Review: Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 – 2019)
Impressive performance from 1750 turbocharged engine. Exotic specification of carbon fibre tub construction. Good looks and rarity.
Engine sounds terrible. Interior lacks quality for something costing £45,000. Heinously over-active steering requires constant corrections.
Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 – 2019): At A Glance
- On average it achieves 99% of the official MPG figure
The Alfa Romeo 4C is lightweight, mid engined, composite bodied sportscar that makes the most of a relatively small engine by its light weight and impeccable handling.
You could almost hear the collective intake of breath from Alfa Romeo fans worldwide when the 4C was first shown in 2011. Following the short-run, high-cost, if not fantastically received 8C Competizione, the 4C gave some hope to those seduced by the Italian brand that they might finally have something attainable worth saving for.
Forget sharp-looking Fiat-in-disguise models like the Giulietta and MiTo. The 4C is a proper, bespoke sports car, that’s lightweight and gorgeous - if you ignore the woeful Gary-from-Halfords-designed headlamps - mid-engined and rear-wheel drive. A proper sports car. And to many a proper Alfa.
Much of the 4C’s appeal centres around its construction. It features a carbon fibre tub, which might not mean anything to you, but it’s what Formula One drivers sit in. Indeed, the only production cars to feature the same carbon fibre tub construction include the McLaren 650S, Lamborghini Aventador and a handful of other mega-money exotics and supercars. The 4C’s construction really does put it among some very rarefied machinery indeed.
In that company then the £45,000 Alfa Romeo asks for the 4C looks like something of a bargain. Making that price possible does mean that much of the parts hanging off that fancy carbon fibre tub are used elsewhere in the Alfa Romeo line-up, but the attention to detail remains impressive, regardless.
The mid-mounted engine, introduced with the 4C, is an aluminium 1750cc direct injection turbocharged unit, that lightweight build allowing it to drop some 22kg in weight over the same output and capacity engine in the Giulietta QV.
That dedication to weight reduction sees the 4C boast an unladen weight of 895kg, all of which means the 240PS and 350Nm of torque the 1750 turbocharged unit produces is put to very good use. Acelleration from 0-62mph arrives in just 4.5 seconds if you use the launch control, the 4C’s acceleration aided by the rapid shifts from the paddle-shifted automatic twin-clutch transmission.
All that performance and lightweight does come with some compromises though. The 4C is a very single-minded machine, its focus on its featherweight build much in the same vein as the Lotus Elise, only here it’s arguably more compromised.
The cabin is tight, vision out of it heavily restricted and it’s pretty austere looking. But then the 4C isn’t likely to be bought with commuting and daily drives in mind, so such focus is entirely forgivable. And doubtless appealing to the sort of buyer looking for the sort of thrills the compact, lightweight two-seat 4C promises.
What does a Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 – 2019) cost?
Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 – 2019): What's It Like Inside?
- Boot space is 110 litres
It’s tight, dark and noisy in the cabin, but then the 4C is a carbon fibre constructed mid-engined, lightweight sports car so that’s sort of the whole idea. The leather-covered sports seats are both supportive and comfortable, their bolsters holding you tightly. Once you’ve clambered into those seats over the high sills, the driving position is good, the steering wheel adjustable for both reach and height.
There’s very little on the dashboard, the main controls centre around the steering wheel. It’s a chunky, if compact flat-bottomed item, the spokes which the paddles are mounted being rather too thick. All that means there’s very little actual rim to grasp around, leaving you clutching the wheel rather uncomfortably as it writhes and fights in your hands. The paddles are an easy reach, the instruments being digital items that are clear and bright.
There’s an aftermarket DIN slotted entertainment system in the dash to the left, angled towards the driver. It’s incomprehensibly complicated in its operation - to the point that in an entire week not once did we manage to find a radio station or pair a telephone - that exacerbated by the need to keep your hands on the 4C’s wheel at all times to keep it in line.
