Your £50,000 sports car budget has never been as long on candidates as it is right now. For around that money you could buy a brand new Jaguar F-type, or an Audi TT RS, or a Toyota Supra, or you could sink it into one of two BMWs (the thuggish M2 Competition gets our vote ahead of the droptop Z4 M40i). Better still, the Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster are both well within reach.
Already this sector of the performance car market looks more tempting and more varied than any other, and that’s before we turn our attention to the most intriguing £50,000 sports car on sale today.
THE RETURN OF ALPINE
When French manufacturer Alpine folded in the mid-Nineties, it must have seemed as though we’d hear no more from the once great marque. Here was a car company with an outright victory at Le Mans and a World Rally Championship title to its name, not to mention a back catalogue stuffed full of very distinctive sports cars, thrown unceremoniously onto the heap. But parent company Renault had other ideas and in 2016 it pulled the wraps off the very pretty Alpine Vision concept car. It was recognisable as an Alpine to anybody familiar with its classic models from the Sixties and Seventies, but it also looked fresh and modern.
After a two-decade lay off, France’s favourite sports car manufacturer was back. The following year Alpine revealed the road-going version, badged A110 in honour of its most famous model from 1962, and given a cursory glance from the concept car to the showroom model you’d swear nothing had changed. When the first reviews of the A110 Premiere Edition (as the launch model was known) came in, the automotive media world’s supply of superlatives ran dry.
WHAT IS THE A110 PURE?
The Premiere Edition sold out in no time at all and Alpine introduced two new versions, called Pure and Legende. The A110 Pure, tested here, is the entry-level model with a £46,905 price tag and, square in its sights, the basic 718 Cayman. Though the Pure comes with less standard equipment than the Premiere Edition, it is more or less identical beneath the skin; same powertrain, same cabin, same suspension settings and same weight, but for a few kilograms here and there.
When you see a new A110 in person you realise how tiny it actually is. It’s 20cm shorter than the Cayman. And at 1,100kg it’s around 300kg lighter too, thanks in the most part to its very compact size but also its aluminium construction. With the A110, Alpine set out to build a driver’s car first and foremost, prioritising handling response over things like luggage space and creature comforts.
Compared with any of the similarly priced cars mentioned earlier on the A110 feels spartan. Its 196 litres of storage space, divided by two separate compartments, is somewhat mean, and its cabin feels like a sea of scratchy plastics. There is almost no storage space within the cockpit while to sit in, the A110 feels snug.
Given all of the above it’s easy to assume the A110 is a hardcore and uncompromising sports car in the mould of the Alfa Romeo 4C or Lotus Elise. In fact, it isn’t. Yes, it is small and it doesn’t have door bins never mind a glovebox, but that aside it is no more demanding to use in normal driving than any other car in its price bracket. What’s so clever about this car is how it combines the upsides of very lightweight models like the Elise and 4C with the comfort, refinement and everyday usability – storage space notwithstanding – of seemingly more luxurious and, as a result, far heavier sports cars. The A110 really is the best of both.
THE BEST OF BOTH
So it has light steering, good visibility, a supremely comfortable ride (more on which in a moment), airbags, stability and traction control, plus all the toys you’d expect of a modern car (climate and cruise control, satnav, phone connectivity, a decent stereo with DAB and so on) and it isn’t particularly noisy on the motorway. It just does without the more extraneous stuff you’ll find elsewhere like a head-up display, soft-touch plastics or gesture control for the infotainment. Incidentally, the A110’s touchscreen system is fit for purpose but pretty primitive compared to the systems you’ll find in Porsches and BMWs.
As long as you’re not expecting to carry a full-size suitcase around with you, you’ll find the A110 no more demanding to use everyday than a Z4 or Supra. But you will find it more rewarding to drive along a winding road than both. It’ll be more fun than a TT RS, more engaging than an F-type and more responsive than an M2 Competition. Whether or not you find it more exciting to drive than a Cayman or Boxster is really just a matter of individual preference.
The A110 has a very distinctive dynamic fingerprint, thanks to its lightweight construction and sophisticated double wishbone suspension. Its springs and dampers are very complaint, so the car absorbs bumps and depressions in the road surface unlike anything else in its class. That’s why it rides so well. The body also leans appreciably in corners and it rises and falls slightly as you pop up over crests or drop into compressions, all of which makes the car feel alive. And it has just the right amount of grip, too, enough that you can scoot along through bends but not so much that it feels numb and lifeless. That’s a long-winded way of saying the A110 is one of the most fun and rewarding performance cars on sale today. You’ll be grinning more widely in this car than in many six-figure supercars.
WHAT ENGINE DOES AN ALPINE A110 USE?
Compared with the exquisite chassis the powertrain is not much better than adequate. It does its job. The engine is a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 248bhp. That doesn’t look like much in a sector full of 350-400bhp machines, but in something so light, 248bhp goes a very long way indeed. The soundtrack isn’t especially evocative, but throttle response is decent enough and the torquey power delivery makes the A110 feel punchy and urgent in a straight line. It is a pity there’s no manual gearbox option, but the seven-speed dual-clutch item does at least work very effectively, being both smooth and refined in automatic mode and snappy and responsive when you take control yourself using the column-mounted paddles.
A car as light as the A110 doesn’t need very wide and expensive tyres, and nor will it chew through its rubber very quickly. In mixed driving it’ll return 35mpg, or rather more on a motorway run, and servicing costs will be very modest for this sort of machine. It’ll be overlooked by so many in the £50,000 sports car market because it doesn’t have a prestigious badge like a Cayman or a Z4, and it seems as though it’ll be as irritating as a stone in your shoe to simply drive from one point to another. But overlooking the Alpine would be a tremendous mistake, because the truth of the matter is the A110 is currently the best car in its class.
Alpine A110 Pure
Price: from £46,905. As tested £53,558
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 44mpg (combined)
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