The Alfa Romeo 4C sports car is a two-seat track car for the road. That formula is not unlike how Porsche gained fame in the late 1950s and ’60s. It built pure sports cars that could be driven to the track, raced (maybe with a tire swap) and then driven home and then to work.
That’s the spirt behind the Alfa Romeo 4C, but racing expectations are far higher today and this little Alfa has genetic influences from Maserati, Ferrari and Formula 1.
The 4C is the lightning bolt for the return of the brand to the United States. By the end of 2018, eight vehicles are expected to comprise the brand’s “performance luxury” lineup. The rear-wheel drive 4C hardtop will begin deliveries later this fall as a numbered “Launch Edition” coupe, of which just 500 cars will be divided among 86 new dealerships. Each car is well equipped and has a starting price of $69,695, including the $1,295 freight charge from Modena, Italy. The standard 4C coupe arrives this fall with a starting price of $55,195. I tested a standard model with the Track package, which had an as-tested price of $60,195.
The name 4C dates to Alfa racing in the 1930s and ’40s when nameplates of 8C and 6C denoted the number of cylinders. The 2015 4C is powered by a 1.75-liter direct-injection and turbocharged four cylinder that sits behind the front seats. It has 237 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 foot-pounds of torque from 2,200-4,250 rpm. The only transmission offered is a six-speed, twin-clutch automated manual with steering wheel paddle shifters. Its shifts are competition-quick and Alfa cites 0-60 mph in about 4.5 seconds. It just feels faster because you are sitting just inches from the road.
The 4C is a “naked” car, similar to the trend in naked motorcycles. It is stripped to the essentials to enjoy the industrial-tough appearance of floor-hinged metal pedals and carbon-fiber monocoque passenger cell. Lightweight elements are the foundation: aluminum suspension elements attach to a carbon fiber chassis; the starfighter styling is made possible through plastics (Sheet Molding Compound); and windshield glass is 10 percent thinner than standard. The sport seat frames are carbon fiber and fiberglass-reinforced. The dashboard is thermoformed. Armrests are overlooked.
Compared to the Corvette, the 4C is 19.4 inches shorter but almost as wide (73.5 inches) and with a roofline that is 2 inches lower (46.6). The base Corvette weighs in at almost 3,300 pounds, the 4C at 2,465.
It is closer in footprint to a Miata, but 128 pounds lighter and about the same length at 157.5 inches, but nearly 6 inches wider.
Open the door and the cockpit smells of epoxy and power. The fuel pump pressurizes with a rising-whine that is a subtle invite to shut up and hold on. Drop into the driver’s seat, across the wide sill, and it is apparent this ain’t a Miata, though the quality of some interior materials look like it.
Driving the 4C is more like pulling the trigger on a high-strung exotic — DNA from being built in the Maserati factory. The car has a raw, visceral impact, which has been bred out of most sports cars for comfort and refinement. The steering has no power assist — go-kart-like — and control can feels dart in some cornering on lumpy surfaces. At a standstill, it takes muscle to crank the wheel, which seems oddly heavy for a mid-engine car.
The transmission has “DNA” settings mode, for Dynamic, Natural and All-weather. And within Dynamic is a level for race mode and a launch control. I preferred the more aggressive responses of Dynamic, which is when this car hangs it out. There is a split second of turbo spooling then the car is gone. As the turbo waste gate blows off of whooshes of pressure, it sounds like a highly pressurized drift car. And when the driver hears that sound it’s like code for more. The shifts are quick, with polite little rev-matching downshifts, which get rowdier in Race mode.
Fuel economy in this class of car isn’t that important, but 4C has EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 34 highway on premium fuel. The 10.5-gallon fuel tank will be limiting for some drivers.
But the 4C is not a commuter car. The test car with the Track package had seats that were slimly padded for competition performance and there is little lower back support. Headroom of 38 inches will be too short for some and the turning circle is wide at 40.5 feet. Rear visibility is limited.
I expect Alfa Romeo (as did Porsche) will make some convenience allowances for the North American market. A seat upgrade would be popular and more storage spaces — there is just 3.7 cubic feet aft of the engine in the rear hold, which has enough soft-sided luggage space for clothes-optional enthusiasts.
There is an exotic purity of purpose to the 4C that purists will appreciate, while others will look for more something a little more tame and mainstream.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage