Alfa Romeo is an enigma. Famed for making some of the world’s most beautiful cars, this company has a sporting heritage that stretches back nearly a century.
Yet with the exception of the limited-edition 8C supercar, it’s been decades since the evocative brand has made a sports car that truly lives up to its illustrious past. The new 4C changes that. Its specification is pure supercar – carbon-fibre chassis, dual-clutch gearbox, mid-engine layout – but it costs less than £50,000. And with a 237bhp, 1.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine matched to a featherlight kerbweight, unassisted steering and rear-wheel drive, it promises to be scintillating to drive.
Yet for a similar amount of cash, you could get your hands on one of the best sports cars on the planet: the Porsche Cayman. In fact, the 271bhp 2.7-litre entry-level Cayman is cheaper and more powerful than the Alfa, so you’ll be able to dip into Porsche’s long options list with the money you save.
The Cayman also promises to be a lot more practical, refined and comfortable than the 4C. However, will this focus on everyday usability blunt the Porsche’s appeal when compared to the razor-sharp Alfa? We pitch the pair head-to-head on road and track to deliver the definitive verdict on one of the most eagerly awaited performance car bouts of the year.
On track With its hard set-up, the Alfa is more at home on a track than the road. You quickly discover strong lateral body control and lots of grip, and can enjoy high-speed changes of direction. Yet in medium-speed corners, the stiff front end understeers too much, and the transition to oversteer is snappy. There’s lots of stopping power, but the brakes lack feel. The Cayman is more adjustable and agile. Which was quicker around Lincolnshire’s Blyton race track? Our video at www.autoexpress.co.uk reveals all.
The Alfa is only offered with a dual-clutch box, while Porsche sells its similar PDK set-up as a £1,922 option. That still makes the Cayman cheaper to buy than the 4C – although the standard manual box has a great shift action.
Few brands can rival Porsche and Alfa Romeo for sports car kudos and motorsport heritage. Alfa has lost its magic in recent times, but in the thirties, fifties, sixties and seventies, its sports cars were lusted after the world over. Racing Alfas were originally famed for their part in classic road races like the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia, and they battled Porsches for class and overall wins in world championship sportscar racing right up to the mid-seventies.
Lotus Exige S The Exige S is closer in character to the 4C than the 4C is to the Cayman. The Lotus delivers more power from its V6 engine, although it’s much more expensive, with a price tag of £52,900.
The Cayman is a fantastic all-rounder. It’s incredibly composed on the limit, and equally engaging and sharp at low speeds. It’s also more comfortable and refined than the Alfa, as well as cheaper to buy. And while it’s a bit slower than the 4C, cabin quality is superb and its everyday versatility is unrivalled.
The 4C is a stunningly attractive sports car and a welcome addition to struggling Alfa’s line-up. But thanks to its unflinching focus on lightness and performance, it’s so raw you’ll need to be a purist to put up with the lack of refinement – and it still can’t match the sweet handling of the Porsche Cayman.
|On the road price/total as tested||£40,224/£46,464||£45,000/£55,170|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)||N/A||N/A|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£2,382/£4,763||£2,059/£4,119|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£2,767/£4,612||£2,480/£4,133|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||37/£516/J/£260||N/A/N/A/G/£175|
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service||£480/£610/£480||N/A|
|Peak power/revs||271/7,400 bhp/rpm||237/6,000 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque/revs||290/4,500 Nm/rpm||350/2,200 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd man/rwd||6-spd auto/rwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||64 litres/sealant||40 litres/sealant|
|Boot capacity (front/back)||150/275 litres||N/A/110 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||11.0 metres/0.30Cd||N/A/N/A|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (unlimited)/2yrs||3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||20k miles (2yrs)/36||12,000 miles/46|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||13th/6th||17th/16th|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||N/A||N/A|
|0-60/30-70mph||5.6/4.6 secs||4.9/3.9 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.7/5.1 secs||2.0/3.4 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||6.4/8.1 secs||4.4/5.6 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||165mph/2,500rpm||160mph/2,400rpm|
|Auto Express economy/range||27.6/6.1/389 miles||30.8/6.8/271 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||236/192g/km/30%||212/157g/km/23%|
|Adaptive dampers/cruise control||£971/£267||No/£260|
|Airbags/Isofix/rear parking sensors||Six/£121/£348||Two/no/£420|
|Met paint/elec windows/sport exhaust||£558/yes/£1,473||£600/yes/£450|