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Petit Four: 2024 Alpine A110 R

2024 renault alpine a110 r
Petit Four: 2024 Alpine A110 RCharlie Magee - Car and Driver

From the July/August issue of Car and Driver.

Carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic has never been more in fashion, but while automakers love to boast about the pounds that lightweight parts save, cars keep getting heavier. The Alpine A110 R is a glorious exception to that rule, and although it will never officially come to the United States, this barely-there French coupe deserves a celebration.

Alpine's brand recognition has significantly increased since Renault renamed its Formula 1 team for the performance subsidiary. Yet even in its European homeland, Alpine is a tiny player selling a single model: the A110, a mid-engine two-seater fighting for market share with the Porsche 718 Cayman. Therefore, as the lightest and fastest version, the A110 R can be thought of as a French alternative to the Cayman GT4.

2024 renault alpine a110 r
Charlie Magee - Car and Driver

The regular A110 is already a featherweight, tipping the scales at an estimated 2450 pounds. The R gets a carbon-fiber hood, roof, and engine cover, as well as carbon-fiber wheels. Inside are carbon-fiber bucket seats with six-point harnesses. Despite having gained a sizable diffuser and a fixed rear wing—both in carbon, naturally—the R is said to be about 60 pounds lighter. Power comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter inline-four (the same one motivating the lesser A110 S) with 296 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque that it sends through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

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The A110 R's lightness, and the fact that we were in the U.K., simplified the decision of where to drive it. The twisty, bumpy byways of East Anglia, where all roadgoing Lotuses are developed, seemed like an excellent place to experience this kindred spirit, even though Lotus no longer makes any true featherweights (the most basic Emira is well over 3000 pounds).

2024 renault alpine a110 r
Charlie Magee - Car and Driver

Much of the R's driving experience feels better suited to racetrack than road, especially since you strap into a harness—the seatbelt warning chime sounds if you don't. These are legal for road use in Europe and allow additional weight savings with the deletion of the passenger's airbag. The R's cabin is trimmed in microfiber and carbon and pared of all frivolities. The 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is so small that it's hard to operate, although it does support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The standard A110 has vanity mirrors, but the R doesn't. Nor is there a rearview mirror, as the solid engine cover behind the driver's head makes one moot. The driver relies on a backup camera, the side-view mirrors, and hope.

The regular A110 is soft and supple, but the R's low-speed ride is firm, coming close to harsh over urban bumps. It sits 0.6 inch closer to the ground and gets stiffer springs and anti-roll bars and firmer ZF-sourced dampers, although with adjustment done via a knob at the top of them. Yet higher speeds and bigger lateral loads prove that the R becomes happier as forces rise, the suspension digesting high- and low-frequency disruption without complaint and with minimal roll under cornering loads.

Riding on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, the A110 R generates prodigious grip on dry asphalt. The steering is superb—direct, proportional, and rich in the sort of high-fidelity feedback that's nearly extinct in modern cars. The rate at which the R changes direction is similarly impressive, and the responses feel perfectly balanced between both axles. At sane road speeds, there was not a hint of understeer, nor was there any at less-than-sane speeds.

Sadly, the R's engine is not an experiential highlight. It's punchy and effective given the minimal mass it needs to work against, but it sounds flatulent at lower revs and harsh when pushed toward its 6750-rpm redline. A switchable Sport mode sharpens the throttle response—although never to the level of a 4.0-liter Cayman—and adds some pops and bangs when you ease off the throttle. But it feels like a utility-grade powerplant amid the finesse of the rest of the car.

2024 renault alpine a110 r
Charlie Magee - Car and Driver

So what if the A110 R is not one of those sports cars chosen for its charismatic engine? The overall proposition remains compelling. Perhaps fittingly, after a day in Lotus's backyard, the car the R reminded us of most was the first Lotus Exige. Despite having 98 horsepower less than the six-cylinder Cayman GTS 4.0, the Alpine enjoys nearly the same power-to-weight ratio. It goes to show that losing weight is always a greater dynamic virtue than adding power.

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