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Opinion: If the Alpine A110 is the best sports car money can buy, why don’t we buy any?

by Dan Prosser
22 May 2020 4 min read
Opinion: If the Alpine A110 is the best sports car money can buy, why don’t we buy any?
All photos: Alpine

Pity poor Alpine. Rumours started in France’s Les Echos financial daily paper and Le Canard Enchaine political weekly suggest that Renault is gearing up for hard-hitting cuts, and Alpine could be one of the casualties, just three years after the brand was relaunched with the A110 sports car. As ever with these things, you never know whether the ‘rumours’ are the PR machine at work. Shortly after they surfaced, Renault was in ongoing negotiations with the French government to secure €5bn worth of state aid.

Before going any further, and pondering what it is about Alpine that fails to translate on this side of the channel and other parts of Europe, I should admit a certain bias; I am one of the few individuals that owns a modern-day Alpine A110. And I like it. A lot.

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If the French sports car company were a racing driver – with founder Jean Rédélé, it as good as was a racing driver in its formative years – it would have had a promising start to its career, hit the big time with a works drive and no worries about sponsorship, before falling out of favour with a team boss, finding itself sidelined and having to do whatever it took to earn any drive it could.

Models like the A310 proved badly timed, launching in 1971 just before the fuel crisis got into its stride. The rorty little Renault 5 Alpine – sold here as the Gordini – was the original hot hatch when it went on sale in ‘76 but Alpine failed to keep the 50,000 drivers that bought one within the family. Nobody stepped up to an A310. Perhaps, had the pretty GTA arrived sooner, things would have been different. And hands up who remembers reading road test reviews of the A610? Magazines like Performance Car were gushing, but Britain’s drivers weren’t convinced.

Are things any different today? What would a gathering of every owner of the new Alpine A110 look like in the UK? It’d be less National Exhibition Centre, more room above a pub. We’re a select group. Or maybe just a small one. Alpine chooses not to broadcast the total number of A110s its handful of dealerships has shifted since the car was introduced in 2017, but the figure is said to be no higher than 500.

As with the A610, that’s despite gushing reviews raining down upon the A110 from the British motoring media as though the great five-star sluice gate in the sky had been opened, a torrent of superlatives tumbling down. I don’t recall any other sports car being met with such an effusive response, and yet so few of this so-called modern classic have been sold here. It’s a troubling notion that motoring journalists perhaps aren’t the thought leaders we thought we were. Please let there be some other explanation.

In February, only 61 A110s were sold in Europe

While the A110 struggles to find keepers in the UK, it’s been performing well elsewhere. In 2019, Alpine reported European sales of 4,376 units (with more than two-thirds sold in France).

Propped up by its popularity in its home market, the A110 compared favourably to its most immediate competitor, the Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster duo. Because the German company only publishes the combined sales for the pair – 7,292 were sold in Europe last year – you should divide that figure by two to appreciate that Alpine likely outperformed Porsche in the market for a two seat, fixed head sports car.

The excitement appears to have been short lived. In February, it’s been reported that only 61 A110s were sold across Europe (although global pandemics tend not to result in a voracious appetite for daft sports cars). Against that backdrop, Renault is reportedly ready to put Alpine back into retirement. What a shame if this free-thinking sports car company were to be euthanised so soon after being resuscitated.

How do we explain the A110’s slow UK sales? I think plenty of sports car buyers in the £50,000+ price bracket look at the engine’s power figure of 249bhp and scoff. Never mind that at just 1100kg, the Alpine actually has a better power-to-weight ratio than the entry-level Cayman (226bhp/tonne versus 220).

I don’t suppose the misconception that the A110 is for masochistic petrolheads alone has much helped its cause either. Onlookers tend to think it’ll be uncomfortable and demanding to live with, but in my experience the A110 is remarkably easy-going.

Or maybe we British are simply too snobbish. How likely is an A110 to impress neighbours when they don’t even know what an Alpine is? And what of the brand experience, something that car enthusiasts may consider superficial but which seems to count for so much in this age? When I collected my car at the end of 2019, it was from Alpine Centre Manchester. Although if I’m being honest, I actually collected it from a Renault dealership that had one small corner set aside for Alpine sales. To get to the dedicated area of the showroom, I had to walk past ranks of Renault Kadjars and Capturs. If I’d spent my money on a 718 instead, I would have brushed past 911s and could have thought to myself, “One day, if I work hard enough, that could be the next Porsche I’m going to own”.

