2015 Alfa Romeo 4C vs 2005 Acura NSX

Unlikely Rivals From Different Decades

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2015 Alfa Romeo 4C vs 2005 Acura NSX

It was raining on the day that I fell in love with wedge shaped supercars. The halls in my elementary school stank of cleaning chemicals and the smell of books hung thick in library.

I remember because it was also the first day of the Scholastic Book Fare. You might have experienced the same thing, either as a child or a parent. Schools cart mobile cabinets made of metal in for a week packed with books that, for the most part, might as well be re-purposed toilet paper for all their literary value. It’s a shameless cash grab, but it’s also the first time I caught a glimpse of the Acura NSX in a car calendar. Be still my beating heart.

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-14.jpgDriving a Childhood Idol

Almost two decades later I sat in a Starbucks south of L.A., incredulously sipping an Americano that I watched the barista dose with drip coffee moments earlier, but that’s Irvine for you because nobody thinks twice about buying high-priced horse apples.

I absentmindedly pecked away at my laptop, but focusing was futile because Jason Siu – AutoGuide’s photographer of the day – was due to arrive any moment with a 2005 Acura NSX on loan from Honda. Days this special don’t come often. Not even on the endless automotive writing buffet.

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-13.jpg

As luck would have it I arranged to be driving an Alfa Romeo 4C months prior. In other words, we had two mid-engine exotic cars to drive in Southern California.

In my mind, the Acura NSX was a lot like “that one party I left early” in college. You know what I’m talking about. Ten minutes after you settled up, gorgeous women with loose morals packed the bar and for some reason, the drinks were cheaper than usual. It’s the one night your friends will boast about long after male pattern baldness takes hold.

Well, the party is over and so is the NSX in much the same way. Acura cancelled it after the 2005 model year and people are still talking in hushed tones.

Compare Specs

2005 Acura NSX
vs
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Vehicle 2005 Acura NSX Advantage 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Engine 3.2-liter V6 1.75-liter Turbo-4
Transmission Six-speed Manual Six-Speed DDCT
Horsepower 290 NSX 237
Torque224 4C 258
Weight-to-power 10.87 4C 10.4
Curb weight 3,153 lbs. 4C 2,465 lbs.
Weight distribution 40/60 4C 41/59

If time machines were real, you could easily go back to the bar that night in my senior year to confirm that pints were still, in fact, $7.50 and the bodacious blonde my buddy bragged about was actually pushing 40 and overweight. That’s going to happen, but two days before my birthday I had the next best thing: a meticulously preserved NSX. I wanted to satisfy a burning curiosity; is the NSX really as hot as people remember or just the dumpy ‘gal from those stories?

Expectations vs Reality

Jason arrived and we drove to a dead end road near Irvine Lake, me in the 4C and he in the NSX. On the way, I couldn’t help but notice how old the long metal radio antenna and taillights look. The NSX is attractive in its old age, but it’s starting to get crow’s feet.

We traded cars minutes later and this is what I expected: surgically precise shift action from the six-speed manual, a throttle that is responsive and predictable in equal measures and razor sharp corner turn-in with chassis stiffness to match.

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-18.jpg

After being in service for almost 10 years, the transmission and engine seem just as refined and intact as any of Acura’s recent manual V6 vehicles. The engine pulls to its 8,000 RPM redline with beautiful urgency and it bellows a rich roar that intensifies as it spins faster and faster. Leaping from first to second gear is effortless, as are the remaining upshifts. But the real fun is in cycling backwards through the gear stack because the transmission is smooth enough and the throttle quick enough to make rev matching really, really easy.

Equipped with a six-speed manual, you get a 3.2-liter all aluminum V6 that makes 290 hp. That’s puny compared to a modern high output motor, but don’t assume that also means “slow.” There’s still more than enough power to break the law before you even begin to explore the limits.

Compared to cars being built today, the NSX has a low dashboard and is remarkably easy to see out of. It also has a cassette deck in the center stack that doesn’t come pre-loaded with Haddaway’s Greatest Hits, though it probably should because parts of the car become a painful love story.

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The chassis in my car squeaked over bumps, the passenger side window doesn’t have one-touch functionality and the post-refresh clear headlights on the car I drove are starting to look yellow. For all the talk about how hard Honda worked to stiffen the chassis, it also feels surprisingly soft over cracked pavement.

That might not seem like a big deal until you remember that this thing carried an MSRP of roughly $90,000 and sat beside cars like the TSX and TL in Acura showrooms.

Meanwhile Dodge was selling the Viper GTS for just over $74,000 and more discerning drivers could get their pampered posteriors into a Porsche Carrera C4 for $74,156, which makes the tarted up Honda sports car seem like a ho-hum value proposition at best.

When it first arrived in 1991, Acura charged roughly $60,000 for its Ferrari fighter. That’s more than $104,000 in 2014 dollars. Hardly an apples-to-apples comparison when you consider the evolution of vehicle content over the past two and a half decades, but the point is that the NSX was always an ambitiously priced product. A decade later, the 2005 model would still be significantly more expensive than a 2015 Carrera S.

