2014 Alfa Romeo 4C review
* New Alfa Romeo 4C driven in UK * Mid-mounted engine; lightweight carbonfibre chassis * On sale now, priced from £45,000...
The new Alfa Romeo 4C will be built at a rate of just 3500 cars a year, of which only around 200 will be coming to the UK. It's still a hugely important model for the Italian brand, though, because it's designed to show the world that Alfa can compete with the very best after years of mediocrity.
The 4C is a rear-wheel-drive sports car with a mid-mounted 1.75-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 237bhp – 83bhp less than the Porsche Cayman S.
However, the 4C can still officially out-accelerate the Porsche due to the fact it's around 400kg lighter (the equivalent of chucking out a rugby team's front row).
This low weight is partially achieved by using an extremely light and stiff carbonfibre chassis 'tub' – similar to the one in the McLaren 12C supercar – but there are lots of other areas where Alfa Romeo has saved weight; even the passenger's seat is fixed in a single position because mounting it on rails would have added a few kilos.
The 4C starts at £45,000, a price that puts it midway between the entry-level Cayman and the flagship S model. Our test car was fitted with the optional £3000 Racing Pack, though, which adds a sports exhaust, lower and stiffer suspension, larger alloys and a sports steering wheel.
What's the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C like to drive?
Despite its modest capacity and cylinder count, the 4C's engine really makes itself heard. It starts with an angry bark, emits a huge amount of turbo whoosh and roars like an old-school rally car under hard acceleration.
True, you might wonder what all the fuss is about at low and high revs, where the engine feels a little flat. However, mid-range performance is supercar strong, with 0-62mph taking just 4.5 seconds.
The gearbox is a twin-clutch automatic that can be controlled manually via paddles on the steering wheel, and it's when you make full use of these paddles that the 'box works best.
Sure, it can do a passable impression of a conventional auto when it's left to its own devices, but manual upshifts feel far more speedy and satisfying; they give you a real shove in the back when the 4C is in Dynamic or Race mode.
Things are less impressive around town, where the 4C's transmission is nowhere near as smooth or intelligent as the rival Porsche Cayman PDK's. There's no creep function, either, so you have to prod at the accelerator pedal in stop-start traffic.
Unlike most modern cars, the 4C doesn't have power steering, so it takes quite a bit of effort to turn the wheel when stationary. Fortunately, the steering lightens up almost as soon as the car is rolling, and it really comes alive at higher speeds, telling you everything that's going on.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of kickback through the steering wheel over bumps, and the whole car lurches one way then another over quick camber changes. You really have to fight to stay on your side of the road when pushing hard along a B-road.
The Alfa certainly feels more alert and alive than a Porsche Cayman, which is hardly a surprise given how much lighter it is. That said, the front end of the car runs out of grip earlier than you might expect, meaning you can't ultimately carry as much speed through bends as you can in a Cayman or a Lotus Exige.
No one buying a 4C will expect much in the way of refinement, and that's a good thing because there's a near deafening amount of road and wind noise at motorway speeds, and the optional sports exhaust also drones away loudly at a steady 70mph.
The ride is perfectly acceptable by sports car standards, though – even with the optional sports suspension fitted.
What's the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C like inside?
Getting into the 4C requires a fair bit of flexibility because there's a wide sill to climb over and the seats are mounted close to the floor.
The exact height of the seat is set up for you when you collect the car from the dealer. Unfortunately, it can't then be adjusted unless you reach for your spanners, and the passenger seat doesn't even slide back and forth.
There's enough space in the cabin for tall adults, and the fact that you sit low makes the 4C feel properly sporty. The way Alfa Romeo has skewed the centre console towards the driver and left carbonfibre on display in the footwells adds to this impression.
Sadly, the hard plastics used for the dashboard are less appealing, and it's a pity the gearshift paddles aren't made of metal or carbon.
The design of the dashboard is also a bit of a mixed bag; it ditches traditional instruments for a digital display that's both clear and easy on the eye, but the stereo looks distinctly aftermarket and it's too easy for your passenger to bang their knee on the centre console.
Rear visibility is awful, too. Meanwhile, the boot is suitable only for soft bags, and you have to prop it open because Alfa ruled out a hydraulic strut on the grounds of saving weight.
Should I buy one?
Alfa Romeo says it wanted the 4C to be more focused than a Cayman, yet easier to live with than a Lotus Exige, and while it has achieved this, the Alfa certainly feels a lot closer in character to the Lotus.
If you're looking for a sports car that you can use every day, then, the Porsche is a much better buy – especially when you consider that it's ultimately a more capable machine.
However, the Alfa's blend of style, performance and rawness does give it lots of appeal, and it's predicted to hold on to its value incredibly well. So, as long as you have another, more practical car as well, the 4C is worth considering.
What Car? says...
Alfa Romeo 4C
Engine size 1.75-litre turbo petrol
Price from £45,000
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 4.5 seconds
Top speed 160mph
Fuel economy 41.5mpg