2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Review

Impractical Performance Turned to 11

“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.