|Stunning looks, nimble and engaging handling, minimal mass philosophy|
|Damping lacks fine control, and the price tag will set your wallet on fire|
Few cars have been as eagerly awaited, or had such a troubled gestation, as the Alpine A110. Bravely pitched as a rival to the sublime Porsche Cayman, the French machine originally started out as a joint venture between Renault and Caterham, but a struggle with finances meant that La Regie took the project in-house. Developed with an obsessive attention to minimising mass and a uniquely French approach to chassis tuning that manages to make the car both sharp and supple, the Alpine is a genuinely different proposition to the Cayman, but no less thrilling as a result.
Like the Porsche, the A110 is powered by a four-cylinder engine, but while the turbocharged 1.8-litre in-line unit’s 247bhp might not seem much on paper, in a car weighing just 1103kg and with spring gearing it makes for a scintillating turn of speed. It’s so rapid that you’ll even forgive it a lack of a manual gearbox and the fact the seven-speed twin-clutch unit isn’t the snappiest shifter.
Most remarkable is the way the Alpine goes down the road. Where many rivals pummel the tarmac into submission, the A110 glides serenely over it, working with the surface rather than against it. Quick steering and that mid-engined layout engender real agility, while outright grip levels are high. And given the softness of the set-up it’s surprising how controlled the Alpine is….up to a point. Push really hard and the car can feel a little ragged, but drive within its limits and its unique approach to going quickly has to be enjoyed and admired.
Perhaps crucially, it’s possible to forgive a few flaws when a car looks this good. Compact, delicate and with just enough injection of retro, the Alpine looks stunning in the flesh. The cabin’s not quite as successful (the driving position, even with the seats bolted into their lowest position, is hopeless) and struggles to justify the A110’s near-$66,000 price tag. That’s a lot of cash, but the lissom Alpine just about gets away with it.
Price, specs and rivals
You can’t fault Renault’s ambition with the Alpine, with the flagship Légendemodel setting you back a hefty $67,050. And you’d hardly call the entry-level Pure model a snip at $61,910. Yes, both versions are extremely well equipped, but it’s a chunky amount of cash for what is essentially a four-cylinder coupe with a two-decade gap in its heritage.
By comparison, the entry-level Porsche 718 Cayman with its six-speed manual gearbox and 286bhp 2-litre will set you back $57,372, while adding the seven-speed PDK (a far superior unit to the Alpine’s twin-clutch) lifts the price to $60,012. Step up to the more powerful 2.5-litre S and you’ll pay $69,609 and $71,833 respectively for the manual and PDK versions. Of course, these prices are before options, meaning they’ll rise more than a little to match the Porsche and Alpine spec for spec, but as a complete sports car the Cayman just edges its more expensive rival. And yes, the flat-four engine is a bone of contention, but while it’s not the most charismatic unit, its main failing is that it’s simply not the old car’s flat-six – in terms of performance this punchy powerplant is in a different league.