French carmaker Alpine (pronounced Al-peen) is making a comeback after an absence of more than 20 years. After driving the new A110, I can safely say that sports car aficionados will rejoice.
Its designers have got it spot on. The front is an appropriate tribute to the original A110 "Berlinette", with four round headlights (LED) and a prominent spine along the centre of the bonnet.
Its double bubble roof, flat underfloor and rear lower diffuser keep the body devoid of ugly spoilers. The car's bulging wheel arches, blue brake calipers and a single, centrally positioned exhaust hint of its sporting pedigree.
On paper, its vital statistics are impressive. A mid-mounted 1.8-litre turbocharged engine sends 252bhp and 320Nm to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Weighing just a tad over 1.1 tonnes, the lightweight car hits 100kmh in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 250kmh - enough to make its competitors sit up.
But figures are nothing if they do not translate into actual performance on the road. On this front, the A110 delivers.
The journey to a private race circuit is lined with B roads with off-camber corners, tight turns, and fast and swoopy bends. The A110 feels composed throughout, gripping the asphalt like a leech on skin.
SPECS / ALPINE A110
Price: To be announced when the car arrives in the third quarter of next year
Engine: 1,798cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Power: 252bhp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 2,000 - 5,000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shift
0-100kmh: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 250kmh (electronically limited)
Fuel consumption: 6.1 litres/100km
Agent: Wearnes Automotive
No matter how hard I try to unsettle it, all it betrays is understeer - easily quelled with a gentle lift of the throttle. Stopping performance is exemplary, too, thanks to four 320mm brakes.
The car does not have fanciful adaptive dampers or a limited-slip differential. Instead, its lightness - by virtue of an almost all-aluminium construction - works in its favour. Its ride is on the firm side, but its double-wishbone suspension manages to soak up bumps and surface imperfections with exceptional poise. Its steering is also incredibly communicative. Feedback is as pure as it comes.
My impressions are reinforced after 10 laps around the 2km Grand Sambuc circuit. The car is equipped with three driving modes: Normal, Sport and Track. Throttle sensitivity, gear-change speed, electronic stability program setting and exhaust note differ from one mode to the next.
Track is brutal, but in a hugely satisfying way. Gear changes are lightning fast and you feel so "connected" to the throttle and steering that you are able to tackle every inch of the track with confidence.
Sport mode is probably best for day-to-day driving. Just push the "D" button and let the car do the rest.
Do not think for a second that the A110 sacrifices creature comforts for sportiness. It might be only 4.2m long, but it accommodates two tall adults easily. I am 1.8m tall and have no trouble getting into an excellent driving position with simple adjustments to the body-hugging Sabelt racing bucket seat.
Standard issue equipment includes a multimedia system with a seven-inch touchscreen, navigation, Bluetooth and a four-speaker Focal hi-fi, aluminium pedals and climate control with particle filter.
There isn't much storage space, but two "boots" - one in front (96 litres) and another at the rear (100 litres) - provide as much stowage as any compact sports car.
Alpine has truly achieved something exceptional with the new A110.
In a segment filled with serious contenders such as the Alfa Romeo 4C, Audi TT and Porsche Cayman, it stands out.
The only gripe I have is the absence of a glove compartment. Looks like I have to keep my racing gloves and shades elsewhere then.
•The writer is a contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.