From £58,4246
The 4C improves, and the Spider is a good conversion, but it remains dynamically troubled and absurdly expensive

Our Verdict

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Niche coupé now comes as a convertible. Is it any better that way?

What is it?

It isn’t saying how, but Alfa Romeo has been improving its mid-engined, carbonfibre-tubbed 4C sports car. Take the steering. In earlier 4Cs, its weight would vary as you swivelled it, a disconcerting sensation in any car let alone a rapid sportster with a low centre of gravity and fat wads of grip.

We’ve now sampled a smoother-riding 4C too, the smaller-wheeled, higher-sidewalled standard version, which also does without a rear anti-roll bar, managing a usefully better job of absorbing sharp-edged bumps.

The right-hand-drive version of the 4C has also emerged, and unlike many past Alfas, the conversion leaves a pretty decent driving position unspoiled. These discoveries arrive with the launch of the Spider version of the 4C, whose removable roof adds yet another dimension. 

However, the 4C Coupé came a resounding last in our 2014 Best Driver’s Car testits dartingly inconsistent steering, wayward directional stability, uncertain brakes and cacophony of industrial-strength din turning every drive into a battle, even if it was grippily brisk. 

So the arrival of the 4C Spider, whose main area of modification obviously majors on the roof, promises little dynamic improvement. Still, the conversion, which consists of the fabric roll-up top supported by carbonfibre windscreen surround reinforcement, a modified rollover hoop and an engine-bay strut brace, adds only 15.5kg.

The Spider also gets air conditioning, parking sensors, a leather-skinned dashboard and heftier, less ugly headlights, adding further weight and an absurd £14,500 to its price, taking it beyond Porsche Boxster GT4 money. 

What's it like?

The roof is similar to the Lotus Elise’s if slightly less fiddly to use and vastly better sealed. The roofless cabin easier to access, too. It has little effect on rigidity, which feels immense and almost never allows rut-triggered windscreen shimmy.

Descend to the elegantly slender seat and you’re faced by the same wheel as the coupé’s, who’s fat, paddleshift-bearing spokes and thick rim make its leathery flat-bottomedness surprisingly difficult to grasp. 

And in a 4C that matters, because you need to get – and doggedly maintain – a grip on anything other than tile-smooth asphalt. Wheels that track the earth’s surface with a satellite’s certainty may sound like a keen driver’s dream, but when you’re charging along straights at three-figure speeds and find your mount darting capriciously for the verge, you’ll be clinging to that wheel like an iceberg-dodging mariner. The newer 4C is marginally better in this regard than it was, but not nearly enough.

You also need a firm grip on the fatter-tyred versions because the steering is unassisted, although we wouldn’t have it any other way. Especially as the steering now weights up more consistently than before, making it much easier to mine the Alfa’s Araldite grip.

Through the rapid sweepers of Balocco’s long-lap test track the 4C’s balance, adjustability and roadholding are superb, and its steering now transparent enough to tell you when the front tyres’ lofty grip limits are being breached. Its Brembo brakes, which react to pressure as well as pedal travel, are more feelsome, too. 

Trouble is, this track has almost no direction-changing camber shifts and can be tackled at massive speeds. On public roads, it’s hard to reach the point where nose and tail dance to the tune of your right foot, the more so because of the engine’s unhelpful torque delivery. Little of it arrives below 2200rpm, making it harder to erupt from bends than it should be.

But erupt the 4C will, and this car is memorably rapid when you get the hang of it. And, indeed, hang on.

Should I buy one?

The 4C is slightly better now, the Spider gaining much and losing little. But ultimately, on public roads, it’s still too wayward, and still too noisy to command £60k against talented rivals such as the superb Porsche Boxster GTS.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Location Italy; On sale Now; Price £59,500; Engine 4 cyls, 1742cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power   234bhp   at 6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 2200-4250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 940kg; Top speed 160mph; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Economy 40.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 161g/km, 27%

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Comments
16

21 May 2015
... would it be a proper Alfa? I think it still has enough charm and good looks to lure some buyers away from the more rational (but less special) options.

