2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Review

San Francisco, CALIFORNIA—For too many Americans, the news that Alfa Romeo is returning can spark only one reaction: What the hell is an Alfa Romeo? Perhaps a uniquely gifted pickup artist from Italy who preys on glam-struck Americans who vacation on the Amalfi coast? But that’s what happens when an Italian automotive lothario packs his bags and skips town. After 19 years away, don’t expect a parade when you show up on the doorstep.

Instead, Alfa Romeo will find that in its absence the opportunistic Germans have moved onto its turf. Can this Romeo still find some eager Americans who are willing to embrace its Italian-style moves? With the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C, we’re about to find out here in San Francisco, which was once an epicenter of Alfa enthusiasm in the U.S.

Priced right, if you’re the right kind of person

This almost indescribably lovely sports car combines old-school personality with new-school technology. It debuts this summer as a fully equipped, performance-oriented Launch Edition priced at $69,695 (500 cars only), while successive examples of the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C available in the fall will be priced at $55,195. Either way, this is a lot of money for a bare-bones, rear-wheel-drive sports car that only a half-deaf he-man would care to drive daily. Then again, maybe it’s a bargain as a carbon-fiber endorphin blaster that could pass as a Dino-esque Ferrari.

Scandalizing the sports car establishment, the Fiat Chrysler executives in charge of Alfa Romeo insist that the 4C will be joined by seven other models in the U.S. by 2018, all sold from a burgeoning network of Alfa Romeo showrooms that already counts 84 members. Alfa projects 400,000 sales globally by 2018 (compared with barely 70,000 last year), and Americans are expected to snap up 150, 000 of them. (We’ll see about that.)

From a big family in northern Italy

That Northern Italian family resemblance is no shock, considering the shared father: Lorenzo Ramaciotti, the former Pininfarina, Ferrari and Maserati artiste who now leads Fiat Chrysler design. Inspired largely by the 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, Ramaciotti has draped the Alfa Romeo 4C’s alluring composite body over a hand-laid carbon-fiber monocoque. He finished it off by combining Alfa Romeo’s signature shield-style grille with a V-shape hood to give the 4C an unmistakable presence in rear-view mirrors.

Painstakingly formed and assembled by the Adler Group in Italy, the monocoque heads to Maserati’s factory in Modena, where twin aluminum carriers are bolted on to support the powertrain and suspension. The power comes from a 237-hp, turbo-huffing, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine, which has a displacement of 1742cc (an engine capacity of 1750cc has some history at Alfa). Stick drivers have been told to stick it, since the only transmission will be a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

But with blissfully short, redline-smacking gearing, nearly 22 psi of boost and 258 pound-feet of torque, the 4C still leaps into action. The 4C hits 60 mph in roughly 4.5 seconds, tops 110 mph in fourth gear and noses over 160 mph, as an avant garde soundscape of turbo whoosh and mechanical clatter pounds through the carbon-fiber firewall behind you. This Alfa engine is no Ferrari V-8 in terms of melodiousness, but the unmediated four-cylinder racket still manages to charm – at least for the first 100 miles. A $500 Racing Exhaust system eliminates a muffler entirely.

We embark from the Clift Hotel

A hamstring-taxing entry over wide door sills into the cockpit amplifies the Alfa 4C’s compact footprint, as it’s 15.4 inches shorter than a Porsche Cayman. This is a similarly performance-focused car, as the naked carbon-fiber trim for the lightweight, composite-frame seats of the 4C Launch Edition remind us.

A postcard-size, 7-inch TFT screen in front of the driver houses a digital tachometer and digital speedo. Toggling the “DNA Selector” calls up Dynamic, Natural, and All-Weather settings for throttle, transmission, and stability control, with an available Race mode to bypass oversight by the stability control. The dashboard is angled selfishly toward the driver.

There’s a cheesy, 1980s-style audio unit that the passenger can operate. If your passenger doesn’t like it, let him take the bus. This is not a passenger-friendly car, really. A sharp corner of the budget-style HVAC control box threatens shins on the shotgun side. Plus there are no armrests, just leather door pulls, which leaves the passenger’s right arm dangling as if searching for loose change on the floor. At least the U.S.-spec passenger seat slides fore and aft thanks to federal regulations.

