2015 Alfa Romeo 4C review notes
December 16, 2014
1 of 36The 1.75-liter turbo I4 delivers 137 hp per liter for a total of 237 hp.
Alfa's 4C is a gift to track-day enthusiasts
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It takes a special car to make me wake up at 4 a.m. to drive across the state of Michigan to a racetrack and then back before returning it in the afternoon. But that's exactly what the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C made me do earlier this year. We were out at Michigan International Speedway doing an Autofile track test with the car and were having a good old time with it slinking effortlessly through our tight slalom course and blasting around the short infield road course. However, there was a part of me that really wanted to get the 4C on a proper road course where I could push the car harder and really get to know it. As an enthusiast, the 4C really spoke to me, which got the gears turning in my head to see if something could be done to scratch my track itch. A phone call was made and a two-hour window was mine at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Mich., as long as I didn't mind getting there at 7 the following morning. A group had the track rented for the day beginning at 9 a.m.
About 12 hours later at 4:30 a.m., I fired up the 4C before I loaded the small trunk with the basic track-day essentials: my torque wrench, sockets, tire pressure gauge, mini air compressor and helmet as quick as possible. The optional race exhaust system was incredibly loud, making me feel bad for my neighbor who surely had to be woken by the noise breaking up the early morning silence. I jumped in and gingerly rolled onto the throttle and crept out of my driveway to begin the 150-mile run to the west side of Michigan from metro Detroit.
We had a great time testing the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C at Michigan International Speedway. Photo by Josh Scott
I was definitely feeling the effects of the roughly three hours of sleep I had. My eyelids felt heavy, but the 4C's exhaust drone was a constant chatter that kept me awake. Cruise control was appreciated, and the ride wasn't back-breaking like with the Lotus Exige S260 that I spent an entire week with five years ago. The Exige was as hardcore as cars come that met federal standards at the time. With very little in creature comforts, manual side mirrors, less than ideal vehicle ingress and egress and massive blind spots, I was glad to give up the keys to the Lotus after daily driving it for a week.
With the Exige now gone from the U.S., the 4C is probably the most serious track weapon when it comes to production vehicles in this price range. Like the Lotus, the Alfa's engine sits midship, steering is unassisted, getting in and out of the 4C isn't the easiest or most elegant looking exercise, and the sound system is rather weak. However, unlike the Exige, the 4C features a carbon fiber monocoque tub, a dual-clutch sequential manual, appears much better built and offers a little in daily comfort and conveniences -- like power side mirrors!
An hour into my drive (around the Jackson, Mich., area), the pavement on I-94 is very rutted and was rough going in the 4C. The stiffer suspension included with the optional track package and low profile Pirelli P Zero AR Racing tires weren't offering much give as I was getting rattled around in the cabin on the thinly padded seats. However, after that portion, the rest of my journey on I-94 was rather smooth. Inside, you'll hear some wind noise, some tire noise and -- as I already mentioned -- a lot of exhaust blaring. The single DIN sound system head unit isn't the most intuitive or responsive thing you'll encounter. For my trip, I just connected my Apple iPod and listened to tunes on that.
What is it?First shown in concept form at the 2011 Geneva motor show, the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C heralds the company's return -- hyper-rare 8C notwithstanding -- to the American market. And what a return: ...
For such a performance-focused car, the interior is nice. The exposed carbon fiber weave of the tub looks slick, the available leather-wrapped dashboard and door panels with red accent stitching look good to my eye, and the tight pedal box with aluminum pedals is cool looking. It's a purposeful interior with a comfortable seating position that doesn't look super barebones like the Exige.
At about 6:45, I arrived at the track. I torqued the wheel lugs, adjusted the tire pressures and went out for a couple of quick sessions to get acclimated with the car and track conditions. It didn't take long to get comfortable with race mode activated -- it loosens up stability and turns traction control off. The 4C pushes a little more than I expected in corners, but you know exactly when the front tires are approaching the grip limits. Maybe the standard 17-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel and tire setup would make the back end easier to rotate opposed to optional setup with 18s front and 19s rear on our test car?
Through right-left transition between turns eight and nine, it feels really well tied-down, and the small 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder offers sufficient power to propel the 4C out of corners well and make brisk work of straights. The dual-clutch transmission is quick and responsive on upshifts and respectable on downshifts through the small steering wheel-mounted paddles. I wish the paddles were a little bit larger. There is a lot of engine movement that's on display in the rearview mirror during gear changes, but all of it seems to be damped out by the engine mounts.
