An octogenarian crosses the road as we slow for a speed bump ahead. He’s wearing a beret and clutching a shopping bag that has a baguette poking out the top of it.
He stares at the iridescent blue paint job of the car stood before him and laps up the quad headlamps, which send a shimmer of light across the cold and damp road surface.
“Alpine, Alpine, Alpine,” the dapper old man mutters as he slowly makes his way towards the pavement. The closer he gets to the other side, the more excited and exuberant his sign language becomes.
We prod the glowing red sports button on the steering wheel and pull away with arguably too much throttle. A cursory glance into the rear-view mirror allows one last look at the aging petrolhead, who is now punching the air with one hand and shaking a bold thumbs-up with the other.
“The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine emits a pleasingly deep rumble from its centrally mounted exhausts that contradict the compact proportions of its frame”
It has been a while since we’ve experienced a reaction to a car like this but then it has been 22 years since the French lost their beloved Alpine brand, with many thinking it would never return.
Model: Alpine A110
Price: £49,995 (est)
Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
On sale: Early 2018
Alpine A110: call it a comeback
Unless you are an ardent petrolhead, the Alpine badge likely means as much to you as Booba, Nekfeu and MHD (famous French rappers, in case you were wondering) but the marque – which was founded in 1955 by racing enthusiast and talented engineer Jean Rédélé – went on to become a big deal in the world of motorsport.
Rédélé started out tuning old Renault 4 CVs but soon received the backing of Renault to craft his very own models and he named his company in tribute to the Coupe des Alpes rally.
The tight, twisting and technical stage was not only his favourite thing to devour, it also formed the basic principles of his company, namely ensuring he created small, lightweight and technically brilliant machines that felt completely at home in the mountains.
“Alpine claims this is the only car with a top speed of 155mph that doesn’t boast some sort of rear spoiler, and we’re not going to argue with them”
As a result, Alpine notched up numerous big wins, including a first place in the gruelling Rallye Monte Carlo, while the road-going 1962 A110 Berlinette proved its prowess on the road and stunned with its staggering looks.
So when the Renault Group announced it was to resurrect the badge in 2012, the French were understandably worried.
The potential to trample all over a slice of racing history was very real but Alpine’s team of dedicated designers, engineers and technicians have stayed impressively true to the ethos of the original and the result is nothing short of brilliant.
Alpine A110: a statement
There is a worrying amount of ice covering the driveway of the beautiful Villa la Coste and the Alpine Blue A110 sits idling in front of us as it attempts to keep warm.
The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine emits a pleasingly deep, bassy note from its centrally mounted exhausts that contradict the slight proportions of its frame.
This is a car that manages to stand just 1.2m off the ground and sit at a mere 1.8m wide. It’s pretty tiny by today’s standards but its designers wanted to stay true to the original, while chief engineer David Twohig set a weight limit of 1,100kg from the word go.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is the way it manages to perfectly capture the gorgeous styling of the original but remain modern. The quad front lamps, the pronounced bonnet crease, the three-dimensional rear glass and the falling rear silhouette are all present and correct.
Where to stay
Villa la Coste
Villa by name, villa by nature, this complex of incredible suites (read small villas) redefines expectations of luxury. Even the smallest Pavilion Suites boast an enormous balcony with uninterrupted views of the Luberon Valley, a king-sized bed, Japanese robotic toilet and huge walk-in showers.
Jump up to the Pool Villa Suites and residents are treated to 130m2 of space, a dining area and a private swimming pool with sunbathing area.
There is an on-site spa, which offers a signature range of organic products and a menu of extensive therapies, while dining is taken care of by renowned Provençal chefs Gérald Passedat and Francis Mallmann, who bases himself at the nearby Château La Coste.
The best wine, food and views are literally on the doorstep, meaning it’s practically impossible not to feel relaxed and totally pampered at this most luxurious of boltholes.
Price: Suites from €650 a night (low season) and €1200 a night (high season).
Visit the website for more.
