According to Google Maps, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is exactly 359 miles away from our Southern California office via Highway 101, and that’s where I need to end up for what passes for work around here, for Alfa Romeo’s U.S. launch of the new 4C Spider. The new car promises all the manic fun of the 4C only with a little sun on the face and breeze in the hair. I’m generally tired of flying and, for such a short distance, driving is the only sensible option. Plus it’s a great opportunity to get some highway miles on a member of our Four Seasons fleet.
A couple short months ago, colleague and AUTOMOBILE senior editor Chris Nelson hopped in our long-term Alfa Romeo to deliver it to sunny La La Land, where I’ve been commuting in the thing just about every day since, give or take a few days here and there. The Alfa wasn’t exactly made for long-distance highway jaunts, but it would be good to stretch the 4C’s legs outside of the city for a while. There are plenty of great roads in Monterey County I could explore in the off-time I’d have. Plus, I couldn’t let senior editor Chris Nelson think I was a wimp after his cross-country drive, could I?
And so I set off late on a weekday morning, the Alfa’s breadbox trunk just about packed to capacity with a soft weekend bag stuffed with two extra days of clothes and my laptop bag. Road trip impression #1: The Alfa’s single 12-volt outlet is towards the rear of the center console, almost to the rear firewall. This means that the power cable of my Escort Passport 9500ix is stretched alongside me from there to the windshield. A little irritating at first, but soon forgotten.
The trip north is uneventful and CHP-free. As Chris had told me after arriving in L.A., the Alfa settles into a fairly calm cruise on the open road. Sure, it’s not the quietest thing on the highway, but the cabin noise isn’t awful at a steady 70 mph, and the seats and suspension are supple enough for the fairly well-maintained 101. Still, I wear earplugs for about half the distance. No doubt, Alfa’s dual-mode exhaust would be a little quieter than our optional race version. On the plus side, I easily average more than 30 mpg and have no troubles streaming music when the earplugs are out.
The trip up actually gets a little longer than originally planned when I decide to stop in on my best friend from childhood, Casey. Casey and his small family live on the north end of the Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, the laid-back surfing town we both grew up in that was once firmly stuck in the ’60s. That was until Silicon Valley types discovered it and decided the longer commute beat living “over the hill” in said valley. Now there’s a Starbucks and a Chipotle on every corner, and the quaint beach bungalows are being torn down to build luxury condos. But I digress ….
Pulling up curbside at Casey’s house, I’m trying to extricate myself from the Alfa when a neighbor across the street with a 1960s Chevy Nova in the garage spots me. “Woah man, I thought I heard a sport bike, then I looked over and saw this! Crazy!” Fifteen minutes later and I’m still out on the street while pictures are taken, questions asked, car stories told. The process will continue after dinner when Casey learns what I’ve arrived in. Pictures, questions, eat, repeat. Such is the life of an Alfa Romeo 4C driver.
The evening is spent with my parents who still live in the area and in the morning I ask my dad if he wants to drive the Alfa. Dad’s a sports car guy, always has been. After a rash of air-cooled Volkswagens throughout college and graduate school (they were cheap and had some character) his first new car was a mid-engined 1976 Fiat X1/9. He still owns that car along with four other small, mid-engined cars: two Italian, one German, and one Japanese. The Alfa is right up his alley, and he enjoys the car on a short tour of some local winding backroads. Dad still hasn’t really gotten cozy with paddle shifters, though — his other cars are conventional manuals — so he leaves the car in automatic. That is perfectly fine; in Dynamic mode the dual-clutch gearbox does a decent enough job of predicting when you’d like your cog swaps. “Neat car! I want one,” he says when we get back to the house. I haven’t told him how much it costs yet.
The next day is spent on both road and track with the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. I learn that structurally, open and closed roof versions of the 4C are very similar with only slight changes made to the Spider. Rigidity is virtually identical as is suspension tune and curb weight (just 22 pounds more for the roofless car). The Spider is an awfully nice place to be. Sound doesn’t bounce around the cabin as much as in the coupe and, while I’m not a huge convertible guy, the Targa-style roof of the 4C Spider still makes the cabin feel coupe-like, even though you get all of the advantages of top-down motoring. Good stuff. Maybe even worth the 20-percent jump in price.
