As far as revivals go, the Alfa Romeo 4C is about as good as it gets. The first of a range of upcoming cars from the Italian manufacturer signals a future suffused with legacy and historical importance.
Alfa Romeo has been making cars since 1910, plenty of which are well regarded, but for the last decade or so it lost its way under the leadership of pencil pushers and accountants desperate to leverage a hard-earned reputation for short-term gain with little substance.
Thankfully, a change in direction has been ordered, and the car to begin this process and thereby reignite one of the world’s iconic automotive brands is here. It's the 4C coupe.
From the outside there’s no mistaking the 4C as anything but an Alfa Romeo, or better still, a little Ferrari viewed from a distance. It helps that its lead designer, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, a god-like figure of automotive design, has created the likes of the Ferrari Enzo and F430. His inspiration for the 4C is the coveted 33 Stradale.
The front adorns the Alfa Romeo grille with a sweeping bonnet (that doesn’t open) and insect-like headlights, which we think detract from the beauty of the car, but nonetheless add that extra bit of venom. The rear borrows heavily from Ferrari for all the right reasons while still maintaining that Alfa DNA.
Ignoring its impressive looks for the moment, it’s perhaps the $89,000 plus on-road costs price that will get most talking. It might seem high at first glance, until you consider the package as a whole. See full pricing and specifications here.
Powered by a 1.75-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering 177kW of power and 350Nm of torque and weighing just 1025kg, the Alfa Romeo 4C is a sports car fanatic's dream.
The extensive use of carbonfibre has led to the impressive power-to-weight ratio but it’s the bare bones essential packaging that will get Alfa purists arguing amongst each other.
For decades Italian manufacturers have brought out limited edition lightweight versions of their supecars, where they take features out and charge more money. It’s a great business model if you can get away with it, but with the 4C, Alfa Romeo has gone the opposite way.
By offering nothing that dilutes the experience of driving, it provides a mini-supercar at a fraction of the price.
It takes just moments of driving a 4C to realise that you’re in charge of something very special. Sure, there’s no large infotainment screen and the naked carbonfibre skin running through the entire car is easily spotted and worse still, if you look at the pedals you will see plenty of exposed mechanics and wiring. But if any of that scares you, the 4C is not for you.
This is the car that every manufacturer should aspire to build. A no-nonsense sports car that puts driving pleasure ahead of everything else. Where the driver feels the unshakable urgency of complete power and control at his/her own peril. It’s a refreshing sensation in our society of do-gooders and red-tape-groupies.
Besides, whatever reservations one may have about its interior design philosophy are assuredly basically blown away as you take the first corner.
There are some adjustments required, however, as the 4C doesn’t have power steering. Much like a Lotus, with which the 4C now competes with on price, the Alfa Romeo forces you to drive and pay attention. This is not a car you can drive one handed.
For our test drive we engaged the outskirts of Sydney towards the old pacific highway and its surrounding winding roads. Here, we experienced the sheer ferocity of which the Alfa can take a corner and accelerate out. Lotus buyers would be pleased to know that there’s now finally an option to switch teams, and still feel right at home.
Although it lacks a manual gearbox, shifting instead with a rapid fire dual-clutch six-speed transmission (150ms per shift), the 4C is never lacking driver engagement.
The 40:60 front:rear weight balance adds a certain element of enjoyable danger to driving the supercar-like mid-engine 4C at speed. Around a twisty stretch of road there’s no obvious tendency to oversteer at first but push it hard enough and it will bite, with anger.
Mid-corner and well past the recommended speed limit, the little Italian supercar only grins and asks for more. The grip from the wheels wrapped in 205/45 R17 tyres up front and 235/40 tyres at the rear is race car like in the dry.
As is the engine note, with its wastegate and air intake growling at every opportunity with a turbocharger discharge and exhaust note that will attract the hard working men in blue like a downhill road with a speed-limit change.
But it’s not just cornering grip that’s impressive, for a car that can do 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds, it’s the ability to continue pushing well past jail-worthy speeds that prove its credentials amongst instant-classics.
After a few hours of driving our 4C as hard and fast as possible, it’s safe to say the little Italian passed a thorough examination.
Extreme and repeated brake test? No problems. Mid-corner lift off at speed? Predictable and controllable oversteer. Understeer? Almost non-existent. Intruding traction and stability controls? Yes, but mostly lenient and you would be mad to turn it off by engaging race mode on a public road. Turbo lag? Yes, plenty if you don’t understand the high RPM desires of a small force-fed engine.
There are some issues with the 4C though, the forefront of which is the lack of refinement. This is a cop out in terms of criticism considering all that we’ve discussed so far, but after a long period of driving the lack of sound deadening and consistent cabin vibrations can feel like a session of parliament. It's also worth noting just how twitchy the rear end is and if you dare engage race mode (which appears to leave you with no aids but the mercy of God) you're asking for a disaster.
As can the lacklustre audio system, which is an afterthought at best. Add to the list the difficulty of getting in and out and barely enough storage space for a small suitcase in the boot (if you’re lucky) and you certainly get a list of practicality and liveability negatives.
This is where you need to shut your rational brain and think with your heart. Ever so infrequently a car company locks its accountants in a dungeon and listens to its legion of motoring enthusiast fans and creates a car just for them.
In the 4C’s case, it’s a no-compromise machine in terms of driving pleasure with a power to weight ratio that’s hard to argue with. Best of all, it’s reasonably priced.
If you need justification to rush to your closest Alfa Romeo dealership and buy one, you’ve certainly got it and unless you intend to drive it long distances daily, you’ll never regret it. But you’re already a bit late, because there’s a queue, and it’s a rather long one.