2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Review

Impractical Performance Turned to 11

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Review

“How can this car be so loud?” I think to myself a split-second before its engine hits redline. Just then the dual-clutch automatic grabs the next ratio in its six-gear stack, dropping the decibels slightly though not enough to make things any less deafening.

As velocity increases the exhaust gets drowned out by wind and tire noise, which are all too happy to make their presence felt. The Alfa Romeo 4C is anything but quiet, though there’s good reason it makes such a commotion. This car marks the Italian brand’s return to America after a two-decade absence. If the howling race pipes hadn’t alerted you to its arrival the stunning bodywork certainly will.

The 4C is a machine that’s dedicated to delivering as much driving pleasure to the left front seat as possible. Accordingly it’s low to the ground, broad shouldered and light in weight. It’s sharper than a pack of double-edged razors and nearly as uncomfortable. This Alfa is laser-focused like few cars.

Trade Offs

Naturally with something so fanatical there are bound to be a few compromises and the 4C is loaded with them. For starters it’s extremely difficult to get into and out of; it rides closer to the pavement than a Hot Wheels car and its door sills are as wide as an outrigger canoe. Rearward visibility is essentially nonexistent, the sun visors are about as useful as a dead battery, there’s no glove box, the trunk is tiny, it’s piercingly loud at any speed, there are no armrests, the seats are barely adjustable and its radio has the WORST interface I’ve ever experienced.

That’s a lot of negativity in just a few sentences, but it gets worse. If you want anything even vaguely reminiscent of comfort or convenience you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Fortunately though many of the abovementioned issues start to melt away once you start driving the 4C in anger, the way it was intended to be used.

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Persistently Purposeful

And besides, it’s not really fair to evaluate this machine like you would a Toyota Camry; it’s much too specialized, finding itself more at home on a racetrack than a weekday commute. Staying true to its mission statement the 4C is built around an advanced carbon fiber monocoque structure with some aluminum bits thrown in for good measure. This graces it with phenomenal rigidity and a light curb weight. In U.S. trim this car checks out at less than 2,500 pounds.

But advanced materials aren’t the only tricks to cutting unwanted mass. Engineers looked at other areas to reduce the 4C’s curb weight. Of course there’s little if any sound deadening material in the car, its plastic body panels add lightness and allow for gorgeous curves plus the combination hatch/hood is supported with a prop rod instead of gas shocks. This last item makes it challenging to load the trunk if your hands are full, an issue that’s compounded by the fact that the hatch can only be opened via a door jamb-mounted latch. Still, the car is everything you want and nothing you need.

Potent Performance

As you’ve probably guessed this car is seriously quick, with an estimated zero to 60 time in the mid four-second range. Top speed is 160 MPH. It delivers that thoroughbred acceleration with solid engineering rather than overwhelming power.

Its mid-mounted engine displaces just 1.75 liters, a size that harkens back to classic Alfa Romeo powerplants from decades past. This turbocharged four-cylinder delivers the goods, cranking out an impressive 237 hp with 258 lb-ft of twist. Torque is routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the only transmission available.

And this is another weight-saving measure, though a controversial one. By not engineering the car to offer both a manual and self-shifting gearbox complexity is reduced along with mass. Additionally most buyers would probably just opt for the automatic anyway (especially in the United States). I understand why Alfa decided to go the auto-only route, though I don’t agree with it; a proper manual would be so much fun.

Full of Surprises

The 4C delivers shockingly impressive straight-line acceleration but it’s equally surprising in another area. In spite of its performance this sports car is quite fuel efficient, stickering at 24 miles per gallon in city driving and 34 on the interstate. Combined it’s supposed to average 28 MPG, a figure I managed to match without even trying.

Another revelation about this car also deals with numbers, it’s a lot more affordable than you might expect. Base price for one of these exotic-looking coupes is right around $55,000, including $1,295 for destination and delivery. That’s a couple grand more than an entry-level Porsche Cayman, its primary rival. For an extra special experience you could opt for one of the 500 available “launch edition” models, though they’re a bit more expensive costing about 70 large.

