Latest Brembo calipers are a lesson in lightweight packaging
As anyone who's driven a classic car can tell you, improvements to braking are among the most welcome of all the advancements in motoring tech. Modern stoppers are more powerful than their classic counterparts, more resistant to fade, easier to modulate and weigh less. But the team at Alpine wanted more for the A110, and threw the challenge to braking specialists at Brembo. The result is the Electromechanical Combined Sliding (ECS) caliper.
One of the challenges facing OEM brake manufacturers is the collective push toward electric parking brakes. Designers love electric park brakes, because they remove the need for a big, clunky handbrake lever. Replacing the lever with a little button frees up lots of valuable console space for all the storage bins and cupholders modern buyers demand. Unfortunately, the change also means handbrake turns are a thing of the past, but you'll have to wait for our eulogy to hear more on that.
Lots of cars now have a small, electrically controlled secondary caliper on the rear brake disc to act as the handbrake – Brembo already makes an electric parking brake system like this – but it's an inelegant solution that increases complexity and contributes negatively to unsprung weight. ECS aims to solve this problems through the use of lightweight materials and clever packaging.
Not only is the parking brake unit now integrated with the main caliper, heavy use of lightweight aluminum shaves 1.25 kg (2.8 lb) of unsprung mass on each rear wheel. The electric parking brake can also act as a failsafe if both hydraulic circuits for the main braking system go wrong. It's an unlikely scenario, but some owners will be reassured to know it's there.
Brembo isn't alone in playing around with a mix of electronic and hydraulic braking systems. Hybrid and electric cars need to combine traditional braking systems with complex regenerative programs that pull power back into the battery. All of this needs to feel natural to the driver, especially in sports cars, where quality feedback through the pedals is a crucial part of the experience.
Although the ECS is compact and light, it's still fairly conventional in the way it operates. The parking brake is electric and the regular brakes are hydraulic, after all. But using the electric park brake as a backup demonstrates a willingness to play around with brake-by-wire systems, where there's no physical connection between the pedal and pads. Given steering systems are pushing toward fully-electric control, it wouldn't be surprising to see brakes do the same.
The brakes will debut on the Alpine A110, finished in a special shade of blue. Oxidized black and orange versions will follow shortly afterwards.