Light, lithe, agile and athletic, the Alpine A110 can easily twirl and dance its way into a petrolhead’s heart.
A110’s distinctive mien and silhouette looks like no other car on the road today.
AT this moment, the Alpine A110 is, in all likelihood, the best little sports car you can acquire in Singapore.
Yes, you read that right. And no, I am not exaggerating.
Before we continue, here’s a quick Alpine (pronounced “al-peen”) history lesson.
Alpine is a French carmaker that specialises in manufacturing sports cars and racecars.
Throughout their history, they had a close association with Renault, which acquired them more than 40 years ago.
History lesson over. Back to the present-day.
Now, what makes a sports car awesome?
This is a question that causes arguments (and perhaps the end of a few friendships) among petrolheads.
All will opine that the car must evoke strong emotions.
Some will say that it must have a powerful engine, manual gearbox and rear-wheel-drive.
Others will shout about the car needing to be lightweight and responsive.
You will hear purists insisting that the motor must be naturally aspirated.
Then the powerplant argument will ensue, with people fighting over the “best” engine. Flat-6, V8, V6, inline-6, V12, V10… the debate will go on forever.
There is merit to all of these answers and opinions.
So what makes the A110 a fantastic drive?
Short answer: It has almost all the traits that one would desire in a sports car.
It has a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout.
It has road presence despite its diminutive size (overall length is just 4.18 metres).
The A110’s cockpit is an enthusiast’s dream space.
A110 will blow you away with its nimble and “chatty” chassis.
It features a pair of Sabelt bucket seats (which weigh 14kg each), a wonderful driving position and a small-diameter steering wheel.
I love the toggle switches (despite being plastic) that switch on/off the stop-start function and unlock the doors.
For the tech-savvy petrolhead, the A110’s performance menu (I’m just going to refer to it as such) has nine screens.
Yes. Nine different screens filled with graphs, bars and all sorts of displays.
From power and torque to steering angles and a lap timer, it should silence the pretentious driver who keeps yakking about his need for telemetry.
Anyway, the Alpine A110 is not a car for these folks.
It is a car that wants to be driven, and it will reward the true enthusiast.
Power-hungry drivers might sniff at the A110’s paper figures. Its engine is the turbocharged 1.8-litre inline-4 that’s also used by the latest Renault Megane RS.
Button-type shifter is easy to use; press and hold D to engage manual mode, hold down N to engage Park.
And it isn’t even tuned to 280hp like the Megane RS. In fact, in the A110, it is “detuned” to 252hp!
However, the A110 boasts a fantastic power-to-weight ratio of 230.3hp per tonne.
Ahh yes. The key to the A110’s awesomeness is its 1094kg kerb weight. Even Mazda MX-5 engineers should feel pressured.
The A110’s power-to-weight ratio gives it incredible acceleration.
Zero to 100km/h is accomplished in 4.5 seconds, which is 0.4 of a second quicker than a more expensive Porsche 718 Cayman.
Even if said Cayman was specified with the optional Sport Chrono Package, its century sprint time of 4.7 seconds is still behind that of the A110.
In the A110, a mere squeeze of the throttle pedal is enough to send the little coupe rocketing towards the horizon.
“Smoking” everyone else as you confidently merge onto an expressway has never been more satisfying.
Even point-and-squirt manoeuvres in traffic are tremendous fun.
And speaking of traffic, this coupe is relatively happy to sit and crawl in traffic.
Because it’s not overly powerful, you don’t feel that deep frustration that comes with driving cars that have 400hp, 500hp or 700hp.
If you feel like the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox isn’t exactly meeting your demands, there’s a pair of paddle shifters, which are a lot more fun to use.
Pressing the Sport button opens a flap in the Alpine A110’s exhaust and makes it louder. At the same time, the electric power steering weights up a bit and the drivetrain becomes even more responsive.
TAUT, MUSCULAR AND SUREFOOTED, THE A110 MOVES WITH GRACE, CONFIDENCE AND POWER.
What cannot be adjusted are the dampers. But you don’t need to. They are nicely tuned.
Pliant enough for everyday commutes, but firm enough to control the ride.
The A110’s light weight, rorty drivetrain and well-sorted suspension make this a French ballerina on wheels.
Taut and muscular, yet agile and surefooted. The A110 moves with grace, confidence and power.
Behind the wheel, it does feel like you’re “wearing” the car instead of driving it or riding it.
In fact, you are the car. There are no “horse and rider are one” descriptions here.
Now, despite the grip it exerts, the A110 is prone to skipping over the road if it hits a bump while you push it hard.
I also didn’t like intrusiveness of the traction control system.
In one instance, as I accelerated out of a KPE tunnel and onto the ECP, the A110 did not put down any power, despite my progressive input.
Instead, all I saw was the traction control light blinking with machine gun-like rapidity. Perhaps I was too aggressive.
I also took issue with what I felt was the lack of steering weight. The A110’s steering is a bit too light.
Then there’s the fact that the A110 is a car to be driven when you’re already at a destination filled with country lanes, hilly roads and mountain passes.
It is not a car you want to drive 150km across highways, only to tackle 50km worth of aforementioned driving roads.
There are few creature comforts in the A110. The lack of door bins, for instance, is actually irritating.
But before I could get angry, the A110 endeared itself to me again.
One of its strong points is its communicative chassis.
The car also constantly “talks” to you through its steering and suspension. You don’t need those nine screens, really.
Plus, the car’s feedback is easy to understand.
Apparently, apart from being French, this ballerina is also a linguist, for she speaks the languages that enthusiasts understand.
PHOTOS JEREMY CHUA & WONG KAI YI
ART DIRECTION MICHAEL CHIAN