“I swear to you,” says the animated Italian to my left: “even wet, it will weigh less than a tonne. The steering: manual (he means unassisted). Nothing between you and the car. But I’m sorry - I can’t tell you how much the carbon tub costs.”

He shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes. If he’s lying, at least he’s bothering to put on a show.

The man in question is Davide Kluzer, PR man for Alfa Romeo. And the car he is talking about – the one I’m riding in, in the direction of the Goodwood hillclimb startline – could just be the most significant new sports car of the last ten years: the Alfa Romeo 4C.

Couldn’t be much else. How many other new mainstream sports cars have come along since the original Lotus Elise, offering such Elise-like promise? But, while the driving will have to wait until later in the year, our first impressions of this new mid-engined welterweight can be formed here and now, under the gaze of the Goodwood crowd.

That crowd throngs around the 4C as we queue up to take the marshall’s flag. Some ask if it’s real. Others how much power there is, and what it’ll cost.

One bloke says he’s got an order in for an early car, and asks politely if he should sell his Porsche 993 to complete on it. Of course he should. The Alfa’s all set to be one of the most acclaimed debuts of this year, and it’s already sold out until the second half of 2014.

To sit in, the 4C’s proportioned more like the aforementioned Lotus than the Porsche Cayman it’s priced against. The sills are wide, the cabin intimate. I’m 6ft 3in, and with the seat right back I’ve just about got enough kneeroom under the dashboard, just about enough headroom under the roof. With a helmet on, my head’s on the rooflining – just as it would be in an Exige. 

The lacquered carbon tub speaks of rigidity and lightness before you’ve even turned a wheel. Before I got here, I was thinking Alfa might have overpriced the car, but actually, is there anything else offering structural carbon like this for less than £50k? Answers on a postcard.

We approach the line. Davide buttons the paddleshift TCT box into manual mode and, as the flag drops, gives it the lot. Lordy – there’s plenty of torque.

Alfa won’t say how much just yet, but the whistling 237bhp turbo four snorts through the middle of the rev range with angry potency. Seems like it could rev out a bit more freely, but you can’t argue with the performance level.

The ride’s flat and calm; not stiff by any stretch. There is body movement but it’s quickly, effortlessly controlled: that evident lack of mass and body stiffness presenting again. Should be a good compromise for the road. The steering looks direct but trustworthy. I grab it once we’re stationary again. Blimey, it is unassisted. Lighter than the wheel on an Elise, though.

If all goes according to plan, we’ll have a 4C at our annual Britain’s Best Driver’s Car test this autumn. Here’s my prediction: we’ll say the powertrain could be more special, but it’ll finish top three anyway. This has all the hallmarks of a proper, real-world, reference sports car.

And as is readily apparent from the Goodwood reception, there’s a whole generation of buyers crying out for one of those from Alfa Romeo.