Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The only engine available in the Alpine A110 is a turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol, but there’s a choice of two power outputs: 249bhp for the standard car and 288bhp for the S. In both cases it's hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox which allows manual shifts via steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Now, 249bhp may not sound like a lot of power (it’s around 50bhp down on what you get in the Porsche Cayman and 2.0-litre Jaguar F-Type), but at 1098kg in entry-level Pure trim, the A110 is much lighter than those cars. Indeed, even a well-equipped example weighs only about the same as a basic Ford Fiesta.
As a result, the regular A110 will scoot from 0-62mph in a rapid 4.5sec before eventually hitting 155mph. And you don’t have to rev the engine to its red line in every gear to make swift progress; maximum pulling power is developed from just 2000rpm. True, there’s a slight pause between you pressing the accelerator and power pouring into the rear wheels (that's turbocharging for you), but it's not enough to be irksome.
Upgrade to the S version and a tenth of a second is knocked off the 0-62mph time, bringing it into line with that of the automatic Porsche Cayman S without the optional Sports Chrono pack. However, even when you drive both versions of the A110 back to back, you don't notice this difference in performance.
Anyone who's heard the four-cylinder Cayman’s dull exhaust note may be worried that the A110 will sound similarly uninspiring. Don't be. There’s an appealing rasp when accelerating (especially in Sport and Track modes with the optional sports exhaust fitted – it's standard on the S), followed by evocative popping and crackling when you take your foot off the loud pedal. In short, it sounds like a proper sports car, even if the silky six-cylinder engine in the Toyota Supra is more sophisticated and the flat-six non-turbo Cayman GTS positively glorious.
While some might bemoan the lack of a proper manual gearbox, there’s a lot to like about the A110's automatic. In Comfort mode, it slurs between gears smoothly, even if it can be unwilling to change down if you need a sudden blast of acceleration. Sport sharpens the shifts and holds low gears for longer, and Track forces the gearbox into manual mode with no automatic upshifts when you reach the engine's limiter. It’s this final, most aggressive mode that’s the most satisfying, because the ’box swaps gears with little hesitation. That said, we reckon the Cayman’s PDK automatic gearbox is still slightly better, while Porsche’s manual gearbox provides that little bit more driver involvement
Where the A110 beats almost all of its rivals is in the way it handles. The steering is lighter than you’d expect from a modern sports car, but it’s full of sensation and allows you to place the nose with millimetre precision. When you flick to Sport or Track mode, the steering weight is increased, but not excessively so – at least in the regular A110. The S is less impressive in this regard, because its steering weights up more but in a way that feels unnatural and actually robs you of a little feedback.
Should you go beyond the limits of the tyres’ grip, you’re notified immediately in the regular car, allowing you to deal with the situation quickly and confidently. But when either version starts to slide – this happens at lower speeds than it does in the Cayman – it does so in a progressive manner. In short, the A110 feels balanced and athletic like a ballet dancer, and makes the F-Type and Supra seem heavyweights by comparison; it's one of the most entertaining and rewarding cars you can buy, regardless of price. However, a Cayman is that little bit sharper still and certainly a better choice if you plan on taking your sports car to the track.
Ride comfort is acceptable, even in the stiffer S version, but this does jostle you around more than the regular A110 over scruffy road surfaces. Fortunately, both cars are brilliant at dealing with speed bumps and undulating country roads. And when you also take into account the minimal wind and road noise you get in an A110, it's a decent sports car in which to cover long distances.
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