Italian Alps

La Gagne! 2019 Alpine A110 S

If you love cars, how can you not love the Alpine A110? We loved our past experience with the regular A110 and we thought it was absolutely brilliant: light, elegant, great to drive and dripping with heritage. Perhaps, the original A110 has been one of the most gorgeous cars ever designed in France after WWII: among the Citroen DS and the 2CV it’s one of the icons from our Cousins on the other side of the Alps. The gorgeous fiberglass body shape designed by Giovanni Michelotti is arguably one of the most recognizable among petrolheads and rally enthusiasts. Incredibly light, nimble and minimalistic, the original A110 has been a true dream for many and able to leave a great mark in automotive history. The dominance of the first World Rally Championship in 1973, was surely a great moment for France and the French: a very blue squadron of Alpine A110’s, conducted by an all French team of drivers won almost every race during that year. That’s enough to be part of the legend.

For sure, the fact that we’re able to drive a brand new A110 in 2020 is a remarkable treat: in a world where sportscars are becoming electric and bound to the rules of marketing, the A110 is ever more the breath of fresh air that we enthusiasts want.

The A110 S is the modern interpretation of the most ideal sportscar concept and the evolution of the excellent base model. Stiffer spring rate, 50 more horsepower, larger wheels and bucket seats, this car is made for driving. No; Alpine hasn’t spoiled the A110’s excellent road mannerism by making it super-uncomfortable and grotesque. Instead, the S is more focused, more aggressive but retains all the tactile qualities of the proper Mademoiselle française she is. Merci beaucoup, Alpine!

The way Escape on Wheels feels about this is simple: we have to celebrate the lightness, the agility and the uncompromising qualities that make the A110 S a great sportscar. To do so, we took it to one of the most challenging and iconic climbs in the Italian Alps, the Mortirolo Pass. A typical rallyst’s rollercoaster, this road is famous for having made famous one of the legends of cycling, Marco Pantani, who, during the 1994 Giro d’Italia, attacked on the steep climb winning that specific stage. The A110 S is perhaps the perfect contemporary automotive grimpeur: small, light, nimble and with an endless surge of power. It’s the ideal car to race to the clouds and the one that could easily win your heart like a proper champion. 

The Mortirolo is made of 33 harpins in total, with an average slope of 10% and maximum slope of 20%, it’s quite one of the steepest climbs that we could think of. It’s so narrow that it’s a rally stage in the Rally Coppa Valtellina: technical and difficult and it’s the perfect stage to put the A110 S to the test. A proper sportscar is able to stamp a smile on your face right from the first meters: you feel it in the way it responds and reacts at low speeds. It’s not necessary to mention that whenever you feel the lightness and the lack of inertia you just know that you’re driving something made by people who likely love doing what you love the most. Yes, that’s what has made the Alpine great in the past: it’s made by enthusiasts and God knows how good it feels to drive something made by like-minded-people.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the Alpine is the relation between the steering and the suspension set-up. Being mid-engined, light and with wider tires, it’s the kind of car which loves to be driven cleanly and doesn’t like aggressive braking and turning. Always easy even at the limit, the A110S prefers to be treated like a lady and loves to reward its driver with a very sincere handling: brake too much and too late and you’ll result in understeer, loosing valuable time. Drive it as cleanly as possible and you’ll experience the most lovely handling, with a slight oversteer in the exit of the corners. 

On a nice and flat road, the A110 S rotates gracefully around its central axis, resulting in a very rewarding driving experience of a proper mid-engined road car. The 50 hp more are welcome as they’re expressed on the top of the rev range: do not be fooled by this, as there’s plenty of poke down low either, allowing you to make minimal use of the gearbox. The torque down low allows you to pull strongly out of the corners from as low as 2000 rpm and in 3rd gear, giving you the chance to build up a proper pace. Like a grimpeur during the Giro d’Italia, the A110 S immediately finds its own pace and lets you decide where to attack and to make decisive overtakes. 

Economy of inputs is what distinguishes a well-sought after car from another and the Alpine is a champion at this, requiring zero corrections during cornering and accelerations. Both the braking and accelerator have a very linear feel and are very easy to modulate properly, never resulting in on-off feeling that can upset the car’s balance. The springs, which are 50% stiffer than the Pure and Legènde models, and the hollow anti-roll bars are perfectly set up: gone is the soft (but lovely nonetheless) setting of the standard models but there’s a very welcome rigid set up that increases the great qualities of the ultralight chassis. The bumps hardly affect the balance though and our mademoiselle is hardly upset.

The 12 kms of the Mortirolo pass quickly and happily and on top we take a long look at the wonderful bodywork: the matte Gris Tonerre (Thunder Grey) optional colour with orange accents is great to look at and gives the lovely silhouette of the A110 an aggressive look, which is always welcome. For sure, having spent a week with it and having lived every day, we can confidently say that it’s unique in many aspects and a very welcome car in the sportscar world. Unfortunately rumors say that Renault may be killing the Alpine name soon due to budget cuts: perhaps, cars like these will not be anymore needed by future generations and will remained confined to memory lane. Probably, people today want exclusivity and seemingly care only to put their money on Brands rather than on substance, not caring for actual driving pleasure and feel. The Alpine, despite its technological status, is highly anachronistic as it takes a pure enthusiastic approach to something commercial: it’s a shame that the A110, a car that in its original form stayed in production for 15 years, will most probably be doomed in such a criminally short time. 

Nonetheless, the satisfaction of having experienced this pur-sang grimpeur of a car is very high and the smile it has put on our faces will stay there for a long time. Let’s hope not to wait too long to drive another.

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