Just as I thought my recent time at Montery Car Week couldn’t get any better, I found myself bombing up and down the Laureles Grade, a 10-mile stretch of mountain road near Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, sitting in a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, Italian sports car weighing less than 2,500 pounds.
No, it wasn’t a classic. It was the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, which can sprint to 60 mph in just over four seconds.
“I got the Alfa!” I wrote in a text to my editor with a photo of the red 4C Spider.
“Good, now you can review it,” came the response. “But don’t neglect your other responsibilities.”
I was in Monterey to cover the vintage races and a couple of other events. For some reason, the product communications and media relations manager of the Alfa Romeo sent me an email asking if I wanted to take the car for a drive.
Tasked by my editor with more than just a joy ride, I nonetheless enjoyed a spirited day at the wheel with a smile only an Italian sports car can evoke. Oh, and I took the long way back to the Classic Car News rental condo — by way of a run down and back on coastal Highway 1. Yes, the PCH!
Most new cars have so much technology included that you don’t feel the bumps in the road. In fact, in some cars you not only don’t hear it when you start the car, but it can be difficult to figure out just which the myriad buttons to press to call the engine to life.
And then there are brake assist and lane nanny and you wonder if you’re there to do anything more than steer? What’s next, self-driving cars? Ha.
Fortunately, the Alfra Romeo 4C Spider is a no-nonsense, no-frills, two-seat sports car made for the driving enthusiast. And it’s a blast to drive.
And that’s drive as in really drive!
You won’t find any luxury or coddling as you sit behind the flat-bottom steering wheel. You sit in a carbon fiber tub with nearly nonexistent creature comforts while the 1.75-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine makes all kinds of glorious Italian sounds fed through nearly un-muffled exhaust tips. Oh, and it doesn’t have any of that fancy power steering either, but it does have paddle shifters to control the twin-clutch 6-speed transmission and to let you properly exercise the available and turbocharged 273 horsepower.
While the 4C Spider’s driving experience is likely only appreciated by the hardcore driving enthusiast, the design is something anyone can enjoy. At a certain point during Monterey Car Week, a Toyota Camry seemed more more exotic and elusive then even the Ferraris, so many of which clog the peninsula’s roads for the week. Yet the Alfa continued to stand out.
The design of the 4C Spider is very focused and purposed to reflect Alfa Romeo’s racing heritage. The car clearly draws inspiration from the 8C and 6C, Alfa’s race cars of the 30’s and ‘40s. Each vent and intake is fully functional for an intended purpose.
At one point while making my way through the Carmel Highlands, I passed a Ferrari gathering. My car earned multiple waves, thumbs up, dozens of “nice car” comments, and assorted photos from kids with cell phones.
The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is fun, eye-catching, beautiful, and unmistakably Italian, and for a base price of $65,900.
However, nothing is perfect and the 4C’s design has a few drawbacks. The 4C has visible hood seams but don’t even try to open it. The hood comes bolted shut for aerodynamic reasons. Visibility out of the rear window makes even the purest driving enthusiast thankful the 4C Spider has ParkSense Rear Park Assist to alert the driver with audible sounds and on a 7-inch color screen. While not necessarily bad, something to note is that the rear deck cover opens via a rod. Sorry, no struts.
The 4C Spider’s purpose-built, race-inspired theme flows into the interior as well. Two composite-framed leather sport seats are employed. The backs are adjustable within only a 2-degree range and the fore-aft adjustment for a tall or short driver is limited. The carbon fiber tub is visible, seen mostly when the doors are open, but also under the floor mats. The 4C Spider also utilizes a carbon fiber windshield frame that acts as the attachment points for the removable cloth roof, which needs to be applied from outside of the car, and secured from within.
The AC controls look pretty low-tech and outdated while the stock radio looks anything but stock and resembles an interface purchased at your local audio store.
While enjoying the car in Monterey, I didn’t use the air conditioning or heat and because it was chilly and I’m from Arizona, I mostly had the top on the car but the windows were down.
I did not turn on the radio because the engine noise is far more glorious then any song. From the moment you insert and turn the key in the ignition — that’s right, no silly key fob or lame push-to-start button — the engine, located right behind the driver and passenger, is gurgling, snarling, howling, crackling and whistling — and it’s absolutely mesmerizing.
It might be difficult to hear over the engine to conduct a telephone call but, hey, if you’re driving this car properly, you’re too busy to chat anyway.
You probably shouldn’t even be messing with the radio, for that matter. You feel every moment of speed in the 4C Spider, and you better hang on. The 4-cylinder engine may not strike you as intimidating or powerful, but when you factor in the car’s weight and full boost of 21.75 psi, you’ll feel as if you’re driving an over-powering if street-legal go-kart. There is some turbo lag, but it doesn’t hold the car back from doing zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds.
The 4C Spider also provides the driver with a raw and unfiltered feel of the road through its “manual steering” setup. I’ll admit I didn’t initially know how I’d feel about driving around without power steering, but in less than five minutes I was hooked and became an advocate.
I’ve easily spent thousands of dollars in aftermarket suspension parts and steering components to make my car’s handling stiffer, more responsive and eliminate any body roll while cornering. As a result, I feel every part of the road and very connected to the car.
The 4C Spider easily establishes that same connection between the car, road, and driver, but then goes the extra mile to enhance the clarity of the experience, requiring the driver to be alert, in control, and one step ahead. My car felt like a minivan when I got back in after driving the 4C Spider.
The steering is so responsive, even the slightest movement of the wheel translates to the road. There’s no noticeable body roll and the car feels tight, sturdy and stable at any speed during elevation changes, cornering, or when given full throttle on a stretch of straight road. You feel the road, but you don’t feel beat up afterward and in more than one hundred miles of driving all over the Monterey Peninsula, I never felt uncomfortable.
The only time you really feel the weight of the car in steering is in turning from a stop and in parking. Even a little movement of the tires helps lighten the load in steering.
That said, you really need to give the 4C some gas to get it going. The twin-clutch-transmission has Dynamic, Natural, or All-weather modes and drivers can shift via paddles or simply let the gearbox do its thing. Automatic modes are a bit rougher but are made interesting with blips of the throttle on downshifts while paddle shifts are instant, clean and clear.
Simply put, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider provides the driving enthusiast with a pure and addictive yet wildly satisfying experience from the moment the key allows the engine to roar to life. It makes intoxicating engine sounds, lives up to those sounds with the way the car handles, and you’ll also enjoy all the thumbs up you get while you’re driving down the road.
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Vehicle type: Two-seat sports car, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $65,900 Price as tested: $65,900
Engine: 1.75-liter turbo 4-cylinder, 237-horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque @ 2,200-4,250 rpm Transmission: 6-speed paddle-shift / automatic
Wheelbase: 93.7 inches Overall length/width:157 inches / 73.5 inches
Curb weight: 2,487 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 24 city / 34 highway / 28 combined
Assembled in: Modena, Italy