- Stunning exterior
- Breathtaking performance
- Great exhaust note
- Uncompromising handling
- One-of-a-kind car
- Everything is sacrificed for looks
- Not comfortable
- Not practical in any definition of the word
- Twitchy handling for beginners
- What are you willing to sacrifice?
The 2017 Alfa Romeo 4C is a dream car—light, nimble, quick, and fun—with zero practicality. In other words, it's a supercar.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is as close to a budget supercar as most of us will ever get. Its mid-engine layout, carbon-fiber body, turbo-4, and dual-clutch automatic work in concert and unencumbered by weight or unnecessary luxuries.
Its 5.8 overall rating is a tale of two cars: a high-performance, featherweight fighter; and a bare-bones, uncomfortable specialty-use two-seater. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 4C is offered as a coupe or as a spider, with a semi-convertible, Targa-style roof. No longer the lone option for Alfa fans in the States, this year the 4C is joined by the Giulia sedan and a coming SUV, named Stelvio, will arrive soon.
Style and performance
Welcome to the Alfa Romeo 4C's wheelhouse. It has performance and style—and then some more.
Starting with the exceptional body work, the Alfa Romeo 4C is one of the best-looking cars on the road today—it's inescapable. Although the automaker says the car is inspired by 1960s Alfa race cars and the 33 Stradale, we see a little more Ferrari Dino in the bodywork. (None of these are bad things, by the way.)
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.
The 4C's exterior is composed entirely of scoops, curves, cat-eyed side glass, round LED taillights, and the signature Alfa overbite. Inside, the low-slung cabin is dotted with red accents, 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.
Under the hood (or plastic, if you will) a 1.75-liter turbo-4 rated at 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque propels the light body. At just 2,465 pounds, the 4C is lighter than a Porsche Boxster (500 pounds), lighter than a Chevy Corvette (800 pounds), lighter than the Jaguar F-Type (1,000 pounds), but heavier than a wet sneeze (just barely.)
It's a raucous powerplant, unfettered by a muffler, with just a touch of turbo lag. According to Alfa Romeo, the 4C takes just 4.5 seconds to sprint up to 60 mph, but the sensation of speed is exponentially amplified by how low the 4C is to the ground.
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 Alfa's ace is its handling, steering, weight, and engine layout. The floor-hinged pedals (probably the only similarity shared between the 4C and a city bus) take some getting used to, but offer a high degree of control and subtlety in the 4C's motions. Stamp on the brake and the weight piles on from the rear—it squirms and shakes—and darts into the corners. There's no power steering here, every motion is directly connected with the road.
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 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.
It's impossible not to know what all four corners of the 4C are doing at any one time, each tire is nearly within arm's reach. 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.
Comfort, safety, and features
And now for the bad news.
The 4C's body is wrapped around a carbon-fiber tub that offers little flexibility, and fewer creature comforts. There isn't much space for shopping trips (3.7 cubic feet) and there's less space for creature comforts. There's no glovebox, little interior storage, and no way to fit any more than two people inside.
Climbing in and out of the 4C requires a good attitude and better joints. 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.
Predictably, with such a limited audience and limited sales numbers the 4C doesn't have any official crash data.
The automaker includes five airbags, traction control systems, and a handshake as standard safety equipment. In short: Don't crash it.
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 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.