2023 Alpine A110 review – lighter in body and soul than a Porsche Cayman
The A110 shines as bright as ever in 2023, and it's now available in four distinct flavours
The Alpine A110 has been a fixture in the sports car class for a few years now, having transcended its troubled birth to become a new standard of excellence thanks in large part to its lightness, deftness and satisfying fluidity.
Now five years after it first appeared, the A110 has spawned two more focused variants in the form of the A110 S and track-bred A110 R, as well as the more powerful, road-biased A110 GT. Each offers a different take on the A110's spell-binding recipe, albeit with some playing to the car's natural strengths better than others.
The A110 was developed with an obsessive attention to minimising mass and a uniquely French approach to chassis tuning that manages to make the car both sharp and supple; or in the A110 R's case, a capable track tool that's also perfectly at home on the road. The Alpine is still a genuinely different proposition to rival sports cars such as the Porsche 718 Cayman, rewarding the driver at all speeds in a distinctive manner.
Like lesser variants of the 718 Cayman, the A110 is powered by a four-cylinder engine, but while the turbocharged 1.8-litre unit might not seem exotic on paper, in a car weighing little more than 1100kg (or just 1082kg in R spec), and with sprint gearing, it makes for an impressive turn of speed.
Most remarkable is the way the Alpine goes down the road. Where many rivals batter the tarmac into submission, the A110 glides serenely over it, working with the surface rather than against it. Quick steering and that mid-engined layout engender real agility, while outright grip levels are high. And given the softness of the set-up it’s surprising how controlled the Alpine is...up to a point. The A110 S has stiffer springs, dampers and roll bars to improve handling near the limit, and the R goes further with bespoke suspension hardware and aero to deliver a significantly higher level of ability on track. No A110 is without its quirks, no matter what kind of setup Alpine applies to it, but each puts the driver at the centre of the experience.
Perhaps crucially, it’s possible to forgive a few flaws when a car looks this good. Compact, delicate and with just enough injection of retro, the Alpine looks stunning in the flesh. The A110 R wears its carbon panels, splitter and rear wing rather well, too.
Alpine A110: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical highlights - Four-cylinder unit is sweet-revving and eager, and the twin-clutch transmission has sharpened up
- Performance and 0-62mph time - Low weight philosophy and short gearing means the rasping turbo four delivers strong straight-line punch. It's smooth and responsive too
- Ride and handling - Alpine follows Lotus’s lead by combining supple ride with agility. It gives the car a distinctive feel, but can feel scrappy at the limit
- MPG and running costs - Low weight pays dividends at the pumps, the Alpine getting close to its official figures on a run. Also means less wear and tear on consumables
- Interior and tech - Material and build quality is generally good, if not to Porsche standards. Tech is improved, but still lacking in MY22 models
- Design - No matter which way you look at it, the compact and retro-infused A110 looks stunning. A thoroughly modern design, but those in the know will spot the retro cues
Price, specs and rivals
A110 prices have gently been rising over the years, but not quite to the extent of its rivals, making it look like something of a low-key bargain in 2023. The base model starts at £52,490 – an impressive price considering the amount of bespoke engineering that’s gone into the project. Admittedly, the more powerful Porsche 718 Cayman does start a few hundred pounds below at £51,800, but throw in a PDK transmission (+£2199) and it's the more expensive car.
Prices quickly rise from there for more powerful versions (or to the stratosphere in the case of the A110 R). Both A110 GT and A110 S models start from £62,490, which is in the ballpark of the 718 Cayman S's £61,800 list price. The 345bhp Porsche has a healthy power advantage over the two (admittedly lighter) 296bhp A110 models, but there is one thing to consider when comparing Alpines to Porsches: the 718’s prices are before options, meaning they’ll rise more than a little to match the Alpine spec for spec.
Then there's the A110 R, which thanks to its extensive use of carbonfibre, adjustable suspension hardware and extreme aero costs an eye-watering £94,990. That's a huge sum, especially when you consider that the R offers the same 296bhp as the A110 S and GT, although with the 718 Cayman GT4 is currently unavailable in the UK it has one fewer rival to contend with.
As a complete sports car the Cayman just edges its the Alpine for all round appeal. Yes, the flat-four engines are a bone of contention, and their character and delivery aren’t as effervescent as the Alpine’s four-pots, but they hit harder and come with more resolved transmissions; in terms of performance this punchy powerplant is a definite step up.
Competing with the Alpine for style, if not ability, is the soon-to-be-axed Audi TT RS, which costs £58,165. Powered by the exceptional 394bhp turbocharged five-cylinder engine paired to Audi’s own dual-clutch ’box, it’s almost worth the price of admission on its own. Sadly, the chassis isn’t quite in the same league – it’s neither as agile as the Alpine’s (or Cayman’s), nor as supple.
Also from Germany, the BMW M2 presents a stern test for the more dainty, lightweight Alpine. It's less cosseting but more muscular, and the M2 offers the supreme precision and indulgent chassis balance we love in the M3 and M4, only with stubbier dimensions and more agility. It's character is completely distinct from the Alpine's, although it's one that the A110 must beat for sheer thrills and engagement. While we’re here, hot hatchback options such as the Audi RS3, Mercedes-AMG A45 S and the brilliant FL5-generation Honda Civic Type R also float around the A110’s entry price.
The Alpine is by no means poorly equipped for its outlay. One shouldn’t sniff at a low-volume, specially developed aluminium chassis with double wishbones at each corner for a start, but the company does understand that under-the-skin stuff only goes so far. Even in basic form trim you get LED headlights and tail lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, lightweight (and gorgeous) Sabelt one-piece bucket seats, selectable driving modes and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment set-up. GT models use the same suspension setup but with uprated brakes and a sports exhaust system, with front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, 18-inch wheels, a full leather interior, six-way adjustable seats, and a Focal audio system thrown in to boot.
The S receives further Alcantara-esque Dinamica fabric inside as well as a stiffer chassis setup, with the A110 R going a whole lot further with a host of motorsport-inspired upgrades. These include new aero parts, adjustable suspension components and 18-inch carbonfibre wheels, along with a carbon roof, engine cover and one-piece carbon seats. Standard Michelin Cup 2 tyres make the most of the mechanical enhancements; in the dry at least...