2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

A flyweight, mid-engined Italian sports car.

  • Likes
  • Steering
  • braking
  • engine sound
  • handling
  • acceleration
  • design and styling
  • Dislikes
  • Visibility
  • turning radius
  • price
  • no manual transmission offered
  • no analog gauges

Alfa Romeo returns to the United States market with a lightweight sports car. The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is the first sub-$100k offering since 1993 from the people who brought us Dustin Hoffman's red convertible in The Graduate. While the 4C is a mid-engine, hardtop two-seater rather than a roadster, it is every bit as romantic as that 1960s "Spider Duetto."

Powered by a 1.75-liter turbocharged inline-four which puts out 237 horsepower, the 4C's performance is good, with 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and a 12.7-second quarter mile time. But straight-line speed is not this car's reason for being. To experience the 4C in its element, you need to find a mountain road with plenty of hairpin turns or a short, technical road course on a race track. There you can take the smallish, flat-bottomed steering wheel in hand, warm up the tires and feel the glorious dance of rubber on pavement in a way that no other new car can duplicate, at any price.

The designers of the Alfa 4C went to great lengths to make sure it was as stunning to look at as it was to drive. They didn't succeed, but that's because no amount of staring at the car can equal the experience of driving the 4C. Those designers did a fantastic job, however, at conjuring a shape that is both traditional and cutting edge, a shape that's evocative of summer nights among the terraced hills of Nice or Los Angeles, fireflies dancing in headlights and the boundless romance that you imagine lies ahead when you're 15 and a half and about to get a drivers' license for the first time.

Steeped as it is in the idea of the sports car, the Alfa Romeo 4C is extremely contemporary and high-tech, even to a fault. The digital gauge cluster features an animated tachometer, boost gauge and temperature gauge, which look cheesy compared to a real analog cluster. There is no manual transmission offered, only a 6-speed dual-clutch unit with paddle shifters. Pull on the right paddle to upshift, the left to downshift. This dual-clutch sequential may be the fastest way to shift gears, but in a car as driver-focused as the 4C, we would wish for at least the option of a clutch pedal and gear shift lever.

The 4C also comes with switchable driving modes, something that's catching on rapidly in almost every segment of the car market today. Alfa calls their version "DNA," and it features four distinct programs selectable via a toggle switch on the center console. "All-weather mode" dulls throttle response and engages traction control for slippery surfaces, "natural mode" optimizes shift points for touring comfort, "dynamic mode" increases throttle response and speeds up gear-changes, and finally, "race mode" deactivates stability control to allow drifting and even quicker transient response.

Journalists have been comparing the new Alfa Romeo to a budget Ferrari or a reborn Lancia Stratos, and there's a reason for all the hype and hyperbole. It's not what the 4C has, but what it doesn't have: in this age of ever-increasing curb weights and ever-decreasing driver involvement, the 4C is a true purist's car — a back-to-basics lightweight sports car with a manual steering rack.

That's right — no power steering.

It also has less engine power than a Ford Focus ST. But the 4C isn't about power, it's about passion. The real significance of this Alfa Romeo is that it's one of the only cars you can buy that's entirely designed as an aesthetic and emotional statement. It's more of a banner for everything the Alfa brand wants to be known for than a product in and of itself. And with the Italian automaker having announced its plans to sell eight new models at 300 new franchised dealerships in the US by 2018, its banner offering better be good.

And it is. The sound alone of the 4C is, for an enthusiast, utterly addictive. From the burble of the exhaust on overrun to the fierce whistle of the blow-off valve, the Alfa 4C plays an etude of mechanical joy.

Then there's the drive. Sitting at go-kart height, you feel like the road has become the groove of a record and you in the Alfa Romeo have become the needle. Thanks to the 4C's feathery curb weight and short, short gearing, the torque rush is immediate and sudden as a mule kick. The manual steering is surprisingly light, requiring no greater arm effort than we're used to, but it provides plenty of feedback as the 4C snorts and claws its way around corners. One thing we noticed was that there is very little self-centering on the 4C's helm. Like a go-kart's steering wheel, it only moves where you move it, which can take some getting used to. It's also, even in race mode, very hard to get the 4C sideways; despite its mid-engine layout, the Alfa Romeo tends to go from a neutral cornering attitude to mild understeer at the limit. We even found ourselves trail-braking to help the car rotate. The brakes, cross-drilled and ventilated discs all around, are sublime, stopping the 4C from 60-0 in only 97 feet, with the kind of short pedal travel and millimeter sensitivity that would make for great heel-and-toe downshifts... that is, if it came with a manual transmission.

Almost everyone who falls in love with a 4C won't buy one. But Sergio Marchionne is hoping that at least some of those starry-eyed converts will save up and buy one of Alfa Romeo's subsequent US exports, said to include a small, rear-wheel-drive sedan and hatchback competing with the likes of the BMW 3 series.

At a starting price of $55,195 with cloth seats and no glove box, the 4C is in some ways the worst value on the car market today. But if you're among the purists, it's a huge bargain. About 1,000 examples are on their way to the United States over the next year, the first 500 of which will be special, fully-optioned "launch edition" variants priced at $69,695.

Warranty/Service: 4-year/50,000 mile limited warranty, 4-year/50,000 mile powertrain warranty, 4-year/50,000 mile roadside assistance

Visit the Alfa Romeo website

Specs

Base Price: $55,195

As Tested: $55,195

  • 24 / 34 mpg
  • EPA
  • 4.3 sec
  • 0-60
  • 237 hp
  • Horsepower
  • 160 mph
  • Top Speed
  • Engine: 1.75-liter 4 turbo
  • Horsepower: 237 hp
  • Torque: 258
  • Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch sequential
  • Curb Weight: 2,465 lbs
  • Wheelbase: 93.7 in
  • Length: 157.5 in
  • Width: 73.5 in
  • Height: 46.6 in
  • Turning circle: 40.5 ft
  • Brakes: F/R: Vented disc with 4-piston fixed calipers/ vented disc with 2-piston fixed calipers
  • Suspension: F/R: Ind. upper and lower A arms, coil spring, anti-roll bar/ ind. upper and lower A arms, coil spring, anti-roll bar
  • Traction: Traction and stability control standard; fully defeatable, traction off, launch control
  • 0-60 mph: 4.3 sec
  • 60-0 mph: 97 ft.
  • Top Speed: 160 mph
  • EPA City: 24 mpg
  • EPA Highway: 34 mpg
  • Combined MPG: 0 mpg
  • Seating Capacity: 2
  • Safety: Dual front and side air bags, carbon safety cell

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