The car didn’t deviate excessively, but many drivers may find it a distinctly unsettling response. Without driving something equivalent on the same surface though, it's difficult to directly criticise it on. I expect that on smoother roads it'd be taut and well controlled, and just requiring a firmer grip and more attention on rougher surfaces.
Its brakes provided ample and sustained stopping power throughout the laps though, and the pedal offered up good feel and a well-judged degree of travel. Even bleeding off higher speeds proved trouble-free, as you’d hope given the Alfa’s reputed 895kg kerb weight, which is reassuring.
The engine and transmission, however, I wasn't entirely convinced by. The mid-range torque was superb but the 4C's output seemed to tail off quite quickly; initially I began by winding it out and manually shifting, but it felt considerably faster if you stuck to the higher gears and used the torque to surge around the track.
It wasn't quite the engagingly high-revving exotica that I'd expected, somewhat contradictorily, and it was only towards the end of my last lap that I was starting to get a handle on the best way to deploy its power. I'll reserve judgement on the gearbox, but during my brief stint it didn't feel anywhere near as quick or clean as the competitor's offerings.
Nevertheless, I couldn't help feeling that the 1.7-litre unit just felt a little too stressed and a little too ragged for such a precise and hard-driving car. A less heavily boosted 2.0-litre unit, or an extra cylinder or two, could possibly be a better choice for the lightweight 4C. There's nothing wrong with a small displacement engine, mind, but it needs to be super-smooth and suitably high-revving, even if it's a forced induction unit, to gel well with a lightweight sports car.
On the flipside, I was having fun. There's no doubting that fact - the Alfa Romeo 4C is an outright fun car to drive. I was even permitted to use the car’s launch control, which rewards you with a surprisingly smooth and un-dramatic high-speed departure.
Concerns about the car re-arose on the return to the pits, however. A closer inspection revealed that the loose gravel on the track was casually abrading all the paintwork off the trailing edge of the arches, while the underside looked like it had seen a considerable amount of action too.
Peering through the rear-end air vents, I could also see that the underpinnings of the 4C appeared fairly roughly finished; what looked like the airbox from a Giulietta was suspended inside the wing seemingly at random, while pipes, unfinished carbon edges and bracing bars weaved their way around it. That, I thought, would not prove acceptable to some. You'd never see such a lack of detail in a Porsche, for example, and it does appear to be a problem that Alfa has from time to time.
I do wonder what a 4C will be like after a year or two on the road. These examples, which were admittedly well-used press demonstrators, had myriad rattles, fizzes and marks. Previously I’d also been told that Alfa’s twin-clutch transmission had a reputed peak torque capacity of 258lb ft, so it was with a wry smile that I learnt the 4C put out – lo and behold – 258lb ft. It’s a dry clutch-based gearbox too, so potentially more prone to suffering from wear and thermal issues – which isn’t what you want in your sports car.
I’m sure Alfa has engineered out any potential issues like this with the 4C, but part of me remains concerned about ongoing durability. Some tuning companies have already hopped up a few 4Cs though, cranking them to over 400bhp and 330lb ft, with reputedly no issues, but I can’t help feeling they might be treading a fine line between components just surviving and disintegrating into clouds of shrapnel.