Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe and Spider review – it may look like a miniature supercar, but does it drive like one?

Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe and Spider review – it may look like a miniature supercar, but does it drive like one?:

Alfa Romeo 4C front white
For 
Incredible looks and an exotic chassis

Against 
Steering, engine, steering, cabin quality and steering

With a carbon fibre chassis, unassisted steering and those looks, how can the 4C fail to impress?

evo Verdict

Arguably the 4C will never live up to the colossal expectations we put on it. It’s a small, rear drive, sports car with unassisted steering and a carbon fibre chassis. If that isn’t tantalising enough, it looks like a miniature Italian supercar. But above all, it’s an Alfa Romeo; a brand that despite not really having properly catered for enthusiasts since the 80s still has a reputation for being the connoisseur’s choice.

The 4C doesn’t just fall short of our hopes it thoroughly disappoints. The focussed nature that the exotic carbon chassis and unassisted steering promise, is not something the 4C delivers on. There are times where the 4C is enjoyable, but the window is so narrow you rarely get to appreciate it.

However, that doesn’t stop it looking so incredible, nor does it stop it being an Alfa and that will be enough for some.

evo Tip

At £7000 more, the Spider is significantly costlier than the Coupe. As they are predominantly the same car, just one has a removable roof, it doesn’t seem worth the premium.

The Spider gets a different set of headlights though. They are much more like lights on the original concept and are much prettier than the units on the Coupe. But, £7000 is still a lot for some headlights.

evo Comment

‘The parpy exhaust note is entertaining in moderation, if not as cultured as those of six-cylinder rivals from Porsche and Lotus, and the styling will always be a highlight.’ David Vivian

Performance and 0-60mph time

Considering just the numbers, the Alfa 4C is impressive. It has a power-to-weight ratio of 269bhp/ton. That’s partly thanks to its 1750cc (actually 1742cc, if we’re being precise) engine producing 237bhp. But it is its low weight, thanks to it’s carbon fibre chassis that helps boost its performance.

The 4C Coupe and Spider share the same drivetrain, and because of that carbon fibre chassis remains reasonably stiff even with out a roof, the Spider is only 45kg heavier. The extra weight makes such little difference that Alfa claim the same performance figures for them both; they reach 0-62mph in 4.5sec and have a top speed of 160mph.

The featherweight Alfa certainly feels quick. In the higher reaches of its engine, the 4C flies down a road. The 4C will certainly test your commitment way before it reaches its own limits.

Engine and gearbox

Controversially, the Alfa makes do with a turbocharged in-line 4 cylinder. Rather than spend their money on an exotic engine, Alfa opted for a more ordinary powertrain then spent the remaining money on a fancy carbon fibre chassis. Immediately, after starting the engine, it certainly seems like this may have been a mistake. Rather than a pleasant sound, the exhaust emits a droning noise that’s just slightly too loud.

The engine doesn’t behave like a modern turbocharged engine either. The no nonsense, undramatic, linear delivery from really low-down in the rev range that we’re used to from modern turbocharged engines, does not characterise the 1750cc unit in the 4C. The Alfa’s engine needs 3200rpm before it seems to wake up. After that though, it really begins to pull.

The noise from the exhaust remains droney and antisocial, but as the revs rise, there’s a whooshing from the turbocharger and then chirps from the wastgates on a closed throttle. It might not be the most sophisticated engine, but there is an old-school charm to it’s overtly turbocharged nature.

With every gearshift, there’s a flatulent exclamation from the exhaust. Thankfully though, the gearbox is responsive and the up and down shifts happen relatively quickly. Each change isn’t as clear and defined as the best double-clutch transmissions, but it’s never frustrating or obtrusive. The ratios are nicely judged too, each gear keeps the turbo on-boost nicely.

With the ‘box left in it’s auto mode, it seems to always choose one ratio too low. However, it might only seem this way because the tuneless engine begins to grate as the revs increase, and you seek any way of reducing the noise.

Ride and handling 

When nestled in the 4C, you feel low and close to the ground. The interior is small, but the seating position is good so it’s easy to get comfortable. From the inside the blaring exhaust isn’t dissimilar to that of a modern day WRC car.

