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A110 gains power and handling precision, but do these traits improve the recipe or merely alter it?
17 January 2020

What is it?

You might imagine the only question that really needs answering is whether the new Alpine A110 S is 'better' to drive than the basic A110 of five-star road test fame

And fair enough. Initially it seems as though that is very much Alpine’s intention for this fresh variant of its lightweight sports car. The ‘S’ moniker, the 40bhp power bump, the firmer, shorter springs and stronger anti-roll bars, the larger brake discs and wider tyres are all exactly the sort of things manufacturers do when they want to make an existing model quicker and, as they always tell us, even better to drive.

But the official line is that this A110 S – driven here in the UK for the first time, although we've previously sampled it on much drier Portuguese roads – is simply another version of the A110, and one better suited to track days. Nothing more, nothing less; there is no hierarchy. Alpine says the original A110 turned out almost exactly as intended, so it hasn't needed to introduce a more serious model to flush through some improvements. 

The firm even expects the slower car to outsell the S three to one – a surprise, given that the £56,810 asking price for the A110 S is a reasonable-sounding £7000 more than you’d pay for a comparably equipped A110. For the record, the car you see here also has £2208 worth of lovely carbonfibre roof (easily visible because it barely meets your bottom ribs) and £936 of forged ‘Fuchs’ wheels. Along with other options, it comes out at £63,000 – about the same as the resurrected six-cylinder Porsche Cayman GTS.

The two rivals will surely meet here at some point in the future, but if you think the Cayman’s new naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat six makes it the obvious choice against the four-cylinder Alpine, think again. The A110 S is still the only one of these two cars that uses double-wishbone suspension all round, and the only one with an all-aluminium construction. In short, the French car is the more exotic: a mid-engined supercar shrunk in size, performance and price, but perhaps not in personality. At only 1114kg, it's also much lighter than the Cayman.

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What's it like?

Inside, the A110 is almost entirely as before, save for the Dinamica (synthetic suede) upholstery and door plaques that were once mini tricolores (quite cool) but now provide a flash of orange and carbonfibre. Very light Sabelt seats combine with plenty of adjustability in the steering column to give a driving position that still feels a centimetre of two too high but is otherwise good. However, just to nitpick, given this is a track-ready take on the A110, why is only the upper portion of the wheel trimmed in Dynamica and not the whole thing?

On the outside, the A110 is still a fine-looking thing. Orange brake calipers and black badging will tart the car up too much for some, but the curvaceous shape and edgy stance say much about the driving experience: it doesn’t take itself too seriously but, equally, is ready for serious drivers. And this is where it gets interesting, because once you’ve fired up the throaty 288bhp 1.8-litre turbo engine, it takes all of about three Welsh corners to know beyond doubt that the A110 and the A110 S are surprisingly different in character.

Blunty, those two-thirds of A110 owners will be better off with the non-S car. The S's steering is usefully more direct and when these little mid-engined machines are at their wonderful best, elegantly taking apart B-roads, you’re also far less likely to ground the diffuser vanes, but on the road the firmer suspension diminishes the outstanding fluidity of the base model – arguably the A110's defining characteristic. 

The difference isn't all that subtle, either. Although the S does eventually gel beautifully, the energy needed to get the chassis into its sweet spot of pliancy and control doesn't so much require you to flirt with the speed limit, as is the case with the A110, but leave it in tatters. There’s also less roll oversteer with the stiffer setup (in Alpine’s case, roll oversteer being a good thing) and in the wet you’ll generally get more understeer.   

Admittedly, that all sounds like a lot of negatives, but they’re only small negatives observed in the context of the brilliant – and plainly more road-focused – standard A110. The S is still very much a car you could drive all day and not get bored, and one that demonstrates that moderate performance needn’t detract from the fun and can, if you have the right priorities, actually add to it. We know that from front-wheel-drive hot hatches, and the Alpine, even in S form, does the same for mid-engined rear-drivers, and does so like nothing else. 

The power increase itself feels nominal, and that's because torque – the more useful commodity on the road – hasn't changed from 236lb ft, because the dual-clutch gearbox won't reliably handle much more. That torque is, however, now offered from 2000rpm all the way to 6400rpm, although this doesn't change the fact that the powertrain is probably the least impressive element of the A110 package. It's a tool to get the chassis going.

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Should I buy one?

