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

Our Verdict

Alfa Romeo 4C
Alfa 4C is built to encapsulate all of the Alfa Romeo brand values

The 4C is Alfa's first true driver's car for decades, and it shows how brilliantly a small turbo four can go and sound in a lightweight package

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. 

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

Join the debate

Comments
14

15 January 2014
So, just like an Elise/Exige then. £50k well spent.

15 January 2014
This must be depressing reading for Lotus. They make cars that aim at the same market, but from the sound of it, drive better without as much understeer, without turbo lag, with a manual box . I would argue that the Lotus alternatives look better too.

Its not even as if either has a reputation for reliability or build quality that is better than the other.

Yet Alfa has sold its entire first year allocation already which is hardly any less than Lotus sold here it total last year.

Is the appeal of an Alfa badge worth that much?

IAD

15 January 2014
This car will in no doubt take sales away from Lotus and Porsche but it wouldn't hurt the Stuttgart based company as much as it will do over at Hethel. So maybe the Elise concept (which is a fabulous looking car) designed by Donato Coco wasn't a bad idea after all. Especially given that a car company has not only designed a car which is as good as the existing Elise or Exige dynamically but looks a million times better.

16 June 2014
.

15 January 2014
I don't understand the fuss around this car. It's pleasant enough to look at but not beautiful (those headlights look cheap and nasty) and the same can be said for the interior, though the heater controls look like they belong in a mid 90s hatchback. It's laboured with a dual clutch gearbox and a 4 cylinder engine and doesn't drive as well as its competitors. It may be predictable, but I'd take a finely polished Cayman with a howling 6 cylinder engine and a manual gearbox any day.

16 January 2014
I'm joining the light band wagon and they do look like something you would get out of Christmas cracker, but it wouldn't be an alfa without a few cut corners.

I think 8C was more of looker. Bolder styling usually suits larger cars.

16 January 2014
Can someone persuade Alfa Romeo to start painting that ugly grey headlamp surround to each respective's car body colour?

It would look so much better!

kd

16 January 2014
- dont see why it would make depressing reading for Lotus. They come out higher in most aspects of the review and currently can sell everything they make, have around a 3 month waiting list and have the slowest depreciating cars in the uk at present - for a car basically designed nearly 20 years ago.
They must be breathing a sigh of relief that their product still comes out on top!!

16 January 2014
That would be a Lotus Europa then. Why don't Lotus put the Europa back into production as a limited run special? With the new Lotus engines and a step up in quality they could sell out too.

As for this being "Alfa's first crack", at what exactly? A sports car? Surely not. Lotus probably are better at tuning steering and chassis dynamics than Alfa but then Lotus are better at it than virtually any other car company. Given the fanfare, investment and hype surely the Alfa 4C should be properly sorted instead of not being "the last word in finesse" For £54000 as tested the buyer should expect and get finesse.

16 January 2014
'ere we go again, another flawed Alfa. I can't see this car selling well for many years.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

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