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 Now; Price £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%