by Michael Butler
There's something about Italian sports cars that grips the imagination of even the most humble of car fans, and for well over a century, Alfa Romeo has been building some of the best. From the 1966 Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto Spider to the 1970s Montreal, Alfa Romeo has built some of the finest looking cars the world has ever seen, so why stop now? The 2020 4C Spider is a continuation of Alfa Romeo's long legacy of building beautiful cars that also drive well, and boy does this thing go. From its carbon fiber monocoque shell to its stripped out interior, the 4C Spider has clearly been designed to drive fast, and with only 237 horsepower, it relies on its light curb weight to punch well above its weight division. Going up against well-established competitors such as the brilliant Porsche 718 Boxster is never going to be easy, but with this much soul, the 4C might just stand a chance.
The evergreen Alfa 4C storms into 2020 with minimal changes, except for one notable update: Alfa Romeo has discontinued the coupe version and will stick to the California-friendly Spider from here on out. Alfa Romeo also introduces the slinky new 4C Spider Italia which features glossy black trim on the front and rear bumpers, as well as special Italia exterior graphics, and Misano Blue Metallic paint. The interior of the 4C Italia also gets an aluminum dashboard plate with the same Italia logo, and the prerequisite number plate denoting its rarity as only 15 will be built.
1.7-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Since Alfa Romeo started building cars 110 years ago, the Italian carmaker has produced some of the most beautiful cars to have ever driven the surface of the earth. This is made clear when you look at creations such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ, or the original Alfa Romeo 8C. They are things of timeless beauty. So when it came time to design the 4C, Alfa Romeo had the opportunity to either create a modern flop, or a modern hero, and we think they achieved the latter: the 4C is an absolutely gorgeous thing to look at, and now that it's only available in Spider form, we love it even more. The shapely Alfa 4C rolls on a set of 17-inch alloy wheels and lights the way forward with a pair of halogen headlamps or optional bi-xenon lights and lights the rear with LED taillights. New owners can also look forward to a manually removable soft-top roof and dual-exit exhaust pipes. Other than that there are very few notable features to mention besides the Spider Italia version that gets a few decals and a set of commemorative plates. All that matters is that it looks great while standing still and while blasting through a set of corners.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is all about keeping the figures low and the fun factor high. This is especially applicable to its dimensions. The petite 4C measures in with a total body length of only 157 inches, which should give you a good idea of just how tiny this car actually is, especially in American terms. An even smaller number is the 4C's wheelbase: it measures only 93.7 inches in length. The rest of the measurements follow suit: the 4C is 46.6 inches tall, 73.5 inches wide, and its front and rear track come in at 64.5 inches and 63.1 inches respectively. With a full carbon fiber tub and other lightweight materials in play, the 4C has an impressively low curb weight of only 2,487 pounds, which explains its blistering acceleration and cornering capabilities.
Just as with Alfa Romeos of old, the 4C doesn't come in a variety of wild oranges and greens, but instead proudly carries the traditional Alfa Romeo flag. What does this mean for new buyers? Well, Alfa will allow you to have a 4C as long as its red, white, black or silver. The two no-cost options for 2020 are, you guessed it, black and white. Go with the non-traditional Basalt Gray Metallic and Alfa Romeo will ask $700 of your hard-earned money, while for the more traditional at heart, Alfa Romeo offers two shades of red. Firstly you get the $1,500 Alfa Rosso, followed by the hallowed Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat which has been the color of choice for most of Alfa Romeo's racing exploits. The limited-edition Italia gets a unique Misano Blue Metallic paint job. We'd obviously cough up the extra dough for the one and only red.
What if we told you that one of the best performance cars to come out of Europe in the past few years is a mid-engined Alfa Romeo which only has 237 hp under the rear decklid when there are McLarens rolling around with almost four times that power. Yes, it is hard to believe that with such a low power output the 4C could honestly be a competitor to cars such as the Jaguar F-Type, but here we are. The key ingredient to the 4C's blistering performance all boils down to its low curb weight; less weight means more performance, whether it be straight-line acceleration or braking performance. Around town, and through the twisties, the 4C's lightness is palatable and is one of the overriding themes of this car. Nail the perfect launch, and the diminutive 4C will launch to sixty in only 4.1 seconds, and continue on to a top speed of 160 mph. That's enough to get you into some serious trouble.
