By Chor Yuan Ang
There is a theory that extreme, incomparable beauty comes with a little necessary ugliness. I guess that was what Alfa Romeo subscribed to when designing the 4C’s headlights. Difficult to love, one may naturally assume the overall appeal of the 4C would be dulled somewhat by them.
However, once I laid my eyes on the 4C, I strongly believe that even the worst arachnophobe would be attracted by its welcoming driver-centric cabin and its unmistakable carbon fibre monocoque. Indeed, the 4C was a real head-turner as Lenspeed drove it around the city. Thankfully, the dealer is happy to install more conventional headlights for you too, which is standard specification in other parts of the world.
After all, it would be admittedly hard for a petrolhead to contain the eagerness to get behind the wheel of a mid-engined, rear wheel drive Alfa Romeo. It’s been a while since we have last seen one in the modern day, and we have never been more excited to drive an Alfa in recent memory.
With a dry weight of just 895kg (920kg with fluids), the 240bhp output from the modified Giulietta’s 4-cylinder is more than sufficient for the sports coupe, and the car rockets from zero to 100km/h in just 4.5 seconds. Even that is achieved without launch control.
Naturally, the carbon fibre monocoque contributes significantly to the outstanding rigidity of the car. Around tight bends and corners, the car feels firmly planted, with minimal body roll. Similarly, on the road, the 4C devours bumps and uneven surfaces, as it does with corners, to deliver a reasonably comfortable ride. The 4C is an absolute joy to drive on the road.
In spite of our insatiable lust for a manual gearbox, we believe that the 6-speed Twin Clutch Transmission (TCT) gearbox suits the 4C just fine. The paddles react to inputs quickly, and in Dynamic mode the shifts are intuitive, even on automated downshifts.
Though the 4C’s in house TCT is not as crisp as that of market leading 458 or the renowned PDK, we feel that had a manual transmission been present in the 4C, attaining perfect shifts with such a brutally turbocharged engine would have presented a formidable challenge, perhaps not dissimilar to trying to drive a 997 GT2 RS perfectly. In other words, unless you have the skills of a professional driver, this would be an exceptionally difficult task, and driving the 4C wouldn’t be as enjoyable.
The design of the 4C’s steering wheel (along with its paddle shifters) do not do justice to the incredible amount of feedback the former provides the driver with. Seeing how uncommon lively and engaging steering racks are in this day and age, the awkward shape of the steering wheel became more acute as it interrupted – however so slightly – the minutia of the road surface that begged to envelope the hands on the steering wheel.
The wheel feels unnecessarily padded around the 12 and 6 o’clock positions – where drivers will hardly ever grasp – and overly narrow at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions where the paddle shifters are engaged.
Further, the 4C’s paddle shifters are not as engaging as we had wished they would feel. They are small, and the ‘click’ produced while engaging a gear feels ordinary and tame. Such paddles will very probably suit a Golf GTI (in fact, the 4C’s paddles are strikingly similar in appearance and feel to that of the GTI), but an addictive and raw car like the 4C definitely needs something more engaging and emotive to say to the least. As a tool to serve its function, however, it’s hard to fault.
Another bugbear from the driver’s seat is the awkwardly positioned foot pedals, which are slightly offset to the right – although for an Italian car this has always been a known issue, and probably to the Italians, not really an issue at all but more a differing theory of the perfect driving posture.
The brake pedal posed certain interesting characteristics that made it feel the car had carbon ceramic brakes. Despite being ‘standard’ ventilated drilled discs, they had very little travel and an immense bite. Great for track work and dialed in driving, but this made daily driving in the city a bit more difficult than it should be.
There is no doubting their performance, however. The 4C’s Brembos (305 x 28mm at the front, and 292 x 22mm at the rear) work wonders on the Alfa, and have more than enough stopping power thanks to the car’s feather-like weight.
As expected, the 4C’s interior is basic and spartan. There is some stitched leather on the door handles and a stylish leather pouch between the two seats, but those are the only precious little luxuries you will get.
Notwithstanding, Lenspeed believes that this is very probably a non-issue for 4C drivers, as the driver-centric and snug cabin, coupled with the drive quality and exhaust note of the 4C will be more than enough to take the one’s attention off its annoyingly difficult to use stereo.
With the advent of small capacity performance cars, such as, the AMGs in the ‘45’ range, it is not uncommon to hear artificial, acoustically tuned exhaust notes, with an array of gimmicky pops and crackles. On this note, the 4C is not an exception.
However (and this a big ‘however’), unlike the ‘45’ AMG cars, where the exhaust feels excessively artificial and monotonous, Lenspeed is very impressed by the rawness and level of emotion derived from the 4C’s exhaust note/system.
On a more superficial level, the 4C’s exhaust note is by far the loudest exhaust system we’ve heard from a performance car under 2,000cc. Further, it produces an addictive resonating drone at lower revs below 2,500 rpm, and a higher pitched, turbo-biased rush nearer the red line.
All in all, the long awaited arrival of the Alfa Romeo 4C definitely sits well between the likes of the Lotus Elise and the Porsche Cayman, taking a slightly narrow but apparent spot in the mid-engined, compact sports coupe segment.
It goes without saying that the seemingly bare 4C is (still) more refined and user friendly than the Lotus, yet delivering the handling thrills that give almost nothing away to the renowned British brand. Thanks to its expensive but astoundingly excellent carbon fibre monocoque, it has a clear edge over the seemingly more hardcore Lotus. There is also that Italian brand cache that Lotus will find hard to top, especially in these dark days over at Hethel.
But alas, we come to the Porsche. Unashamedly perfect, the Cayman was always going to be hard to beat on every conceivable level. It seems only a softened heart and an emotional impulse would compel an observer to choose anything else. And the 4C does set the heart racing. As close as call as this is, given the choice, Lenspeed will still pick the Cayman over the 4C. In the Singapore market, the wider breadth of abilities of the Cayman trumps the more focused nature of the 4C, as the Porsche would be better in more situations we are used to. But in a different setting and country, the vote may swing to the 4C. It’s a compliment to the Alfa Romeo that it has come this close.
Having spent a day with the 4C, we are in love with the car, and how unique and focused it feels. Well done, Alfa, we’ve all waited a long time for a car like the 4C. Critics be damned, Alfa Romeo is back.