The Alfa Romeo 4C is the Italian marque’s halo product, a super-lightweight, carbon-tubbed sports car with a mid-mounted, turbocharged engine and rear-wheel drive. With its stunning looks and limited build numbers, it’s available in hard-topped Coupe form or as the astonishingly beautiful open-topped Spider. However, the Alfa is sadly far from flawless and it competes in a class with some real heavyweight talent, such as the Porsche 718 Cayman, the Audi TT, and the Lotus Exige. But if you want something rare that’ll stand out from the crowd, there’s little like the 4C.
Did you know? Former Pininfarina designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti oversaw the 4C’s design – he also worked on the Ferraris 456GT and 550 Maranello, and the Peugeot 406 Coupe.
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This is a classic case of the old Alfa, the company that should be the automatic, go-to choice for a die-hard car enthusiast… but which has all too often left automotive fans bemoaning its underwhelming products. When the 4C Concept was revealed at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, critics drooled over its sensational appearance and the promise of a proper, sorted Alfa sports car after years of mediocrity from the company. And so much of the production 4C, launched in 2013 as a Coupe and followed up with the Spider roadster in 2014, is right: it has a carbon-fibre chassis for lightness, it has a lively 1,750cc, turbocharged engine, and it still looks absolutely glorious, even if the Coupe has ugly, multi-LED headlights that spoil its appearance.
But it is completely let down by its overly-frenetic dynamics, as it has tiresome steering that needs constant correctional inputs, and suspension that doesn’t work on bumpy roads. Alfa says the 4C is a work in progress and that it will continually update the model throughout its life, but for us, there are better and cheaper sports cars available right now that make the characterful but flawed 4C very, very difficult to recommend.
Design & Exterior
Interior & Comfort
Technology & Connectivity
Performance & Handling
Specs & Trims
Running Costs & Fuel Economy
We Don’t Like
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Design & Exterior: (10/10)
We can sit here and argue all day over the relative merits or demerits of the Coupe’s fussy headlamp units (bi-LED items, they’re not as simple and attractive as the Spider’s), but that really is the only area where you could find fault with the Alfa’s appearance. If you want the best-looking sports car on sale today, or indeed the best-looking modern car full stop, then it really is a straight fight between this and the Jaguar F-Type to our minds.
The 4C is a beautiful machine and it rides on ‘mismatched’ alloys that are 17 inches in diameter up front, 18 inches rear. The Spider has a different design of standard wheel to the Coupe, but they’re the same size, while glorious five-hole ‘Teledial’ rims (18s front, 19s rear) are an option on both cars; the Spider also has another optional alloy set in these sizes, which are beautiful multi-spoke affairs. All wheels can be silver or finished in black as an alternative. Finally, the Spider has a slightly different rear deck arrangement incorporating rollover hoops, instead of the Coupe’s glazed hatch, but either car looks absolutely stunning.
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Interior & Comfort: (6/10)
The Alfa, built around a carbon fibre chassis, neither goes all out for track-focused minimalism – as per a Lotus Exige or Elise – nor plush everyday comfort, such as the Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman or Audi TT. As a result, you’re left with a cramped cockpit that’s lined with one or two luxuries, less-than-stellar quality plastics, and some clunking bits of design too. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, in particular, isn’t the greatest item for a driver’s hands and there’s enough basic Fiat switchgear inside to make you question why you’re spending so much on the 4C.
There are a few nice touches, like the driver-angled dash and the digital TFT instrument cluster, and while black cloth is the standard upholstery for the seats, black, red, or tan leather is an option – or you can opt for black leather and microfibre seats, which comes with contrast red stitching. Go for the Giallo Prototipo paintwork on the body, and both the black leather and the part-microfibre seats come with yellow stitching instead. Other interior styling options include the Red Interior Kit (featuring door pulls, centre tunnel, handbrake grip and gaiter, and steering wheel insert all finished in red), some carbon fibre trinkets, and a different steering wheel with microfibre inserts to go with the standard leather trimming.
