Incidentally, that wasn’t a straightforward decision, because of the kind of people who are engineering today’s Alpine. They’re the kind of people who thought it would be quite nice to retain a manual handbrake, a ‘lever of fever’ for locking the rear wheels into hairpin bends. The boss himself owns an Alfa SZ and once built his own Caterham 7. You’d like these people.
Suspension is unique to the A110, too: double wishbones, front and rear. Their presence means making everything fit into the car's 1.8-metre width is a pain. Wishbones occupy a fair amount of lateral space, and the engine has to be fitted transversely between the rear set, with the fuel tank sited between the front set. But it’s worth the effort: thanks to where the fuel tank sits, weight distribution is 44/56% front to rear, putting the centre of gravity square between the driver's and passenger’s respective hips. Tyre widths are 205 on the front, 235 on the rear; wheel diameter is 17in as standard on base Pure models, 18s on alternative Legende cars and this launch edition.
There’s a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo engine that makes 249bhp and drives through a dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the rear wheels. But why no manual? Two reasons. First, there wasn’t the money to do one, and second, there was no guarantee anyone would buy one anyway. So they spent the money making the Getrag DCT better than it is in, say, a Renault Sport Clio. It has wet clutches rather than dry ones, to improve refinement and response. As well as a relatively clean centre console, then, there are paddles fixed to steering column in an interior that is, compared with a Porsche 718 Cayman, for example, what, exactly?
Well. Lower in perceived quality of materials, if we’re being honest. There are more brittle plastics, inevitably, because if you want to make a sub-1100kg coupé then them’s the breaks. There’s a reasonable-sized touchscreen, and maybe buyers will insist the A110 has its own infotainment system, but frankly I’d prefer a mirror match with the smartphone all buyers will surely have anyway, and which would operate more effectively and save a few quid and kilos.
That the A110 is a small car – length 4180mm, width 1798mm and height 1252mm – means there’s minimal oddments storage inside, while the luggage compartments are small too. The rear is short because only the metal bootlid, not the glass hatch above the engine, lifts, while the front boot is shallow because the fuel tank sits beneath it. But, hey, you don’t complain that a motorbike doesn’t have a spare wheel; this is a 1080kg car, for heaven’s sake. Of course it’s little.
What it isn’t, mind, is cramped. Even the tallest of my colleagues had no trouble finding sufficient room, which is more than you can say for a Jaguar F-Type, while the diddy steering wheel adjusts massively. It’s pleasing enough and features a button for the driving modes, which, fortunately, don't adjust the way it drives extensively. A short push gives you Sport mode, which increases steering weight, throttle and gearbox response and relaxes the stability control; an extended push puts it in Track and does all those things some more. There’s also an ESP-off button on the dash that does what it says.
None of these things, though, notably changes the way that the A110 goes down the road, because it runs on passive dampers that always do precisely the same thing: give it a ride that’s impressively absorbent yet supremely well controlled. This Alpine was never slated to have adaptive dampers, because they are heavy and so is the control unit, and so forth. And because Alpine engineers say that roll isn’t a bad thing. But the A110’s body is so light that you don’t notice much roll anyway, even on a circuit, while the soft springing and damping and hollow, relaxed anti-roll bars mean that it breathes and flows as it mooches down even some of the worst-surfaced roads we could find. There’s a hint of a modern McLaren in the way it glides and breathes, with uncorrupted steering and progressive, linear rates of lean.