Alfa 4C

By Guy Bird for Auto Express, Sep 2013

The comeback starts here...
Alfa 4C cover story

Alfa 4C 

Limited-run 8C aside, Alfa hasn’t made a car that lived up to its famous sporting heritage for years. From October 2013 that all changes as it opens its UK order books for the stunning new 4C – a lightweight, carbon fibre-bodied, mid-engined, rear-wheel drive, two-seater sportscar – to take on Lotus and Porsche, while influencing future ‘regular’ Alfas too. 

The 4C’s heart may only be a four-cylinder 1750cc petrol engine – turbocharged to produce 240bhp – but when the vehicle’s unladen weight (with fluids) is only 920kg, that’s plenty enough to fire the two-seater from from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and 160mph, plus officially record 41.5mpg and 157g/km CO2 too. That beats its nearest priced and powered Lotus Elise S (0-62mph 4.6s, 37.5mpg and 924kg) and all Porsche Caymans.

Key to those figures is what Alfa calls its “war on weight”. The 4C has a carbon fibre body weighing only 65kg – the type of technology normally reserved for vastly more expensive supercars from Ferrari and McLaren – aluminium structures at each end, composite rather than steel body panels and even thinner glass windows.

“Plant the aluminium accelerator pedal and the car flies forward with a noticeably loud engine roar, especially tuned to emphasise the low notes. It really does sound epic”

But what’s it like to drive? Getting inside the car to find out creates a suitable amount of supercar-spec contortion. I choose to hunker down the shoulders, grab the windscreen’s A-pillar and fall diagonally backwards into the bucket-style seats as gracefully as possible. No matter, once inside, a good driving position is easy to find with rake and reach steering. Sat super-low with a centre console heavily angled towards the driver it’s a good cockpit feel, although don’t expect a manual gear stick. As the 4C relaunches Alfa globally (including the US where ‘stick-shifts’ are rare), it only offers an automatic six-speed dual-clutch gearbox with steering wheel-mounted plastic paddles.

It has the same ‘Dynamic’, ‘Natural’ or ‘All Weather’ (DNA) driving modes as normal Alfas enabled by a toggle on the central transmission, but the 4C also has a fourth ‘Race’ setting, to allow quicker throttle responses and gearshifts and less electronic safety intervention. It even has a ‘launch control’ optimal starting option like some German brands are fond of, but on unfamiliar road and tracks, we didn’t try the latter, sticking mainly with ‘Dynamic’ mode and manual paddles. 

Plant the aluminium accelerator pedal and the car flies forward with a noticeably loud engine roar, especially tuned to emphasise the low notes. It really does sound epic. Beyond the aural feedback, each change comes with a pleasing physical shove in the back when undertaken at speed, while the sharp digital driver display makes it very clear not only when the redline is approaching – by turning the whole analogue-style rev band yellow – but also indicating which gear you’re in, which can be handy when you’re getting carried away on twisty mountain roads (easy to do). 

“This is no ‘date car’, unless your date likes to wear Alcantara shinpads and ear defenders”

The quick steering is mechanical so you know just what the wheels are doing and as the car is only 3989mm long – with front corners clearly visible – the car is easy to place. Roll and pitch through corners feels minimal and watching other cars on the launch reveals just how well the 4C’s curvy combination of low-and-wide proportions look as well as work when on the move. 

There are some downsides though. The on-road ride is pretty unforgiving, letting all inside know in no uncertain terms where the bumps live. On test, only the optional 18-inch front wheels and 19-inch rears were available, the standard 17/18s set-up should be better. Flick the toggle to ‘natural auto’ mode for poor road surfaces and it’s more tolerable. Because the steering is unassisted it doesn’t stiffen at speed like many modern systems and so can seem over-light at high straight-line speeds and susceptible to twitchiness on uneven roads. A firm grip is required. The rear view is abysmal, so the £420 optional parking sensors are a ‘must’ unless you reverse using Jedi skills alone and the 110-litre boot won’t take much more than a weekend bag. Lastly, the stripped-out interior is in places badly packaged, like where the sharp centre console side intrudes into the passenger footwell. This is no ‘date car’, unless your date likes to wear Alcantara shinpads and ear defenders. 

But that’s not the point here. Beautiful though it is, the 4C is all about the driver and the driving experience delivered through hi-tech and low weight. Choose the right roads and company (probably you’re own, or a like-minded soul with their eye on a go in the driver’s seat) and you’ll have a ball. 3500 will be made per year to keep things exclusive, and a faster ‘Stradale’ version plus a targa-open top variant should follow in time. The comeback starts here.

 Key Specs

  • Price: £45,000
  • Engine: 1.75-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
  • Power: 240bhp
  • Transmission: six-speed paddle-shift auto, rear-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph/top speed: 4.5 seconds/160mph
  • Economy/CO2: 41.5mpg/157g/km
  • Equipment: 17/18-inch alloys, manual aircon, electric door mirrors

Verdict 4/5

The 4C looks superb, is awesome to drive and delivers hi-tech supercar features for sportscar prices. More upmarket Lotus Elise than Porsche Cayman in terms of package, engine and ethos – Alfa has deliberately made a few compromises in quality and refinement to reduce weight – but for sheer driver-grin-fun-factor, it’s hard to beat. A cracking return to form.

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