Cars - Alfa Romeo

Road tests and reviews of the latest Alfa Romeo models available in South Africa

2016 Alfa 4C

2016 Alfa 4C

By Franky Johnson

Once upon a time, in the early days of cars and car manufacturing, Alfa Romeo used to rule the international racetrack. One Enzo Ferrari even drove for the team. As we all know he then went independent in 1939, with his Scuderia Ferrari racing team, and the company has thrived ever since.

Alfa Romeo however had a much harder trip to the top. Through a series of fits and starts, with interim ownership by the Italian government and later by Fiat, the brand struggled financially. With Fiat's buyback of Maserati from Ferrari, the idea was to leverage the best from both brands to include engines, platforms and dealerships. That included a merger with Chrysler, which eventually became the FCA group, and a resurgence of the Alfa Romeo brand.

The Alfa Romeo 4C was the first of the new generation to land in the new world.

The new Alfa Romeo 4C is an homage to Italian racers past, and a fully up-to-date and functional personal sports coupe that thinks it's a supercar, but on a smaller scale.

A transverse-mounted, mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sportscar made with a carbon fiber and aluminum monocoque chassis, it is covered by a high-strength composite bodyshell. The 4C gets its oomph from a 1742cc displacement turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine that includes direct-injection, as well as a sequential multiport injection system. The net result is 237 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 258 lb-feet of torque between 2,200 and 4,250 rpm.

Evoking the spirit of the 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, and its contemporary, the Dino Ferrari, there is no mistaking the 4C's Italian Alfa Romeo roots and heritage. It even bears a passing similarity to the Lotus Exige and Evora.

The classic Alfa Romeo seal on the nose flares out to receive broad shoulders and wide hips on this absolutely race-come road car. Open the driver's side door for access to the engine cover latch that reveals the 1.75-liter engine and you'll also find the small storage area in back, which looks as though it's about the size of a Rubbermaid brand Roughneck container. Pack lightly and you'll be ok; this is storage that will barely accommodate enough clothing for a three-hour tour.

However, there is nothing here that screams boy-racer. No fake "racecar" style intakes or fake portholes and such. If it's on this car, there is a reason for it.

Getting into the 4C is an exercise in finesse. From the driver's position, step over the wide carbon fiber doorsill to secure your footing. Then gently lower yourself into the seat. And in one cool move, not to embarrass yourself, twist your torso inward and lift your left leg over the sill to join the other one in the foot box. Wasn't that graceful?

Once inside, most drivers will find a rather accommodating cockpit with generous legroom for both the driver and the passenger. The two leather and microfiber-covered sport seats don't offer much in the way of recline, although they do run back and forth on a track to get closer or further away from the pedals. Since our tester featured the leather package, it was covered in bovine material from left to right and front to rear. Luckily, it didn't do much to drown out the high-pitched rasp that was emitted from the available racing exhaust package.

A rip-roaring ride in what feels like a baby Maserati or Ferrari, it is an absolute joy to drive, but it's not without its flaws. The manual steering system and its suspension geometry have an up- and a downside. The up being the Alfa lets you know exactly what's going on between you and the road surface, as if you were driving a Tony Kart shifter cart. The downside is that it shows schizophrenic behavior when it skitters about, on imperfect roads that have been grooved by big rig tractor-trailers. Additionally, the 18- and 19-inch P-Zero low-profile tires tend to drone on with their constant tales of road woe, despite their superior grippage. The net result is that some may only be able to take the Alfa 4C in small doses.

Driving this redblooded Italian shows a car that rewards subtlety. Gentle inputs are appreciated and really give you the feeling and the confidence to drive it hard, whether accelerating briskly on a secondary road, or when pulling a downshift paddle lever to feel the rev matching that occurs before diving into a turn. And the note coming from the high performance exhaust system only adds to the overall effect.

The dual clutch automatic/manual gearbox offered immediate shifting, which is followed by an upward whine of the engine and the brrrrap that accompanies the toss to the next cog. Remember to keep your eyes up the road, lest the curves of the front wings attract your attention just a little too much. Take care of this girl, and she'll take care of you.

The Alfa Romeo 4C offers much in the way of good looks, relative power, handling and speed, all for a decent starting price compared to others in its class. Sure, there are more refined examples in this segment out there, but not many will have you seeing red and behaving like a speed crazed bull like this one.

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