by Roger Biermann
The luxury sports car category is a very competitive segment, with numerous different takes on what the perfect model should be. However, each manufacturer seems to balance comfort and performance to some degree - but not Alfa Romeo. The 4C is focused almost exclusively on lightness and agility, with little thought spent on the comfort of the creatures housed inside the carbon-fiber tub. The benefit is a car that weighs very little and is visceral and raw. With a six-speed dual-clutch auto doing duty alongside a 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, in a car that weighs less than 2,500 lbs, this is a proper sports car with astonishing acceleration. The downside to such commitment to handling and performance, is minimal insulation from road noise and bumps, something that the likes of the Porsche Cayman and Lotus Evora have shown concern towards. That said, the 4C comes standard with Italian style and a level of drama that few can imitate - the perfect car for that one day a year when the stars align.
Not much has changed over last year's model, with the only updates being minor. The 2018 model now allows for yellow stitching on cars that are Basalt Gray, Black, or White, when previously this was only available if the exterior paint was similarly colored. A carbon-fiber interior fascia package is also now available. Reviewed separately, the Spider (convertible) model is also a new prospect for 2018. Power output stays the same, as do standard equipment features.
1.7-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
With proportions reminiscent of classic mid-engined Italian sports cars, wide haunches, and gaping intakes, the 4C cuts an imposing figure in any rearview mirror. LED daytime running lights and taillights feature as standard while xenon headlights are available. Standard wheels are 17-inch items up front with the rears staggered to 18-inches, while a one-size increase for the front and back are available. The integrated spoiler can be had in either body color or carbon fiber.
The curb weight of the 4C Coupe is arguably the most important figure in the car's ability to perform. Constructed with aluminum subframes front and rear, and a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, the Alfa weighs just 2,465 lbs, 39lbs lighter than the spider. The Coupe measures 157 inches in length while its width is 73.5 inches, a measurement amplified by the low height of just 46.6 inches and ground clearance of less than five inches.
No additional colors have been added to the 2019 palette, leaving Black, White, Basalt Gray Metallic, Alfa Rosso (red), Rosso Competizione (richer red), Madreperla White, and Giallo Prototipo (yellow) as the colors with which the 4C Coupe will see out the remainder of its life in the US - each particularly striking colors in their own right, suiting the curves and dimensions of the 4C to a tee. Rosso Competizione is especially attractive in the sun, its multi-layered finish changing based on light conditions.
Only one engine and gearbox configuration is available for the Alfa Romeo 4C, likely because additional powertrain options may have compromised the balance of the car. The mid-mounted 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the 4C develops 237 hp and 258 lb-ft - not exactly a huge amount of either measure. But mid-mounted in a lightweight carbon fiber tub that sees the 4C undercut 2,500 lbs, power-to-weight is that of a supercar.
It sends power to the rear wheels only, rather than all corners like the Audi TT, via Alfa's six-speed TCT twin-clutch transmission. The transmission is capable of changing gears in a claimed 130 milliseconds and, if used in conjunction with RACE mode and launch control, those shifts will see the 4C propelled 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds and on to a sub-13-second quarter-mile. Its top speed is electronically limited to 160 mph, just a few miles-per-hour short of the Lotus Evora, which employs the use of an engine almost twice the capacity. The Porsche 718 Cayman is considerably faster than either even in base trim, knocking on the door of 200 mph; but the focus of the 4C is on the driving experience, not its maximum figures.
The Alfa 4C's four-pot has a specific displacement of 1,750cc and is assisted in performance by a turbocharger which gives a noticeable boost, pushing you back in your seat before fluttering behind your head when you tap off the gas. 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, paired with a curb weight of under 2,500 lbs, resulting in a weight-to-power ratio of 10.4:1 (lbs:hp). This allows the 4C to accelerate hard throughout the rev range, while leaving the line in a hurry is spurred along by a highly effective launch control system, giving thrilling standing starts every time.
Shifts are handled automatically and swiftly, but if you feel like taking matters into your own hands, Race mode engages manual-only shifts via the tactile shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.
Some Alfa aficionados may bemoan the lack of a naturally-aspirated engine, particularly something like a sonorous 3.0-liter V6, but for the application, the lightness and breadth of capability that this 1.75-liter engine boasts, is truly astounding and perfectly suited to the original intention of this car - to handle beautifully, turn on a dime, and give explosive acceleration. The only downsides to the setup are an overreliance on boost which results in significant amounts of turbo lag, and the gearbox's tendency to hang onto first gear for far too long, regularly yielding bouts of oversteer when pulling off around a corner. Of course, that's all forgotten the moment the turbo-flutter fills your ears - giving the 4C a definite sense of 80's rally-car.