The 4C is much more like a Lotus Elise than a Porsche 718 Cayman, in terms of living with it daily. Entry and exit from the car are difficult enough, as its carbon tub leads to wide sills over which occupants must step to get in; it’s a little easier on the Spider with its remove-it-manually roof folded out of the way, but a bit of a contortion act, even for fit people, on the Coupe. Once in place, the seats aren’t the most comfortable items for long distances and you’d better know your passenger well, because the Alfa isn’t big on personal space.
There’s also a dearth of storage, both in the cabin and for luggage, as the 110-litre boot behind the engine – meaning it can get hot in there – is next to useless. Inside the 4C, there’s a cupholder and some central stowage, plus a ‘leather pouch’ behind the seats that can take a few items, but that’s about it. Also, the driver’s seat height is set to the physique of whoever buys the car, and it cannot be adjusted without a socket set, so the Alfa is really only suited to one driver, or at least people of the same stature. Practical, in any remote way, this car is not.
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Technology & Connectivity: (6/10)
This is another area where the Alfa 4C is less than impressive and closer to a Lotus or stripped-out track car than anything else. Satellite navigation is simply not an option and the standard Alfa stereo system looks, feels, and sounds both cheap and aftermarket. Buyers do get Bluetooth and voice recognition as standard, although DAB is also unavailable, even on the Alpine Premium Audio upgrade. And that’s it – there are no more tech or connectivity choices than these.
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Performance & Handling: (5/10)
The 4C is powered by a mid-mounted 1,750cc turbocharged four-cylinder engine, good for 240hp at 6,000rpm and 258lb ft of torque, available from about 2,100rpm all the way through to 4,250rpm. Sending drive to the rear wheels via a six-speed twin-clutch transmission (TCT), this engine delivers searing, potent performance, because it doesn’t have to shift a lot of weight about – just 895kg for the Coupe and 940kg for the Spider. As a result, either car is claimed to do 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds (using the standard-fit Launch Control function) and run on to 160mph.
There are further gems in the specification, too. Racing tyres and even racing suspension (firmer dampers, stiffer front anti-roll bar, the fitment of a rear anti-roll bar that isn’t present on the factory 4C) are both available for a fee, while the double chrome-tipped sports exhaust can be swapped out for an Akrapovic titanium item that really ups the noise levels.
It all looks so promising on paper, and even more mouth-watering when you spot that the steering is unassisted – so we could be about to get real feel from this Italian sportster. But that steering is one of the major issues. It’s just way, way too hyperactive. The front end of the Alfa darts into corners with real meaning, but as there’s no assistance, there’s no speed sensitivity so the car can feel nervous at higher velocity in a straight line. And, coupled to intransigent suspension, the 4C tramlines, bump-steers, and camber-hunts more than any other vehicle on sale today. Drive along a motorway in one and you’ll soon wish you’d just bought that Audi TT TDI instead, as you make countless corrections to keep the unruly Alfa on a simple, straight heading.
There’s no doubt driving an Alfa 4C fast is exhilarating, but it’s also tiresome and the car really only functions well on a super-smooth race track. If it were lb20,000 cheaper, then its uncompromising dynamics might make sense as you’d only buy it as a track toy, but at lb50,000-plus, it looks ridiculously steep in comparison to an Elise or Caterham, both of which – for all their singular nature -work better on the roads, as well.
Recommended engine: 4C Coupe
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Safety Features: (5/10)
While no sports car is ever going to be as safe as a big saloon packed with airbags, there’s a paucity of kit on the Alfa in comparison to its rivals. Basically, two airbags, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, electronic anti-skid and traction systems labelled VDC and ASR, ABS, Brake Assist, a Hill Holder function, and the Q2 electronic rear differential are the main safety tools at your disposal. The options amount to a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher, so don’t go expecting any sort of driver assist safety systems here.
