The Alfa Romeo 4C was a sort of follow-up to the brand building 8C. Tiny, mid-engined, McLaren-style carbon fibre tub, it had pedigree. And weird, weird looks.
I was really excited about this car. For any and varied reasons, I missed out when the car first launched in Australia. I was excited because this car was technically interesting and I was at its launch at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. I also thought it was a deeply odd car for Alfa Romeo to be making.
At that time, the range was in decline – no more GTV, Spider or Brera and the beautiful 159 was also gone. The company was making the MiTo and the Giulietta. Two, small, front-wheel drive hatchbacks with Fiat underpinnings and nothing else. It was all a bit sad.
So what did the powers that were decide to build? A mid-engined sports car with a carbon-fibre tub and wacky styling. Completely mad.
Words: Peter Anderson
Images: Rhys Vandersyde, InSyde Media
How much is the Alfa Romeo 4C and what do I get?
Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe: $89,000 (before ORC)
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: $99,000 (before ORC)
Alfa Romeo 4C Competizione: $119,900 (before ORC)
Well, the present tense is a dangerous thing, as is not reviewing cars as soon as you hand them back. One thing you’ll notice from the photo is that it had been raining in Sydney. That rarely happens, so it was a while ago, which is mildly shameful.
Anyway, there are three Alfa Romeo 4C models – the coupe, spider and the Competizione. The coupe starts at a not-unreasonable $89,000, with a $10,000 price rise to the Spider. The (even more) madcap Competizione jumps to $119,900.
Standard specification includes remote central locking, 17-inch alloys at the front and 18-inch at the rear, leather seats and steering wheel, four-speaker Alpine stereo, air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, cruise control, LED headlights, launch control, sports seats and a tyre repair kit.
The majestic gunmetal Basalt Grey ($2000 option) car you see here is the Spider. Just for fun, it also had a $12,000 Racing package fitted, which I cannot recommend if you fancy using this car as a daily driver. You get even stiffer suspension, Pirelli tyres on up-sized 18-inch (front) and 19-inch (rear) wheels and a racing exhaust.
Warranty and Servicing
Warranty: 3 years/150,000km
Startlingly, I’m not going to rag on how short is the warranty on the 4C. I mean, it’s short and for $90,000-plus it should be better, but this isn’t a car for normal people. It isn’t even a car for normal Alfisti. It’s a car for lunatics, the sort of nutters who would buy a Lotus Elise. It’s that kind of car. So while it should be a minimum of five years, it isn’t and I can’t see anybody caring too much.
Capped-price servicing: Yes, $6675 over five years.
Service intervals: 12 months/15,000km
So this is deeply unusual. Alfa offers 4C owners five years/75,000km (whichever comes first) of capped-price servicing. Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s not cheap, not by a long shot – but at least you know what you’re up for. One of the worst things about cars like these is the hidden running costs and servicing is one of them.
The first, third and fifth services are an eye-catching $895, the second an eye-watering $1495, the fourth a whopping $2495. That’s $6675 over five years or $1335 per year on average. Ow. That’s AMG-level pricing, but again, this is no ordinary car so it’s to be expected. To be fair, it’s probably a bastard to work on.
Look and Feel
The 4C is tiny, mid-engined sports car, but boy is it wide – 1868mm, to be exact. It’s almost half as wide as it is long (3990mm), so it looks pretty aggro, particularly as it’s just 1184mm high. The headlights are, thankfully, not the horrific spider’s eye jobs that turned up in Geneva.
As a Spider, it does quite a good job of looking like the coupe, with just the section between the roll hoop and the windscreen header rail left unfilled. Look closely enough at the coupe and you’ll see it’s really just the Spider with a cap on.
Only problem is, the roof is a pain to get on and off, again, much like the Elise’s. There’s a series of levers and slots and you have to get the leading edge into a slot, but it kind of overflows at the sides so it looks like it’s not on properly. Obviously, as an owner, you’ll work it out pretty sharpish, but you have to commit.
Thankfully, the 110-litre boot can hold the roof without drama (and there are no extra bits floating around) and you can also fit another squishy bag in there. Or a helmet.
Look closely and you’ll see bits of carbon fibre everywhere. Some of it is just trimming, but around the sills and the floor, that’s the structure of the car. It’s an interesting move to leave it open for all to see, but it does have its drawback.
Some of the interior parts are clearly straight out of something else and the handbrake is way too high. What matters most is that the sets are comfortable if not at all photogenic. The Alpine head unit is ludicrously painful to use and Alfa really should update the dash design to fit a proper screen. But they won’t, because the axe fell on the 4C in late 2019.
Overall it’s pretty sparse, but apart from the stereo, everything does its job well. Actually, the digital dashboard is a bit of a mess until you go into Race mode and even then it’s a bit 1980s computer game.
Once you’re in it’s reasonably spacious. I didn’t knock elbows with any of the various passengers who came with me. Photographer Rhys, who is A Big Unit, was actually able to drive this car. He couldn’t even get into the Elise and the image of him and sometime co-pilot Steve in the Aventador never fails to make me howl with laughter.
There are cupholders but they’re in a dumb spot. Problem is, it’s the only spot in such a tight cabin. Still, there are other factors at play that lead me to suggest leaving the liquids at home.
Hard up against the cabin’s rear bulkhead is one of the Fiat group’s miraculous turbo four-cylinder turbo engines. At 1742cc, the internet appears divided as to whether to call it a 1.7-litre or 1.8. Round to the nearest single decimal, folks.
No matter, it develops 177kW and 350Nm, which is pretty good for an engine of this size.
The same engine is in the Giulietta, except the 4C packs an aluminium block rather than a heavier cast-iron one. Peak power arrives at 6000rpm while the torque is available from 2200-4250rpm, falling off as you head to the 6000-plus redline.