Our test 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C came with the optional staggered wheel package that really added a unique look. Photo by Jonathan Wong
After those first two sessions, storm clouds rolled in over South Haven seemingly out of nowhere and began to dump water from the sky. I sat things out for about an hour, hoping for the rain to stop, but that didn't happen. With only a half-hour remaining in my allotted track time I strapped on my lid and went back out in the rain with standing water at many corners. I slotted the car in dynamic mode that has stability control still on to intervene only when way too much slip angle is detected, which was a good thing, because it saved me numerous times. The single windshield wiper was whipping around madly, clearing water from the windshield as quickly as possible as I gingerly puttered around GingerMan's 2.14 miles. What did I learn? The Pirelli P Zero tires are pretty good in the rain, and dynamic mode allows you to get out of shape quite a bit before stability catches you, but not much else.
At least I got a couple of dry sessions on track with the 4C and hope to get many more in the future. The quick takeaway is that it's a ball on track, which is to be expected, considering its light curb weight, respectable horsepower, wonderful steering and mid-engine dynamics. I really do need to drive a 4C with the standard tire size setup, though. But it's a car that you want to toss around and responds well to being pushed. Since it isn't some 500-plus hp monster, it's not intimidating. It's a precision instrument that you can comfortably feel like you're approaching the limits of.
After driving back to the Detroit, I was spent. Not from the harsh on-road quality because the 4C really isn't too bad, but more from the lack of sleep. That loud exhaust note, which we've previously called "unique," probably contributed to the splitting headache I had by the end. But I'll say this much: I would relive that day with this car again in a heartbeat. Like I said, it's a special car that's an attainable gift to track-day enthusiasts. I want one.
The rear engine 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is motivated by a 1.75-liter turbocharged I4. Photo by Jonathan Wong
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I really feel that, if we somehow lived in a world where everyone learned to drive in an Alfa 4C, we'd be surrounded by really good drivers. Or, at the very least, a bunch of drivers who have a really good grasp of how driving is supposed to work -- how inputs and feedbacks are supposed to feel, how a well-configured car can tell you a lot about its limits and the limitations of the road you're driving on. And, naturally, that driving can be really, really fun.
The 4C isn't the fastest or most expensive car you can buy, and heaven knows that those are the two most important criteria for a lot of people buying status vehicles. But it looks so much more exotic than any Ferrari or Lamborghini while maintaining a certain lovability; I think it has to do with its petite size and cheerful, high-strung demeanor.
It's enough to make you overlook the downsides. There are a few, and I'm not talking about the lack of luggage space or the difficulty that most averaged-sized humans will have entering and exiting this vehicle; all that sort of comes with the territory. You can tell that some parts, like switchgear, seem to have been pulled from the FCA bin. Other parts on or below the center console feel downright flimsy, flexing easily at a touch.
In keeping with its throwback feel, there aren't a lot of switches to flip or sport and comfort modes to toggle. Yes, you get your choice of three drive modes. But none of them are cushioned by the sort of complicated adjustable suspension setups that probably weigh more than this car does. It's rough, at times, at least if the road beneath you is. I personally don't consider this a downside, as you can't praise a car for communicating exquisitely and then knock it for what it has to say about the sorry state of our infrastructure, but your expectations may vary.
In short, it's a true, low-compromise sports car, something rarely seen in this age of muddled segments and concessions to practicality. It combines the directness and responsiveness of the past with cutting-edge construction, bold looks and that beloved Alfa badge. Really, in the grand scheme of things (and compared to its peers, past and present) it's not even all that expensive -- and it will be slightly less so after we move beyond the Launch Edition. You owe it to yourself to drive the 4C; it won't take you long to understand it.
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C comes in at a base price of $55,195 with our tester topping off at $69,945. Photo by Josh Scott
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: To all out there who curse the fates because Ferraris cost so much, to all who curse their lousy jobs because they don't pay enough for them to buy Ferraris, to all those who simply curse because the beaters they drive are too slow: take heed, for I bring ye the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C, the car Ferrari would have made if Ferrari had made an entry-level budget buster, or if Fiat suddenly got both class and racing pedigrees, or if Ferrari filed Chapter 11 and was forced by the Italian courts to make relatively low-bucks sports cars. Either way you, the customer, win!
I loved this thing, and for all the wrong reasons. It was like the girlfriend you decide to date even though you know she is completely insane and will wind up throwing everything you own off the balcony and setting it on fire before calling the cops and having your car towed. You date her anyway because every now and then everything is just so perfect that you become addicted to the point that you forget all the other terrible, awful times and all the burned furniture and all the towed cars.
