- 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 mid-engined, lightweight, two seater powered by a turbo-4 and dual-clutch automatic. Taken on those terms alone it's an exotic car, albeit one with a $57,500 base price tag, which is why our colleagues at Motor Authority named it their Best Car To Buy 2015.
Offered as a coupe or a convertible with a Targa-style roof, the 4C makes sense in only a way an Italian could. It's the car that's supposed to prime buyers for a revamped Alfa lineup to come to the U.S. over the next few years.
Between the coupe and spider, we like the coupe's profile and transparent engine cover, a la Ferrari. Opting for the spider version doesn't carry many downsides: the fabric top comes off and stows away neatly in the trunk; the hard top gives it the coupe's looks (which we like) and better protection from weather. According to Alfa, sales between the coupe and spider are split, 50/50.
Its body is low-slung and sexy, and the automaker draws lines back to its 1960s race car and the 33 Stradale. We see a little Ferrari Dino in there too, which is high praise. The Alfa Romeo 4C is composed entirely of scoops, curves, round LED taillights, slender side glass, and Alfa's trademark overbite. Inside the cabin is adorned with red accents, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and plastics that are textured to look like the road, with exposed carbon fiber surfaces. The gauges are rendered by a 7.0-inch screen that changes according to the selected drive mode.
The 4C is much lighter than its competitors, which include the Porsche Boxster (by about 500 pounds), the Chevy Corvette (800 pounds), and the Jaguar F-Type (1,000 pounds).
A direct-injected and turbocharged 1.75-liter inline-4 powers the 4C down the road, and it's a raucous engine. The engine makes 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and spits and fires to entertain onlookers (although some of that noise is lost in the cabin). The power-to-weight ratio in the 4C is spectacular: only 10.3 pounds per 1 hp to push around and 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. A "DNA" switch dictates the car's attidue and changes the gauge colors from red to gray to blue based on "Dynamic," "Natural," or "All-weather" selections, respectively. A "Race" mode completely defeats the car's stability control, but that's best left 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.
In our test drive along the Northern California coast and into Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca we were consistently surprised with the sports car's handling and poise. We couldn't find any discernible difference between the drivability of the coupe and spider models.
Get a grip
The 4C's supreme grip and light weight mean it handles like nothing else on the road. The suspension features double wishbones in front and MacPherson struts out back, composed predominately in aluminum. Stiffer anti-roll bars and shocks are available with a Track package, and add to the massive grip that makes the car so much fun. There's the usual mid-engine advice we should make here: don't lay too hard into the brakes transitioning through corners or oversteer comes in spades. The 4C's manual steering is heavy around parking lots and at slow speeds, but lightens up with more speed and thankfully isn't too nervous.
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.
Brembo four-piston pinchers with vented rotors help stop the fronts, two-piston TRWs keep the rear in line. According to Alfa, arresting the 4C from 60 mph takes less than 100 feet, so the stopping power is ferocious. But be warned: the floor-mounted pedal is stiff, so modulating the brakes is nearly impossible.
Like other super cars, the 4C is predictably small inside with not much room for gear or people. The body is wrapped around a carbon fiber tub and is just 46.6 inches off the ground. Getting in or out of the car requires focus—or a light build. The hard seats can pinch a bum or two—it's Italian, you know—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.
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.
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.