Alfa Romeo 4C (2014) Review

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Commitment to the Alfa Romeo 4C starts from the moment you clamber over the wide carbon-composite sills and slither as elegantly as you can into the form-hugging bucket seats.

Yeah! Bucket seats. A term that’s a throwback to the ‘60s and in many respects this Alfa is too. In fact the longer you live with it, the more you start thinking about the near mythical road races of the 1950s, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio, a mad time when Italy ran races on public roads, monster Ferrari and Maserati racers sharing tarmac with Fiat Toplinos good for 90kph and Isetta bubble cars with a max of 80kph!

Engine

That’s the kind of ancestral warp that takes hold when you twist the key in the ignition – no keyless go nonsense here, that adds weight –press harder on the brake pedal, and suddenly the car shudders as the engine behind your ears spits into life. That turbo four-cylinder announces itself with an awakening that is particularly rude.

Gearbox

You look around wondering how to get this cramped little show on the road. There’s a button on the console that says “1”, ahead of another button that says “N”, and one that says “R”. That’s for Reverse. Since you’re facing forwards you squeeze one of the paddle shifts ahead of the tiny, rather thin-rimmed steering wheel with a chunky squared off lower quadrant, so as to avoid your knees.

You’ve already manually tugged the seat a little forward – no weight-inducing electric motors for this function, –and extended the manual telescoping of the steering column so you are arms-bent in the prescribed position.

The Drive

Clonk goes the transmission as that paddle shift indicates on the digi-dash that you’ve got first. Shudder goes the double-dry clutch system as it engages after you’ve squeezed  just a tad of throttle and eased off the brake (no clutch pedal, you understand). The system sort of slips the clutch the way you would in an old hot road-race car from the ‘60s to get it off the mark.

And now you are rolling, sitting, it seems, just 500 mm off the ground. Another button on the console has given you the auto or manual option, and you are in auto, and you are surprised at how nice the shift is to second, the system seems to back off the throttle itself just before disengaging the clutch, and so through third, fourth, fifth and sixth which is top, while you warm the little beastie up.

Once it’s warm you might want to engage manual, which allows you to rev the motor all the way to the 6 800 rpm red line. The lovely thing about this is that it makes the car even snortier and rortier on up and down shifts, wastegates and dump valves hissing and a-popping when you run it hard. And man it moves. The numbers read a 0-100kph in under five seconds and a top speed approaching 260kph.

All that from 177 kW and 350 Nm of torque. This car is not a numbers car, it’s a sensations car. The way it darts into the apex of a corner if you so much as twitch the steering wheel. The way it feels its way over camber changes in the road like a little low-slung Jack Russell, chasing a tennis ball.

The way it grips like crazy. But it is also a little hairy until you gain confidence. For instance, there is some rear-wheel steer from the car when you go on and off the throttle, which is a bit disconcerting. What you have to do is take it by the scruff of the neck and drive it decisively. There is a special “track” mode on the console that sharpens responses up and turns off some of the driver aids, allowing the tail to come out

And it will come out. I tried it in a fairly low speed corner and it broke free, but it’s nicely catchable. However, this was on a good road surface. On a slippery tar surface, such as old aged tarmac of the variety you find in the Parkview area, the trick is, don’t be Mr Hero, because it will snap and bite you.

Out on the highway, well, the nice thing about it is the fuel consumption, as I returned figures in the 7.5L/100 on a trip to the Vaal River and back to Randburg.

The not-so-nice thing about the car is that the tyres howl on the particular tar they have on the N1. And there is an amazing amount of wind roar that finds its way into the cockpit from somewhere. Not a car for a trip to Cape Town, unless you are totally committed, which is in fact how you should be. Because if you owned this car you would learn to love every single nuance about it, its character is that strong.

All that racket at cruising speed is down to the fact that the chassis is made of carbon fibre and aluminium and most of the car is aluminium, with an absolute minimum of sound deadening. This makes it awfully noisy, but it also helps that it weighs in at just under 1000 kg, which is why it accelerates like a cat out of hell.

There is a smidgeon of luggage space behind the transverse-mounted engine at the rear, and none in the front. That’s because the nose of the car doesn’t open, which some youngster discovered for me on Google after I had spent about 30 minutes looking for a hidden lever to pop the nose.

Conclusion and summary

It costs R870 00, and you know what? That’s cheap, for a car that goes like this and looks like a mini-Ferrari and has a build quality far superior to anything Lotus has ever come up with. Actually, it’s one of the nicest cars I’ve driven in years.

We like: Looks Build quality Performance

We Don't Like: Wind noise Lack of luggage space

Also Consider: Porsche Cayman BMW M235i Jaguar F-type coupe

Alfa Romeo 4C Quick Specs

Engine 1.7-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Power 177 kW
Torque 350 Nm
Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox
Wheels 17-inch Alloys
0-100 km/h 4.5 seconds (claimed)
Fuel economy 6.8-litres/100km
Fuel Tank 40 L

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