- Inspired styling
- Passionate powertrain
- Spot-on manual steering, at speed
- The prospect of instant, if fleeting, fame
- Relentless grip
- Sounds better outside than in
- Manual-only types aren't interested
- $55,000 of cockpit that looks half the price
- Heavy, heavy steering at low speeds
- Near-zero rearward visibility
The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C is a dazzling purist's sports car with great power and handling but little in terms of space and comfort.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is a sports car with a carbon-fiber body, a mid-engine layout, two seats, a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and a dual-clutch gearbox. The 4C is as close to an exotic as you can get for about $57,500 base—which is why our colleagues at Motor Authority named it their Best Car To Buy 2015.
Offered as a coupe and a Spider with a semi-convertible, Targa-style roof, the 4C makes perfect Italian sense. It's the car that's supposed to cue up buyers for a totally revamped Alfa lineup to come to the U.S. over the next few years.
Aesthetically, the 4C coupe has a more appealing profile and features a transparent engine cover similar to designs used by Ferrari. However, the 4C Spider seemingly has no other downsides. The fabric top can be removed and stashed in the trunk; installing the hard top gives it coupe-like looks and offers better protection against the environment and thieves. Alfa Romeo's U.S. executives said they expect about half of 4C sales to be the 4C Spider, half 4C coupe.
Both body styles are low-slung and outrageously sexy. Alfa says the design is inspired by the company's 1960s racing efforts and the 33 Stradale, but it bears more than a passing resemblance to Ferrari's Dino, too. It's composed entirely of scoops, curves, cat-eyed side glass, round LED taillights, and Alfa's trademark beaky overbite. Inside, there's a stark cabin dotted with red details, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and plastics textured to look like the road surface intermingled with exposed carbon-fiber surfaces. The gauges are rendered in a 7.0-inch LCD display that changes color according to driving mode.
The 4C is substantially lighter than its main competitors: the Porsche Boxster (by about 500 pounds), the Chevrolet Corvette (800 pounds), and the Jaguar F-Type (1,000 pounds).
Power comes from a direct-injected and turbocharged 1.75-liter 4-cylinder engine, rated at 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's a raucous powerplant, better sounding outside than in, and there's just a touch of turbocharger lag. Each horsepower has only 10.3 pounds to push along, given the 4C's 2,495-pound curb weight, and acceleration is breathtaking, at 4.5 seconds in the 0 to 60 mph sprint. Top speed is set at 155 mph.
The rear-drive 4C comes only with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, and it works better than any manual might for track duty. Alfa provides a “DNA” switch that changes shift and throttle pacing and gauge colors from Dynamic (red), to Natural (gray), to All-weather (blue). There's also the yellow-screen Race mode that turns off the stability control entirely; it's recommended for track days only.
The 4C was released for the 2015 model year, first as the coupe, then the Spider. For 2016, Alfa offers a new Carbon Fiber Trim package and a new Akrapovic dual-mode electronically controlled exhaust system. The Carbon Fiber package adds carbon fiber on the interior vents, instrument cluster surround, and instrument panel and shifter bezels. The new exhaust has dual center-mounted tips with a carbon fiber surround, and it delivers maximum sound when the DNA switch is in the Dynamic or Race modes. All models also get premium speakers, the coupe gets the Alpine audio system from the Spider and a lockable console, and the Spider adds a higher quality alarm system.
We drove the new 4C Spider along the Northern California coast through Big Sur and around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where we were impressed with the handling of the mid-engine sports car. We were unable to detect any significant differences between the Spider and coupe from a driving standpoint.
Get a grip
Epic levels of grip and extreme light weight give the 4C a great handling profile. The suspension features double wishbones in front and MacPherson struts out back, much of it made out of aluminum. A Track package gets stiffer anti-roll bars and shocks. There's massive grip on hand, with the usual mid-engine caveat—don't lay on the brakes too much transitioning through corners. The 4C's manual steering is so heavy that it's cumbersome at low speeds, but it lightens up at speed without feeling darty.
The tires are staggered; stocks are Pirelli P Zero ARs, 205/45ZR17 front, 235/40ZR18 rear—a three-season setup, winter not welcome—or 205/40ZR18 fronts, 235/35ZR19 in back for cars with the Track package. The ride is almost livable with the base wheels and tires, and buckboard hard with the larger shoes and Track package.
The brakes are made by Brembo, four-pistoned and vented in front, two-piston TRW rear. Braking from 60-0 mph takes less than 100 feet, according to Alfa Romeo. Stopping power is ferocious but the brake pedal feels hard, doesn't have much travel, and is difficult to modulate.
Interior space and storage are supercar-worthy, too. In other words: too small. The body is wrapped around a tub made from carbon fiber, and it sits just 46.6 inches high. Getting in or out of it takes focus, and a medium or light build helps. The hard-bolstered seats can pinch too much rear end—it's Italian, after all—and the roof pillars are very close to the occupants. The right-seat passenger also gets the added-on A/C pressing into their shin. Surprisingly, head room is pretty good. The cabin mixes carbon fiber and leather with chintzy plastics, low-rent mirror controls, and an aftermarket radio ready for the Best Buy clearance table.
The 4C Spiders we drove were pre-production cars, but they seemed better than the 4C coupes we drove previously, particularly in terms of cabin refinement. We prefer the optional leather over the standard interior trim, though the latter reveals the carbon-fiber construction. The seats are available upholstered in leather or microfiber.
It's also exceptionally difficult to back the 4C into parking spaces, what with its truck-like turning circle of 40.5 feet and sliver of rearward visibility.
The 4C is sold at select Fiat and Maserati dealerships. Pricing begins around $57,500 for the coupe and $67,500 for the Spider. Standard features include manual air conditioning, power windows and locks, USB connectivity, and black cloth seats (red leather is an option). Options consist of painted brake calipers in black, red, or yellow; a racing exhaust; the new Akrapovic exhaust; the Track package with sport suspension and a choice of wheels; a leather interior for the coupe; bi-xenon headlights; and a Convenience group with cruise control, rear parking assist, and an alarm. Paint colors include variations of white, grey, black, and of course, red.
The EPA has rated the Alfa Romeo 4C as fairly fuel efficient—at least for supercars like it. The Alfa manages 24 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 combined.