Alfa says the opaque black plastic that comes as standard equipment is called “Asphalt,” and while it might have some performance-style aspirations, it resembles something indeed troweled into place by a penitentiary work crew. For any semblance of the Ferrari illusion inside this car’s cabin, do spring for the $2750 leather package that wraps stitched hides on doors and dash.

Now we’re starting to get it

The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C for the U.S. weighs 2465 pounds at the curb, which is roughly 300 more pounds than the Euro version. This is still not too much (barely 10 pounds per hp), although the all-natural manual steering requires rasslin’ of the flat-bottom steering wheel at parking lot speeds. Fortunately, the steering becomes gloriously lively and tactile once underway, although we’d like it to be a little quicker.

Yes, the dual-clutch transmission is a version of the one that reacts so sloppily in the Dodge Dart, and there’s still an occasional hiccup in engagement during city driving. Yet Alfa’s tuning magic turns this transmission into a surprisingly boon companion, whether for ripping gear changes or simply cruising smoothly through traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

We skirt the northern reaches of San Francisco Bay to a ridge of steep hills at the gateway to the valley where you’ll find the vineyards of Sonoma, and we find ourselves at Sears Point, where the vertiginous 2.5-mile Sonoma Raceway is the setting for our track test. Here, the 2015 Alfa 4C is surprisingly docile and easy to sling through turns with no repercussions.

Understeer comes as standard equipment, although the Alfa will accept rotational commands in the corners via throttle or brakes. And yet despite its feathery mid-engine layout, 60-percent rear weight bias, and vivid sensations from the controls, this tiny dancer from Alfa Romeo isn’t ideally suited to the sprawling ballroom of Sonoma Raceway’s challenging layout. For one, turbo lag leaves both 4C and its driver breathlessly hunting for the right gear while exiting slower corners.

It’s the open road for this Alfa Romeo

Yet once the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is sprung loose toward San Francisco, it makes any public road seem overmatched. If the Alfa doesn’t feel as barely legal as a Lotus Elise or Lotus Exige, it’s now the closest you can get to that sensation of being an outlaw on the open road, born to buzz civilians and spark hysterical phone calls to the cops. It’s like a lit firecracker in the devilish hands of a teenager.

The 4C’s Brembo brakes feature four-piston calipers up front, and there’s enough braking power and sticky rubber for 1.25 g’s of decelerative force. Meanwhile, Alfa claims the standard 205/45ZR-17 front, 235/40ZR-18 rear Pirelli PZero AR tires will deliver a Lotus-like 1.1 g’s of lateral stick. (Personally, we like the optional 205/40ZR-18 front, 235/35ZR-19 rear Pirelli PZero ARs, if only for the gorgeous wheels with which they come equipped.)

Flying headlong on oceanside two-laners, the 4C scrubs off speed with exhilarating force and brushes curves aside like so many gnats. The powerful 325-hp Porsche Cayman S might be able to stay on the Alfa’s pretty tail fairly effortlessly, but the Alfa is far more physical and responsive, as you’d expect in a smaller car that weighs 500 pounds less.

Is this the new Lotus that you’ve been waiting for?

Pigeonholed by price, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C will draw inevitable comparisons to the high-end Audi TT RS, the Porsche Cayman, and even the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, yet the 4C is nothing like any of those cars. It’s easy to roll your eyes when some carmaker tells you that its car is unique and has no direct rivals, and yet it’s worth considering that the departure of the Lotus Elise and Lotus Exige from the American market leaves the Alfa 4C in a special spot.

Harald Wester, the chief executive of Alfa Romeo, tells us that the planned annual sales of roughly 1100 4Cs in America “will not make Alfa Romeo rich.” Yet this appetizer for the American market is crucial, he says, “because this is the purest incarnation of what Alfa was in the past.”

