by Jay Traugott
You really want to love the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. It is, like most Alfas, a genuinely attractive sight to behold. The handling is magnificent and, along with a certain allure that always surrounds the quirky Italian marque, first impressions seem positive. Unfortunately for the 4C, its lofty price places it alongside the likes of the Porsche Cayman/Boxster in the luxury sports car arena, and suddenly the Alfa starts to look seriously outclassed. An intolerably hard ride makes the 4C difficult to live with on a daily basis, the cramped interior fails to impress with its build integrity or the availability of the latest technologies, and cargo capacity is almost non-existent. For all of these compromises, perhaps the 4C would make more sense if it significantly outperformed the competition, but it doesn't. As a weekend toy for diehard Alfa Romeo enthusiasts, maybe the 4C Spider has some appeal. Otherwise, there are many better ways to spend almost $70k.
With the 4C coupe variant dropped for 2019, the Spider is now the only 4C available. Alfa Romeo has increased the level of standard equipment, with a rear backup camera, cruise control, and rear parking sensors now all part of the package. A range of new standalone options is also available. These are a race-tuned suspension, a microfiber steering wheel, carbon fiber mirrors, and carbon fiber Italian flag mirrors.
Alfa Romeo has left the Spider's shape as is, and honestly not much needed reworking. It's still a squat, purposeful thing with great detailing. Bright aluminum wheels are standard and measure 17-inches in front and 18-inches at the back. Silver brake calipers, LED daytime running lamps and dual-chrome exhaust outlets are standard. A black, removable roof can be stored for wind-in-the-hair sports car thrills.
There's nothing bulky about the 4C Spider. Measuring 157 inches in length, 73.5 inches wide, and 46.7 inches in height, the Spider is noticeably smaller than a Porsche Cayman. The 93.7 inch wheelbase is 3.7 inches shorter than that of the Cayman's. Of course, the upside is a super lean curb weight of only 2,487 pounds. A combination of a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, aluminum subframes and Sheet Molded Compound (SMC) for the outer body helps to keep the 4C's weight low.
A seven-strong color palette is carried over from last year. White and Black are the standard shades, with options including $700 Basalt Gray Metallic. For $1,500, you can choose from Alfa Rosso, Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat, Madreperla White Tri-Coat, and Giallo Prototipo. Being an Italian sports car, the two signature reds (Alfa Rosso and Rosso Competizione) and the yellow (Giallo Prototipo) best suit the 4C's personality and are the most popular shades.
While a turbocharged 1.7-liter four-pot with 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque may not sound like much, one has to remember that the 4C is exceedingly light. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels.
With launch control activated, the 4C Spider will hit 60 mph in an impressive 4.1 seconds on its way to a 160 mph maximum speed. Considering the low power output, it's an impressive performance that allows the 4C to out-accelerate a base Porsche Cayman. Whether you'll enjoy wringing the 4C's neck is another story, with plenty of noise accompanying these acceleration runs. It's exciting and effective performance, but rivals from Porsche, Chrevrolet, and Jaguar are all plenty quick, but less taxing.
The mid-mounted four-cylinder turbocharged engine displaces just 1.7-liters and delivers peak outputs of 237 hp and 258 lb-ft. The six-speed automatic/manual twin-clutch transmission can change gears in as quickly as 130 milliseconds when the more aggressive driving modes are selected.
At lower speeds, the 4C isn't particularly impressive. Until the turbo properly spools up, there's not a ton of performance, while the transmission shifts gears too abruptly. Together with the extremely heavy steering, the 4C practically begs for an open stretch of road. When there's more space, the engine, transmission, and steering work together more cohesively, with plentiful passing power and amplified acoustics from the engine as you surge past slower traffic. The engine is never really quiet, which is fun for a while, but irksome after some time behind the wheel. At a cruise, exhaust drone makes conversation with your passenger difficult. Dynamic mode provides the best combination of throttle response and control.
Overall, the 4C's engine and transmission are at their best when driving the car at full tilt. At saner speeds, the 4C can frustrate.
The 4C Spider's intense focus on delivering an unsanitized driving experience is admirable in an era where manufacturers seem to be dialing back vehicle feedback in favor of greater refinement. However, this dramatically reduces the Alfa's abilities as a daily driver, as none of the 4C's major controls - brakes, steering, or suspension - have been tuned with comfort or refinement in mind. Using the Pro Drive Mode selector, you can choose between Dynamic, Natural, All-Weather or Race settings; the softest mode is Natural, although Alfa has been careful not to call it Comfort mode, because even here, the 4C is far from comfortable.
You'll probably notice the heavy steering first. Without power assistance, its heft at lower speeds is a bit of a shock, with plenty of muscle required to maneuver the small sports car around town. However, pick up speed and find a twisty road and the 4C thrills with pin-sharp handling and great feedback. In this specific scenario, the 4C is undoubtedly entertaining. However, while there's tons of grip, the incredibly firm suspension is tiresome and the small Alfa can feel thrown off by any road surface that isn't perfectly smooth.
