Alfa Romeo 4C review: perfectly imperfect

Photo credits: Francesco Carlo for Lovecars © 2018

After several years of dull and anonymous cars, with the introduction of the Giulia and Stelvio models, Alfa Romeo got its original shine back. These two new models are highly requested among journalists for press drives, so when I asked AR for a Giulia QV to test the answer wasn’t positive, however, the kind folks behind the press office offered me a gorgeous 4C coupe for a week to review, while waiting for a Quadrifoglio to be available again.

Exterior

My car came in an extremely high spec, “Bianco Alfa” metallic white paintjob, cinque fori-style gunmetal wheels with red brake calipers behind, an abnoxiously loud akrapovic exhaust (not complaining though) and tons of glossy carbon fiber parts like the roof, headlights, rear spoiler, mirror caps, exhaust surrounding and air vents on the front bumper.

I’ve always loved the 4C design, so reminiscent of the legendary 33 stradale with its short wheelbase and the extremely low side profile. My favorite feature has to be the sweeping side intakes that enhance the rear haunches.

Some people love the carbon headlights’ design, some people hate it; I was unsure at first but after seeing the car in the flesh I really liked the aggressive look; they make the 4C look like an angry insect ready to attack.

The center-mounted exhaust gives a more aggressive stance to the rear, the car looks even wider and lower; the tips are made of titanium and look miles better than the standard side-mounted pipes which are embarrassingly small and don’t do justice to the overall look of the Italian thoroughbred.

It’s impossible to go unnoticed with the 4C, it’s a show stopper often mistaken for a Ferrari and that indicates how cool the car is and how exotic it looks.

Interior

The interior of the 4C has always been a point of discussion, many blame Alfa Romeo for having chosen to carry parts over from other cars of the FCA group: for example the air vents are the same you can find in an old Fiat Panda, the air conditioning knobs are identical to those in the Fiat 600. The stereo is just an aftermarket unit from Alpine which I never even turned on.

To be honest though, I don’t care about those things; step inside the 4C’s cabin and you’re overwhelmed by the amazing carbon fiber monocoque and the beautiful red leather seats, everything else takes second place. 

The steering wheel with suede inserts is compact and flattened at the bottom, behind it sits the full-digital instrument cluster. Again, many complained about it, saying it’s too low for the line of sight and it blocks the upper part of the dash. I’m 1,78m and haven’t had any issue with the wheel adjusted to my likings, it fits perfectly in my hands and I can clearly see everything at a glance.

The center tunnel hosts 2 (one larger than the other) cupholders, mechanical handbrake, the buttons to operate the gearbox and hazards, windows and side mirrors controls (both electrical),  a 12V socket and the DNA “manettino”. There’s also a small space where I used to put my phone due to the complete absence of pouches or nets for storage, even the glovebox is gone to shave every possible gram.

What I found interesting is that carpets are literally screwed to the tub with two bolts, you have to lose them if you want to take them out when cleaning the car inside.

Door handles are just strips of fine leather, passenger’s footrest is down to a thin aluminum plate, same material used for the driver’s pedals which sits vertically in true racecar style.

The seats lack any kind of adjustment beside moving them forward/backward, only the driver has the option to tilt the back. Many have complained about them but to be honest, I didn’t have any issue: they’re supportive and provide enough comfort, even after a 400/500km drive in the Italian countryside I was perfectly fine.

I know what you’re thinking by now: more than €65k and I do have to put up with all of this? Trust me, as soon as you turn the key, you forget and forgive every compromise.

Specs

The Alfa Romeo 4C is an Italian sportscar through and through: carbon fiber tub with lightweight aluminium subframes, centrally-mounted engine, rear wheel drive and dual clutch transmission.

The car pumps out 240hp, enough for a top speed of 258 km/h. The 4-cylinder 1,750cc engine boasts an all-aluminium design with 4 valves per cylinder, a new-generation turbocharger, ultra-high-pressure direct fuel injection and a dual-core intercooler.

The weight of only 970kg is the key to the 4C’s performance: 0 – 100 km/h is covered in just 4.1 seconds, and the large, cross-drilled, ventilated Brembo brakes take it from 100 – 0 km/h in under 30 meters.

