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First drive: Alpine A110S. Image by Alpine UK.

First drive: Alpine A110S
Does the sensational Alpine A110S improve, or otherwise, with the addition of an S to its name?

 



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Alpine A110S

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

As Alpine's automaton-obsessed compatriots Daft Punk once sang, 'harder, better, faster, stronger'. The more focused S version of the glorious A110 mid-engined sports car is definitely three of these things, but crucially it's not the fourth...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Alpine A110S
Pricing: A110 range from 48,140, A110S from 57,140, car as tested 62,776
Engine: 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, seven-speed wet-twin-clutch DCT automatic
Body style: two-door mid-engined coupe
CO2 emissions: 146g/km (VED Band 131-150: 215 first 12 months, then 475 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 43mpg
Top speed: 161mph
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds (with optional Sport Chrono; 3.8 seconds without)
Power: 292hp at 6,400rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 2,000-6,400rpm
Boot space: 100 litres (front boot), additional 96 litres (rear boot)

What's this?

A tougher Alpine A110, which - if you've read our review on the 252hp French midships coupe - is a quite simply heavenly sports car with damping that'll blow your tiny mind. So, doing a more powerful version that puts more emphasis on the sharper bits of the driving dynamics is a totally understandable move on the part of Renault's performance arm; come on, Porsche has any number of more robust derivations of the regular 718 Cayman, because you can ascend in spiciness through 718 T, 718 S and 718 GTS 4.0, long before you get anywhere near the unmitigated, bewinged majesty of the GT4. It surely can't be too long before Toyota cottons on to this trend and GRMN-ifies the excellent Supra GR, while BMW has done three varieties of the M2, the first level of increased kinematic acumen being the Competition and the top dog represented by the outstanding CS.

So there's plenty of precedent here for Alpine to do the same with the A110. Thing is, and loosely continuing our musical theme from the intro, there's also a thing called 'difficult second album syndrome' and when Alpine managed to execute the standard A110 to such an astonishing level of magnificence in the first place, improving on that package is going to be nigh-on impossible... isn't it? Anyway, here's how Alpine goes about turning an A110 into an A110S. You can option up forged 18-inch wheels and a carbon roof to reduce the overall weight of the A110S, but even if you don't (as with our test example) then the car still comes in at a svelte 1,114kg. A bigger, higher-boost turbo is paired to the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, lifting peak horsepower by 40hp to a 292hp maximum, delivered at a slightly higher 6,400rpm (+400rpm) rev point than in the 252hp A110. Torque remains unchanged at 320Nm, as that's all the same seven-speed DCT 'box can handle, but - again - it is on tap for an additional 1,400rpm overall, kicking in at the same 2,000rpm as on the A110 but not dropping off until 6,400rpm and, yup, the moment at which peak power hits.

Visually, little changes on the outside save for black badging, although watch out for the superb Thunder Grey matte paintwork: looks fab, drains your wallet of a scarcely believable 4,440 if you spec it up. Inside, there's lots of orange stitching and more carbon-effect detailing, with a few of the cabin's tricolores replaced by black-black-orange logos of the same shape. There's also an increased quantity of sporty Dinamica fabric, which is like Alcantara but isn't from the Italian company which bears that A-trademark, although there is no uplift in interior practicality (of which there's very little) nor boot space (meagre, flat cargo bay up front, with another odd-shaped and hot effort behind the engine at the back). You also have to swallow the same four-square-motif infotainment as you'd find in a Suzuki, which is fine enough in a budget Japanese runaround but maybe not something you can ignore on a machine which costs the best part of 63 grand as tested.

Still, we actually love the A110S's interior, thanks to its perfect seating position, the clarity of the dials and switchgear, and the sense of theatre imparted by both its stripped-back nature and that arched transmission tunnel contrivance between the seats, and as you're not paying a 9,000 premium because the S is somehow like a luxury limo on the inside then we're not bothered by a so-so human-machine infotainment interface. Beyond the 40hp hike in output on the engine, it's mechanical alterations which are the hallmark of the A110S: it rides 4mm lower on springs which are 50 per cent firmer than those on the A110 (with the dampers adapted to match) and anti-roll bars which are twice as tough, while the internal orange theme is continued outside for the four-piston Brembo front brake callipers, these gripping a set of larger 320mm discs (the same size rotors are used at the rear of the Alpine, too). All of these touches - the added power to make the car faster, the harder suspension to hone the driving characteristics, the stronger brakes to improve stopping capability - sound like they ought to make the A110S 'better' than the A110. The question is: do they?

