"Boy, it'd be an all-time great… if it had a manual." This is the criticism that people level at the Alfa Romeo 4C. For as exotic, lightweight, and fun as this car is, unbridled automotive love and appreciation are stymied due to its distinct lack of a third pedal.
But does that matter now, roughly nine years after its US debut? Do its other attributes overshadow its PRND buttons? I drove one that's now for sale on Cars & Bids to see for myself if the sum of the parts is greater than the whole – let's get nerdy.
This Alfa Romeo 4C is for sale on Cars & Bids. Go check it out and bid here.
|2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe
|Turbo 1.75-Liter Four-Cylinder
|237 Horsepower / 258 Pound-Feet
First, there's this car's design brief: lightweight. We'll come to the carbon fiber tub (the 4C's other calling card) momentarily, but for now, it's important to note the other reasons why it weighs so little. The gorgeous body is made from Sheet Molding Compound (SMC), which is a fiberglass-reinforced polyester material that is compression molded into body panels. The main benefits of this alternate material are that it's easily shaped and it weighs 20 percent less than steel.
Other weight-saving measures include its various aluminum suspension components, lack of a muffler, and lack of power steering (mostly due to its narrow, 205-section front tires). The result is a curb weight of just 2,465 pounds in US market configuration – stunningly low for a modern car.
Then there’s the engine. It may be a small 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, but coupled to a lightweight chassis (and made from aluminum itself), it’s surprisingly potent in real life. The 4C’s figures aren’t that crazy on paper, as it produces roughly 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, meaning it can get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds. Granted, it’s not a supercar, but this car is about so much more than outright performance. It’s all about how it delivers power, coupled with its handling and stiffness – and that’s where this car’s carbon fiber tub comes into play.
On most cars, the tub – or passenger cell – is constructed out of metal, usually steel or aluminum. The benefits of making this component from carbon fiber are obvious – it’s much stronger and stiffer than steel and weighs dramatically less. Practically, it’s also resistant to corrosion, making it even more desirable. However, very few road cars have ever had a carbon fiber tub, mostly due to its cost to develop and produce – but Alfa Romeo made it happen, selling these cars in the U.S. for only $64,800 base in 2015.
Alfa contracted out to Tecno Tessile Adler (TTA), an Italian company specializing in automotive and aerospace material products. Alfa Romeo didn’t have to invest in the tooling and kilns to produce and cure large pieces of carbon fiber themselves, which helped bring the overall cost of the car down. In the end, the carbon fiber honeycomb tub weighs 143 pounds, and when connected to the aluminum subframes for the engine and front structure, the entire chassis weighs just 236 pounds – an insane accomplishment.
To drive, the 4C is lively. Nail the throttle and the car totally takes off. Due to its surprisingly excellent sound, exotic looks, and stiff chassis, it is a special experience. The ride – of course – is rough, but this is a legitimate sports car with real supercar technology, which you’re reminded of as you look around and see flashes of the thickly woven carbon fiber tub.
I was warned these could be a handful, and that was apparent quickly. The car follows cambers and darts around remarkably fast – this isn’t a machine where you can relax. That wouldn’t be a huge deal, but the steering, despite being unassisted, is relatively slow. As the car darts, you must respond with large, fast inputs to regain control, which isn’t necessarily ideal. You do settle into it, but it was an alarming wake-up call.
Once you adjust, the 4C shows you how fun it can be. Tossable, small, and lightweight, it really is a fun experience that punches far above what you’d expect from a four-cylinder car. Yes, you don’t have a manual to row, and it would be better with one, but it’s still an absolute riot to drive.
Ultimately, the 4C represents quite a bargain as a baby exotic. It isn’t perfect, but it offers significant value as a beautiful, engaging, and uncommon choice among sports cars – it took me longer to return the keys than expected. So pretty, so lightweight, so fun – so Alfa Romeo.