The 2018 Alfa Romeo 4C checks a lot of boxes on the exotic sports car wish list: It's from Italy, its engine is behind the seats, the chassis is a carbon-fiber monocoque, and the entire car weighs less than 2,500 pounds. The 4C also uses rack-and-pinion steering — with no power assist. That particular cutting-edge automotive technology showed up in, oh, the 1930s. But having it in a 2018 car when everything else has numb-feeling, electric-assist racks is almost a revelation.
In the 4C, manual steering both saves weight and provides greater feedback to the driver, and this car is all about lightness and feedback. The engine shouts right in your ear, the suspension communicates every minuscule imperfection in the road, and the minimally padded seats make sure you feel every vibration. This raw, unfiltered driving experience is both what makes the Alfa a unique standout among modern cars and what makes it an unlivable daily driver. The 4C is definitely a second — or maybe third — car.
For the money, there are plenty of engaging sports cars that are significantly easier to live with (you know, if you don't have a garage big enough for a small fleet). The Porsche 718 Cayman and 718 Boxster, the Chevrolet Corvette, and the Jaguar F-Type are all exceptional driver's cars. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but they're all more comfortable and more practical.
For 2018, the 4C gets optional carbon-fiber exterior vents as well as yellow accent stitching to the interior. A new cosmetic package also debuts.
The biggest choice you have to make is whether you want the coupe or the convertible (Spider), and that is the kind of personal decision we would not presume to dictate. But we do strongly encourage you to opt for the Convenience package, which adds rear parking sensors. Since there's no backup camera available and rear visibility is poor, we think the sensors are a must. The dual-mode Akrapovič exhaust is also a nice add-on since it provides both a robust exhaust note and a more subdued mode.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo 4C should only be considered by buyers willing to live with the inherent day-to-day difficulties of driving a seriously hardcore mid-engine sports car. Its no-frills attitude is reflected in its skimpy list of standard and optional features. After all, more features make for a heavier car, and the 4C is all about keeping the weight down. If you should want a few extras, the Convenience package adds a few luxury elements, the Track package includes performance upgrades, and the Carbon Fiber Interior Trim package is self-explanatory.
The 4C is powered by a turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine (237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque) paired to a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels. Standard equipment for the coupe includes a 17-inch (front) and 18-inch (rear) wheels, summer performance tires, LED running lights and taillights, heated mirrors, air conditioning, power accessories, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 7-inch driver information display, Bluetooth connectivity, and an Alpine sound system with a CD player, a USB port and satellite and HD radio. The 4C convertible also has a manually operated soft top, leather seats and an alarm system.
The leather seats are optional on the coupe, and leather seats with faux suede upholstery are available on both body styles. An optional Convenience package adds rear parking sensors, cruise control and, for the coupe, an alarm system. The Track package includes a more stiffly tuned suspension, available 18-inch (front) and 19-inch (rear) wheels, a flat-bottom steering wheel and additional carbon-fiber exterior trim. Additional carbon-fiber styling elements are included with the Carbon Fiber Interior Trim package. Notable stand-alone options include xenon headlights, a subwoofer, a carbon-fiber roof, a sport exhaust and an Akrapovič dual-mode exhaust.
Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the2018 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider (turbo 1.7L inline-4 | 6-speed dual-clutch automatic | RWD).
With its turbocharged mid-engine layout and high-effort controls, the 4C commands a driver's respect and delivers a high sensation of speed. When driven in its sweet spot, the 4C is rewarding and feels like a modern classic. But we'd pick something else if looking for a daily driver.
The 4C typically leaves the line cleanly and is followed by the sensation of a wave of power as the engine spins up and the boost builds. Launch control is effective, but acceleration to 60 mph proves relatively unimpressive for the class at 5 seconds and requires perfectly timed manual shifts.
The brakes require a lot of effort to work and are a hassle in everyday driving. But they have tip-of-the-toe control, thanks to a floor-pivot pedal, respond well to performance braking and deliver a ton of feedback. A stopping distance of 107 feet from 60 mph is great, but the experience is lively.
There is no power assist, and steering effort is extremely high from a stop but decreases with speed. Feedback is there in droves but so is bump steer, and the level of sensitivity is sometimes overwhelming. On-center feel is excellent, but there's a weird dead zone right off center.
Its lightweight, sticky tires and stiff suspension give drivers the ability to carry high cornering speeds, but its sensitivity to road bumps or grooves quickly sap confidence. The 4C changes direction as quickly as you can move the wheel and responds well to changes in throttle, but it's a handful.