We have no arguments with the purity or performance of the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. But as for the prospects of this prodigal brand, only the Alfa Romeos to come can answer the question.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

Base Price: $55,195
On sale: Summer 2014
Engine: 1.7-liter, turbocharged DOHC I4
Power: 237 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2200 - 4250 rpm
Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Steering: Manual rack-and-pinion
Front suspension: Upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: MacPherson strut, coil springs
Brakes: Ventilated discs, ABS
Tires: 205/45ZR-17 front, 235/40ZR-18 rear Pirelli PZero AR
L x W x H: 157.5 x 73.5 x 46.6 in
Wheelbase: 93.7 in
Track F/R: 64.5/63.1 in
Weight: 2465 lb
Cargo volume: 3.7 cu ft
0-60 mph: 4.5 sec
Top speed: 160 mph
EPA mpg: 24/34/28 City/Highway/Combined
John Baillargeon
From the 30 odd new cars I have owned from 1948 to 2008 my Porsche '58 Carrera and the '58 Alfa Romeo were the two most fun to drive. I raced both and loved the handling and the superb finned shoe brakes that were so much better than any American brakes of the car built at the nd of the 1950'sLet us hope that  Alfa and the Italian designers and engineers have not lost their touch building a driver's car.
Wish there were more photos of the interior. After all, that's what I'd spend most of my time. I can't believe this appears to have a $300 Parrot aftermarket radio.
Roger Wallace
I would label this the eccentric's sports car.  Anyone who is the least bit pragmatic is going to probably going to steer clear of this one.  I actually kind of like the design, but at $70K and with only 234 horsies, I'd probably go for a new 'vette or a used Ferrari.  However, put it in mothballs for twenty years, and who knows, you might have a true collector's card.
I wonder what the repair bills will be like if that carbon fiber frame is ever damaged.  Will they even be able to repair it?
$70k for this sorry excuse for a car? There are so many real sports car at that price which are the real deal. Alfa will only have a short re-visitation to the USA.
Rory Saillant
My first car was an Alfa, a 1957 Guilietta Spider with a 1290 cc (60 cubic inch) displacement 4 cyl. with twin overhead cams. The car, all aluminum body with just under 100 hp, had a terrific power to weight ratio and was surprisingly quick, an attribute that I was more than exhibit to the MG's, Healey"s, Porsche's of the day. That car sold for $300.00 more than a new Porsche back then so I'm not overly surprised by the price for the current one, what with inflation factored in. Would I buy one today? Probably, as long as the electrical system is not of the "Prince of Darkness" (Lucas, with a reversed polarity) system found in the earlier models, and if they've resolved that synchro problem they had shifting from first to second gear.
I just hope it's not built in Italy ... could have the quality of a yugo or kkkkkkia/hyundai in the old days. Wait a few years to see if these cars hold up. Start looking for your Italian mechanic ( Guido ) if he's still alive ...LOL
Fiat/Chrysler, two VERY important words for you if you want success with this and future Alfa Romeo models: EUROPEAN DELIVERY. 
Porsche and BMW will eat your lunch unless you let people pick up their car in Modena or Bologna.
Good luck.
I saw it quoted as 41/59 in another article or 38/62 here in the comments.Doesn't matter.An exciting car that needs a stick,especially considering it's raw persona.
Simon Hunter
It looks like a kit car.
Eldon Guerrero
I thought it was a Lotus. Lol.
What about the weight distribution?It certainly isn't 50/50.
Lawrence Ulrich
Readers, yes, our reference to front-engine layout was mistakenly inserted during the editing process. We did in fact drive the car, and even pop the rear hatch to see not only the engine, but the charming little prop rod that holds it up. The error will soon be corrected. Thanks for your patience. 
"mechanical clatter pounds through the carbon-fiber bulkhead in front of you:"   Front suspension problem, perhaps?  I find it  very disappointing that a source I thought I trusted can publish something like this review where the guy has obviously never been anywhere near this vehicle.
Matthew McAtee
