The 4C has the potential to be a truly great car, even if at the moment it only feels 95 per cent finished
Steve Cropley Autocar
24 December 2013

Before you slide behind the wheel to drive, you’re inclined to speculate too much about the central purpose of Alfa Romeo’s terrific new mid-engined, fixed-head coupé, the 4C.

Everyone knows that Alfa urgently needs to sell more cars and has been having tough times sorting the mid-sized Giulia on which its much-ballyhooed return to the US market squarely depends. The 4C isn’t ever going to sell more than 3500 units in total per year, so why does it matter? Best way to find out is to start the engine and get driving. 

By the time you’re installed behind the wheel, you’ll know that this is a Lotus Exige-sized coupé with a heavily revised 1750 turbo engine – now with a 22kg lighter alloy block – located transversely behind you and driving through a six-speed paddle-shift gearbox (no stick shift is contemplated).

The whole thing rides on an independently suspended carbonfibre chassis that weighs just 65kg and is handmade by artisans in Naples, Italy. Ready to go, a 4C weights 960kg at the kerb and costs £45,000, splitting the difference between the basic Cayman and Boxster Porsches.

People insist on comparing the car with a Porsche, but a quick scan around the cabin soon shows big differences. This is a sparse interior, with the bare essentials required for comfort. There’s a race car feel. The minimal leather pull handles on the doors remind you powerfully of other Italian lightweights.

You can even ask Alfa to leave out the audio system and air-con if your 4C is intended for track-day use, but don’t expect a refund. Fire the engine and blip it and the rasp confirms that this is no drive-to-work all-rounder. You can drive to work, of course, but your 4C will always be happier away from the grind of life.

Let in the clutch and as the car rolls, you instantly feel the lightness. It gets going briskly almost before you’ve thought of it, one good reason why 0-62mph acceleration takes just 4.5sec. Another is the zesty performance of an engine that, although small, produces 237bhp at 6000rpm and 258lb ft of torque between 2100rpm and 4000rpm. Flat out, a 4C will reach 155mph. In fuel-sipping mode, it’ll yield 41.5mpg on the combined cycle.

Naturally, the 4C really handles. Its low centre of gravity, working with near-ideal weight distribution and low mass, means that it grips like a leech without the need for cumbersome gumball tyres and it remains neutral in corners long after side forces have taken occupants beyond the threshold of discomfort. When it ‘goes’, you get understeer, but this could hardly be called breakaway. Ease the throttle and the 4C grips and steers just as before. 

The Alfa’s finest characteristic 
is its ability to ensure that you 
enjoy every mile. The ride never intrudes, the seats are great, the cockpit is snug, the engine rasp is lovely, the steering sends you unmissable messages from the 
road, the brakes are sure and all is right with the world. Which brings us to the car’s mission.

As Alfa struggles, the 4C aims to remind us how well it builds driver’s cars. At this, it’s a towering success.

Log on to Autocar.co.uk again tomorrow where we'll be continuing our rundown of the best cars of 2013.

Our Verdict

Alfa Romeo 4C
Alfa 4C is built to encapsulate all of the Alfa Romeo brand values

The 4C is Alfa's first true driver's car for decades, and it shows how brilliantly a small turbo four can go and sound in a lightweight package

Join the debate

Comments
5

24 December 2013
Mr.Cropley, you seem somewhat out of line with journalists from other publications on this one. But for what it's worth, my take on these "cheap fix" rear/mid engined cars is that they always drive as though they have a lot of mass high up in the chassis, which they surely do, a front wheel drive power train moved to the rear axle is not really mid engined in my book, it almost rear engined. I've owned a few of these so configured cars over the years, Lancia Monte Carlo, Matra Murena, Lotus Elise, all were nice cars, but all were treacherous in extreme handling conditions because ( I suspect of the engine position ), the Lotus Esprit, with it's traditional mid engined configuration was much safer, and more benign at the limit. At least Alfa Romeo have recognised the problem and produced an alloy block version of the engine, which is positive.

Closer to home, I suspect that, for the same reason, you can't throw your Atom around on circuit, like I can my Caterham ?

24 December 2013
I know we're all supposed to go weak-kneed and heap praise on the styling of every Alfa, but the 4C, fun drive that it might be, just doesn't do it for me looks wise.

To my eyes the stance just looks wrong that, especially from the 3/4 view the way the roofline blends with the rear so awkwardly, and that portruding snout looks like Gonzo from the Muppets.

Myk

24 December 2013
Did you really say "stick shift" instead of "manual"?

24 December 2013
Myk wrote:

Did you really say "stick shift" instead of "manual"?

"Race car" rather than "Racing car" as well.

25 December 2013
What a fantastic DRIVERS CAR.

This is a beaut.

Chaps, negativity, chill..

If you have driven a 4C, pls feel free to express your experience.
Have you seen 1 in the skin???
The 4C aside...

If you have not owned an Alfa Romeo, you wouldn't have a clue what they are all about.

But Im sure, somewhere, someone, say a friends fathers friends other friends brothers uncles sister once owned an AR ages ago and said it was trash, and so the message is with you.

I say. To know an Alfa Romeo is to own 1, 2 or more. They have heart, soul and personality. and this is what Alfa drivers come to manifest in.
Which you rarely find in another marque.

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