£52,505 Price range
Concept-car looks, an F1-style carbon fibre tub, a kerb weight less than that of a Fiat 500 and a 240hp turbocharged engine behind your head – the Alfa Romeo 4C has a rather impressive set of ingredients on paper.
It’s not necessarily all things to all men though. For every good bit there’s a but, and the big buts include the sound, the build quality, the boot and the warty headlights (don’t worry, a new design is on the way).
Still, the driving experience is one of the best, so how much should you really care?
Most popular: 1.7-litre Standard
The most obvious feature of the 4C’s interior is carbon fibre. It’s everywhere and it’s essentially the naked tub underpinning the car. It’s a key selling-point of the car – the entire structure only weighs 65kg – so why not show it off?
Traditional dials have given way to a smart digital TFT screen, there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminium pedals and leather door pulls. It’s certainly an Alfa Romeo!
The rest of the inside isn’t so good. The dash is a bit bland and there’s some some parts-bin switchgear that doesn’t quite sit with the rest of the trimmings.
This won’t annoy you quite so much as the seats, which might be fixed in place depending on your interior option and are not height adjustable unless you get the tool kit out. There’s almost no storage space in the cabin either, which wouldn’t be a problem if the 4C didn’t have a derisory 110 litre boot. Another downside to the boot is that it’s close to the engine so won’t be ideal for carrying for shopping unless you like everything to be cooked by the time you get home.
It’s also worth noting that though the driving position may be spot on and your view ahead is excellent, the same can’t be said about looking back. Add the rear parking sensors to your 4C’s spec list or you may regret it.
This is where the 4C scores hugely – indeed it drives so well that every other shortcoming it has can almost be ignored. The fact it weighs comparatively little means there’s no need for power assisted steering and, unlike so many modern vehicles, you get a direct connection between the steering rack and the road, so you can feel what the front tyres are doing.
The steering is a bit of a mixed bag though – the turn-in is sharp and the feel is excellent, but it’s a little heavy at parking speeds.
The specially developed Brembo brakes are phenomenal, again aided by the 4C’s feather weight. The extremely stiff chassis also means that Alfa Romeo’s engineers have been able to produce a broadly comfortable suspension setup, and only Race Pack equipped models on 20-inch wheels suffer any intrusion from the outside world.
It’s a little on the noisy side though and possibly not how you’d expect. From the outside it sounds like a modern rally car, but on the inside the engine isn’t quite so tuneful and sounds like a generic hatchback engine with a bit more noise than you’d like.
The sports exhaust will drown that out for you though, as will the road noise. This is possibly not a car you’ll want to take on too many long motorway journeys.
There’s only the one engine in the Alfa Romeo 4C and it’s a curious affair. Derived from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, only using an aluminium block instead of a cast iron one (saving 22kg), the 1,742cc turbocharged four cylinder gives an impressive 240hp.
This gives the 4C a power:weight ratio of about 260hp per tonne, or about the same as an Audi R8. Performance figures are what you might expect – 0-60mph takes 4.5 seconds and it’ll keep going to 160mph. On-paper fuel economy is 41.5mpg combined and it sits in VED (road tax) band G for £175 a year.
However, the reviewers aren’t totally taken with the engine, and particularly the way it delivers an obvious turbo surge and sounds more like it belongs in a hot hatch than a supercar.
The automatic twin-clutch gearbox doesn’t win many fans either, but most of the concerns diminish when the 4C is taken to racing pace. There’s only so much of this type of driving you can do on public roads though!
Even Euro NCAP doesn’t want to be responsible for smashing up a beautiful 4C, but low-volume cars of this kind don’t have to be evaluated so we’re all spared the pain of witnessing it.
Still, Alfa hasn’t cut any corners and the 4C comes with vehicle dynamic control, stability control and traction control to stop you from crashing in the first place and driver and passenger front airbags in case you do.
No other airbags are offered even as options – which is a little disappointing – but remember that the car is built around a super-strong, super-light carbon fibre tub just like a Le Mans prototype race car and ought to keep you in one piece for most road prangs.
Most critics claim that Alfa must be good value for money because it offers a full carbon-fibre chassis for about £50,000 – usually these woven tubs are only seen on supercars worth four times as much.
Objectively, however, the little Alfa is a bit steep. At £45,000 for the most basic car, it’s markedly more expensive than the equally fast but more usable Lotus Elise S or the far more civilised Porsche Cayman. Start ticking the options like the sports seats (the basic car comes with fabric seats) and sports exhaust and you’re into the £50k bracket before long.
Still, £175 a year to tax and 41mpg should mean relatively low running costs, though you’ll need a lucky break in the car insurance lottery. The severely limited supply of them on the UK’s roads also mean that depreciation is practically a moot point – keep hold of your 4C and you might even see a return.
There are only two things most Alfa Romeo 4C buyers will care about, and that’s how it looks and how it drives. Luckily, it gets top marks on both fronts.
Sure it’s not very practical or plush. It’s a chore to drive long distances, the engine sounds better to bystanders than to the car’s occupants and it edges into the expensive side of things, but these things almost certainly don’t matter when it’s as intoxicating to drive as it is and absolutely has the looks to back it up.
The UK’s allocation sold out in a finger-snap for a good reason.