Did this guy really test the car? He doesn't know where the engine is. And I don't think it was just an editing error or why would he refer to the engine way behind the front wheels or get the weight distribution wrong?Anyway, the Alfa is a great looking car but I'll take the car I own and describe in my handle.A Cayman before PDK, electronic steering and the crease on the rear fenders.
Tobias Rollinson
I'd save up another 20K and get the Porsche Cayman GTS
Jimmy Pham
Nah. I'd rather spend that on a new Boxster or a used NSX with a supercharger
John Ceragioli
absolutely I would
Roberto Estrada
I rather get a Corvette.
Kanav Gupta
Better hope it's ignition works properly.
Kevin Henry
Eric Klein
I wonder how many of the gushers know that Alfa wimped out and built automatic only?
Eric Klein
No stick, no sale.
Larry Qualls
For an exotic, yes! And to have a gem that you'll rarely see elsewhere, easily!!!
Michael Chen
Yes I would buy it And it's a rear wheel drive mid engined car...
Christopher Chin
Did the author really just describe the 4C as a "Front-engined, rear wheel drive car?" Uhh....the 4C is a rear-drive rear-mid-engined sports car...like the Lotus Exige? FIRE THIS GUY.... And I'm willing to bet majority of the people saying no to this car in this thread are too ignorant to understand what makes an Alfa special...
Michael Anderson
Over a gm or a ford, yes, everything else no.
We fixed the unfortunate editing error about the engine position, guys.
Drew Wilkerson
id get the cayman s
Jackson G Manamel
I rather get a corvette
Ron Chennai
The same question could be asked about the new BMW i3 or i8 both carbon fiber.  Everyone swears it's easy to repair but I have my doubts. 
Ron Chennai
the price begins at 55K and it's obvious this vehicle is not meant for you. 
Ron Chennai
that was a long time ago....
Rory Saillant
Let's see, quality cars made in Italy, today. Ferrari, Maserati, Lambo's, Lancia, Fiat. etc.. Just hope your Italian mechanic doesn't drive a Chevy, he may not show up at the shop. 
Ron Chennai
not me. 
Lawrence Ulrich
@2007caymanS6speed Hey, Lawrence here, the writer -- agreed, that lack of a manual is the one head-scratcher about this car. It's the familiar Ferrari argument, they swear that they'd only sell two or three percent of the cars in manual. 
Lawrence Ulrich
I'd like to see the kit that makes a car like this. It's the same designer that did several classic Ferraris and the incredible Maserati Alfieri concept, and the influence seems pretty evident to me. But beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that... 
Rory Saillant
It's close to 50/50, but any car that is changes as the fuel load is reduced by driving. Full tank 50/50, half empty 49/51 or 51/49 dependant on tank location.
Lawrence Ulrich
@2007caymanS6speed It's 59/41, or 60/40, depending on who at Alfa is being quoted. Rear biased for sure. 
@2007caymanS6speed It's 49/51, so it's close enough as to make no difference.
yes same money for a new Stingray...it's not even close.  The Stingray is a supercar, this is a toy
@Ron Chennai The first 500 are priced at $70K...if they can sell them. The car has poor A/C and audio according to the article, not what I'd expect from a car priced like that..... The engine is a joke, 1.7 liter, etc. I'd buy a Corvette, BMW, Porsche and many others long before this tinker toy.

@Rory Saillant look I agree that Italy makes some nice luxury goods, Gucci etc, but there is no Italian car as reliable as a standard Chevy.  no German car either.  They are higher maintenance marques.  I would expect the Alfa to be crafted well like other Italian luxury goods, but that doesnt necessarily equate with reliability
Ron Chennai
but a damn nice toy and i want one! 
Thomas Cox
@martind431 @Ron Chennai You SIR have never drive an Alfa. It is the soul of a Alfa that once you drive one nothing else is like it. I wouldn't trade my old Alfa for a new Vette unless I could sell it to buy another Alfa.  "The only way to petrolhead heaven is behind the seat of a Alfa" Jamie Clarkson
David Anderson Holmquist
@the_roadrunner @Rory Saillant Two words, Rory, Motor Trend.
@Thomas Cox @martind431 @Ron Chennai  Let's see, a 1.7 Liter engine revving at 5000 rpm’s ? I suspect the garage boys will be rebuilding this toy every  50,000 miles? I have owned several Alfa's, including the Graduate...and get to know your mechanic on a first name basis. Have you ordered yours yet? Alfa will not be around in two years in the USA given this sorry example!

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