As with the Giulietta, you get a seven-speed TCT (twin-clutch) transmission operated by steering wheel-mounted paddles and driving the rear wheels.
Alfa says you’ll crack 100km/h in 4.5 seconds – the Race pack is no quicker, just louder.
It’s a characterful engine, with tons of whooshing and huffing and puffing, which I quite like. It’s a pity it’s drowned out by the sometimes-harsh exhaust noise.
Official fuel economy: 6.8L/100km
Real world: 9.8L/100km
The 4C has a tiny 40-litre tank which you have to fill with 98 RON premium unleaded. Alfa claims a combined cycle figure of just 6.8L/100km.
On your driveway, the Alfa Romeo 4C weighs 1025kg (tare, for some reason). Its dry weight is an astonishing 895kg. Just 52kg of that is the carbon fibre tub around which the car is built. Staggering.
Brakes come from Brembo, with four pot calipers gripping 305mm discs at the front and fewer pots the 292mm rears.
The Race Pack rolls on 18-inch wheels in front of you and 19-inch behind you, with a “track-biased” set of Pirellis P-Zeros (205/40 front, 235/35 rear). The rubber wears AR Racing stamps, so one expects they are stickies as specified by Alfa.
Once again, I’m not going to recommend the Race Pack. I’m going to get all the bad stuff out of the way first so I leave you with a fair impression.
The 4C is really loud with the optional exhaust. Like, really loud. The entire cabin buzzes and because a lot of it is (gorgeous) exposed carbon fibre, the sound pings around like a ricochet in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The ride isn’t great, either, so you’re dodging potholes to save your spine and tooth fillings. Rough roads fill your ears with noise and nonsense and the steering is really vague on-centre, which is weird because it’s unassisted.
Did I mention it’s too loud? It’s too loud. And you can’t see a damn thing about the back and because there’s no reversing camera, you become crunchaphobic and and a terrible parker. At least in the few days I had it anyway.
Right. I think that’s the worst of it.
When you have the 4C on the right stretch of road, with the right density of ear plug, you are going to love it pieces. Because all of the elements come together into a car that feels like a supercar.
Strong brakes with excellent feel that allow you to place the car where you want in a corner. The brake pedal is soft at the top like a McLaren’s, so learn to love left-foot braking and you will love the way the 4C.
Brilliant steering that once you’re off-centre is more eloquent about the road surface than Clive James on poetry. While you will need to bulk up a bit if you want to survive more than twenty minutes on a twisting road, the lack of assistance means you’re in complete control and know exactly what’s coming.
The chassis is incredibly neutral, like a really well done all-wheel drive car. In the dry, you will only understeer when you’re really pushing your luck or of the road surface is terrible. Kicking out the tail requires commitment, but when you do, it’s easy to control. Well, most of the time.
On my favourite bit of road, something kept happening. The 4C would grip and grip and grip and then suddenly the rear would break free. It wasn’t violent but it wasn’t fun, either, and a quick lift settled everything down. But it didn’t inspire confidence and with not a lot of room for error, it meant backing off and calming down. On a racetrack you wouldn’t care, because there’s not much to hit, but out in the bush, there’s plenty.
So, yeah, it was hard to love.
The obvious one that I keep mentioning is the two-decade young Lotus Elise. The Elise range starts at $87,990 (plus ORC) for the Sport 220. Powered by a 1.8-litre supercharged Toyota engine, it’s got 162kW and 250Nm. It’s barely slower to 100km/h and has a similarly sparse and dorky interior. Jump to the Cup 250 ($107,990) and get 181kW, but no more torque. Most of the rest of the money goes to the chassis and aero. Lotuses now have three years free servicing and a three-year warranty. And a proper six-speed manual.
From Renaultsport is the Alpine A110, starting at $99,000 for the Pure and rising to $104,000 for the Légende. Like the Lotus and the Alfa, it’s a mid-engined, rear-drive sports car. Similar to the 4C, it has a seven-speed automatic and a powerful turbo four-cylinder (185kW/320Nm). Like the Elise it has an aluminium chassis and wil crack 100km/h in about the same time as the 4C. You get a three-year warranty which includes two years of unlimited kilometres but if you keep it under 100,000km you’ll get the full three. That’s, uh, odd. Not odd is the three years of servicing that totals $2340, or $780 per year. Not bad at all, but not as good as the Lotus’ service deal. The A110 has a proper interior, a decent central media screen and even has a front boot.
As dumb as this car is, I did quite enjoy it. But, reader, I cannot lie, I would not buy one. There are way too many compromises and its operating window is so narrow that it’s hard to justify. Like the Giulia, it requires such a smooth surface to get the best of it, it’s a race-track only proposition in Race Pack trim. Yeah, you can drive it around, but it will wear you down in a way other cars won’t.
It’s definitely one for the purists. I’m an ex-owner of an Alfa Romeo, so I know what it’s like to buy a silly car that will delight and disappoint all at the same time. I reckon I also have a pretty high tolerance for flaws – the first-gen Fiesta ST interior, the X4 M‘s styling and hard ride – but a Race Pack-equipped 4C is a bridge too far.
Having said that, if it meant the 4C’s ultimate salvation, yes, I would buy it. Because giant car companies should make stupid cars like this. Renault makes the Alpine and various huge companies have owned Lotus. I’d even throw the Hyundai Veloster into that list because it’s so wilfully odd. The world needs cars like the 4C and it’s awful that Alfa has axed it and it doesn’t look like another company will be able to buy the tooling and keep it going under another banner.
Some time after I drove the 4C, I found out that the right rear damper was stuffed. I don’t know if it was buggered when I drove it, but that might explain its weird behaviour.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.