The bright red “Rosso Alfa” painted example we evaluated stickered for $64,445. Extras included the available leather package ($2,750), black brake calipers ($300), staggered matte-black wheels ($700), bi-xenon headlamps ($1,000) and a racing exhaust system ($500), the last item certainly contributed to the car’s raucous nature.

The Drive

Get the 4C out on an undulating road country road and its horrendous blind spots, noisy cabin and lack of armrests become almost irrelevant.

Thanks to its fully mechanical steering there’s an unrivaled connectedness, a one-to-one relationship between your inputs and the car’s reactions. Its wheel is beautifully weighted, extremely responsive and more accurate than a scientific instrument. Body roll is basically nil.

Thanks to carbon fiber the structure is probably the most rigid of any vehicle I’ve ever driven. There’s absolutely no sense of flexibility or elasticity; there are no shudders, creaks or groans. From a rigidity standpoint it’s practically like piloting a solid brick of depleted uranium.

Not surprisingly the 4C’s ride is firm but less vicious than you might expect given its tenacious grip and low weight. You feel bumps and ruts but you’re never savaged by them. Also, its brakes are extremely effective and easily modulated.

There are three driving modes to choose from and you switch between them with a toggle on the center console. In descending order of aggressiveness there’s Dynamic, Natural and All-Weather. The last one markedly dulls the car’s responses for slick conditions.

In Dynamic mode straight-line acceleration is certifiably fast. The boisterous engine howls just over your shoulder, the turbo whooshes like a leaky air compressor hose, the exhaust pops and burbles. It’s hard to believe the 4C is street legal it makes so much noise; fortunately most of the sounds are pretty appealing.

As for the transmission, I’m not a fan. The dual dry-clutch automatic can feel crude at times, with lots of low-speed slippage. You can also confuse it pretty easily by getting on the throttle and then quickly backing out again. Gear-changes at wide-open throttle are blisteringly quick, but that doesn’t make me stop lusting for a proper manual.

Also, some drivers may be confused by the transmission controls. It’s operated by a series of push-buttons on the center console. Reverse is labeled with an “R” but for some reason drive is “1.” A third button emblazoned with “A/M” switches between automatic and manual modes. But most distressingly there’s no “Park” setting for the transmission.

The Verdict

The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is dedicated and purposeful; it’s about as raw as a bag of chicken thighs in a grocery store meat case. It’s an exceptional piece of equipment for a singular task.

Comparing it to a run-of-the-mill car simply isn’t fair because it fails as basic transportation in so many ways. But when you evaluate it as an autocross weapon or track-day toy everything coalesces, it all starts to click.

At first the 4C’s many faults turned me off, but the more I drove it the more I enjoyed it, and of course the public at large gets a real kick out of its design. A simple trip to the gas station becomes an interrogation. “What kind of car is that?” “How much does it cost?” Can I take a picture?” are frequent queries Alfa owners will have to live with. Still, as much fun as it was I found it to be too brutal, but if you’re a hardcore enthusiast this could be the Porsche alternative you’ve been looking for.

  • where is “Paragraph Four”?

  • Mark S

    Love the heritage of Alfa, but sorry I would have a Cayman above the 4C. Not seen a head to head comparo yet where the 4C has beat the Cayman.

  • bob

    This guy should be reviewing family sedans not performance cars. Complete idiot.

  • Mark S

    The reviewers comments are very much in line with other testers – overall a very fun hobby car more at home on the twisties and track as opposed to the commute. If this magazine had let their hot shoe lose with the car, I think like Sutcliffe (Autocar) over in the UK, more questions would be asked about the downshift speed of that box and again a plea for manual would have followed shortly. While it is great to see and read Sutcliffe, Harris, Pobst etc, videos and comments, also good to see the reviews of folks who are not always tracking cars and go to canyons and country roads to get their driving fun. Hopefully auto guide can get this car to a track and maybe even do a head to head against the cayman. This review was basically what I expected, just like Motortrend and others who note the impractical nature of the car, but no matter who you are this car will be a fun drive in the twisties and you forgive the practical shortfalls……just like I would a Caterham, which is even less practical.

