(Photos by Dave Nutting) – We hear one refrain from car guys a lot. Why can’t you order a car without all the extra crap? Why do you need to have all the bells and whistles that add weight, coddle you, and really don’t help performance or the actual driving experience in any way? Why can’t someone just sell a car lacking all that junk? Something fast, something loud, and something that connects the driver to the machine like cars used to do back in the “good old days”. Well there is a company building such a car. Alfa Romeo. The Alfa 4C Spyder is the car and after a week in this pocket sized missile we can tell you that few cars deliver on their potential promise like this one. Is it perfect? Hell no. Is it the car that people ask for? Hell yes. Is it something that everyone wanting a stripped down rocket would drive every day? Not a chance. We’ll tell you why below.
To get right into it, this car has no power steering, a stereo that looks like it came out of my Camaro in high school, a screaming exhaust system that your neighbors will want to kill you for, a suspension that is set up slightly stiffer than a 1970s Ford F-700 dump truck, ultra thin bad ass seats, and the vast majority of it is made of carbon fiber. It weighs 2,400lbs, the engine is a little turbocharged four banger of 1.7L displacement that makes 237hp and the transmission is a paddle shifted six speed dual clutch unit and the pedals are cool bottom hinged pieces like you would find in a race car. If you are feeling like the little engine and smallish horsepower numbers are not good enough, the car hauls ass and in stock form will charge into the 12s though the quarter mile.
Oh, and in our case, with the options this one had a price tag of around $73,000. Being hardcore ain’t cheap.
This little car never says sorry. It is pissed. It is the kind of distilled automotive fun and anger that people are clamoring for. Yes, it is a small sports car. When people in this country think of that genre that default to a Miata. It is not a Miata, not even in the same realm. Where a Miata is (or was) designed to be kind of a throwback car, this one is designed to be modern both in its looks and its blistering performance. Every single element of the 4C is sharper, more direct, more connected, and more unforgiving than the Miata. There’s literally no comparing the two. This is doubly true on the pricing front but there again a comparison is unfair. Alfa Romeo has no designs or desires to sell this car in the relatively huge volumes that Mazda is looking for. Frankly there aren’t enough people in the market for a machine like this versus one that could actually be a primary vehicle for someone. As bizarre as it sounds, we’d put this little monster in the ring with a Corvette any day of the week.
Little is not the right word for the size of this car. I’m not really sure what the right word is other than when it first arrived, I doubted I would actually fit inside the 4C. I fit and was even comfortable in there because unlike every other car on the market today, there’s not a bunch of needless do-dads taking up space. Hell, there’s not even a glove compartment in the traditional sense. Other than a small cavity located between the seats, you better pack light. That goes for the trunk, too.
The shape stops people, literally. When we were out shooting these photos a guy who was taking pictures of birds saw the car and immediately came over, weirded out Dave Nutting and started blasting away. It is an arresting shape from every angle. The sound matches the shape. Brash, sharp, unapologetic. Inside the car, the noise is reasonable but when you lower the pedal down and really starting working the six-speed twin clutch transmission there’s growl and scream a-plenty. The engine does not have the full throated exhaust of far more expensive cars but it gets attention and sounds racy as hell.
After spending a week with this car, I’ll honestly admit that there would be no way to make this a daily used machine. Perhaps in areas of the country where the roads are smooth as glass but if you live anywhere normal, this car can beat you up when used for long stretches as a primary driver. The reasons that make it a fun and hardcore performance car are the same reasons that detract from its ability to be used to get you to work and back comfortably every day. There is such a thing as too much cake and in some ways it makes this car even more neat. This is a machine that if I owned, I would want to look forward to using it every weekend. Hitting up track days, autocrosses, time/distance rallies, etc. A little 4C goes a long way and to use it every single day would detract from the whole experience.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. Cars like the 4C are two things. They are performance cars but they are also image cars. Image for the manufacturer and image for the owner. Guys like Jeremy Clarkson turn to jello at the mere sight of this car and if you have seen his reviews of it on video you’ll understand his love. As much attention as the car drew when we had it in the country, it was knocking them dead when we took it into the city. An evening attending a concert with my wife in downtown Boston turned more memorable in the 4C for some reasons that were better than others.
It took her about three miles to understand what we were in for in terms of the road quality and suspension of the car. It took here about a half mile of me dodging people taking cell phone photos to understand what we were in for in terms of attention getting. The car fit neither her taste in subtlety nor her taste in suspension dampening and travel. You significant other’s mileage may vary.
The sound of the engine ricocheting off of the buildings in the city was pretty spectacular…for me anyway.
You are not buying the Alfa Romeo 4C for its groundbreaking interior. Those last couple of photos should have illustrated that point. If it does not have to be there, it is not there. The HVAC controls look as though they were not really in the design until the first car was heading down the production line and someone yelled, “Put them down there!” The (as mentioned) radio is kind of hilarious. There is no shifter. You select a button and either let the car shift itself or take control with the paddles. The dash display is pretty awesome, the steering wheel is fantastic, and the seats are bolstered very well, have exceptionally little padding, and the suede inserts are like velcro for keeping both driver and passenger locked in.
This is one bad ass little car with load and load of grip, a deceptively solid amount of power, and a price tag that puts it well below “supercar” territory in the vein of other Italian names but well out of the “average Joe”, at least for now. Hot damn is it fun, though. Given the money, given the choice between the Alfa 4C and a comparable C7 Corvette I’d happily scream off the lot in this car. You are not going to find any of these at the country club on Sundays.
This is perhaps the best driver’s car I have ever had the pleasure of winding up.