By Don Sikora II
Note: The following story was excerpted from the August 2016 issue of Collectible Automobile magazine.
Alfa Romeo’s long-promised return to the American market has seemingly been in the works since imports of the 164 sedan ended in 1995. Less than 10 years ago, Maserati dealers sold Americans about 100 $250,000-plus Alfa 8Cs. But more attainable models were only promised, not delivered. Finally, after countless delays, the first examples of the Alfa Romeo 4C hit the company’s small network of Stateside dealers in late 2014.
Not exactly mainstream, the 4C is a small, two-seat, mid-engine sports car that’s built at corporate cousin Maserati’s plant in Modena, Italy. The main section of the chassis is a tub made of carbon-fiber that remains visible in the car’s interior. Roof reinforcements and a frame that mounts the engine are aluminum, as are the front and rear chassis structures. The bodywork is formed from sheet-molding compound, a plastic composite. The 4C rides a 93.7-inch wheelbase and is 157 inches long.
The 4C’s engine is transversely mounted just forward of the rear wheels. It’s an all-aluminum turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder job rated at 237 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. It mates to a six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission that has paddle shifters for manual gear selection. The Alfa “DNA” selector allows the driver to choose between several modes that alter engine, transmission, and stability-control calibration.
The horsepower number is modest by today’s standards, but the coupe’s claimed 2465-pound curb weight helps. Road & Track reported a 0-60-mph time of 4.2 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 12.8 seconds at 108.2 mph.
The first of the American-market 4Cs were Launch Edition coupes in a run of just 500 cars. These had additional interior and exterior carbon-fiber accent pieces, black microfiber and leather interior trim with red or white contrast-stitch detailing, side air intakes on the front fascia, and a serial-numbered plaque. Performance enhancements included “race” exhaust and suspension tuning, along with 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels and tires. Base price was $68,400.
A “base” 4C coupe came later with smaller 17- and 18-inch rubber, less equipment, and a $53,900 starting price. The 2015 lineup also included a $63,900 4C Spider with a removable reinforced-fabric roof panel. The 2487-pound Spider also introduced interior updates including additional small-item storage spots and an Alpine-brand audio system. These appreciated tweaks helped mitigate complaints about the early cars, especially the roundly panned Parrot-brand stereo.
For 2016, the 4C coupe received the Spider’s interior updates and Alpine head unit. There were new interior trim choices for both cars too, as well as an optional electrically controlled dual-mode titanium exhaust system developed by the specialists at Akrapovi.
• True Italian exotic in the Porsche Boxster’s price range.
• Road testers like 4C’s responsive transmission, flat cornering, curvaceous styling, and the intoxicating engine and exhaust notes.
• Through March 2016, Alfa Romeo sold fewer than 1000 4Cs in America. Oddly, that means the 500 Launch Edition cars may actually be the most common variant.
• Engineers placed 4C’s racy looks and performance above all else, so don’t expect compromises aimed at daily driver practicality, comfort, or luxury.
• Drive reports consistently mention that nearly any road imperfection sends the 4C off course. Other gripes include thinly padded seats, and some interior bits that look and feel cheap.
• Like a European-brand designer shirt, the 4C’s interior is almost certainly going to be a very snug fit for the plus-size American male.
If you’re a hard-core sports-car lover, this exotic Italian is relatively affordable and, so far at least, scarce. The car’s surprising mixture of high-tech materials and back-to-basics personality offers an undeniably compelling character as well. On the other hand, Alfa’s future in America isn’t yet clear, and the 4C’s raw driving experience and small dealer body might give some pause if you’re considering a long-term relationship. If you’re looking for a sporty Sunday-afternoon cruiser and tend to think more with your head than your heart, a Porsche Boxster or Cayman might be a better choice.