3 Jun 2014

Alfa Romeo 4C Review

Colin Hubbard reviews Alfa Romeo's lightweight sportscar, the 4C

Alfa Romeo 4C

This little Alfa with a 1.7 litre engine costs a staggering £45,000, that's bang on Porsche Boxster S money. It had better pull some surprises out of the bag.

To start with let's see why the price is so high and consider the driving experience a little later.

It was planned from the outset as a mid-engined car and high up on the brief was a very low weight, somewhere south of 1000 kilos. This would ensure it was nimble on its feet and could be a strong performer despite using a modest powerplant.

The design brief forced Alfa engineers down the carbon fibre tub route which brings in benefits of very light weight and a very strong chassis so it doesn't need to be firmly sprung to be a fine handler. The downside of the carbon technology is the cost, hence a Porsche price tag for a 4 cylinder car. This must have been quite a decision for Alfa's accountants but the engineers appear to have made their case well.

Don't let this put you off in any way, think of it as a down-sized supercar bringing exotic materials and dizzying performance to those who enjoy motoring and are prepared to spend every free penny on 4 wheels rather than those who happened to stumble upon 6 lucky numbers. This may well be the everyday man’s supercar.

With the chassis decision box ticked the next one was the engine. Do they go for a powerful naturally aspirated V6 like in the Honda NSX or to an emissions led 4 cylinder turbocharged motor? In the current environment and to keep weight down it just had to be the green engine and so development a new 1750cc turbocharged  engine began.

The final production statistics are exceptional with a dry weight of 895kg, 0-62 time of 4.5 seconds, and an average mpg of 41.5.
Alfa Romeo 4C

When I first set eyes on the car it looked stunning. It has a very low and wide stance but with a short length.  To put it into perspective it is some 35 cm shorter, 10cm lower but 31cm wider than a Boxster.

The bodywork design language is unmistakably Alfa and the look heavily influenced by the 8C (and why not!) but managed in a different way due to the car's differing engine location. From the way the creases unfold diagonally across the bonnet to the swooping lines up and over the side flanks it is an exciting car to just stand and stare at.

At the rear there's a serious diffuser beneath the bumper but no obvious aero enhancements at the front. It has those controversial headlights and I have to admit I am not a fan.

Every 4C comes with larger diameter rear wheels than the front.  On the test car they were 18' front and 19' rear. I love the kind of Hot Wheels effect they give the car, as the body increases in size toward the rear so do the wheels. The wheels are borrowed from the 8C Competizione and the telephone dial style suits the muscular bodywork.

To get into the 4C you have to lower yourself onto the sill and then drop into the well bolstered leather chair. First impressions were of a plush Elise with more creature comforts and Italian style. It is a small cabin but feels quite cosy.
Alfa Romeo 4C

The steering wheel is a chunky flat-bottomed affair and has sufficient reach adjustment to suit my favourite rally driving position with the wheel close to driver and arms bent.

The instruments are a single TFT digital display showing all the information you need in an instant, including which gear you are in.  This is not a car for posers but a serious drivers car, and my earlier Lotus reference is a compliment to its intentions.

The carbon tub is blatantly visible within the cockpit and in the boot area is almost shouting its exotic status.

The engine starts with a keen buzz and ticks over keenly while it warms up, with the sports exhaust making itself known from the off. There’s no manual gearbox option so to set off I pull on the right paddle and release the handbrake, giving it some gas to get going.

The first thing I notice when setting off is the steering weight as there is no power assistance, and even with the low kerb weight wrestling with the 205 section front tyres takes a little getting used to.

The brakes are servo-assisted but when I first go for the pedal they feel heavy and dead, however after a short while I got used to them and appreciate their feel and power.

While on the way to the Millbrook Hill Course I am briefed on the adjustability of the 4C’s set-up via the DNA toggle switch on the centre console. D is for Dynamic, N for Natural and A for All-weather although there is also a Race setting if you hold Dynamic for a few seconds.

