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Saturday, May 23, 2015

I Shouldn’t Love the Alfa Romeo 4C, But I Do: Review


Alfa 4C Review 5

Italians are known for making some of the best sports cars on the planet. And according to my research— the best spaghetti too. Ask anyone what their favorite sports car (or spaghetti) is, and they’re likely to give you a name that ends in the letter “I”.
One name that rarely comes to mind in the high-performance department, though, is Alfa Romeo. While the Italian marque does have a few heavyweights under its belt, never in its history has Alfa built a car up to snuff with the likes of Ferrari or Lamborghini. And you can quote me on that.

But Alfa Romeo hopes to change that perception with its latest offering. It’s called the 4C, and it dips underneath the lovely 8C in both performance and price. And it’s actually on sale in the U.S., which is the first Alfa that’s been stateside in over 20 years (for good reason).

Alfa 4C Review 6

Designed In Italy…

Like the outgoing 8C supercar, Alfa designers didn’t skimp on adding a few gorgeous curves to this thing. When you look at the 4C, it’s an Alfa Romeo through and through. It’s stunning from front to back. The iconic nose is refined, the body is adorably small, and the rear is more subtle, but not any less pretty than the rest of the car.

The design isn’t only beautiful, it’s functional. With a drag coefficient of 0.335, the body is as slippery as it is light. 2,464 pounds is the final weigh in, and that extremely light weight is thanks to a healthy heaping of carbon fiber, specifically a carbon fiber tub that’s immediately noticeable the second you slide into the car. Exposed carbon fiber is everywhere— a very supercar-esque feature.

Given the design and the proportions, you would think it’s the Italian Lotus you’ve been dreaming of. And then you actually drive it…

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…Engineered in Russia

First thing’s first: there’s no power steering. I like to pretend I’m an ‘enthusiast,’ so that was ok by my standards. It is a sports car, after all. But for American buyers, I’m not sure how appealing that is. You really have to be a connoisseur to appreciate that analog feel. That being said, I can immediately dismiss it as a daily driver. The 4C is an absolute pig in a parking lot.

So it’s a track toy then, right? Meh.

It only comes in automatic; which is strike one for any hardcore track enthusiast. And that’s not even the worst part. It’s skittish at speeds over 60 mph. The body is too light — yes, too light — and the steering feels unresponsive. I’d go as far to say it’s even scary to drive at some points— and I’ve driven COTA in a sedan.

If you push it past 100 — which is illegal; don’t do that — you seriously have to keep your hands on the wheel. There is no room for mistakes. Lose track of where you are for a second and that car will throw you into a wall.

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You also get a trio of driving modes: Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather. If you didn’t catch it, that reads “DNA” on the console. Cute Alfa. Cute. And all three do provide some variations in performance.

Dynamic mode is, well, more dynamic. Throttle holds longer, as do revs, and it feels slightly more refined in the handling department. Normal is pretty normal, which for an Alfa, is still aggressive. And All-Weather softens things up so the car doesn’t kill you in rough weather.

Alfa 4C Review

Four-Liter Speed

The ironic part about it’s sub-par handling is that it’s not even that quick. It gets to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, which is respectable, and has 237 horsepower on tap. But unless you put it in launch mode, pushing your foot on the gas is like waiting in line at the DMV. Any second now…almost…almost there…and there’s the power. The turbo lag is immense, and it puts that tiny 1.7-liter engine into perspective.

In typical Alfa Romeo fashion, the 1.75-liter engine is the smallest in the segment. It’s direct-injected and turbocharged giving you plenty of reason to think it’s a performer. It’s not terrible at speed— the power-to-weight ratio is 10.4:1, which is about as good as a Porsche Cayman. But in the larger scope of things, it could have done better with a slightly bigger engine and a much less laggy turbo.

Alfa 4C Review 2

Its Bark Is Bigger Than Its Bite

Probably its only saving grace (aside from the way it looks) is the way it sounds. Sort of like a lawn mower making love to a wind turbine. Ok, maybe that’s not the best way to describe it.

 But it’s one of those unexplainably great noises that seemingly only Italian cars make. Similar to the Fiat 500 Abarth, the 4C sounds like a little bulldog trying to show all the bigger dogs (and in this case, jungle cats) how big and mean it can be.

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The Alfa Romeo 4C is a difficult car then. It doesn’t perform all that great, and it’s a ridiculously hard sell for the U.S. market. It just doesn’t fit the typical “American” standard that most buyers are looking for. The interior feels unfinished, there’s wires hanging from the passenger seat, and the wind noise is almost unbearable. When you’re paying $65,845 (as tested), those aren’t qualities you’re looking for.

The great thing about this car, though, is that — even with its many faults — you just want to love it to pieces. Sort of like that yappy little bulldog. It’s a feeling you can’t really put your finger on. You’re not going to out-corner any Porsche Caymans, or outgun any Jaguar F-Types— but hell, i’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want to drive the Alfa every day over those two. It absolutely won over my heart as wonderfully imperfect as it was.
It’s that classic Alfa Romeo engineering strategy (I’m paraphrasing of course): ‘We don’t have to build a great car, we just have to build a car that people are going to fall in love with.’ And it works— those crafty Italians.


Engine: 1.75-liter 4-Cylinder Turbo
Horsepower: 237
MPG: 24/34
Price (as tested): $65,845


Supermodel looks
Amazing sound


Handles like a pig
Interior feels unfinished
Skittish at speed