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Alfa Romeo 4C 2019 review: Spider

EXPERT RATING
7.1
The Alfa Romeo 4C is something else. It's outside of the mould of the Italian brand's staple offerings, which consist of a hatchback, sedan and SUV. But the 4C is a purebred, unadulterated sports coupe. It's almost like a shrunken supercar, with a shrunken price tag, too.

Nothing could’ve better prepared me for my drive in the 2019 Alfa Romeo 4C than a trip to Sydney’s Luna Park.

There’s a rollercoaster there called Wild Mouse - an old-school, single carriage coaster with no loop-the-loops, no high-tech trickery, and with each ride limited to just with two seats apiece.

The Wild Mouse throws you around with very little regard for your comfort, gently impinging your fear factor by making you consider the physics of what is happening underneath your backside. 

It’s an unbridled adrenaline rush, and genuinely scary at times. You get off the ride thinking to yourself, “how the hell did I survive that?”.

The same can be said with this Italian sports car. It’s blisteringly quick, it’s superbly agile, it handles like it has rails attached to its underbody, and it could potentially do brown things to your underpants.

Alfa Romeo 4C 2019: TARGA (SPIDER)
Safety rating
Engine Type1.7L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.9L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price from$99,000

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Slap a Ferrari badge on it, and people would think it was the real deal - a pint-sized performance hustler, with all the right angles to get plenty of glances.

In fact, I had dozens of punters nod, wave, mount ‘nice car mate’ and even a few rubber-neck moments - you know, when you drive past and someone on the footpath can’t help but forget they’re walking, and they stare so hard they might well collide with the upcoming lamp-post. 

Slap a Ferrari badge on it, and people would think it was the real deal. Slap a Ferrari badge on it, and people would think it was the real deal.

It really is a head-turner. So why does it only get an 8/10? Well, there are some elements of the design that make it less user-friendly than some of its rivals.

For instance, the step-in to the cabin is enormous, because the carbon-fibre tub sills are huge. And the cabin itself is pretty tight, especially for taller people. An Alpine A110 or Porsche Boxster are much more amenable for day-to-day driving… but hey, the 4C is markedly better than, say, a Lotus Elise for ingress and egress.

The cabin is a cramped space. The cabin is a cramped space.

Also, as smart as it still looks, there are elements of Alfa Romeo design that have moved on since the 4C launched back in 2015. The headlights are the bit that I dislike most - I had a real thing for the spider-eyes lights of the launch edition model.

But even if it isn’t unmistakably Alfa Romeo, it’s unmistakably a 4C

The headlights are the bit that I dislike most. The headlights are the bit that I dislike most.

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

You can’t get into a car this small and expect a lot of space.

The dimensions of the 4C are tiny - it’s just 3989mm long, 1868mm wide and only 1185mm tall, and as you can see from the pictures, it’s a squat little thing. The Spider’s removable roof could be great for you if you’re tall.

I’m six-feet tall (182cm) and I found it to be cocoon-like in the cabin. You feel almost as though you’re tying yourself to the tub of the car when you get into the driver’s seat. And getting in and out? Just make sure you do some stretches beforehand. It’s not as bad as a Lotus for ingress and egress, but it’s still hard to look good clambering in and out of. 

The cabin is a cramped space. There’s limited head room and leg room, and while there is reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel, the seat only has manual slide and backrest movement - no lumbar adjust, no height adjust… almost like a racing bucket. They’re hard like a race seat, too. 

I’m six-feet tall (182cm) and I found it to be cocoon-like in the cabin. I’m six-feet tall (182cm) and I found it to be cocoon-like in the cabin.

The ergonomics aren’t terrific - the controls for the air-con are hard to see at a glance, the buttons for the gear select take some learning, and the two centrally-mounted cup holders (one for your double-shot mocha latte, the other for a hazelnut piccolo) are inconveniently positioned exactly where you might want to put your elbow. 

The media system is rubbish. It’d be the first thing to go, if I bought one of these, and in its place would be an aftermarket touchscreen which would: a) actually let you pair to Bluetooth; b) look like it was from sometime after 2004; and c) be more fitting for a car of this price tag. I’d upgrade the speakers, too, because they’re poor. But I can totally understand if those things don’t matter, because it’s the engine you want to hear.