As we enter the course I switch from Natural to Dynamic which drops the gearbox down a cog or two to get the engine into the power band and bumps up the boost ready for instant acceleration. The affect this has on the car is like the affect two cans of Red Bull has to a human being.  It gets fidgety, excited and ready for action.

Automatically I look over my right shoulder ready to move to the right lane and can see nothing but interior trim and engine cover. The rear three quarter view is none existent due to those high flanks so you have to rely on the well positioned and proportioned door mirrors.

I am coerced into accelerating hard down toward the first corner and it feels very stable, the corner feeds right, all the time the body remaining flat as I accelerate hard up the hill. In the left lane are rumble strips to test NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) which don’t upset the car as the ride isn’t that harsh.
Alfa Romeo 4C

The next corner is a tight left hander with a wall close to the right. As I wrestle with the non-assisted steering my escort enquires as to whether I have driven a LHD car recently.  When I ask why he says ‘you are very close to the wall’, so I apply a little more anti-clockwise pressure to the wheel and the car turns in tidily while very I Britishly apologise for our close shave.

Over the course the 4C reacts to corners like a proper sports car showing little sign of roll while remaining composed. The fixed rate aluminium suspension components are bolted directly onto the carbon tub to save the weight of subframes which helps their reaction to bumps and undulations and doesn't rely on stiff damping for good handling.

The weight distribution is rear biased with a 40:60 split and the square stance with wide front end gives a good balance entering and exiting corners. Alfa's Q2 electronic diff is standard fitment and ensures a clean getaway exiting corners so it's seriously capable and entertaining on track.

The engine in Dynamic mode is as buzzy as a bee in a cup and is keen to rev whenever pressure is applied to the throttle. When you back off even slightly the dump-valve chuffs and chirps to reduce pressure in the turbo, making it ready for instant acceleration. The engine being so close to the cockpit means it’s an intense aural experience and makes the occasion a special one. The sports exhaust is loud but bearable for short bursts and constantly blats, braapps and whirrs just behind your head.

The gearbox is easy to work via the paddles and in Dynamic mode it lets the engine rev higher and shift times are super quick when you pull on the right paddle. Coming down the gears you are met with a nice throttle blip.

After the Hill Course we head out onto the high speed bowl to check out the acceleration, which can't be tested out fully on a twisty, undulating circuit. As I accelerate towards the outside line it revs quickly and rapidly picks up speed - part down to the fizzy engine but massively down to the light weight of the car.
Alfa Romeo 4C

It cruises at a steady 110mph quite easily, the wide track giving added stability and in Natural mode the engine calms down a little and so does the exhaust. You can feel the undulations of the track and hear the tyre roar, which is a good thing in this type of car which should feel alive at all times. 

Toward the end of first lap I check the mirrors and give the brakes a hearty push and the vented discs and 4 piston front calipers rapidly retard speed, my confidence in them growing the more I use them.

As we eventually head back to the paddock I drop the DNA toggle down to All Weather and the engine, exhaust and gearchange severity all calm down, further enhancing the cars appeal as a daily driver. I would quite happily commute in the car in this mode and its 110 litre rear boot would swallow a fair amount of shopping making it every day usable.

Overall Alfa have been very clever with the 4C. They have stuck to their guns over the weight and by opting for a small, perky turbo unit have made a car that is not only great fun to drive but offers performance and looks that punch above the price range. In addition being turbocharged has meant they can play with the mapping for all out head-rush turbo-fun or for just a light entertaining torque-rich driving experience.

So back to my original thought and is it worthy of that £45,000 price tag. Absolutely, every penny!


Price - £45,000
Engine - 1.7 litre, inline-4, turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 6-speed twin clutch semi automatic
0-62mph – 4.5 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph
Power – 237 bhp
Torque – 258 lb ft
Economy – 41.5 mpg
CO2 - 157 g/km
Kerb weight – 895 kg (dry)
Alfa Romeo 4C

Alfa Romeo 4C

Alfa Romeo 4C

Alfa Romeo 4C

Alfa Romeo 4C

Review by Colin Hubbard