In fact, head designer Anthony Villain was so determined to keep the rear free of a spoiler that the engineering team were forced to spend countless hours designing an advanced under-body diffuser to ensure the new Alpine A110 remains glued to the tarmac at speed.
As a result, Alpine claims this is the only car with a top speed of 155mph that doesn’t boast some sort of rear spoiler, and we’re not going to argue with them.
We clamber into the lightweight sports seats and immediately feel comfortable in the cabin. The materials are largely nice to the touch, bar some harder plastics on the dash, and the button arrangement is logical.
A floating touch-screen infotainment system looks a little bit cheap and there is some carry-over from existing Renault products in the switchgear and stalks, but it can be forgiven.
“The Alpine’s brilliantly compact dimensions make almost any road feel like a rally stage”
It’s a nice place to be and the neat TFT display and digital dials change with the various driving modes, which are selected by a cool red button that’s mounted to the steering wheel.
We plug a vague route into the slightly fiddly navigation screen, thumb the big ‘D’ button to engage the seven-speed automatic gearbox and tentatively pull away.
The engine note burbles, ice is kicked up behind us and we snake along this glamorous hotel’s lengthy driveway towards some serious roads.
Alpine A110: run to the hills
Turning right from the Villa la Coste leads to a stretch of the D14 that winds its way towards Aix-en-Provence and immediately the Alpine A110 feels like a special car.
There are no fancy electronically controlled dampers here, just an extremely well engineered chassis, aluminium body and a suspension system that remains soft enough to soak up the bumps but also proves an absolute hoot to drive.
The first few technical corners approach fast and although we are now at a slightly lower altitude, the roads remain greasy. Regardless, sport mode is activated and those corners are attacked with vigour. Honestly officer, the car made us do it.
Steering is sharp and the wheel offers plenty of feedback from the road ahead, the front end tucks in nicely and a prod of the accelerator sends the rear twitching as we round a tight right-hander.
The 1.8-litre engine develops a relatively meagre 249bhp and 320Nm of torque by today’s standards, but this machine weighs just 1,103kg in this fancy, range-topping specification and that’s enough to propel it from 0-62mph in just 4.5 seconds.
It feels rapid and the larger D14 road soon transforms into the D10 and finally the tight and ludicrously technical D11, which snakes back up the mountains towards the Circuit du Grand Sambuc – a secretive test track that acts as our playground for the day.
The Alpine’s brilliantly compact dimensions make almost any road feel like a rally stage, particularly when they become narrow and hustling French drivers refuse to offer any breathing space.
A pull on the thin aluminium paddles mounted behind the steering wheel results in rapid cog swaps from the seven-speed Getrag ‘box and the little French speed machine fires up the road, it’s trick exhaust emitting crackles, bangs and pops a plenty from the rear.
Alpine A110: Gallic greatness
There will be elements of the Alpine A110 that come under scrutiny from customers and that’s after Renault has convinced them that the Alpine badge is worth the estimated £50,000 asking price.
But there is so much to love in this car and as it comfortably rockets along the sensational Route de Forcalquier, biting into every corner and cresting every contusion, it’s difficult not to smile.
“Like the recent Hyundai i30N, this is a car that encourages its driver to get faster and more confident”
The Alpine team has gone to huge efforts to keep weight to an absolute minimum, including replacing the steel brackets that house the parking brake cable with lightweight aluminium counterparts, installing an efficient Mercedes-Benz S-Class windscreen washer system to keep the fluid bottle down to 1.5-litres and employing French audio experts Focal to design a sound system that uses tiny magnets and linen fibre cone constructions to shave off a few grams.
All of this effort shows and will be greatly appreciated by anyone who is lucky enough to get behind the wheel.
In a world of psychotic hyper hatchbacks, £80,000 mid-range sports cars and ever-more powerful turbo engines, the Alpine A110 is a lightweight breath of fresh air.
Yes, it might prove slightly too hardcore for some and not quite luxurious enough for others, but a large amount of respect should be handed to Alpine for sticking their necks out and building it.
If we were an ageing French man, we’d be dancing in the streets too.