The 1,750cc powerplant is equipped with a new-generation turbocharger and a pulse converter exhaust manifold that uses pressure waves to boost torque at low engine speeds. The manifold and the turbine are made from microcast steel and designed to operate at very high temperatures (over 538°C). The wastegate valve adjusts turbo pressure control logic to suit driving conditions, minimizing pumping losses.

Like all top competition cars, the 4C uses an automatic cool-down system to protect its turbocharger. Switching off the engine would normally cause the immediate stoppage of oil circulation, leaving the oil in the turbocharger to stagnate at very high temperatures. The thermal stress suffered by the oil under these conditions causes a loss of lubricating capacity and also leads to the formation of residues that can damage the engine. To prevent this, Alfa Romeo has introduced an after-run pump. This electric pump is automatically controlled by the ECU and keeps oil circulating through the turbocharger until it has cooled sufficiently.

The suspension adopts race-derived technical solutions to optimize performance and deliver unrivalled driving pleasure. At the front, the 4C features a double-wishbone configuration while at the rear we find a MacPherson layout.

Both front and rear systems are made from aluminium and high-strength steel.

Driving Impressions

Inside the cabin it’s quite noisy, and that doesn’t come as a surprise: there’s basically zero sound-prooofing, the seats and floor-mats are riveted directly into the carbon fiber tub. The

noise coming from the Akrapovic exhaust is amazing, the turbocharger and blow-off valve whistles are just intoxicating!

Behind the wheel, the 4C feels like a big and powerful go-kart. You’re always aware of the car’s lightness, it accelerates effortlessly and can stop in the blink of an eye. The turbo-four really comes alive after 2500rpm with a crescendo up to the redline set at 7000rpm. It doesn’t matter which gear you’re in, just floor the accelerator and the car gains speed easily.

Among the 3 driving modes (All-weather, Normal and Dynamic) I found myself sticking in Dynamic most of the time: the throttle and gearbox response is super sharp, the exhaust valve stays always open and the electronic is more permissive.

Speaking of gearbox, the 6-speed dual-clutch unit is not the fastest I ever tested, however, is smooth and quick enough both in automatic and manual mode.

What I found quite annoying is the fact that it downshifts automatically even if everything is in the most hardcore settings and manual mode is selected, moreover, it doesn’t allow you to engage a higher/lower gear if you’re not above/below certain rpms.

Suspension is pretty much on the stiff side, and with basically zero travel: you can feel every single imperfection of the road through the unassisted steering wheel; speaking of which, if offers plenty of feedback from the front tires but you have to keep your hands steady on the wheel if you’re on a bumpy road otherwise the car becomes quite unstable. Unsurprisingly,t he lack of power steering makes parking a pain in the butt, and the fact that rear sensors are optional (not fitted to my car) and a rear camera isn’t available at all, didn’t make my life easier.

4C’s behaviour is always predictable, the car is composed and it’s almost impossible to make it slide unless you’re really – really – committed to, or you have cold tires but even in those situations bringing it back on track is an easy and natural manoeuvre.

It’s a weapon built for twisty stretches of tarmac, on mountain passes I discovered what it’s really capable of: you can brake late into the corner and accelerate so early the car just squats and go without hesitation. There’s zero body roll and you’d be amazed how much speed you can carry. Thanks to its low weight and a good amount of horses it can easily keep up with more powerful machines.

Verdict

I do wanted to the test the 4C since I heard so many contrasting opinions. All I can say from my experience is that Alfa Romeo built a car with some compromises. Compromises we’re not used to make anymore because cars nowadays are perfect at doing everything you ask them for.

The 4C is different, it isn’t an all-round car, it’s a machine built to entertain not just to take people from A to B. It’s not the most refined or comfortable car either, the boot is tiny and it gets warm due to its proximity to the engine, there’s no power steering and rear-3/4 visibility is awful; however, you don’t buy the 4C for its flaws, you buy it because you want to experience a true exotic Italian sportscar like they don’t build them anymore. A car that still felt special to me even if in the same week I tested 2 McLaren’s and the new Stratos, the sense of occasion was always there.

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Francesco Carlo

Automotive photographer based in Florence. If he's not behind the camera, you'll find him on a roadtrip at the wheel of a supercar.