The 4C's insistence on communicating every inch of the road surface may be great on a track, but does nothing for the ride comfort, which is quite terrible. It's just as well that the car is responsive to steering inputs, as you'll be doing your best to skirt around potholes to avoid harsh thuds being transmitted into the cabin. Together with a generous serving of wind and engine noise, the 4C falls woefully short of the competition when not in maximum attack mode.
A combination of a smaller-capacity engine and a light weight gives the 4C Spider quite an edge over its competitors for fuel economy. EPA-rated figures of 24/34/28 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles are better than the most efficient Porsche Cayman can muster (25 mpg combined). However, a small 10.5-gallon gas tank restricts the 4C's mixed cruising range to around 294 miles.
The 4C's uncompromising nature continues when you awkwardly clamber into either of the seats. There's not much space inside and the 4C can quickly feel claustrophobic for larger-framed individuals. While the interior looks suitably sporty and some expensive materials are used, other parts feel cheap. The center console is angled towards the driver to enhance the feeling of being inside a true driver's machine, but there's a clear lack of the latest infotainment features and the controls for the single-zone air-conditioning system look decidedly old-school. The leather-trimmed seats look fantastic and are very supportive, if not the best for long-distance comfort. More advanced is a seven-inch digital instrument display ahead of the driver.
Seating two passengers, the 4C's cabin trades opulence for a weight-saving, driver-focused environment. The seats have fixed backs and are supportive when cornering at high speeds, but have minimal padding and can't filter out the vibrations transmitted into the cabin from the rock-hard suspension. Ingress and egress are a chore, with the 4C's low-mounted seats and minuscule door openings (especially with the roof attached) not helping matters. The driving position is clearly set up for performance driving, but minimal adjustments for both the seat and steering column are unfortunate. While legroom is fine, headroom with the roof on is only average. More of an issue is the limited hip and shoulder room, the 4C's interior feeling particularly narrow.
As standard, the 4C's interior gets leather-upholstered seats in Black with Red accent stitching. Other no-cost options are Black seats with Yellow stitching, Red seats with Black stitching, or Tobacco seats with Dark Brown stitching. For an additional $500, you can get racing microfiber/leather combination seats in Black, either with Red or Yellow stitching. The flat-bottom steering wheel is wrapped in black leather, while the dashboard and door panels are also leather-wrapped with accent stitching. The pedals and footrest are finished in sporty aluminum.
The 4C Spider has the same utter disdain for cargo that Tesla has for gasoline. With 3.7 cubic feet of space in the rear trunk, even a single carry-on bag will have to be on the smaller side to fit. Beyond this, the trunk lid is inconveniently held up by a manual rod and, being placed close to the engine, the space is susceptible to high temperatures.
A tiny tray below the parking brake lever and a slim space between the seat and frame mean that the 4C is one of the worst cars in any segment for small-item storage.
Don't expect much in the way of creature comforts in this Alfa Romeo. You get a backup camera, rear parking sensors, single-zone non-automatic air-conditioning, remote keyless entry, and bi-xenon headlamps, but that's about it. There's no central display screen, and with such a small dashboard, one can understand why. Common features like power-adjustable or heated seats, remote start, a head-up display, and steering wheel audio controls are all unavailable. Each one of the Alfa's competitors has it soundly beaten for available interior features.
As standard, the 4C Spider gets a cheap-looking Alpine AM/FM stereo radio with HD radio, a CD player, and Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. The USB cord is difficult to access, being placed in a pouch underneath the dashboard on the passenger side. Navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity aren't available. The sound system itself struggles to compete with the 4C's intrusive road noise, so you may want to upgrade to the Alpine premium audio system with a subwoofer - it costs $950. A seven-inch color information display ahead of the driver is the only somewhat modern aspect of the 4C. Rivals' systems are all more feature-rich and easier to use.
With low sales volumes and no J.D. Power rating, it's challenging to accurately assess the 4C's reliability. However, Alfa Romeo isn't traditionally renowned for its reliability and the Giulia midsize sedan holds a below-average J.D. Power rating of 75/100. Still, with fewer electronics on board than some other sports cars, there's less to go wrong on the stripped-down 4C.
Should the 4C let you down in any way, Alfa has you covered with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, a four-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty, and roadside assistance for four years with unlimited miles. Rust-through coverage is also for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The NHTSA hasn't crash-tested the low-volume 4C, so there's no safety rating available. While the more mainstream 2019 Alfa Romeo Guilia received a consistent spread of Good ratings when crash-tested by the IIHS, a midsize sedan is a rather different prospect in a crash when compared with a tiny, lightweight sports car.
