- Razor-sharp handling
- Impressively quick acceleration
- High fuel economy
- Loud engine
- Harsh ride
- Minimal interior accommodations
- Poor rearward visibility
- Not much storage space
- High-effort steering at low speeds
Alfa Romeo made a quiet exit from the U.S. nearly 20 years ago. Despite producing some iconic roadsters (the Spider) and an impressively sporty sedan (the 164), Alfa's sales and reputation suffered because of unreliable cars that weren't especially cheap to buy in the first place. But the Italian automaker, owned by Fiat and now related to Chrysler, is trying its hand at the American market again, this time with the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C.
Alfa has applied a lot of the manufacturing techniques normally used for exotic sports cars to create the new 4C. This is a stubby, midengine sports car built in Modena, Italy, that utilizes a carbon-fiber tub, with aluminum used for the suspension, roof structures and crash supports. A diminutive but turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine cranks out 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Sure, this isn't a whole lot in today's world of 700-hp Dodge coupes and sedans, but the 4C doesn't need much power, as it weighs less than 2,500 pounds. That engine is visible through a glass panel, Ferrari-style, and is paired to a six-speed, automated-clutch manual transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
A Brembo/TRW brake package ensures the 4C stops as quickly as it goes. If that's not aggressive enough for you, a Track package with more aggressive tires and suspension settings and an absurdly loud sport exhaust system are available. Exclusivity is ensured, with just 1,200 examples in the pipeline for North America, and only 500 examples of a special 4C Launch Edition that feature a carbon-fiber rear spoiler and mirror caps, aluminum rear diffuser, a race-tuned suspension, sports seats and a leather-wrapped instrument panel.
"Race-tuned" is the operative phrase here, as the 4C is happiest on a racetrack. In normal daily driving, the 4C suffers from a stiff ride, minimal storage and a lack of common convenience and safety features. Based on price alone, the 4C lies in the range of competitors like the 2015 BMW M4, 2015 Chevrolet Corvette and 2015 Porsche Cayman. Truth be told, all of these are vastly more livable than the 4C and yet still a blast to drive. But if you want something that not everybody has and love participating in high-performance driving events, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C could very well be your car.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2015
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is an all-new model.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is a two-passenger sport coupe available in base and Launch Edition trim levels.
Standard equipment on the base 4C includes 17-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels with high-performance tires, manual rack-and-pinion steering, LED taillights, keyless entry, one-touch power windows, four-way manually adjustable cloth-upholstered seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power side mirrors, air-conditioning, a digital instrument panel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a USB interface and an auxiliary audio input.
Option packages start with the Exterior Appearance package that includes a body-color rear spoiler and satin-finish exterior mirrors. A Leather Interior Group includes a leather-wrapped instrument cluster and door panels and a lockable rear console leather bag. The Convenience package includes cruise control, an alarm, rear parking sensors and a premium-speaker upgrade. The Track package adds a carbon-fiber instrument panel surround, carbon-fiber exterior mirrors, a track-tuned suspension, a leather/simulated suede steering wheel and a body-color rear spoiler.
Stand-alone options include premium paint, xenon headlights, a sport exhaust, various wheels up to 18 and 19 inches, painted brake calipers, red interior details and a battery charger.
With minor variations, the effectively loaded Launch Edition includes the Leather package, the Track package and the Exterior Appearance package (with carbon fiber), plus the xenon headlights, sport exhaust, 18- and 19-inch wheels, red brake calipers and a sequentially numbered Launch Edition plaque. The only options are the Convenience package and battery charger.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
You'll have to search high and low for a car constructed as the Alfa Romeo 4C is. Like a racecar, the passenger compartment is a "monocoque" made entirely of carbon fiber that is purposely left visible, especially in the footwells. Other racy elements include carbon-fiber seat frames with minimal padding and bottom-hinged aluminum pedals. But because saving weight was paramount for the 4C, there's very little else inside. There are no armrests or glovebox; the seatbacks don't recline; the dashboard, instrument panel, door panels and seats are minimally adorned (if at all); the cupholders are useless; and there's essentially no in-car storage.
The four-speaker stereo has Bluetooth and a USB connection, but its operation is hard to master and, well, rather futile since the 4C is so loud (especially with the sport exhaust system). The view through the windshield is excellent, but the small windows, side mirrors, essentially useless rearview mirror and enormous blind spots make it a challenge in the real world. As such, the optional rear parking sensors are a must. Cargo capacity is nearly nonexistent at just 3.7 cubic feet and you best not pack anything heat-sensitive there, as it is adjacent to the hot engine.
Standard safety features include antilock disc brakes, multimode stability and traction control systems, hill-start assist, front and side airbags and a driver-side knee airbag.
In simulated panic stops from 60 mph, our test driver recorded a 104-foot stop, which is appropriately short for a sports car.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Powering the 4C is a turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Power is routed to the rear wheels through an automated-clutch manual transmission. A four-mode driving selector and an electronically controlled rear differential are also standard.
In Edmunds performance testing, a base 4C with the Track pack and sport exhaust blasted to 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.2 seconds utilizing the built-in launch control system. That's right about the same time as the Corvette and a few tenths quicker than cars like the Cayman and M4.
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is estimated by the EPA to earn 28 mpg combined (24 city/34 highway). In our testing of the 4C, we managed 32 mpg on our 120-mile evaluation loop.
Relatively wide door sills and bolt-upright seats make getting in and out a little tricky. Once inside, the highly contoured, flat-bottom steering wheel feels terrific in a driver's hands; that is, until it's time to parallel park. The steering system is unassisted, so be prepared to wrestle with the wheel at speeds under 10 mph. But what a treat at speed to have absolutely nothing but a mechanical connection between you and the front tires. "Precise and informative" only begin to describe the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C's unadulterated steering. Not since the last and similarly performance-focused Lotus Exige have we enjoyed pure rack-and-pinion steering and the utterly instantaneous response and poise the car exhibits. We'd be wary of ordering the optional track-ready suspension, however, as it is nearly unlivable for daily driver duty.
The most prominent aspect of driving the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C, however, is the engine, but not in a way that most enthusiasts will find familiar. At the polar opposite of a growling, bellowing V8 is the unique sound of the Alfa's highly turbocharged inline-4. If you've ever heard a World Rally Car (WRC), or perhaps a four-cylinder drag racecar, you'll recognize the "whoosh PAH-pah-pah" sound as the turbo pressurizes the intake and the blow-off valve releases unused compressed air. The horsepower rating of "just" 237 doesn't seem like much, but what is astounding is the mere 1.7 liters that produces it.
The rapid-fire dual-clutch automated manual is remarkably adept at creeping into a parking spot, shifting smoothly at speed and adapting to the driver's mood. It is perhaps the most "normal" aspect of this otherwise frenetic car.
In 15-minute doses and on the right sort of road (or a racetrack), there are only a handful of cars as thrilling as the Alfa 4C and they all cost two or three times as much. But as a daily sports car the Alfa falls far short in many critical ways, specifically lacking comfort and features that many buyers will expect. This is a laser-focused, extremely talented track-day car that happens to be street-legal, which is why it has earned just a "B" rating from the Edmunds testing department.
With Italian style, racecar-influenced manufacturing processes and stunning performance, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C joins the ranks of exclusive exotics. But the 4C gives up a lot of comfort to attain its performance. Similarly priced sports cars are much better for daily driving.