Alpine describes the A110 R as ‘built for the track but approved for the road’. As such, the company booked Thruxton circuit in Hampshire for the UK launch and kindly invited me along. Then, with just 24 hours to go, a text message: the cars were trapped in customs (merci, Brexit) and the event was cancelled. I’d have to sample the A110 R at a later date – and solely on the road.
Still, I’ve never been that interested in driving around in circles, or how to shave a few tenths off a lap time. To me, the subjective stuff matters more: fluidity, balance and a sense of connection with the car.
The Alpine A110 is already a benchmark here, so a lighter, more focused version should be even better. Well, yes and no.
Full of fibre
Nestled between family SUVs on my south London street, the A110 R looks diminutive and exquisitely exotic: a bona fide refugee from the racetrack. Its bonnet, roof, engine cover and asymmetrical, aero-optimised wheels are made from exposed carbon fibre, while a new front splitter, swan-neck spoiler and diffuser help shift downforce rearwards onto the driven wheels.
The high-carbon diet reduces kerb weight to 1,082kg – a modest 34kg saving, although bear in mind the standard A110 is already 219kg lighter than a Porsche 718 Cayman (and a whopping 330kg less than a four-cylinder Lotus Emira). These are incremental gains, but the Alpine is that kind of car.
There are upgrades for the chassis too, including a 10mm lower ride height, 20-click-adjustable ZF Racing coilover dampers, stiffer anti-roll bars and semi-slick Michelin Cup 2 tyres. What the R doesn’t have is any extra power: its 300hp 1.8-litre engine is carried over unchanged from the A110 S and GT.
Why so? Blame France’s ‘Malus’ tax system, which penalises every additional gram of CO2 produced, rising to €50,000 for cars that emit more than 225g/km. It makes the A110 R look somewhat under-endowed next to its closest rival, the 500hp Porsche Cayman GT4 RS, even if 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and a 177mph maximum are hardly pedestrian.
Drop down into a thinly padded Sabelt seat, yank tight the six-point harness straps (there are no conventional seatbelts) and grasp the Alcantara-wrapped wheel. The A110 R instantly feels like it means business. Without a rear window, there is no central mirror, so I rely on the reversing camera to extricate myself from a tight space. Note to self: do not kerb the carbon wheels (£8,000 apiece, I’m told).
At low speeds, the Alpine’s ride is rather brittle, but up the pace and you rapidly find its flow. Body control is resolute, the steering is beautifully weighted and the whole car feels energised and alert. In the depths of British winter, my only concern is the track-focused Cup 2 tyres. After a few miles on rain-drenched country lanes, I’m feeling pretty alert myself.
The ultimate A110
The turbocharged engine pulls strongly and sounds spicier thanks to a new 3D-printed tailpipe. Even so, it can’t get close to the performance or aural drama of the Cayman’s naturally aspirated, 9,000rpm flat-six. When Alpine is asking £96,990 ‒ £34,500 more than the equally powerful A110 S – that feels like a stumbling block. The gains here are incremental; the price hike certainly isn’t.
The R looks supercar-special, but the driving experience isn’t so transformed. It will appeal to collectors and those who want the ultimate A110 regardless of cost (you can imagine Alpine F1 drivers Pierre Gaslay and Esteban Ocon each having one each as their company car).
Ultimately though, this version serves to underline the unadorned brilliance of the standard A110. Five years on, there’s still nothing quite like it.