Once again the low curb weight of the Alfa Romeo 4C comes into play: because it doesn't weigh anything, Alfa Romeo didn't feel the need to stuff a V6 or V8 engine in the back. Instead, they opted for an all-aluminum 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with direct-injection, twin intercoolers, and variable-valve timing. This compact four-pot engine delivers a mild 237 hp at 6,000 rpm, and 258 lb-ft of torque at 2,200 rpm. That might not seem like much, especially when you consider the fact that the Porsche Boxster 718 offers 300 hp from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot engine. But those low numbers don't stop the 4C from out-accelerating the Porsche. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a quick-shifting dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission which delivers a sharp response, especially when set in the more sporty manual driving mode, where turbo whooshes, crackles and pops become more noticeable. For those looking for some extra bark, Alfa Romeo offers an optional Akrapovic dual mode center-mounted exhaust system that should open the engine up nicely.
Any racecar driver will tell you that the lower the weight, the better the car will handle. This is even common knowledge to most who have even the slightest interest in sports cars. This basic universal truth is at the core of the Alfa Romeo 4C. With a full carbon fiber monocoque and lightweight aluminum parts scattered around the body, the Alfa Romeo 4C takes full advantage of its light weight when it comes to hitting the bendy stuff. With a suspension setup that's perfectly tuned to carve corners and some relatively beefy tires, the 4C decimates corners in a way that we imagine a 1960s F1 cars would. It should be noted that city and low-speed driving reveals the 4C's harshness, but all is forgiven when pushing on, and beware the spines of those who go for the optional race-tuned suspension. Steering feel isn't great, especially at the limit, but with lots of grip on offer, launching out of corners becomes almost as addictive as just staring at it when parked. When driving the 4C close to its limits, all its faults seem to melt away.
We hate to harp on about the 4C's light weight, but once again it plays a pivotal role. See, the heavier the car, the harder the engine has to work to haul it around. On the other hand, the 4C, which is powered by a small-capacity turbo engine and weighs next to nothing has no problem sipping on fuel when not in attack mode. What this means is that you get the gas mileage of a small hatchback, but with Porsche-killing performance to boot. The EPA rates that the 2020 Alfa Romeo will do 24/34/28 mpg city/highway/combined. That's nearly 30 mpg from a full-blown performance car. With a 10.5-gallon fuel tank on board, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider will get 294 miles per fillup, but these will cost you as the turbocharged engine requires premium gasoline to keep it in tip-top shape.
Modern sports cars will put the international space station to shame with all their display screens, knobs, and buttons. For the uninformed, it can all get a bit overwhelming and detract from the purity of the driving experience, and Alfa Romeo, in all its wisdom, decided to not go down that rabbit hole when designing the interior of the 4C Spider. Instead of a cluster of tech, you are presented with an old-school cabin that cocoons occupants in carbon fiber, and little else. It's a tight fit, but we managed to fit six-footers behind the wheel with the only minor hassle being dropping into the low-set bucket seats with the grace of a newborn foal. The controls are within easy reach of the driver thanks to a slanted center console which clearly shows who's the most important person in the car. You won't want to touch much though, as the cabin is decidedly low-rent for a car asking this much money.
The carbon fiber monocoque that wraps around the driver and passenger makes the interior of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider feel cramped, or tight to say the least and is a much more confined space than what is on offer in the Porsche Boxster, or Jaguar F-Type. It's just you and the car once you're seated. To our surprise, the 4C Spider will swallow taller specimens with relative ease, but you will have to be of slender build: legroom comes in at a generous 42.7 inches, and with the soft top pulled up, there is a decent 38 inches of headroom on offer. A shoulder room figure of 49.8 inches shows how cozy things get. The manually folding soft top is a pain to use, and once off, wind noise starts to creep into the cabin at speeds of 40 mph and above.
