The Oklahoma skies are ominous, a sickening swirl of green, gray, and orange. I pull into a Walgreens parking lot and peek my head out of the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C, the dirt-filled air whipping against my skin as I do. What’s my move here?
“We should really find somewhere to park and wait out the storm,” yells my brother Jon, fidgeting uneasily in the passenger seat. “We’re going on,” I yell back, knowing full well he’s right. This is one of many mistakes I’ve made in the last 24 hours.
A 3,000-mile trek
We pushed and pushed Alfa Romeo to lend us a 2015 4C for a long-term Four Seasons test, and I selfishly had it delivered to our office just outside of Detroit. Here it is, sitting in front of me, sunlight glinting off its flawless red paint. It’s a gorgeous morning, the best we’ve had in months. (In months.) Dread replaces my smugness as I look at the winter-beaten, pothole-ridden street in front of our office. I think about Michigan’s cratered highways and the Midwest’s forthcoming spring storms. I’ve made a terrible decision. This is no place for an exotic, carbon-fiber sports car. I need to get the Alfa Romeo 4C out of here — now.
There’s really only one place for me to take it — our Southern California office, which is bathed in perpetual sunshine and surrounded by smooth canyon roads. Since the SoCal office in Los Angeles is almost 3,000 miles away, I toy with the idea of putting the 4C on a trailer, shoving a stack of hundreds into the driver’s pocket, and telling him to get there as fast as possible. But then I think, “What kind of car guy am I if I don’t seize the opportunity to take one of the world’s rarest cars on an all-American road trip?”
That would be the kind of car guy who actually cares about his physical and mental well-being. There’s absolutely nothing coddling about the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. It’s as loud as it is small as it is stiff. It has a miniscule gas tank, twitchy steering, and is completely devoid of creature comforts such as a rearview camera and satellite radio. Of course, then I notice our 2015 4C is equipped with the optional cruise control. Crap, no more excuses. I’m driving to California in an Alfa Romeo 4C.
I’ll need a co-driver. I start thumbing through the contacts in my iPhone. None of my best friends can take a last-minute trip, all of my colleagues are stretched too thin to leave, and I’ve alienated almost every member of the fairer sex in one way or another. I get desperate — my advertising professor from college, my personal trainer, the friend of a guy I met at a bar once. Nothing is panning out. I thumb over one name a few times before pressing down on it, and the screen says, “Calling Jon Nelson.” My older brother.
I love Jon; I’m just not sure I like him. Jon is three years my elder. As a kid, I admired him and couldn’t be dragged from his side. We grew apart as we got older and ended up hating each other once I got to high school. I’m not sure why, but we did. I didn’t care when he went away to college, and we rarely spoke after that. We’ve only recently started speaking again, sporadically sparking up conversations here and there. “I’ve never been to the Southwest,” he says. “I’m game.” I ask if he can fit everything he needs into a backpack, as the Alfa 4C is a bit cramped. “Sure. I’ll see you when you get to Chicago tonight.” I have a co-driver, but at what cost? Another mistake, I fear.
Riders on the storm
The four-hour drive to Chicago turned out to be as rough as I thought it would be. The turbocharged 1.7-liter four packaged behind the seats squealed constantly, plus I couldn’t get the audio head unit to play music of any kind, and then finally a large rock whacked against the windshield and made a noise that echoed through the hollow cabin like a drum and scared the hell out of me. And now a slightly taller, slightly rounder, far more bearded version of me is blowing its nose and saying it has the flu.
Jon says goodbye to his girlfriend and follows me outside. “Jesus, that thing’s small,” he exclaims. As I shove his backpack into the small space between the 4C’s engine and rear bumper, I explain that he needs to be careful getting in and out of the car since the body of the whole car is made from non-metallic compounds. He opens the passenger door, which slams into the car parked next to us. He apologizes after I bark at him, and then I notice how freakishly long the Alfa’s doors are. “I would’ve done the same thing,” I think to myself, although I don’t say a word to Jon.
We head south toward St. Louis, where we’ll be spending the night. We talk about our parents, our jobs, and a number of other odds and ends before we both fall silent. Jon plugs my iPhone into the Alfa’s auxiliary audio jack. I tell him I couldn’t get it to work earlier, but he persuades me to try again. I fumble through the illogical submenus, press a few random buttons, and “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors starts playing. Then, ironically, it starts raining. Hard.
The center-mounted, single-blade windshield wiper moves feverishly as massive raindrops shell the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. I’m stressed out. Then I realize why the steering effort feels so much lighter than ever before. It’s because there’s so much standing water on the highway that the relatively wide, staggered-size tires are skimming across the surface of the puddles. It’s an unnerving drive across southern Illinois, and the rain doesn’t let up until we’re just outside of St. Louis. When we arrive, my brother and I barely say anything to one another before heading to bed.
Adapt or die
It’s a dreary but dry morning, and though Jon points out a sign for Missouri’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Factory, we pass in favor of getting to and through Oklahoma as fast as humanly possible.
