Alpine A110 VS Lexus LC500
- Modest safety tech
- So-so warranty
- Punchy engine
- Throaty exhaust
- Climate-controlled cabin
- Disconnect from the drive experience
- Lexus trackpad tech persists
Dieppe. A pretty seaside community on the northern French coast. Established a mere thousand years ago, it's copped a hammering in various conflicts, yet retained its beautiful 'marine promenade', a handy reputation for top-notch scallops, and for the last 50-odd years, one of the world's most respected performance carmakers.
Alpine, the brainchild of one Jean Rédélé - racing driver, motorsport innovator, and automotive entrepreneur - is still located on the southern edge of town.
Never officially imported into Australia, the brand is virtually unknown here to all but committed enthusiasts, with Alpine having an illustrious rally and sportscar racing back-story including victory in the 1973 World Rally Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978.
Rédélé was always committed to Renault, with the French giant eventually buying his company in 1973, and continuing to produce brilliant, lightweight road and racing Alpines until 1995.
After a close to 20-year hibernation, Renault reanimated the brand in 2012 with the stunning A110-50 concept racing car, and then the two-seat, mid-engine machine you see here, the A110.
It's clearly inspired by the Alpine of the same name that wiped the rallying floor clean in the early 1970s. Question is, does this 21st century version build or bury that car's iconic reputation?
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Being a true Jack of all trades in the car world is rare.
Generally speaking, a vehicle is either capable or comfortable. Attractive or aerodynamic. Practical or performance orientated. And problems arise when cars try to do all those things well, all at the same time.
Which make the Lexus LC 500 Convertible such an interesting proposition. Because it is, without doubt, stylish, and lavishly equipped. It’s also rather large and rather heavy. All of which is perfect for cruising the Bondi foreshore.
But it’s also equipped with a thumping V8 engine and a throaty exhaust that sounds like bricks in a blender on the overrun. It’s stiffer than the LFA supercar, and plenty powerful, which should deliver one of Lexus’ sportiest-ever drives.
So can the LC 500 really do it all? Let’s find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Don't let the overall score fool you. The Alpine A110 is an instant classic. While practicality, safety and ownership costs don't set the world on fire, it delivers a driving experience that makes everything right with the world every time you get behind the wheel.
Would you like an Alpine A110 in your toy box? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The final example of the original Alpine A110 rolled out of the Dieppe plant in 1977, and despite more than four decades separating it from this newcomer, the 2019 A110 is effectively a new-generation version.
Much more than a tip of the hat to a special predecessor, the new A110 perfectly updates the distinctive, purposeful look of its not-so-ancient ancestor.
In fact, head of the A110 design team, Antony Villain says, "We wondered; if the A110 never went away, if this new car was the sixth or seventh generation A110, what would it look like?"
Appropriately finished in a very French shade of 'Alpine Blue', our test example was one of 60 'Australian Premiere Edition' cars, and the design is full of intriguing details.
At just under 4.2m long, 1.8m wide, and only a touch over 1.2m high the two-seat A110 is compact to say the least.
It's raked LED headlights and round fog lights are recessed into the markedly curved nose in a complete and unabashed reload, with circular LED DRLs accentuating the throwback effect.
The overall look of the carefully scalloped bonnet is also familiar, with a huge under-bumper grille and side ducts creating an air curtain along the front wheel wells to finish off the treatment with a focused, technical touch.
A steeply raked windscreen runs up to a small turret with a broad channel running down its entre, and the flanks are narrowed by a lengthy, aero-influenced indent.
A case study in tightly wrapped surfacing, the rear-end is equally taut, with elements like 'X-shaped' LED tail-lights, tightly curved rear screen, single central exhaust outlet and aggressive diffuser continuing the expressive design theme.
Aero efficiency is a major influence, and as well as the diffuser careful inspection of the rear side window reveals a neat duct at its trailing-edge funnelling air to the mid/rear-mounted engine, and the underbody is smoothed near flat. An overall drag co-efficient of 0.32 is impressive for such a small car.
