Sorry for the delay. I still haven’t gotten my new-to-me car registered in CA—I have a temporary permit and the applications have been filed. Insurance is also pending; I wonder if I shouldn’t have written the vehicle make as “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili.”
But after spending some time in two different cars (slightly different from each other), and having pulled the trigger on my Madreperla White Tri-Coat 2015 Coupé a week and a half ago, I feel that I can finally write about the most interesting aspect of the 4C—namely, the way it
And I’m still going to insert random pics of the car because it’s such a work of art:
First thing is getting in. The car has a primitive remote that, while very stylish, literally only has a fold-out key, a “Lock” button and........an “Unlock” button. There are no other functions.
Then you bend over, squat, twerk over the high sill of the CF tub, and drop your bum into the low seat. Yesterday the 4C did pass the skirt-and-heels test. It was not graceful, even worse than my former Ferrari F355, but I’ve survived to write this and that’s what matters.
After that, the wife even did the unthinkable: She complimented on how good this car looks.
The interior is stylish but annoyingly impractical. On the stylish front, the dashboard is wrapped in optional accent-stitched leather—the base model will feel like a bit of a penalty box, consider yourself warned. My car’s optional red seats do wonders to spice up the interior, but it’s not commonly equipped and I consider myself lucky to have found this in the secondhand market.
The steering wheel is perfectly shaped for fast driving. A two-spoke design that throws modern aesthetics into the wind, it is definitely not a pretty wheel in the conventional sense. But it has a shamelessly flat bottom that aids in cornering, and also offers a wonderful place to rest the driver’s palms while cruising. Correction: it would have been wonderful if the car didn’t wander all over road camber and grooves.
The handbrake is oddly loose at the bottom (it’s the same on all 4Cs), and it’s easy to bump it up into its first notch of engagement. It’s also surprisingly easy to pull it all the way to its limit.
On the practicality front, there is no glovebox—only a tiny pouch above the passenger’s knees that already holds some loose jacks for USB and stereo aux. I’ve wired my dash cam into there. There’s another pouch between the seatbacks which fits some wallets and keys. One of the cupholders is about two inches deep. The dashboard is asymmetric, leaving less knee room for the passenger than there is for the driver. I’ve mentioned the climate control panel before—it’s far too big for this car and bangs against your passenger’s shin. And its Fiat-like font doesn’t match anything else in the car.
Once you fire it up, the 4C’s engine note is not actually very noticeable. The sound is nearly completely dominated by that ridiculous exhaust rumble similar to what we know and love in the Abarth 500. The engine is a special version of FCA’s inline-4 block with a unique twin-cam (DOHC) head. The displacement is bored/stroked to AR’s historic 1.75L (the source of various “1750” nameplates in Alfa’s portfolio). This is different from FCA’s 1.4L Multiair Turbo, which is a SOHC engine with hydraulically actuated intake valves. But at idle, the 4C sounds like a meaner Abarth—a good thing regardless. And nobody would ever look at this car and think of their relation.
The rear turn signals are the only ones I know that utilise both LED elements and a filament bulb. In non-US cars, the centre element of each taillamp is actually an amber lens, and an amber bulb acts as the indicator. In US cars, everything is red, and the inner ring of LEDs flash along with the inner red bulb. Just thinking of this is triggering my hatred for red turn signals, so let’s move on.
Drop the handbrake, flip the drive mode lever into “Dynamic,” hit the Auto/Manual button to trigger manual mode, and we’re rolling. Under about 3 mph, the steering is for body builders. It’s heavy enough for me to wonder whether the nearly 400 lb. lighter non-US cars are actually noticeably easier to handle at parking speeds.
Once the wheels are rolling, the steering is perfectly usable. Both throttle and brake pedals are bottom-hinged, and the brake pedal has an odd range of motion that makes it difficult to modulate brake force in relaxed driving (it’s a bit too “ON/OFF”-ish around town). Perhaps a bearing or hinge modification could improve the linearity—it’s strange but should not be a deal breaker in this type of car.
