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Alfa Romeo 4C review

The Good

  • Stunningly beautiful
  • Fast
  • Bonkers

The Bad

  • Runs out of puff at speed
  • Sometimes difficult to drive
4

Our Alfa Romeo 4C review reveals a stunningly beautiful, difficult to handle, but ultimately very rewarding sports car.

Alfa’s reputation for building beautiful, driver-focused cars precedes it. Every petrolhead worth his or salt will have lusted after something from the Alfa stable, despite the company not having released anything truly sporty for some time.

Enter the 4C, a lightweight, no-nonsense baby supercar that truly embodies Alfa’s sporting DNA. It’s gorgeous, of that there can be little debate, and it will shore up Alfa’s reputation, but is it actually any good? Rory Reid took it for an extended spin on British roads to see what it’s really about.

Design

“It’s a glorious piece of design that turns heads effortlessly.”Stunning. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Choose your adjective. The 4C is, most will agree, art on wheels. It’s a glorious piece of design that turns heads effortlessly. In many ways it’s reminiscent of the 8C Competizione, Alfa’s last attempt at a supercar, and that’s no bad thing.

The 4C’s headlights will be a bone of contention for some, unless you consider spiders’ eyes anything other than freakish-looking. This writer, after first clasping human eyes on them at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show was convinced they’d ruined the look of the 4C. However in the real world, in amongst a sea of dull, flat headlights with unimaginative glass panels, they’re actually a breath of fresh air and contribute to the 4C’s exoticness.

It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into the 4C’s design. Alfa’s mantra with this car was fastidious weight reduction. As such, it’s built the 4C’s tub, the underlying shell onto which everything else is attached, from lightweight carbon fibre. It’s paid off; the 4C weighs a quite paltry 875kg, roughly a third less than cars of a similar ilk, giving the prospect of exceptional handling and performance.

Pretty doesn't begin to describe the 4C.

Practicality

“It’s tricky to get in and out of without flashing your underwear or injuring your spine.”The Alfa Romeo 4C is a small sports cars, so those expecting easy day-to-day use will be left disappointed. Its high door sills and low seats mean it’s tricky to get in and out of without flashing your underwear or injuring your spine (although it’s not as bad as a Lotus Exige S in that respect).

Those sat in the passenger seat draw the short straw, and not just for the most obvious reason. The dashboard, a relatively cheap-looking plastic affair, impinges slightly on knee room, and the footwell is shallow, meaning those over 5’11” may occasionally bash their legs against the dash. Leggy companions may be far from impressed.

Long-legged blondes need not apply. Unless they're also contortionists.

“The boot’s proximity to the engine bay means your groceries will cook before you get them home.”There are creature comforts, it must be said, but most are inherently flawed. There are two cup holders, but these are both incredibly shallow, so aggressive driving may cause your beverages to spill. There’s a leather pouch ahead of the passenger seat in lieu of a glove box, but we lost count of the number of times items such as phones flew out of that pouch and onto the seat or floor after a burst of acceleration.

There’s a boot, but it seems to want to defy you in every way possible. It’s small, so don’t expect it to hold much more than a couple of small backpacks. Place shopping in there at your own risk; its proximity to the engine bay means your groceries will cook before you get them home.

Opening and closing the boot is sometimes an exercise in patience; the lock on our test car was occasionally problematic, and you may find you need to balance the boot lid on your head when unloading large loads, as closing the boot is a two-handed affair.

The 4C weighs less than 900kg.

Performance & Handling

“A launch control feature helps you nail your starts when a quick getaway is crucial.”Nothing with a 1.75-litre engine should have enough power to pull the shell off a boiled egg, but the 4C is as rapid as they come, mainly due to Alfa’s dramatic weight saving measures. The engine, a turbocharged unit, produces a total of 240bhp – roughly the same as an average hot hatch, but the 4C’s power-to-weight ratio is a very favourable 268bhp per tonne.

0-62mph is dispatched in a blistering 4.5 seconds, quicker than many cars of a similar size. There is some turbo lag, but a launch control feature helps you nail your starts when a quick getaway is crucial, and the paddle-shifted 6-speed TCT semi-automatic gearbox means it’s possible to keep the revs up and the turbo from falling asleep, for the most part.

