrook’s proving ground scales, it dipped under 1100kg in running order (just), making it 31kg lighter than the A110 we tested back in 2018. Clearly there were no back seats to chuck out, but by making savings across body, glasshouse, suspension and interior, very few stones appear to have been left unturned here.

The R’s rear diffuser is longer to better accelerate the air under the car’s body. The exhaust system is partly 3D-printed, has no active valve and weighs 700g less than the standard system.

The car gets two-piece, 18in carbonfibre composite wheels (manufactured by Duqueine), which contribute 12.5kg of saved unsprung mass between them; hard-shell, fixed-backrest carbonfibre bucket seats from Sabelt (5kg); a carbonfibre engine cover in place of the old glazed panel (4kg); a carbonfibre bonnet (2.6kg); six-point racing harnesses in place of inertia-reel belts (1.5kg); and a simplified, lightweight sports exhaust (0.7kg).

Another 8.9kg is saved by the removal of other items. You don’t need a rearview mirror, or a glass rear bulkhead screen, when there’s no glazed engine cover to see through, after all. Nor, Alpine would clearly argue, does your passenger need an airbag if they are wearing a six-point harness – so that goes, too.

Alpine actually added slightly to the A110 R’s kerb weight with its suspension modifications, but the 1.2kg that the new competition-grade coilover struts impose between them might be considered a small price to pay. They adjust manually through 10mm of ride height and 20 ‘clicks’ of collar-bound compression/rebound selection.

On its ‘road’ suspension settings, then, the A110 R sits 10mm lower than an A110 S, with coil springs some 10% stiffer front and rear, and with lateral (anti-roll bar) stiffness increased more at the rear axle than the front. The coilovers can then adjust an additional 10mm lower on ride height to deliver the car’s ‘factory’ track suspension setting (although we tested it in its road configuration).

The A110 R makes 110kg more downforce over the rear axle than a regular A110 does – thanks not least to that new swan-neck rear wing – and 30kg more over the front wheels, both at its 177mph top speed. When running in its track suspension settings, it also offers up no more aerodynamic drag to the air than a regular A110.

Keeping drag down would have been especially important to Dieppe because, unlike most track-intended specials, the A110 R actually has no more power than an S. Driven by the Renault Sport-derived 1.8-litre turbocharged four-pot that every other A110 uses, it has 296bhp and 251lb ft to call on, channelled through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with the same ratios as the S.

The attitude of potential customers, surveyed by Alpine while the A110 R was being designed, was key to this decision. In the firm’s domestic market, France’s notoriously punitive ‘malus’ emissions-based showroom tax can double the price of a sports car to its eventual owner, and A110 R buyers were keen to avoid paying any more of it than they had to.


alpine a110r review 2023 10 dash

The A110 R’s new seats, six-point safety harnesses and some bright interior door pulls in place of the usual fixed handles are what Alpine regulars will notice about the cabin. 

Although they look quite uncompromising, the seats are comfortable enough once you are settled in. They support you effectively without squeezing your lower back or thighs too much, or becoming uncomfortable over longer distances, and like Alpine’s other sports seats, they can be manually adjusted for both height and inclination at the base, either by dealer service or, if you’re feeling brave, via a Torx socket set. 

You would doubt that switching the fixed interior door handles out for these belt loops actually saved much weight, but they are a welcome flash of colour

The harnesses, meanwhile, buckle up via clever fixings that combine the lap and shoulder straps on each side of you, saving you at least some of the usual fastening faff. The red plastic covers on the release bar for the seat adjustment rails are another clever feature, making it much easier to move the driver’s seat fore and aft once your belts are done up.

The digital instruments and infotainment screens are as you will find them in other A110 derivatives; the R’s Alcantara-upholstered fascia and door cards, and its bright metal-faced pedals and aluminium lower tunnel, likewise. While oddment storage remains a little meanly provided and hard to access, there is indeed just enough habitability about this interior for regular use.

Only when you look up to check what’s behind you before moving off will you notice the absent rearview mirror and, once you turn around, the fully upholstered rear bulkhead behind you. Thankfully, you can see plenty through the A110 R’s door mirrors and over your shoulder through the car’s usefully well-positioned quarterlight windows.

