The Alfa Romeo 4C can be seen as a fabulous value when compared to a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Like those exotics, it looks sensational, with performance obviously being the top priority. It’s made of carbon fiber and the cornering is phenomenal.
Ride comfort is rough, comparable to a Lotus Elise. It only seats two and only has cargo room for a couple of small bags. Cabin materials are a cut below, but the price is three or four cuts down. It’s a car for a serious sports car enthusiast willing to compromise comfort and convenience for racecar handling.
The engine is a 1.7-liter turbocharged four cylinder making 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. For ideal balance, engine is mid-mounted, so naturally it’s rear-wheel drive. The carbon-fiber structure means it’s super light for quick handling, and its tires offer fantastic grip. It can be driven off the showroom floor straight onto the race track. That said, its cramped seats, rigid ride, and heavy steering at slow speeds make it difficult to endure as a daily driver.
The 4C comes as a coupe or Spider convertible with a removable soft top that can be stored in the tiny trunk.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo 4C has not changed much over 2017, just yellow stitching for the optional black leather seats, and available carbon-fiber vents in the front fascia.
The 4C gets a strong 24 City, 34 Highway, or 28 Combined miles per gallon, on Premium, say EPA estimates. It has dual front airbags, front side airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, and hill-start assist, while rear park assist is the only safety option. That means no active safety features are available.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo 4C comes with air conditioning, power windows and locks, automatic headlamps, cloth sport seats with four-way manual adjustment, leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster with telemetry and a G meter; also a USB port, auxiliary input jack, 12-volt power outlet. The wheels are staggered 17- and 18-inch alloys on summer performance tires. The standard audio system is a primitive Alpine AM/FM/CD radio with satellite and HD, but fortunately there’s a premium Alpine system available.
Options start with a Convenience group that adds cruise control, an alarm, and rear park assist. A Carbon Fiber Interior package adds carbon fiber for the interior vents, instrument panel bezel and surround, and shift bezel. A Leather Interior package adds a leather-wrapped instrument panel and door panels, plus black (with red or new yellow accent stitching) or red leather seats and a leather storage bag.
Performance options include a Track package, which adds a racing suspension with front and rear sway bars, stiffer shocks, a flat-bottom steering wheel with a micro fiber insert, a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and carbon-fiber exterior mirrors. Also available are staggered 18- and 19-inch wheels, an Akrapovic exhaust, xenon headlamps, and brake calipers painted red, black, silver, or yellow.
The 4C is striking, with a low and racy stance showing off its exotic curves and scoops. Its lines flow beautifully away from the iconic triangular Alfa Romeo grille to the rear haunches that make it look ready to pounce.
Alfa Romeo says the design was inspired by the 33 Stradale racecar of the 1960s. When we looked it up, we were impressed with how Alfa hit the mark. Bravissimo!
The nose features big intakes and dark oblong headlamps, the sides have glass like cat’s eyes, and the tail has round lamps and a spoiler.
The coupe’s profile is smoother than the Spider convertible. It features a transparent engine cover like a Ferrari, while the Spider has a Targa bar, a lower rear deck, and a canvas top that can be removed or installed in a few minutes, and stashed in the trunk. The Spider offers a removable carbon fiber roof panel, and with it off, the Spider looks more like a Targa than a roadster. Which one? We can’t decide.
The cramped cabin has few creature comforts and scant storage, not even a glovebox. It’s difficult to climb into and out of. The plastics on the dash are door panels are hard, and the radio looks like it came from a discount store; it takes options to cure that. But the flat-bottomed steering wheel and the carbon-fiber accents are cool. The digital gauges change colors with the driving mode: red for Dynamic, gray for Natural and blue for All Weather. It’s called a DNA switch, get it?
That cramped cabin is a compromise for performance, as the carbon-fiber tub requires wide door sills that take up space. That and the low stance and slim seats are what make entry and exit challenging. The head room is actually decent inside, with enough room for a helmet. The seats are suitable for only the slim.
And with a mere 3.7 cubic feet of space in the trunk, it’s hard to call it a trunk.
You forget about all that inconvenience and discomfort when you get the 4C on a twisty road, preferably a smooth one. We think it offers more feedback to the driver than any other new car, with the Lotus Elise no longer in the picture. That manual steering that feels heavy at slow speeds turns totally responsive in quick corners, bringing the car’s agility home. It’s surgically precise, with just 2.7 turns lock to lock.
The braking distance is brilliant, from 60 miles per hour to full stop in less than 100 feet. The Brembo system is so capable that the 4C can be made to squirm under late-braking from high speed to a slow corner. The vented front discs are 12 inches in diameter with four-piston calipers, and the vented rears 11.5 inches with two-piston calipers. Not surprisingly, the pedal feel is very firm and there is little travel.
It’s all about balance and light weight. The 4C tips the scales at a mere 2465 pounds, which is 500 pounds lighter than the Porsche 718 Boxster, 830 pounds lighter than the Chevrolet Corvette, and 900 pounds lighter than the Jaguar F-Type.
The 1.7-liter turbocharged four (1750cc, to be exact) makes 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It doesn’t use a muffler, which makes it raucous although not too loud for the street. There is some turbo lag, but the 4C can still squirt from zero to sixty in 4.1 seconds, but feels even faster because it’s so low. It sends power to the rear wheels through a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission that shifts in a lightning-quick 130 milliseconds. Still, a manual transmission would be fun in a car like this.
The suspension uses mostly aluminum components, with double wishbones in front and MacPherson struts in the rear. It’s quite stiff, with the standard staggered 17- and 18-inch wheels, and even stiffer with the Track package: more rigid dampers and anti-roll bars, with staggered 18- and 19- inch wheels. That package adds a Race mode that holds the transmission shifts for a longer time, makes downshifts even quicker, and turns off the stability control.
Thanks to the carbon-fiber tub, on the track the Spider feels as rigid as the coupe. The Spider has a carbon-fiber windshield frame to help with the rigidity, as well. It’s only 12 pounds heavier than the coupe, although we’re not sure where that comes from, since unlike other roadsters, the chassis is the same as the coupe. The Spider’s ride height is one-tenth of an inch lower than the coupe’s, and it’s roof height is one-tenth of an inch higher.
At Laguna Seca we found the 4C inspired sufficient confidence at speed that we took Turn 1 flat out on our second lap around. In most cars, it takes us a few laps to build up the courage for that.
We won’t say the 4C is only fun when you’re driving it hard on a twisty road. We’ll say it’s not comfortable. But it is SO comfortable on that twisty road, it might all be worth it. Take that silly “comfort” and “convenience” thing out of it, and the 4C is perfect: stunning racy Italian looks, beautiful small turbo engine, fabulous twin-clutch transmission, rigid carbon-fiber chassis, mid-engine balance, and most of all, maybe the quickest and most precise steering of any sports car on the road.
Sam Moses contributed to this report; with New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Monterey, California.