If you’ve stopped staring at the picture and started reading, you might be wondering what the incredibly sexy automobile in front of you could be. ★★★★
With something as low, lithe and purposeful as this, you might be expecting it to have a prancing horse on the badge and a price tag of over £150,000. What will surprise some of you is that this is, in fact, an Alfa Romeo with a starting price of not much more than £50,000.
You may associate Alfa with a range of small hatchbacks but their history is full of sports and racing cars. The 4C featured here is the latest from the Italian marque and one that aims to bring excitement back to driving. While it may be a throwback in some respects – there’s not even any power assistance for the steering – it’s a thoroughly modern vehicle. Underneath the achingly beautiful body is a chassis made out of carbon fibre, the stuff they make Formula One cars out of.
Fold yourself through the door opening and into the heavily winged driver’s seat and you’ll be just a few inches off the floor. The view out of the curved windscreen is dominated by the rising front wings and the plunging nose. Look in the door mirrors and you can see straight into the dramatic scoops that feed the engine and keep the intercooler chilled. As for the rear view mirror, you could just about see flashing blue lights approaching but not much else.
The cabin itself is sparse with plenty of exposed carbon fibre, a TFT instrument cluster in front of you and not much else. You do get electric windows, air conditioning, a stereo and the option of leather seats but the luxuries stop there. For storage, there’s a compact glovebox with another small compartment in between the seats. Other than that, there’s just a pair of cupholders inside and a boot big enough for a couple of squishy bags. Practical it isn’t.
Directly between the rear seats is the same 240bhp four cylinder 1750 TBi engine found in the Giulietta QV coupled to a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox with steering wheel mounted paddles. Those hoping for a manual gearbox should look elsewhere. While you might think that engine isn’t exotic or powerful enough given the mini-supercar looks, the reality is quite different. Thanks to the carbon construction, the 4C weighs less than a tonne.
To put that into perspective, launch control helps the 4C get from 0-62mph in a mind-blowing 4.5 seconds. All you need to do is select ‘Dynamic’ mode on the three-way ‘DNA’ switch (‘Natural’ and ‘All Weather’ modes are also available), plant your left foot on the brake and flatten the throttle with your right foot. The revs rise to around 3,000 at which point you come off the brake. Assuming its dry, the 4C then finds amazing traction and hurls you towards the horizon while making some great noises.
Not all aspects of driving this Alfa are quite as simple though. The unassisted steering is heavy at parking speeds and although it soon gets lighter, it constantly writhes about in your hands. While there’s no doubt it engages you in driving the car, the inexperienced will be intimated by the way it follows every little tramline and camber in the road. Although you soon learn that a little wandering is natural and grip the wheel less tightly, you can never relax in this car.
The upshot of this comes in the shape of steering feel that shames almost every modern car I’ve driven. You always know what the front wheels are doing even as the limit of grip approaches while the speed of the rack helps catch any little slides you may encounter. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a drift monster but it is very easy to unstick the rear tyres coming out of junctions for instance. In ‘Dynamic’ mode (even with the traction control on) you’ll find yourself having to feed in opposite lock before the computers sort things out. It might sound scary but it becomes good fun very quickly.
Not that you have to be travelling quickly to have fun. On several occasions on familiar roads it felt like I was hammering along only to look at the speedo and see surprisingly low number. If you did want to make those numbers bigger (on a track of course), then you really need to concentrate and work hard. For many it’ll be too much effort especially when compared to the likes of a Porsche Cayman. For me, it was addictive in a way few cars are. It really is an adrenaline pump virtually all the time.
Despite this, fuel consumption was astonishingly good. On one thirty mile plus journey, I was able to coax nearly 40mpg out of the 4C without having to try too hard and keeping pace with traffic at all times. Even driven hard, the average refused to drop below 25mpg. Thank the relatively small engine and tiny kerb weight for that. There aren’t many rivals that can match that real world fuel consumption, that’s for sure.
Does this make the 4C a car you could have as your everyday car though? I would argue not. Although the sensory overload is great when you’re in the mood, a day behind the wheel left a friend and I tired and with headaches. Storage space is limited at best and it isn’t easy to get in and out of. I would also bet that while being the centre of attention wherever you go was great fun during my time with the 4C, it would get old quite quickly.
Would I have one though? Without any shadow of a doubt; the 4C makes you feel alive like little else on the road.