Luggage space is as in other A110s, so there’s room for helmets and soft bags in the boot, and a shallowish ‘frunk’ box up front  that can take smaller items. You will struggle to fit a larger suitcase anywhere other than the passenger footwell but, with what space there is, weekend touring for two might just be possible.

Multimedia system

Alpine’s 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system got a significant update with the A110’s 2022 facelift. It now offers two USB-C connectivity ports and wireless smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android devices, and is fully connected for over-the-air updates to its firmware.

The home screen layout remains customisable, giving you quick access to the functions you need most often. There’s a permanent nav bar at the top that lets you hop easily to and from your smartphone’s screen and the fitted system, so there’s little connected functionality it wants for.

There are also telematics functions for the main screen, so it can display turbo pressure, gearbox temperature, engine power and torque, or steering wheel angle, should you want it to during track driving.

Alpine persists with Renault’s old-school audio remote sited on the steering column, which does at least make volume adjustment easy, although it prevents the car’s shift paddles from extending downwards as they really ought to.


alpine a110r review 2023 25 exhaust

Conditions were favourable on the day of our performance tests and, while the A110 R didn’t quite match its acceleration claims, it certainly went quicker than any other derivative we have timed previously.

Launch control is engaged in either Sport or Race driving mode. With electronic stability control set to ESC-Track, you simply hold the car on the brake pedal and give both shift paddles a long pull. The car governs its revs at about 3500rpm, feeding the clutch out quite progressively as you lift off the brake, and making for a getaway that feels brisk but not rapacious, and – thanks to those warm Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – is always delivered under control, with a surfeit of grip over grunt.

Were I an A110 R owner, I’m not sure my better half would often agree to come out for a ride, but I suspect the deletion of the passenger airbag would put her off permanently – six-point harness or not. I hope that’s not a deal- breaker for too many would-be owners.

Averaged in two directions, our test car managed 60mph from rest in 4.2sec (half a second quicker than the A110 Première Edition we tested in 2018), and a standing quarter mile in 12.5sec (13.2sec for the standard car). 

In broader terms, of course, that’s not particularly quick for a near-£100,000 sports car (BMW M4 Competition: 3.9sec, 12.1sec; Porsche Cayman GT4 RS: precisely the same). So the question you soon come to acquaint yourself with when driving the A110 R is: how much do I really want a lot of power in my track-ready sports car? How much do I need to accelerate really quickly, or to hear a really appealing, free-revving, multi-cylinder engine?

It isn’t that difficult to answer at least one of those questions, because the A110 R is certainly quick enough to get your pulse racing – on the road or on the track. It responds with a little bit of softness and latency when you apply power from middling revs, but then pulls cleanly and purposefully to well beyond 6000rpm.

So, for a four-cylinder turbo, this motor is strong enough, and it’s well matched to a dual-clutch gearbox of well-chosen ratios that shifts crisply in manual mode.

But, although Alpine has put in plenty of effort to better tune the R’s exhaust, intake resonator pipe and engine cover to give that engine a deeper, more dramatic audible character than it has elsewhere, it does lack some richness and distinguishing mechanical appeal, as well as really big-hitting firepower. For this price, other sports cars give you significantly more of both, leaving the A110 R’s chassis plenty of ground to make up.

Track Notes (Millbrook Proving Ground, Hill Route)

Alpine estimates that the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres on the A110 R are worth between one-half and a full second of lap time at most circuits, compared with the Pilot Sport 4s on an A110 S.

They certainly give the car a powerful hold on dry asphalt, and its tautly controlled body, stability-minded chassis tuning and huge stopping power give you huge confidence to go barrelling into braking zones, and to challenge yourself with how much speed you can carry from apex to apex.

You have to drive the car harder still to tease any adjustability at all from what is a pretty serious-feeling handling balance – and, for the most part, in vain.

The four-cylinder engine typically can’t overwhelm the driven axle’s grip level when accelerating out of tighter bends, and it takes a lot of corner-entry speed to start to move the rear of the car around  on a trailing throttle.


alpine a110r review 2023 28 panning track

The pervading sense of pure adhesion of the A110 R as it accelerates is apparent even more readily in the way that the car steers and handles.

It feels incredibly light, agile and immediate when changing direction, and coursing through compressions and over rises. So taut and closely controlled in its body movements, like few other sports cars on the road. So free of inertia, and bristling with potential for speed, in the way that it gets from turn-in to apex to exit. 

