Ever since Alfa announced that it was going to build a rear-engined sports car that made extensive use of carbonfibre, I’ve been fascinated to find out what it was actually like.

After all, it was a dramatic move. Alfa’s range was at a low ebb, with just the four-year-old Giulietta and six-year-old Mito occupying its ranks. A model like the 4C would endow the brand with some refreshed cachet and generate much interest, hopefully preparing the market for a series of appealing and competitive new models.

I’d seen the 4C parked up, and on the move, but I’d never actually sat in or driven one. During a range review event, however, the opportunity to test one arose. Admittedly I was only going to get – in automotive terms – mere moments in the car, but it might prove the only opportunity - and regardless, I was grateful for any time in the car at all.

A small course had been built on an airfield, and Alfa had brought along two fully fuelled 4Cs. It was busy, mind, with many other journalists on the event, so our time was going to be limited to three hot laps with an "instructor" alongside – it was clear Alfa was intent on looking after the cars, and understandably so.

As I watched one of the bright red 4Cs roll back into the pit area, brakes ticking noisily as they cooled, it struck me how small the Alfa seemed in person. Despite what you might have been told, it’s a relatively compact sports car – it’s actually shorter than a Mazda MX-5, but the body is over 14cm wider. Its overall measured width is only exacerbated by wide wing mirrors, which grant you a modicum of rearward visibility. It’s still narrower than a Mondeo mind, excluding the mirrors, so for most people it shouldn’t prove much of a problem to manoeuvre and park.

I loved its cab-forward looks too, which tenuously reminded me of the Koenigsegg CCX. In terms of being able to grab your attention and keep your focus, it’s a five-star car – even accounting for the occasionally awkward-looking rear-end styling. At a glance it looked a well-finished and resolved product too, which allayed some fears about it being developed on an overly tight budget.

With the car ready to go, I lowered myself first into the passenger seat – the 4C’s sills are high, like a Corvette - for a sighting lap with the instructor. Almost immediately I banged my knee on an edge or two, before clashing with the box for the heater controls, which juts into the passenger’s leg area. Disconcertingly, the whole assembly flexed slightly, along with the centre console.

My immediate impression was that it did feel very much the stripped-out sports car, with lots of exposed carbonfibre, snug seats and a tight cabin but – disappointingly – there was lots of flimsy, cheap-feeling plastic in places and a host of easily identifiable "borrowed" switchgear. I idly wondered if I’d really be willing to stump up £45k for something like this, a question that became more prominent when I noticed that the very visible surround for the ignition key was heavily marred already.

So, maybe the budget hadn't run to getting the fit, finish and materials spot on. Maybe the car would compensate in the way it performed. On paper, it racks up some impressive numbers. Its rear-mounted 1.7-litre engine puts out a substantial 237bhp and 258lb ft, which is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Because the Alfa’s claimed to weigh just 895kg dry, it’s capable of 0-62mph in 4.5sec and has a top speed of 160mph. For comparison, a PDK-equipped Porsche Cayman S, costing £50,705, will complete the 0-62mph sprint in 4.9sec and hit 174mph.