Only modestly specced with basic safety gear, the 4C Spider again falls short of the competition here. Airbags include dual-front and side front door airbags, along with a driver's knee airbag. Hill start assist, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring are also standard. However, the 4C lacks all of the common driver-assist safety equipment we've become accustomed to: there's no rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, or lane departure warning to speak of.
The 4C Spider isn't trying to be all things to all people. This is a hyper-focused performance car for the track. From its firm suspension to the razor-sharp steering and the many weight-saving measures, the 4C is rare in its diehard focus to deliver supercar-level thrills at a lower price. However, it's perhaps too focused for its own good. At the price, it's impossible to overlook the Porsche 718 Boxster - the German offers superb handling without the 4C's bone-jarring ride, a vastly superior cabin, and is meticulously built. Even if you don't opt for the class-leading Porsche, there are a myriad of more accomplished, desirable, and well-rounded sports cars, from the new Toyota Supra to the gorgeous Jaguar F-Type. The 4C is also let down by a noisy cabin, almost zero cargo space, a dated infotainment system, and the absence of any driver-assist safety technologies. Unless you must have its stunning looks, or you have a soft spot for this Italian marque, the 4C fails to make a convincing case for itself.
The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider carries an MSRP of $67,150, with the price excluding tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $1,595.
With the coupe variant of the 4C ceasing production for 2019, the 4C Spider is the lone variant of Alfa's small sports car. It makes use of a 237 horsepower, 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed twin-clutch transmission. Power is sent to the rear wheels exclusively. A carbon fiber monocoque chassis helps the 4C Spider weigh in at under the 2,500 lbs mark.
As standard, the 4C Spider gets a removable black soft-top, alloy wheels (17-inches in front and 18-inches at the back), silver brake calipers, LED daytime running lamps, power-adjustable exterior mirrors, and a carbon fiber windshield surround. The minimalist interior gets leather-upholstered seats, single-zone manual air-conditioning, a seven-inch color information display, a rearview camera, and rear parking sensors. Being a performance car, Alfa's Pro Drive Mode selector is standard and allows for a choice between four distinctive driving modes. While front and side airbags are standard, the 4C lacks driver-assist aids like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning.
1.7-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
If you were hoping to bolster the thin standard specification with optional packages or standalone features, you'll be rather disappointed, as the 4C Spider's options are largely performance-oriented or cosmetic. Only two packages are available, the first being the needless $130 Bright Package, which adds a chrome license plate frame, silver valve stem covers, and Mopar wheel locks. For $2,000, the Carbon Fiber Interior Trim Group adds additional carbon fiber trim to the air vents, cluster bezel, instrument panel, and shift bezel. With the standard audio system being rather poor, you may want to upgrade to the $950 premium Alpine system which throws in a subwoofer. An Akrapovic dual-mode center-mounted exhaust goes for $3,000. The system features active exhaust valves and is a worthwhile upgrade, as it allows you to tone down the 4C's boomy standard exhaust when you're after a bit more refinement. A race-tuned suspension is now available, but the standard 4C's unyielding setup dictates that you leave this box unchecked. Other than these items, options are generally limited to different seat colors, brake calipers, and wheel designs.
The single-model 4C Spider leaves no room for choice, with the coupe variant no longer in production. Options-wise, we'd go for the striking red leather seats, the premium Alpine sound system, and the Akrapovic exhaust system. Combined, these add-ons will take the price up to $71,100.
While both of these sports cars are mid-engined, there's not much else that they have in common with one another. The 4C is clearly the more exotic looking of the two and the more focused racer, so on track, it has its advantages. But the Boxster is simply a vastly better car in all other areas. It is finely built, has an infinitely more comfortable ride and cabin, more space for cargo, and plenty of features missing from the Alfa. None of this means that the Boxster isn't a thrilling performer, as it has a strong range of engines, great steering feedback, and a superior transmission - with the option of a manual - to the 4C. While the 4C is faster than the base Boxster, the Porsche's performance is much more accessible. The final nails in the 4C's coffin are its clunky infotainment system and serious lack of safety tech, both areas in which the Boxster trumps it. The Porsche is easily the better choice here.
Starting at over $10,000 less than the 4C Spider and sporting a charismatic 6.2-liter V8, the larger Corvette is nearly twice as powerful as the Alfa. Perhaps the Chevrolet lacks the polish of its German contemporaries, but it shines in many of the areas where the Alfa falls flat. The Corvette has generous cargo capacity, a comfortable ride, and features like a Bose sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android integration, and dual-zone automatic climate control - all of these are missing from the Italian car. The 4C is more chuckable as it's a much smaller sports car, but the Corvette is entertaining in its own way and, crucially, the American's fun-factor doesn't come at the expense of comfort. For almost the same price as the 4C, you can get the performance-oriented Corvette Grand Sport with an adaptive suspension and 460 horsepower of electrifying V8 power. In this comparison, the 4C simply can't match up.