But it’s also so much more composed and ready to carry speed over testing surfaces than you might imagine a track-prepared car would be. Alpine’s trick dampers do a stellar job in providing that remarkable on-road composure.

With the A110 R set in its road suspension calibration, they deal with B-roads remarkably calmly. And so the car declines to grab or rebound over bigger, sharper inputs, or to tramline around bumps, communicating plenty through the steering but not fighting with you.

This bump composure gives you plenty of confidence to extend the car, but the on-limit chassis balance you unearth when you do is also quite different from what you might expect of an A110, although not entirely unsuited to something with ambitions of giant-killing lap times.

Hiking the base A110’s rear anti-roll bar rates, together with moving its centre of downforce towards the rear, has given the A110 R much more stability-centric handling than we are used to from Alpine.

While that firmly held rear axle can be more biddable to moving wide when turning in in slippery conditions, it is stoically controlled most the time. And so eking out the R’s grip level is much more often about feeling for the lateral limit of those front tyres, through that weighty tactile steering, as you corner.

And about carrying apex speed boldly without worrying what might happen behind, rather than enjoying the gentle ballet of dive, roll, jounce and slip that so vividly characterises a standard A110’s handling.

Comfort & Isolation

This isn’t the quietest sports car for long-distance touring – but then neither should it be, you might say.

And neither is a regular A110. While the Légende GT we tested in 2022 recorded 67dBA of cabin noise at a 50mph cruise, the A110 R hit 69dBA. That’s a difference just about big enough to notice, but it doesn’t amount to a car that will exhaust your patience, or that you would feel the need to wear earplugs to travel in. It is also nothing compared with the difference you would remark on when getting into, say, a Porsche Cayman GT4 RS instead (76dBA).

Although it doesn’t have the active exhaust of its range-mates, the A110 R’s engine doesn’t drone at a cruise, and while its axles and tyres do conduct some surface roar, it’s not an amount that threatens to overwhelm conversation.

Adjusting the car’s seats for cushion height is a bit of a job. But once set, you would be unlikely to move them, and if you set them low, even 6ft-plus testers can drive this car with a helmet on without contacting the cabin ceiling.


alpine a110r review 2023 01 action front

Extra-special hardcore derivatives like this always exist at the margins of acceptability on value for money, and for a company like Alpine there will always be a few wealthy customers willing to pay a high price for a car that the next club member simply can’t justify. 

So don’t imagine that the £96k asking price will prevent the A110 R from returning on Dieppe’s investment in it. That does, however, look like a high price indeed for a four-cylinder sports car to those of us who aren’t wealthy collectors, especially since this isn’t a limited series car. It is almost double what an entry-level A110 costs and closer to the percentage premium that Porsche charges for a 911 GT3 RS over a regular 911 than over a 911 GT3.

The lack of a rearview mirror bothered me for an hour or so, but I soon adapted and stopped missing it. If you are a van driver, it needn’t bother you either, I guess (and what a two-car garage that would be).

Alpine will argue, of course, that it had to keep a closer watch on CO2 emissions than Porsche’s GT department ever has, and work harder for its gains as a result. And in doing so, it has delivered a track car that can breach 40mpg on a modest motorway cruise, and manage 350 miles between fills when required to. Unusual, though creditable, track car qualities.


alpine a110r review 2023 30 static rear

Alpine has worked with bold strokes to create the A110 R. In going head to head with the likes of the Porsche GT department with a proper motorsport-grade derivative, and contending with the particular restrictions of its home market, it has been remarkably brave, too.

But the car it has turned out, as compelling as it can be, has some clear limitations. The A110 R has the tearaway charm of a lightweight that can carry grin-inducing cornering speed, driving around the outside of muscle cars on circuit outings; it’s really usable; and it can engage you surprisingly capably as a fast road car.

But – lightweight or not, French or not – it really needed a more enticing, dramatic engine to stand up to its German and British opponents, to better animate its chassis and to justify that near-£100k price.

Whether you will find this a better-handling car than a regular A110 will depend on how and where you drive it, and much on personal taste. It is certainly a different-handling car - and so probably earns its place in the range. But, for us, it’s a little too dynamically one-dimensional to represent what makes both Alpine and the A110 so special.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Alpine A110 R First drives