Alfa Romeo 4C review
We review the Alfa Romeo 4C, designed to deliver supercar thrills for half the price
Before the Alfa Romeo 4C, Alfa only sold two models – the MiTo and Giuletta hatchbacks – so it couldn’t arrive soon enough, and reminds everyone exactly what the Alfa Romeo brand is all about. It’s not just revolutionary for the way it looks, its carbon-fibre construction is unheard of at this price point. Because it weighs just 895kg the performance and handling are strong, while the 41.5mpg fuel economy is remarkable for a car capable of 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. It’s not perfect – the twin-clutch gearbox isn’t as sharp as a Porsche PDK, for instance – but in terms of pure ‘want-one’ factor, the 4C is in a class of its own.
Alfa Romeo deserves a huge amount of credit for bringing the 4C from concept to reality virtually unchanged. See it in the flesh and it’s not just the taut, flowing bodywork that catches – and holds – your eye, but the low, wide proportions are straight from the supercar textbook, too. The angular nose is a familiar Alfa Romeo design cue now (also used on the 8C Competizione supercar) while the squat rear end takes its inspiration from old Alfas such as the 33 Stradale. To save a few extra kilos, the clear-lens headlights from the concept have (somewhat controversially) been swapped for naked bulbs surrounded by either a dark glossy plastic or carbon-fibre trim. Climb over the wide sills (made from the exposed carbon-fibre monocoque) and into the low-slung sports seats, and there are signs of cost-cutting cheap plastics in the interior, but on the whole the driver-orientated cabin offers a sense of occasion that does the flamboyant exterior justice.
Alfa has kept the powertrain choices simple; you can only have one engine and gearbox combination – a 237bhp 1.75-litre four-cylinder turbo and a six-speed twin-clutch auto. The engine is a development of the unit already fitted to the Giulietta Cloverleaf hot hatch, but with lighter internals – and Alfa claims there’s potential to get even more power out of it for future, higher-performance 4Cs. Like all turbocharged engines the maximum torque arrives fairly low in the rev range, so this isn’t a high-revving race-derived screamer, but more of a muscular powerplant. Fortunately, it sounds great (especially with the optional sports exhaust) even at low rpm – a bit like an Alfa racecar from the Fifites. With just 895kg to haul along, acceleration is explosive, while the brakes are more than up to the task. The unassisted steering can feel twitchy at high speeds, but offers far more feedback than the Porsche Cayman with its electro-mechanical set up. The firm suspension keeps body roll in tight check, but it is pretty punishing on broken road surfaces. It’s a shame there’s no manual option, to strengthen the connection between car and driver, but the TCT auto does its job well enough – ripping through full-bore upshifts. It can be a little hesitant on downshifts though and it's clunky in auto mode at low speeds.
Alfa Romeo’s reputation for questionable reliability is well known, but its parent company Fiat has been working hard in recent years to improve matters. Both the 1.75-litre engine and TCT twin-clutch gearbox are developments of existing technology, rather than starting from scratch, which bodes well for their longevity, while the 4C’s remarkably light 895kg kerbweight places less stress on perishable components such as brake pads and discs, tyres and the transmission, which should extend their usable life. Another advantage of the carbon-fibre monocoque, other than weight-saving, is its stiffness, which benefits handling but also crash-protection - making the cabin a safe place to be in the event of an impact.
If it’s luggage space and everyday usability you’re after, we can’t recommend the Alfa 4C. With its booming engine note, firm ride and low-set seats (that you need to be a gymnast to climb in and out of), it’s more of a plaything than a realistic daily-driver. If you want to improve comfort levels we’d recommend going for the standard 17/18-inch wheel combination, rather than the optional 18/19-inch rims. Parking sensors are a must, too, as rear visibility is abysmal. There is a boot, but with just 110 litres of space you’ll need to pack light for weekends away, and while the interior packaging isn’t bad for a car that looks like this, things like a sharp edge on the centre console that cuts into the passenger footwell get frustrating on long journeys.
It might not have the smooth character of a six-cylinder, but the 4C’s four-cylinder engine is light on fuel, if driven carefully. Alfa claims it can return 41.5mpg and emits just 157g/km of CO2, which is astonishing for a 160mph sports car. Servicing costs will be above average, but Alfa has set up a specific team of ‘flying doctors’ who can be deployed to solve any issue you might have, anywhere in the world. Price is a major talking point for the mid-engined Alfa 4C, because there are two ways to look at it. See it as a cut-price Ferrari 458 Italia, and the starting price of around £45,000 looks like a bargain, but compare it to the Porsche Cayman – a more polished (albeit less exciting) all-rounder – which starts from around £5,000 less, and it’s a pricey proposition. Still, with it’s use of advanced materials, and heart-stopping styling, you can buy and run one safe in the knowledge that there really is nothing quite like the 4C on sale today.