2014 Alfa Romeo 4C First Drive

Greg Pajo

Cavaglia, Italy -- Alfa Romeo's on-again, off-again plan to return to the U.S. market might be the longest running drama in the automobile business, but next spring the story will finally will reach its climactic payoff with the arrival of the company's mid-engine, two-seat sports car, the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C.

This is the company's first sports car in ages, if you don't count the here-and-gone Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione supercar of 2007. And after driving the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C (at last) on the road near Turin and then on Alfa Romeo's famous test track, Circuito di Balocco, we can say that this car's performance largely delivers on its promise, but it's not without a few caveats that will have to be chalked up to "character."

Low and Lovely
The concept behind the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C has been "affordable supercar," and it certainly looks the part. Designed in-house at Alfa, the 4C exterior was shaped by the talented Allessandro Maccolini. This is hardly a work of retro-style design, but it does echo the 1967-69 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale. Meanwhile, references to the brand's current models are few beyond the shield-shaped grille, round taillights, and wheel design.

The 4C's shapely body is draped over a wheelbase that measures only 93.7 inches, and the car casts a shadow more than a foot shorter overall than a Porsche Cayman. With a width of a sizable 78.7 inches and a height of a scant 46.5inches, the Alfa Romeo 4C has dramatic proportions that deliver the street presence of a true exotic. Follow it on the road or see it in your mirrors and the Alfa Romeo 4C looks as otherworldly as any super sports car -- just less huge.

Weight Watcher
Light weight has been a key objective in the design of the Alfa Romeo 4C, and the car's compact dimensions help minimize the bottom line. Another key element is the mix of materials. Just like a high-end exotic, the 4C starts with a carbon-fiber tub, which weighs only 143 pounds. To it are affixed aluminum structures that support the front and rear suspension plus the roof. Most body panels are sheet molding compound (SMC), and the glass is extra thin.

The 4C's ultra-light weight might be its greatest engineering achievement, although the specific figure is dubious. Alfa quotes a "dry weight" of 895 kg (1973 pounds), but this number fails to include such essentials as engine oil and gasoline. Know also that the U.S. version will be heavier by about 110 pounds, owing to additional standard equipment such as climate control, side and knee air bags, and a manually adjustable (rather than fixed) passenger seat. Let's call it 2200 pounds at the curb in the U.S.

Minimalist Cabin
The exotic materials are also in evidence within the cabin, where much of the carbon-fiber tub is exposed and the driver's dead pedal and passenger's footrest are unadorned aluminum. One slips inside over the wide doorsill in an exercise reminiscent of a Lotus Exige. The cockpit definitely has the feel of a mid-engine car, with a far-forward seating position, a wraparound windshield, and an ultra-short hood framed by swollen fenders.

The seat structures are carbon fiber, with upholstery in cloth, leather, or a combination thereof. Large lateral bolsters hold you in place but the seats are less confining and more comfortable than they look. Between the seats lies a low, narrow console that locates a cupholder behind your elbow and then a fat-handled parking brake beside you (no electronic parking brake here). Next you'll find the switches for the windows and the outside mirrors, and then Alfa's DNA (driving mode) control knob accompanied by buttons to make the transmission electronically select reverse, automatic or manual gear selection, neutral, and first. There's no armrest in the center and none on the sculpted door panels, either.

A small leather pouch between the seatbacks comprises pretty much all the stowage; best to stash your chattels in the rear trunk (there's no front trunk), which is about the size of a typical roll-aboard bag. The center stack houses a trio of simple knobs for HVAC, a series of toggle switches, and a multifunction radio -- the latter being too small to integrate a navigation system. Matte-black plastic covers much of the interior, but it manages to look purposeful rather than cheap.

Through the small, fat-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel, the driver sees an electronic TFT screen that displays the instrument cluster. The digital speedometer and gear indicator are ringed by a tach readout that turns yellow as you approach the redline at 6500 rpm. Outside the ring are bar-graph indicators for temperature and fuel level. The display looks busy, but one quickly learns to find the relevant information. The wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, and the seat slides fore and aft with a manual backrest recline. Though we measure six-feet ourselves, we had no trouble getting comfortable in this compact space, and there was a couple inches of headroom to spare.