  • Jambroney

    Unusually cogent question for you. It’s the one that comes after numbers one, two and three, counted in sequence from the top down. 😉

  • Luke Vandezande

    You’ve got a point about the whole hot shoe argument. We had a long internal debate about this one, but the trouble is that there are very few of these cars allotted for press evaluation and we couldn’t get time in one until long after out test track was far too cold for a proper track test.

    As a matter of fact, we tried to book a 4C vs Cayman the week of the L.A. Auto Show for a shootout on the Angeles Crest Highway, but Porsche couldn’t accommodate us. We aren’t finished asking, though. More to come and THANK YOU for reading!

    p.s. I still drove the 4C in L.A. and it’s a dang hoot.

  • Mark S

    Good stuff – will be interesting to see if Alfa does bring out a more powerful 4C, will be even more a track car.

  • PN

    Although I never had an Alfa, I find them very sexy and cool cars. Beautiful curves, timeless Alfa design characteristics, always recognizable by its shape.

  • maserati123

    Simply awesome,I saw one at the dealer yesterday,and I will ordered one of them with the removable roof.It will take a little while to arrive,but I will drive my Maserati,and 500 Abarth until it arrives.COOL.This will be my third Alfa.CANT WAIT.

  • maserati123

    You are so right,how can he compare this to a Camry,no comparison what so ever.I would not buy this car to get a hand rest,the beautiful flat bottomed steering wheel is the hand rest.

  • maserati123

    Keep looking and you will soon find one I did,no expensive VW for me.I will take the Alfa without even seeing one.

  • Mark S

    Don’t worry, I will not be haggling for one of the 3000 4C’s…..if I could have my choice, a Cayman GTS, manual with PSE and PASM.

  • Guest

    You mean third FCA product? Unless you have some old Alfa’s in which case color me green.

  • Bob231

    Alfa’s are not for everyone. Luckily, those who want something different, exciting, refreshing, and honest can once again buy one.

    I’d rather have this an an overstuffed GT that the Ferraris and McLarens feel like.

  • Deepshark

    I love the new headlight clusters ! Alfa is going to be selling them like hot cakes to owners of pre-2015 cars I suspect..Seeing this car makes me happy I own a 166, because when push comes to shove they are blood relations 🙂 Alfa’s are very special at all times, but the 4C is even more so. This is supercar back to basics – there was a time when I was a child when a Ferrari was as practical as a 4C – thats to say, no boot at all, and seating for 2 only. Today, a Fezza 612 or 458 has genuine boot space, and FF has seats for four and golf clubs….sad day indeed. Happily, the 4C is back to what matters it seems….I long to drive one very very much !

  • feef

    It’s an automated Manual gearbox, why on earth would you even contemplate it having a Park setting?

  • Rickers

    Porsche is cool… but tell people you own an Alfa Romeo and they’ll think you’re a freakin millionaire!

  • Mark S

    In the old days, with Alfa reliability, you would need to be. Think they will good now though and loads of fun to drive.

  • Mark S

    Don’t forget Alfa can only make about 3000 of these a year at the moment (at least that is what I read at launch). The issue is the availability of carbon fiber. It is great to have a car with so much CF at <$100k, but CF supply seems a race. BMW has invested in CF production process (Moses Lake, WA) and I think more of this kind of investment will be needed if more cars (apart for super/hyper cars) are going to be using CF.

  • Deepshark

    Hello Mark, thanks for the reality check.

    You are quite right about production – there is an excellent video available on Youtube here [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goy7XwnKcec ] – do have a look when you have time.

    I have some professional knowledge of the production technology used in making the core passenger cell of the car – CFRP. This is an item which is effectively 3D printed using SLS. Windform is one of the makers of this material. The passenger cell begins life as powdered carbon fibre and nylon, which is knitted together by laser melting into a composite of tremendous strength (95% that of traditional carbon) and lightness (95% again of the sheeted form)…thereafter Alfa simply ‘glue’ carbon fibre sheet to the CFRP frame.

