Alfa Romeo 4C review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

We review the Alfa Romeo 4C, designed to deliver supercar thrills for half the price

For: 
Raucous exhaust, pin-sharp handling, gorgeous design
Against: 
Firm ride, interior quality, no manual option

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With a line-up restricted to the MiTo and Giulietta hatchbacks, Alfa Romeo is a shadow of its former self, but the 4C could be the return to form that fans are hoping for. Built in limited numbers, this mid-engined scaled-down supercar promises to be one of the performance motoring highlights of the year. Better still, it looks great, as the design has been carried over directly from Alfa’s stunning 2011 Geneva Motor Show concept.

• Alfa Romeo 4C v Porsche Cayman: video track battle

Styling

4.7

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at the front end are spoiled by the awkwardly placed number plate, while the concept car’s faired-in headlamps have been replaced by multi-bulb units that have a messy, distinctly aftermarket look.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.

Driving

3.9

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. Even the thickness of the glass has been reduced by 15 per cent.

As a result, the 237bhp 1.7-litre aluminium turbocharged engine has more than enough power to push the Alfa from 0-60mph 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 Alfa takes a very different approach – one that’s more akin to a Lotus Elise than a civilised Porsche Cayman. Our test model featured the £3,000 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.

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.

Reliability

3.9

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.

Practicality

2

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.

Running Costs

4.6

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.

Disqus - noscript

You are a joke! How do you judge a car's reliability when it's not even out???? HAHAHA
Go buy yourself a Cayman....

Still can't beat the Brera for looks. They should release a new one, but with better engine choices this time.

Spot on!! I have had many many Alfa's and the only one's with any issue are from the 90's. Sadly the author has probably spent too much time convincing himself that the Germans are the most reliable cars when we know they are in fact the worst!

This is actually a very rare review on AE, but I have to ask how is a firm ride a bad thing on an out and out sports car? I don't wait it soft and rolling about. I want it stiff and stuck to the road thank you please.

It is a shame it doesn't have a proper manual especially since they have ditched power steering and gone back to basics, would have made sense to do the same with the box too.

I have had many Alfa's and the reliability problems are long long gone. Yes there is a bad one now and then but there is more bad BMW's out there than bad Alfa's (just check the Reliability study on this site for proof!) but while this has improved the interiors have always been its weak point. Yes they are nice to look at, the plastics are fantastic quality and gorgeous to the touch but they do tend to squeak and bits fall off now and then but hey your driving an Alfa so who cares and if you only own it for 3 years you wont have any problems at all unlike buying a TT with a DSG box that will let you down monthly.

Nice car I admit, But... It's an Alfa, so it's not a matter of IF the engine will let go but WHEN. Their head gaskets are made of paper! Best have 10 grand stashed away when you buy one of these for the inevitable.

Stop being a berk. How many have you driven that the head gaskets has gone on? I've driven 3 and not had one jot of bother. I know others that has not had one jot on Alfa's with 100k plus on the clock (as has my 147) and the gaskets has not gone. Such a pathetic comment.

Really? I have never had a gasket go on any of my Alfa's, and I've owned more than a dozen of them, in my 147 I did over 110,000 miles in with nothing more than a service.

Well, The thermonuclear explosion under the hood of the GTV that someone I know owned, meant they had to throw it away and get a 330i instead, proper German refinement trumps Italian style-over-substance!

Ah the 'someone I know' line. Well ok. BMW in Newcastle sold my mate a £54k BMW and as soon as he took it down the Coast Road in Newcastle (half an hour after buying) the engine blew apart! To this day, BMW insist it wasn't their fault. So "German refinement" is a load of bollocks as is most German 'reliability' tests. Grow up, car's obviously isn't your field.

I owned a 3.0l GTV and dare I say, I've had considerably more issues with my Porsche. Absolutely true. I think the reputation is no longer deserved but still hangs around AR. This car is quite simply stunning IMHO and makes the Cayman look decidedly dull. Most people will buy this with the stereo and air con because they won't be using it on a track and will want it just for the looks - I'm seriously thinking of chopping my Merc in.

Your spot on, there hasn't been any major problems with Alfas reliability in the last 15 years+ but reputations are hard to shake especially when you have a populous of people who believe what ever the marketing men say. Things like "The Ultimate Driving Machine" when we all know thats clearly an Italian not a German.

We all know stories like that. Like i know someone who couldn't wait to chop in his boring 330 after having to replace 2 turbos on it within 20,000 miles then for the engine to swallow its manifold and nearly kill him in the motorway, he was happy in the end as he ended up with a 159 2.4 and can't believe he was so stupid to buy the self-combusting German tat in the first place when he could have had style, class and a car that has cost him less to run and has never let him down unlike his BMW.

Let me guess, stupid plastic engine manifolds eh! I mean come on.....

I it were possible for the CEO of Fiat to get his act together and let Alfa Romeo produce the car the we all know they are cable of producing then they may just start beating the German's which should be so easy with all the technological advancement in motor engineering at Alfa's finger tip's. There is no need to fear the likes of Audi or BMW , the market is waiting for some thing new and fresh as the Audi and BMW have become stayed a little like stale bread .Time for Alfa Rome to start producing car's that have real heart and passion in their DNA and also to show every one that Alfa do make a quality vehicle's to rival any thing the German's can produce and even beat them .

I would just like to state that the most reliable 1.9 diesel engine in its class was and is still produced by FIAT/ALFA ROMEO not the GERMAN'S.the 1.9 16V JTDM this engine is used across the motor industry by many manufacturers a testimony to how good FIAT /ITALIAN engineering is ,people are always conned by the add's on the TV and AUDI are very good with their add campaigns ALFA ROMEO need to take note of this and have their campaign based on their racing heritage ..

My brother had a AUDI A6 S line and it broke down three time's German reliability is a fallacy , the Audi A6 was less than three years old .

I drove a facelifted model 156 for 3 years and it was a brilliant car. It never broke down and I had total faith it would get me wherever I needed to go. The only thing with Alfas is that they are very expensive to run and maintain, but so are the German brands. I just wish Alfa would go back to the design flair of a few years ago like the 159 and Brera. Though even if they did they wouldn't stand a chance with the media running down anything but their pet German brands.

Sounds amazing Autoexpress, you went from loving this car a few months ago although with a few niggles to basically saying it's just good to luck at and give it only 3 stars!
You have become pretty useless.....but luckily I have already ordered mine and I will receive it in April.

I think you should get back to test driving and reviewing Ford Fiesta and similar!

Unbelievable. You should consider DeutchExpress for a title.

You have obviously never driven a recently built alfa romeo, have a look at alfa's history, have a look at what all "petrol heads" say about alfa. I drive an alfa, my grandad had driven alfa's all his life, I can assure you, I haven't driven a better car than my mito since I passed, the steering is impeccable it's smooth, light and straight cutting on corners, you never feel as if you are going to under steer nor over steer any corner. The ride is fabulous, the seats are comfortable, the engine sounds better than any new car you will find in its price range. I most definately will be looking at getting the 4C just for the reason the recent past of alfa's has been a promising look.

Last updated: 9 Feb, 2014
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