Alpine A110: The French Reconnection

Alpine A110: The French Reconnection
 

When was the last time you stopped to gaze upon a French sports car? No, I’m not talking about a Renault Clio RS or a Citroën DS3 — these are hot hatchbacks, my friend — but a proper two-door coupé built solely for your indulgence.

It’s been a while, right? In fact not since the Peugeot RCZ has the land of cheese and wine and rudeness had anything of real substance to throw into the sports-car ring.

But things are about to change, thanks to Renault choosing to resurrect Alpine. Now if you were raised on a strict diet of Jay-Z and Mxit and Ritalin then you will not know what the heck Alpine is. So let me explain.

Back when the world was still viewed in sepia tint there was a Gauloise-puffing Frenchman named Jean Rédélé who started building his own breed of sporting automobiles for use primarily in competition. His first creation, the A106, was unveiled in 1955 and was reasonably successful.

Yet it was only once the sleek A110 came out in 1961 that the world started taking notice. Especially when it kicked some big-name butt at rally events all over the continent. Due to Rédélé’s long-standing relationship with Renault (pretty much all of his cars used the firm’s drive and powertrain systems) it was only a matter of time before the bigger conglomerate offered to buy out the upstart. Which is exactly what happened in 1973. So with Monsieur Rédélé still involved, the Alpine Renault brand kept on building and racing sports cars right up until 1995.

Fast-forward to the present and Alpine is back with a re-envisoned A110 that’s hungry to steal people away from the likes of the Porsche 718 Cayman and Alfa Romeo 4C.

Does it look as suave as its predecessor? You’re damn right it does. There’s enough retro etched into the sheet metal to please nostalgic classic car fanboys such as myself, but also enough raw futurism to excite those who learnt to drive using a PlayStation.

It’s functional too, with a perfectly flat floor for optimum underbody airflow plus a functional rear air diffuser that provides aerodynamic downforce at high speeds.

Viewed at any angle the new Alpine is smooth and neat and, contrary to automotive evolutionary trends, very compact: partly because the engine powering the rear wheels is a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that Alpine claims muscles out 185kW and 320Nm.

Now before you huff and puff and argue that these figures have no business being in a supposed sports car, consider the ace hiding up the A110’s sleeve. It’s called lightness and as the ghost of Colin Chapman will attest, lightness is perhaps the most important ingredient for added performance.

Consequently the Alpine engineers have been fanatical in saving every last gram of the stuff. From special linen speaker cones and bespoke Sabelt seats (a mere 13.1kg each) down to forged double-wishbone suspension and a rear braking system that features an integrated parking brake actuator (a world first, saving 2.5kg), the A110 exists solely to cheat gravity. Hitting the scales at 1080kg (more than 300kg lighter than its nearest Cayman rival), it does an extremely good job of it.

Especially when you consider that it still comes equipped with comforts like climate control and a tablet-aping infotainment system. Alpine claims a 0-100km/h dash of just 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h.

Possible downsides? A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is compulsory and there’s an E-Diff instead of a mechanical limited-slip differential. However, if the A110 is as sharp to drive as Alpine says it is (and as sharp as it looks) then we might be able to look past these spec-sheet caveats.

Local pricing is unconfirmed (as is availability – although considering Renault’s growing footprint in SA we’re sure it will launch here next year), but if you do the sums then you’re looking at around R877 000; not an insurmountable amount for those of us wanting to make a sporting French reconnection. – Thomas Falkiner