Mid-Mounted Motivator
You fire up the 4C with an old-school twist of the ignition key (no gimmicky starter button), and the transverse-mounted, turbocharged engine behind the tiny rectangle of glass over your shoulder comes to life. This 1.7-liter four-cylinder unit is modified from the one found in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde. Where the Giulietta engine has an iron block, the 4C version switches to aluminum, saving 49 pounds; the 4C engine also gets new fuel injectors, redesigned cylinder-head ports, and an electronic thermostat. Output of the Alfa 4C's engine climbs to 240 hp at 6000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 2100 - 4000 rpm.

We'll grant you that 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque are hardly supercar numbers. But in a car that weighs a bit more than 2000 pounds, 240 horesepower proves to be plenty. According to testing at Balocco, the Alfa Romeo 4C will get to 100 km/hr (62 mph) in 4.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 160 mph. Just as important, the 4C's acceleration feels strong as that of a Porsche Cayman S, which posts similar numbers.

The good times, however, are heavily dependent on the speed at which the turbocharger is spinning. The boost comes on smoothly, although you're always aware of the turbocharger's whoosh and hiss, not to mention a fruity exhaust note not unlike that of the Fiat 500 Abarth. There are other noises as well, like the clicking of the direct injection. A zingy, high-revving naturally aspirated engine might have been more fun and more in keeping with Alfa Romeo's heritage, but it wouldn't deliver the performance of this turbo unit.

Paddles Prevail
Much like the engine, the verdict on the dual-clutch automated transmission is respect, not enthusiasm. Would a traditional stick shift have been cool? Sure, it would. Will Alfa 4C offer one? No, it won't. The brand's overseers argue that a majority of customers prefer shift paddles and no clutch pedal, and the fact that most supercars are similarly equipped settles the argument.

So, how well does the transmission work? The surprising answer is, very well indeed. That's surprising because this six-speed unit with dry-clutch engagement has won few friends in the Dodge Dart, which itself is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. New software works magic here, and we found shifts to be super quick during our laps on the track at Balocco.

Once on the road, we left the mode selector in Dynamic and the box could be left to its own devices to choose the right gear, even while driving hard through switchbacks. Just as important, we didn't notice any jerkiness in acceleration away from a stop during low-speed driving. The transmission also incorporates launch control; just hold the brake, floor the throttle, hit the left shift paddle, release the brake, and take off really fast.

Electric or Hydraulic? That's Not the Question
If traditionalists lost a round with the gearbox, they won one with the steering. Forget electric versus hydraulic power steering -- the 4C has no power steering. This is the kind of thing you can do when your car weighs not much more than 2000 pounds and 60 percent of that weight rests on the rear wheels.

Even with no assist, the 4C steering is not overly heavy in parking maneuvers. It is, however, plenty busy at straight ahead; there's no filter as it reacts to every change in the road surface. But we love how the effort level loads up naturally; there's no sudden change in effort or quickness, like you get in so many busybody power-assist systems. Also, the steering ratio is quick enough that it's only in hairpin corners (or parking) that you need to move your hands on the wheel.

Pick Your Mode for Driving
The DNA driving-mode selector features not only the usual Dynamic, Normal, and all-weather modes, but also Race mode (activated by holding the switch in Dynamic for five seconds). Race mode switches off stability control (except under hard braking) and also cancels traction control. Dynamic mode calls up more aggressive throttle mapping, quickens shift times, and alters stability control to permit greater drift angles. Even on the track, the system in Dynamic mode offered almost no interference, since the chassis delivers such good balance and grip in the corners.

There are two calibrations for the Alfa 4C's suspension setup, which features control arms in front and simple struts in the rear. The standard setup is supplemented by one that has stiffer damping and stiffer anti-roll bars, and it's designed to get the most from its Pirelli P-Zero tires, 18s in front and 19s in the rear. A sportier exhaust comes along for the ride, too. (The test cars available to us were all equipped in this way.) Quick steering action combines with quick handling response to make the Alfa Romeo 4C a whole lot of fun to whip through corners. Despite the rear weight bias, the 4C shades more toward understeer than oversteer. You have to be really trying to unstick the rear end to get the car loose.