    My professional interest comes from my side business doing 3D printing in CFRP, Steel, Aluminium and other alloys for clients – I can point to the 4C and Lambo Aventador as examples of cars made using 3D printing tech – and it certainly impresses my clientele, as it is literally true.

    Making 3000 a year is excellent – thats a very healthy volume production for a sportscar, and that they are selling just about all of them is great news ! Alfa have, at long last, found their niche in the modern world – making smart city hatchbacks (the MiTo and Guilietta) with real performance punch, making an affordable supercar (the 4C) and soon making a 3-series rival with RWD (the coming Guilia) and a 5-series rival with RWD (the coming Alfetta / 169), and of course making what will surely be a lovely open top sportscar as well (the coming MX-5 based Spider)

    Its very very exciting for the Alfisti like me – both in terms of owning one, and in terms of seeing the wonderful new ones that are becoming available at fair prices in the year to come.

    Thanks for the reply Mark, really appreciated it 🙂

  • Mark S

    Many thanks for the great and informative response. I know very little about CF, except what I read in the car sites and see in some of the you tube vids. Will definitely watch this video – like watching these kinds of vids. I watched the absolutely opposite vid a few weeks ago, where they show the old Morgans being made, still using wood frames!

  • dougie_s

    Having driven alfas regularly for more than twenty years, I can safely say that you are sadly mistaken. Maintenance has been far less than that for friends bmw’s during the same time period. And by buying used, so is initial cost.

    But in this case, I would have to pass – no manual transmission makes it a non starter. I will stick with a de tomaso pantera or lotus elise or exige. Or see if i can squeeze a few more hp out of my 3.0 gtv6, which would be easy, with that kind of money. 🙂

    doug s.

  • dougie_s

    No manual transmission? No way!

    Sorry, alfa, much as I love ya, it ain’t gonna happen.

    doug s.

  • Mark S

    Apologies when I say old, I suppose I mean really old, showing my age. If you watch one of the early seasons of the new TG, you will see the gang saying that real petrol heads own Alfa’s despite the maintenance and depreciation issues. That said, I own a couple of MGB’s…my view was that life was too short to drive a Corolla 🙂

  • John Groth

    4C gets my vote for The most obnoxious car ever and another great disappointment from Alfa Romeo sPa..I withdrew my 4C deposit for the 1st delivery to West Mich as soon as I heard the cat-back snowmobile sound as it ran-round the Balocco test track – an insane barking racket every 14 yr boy loves to rattle his teeth? Why o why didn’t we instead receive waves of easily Federalized, beautiful, modern usable 159 coupes, 4 door gorgeous sedans, AWD estates, 2 liter & 3L turbos ??? HiHo.

  • Plipton

    Had mine now for 2 months and I love it to bits.

    I hadn’t even noticed the lack of Park function until reading this review, but the big black handle between the seats does a fantastic job of keeping it from rolling away so who cares! 😉

    Good and bad bits:
    The radio (Parrott) takes some getting used to. Don’t need it anyway.
    Flat bottom wheel is cut out too much for my liking
    US spec front lights are prettier than the Euro ones we get here (despite the c/f surrounds)
    Stock silencer is perfectly balanced between sounding sporty but without inducing tinnitis after every ride. The race one really is deafening.

    So compared to a Porsche? Not really a fair comparison. They are too different. Drive one and you’ll see. You’ll either love or hate it. You pays yer money………..

  • bassoumsamsoum .

    You forgot the Race Mode. That is the 4th transmission setting. Or maybe, you haven’t discovered it yet!

  • Mark S

    Very cool to read comments from a real owner. Sounds like a hoot to drive. I like the idea of a sports exhaust I can switch off and on (like in the F Type), but all the time sports exhaust might be Tylenol inducing. Have to admit, I err towards the Cayman despite the fact that all I have done is test driven one a few times, great fun. That said I also enjoyed driving the BRZ round a canyon and suspect the 4C would be great fun as well, but I think you are right they are all different. When Porsche brings their 4 cyl turbo, will be a different drive to the base Cayman for sure.