The A110 also proudly wears its French heart on its sleeve, with an enamel version of Le Tricolore attached to the C-pillar (and various points around the interior).
Eighteen-inch Otto Fuchs forged alloy rims fit the car's style and proportions perfectly with body-colour matching blue brake calipers poking through the delicate split-spoke design.
The interior is all business with racy Sabelt one-piece bucket seats setting the tone. Trimmed in a combination of quilted leather and microfibre (which extends to the doors) they are separated by a floating, flying buttress-style console housing key controls above and a storage tray (including multi-media inputs) below.
Highlights include cool body-colour panels in the doors, a Ferrari-like push-button gear selection set-up, slender alloy manual shift paddles attached to the steering column (not the wheel), matt carbon-fibre accents on the console and around the circular air vents, and a 10.0-inch TFT digital instrument cluster (which morphs to suit Normal, Sport or Track modes).
The A110's chassis and body are made from aluminium, with a brushed form of that material adorning everything from the pedals and perforated passenger footrest to multiple dash trim pieces.
Quality and attention to detail is outstanding to the point that just getting in the car feels like a special occasion. Every time.
It’s eye-catching, the LC 500, if big, bolshy convertibles are your thing, and especially viewed front-on, where the aggressive nose design ends in a sharp crease in the mesh grille. I love the headlight design, too, which bleeds back into the body work, but also merges with the vertical light cluster that bookends the grille.
The side view is all shining alloys and sharp body creases, too, leading to an oversized boot that stores the fabric, aluminium and magnesium roof structure, which drops or raises in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h. The design fits into what Lexus calls an “impossibly small space behind the seats”.
Inside, it’s a snug but luxurious space, wrapped largely in leather and equipped with a wealth of technology. It’s a point we’ve made before, but why Lexus perseveres with its trackpad infotainment control technology is beyond us, but there’s no denying the cabin of the LC 500 is a wondrous place to spend time.
We particularly like the integration of the centre screen, which is recessed beneath the leather-wrapped edge of the dash. While some look like an afterthought, this appears to have been included in the broader design philosophy.
Practicality is the oil to a two-seat sports car's water. If you want day-to-day functionality, look elsewhere. Quite rightly, the Alpine A110 puts driver engagement at the top of the priority list.
That said, with limited real estate to work with the car's development team has made it liveable, with a surprising amount of boot space included, and modest storage options snuck in around the cabin.
The heavily-bolstered, high-sided sports seats, necessitate use of the 'one hand on the A-pillar and swing in/out' technique for entry and exit, which won't suit everyone. And once inside several things are missing.
Glove box? No. If you need to refer to the owner's manual or grab the service book, they're housed in a small satchel attached to the bulkhead behind the driver's seat.
Door pockets? Forget it. Cupholders? Well, there's one, it's tiny, and located between the seats where only a double-joined circus contortionist could reach it.
There is a long storage bin under the centre console, which is helpful, although it's hard to reach in and actually extract things placed in it. Media inputs run to two USBs, an 'aux-in' and an SD card slot, but their location at the front of that lower storage area is tricky, and there's a 12-volt outlet just in front of the unreachable cupholder.
However, if you and a passenger want to head off on a weekend road trip, amazingly, you can take some luggage with you. With the engine located between the axles there's room for a 96-litre boot at the front and a 100-litre boot at the rear.
We managed to fit the middle (68-litre) hard suitcase from our three-piece set (35, 68 and 105 litres) in the broad but relatively shallow front boot, while the wider, deeper, but shorter rear boot is best for soft bags.
Another missing item is a spare tyre, with a neatly packaged repair/inflator kit your only option in the case of a puncture.
It’s not, really. But then, what were you expecting?
As mentioned above, the interior feels snug for upfront riders, but not in a bad way. More that elements of the interior feel like they’re reaching out to greet you, leaving you with the impression of being tucked into the cabin.
