We love the Alpine A110 because it’s a car that doesn’t give a shit about huge power outputs, ultra-stiff suspension, fat tyres and endless grip and traction. The little French sports car gives you just what you need for a thrilling drive on the right road - no more, no less.
As performance cars require ever-higher speeds to be enjoyed, the Renault subsidiary has stuck two fingers up to the likes of the Porsche Cayman and Audi TT RS, turned its back, and trodden its own path. So, naturally, Alpine has taken the A110, and given it a bigger power output, stiffer suspension and fatter tyres. Wait, what?
On paper, the new A110S seems at odds with the ethos of the sports car that spawned it. The whole point of the original is that it’s comparatively soft, making it comfortable while letting the chassis flow better with bumpy, undulating roads.
That’s why the changes to the S make me want to shout “you fools! What have you done!” Power has risen from 247bhp to 288bhp, the anti-roll bars are 100 per cent stiffer, and the springs are all 50 per cent firmer. Finally, it sits 4mm lower on slightly wider Michelin PS4 tyres.
But a few corners into our test of the car at Estoril in Portugal, and it’s clear the base A110’s character hasn’t been trampled over.
It does still roll more than the average 2019 sports car, and yet it is noticeably more tied down than an A110, offering more stability through the higher speed corners.
Alpine says it’s been set up to be more neutral, and when pushed, it’s the front end that’ll give up first. That definitely rings true when powering out of Estoril’s tighter bends, with the front 215-width tyres frequently voicing their displeasure.
A lift will get the back to step out nicely, and although you need to be fairly quick to catch it (this is a mid-engined car, don’t forget), the chassis is communicative enough that you’re given more than enough warning. Alpine hasn’t fitted a limited-slip differential here, but it’s not something the car is crying out for. The steering, meanwhile, is fast, surprisingly heavy and very predictable.
Out on the road, the changes that have been made to create the S are as obvious as the plot direction of the last Gerard Butler film you watched. The ride’s now much more abrupt, and Alpine’s efforts to quell the body roll are even clearer.
You certainly notice the extra grunt as the turbocharger starts to awaken not long after 2000rpm, all the way up to the 6400rpm peak power mark. An increase in boost pressure brings with it an unavoidable extra serving of lag, but it’s not hard to stomach. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is the same, and as effective as ever.
Away from Estoril, though, the cost of the increased on-track ability also makes itself known. Yes, the S is more exciting, but it’s lost some of that sense of good, clean fun. You’re going to end up driving it faster and harder, and this is exactly what worried me about the concept of this thing.
But it hasn’t gone full Cayman on us. Even after its trip to the gym, the A110S isn’t going to start hanging out with the sports car world meat-heads. That refreshingly different take on the genre remains. Crucially, it’s still crazy light compared to its arch rivals (1114kg), and as a result, it’s a wondrous thing to lob around.
The cabin remains a weaker area of the car. Although it’s been improved with some welcome splashes of orange, the added colour can’t hide the liberal borrowing of parts from humdrum Renault products. But if you use the A110S for its intended purpose, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t give a damn.
Is the S the A110 I’d have? That’s a no, and I’d be keen to steer anyone eying up an Alpine towards the less potent Pure and Legende A110 models.
If anything, the S has given me an even greater appreciation for the base car and its purity. But if you really have to have the extra power and on-track ability, know you can have it without screwing up what makes the standard A110 so special.