  • Plipton

    Fun to drive, it certainly is. The steering takes some getting used to. It tends to follow imperfections in the road somewhat, the TCT tranny works well most of the time (I prefer it to the DSG in my daily VAG runanbout). As the reviewer says, you can catch it out in auto mode and it can kangaroo a bit if you happen to be coming off the gas as it changes up a gear, but on the gas it sounds awesome and downchanges are greeted with a blip on the throttle. Very addictive!

    Getting in and out is not that hard unless you have the driver’s seat set close to the steering wheel, which tends to cause your feet to catch under the dash. If you’re over 6’2″ (or there abouts) I would think you’d struggle to fit in in at all. I’m 5’11” and my head is very near the roof where is sweeps down toward the top of the doors and I have the seat almost all the way back, so I would think if you have long legs you might find the driving position quite a strain.

    Comfort – Every review seems to bemoan it, but I think it’s fine. I have the standard 17/18″ wheels and ‘comfort’ suspension on mine (an SE version) which helps – I did drive an LE version with race suspension and 18/19″ wheels and it was quite a lot stiffer – better for the track but IMO less suitable for public roads.

    I agree about the exhaust, but I guess it’s a ‘additional weight thing’ to make it adjustable. The EU version of the 4C is about 100KG (220LBS) lighter than the US version so there is room to add some mass but when you drive one you’ll see why they don’t do it.

    Glovebox is a notable omission although there is a leather (plastic, more like) flap/pouch above the passenger’s knees where you can put your iPhone, MP3 player, other fairly small items etc, and a cup holder (which in this car is the oddest idea ever!). Trunk space is enough for 2 for a weekend away, but it gets hot – the manual says up to 65 degrees C (about 150 F) so don’t store your beer there 🙂

    Comparable cars…..
    Having driven the Cayman S, I have to say I was very impressed. So capable, well screwed together, predictable…. refined, even, but the reason I don’t think the Cayman is the right car to use as a comparison is that the 4C is a lot more raw and (in EU spec at least) nearly half a ton lighter. A 4C is more like a TVR or a Lotus than a Porsche in terms of how it feels to drive. Compare it to a Lotus Exige and you’d be a lot closer than if you compared it to a Cayman.

    My advice – ignore the reviews and drive every car on your shortlist and see which one puts the biggest grin on your face … whichever that car is, that’s the one for you.

  • Peter

    I agree with your comment about the 159. I have put 100,000 miles on mine but I can’t find anything to replace it as the 4C isn’t suitable. My 159 is red with light tan leather 18 in alloys, heated seats,cruise control Bose sound etc. Why didn’t they keep selling this so I could upgrade. Looks like I will have to move to Audi or Mercedes. Pity as this is my third Alfa

  • Bob Payne

    Automatic! Shameful!

  • ams918

    I have SHE 4C on a V750, Look good on a 4C.

  • maxnix

    No Ferrari either, at least a new one. Your loss.

  • dougie_s

    no loss here – my gtv6, with hot-rodded 3.0 and suspension, will easily hang with a ferrari 308/328. and when i want to go crazy, there’s always my de tomaso pantera i can drive. ;~)

  • dougie_s

    no apologies needed. but, imo, even the berlina’s and giulias are reliable enough. the alfa’s need maintenance, but if they receive it, they are as reliable as any other car, ime. if you are talking older than 60’s/70’s, i have no experience…

    as far as depreciation goes, have you priced the 60’s 70’s giulias and gtv’s lately? and the earlier spiders are even more expensive… the 80’s alfas are also starting to creep up in price…

  • dougie_s

    if you can handle the ugly factor, check out the dodge dart w/the 1.4 multi-aire turbo – it’s a modern giulia hit w/an ugly stick. but at least it’s an alfa under the skin…

  • Mark S

    Nope , not priced those particular cars, but have seen Petrolicous vids showing Alfa owners shows they are highly collectible.