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Words by: Dan Trent
"Alpine’s history as a sporting partner of Renault goes back a long way, the company reborn in recent years with the cute A110 coupe on the road and racing cars competing in F1 and Le Mans on the track. Tying those threads together is this A110 R, an uprated version of the standard car with lots of additional carbon fibre bits, stiffer suspension, harnesses and the general vibe of being a racing car you can drive on the daily commute. If that’s what you want. The inherent friendliness and easy driving nature of the standard A110 thankfully hasn’t been totally smothered in all the look-at-me extras but it’s an awful lot of extra money for a car that is less convenient, not that much faster and feels a whole load of unnecessary faff. Which is why our money would still go on the regular version!"
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Running costs for a Alpine A110 R
The A110 R pairs extreme looks with a pricetag to make you wince, and one that puts it in the company of proper exotica like the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS. You certainly wouldn’t be shamed turning up at a track day in the company of cars like that, and Alpine’s motorsport credibility stands scrutiny in this context. Whether that’s something you want to live with every day is another matter, and the £40,000 premium over the standard A110 feels steep for what basically amounts to a very fancy bodykit. One that looks very vulnerable to the kind of everyday use the standard car does so well, the idea of scratching the unpainted carbon fibre on the nose, sills and wheels enough to bring you out in a cold sweat. On the plus side the Alpine is very light, so will be a lot easier on things like fuel, brakes and tyres that more heavyweight alternatives like that Porsche will absolutely murder when driven as intended on track days. Residual values also seem strong on regular Alpines, and the price should ensure a level of exclusivity. So you’d hope your money would be reasonably safe, if you can spare it.
Reliability of a Alpine A110 R
The Alpine is a relatively simple car by modern standards, and the important bits like the engine and gearbox are well proven and come from Renault, which itself enjoys a decent reputation for reliability. The biggest fear when it comes to upkeep is the idea of kerbing one of those carbon fibre wheels or a clumsy passenger ignoring the stickers telling them not to step on the side skirts as they clamber in or out.
Safety for a Alpine A110 R
As a car built for purist drivers who value taking full control the Alpine comes with only the bare minimum of safety systems, which is to say anti-lock brakes, switchable stability control and a couple of airbags. It does, however, come with proper racing harnesses, which look cool but are a bit of a faff in daily use. It’s also worth noting the R comes on track-focused Michelin tyres, designed to work best on warm, dry circuits. In that environment they’re transformational, but in the wintry weather we drove it in you need to be more conscious of grip levels and accept that cold, wet roads might have the car jinking around more than you’re used to. The target audience won’t mind that, but for everyday use we’d much prefer the standard A110.
How comfortable is the Alpine A110 R
While bigger than the teeny 1960s A110 that inspires the looks the modern Alpine is, by modern standards, a very small car, with a snug two-seater cabin and a driving position that feels like you’re skimming the road surface. No criticisms there – you know what you’re getting into with a car like this. The brutal looking carbon fibre seats are also a lot more comfortable than they appear, the sculpted shape and minimal padding gripping you tightly in a reassuringly firm embrace while, like all Alpines, the lack of weight in the car means the suspension can be set relatively soft, even with the R’s track-focused intentions. We were pleasantly surprised here, and for all the extreme vibe once you’ve strapped yourself in ride comfort and refinement are actually pretty good. So, if it’s a bit of a drive to your circuit of choice you actually won’t mind too much. Luggage space looks tight but previous experience shows if you pack with squashy bags you can fit more in the rear boot than you might think, the small compartment in the front of the car is useful and there’s a surprising amount of space for stuffing things behind the two seats. You won’t fit any big suitcases in here but we previously managed a few days in France in an A110, even with a load of camera gear on board. But, again, for the more comfortable suspension, the fact you get a rear window rather than the carbon fibre lid of the R and the generally more usable nature we’d still stick with the standard car, and keep the considerable change.
Features of the Alpine A110 R
If widescreen displays and digital delights are your thing then look elsewhere – the Alpine in general and the A110 R in particular are all about the driving. True, there’s a small central screen and you can now run your apps via CarPlay or Android Auto. Somewhat strangely you also get premium Focal stereo system, though the sound quality didn’t quite live up to expectations. So, it has all you need, and nothing more. Of more interest to the kind of enthusiasts buying a car like this are the fact the suspension is manually adjustable to tweak the handling balance to the track you happen to be driving on and the fancy carbon fibre bodykit is the real deal, and actually helps stick you to the track as it would on Alpine’s racing cars. But only at speeds way beyond what you can do on the public road. The carbon wheels look fabulous and are, meanwhile, a real talking point, the significant weight saving they bring also helping the ride quality. But we’d be terrified of using them around town, and for that might take Alpine up on the slightly cheaper ‘Turini’ version of the R with its regular aluminium wheels. On the basis that should the worst happen and you kerb them you stand a chance of repairing them for a reasonable cost rather than having to replace them for one that’s anything but!
Power for a Alpine A110 R
Although it’s the fastest A110 yet Alpine has never been about big horsepower numbers or Top Trumps stats for acceleration and top speed, the real delight being the way the R carves the turns with just the tiniest of inputs to the tiny steering wheel. This is all because it weighs so little, the Lotus Emira the only other modern sports car that comes close in this regard. In keeping with the philosophy that straights are for fast cars and corners are for fast drivers the Alpine will find itself left behind by the big boys in acceleration, but more than make that up through the grip of its tyres, aero and track-tuned suspension. None of which is relevant for the road, of course. But for those who appreciate feedback and finesse over brute power it’s a rare treat and something that can be more easily and responsibly enjoyed at more sensible speeds as well. The problem for the R being all of this is true for the standard A110, for nearly half the price and with no meaningful loss in the performance you can realistically use day to day. If you’re a committed track day driver the R is the ultimate, and the extra sharpness will be an absolute joy. But the R is playing to a very small audience, with only marginal gains for what feel like some pretty major compromises.
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