You’re not actually going to decide between an Alfa Romeo 4C and a Lotus Elise, are you? That’d be like deciding between The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, puppies and kittens, or pizza and pasta. The Stones, puppies, and pasta—yep, I’m picking one. Both the Alfa Romeo 4C and dearly departed (from our shores, at least) Lotus Elise are niche automobiles that appeal to select individuals in very particular ways, so there will be certain decisions made here that some won’t agree with, and that’s OK. This comparison is extremely subjective, but I will say that I’ve had a fair amount of experience with both cars on the road and at the track. Most recently, I invited Toni Avery from GirlsDriveFastToo.com and her 2005 Lotus Elise to join me and our Four Seasons 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C on California’s Angeles Crest Highway for an early morning, midweek drive, spending some intimate time with both cars before laying down these verdicts.
Exterior: The Lotus Elise has a better exterior. There isn’t a bit of body fat on the Elise. While the Alfa Romeo is more exotic, it looks bulbous sitting next to the thin, sucked-in Lotus.
Interior: The Lotus Elise has a better interior. I love the 4C’s exposed carbon-fiber tub, but the Elise’s cabin has a much cleaner and straightforward design. Who needs digital TFT displays anyway?
Ergonomics: The Alfa Romeo 4C has better ergonomics. The Elise’s interior may be prettier, but it’s more difficult to interact with. The pieces of the 4C’s interior are more logically placed.
Infotainment: The Lotus Elise has better infotainment. The two cars have similarly crappy Alpine head units, but seeing as the Lotus is a decade older than the Alfa, advantage goes to the Elise.
Ingress/egress: The Alfa Romeo 4C is easier to get in and out of. It’s near impossible to enter or exit either vehicle gracefully, but at least you have a shot at doing so in the 4C. No dice in the Elise.
Visibility: The Alfa Romeo 4C has better visibility. The Elise’s roof impedes on the top of the windshield, and the Lotus somehow manages to have bigger blind spots than the 4C does.
Safety: The Alfa Romeo 4C seems safer. While the Lotus Elise does have a sweet, floor-mounted fire extinguisher, the Alfa Romeo has front and side air bags.
Top removal: The Alfa Romeo 4C’s fabric top is easier to remove. In the 4C, you release four clips, unscrew two metal pins, roll up the top, and stuff it in the trunk. Removing the Elise’s fabric top (not shown) is similar, but there are two, unfixed metal crossbars that can be pains in the ass.
Cargo space: The Lotus Elise has more cargo space: a cavernous 4.1 cubic feet to the 4C’s 3.7 cubic feet.
Ride comfort: The Alfa Romeo 4C has a more comfortable ride. Neither car is cushy, but the 4C is the one I’d drive across the country.
Handling: The Alfa Romeo 4C has better handling. The Lotus is very light, tossable, and agile, but the 4C feels pasted to the pavement and inspires confidence in ways the Elise does not.
Engine: The Alfa Romeo 4C has a better engine. Nothing makes you appreciate a gruff little turbo-four from Fiat more than a wheezy, naturally aspirated four-cylinder from Toyota.
Transmission: The Lotus Elise has a better transmission. I don’t despise that the 4C comes solely with a dual-clutch automatic, because it’s pretty OK, but a manual transmission, like the Elise’s, will always be better, bar none.
Weight: The Lotus Elise is lighter. About 500 pounds lighter, which is seriously impressive when you consider the Alfa weighs only 2,470 pounds.
Power: The Alfa Romeo 4C has more power: 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque compared to Lotus’ 190 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque. This means it has a better power-to-weight ratio. Oh, how turbochargers affect engines of similar displacement.
Performance: The Alfa Romeo 4C has better performance. Let’s break down the numbers, shall we? In the 4C, you go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, 0 to 100 mph in 11.1 seconds, turn the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds, and can pull .95 g on the skidpad. In the Elise, you go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, 0 to 100 mph in 13.0 seconds, and turn the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds, but you can pull a full g on the skidpad.
Driver engagement: The Alfa Romeo 4C is more engaging. The emotional and physical sensations you experience in the 4C are more pronounced. Wherever you drive, however hard you drive, you walk away from the 4C feeling very fulfilled.
In my opinion, the Alfa Romeo 4C is better. I’m not saying I don’t love the Elise, just like I’m not saying I don’t love The Beatles, kittens, or pizza, because I do. I want to own and cherish both, but in my book, the Alfa Romeo 4C is the better-rounded, more desirable sports car.
- Body style 2-door mid-engine rear-wheel-drive convertible
- Accommodation 2-passenger
- Construction Carbon-fiber monocoque w/aluminum front and rear cell structures
- Base price (with dest.) $65,495
- As tested $73,395
- 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 2487 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
- Removable and trunk-stowable soft-top roof
- Halogen headlights
- LED daytime running headlights and taillights
- Air conditioning
- Aluminum interior trim
- Embroidered floor mats
- USB port
- Auxiliary audio jack
- 12-volt outlet
- 7-inch TFT display
- Alpine radio w/ Bluetooth/CD/MP3/AUX connectivity
- Lat-g, boost, and oil-pressure monitoring systems
- 4-speaker audio system
- Remote keyless entry
- Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity
- Black leather-trimmed bucket seats w/read stitching, 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:
- Convenience package- $1,800
- Cruise control
- Rear parking assist
- Premium audio system
- Bi-xenon headlights- $1,000
- Yellow (giallo prototipo) paint- $1,500
- 18- and 19-inch Dark gray aluminum wheels- $1,500
- Racing exhaust- $500
- Carbon fiber cluster bezel – $300
- Yellow brake calipers-$500