In any case, looking at this car and where Alfa was 5 years ago, I can't help but see it as a blessing, even if it's not perfect. Who would have thought in the days of the MiTo and the Giulietta that Alfa would sell a traditional sportscar such as this one, a proper Alfa, so soon?

21 May 2015
Would pay £100k for those looks.
That or Cayman? Silly question. One's beautiful, one's German.

TS7

21 May 2015
Dynamically flawed, ugly, expensive. Alfa are taking the p*ss.

21 May 2015
And people say Lotus models are overpriced

21 May 2015
Two decades ago, Fiat made a bloody good coupe, and even if you didn't like the looks you could tell a) it was Italian b) it was developed by blokes who cared about driving and c) it wasn't lashed up on the cheap. It even had a bespoke fuel cap. Now look at this pile of underdeveloped crap. What a waste of a fine name.

21 May 2015
8C is a great looking car, but that styling translates much less well into the shorter 4C where there is just too much metal behind the door and above the rear wheel arches. There it looks heavy and squashed. The Cayman/Boxster is much better resolved visually. And then there is the interior of the 4C, looks like the designer has given up whereas the Cayman interior is beautifully laid out. Many people equate Italians with design and Germans with engineering. But in industrial design as well as other forms of art, its impossible to say the Italians excel over the Germans: Mario Bellini vs Dieter Rams, Dante vs Goethe, Verdi vs Wagner ... Please look at German cars more carefully, the best of them are not boring but full of subtle and well considered details.

21 May 2015
...to buy one of these, while such a thing like the Boxster exists. Drove one (a Boxster) the other day. Roof down, manual box, new shape - absolutely sublime.

21 May 2015
Too bad for Autocar, of course it's not a Ford Mondeo, not even a Lotus.... unfortunately, used examples are changing hands above list price. Waiting list is endless. Oh yeah, but that's continental Europe, they don't have those beautiful and "cheap" Atoms or Bac Monos.
Of course they cost more of a Boxster: they have a hand-made carbon tub! It's a completely different proposition. How could you compare one of these with a Boxster? Who buys a 4C would never buy a Cayman. And, of course, the other way round. Anyway, having seen Autocar's recent approach to FCA Group (see reviews of the Cherokee, or the strange downgrading of the Panda from the top of the City car list all of a sudden), I must confess that I think there are hidden reasons. Marchionne not buying ads anymore?

21 May 2015
RednBlue wrote:

Too bad for Autocar, of course it's not a Ford Mondeo, not even a Lotus.... unfortunately, used examples are changing hands above list price. Waiting list is endless. Oh yeah, but that's continental Europe, they don't have those beautiful and "cheap" Atoms or Bac Monos.
Of course they cost more of a Boxster: they have a hand-made carbon tub! It's a completely different proposition. How could you compare one of these with a Boxster? Who buys a 4C would never buy a Cayman. And, of course, the other way round. Anyway, having seen Autocar's recent approach to FCA Group (see reviews of the Cherokee, or the strange downgrading of the Panda from the top of the City car list all of a sudden), I must confess that I think there are hidden reasons. Marchionne not buying ads anymore?

This. All of this.
Agree.

22 May 2015
RednBlue wrote:

Of course they cost more of a Boxster: they have a hand-made carbon tub!

Which is nice in theory (and for top-trumpsisms) but is really just a cork-sniffing detail if the car that's built around it isn't as good as similarly priced (or cheaper) rivals.

RednBlue wrote:

It's a completely different proposition. How could you compare one of these with a Boxster?

I would have thought that was fairly obvious; they are both 2-door, roof-downable sports cars at a similar price point, and the Boxter is widely (if not universally) regarded as the best of the bunch.

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