Alfa Romeo 4C


Debut: 2013
Maker: Alfa Romeo
Predecessor: No



 Published on 30 Oct 2013
All rights reserved. 


The introduction of Alfa 4C caught many people a surprise. You know, in recent years Alfa Romeo has been downgrading from a full-range manufacturer to a company that sells only 2 hatchbacks, i.e. MiTo and Giulietta. There are no more mid-size 159, executive-class 166 as well as the niche GT and Brera. Production volume slid from 200,000 units a decade ago to just over 100,000 units last year. It talked about returning to America time after time but the plan has never materialized. Meanwhile, rumors about the possible takeover by Volkswagen group never die. But then you remember the 8C, a Maserati that happened to wear the Alfa badge. It was a hand-built, very exclusive model that Alfa Romeo needed the least. Somehow, Marchionne liked the idea of 8C because it kept fans happy and their faith on the historic marque alive. At least, it fooled people that Fiat was still committing to Alfa Romeo.

The smaller 4C has the same mission. Being sold at £45,000, this little mid-engined sports car is more expensive than the base Porsche Boxster or Cayman. As a result, it is expected to sell only 3500 cars a year, and production is carried out again by Maserati at Modena like the 8C. Obviously, profitability is not a concern. It might earn a profit or it might make a loss, but either way, that will be too slim to bother Fiat. The big money lies on Chrysler. If Marchionne manages to get Chrysler floating on stock market, he can get the cash to invest into the rest of the group. Then the proposed 3 and 5-series fighters and a couple of SUVs can be developed for Alfa. Unfortunately, this won't happen soon enough. Alfa needs time, so it buys time with the 4C.



It goes without saying that the 4C is a "halo car". It has to look sexy yet dramatic. Moreover, being an Italian sports car, it has to capture your heart from the first sight – unlike many German cars that take a long time to grow on you. Given the glorious track records of Alfa Romeo Centro Stile, we won't doubt its ability to pen such a design. To most extent, the final product doesn't disappoint. This car is short (just shy of 4 meters) but it is incredibly wide (1864 mm) and low (1183 mm). Painted in red, many motoring journalists described it as a baby Ferrari – didn't we hear the same for Fiat X1/9 and Toyota MR2? If Ferrari built a four-cylinder model, it would probably look like this one. However, in my eyes it is even closer to Lotus Elise/Exige/Evora. Those heavily curved fenders, crisped crease lines, taut middle section as well as the glasshouse profile owe more to the British classic than anything ever designed in Italy. That hurts its individuality a little. On the contrary, the combination of triangular grille and V-shape bonnet are purely Alfa. They worked well on all kinds of Alfa since the 156, but on the mid-engined sports car they look even more stylish! A lot less satisfying are the odd "Spider" headlights, which consist of exposed halogen/LED lamps and a black plastic surrounding panel. They saved Alfa a few million euros to engineer bespoke headlights though.

With obvious diffusers and a pronounced boot spoiler, the 4C is one of the few of its class to produce positive downforce without resorting to active aerodynamic aids. Meanwhile, the Cd of 0.34 is not bad.


Let's turn to the technical side. The most special about the 4C is that it is built around a carbon-fiber tub. Until recently, carbon-fiber chassis is still regarded to be exclusive to top supercars like Pagani, Bugatti or Koenigsegg. More recently, McLaren MP4-12C lowered the entry price point to the region of £170,000. Now at £45,000, Alfa 4C is clearly the first affordable application of this exotic technology. Its carbon-fiber tub was designed by Dallara, which also built the carbon tub of KTM X-bow, and produced by Italian supplier Adler Plastic using a new low cost process. It weighs only 65 kg and provides a rigidity that I suspect should be far superior to the extruded aluminum chassis of Lotus Elise. Bolted fore and aft of the tub are aluminum subframes – the rear one supports the engine, gearbox and rear suspensions, while the front is purely crash structure (front suspensions are mounted directly to the tub). There is also an aluminum roll cage mounted behind the seats to protect the occupants as well as to reinforce the roof. Outside, the body shell is made of sheet moulding compound like Lotus, or in our words, simply glass-fiber. This explains why the panel gaps are rather large and inconsistent, failing to deliver the high quality feel of Porsche.

The front suspensions are bespoke double-wishbones with coaxial springs and dampers. The rear ones are MacPherson struts, transplanted from Giulietta Cloverleaf together with the transversely mounted 1750 engine. This seems inferior to the all-wishbones layout of Lotus, but Porsche Boxster/Cayman has been using struts at all corners for years without any complaints.



Unsurprisingly, the 4C is a lightweight. Alfa quotes a dry weight of just 895 kg or a wet weight of 925 kg – the small difference can be explained by the tiny, 40-liter fuel tank. In other words, it weighs the same as a supercharged Elise S. This, in addition to the 40:60 weight distribution, means it doesn't need any kinds of power assistance to corrupt the steering feel. The lightweight also means the dual-cast Brembo brakes (305 mm front and 280 mm rear) provide sensational stopping performance.

As expected, getting into the cockpit takes some skill, because you have to overcome the carbon-fiber sill and the small door aperture. Once inside, however, the space is surprisingly good. There is plenty of head and legroom for a regular size driver. The seats are thin and mounted right on the bare carbon-fiber floor (which looks great), but they are adequately supportive. The dashboard has little style to speak of and the plastic is poorer than a £20K hot hatch. Materials and build quality are no match for Porsche, of course. It might be less spartan than Lotus Elise, but it shows the dark side of Italian workmanship in the way of rough finishes – after all, the cost spent to the expensive chassis has to be recouped elsewhere. Creature comfort stands between Porsche and Lotus. It offers a configurable TFT instrument reading, a few storage spaces, a DNA switch (which alters the gearshift speed, throttle response, stability control etc. to suit your mood) while air-con, radio and electric mirrors are optional (which adds weight though), so it won't be as tiresome to drive as the Lotus.



