How long have we waited for this moment? Not simply when an Alfa Romeo was sold in North America again, but when one was sold that was actually worth buying.
In case you're thinking 8C, think again: That car was a cut and shut Maserati in all but shape and badge. The last proper and real Alfa Romeo driver's car was the ugly but amazing Zagato-built SZ. And that was more than 20 years ago.
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is more than just a car. It marks a turning point in Alfa Romeo's history. Time and again Alfa's die-hard army of fans around the world have hoped for something special, only to be let down by the final product. Now, all those decades of hurt could be swept away from just one look at the production 4C. This car is not just beautiful; it is a beautiful Alfa Romeo.
A Masterpiece of Modern Technology
But preaching to the converted is never going to ensure the success of the 4C. What the car must do is also speak to those, many in the States, who do not bleed Alfa Romeo. And this time it will speak to them with both Italian style and cutting-edge technology.
The 4C's structure is a fascinating mélange of carbon fiber, aluminum, steel and plastic. And once it's all been bolted, glued and bonded together it makes for a car with a quoted weight of fewer than 2,000 pounds. That figure is for a car with no fluids or people onboard, however, so figure an actual curb weight of around 2,100 pounds.
Unfortunately, 4Cs headed to the U.S. will carry another 220 pounds of weight, most of it due to "marketing and homologation reasons" says Alfa. That means things like airbags, sturdier bumpers and various in-car entertainment units will likely push the weight of the U.S.-spec 4C to something over 2,300 pounds: still incredibly light by any standards, but not quite the chiseled whippet Alfa would like you to believe it is.
With so little weight to push around, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C doesn't need huge power to go fast. It packs a turbocharged, 1.7-liter four-cylinder rated to produce 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission is a paddle-shift six-speed double-clutcher that sends power to the rear wheels through an open differential.
The suspension setup consists of a conventional double-wishbone arrangement at the front end, and MacPherson struts at the rear. Alfa has all sorts of convincing reasons for putting a suspension you'd normally find at the front of the car at the back, but I strongly suspect that both it and the transverse installation of the engine can be traced back to the powertrain's front-drive origins.
A Cabin Stripped of Anything That Isn't Needed
You can't slip easily behind the wheel if you're much over 6 feet, as it's a long way down and you have to negotiate your way past a high and wide carbon-fiber sill. But you won't mind a little indignity getting in because once in position the car fits like a fine Italian suit. There's enough head- and legroom for the driver, though your passenger may be less happy: His or her seat is fixed and can only be moved by a dealer.
Ahead a TFT screen looking like the little brother of that used in the 2013 Lamborghini Aventador blinks into life. It's actually quite hard to read but it looks cool so you're not likely to care. The rest of the interior is completed pared: Where there's not hard plastic, there's exposed paint, metal and carbon fiber. It is probably an aesthete's vision of hell, but to a rabid car enthusiast, this is closer to heaven than most car cockpits have ever come.
You actually turn a key to fire the engine, no silly buttons here. Wish we could say there was a stick shift, too, but it's paddles or nothing. The next thing you notice is that the car is making a great deal of the wrong kind of noise. All the test cars had the optional sports exhaust fitted, and we would advise you to avoid it like the milk you forgot to put back in the refrigerator last night. A 1.7-liter turbo-4 was never likely to sound great, and turning it up to 11 has done the car no favors at all.
Incredible Performance With One Noticeable Flaw
As we start to move, two things strike us almost at once. First the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C rides beautifully, which is not necessarily what we were expecting. The suspension is firm but beautifully cushioned by Magneti Marelli dampers, so it irons out most of the lumps in the road without ever pitching, heaving or lurching.
Less impressive is the steering. Alfa has audaciously left it free of assistance and although it has a respectable weight, there is a sensitivity that does not inspire the confidence it should. Once you're turned into a corner, it's fabulously precise and full of feel, but that nervousness as you come off-center saps your confidence just a little. It may be that the car was engineered to work on the smaller, standard wheels and tires; indeed, an Alfa engineer intimated that this was the case.
But this is still a highly capable performer. With launch control in "Race" mode (dynamic, normal and all-weather modes are available, too) and near instant shifts from its double-clutch transmission, it feels easily capable of the 4.5-second 0-62-mph time claimed for it. The heavier U.S. cars will reportedly take an extra half-second to make the same sprint.
Grip levels are extraordinary, even on standard road tires, let alone the optional road-legal "race" Pirellis that can be optioned. It corners flat, very fast and consistently above 1.1g according to the tiny meter that appears on the screen in Race mode. If you can find the space to push it past its limits, you'll find that it just understeers politely. We were told U.S. cars will be more stiffly sprung to compensate for their extra weight and achieve what Alfa engineers describe as "the same characteristics."
An Imperfect Car That's Still Desirable
Unlike so many other modern Alfas, this one is the real deal, a car with the raw ability to cash the check written by its astonishing appearance. It is an utterly desirable car, one that will remind you of why you fell in love with driving in the first place.
That said, we still feel as if the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C could have been just a little bit better. It feels like a car that has been 98 percent developed. With a slightly more nuanced steering feel it could be one of the most outstanding driving machines of our time.
Then again, anyone who considers the 4C's looks, technology and speed probably won't care about its less-than-perfect steering. They want a car that'll make their heart sing, their passengers scream and their neighbors go green with envy. And for that, this Alfa is dead on.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.