There’s just one 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo engine for the A110 range, but with two power outputs: 249bhp for the standard car, or 288bhp for the S. In both cases it's hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. 249bhp may not sound like a lot of power (it’s around 50bhp down on the Porsche Cayman and 2.0-litre Jaguar F-Type), but at 1098kg in Pure trim, the A110 is much lighter than those. Even a well-equipped example weighs about the same as a basic Ford Fiesta.
That means it’ll 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. Yes, there is a slight pause between pressing the accelerator and power finding its way to the rear wheels (that's turbocharging for you), but it's not enough to be irksome. The S version feels perkier and knocks another tenth of a second from the 0-62mph time (4.4sec), which is faster than a Cayman S.
And if you’re worried about how the A110 sounds, don't be. There’s an enthusiastic roar when accelerating (especially in Sport and Track modes with the optional sports exhaust fitted – it's standard on S trim), followed by evocative popping and crackling when you take your foot off the loud pedal. In short, it sounds like a proper sports car and much fruitier than its four-cylinder rivals, the F-Type 2.0-litre or 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre Caymans. The silky six-cylinder engine in the Toyota Supra sounds smoother and more sophisticated, mind.
While some might bemoan the lack of a proper manual gearbox, there’s a lot to like about this automatic ’box. 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 mode 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 when you pull the steering wheel-mounted paddles. We reckon the Cayman’s PDK automatic gearbox is slightly better, though.
But what impresses most about the A110 is how it handles. The steering is lighter than you’d expect from a modern sports car, but allows you to place the A110’s nose with millimetric accuracy. Flick to Sport or Track mode and the steering weight is increased, but not excessively so.
Once you’ve got used to its weight and relaxed your grip on the steering wheel, you start to feel the intimate details of the road’s surface through your fingertips. The A110 is much more communicative than the F-Type and even the Cayman. Even so, there’s never any unruly tugging as you pass over poor surfaces, and the body control is nigh on second to none, even compared with extreme supercars, such as the McLaren 570S.
Should you go beyond the limits of the tyres’ grip, you’re notified immediately, allowing you to deal with the situation quickly and confidently. When the A110 starts to slide – this happens at lower speeds than it does in the Cayman – it does so in a progressive manner. It feels as balanced and athletic like a ballet dancer, and makes the Cayman feel like a heavyweight by comparison. In a nutshell, the A110 is one of the most entertaining and rewarding cars you can buy – regardless of price.
Because it's built for pure on-road driving pleasure rather than ultimate lap times, the regular A110 isn't necessarily the fastest sports car in corners, though. If you want something with a bit more focus, perhaps even enough for the odd track day, you might want to think about the sharpened-up A110S. It has stiffer springs and anti-roll bars to go with its added power, the result being a car with more grip and precision, and one that's still more fun to drive than a Cayman S or F-Type.
Ride comfort is acceptable, even in the stiffer S version, but no A110 offers a magic carpet ride. You always know the bumps are there, especially around town, but the A110 doesn't jar or crash over potholes. It's really set up to deal with quick and undulating country roads, though, and is generally pretty settled on the motorway. A Cayman with optional adaptive dampers is slightly suppler, but kicks up more road noise. Taking into account the minimal wind noise you get in an A110, it's a decent sports car to cover long distances in.