60 years after the Alpine A110 was introduced to the world, the current iteration continues a proud tradition. A drive in the modern-day A110 has long since been high up on my wish list, and it just so happened that an Alpine Blue specimen of the recently facelifted model range was made available for a day of exploration near Frankfurt. The looks of the A110 echoes the classic lines and features of the original with success, appearing to be a coherent, modern design in its own right, yet leaving no doubt that it carries an unmistakable legacy. The headlights, the sweeping sides and the characteristic rear end proclaim a proud “Alpine”, even from long distances. My co-pilot and I settled into the bucket seats, the initial experience being one of slightly surprising comfort, bearing in mind that my close-to-two-metre-long frame isn’t exactly cut out to fit into small sportscars. We headed in a general easterly direction before pulling over at a quiet stop to plan where to head. It was then that we were approached by the local police force, being informed that no cars were allowed to enter where we were, punishable with a fine of 55 Euro. Not exactly how we had envisioned our day out in the Alpine…
To our delight, the two officers said that no fine would be necessary after we had explained our motives, and when I daringly asked them if they knew of an area nearby with nice driving roads, the driver of the police car smiled and retorted without hesitation: “But you’re already in Schöneck!” (literally translates to “Nice corner”). After a bit of conferring inside the police car, the senior officer in the passenger seat suggested we head to Bad Orb to find roads suitable for enjoying the Alpine, and they then left us with a mandatory, yet tongue-in-cheek, “but not too fast”. We quickly followed suit and asked our navigation system to guide us to the ominously named Bad Orb. “Why is there an orb out there, and what can it possibly have done to be called bad?”, I pondered. In all these unforeseen events, we almost forgot our mission for the day, only to realise that the Alpine was performing so well that our critical minds had taken a leave of absence. We made a quick stop in the woods en route to our goal to have a photo session, and although my visual cortex embraced the exterior of the A110, I found myself aching to get behind the wheel and traverse more corners.
More corners there were. The area around Bad Orb didn’t disappoint in the least, serving up one curvy, undulating country road after the other. The Alpine A110 in the kind of car that makes its driver giggle every time a sign warns for curvy road ahead. With 252 horsepower on tap and a kerb weight just topping 1,100 kg, the A110’s low centre of gravity ensures engaging driving when the roads look like a two-year-old’s doodles on the map. I left traction control on, seeing how leaving the road might lead to a closer encounter to one or several of the countless trees than might be agreeable. Thus, the A110 occasionally struggled to translate the power into propulsion in the tighter corners, but not more so than I would expect, given the level of “enthusiasm” in my driving. Let there be no doubt, my passenger and I were joined in our excessive smiling and general enjoyment, brought forth by the more-than-able Alpine A110. The lag between throttle input and acceleration from standstill is an inherent issue that all paddle shift gearboxes suffer from, and reaching the correct paddle while turning the wheel in manual shifting mode proved to be no easy task in tight corners.
As the hours went by, the A110 showed its skills time and again, appearing to enjoy the ride. The lightness of the car is crucial for its demeanour, and the satisfaction it offers even from a relatively modest attack mode is surely the essence of motoring enjoyment. In other cars, adding more horsepower in an attempt to camouflage excessive weight can only do so much – there is truly no substitute for low weight. The differences between normal mode to sport mode in the A110 were easy to spot; firstly, the dashboard display changed, offering live readouts for both Nm and hp. The exhaust note also changed, and every release of the throttle would result in feisty pops from the rear. Ride was also stiffened, which was quite useful when throwing the A110 into a corner, hoping to get out the other end in one piece. The traction control would allow a certain amount of slip before stepping in to save the day, so the two young boys who were standing at one of the intersections responded with several thumbs up as we slid across the road in an attempt to make a quick getaway.
Back on the Autobahn after having driven countless corners on countless splendid country roads, we set about trying out how the A110 would handle higher speeds. The unevenness of a short bridge, passed at 200 km/h, ruffled the car’s feathers enough to make its occupants feel the car slightly tip-toeing from side to side to regain balance. Switching to sport mode remedied that unease, and the A110 was more than happy to be kept above 200 km/h on a somewhat bendy Autobahn. Upon our return to the dealer in Klassikstadt Frankfurt, which is well worth a visit, we tried to sum up the many impulses from our day in the A110. My co-driver’s first comment was that the inside door handle was simply perfect, both in how it was placed and how it was to hold. A detail like this might seem insignificant, but cars like the A110 are compared based on details. Any sportscar can go fast, the deciding factor is how it goes fast. My expectation for the A110 were set high before our encounter, and although I tried my best to find its weaknesses, I have to say that it gave me one of the best driving experiences I have ever had. Alpine can be proud of this youngster.
Many thanks to Alpine Center Frankfurt for letting us enjoy the A110.