If you’re the kind of car enthusiast that complains about cars not having any character and you haven’t bought an Alfa Romeo 4C, then there is something quite wrong with you. This little exotic Italian two seater has enough character to take on all of the sports cars on the market today.
That’s not to say that this Alfa is the perfect mid-engined sports car. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is perfectly flawed. Its closest competitor is a virtually flawless, if clinical, Porsche – the Cayman. The two have similar layouts, post similar performance numbers, and cost about the same, but that’s there the similarities end. Where the Porsche is your Fifties era dutiful wife, this 4C is your wild, carefree Italian mistress with whom you spend time only on weekends.
You see, it’s impossible to live with this Alfa every day. It’s moody. It’s compromising. But it’s eminently rewarding. The 4C reminds me of the Ferrari I drove when I was a teenager simply because it is brutally exotic in every possible way – from the way it feels when you’re behind the wheel to the way it sounds, when idling or in full song.
The lines of its sensuous bodywork – nevermind its Italian fit and finish nor its unconventional ergonomics – constantly remind you that, yes, this is undeniably an authentic Italian exotic supercar, if on a diminutive scale. After all, it is made in Modena, the cradle of Italian exotic car manufacturing – and yet, it can be had for just a little over sixty thousand dollars.
Forget the classic Spider of our youth, this 4C is something undeniably different and injects itself straight into your soul. As soon as you open the door, the bare carbon fibre tub is your first clue that this Alfa Romeo is something special. The machined aluminum pedals are bolted and hinged from the floor, in the proper race car style. The door opening and cabin are equally undersized, one size down from the competitive set, but once you’re seated behind the wheel, you just know the driving experience will be unforgettable.
Even though its powerplant is more akin to those found in modern Fiats than modern Ferraris, it still fires up with all of the drama and fury of an exotic. It idles with more basso profondo than any four cylinder should and the 1.7-litre turbo is much more responsive than you’d ever expect one to be.
The only transmission available is a six-speed dual clutch box and it’s remarkably good. To engage a gear, you have to push one of the many buttons on the centre console – odd, for sure – but similar to modern Ferraris. Score one for the little Alfa.
Yet the feeling of driving the 4C is betrayed by its ergonomics. When on the move, you’re soon using the rightfully responsive, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, only to find they’re made of plastic. The sort of plastic that flexes under the pressure of your fingers, and it doesn’t immediately give you the confidence that the transmission will shift with any responsiveness, but yet the gearbox does. It shifts with such immediacy that it’s unexpectedly one of the strong points of the car.
The steering is entirely unassisted and, at least in the old days, that would translate to a high level of steering feel. Alas, it’s not here in the 4C. The steering is precise and direct, and the 4C feels more like a go kart than any other production car today, but the steering just doesn’t talk to you the way you’d expect.
Similarly, braking is powerful, but the pedal feel reminds me of Ferraris from the seventies. In terms of feel and feedback, it gives you far less than you’d expect of a sports car of this size and weight. Thankfully, braking is linear and predictable, and perhaps that’s due to the 4C’s relatively low weight.
At a tick over 1,100 kilograms, it’s easily the lightest production car I’ve driven in years and although our North American spec is rumoured to be a couple of hundred pounds heavier than the Euro model, you’d never notice it. The 4C’s 238 horsepower and 258 pounds of torque are more than adequate for any of the great Californian roads on which I enjoyed this Alfa Romeo.
Storage is only available under the rear hatch, adjacent to the engine and above the mufflers, so you’ll want to avoid carrying ice cream in the boot. Unlike the Cayman, there is no storage up front and it’s not possible to open the bonnet. No way, no how. The darn thing is bolted shut.
If you’ve decried the lack of character in modern sports car, you had better order your 4C today. This Alfa Romeo has character in spades.
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe
Base Price: $66,495
As Tested: $74,090
Notable Options: Bi-xenon headlamps, $1,000
Drivetrain: 1.7-litre turbocharged four cylinder, 237 hp, 258 lb-ft, 6-speed automated dual clutch transmission, rear wheel drive
Performance: Zero to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds.
VVUZZ Recommended: For those looking for a proper illicit Italian affair
Images courtesy of the author.