As a mode of transportation, the 4C is, in way too many ways, awful. You can't get into it or out of it without crawling like a wounded dog (just like the relationship). It is slightly better in this regard than the Lotus Elise, but only just barely. The 4C is loud. And not just a little bit loud. It's like you are inside the factory that's making it while they are stamping out the panels with ball peen hammers (even though the panels are carbon fiber, whatever). Part of that was due to the optional race exhaust on our car, but still. It transmits every flea-sized blip of road noise, engine noise, exhaust noise -- if you're driving two blocks away from a couple fighting in their living room it transmits that, too. There is a radio in the 4C, but most of the time you can't hear it unless you crank it up so loud that it distorts every sound you might, in virtually any other car, hear. The visibility is unforgivably, dangerously, atrocious, about what you'd get staring through the gun turret of an armored personnel carrier. When you change lanes, the car's Italian Catholic roots come through because you find yourself praying and crossing yourself even though you haven't been to church (or confession) in about 45 years. And it leaks. Yes, the passenger's footwell filled up with rainwater even though the windows were all the way up. Apart from early English sports cars with gawdawful roofs I have never, ever been in a modern FMVSS, DOE-certified "car" that collected rainwater like an ecoconscious suburbanite.
Yes, all that is true and, yes, I don't care.
For one thing, it's beautiful. Bellisimo. Brava, brava! Those undulating fenders and curlicue aerodynamic inlets, the low profile, the Ferrari-esque overall svelteness.
For another, the powertrain should win an award for something from someone who gives out powertrain awards. Here: I'm giving it The Vaughn Award for Powertrain Excellence. The turbocharger has no real lag, the power-to-weight ratio is beyond better-than-average and into true sports car territory. The dual-clutch transmission actually transmits power -- without hesitation, without lag, without sapping the life from the sporty character of the smooth beast. I never once wanted for a manual trans in this. And if I did, I could just pull back on a paddle shifter and get the gear I wanted immediatmo.
Look, I know we're supposed to make rational, well-considered decisions about things in life, especially about girlfriends and cars, but if you make rational, well-considered decisions that are perfectly defensible in the court of public opinion you will never, ever have any fun. So, yes, dump the crazy girlfriend, but buy the Alfa Romeo. Capiche?
The power in the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is simply amazing for such a small displacement. Photo by Alfa Romeo
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: I feel like I've just driven the best car I've encountered in 2014.
It's a weird feeling when a car is so good it casts suspicion on everything you've ever believed in. The Lotus Evora reconfigured my brain on what a lightweight production car can do. The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C rejiggered it some more. "How's it compare to an Elise?" people ask me when I tell them this. A confession -- I've never driven an Elise. I can't imagine it's any better than this, the 4C, a car whose experience casts a long shadow upon my memories even a week after I drove it.
It is a car that inspires metaphors, exaggeration, and slightly overblown praise. It is a car of carefully controlled chaos; it is beauty interspersed with noise; it is freedom and liberation from technology and electronics while still packed with technology and electronics. See what I mean about metaphors? The mark of a good car is that you can drive it for a week and muster up a few good lines; a great car, however, will have you singing its praises just when you leave the parking lot.
Let's start with the beginning. The 4C has 237 hp from a turbocharged four-banger, mounted somewhere behind the driver's kidneys, constantly whooshing and farting on every shift, sounding like the windows are still cracked open -- reach for the center-mounted switches and you'll soon learn: nope it always sounds like that. Alfa Romeo claims that the 4C draws inspiration from the Tipo 33 Stradale of 1967, but nothing mankind produces will ever again echo the perfection that Franco Scaglione once touched. It's gorgeous on its own terms, squat and purposeful, its curves upon curves stretched like an organic form, a muscle curled up taut. From the rear three-quarters it looks like an Olympic swimmer curled up on the diving board, about to launch -- the roofline looks like a swimmer's cap, which brings to mind the analogy.
The biggest problem with all this is, when you're inside it you can't see it from the outside.
While you're inside, you might as well start it up. (No muffler!) From inside, it's not as loud as you think. From outside, you'll hear it from three mountain ranges away.
Put down the handbrake. Press about 15 buttons, some of them twice, because the Italians have declared gear levers their mortal and unceasing enemy. Yes -- all this purity and praise for a car that doesn't even have a manual transmission.
