everyone thought it would be, this seemed an appropriate soundtrack.
(Full disclosure: I begged and pleaded Fiat Chrysler U.S. LLC to let me have a 4C for months, and when one finally became available, they hooked me up for a few days. It was a really good couple of days but now it’s gone and I’m dead inside.)
Daft Punk is one of the most influential electronic acts ever, and when it came time for them to follow up 2005’s Human After All, the rest of the music world was doing stuff they had been doing for years. To create something different they had to stretch further back in time, so they modernized the disco and prog rock sounds of the 1970s for the wholly unexpected, Giorgio Moroder-infused Random Access Memories.
With this new lightweight sports car — one with nearly no creature comforts, a turbo engine that screams in your ear and no power steering — they have created probably the purest, most unapologetic, stripped-out enthusiast sports car you can get in America right now, since you can’t buy a new street legal Lotus Elise and Exige here anymore. It puts other sports cars to shame the way Random Access Memories did to other musical acts when it came out.
The 4C is a junior Ferrari for a fifth of the price. Except not a modern Ferrari — an old-school one, back when they were for guys like Steve McQueen and not guys like Justin Bieber.
In some ways it’s the best sports car of the moment, but only the hardcorest of the hardcore need apply. It’s not for squares or posers or people who need their cars to coddle them.
If these normals can get past the effort needed to wriggle themselves inside, squeezing their wide American asses into the tiny sport seats designed for cheese-eating, cappuccino-sipping Europeans, hearing “Did I mention it doesn’t have power steering?” from the salesperson will probably send them running to the nearest Porsche dealership.
The 4C is for the people who put the drive above all things, and people like that are few and far between. But if you are that person, and you’re willing to put up with its compromises and quirks, you are in for something very special.
It’s hard to understand this just by reading the obligatory stats, which are as follows: a 1.75-liter turbo’d to hell and back four-cylinder sends 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to the rear-wheels via a six-speed, paddle shift, dry dual clutch transmission. It weighs in at 2,495 pounds, about 340 pounds more than its Euro counterpart thanks to U.S. safety regs but still 500 pounds less than a Porsche Cayman.
There are so many places where Alfa engineers worked to fight the weight. The exposed pedals. The rear hood that opens with a rod, not struts. The minimal storage space. The lack of a backup camera, radar cruise control or other fancy options. The 4C isn’t about that stuff.
Equipped as such, the 4C isn’t nearly as bad as a couple of Yankee goof-offs say it is. The $2,750 leather package keeps it largely free of the Playskool-grade plastics on the dash and doors that other reviewers have slammed it for.
The worst parts are the decidedly cheap A/C switches, the absolute lack of any true rear visibility, and a janky, craptacular stereo called “Parrot Asteroid” which, at one point, stopped working entirely.
But the 4C will never be a luxury car. Nor does it want to be. The interior, and the way it drives, make the Cayman feel like a 5-Series. Hell, even the current Dodge Viper feels plush by comparison. The 4C is visceral and raw. It shakes your insides, as my wife put it. (In a good way. She loved it.)
The best place to be if you’re judging the 4C on looks is outside of it. It’s a stunning design from any angle. It’s beautiful in a fun, ostentatious way. It also looks miles better than its Euro counterpart since it dumps the spider-monster headlamps.
If it is, expect a lot of attention. (Always from dudes, of course.) Thumbs go up, cell phone cameras come out, and dirty looks fly from the cockpits of other sports cars. Motorcyclists especially seem to love it. Everyone is shocked to hear it doesn’t cost six figures to own.
Most of the younger people who came up and asked me about it didn’t recognize the name or the badge — “I think that’s an Aston Martin” happened a lot — but quite a few older guys, guys my dad’s age, knew exactly what it was. Then they’d tell me about their old GTVs and Spiders and how excited they are Alfa Romeo is back in America, especially with something this impressive.
Alfa’s 1.75-liter four-banger is whistling, crackling, snarling, whooshing devil of a four-cylinder engine. The crazy bastard boosts all the way up to 21.75 psi, massive for its size. Is there turbo lag? Hell yeah there’s turbo lag. If you’re mad turbos don’t feel like turbos anymore, drive this thing.