If a comfortable cruiser is what you're after, stop reading now. The suspension on the 4C is stiff and doesn't absorb much - almost every little imperfection in the road is transmitted to your spine with little buffering in between. As a daily drive, the 4C is not easy to live with, even in Natural mode. In fact, it's impossible to live with, the air conditioning barely cooling the cabin, grains of sand ricocheting off the carbon chassis sounding like gunfire inside, and not enough ground clearance to clear even the lowest of speed bumps. The unassisted steering is heavy and dull, and even when pushing on it lacks feedback - something an unassisted setup should never do. Quite simply put, the 4C is the worst possible incarnation of a car around…
Except… except for the one day a year when the car gods smile upon you, gifting you with the right piece of smooth, twisting tarmac - no traffic, and no hindrances. On that one day a year, you can forget about the horrendous ride quality or the heaps of turbo-lag. You can even forgive the complete and utter lack of sound deadening. Because on that one day, the balance of the mid-engine sports car and lightweight carbon fiber chassis augment human thought, sliding at will and gripping when you need it. The turbo flutter and exhaust flatulence from every upshift of the dual-clutch transmission spur you on, and the 4C Coupe becomes one of the most emotive driving experiences you'll ever have. On every other day of the year, you'll hate your decision to drive the 4C, but after that one, you'll never look at another driving experience the same way again.
The 4C's small-capacity 1.75-liter turbocharged engine pays dividends here, returning 24/34/28 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles - not bad for a dual-clutch, rear-wheel-drive sports car. By contrast, the Lotus Evora and Porsche Cayman manage 17/24/20 mpg and 22/29/25 mpg respectively for their base models equipped with automatic gearboxes. The 4C's relatively small 10.5-gallon gas tank gives it an estimated average range of 262.5 miles per fillup.
The Alfa looks very wide and has an intimidating, expansive presence from the outside, but once you step over the broad sill into the cabin, that perception changes to claustrophobic quickly. Sitting on scantily-padded, rigid chairs, you are surrounded by the naked carbon fiber of the chassis tub. In front of you is a leather-wrapped steering wheel, behind which sits an LCD screen for driver info like RPM and speed. This adds to the drama, giving the car a racy feel, But there's no sense of Porsche-rivaling upper-class snobbery, despite a leather-trimmed dash and contrasting stitching. The leather feels cheap, the infotainment dated, and the underside of the dash and center console are cheap, harsh plastic that feels more Fiat than Alfa Romeo. However, the controls are simple, easy to reach, and you're never in any danger of being overwhelmed by too much tech, or too many buttons.
Strictly a two-seater with no rear capacity, there is no space for additional passengers, or even the front two should you be any taller than six foot two inches. The seatbacks are upright and cannot be adjusted, but there is a degree of tilt and forward movement possible. However, shoulder room is minimal and when combined with the small door opening, getting in and out of the 4C is a tricky task even for individuals of average height, while finding a comfortable seating position is not easy. Rearview and three-quarter visibility are almost non-existent, and because you sit very close to the floor, the front corners of the car are also almost completely out of sight. This car is so small inside that if you were to sneeze, you might shatter your passenger's eardrum, and noise insulation is about as good as an empty Coca-Cola tin.
The 4C is equipped as standard with black cloth upholstery on the seats featuring red stitching, while leather with faux suede, and full leather seats also with contrast stitching, are optional extras. Yellow stitching can be specified at an additional cost, but only if you pay extra for the aforementioned full leather seats. A medium brown leather upholstery option is also available, as is bright red. Carbon fiber can be added to the standard leather air-con vent shrouds and the dash strip on the passenger side too, which is normally aluminum, but there's already enough bare carbon fiber from the exposed monocoque.
If the firm ride and uncomfortable seating don't deter you from long drives in the 4C, the lack of storage space surely will. The 4C does have a top-opening trunk compartment that may not have been there had a bigger engine been given the go-ahead. There is just about enough space for a singular carry-on bag or possibly two small shopping bags, but don't use this car for ice-cream runs unless you really want milkshake - the compartment gets pretty warm pretty quick. Unlike other mid-engined cars, there's no frunk either, so don't pry around at the panel gaps too much as they aren't indicative of an opening.
Inside there are a pair of narrow wallet-like compartments against the tub, which can just about fit a smartphone. One very small cupholder is supplemented by one of medium size, and there is a shallow recess below the parking brake where one could conceivably fit a skinny wallet. In lieu of a traditional glovebox, there is a tray that a map or two could be stuffed into, but that's it. Due to the tall tub and small doors, no additional storage can be found here, so if you're after a practical sports car, stay far away from the 4C.
The features list on the little Alfa is just as sparse as its interior, with rear park sensors and cruise control being the only optional extras to make your drive a little more comfortable. A rearview camera and blind-spot monitoring are sorely missed in a car like this, but unfortunately, they do not feature on the spec sheet at all. A regular air-conditioning system is fitted, but it is not automatic and leaves much to be desired in efficacy, in spite of the small cabin. An optional sports exhaust is valve-actuated, however, adding a hint of civility to the occasional cruise. Heated mirrors and keyless entry feature as standard.
The dash is small and thin, and its design indicates that the cheap Alpine head unit fitted to it was an afterthought rather than a part of the original plan. It features a CD player, a USB port, and Bluetooth with HD Radio, as well as an optional subwoofer. However, even the slightly more powerful sound system does little to distract you from road noise. The benefit to an aftermarket system such as this is that better-equipped options are easily fitted at a minimal cost.