There's no touchscreen, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and no sat nav. There's no touchscreen, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and no sat nav.

The materials - aside from the red leather seats - aren’t great. The plastics used are similar in look and feel to what you find in second-hand Fiats, but the sheer volume of exposed carbon-fibre does help you forget those details. And the leather pull straps to close the doors are nice, too. 

The visibility from the driver’s seat is decent - for this type of car. It’s low, and the rear window is small, so you can’t expect to see everything around you at all times, but the mirrors are good and the forward vision is excellent.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   6/10

Look, no-one considering an Italian sports car is likely to be wearing their common sense hat, but even so, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is an indulgent purchase.

With a list price of $99,000 plus on-road costs, it isn’t affordable. Not considering what you get for your money.

Standard inclusions consist of air conditioning, remote central locking, heated electric door mirrors, leather sports seats with manual adjustment, a leather-lined steering wheel, and a four-speaker stereo system with USB connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. It’s not a touchscreen, so there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and there’s no sat nav… but the thing about this car is going the fun way home, so forget maps and GPS. And there’s a digital instrument cluster with a digital speedometer - believe me, you’ll need it.

  • In front of the driver is a digital instrument cluster. In front of the driver is a digital instrument cluster.
  • The seats are hard and you can't adjust the lumbar or height. The seats are hard and you can't adjust the lumbar or height.

The standard wheels are a staggered set - 17-inch at the front and 18-inch at the rear. All 4C models have bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights and dual exhaust tips. 

Of course, being the Spider model, you also get a removable soft top and you know what’s neat? You get a car cover included as standard, but you’d want to put it in the shed, as it takes up a bit of boot room!

The car cover takes up the majority of boot space. The car cover takes up the majority of boot space.

Our car was even further up the pay scale, with an as-tested price of $118,000 before on-roads - it had a few option boxes ticked. 

First there’s that beautiful Basalt Grey metallic paint ($2000), and those contrasting red brake calipers ($1000).

Plus there’s the Carbon & Leather package - with carbon-fibre mirror caps, interior bezels, and a stitched leather instrument cover panel. It’s a $4000 option.

And finally, the Racing Package ($12,000), which includes a staggered set of 18-inch and 19-inch wheels with a dark paint finish, and those wheels are fitted with model specific Pirelli P Zero tyres (205/40/18 up front, 235/35/19 at the rear). Plus theres the sports racing exhaust system, which is awesome, and a racing suspension setup. 

  • The standard 4C wears 17-inch wheels at the front and 18-inch alloys at the rear. The standard 4C wears 17-inch wheels at the front and 18-inch alloys at the rear.
  • Our test car was fitted with the Racing Package, which includes a staggered set of 18-inch and 19-inch wheels. Our test car was fitted with the Racing Package, which includes a staggered set of 18-inch and 19-inch wheels.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

The Alfa Romeo 4C is powered by a 1.7-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine, which produces 177kW of power at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque from 2200-4250rpm. 

The motor is mounted amidships, and it is rear-wheel drive. It uses a six-speed dual-clutch (TCT) automatic with launch control. 

The 1.7-litre turbo four-cylinder engine makes 177kW/350Nm. The 1.7-litre turbo four-cylinder engine makes 177kW/350Nm.

Alfa Romeo claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds, which makes it one of the quickest cars at this price point. 

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Claimed fuel consumption for the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is rated at 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres, so it’s no miser.

But, impressively, I saw real-world fuel economy of 8.1L/100km, over a loop that included urban, highway and ‘spirited’ driving on twisty roads.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

I said that it’s like a rollercoaster, and it really, truly is. The air doesn’t quite rush through your hair as much, sure - but with the roof off, the windows down and the speedometer constantly edging towards licence suspension, it’s a real hoot of an experience.

It just feels so tight - the carbon-fibre monocoque chassis is rigid and super stiff. You hit a cats-eye and its all so sensitive, you could mistake it for having hit an actual cat. 

Alfa Romeo’s DNA drive modes - the letters stand for Dynamic, Natural, All Weather - is one of those proper examples of this type of system done well. There’s a marked difference between how these different settings operate, where some other drive modes out there are more sedate in their adjustments. There’s a fourth mode - Alfa Race - which I didn’t dare sample on public roads. Dynamic was enough to test my mettle. 

