It is always good when car companies recognise just how iconic certain models from their past have become, and even better when they attempt to replicate that with a new model.
What is best of all, however, is when they attempt to replicate that iconic model and actually make something that is as good as, or even better than the original. And not just a half-arsed knock-off. Think Ford GT as opposed to Ford Thunderbird…
And that is exactly what Renault did when the company decided to revive the legendary Alpine A110.
While the original car is undeniably iconic, it was also fragile, unreliable and extraordinarily temperamental, so when the new A110 was born back in 2017 Renault took the rather wise step of using proven technology underneath a slinky, modern (yet undeniably recognisable) skin - namely the excellent 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo engine from the Megane RS280.
The A110’s styling translated well into a more modern form that kept all the instantly recognisable cues and that brilliant engine pushed the 1100kg car along at an impressively brisk rate that, combined with excellent handling characteristics, saw the revived car collect rave reviews from the overseas press.
Sadly, however, that was about as close as most of us would ever get to one down here in New Zealand, as the A110 was never sold here. It almost was; I was actually invited to fly to Europe for the launch, but couldn’t go because it was on incredibly short notice, which was probably just as well for the distributor as they then changed their mind and didn’t bring it here anyway…
At least that was until I got a text from Todd Pearce, co-founder and director of the Pearce Brothers chain of car dealerships and distributor of the Morgan marque in New Zealand. I met Todd when he offered us a drive in the awesome Morgan Plus Four a while back and we got chatting about some of the other ‘interesting’ cars he dealt with.
But literally none of that matters, because firing the A110 up presents you with an even burble that has a slightly threatening edge to it, which instantly gets you interested.
The text was simple: a picture of a striking blue A110S on New Zealand plates and the words “want to drive this?”. Of course, the answer was yes.
The A110 is a deceptively simple car, with a stripped back interior with only the basic functions on offer. Yes, it has a touchscreen infotainment system, but it is a hauntingly familiar one that has done duty in other cars of much lesser standing, such as the Suzuki Swift.
There is a smattering of buttons on the steering wheel and centre console, with three on the latter being for the transmission - one for drive, one for neutral and one for reverse - with a big red starter button below them.
HVAC dials, a button for Sport mode and that weird little paddle arrangement for audio controls behind the steering wheel that all Renaults share, and that’s about your lot. Simple, straightforward and immensely refreshing in a world increasingly dominated by massive touchscreens and rows of buttons.
It also features a spectacularly useless cupholder (which is actually rather typical for a French car) and a surprisingly good audio system, which is a pleasant surprise.
The acceleration is never brutal or intimidating, but rather constant and thoroughly thrilling.
But literally none of that matters, because firing the A110 up presents you with an even burble that has a slightly threatening edge to it, which instantly gets you interested. Moving off the line is as simple as pressing the button for drive (marked, obviously enough, with a big D), releasing the parking brake and pressing the throttle.
As you may have gathered by now, this is standard operating procedure for most cars, and indeed, the A110 feels every bit like an ordinary car while doing this. But push the throttle a bit further and things get exciting quickly.
The S part of the A110S’s name refers to the upgraded lightweight version of the car that was introduced in 2019. Featuring stiffer revised suspension and brakes, as well as a lower ride height, it also got more power: 215kW versus the original’s 185kW, meaning it is even better than the very good thing it already was.
The acceleration is never brutal or intimidating, but rather constant and thoroughly thrilling. The engine's burble rises in pitch to become a throaty roar that resonates throughout the cabin, with its obvious focal point being right behind your left shoulder.
Flick the paddle on the steering wheel (the reincarnated A110 has only ever been available with a Getrag 7-speed DCT) and the car snaps up a gear with the belligerent roar beginning its rise in pitch and volume all over again in an absolute instant.
While the Porsche Cayman may be slightly more polished, the Alpine is actually sharper and more responsive, thanks to its frankly massive 200kg weight advantage.
But it is when you come to the first corner that the Alpine really comes into its own.
The A110 is one of those very rare cars that just makes you want to go harder and harder after every corner. You immediately just know that you could have braked later, carried more speed through the apex and got back on the throttle even earlier than you just did. And it does this at every corner. Every. Single. Corner.
The steering is delightfully sharp and perfectly weighted, as well as being incredibly chatty, brimming with both feel and feedback and it becomes immediately clear that the A110 is aimed squarely at the Porsche Cayman, not only in its general size and shape, but also its brutal precision and exhilarating “oneness” that the driver feels with it on a good road.
While the Porsche may be slightly more polished, the Alpine is actually sharper and more responsive, thanks to its frankly massive 200kg weight advantage. And let’s face it, saying that something is sharper and more responsive than a Porsche is massive praise indeed.
Like the Porsche, the Alpine is also ridiculously easy to live with as a daily driver, if you so choose, and if you can deal with the low ride height that almost has you crawling in and out (and making old man noises while you do it…), it is an absolute doddle to pop down to the shops in to grab some beer and chips, with a remarkably civilised low speed ride.
While the cabin is surprisingly roomy, it doesn’t have much in the way of storage space cabin, however it makes up for that with a boot at either end, with the front one being 100 litres and the rear just over 90 litres. More than enough room for those beers and chips, or even a few overnight bags if you are heading away.
The impressive docility and flexibility of the engine at low speeds, and the equally impressive ride comfort belies the fact that the A110 is a thoroughly remarkable sports car that offers up utterly addictive thrills on a winding road.
It combines the best parts of its legendary predecessor with modern reliability and convenience to become a true modern classic. And a staggeringly fun one at that.
ALPINE A110 S
ENGINE: 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 7-speed dual clutch transmission, FWD
CONSUMPTION: 7.1l/100km (WLTP)