Learning to Fly

“I chose the name Alpine for my company because for me, this is an adjective that epitomizes the pleasure of driving on mountain roads.”

Jean Rédélé

Cars like these are a handful these days. Not a kit car, but a full-on, lightweight, involving and satisfying sports car which is not delivered in a box of parts is truly a rare to see these days. The Alpine A110 is everything but a marketing creation: it’s a contemporary driving machine. Alpine as French as much as Ferrari is Italian. It’s a representation of a Nation’s way of thought, and it’s something that could have only came out of a French speaking mind. It’s kind of car that we always wanted: it’s the concretization of pure French engineering and heritage-inspired coolness.

The A110 gives you what you need and not what you think you want. It’s usable every day, elegant for formal occasions and more than enough for a week-end hero run up your favorite mountain. It’s not flawless, but in it we still find all the qualities that made classic cars so special these days: it’s got character. Normally, bringing back to life old brands feels like warming up again the leftovers of the great dinner you had the night before. It’s still tasty and all but it’s moment is gone and you don’t enjoy it as much as you’ve already had. But what has been done with the Alpine has a remarkable continuity as it truly feels like the A110 was never discontinued.

It’s not easy to do newstalgia operations but here Renault hit the nail on its head: not just a remake of a classic but a fresh new start. Alpine has a dedicated team of engineers and the A110  is still produced in Dieppe, in the original Factory. Given the new rules and regulations, re-interpreting the perfect shape of the original Michelotti-designed A110 is not an easy task but somebody who looks at it just think of Alpine and how great this brand is. As soon as we saw the earliest prototypes in 2016, we just had the itch to drive one to France towards the Col de Turini and finally, 3 years after we did so. As lovers of tradition and heritage we couldn’t resist to drive the A110 on what is perhaps the most famous special stage of all rally history. 

Here is where drivers become champions: this is a place sacred to all the fans of this motor sport discipline, and for some drivers the only place that mattered and will always matter. Here, the constantly changing climate conditions and different kinds of tarmac add to the challenge and to the charm of this place: no wonder that we had to go there with an Alpine, in the place where it became legend. Also, we managed to hook up with a friend and his original A110 but sadly for us…the gorgeous mademeoiselle didn’t want to start. As with cases like this, when an old lady doesn’t want to get out of her garage, there’s nothing you can do but to leave her for rest and continue on your journey towards this temple of rallying. Nevertheless, we’ll be back another time for sure. Despite being left alone, we pressed on to continue our journey to achieve true driving paradis and we continued to the Turini. 

The new A110 feels like it was made for this place: it’s light, small and extremely nimble and it’s a joy to drive. In this case, newstalgia equals to a coherent development of the whole vehicle almost as if Mr.Rédélé was still among us. First, the A110 is the car we need: balanced on the power delivery and handling, it’s a road car first and foremost and please do not be fooled by this description: road car doesn’t mean slower or less exciting, it means proportioned to its purpose. 

No low splitters, scissor-doors and ridiculous power figures: here an all aluminum chassis and a lively 1.8 litre turbocharged mid-mounted straight 4 will do the trick just right. Double wishbones front and rear and a well-thought suspension set up will do the trick: it’s developed for the road and not for the track, so it’s on the soft side. This will give optimal traction on every surface: the geometry has been thought in order to have the camber set up in a way to have always the tire fully in contact with the road. Also the low spring rate gives the car a wonderful pliancy over rough roads. 

The Alpine is very tactile and responds to every single input with smoothness. The calibration of the throttle and brake pedals is perfectly matched by the steering surgical precision. Economy of every input is the key to driving fast and clean and in the A110 the whole vehicle dynamics is set up perfectly for minimal inputs with great effect: minimum effort for maximum results. The feeling on the brake is remarkable and gives you more than enough confidence to use your left foot to brake. With this in mind, on the Turini with the Alpine you start to dance and understand how much driving is like playing music: the A110 brings you to use thoughtfully all the controls in a rhythm that increases constantly. It’s very tactile and responsive motorcar, a pleasure to drive on any road.

We won’t discuss the paddle shifter argument here, as the gearbox is great and fits the nature of the car extremely well: smooth in normal and sport modes and slightly aggressive in track mode, giving you a pleasant kick in the back on every upshift. On many levels, the A110 is similar to its predecessor: small but greatly involving to drive. The infotainment gets geeky with a complete sport-display, complete with oil temperature and pressure, intake air temperature, boost pressure gauges and even an animation of the transmission showing you which actual gear you’re using…incredible!

The A110 is predictable and highly intuitive to drive and it’s perfect for the Col de Turini: it feels it was made for this place. Even during the early days of autumn when there isn’t any snow, the whole driving scenario changes constantly: from wide roads to narrow and slippery twisties, this place is a true driver’s academy. Driving the Turini with an Alpine teaches you what rallying means and what true driving is all about: if you seek perfection on the road, you need to come here and experience it for yourself. This is where you understand what driving truly means: it’s a man’s act. Boys will be boys with their wings and ridiculous power figures but men will always enjoy a proper driver’s car.

But for us, grown up petrolheads, 250hp and 1100 kg it’s more than enough, it’s what we need and not what we think we want. Marketing is on autopilot here: those who know what Alpine is, will recognize that the qualities that made la berlinette such a cult car among enthusiasts. So, the A110, one of the best cars we’ve ever tested and the one that fits like a glove. It’s what a modern day sportscar should be like and what most people buying supercars actually want but do not dare to buy. So in the end… vive l’Alpine! Vive la France!


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