Well, provided you wear earplugs. Fire the 1750 engine, you will be overwhelmed by plenty of noises – fuel injector noise, valve-gear noise, turbo wastegate whoosh and gearchange noise, not to mention the raucous exhaust bark. This car has no mufflers, and the soundproofing is thin to save weight. All contribute to a hardcore aural appeal. Is it exciting? Yes. It is also purposeful and special. Some even said it sounds like a 1.6 turbo WRC rally car when you drive hard. Is it beautiful? Not quite. The four-cylinder turbo soundtrack has no hope to match a Porsche 6-cylinder boxer or the late Alfa V6.

Neither does its power delivery. This engine is a bit different from that of the Giulietta Cloverleaf. It has the cast iron block replaced with a new aluminum unit to save 22 kg, and the ECU has been tweaked to deliver slightly more peak power and torque, now at 240 hp and 258 lbft respectively. For a motor displacing only 1742 cc, it is amazingly strong. As in Giulietta, it has direct injection and its dual-VVT utilizes scavenging effect to reduce turbo lag. To a car as light as the 4C, 240 horsepower is more than adequte and the mid-range torque is even sensational – some 74 lbft more than the supercharged Elise S! This make the performance claims of 160 mph and 0-60 in 4.3 seconds credible. In straight line for up to 150 mph, it is about as quick as a Cayman S. Nevertheless, the 1750 engine just doesn't shine. Why? Because its output is heavily concentrated to the mid-range. It reaches the peak at around 5500 rpm, from then to the 6500 rpm cut-out there is little reward. As a result, you tend to use its mid-range torque to drive it rather than wind it crazily like you would in a Porsche or you did with the good old Alfa twin-cam. That doesn't sound right for a sports car, especially one with an Alfa badge! Besides, the turbo engine also lacks the instantaneous throttle response of a naturally aspirated motor.

The TCT 6-speed twin-clutch gearbox is similar. Admittedly, its revised software makes it a lot better than the Giulietta Cloverleaf or any other applications in the Fiat group. The gearchange is less jerky and the speed in Dynamic or Race mode is finally quick enough (just). However, the Fiat in-house-built unit is still nowhere as good as Volkswagen DSG, let alone Porsche PDK. After all, its dry-clutch design is oriented to cheap cars instead of performance cars.



That said, you can't deny that the 4C is a very quick and effective driving tool, no matter on road or track. Its handling is really good. Thanks to the stiff chassis, the very wide track and well tuned chassis balance, it corners beautifully, displaying first class roadholding, composure and agility. It feels really light and responsive to steer. In this respect, it feels closer to Elise than Cayman. The 4C corners with absolute neutrality at normal speed. To push it beyond the limits of its grippy tires you need to drive it on a race track, by then it will understeer a bit to make you feel safe. You can provoke it into oversteer with the strong mid-range torque and quick counter steer, but even then it won't be difficult to save. The braking – overspecced for the weight it needs to take care of – is simply mega. As a track tool, the 4C makes even the Cayman S looks a little civilized. Its true rival should be Exige S V6.

Meanwhile, the ride quality is good for a mid-engined sports car, approaching the level of Elise and allowing you to drive fast on mountain roads without reserve. The unassisted steering might feel heavy at parking speed, but once in rolling it is beautifully weighted, and it transfers honest feedback to your hands, including the small kickbacks and vibrations that you might find missing in a new 911.

Ultimately, due to the mediocre engine and gearbox it fails to beat the mighty Cayman S. And this is before we consider the 4C's tiny boot (just 110 liters), near non-existent rear visibility, sub-standard build quality and lack of comfort/safety equipment. However, it does look sexier and feels sportier to drive. Some say the 4C bridges the wide gap between Elise and Cayman S. In my opinion, you had better to see it as an Elise-plus rather than a Cayman S-minus, because in essence it is closer to the Lotus.
Verdict: 
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis

Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires

Kerb weight

Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
4C
2013
Mid-engined, RWD
Carbon-fiber tub + aluminum subframes
Glass-fiber
3989 / 1864 / 1183 mm
2380 mm
Inline-4
1742 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
Turbo
DI
240 hp / 6000 rpm
258 lbft / 2200-4250 rpm
6-speed twin-clutch
F: double-wishbone
R: strut
-
F: 205/40ZR18
R: 235/35ZR19
EU: 925 kg (895 kg dry)
US: 1118 kg
160 mph (c)
4.3 (c) / 4.1*
10.7*
4C Spider
2015
Mid-engined, RWD
Carbon-fiber tub + aluminum subframes
Glass-fiber
3989 / 1864 / 1185 mm
2380 mm
Inline-4
1742 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
Turbo
DI
240 hp / 6000 rpm
258 lbft / 2200-4250 rpm
6-speed twin-clutch
F: double-wishbone
R: strut
-
F: 205/40ZR18
R: 235/35ZR19
EU: 940 kg
US: 1128 kg (kerb)
160 mph (c)
4.3 (c) / 4.2*
11.1*






























Performance tested by: *C&D





AutoZine Rating

4C



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