Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Road Test

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Greeted with adulation and criticism in what seemed to be equal measures, Alfa Romeo's 4C was and still is being pulled in opposite directions. The truly interesting aspect is that the majority of nay sayers not only haven't driven one they haven't actually physically seen one. If the 4C suffered even before it was unveiled it was the referral that it was the 8C's little brother a fact that by dynamics alone the 4C cannot be. Recreating the concept of the archetypal Grand Tourer, the 8C is a front engined, rear wheel drive coupe of Villa D'Este elegance, something the 4C quite obviously isn't and was never intended to be.


Like the 8C the 4C takes its name from the number of engine cylinders. And like all Alfa Romeos, there are styling details that are not only common to the both but to all Alfa Romeos throughout the ages. So yes, the 4C displays the famous shield grille, the latest incarnation of the historic badge and the flaring, moustache like intakes and flared, tapering lights inexorably link the 4C to the 8C and the rest of the marque's current range of cars.


Designed by Lorenzo Ramaciotti and winner of the 'Most Beautiful Concept Car of the Year Award', the 4C first appeared as a concept in 2013 and in many ways took its inspiration from the Lancia 037 and technology from the 8C. Manufactured at the Maserati plant in Modena, the 4C bristles with the latest technology and materials whilst embodying true Alfa Romeo heritage and DNA.


Based around a central carbon fibre tub which forms 10% of the 4C's weight along with front and rear aluminium subframes to which the forward double wishbone suspension is attached with Evolved MacPherson struts to the rear, standard or racing spec suspension available when initially ordering the 4C. Roof reinforcements or additional fore and aft strengthening in the case of the Spider, the 4C is then clothed in 20% lighter than steel SMC or sheet moulding compound.


In conjunction with the engine and the remainder of the running gear this has resulted in distribution of 38% on the front axle, 62% on the rear and a power to weight ratio of 268hp-per-tonne. With a variety of alternatives to be had, the car seen here is fitted with the optional multi-spoke black alloys shod with 205/45R17 tyres on the front and slightly wider 235/40R18 at the rear, all four wheels enveloping the racing grade Brembo ventilated discs and colour keyed callipers a key feature of the 4C the racing spec brakes also haul the 4C to a 62mph to zero halt in just 36m.


Low and lithe, even when stationary the 4C sits limpet like on the road, the low, wide stance enhanced by the shield grille, the famous badge and two wide, moustache like horizontal air intakes. Two headlight styles are available, the standard pods that each house two distinct lights or the optional multi-lens LED. Ostensibly there appears to be access to a small luggage bay but please don't be fooled, sat beneath the fixed panel sit the 4C's ancillaries, luggage space such as it is located underneath the rear engine cover, a small space set aside just behind the engine itself.


Curvaceous sides, long sweeping doors and high flared arches lead the eye to the rear of the 4C where two simple round light clusters sit just above the rear venturies and twin exhaust stubs. With a banshee ability to howl, short as they might physically be, you are left in no doubt regarding their presence, the 4C shrieking its its intentions from the moment the key is turned.


Two actual body styles can be had, the standard fixed top coupe that weighs in at a mere 895kg or the 940kg fabric roofed Spider. And whilst the weight difference is actually negligible in most instances, the Spider for me at least is the preferred option if only to allow air to circulate. The downside is that whilst the roof panel is easy to remove, relocating the four latches and locating pins can at times be something of an art form until the technique is mastered.


Describing the two-seater cabin as basic would actually be an over exaggeration. Slide in over the carbon fibre sills and let your feet settle on a genuine racing pedal box, lightweight leather trimmed racing seats grasp their occupants and lock them into place whilst the matching leather trim dash roll and thick, D-profile racing steering wheel hint at the fact buyers would probably like to feel their investment has gone into other areas beyond the ones they can't actually see. It also serves to distract them from the plastic door cards, strap closing handles and Mito sourced switchgear. For those who require them two cup holders and a small mesh net provide sub-minimalist stowage, anything else having to be tucked beneath the seats.


Concentrated around the driver, a small LCD instrument pod relays any and all information. A throw back to the early 90's, clocks would most defiantly be preferred whilst the optional Alpine CD/radio should have been resolutely left on the motor accessory shop shelf. Should you elect to have the radio fitted, quite a nice extra on longer runs, my advice would be to source your own, you couldn't do any worse. All that remains is the traditional handbrake, electric window switches, four-button transmission selector and the 'All Weather', 'Normal', 'Dynamic' and 'Race' selector, once again straight out of the Mito parts bin.


