When rumors started to spread that Renault was going to bring back Alpine, I was both looking forward to it and very anxious about it. Alpine had such a great brand image, that the risk of bringing it back to life and failing was huge. What was so special with the French manufacturer from Dieppe? Well for starters, a reputation. Forged on world championship rally victories, the Renault Alpine A110 destroyed about any other car in their time thanks to their simple yet efficient design.

Later came the A310 which although less memorable and not as good as the A110, they were still in the original Alpine philosophy. Launched in 2017 during the Geneva International Motorshow, the new Alpine A110 was one of the best modern reinterpretation of its old sibling. The proportions were kept, as well as the original 4 front lamps and simple looks. After a short test-drive last year it was time for us to discover what all the fuss was about with the more powerful, stiffer Alpine A110 S. Text: Mickael B. © Photos: Thomas Z. ©

The Automobili Eleganza Team would like to thank Renault Switzerland, Alpine, and Malco V. for their continuous support for this article.

Alpine A110S, Lavaux, Switzerland

Our Alpine A110S? Glacier White paint, carbon roof, and Fuchs rims

Our test-drive Alpine A110S was quite simple. Glacier White paint, with carbon roof, and the optional lighter Fuchs rims. Not my personal choice, but a rather clean specification which fitted the car really well. The differences between the A110 and A110S are minimal but enough to bring a slightly more precise, and more focused soul to the latter. On the S’s outside, there’s new bits of carbon fiber instead of the flags, including an optional carbon roof saving 1.9 kilograms and lighter rims. Inside, orange stitching brings a nice matching point to the orange brake calipers.

Major differences between the Alpine A110 and A110S are behind the scenes

The major differences are behind the scenes though. The Alpine A110S has a slightly bigger turbocharger that provides an additional 40 horsepower and a wider range of maximum available torque. It sits 4 millimeters lower, has new springs and anti-roll bars to make the car stiffer. It comes standard with new Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, probably the best you could get on the market. Gearbox is still the same EDC dual-clutch gearbox which is really impressive, for a Renault Sport developed transmission.

The Alpine A110S is a very efficient smile-inducing medicine

The Alpine A110S is not particularly faster than the normal car in a straight line, and numbers are not as well mindblowing, so to say. 0 to 100 km/h takes 4.4 seconds with launch control, just a tenth better than the standard A110, and top speed is the same. The difference comes behind the wheel. I’ve never driven sadly a normal A110 but would really like in the future to make my own opinion. What I’ve heard though, is that apart its more track-focused behavior, the S is less playful, hence less fun. Well, let me tell you what I experienced on our week of driving the Alpine A110S. It might not be as tail-happy as the standard version but the S is already a very efficient smile-inducing medicine for anyone who thinks driving clean is a disease.

The Alpine A110S will wiggle its tail like an excited puppy

Just get a wet road, or one with uneven surface, put it in track mode and there you go. The Alpine A110S will wiggle its tail like a dog seeing its master for the first time in two weeks. Better, it will dance from one side to another with the precision of a ballerina from the Russian Ballet. It’s balanced. It’s poised. Even more amazing, anyone can do it, because it is that easy. As the car “only” has 285 horsepower, and 320 Nm of torque, you can always exploit it fully and never really get overwhelmed.

No glove box, and two small boots. Forget long road trips

So what is the new Alpine A110S like on the daily use? Well, first it’s a two seater, so not the car you want to take for family business or to take friends on a road-trip. Talking about road-trip, although there are two boots, one in the front and one in the back, they are minuscule and I would not recommend it for more than a week-end journey. The back boot is designed to fit two helmets, and the front one, two small carry-one luggages. Why is the front one so shallow? Furthermore, there are no glove box and no closed compartments inside to store items. Apart from these inconvenient practicalities, the car is very easy on your day to day regular use.

Best thing about daily-ing the Alpine A110S? B-roads back from work

Keep the car in comfort and the exhaust won’t pop or crack, the gearbox in automatic is very smooth and the Focal Audio system will provide an excellent entertainment during your drives. My only complain was the cruise control, which apart from not being adaptive, has its activation button right in the middle of the two seats on the center console, just like any Renault Sport. What an odd place! A button on the steering wheel would have been way more appropriate. Best thing though about daily driving this car? When you’re done with work, and can take B-roads to come back, you will enjoy yourself on the A110’s hunting ground. So the Alpine is a great daily driver but not so much a long trip vacation car.

A110S pleasure run? 8 (Alpine) mountain passes. In one day.

Then, what’s it like to drive for the pleasure run? Well, let me tell you a story. The story of Wednesday September 30th, 2020. We had had the car for a few days already and weather had been disastrous. Rain, but worse, snow had fallen in abundance the week-end prior, resulting in all the mountain passes closing. Imagine that! We get an Alpine A110S, a car designed to stride around mountain hairpins and might never get the chance to experiment this car in its natural habitat. I was already having a depression just thinking about it. Yet, as the week-end passed, forecast started to clear up, with some sun showing up on Tuesday, and temperatures getting warmer.

Snow won’t stop an Alpine A110S but is not the best to enjoy it

Hence, we decided to plan our Alpine road trip on the Wednesday, crossing our fingers, and praying to the automotive god we would get the chance to live our dream. In any case, I knew that some of these mountain passes, the lowest ones in terms of altitude, would stay open, no matter what. Yet, there is a crucial difference between a 1000+ meter versus a 2000+ meter altitude mountain pass. Of course, the highest one is going to be longer, but the sceneries are as well completely different, as flora and fauna tend to change drastically past certain elevations.

