The “affordable” exotic sports car has long been considered the Holy Grail of automobiles for motoring enthusiasts. Over the years, a number of different auto manufacturers have tried to capture this ideal, with varying success. However, when it comes to true exotic sports cars, the Italians pretty much have a lock on everyone’s imaginations.
When you hear the phrase “exotic sports car”, your brain pretty much automatically conjures the name of a car company ending in a vowel; whether it’s Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati. And now, you can add one more—thanks to the Alfa Romeo 4C.
With the new Alfa Romeo 4C sports car, the essence of an exotic sports car has indeed been captured in a relatively affordable package. The 4C delivers on pretty much all of the criteria. It is built in limited numbers, so exclusivity is assured. The design of the Alfa’s sensuously voluptuous bodywork screams exotic sports car, and it is crafted of technologically advanced materials. The engine is innovative, beautiful to look at, and delivers a sound specifically calibrated to send fire through your soul. Further, the Alfa’s power to weight ratio is high, and best of all, the 4C is Italian, through and through. What’s more, like most exotic sports cars, trying to drive it everyday will probably give you fits.
Yes, this Alfa Romeo 4C is definitely an exotic sports car.
Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive Review: Models & Pricing
For the 2015 model year, Alfa Romeo’s product planning team has decided to produce a limited run of 500 examples of the car to set things in motion this summer. Offering the Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition models will be a network of 86 of Alfa Romeo’s dealers across the United States.
“This group of dealers represents the first phase in the Alfa Romeo dealer network selection process,” says Peter Grady, vice president of Network Development, Chrysler Group LLC in a press release. “Each Alfa Romeo dealer will have a unique staff dedicated to the brand’s premium market clientele. We require the sales and technical staffs to go through an intensive curriculum to ensure the highest levels of customer care and proficiency. And this is just the beginning, we ultimately anticipate the Alfa Romeo dealer network will exceed 300 franchises in North America.”
Pricing for the launch edition models has been set at $68,400.
These cars feature: either Rosso Alfa (bright red), Rosso Competizione (deep red) or Madreperla White (pearlescent white) exterior paint; bi-xenon headlamps with LED illuminated daytime running lights; side air intakes in the front fascia; plus a carbon fiber rear spoiler and carbon fiber mirror caps.
The Launch Edition cars also get a special suspension calibration with specific front- and rear-sway bars and shock absorbers; a racing exhaust system; staggered sized 18-inch (front) and 19-inch (rear) forged wheels painted in Matte Black; and red lacquered brake calipers.
The Launch Edition interior is comprised of a set of sport seats with black microfiber, a leather wrapped instrument panel and door panels; a choice of red or white interior accent stitching on the instrument panel steering wheel, floor mats and door handles; carbon fiber trim for the instrument cluster bezel, gear shift bezel, and the passenger side trim plate; and a numbered "Launch Edition" plaque, featuring the build number of the car to which it is affixed.
In the fall, the standard 4C Coupe will be offered at a base price of $53,900. Options for these cars are very few. The $1,800 Alfa Romeo 4C Convenience Group features rear parking sensors, cruise control, a four-speaker audio system, and an anti-theft alarm system. Perhaps in a nod to the fact the Alfa will be a fair weather car, a battery tender to keep the battery charged during period of disuse is being offered for $150, along with a fitted car cover for $400. As Alfa Romeo adds a destination and delivery charge of $1,295 to all of the prices quoted above, a fully optioned regular edition 4C should run around $57,545.
Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive Review: Design
According to the spokespeople at Alfa Romeo, the 4C owes its design inspiration to the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale offered between 1967 and 1969. Designed by Franco Scaglione, the 33 Stradale was, in turn, based upon the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 racing car, the first example of which was built in 1965. These are considered two of the most beautiful automobiles of all time.
The 4C’s flowing lines fit tightly around the mechanicals underneath with everything serving a purpose. Those curvaceous lines of the front end result from the fenders being required to arc upward to accommodate the tires and suspension system. Tucked tightly around the chassis, front and rear overhangs are eliminated.
The large openings in the front of the bodywork, in addition to reflecting the traditional Alfa Romeo grille shapes, also admit airflow to serve the various internal components. The nicely integrated side skirts beneath the doors clean up airflow, helping the Alfa stick to the road better as well as slice through the slipstream more readily.
The large openings in the rear fenders house air intakes for the engine’s combustion and cooling needs. Moving farther rearwards, you’ll find a pair of air vents positioned to extract heated air in an effort to maintain the optimum operating temperature for the engine.
Both a work of art, as well as an essential component of the Alfa’s design in and of itself, the engine is visible through the rear window of the 4C in contemporary supercar practice. Trailing the rear window is an integrated spoiler to add downforce to the rear wheels so they can achieve better traction at speed.
Designed specifically to be as lightweight as possible, the bodywork is comprised entirely of SMC (Sheet Molding Compound), a low-density, high-strength composite material. SMC is 20 percent lighter, yet dimensionally more rigid than steel, thus affording the ability to create complex shapes—while saving weight. Meanwhile, the monocoque underneath the bodywork is made of carbon fiber. To add strength where it’s needed most, the front and rear cell structures, roof reinforcements, and the engine-mounting frame are made from lightweight aluminum. Another high-tech material—injected polyurethane—is used to create 4C’s fascias and rear spoiler.