Alfa Romeo treads a fine line between function and form when it comes to the interior design of the 4C Spider. On the one hand, it is expected from the Italian car manufacturer to deliver something that's easy on the eye, but in the same breath to offer efficiency and pure performance. This way of thinking manages to permeate every corner of the 4C, even to its range of interior colors and materials. Alfa Romeo makes things very simple for new buyers: you can have your seats in black leather with red or yellow accent stitching, or choose from red or Tobacco-colored leather. For those who want a more sporty feel, there are also a set of racing microfiber seats on offer in black with either yellow or red stitching, as well as a leather and microfiber steering wheel.
What the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider makes up for in attitude, it loses in practicality. Seriously, the 4C Spider is clearly designed to be driven and nothing else. Pop the rear decklid and what you are faced with is a cool-looking engine cover and a small 3.7 cubic foot hole behind it, which would lead some to think that this is where a toolkit should go. That small nook is the officially demarcated trunk, and you'll be lucky to fit a large backpack in there. The fact that the engine cooks the trunk should dissuade you from storing your dairy products in the back. Interior storage is basically limited to your pockets, but Alfa Romeo does provide cupholders. If trunk space is what you're looking for, the Jaguar F-Type offers over seven cubic feet of it.
What features? The 2020 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is one of those cars that can get away with a minimal amount of features, and still command a stiff asking price; its party trick is to envelop drivers in a web of turbo flutters and fast corners so that the starkness of the cabin goes completely unnoticed. Alfa Doesn't try to hide this fact at all. On its website, it lists features such as air conditioning, front floor mats, a rearview camera with rear park sensors, hill start assist, as well as a tire pressure monitoring system, remote keyless entry and power windows as some of the main events. At least you get cruise control and the option of adding a microfiber and leather steering wheel.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine mounted behind the cabin might not win an award for the best sounding engine of the decade, but it sure as hell does a better job of entertaining the occupants than the basic infotainment system offered in the 4C Spider. Forget about navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto integration: this system can play you your favorite hits, as long as it's on the radio or streamed over Bluetooth or auxiliary port, and you get HD Radio and SiriusXM to sweeten the deal. Besides, the cabin of the 4C gets so loud when driving that even with the upgraded Alpine system, you'll struggle to hear Pavarotti bellowing out at full pitch.
Whoever said that Alfa Romeos are unreliable is probably correct, but not so in the case of the 4C, which shows very un-Alfa like levels of reliability. The 4C range of cars has not been recalled once: impressive for a turbocharged Alfa Romeo. So it won't break down on you, and it comes with a decent warranty as well. Alfa Romeo will cover its 4C Spider with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, a 12-year corrosion protection warranty, a four-year/50,000-mile drivetrain warranty, as well as four years of roadside assistance.
There's an age-old Italian saying that goes la morte mi trovera vivo. Translated, it means "death will find me alive". That sums up Alfa Romeo's attitude towards safety in the 4C Spider, which is to say, you'd better hold on and hope for the best. Neither the NHTSA or IIHS has put the 4C Spider through its paces.
There is honestly not a lot to write about here. Alfa offers the bare minimum to make the 4C Spider legal to drive on American roads. The first port of call is the driver; Alfa hopes that owners will know how to control the 4C. After that, it's left up to the Alfa DNA Pro drive mode traction control system, a set of performance brakes, and a hope in hell. The five airbag system includes a driver knee and front side airbags, and there's a reverse camera with rear parking sensors included as well.
What makes a good car these days? The lines between sedan, hatchback, and sports car are becoming more blurred by the day, just look at the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio for instance: it packs a 505 hp punch, will out-accelerate a Corvette, and offers enough space for the kids and dog. Luckily the two-door convertible sports car is a breed that cannot be tainted, and the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is one of the purest examples left. Firstly it should be noted that the 4C Spider is a flawed piece of machinery: It's harsh to drive on anything but the smoothest roads, and its cramped interior offers close to nothing in terms of features. Oh, and there might as well be no trunk. But overlook those niggles, and you're left with a car that makes us believe in driving again. It is a portal between man and machine, and besides looking good, exhilarates as few others can. It should go down in the history books as one of Alfa Romeo's greatest hits.
