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Alfa Romeo 4C Spider review: Beautiful and deadly

5

The Good

  • Undiluted motoring stupidity
  • Looks better than the coupe
  • Delightfully unhinged

The Bad

  • Interior looks low-budget
  • Unforgiving

A 1.75-litre engine and 240hp may sound a bit underwhelming, but Alfa Romeo has tried to create a car that cares little about compromise. Or your comfort, as Ben Griffin finds out in his 4C Spider review.

Once upon a time Alfa Romeo was known for creating very fast cars that made their drivers feel good. Then it made the Mito and Giulietta and the illusion was ruined. The twin-spark was temporarily gone, you could say.

But rather than make something fast and pallatable, which would later turn out to be the Giulia, it went with the 4C Coupe and later a 4C Spider version with a fabric roof. Both were designed as track weapons. Both stuck two fingers up to comfort. Neither makes any sense for 99 per cent of drivers.

The thing is, can you really justify a car without power steering and one that sees a radio and heating as luxurious? Can you really live with the 4C Spider on increasingly bumpy British roads? Ben Griffin took one for the team to find out in his full Alfa Romeo 4C Spider review.

Alfa 4C Spider review: Does it have eight legs?

Nope, but considering the name we are happy to report those multi-eyed headlights are no longer standard. That means this mid-engined, two-seater with a carbon fibre tub has nothing to ruin what really is a stunning car. Bulbous and retro, maybe even cute, but with attitude in spades.

The 4C Spider gets even better with the roof off because emphasises the exotic nature. Even those who know nothing about cars will know there is something special about it, that it was designed by someone who truly cares about making things look pretty.

Engineers have also made been busy with the 4C Spider. The car weighs around 900kg before fuel and whatnot, making it lighter but less powerful than the Lotus Exige Sport 380. A mere 65kg of that is the aforementioned carbon fibre tub at the heart of the chassis – something you get on a Formula One car, no less.

The 1.75-litre four-cylinder turbo outputs a healthy 240hp and 350Nm of torque, giving it a power-to-weight ratio far beyond that of many sports cars and a few supercars, too. Factor in its modest proportions and you end up with a dangerously agile car.

Alfa 4C Spider review: Could I drive to work in it?

In theory, yes, possible providing you are happy with a cupholder so small the liquid will have evaporated by the time you get in. And if you only ever need to carry a pen because it has all the storage space of a Rubik's Cube.

Shopping trips will be of the small variety because the boot is only big enough for a box of choc ices, which will have melted after four seconds because of the engine located one inch in front. Meanwhile you have to rely more heavily on the cabin heaters because no heat is passed backwards.

Extra space at the front could have been made possible, owing to the mid-engine layout, but Alfa decided to bolt it shut. The 4C Spider really is, therefore, about as impractical as it gets. Not to mention the interior is horrendously plasticy to the point it is laughable.

Then there is the fact you always look an idiot trying to get out of it, such is how close it sits to the floor, and that you need to put the brake on to engage reverse, which can prove tedious if you want to perform a quick three-point turn.

As for the power steering, there isn't any so expect to have the strength of a gorilla after a month of ownership.

Alfa 4C Spider review: How fast are we talking?

Very fast. Painfully fast, even. And because there is so little to the car, the rear wheels are more than happy to break away and the chassis can snap back hard when you try to retake control. It is more than a handful, to say the least.

If you somehow manage to tame it, few cars pose it any threat. 0-62mph comes and goes in 4.5 seconds and the car heads way beyond the legal limit with dangerous enthusiasm. Even if you let the Alfa do the gears, those turbos kick in a second later and things get very blurry very quickly.

Then there is the handling, which offers razer sharp precision and absurd levels of grip. The lack of weight really helps it defy physics better than just about anything on the road.

On paper, there are plenty of cars that are just as fast or faster, but the 4C Spider bombards you with so many sensations and needs so much concentration that you find yourself clinging on for dear life.

Even though the ride is harsh and unforgiving, the Spider actually copes well with bigger bumps. We found it almost comfortable. Honestly, motorways were fine. Plodding around town was fine. A Focus RS and Peugeot 308 GTi are more offensive in this department.

It is really only the the more jittery stuff at low speeds that can cause your fillings to come loose, but you will be too busy trying to keep the car facing forwards to notice at higher speeds.

The lack of a manual gearbox would usually be jarring, but the DCT transmission with paddle shifters actually suits the car – although the fact said paddles are attached to the steering wheel can be confusing if the wheel is left upside down and you need to, say, park.

Braking is similarly potent, with Brembo discs and beefy calipers all round. For such a snappy car, the brakes are suitably modular, which is handy because the transmission seems to ignore engine braking at certain speeds. There is no time when the 4C feels anything but eager.

In short, the 4C Spider takes some serious concentration to drive, to the point where you will never use more than 20 per cent of its potential on public roads, especially in the wet. But at the speeds you dare go, it excites like nothing else.

Alfa 4C Spider review: Does it make your ears bleed?

Not quite, but the sports exhaust bolted to this car ensures the 4C Spider is suitably noisy. In fact, you only realise how loud it is when you ditch the fabric roof and put the windows down, because the sound proofing is surprisingly effective.

The turbo whoosh alone is enough to wake up anyone in a two-mile radius, while the higher rev-range can uproot trees. You get a very harsh, droney noise at low speeds but as the revs built up it becomes a potent mix of exciting and obnoxious. It just sounds angry all the time and we like that.

Alfa 4C Spider review: Come on, how expensive is it?

Are you sitting comfortably? Good, because this may come as a bit of a shock.

The Alfa 4C Spider, which definitely adheres to a 'less is more' ethos, costs £60,000. You could buy the new Ford Mustang and have £25,000 spare to cover the fuel. For a year, that is.

On the flip side, it can manage more than 40 miles per gallon and the CO2 emissions are very low considering the sheer level of pace. Being lightweight has a positive effect on more than just the performance.

At this price point, the Porsche Cayman and Boxster are difficult to ignore. Or there's the nearly as bonkers Lotus Exige. Anyone of those three will get the blood flowing better than most cars, but then the Alfa 4C Spider is so uncommon the level of attention it gets is in a different league.

So should you buy the 4C Spider?

When just about every car wants to hold your hand, the 4C Spider wants to burn it. Then drive over it. With a skilled driver at the wheel, it will annihiliate anything under 250hp and in the wrong hands it will intimidate, terrify and make you pay dearly for your amateurish ways.

Most cars would be marked down for being noisy, harsh, unforgiving and dangerous in the wet – yet that is precisely why we love the 4C Spider. Group B rally beasts, old-school Formula One machines – these were the kind of cars driven by the brave and this Alfa has a similar uncompromising vibe.

On a wet day where even breathing on the accelerator could kill you, you may wish you had walked. Assuming your spine is even still up to the task. But such lows pave the way for the sort of highs you rarely get from a modern-day car.

Look at it this way. As a sports car, it is grossly over-priced. But as a track car? It is a bargain because you get the heart and soul of a supercar and all the old-school foibles that go with it. Motoring is rarely as full-on and undiluted, which is why we are happy being caught in its web – £60,000 or not.

Key Specs

  • 1.75-litre four-cylinder direct-injection turbo
  • 240hp at 6,000rpm
  • 350Nm at 2,200 to 4,250rpm
  • 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds
  • 157g/km of CO2
  • 41.5mpg (combined)
  • From £59,500 (£65,150 tested)

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