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-07.jpg

Then again that’s a purely theoretical scenario. In the real world you can find a well-kept copy for about $55,000. Provided the previous owner kept up with maintenance, it will also probably be uncharacteristically reliable for its segment.

Driving the Alfa

But even accounting for a the discount associated with being a decade old, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s really worth the price people are asking. Conveniently enough, I traded keys with Jason once again and returned to the 4C.

To picture what driving a 4C is like, take all the impracticality of living an NSX and increase those points by at least 50 percent. It’s that bad (or good depending on how you think).

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-08.jpgGetting in and out is an event because the doorsills are obnoxiously wide. The interior is glaringly bare and everything about it is loud. For example, the seatbelt and door chimes are more piercing than a fire alarm and then there’s the engine.

Even at idle it is impossible to ignore, but it morphs from a dull roar to being deafeningly loud under acceleration. That’s partially because it only displaces 1.75 liters, but makes 237 peak hp and 258 lb-ft of torque courtesy of a turbocharger cramming an ungodly 21.75 psi of boost into the cylinders like a mad Italian cook making foie gras. It makes the loudest induction noise of any factory car I’ve driven bar none. The exhaust crackles between gear changes as you snap from first to second and then into third.

Subtlety is not the 4C’s forte.

That’s partially because nobody in America knows what the hell Alfa Romeo is. Naturally, they assume you’re driving some sort of secret Lambo-Martin GT3 Superleggera that costs half a million bucks.

But you aren’t because the 4C starts at about $55,000 or roughly the same money as a used NSX. Things just got interesting.

For that price, you get a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, a powertrain, wheels, seats and not much else. There isn’t even a power steering pump, but it honestly doesn’t need one.

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-06.jpg

The Alfa Romeo’s steering reacts with exactly the precision and feedback that I hoped for in the NSX. With a curb weight of only 2,465 lbs, it doesn’t need gobs of power because it already feels goddam fast. There are three drive modes, of which the most aggressive is “dynamic” and in that setting it might as well be a tiny Italian rocket ship.

In fact, calling it a “rocket ship” is probably the best way describe driving the 4C. I’ve never fallen for a crabbier car than this one. You won’t want to drive it on a highway because at high speeds the intentionally uneven roads are a nightmare as are stop-and-go traffic jams. The radio is too poorly designed to cycle through stations and the center stack extends just far enough to cover the wires behind it. Forget armrests, there isn’t even a glove box.

The Verdict:

For all of its compelling driving dynamics – and they are legion ­– I would have a hard time taking a new 4C over a used NSX.

Acura NSX

Alfa Romeo 4C

  • Jamal

    The answer is always NSX

  • HeyZoos

    So Luke you’d seriously take a 10 yr old Japanese sports car over the latest from Italy? You’re nuts.

  • SandroSan

    Italian cars are always better.

  • bamafanNJ

    yeah…better…better at breaking down and sucking the bucks outta your wallet. They should stick to cappuccino and cannolis cause god knows they have never built anything that could run more than 10 minutes without needing an overhaul and new wiring…..!

  • mig

    did you miss the ‘R’ (Race) mode accessed by holding the selector in D for 5 seconds?

  • marvin

    alfa just on looks

  • G414SSO

    I see more German cars breaking down here than any other…American cars can’t even go round corners properly! So how would you know what you were talking about? I’ve had 12 Alfas and not one has broken down!

  • Bru

    Alfa Alfa Alfa, every day of the week. Look at it! Listen to it! Drive it!
    The NSX is typically sterile of Honda.

  • Bru

    The worlds best cars come from Italy.

  • Ancan

    Funny thing is that the parts I’ve had to replace in my Italian cars usually have BOSCH-stickers on them.
    I won’t speculate on the situation if it was Magneti Marelli instead though.

  • Ning

    From the sound of it, you must have had some real bad experience with Italian cars in the past. Yes, Italian cars did had problem with body rust in the 60s & early 70s as they were buying steel from USSR. However, as for design, handling and engine performance, Italians were certainly ahead of others…

    I have owned many Alfa Romeos since the 60s, I have never a dull moment driving them on road and track…

    These machines are built for driving, so if you don’t use them enough, trouble will come..

  • ewand

    I had a 2008 Lotus Europa SE for a couple of years and it’s very similar to the 4c in some respects – RWD/mid-engined turbo inline 4 (2L), 225bhp, weight <1000kgs, 6spd manual, wide sills, no power steering, loud etc… on the right day and the right road it was a hoot, but day to day use could be a bit of a drag and it was never relaxing to drive.
    Previous to that, I had a 2003 NSX for 4 years and it wasn't quite as fast, but it was much much better put together, and every bit as rare. Hands down the best car I've ever had and I sold it at a healthy profit even after 4 years and 26,000 miles. Buy the Alfa and in 2 years, you'll have lost at least 1/3 of its value, if not more. We toured Europe in the NSX, and drove it round the Nurburgring on the same trip, with the trunk full of luggage. It was usable every day and I don't think I evern got out of it and didn't look back at it.
    I've now sold the Lotus and bought a 1968 Alfa Spider, and that's a very different discussion altogether…

