Looking for a passionate, pure driving experience? Forget the Boxster, Miata, or Corvette. Go Italian.
My first moments in the Alfa Romeo 4C were a shock When one looks at, the 4C it appears to be like “regular” sports cars. It is not. This is what sports cars used to be, and perhaps should still be. This is a machine built for elemental driving pleasure – period. If the 4C has any secondary mission, it is to look beautiful. It succeeds on both counts spectacularly.
The seats in the Alfa Romeo 4C are thin composite-frame buckets that only go back and forth and recline slightly The steering is all-you. No power assist at all. To start off, one selects “1” from the push button transmission, then chooses either “M” for manual, or “A” for automatic. The dual-clutch transmission is the closest thing to an automated manual on the market today. It brings more pleasure than a stick shift. (Your letters and comments are always welcome) Goose the throttle a bit and the sounds of this 4C with its racing exhaust is of a Bugatti racing bike, or some kind of, well, race-car.
The Alfa Romeo 4C has one of the strongest personalities of any vehicle in the world. This is a bare-bones mid-engine race car. It does not pretend to be otherwise. Looking at it in photos you would never know this since it has a beautiful body. One assumes it is sort of a baby Ferrari. In a way it is, but it is much more like a Lotus Exige in that this is a pure performance machine. The Infotainment system consists of an optional Alpine unit stuck in the dash. You can barely hear it when the car is at idle. When the car is moving it is overpowered by the exhaust note. There is no back up camera and no navigation system. Synching your phone to the Alpine system is possible, but if the car is running you can’t hear anything but the engine, so forget talking on the phone. There is air conditioning and heat and the two side windows go up and down with a switch. That is pretty much the luxury appointments list.
Don’t assume that since I pointed out the car’s lack of luxury that it is a demerit. On the contrary, this is a pure driving machine. Your focus is entirely on driving in the 4C Spider. Starting off, the engine’s obnoxious blat and then after-burble when you, or it, upshifts to second, makes everyone in the tri-state area turn and look in your direction. Floor the car and the sound is very similar to the sounds you hear at any race track when the dedicated track cars are running flat-out. The 4 C attracts a lot of attention. Most of it welcome. “If you don’t want people looking at you, don’t go out dressed that way.”
The car steers so heavily at rest that you learn to be moving when you need to turn the wheel in parking situations. However, on the road, the steering is amazing. Road-feel is as extreme as it gets. You can feel the painted lane marker lines in your fingers when you drive over them. You can feel the tire-scrub when you turn in sharply in any corner. When accelerating, the steering feels lighter, because the nose is unloaded. When braking and turning you sense the weight of the nose come down. One has to feel this to really get it. Words don’t do it justice.
The Alfa 4c is not a Jekyll and Hyde type car. It is the monster all the time. However, it seems to come alive and sharpen up when you are driving it, as opposed to just being in it motoring along. On the highway, when trying to just cruise, it goes down the road like a dog let out to pee. “I’m going to go over there, no, over there, nope, over there.” It darts back and forth, and the wind from trucks pushes it left and right. But then you almost miss an exit, you look, see it is clear, and then turn the car hard and it is exact in its motions.
Around town, it is like that too. Squirrelly, Unless you are driving with intent. Then it is sharp as a razor. Relax and just drive and the car seems to follow every road imperfection. If you find tight S-turns and have the bravery to risk your license, the Alfa 4C is ready to carve up that road. It seems to be the best handling road-car imaginable. That said, this is absolutely not a “grand-touring” car. Any stretch of bad pavement makes your teeth chatter. Go over a railroad crossing and the sensation is like being pushed down a flight of stairs in a plastic recycling tub. Fun, sort of, but you only do it once. You soon learn to crawl over really bad patches of road. If there are springs under the 4C, I would be very surprised. It seems to ride directly on its chassis.
