2023 Alpine A110 R review
The A110 R is the most driver-focused Alpine yet, but do a plethora of go-faster goodies make it the one to have?...
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Weight. If there’s one thing you need to know about Alpine as a brand, it’s that it prioritises low weight above everything else. And with good reason. Making a sports car lighter improves every element of the driving experience: you can stop quicker, turn quicker and accelerate quicker. And because the car's engine has less weight to push down the road, you even benefit in terms of fuel-efficiency.
The only problem is that making a car lighter is challenging, especially in a world currently obsessed with electrification and safety. Even Lotus appears to have conveniently forgotten it's founder's famous phrase, ‘simplify, then add lightness’, turning its efforts to building the two-tonne Lotus Eletre electric SUV. But don’t worry, because Alpine is here to restore some order by taking a leaf out of Colin Chapman's book.
Named the Alpine A110 R, the car you see above you is the fastest and most driver-focused Alpine yet, but you won’t find a more powerful engine under its carbonfibre bonnet. Like the standard A110 S, the R makes do with 'just' 296bhp from its 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine. However, Alpine’s engineers have improved performance elsewhere.
So, while most of the body panels follow those of the regular S in being made of aluminium, itself a rather expensive, lightweight material, the R uses even lighter carbonfibre for its bonnet, roof, front splitter, rear diffuser, spoiler and wheels. Yes, wheels. Compared with the alloy wheels on the A110 S, the carbonfibre set saves a total of 12.5kg.
The cumulative effect of this strict diet is a car that now weighs 1,082kg, making it nearly 25% lighter than the similarly priced Porsche 718 Cayman GT4. So while the A110 R can’t quite outrun a GT4 in a straight line (both cars take 3.9 seconds to reach 62mph) something tells us that carrying the equivalent weight of a Baby Grand Piano around will hurt the German car when battling with its French foe on a tight track.
And the changes don’t stop there. To take full advantage of the A110 R’s low mass, Alpine has also fitted a sticky set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, and introduced firmer suspension springs and anti-roll bars, and it has invested a lot of time tweaking the R’s aerodynamics in the Alpine Formula One team’s wind tunnel. All of which is great news for track day enthusiasts, but you do have to wonder if these changes will potentially erode some of the delicate, supple character that makes the standard version so beguiling. Let’s find out …
What’s it like to drive?
The A110 R easily passes ‘the 50-metre test’: how good a car feels when you first get in and drive off. As we mentioned earlier, the 1.8-litre turbo four behind us remains the same and still puts out 296bhp and 251lb ft of torque, but the removal of noise insulation from the engine bay, combined with a new 3D-printed exhaust tip, gives the engine a deeper and louder tone, adding some real theatrics to proceedings.
But what’s even more encouraging is that despite the A110 R immediately feeling more poised and taut compared to the regular ‘S’ (10% firmer suspension and 10% stiffer anti-roll bars will do that) it still manages to retain an element of suppleness that stops it from thumping and crashing over urban abrasions. We say ‘element’ of suppleness because, compared with the standard car, it is certainly more unyielding, but we reckon you could pop to your local boulangerie in relative comfort – you couldn't do that in the rather tense GT4.
That said, we’d suggest you put lunch on hold and head towards your favourite stretch of road (or track) because once you introduce some speed to proceedings it's immediately obvious that Alpine has engineered any sign of slack out of the A110 experience. The steering has more weight and even more precision around the straight-ahead than the regular ‘S’, allowing you to place to nose with increased accuracy, while the lack of body roll means you can really lean on the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.
And should you push beyond the limit of grip, you’ll be pleased to find that the A110 R is surprisingly friendly. You don’t have to worry about it snapping aggressively back in line, and because the carbonfibre bucket seats (more on these in a bit) clamp your ribs and thighs, you feel truly locked into the machine, allowing you to sense exactly what’s going on at ground level.
It is a shame, however, that Alpine hasn’t used this opportunity to fit a limited-slip differential to the ‘R’, because, in the middle of second and third-gear corners, you do have to work rather hard to adjust the car's line mid-corner using the accelerator – a trick diff would cure this and increase agility even further.
But really, that’s us picking at nits. On normal roads, this characteristic isn’t important and the A110 R always feels more than quick enough. You can’t even bemoan the lack of a proper manual gearbox because there’s so much to like about its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It swaps gears with little hesitation, and although we reckon the Cayman’s PDK automatic gearbox is slightly quicker, it never feels like its holding you back.
What’s it like inside?
You could argue that Alpine’s engineers almost did too good a job of light-weighting the standard A110, because the interior of the R is almost identical to the standard car. Yes, there is some Alcantara on the dashboard, and the doors get woven pulls instead of handles, but you still get a digital dashboard and physical climate controls, and the iPad-esque central infotainment screen gets new track telemetry apps.
You also get a rear-view camera, which is essential because there's no longer a rear windscreen; this has joined the long list of things on the R that are made from carbonfibre, to the detriment of rear visibility.
The most significant addition to the interior is a pair of Sabelt carbonfibre bucket seats. They look rather extreme, but it’s surprising just how comfortable they are, with plenty of under-thigh support and great side support. If you’re a track day regular, these will be a godsend, but the four-point harnesses are a bit of a faff when you’re desperately trying to grab your ticket at the autoroute toll.
Next: Alpine A110 R verdict and specs >>
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