Alfa Romeo 4C Review : first Australian drive

In Australia thanks to the World Superbikes, David Zalstein gets the first taste of the Alfa Romeo 4C on local soil...

The Alfa Romeo 4C is one of the most hyped cars of 2014. And while the first right-hand-drive models aren't due on Australian roads until the third or fourth quarter of this year, CarAdvice got its first local taste of the new Italian sports car in left-hand-drive guise at Melbourne's own Avalon Airport.

Driving one of two left-hand-drive Alfa Romeo 4Cs – in the country thanks to their role as safety cars for the World Superbikes – the first, but albeit brief, impressions are good. And with the aid of some simple maths, it’s easy to understand why.

The rear-wheel-drive 4C combines an 895kg carbonfibre-infused body with a 177kW/350Nm turbocharged 1.75-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Though its powerplant is borrowed from the currently available Giulietta QV – with power and torque upped by 3kW and 10Nm – the Alfa Romeo 4C is exclusively fitted with a six-speed paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission.

In an effort to save weight, it also has an entirely mechanical steering system, with no electronic or hydraulic assistance at all, and eschews push-button start, infotainment touchscreen and glovebox.

Noticeable when sliding between cones inside a slippery airport hanger, a limited-slip rear differential is also missing, with the so-called ‘baby Ferrari’ making do with a mechanical item instead.

Switching from front-end push when hurried into a corner to rear-end wheelspin when the right foot is flexed, our test car’s 17-inch front and 18-inch rear Pirelli P Zero tyres were never given a real-world test bed to prove their potential, but on tarmac things will surely be significantly more grippy (as we found when testing the 4C overseas earlier this year).

Similarly, that experience suggests the 305mm front and 292mm rear Brembo brakes will feel stronger than they did on the hangar's surface, though pedal feel is definitely progressive.

Fitted with Alfa Romeo's familiar selectable driving mode system dubbed DNA (Dynamic, Neutral and All-weather), we went with our own ‘Hanger’ setting, otherwise known as ‘Race’ mode, for hanging the tail out over our limited number of laps. An additional option on the 4C, Race mode turns off all electronic aids with the exception of ABS.

Able to change gears in 130 milliseconds, the gearbox feels intuitive and smooth, though it is easy to lose which wheel-mounted paddle is up and which is down when the small-diameter flat-bottom wheel is spinning in your hands. Steering column-mounted paddles, preferred by the likes of Ferrari and Nissan, avoid the issue and would have been handy.

Highlighted by two manually adjusted and deeply bucketed leather seats and a now-old-school centre tunnel-mounted handbrake lever, the cabin is basic but not as sparse as say a $126,990 Lotus Exige. And despite a dashboard made of a plastic harder than Superman himself, the fit and finish is still right up there.

Overall, the whole car really is a delight to drive. The engine is loud and characterful, the throttle and steering are sharp and responsive, and the 4C is only too happy to change directions at the flick of the wheel.

With all the key ingredients seemingly present and accounted for, once on the road – expected to cost between $80K-$100K – the Alfa Romeo 4C should be a genuine smile machine. It’s just a pity only 3500 will be made every year…

Click here to see the full Alfa Romeo 4C at Avalon airport gallery.