Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 21, 2016
“They still sell those here?” a friend asked me. I was surprised too. Alfa Romeo hasn’t sold a car in North America for nearly two decades. This Italian automaker, born in Milan, the fashion capital of the world, was once known for making the prettiest and most desirable sports cars in the motorsport world.
However they stopped exporting Alfas into North America in 1995 (the low production 2008 8C Competizione Coupe doesn’t count – barely any of this collector’s model made it to our shores). Now, Alfa Romeo is back at it with the 4C Coupe and open-top 4C Spider, aiming at the heart of the sports car market and spearheading its way back into the souls of drivers and enthusiasts alike.
And it’s quite the vanguard. The 4C is essentially a carbon fibre bathtub with an all-aluminum engine perched in the middle sending power to the rear wheels via a 6-speed twin clutch automatic transmission. Sounds like the recipe for something incredible. Alfa calls it the “attainable” supercar. We call it the closest thing to a Ferrari under $100,000.
It certainly looks the part. Drawing heavy design inspiration from the 8C, the 4C discards the GT-like look in favour of a low-slung sports car silhouette. The lines are beautiful, classically Italian, and downright sexy. The front embodies muscular front arches that converge deep with the side air intakes into what Alfa calls the classic “Tribolo” design, flanked by a pair of futuristic looking carbon fibre headlights. Out back, the 4C goes full retro with round taillamps and dual concentric exhaust tips.
Its road presence is striking and awe inspiring, as is any Alfa Romeo on Canadian soil, and certainly demands attention in this yellow paint exclusive to the Spider variant, which comes with a targa fabric roof that can be detached, rolled up, and stowed away in the rear trunk. Heck, it gets even more stares and head-turns than a wild Pikachu on Pokemon Go.
So you get supercar looks but that comes with supercar compromises. As such, the 4C adorns a very purpose built cabin. Nothing here is redundant or useless. For example, it has got composite framed bucket seats, a leather pull-handle for the door, and lots of exposed carbon fibre – it’s like sitting in a dark tomb.
Well that sounded morbid. Let’s try that again. It’s like sitting inside a carbon fibre tank with no layering to cover the underlying body panels. It’s bare, fresh, organic, and I love it. The use of leather is bare minimum – there isn’t even any extra padding on the door panels or seats for added comfort. Alfa engineers put all their focus into the drive and threw everything unnecessary, literally, out the roof.
But don’t get the wrong message here. After all, the 4C is an Italian “supercar”. That means it’s meant to be uncomfortable, impractical, and noisy. There’s nowhere to store your suitcases if you’re driving your partner on an afternoon stint out of town, there’s no glovebox, and there’s no storage under the front hood because, well, it doesn’t even open!
But that’s the point. The 4C was never built around the interior. The interior was built around the car. It’s all about a power-centric driving experience, and the detachable targa roof only adds to that charm. The fabric top just covers the driver and passenger seats, so you get the fresh air without feeling naked or fully exposed to the public. The fabric and foldable roof is easy to take off, but like any bra, it’s a little more complicated to put back on. Once unlatched though, it easily stows into the miniscule rear trunk, though it doesn’t leave much space for your other belongings. Best to pack light.
Now, the 4C moniker wasn’t a name that was simply derived from that psychiatric unit from your local hospital. Instead it signifies that there are four cylinders firing under the hood, following the naming scheme of the Alfa Romeo 6C and 8C of the past, which had six- and eight-cylinder engines, respectively.
Obsessed with saving weight, the 1.7-litre turbocharged direct injected four-cylinder was made entirely of aluminum, delivering a stout 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. While these numbers don’t seem like much, you have to consider the fact that the 4C Spider only weighs 1,128 kg, less than half the amount of a Range Rover. All of a sudden, power figures in the mid-200s don’t seem all that bad. The 4C goes from 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds, as quick as a BMW M4, and can hit a top speed of 258 km/h.
Note that North American models are heavier than European spec models due to the added bracing and reinforcements needed to meet crash test standards on this side of the pond. All told, it added around 100 kg.
The twin-clutch is quick at times, but jerky at others. Clutch engagement due to its dry-clutch setup isn’t very smooth and doesn’t handle transitions very well, especially between first and second gear. The default gear is neutral as well, so from a stand still, you will roll back on a hill if you’re not hitting the gas. Best to always be alert when driving the 4C. If you’re adamant on getting a manual however, buy a Lotus.