The steering weight is manageable in everyday traffic. Blind spots are formidable and many reviewers complain that you basically “Can’t see sh*t.” Careful adjustment of the mirrors makes them tolerable, but reversing still takes care and patience. All the better for bystanders to gaze in shock and admiration, like how rappers talk about rolling slowly through their territory.
The ride is hard, and my car has the stiffer “track package” roll bars. At speed on the highway, it wanders all over the place, tracking grooves, ruts, bumps and camber changes. It’s not excessively harsh, not any worse than the 987.1 Cayman that I had several years ago. As with any sports car riding on thin tires, it’s advisable to steer clear of large potholes and take speed bumps at a crawl.
The moment you hit twisty roads, the 4C’s entire purpose becomes apparent. The steering fights your arms over every bump in the road. The short wheelbase and MR layout show themselves in the kart-like turn-in. Mid-corner undulations will attempt to kick the steering wheel out of your hands, so you had better be holding on with both of them.
The CF tub-based construction makes the car feel like you are piloting an object carved out of rock. I suspect that this is the primary aspect where the 4C departs from the famous Alfas of yesteryear. The entire car throws itself instantaneously with each steering wheel movement—you don’t feel like you steer an assembly of thousands of parts. All the played-out terms like “go-kart,” “handles on rails,” etc. apply here very literally. L-R transitions are confident and lightning-quick. I’d say this is as close as you can get to the reflexes of a Lotus Exige, without having to rub shoulders and elbows with the bro in the passenger seat.
But then again, there are no arm rests.
Then there’s the power delivery—as many have described, the 4C basically does the opposite of all the other cars trying to hide their turbos. It screams and waves its 21 psi of boost right in your face. At 1500 rpm, when off-boost, the exhaust is embarrassingly loud and almost comically throaty. Again, think Abarth with the insanity turned up to eleven.
So you roll on the throttle, the exhaust growls for a bit as the boost valves open and start sucking. Then an evil, wicked hiss from the spooled-up turbo pierces through the barely insulated panel between your head and the engine. “Psssssttshshshhhhhhhhh!!!” The car rockets forward at a rate that is mildly terrifying to the novice driver that I am. The redline is not very high at 6500, and any perceived lack of Ferrari-style 8000 rpm grandeur is interrupted by the need to shift up. The revs build very quickly on boost.
0-60 times have been timed as low as 4.1 seconds, and the acceleration is relentless to 100 mph. Pull the up-shift paddle, and the exhaust lets out a loud brapppp! every time. Shift response isn’t as good as Porsche and Ferrari, but it’s good enough and you never feel like the car has the wrong transmission. What I do wish, however, is for the long column-mounted levers that Ferrari do so well. The 4C has cheap button-like shifters mounted on the back of the steering wheel, and the action feels cheap too.
Beyond 110-120 mph the power should taper off compared to bigger engines, but I haven’t had a chance to verify that. Turbo lag can be managed by keeping the gears low and the revs up; it’s not anything that you couldn’t adapt to.
Let off the gas early before the boost translates to speed, and the blow-off valve cackles with a sound somewhere between that of a cartoon Chipmunk and the fast-forwarded laugh of a witch. The cacophony of noise is far from the symphony of a Ferrari where the intake, mechanicals and exhaust all sing from 2000 to 8000. The 4C is a lot more chaotic and less musical. It sort of takes you back to the turbo rally cars of the 1980s, without the race car price tag and with all of today’s safety gear.
Other cars, even most sports cars, make the drive as easy as possible or as fast as possible. No surprises, consistency and stability at all costs. All the imperfections are filtered out. Spec sheets and paper races are the selling points. Styling is by committee and focus groups.
Nobody can style a car like the Italians, and no technical data sheet can fully describe the 4C. This car returns all the senses and imperfections of driving, back to the driver. It exists to challenge you. It is a thing to win, beat, conquer on every drive. And that’s why it is such an incredible machine and an unbelievable smiles-per-dollar value. And it looks NSFW from every damn angle.
Did I mention that it’s one of the best-looking cars on sale today?