After 20 years, the new Alfa Romeo 4C makes a comeback in North America
Preview: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Supercar aims to be accessible in price and performance
SAN FRANCISCO—The Alfa Romeo 4C is largely the product of two bright minds: those of Harald Wester and Lorenzo Ramaciotti.
These two are not a pair of technical boffins beavering away in the product development department in Torino, Italy, but, respectively, the president and CEO of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, and chief design officer of Fiat-Chrysler.
Given their status, the project has come to fruition quite quickly.
The two-seat mid-engine sports coupe, on sale in Europe since last fall, hits select Canadian showrooms — only four of them! — this fall.
The specially equipped North American launch edition will begin at $75,995. When all 500 of those are sold in the U.S. and here, the regular model will start at $61,995.
The 4C represents the return of the fabled Italian sports car to a market it abandoned 20 years ago. If people remember the brand at all, it’s because it was an Alfa Romeo that Dustin Hoffman drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in The Graduate.
Of course, Wester and Ramaciotti didn’t personally screw all the bits together to form the concept car that debuted in Geneva in 2011. But they did set out the plan.
It was, in Ramaciotti’s words, to be an “accessible supercar”, by which he meant not only relatively affordable, but a car most people would enjoy driving.
“In most supercars, I can barely use 10 per cent of the car’s capabilities on public roads, or even on a race track, let alone more than 10 per cent of my own capabilities,” he explained.
The new car had to reflect the brand’s design iconography. The triangular grille is a long-standing Alfa cue. Among the cars studied for inspiration was the lovely 1967 33 Stradale, the street version of the Type 33 race car.
More importantly, especially to those who neither know nor care about Alfa’s history, it looks spectacular.
The 4C also had to reflect the latest in technical innovations, again consistent with Alfa tradition.
To this end, low weight was paramount, which led inexorably to a carbon fibre tub with aluminum subframes front and rear.
If this sounds vaguely similar to the McLaren 650S coupe, which costs four times as much, you’re beginning to get the idea.
The curb weight of the Alfa Romeo 4C is a stunningly low 1,118 kg (2,465 lb.).
This does mean you give up some creature comforts: only two seats, neither power-operated, heated nor cooled. No SatNav. No power steering. Not much in the way of sound insulation. If it doesn’t make the car go faster, it’s probably not here.
OK, so you do get air conditioning and a decent sound system.
With this little weight to shove around, the 4C didn’t need a huge engine. So a 1742-cc, four-cylinder, direct-injection turbo is fitted transversely behind the seats.
It is based on the engine used in the Europe-only Alfa Romeo Giulietta, but in aluminum rather than cast iron.
It cranks 237 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from as low as 2,200 r.p.m. The six-speed dual-clutch transmission uses some bits from the Dodge Dart, but is completely reworked and fitted with steering-wheel paddles for manual shifting as desired.
Alfa’s Electronic Q2 differential is, in effect, a braking system that mimics a limited slip. Brake application to a spinning rear wheel directs power to the other side. A DNA rocker switch in the centre console selects Dynamic, Natural or All-Weather modes, modifying engine management, transmission shift speed, the electronic stability and traction control systems, and the EQ2 to maximize performance under those varying conditions.
There’s also a Race mode, which disables ESC and traction control altogether. You’re on your own.
Suspension is a mix of high-strength steel and aluminum bits, double wishbone at the front and MacPherson strut design at the rear.
All this results in a car about the size of a Mazda Miata, which if not quite as intense as a Lotus Elise, isn’t far off, either.
Despite the low height, the 4C isn’t too difficult to get into. You’ll find room for you and a passenger, and not much else.
Shove any cargo into the small-but-not-badly-shaped trunk behind the engine (the front hood does not even open).
Engage first by pulling back on the right shift paddle, and the car initially feels a bit reluctant to pull away. Once you feel the clutch bite, off you go.
An A/M button on the centre console toggles between shift-for-yourself and Auto modes.
Probably a good job it is a coupe (a roadster is on the way) because, from the sound of it, the air intakes behind your head would suck your hat, toupée, or whatever, right off your head.
If you want to listen to the radio, you’ll have to turn it way up.
Acceleration is very brisk — Alfa gives a 0-to-100 km/h time of 4.5 seconds — and, thanks to the gutsy bottom-end boost from the turbo, you feel the urge right through the rev range.
It’s been a while since I have driven a car with non-assisted steering, so the feedback through the wheel took a bit of getting used to. Not a problem; just different.
A bit stiff at parking speeds, the price you pay for the directness. Parking also presents visibility issues — you can barely see anything at all out the back.
Cornering limits are very high, indeed, and the car hustled down twisty roads or around the Sonoma race track north of the city with almost abandon.
The ride is definitely on the firm side — we’ll have to wait for a local test to see if the Kabul-like streets of Toronto will shake your fillings out. On rough surfaces, the road noise is substantial.
So the Alfa Romeo 4C is gorgeous, fast, noisy and intense.
Your only car?
A great car to drive on a track or a deserted twisty two-lane road?
A fitting successor to great Alfas of the past?
Without a doubt.
Transportation for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.
Preview: 2015 Alfa Romeo C
Price: Launch Edition (first 500 in North America): $75,995. Regular model: $61,995.
Engine: 1742-cc inline four turbocharged
Power/Torque: 237 hp/258 lb.-ft.
Fuel Consumption: na.
Competition: Lotus Elise, Porsche Cayman R
What’s Best: Stunning styling, accessible performance, intense driving experience, advanced technology considering the price, exclusivity.
What’s Worst: Elevated engine and road noise, snug interior, poor rearward visibility, intensity might be too much for some who could love the car for its looks alone.
What’s Interesting: Wonder if Dustin Hoffman will ever drive one?