Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe (2014 - ) review
Read the Alfa Romeo 4C (2014 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives
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‘Stunning’ is a hopelessly overused word when it comes to car design, but we have no doubt that it’s deservedly applied to the 4C. Low and wide, this mini-supercar is a wonderfully distinctive combination of taut lines and voluptuous curves. The front end is dominated by the famous Alfa badge, with ridges running over the bonnet to form a ‘V’, while curves run along the doors up to the air intakes on the muscular rear end. One neat touch is that Alfa has deliberately left the engine visible through the rear window, and the car’s shape has another important secret: it’s as aerodynamic as it is beautiful, which has major benefits for the car’s performance.
If you were expecting a mini-GT’s cabin, then you’ll be shocked by the 4C’s, which makes a virtue out of its sheer minimalism. Alfa has quite deliberately left the carbon fibre of the tub on view, and that – along with the bare paintwork, gleaming metalwork and exposed screwheads – gives the car a suitably stripped-out, racecar feel. What few controls there are are angled towards the driver on the centre console, and all the important information is presented to the driver on a single TFT screen. You sit very low down, but there are no complaints about the driving position – the wheel even has reach and rake adjustment – or the space on offer. However, the low quality of some of the switchgear and materials is a big disappointment.
The 4C has just two seats, and it caters well for two people – but that’s about it. In order to save weight, there isn’t even any adjustment on the passenger seat, and you’ll find precious little stowage space around the cabin. There is a boot, but with a capacity of just 110 litres, it’s much smaller than an average supermini’s.
Ride and handling
So far, we’ve only driven a 4C with the optional sports suspension kit and, with a very firm ride at low speeds, it leaves you in no doubt that this is an out-and-out driver’s car. It will certainly be too firm and uncomfortable for many people, but the benefits are obvious once you drive the car at the kind of pace it’s designed for. It feels wonderfully agile and balanced in the bends, with just slight turns of the wheel enough to get the nose angling in to the apex of each corner. It’s more Lotus than Porsche in its racecar-for-the road feel, but overall it’s a tremendously rewarding an exciting car to drive.
Aficionados may sniff at a supposed supercar with just a four-cylinder engine and no more than 240bhp, but thanks to Alfa’s obsessive weight-saving, the 4C is very light, so even that modest power is enough to give supercar performance. It responds strongly from 2000rpm, so the car gathers pace very quickly, while the six-speed semi-automatic gearbox simply flies from one ratio to the next. Precious little else – especially at this price – can keep up with a 4C on an open road, and best of all, the engine sounds fantastic while it goes about its business. Mind you, on a long journey that and the lack of soundproofing can become very tiring.
Given its performance, the 4C is remarkably cheap, and its 4C’s low weight has another, perhaps unexpected, effect: it makes the car surprisingly economical, averaging over 40mpg on the combined cycle. On a steady motorway cruise, you can expect fuel economy in the mid-30s, although if you use the engine in anger, that figure will clearly drop significantly.
Alfa has never had a good reputation for reliability, but it’s hard to predict how well the 4C will fare. On the plus side, it’s built on carbon fibre technology derived from Formula One, but the engine is a brand new design, and Alfa Romeo is rated as well below average by Warranty Direct.
The stripped-out feel extends to the standard safety kit as well, with just driver and passenger airbags fitted. However, there is a whole host of electronic acronyms to keep you safe, including ABS (anti-lock brakes), ESC (stability control), ASR (traction control) and CBC (Cornering Brake Control), as well as a tyre pressure monitoring system.
Many rivals offer a more luxurious package than the 4C, but the stripped-back feel is all part of its appeal. Standard creature comforts extend to little more than remote central locking and electric windows. If you want air-conditioning or a stereo (which is pretty much pointless, as you can barely hear the thing), you need to specify them, albeit as no-cost options; and, if you don’t want a black car, you’ll also need to spend extra. Most of the options concern how the car looks or drives (for example, different wheels, along with sports suspension, a sports exhaust and upgraded interior trim), but you can specify luxury items like cruise control and rear parking sensors.
With only 200 or so 4Cs coming to the UK each year, the 4C guarantees its owner genuine exclusivity, and there’s no denying it’s a stunning design. However, there’s real substance behind that style: true, it’s a demanding car to drive, but it’s fantastically rewarding at the same time.