Driven: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe | Larry Edsall photos

There is no cruise control. No power steering. No struts to hold open the hatch that spans the engine and the unreasonably small trunk. No GPS. No push-button starter. No backup camera that might provide at least a helpful hint rather than leave you backing blindly out of a parking place.

alfatail
4C points ahead while drawing on proud Alfa history

There are leather straps to pull the doors closed. There also is a wake-the-neighborhood wailing banshee of a sound to alert you that you’ve started the engine but have yet to click the seat and shoulder belt around you, and the turn-signal indicator clacks more loudly than anything Buick might have to alert an elder that the light blinking on the dashboard should be canceled.

And there is a sound I hadn’t heard since the glory days of the GTP cars that were racing in the IMSA Camel GT series in its heyday. That sound comes from just over the driver’s left shoulder when you’ve accelerated hard and finally relaxed the pressure on the gas pedal, a wonderful whooshing whistle just like the one that emerged from the waste gates of the P-cars’s turbocharged engines.

But while the cockpit is nearly as tight and Spartan, we’re not driving one of those awesome P cars, though the rush of acceleration not only has audible familiarity but is dynamically delightful as well. The car we’re driving is the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C.

This is a barebones if technologically advanced sports car, probably the kind Colin Chapman might be building today were he just launching Lotus.

Dynamic, Natural or All-weather settings on DNA selector
Dynamic, Natural or All-weather settings on DNA selector

Chapman, among others, might be surprised the 4C comes with no clutch pedal, but we think it wouldn’t take very many miles for him to appreciate the responsiveness of Alfa’s six-speed, twin-clutch transmission that you can set not only for automatic or manual (via paddles on the steering wheel) shifting, but for weather, natural, dynamic or even race modes. And not only gearbox controls, but chassis-control software also adjusts to those various modes.

We also think Chapman would appreciate the fact that this car weighs just 2,465 pounds, thanks to a racing-style carbon-fiber monocoque tub between front and rear safety cells, an engine carried on an aluminum subframe, and bodywork made from sheet molding compound (aka fiberglass) composite. Even the weight of the windshield and windows was reduced 15 percent from normal.

And speaking of that composite bodywork, it is a gorgeously Italian (designed by Alfa Romeo and assembled by Maserati in Modena, no less) exotic design that Alfa says was inspired by the famed Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale racing car penned by Franco Scaglione, though with all sorts of fascias and air ducts, and a rear spoiler to enhance stability and component cooling.

And it’s not just the styling that harkens to Alfa’s history. Even the name is derived from the famed 6C and 8C Alfas of the 1930s and ‘40s.

The design makes a definite statement in traffic
The design makes a definite statement in traffic

Like the 33 Stradale, Alfa says the 4C can reach 160 miles per hour, but unlike the historic racer, the 4C needs less than 5 seconds to zoom from a standing start to 60 mph while it took the 33 Stradale another second to achieve that speed.

The 33 Stradale carried a 2.0-liter V8 engine that provided 230 horsepower. The 4C has a newly created turbocharged 1750-cc four-cylinder engine that pumps out 237 horsepower and a whopping 258 pound-feet of torque, with 80 percent of max torque available at just 1,700 rpm and full power all the way from 2,200 to 4,250 revs.

A next-generation turbocharger includes what Alfa calls a “pulse-converter exhaust manifold” designed to “exploid pressure waves and boost torque at low-engine speeds” while a waste gate valve adjusts turbo pressure to improve efficiency.

However it’s done, there’s no old-style turbo lag, just instant and more-than-sufficient, thrust-you-back-into-the-seat power whenever you ask for it.

Interior features a lot of exposed carbon fiber
Interior features a lot of exposed carbon fiber

The twin-clutch gearbox responds as quickly as the engine spools up — and likely more quickly than most mortals could do the multi-pedal dance while manually manipulating a gear-shift lever.

We were particularly impressed with how responsive and well coordinated the car’s systems — throttle, gearbox, steering, braking and suspension — were as we hustled along a wonderful — and wonderfully empty of traffic — two-lane ribbon of pavement that climbs and dips and twists and turns as it makes its way from the northern edge of the Phoenix metro area out to one of the series of lakes framed by the Mazatzal Mountains.

The launch of the 4C marks Alfa’s return to the U.S. automotive marketplace, which it left in the mid-1990s after a 40-year run that spanned, among others, the Giulietta, Spider (of Graduate fame), Sprint, GTV, Milano and 164.

We say, “Welcome back!”

The engine is wedged between cockpit and tiny trunk
The engine is wedged between cockpit and tiny trunk

We also find the sub-$54K base price a welcome discovery. The 4C we tested was equipped with a $500 exterior package, an optional $700 Basalt Gray Metallic paint job, $1,000 Bi-Xenon headlamps, $300 red brake calipers, $2,500 optional forged dark gray wheels, and a $400 car cover, and the Alfa still stickers for less than $61,000, and that includes destination charges of $1,295.

Two competitive cars came to mind while we drove: the $63,800 Porsche Cayman S and the $60,000 Chevrolet Corvette Z51.

The new 4C is very much a driver’s car: Tight cockpit, small footprint, quick power, amazingly responsive turn-in, great brakes, a “trunk” large enough only for a weekend bag.

