French sportscar maker's A110 sets stage for comeback with Lotus-equalling handling and Porsche-rivalling performance
Alpine on the rise In the Alpine A110, the one-piece bucket seats are comfortable and there is a generous array of modern amenities. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

If being lightweight is a virtue, the Alpine A110 is a saint. The new rear-wheel two-seater from France's less well-known manufacturer is a gem of a car which brightens any day.

And much of it can be attributed to the car's kerb weight of under 1.1 tonnes - an impressive number for a vehicle with its dimensions. The A110 is about the size of an Audi TT Coupe, but weighs some 200kg lighter, thanks to extensive use of aluminium in its construction.

Add a 1.8-litre engine with 252hp and 320Nm of torque from 2,000rpm and you get a car with a respectable power-to-weight ratio, which sets the stage for fun, fun and more fun.

Power is sent to the rear axle via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. In Normal drive mode, the car is decidedly brisk. You get a taut and quick helm and a nice engine note from behind - loud enough to make a dull commute interesting, but not loud enough to hurt.

The A110, the first Alpine to land here in over 20 years, sounds like no other. Even if its engine block is the same one found in the Renault Megane RS (Renault owns Alpine, a French brand dating back to the 1950s), it is tuned completely differently.

Its seven-speeder (the RS gets a six) displays less of the tall ratios Renault is known for. Instead, it is tailored more for punchy acceleration.

In Sport mode, the A110 is frighteningly quick, clocking a neck-snapping 4.5-second century sprint. Keep the pedal and your lunch down, and the car will eventually reach 250kmh.

To enjoy the car, you do not need Sport mode, which is best applied in small measures on local roads. Normal is entertaining enough.

Varying throttle pressure is all you need for most situations. And, if not, a couple of flicks of the paddle shifters will almost always suffice.

The car handles brilliantly, with lines which are traced surgically and effortlessly. Yet, there is nothing clinical about the way its chassis responds to inputs. You get plenty of feedback from the wheel as well as the seat of your pants.

On the go, the car's lightness comes to the fore. It brakes powerfully but in a genteel manner, with none of the lurching associated with heftier carriages. It whisks around corners with precision and flatness.

And as firm and low as its suspension is, the ride is not edgy at all. Unlike in, say, a Lotus Elise.

The A110 offers some of the hardcore sportiness you see in an Elise, but with much more comfort and refinement built in.

One-piece bucket seats (with quilted leather upholstery and weighing only 14kg each) are easy to get comfy in, doors and cabin panels convey solidity. Visibility is good despite the car's height (merely 1,248mm). And you get a decent amount of space and a generous array of modern amenities.

Supercar-style push-button gear selection, electric parking brake, infotainment tablet with phone connectivity and a fully digital instrumentation panel with reverse monitor are all laid out in an unborrowed cockpit - with its own treatment of aluminium and carbon fibre.

On the outside, the Alpine looks unique too. Its rear is probably its most handsome side. Here, its flared haunches, squat posture and proximity to tarmac communicate confidence and explain the car's unshakeable roadholding.

A large central exhaust, ultra-slim tail-lamps and, if you look closely, an engine cover peeking from the rear windscreen's lower portion, tell the world the Alpine is back - and, in all probability, is here to stay.