SPAIN – Granted, eight minutes is not exactly a lot of time to evaluate a new vehicle, but these particular eight minutes were spent on the limit at the famous Ascari race track. At the Goodyear Eagle F1 tyre launch, the Alpine A110 was fitted with the new SuperSport rubber to give us a chance to experience their capability in damp conditions (sprinklers were used to wet the surface). And sometimes it takes a mere eight minutes to realise a car is special...

Styling

The designers at Renault's wholly owned subsidiary did a great job in sculpting a modern interpretation of the classic A110 of 1961, with the result staying true to the original concept. Laying eyes on the tiny vehicle for the first time, my brain struggles to file the shape into either the “appealing” or “slightly awkward” box. The reason? Well, as you circle the car and the angles change, some of the beautiful flowing lines morph into peculiar shapes. It appears narrow, low and long. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder but there's no denying the A110 delivers an arresting shape.

Getting in

Because of the mid-engine layout, the A110 employs a cabin-forward design. Snug is probably the best word to describe the interior and my lengthy 1,94-metre frame just about fits (the compulsory helmet on track admittedly takes a bite out of the available headroom). Still, once seated and with the steering wheel adjusted, I feel primed and ready to attack the asphalt...

Sighting lap

The instructor asks me to complete a sedate sighting lap of the section of circuit used for the wet handling evaluations. In this role, the car feels comfortable and I get the impression it'd certainly be possible to use daily if required. The steering is sensitive and the turbocharged 1,8-litre engine sounds fairly pedestrian under partial throttle. But we didn't come to Ascari to use just part of the accelerator travel...

Going for it

With a brisk forward signal from the instructor, it's time to see what the Alpine is all about. The twin-clutch transmission (EDC) selects the appropriate gear and the engine sound improves to what I'd describe as fairly throaty for an inline four. With a mere 1 100 kg to propel, turbocharged unit rockets the A110 towards the first bend, with the next couple of gears selected in quick succession (the transmission feels sharper than on Renault’s other products).

Time to brake and turn in. This is always a telling time when it comes to evaluating a car as chassis set-up is most obvious during this phase. The nose darts towards the apex, giving me the feeling that steering is done from both ends of the car.

The almost-ideal balance of the chassis is further accentuated during the next lap when slight understeer on the wet surface is easily switched to controlled oversteer with a dab of the throttle. It doesn't take me long to determine this is a true drivers’ car that rewards its pilot for trying to extract maximum performance.

Where does it fit in?

In spirit, the Alpine feels somewhere between a Toyota GT86 and a Porsche Cayman. It has the extra performance the Toyota always lacked but it doesn't quite feel as upmarket as its competitor from Stuttgart. That said, the latter is difficult to judge when concentrating on controlling the vehicle on a damp surface...

What is clear is that the A110 is indeed a special car. Pricing and availability may well be factors prohibiting Renault South Africa from bringing the A110 to local shores but I think the French brand should reconsider. Indeed, I believe there'd be merit in importing a limited number of examples, each of which would easily find homes even at fairly lofty prices. And, at the same time, they'd add glamour to a French marque that at the moment has a distinct focus on value-for-money products (and is admittedly doing incredibly well locally).

Turns out eight minutes was plenty...



FAST FACTS

Model: Alpine 110
Price: n/a
Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 185 kW
Torque: 320 N.m
0-100 km/h: 4,5 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,2 L/100 km
CO2: 138 g/km
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch
Maintenance Plan: n/a