By Micah Muzio
The tiny, 2-seat 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C has the honor of being the first mainstream Alfa to be sold in America since the mid-1990s. Powered by a turbocharged 237-horsepower 1.7-liter 4-cylinder, the mid-engine 4C Coupe and Spider appear outgunned versus sports car competitors like the BMW Z4, Porsche Cayman and Chevrolet Corvette but the pint-sized Alfa Romeo has a trump card...lightness. With extensive use of aluminum, an exposed carbon-fiber monocoque structure, and a Spartan design philosophy, the 2015 4C delivers a fast, agile, unfiltered driving experience, complete with intrusive engine, and road and wind noise. Fans of seductive styling and elemental motoring will find much to enjoy here. Fans of civilized driving should probably look elsewhere.
If you crave an unvarnished connection between you, your car, and the road you’re traveling over, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is a brilliant choice. Conversely if you’re willing to endure a pronounced lack of comfort, the 4C’s neck snapping style will be your reward.
If you expect your sports car to also function as comfortable daily transportation, there are much better choices than the Alfa Romeo 4C. The comparably priced Chevy Corvette and Porsche Cayman immediately come to mind. Additionally, the Spider's cloth top isn't particularly convenient to use.
For one of the rawest driving experiences offered in the modern era, look no further than the Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe and 4C Spider. Its suspension is firm, the cabin...
... rings with a cacophony of engine sounds, and the steering, which offers no power assistance, is incredibly heavy when the vehicle is stationary or moving very slowly. With that on the table, it's no surprise that U-turns, long freeway hauls and casual stints around the city can be taxing. Apply those same traits to a curved road or a racetrack, however, and the 4C makes perfect sense. The steering feels excellent at speed, vehicle handling is balanced and composed, the engine churns with conviction, the gear changes happen rapidly when requested, and the brakes feel powerful and responsive, delivering tons of unfiltered, honest fun. The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider offers an open-air variation, but otherwise drives identically to the coupe.
Carbon fiber is an expensive composite material that makes everything from racecars to modern aircraft both strong and lightweight. Despite a comparatively low $55,000 base price, the Alfa Romeo 4C features an exposed carbon-fiber monocoque structure. Visible from the interior, the carbon-fiber tub is functional and extremely cool looking.
The steering system lacks any kind of power assistance resulting in wonderfully connected steering that feels brilliant along winding roads or at the racetrack. Of course, that all goes out the window at speeds less than three miles per hour when the steering transforms from glorious to impossibly heavy.
The Alfa Romeo 4C’s cabin might be sporty and functional, but it is in no way luxurious. Material quality is good in places but underwhelming in others. Bolted to the vehicle’s beautiful exposed carbon-fiber structure are manually adjustable seats that recline only slightly, resulting in a perpetually upright seating position. Shoulder space is tight, but headroom and legroom are surprisingly good, besting the front seats of a sunroof-equipped 2014 Toyota Camry. Located aft of the engine underneath a hatch that lacks pneumatic lifts is a meager 3.7 cubic foot trunk. Be sure to pack accordingly.
Stylistically, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C makes a strong statement, looking more expensive than it actually is. The Alfa's seductive lines are only amplified by its compact dimensions, helping it grab even more attention. That assertive nose sits very near the ground, making driveway approaches especially challenging, as does the terrible over-the-shoulder rear visibility due to the mid-engine layout. The convertible top is really a canvas targa top that mounts into the windshield header, and stores in the trunk when rolled up. On a positive note, getting in and out of this tiny mid-engine sports car is far easier than expected.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is an elemental sports car. In similar fashion, its standard equipment includes the basics and not much more. Standout features include power auto-down windows, manual air conditioning, a 7-inch color gauge cluster display and a 4-speaker sound system with USB and audio inputs. Also standard is a “DNA” selector that lets the driver choose between four driving modes, varying the aggressiveness of the throttle, transmission and stability control. Filling out the safety roster are front airbags, door-mounted side airbags and a driver’s knee airbag, along with stability control, traction control and hill-start assist.
The first 500 Alfa Romeo 4C’s sold in the USA will be “Launch Edition” models, each equipped with a unique front fascia, race-tuned suspension, leather-trimmed interior, and carbon-fiber accents throughout. Options offered on non-Launch Edition cars include cruise control, bi-xenon headlights, a premium audio system, an even louder exhaust, an interior leather package, and a track package featuring performance-tuned dampers and anti-sway bars, special wheels, and a unique steering wheel with red stitching. Rear parking sensors are available but a backup camera is not, which is an unfortunate omission given the vehicle’s abysmal rear visibility.
Powering the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe and 4C Spider is an all-aluminum turbocharged 1742-cubic-centimeter 4-cylinder engine. The engine produces plenty of horsepower, but how that power is delivered is worth exploring. Floor the throttle pedal and a loud whooshing sound fills the cabin as the turbo sucks air into the engine. After a short pause, known as turbo lag, the vehicle springs forward eagerly. It's not the most refined way to accelerate, but it is exhilarating. Transferring the engine's power to the rear wheels is a dual-clutch transmission. With no clutch pedal, the dual-clutch equipped 4C drives like a regular automatic but with exceptionally quick shifts and more direct throttle control. It's a fine transmission that helps us forgive the absence of a proper 3-pedal manual.
1.7-liter turbocharged inline-4
237 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 2,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/34 mpg
In cheapest form, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C checks in at $53,900, while a well-equipped Launch Edition tops $70,000. The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider starts at about $65,000, and a loaded version will run you about $75,000. Be sure to tack on an extra $1,295 to each for destination and handling charges. For slightly less than the 4C's base price, you can buy a base the Porsche Cayman or a Chevrolet Corvette, while the BMW Z4 can be had for about $5,000 less. Each of these competitors offers better ride comfort and interior refinement, as well as more horsepower, though only the Corvette can boast a quicker 0-60-mph acceleration time. Given the brand's recent return to America, resale values for Alfa Romeo have not yet been published.