Alfa Romeo 4C

It's been a long time coming, an Alfa Romeo sports car that true enthusiasts can desire -- and afford. Based on the convincing 4C concept car, the wait was worth it, as this may be the breakthrough car that we've all wanted for a very long time. Alfa's 8C Competizione is wonderful, even if it's a Ferrari/Maserati derivative and was not created independently. But few among us can afford a quarter-million dollars for a daily driver. The 4C, though, comes from Fiat, and its mechanical elements presumably are optimized for inexpensive volume production. We, and the Fiat masters who control Alfa, hope that the 4C will become as popular and widely sold as were Giulietta sport models fifty years ago. In the end, it will depend on price -- and on how well the car works, of course.

The design is a little busy, a little undecided in some of its detailing, and it suffers -- as do most contemporary concept cars -- from wheels and tires that are so big they distort the overall proportions. I don't think enough customers ever consider how heavy big wheels and tires are, nor how much it costs to replace just one giant tire when all the pleasant cavorting wears them out quickly. This styling trend is as absurd as were tall hoods over side-valve engines in the 1920s and '30s, leaving a foot or two of empty space above the mechanical elements. It all looks cool in sketches, but big wheels end up absorbing too much of a car's footprint, to the detriment of usability.

Space inefficiency aside, the 4C is a very attractive shape, if perhaps too big. Once translated to production form, it may be a bit too heavy, but it really is exciting to imagine that a Lancia Stratos-like coupe may become a reality. It's even more exciting to think that Chrysler/Fiat is so serious that the structure may be optimized so the car will not be massively overweight, as were the last several Alfa sport models and even current Giulietta sedans.

One harbinger of good news on this matte red concept car is the total absence of add-on brightwork and trim. Side-marker lamps are used as design elements, controlling the door shape in an interesting way, and the glass area is relatively restrained, a good thing because glass is very heavy. It wasn't clear from looking at the 4C in Geneva how the various panels are intended to open. The entire front end appears to be a single piece -- in lightweight composite? -- with just a tiny cutline ahead of the marker lamps, but if the rear is one piece that lifts up for engine access, how does the trunk work?

Italy uses small front license plates that don't spoil the frontal composition of cars like this. But where and how will an American-size plate fit? That's a problem I look forward to living with in the near future.

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