From £51,4248
The Alfa Romeo 4C may look better than it drives. But by gum, it looks good
Matt Prior
15 January 2014

What is it?

This is the first time we’ve had the chance to drive Alfa Romeo’s 4C coupé in the UK. When we drove it overseas we liked it a great deal, reckoning it would breathe some valuable life back into an Alfa Romeo brand which, today, is otherwise limited to just the Mito and Giulietta. Even Ferrari has a bigger line-up than Alfa. 

So if there’s a car to spark Alfa’s renaissance, the 4C could be it. What better way than a mid-engined coupé with a carbonfibre tub, to be built by the thousand rather than the hundred? Punters seem to think so, too: the UK’s allocation of cars for 2014 is sold out, as are the launch-edition cars like our test car – a white, left-hooker with a few choice options that lift the price to around £54,000. 

The mechanical spec of all variants is the same, though. A 1750cc turbocharged engine, transversely mounted behind the cabin, drives the rear wheels through a six-speed, twin-clutch gearbox, and Alfa’s ‘electronic Q2’ differential (an extension of the stability control that brakes a spinning inside wheel to mimic a mechanical limited-slip diff).

What's it like?

Good, all told. Loud, certainly. The claimed weight (empty, rather than an official European Directive EC figure) is only 895kg.

Road-ready, the 4C will be more than that when we put it on our scales, but clearly few of those kilos are sound insulation. The noise is all whooshes and fizzes from the heavily turbocharged motor – which produces 237bhp from its 1.75 litres – and it echoes throughout the stiff tub and the relatively spartan cabin. The launch edition cars have an optional sports exhaust, which doesn’t hinder (or help, depending on your outlook).

The cockpit isn’t as bare as a Lotus Elise’s or Exige’s (because of the similar layout, inevitably we’ll perceive those Lotuses as this car’s main rival), and it feels of higher material grade, but neither is it quite so driver focused. The seats lack lateral and under-thigh support, and the steering wheel’s too flat-bottomed and thick of rim, but the paddles for the gearshift are good and the digital instruments sweet. 

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The steering is unassisted, and lighter than an Exige’s when manoeuvring, but as you add speed it’s less intuitive than the Lotus’s. Perhaps not surprising. This is Alfa’s first crack and Lotus is pretty good at tuning steering. There’s a little kickback over rough surfaces if you’re cornering at the same time, too, and the ride is firm. Not uncomfortable, really, just firm, connected.

Our UK drive took us up the M1 (boomy, increasingly so the faster you go) and onto damp roads around the Peak District, where the 4C gave us its best. On twisting roads it’s agile, planted, and easy and engaging to thread through corners. It tugs and weaves a little over bad cambers and surfaces, but by no more than you’d expect. It’s an enjoyable ride.

Then we headed to a circuit, cold but dry, where the 4C displayed handling biased towards understeer, to about the same extent as an Elise. Which is fine. 

It won’t simply power through that phase – the turbocharged engine doesn’t respond rapidly or powerfully enough, and in a way the 4C then behaves like a McLaren 12C: giving understeer that extra throttle only exacerbates. Instead, then, you need to lift on the way into a bend, get the nose planted, and then ask for a lot of power. 

That way the 4C will indulge you, tightening its line (or more), though with less precision than you’d hope because of the boosty throttle repsonse. For our money, a supercharged Elise is a more rewarding, better steering, more linearly responsive drive, and by a margin. Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale a Porsche Cayman is more complete and comfortable. But the Alfa gives a different proposition to both of those. And that the 4C is as good as it is gives us cause for celebration.

Should I buy one?

Certainly. And not just look at it, or to listen to (the volume is truly extraordinary; and the more I heard, the more I thought it was more Lancia 037 than hotted Fiesta RS Turbo). To drive too it is rewarding and pleasurable – so long as you don’t expect the last word in finesse. 

It’s a great flagship for the range, but let’s hope it goes on to represent something more than that. If all Alfas were like this, the company would have no dramas at all.

Alfa Romeo 4C

Price £45,000 (around £54,000 as tested); 0-62mph 4.5 sec; Top speed 160mph; Economy 41.5mpg (combined); CO2 157g/km; Kerb weight 895kg; Engine 4-cylinder, 1742cc, turbocharged, petrol; Installation Mid, transverse, RWD; Power 237bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 2200-4250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch auto

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fadyady 16 January 2014

Looks really nice in white

Looks really nice in white.
philcUK 16 January 2014

A grower

I think its harsh to criticise a cars looks based purely on its lights - if you dont like them then change them - personally I like the optional LED's with carbon fibre surrounds - think they look great but hey - thats just me. try it on the configurator and see for yourself.

I also think this will be grower and hope that Alfa invest the time and resources to let it grow and be fine tuned to iron out some of its rough edges - has the potential to be a great car.

Smilerforce 16 January 2014

philcUK wrote:I think its

philcUK wrote:

I think its harsh to criticise a cars looks based purely on its lights - if you dont like them then change them - personally I like the optional LED's with carbon fibre surrounds - think they look great but hey - thats just me. try it on the configurator and see for yourself.

I also think this will be grower and hope that Alfa invest the time and resources to let it grow and be fine tuned to iron out some of its rough edges - has the potential to be a great car.

I agree it's a tad pedantic criticising a car on its lights, but this is Alfa Romeo that has always laboured over its aesthetics more often than not at the expense of its function. Yet this time when it appears they have really focused on engineering a really good Alfa they stick them stinking lights on!

Zimmerit 16 January 2014

Can't see it selling well for many years?

Really! the LE version has sold out and good luck on buying a 2014 m/y version. Alfa appear to be selling every one Maserati makes - or more correctly the autoclaves can churn out.

I'll save my verdict until I have driven one. CAR magazine and Chris Harris have agreed on some things but not others but all agree it's rather good.(i'll ignore EVO as a branch of the Porsche Owners Club in print).

Other than the T33 can't remember another mid engined Alfa though and chassis tuning a mid engined sports car is arguably the hardest black art of all.

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