How does it drive?

Let's make no bones about it, this is a terrific performance motor by any rational measure. The Alpine is lightweight and mid-engined, two facets which have made Lotus such a rightly revered company for dynamics over the years, and to drive the A110S hard is a joyful, rewarding experience that few cars from rival manufacturers can even dare hope to match, given their heftier forms and less-involving drivetrain layouts. That the A110S would be the superior machine, out of it and its A110 sibling, for a fast-lapping circuit session or charging along a millpond-smooth road snaking up the side of a mountain (you might even say an 'alpine' road... heh) is not in doubt.

But even if you are a track-day aficionado, on the premise that the Alpine is your only car then would it be worth making some sacrifices for 95 per cent of the time you drive it, just for those oh-so-rare occasions when you might exploit its marginal advantages? We don't think so. And the sacrifices we speak of revolve around ride and refinement. No matter what you're doing with it, a regular A110 is never anything less than supremely comfortable. It oozes its way across rougher routes, its supple suspension keeping its tyres in contact with more of the road surface for much more of the time, and while its body control is flightier and more expressive than the A110S's rigid comportment, it also lets the driver feel weight transfer and balance that bit more clearly.

The A110S, regrettably, lets you know within five yards of rolling off that all its underpinnings are wound up, as it crashes, bangs and thumps over imperfect tarmac in a way any other Alpine would not. Like many a modern performance car, the damping settles into a more acceptable groove at 70mph or so, and thus the ride comfort and the handling both approach genuine genius levels at such pace. However, in the sort of middling 30-50mph ground, there's more of a sensation of skittering from the A110S that simply would not manifest at all in the A110. Basically, the S rides and corners like you'd imagine any mid-engined sports car (or front-engined coupe of similar stats) from any other manufacturer to. Or, in other words, it doesn't feel quite as Alpine-ish as the A110.

The A110S remains marvellous, of course. The steering, brakes and the DCT gearbox, in particular (especially its sizeable, tactile shift paddles), deserve major praise as they're all up there with the best in the business. Brilliant engine, too, because you're sitting ahead of its induction and so it begins to make a truly spine-tingling, metallic bark as the rev counter swings past 4,000rpm that only rises in intensity to a glorious, rasping crescendo at the redline. Accompanied by the prerequisite rumbles and bangs of a 21st-century performance exhaust system, the Alpine has a deeply appealing soundtrack operating way beyond almost any other turbocharged four-cylinder engine we can think of. That it's quick is not to be questioned either, because the lack of mass equals lack of inertia and so the A110S picks up on acceleration pretty damned rapidly from anywhere on the dial.

If we have one final criticism of the A110S, it's that the DCT will always shift up for you if you approach the limiter, even if you press the 'M' button for manual control of the gears. This is mildly vexing, nothing more. But in terms of grip, poise and across-the-ground pace with a huge dash of enjoyability mixed in, the A110S delivers on all its promises. It's just that... it doesn't feel quite as magical as the A110. It feels like what it is: a hardcore, determined, mid-engined sports coupe. It doesn't, however, have that ethereal yet wondrous 'float and glide' sensation of its Alpine stablemates.

Verdict

The Alpine A110S has to be among the greatest, semi-affordable performance cars of the last 30 years, it's as simple as that. And, if it weren't for the arcane witchcraft of the regular A110, which is nine thousand pounds cheaper, remember, then we'd probably be giving this thing full marks. But the A110 does exist and we think it's the finer vehicle of the two. As to the A110S - harder? Yes. Faster? Yes. Stronger? Yes. But better than an Alpine A110? Sadly, the answer to this must be 'no'.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 Sep 2020









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2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.

2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.2020 Alpine A110S UK test. Image by Alpine UK.








 

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