There is no J.D. Power reliability rating available for the Alfa Romeo 4C, but the good news is there have also been no recalls for the low-volume seller. The 4C is covered by Alfa's four-year/50,000-mile basic limited warranty as well as a five-year/unlimited-mileage anti-corrosion warranty.
The 4C has not been tested by the NHTSA or the IIHS and therefore has no crash rating available. However, as an extremely limited sales volume car, this isn't out of the ordinary. There is solace to be taken, though, in the fact that the 4C's carbon-fiber monocoque chassis is inherently strong.
The 4C's safety features are limited to the usual anti-lock brakes and stability control systems. Further to that, seatbelt pretensioners are included. The Alfa is equipped with dual front airbags and dual overhead airbags, as well as knee airbags for both driver and passenger. That's it, though, and there's not even a hint of driver assistance - unless you consider the automatic gearbox allowing you to keep both hands on the wheel an assist feature. Cruise control can be added as part of the Convenience Package.
Should you buy the 4C or not? Well, if you have an intense hatred for road manners, long-distance sanity, electronic driver assist programs, fancy infotainment, headroom, and general comfort, then the 4C is for you. As far as purposeful vehicles go, the 4C is arguably the worst excuse for a motor vehicle an Italian company has ever dared ask $50,000 for. But you can't help but want one - not for the daily commute, not even for the weekend warrior breakfast run. No, you want one to stare at, to gawk at and drool over when it's parked in your garage. You want one for the exclusivity of saying you own the beginning of Alfa Romeo's 21st-century renaissance. But most of all, you want the 4C for the one occasion in a blue moon when the stars align and it's an extension of yourself, for the raw emotion and character it possesses that makes you feel like you're piloting a Group B rally car. It's not a Cayman, nor an Audi TT - it's something completely different that makes no sense at all, and yet you can't help but yearn for it. Is there anything more Italian than that?
The 4C starts at $55,900 and can be had with various interior upholstery configurations, but one trim is carried throughout. With add-ons like bigger wheels, an Akrapovic exhaust system, and stiffer suspension, the price of a fully-loaded 4C can quickly escalate over $70,000. The 4C's price does not include taxes, registration fees, or the standard destination charge of $1,595. If you live in Hawaii, add another $50 to that destination charge.
The 4C is available in only two trims, either as a coupe or a spider, but due to the entirely different driving experiences, the spider is reviewed separately. The standard coupe comes with LED daytime running lights and taillights, 17- and 18-inch staggered wheels, heated mirrors, air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and cloth upholstery, but can be upgraded with options. You can add various packages to the car, as discussed below.
The carbon-fiber interior trim group is a fairly self-explanatory package that adds carbon to the air vent shrouds, instrument cluster fascia, shift button trim surround, and instrument panel. Track Package 1 adds a carbon fiber rear spoiler, a flat-bottomed steering wheel with faux suede, and stiffer suspension, while Track Package 2 is identical but without the steering wheel addition. A highly recommended package is the Coupe Convenience option, which adds cruise control and an alarm system, but most importantly, gives you rear park sensors - a must, considering the proportions and minimal outward visibility of the car.
With only one trim option available, the 4C's ordering process is relatively simple, but we do recommend adding on the Convenience Package which includes rear parking sensors, so as to minimize the risk of dinging the rear bumper. The optional dual-mode Akrapovic exhaust is also worth considering, as the standard exhaust makes itself heard throughout the rev range and could use some subtlety when you're crawling home.
The Alfa's extensive use of composite materials, as well as its Italian heritage and built-for-purpose two-seater layout, make it a mini-exotic, and its price tag reflects this. As such, it must do battle with more powerful, more luxurious offerings. The Porsche Cayman is one such rival that also utilizes a turbocharged four-cylinder motor. The Porker's two-liter flat-four is more powerful, though, making 300 hp and 280 lb-ft. The 718 is also available with a six-speed manual as standard, and is renowned as one of the best performing sports cars around, with stunning handling. However, the Porsche outdoes the Alfa in the cabin too, with touchscreen navigation and infotainment system and satellite radio. Much more refined, comfortable, and faster, the Porsche is one of the ultimate all-rounders and has everything you could possibly want from a sports car. Available in numerous trims too, there is more breadth of scope in terms of choice too. The Porsche is simply the better car, objectively speaking.
The fastest Lotus ever made, the Evora 400 is something of a change from the British company's usual exploits, being bigger and more GT-like than the usual Lotus offerings. However, much like the Alfa, the focus, as always, is on lightness. Constructed with an aluminum tub, the Evora is powered by a much bigger and more powerful 3.5-liter engine, which is also boosted, but by a supercharger rather than a turbo, making 400 hp. Available with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions and featuring a proper infotainment system with navigation, the Evora is simple but arguably better than the Alfa. Unfortunately, it costs the dear amount of over $90,000, and for almost supercar money, doesn't look nearly as gorgeous as the 4C. The Evora is quicker, better equipped, and more practical due to its slightly larger dimensions, but even with all of that, it doesn't have the charm that only an Italian can provide. We'd have the Alfa.