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[NEWS] Alpine A110 2023 long-term test

Alpine A110 2023 long-term test

Alpine A110 dynamic wet roads lead

The darling of road testers is a delight to drive, but is it rounded enough to live with?

Why we’re running it: To see if the Alpine A110, one of the world’s best driver’s cars, can also prove sufficiently easy to live with for it still to make sense

#Month2">Month 2 - #Month%201">Month 1 - #Specs">Specs

Alpine a110 dynamic wet roads 2

Life with an Alpine A110: Month 2

Does our French fancy have a place if there’s only room for two at the inn? - 8 February

I'm betting plenty that you’ve spent just a bit too much time working on your fantasy garage. If I had been paid for all the words I could have written in all the time over all the years that I’ve spent selecting the occupants of mine, I could probably have afforded to buy one of them by now. Or maybe not…

The process only becomes truly interesting with some self-imposed discipline, otherwise it just ends up as a list of your favourite cars. Even limiting it to two doesn’t really help, because then I just choose my favourite road and race car (a Ferrari F40 and a Lola T70 MkIIIB). To make it a worthwhile exercise, two more limitations must be imposed. First, that they’re your only cars and between them must do everything you want and require a car to do. Second, that you must operate with a price cap. Set it low enough that you can lose hours, days even, pondering your choices. Which is what I’ve been doing.

So my latest rules are: two cars to do everything, bought new and together, inclusive of all options, for less than £100,000. That rules out a Porsche 911, unless you’re desperate for the other ‘car’ to be a Citroën Ami, which is all you could afford with what’s left. And I would be pretty desperate for it not to be.

Which is where my Alpine A110 chimes in. My kids are grown and gone, so I don’t need rear seats any more, but what I do need is a car that is not only sufficiently quiet, comfortable and connected for the long slogs I often do but also utterly thrilling on the right road, because there’s only space for one other in the shed. A Caterham Seven really won’t cut it, because I live at the end of a narrow track that’s muddy at best and quite often under several inches of snow.

I have some livestock and a little bit of land that needs maintenance, so I need a true workhorse to fill that role, and recent experience in the new Toyota Hilux GR Sport pick-up has showed that it fits that brief perfectly.

The more I live with the A110, the more it reminds me of an early 911: the simplicity, the fitness for purpose, that it does enough of the boring stuff to make sense as a daily yet turns into something on the right road. Which is why it has to be in my two-car garage and, if we were to cut both the number of cars and the price limit in half, probably my one-car garage too.

Love it 

Identity disorder

I love the Alpine’s ability to change personality according to the road you’re on and the mood you’re in.

Loathe it 

Taking the hiss

The digital radio reception is so bad around my place that it’s essentially non-functioning.

Mileage: 6150

Life with an Alpine A110: Month 1

Little sports car has a surprising degree of commonality with a hefty luxury limo - 25 January 

I had an unusual choice of transport over the Christmas period. In one corner, an Alpine A110 (low, light and compact); in the other, a fully Mullinered Bentley Flying Spur (high, heavy, vast and, because of all the stuff on it, getting on for £200,000 more expensive than the pared-back little coupé).

On paper, they seem to have little in common, but actually they share more than is initially apparent. Most strikingly, both are alumni of the school of thought that says you don’t have to be uncomfortable to have fun. Indeed, on a certain sort of road, of which Britain has no shortage, soft springing can be a boon so long as it’s properly controlled. And here it is. Now, this job is rather tougher on the Bentley, because it carries comfortably more than double the weight of the

Alpine, which is why it has triple-chamber air springs, electronically controlled dampers and active anti-roll bars, but the goal is the same: a car that breathes with the road, rather than pinging off every lump and bump to the detriment of both stability and occupants’ comfort.

More fundamentally even than that, I’m drawn to both because they represent a breed of car that becomes more endangered by the year. One of the things I find most depressing about the market today is the way it has embraced cars that do everything. Want a car with a bit of estate in it, a smidge of off-roader, a smattering of coupé? Step right this way, sir, and choose from this vast array of oversized, overweight, underachieving crossovers. They may do everything, but the bit that never gets mentioned is that this also means they don’t actually do anything genuinely well.

This is a mistake the Bentley and Alpine will never make, and before you start wondering what planet I’m living on, the same comments apply equally to a Fiat Panda, a Caterham Seven, a Ferrari F40 and my 65-year-old Citroën 2CV. Unlike the vast majority made today, these are all cars that know what they’re for. They take one job and do it superbly. High-speed continent-crushing? That’ll be the Bentley. Cross-country blast? You can’t have more fun than that provided by the Alpine.

Strangely enough, they have the same flaw too, albeit for completely different reasons. Each suffers for its dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The Bentley has one because, unlike the previous Spur, it’s derived from the platform used by the Porsche Panamera, which is a large part of why the current Continental GT is so much better to drive than the last.

But while a DCT works well in a two-door coupé, it’s less convincing in a four-door limo. It’s good but not great. And when I’m in the Alpine, however much fun I have driving it, I can’t escape the knowledge of how much more fun even than that I’d have were it fitted with a quick and slick six-speed manual gearbox.

Now, a certain rather understated genius called David Twohig was the Alpine’s chief engineer, and he just so happens to be a friend of mine too. I can hear his sighs of frustration from here. “Andrew, do you have any idea how much that would cost to engineer and homologate and how few additional cars we’d likely sell as a result?” I’m putting words into his mouth, of course, but I know it’s true: there could never have been a business case for a manual A110. But I’m right too: it would be better with a manual, however unrealistic a proposition that might be.

