Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Is Alfa Romeo's Spider going to catch you in its web?
Isn’t it nice to have an attainable Alfa Romeo we can really lust after again?
Prior to its release in 2013, it had been a good while since there was really anything from the Alfa stable that we normal folk could aspire to – the 8C Competizione wasn’t exactly affordable and the QV versions of the MiTo and Giulietta were a bit, well, uninspiring. Talk of beautiful, performance Alfa’s were becoming a thing of the past, so by producing the Alfa 4C a little over 4 years ago, Alfa Romeo had baked itself back into the mouths of people passionate about Italian sports cars and the recipe was hugely promising.
Constructed using a carbon-fibre tub and a sub-frame, the 4C is constructed in a very similar way to modern a supercar. The engine is mounted in the middle – in this case, a 1.7-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Ok, so that’s not entirely much to shout about, but it does have 260 horses running around inside it. Still not impressed? That’s probably because we haven’t yet explained that the 4C is not about power – it’s about weight. The original 4C Coupe weighed in at just 895kg. With our removable roof we’re hitting the scales at 940kg, but that’s still lighter than a helium-filled Chaffinch in sports car terms.
The result of the low weight means the 4C Spider shoots off to the 62mph border in 4.5-seconds, so its as fast as a sports car should be and that little 1.7-litre engine actually deserves a bit of praise here. No doubt, the fact that it sits just a few inches behind your back helps, but with all the abuse that this new generation of 4-cylinder turbo engines gets, this one is at least a real character. Noise all comes down to personal preference, but the whirring and mid-range roar of this diminutive engine is actually quite appealing and the sporty exhaust note showing off with its pops and bangs adds to a sense of spirit. On top of that you’ve got the big pick-up from the turbo and the sucking woosh right behind you. If only more 4-cylinder engines could sound like this…
This is really where the 4C Spider’s qualities come to a standstill. Mated to the lively engine is a dual-clutch automatic gearbox which only really works well in full manual mode. You can potter around town in the auto mode, but it’s never as on it as the engine is, so anytime you want things to get fruity it feels a bit unprepared. A solid manual gearbox would have worked wonders in this car, if it didn’t have one other big issue – the steering.
In a bid to save weight, the steering is unassisted and while that’s normally not something to complain about, its instability and unpredictability makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable out on the road. Going about normal business is fine, but as soon as you want to attack a road and make the most of the potent engine and squat chassis, the jumpy, twitchy steering – even at low speeds – makes you back out very early on. It’s absolutely vital that the driver feels confident in a car of this nature, and the way the 4C steers – or rather jumps – really prevents that.
Really, that should be enough to kill of the 4C Spider as a buyers proposition, and for many it will. However, there’s another way of looking at it. The Alfa Romeo 4C is not a car you’ll buy if it’s going to be your only car. This is a second or third car, unlike the Porsche Boxter – which is the default topless sports car of choice. The 4C gets more attention than many supercars, and it’s easy to see why.
It is quite possibly the most beautiful car on sale, and despite fairly obvious drawbacks, if you want something that stands out, is rare, and is more than a challenge to drive well then this might be the one for you. It’s an overpriced, heavily flawed beauty, but if you’re lucky enough to pick and choose what you drive, why not have something that you don’t see everyday?
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