Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - 4C - Coupe
Alfa Romeo models
Impossibly cool, ridiculously overt in Launch Edition spec, amazingly well priced
Room for improvement
Interior plastics don’t keep up with the rest of the car, passenger quarters are cramped, gearbox is average in auto mode
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18 Feb 2015
By TUNG NGUYEN
TIM ROBSON19/02/2015“IS that a new Ferrari, mate?” comes the question from an older gent outside a newsagent on NSW’s central coast.
It is a question that would make Alfa Romeo’s product and marketing guys jump for joy. Parked before us is a car that indeed does a fantastic impression of an Italian supercar – for less than a quarter of the price.
The 4C is late – it was meant to be here last year – and it’s going to be hard to buy. It is eternally compromised, too – it has no luggage space to speak of, just two seats and an impossibly low nose. It doesn’t matter, though. Alfa Romeo’s loyal Alfisti have snapped up the initial run of 4Cs even before they made it to dealerships, and the next batch looks like going the same way.
Price-wise, the 4C’s opening gambit is $89,000 plus on-road costs, while the limited-run Launch Edition goes for $20,000 more. For that, you will get extra carbon interior and exterior trim pieces, larger wheels, bespoke colours and revised suspension. Other than opting for a Ferrari 458, it’s simply impossible to get into a carbon-tubbed mid-drive sports car for this kind of money.
When it comes to picking other competitors, the Lotus Elise S retails for $84,990, while the auto Evora starts at $139,900. Porsche’s Cayman 2.7-litre entry model, meanwhile, is $106,600 plus on-road costs.
Built in Maserati’s Milan factory and based around a carbon-fibre tub formed by Ferrari’s composite supplier, the 4C is a mid-engined rear-drive two-seater in the spirit of Lotus’s alloy-tubbed Elise. That, though, is where the similarities end. While the Elise has stood still, the 4C is all about tomorrow.
Powered by a high-tech 177kW/340Nm 1.7-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-potter nestled behind the cabin, and equipped with Alfa’s Q2 e-diff and TCT dual-clutch transmission, the 1025kg 4C (130kg heavier than European-spec cars, thanks to additional subframe bracing, additional side-impact protection and a reinforced windscreen structure) is an intriguing blend of tech and tactility.
Its bodywork – made from a fibreglass-based composite material known as SMC, or Sheet Moulding Compound – is impossibly attractive, especially through the rear three-quarter view, although a pair of headlight clusters that do the car absolutely no justice sullies the front view. Staggered wheels (18-inch front and 19-inch rears on the Launch Edition, and one inch smaller on the standard car) are shod with bespoke Pirellis.
Inside, huge slabs of polished carbon fibre underline the sportscar ethos, as do the low-slung bucket seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel. The dash at first glance is resolved and attractive, but the material choice of hard, scratchy plastic belies that impression.
Behind the wheel, a TFT screen replaces the traditional dial set-up, while a pair of paddles and a trio of buttons replace a traditional gear lever. Large, rounded air vents are a nice touch, but the HVAC unit itself is unfeasibly cheap and cheesy in a car of this perceived quality.
The passenger does not get quite such a good deal – the dash protrudes into the space quite prominently, while the aforementioned HVAC unit makes for an uncomfortable right leg rest.
The manual seats in our Launch Edition tester can slide backwards to accommodate this tester’s 185cm frame (just) and there is more room inside the 4C for two grown adults than there is in any modern Lotus. It is also easier to get in and out of than the high-silled Elise, but only just.
All is forgiven when you turn the old-fashioned key. From over your left shoulder comes a cacophony of sounds that startles birds from the trees, as the muffler-less 1.7-litre four burst angrily into life. It takes a little time to separate all of the mechanical noises there’s a gruff exhaust note, the whoosh of the induction tract, the whistle of a turbo and the whine of a blow-off valve – and we haven’t even pulled away yet!Engage first via a paddle, and the 4C eases away nicely, although that noise over your shoulder is a real distraction initially. Once we have negotiated any driveways and speed bumps at about 5km/h (any faster, and you will bottom the nose out), you can push down on the long-ish travel, floor-hinged throttle pedal.
The 4C weighs 1025kg, and there’s an extra 200kg in the form of two journos on board today, but its performance is startling once it gets over 2500rpm. There’s a definite shove in the upper back as the 4C leaps snarling and hissing towards the horizon. Gear spacing is a little stretched between second and third, but the wave of torque means that a higher gear is a more logical place to be.
The DNA switch on the centre console allows a driver to cycle through four modes – All Weather, Natural, Dynamic and Race – that change the throttle map and gearbox and rear diff’s behaviour. Race mode will also disable the traction and stability controls for race track work. The Natural setting works well over broken back roads, while Dynamic is the choice for smoother, faster terrain.
The 4C’s ride is impressively forgiving, mature and civil, even on the Launch Edition’s larger wheel and tyre set. While its lack of size and creature comforts may preclude it, the 4C is more than capable of being driven for an extended period.
Its unassisted steering is lighter than expected, and not as feelsome as expected. There’s also a surprising amount of kickback through the chunky wheel rim through bumpy bends. The massive Brembo brakes, too, are softly modulated, though monstrously effective.
All the while, though, the mug lair in the rear of the car is giving a performance fit for a Logie. In its upper rev ranges, it is fighter plane-loud, but it can be quietened with a light throttle in taller gears. In auto mode, the TCT transmission’s performance is quite average, refusing to kick down or change up in any sort of logical manner. It’s no hardship to drive it in manual mode, though.
The 4C’s overt personality lends it a deceptive quality it feels like driving far more quickly than you are, such are the sensations feeding back into the cabin. It is far from an ideal daily driver – the rearward vision is woeful, the Launch Edition car is ridiculously loud and there is no in-cabin storage to speak of – but as a weekender or a ‘Friday car’, it has genuinely few peers at this price point.
There is much more to come from Alfa Romeo – a BMW M3-rivalling sedan – and if the 4C is any indication, we can’t wait.
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