On the reliability side, I thought the Alpine had gone wrong last week when I felt a bad vibration through the steering wheel above 50mph, but it suddenly went away and hasn’t come back. My guess is a clump of mud got stuck to the inside of a front wheel and temporarily threw it out of balance. Other than that and brake discs that rust far too fast in wet weather and bind to their calipers, it has been flawless.

Love it 

Phoned it in

Apple CarPlay was introduced with the facelift, transforming the user experience for the better.

Bad back

There’s no backrest adjustment on the basic seats, and sliding fore and aft isn’t enough to achieve an optimal driving position.

Mileage: 5341

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A week at a standstill caused caliper corrosion - 18 January

I’m not sure what Alpine makes its brake discs from, but after standing for only a week, those on my A110 had corroded enough for one to weld itself to the caliper. That’s not such a problem if the car is parked on grippy Tarmac, but on gravel it took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on three rotating rims to release. Made a right mess of my drive... 

Mileage: 4822

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A110 is a popular choice for lovers of driving - 4 January 2023

It’s very rare to see an A110, let alone two parked side by side anywhere other than an owners’ meeting. But should I really have been surprised when I rolled up at Gordon Murray’s place to discover he too runs one? I recall him naming it as his show star at Geneva 2017 without a moment’s thought. Clearly, he decided to put his money where his mouth was. 

Mileage: 3457

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Welcoming the A110 to the fleet - 21 December 2022

Can it really be five years since we first saw it? Half a decade since I first sat in an Alpine A110 and knew that today was going to be a different day before I was even out of the car park? It seems it can.

It’s fair to say the A110 has not exactly tumbled out of the showrooms in that time, despite as rapturous a reception in the motoring media as enjoyed by any new car that I can remember. Turns out that when the choice is between the most exquisite, balanced handling from a car designed to be as light and responsive as possible, or one with a posh badge on the nose, most people would rather have the Porsche.

As a thing to drive, it is their loss. I’m a huge Cayman fan, but you’ll only get the base model with its unlovely flat-four engine for this money, and while it’s more powerful, by the time its additional quarter tonne of avoirdupois is factored in, the two cars’ respective power to weight ratios are as near as makes no difference. And the Alpine is smaller and more delicate and just plain fun to drive.

But as a thing to live with? That’s what the next six months are about. So don’t expect me to spend that time gushing relentlessly over its on-limit handling or the deftness of its damping. There’ll be some of that, I’m sure, but what I really want to find out is whether an A110 works not just in theory and in the road testers’ fantasy realm of mountain passes and race tracks, but here in the real world.

I hope to have many great drives in it, but I know already I’ll have many bloody awful ones, too, sitting in heavy traffic, or simply tedious ones droning down the motorway, because that’s life. How will such a tightly focused car fare? If it does well, it will prove you really don’t need to compromise your driving pleasure; if it doesn’t, the A110 will go down as a wonderful idea that works far better in theory than in practice.

The car came to us in base spec, which used to be called ‘Pure’ but now, post its facelift this spring (which was scarcely a facelift at all), has no further nomenclature beyond ‘A110’. The options spend was modest (see box right), at around 4% of the purchase price, but had it been me ticking the boxes, I’d have dispensed with them all save the parking sensors. 

What would I have chosen instead? Perhaps Thunder Grey paint in place of Alpine Blue, but that’s about it. No need for the big brakes on an 1100kg car, and not even I am sufficiently nerdy to crave the optional telematics pack, which can tell me the steering wheel angle I’m fairly sure I can see for myself.I would love the slim panniers that fit down the sides of the seat as somewhere to store stuff in the cabin because there’s precious little room elsewhere, but they don’t seem to be available any more.

A mate who had them on his pre-facelift car said they were a game-changer. And the jury is out on the comfort pack: I’d quite like the speaker upgrade it brings, but it’s the comfort seats with adjustable backs I’d covet most. The standard buckets, which only slide to and fro, may prove restrictive on long runs. The only slightly odd thing about the specification are the standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.

They’re good enough boots for sure, but the next one up the range, the Pilot Sport 4 S, is the best all-round performance tyre I know, and I’ve tried them on cars as diverse as a Ford Focus ST and a Ferrari 296 GTB. There’s no way I can afford a set to try out for myself, but after winter, and if Renault and Michelin are happy, I’d be really interested to see what they brought to the party.

They are not an original equipment tyre for the A110 – though strangely the far more extreme track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 is – but in theory at least they should be perfect. For now, I’m just looking forward to getting to know the Alpine a little better, which shouldn’t take long. Regulars will remember I’ve just got out of a Mercedes S-Class, whose widgets and gadgets were still surprising me six months in. Technologically, the A110 is an abacus by comparison.

And that’s just fine. When people ask me what I like most in a car, the answer is very simple: it is to know what it is for. And it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a Caterham Seven, a Rolls-Royce Phantom or an original Mini you’re talking about. It’s what I liked so much about the S-Class and what I hope to feel about the A110. Either way, I’m looking forward to finding out. 

Second Opinion

As the owner of an A110 of similar spec but a year older, I’m pretty sure Andrew’s going to find a lot of ‘living with’ positives, certainly as regards comfort and easy cabin access. The curiosity will be the car’s durability. Andrew does big miles, so I’ll be interested to see how he fares. My experience has been good, so far 

Steve Cropley

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Alpine A110  specification

Price new £49,990 Price as tested £51,984 Options 18in dark grey diamond-turned Serac wheels £936, front and rear parking sensors £660, aluminium pedals £120, Alpine floor mats £110, blue stitching £90, blue Alpine logo on steering wheel £78

Test Data: Engine 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine Power 248bhp at 6000rpm Torque 236lb ft at 2000rpm Kerb weight 1103kg Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 4.5sec Fuel economy 38.8mpg CO2 152g/km Faults None Expenses None

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