- Razor-sharp handling
- Impressively quick acceleration
- Good fuel economy
- Loud engine
- Harsh ride
- Minimal interior accommodations
- Poor rearward visibility
- Limited storage space
- High-effort steering at low speeds
Alfa Romeo has a spotty history in the United States. On the one hand, it was known for building some truly beautiful and fun-to-drive cars over the years. But many of those cars were plagued with reliability issues, hence the company's departure from the U.S. market some 20 years ago. But now, thanks to the merger between Fiat (parent company of Alfa Romeo) and Chrysler, this exciting Italian brand is back on our shores, with the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe and 4C Spider.
The 4C is hardly living in the past, though. This is a completely modern midengine sports car with a one-piece carbon-fiber monocoque chassis that is extremely light, yet strong. The 4C's turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine isn't as special, putting out just 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Ah yes, but remember all that carbon fiber? That helps the 4C weigh in at an extremely light 2,500 pounds. It doesn't need gobs of power to sprint down the road or get your blood pressure up. Although that engine might not be to Ferrari levels of power or style, it's visible through a glass panel and paired to a six-speed, automated-clutch manual transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
Brembo brakes help the Alfa Romeo 4C stop with amazing confidence and consistency. Those who envision taking their Alfa to track days might want to think about the optional Track package with even firmer suspension settings (some would say too firm for the street), plus a seriously loud sport exhaust system. While people will almost definitely hear you coming the other way, chances are good you won't spot another 4C heading in your direction. These are extremely rare cars on our shores.
The 2016 Alfa Romeo is not for everyone. In fact, it's not for most people. Alfa tuned this car for all-out driving excitement, and frankly it's at its best on a racetrack, not commuting to the office. The suspension is harsh, the seats have minimal padding, and small-item storage within the cabin is hard to find. Because of that you'll definitely want to check out some rivals offering better real-world usefulness. The BMW M2 feels much more normal than the low-slung Alfa, while still offering fantastic performance. The Chevrolet Corvette is the king of bang-for-the-buck in this segment, while the Porsche Cayman offers levels of driver feedback that are nearly equal to the 4C but without hampered drivability. But if you care less about being coddled and more about track events and exclusivity, the 2016 Alfa Romeo could be just what you're looking for.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2016
For 2016, the Alfa Romeo 4C receives some new carbon-fiber trim options, an upgraded standard sound system and a new optional dual-mode exhaust (late availability).
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C is offered in coupe and convertible (Spider) body styles and a singular trim level. Standard equipment includes 17-inch (front) and 18-inch (rear) wheels, summer performance tires, LED running lights and taillights, heated mirrors, a manually operated soft top (convertible), air-conditioning, a 7-inch driver information display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an Alpine sound system with a CD player, a USB interface and satellite and HD radio. The 4C convertible also has leather seats and an alarm system.
The leather seats are optional on the coupe. For both body styles, an optional Convenience package adds rear parking sensors, cruise control and, for the coupe, the alarm system. There is also a Track package that includes a more stiffly tuned suspension, available 18- (front) and 19-inch (rear) wheels, a flat-bottom steering wheel and additional carbon-fiber trim. Notable stand-alone options include xenon headlights, a sport exhaust and a new Akrapovic dual-mode exhaust (late availability).
INTERIOR & SAFETY
There aren't many cars with interiors as distinctive as the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C. The passenger compartment reminds us more of a racecar, with much of the carbon-fiber monocoque left visible, purely because it looks fantastic. Other racy elements include minimally padded seats with carbon-fiber frames and bottom-hinged aluminum pedals. Because saving weight was so critical for the 4C, there's little in the way of creature comforts 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. This is one of the least useful daily-driving cars you can buy.
The 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, as the trunk 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. Resistance to brake fade was superb, and the car remained perfectly stable.
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. It has paddle shifters, but you can also let the transmission shift for you, as you would with a regular automatic. A four-mode driving selector and an electronically controlled rear differential are standard.
In Edmunds performance testing, a 4C coupe 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 about the same time as the Corvette and a few tenths quicker than cars like the Cayman and BMW M4. The standard 4C did it in 4.5 seconds.
The 2016 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 at speed it's an absolute treat, with nothing but a mechanical connection between you and the front tires. But the 4C can be a handful at the limit, our test-drivers noting that the car can switch from front-end understeer to tail-out oversteer in an instant, it's that sensitive to inputs. We'd also recommend a thorough test-drive on rough roads before ordering the track-ready suspension, as we found it nearly unlivable for daily driving.
The most prominent aspect when driving the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C, however, is the engine. At the polar opposite of a growling, bellowing V8 is the unique sound of the Alfa's rev-happy 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 237 doesn't seem like much, but what is astounding is the mere 1.7 liters that produces it, and there's a strong rush of power over 3,000 rpm.
The rapid-fire dual-clutch automated manual transmission 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 on the right sort of road (or a racetrack), there are only a handful of cars as thrilling as the Alfa 4C. And those cars cost two or three times as much. But as a daily-driven sports car, the Alfa falls short in many critical ways, specifically lacking the kind of comfort and features many buyers will expect. This is a laser-focused track-day car that happens to be street-legal, which is why it earned only a "B" rating from the Edmunds testing department.
With Italian style, racecar-influenced manufacturing processes and stunning performance, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C is a unique choice for a sports car. But the 4C gives up a lot of comfort to attain its performance. Similarly priced rivals are much better for daily driving.