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Specs and Trim Levels: (6/10)
It used to be that only the Spider could be specified in Giallo Prototipo pastel (yellow), but Alfa has extended this finish to the Coupe as well. The standard paint for both is flat Alfa Black, with two more solid options – Alfa White and Alfa Red – costing extra. You’ll pay the same for the Giallo or the sole metallic, Stromboli Grey, but then there are two special colours of Rosso Competizione pearlescent or Trofeo White tri-coat. Various carbon fibre details – including a carbon roof on the Coupe – can alter the Alfa’s appearance and the brake callipers can be painted black, red, or yellow to suit the body, for a price.
There are no trim levels, just the choice of the hard-top or the roadster. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, electrically adjustable mirrors, a car care kit, and a red car cover with a 4C logo on both models. No-cost options include rear parking sensors (useful, as rear visibility is woeful), cruise control, and a smoker’s kit. The Coupe has bi-LED headlights with carbon fibre surrounds as standard; the Spider gets bi-Xenon lights in clear glass instead.
Size and Dimensions
This is a tiny car, measuring less than four metres long and 1.2 metres high, but it is fairly wide, so bear that in mind if your garage or track-day covered trailer is narrow.
1,864mm (excluding door mirrors)
Max towing weight without brake
N/A – 4C not rated for towing
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Running Costs & Fuel Economy: (8/10)
By using a four-cylinder turbocharged engine and keeping the weight down, the Alfa can be remarkably gentle on fuel if driven with care. Official figures have the Coupe delivering 41.5mpg with 157g/km CO2, while the 45kg heavier Spider is slightly behind at 40.9mpg with 161g/km. But you’ll see genuine 40mpg returns on the motorway if holding a cruise. Also, while it’s not particularly cheap to insure or tax, the 4C is being built in limited numbers and it is, for all its faults, a highly desirable Italian sports car, so residual values should be pretty decent.
Reliability and servicing
The word ‘reliability’ in connection with Alfa is usually accompanied by the prefix ‘un-‘, but that could be most unjust to apply to the 4C, which is built using bespoke, high-quality components. Its low weight will help it go easy on tyres and brakes, and the 1.75-litre engine is used in other Alfa cars, where it has proven to be dependable. Services can be costly individually, so perhaps look at the three-year service and maintenance plan that Alfa offers on the 4C.
Every 12,000 miles.
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As it is made from carbon fibre and it’s a limited production car with a prestige badge, the Alfa 4C’s price of lb52,500 might initially look reasonable – but that’s more money than the S versions of the 718 Porsche twins or the Audi TTS would cost. And the Spider is a hefty lb7,000 more than the Coupe, pushing it into the lb60,000 ballpark. If the Alfa were slightly more usable day-to-day, then you could recommend it as a (very extreme) sole-use car. But it’s too intense for that, so then it becomes a second-car, track-day toy, and at in excess of lb50,000, it’s just way too much money to be worth it over and above a good open-wheeler kit car.
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Although their performance stats are the same, the Coupe is the one to choose if you’re a keener driver; fit Racing Pack 1 as well.
As much as you can do here is to fit the Alpine Premium Audio, cruise control, rear parking sensors, and bi-LED headlights to the Spider.
The Spider has neater headlamp units; paint it yellow and add loads of carbon fibre detailing, plus ‘Teledial’ alloys, for a sharp look.
Alpine is to relaunch after more than 20 years in the wilderness with a light, 252hp, mid-engined sports car – a direct rival for the 4C.
Lacks the character of the Alfa, but is a very polished product and much more usable day-to-day, with a cabin in another league to the 4C’s.
Jaguar F-Type V6
Entry point 340hp model is about the same price as the Alfa, and if anything can look as good as the Italian, it’s the Jag.
Lotus Exige Sport 350
If you want a low-volume sports car that drives scintillatingly, then the Lotus is far more resolved than the 4C.
Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman S
If you want a not-so-low volume sports car that drives scintillatingly, then the Porsche is sublime, despite the shift to four-cylinder power.
What others say
“The Alfa feels more alert and alive than a Porsche Cayman, which is hardly a surprise given how much lighter it is.”
“The Alfa Romeo 4C is a two-seater sports car that offers supermodel looks and supercar thrills at an affordable price.”