If you're likely to do track days, you should consider the A110 S. If not, you'll find it less tolerant of half-measures when you’re out on the road simply to have fun. Its long-range road manners are also considerably inferior to that of its ‘lesser’ sibling, making it less usable day to day. 

The original A110 has an uncanny ability to double up as a GT car, because it's so supple as well as being decently spacious inside and capable of almost 45mpg on the motorway. With the S, you're only getting two of those attributes.

This is still a brilliant sports car, just one clearly intended more for track work than road pleasure. And that, in fairness, is exactly how it's being sold.

Alpine A110 S specification

Where Brecon, Wales Price £56,810 On sale Now Engine 4 cyls, 1978cc, turbo, petrol Power 288bhp at 6400rpm Torque 236lb ft at 2000-6400rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1114kg (min) 0-62mph 4.4sec Top speed 161mph Fuel economy 43.0mpg CO2 146g/km Rivals Porsche Cayman GTS, Lotus Elise Cup 250

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Comments
15

17 January 2020

Only a footnote mentions the Lotus but normally in A110 articles it seems Autocar refer to the Porsche like it's the only other make of competitor in the world.   Shoot out needs to involve a cheaper, much lighter car, namely the Lotus Elise.

Just watch the 5th gear A110 v Elise article.

17 January 2020

I want to really like it, but something stands in the way of it ever even being considered as a purchase..... no manual gearbox. 

For similar money the new Boxster or Cayman GTS with Flat 6 and manual option, the A110 wouldn’t get a look in.

For the equivalent lighterweght option, I’d probably go Elise.  

17 January 2020

Alpine, Elise, Cayman are all 'enthusiats' cars, yearly sales numbers should answer the question as to what most buyers consider the 'best' car to buy?

17 January 2020
Worldwide it'll probably be the Cayman, if you add Boxster to the Porsche tally then it'll defo be Porsche

But it's not the best guide anyway.

17 January 2020
Boris9119 wrote:

Alpine, Elise, Cayman are all 'enthusiats' cars, yearly sales numbers should answer the question as to what most buyers consider the 'best' car to buy?

Varies by region.

In the UK the 718 wins by some margin, then the A110, then the Elise.

Across Europe the A110 outsells the 718.

All are obliterated by the TT. I'm not sure this tells you much about the cars themselves; how many are bought on actual capability (all will easily exceed the legal speed limit) and how many on image?

17 January 2020
Sporky McGuffin wrote:
Boris9119 wrote:

Alpine, Elise, Cayman are all 'enthusiats' cars, yearly sales numbers should answer the question as to what most buyers consider the 'best' car to buy?

Varies by region.

In the UK the 718 wins by some margin, then the A110, then the Elise.

Across Europe the A110 outsells the 718.

All are obliterated by the TT. I'm not sure this tells you much about the cars themselves; how many are bought on actual capability (all will easily exceed the legal speed limit) and how many on image?

USA, I don't even think the A110 is sold there but the Cayman sure is.

17 January 2020
xxxx wrote:
Sporky McGuffin wrote:
Boris9119 wrote:

Alpine, Elise, Cayman are all 'enthusiats' cars, yearly sales numbers should answer the question as to what most buyers consider the 'best' car to buy?

Varies by region.

In the UK the 718 wins by some margin, then the A110, then the Elise.

Across Europe the A110 outsells the 718.

All are obliterated by the TT. I'm not sure this tells you much about the cars themselves; how many are bought on actual capability (all will easily exceed the legal speed limit) and how many on image?

USA, I don't even think the A110 is sold there but the Cayman sure is.

Correct on both counts. I did say it varied by region.

I seem to remember something (from Road and Track?) saying that most people who were buying a particular new Jeep had come from Cayman ownership. Make of that whatever you will.

17 January 2020
Obviously it's going to get compared with the Porsche and Lotus, but of more importance is that it exists to provide a choice, for me the standard road biased car every time, and I too would prefer a manual, but it wouldn't be a deal breaker. Standard car in blue looks awesome to my eyes.

17 January 2020

For me, if came bown to Alpine or Cayman, my money would go on the 6 cylinder manual car. But if the Alpine has a manual i would have to think harder

17 January 2020
artill wrote:

For me, if came bown to Alpine or Cayman, my money would go on the 6 cylinder manual car. But if the Alpine has a manual i would have to think harder

Wouldn't you try both and then decide, rather than blowing £50-60k on an on-paper basis?

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