Normal mode produces fairly relaxed drivability, though the transmission will on occasion throw a languid shift, causing a lazy drive-off. Dynamic mode is where the fun is at, and it works decently for more spirited street driving. Paddle shifters are great for twisty roads.
For track enthusiasts, the 4C is great: It has supportive leather bucket seats and air conditioning, which are luxuries for aficionados. But those who plan on street driving it more than occasionally will quickly grow weary of the stiff ride, loud cabin and uncompromising seats.
The fixed-back seats have a fairly ergonomically friendly shape. The bolsters are deep and supportive at the thighs but widespread at the seatback. The thin padding transmits all manner of bumps and vibration directly onto your spine. During pure performance driving, though, the comfort issues seem to melt away.
Stiffly sprung with aggressive damping, the 4C follows road contours and irregularities with laserlike precision. Rolling bumps are less of an issue, but the shock from hard-edge bumps, such as those from grates and potholes, are readily transmitted into the cabin.
Noise & vibration3.0
The 4C is a very loud car. Levels of engine and wind noise are the biggest problem, followed by road noise, pebbles, rocks, and other debris bouncing off the bottom of the carbon tub and wheelwells. Forget conversation and consider ear plugs for longer drives. Engine and road vibrations are ever present.
The single-zone, non-automatic air-conditioning system is pretty basic and has chunky knobs for ease of use. The fan motor is loud at its highest setting yet doesn't move a lot of air. It is sufficient enough to cool the tiny cabin, assuming the top is up.
The interior looks nice and minimalistic, but it lacks the friendlier ergonomics of other modern sports cars. Getting in and situated inside the cabin is akin to a warrior donning armor; it's rigid, claustrophobic and meant for business. If you're considering a 4C, it won't be for its touring comfort.
Ease of use7.0
Transmission control buttons are unconventional (1 is for drive, A/M swaps from auto and manual shift), but the rest of the car is straightforward and all controls are close at hand. All switches are solid and well-labeled. But parts of the gauge cluster are covered by the wheel.
Getting in/getting out4.0
A low seat height, small door opening (when the roof is on), pokey seat bolsters, and wide door sills mean getting in and out is no graceful feat. And caution must be exercised when opening the door: Its featherlight weight and lack of detents mean it can go flying open into things.
The 4C's seating position is conducive for performance driving, but the fixed backs don't make for a comfortable cruising position. The seat can adjust fore/aft with a minimal amount of tilt, but there's no height adjustment. The steering column is also minimally adjustable for tilt and reach.
Compared to other two-seaters in the class from mainstream makers, the 4C's cabin feels tiny. Hiproom and shoulder room are marginal for the average adult, while all other measurements feel claustrophobic. It looks larger from the outside.
The 4C's visibility is compromised because you sit so deep in the car. The view directly rear is hampered by a high decklid and small rear window, and rear three-quarter views are nonexistent due to the roof's roll-hoop structure. Thank goodness for the rear parking sensors.
Some details lack finishing, such as the inside of the engine compartment and control stalks, but most of the other areas are well put-together. The materials are excellent in quality, with supple leather seats and steering wheel, real carbon-fiber accents, and red contrast stitching.
There shouldn't be any expectation of ample cargo volume, and the 4C delivers as expected. The small trunk is better than nothing. But the lid is heavy, and you need two hands to set it open. The compartment gets hot next to the engine. The inside isn't much better, with no real storage areas.
There is virtually no interior space for items. Underneath the parking brake lever is a shallow tray about the size of an average wallet. Leather-wrapped nodes in between the seat and frame feature a single slit that's barely big enough for a plus-size phone. This is surprising, even for the class.
The rear trunk is small, just barely fitting one carry-on bag, and the manual prop rod makes for inconvenient loading. You wouldn't be able to store the top in there along with a carry-on bag, so topless road trips will be tricky. This is a small car, but you knew that already.
Child safety seat accommodation
There are no LATCH anchors, but there is a tether behind the passenger seat, near the floor. The tight door opening will make fitting a child seat extremely difficult.
This is one of the 4C's weakest links but also an easy fix. Dash real estate is limited, so a proper infotainment system was always going to be difficult to integrate. But there are better options in the aftermarket than what you get here from the Alfa factory.
Audio & navigation4.0
The stereo is an off-the-shelf Alpine head unit. It's not intuitive, and frankly better aftermarket head units are available. Audio quality is subpar, but that's less of an issue considering how loud the cabin is. There is no navigation system.
We found Bluetooth pairing to be hit or miss, even when we followed directions. When it works, the system is satisfactory, though it's hard to hear over the interior noise. The USB cord is located in a pouch at the bottom of the passenger-side dash, which is a ridiculous solution in this day and age.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
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