£59,500 - £65,500 Price range
The Alfa-Romeo 4C Spider is a small mid-engined sports car – Italy’s answer to cars such as the Porsche Boxster and the Lotus Elise. It’s designed to provide driver thrills, but at the expense of everyday usability.
A carbon fibre tub is one of the 4C’s technical highlights and the car’s low weight is immediately evident the minute you set off – it’s planted, grippy and direction changes require minimal effort. Ride quality varies from great on perfectly smooth motorways and race tracks, to near unbearable on some UK back roads.
The 4C Spider’s 1.75-litre turbocharged four cylinder petrol is shared with the Giulietta. It moves the Alfa at a considerable pace, but its power delivery is reminiscent of an older car, with little happening until the turbo spools up. That makes the 4C difficult to drive fast compared to a Boxster, which has a silky-smooth six-cylinder engine that’s a million times more charismatic.
Dark, cheap plastics and what looks like an aftermarket stereo do little to lift the Spider’s interior, while the amount of equipment included as standard is also spartan. Air conditioning is one of the few luxuries fitted as standard, while the optional fire extinguisher (£110) hints that this is a car that has been designed with the track in mind first and foremost.
To get in and out of the 4C Coupe is an exercise in gymnastics, but chopping off the roof has made things much easier, so long as you don’t hit your face on the gorgeous, but low-slung carbon-fibre windshield frame.
The carbon-fibre theme is strong inside the 4C Spider and you’re constantly reminded of the lightweight chassis every time you see the unpainted door sills. But that’s just about the only redeeming feature of the cabin – the quality is poor, as is the material choice. You don’t get much in terms of creature comforts either.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider passenger space
The leather-upholstered bucket seats can be specified in eye-catching colours with contrasting stitches, but, while they’re very supportive, comfort is minimal. Many testers reported sore backs after just a couple of hours driving. Things are cosy, but because there’s no manual gearstick, you won’t have to worry about brushing your passenger’s leg when changing gear.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider boot space and storage
The words ‘boot’ and ‘space’ are difficult to attribute to the 4C Spider, because the 118-litre rear storage area is only big enough for a laptop bag. Interior storage is also somewhat poor with two mobile phone pockets that, laughably, are too small to accommodate the latest large-screen models. The cupholders seem better suited for espresso cups rather than water bottles too.
Go out for a drive with the 4C Spider and you quickly forget all of the drawbacks of the interior and begin to uncover some shortcomings of the handling, instead. The unassisted steering might seem like a godsend in a time of dominated by numb-feeling systems even in performance-focused cars, but its imperfections far outweigh the unadulterated feel it provides. Testers report the 4C Spider is constantly unsettled by changes in road camber and even keeping it in a straight line requires lots of concentration.
It’s not all bad, though, because with a weight of less than 1,000kg, a near-perfect-weight distribution, a carbon-fibre chassis (usually only found in hypercars from the likes of McLaren) and a mid-engined layout, the 4C Spider is a formidable track-day weapon.
With the roof on, refinement is good for what is a small, lightweight sportscar and for more sound-deadening you can opt for a hard-top, also carbon-fibre, which will be available later in the model’s life. Thanks to a standard wind deflector there is very little wind coming into the cabin with the fabric roof removed and stowed away in the boot.
Such striking looks demand an equally impressive engine and the four-cylinder petrol powering the 4C Spider meets the criteria, but only just. Its 1.75-litre capacity might sound small, but with so little weight to move around a engine isn’t needed. A big turbocharger helps get 237hp out of the engine, and there’s enough accessible torque to accelerate hard from 2,000rpm. As a result, the Alfa accelerates from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and won’t stop until it reaches 160mph.
Even though the 4C Spider isn’t short on power, the way it produces it and the way it puts its power down on the road is problematic – the throttle is unresponsive, giving you little adjustability mid-corner, and all the power comes in one go – without much warning. In short, it’s not the perfect engine for an already unpredictable car.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and in the 4C Spider it’s the running costs. A combined fuel economy figure of 40.9mpg for something with the ability to worry supercars is very impressive. Annual road tax will cost you £180.
When driven on the limit, the 4C Spider is quite a handful, so it’s reassuring to know Alfa Romeo has pulled out all the stops to make this road-going racecar as safe as possible.
To reduce the chances of having terrifying moments there are the usual passive safety systems such as stability and traction control, while the standard limited-slip differential improves grip when accelerating out of tight bends.
The 4C’s carbon-fibre chassis is similar to those used in racecars and because they’re designed to crash at high speed and keep the driver safe we’re confident the Spider is a safe car even though it’s not been crash tested by Euro NCAP.
This is an area where you either get the Alfa bug and spend what is Audi S7 money on what is effectively a two-seater carbon-fibre bathtub. Or you realise the Porsche Boxster costs around the same, gives you similar thrills and is much easier to live with day to day.
Alfa-Romeo gives you two versions of the 4C Spider to choose from – the standard model or the 50º Aniversario edition. On the basic car the most technologically advanced feature is the stereo, while the Aniversario gets cruise control, parking sensors and some more carbon-fibre bits, but that’s about it.
There are also a few packs of optional extras available including the optimistically named £1,950 Luxury Pack, which adds Bi-xenon headlights with carbon-fibre surrounds, and the £2,000 Racing Pack which comes with racing tyres, racing suspension and a racing exhaust system. However, few would argue you need something firmer than the already quite brutal standard suspension set-up.
If the 4C’s looks don’t win you over the first time you set your eyes on it, then you’ll find it uncomfortable, loud, nervous, poorly made, overpriced and under equipped. However, if your heart starts beating faster just by looking at it, then you won’t care about all of its shortcomings and love it for what it is – a masterpiece of design that also just happens to move (rather quickly) under its own power.