The 4C may be supercar swift from a standstill, but it’s fairly ordinary as it approaches triple digits. Don’t expect much in the way of aggression as you reach motorway speeds. Above 70mph it seems to run out of puff.

The 4C accelerates rapidly to 62mph.

“The lack of power steering occasionally makes manoeuvring an exercise in brute strength.”The 4C isn’t exactly happy at very low speed, either. The lack of power steering occasionally makes manoeuvring an exercise in brute strength, though it does lighten up when you’re on the move. Once mobile, feel through the steering is unfettered to the point of it being distracting. On pock-marked roads, the car has a tendency to chase imperfections, tram lining alarmingly away from its course. At speed you’ll need to maintain high levels of concentration, not to mention a tight grip on the wheel, to keep the 4C straight and true. Its suspension is surprisingly compliant.

The car’s handling is impressive for the most part. It feels agile and grips tenaciously, understeering as its front tyres reach their grip limits. That understeer is easy enough to avoid thanks to the strong brakes, although some may bemoan the lack of pedal travel (it feels like you’re jamming your foot onto a rock rather than a pedal at times). It’s even possible to correct said understeer with a bootload of power, but you’ll need to ensure you keep the engine in its ‘happy place’, or it can feel like an age until the turbo delivers the power necessary to mitigate your understeer.

Bottom line: The 4C is blisteringly quick, a handful to drive on tricky surfaces, slightly gutless at high speed, but tremendous fun (if slightly terrifying) most of the time.

But isn't quite as fast once at motorway speeds.

Economy & Environment

Alfa Romeo claims the 4C will return 41.5mpg with 157g/km of CO2 emissions, which is pretty damn impressive for a car with this level of performance. Of course, your own mileage will vary, but if you can resist the urge to bury the accelerator you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how frugal it is – for a sports car.

Equipment & Value

“The sound quality is quite awful due to the rubbish speakers on offer.”The Alfa Romeo 4C’s equipment list is pretty sparse. You get a height and reach adjustable steering wheel, sports seats, remote central locking, a TFT instrument screen, electric door mirrors and that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t even come with a radio as standard. Instead Alfa lists ‘provision’ for a radio; in other words there’s a socket into which they can install a Parrot Asteroid head unit.

Fitted to our test car, this unit is clever in many ways, allowing access to a sat-nav, emails, bluetooth and various apps, though the sound quality is quite awful due to the rubbish speakers on offer.

Alfa offers a Racing Pack, which includes racing suspension, racing exhaust, AR Racing tyres, 5-hole alloy wheels and a sports steering wheel. There’s also a luxury pack, which gives you leather and microfibre fabric on the seats as well as bi-LED carbon fibre-clad headlights.

The stereo is pants.

Safety

If you’re a rubbish driver, or you’re heavy footed with poor concentration, it’s probably only a matter of time before you crash the 4C. Its lively handling and raw, boisterous nature mean it’s a car best driven with utmost care – as if your life depends on it. That said, it does come with ABS brakes, ASR stability control and a hill holder feature to stop you rolling backwards when you perform hill starts.

It’s also likely to be incredibly strong, thanks to that carbon fibre tub. Should the worst happen, you’ll find driver and passenger airbags deploying reassuringly in your face.

The digital display is a nice touch.

Conclusion

“Just make sure you grow a pair before you start the engine.”The Alfa Romeo 4C might look beautiful and alluring, but make no mistake; it is an absolute animal to drive. Raw, focused, aggressive, it’s the sort of car that requires absolute concentration and commands absolute respect in order to get the most from it. If you’re simply after a sports car you can pose in, you’re probably better off in a Porsche Boxster of some description.

If, on the other hand, you want a car that oozes character, that’s difficult to tame (not to mention jaw-droppingly beautiful) then the 4C could be just the ticket. Just make sure you grow a pair before you start the engine.

Specification

Engine1.75-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged
Power240bhp
Torque350Nm
Acceleration0-62mph in 4.5 seconds
Emissions157g/km of CO2
Economy41.5mpg
Price£45,000

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