They’re back. Alfa Romeo returns to the sports car segment with a lightweight two-seater that delivers on the promise of its sinewy shape. Extraneous equipment has been discarded in the quest for a responsive vehicle and the result is a car that has all the athleticism and grace of a jazz ballet dancer.
Ignoring an estimated $20,000 premium for the limited-run Launch Edition, Alfa chief executive Harald Wester says the regular 4C will cost $75,000 when it arrives in Australia. Australian spokeswoman Karla Leach says that could change with potential shifts in the exchange rates between now and the car’s local arrival in June.
At that price, the two-seat coupe will compete with the manual-only Lotus Elise S at $79,990 and the dual-clutch automatic Porsche Cayman at $112,090. The Porsche packs a lot more interior gear than its minimalist rivals, though buyers need to upgrade to the $145,200 Cayman S to match the other pair’s 0-100km/h times.
A 65kg carbon-fibre monocoque is the backbone of the 4C and clearly differentiates it from others in this class. It -- along with compression-moulded fibreglass reinforced plastic panels -- keep dry weight down to 895kg.
The mid-mounted engine is shares its dimensions with the Giulietta’s 1.7-litre turbo petrol but is an all alloy unit rather than cast iron, saving 22kg in weight. In Launch Edition guise it cranks out 179kW and 350Nm; the regular model produces 176kW.
The dual-clutch auto is likewise lifted from the Alfa inventory but the regular three-mode “DNA” selector is boosted by a race function with launch control to help with the 4.5-second 0-100km/h take-offs.
Rubber-necking looks are part of the 4C’s pedigree. It is modelled on the famous 33 Stradale and is a collection of sinuous curves that look shapely from any angle. There isn’t much in the way of creature comforts inside -- a stereo and air conditioning system are as good as it gets.
The focus on a lightweight platform sees minimalism taken to extremes. The carbon fibre floor covered with a pair of mats, the interior plastics are thin and devoid of soft-touch surfaces and a hoop on the door panels is the only grab point for anxious passengers. Even rear parking sensors are an option and satnav isn’t on the menu.
No one has crashed a 4C yet and given the limited volumes, it might take some time for one to find its way into the EuroNCAP lab. Given that Alfa prides itself on its safety reputation, it will be expecting a five-star result to match the current Giulietta and MiTo models.
Brembo brakes help with stopping and the carbon fibre chassis should be as strong as it is light. Then again, hit something hard enough to seriously damage the monocoque and it will become a disposable item.
Frantic fun is the foundation for the 4C. It launches itself at corners with little regard for road conditions or curvature. Entering too fast, or misjudging that the turn tightens up, is easily compensated by winding on more lock. And then it -- usually -- explodes out of the apex in pursuit of the next chance to show off its handling prowess.
The ride is far more forgiving than expected in a sports car with this level of performance. It copes with speed humps, recessed manhole covers and potholes without complaint. The unassisted steering -- hydraulic assistance adds weight -- follows every undulation of the road surface. It’s light on centre but weights up as soon as lock is applied, leaving drivers in no doubt about precisely where they’re pointing this weapon.
It’s only the dual-clutch auto that lets the 4C down. It randomly refuses to respond to right-foot pressure. When it works, it works brilliantly; when it doesn’t, it frustrates beyond belief as it hesitates before resuming forward momentum. And given the small engine displacement, the transmission is constantly working if the driver is having a decent go.
The (optional) sports exhaust is a raucous, snarling, shift-flaring unit that leaves no doubt this is a car with serious intent, with an equally impressive backing track from the engine mounted aft of the seats. It isn’t sonorous at low speeds and drones at steady highway pace but it becomes an acoustic accompaniment to the driving experience as soon as the back roads beckon. The Mercedes-Benz A45 hot hatch is ultimately quicker and more practical but that’s not what the 4C was designed for. It is built to turn heads as well as it turns corners and excels in both areas.
Flawed genius marks Alfa’s return to the sports car scene. The 4C is quick, stable and -- by sports car standards -- more than acceptable as a daily driver. It is also unmatched for entertainment value at this price.
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.