The Alfa Romeo 4C is the first car in a long time that can claim to live up to the brand's sporting heritage, and the order books will open on 8 October.
Buyers placing a deposit then won’t take delivery of their 4C until later next year,but when it arrives, they’ll be getting a lightweight, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car designed to take on talented rivals from Lotus and Porsche.
The engine at the 4C’s heart is only a 237bhp four-cylinder turbo, but when the car weighs in at only 895kg unladen, that’s enough for a 0-62mph time of only 4.5 seconds and a 160mph top speed. Plus, Alfa claims 41.5mpg economy and 157g/km emissions. All these figures beat the Elise S – the closest Lotus on price and power – and every version of Porsche’s Cayman.
The stats are one thing, but the important question is this: what’s the 4C like to drive?
Climbing aboard to find out requires the kind of contortion you need to get in a supercar, but once inside, it’s easy to find a good driving position, as the steering adjusts for reach and height. You sit super-low with the centre console heavily angled towards you, and it feels good – although it’s weird that there’s no manual gearstick. As the 4C relaunches Alfa in the US, it’s offered with a six-speed dual-clutch box featuring steering wheel-mounted plastic paddles.
Press the aluminium throttle to the floor and the car flies forward with a loud roar from the engine, which has been specially tuned to emphasise the low notes. Our car came fitted with the optional racing exhaust, and it really did sound epic.
Beyond the aural feedback, each gearchange comes with a pleasing physical shove, while the sharp digital driver display makes it very clear not only when the red line is approaching – by turning the whole analogue-style rev band yellow – but also indicating which gear you’re in.
The quick steering is totally unassisted, so you know exactly what the wheels are doing, and the Alfa is light enough that you can drive it hard without feeling as though you’ve had a strenuous workout. As the car is just four metres long, with its front corners clearly visible, it’s easy to place. Roll and pitch through corners feels minimal.
Owners get to choose from the same Dynamic, Natural and All Weather driving modes in the DNA system as in any other Alfa, using a toggle switch on the central transmission.
But the 4C adds a fourth Race setting, to allow quicker throttle response and reduce the electronic safety intervention. In addition, this mode sharpens gearshifts enough that you don’t find yourself lusting after a nice, short-throw manual. Plus, you get the bonus of a ‘launch control’ option for a brutal standing start.
The car isn’t perfect, though. That roll-free cornering means the ride is pretty unforgiving – driver and passenger will know exactly where the bumps and cambers on the road are. Still, on our test, we only got the chance to drive the car on optional 18-inch front and 19-inch rear alloys; the standard 17/18-inch combination should give more comfortable progress.
Sticking with smaller wheels is unlikely to make much difference to the steering. As it’s unassisted, it doesn’t weight up at speed as many modern systems do, and can seem over-light at speed in a straight line and susceptible to twitchiness on uneven roads.
You need to grip the wheel firmly, which is a bit of a chore, as it’s awkward to hold. We’d also specify the £420 optional parking sensors, because rear visibility is abysmal.
But while there are gripes – the tiny 110-litre boot won’t swallow much luggage, while the interior packaging could be better in places, like where the sharp edge to the centre console intrudes into the passenger footwell – most drivers will be able to put up with them.
Not only because the 4C is beautiful – those low and wide proportions really work, and make it an effortlessly desirable coupé, despite the fussy light clusters. But also because it’s all about the driving experience, delivered through hi-tech and low weight. You have to be selfish with this car: drive solo on your favourite roads and you’ll have a ball. Alfa’s comeback starts here.