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[NEWS] Alpine A110 R

Alpine A110 R

alpine a110r first drive 2023 01 front tracking
Track-ready version of Dieppe's sweet-handling sports car gets a high-downforce, high-grip and hardcore makeover

Track-ready hardcore sports cars don’t typically have carbon emissions listed among their key performance targets. It’s a telling mark of the industry-challenging times in which we’re living that the new Alpine A110 R absolutely had to.Like many car makers, Alpine still depends on its domestic market for around half of its sales. Not many domestic markets are quite like France, though. While the country’s ‘Malus’ CO2 emissions tax on new cars currently adds about €40,000 to the price of some of its rivals, the A110 is penalised to the tune of only around €3000 because it is small, light and efficient.Quite the competitive advantage, isn’t it? And, funnily enough, while Alpine’s customers apparently said they’d be willing to pay for performance-enhancing value that they could easily touch, see and appreciate in a car like this, they weren’t keen to pay the French treasury much more for it in tax. “That’s why we knew that we had to work with the powertrain we already had in the A110 S,” says Xavier Sommer, Alpine’s A110 programme director.So Alpine chiselled out this car’s position in the A110 range by saving weight, increasing grip, boosting downforce and trimming drag, instead of simply by dialling up the boost. Whether it has done any of these things quite enough to justify the A110 R’s £89,990 UK price - or to make the end result feel like the most special A110 that there will ever be, just as last year’s Porsche Cayman GT4 RS undoubtedly did - is a little open to question. But that’s probably an unfair comparison. Alpine has done its job very intelligently here, with the discipline to ensure that it has ended up with a car that it needn’t have Porsche’s phenomenal following in order to sell.You can see where the A110 R’s lightweight carbonfibre body parts have sprouted (front splitter, front bonnet, rear engine cover, sill extensions, rear diffuser and rear wing). The new woven carbonfibre wheels contribute more than a third of the car’s cumulative weight saving (34kg), while also better managing the airflow around the car’s flanks.Under the bodywork, A110’s extruded aluminium chassis is entirely unchanged, until you get as far as the suspension. Here, Alpine went to ZF for a new set of coilover struts that offer 20 clicks of manual adjustment of compression/rebound; main springs teamed with helper springs for the first time on any A110; and adjustable ride height. In its factory road settings, then, the A110 R sits 10mm lower than an A110 S on springs that are 10% stiffer and anti-roll bars made stiffer by a similar proportion (although more so at the rear axle than the front, in a move mirroring Alpine’s rearwards redistribution of aerodynamic downforce for the car). It has the same Brembo brakes as an A110 S, but new cooling ducts intended to make them last longer on circuit, and it runs on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.Inside the cabin, a new pair of ‘single-shell’ Sabelt carbon bucket seats save another 5kg. They aren’t tricky to berth or harsh on the backside, and they come fixed with six-point harnesses that, thanks to a clever pairing of the outer strap buckles, aren’t too much of a faff to fasten. Behind the seats, your view of the four-cylinder engine has gone. Alpine’s junked the A110’s glass engine bay partition and replaced its glass-lidded engine bay cover with a carbonfibre alternative. The rearview mirror has gone too, but that’s really the only meaningful way in which this car is any less habitable or easy to drive than an A110 S: because you can’t see out the back of it as well. The on-road ride is a little noisier than in any other A110 but isn’t jarring or restless. The steering has noticeable extra bite and tactile feel but is still intuitively paced and only medium weighted. And that rasping four-cylinder engine, blowing through a new double-skinned exhaust, makes the odd pop and bang that a regular A110 mightn’t, but it doesn’t bellow at revs or drone at a cruise.This isn’t some hairy-chested, new gallic equivalent of a Lotus Exige. It retains just enough Alpine-typical delicacy in its dynamic character to recognise. Driving the A110 R on the road gives you an introduction to the transformed grip level, body control and on-limit stability the car brings - but only a flavour. On Madrid’s Jarama circuit, though, the car’s super-purposeful nature needed no second invitation to show itself and made for a starkly more serious way to carry big speeds from braking zone to apex than any of its range-mates have hitherto. Try to drive a regular A110 nearly as quickly as this and it’ll bowl itself sideways as it turns in, rolling into tame slides that it’s a laugh, if a slightly puerile exercise, to gather up. The R has a totally different character. It’s a car to hustle and lean on, capable of cornering as hard and fast as much more expensive and powerful track rivals. With a chassis whose heroic grip levels extend way in advance of its four-cylinder powertrain’s capacity to exploit them, though, perhaps it doesn’t entertain quite so vividly when the novelty of that sheer cornering speed has worn off.The A110 R is no doubt precisely the car that the majority of its buyers required it to be. But it’s also the only A110 this tester has ever driven that felt notably underpowered, the relationship between its chassis and powertrain having been warped out of its usual sweet proportion. It’s the only one that, when driving hard out of slower corners, felt like it was missing a proper limited-slip differential. In a handful of respects, it felt like a car stretching the fundamentals of its mechanical package just a little too thinly.The car is still huge fun, mind you, offering massive track-day speed and giant-killing intent for buyers who’ve already enjoyed Alpine’s lesser A110s and are ready for something that feels genuinely 'next level'. Apart from anything else, it’s a brand-new, one-tonne, mid-engined, combustion-engined sports car, with epic flavouring in lots of places – and it exists in 2023. We should cherish its kind while we can.But the thought it left me with, as guilty and unreasonable as I felt even to think it, was this: could Alpine not have spent the money it lavished on so much carbonfibre bodywork even better on a Renault Mégane Trophy-spec engine and a limited-slip differential? As much as it might have been a less Alpine-typical approach, might a slightly more complex and interesting car have emerged if it had?The fact is it didn't; we know at least some of the reasons why it didn’t; and even if we knew all of them, wondering about 'what ifs' and 'if onlys' would be no way to do justice to anything. It's a crutch for a road tester who can't quite put his finger on exactly what it was that left him only mildly excited by a car that seemed to have the potential for so much more.And yet if this is to be the greatest height that Alpine’s revived sports car ever reaches, here I am, only mildly excited. And somehow I can’t help wondering.

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