The only other switches are located around the centre, lower portion of the dash. There’s gear-switches allowing auto or manual choices, Reverse, Neutral and First, while Alfa’s usual DNA toggle allows you to change the power delivery between Dynamic, Natural and All-Weather. It’s best left in Natural. It all looks fine, if you like dark, plastics that lack tactility, though there are some lovely, if difficult to spot details like glimpses of the carbon-fibre trim and neat pedals.
There’s a boot behind the engine, but it's small, warm and needs two hands to open it and position the stick that keeps it open. Not entirely impractical then, and acceptable for a sports car where the expectation is you’ll be travelling light rather than doing tip any Ikea trips.
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What's the Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 – 2019) like to drive?
If the Alfa Romeo 4C’s specification reads more like a Lotus, than the pretty if entirely average hatches the Italian brand more usually produces then that’s entirely deliberate. Alfa insiders are unequivocal in their assertion that the 4C is a car that’s aimed at the sort of drivers who absolutely love driving, this is an Alfa that’s more than just about look-at-me styling.
They’re absolutely right too, as you’ll need to be utterly committed to the cause to consider the 4C, as the thrills it brings aren’t produced without some sizeable and serious compromises. The good bits first though. The 4C’s light weight is really noticeable on the road, the lack of mass for that turbocharged engine to shift - allied to its decent response for a turbo unit - make the 4C always, and entertainingly accelerative.
The engine’s performance isn’t without some provisos though, for all its response, quick-revving nature and mid-range urgency, it’s not exactly the most tuneful of units. Think Pavarotti asthmatically sucking on an inhaler after running up the stairs rather then belting out some opera, and you get the idea. There’s some mechanical noise behind all the wheezing and gasping, but it’s a barely perceptible humdrum four-cylinder backing track than anything remotely tuneful or exotic.
Forget using the twin-clutch transmission for orchestrating greater aural thrills. The sole sensory output from the powertrain is its ability to push you deep into your seat rather than a rousing sports car blare. Smooth enough in automatic the 4C’s six-speed dual-clutch set-up is most authentic when it’s shifted by the paddle-shifters on the overly chunky, flat-bottomed wheel.
Do so and it selects its next ratio up quickly and is smooth on downshifts, too. That is unless you’re a little hasty with your upshift request, where rather than merely ignoring it the 4C chastises you with a needlessly loud beep. Like an electronic dog collar might silence a barking pup it’s hideously unpleasant, though undeniably effective, as you’ll do everything you can not to hear it again.
Shortage of the sort of rousing engine and exhaust note isn’t unusual in this class though, as few people ever got overly excited at the sound of an Elise. Where the Brit outshines the Italian though is dynamically, the 4C’s chief, and highly significant failing centres around its suspension set-up - and specifically its steering.
The unassisted steering delivers a level of feel that’s unparalleled in its busy nature, though not in a good way. Long before you’ve had the opportunity to push the engine and transmission to its limits you’ll be backing off, as the 4C becomes uncomfortably unruly on anything less than glass-smooth tarmac.
Any camber, bump, lump, change in surface or painted line presents the 4C driver with a challenge, the steering following, pulling and pitching the car all over the road as it seeks out and follows every tiny topographical detail of the surface. It’s needlessly, endlessly and sometimes frighteningly busy, the 4C constantly trying to move around. It requires real commitment to keep it on your side of - and on - the road.
It’s so unusually demanding that it’s rarely, if ever, fun. There’s the odd glimmer of some magic revealed if you ever find an approach to a corner that’s smooth enough to enter the bend with any real speed. Do so, load the front up and the 4C does turn with real conviction.
But come across any surprises mid-bend - an odd camber, drain cover or suchlike - and it will kick you off line and have you fitfully fighting the steering wheel again. It’s not a car you can ever, really never relax in. Don’t even attempt to change the radio station in it, or scratch an itch, as your hands are resolutely needed on the wheel at all times to keep it on the road. Flawed then, as many Alfas are, but to a level that makes it a difficult car to recommend, even to the die-hard Alfa fans.
|1750 TBi||42 mpg||4.5 s||157 g/km|
|1750 TBi Spider||41 mpg||4.5 s||161 g/km|
Real MPG average for a Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 – 2019)
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Will the Alfa Romeo 4C become a valuable classic?
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