Alfa Romeo 4C Review: Minimalist Performance at its Finest
What good is a sportscar if it cannot make you feel? Look to the world of the Lotus Evora or Porsche Cayman. They are both wonderful cars, and are fun to drive, but they don't command an idea or presence that goes far beyond its mechanical parts. For that sort of driving emotion, you must turn to the Italians.
But the problem with Italian cars is that you get either diminutive economy cars, or ludicrously expensive supercars. Where is the middle ground? Where can one get an incredibly fun to drive car with stunning looks but will not break the bank?
The Alfa Romeo 4C is that answer. It is a (relatively) affordable sports car that not only brings the passion of Italian driving to the masses, but gives some insight into the future of the sportscar.
To learn about this return to America for Alfa, and what the 4C means for motoring enthusiasts, we traveled to California, navigating the streets of San Francisco, the hills above Sausalito, and finally, the challenging track at Sonoma International Raceway (formerly known as Inferon). What we learned was that the 4C is a breath of fresh air, but still needs some work.
The 4C is constructed out of a carbon fiber tub, and utilizing aluminum for much of the other body components. This blend of CF and aluminum keeps the weight down without sending the price into the stratosphere.
What you must also know about the 4C is that it looks much better from the rear. The front and side styling is striking and will turn heads, but the proportions of the rear are absolutely sublime. Quite beautifully Alfa Romeo designers were able to make a mid engined car have a short rear deck and seemingly long hood, by continuing the front fenders all the way to the air scoops behind the doors.
Inside, Alfa Romeo has kept costs down through a minimalist interior. Much of the carbon fiber is exposed, and even some of the other interior panels are left naked. It is a tight fit, but even my 6-foot-3 frame can fit in the car, with a bit of room to spare. And I mean a bit.
The 4C is powered by a 1.75-liter turbocharged inline-4 which makes 237 horsepower and 260 pound feet of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through an incredibly quick-shifting 6-speed dual clutch transmission, operated via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
What any driver who wishes to pilot the 4C must know is that it has no power steering. For the non-enthusiast, this is a nuisance, but for the true driver, this is one of the greatest assets of the 4C. In the parking lot, it takes a bit of effort to turn the wheel, but as you get moving it becomes easier to operate. In carving the winding mountain roads north of San Francisco, the steering is pure and as responsive as any car we’ve ever driven. No amount of electronically tuned power assist can replace a pure, analog, old-school steering system.
Just as good as the steering are the brakes, which came into their own when we arrived at the track. Sonoma is a rather difficult track, with many elevation changes and some tricky corners that come up quick. Build up enough speed and you are going to need to clamp down on the brakes before taking the hard corners.
Like the steering, the brakes have very little assist, and you need to put a great deal of effort into the braking zones before turning. In this sense, the 4C was a lot like the Formula Skip Barber cars that I have piloted in the past.
But most drivers of the 4C will not take it to the track, nor does it really matter. Too often, a car can be an engineering achievement, but fall short on the intangibles. The 4C is one of those great cars that are more than the sum of its parts. It has style that will make a statement when pulling up to the valet. It is a car that is more of a conveyance of emotion and the enjoyment of tearing down a windy back road, which is the perfect embodiment of what an Alfa Romeo should be.
That also means attainability. The standard Alfa Romeo 4C will start just under $54,000, with a rather steep $1,295 destination fee. You won't be able to get that base car out of the gate, however, as the Launch Edition (the only version available for buyers in this inaugural year in the U.S.) will set buyers back $68,400.
More than just what the return of Alfa means for motoring, the 4C is an affront to the notion that a sportscar needs to be overcomplicated with advanced suspension systems and hybrid drivetrains. The future doesn’t have to be filled with bloated vehicles. Elegant solutions to complex problems are an engineer’s dream, and when it takes the shape of a car like the Alfa Romeo 4C, it is an enthusiast’s dream too!
Engine: 1.7L Turbocharged Inline-4 Horsepower: 237 0-60: Approx. 4.5S Price (as tested): $68,400
Lightweight, track-focused Tactile feedback Relatively affordable
Heavier in the U.S. Not great for the road