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Alpine A290; The Future of the Hot Hatch?

Updated: Jun 14

Alpine A290

After a prolonged teaser campaign, Alpine has finally dropped the much anticipated A290 EV. Does this 220 bhp hot hatch have the dynamics and fun factor to win over the ICE die-hards? Craig Toone assesses the difficulty of the task and the technology involved.

Out of all the challenges the automotive industry faces in the transition to the EV, creating an authentic hot hatch experience must be one of, in not the toughest. Naturally, a hot hatch must be fun to drive above all else, but underneath the showbusiness it also needs to be practical, economical, cheap to run and affordable.

An EV being cheap to run is a given. So far Abarth, SEAT and MG have all offered hot hatches built on dedicated EV ‘skateboard’ platforms, yet all have come up short in various ways. The closest execution has been Mini with the impressive F56 generation Cooper SE, however that car is based upon an ICE platform with the batteries and motors filling the void left by the fossil fuel grubbins. Limited space means limited battery capacity and thus range.

You can see the conundrum. A hot hatch majors on agility; in order to deliver it must be relatively light weight and offer a small footprint, the antithesis to the demands of an EV. 

Small and lightweight are the two identifying signatures of the Alpine A110 sportscar. The entire ethos of the brand is built upon these pillars, so an electric hot hatch is the last thing you’d expect to be produced by Dieppe, yet here we are with the launch of the Renault 5 based Alpine A290.

Alpine A290
Alpine A290

Still, if you were to choose one company to break the mould, Alpine might just be it. Because as we all know, the French firm has recently absorbed the Renaultsport division, responsible for some of the greatest hot hatches of all time. And Renaultsport has been toying with the idea of an EV hatch ever since the Zoe e-sport concept of 2017, which even resulted in a full working prototype feasibility study. As far as head starts go, it's a promising one.

Another advantage is taking advantage of the Renault 5, which leans heavily on its retro inspired styling to deliver possibly the sharpest looking production EV yet. Despite all this though, reading through the press release shows one glaring omission - Alpine does not make a single reference to the words hot and hatch in tandem. Alpine’s preferred terminology for the A290 is ‘urban sportscar’. Whatever that means.

Could it be a lack of confidence? Or could it just be plain old corporate speak as Alpine is desperate to position itself as a premium brand?

I’m pleased to confirm it’s a case of the latter, with Alpine CEO Philippe Krief unable to help himself by stating the A290 “Resurrects a forgotten category, the hot hatch, so much loved for the driving pleasure it delivers."

Antony Villain, Alpine Design Director concurs “We conceived the A290 in the purest style of small sports cars or hot hatches. A small Alpine with a character that, at first glance, expresses its potential for driving pleasure to appeal to styling fans and performance enthusiasts alike.” It seems those who matter know the score.

So what exactly are we looking at with the A290? We know the Renault 5 platform is a 52kWh EV. We also know that despite the name, the car will sport 180 bhp in GT trim, and 220 bhp in the GT Performance and GTS variants, which also offer 221 lb-ft of torque.

Alpine A290
Alpine A290

As I’ve mentioned, weight is the enemy of the EV hot hatch, and the A290 will tip the scales at 1,479 kg thanks to its all-aluminium design - just like the A110. The claimed 0-62 mph time is 6.4s, which is plenty fast enough and a match for the quickest B-segment hot hatches being phased out. Let’s also be honest, in the real world off the line EVs prove significantly quicker than ICE cars with matching power-to-weight ratios - at least until speeds become ban inducing.

But making an EV that pulls hard away from the traffic lights is the easy part. The hard part is making one truly fun to drive. Hyundai is proving there is a future for spirited driving in an EV with the Ioniq 5 N which is winning rave reviews, however that car is priced north of £50,000 and thus has the margin to incorporate technology that’s too expensive to filter down into a £36,000 ‘urban sportscar’.

So what does the A290 offer to spice up the driving experience? To put it bluntly, coaching. Yes, the A290 claims to be able to make you a better driver via a downloadable app that’ll encourage the dark arts of controlling lift-off oversteer, improve your reflexes and teach you how to look ‘down the road’ when driving quickly. Alpine promises “the rear axle is sufficiently mobile when lifting off the accelerator on winding stretches". 

Such handling characteristics are de rigueur of the classic, nose-heavy ICE hot hatch. But an EV is a far more stable platform with the batteries essentially offering a 50:50 weight distribution. A much lower centre of gravity also restricts any roll induced oversteer. To help, the A290 offers bespoke suspension settings with rally-style hydraulic bump stops, as well as new anti roll bars front and rear. The A290’s handling also benefits from multi-link rear suspension, rare in this category.

Alpine A290
Alpine A290

Three A290 specific 19-inch tires (two summer and one winter) have also been developed with long term Renaultsport partner Michelin, with the aim to offer a customer the choice between all-out dynamics (bespoke Pilot Sport S5), sportiness and range (Pilot Sport EV) or low temperature performance (Pilot Alpin 5).

Further encouraging mischief is the ‘Overtake’ button on the steering wheel. Depress it and you’ll be treated to a 10 second power boost. How much extra power the button musters is currently a mystery, with the press release choosing to omit the figure. More software engineering comes in the form of four levels of scavenging for the regen braking, variable steering weights and if desired, two versions of synthetic ‘engine’ noise. The 10-inch infotainment screens can also display a myriad of information; G-force, throttle or brake pedal pressure, temperatures, pressures. Lap times can also be recorded and of course, Apple CarPlay features.

On the flipside are the list of ‘challenges’ built into the touchscreen, teaching you hypermiling and the optimum lift'n coast opportunities to maximise range – 236 miles is the current WLTP claim obtained in the A290's most efficient of it's four driving modes, titled 'Save'.

As ever, range remains dependent on many factors. Perhaps that’s why the A290 will come in multiple flavours, based to suit customer needs. There is the base GT with the EV tyres and 180 bhp. The ‘Premium’ model will tip the character of the car towards comfort and a more luxurious specification, whilst the ‘Performance’ will unlock the full 220 bhp and S5 tyres, concentrating on the sharper driving experience. Combining the two is the top of the range GTS, packing all the power and all the bells and whistles. Expect this to cost in the region of £40,000.

The A290 also mirrors the A110 in one further area by offering a launch spec ‘Premiere Edition’ with a further three subdivisions; Beta, La Grise and La Bleue, each with a distinct styling character. A total of 1,955 examples will be produced - a number which marks the founding year of the marque.

Whilst it might be too soon to predict the Alpine A290 as the saviour of the hot hatch, the prognosis is certainly promising enough to have us hoping the EV hot hatch has turned a corner - hopefully in the manner of an old-school ICE ancestor…perhaps not on three wheels, but at least sporting a bit of angle.

Alpine A290
Alpine A290


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