By Andrew Bornhop -- Contributing Editor
These tiny Italian 2-seaters are the first mainstream Alfas to be sold in the U.S. since the 164 sedan of the mid-1990s. Although the 2016 Alfa 4C with its turbocharged 237-horsepower 1.7-liter 4-cylinder engine appears outgunned by competitors such as the BMW Z4, Porsche Boxster and Chevrolet Corvette, this pint-size Italian has a big edge in lightness and agility. The steering is unassisted, which takes some getting used to, but the overall driving experience is superbly unfiltered, which also translates to lots of noise from the engine, road and wind. If you’re seduced by style and slot-car handling, there’s much to like with the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C. If you’re looking to be pampered, look elsewhere.
If you want an automobile that feels telepathic in how it responds to your inputs, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C or 4C Spider is that car. Although the stylish 4C is not the most comfortable car, you’ll forget about such things on a gloriously twisty road.
If you see yourself using your sports car as comfortable daily transportation, there are some attractive alternatives to the Alfa Romeo 4C. Two that should be considered are the comparably priced Chevrolet Corvette and the Porsche Cayman. What’s more, the Spider’s cloth top isn't particularly easy to use.
Besides an available Carbon Fiber Trim package, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C is fitted with a new Alpine stereo, upgraded speakers and a lockable console (4C coupe). A premium leather interior upgrade is also available, as is a dual-mode electronically controlled exhaust from Akrapovič.
For one of the rawest driving experiences offered in the modern era, look no further than the Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe and 4C Spider. The 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 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 great at speed, handling is balanced and composed, the engine churns with conviction, the gear changes from the dual-clutch automatic transmission happen rapidly when requested, and the powerful and responsive brakes deliver 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 that makes everything from racecars to aircraft both strong and light. Despite a comparatively low $56,000 base price, the Alfa Romeo 4C features an exposed carbon-fiber chassis (with aluminum front and rear subframes). Visible from the interior, the carbon tub looks cool.
The 4C’s steering lacks any kind of power assistance. The result? An unfiltered link between the steering wheel and those front contact patches, making the 4C feel brilliantly connected on winding roads or racetracks. Be warned, however: At slow speeds, the steering transforms from glorious to impossibly heavy.
The Alfa Romeo 4C's cabin is sporty and functional, but not exactly 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. There is a trunk, just aft of the engine, but at 3.7 cubic feet it doesn’t hold much. Pack accordingly.
From all angles, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C makes a strong statement, looking like a modern interpretation of the Type 33 Stradale from the 1960s. The seductive lines are amplified by the 4C’s compact dimensions. That assertive nose sits near the ground, making driveway approaches especially challenging, as does the terrible over-the-shoulder rear view thanks to the car’s 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.
As an elemental sports car, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C has the basics and not much more. Notable among standard features are power auto-down windows, air conditioning, a 7-inch color gauge-cluster display and a 4-speaker sound system with USB and audio inputs. The 4C also has a “DNA” selector that lets the driver choose the driving mode. There are four of them, and they vary 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.
Options offered on the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C include a new carbon-fiber cover for the Spider’s structural roof bar, plus cruise control, bi-xenon headlights and a dual-mode titanium exhaust from Akrapovič. Perhaps most significant for track-day enthusiasts is the optional track package that features firmer shock absorbers and larger anti-roll bars, plus Pirelli P Zero AR Racing tires and a unique steering wheel with red stitching. Rear parking sensors are available, but the 4C really could use a rearview camera because its sightlines to the rear are so poor.
As with the 2015 model, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C is powered by a turbocharged 1742cc 4-cylinder engine. This aluminum-block powerplant produces 237 horsepower, but how that power is delivered is significant. Floor the throttle and a whooshing sound fills the cockpit as the turbo spools. After this short bit of turbo lag, the 4C springs forward eagerly. While it’s not the most refined way to accelerate, the punch in the back is strong. Power gets to the rear wheels via a dual-clutch transmission that can act like a regular automatic. Shifts can be made manually via paddles, and the engine will automatically blip its throttle to smooth downshifts. It’s a fine, fine transmission, but we’d love to see a true manual in the 4C.
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 least expensive form (but including $1,595 destination), the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe checks in at $57,500, while the 4C Spider starts at $67,500, both Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP). Figure an extra 10 grand for fully loaded models of each. The most expensive option is the carbon-fiber roof bar, what Alfa calls the “halo.” It’s $2,750, and if you want a carbon-trimmed interior, tack on another $2,000. Bi-xenon headlights fetch an additional $1,000, while the Track Package, at $1,600, seems fairly priced. But cars such as the Porsche Cayman and Chevrolet Corvette undercut the Alfa in price, while offering better ride comfort and interior refinement. Nevertheless, there’s something pleasantly purposeful about this driver-focused Alfa, and you won’t see yourself coming and going in this little 2-seater. Nobody ever bought a new Alfa Romeo on the strength of its resale value or low 5-year cost to own, but you know that. Likewise, the 4C Coupe and Spider are purchases based on love.