Which means the new 4C is not a car that everyone will enjoy. You pretty much have to fold yourself into the cockpit, and exiting over the very wide door sill is not a graceful event. The engine is right behind the seats and some won’t like its constant aural presence. The cupholders will prove inadequate for many American appetites. A stiff suspension means you likely won’t want to take this car on a cross-country road trip.

You can light up the headlamps, or the rear tires
You can light up the headlamps, or the rear tires

A lack of power steering can make parking a challenge. And once you park, there’s no Park gear, just neutral and the hand brake. But even more challenging is backing out of a parking place. Horrendous rearward visibility makes that maneuver a gamble.

And yet, for some, this is the ideal car. It can be used for the daily drive to work. In rush-hour traffic, the lack of a clutch pedal makes a huge difference. And what a great vehicle for a weekend drive up into the mountains.

Oh, and if you prefer your weekends at the beach, well, there’s a Spider version of the 4C.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe
Vehicle type: 2-passenger, mid-engine sports car, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $53,900 Price as tested: $60,595
Engine: Turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder, 237-horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque @ 2,200-4,250 rpm Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch
Wheelbase: 93.7 inches Overall length/width: 157.5 inches / 73.5 inches
Curb weight: 2,465 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 24 city / 34 highway / 28 combined
Assembled in: Modena, Italy

Alfa returns to U.S. with a real pocket rocket
Alfa returns to U.S. with a real pocket rocket

8 thoughts on “Driven: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe”

  1. An exciting concept but, it looks like all the other rounded out, sculpted, over-worked designs on the road today. When you have to constantly check the nameplates to tell what you’re looking at, something’s really wrong. Whatever happened to originality? I had high hopes when I heard Alfa was reentering the market. Oh well, maybe next time.

    Mike McAllister
    Yardley, PA

  2. I have said it elsewhere so forgive me if I repeat myself: it’s ugly. A Nissan Juke left out in the rain. 60 G’s for this? The side view is bad, the rear 3/4 is awful. The only thing it has going for it is the GVW. Buy a new Miata- at least it will still be running in 10 years time.

  3. Hot stuff. Maybe too hot for this old guy whose idea of an Alfa is a Giulietta Veloce or Giulia GTV. I’m hoping the Miata based car will be more usable on public roads.

  4. to compare this to a Vette or even a used Jaguar is a joke if you have ever driven one, the big question is why would anybody buy one. Even a Genesis coupe is far superior

  5. Sorry to belabor a point here Larry but I just re-read your piece and studied the photos and the pictorial evidence is in favor of the prosecution: mutt- ugly. Furthermore, at least half of your comments are reasons for avoiding this pooch like ebola. I submit, poor rear vision, droning engine noise,sub $54,000 starting price, $1000 bi-zenon headlights(?) , $700 extra for optional paint, $300 for red calipers, WTF Larry. If you bought a set of Wilwoods or Brembos is the color $300 extra?
    Normally I only comment on these issues when my response is positive but this one has gotten my dander up in case you hadn’t noticed. I just think that with all the negatives it’s a poor choice especially for the uninitiated. Where is the resale value in, say 5 years?Are those $1000 bi-zenons going to hold their value? How about the optional paint? Will anyone give a hoot? My guess is a resounding NO!

  6. I am not defending an automaker’s ability to charge extra for such things as paint and pretty calipers, but since when did the reason to buy a car or not buy a car become its value five years down the road? Isn’t the reason you buy a car, at least a new car, that is meets your needs (or wants) right now? I once bought a minivan because I needed it for my family. I own a pickup truck because its capabilities meet my lifestyle.

  7. Aha- this explains a lot about the different reasons for buying and or not buying a new car.
    I have bought a couple of new vehicles in the last 10 years and depreciation has always been a deciding factor. Make, model and options make a difference at purchase point and resale point, and there’s probably a sliding scale somewhere out there in used car land but I’m not aware of it. Sometimes, like in the case of an ( ahem) Aplha 4C, rare options can be a big plus, or a big expense at POS, but this is a crap shoot at purchase point. In terms of buying a new vehicle, yes, it has to meet your needs and wants but at what cost? I’m all in favor of the 4C sporty GVW but it seems to cost more for less. Yah- Yah that’s an old saying but it still holds true. Standard equipment -wise this is a stripper. Sorta-like the 383 Road Runner back in the day. And the 383 Road Runner was a bargain, options included. The $C (oops-typo) is not.

  8. I bought a 4C in November 2014. It was everything I wanted and expected, and more. I find it to be a wonderful daily driver. It’s not a practical car, but it is the car for me. I do have a full size truck when I need to haul things, it’s not exactly practical either.

    Driving the 4C with my wife in mountains and canyons is reminiscence of my childhood driving with Dad in his 356 through the canyons and mountains.

    I’ve had it out on the track and it’s runs like it looks. Fast, quick, nimble. The OEM tires leave a lot to be desired on the track, but they are consistent with street tires.

    My only real complaint about the car is the POS radio and speakers. But that’s consistent with other super cars. The whistles, pops, growls, farts & burps more than make up for the unusable radio.

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