The rally-esque noise, combined with it’s pretty exterior and slightly cramped interior, could convince you that the 4C is a modern day Lancia Stratos. But, just as modern rallying is less spectacular, sounds worse and is marginally disappointing, so is the 4C.

The driving experience in the little Alfa is probably best described as demanding; it requires your full attention to try and thread it down a challenging road. The unassisted steering that, in concept, has the potential to offer uncorrupted, pure and delicate steering feel, couldn’t be further from that expectation. Around the dead-ahead position, the steering is light and vague. Also, the 4C seems to seek out even the slightest cambers in the road and over any imperfections the steering wheel is tugged around in your hands.  

You need to make constant corrections with the steering. Catching little drags, or pointing the car back onto the trajectory you’d originally wanted to take. Even on A-roads and motorways, it doesn’t settle.

Away from towns and dual carriageways, and onto the sort of roads a sportscar should be designed for, the steering still blights the experience. Bumps and ruts will cause the Alfa to dramatically shift one way or another, sometimes mid corner.

The bumps and ridges that affect the steering so significantly are also transmitted through the chassis thanks to a slightly harsh ride. It’s not unbearably stiff though, and suits the more hardcore nature that the exposed carbon chassis, bare aluminium pedals and loud exhaust establish.

Considering the stiff ride, and how wide and low the 4C feels, there’s more body roll and pitch than you’d expect. It’s not the stubbornly stiff, road-racer you might imagine. The body movements, although surprising to begin with, are actually very well managed. The suspension never allows too much roll, just enough to help you gauge how hard you are driving.

The front dives under braking, which really helps load up the front tyres. With such a light car the brakes don’t have much to deal with, and so, are very effective. There’s no exaggerated initial bite either, meaning they feel very progressive and easy to modulate too.

During braking is when the steering feels most consistent. With more pressure on the front tyres, the pulling and tugging from the steering is reduced. As expected though, under acceleration with most of the weight on the rear tyres, the steering changes again and feels very vague and unpredictable.

The body roll contributes to the huge amount of cornering grip the 4C possesses. You can, with enough conviction, enter a bend at quite significant speeds and there’s plenty of traction on the exit too. But having the dedication to commit to a corner requires some faith. As you come off the brake, turning into a corner, you feel disconnected from the steering just for a moment. It isn’t long, but it’s enough to destroy any confidence as you aren’t sure how the 4C is going to behave; will it grip and turn-in or understeer and wash wide.

Dig deep, and push the 4C closer to the limits of its grip and things become scruffy. The front will be fall into understeer which then, very quickly transforms into oversteer. Without an LSD, the resulting slide is best caught immediately. The whole process feels scruffy and unsatisfying, and confirms the Alfa is best at driven at a more relaxed pace.

As the steering in both the Spider and the Coupe both feel the same, and it’s what completely dominates the experience, there isn’t much that separates the two. The Spider does allow you more access to the engine noise, but that isn’t exactly a good thing.

On a smooth track, the steering no longer tries to divert you off your chosen path, however it still feels numb. The rest of the experience is much the same as on the road, but exaggerated further. Push hard and there is excessive understeer, followed by large amounts of, unsatisfying, oversteer.

When trying to extract a lap time, the engine and gearbox, that are reasonable on the road, become frustrating. Shifts feel sluggish, and the poor throttle response doesn’t allow for the fine adjustment needed on track.

MPG and running costs 

One of the many benefits of a light car is that they’re more affordable to run. With both the Coupe and Spider weighing in at less than a ton, they shouldn’t rack up huge bills when it comes to their consumable items. Tyres and brakes should last well, unless driven hard a lot.

Fuel consumption should be similarly impressive. The official figures are 41.5mpg around town and 56.5mpg on the motorway. Don’t, however, expect to the 4C to be that efficient in real life, especially if you wish to use any of its performance. Anticipate to average about 30mpg. That may be somewhat away from the claimed figures, but it’s still impressive for a sportscar with this pace.

One of the benefits of the Alfa’s more conventional 4-cylinder engine is that all of the UK Alfa dealerships will be equipped to service the 4C. So despite being a significant departure from the rest of the Alfa range, getting your 4C looked after won’t be a problem.

