The 4C is not your usual Alfa Romeo. For starters, it’s the first mid-engined sports car to come from the Torinese automaker in nearly five decades (its last one was the 33 Stradale).
It’s also got a composites-rich chassis and “skin”, so thanks to that and its diminutive proportions, it’s incredibly light, tipping the scales at a paltry 895kg. The 4C has got an equally tiny engine as well: a turbocharged 4-pot with a 1742cc displacement.
However, the most unusual thing about the 4C is how it goes as well as it looks. This is significant because Alfa Romeos of late (Brera, 159 and MiTo) look the part, but fall well short in the handling department.
Not so the 4C. There’s an uncanny flatness to its cornering attitude, a beautiful flickability to the chassis and superlative grip levels. Owing to its lack of mass, it’s far quicker than its claimed 4.5-seconds century sprint time and 240bhp power output would suggest – the little Alfa has a power-to-weight ratio of 268.2bhp per tonne, which is roughly equivalent to that of a Porsche Cayman GTS.
Ride comfort, too, is impeccable. Even with our Launch Edition test-car (just three examples are allocated for Singapore) coming equipped with an uprated “Racing suspension”, the 4C will gamely handle the worst surfaces our roads will throw at it.
Yes, the 4C certainly rides firmly (extremely firmly, in fact), but there’s an underlying suppleness to the damping that makes sharp-edged bumps an aural, rather than a tactile experience.
It’s a largely similar experience to the Lotus Elise, though unlike the stoic Englishness of the Elise experience, the 4C has a fiery Latin exuberance about it. The 4C may look like a junior supercar, but it has the soul of a hot hatch.
And then there’s its unassisted steering rack – quick, laser-accurate, and because there are no hydraulics, servos or oversized front tyres to dilute the feedback, if you ran over a small animal, there’s a good chance you could tell what it had for breakfast.
The cockpit’s ergonomics, too, is expertly judged. You sit slung low in a carbon fibre tub, on thin-backed (but exceptionally comfortable) Alcantara-upholstered bucket seats, and with limbs outstretched just so. Like all the best driver’s cars, the 4C just feels “right”, with minimal adjustment needed to find a position you could feel comfortable in all day long.
But the best thing about the 4C is its engine. Sure, there’s a lawnmower drone to the proceedings when cruising, but bury the racecar-esque aluminium pedal to the carbon fibre floorboard and the engine (along with the car, for that matter) comes alive.
When it’s on song, the 4C sounds like an old-school rally car, with the turbo, wastegate and valvetrain providing the “backing vocals”. A “muted” turbocharged engine, let alone a tiny 4-cylinder one, has no right sounding this good.
Still, for all of its ability to induce silly grins in any right-thinking petrolhead, the 4C isn’t for everybody. For money that could well be used to buy a decently appointed Porsche Cayman, the 4C is extremely spartan (you don’t get much beyond the stereo, air-con, cruise control and an all-LED headlight array), though this is keeping with the Alfa Romeo’s low-weight, no-frills nature.
Then there’s the way it drives. For the uninitiated, it can be a terrifying experience. In a straight line, the steering goes light when going over uneven surfaces and you have to fight the urge to apply corrective lock. Suffice it to say, and considering the quick steering rack, over-correcting and snatching too much wheel is a very real prospect.
That’s coupled with its hyperactive engine – frisky when the DNA driving mode selector switch is in Normal and absolutely lunatic in Race (the latter is selected by going into Dynamic mode and holding it there for a few seconds). Care needs to be exercised, because the 4C can be quite a handful.
On that note, while grip from its Pirelli tyres might seem inexhaustible, there’s a vague feeling that taking too many liberties with it could see you swapping ends in a hurry, no thanks to its short wheelbase.
All that might be subjective, and indeed, there are some who crave such thrills, but the 4C, like all “real” Alfa Romeos, has a few objective flaws. Chief among our gripes are the wooden-feeling brakes and the dual-clutch gearbox that isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be. Build quality in parts (the creaky dashboard fairing and plasticky paddle-shifters) is also rather unbecoming of a sports car that costs this much.
However, those are but minor blips in a car that is a stunning return to form for the Italian automaker. Like all Alfa Romeos, the 4C makes a beautiful noise and has heart-meltingly good looks.
Yes, the 4C is undoubtedly flawed, but it’s still achingly desirable, and on that point alone, it’s perhaps not such an unusual Alfa Romeo after all. The 4C has its fair share of warts, but they simply add to its charm, just like with any “real” Alfa Romeo.
TYPE Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 83mm x 80.5mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.5:1
MAX POWER 240bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 350Nm at 2200-4250rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 268.2bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed dual-clutch with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS Rear
0-100KM/H 4.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 258km/h
CONSUMPTION 14.7km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 157g/km
FRONT Double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Pirelli P Zero
SIZE 205/40 R18 (front), 235/35 R19 (rear)
TRACTION AIDS ABS with ESC
KERB WEIGHT 895kg
TURNING CIRCLE 10m
PRICE INCL. COE $367,468 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Good looks, storming engine, exceptional handling, superb ride quality
– High price, spartan interior, dead-feeling brakes, patchy build quality