Serious A110 has giant-killing track pace, but does it work on a B-road?
As night follows day, GT3 follows Porsche 911 and CS follows BMW M3. As great as those standard cars are, it makes sense that there’s also a focused, track-honed version with more aero, carbonfibre panels and sticky tyres for those who want to go chasing lap times. It helps that in the case of the 911 GT3, you get a really special engine thrown in.
For the Alpine A110, that kind of progression isn’t as obvious, because it’s almost an anti-track car. With its relatively soft suspension, compact dimensions, light weight and fairly modest power output, it’s a car ostensibly and singularly designed to have fun on the road. That it will actually entertain you on a track day seems by the by.
The result is that the R makeover sits a little uneasily – literally in the case of the visible additions. The carbonfibre bits aren’t quite as natural a fit as they are on say, the 911. They’re hard to miss, too, as they include not only a bonnet, a diffuser, various skirts, winglets and a swan-neck rear spoiler but also the wheels and, most contentiously of all, a rear windscreen. Carbonfibre not being known for its transparent properties, this means you can’t see out the back of the Alpine A110 R.
It all adds up to an extra 29kg of downforce at top speed, and together with the surprisingly comfy carbonfibre-shell Sabelt seats inside, these measures reduce the weight by 34kg over the A110 S. Curious then, that our test car had a Focal hi-fi system, complete with subwoofer behind the seats.
At 296bhp, the A110 R has no more power than the A110 S, so the main dynamic alterations are the fitting of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, unique anti-roll bars that are 10% stiffer in the front and 25% stiffer in the rear and a set of unique coilovers by ZF.
Those lower the ride height by 10mm and allow a further 10mm reduction, and they’re adjustable for compression and rebound over 20 clicks.
In other words, it’s A110 with more grip and more seriousness – things the A110 was never about, making it seem a strange recipe.
Whether the driving experience of the A110 R sits uneasy with the Alpine’s fundamental character will depend on your perspective.
If you’re enthralled by the unique dynamic character of the standard A110, you will keenly feel that about 20% of the delicate sweetness has been traded for grip. The A110 R probably isn’t for you.
If on the other hand you buy into the Alpine brand and design but want more precision, endurance and cornering speed on track, a tool to help you work on your lines, the A110 R will be oddly compelling.
Our Matt Saunders drove it on track earlier this year and found that it offers “massive track-day speed and giant-killing intent”; that it’s genuinely next-level.
Now that we’ve driven it in the UK, it’s clear that the real story here isn’t that it loses 20% of its sweetness on the road. It’s that it maintains 80% while massively increasing its on-track ability.
It’s stiffer but better damped than before, and it’s still nothing like the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS: while that occasionally makes you slow down on the bumpiest roads, the A110 R takes them in its stride. While it doesn’t exactly glide, a lot of the fluency of the regular A110 remains, as equally does the hyper-agile, almost rear-engined feel. You have to go looking for it a bit harder, but it’s there for the finding.
Even on the road, there’s something quite enthralling about such a light car with so much grip. Traction in the dry is absolutely unassailable, and it feels as if it’s capable of changing direction by 90deg instantly, with no inertia.
Push harder in longer bends and the weightier steering will eventually signal that some understeer is coming, at which point it’s high time to take it a little easier.
As a road car, the A110 R is still compromised in other ways. The lack of a rear windscreen is plain annoying, particularly as you don’t even get a digital rear-view mirror, and the harnesses are a faff, despite having only two buckles to do up. It’s fine for a Sunday blast or driving to a track day but not much more.
The A110 R is a different kind of A110. It isn’t the obvious one, and some might say it strays from what made it great and that £94,990 is too much for what’s now an even more niche proposition. But it turns out the basic formula adapts to this more serious role remarkably well.
With the Lotus Exige gone and the GT4 RS winding down, a dual-purpose, one-tonne, mid-engined sports car is something to celebrate.