To be successful at rallying, you need a rugged all-wheel drive car with masses of power to hurl you through forests and mountain roads at breakneck speed.
But that hasn’t always been the case. In the 1970s, before four-wheel drives arrived, agility and lightness were the key ingredients for a driver-friendly rally car. And when the World Rally Championship formed in 1973, it was Alpine - Renault’s sports car arm - that won the inaugural title.
The compact A110 is now an integral part of rallying history and is a fan favourite in the classic car community. That can’t be said for Alpine’s later models, such as the boxy A130 or A610, neither of which lived up to the lofty successes of the A110.
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Renault dropped the Alpine name in 1995, before relaunching the sub-brand in 2017 with a mid-engined sports car that was heavily inspired by the classic rally car. In fact, the new model took the A110 name and was an instant hit with fans.
Now there’s a faster model, the A110S, which looks to build on the impressive foundations laid by the standard model.
The A110S’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo engine ups the standard car’s power output by 49bhp to 288bhp, and lowers the car’s 0-62mph time by 0.1sec to 4.4sec. Torque is identical to the standard car’s output of 236lb-ft, though Alpine has reworked the suspension and steering to deliver a more engaging experience in corners.
“The standard model is, undoubtedly, an utterly beguiling sports car for the road,” says WhatCar?. The regular A110’s “ultra-supple suspension” and narrow tyres let drivers “exploit its blissfully playful balance at half-sensible speeds”, but those who are after slightly more precision would often opt for Porsche’s 718 Cayman.
The A110S looks to tempt buyers back to Alpine, the reviews site says. The performance model is “an altogether sharper machine”, gripping “harder” and exhibiting less body lean so drivers can “carry more speed through turns and get it to change direction quicker”.
The sports car is “not night and day faster” than the base model, says Top Gear, but there is “an intensity and aggression” as drivers approach the redline that’s “absent in the standard car”.
“There’s more reason to hang onto each gear and nudge the 6750rpm limit, though the car will only leave up-changes entirely in your hands if you’re in Track mode, which also loosens the stability control’s shackles,” the motoring site adds.
It’s not perfect, however. For example, Evo argues that the steering response could do with a slight tweak and Alpine still doesn’t offer a manual gearbox for drivers after a high level of control.
But those are but a couple of niggles in what is otherwise another impressive package, the motoring magazine says. “There’s still the sense that the Alpine’s grip on the road is a deft one,” while the reduction in body roll “boosts confidence that the little nose is going to head exactly where you point it”.
Overall, the A110S “builds on the delightful formula served up by the regular car” courtesy of better handling dynamics that “pushes it closer to a Porsche 718 Cayman than ever before”, Auto Express concludes.
The Alpine A110S is now on sale, with prices starting at £56,810. That’s about £10,000 more than the base model, while the Porsche 718 Cayman S is around £3,000 cheaper.
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