The knock on the door came early on a Saturday evening as I was settling in to watch the start of a football game.
Up out of my recliner, I hustled to the door and opened it.
Before me stood Chris, the twentysomething son of a former neighbour. He smiled.
“I’ll get the keys,” I said, knowing exactly why he was here. You see, Chris is a car buff – yes, an actual millennial car nut – and sitting in my driveway was a shiny new 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider in yellow, no less. Or as Alfa likes to call the colour: Giallo Prototipo.
“Sweet,” Chris said, admiring the Italian’s menacing low-slung profile and beautiful, sexy lines.
That it is. I’ve driven many high-end head-turners – Porsche, Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Tesla – but none garnered the attention this one got, from the homeless woman in Toronto’s Parkdale district who gave me a thumbs up as I roared past on Jameson Avenue to Globe staffers spotted taking selfies with it in the company lot to random admirers who would approach to ask, “Is that a Lotus? A Ferrari?”
No, but the striking similarities are there. And, at $78,495, it’s a bargain compared with a Ferrari. Narcissistic owners get all the love they crave, at a fraction of the price.
I press the key fob to unlock the doors and we open them wide to get in. This is the first big challenge, for there is absolutely no elegant way to enter or exit this vehicle. Yoga masters, surely, have spent sleepless nights trying to find an easier way to lower themselves into the cockpit. The news isn’t any better once you worm your way inside. The thinly padded and heavily bolstered bucket seats aren’t made to handle my wide load. Chris has no such problems. However, there is plenty of legroom to accommodate my six-foot frame. The top of my head, however, touches the roof.
I put the key in the ignition, select the “N” (for neutral) button on the centre console, turn it, and the 4C roars to life, its 1.75-litre turbocharged four-cylinder mid-engine producing 237 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque. Not big numbers, sure, but the 4C Spider checks in at only 2,487 pounds thanks mainly to its lightweight carbon-fibre tub – and an almost complete lack of creature comforts.
There’s no glove box. The USB connectivity cords dangle loosely from the dash in front of the passenger, as if it were unfinished wiring on a construction site. The stereo is straight out of the 1980s aftermarket, with its old-school Alpine system. The climate-control dials are horribly cheap plastic – most budget cars feature nicer knobs. There’s no backup camera, no cruise control. The Bluetooth mic dangles aimlessly from above the rear-view mirror. The trunk, if you can call it that, will hold the removable cloth top, and nothing else. As beautiful as this car is on the outside, it’s equally as ugly on the inside.
But really, who cares? Image and power are everything. I select “1” on a second button on the console (yes, that puts it in drive, not “D” – go figure), press down on the gas pedal and all of my worries are quickly forgotten. The 4C Spider is loud, proud, rough and raucous. There’s no power steering; no power brakes. The Porsche purchase line forms to the left for all you Starbucks venti latte macchiato-sipping mollycoddlers. Pretenders and poseurs need not apply. This ride is hard-core. And freaking fun.
The 4C grips the roads tighter than a boa constrictor squeezing its prey, the demonic exhaust note screaming and howling from just over my shoulder. Chris’s head snaps back onto the headrest as I floor it, giving credence to its claimed 0-100 km/h speed of 4.5 seconds. The ride is rewarding, yet raw. It grabs you by the heart and makes it shudder as you carve curves and race down on-ramps. And yet …
I was happy to return it after a week. A car this exciting – it’s best as a track-day car – is too exhausting to be a daily driver. It’s a weekend fling, great for a romp and a roll. But as a long-term commitment? Nope.
Now where’s the nearest Starbucks?