The Alpine A110S has this feel good vibe

D-Day was there. Wednesday, September 30th. We planned to start early with departure time around 07:00 AM. No clouds, and 8°C. The idea was to start with some nearby, low elevation mountain passes, and check if the high altitudes one we wanted to go would open later on. Our first one was the Col de la Croix, which tops at 1778 meters. We arrived there at around 09:00 AM just as the sun was starting to show up its light on top of the mountains, and surrounded by snow. Magical. Luckily though, roads were cleaned from the white gold and we could finally experience what makes the Alpine such a great car. It’s nimble, it’s precise, it’s fast, it’s fun but most importantly, it makes you feel good.

Something’s special about the Alpine. And it can be felt even from the outside.

The Alpine A110S is the best smile maker I have ever encountered, as long as you drive it on a twisty road. Any twisty road will do, for that matter. There’s something special about this car, and interestingly it can be felt as well on the outside. It has been a very long time since I have driven a car which has generated so many questions, smiles, looks and thumbs up from outsiders. More incredible, whilst lots of modern sports cars get negative feedbacks due to their emissions and negative environmental impact, the Alpine never got one of those in our week of test. Admirable! Our elders see the old one in it with their memories coming back, and the new generation sees it as a curiosity they want to know about.

Exterior? Pure masterpiece. Interior? Focused on the essentials.

After the Col de la Croix, we continued on the low elevation mountain passes, through Col du Pillon, 1546 meters, and Col des Mosses, 1445 meters. Around 11:00 AM, temperature was around 12 degrees, and as we stopped for our outside picnic lunch on top of the Col de Jaun, 1509 meters, I checked the status. The high altitude passes were reopened! So, our afternoon plan was all set, and as we ate, it was time to reflect on the Alpine A110S, and what makes it so special. Apart from the exterior design, which is a pure masterpiece, the inside is focused on the essentials. Three simple driving modes, big accessible paddles behind the steering wheel, and the lightweight sport bucket seats which are comfortable, yet supportive bring the perfect atmosphere to the two seater sports coupé.

The Alpine A110S has three driving modes: Comfort, Sport and Track

It’s focused on what’s important: driving. I wouldn’t recommend the comfort mode for anything apart as daily drives and highway use. Sport mode is perfect when you want to start exploiting the full potential of the Alpine A110S thanks to the exhaust opening up, more throttle response, faster gear changes, and more direct steering. Although, “Sport” has two major inconvenient. Even if you put it in manual, it will get the next gear up as soon as you pass the maximum engine rpm. Second, the traction and stability control is still fully on, so the car will prevent itself from sliding, except if you turn it manually off. The track mode will solve both of these issues, and while I wouldn’t recommend it for road use, it is tremendous fun.

The Alpine A110S power is 100% exploitable

It was time to get to the mountain passes I had been waiting for. The Grimselpass, 2164 meter, and its famous James Bond counterpart, the Furkapass, 2429 meter. The steering of the Alpine A110S, precise and perfectly weighted was just perfect for those twisty hairpins. Just as the power, never too much for the Swiss speed limits, and never too less thanks to the light weight of the car. It’s fully exploitable all the time, and that is rare. We even encountered a member of the Netherlands Alpine Club close to the Grimsel lakes, with their typical colors, enjoying his Alpine A110 Premiere Edition as much as we were enjoying the S.

The Alpine A110’s masterpiece? Its chassis

We then headed to the old paved Gotthardpass, 2106 meter, where I was surprised how comfortable the Alpine A110S was on such a bad surface, even in Sport or Track mode. I believe this is due to the very good suspensions but as well the masterpiece of the Alpine: its chassis. Even though the chassis is “only” in aluminum as some would say, it is the perfect match to the Alpine A110S and offers all the rigidity, comfort and feedback you’d want. These roads, this car, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Snow was melting, sun was bright, and we had the impression of being in the middle of spring while we were in September. Unique!

Snow melting, 15°C and sunny skies. Spring? No, our lucky day in September

We finally went through the Nufenenpass, 2478 meter, before heading back home through the small country roads and hitting the highway a few miles later. Once we got home, after over 12 hours passed in the car, both myself and Thomas were surprised how fresh we were and could have even enjoyed a few more hours of driving. We were tired, but the good kind of tired, thanks to all the fun we had in the Alpine A110S on these roads. What a day! It’s all about the smiles per miles, isn’t it?

For the same budget (83’000 CHF) as the Alpine A110S, what can you get?

And this is exactly the point. The Alpine A110S is the best car in its category: small two-seater coupés. For that same kind of budget – our test-drive car came over just shy of 83’000 CHF – what else can you get? Sure, the Audi TT-RS makes a better sound, and is more practical, but the consistent understeer from its Haldex Quattro system will drain any joy you might have from the first turn you will hit. The Porsche Cayman would add the supplemental joy of a manual gearbox, but for that budget its four cylinder is not as good as the one in the Alpine. Plus the Porsche is just too serious.

The Alpine A110S is the best in the two seater sports coupé segment.

Then, you could get an Alfa Romeo 4C, or not, since they are not selling it anymore and is the failed attempt to build what the Alpine succeeded. The Toyota Supra might be a good contender, but it is really ugly. A Lotus would be the closest rival, but it wouldn’t be as fun. This is where Alpine nailed the A110, and the A110S. It’s so refreshing to see a car in 2020 that is capable of rewarding so much joy to both passengers, but as well to people outside. It’s been too long since I had the opportunity to experience this, and I’m glad I could in such a period. The Alpine A110S is succeeding where all those other modern two seater sports coupé failed. Giving the most smiles per miles. Inside and out.

Alpine A110S – Giving the most smiles per miles, inside and out.

Check out our full gallery of the Alpine A110S below and our other test-drives here.