Born on the special stages of the World Rally Championship, the original Alpine A110 is racing royalty. Driving the new one, that heritage is felt on every kilometre.
Alpine is a one-car brand. I like that idea. A car so cool it carries a whole brand. And, trust me, the A110 is very, very cool.
The Societé des Automobiles Alpine SARL was founded in 1955 by a man named Jean Rédélé, in the small city of Dieppe, 200km northwest of Paris. A keen driver, Mr. Rédélé got some interesting results driving modified Renaults, especially when the events took part in the Alps (no prizes for guessing where the name Alpine comes from).
Alpine fettled and experimented with different mechanical solutions for Renault models, gaining a loyal following of clients. This early success gave Jean Rédélé the confidence to take his venture further and he started investigating the benefits of glass fibre construction over a tubular frame – always with lightness in mind.
In 1963 Alpine introduced the A110 Berlinette. With just 51 horsepower when it was first shown, the A110 was putting out 180 horsepower when production ceased, which, for a car carrying around less than 700kg, gave it stupendous performance. In 1971 and 1973, this tiny little thing finished 1-2-3 at the Monte Carlo rally and ended up becoming the winner of the inaugural World Rally championship in ‘73 – beating the likes of established players like Porsche, Lancia and Ford to the title.
Alpine was now an immortal name in racing and the A110 a car to be remembered in the same breath as the Lancia Stratos, the Delta, the Peugeot T16 or the Audi Quattro among the greatest rally machines the world has ever seen.
Renault eventually bought the company from Jean Rédélé and turned the factory at Dieppe into the headquarters of Renault Sport, maintaining the site’s racing heritage intact.
As for the car, the A110 Berlinette’s legacy is so strong Renault decided to create a new model and build a revived Alpine brand around it back in 2017. The 21st Century A110 is a magnificent aesthetic interpretation of the 70’s original and follows the same principles of lightness and agility that made the first iteration so successful.
When it was launched, the modern-day A110 had 252 horsepower and 1080kg – enabling it to sprint from 0-100km in just 4.5 seconds.
The A110 S came along after a short while, upping the power of the 1.800cc four-cylinder engine to 292 horses and a new, stiffer suspension calibration that improved track driving. Soon, Alpine launched yet another derivative, the A110 GT, combining the A110 S power with the standard car’s subtler suspension settings.
Early 2023 saw a minor restyling of the model and now, finally, I got to drive the Alpine. The press car was an A110 S in Fire Orange with a carbon fibre rear wing and front splitter that was anything but discreet. I drove it for about 400km in all kinds of roads. It is damn near perfect.
Much has been written about the Alpine A110 and if you are really interested in the car there are lots of great videos to be explored online and myriad in-depth reviews with all technical aspects covered in detail. My job here, I believe, is to tell you if I think it is worth your time.
Well, the easy answer is yes. The A110 is, first of all, the only Alpine of the modern era that will be equipped with a combustion engine. When it reaches the end of its life, it will be replaced by a number of all-new, 100% electric models.
Then, there is the way it looks. The body of the Alpine is pure automotive haute couture. I look at it and it seems like a silk veil has been draped over the chassis and created this incredible, perfectly slim shape. It’s a design masterpiece.
Dynamically, the Alpine is right up there with the best cars in the world. Ever. Around a twisty back road, it has no peer in today’s landscape of overpowered, overweight cars and I have not driven many cars as good as the A110 in terms of pure driving joy.
However, before you put down this newspaper and head for YouTube, bear this in mind: the four-cylinder engine, although powerful and perfectly fit for the car, has none of the nobleness of a six-cylinder and you never think about it as a mechanical marvel like you do in, say, a Porsche or a Ferrari. But just mentioning those cars in this text is a huge complement for this tiny great car.
Furthermore, the double-clutch gearbox is a weird choice as the only option available. I am a big fan of good automatic transmissions – and this one definitely is good – but I found myself thinking how much more interactive the Alpine would be with three pedals.
And last, but not least, although the press car cost €100,200, the cabin is one of a €30.000 car (except for the amazing Sabelt seats). That may be a deal-breaker for many potential clients. However, I truly hope it is not. The current-day Alpine A110 is, much like its forefather, one of the greats of all time.
Made in Dieppe. Made by racers. Made for driving. It’s the Alpine A110. We are going to miss it when it’s gone.