I do know this: it isn’t the driving experience that’s stifling A110 sales over here. I’ve lost every shred of impartiality that I might once have had, of course, but for me the Alpine is one of the most rewarding cars on sale today, regardless of price. I only hope more British buyers will have the chance to come to realise it.

Dan Prosser is a motoring journalist and founding partner of DriveNation

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Comments

  • James Prewett says:

    Dan, I love my A110 so much because it is a bit different . They joy of driving it is immense ! Car history inc 205gti , 968cs , vx220 , MX5 mk1 and the A110 is up there with all of them – when people say 250bhp they haven’t driven one!!

    • Roger Hick says:

      100% with you there, my A110 has been faultless as my daily (and only day-to-day) car and 20k miles on the clock. I have to confess ‘previous’ (my 4th Alpine and still an owner of an original A110) so I would forgive it many things, but I don’t need to make any excuses for this car at all. I don’t mind going through a ‘Renault’ showroom – my Alpine dealer has been superb and they love and buy into the brand – anyone put off by the Renault association needs to look hard at themselves and question what is important in buying a car.

  • Stuart eyatt says:

    Fantastic article, I had the a110 PE when it came out in September 2018. Loved it but had to see for financial reasons, will buy again though

  • alex grenfell says:

    absolutely love mine since bought july 2019. Sadly, with a sh*t winter and now the virus, milage is not much more than half I would have liked. In terms of uk volumes I was told that there are only 3-4 cars per dealership per month, I think it was 25 per month total. So that means obviously 300 pa, and therefore 500 ish sounds about right.

  • donald cameron says:

    Fantastic car. I love mine. Saw it outside the Alpine Tent at Hampton Court Concours, booked a test drive at home and bought and specced it after 100 yards and paid the deposit on AMEX. Collected it 9 months later and was in shock in the Renault showroom on a site filled with new Nissan Commercial vehicles. This is a High Networth Product and belongs in an HR Owen Showroom alongside Lotus, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati and Bugatti. Long ago Porsche quit the VW/Audi showrooms. Think about it. An alternative to Owen might be a bespoke showroom at, say, Bicester Heritage. Increase price by 10% and sell 30% more…….

    Instead it looks like the factory will close and the model will die in 18 months. This should be a Harvard Business School Case Study. The Alpine does not sit well alongside blob products from Renault

  • donald cameron says:

    Here is an interesting ALPINE 110S Road Test by a young driver in Germany – an age group that Renault has not managed to sell to. Most buyers are over 50 years of age

    http://youtu.be/t5wxYF-b2qg

  • James Mills says:

    Donald, you make a fair point. In my view, the experience for an Alpine customer should be boutique; it should give the impression of belonging to an exclusive and informed club of drivers who appreciate the finer things and subtle differences in life – and cars. We all appreciate the economies of scale that face Alpine in establishing a standalone dealer network. However, one would imagine a handful of strategically placed, boutique showrooms in the UK could handle the sales side, negating that initial barrier of having visitors tripping over Clios, Zoes, etc. Meanwhile servicing could still be carried out by Renault dealers; that wouldn’t offend owners and prospective buyers too much, would it? Sadly, from an outsider’s perspective, it appears that Renault never had an investment and growth plan for Alpine – rather, it was a suck-it-and-see exercise. But what does everyone else feel? Am I wrong about the sales experience?

  • donald cameron says:

    James, It is just awful and naive the way that the UK operation is handling sales and marketing. Not helped by Renault losing its leadership (Ghosn) and all the best people at Renault leaving in droves to join the competition. In Australia and Germany the company has adopted the approach that you suggest and set up separate boutique showrooms not too far from Renault dealerships who handle servicing.

