My brother Jon and I are laughing hysterically, hollering at the Fiat 500C in front of us to go faster as we coast downhill in neutral in the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C to conserve gas. The Alfa’s fuel light came on as we left the Grand Canyon, and we’ll make it to Flagstaff, Arizona, on fumes if we make it at all. But I can’t stop laughing.
Cold, but no flu
It’s just above freezing when I wake up in Tucumcari, New Mexico, 1,425 miles from home. There’s a thick layer of frost on the Four Seasons 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. I let the car warm up while I wait for Jon to roll out of bed. He soon emerges, spritely and not sniffling. I ask how he’s feeling. “Great. Can I drive?” I’m taken aback by his eagerness, but I hand him the key fob and lower myself into the passenger seat.
Jon buries the 4C’s gas pedal on the highway entrance ramp. There’s no tremendous whoosh of torque throwing me back against the red leather bucket, but I’m glued to my seatback, my hands clenching the thin bolsters next to my thighs. I didn’t expect this from Jon, whose typically cadaverous driving style could put sugar-high toddlers to sleep. Jon continues his high-speed jaunt until an unmarked Ford F-150 police truck sitting in the highway median spooks him.
“You are feeling better,” I joke, and Jon laughs. I ask him what he thinks about the 4C. “It’s so small and so light, but it feels big because it’s so wide and the steering is so heavy. It’s sexy. And really, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be.” He then switches topics and says, “I wish there was a Pantone swatch for New Mexico’s cream-green color. It’s gorgeous.” I forgot Jon has never been to the Southwest. “You think you know what this part of the country looks like,” I say, “and then you get out here, and it’s nothing like what you expected. The golden sand, the red rocks, the — wait, you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, right?” Jon shakes his head. “Or Vegas?” He shakes his head again.
This won’t do. At our current pace, we could make it to the Pacific Ocean by sunset, but you don’t drive through the Southwest without visiting the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. That’d be like going to Amsterdam and avoiding the red light district. “Pull over here,” I say, reaching for the passenger-door handle. “If we want to see the Grand Canyon and still have any kind of night in Vegas, we need to go a lot faster.”
I pull off the highway and top the Alfa Romeo 4C off at a nearby gas station before jumping on Route 264, a smaller, windier road that cuts across Navajo and Hopi nation land. Unlike like U.S. highways, the Bureau of Indian Affairs road is basically devoid of gas stations and rest stops. Native American reservations function independently of the greater country and are policed by their own authorities. I’ve heard cops out here are unsparing, but that doesn’t keep me from doing a quick acceleration run through Navajo Forest. Counting off seconds as we go, the Alfa hits 60 mph as I hit “four”—not bad for a car with a 1.7-liter engine.
The towns we pass through are depressing. They don’t look downtrodden or abandoned but half-baked and poorly assembled. The houses are small and dirty, yards are littered with trash, and craggy men and women walk along the road with their thumbs up in hopes of catching a ride. Jon doesn’t want a hitchhiker on his lap. There’s little to say as we pass through the desolate towns lining Route 264, so we end our tête-à-tête and switch on Bowie’s greatest hits.
A sign ahead says, “Miniature Donkeys.” As we pass it, Jon looks up, sees the sign, and exclaims, “Oh, mature donkeys!” I’m laughing uncontrollably, not only because my brother’s an idiot but also because I can’t figure out why a functioning member of society would be excited by mature donkeys. Jon is laughing just as hard as I am when we pass the Rimrock Chainsaw automotive parts store and I say that if (when) this writing thing doesn’t work out, Rimrock Chainsaw will be my stage name if (when) I become an exotic dancer. And just as our second fit of laughter starts to fizzle, a big, muscly steer mounts a bewildered cow in a nearby field and gets ferociously busy with the heifer. I can’t remember a time we laughed this hard.
Standing in awe
We pull up to the entrance of the Grand Canyon, pay the $25 entrance fee, and then park next to a BMW M4. I get out of the Alfa and look into the M4 (unfortunately equipped with the $2,900 seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission) before I spot the BMW’s owner — recognizable by his M baseball cap, of course — and give him crap for getting the wrong gearbox. “But seriously, how do you like it?” I ask. “I love it,” he says. “What about you? Do you love it?” he asks, nodding toward the Alfa. “I’m not sure yet,” I say, “but it’s charming.”
I walk down to meet back up with Jon, standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, awestruck; his shoulders drooped down, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape. “I knew the Grand Canyon would be big, but … wow,” he says. For a second, I see the kid I grew up with, the brother whose footsteps I followed in, my best friend I called Dink. It’s like the part in “Hook” when the chubby kid moves Robin Williams’ face around like Play-Doh until he sees the cheerful and fun Peter Pan instead of a stern, jaded adult. I stare at Jon as he stares at the Grand Canyon, both of us speechless.
