The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0
The A110 has chosen one of the most fearsome rivals to go after, the Porsche 718 Cayman, but Alpine has done an incredible job in coming up with a truly credible alternative. Yes, the Porsche still has the edge on cabin quality and practicality, but in terms of performance, desirability and – importantly – driver involvement, the A110 matches it every step of the way. It even has the edge over the Porsche in one or two areas, including efficiency and running costs, and that makes it even more appealing. Sports car buyers now have a very tough choice to make.
Reasons to buy
- Sensational ride and handling balance
- Seriously fizzy performance
- Really impressive efficiency
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
This car is the Renault Group’s modern-day reimagination of the iconic Alpine sports coupe from the 1960s – the A110 Berlinette – and it takes plenty of inspiration from the original car, but without wanting to be a carbon-copy. The quartet of headlamps is the most obvious nod to the original, but a number of lines, creases and shapes also have roots in the sixties, and that will please customers buying on the strength of nostalgia. How effective the designers have been in translating the essence of the Berlinette into a modern-day form will be a matter of debate, and based on a rather unscientific straw poll, we’ve found the looks are rather divisive. However, if you’re one of those people who falls into the ‘love’ camp rather than the ‘hate’, the looks alone will probably persuade you to part with your cash.
There are three trim levels to choose from and all look very similar, although if you've got an eye for detail you may notice that the top-spec A110S model sits 4mm lower than the rest, thanks to revised suspension, and also boasts larger brakes.
What's the interior like?
Many low-slung cars like the A110 are difficult to get in and out of due to a bulky side sill you have to clamber over, but the Alpine’s is fairly slender so there’s no limbo-ing or contortionism involved. If you go for the entry-level Pure version, though, you’ll realise you can only slide your seat forwards and backwards, with no adjustment for height or the angle of your backrest. The higher-spec Legende and A110S versions come with six-way adjustable chairs. Most of the buttons and switches are fairly self-explanatory and logically placed (with a few exceptions including the cruise control buttons), but the touch-screen system takes some getting used to as it’s not the most intuitive system of its type. Most of those buttons and switches are also recognisable from various Renault products, too, but with clever use of brushed aluminium, stitched leather and microfiber textiles, the cabin still has a reasonably posh and racy feel. Granted, it’s not up to the high-quality standards of the Cayman, but it’s good enough that you won’t feel short-changed.
How practical is it?
It's not an area you expect any sports car to excel in, but the A110 is still pretty impractical. The two-seat cabin has plenty of legroom and headroom, but the space for each occupant is rather narrow, making you feel a little hemmed in. The tiny rear window aperture also means your rearward visibility borders on laughable, which really doesn’t help when you’re parking. Even worse, there’s pretty much no cabin storage on offer – no glovebox, no door pockets, not even a cupholder – so don’t attempt to carry anything in the passenger compartment that doesn’t fit in your pockets. You won’t be able to carry much more in the luggage areas, either. The one under the bonnet is just 100 litres in capacity and the space is very shallow, and the one at the back is even smaller at 96 litres, and it’s also a rather weird horseshoe shape. All this wouldn’t be so bad if the A110’s main rival – the Cayman – wasn’t the most practical car of its type.
What's it like to drive?
No two ways about it, the A110 is a simply stunning car to drive, and it’s mostly down to the car’s low weight. It’s made largely from aluminium, allowing it to tip the scales at less than 1,100kg, which is around 350kg lighter than a Porsche Cayman S. What little weight there is, is distributed very evenly between all four wheels, and because the car is so low, the centre of gravity – the point around which the car pivots when it turns – sits right next to your hips. This means the car really feels like it’s turning around you, making you feel right in the centre of the action, and that makes the car wonderfully involving to drive.
That’s accompanied by quick, accurate steering, responsive pedals, a polished gearbox and very sharp body control, and it all adds up to a car that changes direction with incredible precision and agility. The A110’s lightweight stature also helps the car’s ride quality, because the engineers haven’t had to make the suspension rock hard in order to control body movement, so it mops up bumps really well. If you’re looking to maximise lap times, a Cayman will probably be quicker, but if you’re looking to have fun, the A110 more than competes.
