Alpine A110 Pure vs. A110 S

The Alpine A110 is an exceptional sports car. But should you have it Pure – or with a little S

By Dan Prosser / Friday, December 4, 2020

The ‘C’ word came to mind immediately. I hammered the Alpine A110 S around Groupe Renault’s Aubevoye test facility in the north of France for a couple of hours, stepped out and allowed my thoughts to settle. There were no surprises. With springs that were 50 per cent stiffer than those fitted to the basic A110, anti-roll bars that were twice as firm and with a wedge more power but no more torque, I reckoned I knew exactly how the A110 S would feel even before I’d pulled the door shut.

Conventional. I expected the new range-topping Alpine to feel like a more conventional kind of sports car, which is exactly the conclusion I reached two hours later. The thing about the less powerful, more softly sprung A110 is that it feels so unusual and distinctive the first time you drive it. It’s unlike anything else. No other comparable machine smothers bumps in the road so deftly and no other sports car allows its body to rise and fall and lean so expressively. With its far tougher chassis setup, the A110 S does none of that. It feels much more like any other mid-engined sports car as a result.

But just as conventional doesn’t necessarily mean better, nor does it have to mean worse. With compact dimensions, a mid-mounted engine, aluminium construction, extensive weight reduction measures and double wishbone suspension all round, the Alpine is as inherently ‘right’ as any other performance car on the road. But is the Alpine at its best with 292hp and chassis settings like a clenched fist, or with 252hp and unusually fluid suspension?

Cost is clearly a significant factor. The A110 starts in Pure form, as tested here, at £48,140. An A110 S with no options whatsoever will cost you £9,000 more than that. Stiffer springs and heftier anti-roll bars mean the A110 S is fractionally heavier than the A110, but both are within a couple of Christmas turkeys of 1,100kg. They use the same 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder but with their own engine management software, while the seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions are identical (the Getrag unit is limited to 236lb ft of torque, which explains why the A110 S doesn’t get any more of the stuff).

Hands up – the A110 is my car. The trouble with conducting a twin test in which you have a sizeable interest is that the verdict might not be believable. It’s like umpiring your own son’s tennis match – even if he fires ace after ace and makes no unforced errors, someone will cry foul when he’s declared the winner. All I can do is call it how I see it and hope you’ll trust I’m being honest.

Having said that, knowing that I first drove the stiffer, tauter and more powerful A110 S before I’d decided to buy an Alpine of any sort might help persuade you. In reality, the range-topping model would have been beyond my reach anyway, but had I tried the A110 S and thought it wholly superior to the A110 that I could just about afford, there’s no chance I would have bought the car I eventually did. I would rather have waited a while for second-hand A110 Ss to emerge 12 months down the line than settle for the consolation prize.

I must admit the A110 S looks better than my car. Matte-finish paintwork and black wheels have never really done it for me, but somehow the top-dog Alpine appears so much more purposeful than mine. It only sits closer to the road by 4mm, but that’s enough to force out of the wheel arches the dead space that makes my A110 look a bit dainty. With all that air between rubber and bodywork, the A110 Pure looks as though it’s standing up on tip-toes.

Apart from man-made suede where my car has leather and orange rather than blue stitching, their cabins are pretty much indistinguishable. They even use the same lightweight Sabelt bucket seats, which are so comfortable over long journeys they make the fixed-back chairs you find in Porsches and Lamborghinis seem like torture devices. Otherwise, the Alpine’s cabin is, at the very least, fit for purpose, although anybody stepping out of a 718 Cayman will think it cramped and plasticky. They’ll also scoff at the very basic touchscreen infotainment system.

But that would be missing the point. The A110 skips lightly over rough patches of tarmac that other sports cars rattle over heavily. That suppleness is more or less the defining thing about it, although the car is also made distinctive by its ability to seemingly hover above very uneven stretches of asphalt, thanks to plenty of wheel travel and articulation, and also its characteristic way of leaning deliberately onto its outer springs in corners. The car’s chassis feels very sophisticated in the way it deals with poor surfaces, but what’s more compelling still is the sensation of the body shifting its weight this way and that. It makes the A110 feel alive. Lots of modern sports cars feel aloof by comparison.

Those exaggerated body movements would be a problem were this a heavier car, but as it is, they’re a virtue. The A110 has exceptional balance as well, plus really consistent grip that bleeds away at the limit very gradually (and those limits are well within reach on the highway), bundles of agility and the kind of crisp, intuitive steering that you only get in light cars that don’t press too much rubber into the road.

Meanwhile, its powertrain is unremarkable but effective. The turbo engine is responsive and energetic throughout, but never tuneful (my car does without the optional sports exhaust, which doesn’t help, although even with it fitted the soundtrack is never really stirring in the normally-aspirated Porsche manner). The mid-range punch you get from that turbocharged motor means the A110 feels forceful in a straight line, but there’s also enough muscle under your right foot that you can bring the rear axle into play at will. And the DCT ‘box? It works flawlessly, but inevitably it doesn’t bind you into the process of driving as firmly as a good manual would.

As a road-biased car in particular, the A110 is so well-judged and executed. It’s just a huge amount of much fun to drive. On top of that, it rides very smoothly, it’s nothing like as noisy at motorway speeds as you might expect and apart from the lack of storage space (despite having two boots), it’s easy to use daily.

So what do you gain, or lose, by making its suspension much firmer and its engine a bit more powerful? Inevitably ride comfort suffers, particularly around town. You get knocked about much more, but it stops a long way short of being unbearable. The A110 S doesn’t glide over bumpy roads quite so serenely either, instead flicking and kicking about the way more stiffly-sprung cars tend to.

But there are significant advantages. It responds more immediately to steering inputs, for instance. There’s no fractional delay as you weight for the car to compress its springs before it ducks into a corner – it just dives in right away. The chassis works beautifully on smoother roads and there’s still an all-pervading sense of lightness and agility. Again, it feels wonderfully balanced in bends, its limit of grip not something to be wary of but something to explore. Both variants sit on Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, but the A110 S uses its own construction and compound, and a slightly wider tyre, to give more dry weather grip, but a little less in the wet.

It’s on circuit that the A110 S comes into its own, because whereas the standard car can feel short on body control – rising over crests, dropping hard into compressions and squirming in braking zones – the A110 S is always clamped down. The extra power doesn’t manifest as any more accelerative force through the mid-range, just added eagerness right at the top end.

The A110 S has its moments – the right road, a race track – and it can be scintillating to drive. But much more often, it’s the softer, less potent A110 that has you laughing out loud. As well as being more fun to drive, it’s also easier to use every day.

And so, in a verdict that many of you will have seen coming several paragraphs ago, the A110 wins. Since 1955, Alpines have been some of the most distinctive machines on the road. All these years later, more conventional doesn’t equate to more likeable. As ever, Alpine is at its very best when doing things its own way.

Game, set and match to the A110 Pure. Well played, son. What’s next, Wimbledon?


SPECIFICATION | ALPINE A110 PURE

Engine: 1,798cc, inline four, turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,098kg
CO2: 144g/km
MPG: 44
Price: £48,140

SPECIFICATION | ALPINE A110 S

Engine: 1,798cc, inline four, turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power (hp): [email protected],400rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000rpm
0-62mph: 4.4 secs
Top speed: 162mph
Weight: 1,114kg
CO2: 146g/km
MPG: 43
Price: £57,140

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