Backseat riders are out of luck, though, with the seats really only reserved for emergencies. Legroom is tight, and while Lexus promises the roofline is about on-par with the Coupe, it’s not going to be a comfortable journey.
The LC 500 Convertible stretches 4770mm in length, 1920mm in width and 1350mm in height, and it rides on a 2870mm wheelbase. It will sit four at a pinch, and provide 149 litres of luggage space.
There are two ISOFIX attachment points in each of the rear seats, as well as top-tether points.
Price and features
At $106,500 before on-road costs the Alpine A110 Australian Premiere Edition competes with an interesting range of similarly specified lightweight two-seaters.
The first that springs to mind is the achingly beautiful, mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe at $89,000. For some, its exotic carbon chassis is underpinned by a too-firm suspension and the unassisted steering is difficult to deal with. For others (including me) it offers an exceptionally pure driving experience (and those that can't cop its physical nature need to harden up).
Lotus founder Colin Chapman's engineering philosophy, "Simplify, then add lightness" is alive and well in the form of the Lotus Elise Cup 250 ($107,990), and less than $10k more than the A110's MRRP delivers access to Porsche's thoroughbred 718 Cayman ($114,900).
Of course, part of the A110's substantial price tag relates to its all-alloy construction and the low-volume production techniques required to execute it. Not to mention development of an all-new design and global kick-start of a respected but dormant brand.
So, it's not all about bells and whistles, but for the record, a breakdown of this lightweight screamer's standard equipment list includes: 18-inch forged alloy rims, an 'Active-valve' sports exhaust system (with engine noise aligned to drive mode and speed), brushed aluminium pedal covers and passenger footrest, leather-trimmed Sabelt one-piece sports seats, auto LED headlights, satellite navigation, climate control air, cruise control, rear parking sensors, and electric heated, folding wing mirrors.
The 'Alpine Telemetrics' driving data system provides (and stores) real-time performance metrics including power, torque, temperatures, and turbo pressure, as well as lap times for track day warriors. And you'll also pick up a leather and microfibre-trimmed sports steering wheel (complete with 12 o'clock marker and Alpine Blue topstitching), stainless steel door sills with Alpine branding, dynamic (scrolling) indicators, auto rain-sensing wipers, and a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen including 'MySpin' mobile phone connectivity (with smartphone mirroring).
Audio comes from French specialist Focal, and although there are only four speakers, they're special. The main (165mm) speakers in the doors use a flax cone structure (flax sheet sandwiched between two glass fibre layers) and (35mm) aluminium/magnesium inverted dome tweeters sit at either end of the dashtop.
Certainly enough to be going on with, but at more than $100k we'd expect to see a reversing camera (more on that later), and the latest safety tech (more on that later, too).
It costs $214,000 - and that’s rather a lot of money - but unlike some premium and luxury cars, with Lexus, once you’ve handed over the cash, that’s it. There’s no tempting option list to lure you into parting with even more of your hard earned.
And I mean that literally - Lexus proudly proclaims that “there is no option list” for the LC 500 Convertible, so suffice it to say it arrives with plenty of gear.
Take a deep breath…
You get 21-inch two tone alloys, triple-stack LED headlights, keyless entry, retractable door handles and rain-sensing wipers outside, while inside, you’ll find dual-zone climate, leather-accented seats which are heated and ventilated, neck-level heating for when the roof is down, a heated steering wheel and sports pedals.
The tech stuff is handled by a 10.3-inch centre screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and on-board navigation, both of which are controlled via Lexus’ impossible-to-kill touchpad. There’s a second, 8.0-inch screen for the driver, and the lot pairs with an impressive 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo.
There’s also a heap of safety stuff, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
If that’s not enough for you, you can spring for the Limited Edition, which is $234,000 for each of its 10 available examples. It arrives in a unique Structural Blue hue, with a white leather interior with blue highlights. It is designed to be the most blue of blues, too, with Lexus saying the paint colour was the result of a 15-year research project. Which sounds like a thrilling way to spend a decade and a half.