Muscle it out of the parking lot. Remember, manual steering -- oh yeah! Neat!
Point it at the horizon. Step on the aluminum throttle, sticking out of a race-car pedal box.
Oh my God. This car is so freaking fast.
I screamed that at the top of my lungs, to myself, the first time I eased into the accelerator and the car pulled like a cruise missile that snarled above the sound of my own surprise: OH MY GOD! When the turbocharger comes on, which is all the time, the road comes through the wraparound windshield at hyperkinetic levels, until every bump and pebble and center line becomes long streaks like a spaceship going to warp speed. Unbelievable. The manual steering is constantly fighting you, tugging the front wheels as they hunt and sniff like dogs on the chase. Every corner is a strong-armed struggle, a gladiatorial fight between you and the road…
This is a car that always demands to be driven to the ragged edge, a car that demands 168 percent of your attention at all times. This is a car that will make you lose patience with humanity. It will make you curse traffic. It will make you blow past five Toyota Camrys and an RV at every passing zone. It will make you take every corner with the boost at fortissimo, to stay alert for hidden cops with the wide-eyed stare.
Brembo brakes (what else?) offer massive stopping power with virtually no travel at all, an on-off switch like a competition AR-15's trigger. The dual-clutch transmission pulls hard and serves up shifts instantaneously. Would I get a manual? I don't know -- I'd bounce off the rev limiter like a trampoline. You feel the weight transition through a corner, and the car grips and grips and grips -- no corner is too fast for it, no camber will disturb it. The suspension is jittery, but it never crashes or bounces too harshly -- in fact, for what it is, it's quite comfortable.
Could this be a daily driver? The fact that it comes from a socially responsible corporation is mind-boggling. After all, it is the car we talk endlessly about buying and cherishing and daily driving, until some fools actually build one and put a price tag on it -- are we going to put our money where our proverbial mouths are?
To answer that question, the 4C comes with a "DNA" selector, which is cute and is sure to confuse the ghosts of Watson and Crick. The letters represent Dynamic, Natural, and All-Weather. The latter is a token nod to those outside LA County. Natural mode makes the transmission shift less frantically, tones down the engine, eases the responsiveness, and quiets the exhaust. And on the LCD screen, for some reason, it also replaces the boost and oil pressure meters with a date.
I left the 4C in Dynamic mode.
A few things I'd change: when you start the car up, the 4C greets you with a shrieking Klaxon approximately the same decibel used to alert Nevadans to nuclear weapons testing. I'd throw that out. The paddle shifters are plastic when they deserve to be rendered in metal. Visibility out the front is great, with small and narrow A-pillars, but the view out the rearview mirror appears to be blocked by Batman's chest piece. A backup camera should be standard. Alas, said a PR guy, no can do -- it would add too much weight. Was it not an Italian who said, "What's behind us is not important"?
What's behind truly isn't important. Unless you're followed by another 4C, or a Caterham, or an F-4 Phantom II, precious few vehicles will live up. This car will leave you deaf, hoarse, aching, tired, begging for more -- and after having experienced all the joy and pain and burden that the 4C has to offer, let me be the one to tell you that it is all worth it.
Road test editor Jonathan Wong after coming off the wet track at GingerMan Raceway. Photo by Jonathan Wong
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Options: Leather interior group including black leather-wrapped instrument panel, black leather-wrapped door panels, leather storage bag ($2,750); track package including high performance suspension, performance flat bottom steering wheel wrapped with black leather and microfiber, red accent stitching, rear body-color spoiler, carbon fiber gauge cluster bezel, carbon fiber exterior mirrors ($2,400); convenience package including rear parksense, cruise control, hi-fi sound system, alarm system ($1,800); 18-and/19-inch staggered wheels ($1,800); sport seats with microfiber inserts ($1,500); Rosso Competizione tri-coat paint ($1,500); Pirelli P Zero racing tires ($1,200); bi-xenon headlamps ($1,000); racing tuned exhaust ($500); black brake calipers ($300)
Base Price: $55,195 As Tested Price: $69,945 Drivetrain: 1.75-liter turbocharged I4; RWD, six-speed dual-clutch sequential manual Output: 237 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 2,200-4,250 rpm Curb Weight: 2,465 lb Fuel Economy: 24/34/28 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined) Observed Fuel Economy: 25.5 mpg - See more at: http://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/2015-alfa-romeo-4c-review-notes#sthash.ESOVsy56.dpuf
By Autoweek editors
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