Prices and rivals 

The 4C is, undoubtedly, expensive considering it’s rival and how competent they are. The Coupe starts at £53,255 while the Spider is £7000 more at £60,255.

Since the demise of the naturally aspirated flat six from the Boxster and Cayman, the Porsches can no longer trump the 4C in terms of powertrains so considerably. We have only driven Porsche’s new turbocharged four cylinder in the 718 Boxster, and although it doesn’t match the old engine it is far nicer than the Alfa’s very industrial feeling motor. The 718 is also a far more resolved, fun and satisfying car to drive than the 4C and is significantly cheaper. The 718 Cayman S is £48,834, while the Boxster S is £50,695.

In terms of price, the 4C Spider is on a par with the Porsche Boxster Spyder. With a more driver-focused chassis, a back to basics interior and roof, it’s more like the hardcore Alfa. But, with the atmospheric flat six engine from a Carrera and an intuitive and natural driving experience it destroys the 4C.

If the Porsche’s are too soft for your tastes, then the Lotus Exige should placate you. Like the Alfa they do without assisted steering, but instead of ruining the way they drive it only enhances it. The Exige’s aluminum chassis might not be as exotic as the Alfa’s but it still keeps the Lotus’s weight down to 1166kg; considering its supercharged V6 that’s an impressive figure. The Exige isn’t just an extremely talented road car though, it’s well within its abilities on a track too. An Exige S Coupe is £55,450, so a bit more than the hard-top 4C, but the Roadster is cheaper than the Spider at £56,450.

Often considerably more expensive, less capable and with uninspiring engine, the 4C doesn’t stack up very well next to it’s rivals; that’s the price you pay for a carbon fibre chassis.

Interior and tech

The interior is full of contradictions. The carbon fibre chassis is kept bare except for a few bits of carpet in the foot wells and an aluminum kick-plate for the passenger. The driver gets an exposed pedal box and an aluminum footrest. It’s sparse, hardcore and has a real racecar feel; everything seems functional, only the aluminum components show any sign of being designed.

Going up, the leather seats start to add a bit of luxury. They’re trimmed nicely and they are set really low. However, there isn’t much lateral support and base doesn’t stretch very far forward, leaving your legs unsupported too. The premium feel continues with thick leather door pulls, a leather trimmed centre storage unit that’s closed with a natty metal buckle. If you opt for the Spider, the roof is secured with metal clasps that look great and are wonderfully satisfying to use.

The no nonsense road racer attitude combined with high quality, luxury touches is an appealing contrast, reminiscent of an old 60s Ferrari built for GT racing. Sadly the level of quality plummets for the rest of the interior. The DNA switch, which controls the Alfa’s different chassis and gearbox modes, is just a generic Alfa switch that looks like it’s been abandoned on the centre console. The buttons to select drive, reverse and neutral are non-descript black plastic items. While the heater controls look and feel like they’re straight from the budget Fiat parts bin.

Then you get to the driver’s controls. The digital dash, which is neatly made up of one screen that incudes the speedo, rev counter and everything else you might need, looks terrible. The graphics would be more at home in a cheap, early 00s, racing game than in a £55,000 sports car.

Now finally, the steering wheel. The twin spoke design, might not be to everyone’s tastes to look at but what it does is create two very large spokes right where your hands go. Combined with the thick rim, it makes holding the wheel in a position where you can reach the paddles really awkward.

Just like much of the 4C, the interior gets a lot right but is dragged down by simple oversights and poor attention to detail.

Design

The one area where the 4C flourishes is how it looks. It sits low and wide and has all the proportions of a supercar, just one that’s been shrunk in the wash. Whether it’s the Coupe or the Spider, it looks stunning from every angle.

I do prefer the lights of the Spider; the bug-like, multi-eyes that sit on the front of the Coupe look too fussy and don’t look as pure as the Spider’s lights, which are similar to those of the 4C concept.

These looks draw a huge amount of attention, too. People seem to love it, and they respond well to it rather than begrudge you, which is what most flash cars seems to accomplish. If all you ever wanted from a car was admiring glances, other cars buzzing round you on the motorway so their drivers can get a better look and your picture taken everytime you reached a built-up area, the 4C is certainly for you.

30 Apr 2016

(Via Featured Articles)