However, the biggest difference between the 4C and other sports cars on the market is the lack of power steering – I don’t think I’ve ever driven a car without one actually. It was a decision to save weight, yet again, and results in maximum road-feel. You know how we’ve always been moaning and groaning about the anesthetized lack of feel from electric steering setups these days? Well this Alfa is what we want all cars to strive towards.
You can feel every bump on the road. How you ask? Well the wheels are directly and uninterruptedly connected to the tires without any assistance from motors or electronical nannies. You’ll feel the wheel fighting you as it romantically caresses every crack and feather on the road.
To racers, this is a dream come true – the wheels actually talk to you like that clingy ex that just discovered ICQ. There’s amazing feedback surging up through the tires and into the steering wheel. On the other hand, for a driver trying to relax on his way to pick up his kid from soccer, this can be a nightmare.
You see, without power steering, driving and operating the 4C at low speeds takes forearms made out of steel, and you begin to develop a phobia of three-point turns and parallel parking. Due to the unassisted rack, you really can’t steer comfortably without giving the car some gas. Once the wheels start rolling however, the steering lightens up ten-fold, requiring less of an effort to drive around town.
Think of the 4C like an MX-5 on Adderall, who just snorted a line of cocaine, and stumbled into a pool of yellow paint. You can carry incredible speeds into corners – the 4C is hot on grip and has great front-end bite. It slingshots out of corners in almost any gear, and streams a relentless rage up until its 6,500 rpm redline.
There’s so much more emotion juiced out of this Alfa than a Porsche 718 Boxster, arguably the Italian’s biggest competitor. The Porsche is fun but flat (no pun intended). The German has got the more luxurious and better appointed interior, it’s got updated technology, and is easier to live with but buying one is like dating the CEO of some boring but successful company. The 4C on the other hand is like dating an emotional supermodel. Choose wisely.
Both come equipped with four cylinders as well, but the Boxster’s turbo setup doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as the Alfa's. You can even pay $500 for a “sport-tuned” exhaust, but all Alfa really does is remove the muffler, making the 4C even louder. Think of it like a Fiat 500 Abarth on ‘roids. Stand behind the exhaust when you start up the car and you’ll feel torrents of wind blasting at your shins – there’s so much backpressure!
The 4C drones at high speeds but emits the most lovable farts on upshifts, and at wide open throttle you’ll hear the turbocharger go overtime with whooshes and whines. In fact, there is so much drama coming from behind the driver’s ears that it's like the entire symphony went out of sync and started rap battling with their instruments. Hence, the sports exhaust is a must have option – isn’t the whole point of a convertible to have front row seats to the pipes?
So to confirm and justify Alfa’s claim, yes, the 4C is a baby supercar, and then some. There’s so much to love about it, even more so then there is to hate. With supercar performance comes supercar compromise, and you better understand what you’re getting into before forking over nearly $100,000 for this yellow minion.
Be that as it may, the 4C still comes with some creature comforts like an optional radar assist for rear-end parking, a Alpine stereo, and even air conditioning. It’s a workable mode of transport. Of course, anyone looking into a 4C isn’t going to buy one as a daily driver. A smart buyer will have at least two other cars in their garage for more civil duties like hauling groceries or driving the kids to school.
The 4C is for the weekend. It is the unfiltered sports car we’ve all been subliminally comparing to when we talk about today’s numb electric steering racks and turbo lag. Considering the fact that a brand new Ferrari 488 GTB costs four times as much, and the 4C begins to look like a bargain supercar in the form of charm, appeal, and noise, in the same way that the Nissan GT-R is quicker than exotics costing double and even triple its own price tag.
The Alfa may lack modern conveniences like power steering, automatic headlights, or even an electric folding rooftop, but it is all the better for it. The 4C is a classic greatest hits album, with all the tunes of driving perfection.
型号 Model: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
顏色 Paint Type: Giallo Prototipo ($1,500)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $78,495
試車售價 Price as Tested: $90,045
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,380
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,989 / 1,868 / 1,185
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,128
引擎 Engine: 1.75-litre turbocharged, direct injected, four-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 237 hp @ 6,000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2,200 - 4,250 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid engine, RWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.7 / 6.9 / 8.4
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.1
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Pirelli P Zero AR Racing Tires; Front 205/40 ZR18 XL; Rear 235/35 ZR19 XL