The top-spec A110S has upgraded suspension that's lower and stiffer, which Alpine says should enhance the car's agility, but we've not had a chance to try it yet.
How powerful is it?
The A110 - in Pure and Legende models - is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine delivering 252 horsepower through the rear wheels, via a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox. Don’t be fooled by the relatively modest power output; when a car is this light, that’s all the power you need for some seriously impressive results.
The engine is eager to get going at low revs and becomes more and more frenetic as the revs climb higher and higher, so the pickup is always fast regardless of whether you’re already going at a fair old lick, or pulling away from a standstill. Importantly to those interested in bragging rights, the A110 accelerates from 0-62mph quicker than the Cayman S. Selecting Sport mode gives you sharper responses from the throttle and makes the gearbox hang onto lower gears for longer, making the car feel edgier and more aggressive, but it always does a great job of swapping through the gears smoothly and quickly without upsetting the car. The car we tried was also fitted with a sports exhaust, which makes a properly naughty noise, cracking and spitting at people as it goes by.
The A110S ups the power by 40 horsepower to 292, and also includes a sports exhaust to give a louder engine sound. This should make it even more intense to drive, but we've not tried it yet.
How much will it cost me?
If you’re looking for a cut-price alternative to a Porsche, the A110 isn’t quite it. Yes, choosing the Alpine does save you a wee bit compared Cayman S, but not as much as you might expect given its Renault origins. That said, resale values look to be on a par with the Porsche’s, so you shouldn’t get stung too badly by depreciation when you sell the car on. The Alpine’s light weight and relatively small-capacity engine make it a lot more efficient than the Porsche. For a car with this level of performance, that’s really impressive. The Alpine is bang-on with its main rival for insurance groupings, meaning your premiums shouldn’t be any more severe, but the Alpine has a huge lead on servicing, maintenance and repair costs, which will save you a fair amount over time.
How reliable is it?
Commenting too much on reliability is difficult because this car – and the brand from whence it came – is a completely unknown quantity. It uses a lot of Renault parts, and Renault currently occupies a fairly lofty position in the manufacturer standings of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. But, this car is built on a completely bespoke aluminium chassis, uses quite a few unique components, and has an all-new engine, so there are very few meaningful conclusions you can draw from that. The best thing we can do is watch with interest for any reliable data and keep you posted.
How safe is it?
Parent company Renault has a sparkling reputation in this area, but looking at the A110’s roster of standard safety equipment, we wouldn’t blame you for questioning whether that reputation will extend to Alpine’s products. It only comes with two airbags, along with the tyre pressure monitoring and stability control systems that are legal requirements these days, but very little else. Crucially, automatic emergency braking isn’t provided, and neither are the other clever safety systems that are commonplace these days. Alpine will argue this is in an effort to keep weight down for maximum driving enjoyment, but it’s still something prospective buyers should definitely be aware of. The car hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP, and it’ll sell in such small numbers that it probably never will be.
How much equipment do I get?
The entry-level Pure version of the A110 is marketed as the choice of the driving purist, so it comes with less kit to keep the weight (not to mention the price) down. Even so, it still comes with all the bits you need, such as automatic climate control, electric windows, heated door mirrors, cruise control and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, Bluetooth and smartphone mirroring.
Legende cars are designed to be a bit more luxurious, and add front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, six-way adjustable seats and upgraded sound system.
The A110S is pitched as a more focused, hardcore version of the car, so it doesn't have quite as many niceties as the Legende, but you do get a lot of performance and handling upgrades.
You'll be interested in the A110 because you place driving enjoyment at the very top of your list of priorities. For years, the Porsche Cayman has been the obvious choice in this category, but for drivers looking to be involved, beguiled and intoxicated by the way their car drives, there’s now a serious alternative. It’s a massive giggle from start to finish and you’ll absolutely love it.