If the art of good comedy is timing, how funny is this? A week to the day after collecting the base-model Alpine A110 that I’d spent my own hard-earned money on, I flew out to Portugal to drive the faster, sharper, more prestigious and apparently more desirable A110S. That’s like escaping from prison to live the life of a fugitive seven days before being pardoned.
I bought an A110 of my own because it’s the modern, just-about-affordable performance car I enjoy driving more than any other. I managed a little under 600 very tentative miles in my own car (officially a new A110 should be run in over 1,800 miles, but I’m told 1,000 will do it) before jetting off for Lisbon and the media launch of the new model. I’m still learning how the windscreen wipers operate. Imagine realising I’d bought the wrong Alpine even before I’d figured out how to mute the satnav commands.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAIL
The A110 Pure, which starts £47,810, and the new £56,810 A110S appear identical, right up until the point you begin interrogating the finer details. They both use the same bonded aluminium chassis with double wishbone suspension all-round, the same lightweight aluminium body panels, the same exterior design, the same interior layout, the same engine and gearbox, the same seats and even the same infotainment system. They differ only slightly: the A110S has firmer springs by 50 per cent and stiffer anti-roll bars by 100 per cent, plus a fractionally lower ride height, ever so slightly wider tyres and revised bump stops. It also has another 40bhp (288bhp versus 248bhp) but no more torque (still 236lb ft). The two models are so identical – apart from in the finer details – that only one-tenth of a second separates the pair in the 0-62mph dash.
PLENTY FAST ENOUGH
No Alpine has ever been about outright performance above all else, but capable of 162mph and needing only 4.4 seconds to reach 62mph, the A110S is surely fast enough for most people. Every Alpine – be it a modern day example or the very first car the French marque ever built in 1955 – are sports cars that favour lightweight construction and agile dynamics over raw acceleration times and top speeds. That’s why the current A110 is such a compelling machine.
But can a touch more performance and a track-focussed chassis setup make the little Alpine even more compelling? The company doesn’t say exactly what the ’S’ stands for but I’m guessing it’s single-minded, because this is the most uncompromising version of the mid-engined sports car Alpine has yet produced. There are a few design flourishes to let you know you’re looking at the more expensive model, such as bright orange brake callipers and optional matte grey paintwork. An exposed carbon fibre roof is another option, while suede-like Dinamica upholstery within the cabin is standard-fit.
The A110S certainly looks the more prestigious car, but only if you know what you’re looking for. To the untrained eye they probably appear one and the same. Both versions have the sort of cockpit that would make a Porsche 718 Cayman owner snigger with derision but a Lotus Elise driver look on with envy: some of the interior plastics are hard and scratchy, and yet with climate control, cruise control, phone connectivity, full infotainment and a decent stereo, the Alpine has all the modern conveniences you could realistically need.
DRIVING THE ALPINE A110S
What you notice first when driving the A110S is how much tauter its suspension feels. Whereas the A110 is unusually lissom and pliant over even badly maintained roads, skipping lightly over potholes and craggy tarmac, the A110S thuds and thumps along like a more conventional sports car. It’s a very long way from being unbearably stiff, but it’s certainly less forgiving than the existing model. It also rolls and leans in corners far less markedly than the A110, which for me makes it feel a little more inert. Whereas the cheaper model feels alive and exciting not much beyond walking pace, the A110S needs to be flogged before it comes to life.
Flog it, though, and over the final 2,000rpm or so you really notice those extra 40 horses. The A110’s less powerful engine tends to fade right at the top end, but the more potent motor keeps charging. With a vocal sports exhaust and the air inlet tract right behind your ear, the Alpine’s seemingly unexotic, Renault-sourced 1.8-litre turbo engine actually makes a more than agreeable sound. The gearbox, meanwhile, is about as good as these double-clutch paddle-shift transmissions get in sub-£100,000 performance cars, but purists will still lament the absence of a manual ‘box (and rightly so).
For my tastes, the softer and more forgiving A110 is a better road car than the tougher A110S. There isn’t a great deal in it, but then there isn’t a great deal which separates the two cars. It’s tempting to say the A110 is best on the road and the A110S more adept out on the race track, but there is actually more to it than that. In fact, I think the A110 is also more entertaining to drive on a circuit, because its chassis has been honed quite intentionally to be very playful at the limit. To make it oversteer on the way into a corner, for instance, you simply turn-in off the throttle. The car will begin to rotate, and if you stand on the power you can make it slide right the way through a bend. The A110S behaves quite differently at the limit. It’s much more stable, remaining flat and level, tracking arrow-sharp with only a trace of oversteer.
A110 OR A110S?
So for the kind of hooligan behaviour that might get you black-flagged on a trackday, the A110 is the one to have. When you’re chasing lap times and driving more like a racing driver than a joy rider, though, the A110S is so superior you wonder if the two cars are really that similar after all. It’s keener, more responsive, better controlled and ultimately a good deal quicker on circuit: a prize greyhound darting its way around a dog track while the A110’s dappy Labrador puppy leaps around and chases its own tail.
But just as the young pup would be all flopping tongue and flailing legs, the A110 is all daft body roll and lurid oversteer, and it’s endearing because of it. The A110S is an exceptionally capable thing and hugely rewarding to drive on track, but it’s also a more conventional kind of sports car. And I don’t wish for a moment that I’d bought one instead of my sublime, very unconventional A110.
Price: from £56,810
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 162mph
Fuel economy: 43.5mpg (combined)
Model history: Alpine A110
Having been dormant for more than two decades, Alpine was revived by parent company Renault back in 2016 when the Alpine Vision concept car was unveiled. It delivered its first new car since 1995 the following year, the A110 Premiere Edition earning plaudits throughout the motoring press that long-established sports car companies would kill for. When all 1,955 Premiere Editions had been sold, Alpine switched focus the mechanically identical A110 Pure and A110 Legende versions. Those two models remain on sale, but they now slot in beneath the A110S in the Alpine model range.
Cars Reviews by Manufacturer
In the market for a used car?
CarGurus makes it easy to find great deals from top-rated dealers. CarGurus compares price, detailed vehicle data and dealer reviews to give each used car a deal rating from great to overpriced, and sorts the best deals first. Find out more and begin your used car search at CarGurus.