► £59,950 Spider brings roof-off fun to Alfa’s gorgeous 4C
► Raft of detail updates, from plusher cabin to set-up tweaks
► Porsche Boxster hasn’t gone away…
I haven’t got time to read this – I’ve seen the pictures and I’m dialing the local dealer’s number now
I completely understand. This is the way of the 4C – it’s beautiful, somehow special and, crucially, an Alfa. If your desire for it is all consuming and deaf to reason, stick that deposit down. No hard feelings. But if you’ve got a moment, consider that the 4C Spider isn’t quite as perfectly resolved in function as it is in form.
I’m not sure I care. But I can’t get through right now so go on
Ok, so the 4C coupe is a fairly, er, divisive car. In its favour there’s the way it looks, a pretty compelling turn of speed, startling grip and agility, an admirable purity of purpose – its modest 1.7-litre turbo four only has a carbonfibre tub, a bit of bodywork and you to move around – and the undeniable draw of that badge. But there are nagging doubts that somehow this very promising template lost something in the final execution. The unassisted steering feels odd, the way the car moves around on rough, cambered roads is unsettling, and the hard-working engine is a little too boosty and blunt to truly convince. But Alfa considers the 4C something of a work in progress – reassuring or worrying? – and has used the Spider as an opportunity to address some of the 4C’s issues.
So what’s new?
The canvas roof, obviously. It’s neat, easy to fit and remove, and lives in its own bespoke bag in the boot when the sun’s shining. Optional removable hard-tops will follow, both body-coloured and in visible carbonfibre. Further new-ness includes an almost lickable Pagani-esque carbonfibre windscreen frame, a subtle re-working of the bodywork aft of your head – the coupe’s glazed rear deck makes way for some deftly integrated rollover protection – 8kg of additional reinforcement in the carbonfibre tub, a greater choice of wheel styles, a transmission oil cooler to prevent cooked cogs on desert trackdays, air-con as standard, a slightly plusher cockpit with more leather and an uprated Alpine stereo, heavier but less ugly headlights and, crucially, tweaks to the chassis aimed at sweetening its steering and improving directional stability.
What’s it like to drive?
Involving, engaging, occasionally spectacular and sometimes frustrating. Frustrating? Lots of little details line up to niggle, stuff like the odd steering wheel (flat-bottomed, apparently comprised of offcuts from five or six other steering wheels), the fact that the wheel obscures the instruments for taller drivers, the uncomfortable seats, the engine’s unsophisticated, torque-heavy delivery and the way your left knee bangs on the heater controls. But equally there’s gorgeous detailing like the visible weave of the carbon tub, the LMP1-style pedal-box, and the car’s compelling performance. With 237bhp to move less than a tonne (the convertible is 45kg heavier than the coupe but also boasts more standard equipment), the 4C Spider will launch from 0-62mph in a neat 4.5 seconds, its textbook weight distribution giving physics no cause to interfere. The torque-rich delivery makes for convincing in-gear acceleration too.
The chassis changes are a step in the right direction. In the spec you dream of choosing – bigger optional 18-inch front and 19-inch rear teledial wheels and sport suspension (same spring rates, firmer dampers, stiffer front anti-roll bar and the rear anti-roll bar standard cars do without) – heavily cambered roads and undulating braking zones still require concentration and the ride is choppy. But stick to the standard suspension and wheels and the 4C Spider manages both a compliant ride and to pretty effectively isolate its trajectory from its suspension movements. As a bonus, the smaller wheels also sweeten the steering a little too, with more consistent weighting between straight-ahead and an armful of lock.
Now I’m torn
Apologies for that. The truth is that the 4C, even in evolved Spider form, remains a car that feels like it’s yet to realise its full potential. That said it’s one that manages to gloss every journey with a pretty priceless sense of occasion, so much so that the pretty terrifying asking price – £59,500, £8k more than the already salty coupe – almost feels reasonable.
Click to read CAR's Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe review.