Carbon Fibre Completeness
Our man with petrol in his veins is smitten by the Alfa 4C
Review by Marc Stickley
Let’s get this out of the way up front – I love this car. When I told people I was going to be driving one, I got the “looks nice, but it’s an Alfa” and “expensive toy” and “pretty, what is it?” comments from friends and colleagues. I had expected all of that, but I was still excited. You see the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is not only a very pretty car, but it is unique for this price point in having a carbon fibre chassis to sit with the not unusual two seats and engine in the middle formula for a sports car. Why is that unusual? Well, unless you’re rolling in a McLaren or another supercar, or like Lewis Hamilton you spend your weekends in bona fide race cars, then carbon fibre is usually the preserve of the race circuit or truly expensive cars – I’m not talking a few bits glued to the dash – I’m talking the whole chassis. This review was going to be fun…
Down to business then. Snap. Crackle. Pop. Like an amplified bowl of Rice Crispies, the 4C shouts for your attention. It has other means in its arsenal, but the noise is an obvious one to everyone – not just the driver and any passenger. Chuffing, whistling and crackling, before throwing the little car towards the horizon – it’s an oft used cliché, but this car flies and you’d better be on your game if you’ve pushed the loud pedal even more than a little. As the pace picks up, the movement from the front end bordered on alarming, but focus, take control and flow with it. The 4C was designed not to have power steering, its low weight and nimble handling characteristics leading to a pure driving experience from a chassis perspective. There’s no filter there, no fuzzy pump doing the work for you and removing the sensation from the front wheels.
The carbon-fibre tub is super-stiff and provides an incredible starting point to engineer a sports car. Right behind you is the magnificent engine – the 1750cc TBi turbocharged unit sounds like it’s bigger (helped by the race exhaust on the car I was driving) and thanks to the 4C’s low weight, it certainly pushes like it is. Developing 240bhp, it’s not underpowered, but it only has to move 900kg down the road, so rapid progress is guaranteed – 0-60 is a claimed 4.5 seconds and I got pretty close without trying – the acceleration is ferocious and almost surreal. I didn’t test the top speed of 160mph, but you gather speed so quickly to the legal limit, that I have no doubt it would get there with ease. Do not sneeze and flex your right foot – you’ll be a speed camera’s dream! The engine is mid-mounted, behind the seats but ahead of the rear axle, so the weight distribution means you can really place the car and move it through the bends – the front wheels relay everything to your hands. Alfa assured me the front set up had been dialled down on the UK market cars, as it was even more fidgety in euro spec! The 6 speed twin clutch transmission (TCT) is the only gearbox option, but means you can hammer down the back lanes, shifting yourself via the paddles, or leave it in automatic and crawl through traffic, keeping your hands on the wheel at all times. Purists might crave a manual, but I feel the TCT suits the 4C’s nature.
That chassis stiffness means that there is no roll in bends. It also means the Alfa can be set up to give a comfortable ride, so using the car everyday is a distinct possibility. This is not a low slung, fidgety, brittle car to drive. You can fine tune the car’s nature using the familiar Alfa DNA settings (more later), but it flows over broken surfaces, absorbs potholes and bumps and makes for a relaxing drive. I drove the Spider in all conditions (including biblical rain) and on all roads – long distance motorway, blasts down country lanes, commuting on A and B roads and they were all gobbled up, like Pac Man. Apt, given the test car’s colour – another attention grabber! In a little over 500 miles, I averaged about 30mpg and the only time it wasn’t comfortable was when I had already filled the “boot” – actually a luggage bin behind the engine – and collected my brother from the train station with his weekend’s worth of luggage. The cabin was a little cosy after that, but we rolled with it. Speaking of which, the Spider has a soft top. Designed to be both a coupé and convertible from launch, the 4C needed minimal adjustment to lose the roof. The centre panel between the front and rear windscreens unclips in about 20 seconds – I proved it on one journey in a traffic jam – twist the two retaining clips in the cabin, then retract the two clips above each door, before folding the roof in on itself. All that from the driver’s seat and slide the roof into the passenger footwell, or with more time into the fitted bag in the luggage space. Bellisimo! Once stowed, even more of the glorious engine note reaches the cabin, while wind disruption is minimal. Aside from price, I can’t think of a reason not to opt for the Spider version of the 4C.
With the roof off, you can get in to the 4C without serious contortion. With the roof on, you need to twist a little more – it’s an Italian sports car! The interior of the Alfa is brilliant – the carbon tub is exposed and you climb over it across the fairly wide sill and into the low seats. The test car was trimmed in leather and it felt right for all purposes, but if this was your track toy, you could probably stick with standard trim. The dash on can be trimmed in the same stitched leather – contrasted in yellow to match the exterior colour. The instruments are shown in a display screen, showing a variety of information, depending what driver setting you select and then what display you want. The driver settings follow the Alfa Romeo DNA sequence – Dynamic (think Sport, gears are held), Natural (think normal, gears change sooner) and All Weather (softer mapping, less aggressive, a bit more help from the traction control). With the 4C’s DNA settings, unlike the other Alfas, there is also a Race mode – all driver aids are switched off and a G-meter is displayed on screen. I found Dynamic the best tool for swift progress, Natural the best for normal driving (including perfectly well behaved urban commuting) and wisely took the advice that Race mode is only really needed on a track. I didn’t get the chance to try it out, but the 4C would be a brilliant track tool. The 4C is fitted with most of the kit you would need and expect – the Alpine stereo looks like an aftermarket head unit has been fitted, but it provides bluetooth connectivity, radio, USB and CD functionality in case you don’t want to listen to the engine. The steering wheel is pleasantly chunky, with a squared off base and given how low the car is and how little room there is in the cabin, this is probably a necessity, rather than an accessory.
The 4C is available in three versions at the moment – the coupé starts at £52,505. The Spider at £59,505 (£65,150 as I tested it – with the leather, race exhaust, yellow ” Giallo Prototipo” paint, painted brake callipers, upgraded wheels and a few other bits). Or the one I would opt for, the £67,505 Limited Edition model. The extra cash buys you an 8 speed TCT ‘box, sexier wheels and all the options fitted to the test car – a veritable bargain! Now those numbers look big – Porsche Cayman big and somewhere in between an obvious comparison of a Lotus (it sits between the Elise and Evora for price), but I reckon, if you want a car you can thrash on the track, then pootle home with the ‘box in auto, or switch back to manual to dispatch that troublesome HGV, or dawdling saloon and you don’t want the usual suspect on your drive, then the Alfa 4C could be for you. I’m smitten and I’d have one tomorrow…