Probably you noticed that the racing pack does not include upgraded brakes. The standard stoppers -- with Brembo front calipers -- don't exactly fill out the wheels the way the pizza-sized rotors of heavyweight performance machines do, but they don't need to. Alfa claims an impressive stopping distance of just 118 feet from 100 km/hr (62 mph), and they were just stellar on the track, repeatedly slowing the car down from much higher speeds more quickly than we anticipated. And they did so with no signs of fade. We also loved the modulation delivered by the floor-hinged pedal, which gets to work right at the top of its travel.

How and How Much
Tasked with reestablishing Alfa Romeo in North America to an audience of customers who remember little or nothing of the Alfa Romeo 164 sedan or the long-lived Spider, and for whom the 8C Competizione was a passing blip, the 4C has the presence and the personality make a statement about Alfa Romeo. And it does so far more effectively than the domestic-market Mito or the Giulietta ever could.

When the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C arrives in the U.S. in the second quarter of next year, we're told it will carry a starting price of approximately $54,000. Even at an out-the-door figure of $60,000 with options, the Alfa 4C will still be the most exotic sports car you can buy at that price. Although it is close in concept to the recently departed Lotus Exige and will inevitably draw comparisons with the more polished and more expensive Porsche Cayman, the Alfa Romeo 4C is a unique offering in its class. No other sports car combines this raw immediacy, surprising affordability, and Italian sex appeal.

There will be retail challenges for Alfa Romeo's return to America, as Alfa will initially set up shop with Maserati dealers at least for the first year. Nevertheless, we think Alfa will have no trouble selling the projected 1000 units of the 4C in the States. Worldwide production of the Alfa Romeo 4C will be held to 3500 per year, with production of the carbon-fiber tub the limiting factor. If Alfa Romeo is going to make a place for itself in the overcrowded U.S. marketplace, it must offer products that are unique and compelling. The 2014 Alfa 4C is an excellent start.