However, flick the latch on the right hand sill, lift the engine cover and the reason the 4C is as it is becomes clear. Transverse mounted directly behind the cabin's bulkhead, the 4-cylinder 1,742cc all-aluminium petrol turbo unit delivers a mere 240hp and 350Nm of torque. Mated to an automatic/sequential 6-speed transmission, its the lightness of the 4C and the ratio of each gear that gives the car its performance. Unless you simply must deploy the 6,000rpm launch control, normal use will see you and the 4C hit 62mph in 4.5 seconds and onwards to a 160mph top speed, where permitted of course. And whilst the factory suggested 41mpg will remain a distant hope, mid 20's are more than acceptable, the 40 litre tank good for at least 300 miles per refill.


By virtue of the fact the 4C defaults to neutral when the engine is turned off, there are no elaborate starting procedures. Depress the brake pedal, turn the key and the 4C growls into life. Until such instructions are given the transmission will set itself into auto, all the driver has to do is press the '1' button, apply pressure to the throttle and the 4C will move away albeit with a degree of enthusiasm, the car revelling in being unleashed. To activate the paddles the A/M button allows the transfer to take place whilst the mode switch allows the various performance settings to be selected or deselected.


Be warned, the manual steering is heavy, even more so when reversing compounded by the lack of rearward visibility. At slow to medium speeds the 4C tramlines with a passion, the firm suspension keeping both driver and occupant fully conversant with the immediate road surface. In the case of the Spider, even with the roof removed it still gets rather warm in the cabin whilst the exhaust note tends to be at best glaringly intrusive. But select a higher mode such as 'Dynamic' or if you really must 'Race', hit the throttle and flick the shifts and everything is forgiven, the 4C becoming operatic.


Acceleration is divine, the steering lightens if only marginally, the feedback a lesson in how it should be done. If there is a point that should be made its on the down change. With the turbo busy spooling and the system dialing in its own 'throttle blip', there is a fractional delay between selecting a lower gear and the car actually engaging it. If only by a second, its a trait you need to be aware of until your subconscious timing eventually takes over. The only other thing you have to do is revel in the fact your senses are being all but delightfully assaulted by an ersatz racer that is everything it should be.


Where you have to be aware is the fact the more performance orientated the mode, the more the 4C will demand from the driver. And unless you find driving at an angle acceptable, due to the peddles being offset to the right, left-foot braking isn't especially comfortable. As to whether the pedal box adjusts I cannot say but it could well be a possibility or a modification owners could potentially look into from a racing preparation specialist.


Inevitably there will be the comparisons. The 4C's concept isn't new, a road legal track car that adds some much needed fizzy to a driving enthusiast's day. Cars such as the 4C have existed for many years, the Lotus 7 probably the best known. Move forward to current times and it still remains the Lotus Evora and Exige or Porsche's Cayman or Boxster that invariably come to mind. The stripped out cabin of the Lotus set the minimalist benchmark which is better than the 4C whilst the Porsche still offers passenger comfort with a few luxury trimmings as standard.


Likewise, whilst the 4C relies on turbo charging to extract maximum performance from its engine, the Lotus and Porsche will on paper at least, outperform it. Take it a stage further and BMW's new 1-Series M-Sport is just as quick with the added bonus of hatchback practicality. But do such comparisons actually matter? The 4C and its ilk are ostensibly toys, the cars of choice for those wishing to brave the circuits, track day fusiliers who like to 'do a bit' without having to commit to actually racing or the car they slew into the pub car park in impressing themselves even more than their friends. You tell me!


So why the 4C and its collective of shortcomings? Because its an Alfa Romeo, something none of the others can lay claim to. Its because of the achingly glorious looks, the badge, the heritage, the sound, the fact it probably isn't quite right and because it is what it is. The pleasure you feel each and every time you climb behind the wheel, the tingle on the turn of the key, the operatic glory of each and every gear shift, the need to have a spotter when reversing, even the fact in tight spaces at low speeds the 4C's less than cooperative attitude is likely to cause endless cursing, the sheer pleasure the 4C brings as you stare endlessly at it parked in your driveway, that Alfa Romeo actually put the 4C into production. It's all because!


On the proviso all of the above hasn't clouded your judgement, the 4C coupe is all your for £52,505 whilst the Spider will require you to part with an additional £7,000. Add in some of the options such as the more attractive alloys, radio/CD, racing suspension, colour keyed brake callipers, contrast stitching leather trim and racing seats to mention but a few and the 4C Spider seen here is on the road for £65,470. The fact Alfa Romeo's 4C could well cause your heart to skip a beat is completely free of charge. Enjoy and take pleasure in annoying the rest!


By; Mark Stone


 Model Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

 Price £65,470 as tested

 Engine 1,742cc 4-cyl turbo petrol

 Transmission 6-speed automatic/sequential

 Performance 0-62mph: 4.5s / 160mph

 C02 157

 Economy-combined 25.7



The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Road Test