  • FactsnEvidence

    The roots of Alfa Romeo are in racing, and its cars reflect its heritage. The differences are reflected in the comparison, and the items presented as faults:

    * “interior is glaringly bare and everything about it is loud”,
    * “calling it a “rocket ship” is probably the best way describe driving the 4C”
    * “radio is too poorly designed to cycle through stations
    * “center stack extends just far enough to cover the wires behind it”
    * “Forget armrests, there isn’t even a glove box”

    Sounds like an ’83 Spider Veloce, I’ve owned since ’87. Utilitarian, practical and efficient interior. Great gauges, wooden steering wheel – free from electronics, radio (who cares? I’m savoring the amazing exhaust note), It even has the wires that occasionally need to be pushed back up. Stiff suspension, great cornering, (never fails to make female passengers laugh and smile), and I can drive it comfortably for fifteen hour drives (as a 50+ year old). Critiquing entry egress of the 4C: whine- so what? Anyone who would enjoy an early military aircraft trainer, would appreciate it…it gives you what you need.

    When I drive the Alfa I’m having too much fun actually enjoying the experience of driving something other than one of the many cocoon like cars, designed to relax with arm rests, in an environment for the enjoyment of music with the convenience of taking a Bluetooth call at the touch of a button on the steering wheel. Alfa Romeo builds cars that appeal to those who will discount creature comforts in favor of driving experience, and style. Few who own an Alfa Romeo, do not develop a passion, or at least an appreciation and respect, for the cars, even if they are not what they desire as a daily driver. For those fortunate own them, they rarely, fail to elicit a positive emotional response of some fond memories.

    BTW:For the times when one insists on a great sound system when driving: iPod w/ noise canceling ear buds. (Illegal? Pish 😉 …Deaf people have driver’s licenses)

  • maserati123

    No brainer,I take the 4C with eyes closed and wallet opened.

  • Plipton

    Had mine 3 months now. Love it. I wouldn’t use it as a daily driver but as a fun weekend car it’s fantastic!

  • Lokki

    Luke – your choice reflects your priorities. The 4C is not for transportation, and not for highway commuting. It’s a sports car for early Sunday morning mountain road work. The 4C is purely for -driving pleasure-. The Honda was built as a GT car. It was famous for its civility, even when new; similar to most Honda sports bikes. You would probably also prefer the NSX over a new Lotus for the same reasons you prefer it over the 4C.

    TL/DR: The NSX is for fast touring work; the 4C doesn’t give s damn what you do with your luggage.

  • Rallyczar

    I’ve put roughly 150,000 mi. on a used GTV6 and two used Milanos in Minnesota including driving the GTV6 and the first Milano in the winter including winter gravel rallies with basically no problems.

    I now have 700+ miles on a 4C delivered a week and a half ago and am loving it!!

    Wouldn’t mind having a Milano Verde with bad paint that I could go out
    and enjoy driving on snow and gravel. Hard to find though so I switched to
    a ’98 Subarus 2.5RS with an STi driveline for gravel and a stock ’04 2.5RS for winter.

  • Rallyczar

    You too, eh? Have a friend that is into German cars give me grief about the electrics on Alfas. Didn’t get any more grief from him after informing him that the electrics were Bosch.

  • Ddville

    I presently own an 88 spider which I have just rebuilt the engine. With about 70-80,000 miles It didn’t need to have the crank turned. That in itself is amazing. I’ve owned a 1900c column shift, an 67 sprint, a 54 1600 sprint and a Giulietta spider. I am not crazy and I have the hospitals papers to prove it.

  • Dsport

    Just ludicrous that a car guy/ editor will actually make such comparison, clearly he is a Honda lover and anything out there does not compare.(“Ferrari fighter” lol)

  • bamafanNJ

    I’ve had 3 Fiats and 2 Alfas, loved my spiders, BUT…..Wiring nightmares, All of them had main fusebox connector bus overheating issues.

    I would have to kick the harness in my Veloce with my left foot when it would shut down on the highway. It was crazy stuff and I never got it sorted out, Fiat rear tail lights corroded and had to be cleaned constantly, i would turn on headlights and sometimes the windshield wipers would activate then shut off when they felt like it…awful experience.

    i drive Jags now, the sound isnt as sweet, but they never let me down and always get me home….very quickly!

  • disqus_k24qmqRcmo

    bamafan, I’ve driven Alfas for more than 50 years, and still do, and an Alfa has never broken down on me. So, your experiences you will have to explain. I’m 72 years old now, and have settled for a larger car because of back problems, and the Giulia was too low. My son also drives Alfa, and absolutely will not change.

  • disqus_k24qmqRcmo

    bamafan, I would love an XJ6, but I would fit a small block Chevy motor to it. I find that those XJ6 motors leaked like sieves, and the new ones look like any other car on the road. No aesthetic character to set them apart.