Hungry for weight savings wherever they could be achieved, Alfa Romeo’s engineering team used 10 percent thinner than normal glass for the 4C’s windows to reduce weight another 15 percent.
Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive Review: Features & Controls
The weight saving efforts continue inside the 4C, with the seats featuring a carbon fiber and fiberglass reinforced-composite frame. Carbon fiber figures prominently as a design element of the interior as well. The carbon fiber monococque is exposed throughout much of the interior; both to save weight, and to telegraph the fact this is an elemental sports car.
If you’re looking for a luxurious leather-lined environment like the ones you’ll find in a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati, you’re going to be disappointed. “Highly functional” is, without question, the most apt description of the appearance of the Alfa Romeo 4C’s interior treatment. There’s no question the designers had racing cars in mind, when it was penned.
(And, in fact, the Alfa’s interior treatment was indeed inspired by the Tipo 33 racing car.)
Bottom line—if you need it to drive the car, it’s in there, if you don’t—in all probability it was omitted. You’ll find the aforementioned composite-framed sport seats, an obviously thermoformed dash, a flat-bottomed performance steering wheel with paddle-shift controls for the transmission, and a set of aluminum pedals.
While at first glance, the seven-inch full-color thin-film transistor instrument cluster might look as if it is there for style; the reality is it’s much lighter than a traditional instrument panel. Plus, its simple graphics communicate needed information very quickly so the driver can stay focused on the road as much as possible.
Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive Review: Engine
Powering the 4C is an all-aluminum 1750-cc (1.7-liter) turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing and direct fuel injection. Among the features of the engine are an intercooler for the turbocharger and eight counterweights for the crankshaft. The exhaust manifold is specifically tuned to optimize the engine’s ability to boost torque at low engine speeds and respond more quickly. Turbo lag is virtually eliminated.
Output is 237 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque. Thrust is routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission actuated by paddles behind the steering wheel. With just over 2300 pounds of curb weight to motivate, the powertrain is more than adequate for the Alfa’s requirements.
The 4C features what Alfa calls a “DNA Selector” offering four driving modes—All-weather, Natural, Dynamic, and Race so the engine, transmission, and braking response can be calibrated to deliver optimal performance for the situation at hand.
The names of the modes pretty well indicate what to expect. All-weather retards throttle response to prevent wheel spin and skids; Natural is best for day-do-day driving; Dynamic advances throttle response and dials the stability control back to permit a bit more aggressive cornering; Race deactivates the skid and slip controls, advances throttle response, and permits activation of the launch control program.
Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive Review Driving Impressions
Settling in to the 4C takes a bit of doing. The car is very low to the ground, and you have to first negotiate a fairly wide (though handsomely finished) carbon fiber door sill, then slip underneath the attractively sculpted steering wheel to get yourself positioned to drive the Alfa.
Once you’re in though, the driving position is excellent. After you figure out the transmission setup, everything else is remarkably intuitive, and the driver’s seat is quite comfortable. There’s plenty of head and shoulder room, and the positional relationship between the pedals and the steering wheel is absolutely correct. Long story short, when you’re in, you’ll be ready to go. One other mention on the comfort side of the ledger though, the passenger seat is fixed into position, anyone sitting on that side of the car has to be ready to accept whatever you apportioned when you determined the placement of the seat at the dealership.
Underway, the Alfa Romeo 4C delivers hugely upon the agility its look promises. Steering, braking, and throttle response are terrific. The engine sounds thrilling and the body remains perfectly flat when the Alfa is cornering hard. Its 50/50 weight distribution gives the 4C outstanding balance. Its grip seems never-ending.
You’ll have terrific fun driving this car quickly.
Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
With pricing starting at $53,900, it’s a relative bargain too.
To a degree, Alfa Romeo sports cars have often been thought of as Ferraris for the masses. And indeed, this new Alfa 4C checks in with high style, an extraordinary sound, and inspiring performance—just like its cousins from Maranello. An “affordable” exotic, the mid-engined rear-drive Alfa Romeo is priced to compete directly against the Porsche Cayman. But in truth, even though both are sports cars per se, odds are they will appeal to two completely different drivers.
We make this assertion because having driven both cars, we came away from the experience feeling the Alfa 4C—while exceptionally capable in every measure—will be a difficult car to live with every day. Given the acrobatics you’ll have to go through to get in and out of the Alfa, and its relative lack of interior storage space, trying to use it as a daily driver might get old pretty quickly. Meanwhile, the Porsche has everyday usability baked right into its mission statement.
But hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The other side of all of that is the fact the Alfa possesses an exotic air, as well as a degree of exclusivity the Cayman will never be able to achieve. The 4C feels, well, special—where the Porsche feels more, uh, normal (?) in comparison.
So no, you won’t enjoy driving the 4C every day, but that isn’t what the Alfa Romeo is about. It’s an affordable exotic sports car. Kept for pleasure driving only, you’ll enjoy driving the Alfa 4C for years and years and years..