What is it?
Spoiler alert: the Alpine A110 is the best and most exciting car I’ve driven in ages. It is all kind of good things, this compact marvel, as refreshing and cheering to drive as a nearly-great car which has had its unfulfilled wishes granted without compromise.
It’s as joyful as finding a Toyota GT86 has been given the power it always wanted, or the latest Mazda MX-5 with seats in the right place and greater roll control. It is like an Ariel Nomad without hypothermia, a Smart Roadster Coupe with a terrific gearbox, a Lotus Exige with lighter steering, a Porsche 964 RS with driveline refinement or an original Honda NSX with repairable panels. Imagine those ‘I love that car but…’ moments, only with the qualifier removed. That’s how well Alpine has absolutely nailed this car.
Am I overegging it? I could be, but I hope not. The new Alpine A110 is quite something, even of itself, but it could be the start of something much, much bigger again, too.
What you’re seeing is the rebirth of a classic French brand, established in 1955 but which met its end under Renault ownership in 1995, presumed gone forever. But now Renault has brought it back, first with this small two-seat coupe, but its bosses name-check Mini when they’re talking about its future.
Not that they’re inclined to say much yet about that future, which will presumably involve some faster and less roofy variants. “We have decided to be undecided,” says Alpine boss Michael van der Sande, with the air of mystery of a man who has decided precisely. You suspect, then, that this is the start of something – a premium brand from the Renault-Nissan Alliance that, unlike Infiniti, might actually gain traction in Europe.
How could it not be something else? Surely it's too expensive to justify otherwise. The Alpeen-a-one-ten isn’t a platform-sharing special. It has a brand-new all-aluminium architecture, will be sold through specialist Alpine dealerships and requires the refurbishment of a good portion of Renault’s Dieppe factory, in Alpine’s home city, where Renault Sport Clios are still made and where the Renault Spyder and the Mk2 Clio V6 were produced. It’s an area that still thinks so wistfully about Alpines that local government has put money into completing the factory. Suppliers are to be found there, too; the location isn't just good for nostalgia, it’s good for business.