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 test, its 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%