The steering in Natural mode is lovely - there’s great weighting and feedback, super direct and incredibly in touch with the surface below you, and the engine isn’t quite as zesty, but still offers tremendous response on the move. 

It’ll be a difficult choice between this and Alpine A110 and a Porsche Cayman

The ride is firm but composed and compliant in any of the drive modes, and it doesn’t have adaptive suspension. It is a stiffer suspension setup, and though the damping doesn’t change in Dynamic mode, if the surface is anything but perfect you will tram-track and twitch all over the place, because the steering feels even more dialled in. 

In Dynamic mode the engine offers amazing response when you’re at pace, building speed incredibly and before you know it, you’re in licence loss zone.

The brake pedal requires some firm footwork - just like in a race car - but it pulls up strongly when you need it to. You’ve just gotta get used to the pedal feel. 

The transmission is a good thing at speed in manual mode. It won’t overrule you if you want to find the redline, and it sounds tremendous. The exhaust is exhilarating!

You don't need a stereo system when the exhaust sounds so good. You don't need a stereo system when the exhaust sounds so good.

With roof on and windows up there’s very noticeable noise intrusion - lots of tyre roar and engine noise. But remove the roof and drop the windows and you get the full effect of the drive experience - you’ll even get some "sut-tu-tu” wastegate flutter. It doesn’t even matter that much that the stereo system is so rubbish.

At normal speeds in normal driving you do need to be considerate of the powertrain because it is finnicky and slow to react at times. There’s notable lag if you’re gentle on the throttle, both from engine and transmission, and the fact peak torque doesn’t come on song until 2200rpm means there’s lag to contend with. 

It’ll be a difficult choice between this and Alpine A110 and a Porsche Cayman – each of these vehicles has a very different character. But for me, this is the most go-kart like and it is, undeniably incredibly involving to drive.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 150,000 km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

You’re in the wrong spot if you want the latest in safety technology. Sure, it’s at the cutting edge because it has an ultra strong carbon-fibre design, but there’s not much else happening here.

The 4C has dual front airbags, rear parking sensors and an alarm with tow-away protection, plus - of course - electronic stability control

But there are no side airbags or curtain airbags, there’s no reversing camera, there’s no auto emergency braking (AEB) or lane keep assist, no lane departure warning or blind spot detection. Admittedly - there are a few other sports cars in the segment which lack safety smarts, too, but 

The 4C has never been crash tested, so there’s no ANCAP or Euro NCAP safety score available.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

If you’re hoping that a ‘simple’ car like the 4C will mean low ownership costs, you might be disappointed in this section.

The Alfa Romeo website service calculator suggests that over 60 months or 75,000km (with service intervals set every 12 months/15,000km), you will have to fork out $6625 total. For a breakdown, the services cost $895, $1445, $895, $2495, $895.

I mean, that’s what you get when you buy an Italian sports car, I suppose. But consider you can get a Jaguar F-Type with five years of free servicing, and the Alfa looks like a rip-off. 

The Alfa does, however, come with a three-year/150,000km warranty plan, which includes the same cover for roadside assist.

Verdict

People might wonder if there’s a reason to buy an Alfa Romeo 4C. It has some great dollar-for-dollar competitors - the Alpine A110 does most of the things the Alfa does, but in a more polished way. And then there’s the Porsche 718 Cayman, which is a considerably more, well, considered option.

But there is no doubt the 4C stands alone, a sort-of cut-price alternative to a Maserati or Ferrari, and nearly as rare to spot on the road as those cars, too. And just like the rollercoaster at Luna Park, it’s the sort of car that’ll leave you wanting another go.

Would you take the 4C over a Alpine A110? Let us know in the comments.

Pricing Guides

$94,000
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$89,000
Highest Price
$99,000

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
TARGA (SPIDER) 1.7L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $99,000 2019 Alfa Romeo 4C 2019 TARGA (SPIDER) Pricing and Specs
COUPE 1.7L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $89,000 2019 Alfa Romeo 4C 2019 COUPE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.1
Design8
Practicality6
Price and features6
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption8
Driving9
Safety6
Ownership6
Matt Campbell
Senior Editor

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Pricing Guide

$99,000

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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