Behind me, I hear, “What’s an Al-Fuh Ro-Me-Oh?” I turn around and see a crowd around our car, so I walk back toward the Alfa, hop a flagstone wall, and immediately step onto my soapbox to deliver the history of Al-Fa Row-May-Oh, as well as the genesis story of the 4C, all the while playing with the traveling family’s German long-haired pointer puppy, Chief. Most of them gush over the car’s exterior, but Grandpa says he digs the Alfa’s interior, which I find interesting. I guess I’ve never given the cabin a good, hard look. It’s snazzy, albeit Spartan. Jon makes his way back to the car, and we set off toward Vegas.
“Is there anything worse than two Canadians in an Italian car?” I snicker as the 4C coasts behind a slow-moving Fiat 500C with Ontario plates. In neutral, the 4C’s steering is lighter and its engine is silent — who would’ve guessed the Alfa is best powered by gravity? When the road levels out, I push the transmission’s “1” button and immediately set cruise control, knowing my heavy foot could leave us stranded with a bone-dry fuel tank.
Fortunately we make it to Flagstaff, where there’s still snow on the ground. I fill the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C with 10 gallons of gas — almost its full freight — and Jon takes the wheel so I can eat a bag of jalapeno potato chips. He misses the entrance to the highway, I call him a dumbass, and the shouting match starts. Honestly, I’m amazed this didn’t happen sooner. Our fights are frightening spectacles that go on for hours, not minutes. We go toe to toe and fight like rabid dogs, aiming not to maim but kill. The Alfa performs a miracle, squashing the fight just as fast as it started. We’re fuming, but we won’t get to Vegas for hours and can’t escape our close quarters.
All of the lights
Vegas appears out of nowhere. After driving through black, empty space for what feels like forever, it’s sort of startling, like someone opening a bedroom door at night and letting the light from the hallway pour in. We exit at Flamingo and turn right onto Las Vegas Boulevard, aka The Strip. Jon’s wide, childlike eyes reappear when we stop in front of the Bellagio’s fountain, and people on the street wonder aloud, “Is it a Ferrari?” No, but the black-and-white 458 Italia a few cars behind us is.
I pull up to the Cosmopolitan, where we’ll be spending the night, and a young valet says, “I never thought I’d see one of these in person.” Jon unloads our bags as I teach the valet team how to use the push-button transmission. Checking in to the hotel, I hear the 4C start up and set off. I can still hear its faint, faraway cackle as I head up to my room.
See it for what it is
The wrench on the instrument panel is illuminated. It’s the morning after a somewhat boring night — by Vegas standards, at least — and I fear the valets have Buellered my faux Ferrari. Then I realize the 4C is simply due for an oil change. Jon and I agree daylight is not kind to coyote-ugly Vegas, and we hop on the highway toward Los Angeles. The pace is sluggish, due to a car fire a ways ahead, and Jon is talking to his girlfriend on the phone, so I start trying to form some semblance of an opinion of the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C.
I miss some of the features I’ve come to expect in $60,000 sports cars — an iDrive-like knob I can spin, a touchscreen I can grease up with my dirty digits, and a massaging seat that gropes me — but not nearly as much I thought I would. I appreciate the 4C’s buttonless steering wheel, surprisingly good forward visibility, and upright driving position. I don’t really mind its does-the-job sound system or its bit-too-stiff suspension, and I absolutely love its personality, which can sometimes be wily and unnerving but is always vibrant and engaging. I’ve discovered a few things I don’t love about the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C, but there’s not a single thing I hate.
A belated homecoming
It’s Friday at rush hour and traffic is thick and slow on L.A.’s I-605, but there are small crevices between cars and trucks the 13-foot-long Alfa can squeeze into. At least that’s my belief as I dart in and out. Every lane-to-lane juke makes Jon huff and puff, but we’re getting through the morass faster than some of the lane-splitting motorcycles. The agile little Alfa comes out unscathed. Finally, we’re face to face with the big, blue Pacific Ocean.
Ten states and 2,879 miles later, we’ve made it. It’s a worthwhile effort seeing how the Alfa Romeo 4C looks less out of place and far more comfortable on California’s groomed coastal roads. It manages not to blend in, though, drawing attention parked in front of Gasser Lounge in Redondo Beach, Cha Cha Chicken in Santa Monica, and the Warwick in West Hollywood. Yep, this is definitely where the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C should live.
This is the end
I drop Jon at LAX for his early morning flight back to Chicago. There’s no heartfelt goodbye, no reminiscing about our time on the road — just a firm handshake and a “see you when I see you” followed by a “yup” and a car door closing. As I drive off the Alfa’s interior suddenly feels too big for just one person, and for the first time in my adult life, I miss Dink.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes on this trip, but the biggest mistake I made was underestimating both the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C and my brother Jon, unexpectedly wonderful travel companions that I’d happily go anywhere and do anything with.
- 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