As we pull onto the Oklahoma toll road, I set cruise control and settle in for a long and lackluster journey across what is hands down the most uneventful state in the country. Jon and I are getting our sea legs under us, figuring out how to cohabitate such a small, cramped space. No small feat, mind you, seeing how I am 6-foot-2, weigh 190 pounds, and Jon is 2 inches taller and a stone heavier.
The space left of the driver’s seat between the seat and sill proves ideal for water bottles and snacks, which is good since we need the cupholders for pocket knickknacks. There’s a secret cubbyhole at the end of the passenger footwell that Jon can shove his hooves into, letting him fully extend his lanky legs. I plug my iPhone into the 4C, start up my Spotify app, go to the 4C’s “line-in” submenu, press play twice, and Courtney Barnett’s “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” starts playing. We’ve got the audio all figured out at last.
The hail starts small but gets bigger as we drive deeper into Oklahoma, and the sky grows greener and grimmer with every mile. I white-knuckle it as the wind does its damnedest to push the lightweight mid-engine Alfa off the road. The canvas wrap from a nearby billboard comes flying across the highway, which is my cue to pull off the road. We cruise into a Walgreens parking lot and wait until the storm slows to a drizzle. I see the terrifying skies ahead, but I’m bullheaded and want to end my night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is still a long way from where we are.
“Will you roll your window up?” asks Jon as I merge back onto the highway. He’s a second too late. All of the sudden, a stout gust blows through the 4C’s carbon-fiber cabin, carrying with it debris and dirt and detritus. And shit — actual cow shit. We’re literally in a shitstorm. Jon and I gag as we try to figure out if we should roll the windows up to stop more dung from flying in or keep them down so we don’t puke from the smell.
Plum-sized hail pelts the 4C’s curvy red body, and then a thick wall of monsoon rain slams against the windshield. The wiper is useless, and I can’t see anything. I turn on the flashing hazard lights and slow to a crawl. Cars and trucks find shelter under the nearest overpass.
I should be a good sheep and stop, but instead I speed up. As I speed up, it’s easier to see. So I keep speeding up, rushing by cars parked in the right lane. Jon is scared and too angry to yell at me. I don’t blame him. I don’t feel good but really don’t want to be stuck in this storm. Going faster than I care to admit, we find our way back to clear blue skies in less than 10 minutes. We stop to fill up at a gas station on the border of Texas. Inside, the man on the television above the register says that multiple tornadoes have touched down in Oklahoma. Eight, actually.
Two, middle-aged blond women in a black Pontiac G6 follow us out of the gas station and across the border into Texas. The gals are either drunk or stoned or both, their G6 swaying in its lane as they try to get me to honk the 4C’s horn. I oblige and immediately feel ashamed, as the 4C’s horn is wimpier than a Vespa’s. The women giggle as they veer down the road. Then a guy in a bronze Corvette Stingray rolls up next to us to ask what we’re driving. I yell out, “An Alfa, ” then drop down two gears and flatten the accelerator pedal. The 4C’s lead in this impromptu street race is short-lived; the Corvette barrels down the highway in front of us, its quad-exit exhaust drowning out the 4C’s engine note.
After 1,200 miles of continuous driving, I need a break. So I ask Jon if he wants to drive, which is terrifying because Jon is a bad driver. But a bad driver is better than a sleepy driver, so I pull over and swap places with him. The passenger seat feels more cramped than the driver’s seat, although that could just be my weariness. I pull my baseball cap down over my eyes, squeeze the top of my head between the passenger-side window and the bottom edge of the headliner, and doze off.
We won’t make it
When I wake up, I’m surprised to see that not only are we alive, but we’re also in New Mexico. The wind is still going strong, evidenced by the tumbleweeds crossing the highway like they’re on fast-forward. We hit one of those tumbleweeds, and it gets stuck in the left-rear wheelwell, its dead arms scraping against the pavement as we go.
I had no idea I was this tired. The 4C’s seats are squishy yet supportive, like fabric lawn chairs with yoga mats draped over them. I stare out of the windshield at the constant stream of 18-wheeler headlights heading toward us, and the night sky ahead has been painted pale orange by faraway light pollution.
“We’re not making it to Albuquerque tonight,” I say. “Let’s get some sleep.” A couple hours east of Albuquerque, Jon pulls off the highway and into the beat-down town of Tucumcari. He pulls under the awning of a Rodeway Inn, and I head inside to get a room. The idling 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C wakes up the front desk lady’s daughter, who’d fallen asleep on the lobby’s couch while practicing the alphabet.
Some 36 hours after leaving Detroit, I’m climbing onto a stiff, musty mattress and pulling a comforter over my body as my brother sniffles and coughs not 5 feet from my head. My joints and bones crack and pop as I try to get comfortable. The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C hasn’t destroyed me yet, but there are hundreds and hundreds of miles to go before this trip is over.
- 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