After the day’s activities, I take a detour to look at a local car for sale: an ’87 Alfa Romeo Milano 2.5. I’ve wanted another ever since I sold mine during a two-year, figure-out-what-the-hell-I-want-to-do intermission period in college. As I should have known from the bottom-feeder asking price, the car was pretty roached with needy cosmetics and a second-gear synchro gone AWOL. Still, it was great to get behind the wheel of a Milano again. A rush of memories came flooding back sitting behind that awkward dashboard in that awkward driving position, beautiful Busso V-6 exhaust noise streaming through the 1-inch opening that the faulty electric driver’s side window control strained to allow. The car’s very pleasant, middle-aged owner gawked at the 4C and marveled at how different the two cars looked. “The badge is the same, though,” he said after a quiet, introspective moment. Yep, there’s that.
Mom decides to join me for the drive back home to Los Angeles in the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C the following day. Half our luggage goes in the chase Prius occupied by Dad and Grandpa. We’re all headed to my brother’s college graduation this weekend. I half-jokingly warn mom to bring earplugs, which she does, but she didn’t put them in once. We spend the hours talking, catching up the way parents and adult children do when they live a distance apart. Conversation is entirely possible, even though we talk a little louder than we would in, say, a Prius. Mom doesn’t complain about the loud exhaust or the low seating position or the firm ride. She’s used to it from years spent riding shotgun in dad’s cars.
I guess I’m getting used to it too.
- Body style 2-door mid-engine rear-wheel-drive coupe
- Accommodation 2-passenger
- Construction Carbon-fiber monocoque w/aluminum front and rear cell structures
- Base price (with dest.) $55,195
- As tested $64,445
- Engine 16-valve DOHC turbocharged I-4
- Displacement 1.7 liters (106 cu in)
- Power 237 hp @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque 258 lb-ft @ 2,200-4,250 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Drive Rear-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 24/34/28 (city/hwy/combined)
- Steering Unassisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.7 turns
- Turning circle 40.5 ft
- Suspension, Front Control arms, coil springs
- Suspension, Rear Strut-type, coil springs
- Brakes F/R Vented discs
- Wheels 17- and 18-inch aluminum
- Tires Pirelli P Zero
- Tire size 205/45R-17 88Y, 235/40R-18 95Y
- Headroom 38.0 in
- Legroom 42.7 in
- Shoulder room 49.8 in
- Wheelbase 93.7 in
- Track F/R 64.5/63.1 in
- L x W x H 157.5 x 73.5 x 46.6 in
- Cargo capacity 3.7 cu ft
- Weight 2465 lb
- Weight dist. F/R 41/59%
- Fuel capacity 10.6 gal
- Est. fuel range 300 miles
- Fuel grade 91 octane (premium)
- Sheet molding compound composite body panels
- Anodized rear skid plate
- Variable intermittent single-blade windshield wiper
- Halogen headlights
- Air conditioning
- Aluminum interior trim
- Embroidered floor mats
- USB port
- Auxiliary audio jack
- 12-volt outlet
- 7-inch TFT display
- Lat-g, boost, and oil-pressure monitoring systems
- 4-speaker audio system
- Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity
- Cloth seats w/carbon-fiber and fiberglass shells
- Flat-bottom steering wheel w/paddle shifters
- Dynamic, all-weather, natural, and race driving modes
- Brembo front brakes w/4-piston gray calipers and drilled rotors
- TRW rear brakes w/gray calipers and drilled rotors
- Dual exhaust
- Engine oil cooling system
- Sport-tuned suspension
- Launch control system
- Hill-start assist
options for this vehicle:
- Leather package- $2,750
- Black leatherâwrapped instrument panel and door panels
- Convenience package- $1,800
- Cruise control
- Rear parking assist
- Premium audio system
- Bi-xenon headlights- $1,000
- Red leather seats- $1,000
- Rosso exterior paint- $700
- Matte black 17- and 18-inch aluminum wheels- $700
- Exterior package- $500
- Decklid spoiler
- Satin titanium mirrors
- Racing exhaust- $500
- Black brake calipers- $300