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Alfa Romeo's 4C Spider arrives in the UK. We find a way in which it finally shows its excellence, and several ways it doesn't

Our Verdict

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

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

  • First Drive

    2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider review

    Alfa Romeo's 4C Spider arrives in the UK. We find a way in which it finally shows its excellence, and several ways it doesn't
  • First Drive

    2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider review

    The 4C improves, and the Spider is a good conversion, but it remains dynamically troubled and absurdly expensive
Matt Prior
16 December 2015

What is it?

It’s the first time we’ve driven Alfa Romeo’s 4C Spider in Britain. Alfa says it has made a few tweaks to the 4C since the last time we drove one in the UK. It’s disinclined to say what, exactly, but the most notable thing about this yellow example is, obviously, the fact that the roof comes off, not unlike a Lotus Elise’s. 

To remove it takes about the same sort of time as the Lotus's, but the Alfa’s seems better insulated. As well it ought to be, because the Spider costs a gnat’s under £60,000, which is a genuinely unfathomable £8000 more expensive than a version with a roof. At that premium, it should be better insulated than my loft.

To its credit, the Spider feels no more flexible of chassis than the 4C coupé; both have the same carbonfibre tub and, if carbonfibre is good at anything, it is providing lightweight rigidity and purpose to a chassis. The exposed bits look good, too, in a cabin that is for the most part well finished and, for the most part, in possession of a good driving position. 

The fundamentals are there, in other words, so it's a shame that the seat bases are short and that the steering wheel, a two-spoke-only affair and nearer square than round, is stupidly awkward to grip in a quarter-to-three position or to gain easy hold of while you’re turning it.

These things are frustrating because the otherwise the driving position is straight, with a brake pedal perfectly aligned for either left or right-foot braking (the 4C is dual-clutch automatic only), and the steering wheel adjusts widely for both reach and rake. It could be excellent in here.

Get used to that theme: the one where fundamentals are in place but somehow, in the details and the execution, the 4C sets out to frustrate.

What's it like?

Last time we drove a 4C coupé in the UK it was busy coming last in our Britain’s Best Driver’s Car contest, during which we tried it at the old and bumpy Castle Combe circuit and on the older, bumpier roads around it. Its suspension gave it little chance to shine because the steering was being pulled right and left in a way that nothing else this side of a racing car allows itself. It was exhausting.

Get this 4C Spider on similar roads and, I’m afraid, it’s a similar story. I had an inexpert passenger look across and ask why I seemed to be working the wheel so hard. In fact, if you only ever drove a 4C Spider on lumpy B-roads, of the sort you find if you turn either right or left out of the Lotus headquarters on Potash Lane, Hethel, I think you’d hate it. 

But then we took it to MIRA proving ground. This is where we conduct our road tests, something Alfa previously hadn’t wanted us to put a 4C through, but finally there it was, a 4C on a damp circuit in December. I didn’t expect much. But it was remarkable.

Being damp underfoot, even on our ‘dry’ handling circuit, lightened the 4C’s too-heavy steering, and even more so on the proper ‘wet’ circuit. Reduced grip and relatively smooth surfaces reduce the car’s tugging tendencies and let it show its innate handling balance and that, I’m pleased to say, is absolutely spot on.

There’s a touch of understeer, which can be countered by either lifting or applying more throttle (though the 1750cc engine still delivers too much lag), and then the 4C feels poised, adjustable and agile – like the Norfolk rival it never otherwise threatens to be. At times the steering almost becomes quite good – when it’s only delivering feedback, not kickback. And the brakes are truly exceptional.

Should I buy one?

Truly, it depends where and how you’re going to use your 4C. One of our testers, who only drove it at on circuit, thought it was terrific. Others, who only drove it on the road, where the gearbox, in auto mode, slushes its shifts and gets caught between gears, found it just as exhausting and unsatisfying as before. 

For those of us who tried it everywhere, it was finally gratifying to find, however small, an operating window in which the 4C showed us its best. On smooth circuits, the 4C is, finally, a satisfying, rewarding sports car. But other sports cars still ask less, and deliver more often.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider 

Location Surrey and Warwickshire; On sale NowPrice £59,500; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1750cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 237bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Weight 940kg (dry); Top speed 160mph; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Economy 40.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 161g/km, 27%

Join the debate

Comments
11

16 December 2015
Oh dear...another bad Alfa then. I really hope they get the upcoming Giulia right. If they don't I think its finally the end of the road for the Marque. I don't think the Italians will be able to come back from another botch up!

Cyborg

16 December 2015
Cyborg wrote:

Oh dear...another bad Alfa then. I really hope they get the upcoming Giulia right. If they don't I think its finally the end of the road for the Marque. I don't think the Italians will be able to come back from another botch up!

They have to get it nailed with the Giulia. With low weight to start with and Ferrari involved there is no reason not to, otherwise its hopeless.

ofir

17 December 2015
They should rebrand Alfa Romeo Loto which is Italian for Lotus, as in long slow death of an icon (or Lancia for short).

18 December 2015
A rare beast - only time I have seen a 4c in UK is in a showroom, being displayed alongside Panda's, 107's, Picasso's etc. If it is indeed endangered, then could it become a collectable?

16 December 2015
I don't, so I wont...

It seems to me that in the time it took Jaguar to develop and launch their F Type, Alfa have managed to take the roof off an already average car...

I don't want a F Type either. Porsche Cayman please...

17 December 2015
Love the Halfords special radio they fitted in a £60k car. Looks classy.

17 December 2015
StuM82 wrote:

Love the Halfords special radio they fitted in a £60k car. Looks classy.

Flippin' heck you're right! I hadn't noticed that before. Goes nicely with the manual slidey switch for the air-recirculation mode. Wow.

17 December 2015
Sorry to go all patriotic but I can't see any reason to buy this over a cheaper faster better built lotus. What purpose does this alfa serve except to say our engines aren't very good , we can't make our cars ride or handle well and our build quality is poor. Very disappointing.

17 December 2015
Read this report a couple of times now and I'm blowed if I can find any mention of shoddy build.

17 December 2015
The poor build quality issue wasn't mentioned in this article but in the original tests of the coupe with poor finishes to the interior surfaces and exposed wiring under bonnet mentioned which the reviewer was surprised about considering the large cost of the vehicle. I am assuming not much has changed when alfa lopped off the roof.

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