COLUMNS: Alfa Romeo 4C

June 8, 2011
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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.
Alfa Romeo 4c Side View
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.
Alfa Romeo 4c Front View
FRONT VIEW
Alfa Romeo 4c Front View
1. The sharp triangular grille with its almost straight sides is rather severe, but it fits nicely into a long line of similar but not identical Alfa front-end schemes dating back six decades.
2. The triangular-section ribs that sweep back across the hood fade away at the windshield on their inner side and become the windowsill on the outer side, providing dynamic interest.
3. Air intakes flanking the shield grille have long been Alfa Romeo characteristics. These, without trim, evoke racing-car practice, and the molded duct work is visually interesting.
SIDE VIEW
4. This separation cut between the main body and the one-piece tail nicely defines the transverse body section.
5. Large scoops at the leading edge of the rear fenders channel air into the engine compartment and provide a handy location for an essentially invisible door handle.
6. There is an odd confusion of surfaces where the door cut intersects the side glass profile, with a rib running to the roof behind the door.
7. This element of the door cuts is also interesting. It arrows forward, breaking exactly at the side-marker lamp, adding thrust to the side view. Seems new -- and effective.
8. Headlamp covers are smooth at the forward limit and acquire a sharp rib by the time they reach the fender peak, which they define.
9. The complex door cut becomes an important design element on the 4C, sweeping gracefully at the rear, encompassing the air intake, and reappearing above it to provide an internal path for the side glass to descend.
Alfa Romeo 4c Side View
10. Much of the body surfacing is given to bands that delineate specific recessed areas, such as the rear side scoops and the license-plate alcove.
Alfa Romeo 4c Rear View
11. The bulge along the lower body appears to be gratuitous, vulnerable to damage and with no real function.
12. The oversize wheels recapitulate a five-hole design scheme that looked great on the Alfa 156 fourteen years ago but seems overdone and forced in this iteration.
13. There are many subtle surface changes on the car. This radius, where the sloping hood changes to the essentially vertical fascia, provides a nice highlight leading to the door band outlining the rear fender scoop.
14. The side bulge aligns with a similar, equally vulnerable bulge on the lower front corners of the body.
REAR VIEW
15. The outside mirrors are slim but give a wide field of view, the main nacelle suspended like a jet engine under a wing. Dynamic and apparently efficient.
16. Black chimneys alongside the backlight allow engine heat to escape upward and accommodate a fairly abrupt change of surface.
17. Taillight size and placement are excellent, cutting off the corners of the tail. The graphic treatment of the lens is a bit too Buck Rogers, but it's distinctive.
18. The flat band theme shows up again on the deck lid, which swoops upward in the middle to augment the spoiler effect.
19. This little lid is a puzzlement, too small for most suitcases, inset into a massive rear panel that one supposes must move to give access to the mid-mounted, transverse engine.
20. Exhaust pipes tucked into air outlets look very serious, as though fitted to a racing car. One hopes that the 4C will be used for amateur racing, as the 1950s Giuliettas were.
Alfa Romeo 4c Front View

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