Engine & trans
Alpine has modified the intake manifold, exhaust and overall calibration, but the big difference here is that although it's still transversely mounted, in the Alpine the engine sits in a mid/rear position and drives the rear wheels (rather than in the R.S.'s nose driving the fronts).
Featuring direct injection and a single turbo it produces 185kW at 6000rpm, and 320Nm of torque from 2000-5000rpm, compared to 205kW/390Nm in the Megane R.S. But the Alpine's 356kg weight advantage means it boasts a 169kW/tonne power-to-weight ratio, while the Megane sits at 141kW/tonne.
Drive goes to a Getrag-sourced seven-speed (wet) dual-clutch auto transmission, with Alpine-specific ratios inside.
It’s a lusty power plant, this one, and not something you immediately expect to find in a luxurious Lexus convertible.
The 5.0-litre V8 produces 351kW and 540Nm - 260kW of which arrives from 2000rpm - and it sounds like a God of Thunder as it’s doing it.
It pairs with a 10-speed automatic and sends all that grunt to the rear tyres, with Lexus’ Active Cornering Assist and a mechanical limited-slip differential helping you to not make a mess of things when tackling corners.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 6.2L/100km, the 1.8-litre four emitting 137g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over close to 400km worth of often 'enthusiastic' driving, taking in city, suburban and freeway running we recorded an average of 9.6L/100km.
Definitely a miss, but not bad when you consider we hit the off switch for the standard stop-start system on a consistent basis and regularly took advantage of the accelerator pedal's ability to move towards the floor.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need just 45 litres of it to fill the tank.
Remember when I said it was lusty V8? When has that ever been good news for fuel use?
Lexus reckons you’ll get 12.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but the temptation of all that grunt will pretty much ensure that never happens. Emissions are pegged at 290g/km of C02.
The LC 500 Convertible’s 82-litre fuel tank only accepts 98RON fuel.
Weighing at just 1094kg (target weight was 1100kg), with a 44:56 front-to-rear weight distribution, the all-aluminium A110 is every millimetre the mini-supercar you'd hope it to be.
It only takes two to three rotations of the Alpine's wheels to realise it's exceptional. The Sabelt seat is superb, the chunky steering wheel perfect, and the engine instantly eager to get on with it.
The electro-mechanical power-assisted steering feels just right from the first corner. The rack is quick and road feel is intimate without the crashy feedback penalty paid by the Alfa 4C.
Engage launch control and you're blasting from 0-100km/h 4.5sec, with the engine adding a suitably raucous backing track, a full charge of air rasping through the inlet manifold just behind your ears. Spinning up to the close to 7000rpm rev ceiling is pure pleasure, with peak torque available from just 2000rpm all the way to five grand.
Pressing the wheel-mounted 'Sport' button sharpens gearshifts and holds low ratios for longer, with the already slick dual-clutch really getting its race face on. Hold in the down lever in manual mode and the transmission will instantly shift through to the lowest gear engine revs will allow, the Active-valve sports exhaust chipping in with rude pops and bangs on the over-run. 'Track' mode is even more hardcore, allowing a greater element of slip in cornering. Brilliant.
The engine's mid/rear location delivers a low roll-centre and the double wishbone suspension set-up (front and rear) manages to combine super-sharp dynamic response with a surprisingly civilised ride.
Alpine says the A110's light weight and ultra-rigid chassis mean its coil springs can be reasonably soft and anti-roll bars light so even our truly ordinary urban blacktop doesn't cause too much distress.
The A110 is beautifully balanced, amazingly agile, and satisfyingly precise. Weight transfer in quick cornering is managed to perfection, the car remaining stable, predictable and hugely entertaining.
Grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber (205/40 fr - 235/40 rr) is tenacious, and the torque vectoring system (by braking) quietly keeps things pointing in the right direction if an over-zealous pilot begins to overstep the mark.
