2014 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe
Alfa, which started the project in 2010 but didn't approve production until after the 2011 Geneva auto show, sandwiches the world’s cheapest production carbon-fiber tub, hand-made and autoclave-baked at a supplier in central Italy, between two aluminum subframes. To the rear, a turbocharged and direct-injected 1742-cc four-cylinder with 237 badly misbehaving horses is located transversely. It sits between a pair of struts and the straw-thin tubes of the triangulated lower control arms. In front of the driver, an unassisted rack-and-pinion steering gear reaches toward knuckles supported by twin pairs of cast-aluminum A-shaped control arms.
The twin-cam engine is basically an alloy version of the base Giulietta’s cast-iron 1.7, but with improved air and fuel delivery and 21.8 psi of boost. To reduce lag, the engine uses “scavenging,” or excess valve overlap in low-rpm, open-throttle situations, keeping air flowing into the turbo. The peak torque of 258 lb-ft arrives at a diesel-like 2200 revs. Everything is overbuilt for the 4C’s 6500-rpm redline, meaning more power is likely slated for future editions.
Two snug leather buckets fill a cabin with surprisingly generous legroom, a single cup holder, and a small cell phone pocket between the seats. The trunk under the narrow engine hatch isn’t much larger, and the front end is sealed with bolts and off limits. It’s all wrapped in SMC (sheet molding compound, or fiberglass) outer panels that rise to bellybutton height and are shaped to splay, puddle, and scissor light in a way that makes enthusiast hormones rage. The 4C was designed to be stiff enough to survive a roof removal without major changes, so a convertible version is almost certainly on the way.
Drive hard and smooth, and the 4C is one of the most neutral and natural cars you’ll ever experience. If you horse around and yank the power midcorner, the Alfa will show its tail to the trees momentarily before slipping back into line. It doesn’t really want to go sideways, but that’s exactly why you bought a car with its engine behind the seats.
Although it’s designed to evoke various great Alfas, especially the 1967 Tipo 33 Stradale, what this snarling and spitting bag of bobcats recalls most directly is Italy’s great rally champion, the Lancia Stratos. Like the Stratos, the 4C is wonderfully immediate and stupendously basic.
A single all-digital cluster in the hard-plastic dash crowds the speedo, tach, and other gauges into a space the size of a pocket paperback. Simple rotary knobs handle the airflow; a few toggle switches control the A/C, fog lights, and power locks; and a cluster of buttons selects the transmission mode.
Buttons? Modes? Yes, the 4C comes only with a six-speed dual-dry-clutch automatic, a version of which is in the Dodge Dart. No doubt that’s a deal breaker for some of you. Blame the economics of production uniformity, blame the tyranny of a market that prefers automatics, or blame Europe’s current definition of a modern “supercar,” which doesn’t involve a clutch pedal. For this editor, in this car, it’s no problem, just as it isn’t in the Ferrari 458. Rollouts from a stop in the 4C are well oiled, the shifts come too quick and slick for complaint, and the paddles don’t strangle the car’s fun geyser one iota.There’s some electronic assistance from a four-position stability-control, shift-timing adjuster called “Alfa DNA.” In its most aggressive track mode, it shuts off assistance unless you trigger the ABS, and a brake-based traction control stands in for a limited-slip differential.