In-depth reviews

Alfa Romeo 4C (2014-2019) review - Engines, performance and drive

The 4C is quick, but the chassis, steering and power delivery all lack refinement

From the moment you clamber across the thick sill and slide into the driving seat, you’re aware that the 4C is designed as a proper drivers' car. You sit low and forward in the chassis, the pedals are perfectly placed and there’s a wide range of steering wheel adjustment.

The racing car-style monocoque chassis weighs just 65kg, and the coupe tips the scales at only 895kg without fuel and passengers on board. The Spider is marginally heavier at 940kg, but that's hardly bloated. Alfa has even reduced the thickness of the glass by 15 per cent to shave off precious kilos. In context, the Alfa takes a very different approach to the civilised Porsche Cayman which is its most prominent rival – it has more in common with the stripped back Lotus Elise.

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 fruity sounding sports exhaust and 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels. However, we'd stick with the standard chassis and smaller wheels, which make the driving experience a touch more civilised.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spyder 2016 review

However you spec the car, 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, although Alfa does fit the 4C with a pretty puny Alpine aftermarket stereo. 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 plenty of unpleasant kickback as the wheel fights and wriggles in your hands. On bumpy and cambered roads the overactive steering and stiff suspension make the Alfa dart around, keeping you on the alert to maintain a forward heading as the car constanly bucks and dives for the edge of the road.

The 4C is a proper sports car – there’s no body roll, plenty of grip, serious performance and lots of character. But it’s too hard-edged for realistic everyday use and never offers the fingertip feel, adjustability and composure you find in a Porsche.

Engines

There’s only one powerplant available in the 4C, but as a result of the car’s low weight that 237bhp 1.75-litre aluminium turbocharged engine has enough oomph to push the 4C coupe from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. That’s extremely rapid off the line - and can be fully exploited using the car's launch control function. The Alfa also has 350Nm at 2,200rpm so in-gear pace is plentiful as well.

However, the engine's power delivery is quite spiky with plenty of turbo lag. Press the accelerator, and you have to wait a few moments for the turbo to spool up and send a sudden surge of power to the rear wheels. Combine this with the twitchy steering, and again it makes the 4C tricky to drive smoothly.

At least traction is good, and while the TCT dual-clutch gearbox needs delibrate prods from the steering wheel-mounted paddles, there’s a delicious rasp from the exhaust on every upshift. The brakes have a firm pedal, but are more than up to the task, although there’s little feel and the ABS cuts in too eagerly.

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