The 4C is a weird car in terms of acceleration. Left in “A” for auto, it goes noisily about. Every action sounds like Emerson Fittipaldi is pushing the 4c to the finish. You might as well floor the throttle because it sounds insane regardless. There is no way to drive the 4c discretely. People who see and hear you drive it assume you are showing off. The thrust also seems to have very little to do with the sounds the 4C makes. Roll onto the throttle from a start and the engine screams and then shifts abruptly to second, but the thrust is really just firm, not a whollop. If you keep it floored though, the speed comes up in a rush and you run out of road. The 4C is only quick if you use the throttle like a light switch. On or off. The 1750 cc, 4-cylinder turbo behind you in the car makes “only” 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. At just 2,500 pounds, that is more than enough for impressive numbers, but the 4C does not have that Thor’s hammer from the back you find in many cars at this $70K price point, like the BMW M4, or Camaro ZL1. There is a launch control sequence to get the Alfa to 60 in just 4.1 seconds. There is also a drive mode selector with All-weather, Dynamic, Natural, and Racing options. We hope to test the 4C on the track this fall and report on how those operate.
The 4C is all the better for not having explosive hole-shot behavior. Like a Mazda Miata, this car can be enjoyed on public roads because the sensation of speed is very high. You feel like you are going faster than you are. When you do go really fast, you feel like you are flying and the adrenalin starts flowing. More than once I was blasting around in the 4C, saw a police car, looked down at the speedo in the TFT display, and realized I wasn’t really doing anything illegal.
Signs of Alfa Romeo’s loving care are everywhere you look in the 4C. The carbon fiber is beautifully glossy. Even the windshield surround is carbon fiber. Contrasted with the BMW i8 I just drove, the 4C seems to value its carbon fiber construction more. The i8’s exposed Carbon looked like it was done industrially by contrast. The seats and interior of the 4C look how every car in this price range should. Tailored, not manufactured. The exterior has many small touches that add to its richness. Look at the carbon fiber trim pieces surrounding the lower intake vents on the side. Or check out the no-nonsense front grill treatment closely and you see how much attention to detail went into the 4C.
Inside, the Alfa Romeo 4C is very compact. It is roughly the size of a Miata, but it has a higher windshield header. There is no center arm-rest, nor is there a good place for the driver’s left arm. The top of the door sill worked for me (I’m 6-feet), but it is high. Again, it doesn’t matter because you need both hands to steer and shift. The topless aspect of this targa-type convertible seems to me to be a hugely important part of the experience. The wind in the vehicle is well managed and on the highway it is enjoyable. Be careful if you shop for a coupe 4C. Try the Spider. It seems to me that one would be missing out if the roof were fixed in place.
The roof is like a tent that rolls out to cover the 4C, and it is not something you do from inside the car. It is stored in the boot behind the engine in the rear and takes up about a third of the total space. This is a fair-weather vehicle, or one you can take out on a questionable day and use the top if required to get the car home.
The car I tested had the optional racing exhaust. It is so loud in the highway I seriously considered ear plugs. Around town after an hour it is hard on the brain. If Alfa offered a more comfortable seat (with lumbar support at least), back-up camera, and a button to turn the exhaust note up or down like on the Jaguar F-type and other vehicles, it would seem a no-brainer to me.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles now has the U.S. fleet with the strongest personalities. The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider fits nicely in a company that makes Vipers, Hellcats, Jeeps, Ferraris, and soon, Fiat 124s. These vehicles grab you by the collar and say “Let’s go!” The 4C would be the perfect weekend fun car and track-day car. Try the 4C and even if you don’t buy one, you will go away feeling great that someplace, someone still makes a true sports car.
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
- Rosso Alfa $1,500
- Convenience Package $1,800
- Carbon Fiber Cluster Bezel $300
- Racing Exhaust $500
- Xenon Headlamps $1,000
Price: $70,595 including destination
- Exterior Design
- No Excuses Personality
- Driver’s Seat Comfort
- Highway Noise (From Optional Exhaust)