It's amazing how manufacturers manage to charge customers more for less. Flash a lightweight edition of a sports car, and people will throw money at you from all directions. This theory applies to the 4C Spider. For an MSRP of $67,150, you get four wheels, a carbon fiber tub, and manual air conditioning. To most that would sound like a bum deal, but to those in the know, every single cent of that asking price will be worth it. For comparison, the Porsche Boxster starts off at $59,600, which might be cheaper, but the Porsche can't match the exotic appeal of the 4C Spider. For an extra $5,000 you can get your hands on the Italia version which offers a couple of appearance changes and some fancy plaques inside the cabin. Alfa does not include tax, registration or a delivery fee of $1,595 in its pricing.
The 4C is available in two trims. So what does the 4C Spider offer? Well, the beautifully sculpted exterior features halogen headlights, LED taillights, and a set of 17-inch wheels. Powering the 4C Spider is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 237 hp, and is mated to a DCT six-speed transmission. The interior offers a set of leather seats, manual air conditioning and an infotainment system that offers AM/FM radio and Bluetooth streaming. Keeping the driver and passenger safe is an advanced sports-tuned traction control system, some big brakes, and a couple of airbags. The Italia special edition adds cosmetic details such as Misano Blue Metallic paint, an aluminum dashboard plate with the same Italia logo, and a number plate showing a number between one and fifteen; that's how rare they are. Optional features on the standard car such as yellow brake calipers, microsuede-trimmed seats and an Akrapovic exhaust system are included in the Italia edition.
As basic as the 4C is, Alfa Romeo will allow new owners the luxury of kitting their cars out with a healthy number of appearance and performance options. Starting with the exterior, you can get a set of carbon fiber side mirrors for only $800, or why not go with the 18-inch dark fan spoked alloy wheels for $2,700. The brake calipers can also be painted black, red, or yellow for $550. We love the $3,000 carbon fiber halo, and would most certainly go for the $250 leather and microfiber steering wheel. For those who are in it purely for the driving, the $800 race-tuned suspension setup and $3,100 Akrapovic dual-mode exhaust are must-have items.
First thing's first: the only paint color to go for is obviously the Rosso Competizione, but silver will also do. For wheels, we'd go with the 18-inch dark five-hole wheels, and get the calipers painted red. We'd also get the summer performance tires while we're at it. Inside, we'd go for the red and black microfiber and leather seats and the microfiber and leather steering wheel, as well as the carbon fiber halo. We'd skip out on the stiffer suspension but would definitely get the louder exhaust. There you have it: the perfect 4C Spider, according to us.For those looking for some more exclusivity, the Italia edition does offer some nifty extras such as a performance exhaust system and painted brake calipers, but we feel that it's more of a gimmick than anything else.
The Boxster has gone from the poor man's 911 to a respected performance car in the past two decades and is arguably one of the best entry-level sports cars in the business. The latest iteration of the Boxster, the 718, is the best one yet, and once again sets the standard for two-door convertible sports cars. It's no less capable with its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine which produces a healthy 300 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The Boxster in this state of tune will dip below the five-second zero to sixty mark but will be outgunned by the Alfa Romeo. So the Porsche might lack the outright pace but makes up for it with a more balanced ride, a more refined interior, and more practical storage space. Sounds boring right? It's actually the polar opposite; what the Boxster represents is sports car driving at its best blended with daily usability. However, if you have any warm blood coursing through your veins, you'd get the flawed, but beautiful Alfa Romeo 4C Spider for the one day a year when the stars align and the perfect drive beckons. For every other day of the year, the Boxster is better.
When Jaguar first released the F-Type, we were blown away by its good looks, which is exactly the point, as this British bombshell is supposed to pay tribute to the all-time classic Jaguar E-Type. So it's just a pretty face then? Not quite. Under the skin of the F-Type lies an accomplished chassis and a range of impressive powertrains. For the sake of comparison, we'll only mention the turbocharged four-cylinder version, which produces 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque; significantly more than what you get in the 4C Spider. The F-Type in this form will sprint to sixty in the low five-second region. What we like about the F-Type is its relaxed yet capable approach to things; the turbocharged engine delivers strong performance, and its cornering capability is impressive, but it feels softer and less focused overall. As with the Alfa Romeo, the infotainment sucks, but the interior is spectacular when compared to the Italian and you do get more space. It might be pretty, but it ain't no 4C.
Check out some informative Alfa Romeo 4C Spider video reviews below.