The best sex I ever had was “predictable at the limit, comfortable and had room for golf clubs”, said no one ever.
Rather, it normally goes something like this: “The best sex I ever had woke the neighbours. I was in a strange position and was sore for days. Every moment was sensory overload and worth the effort.”
The Alfa 4C doesn’t care about your golf clubs, your desire for peace in traffic or your favourite song. The mundane parts of your life are unimportant, because the 4C is not a partner, it’s a tryst. Keep this in mind and the whole car makes perfect sense.
It harkens back to a time when sports cars were compromises and proud of it. You drove them because you wanted an exotic experience, not because you wanted to make the exotic feel everyday.
It’s this difference in agenda that puts the 4C at odds with how cars are judged today, and I think it’s exactly why it will be remembered tomorrow.
Its closest rival, the Porsche Cayman, is adept at making speed feel effortless and normal. There is nothing effortless or normal about the 4C. It is a tiny car packed with contradictions that have been turned up to eleven.
When I look at the car I’m supposed to notice visual cues from the 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, but I can’t help seeing the spirit of the Dino 206, the Ferrari F40, and the Lancia Stratos. This is not a shape that will ever look ordinary.
The proportions are alien – so low, so wide, so short. It’s scooped and sculpted in an expressive way that we don’t see on many new cars. The front end is so beautiful a splitter would destroy it, so there isn’t one. My favourite detail is the small rounded windshield with its single wiper.
I still find the mirror stalks needlessly chunky, and I’m not sold on the “winglets” on the front fenders of the Launch Edition cars. But these are nitpicks, aren’t they?
Open the doors and carefully climb over the wide carbon sill. The gymnastics are the cost of a carbon tub in a tiny car. It can be an ordeal, but because of this, it never feels like a normal car and it looks so beautiful.
Inside is a curious mix of beautifully finished bits and horrible bits. A classic Italian sports car recipe, and one the 4C designers have leaned into. Was ￼there really no way to properly integrate the stereo? Of course there was, but this useless Parrot unit reminds me of a time when radios were afterthoughts. When music came from engines, not the speakers (also crap).
Same goes for the three ventilation dials stuck below the dash (very F40 to my eyes). They are crap, but they aren’t the point.
The leather appointed dash and door pulls are great, same goes for the deviated stitching. I personally love the way the seat belts attach to the tub. The TFT display is busy, but it works well. That is when you can see it over or through the horrible steering wheel. Thankfully the screen flashes yellow when it’s time to shift (in dynamic mode) so no need to watch the numbers.
The seats are low. In fact the whole car is very low and small (even when compared to the other cars I have owned). The view of the road is fantastic. The dash is short and the windshield is close. The prominent fenders on either side show you where the edges are. You sit nestled in that bubble with the road just beyond your feet. This is a great place to be.
I have heard other reviewers complain about view out back. Don’t listen. It’s really no worse than any other sports car I have owned. What they are really moaning about is the lack of a reverse camera. That would break the spell, wouldn’t it? This car is supposed to remind us of the days when people had to reverse their Countach blind and sitting half out the door sill (it’s not that bad).
Put the key in and twist, that’s it, no push button start here. The four pot comes to life with a clatter that is common in direct injection cars. It’s noisy, busy, but not particularly melodic. Switch it to dynamic mode, press M for manual, then 1 for first gear and we are off.
Most modern sports cars are so civil they have to orchestrate some exhaust noise and overrun to remind you of what the original intent was. I honestly believe the 4C has been tuned to remove all remnants of civility.
This car does not settle down, it always feels like a dog straining on a leash. The steering twitches, the transmission jerks and pulls at lower speeds, the shifts are far from seamless, the carbon tub amplifies every noise from the engine and turbo, etc. etc. This might annoy some, but it is the point of this car and the part I love.
I have owned a number a five hundred plus horsepower cars, and at anything less than felony speeds, they can be dull on public streets. You never get to wring them out or even change gears that often. With the 4C that is never a problem. You are constantly building boost and shifting. Mash the pedal and you will make your first shift before 50 kilometres per hour, another shift comes right after, then another and another. It is manic, mechanical and and addictive. I can honestly not remember another road car that force feeds the driver so much stimuli.
The steering is fidgety and then light above 120 km/h. It’s manual, but not telepathic like my Lotus 211. While far from perfect, it is endearing once you embrace it and calm your hands down. Same goes for the brakes. They stop very well, but they don’t feel calibrated for street traffic. At first you find yourself clamping down too hard on them, but you soon get used to it, and then all is good.
There is plenty of grip and a reasonably compliant ride. It is very stiff but not bone jarring like some cars. The car is surprisingly rattle free too, but then again they have removed all the stuff that can rattle like glove boxes, moveable visors, storage etc.
You do feel the “lightness”. Not in one place, but everywhere. It has sixty-two percent of its weight on the rear axle, exactly the same as my track only Lotus 211, so the car felt instantly familiar to me. For others, less so.
People love this thing, not just car people. It is very small, getting tickets from parking machines is a pain. The seat belt alarm is stupidly loud. Every speed feels faster than it actually is. You will find yourself riding the boost in second and third gear through town. The seats don’t fit everyone. The doors need to be able to open wide or you are not getting out. The paint is very soft and needs to be wrapped. The more you drive it, the more you love it.
The 4C has been purposely designed to make ordinary roads and ordinary speeds feel exciting again, and isn’t this the point of a recreational road car? Why do we praise cars that make our already eventless drives even less eventful? Perhaps what we really need is an automotive tryst. A car that who’s reason for existing is to create moments, not numbers.
It’s your second or third car, not your transportation, it’s not real life. It’s the poster you had on your bedroom wall, it’s the sounds you heard in your head when you combed through magazines, it’s all the stuff we’ve lost, and the tech we’ve gained in the same place.
And that’s why I bought one.
Before you judge, drive one and see if I’m wrong.
Images courtesy Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.