About That Alfa Romeo 4C...
Noise, Vibration & Harshness
One thing about American media that never ceases to amaze is their habit of mysteriously failing to get excited by glad tidings. Recently, for instance, it suddenly dawned on the Fourth Estate that oil prices were falling and gasoline was the cheapest it had been in years. But rather than leading the band in a rousing rendition of "Happy Days Are Here Again," we got a chorus of hand-wringing cable TV pundits relating word of a national cheap-gas wave as gravely as if they were delivering "We regret to inform you" telegrams from the War Department. Now, if they were decrying how a glut of cheap petroleum was going to stoke sales of large SUVs or hurt solar and other non-fossil-fuel power sources or how the lack of price floors bespoke a lack of forward-thinking national energy policy—that at least would have been a principled gloom. But this was from the perspective of all those who profit from higher oil prices, the now-sorry frackers and bereft tax collectors, in furtherance of the general we're-all-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket narrative that is the media's stock-in-trade, especially come election time.
Of interest here, just as the Ebola scare was simultaneously being fanned by the 24-hour news cycle for maximum terror and alienation, I was becoming aware of another false narrative roaming around—the one concerning the new 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. Maybe false isn't the right word. I can't say I'd seen all the coverage (and this was before this magazine named the Alfa an All-Star). But what I had seen didn't prepare me for driving the 4C, simply one of the most mind-blowing new cars I've ever experienced.
As many have noted, the mid-engine carbon-fiber Alfa—of which America will see but 1,000 this year—isn't without demerit. But nothing I'd encountered began to capture what a Triple-A, investment-grade rush it presents. A comparative snip with its $55,195 base price, the 4C's hysterically frisky turbocharged four-cylinder engine displaces just 1.7 liters with 237 horsepower to show for its efforts. Fortunately, even fattened up to 2,465 pounds for North American service, the Alfa is a relative lightweight, with a thrilling power-to-weight ratio and a mental exhaust note to match.
Basically, what someone forgot to tell me is this: The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C arrives directly from the One of the Most Exciting Cars You'll Ever Drive School. Like a Lancia Delta Integrale or a first-generation M3, it's so nimble, so fast, so infinitely squirtable. It's so much stupid fun and such a light touch it made the massively capable Four Seasons Corvette I was driving at the same time seem for a moment like a pickup truck, if not an aircraft carrier. It has been said that the 4C is like a Lotus Elise, but owning and loving one of those myself, I mean no disrespect when I say, yes, but the 4C is faster, rides better, and is generally more comfortable. The Alfa is a quieter and meaningfully easier car to get in and out of than an Elise. It sounds ballsier and, better still, its handling is in the same approximate league as the Lotus—which, incidentally, you can no longer buy in America.
Fiat's hopes to relaunch Alfa's U.S. career, which sputtered out in 1995, are pinned on the 4C. And all I can say is what a worthy and hopeful first offering. Fiat Chrysler may have taken its time in getting Alfa back on American shores, and the Fiat range here may be painfully limited, but you can't deny that the company has played a tough hand pretty well. The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C was a calculated gamble, a place to focus a small but significant investment in Alfa.
Can there be any doubt that the company loses money by the cubic meter on the 4C, with its largely hand-laid carbon-fiber structure? And can there be any doubt that it was money well-spent? The 4C brims with the technological edge and associated zest and fruitiness of the best past Alfas. At the same time, it feels like a pint-sized—which is to say right-sized—Ferrari 458, a supercar for the highways and byways people actually drive. So what if its top speed is only 160 mph and it only has six paddle-shifted DSG speeds? It will do.
I'm an Italian car fan—or, as I like to say, guilty until proven Innocenti. But this is not just a flagship for Italophiles; it's a car for driving fans. Whether or not the world finds out about the 4C, that is the duty of those with soapboxes in gearhead communities now. Pass it on: Happy days are here again.