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Alfa Romeo 4C 2015 Italy review

EXPERT RATING
8
Through the snaking bitumen circuit the carbon-fibre coupe skips and twitches, grumbles and roars and arrests every gram of the driver's attention.

Through the snaking bitumen circuit the carbon-fibre coupe skips and twitches, grumbles and roars and arrests every gram of the driver's attention.

Blink and you'll miss the next corner's apex, clip the folded concrete edge or fail to predict the next obstacle of confused witch's hats. The 4C is not a car for the faint of heart and a surprise choice given that it alone is tasked by its maker, Alfa Romeo, to take its near-dormant sales into a new, upward cycle.

More remarkable is that it has been released just as Alfa Romeo's heart appears to barely be beating. But as the Italians begin production of the 4C, they also have to silence the critics. The paramedics have arrived with emphatic orders to ready Alfa Romeo for a return worthy of Lazarus.

The CEO of Alfa Romeo's parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne, plans big things for Alfa. Along with Jeep and Fiat, he says, it will comprise the powerhouse trio to push the parent to new heights. In an interview last week, Marchionne said he would quit as CEO if Alfa leaves Italy.

The starting point for Alfa, in fact the linchpin, is the 4C - a compact mid-engined two-seater, made of carbon-fibre and born from a pie-in-the-sky 2011 concept car built when the global car industry was on its knees.

Impossibly, for so it seems, the 4C went from concept to pre-production in a ridiculously tight 28 months. Now, it's coming to Australia with 300 promised this year. Most are sold but many buyers have since moved their orders to the Spider (convertible) model that was sprung on visitors to last week's Geneva motor show.

DESIGN

Driven in its final production guise around Turin and at Alfa's Balocco test complex, the 4C will turn heads and change expectations. It is the basis from which the company will evolve new sedans, new hatchbacks and even an SUV.

Yet it looks like a scaled-down Lotus Evora, a comparison that becomes closer as you delve into the 4C's design concept. At 895kg it's half the weight of a Commodore or about 300kg less than Hyundai's smallest model, the i20. Even the like-size, race-ready Lotus Exige S is 250kg heavier.

Alfa Romeo says removing weight - and a slightly modified four-cylinder engine from the Giulietta model's shelf - was the key to making the 4C reasonably affordable. The biggest departure is the carbon-fibre tub that forms the passenger cell, the use of composite plastics for the body panels, and the aluminium front sub-frame and steel rear engine cradle.

This mix is expensive, time consuming to assemble and yet extremely strong. Money is saved elsewhere - there are only two airbags, a token radio, no Bluetooth or cruise control, cloth seats and no glove box. Drive to work in one and you will arrive slightly stiff-limbed, uninformed, a tad deaf and yet with a smile as big as Christmas. Because that's precisely what it's made for - to drive.

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION

The 4C's mid-mounted turbocharged powerplant produces 177kW/350Nm from its 1.7-litres, and uses all-alloy construction to save 22kg over the cast iron block unit available in the Giulietta. The six-speed dual-clutch auto is also a version of that found in the Giulietta, but the three-mode "DNA" selector is boosted by a race function with launch control to enable 4.5-second 0-100km/h sprints.

DRIVING

Back on the Balocco track and the exhaust noise is getting to me. This is the optional sports system that draws the attention of passers-by yet adds nothing to the engine's power output. But it does give me a damn good idea of where the engine is on the tachometer - helpful given I haven't time to watch the TFT screen's digital arc and even if I did, it's not by any means a clearly readable dial.

The seat is hard and uncomfortable and the steering wheel is placed high so it feels like a World Rally Championship contender. Rear vision is hopeless and even the front corners are guesswork. Bumps find their way through the suspension coils but the ride, though firm, is not as jarring as the Lotus, perhaps due to the compliance of the carbon-fibre tub.

But the steering is direct and has no power assistance. There's a fair deal of tram lining (where the front wheels want to follow road grooves and bumps) and twitchiness, increasing in steering lightness and a confidence-sapping front-end hunting as the speed increases.

It tends to understeer - a product of the featherweight mass and the 40-60 weight distribution - meaning I am busy ensuring the physics of gravity and traction are not displaced by any sudden right-foot foolhardery.

But it's bloody quick. The torque maxes at 350Nm from 2200rpm but there's a meaty 280Nm at 1800rpm. The turbocharger barely has time to produce any lag. The dual-clutch gearbox is a much improved version of the transmission shown in the car last year. Now it's snappy, getting the torque to the back wheels instantly.

Play up and down the box with the paddle shifters - that's the only gearbox control available - and the 4C is a very rapid, very responsive and incredible fun machine.

VERDICT

There's a lot to dislike - it's raw and noisy, quite hard in its ride, poorly equipped and expensive. But the upside is its arrogance - it's a car for the buyer who loves to drive and who appreciates the history of the sports car and, in particular, Alfa Romeo. Would I buy one? Damn right!

Alfa Romeo 4C
Price: $75,000 (est)
Warranty: 3 years/150,000km
Capped price servicing: No
Service intervals: 20,000km
Safety: Not tested
Engine: 1.7L 4-cylinder, 176kW/350Nm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch auto, RWD
Thirst: 6.8L/100km, 157g/km CO2
Dimensions: 3.99m (L), 1.86m (W), 1.18m (H)
Weight: 950kg (est)
Spare: Tyre inflation kit
Fast fact: The Alfa 4C lapped the Nurburgring in 8 minutes and four seconds. Not bad for a 1.7-litre turbo

 

Pricing Guides

$65,670
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$54,560
Highest Price
$76,780

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Targa 1.7L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $60,720 – 69,740 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C 2015 Targa Pricing and Specs
(base) 1.7L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $54,560 – 62,700 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C 2015 (base) Pricing and Specs
Launch Edition 1.7L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $66,770 – 76,780 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C 2015 Launch Edition Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$54,560

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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