2014 Alfa Romeo 4C

Base Price: $54,000 (est.)
On Sale: Spring 2014
Engine: 1.7-liter DOHC turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 240 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2200–4250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Fuel Economy: TBA
Curb Weight: 2200 lb (est.)
Christian Schmidt
Looks like an italian solstice exige from the movie cars.
For that kind of money, I'd by a new Vette.
Love everything except the mirrors, why are they so huge and why are they so low on the door??
Cl Reply
I'm sorry, but the lack of a true manual transmission in a "pure" sports car is a major turn off.  Alfa talks about all the weight savings, well the lack of a manual probably increased the weight of the vehicle by 100-150 lbs.
Ugly, only a mother could love this thing......
Gyula Bognar Jr
Would be nicer if it had a larger engine, less rev, more torque, more room inside and proper dealer distribution. It is still an Italian car.  No service, no parts, no repairs anywhere, except at Tony's Alfa Romeo Garage, when and if it is open.
NIce but to remake Alfa as a significant brand they need to come up with an Italian -flavoured, cheaper 3 series competitor.
This is probably going to be a fun car to drive, but there is nothing about it that makes me want to buy it. I can't forget the old Alfa days and I don't find the looks of this car to be any thing special. I pass.
Adrian Xeneise
@sebastian fernades
Adrian Xeneise
Tiene un parecido al lotus elise
Welcome back Alfa Romeo!  I've owned two of these over the years.  Looking forward to this one.  It will be a very specialized machine.  No trips to Costco, no long road trips if a female is included, not enough luggage space.  Unless you live near great driving roads you're not likely to enjoy this cars full potential.  Guess many will sell for prestige purposes, driving them in suburbs and to the mall.  I like the weird headlights.  they look like a spiders eyes, sort of a jumping spider.  Strange and very different.
Rick Mente
Return of the Lotus Exige bit without a proper gearbox.
Thomas Voelker
Not real keen on the center nose, butI love the flanks.
Chris Story
Cool toy, but the C7 is in a whole other world of performance and technology for the same money.
Van K
"Let's call it 2200 pounds at the curb in the U.S."Are you interested in offering odds that it will be less than 2300? I would surely scrounge up a little coin to place such a wager.
Ammouna Sahbouch
Erika Engle
Wow. This is NOT your father's Alfa! Sweeeeeet! *drools*
Nexhat A Xhelili
ITALIAN STYLE..as always
Stanton Slocum
cant wait for it here if it ever makes it...
Dennis San Vicente
...got tired with the 'fish & chips' Lotus Elise and wants some hot & spicy Ayy-talian sausage!
Alan Alba
My next car.
FaceMotors Automotivo
Andy Jones
Decision to bring it without power steering is the most retarded thing. They could have special track addition for that. Just because of that they will be missing most of the sales. Who ever did it doesn't know us market and customer base appeal for this car!
Matt Higgins
Looks good, but...
Peter Perreira
Love it.
Jon Russell
Looks good! Great curves!
Yassine Bouabid
sexy !
Jay Patel
Look like swift dizzer
Tahmina Mili
wow car!
Gillian Machidi
It looks good.thou
Gillian Machidi
Whts with the mag. Come on fiat
Fonzo Ro Ma
looks like a hyundai
Amir Khan
Very nic
Rajvir Rajput RJ
alfa romeo
Sridhar Srish
Engr Gregory Ewere Ekpu
Rob Manchester
The latest news is that it will finally be imported and available through Maserati dealers next spring.
Fco Fam
Looks like a lotus elise with the front of alfa romeo "italian crap"
Erick Ople
Very nice indeed but why not just go for the real red head. Ferrari
James Smith
Samuel Baidoo
I like it
Ishanka Jayasundera
Garrett Fricke
@martind431 Who are you talking about?
@Gyula Bognar Jr Agreed.  First of all quality will be questionable.  Second, zero support for service.  Good luck trying to locate some one to do a simple adjustment.  I think they just plan on selling 1,000 a year to collectors or wannabe collectors who won't drive it out of some storage space for 25 years.
@Rick Mente Sad to say, manuals are dying a rapid death.  I never in my life thought people would be so lazy as to opt for non-manual transmissions.  I think it is a sign of the age that everyone is yacking on the bloody phone, so no time to move their left foot or actually use their right arm for anything other than a resting spot for that all important cell phone.  Really disgusting.  I know everyone claims that the new automatic "manuals" go faster to 60, but that isn't the point.  It is all about drive involvement.  Drove a 2013 VW GTI Driver's Edition a few days ago and was so stunned to find a properly kitted snappy car with manual tranny, great clutch work and smooth shifting, plus proper aluminum pedal covers.  Too bad all the other makers are abandoning real involvement by the droves.  I will never forgive Nissan for going almost totally to CV's.  UGH.
Roger Wallace
@Chris Story Agreed. While this is a nifty lookin' little machine, I can't imagine paying over $50k for it, when I can get either A) a C7 that has nearly twice the ponies, or B) A Subaru BRZ that has similar power and handling, more reliability, and is about $20k less. But I guess we're being practical, and this car probably wouldn't be for those kind o' folks.
@Nexhat A Xhelili Yes, nice to look at.  Wonder who will service it.  And where will parts be and how long before they arrive.  And how many zillions of dollars will a headlight cost?  There are many reasons why they left the US market many years ago....quality was a major problem.
Van K
@Erick Ople Because some folks want to buy an entry level home for the difference in price between the 4c and the least expensive Ferrari?
@Garrett Fricke @martind431 Da car, da car.......................
@evadtheslayer @Gyula Bognar Jr  Thank you.  There are good reasons, why the Italian, French, Brit cars are not on the US market.  We demand good service and support and we got a plethora of very dependable, excellent US, Japanese and German cars on the market, with good service and dealer network as a strong competition.  The French, the Italians and the Brits were not able to assimilate into the US market and the European practice of selling, servicing and supporting the cars designed for their own markets did not work here profitably.  Trust is difficult to build, much more difficult to restore.  Good luck to Alfa Romeo and the 4C, but so far the name is the only desirable and nice part in it.

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