Alfa Romeo 4C review
We review the Alfa Romeo 4C, designed to deliver supercar thrills for half the price
With a line-up restricted to the MiTo and Giulietta hatchbacks, Alfa Romeo is a shadow of its former self, but the 4C is something for fans of the flamboyant Italian brand to get excited about. Built in limited numbers, this mid-engined scaled-down supercar packs a 237bhp 1.75-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a twin-clutch automatic gearbox, but weighs less than 900kg thanks to a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis. Better still, it looks great, as the design has been carried over directly from Alfa’s stunning 2011 Geneva Motor Show concept.
Alfa Romeo’s back catalogue is full of pretty cars, and the 4C has the instant desirability to rival the best of them. Composite bodywork is wrapped tightly around a carbon-fibre chassis, and the proportions are straight from the supercar textbook. Yet at less than four metres long, the 4C is smaller than you’d expect, and it sits low and compact on the road. The taut rear end takes its inspiration from the late sixties 33 Stradale, while the angular nose recalls the recent 8C supercar.
It’s not all good news, though. For instance, the lines at the front end are spoiled by the awkwardly placed number plate, while the concept car’s faired-in headlamps have been replaced by multi-bulb units that have a messy, distinctly aftermarket look.
Inside, the simple dash is angled towards the driver, but cheap plastics and borrowed Fiat switchgear mean the car lacks the upmarket feel that you'll find in a Porsche Cayenne. Still, the attractive bare carbon weave reminds you that you’re driving something special, while conventional dials are replaced by a TFT screen that perfectly displays revs, speed, gear position and trip information.
Elsewhere, leather door pulls, aluminium pedals and a flat-bottom wheel create a sense of occasion to match the flamboyant exterior. Leather seats, cruise control and floor mats are optional, but air-conditioning and a stereo system are no-cost optional extras.
From the moment you clamber across the thick sill and slide into the 4C, you’re aware this car is all about the driving experience. You sit low and forward in the chassis, the pedals are perfectly placed and there’s a wide range of wheel movement.The monocoque weighs just 65kg and the car tips the scales at only 895kg without fuel and passengers on board. Even the thickness of the glass has been reduced by 15 per cent to shave off precious kg.
As a result, the 237bhp 1.75-litre aluminium turbocharged engine has enough power to push the Alfa from 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds – that’s seven-tenths quicker than a Porsche Cayman. It has 60Nm more torque, at 350Nm, and this peaks at 2,200rpm, so the 4C has the edge in-gear pace as well. The power delivery is quite spiky though, sending a sudden surge of power to the rear wheels when the turbos spool up, which makes it tricky to drive smoothly.
The Alfa takes a very different approach – one that’s more akin to a Lotus Elise than a civilised Porsche Cayman. For £3,000 you can buy a Racing Pack, which adds sports suspension (including revised damping and springs, plus thicker anti-roll bars), as well as a sports exhaust and 18-inch front and 19-inch rear alloy wheels. However, we'd stick with the standard chassis and smaller wheels, which make the driving experience a touch more civilised.
The end result is a hard and raw driving experience. At idle, the exhaust sounds very purposeful, like a sixties racing Alfa, but on the move, there’s so much engine and road noise that long journeys are punishing – you can forget the radio. The unrelentingly firm ride quality becomes quite tiring, too.
The 4C’s unassisted steering is also a mixed bag. While it’s heavy at parking speeds, the weighting is fine on the move, and the rack is fast enough for rapid and accurate turn-in. But it doesn’t deliver the undiluted feel you’d expect. In fact, there’s little sense of what the front end is doing. What you do get is some unpleasant kickback as the wheel fights and wriggles in your hands. On bumpy roads the overactive steering and stiff suspension make the Alfa dart around, keeping you on alert.
At least traction is good, and the TCT dual-clutch gearbox shifts quickly via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, plus there’s a delicious rasp from the exhaust on every upshift. With a firm pedal, the brakes are more than up to the task, but there’s little feel and the ABS cuts in too eagerly.
The 4C is a proper sports car – there’s no body roll, plenty of grip, serious performance and lots of character. But in the trim tested, it’s too hard-edged for realistic everyday use and never offers the fingertip feel, adjustability and composure you find in a Porsche.
Alfa has never had a good reputation for durability, but Maserati is assembling the 4C, while the 1.7-litre engine and TCT twin-clutch gearbox are developments of existing technology. The remarkably light kerbweight places less stress on things like brakes and tyres, plus the carbon-fibre monocoque is a big plus for crash safety – although damage will be costly to repair.
With a tiny boot, poor rear visibility, noisy cabin and stiff ride, the 4C won’t be bought for practicality. Even getting in is a challenge, as the door opening is small and the sill wide, like a Lotus Elise. The standard exhaust and suspension with the 17 and 18-inch alloy wheel combination might improve comfort a bit, but there’s still no escaping the limited luggage space – you don’t even get a glovebox.
Emissions of 157g/km are superb for a 160mph sports car, and make the Alfa a cost-effective choice for company-car drivers. A higher-band earner will pay £4,119 a year in tax – £644 less than for a manual Cayman.
Road tax will be a very reasonable £175. Alfa hasn’t yet announced servicing costs, but all 46 of the brand’s UK dealers are able to service the 4C. Given that the entire 2014 UK allocation of 200 4Cs is sold out already, it looks like demand will outstrip supply for the foreseeable future, so residual values should be strong. Ignoring test-track driving, we averaged 30.8mpg fuel economy, so your petrol bills shouldn’t be too high, either.