Alfa lifts the roof on its formidable 4C junior supercar, and we dive it around the spectacular Lago di Como.
Italy’s spectacular Lake Como must rate as the ultimate setting for a 24-hour fling in the beguiling Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, with its 47 kilometre expanse ringed by a torturous cliff-top road.
Our test vehicle for this breathtaking run is Alfa’s take on a roofless version of its ultra-exotic 4C mid-engine sports car, which more or less marked the 2013 revival of the Alfa Romeo marque as a manufacturer of exciting rear-wheel-drive cars.
The 4C Spider is bound to carry a higher price tag than its coupe sibling (which retails for $89,000 plus on-road costs) when it finally launches in November, so in that respect you could argue it’s got even more cachet.
Despite this, visual changes between the Spider and the Coupe are really quite subtle, bar the removable roof – if you can call it a roof. Weighing all of 7kg, it’s a simple roll-up canvas device that can be removed in minutes and conveniently stored in the luggage compartment behind the engine.
There’s room spare for another small bag, but that’s about it as far as luggage space goes because there is no storage at all up front.
Other changes include a carbonfibre windscreen frame, (unique to the Spider) that’s bonded and bolted to the car’s carbonfibre tub, providing extra rigidity and strengthening for the cockpit to compensate for thinner glass on the windscreen and side windows.
It’s more of a Targa-style arrangement than a full open-top convertible, but it works better than expected, providing a buffet-free zone when removed, even during sustained high-speed blasts.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. Above 80km/h things can get quite boisterous in the cabin.
Remarkably, those weight-saving measures mean the 4C Spider weighs only 10kg more than its coupe sibling, while giving away nothing in the performance stakes: 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
And the Spider loses more than just a roof. Gone is the pretty Ferrari-esque glass engine cover that adorns the Coupe version. Instead we get a solid buttressed cover that looks striking for its multiple meshed heat extractors.
Unlike the odd-looking spider-eyed headlight cluster on the Launch Edition 4C, the Spider gets a more streamlined single light assembly with plastic cover.
Inside, buyers will appreciate a more plush finish that sees the plastic dash replaced by a handcrafted, twin-stitched leather wrap. I still love the exposed carbonfibre tub with lacquered finish and the chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Alfa Romeo is truly revered in Italy, perhaps even more so than Ferrari and Lamborghini. It represents Italian exotica for the masses, and the 4C Spider therefore assumes a haloed status.
Even the Italian police were apparently enthralled by the Spider, putting their in-car loudspeaker system to good use when they told us to ‘Guidare la maccina veloce’ (drive the car fast) while making our way north out of Milan.
Naturally we obliged with a sustained, full-throttle stomping that left the cops well and truly satisfied - and well behind - such is the Alfa’s ferocious mid-range punch.
It didn’t seem to matter where we drove or parked the car from Milan to Bellagio, the 4C Spider proved its crowd-pulling status time and time again, with locals and tourists alike of both genders. That’s just how it is in Italy - everyone’s an enthusiast.
Mind it’s still a tight squeeze and one that requires the driver to slide the seat fully back on its rails each time you enter, at least if you are to maintain any dignity while climbing aboard.
There are no changes to the high-tech digital instrument display or the leather door-pulls and racy aluminium pedals, which point to the 4C’s hard-core credentials.
There’s still no manual transmission option, so this junior supercar sticks with a six-speed dual-clutch auto with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
For sure, it’s quick shifting, but only if you’re really on it. Even then, don’t expect it to obey your every command. It can be a frustrating drive in the really tight stuff, as upshifts can sometimes arrive mid-corner and bog the car down.
I’d forgotten how potent this diminutive 1.75-litre turbo four is. It’s so much quicker than the very best hot hatch, but demands your undivided attention should you want to unleash its full potential.
Most of the corners in these parts are blind, and the roads can be terrifyingly narrow, which can present a real challenge for 4C pilots. The problem is down to this engine’s low-down lag and boosty throttle response, which makes it difficult to achieve any kind of point-to-point rhythm. It’s either all in or nothing much at all with this car.
These issues are compounded by the combination of unassisted steering (it's mighty heavy at low speeds) and the car’s propensity to seemingly follow every miniscule rut or crack on the tarmac, making it difficult to hold your line sometimes.
It’s much better through fast flowing bends on smoother surfaces when the steering lightens up allowing the Alfa to carry real pace in the twisties.
The ride can also be punishing over poor surfaces. There’s little if any compliance built into the damping, which can further unsettle the Spider to the point where you’re never quite sure how much traction you have available at each corner.
Stopping power is immense though. There isn’t a lot of pedal feel, at least initially, so you need apply plenty of leg muscle to get the full benefit.
You can feel the immense rigidity and superb weight balance built into this car every time you nail a corner.
Body roll simply doesn’t exist, no matter how hard you dare to push, so it’s a real shame the suspension isn’t wholly in sync with the Alfa’s carbonfibre chassis.
Alfa Romeo has made it clear to the media that the 4C is a work in progress – and that revisions to all facets of the car are ongoing.
And so for all its foibles, (and there are plenty) driving the 4C Spider offers a real sense of occasion, along with plenty of thrills.
It’s a genuine supercar for the Alfisti and enthusiast market with stunning looks to boot, and likely all for less than 100 grand when it arrives in November.
Photography and video by Mitchell Oke.