This is the new Alfa Romeo 4C, and it promises to be a special sports car. It’s gorgeous, with voluptuous looks inspired by the legendary 33 Stradale and 8C Competizione, the turbocharged engine is mid-mounted and produces more bhp-per-litre than a Ferrari 458 Speciale, and despite a lightweight chassis built from exotic carbonfibre, the 4C costs only £45k.
The 4C is also the car that will spearhead Alfa Romeo’s revival. It’ll be the first Alfa sold in the USA for two decades, and with new sports saloons and SUVs on the way, it’s the 4C’s job to get the public excited about this iconic Italian brand.
So, two and a half years after Alfa Romeo first unveiled a 4C concept at the 2011 Geneva motor show, the enticing production car is here. Does it live up to the huge hype? Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Alfa Romeo 4C…
What’s so special about the Alfa Romeo 4C?
That carbonfibre chassis, for a start. Nothing this side of a £200k McLaren 12C has a carbon monocoque, but the 4C costs £45k. That pitches it right between a Porsche Cayman and Porsche Cayman S, but because of the carbon, and other weight saving measures, the 4C weighs over 300kg less than its German rivals.
Before you ask though, there’s no six-cylinder engine or manual gearbox. Such a car – let’s call it a 6C – would have been seen as a direct rival to the Cayman, but with a V6 engine pinched from Chrysler and a stick shift from an equally uninspiring source, it wouldn’t have been a very good rival to the Cayman.
Instead the 4C has lightweight turbocharged four-cylinder engine (which weighs about 35kg less than any all-alloy six-pot in the Fiat Group, says Alfa boss Louis-Carl Vignon) and a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and together with the exotic chassis, makes the 4C a rather unique proposition.
Sounds enticing – does the 4C deliver on paper?
Alfa claims the 4C has a ‘dry’ weight (no fluids) of 895kg, and a ‘wet’ (ready to be driven) weight of 920kg. That’s without air-con and a radio and electric mirrors (all of which are no-cost options) but even with all of those niceties put back in, the 4C won’t ever weigh more than one tonne, which means a healthy weight advantage over every rival bar the Lotus Elise.
The engine is based on the Giulietta Cloverleaf’s 1.75-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, but with a new aluminium block to cut weight by 22kg. The dinky little four-pot produces 237bhp and 258lb ft (up 5bhp and 7lb ft on the Alfa hot hatch) and drives the rear wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The top speed is 161mph, but more importantly the low weight means the 4C can scamper to 62mph in 4.5 seconds and return over 40mpg.
Okay, but what about on the road?
Lots of fun. The 1.75-litre engine booms into life with much more volume than you’d ever expect from something so small, and at low revs it bellows like the flat-plant crank V8 in a Ferrari 458, before snarling and roaring like an old turbocharged race car higher up the rev range. With so little weight to be moved the engine feels powerful too, and with 80% of the torque available at 1800rpm there’s instant, meaty, low-rev punch so you’re not forever dropping a gear or two to overtake.
Mercifully the low kerbweight also means there’s no need for a hydraulic or electric pump for the steering either, so the unassisted wheel turns cleanly and sweetly and only really requires a bit of muscle at parking speeds – it’s a revelation after the electric steering in the Mito and Giulietta.
The 4C feels nimble too, agile and keen thanks to its dinky weight, but there’s also lots of grip and stability so fast and composed is its default setting. The carbon chassis is evidently very stiff as well, and although our 4C had the optional Race pack and thumped over expansion joints, for the most part it rides fluidly with a wonderful lightweight finesse. There’s very little bodyroll either, and the brakes are mega.
There are four driving modes to choose from via the DNA switch on the transmission tunnel, but we’d ignore the All-Weather and Natural settings in which the throttle is too soft and the gearchanges are too slurred. Best to select Dynamic or Race instead, then the TCT ‘box can shift in 130ms, and you’re lost in a world of turbo roar, wastegate chirrups and deep /whoompfs/ during upshifts.
The 4C’s not without fault though, and most irritating is the boominess of the sports exhaust (part of the Race pack) at motorway speeds, and the fact that the twin-clutch ‘box only performs at its quickest and best when your right foot is utterly pinned. The engine, also, will prove controversial, but what it lacks in a screaming top end it makes up for with torque that will prove more useful in day-to-day life.
What about the interior of the Alfa 4C?
You climb in over an exposed and polished carbonfibre sill, sit on decent leather seats (which for once don’t put form ahead of function) and grasp a fat steering wheel. There’s a digital screen instead of instrument dials, yet it works well, though despite the overall ambience being much more luxurious than a Lotus Elise, it’s not a patch on a Porsche Cayman.
Anything else I should know?
There are two crucial options to consider. One is the Race pack we’ve already mentioned, which costs £3000 and includes a thicker front anti-roll bar, a rear anti-roll bar, inch-bigger front and rear alloys (18s at the front, 19in at the rear) wrapped in Pirelli P Zero Alfa Romeo Race tyres, stiffer dampers, plus a sports exhaust.
The other is the £3500 Luxury pack, which consists of leather and suede seats, and carbonfibre headlight surrounds that are claimed to be 1.5kg lighter than the standard items. The leather/suede seats and carbon headlights are also available individually, but all we’d recommend is that you spend £420 on parking sensors as rear visibility is woeful.
Another anti-climatic Alfa Romeo? Not at all. The 4C has its faults, but it’s also an exciting, scintillating little sports car that proves Alfa Romeo still has the ability to make a vehicle to excite the enthusiasts that have so long believed in it. Oh, and it looks rather nice too.
>> For the full story on the new Alfa Romeo 4C, see the November 2013 issue of CAR magazine, on sale on 16 October