The power and torque numbers seem modest, but remember the 4C doesn’t weigh much. More important is how it delivers power, which is with angry gusto, propelling the car from a stop to 60 mph in the low four second range.
No, in the 4C, you feel every moment of that speed, and you hang on.
This is reinforced by how unbelievably loud the 4C is. That engine is always howling and popping and whistling right in your ears, and the carbon tub creates an echo effect that amplifies everything. Long drives leave your ears ringing like flying in a small airplane.
It’s very quick, but it’s still a small four, so it works best when you keep your revs up. This is accomplished via the dual clutch gearbox, the car’s only available transmission.
Around town, it’s actually fine in automatic mode. Though it’s not be the smoothest gearbox in the world, it does neat stuff like blip the throttle for you on downshifts. It really shines in manual mode, naturally, where shifts are nearly instant up and down. It’s as quick a gearbox as any I’ve sampled. More than that, it fits the car so naturally that I found myself shifting manually in every kind of driving instead of using automatic mode, something I don’t normally do.
Do I wish it had a manual? On principle, I guess so, but I can’t say I missed it here. Plus, the dual clutch/manual steering combo helps make the 4C weird! If it had a manual and/or power steering it wouldn’t be as weird!
I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of going full Italian and adding a gated manual, though. That would be amazing.
Dynamic does the usual sport mode stuff. It makes the car’s throttle sharper and more responsive, cranks up the volume on the exhaust, and ramps up shift times. It’s always fun to drive, but noticeably more so in this setting. Hold the “D” longer for Race Mode, which turns off stability and traction control. Hell, it even has launch control. The 4C isn’t so disco that it can’t put good tech to good use.
It comes alive at speed, where it responds to your micro-inputs with a directness and precision you pretty much won’t find anywhere else. I can see where some people describe it as squirrelly. It’s a both hands on the wheel, pay attention sort of affair, but when you do — and if you know how to drive it properly — you will be rewarded in kind.
Simply put, the 4C’s steering just embarrasses every other car you can buy right now. Every single one. The whole car does, really, in terms of how unfiltered and focused it is compared to its competition.
It’s progressive and natural-feeling, never prone to snap oversteer. The 4C is helped by its size and weight. The smallness and lightness of it translates into wonderful agility and a willingness to attack corners, as long as you have the skill for it. Much of what the 4C is capable of depends on its driver.
Once you get used to the manual steering, once you get in the zone and master how it works, it’s easy to drive. It just takes concentration and effort. The 4C’s steering requires that you assert control and make it do what you want at all times. You have to stay one step ahead of it.
In a world of all-wheel drive exotics and computerized everything, here is a car that never holds your hand. It doesn’t have to, it’s Italian. It doesn’t give a shit.
It’s not one thing that makes the 4C so satisfying and enthralling. It’s many things. The power. The obscene noise. The manual steering. The great gearbox. The beautiful design. The completeness of it all, including its shortcomings and quirks. The sheer, remorseless purity of it.
Every drive becomes an adventure in the 4C as you wind out its manual steering, its engine popping and shrieking in your ear as you take it to redline and fire off one paddle-shift after another. Driving it becomes an addicting experience that makes everything else feel soft and watered down, pale imitations of the experience you can have in the Alfa.
Judged solely on driving experience, it is probably the best sports car I’ve ever sampled. No, seriously. It’s that good.
I think it’s a better drive than the Corvette Stingray, Cayman, Audi R8, Lotus Evora, and even that McLaren 650S, if only in the sense that it costs so much less. Sure, $70k isn’t cheap, but it’s a steal for this combination of looks, performance and carbon fiber. The $54k base price is even better.
See, you buy the 4C because you fell in love with it. And I don’t mean love the way you looooove your new iPhone, or how you loooooved watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. You have to fall in love with the 4C the way you fall in love with a person, the kind of love where you accept their eccentricities and hang-ups and flaws along with the good stuff because that’s what makes them special. People have been doing this with Alfas for decades, and finally, Americans get the chance to do it again.
I sincerely doubt their entire lineup will be as weird and uncompromising as the 4C. They need to sell a lot of these forthcoming sedans and SUVs to normals, after all. But if they mean what they say about their performance DNA, we’re all about to get lucky.
Photos credit Kurt Bradley