Despite the A110's modest kerb weight braking is professional grade. Brembo provides ventilated 320mm rotors (front and rear) with four-piston alloy calipers at the front and single-piston floating calipers at the rear. They're progressive, powerful and consistent.
The only downsides are a clumsy multimedia interface, and the annoying lack of a reversing camera. But who cares, this car is amazing.
It’s a tough nut to immediately crack, the LC 500 Convertible.
It feels like it really wants to be a super-accomplished performance car, and on longer, more sweeping bends it is, with that thick flow of power ensuring you simply surf through corners before rocketing out the other side, the air filled with that growling exhaust note as your right foot finds its way to the carpet.
But on the tighter stuff, there are some factors that play against it. The suspension feels sorted and that engine is always willing to deliver, but for mine, the steering and brakes felt a little disconnected from the experience, not inspiring much in the way of late-braking confidence. And then there’s the sheer two-tonne-plus weight of the thing, which can’t be totally hidden, even by Lexus’ best wizardry.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very capable, even on surprisingly tight stuff. It’s just that there’s something of a disconnect between car and driver.
That’s not a bad thing, really. Are you really buying a premium convertible to attack a mountain pass? Probably not. And keep it flowing through corners and the LC 500 Convertible will keep a smile painted on your face, owing mostly to wave of torque you can ride to your destination.
Hovering your foot over the accelerator must surely be what the President feels like whenever he stands near the nuclear football, with that big V8 always ready to turn on the fireworks.
Away from the red mist, you’ll find the LC 500 Convertible positively flows from destination to destination, the 10-speed gearbox - which can feel flustered at pace - seamlessly flicking through its options, and the ride in its most comfortable settings disposing of most road imperfections before they enter the cabin.
The cabin is also very cleverly insulated, not just when the four-part roof is up, but also when it’s down, with the climate and ambience of the interior largely unaffected by what’s going on in the outside world.
In terms of active safety, the A110's sheer dynamic ability will help you avoid an unfortunate incident, and specific tech includes ABS, EBA, traction control, stability control (disconnectable), cruise control (with speed limitation) and hill-start assist.
And when it comes to passive safety you're protected by an airbag for the driver and one for the passenger. That's it. Weight-saving, eh? What can you do?
The Alpine A110 hasn't been assessed for safety performance by ANCAP or EuroNCAP.
The Lexus LC 500 Convertible arrives with six airbags, a reversing camera with guide lines, parking sensors, and the usual suite of traction and braking aids, but there’s much more to the safety story, too.
The more high-tech stuff includes parking sensors, pre-collision assist with AEB, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and active cruise, as well as bespoke convertible safety gear, like active roll bars that deploy when the car is in danger of rolling over, protecting the occupants beneath that soft roof.
The Alpine A10 is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty with a twist. According to Alpine, the first two years are covered for unlimited kilometres. And if at the end of the second year total kilometres remain less than 100,000, the warranty continues into a third year (still to an overall cap of 100,000km).
So, you can sail over the 100,000km mark in the warranty's first two years, but that means you won't get a third.
Complimentary roadside-assist is provided for 12 months, continuing for up to four years if your Alpine is regularly serviced at an authorised dealer.
There are currently three dealers only – one each in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – and service is recommended every 12 months/20,000km, with the first two costing $530 each, and the third ramping up to $1280.
You'll also need to factor in a pollen filter ($89) at two years/20,000km and accessory belt replacement ($319) at four years/60,000km.
Lexus vehicles are covered by a four-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty, and the LC 500 Convertible requires servicing every 15,000kms.
Lexus's Encore ownership program includes pick-up and drop-off servicing, but the new Encore Platinum level for owners of its more exclusive models unlocks even more stuff.
One is a new On Demand service, which allows owners to book a different style of car when heading off on a holiday or business trip. The loans are available in your state or somewhere else in Australia if you're travelling, with your car waiting for you at Qantas Valet for you when you arrive.
The On Demand service is available on four occasions over your first three years of ownership (which is also the length of the Encore Platinum membership).