  • donald cameron says:

    And Haggerty won’t insure Alpine. Shame

    Pure myopia

  • PASCAL NICOLAS says:

    Hello to all the fans of the A110 in Great Britain.
    Thank you for these thoughts around the presence of the Alpine brand and the A110 on your Island.
    The future of the A110 is closely linked to that of the Dieppe plant. Alpine suffers from an brand image deficit, especially in Great Britain, and after saturation of the French market, sales prospects are no longer sufficient to ensure the sustainability of the A110. It seems that Mr De Meo wants to give it a chance, by increasing tenfold the exposure of the Alpine brand (Formula 1 and LMP1 from 2021). The Dieppe plant therefore benefits from a 3-year suspension: This is good news!
    I think and hope that UK fans will be able to order it for at least another 3 years. The A110 S was made for them and other demanding customers like Germans. Since showrooms are lacking in Great Britain, each current owner is a vector of the Alpine brand image, and a potential seller.
    We are counting on you to make Great Britain one of the main export markets for the A110.
    Kindly

  • Simon Gauci says:

    I have just purchased a 2018 Première Edition, with less than 2,000 miles under its wheels. Not for me, this pointless need to impress people I don’t know. Buying the best driver’s car, for my own enjoyment was the criteria I followed. Watching and reading countless reviews online, and the fact that motoring journalists, like Dan Prosser and people such as Gordon Murray, Rowan Atkinson and Nick Mason, to name a few, have put their own money into buying one, left me in no doubt that I’d made the right decision. Plus, as a fan of rallying since the seventies, the Alpine brand brings with it its own kudos, to those in the know!

  • Geoff Ingles says:

    Having had a long history with Renault I could probably be accused of bias!! However, I have personally owned an A310 a Mid engine R5turbo and a magnificent A610 and would happily own any one of them again!!
    The main problem is the economy of scale in the UK – when the UK was profitable for Renault we enjoyed nearly 7% market share – today the UK is no longer a priority for Renault and so don’t hold your breath for volume just enjoy the rarity!!

  • Col H says:

    For me, the only immovable obstacle in the way of an A110 purchase is the lack of a manual gearbox. I love almost everything else about the car, some almost irrelevant details of the interior notwithstanding. I never could understand the philosophy of paying homage to a car and a brand that only a total petrol-head would appreciate, ruthlessly eliminating weight and emphasising driving dynamics that, again, only a total petrol-head would appreciate…. then charging a price for a plastic 2 seater that only a total petrol-head would pay and saddling it with flappy paddles only. Nope. I bought my third Lotus instead. If I wanted a 50k coupe with tidy handling and paddles, I’d have a Cayman. If it’s to be something lighter, more hardcore and all about feel and interaction… a manual box is chapter 1, verse 1, line 1.

  • Roger Swan says:

    No manual. At least for me. I only drove manuals for my sports cars

  • Marc says:

    I’ve been waiting for this car ever since the announcement. However for a gearhead having a proper analogue feeling/driver-oriented car includes also a manual gearbox. So what killed the purchase for me:
    – lack of manual gearbox (this is a deal breaker)
    – pricing: for a base 110 your start at 57k euros then add blue paint and 18″ wheels upgrade and you are 60k already. Then add brake upgrade, exhaust and few bits here and there and it’s 65k in no time. Seeing options list pricing, it’s Porsche prices. For reference I tested a 718 Cayman and feels special, although not as nimble is no slouch either. 718 offers a manual and for 65 k you get PASM, Sport chrono, sport exhaust and custom interior. Renault should have been more conservative regarding prices. Get people in their Apline cars first. They jumped too fast the exclusivity bandwagon.

  • Chris W says:

    Anyone can see what the problem with Alpine is – price. I had assumed they deliberately priced their cars high to limit volume because they didn’t have the production capacity and needed to pay back the development costs. So I was astonished to hear them moan about disappointing sales numbers.

    Perhaps the price is more reasonable in France but in the UK it competes head-to-head with the Porsche Cayman. As Japanese sports car manufactures learnt years ago, if you want to compete with Porsche in Europe you have to significantly undercut them on price. Toyota are relearning this lesson with their Supra, another poor seller.

    This sounds unfair but Porsche have earned the right charge those premiums over many decades. You don’t just walk into a market and charge those sorts of prices from the off.

    By the way, their website right now seems to be barely functioning. There are links that don’t work, I can only find information on one model variant and there is no pricing. Not the level of professionalism you want when you are about to spend £50,000.

  • Pascal Nicolas says:

    In France, Porsche, like most sports cars, have become overpriced because of the ecological penalty imposed on the basis of CO2 emissions. Fortunately, thanks to the low level of its emissions, the Alpine remains, for this year, at least, relatively little penalized:
    Base price in France:
    Alpine: around £50K / Porsche 718: around £50K
    ecological penalty in France:
    Alpine: around £1000 / Porsche 718: from £14K (to £34K for flat 6) …
    Here is at least one reason why the Alpine remains a good deal here in France.

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