The Alfa Romeo 4C is a throwback to a time before ABS and airbags, stability control and wheel-speed sensors. This doesn't mean to say that the swoopy 4C isn't equipped with all that paraphernalia – of course, it is. Rather, the 4C is the authentic, spiritual successor to the handcrafted Italian sports cars that vanished decades ago, a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater with a tiny turbocharged engine whistling away behind the driver's cortex.
As such, the Alfa needs to be considered through a different lens than your typical 21st-century sports car. First: There's no power steering, a decision that seems unfathomable in this age. The steering effort requires forearm strength. The kickback is the closest thing to a shifter kart you'll find in a vehicle with an enclosed body. Then: Both the brake and the accelerator pedals are mounted to the floor, as on the old VW Beetle. The motion of triggering the brake pedal would take some getting used to, except the travel is astonishingly brief.
The braking system features a large master cylinder and brake booster, common to other sports cars. But the unique angle of the brake pedal, combined with Brembo vented brake discs and Ferodo brake pads derived from racing give the 4C a sense of immediacy that is uncommon in road cars–even sports cars.
The weight distribution, front to back, is 41/59. Normally, this would be a bigger issue, but the Alfa cuts a svelte figure. Curb weight is 1,118 kilograms, courtesy of a carbon-fibre chassis, aluminum front and rear subframes. The engine spits out a modest 237 horsepower , yet the Alfa is resolutely quick – 100 km/h appears in about four seconds.
There is only one incongruous aspect of the Alfa Romeo 4C: the dual-clutch automatic transmission. This sports car is so raw, the dual-clutch automatic comes across as the sole nod toward convention and sophistication. Sure, it's derived from racing. Yes, there are paddle shifters. Yes, if you don't shift quickly enough in manual mode, the engine will bounce off the rev limiter angrily. But the experience will leave the purist yearning for a manual transmission, a gated shifter and for the challenge of heeling-and-toeing without shearing off a tooth or two.
Aside from this one aspect, the Alfa Romeo 4C is the very essence of the sports car in its most undiluted form.The 4C isn't the perfect sports car – there is no such thing as the a perfect sports car – but it just may represent the most involving driving experience in the land.
You'll like this car if ... You like your Brunello di Montalcino served in the proper glass but at an improper temperature.
- Base price: $66,495
- Engine: Turbocharged 1.75-litre four-cylinder
- Transmission/Drive: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic/rear-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city; 6.9 highway
- Alternatives: Audi TT-S, BMW Z4, Ford Mustang GT350, Porsche 718 Cayman, Lotus Evora S, Mercedes-Benz SLK/SLC
- Looks: Damn!
- Interior: Compromises need to be made in any car and this is where most of them have been made. Getting in and out is tricky. The seats are not the most supportive. The design of the drive mode and shift buttons in the centre console seems obtuse and arbitrary. The digital instrument panel tries too hard to convey too much information.
- Performance: The 4C is unlike anything else on the road and it’s a minor miracle it comes from the division of a major manufacturer. It’s as far removed from the trend toward autonomous, amorphous blobs as you’ll find. Steering response is immediate, acceleration is rapid and braking is downright violent.
- Technology: While the Alfa is not an inexpensive car, the level of engineering at play here makes the car seem a bargain. Handcrafted in the Maserati workshop, the chassis, subframes and body are at a level of engineering excellence normally reserved for cars costing much more.
- Cargo: This is a tiny, two-seat coupe. Maybe it has cupholders and a trunk, but that’s anyone’s guess. If you need a coffee in that cupholder or a set of clubs in that trunk, you’re barking up the wrong tree. There is, for sure, no glove compartment.
It's a roller-coaster ride built for two.